Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

To KBO or not to KBO

May 24th, 2015

(KBO as in “keep buggering on”, like Churchill used to say)

 

Do you sometimes find yourself wishing you wouldn’t have read something? Today, I did, here.

And I really stopped dead in my tracks in every other sentence because of the utter preposterousness, (maybe due to the) lack of depth, and the crying urge to give all those people a high five. In the face. With a chair.

All in all, it’s a typical snapshot of the world situation. All the people we used to turn to in need of an answer now have no one to turn to themselves. BECAUSE they’ve been brought up by the system (and have largely benefitted from it) they’re now putting on trial. Only this time it’s colleges. Of course, they’re already through with kindergarten, elementary and high school, now they’ve nailed it, it’s colleges! And as much as I’d like to be totally ironic now, I’m so-not-gonna-be it. Because there is a serious problem at hand here, which is fear. Fear of change. Not mentioned in the article though. Not as such.

And there’s something else: The permeation speed of knowledge (=processed information) inside most companies is (at least) by an order of magnitude smaller than the (both inside and outside) emergence and transformation of new information — because there are insufficient connections (for a number of reasons, which I think are not necessary to explain, just look at what’s going on at your workplace). Also not mentioned in the article.

Sometime they’ll give a change and nobody will come — then change will come to you anyway. Those who do not actively seek change, who do not scrutinize their organisations and the processes therein in order to enable an evolution or revolution, will face the hardship of all too-rigid corporations. It’s puzzling a CEO can utter “It’s not the big devouring the small, it’s the quick devouring the slow!” without getting it himself. I mean, really getting it and acting accordingly.

Hence, what needs to be done? Employers must re-think their organisations and processes. Employees must be connected. The advantage of having knowledge your competition doesn’t yet have is useless when is hasn’t permeated the company. A team of specialists is superior to an equally-numbered team of generalists. Then the imperative is to create ways allowing specialists (preferrably the best in their field) to find their place in the team (Hint: Throwing them in cold water is a bad idea, you and they are here for a marathon, not a weekend ride). If you as an employer know the job requires a skill that is not being taught at school, this makes you responsible in the first place to teach it. Arguing this particular skill were an everyday skill which one could expect applicants to have nowadays, puts you on very thin ice, because your applicants may have other skills they consider as everyday, but you don’t have a clue.
Oh, and fire the lazy ones. No really. Even if it costs you a fortune. In the long run it saves you, and saves you money. Hint: You will identify them by the frog noises they make, it’s either “yeah-but” or “I-can’t”, or both, and have the IT 1st level support make a list with the five most frequent “my-printer-has-a-problem” and “the-internet’s-slow” callers. Sack them too (No, I’m still not being ironic here. I mean it).

Both students (i.e. future employees) and employees must understand that life-long self-motivated active learning is mandatory, not an option, but also not an entitlement for a promotion in whatever way. It’s a basis for future negotiation if and how your contract will be extended.

This applies for educators too, because after all, education is a business like any other. As an educator, you only must treat your clients (i.e. students) as if they were employees—connect them, enable high permeation speed of knowledge and skills. Hint: Nobody has ever aquired a skill just by watching an online video, every skill is a result of practice.

And media must really get a life. (Still not being ironic here.)


So here’s the irony: Once, the feudal superiors were happy when the peasants were as uneducated as possible. Then came industrialization, and a public education system was invented to turn peasant children into a workforce. Science only to advance the industry. This was further enhanced by two world wars who brought down the monarchs (as sovereigns), and consolidated the position of the industry. And then the industry got so industrious they forgot to model the education system for their future needs, because the industry as such got too diverse, allies turning into enemies, they could no more agree on what their ideal future peasant would be… I know of a possible answer, and it scares the hell out of me.

Working time

November 11th, 2012

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t but wonder why people still obsess about working times. All the rules and laws to safeguard workers have been set up in times when the majority of people actually were workers, mining coal and steel. But times have changed. It’s just silly to expect people to perform in a timeframe of 8 hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. What organisations need is people’s best performance. What people need is a feeling of performing well and getting their praise for it.

The problem is there are still silly folks out there thinking you can squeeze out a brain like you used to squeeze out a muscle, pay a wage and that’s that (and this includes politicians). These very people are exactly the same opponents worker’s councils have been struggling with since the industrial age. And their fighting becomes more and more useless and obsolete, because the people they’re fighting about start feeling unfit themselves. Not because they don’t like their jobs, but because the box outside their box is not in alignment with their needs.

I wonder why no one’s asking “People, what do you want?”.

Angry nerds

January 2nd, 2012

Today the German version of Jonathan Zittrain‘s essay “The PC is dead” has been published (which he closes by saying we need more angry nerds), tempting me to comment on it in a lengthy post. Instead I recommend you to read it yourself.

My two cents: For platform owners such as Apple, Amazon, Google or Microsoft, the ‘art’ is to close the door only so much that the input-providing participants don’t feel uncomfortable squeezing through it, and keep providing stuff (apps and content), because the consuming participants will only start switching once they realize the restrictions applied lead to a perceived lack thereof. Angry nerds won’t fix it. Unless they invent a different thing that restarts the cycle.

Problems

November 25th, 2011

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about problems and solutions. Not specific ones, more in general, and the shortcomings that go with them in particular. And it seems to depend on the kind of problem how effective a solution can be. To make my point, I’ll start with an outline of problem degrees.

First, there are simple problems. Hanging a picture on the wall.
Abstract solution requires: Knowing how to make some protrusion.
Practical solutions: Drive in a nail./Bore a hole, insert a plug./Bore a hole, insert a plug, insert a screw./Glue a plug or hook to the wall./Chisel out an alcove./Build a pedestal.
These are “whatever works” problems, and they are characterized by a low level of complexity, their solution rarely requires more than 2 or 3 steps (though Yak shaving is possible), and there is little at stake, both financially and emotionally. You don’t need a plan, and it’s easy to sell someone on the solution you prefer.

Next, there’s complex single-subject problems like Measuring the efficiency of your production process.
This requires you to break the problem down to simple problems/questions. What are the single processes the whole thing is made up of? Who’s involved at what stage? This doesn’t mean you have to analyse each and every single process itself, since this is about the overall thing.
These problems are characterized by an intermediate level of complexity and their solution requires several steps, often over a certain period of time. In that sense they don’t have to be actual problems, but questions to determine if you have a problem, and where. With this kind of problems, there is not necessarily something at stake financially (though it might be), yet they’re easily being perceived as a threat with a lot of downside (e.g. feeling scrutinised) and little upside (not seeing one’s own personal benefit from the solution proposed). Hence the (pragmatic) solution is facing opposition very easily, combined with the escape question whether the present system should better be replaced with an entirely different one (the one you switched from last time). And the solution might need to be readjusted itself because, for instance, you realize you’re focusing on the wrong issues. Yak shaving is a welcome distraction to avoid cutting to the core.

Next, there are complex multi-subject problems such as running a project, for example building a website. This requires a set of different skills and the ability to tackle the seemingly big lump from various sides, then drilling down each approach to find out how much substance there is. For a website this might be design (which again can be split up into colour scheme, typography, imagery), legal issues (possible copyright infringements), technical issues (programming) and providing content.
Whatever the solution is, when you’re trying to sell someone on it, the standard reply is often whether your approach was the right one to choose at all. Depending on the project, there can be a high financial risk. On the emotional side, it’s more likely to be dealing with primal behaviour, determining who is the strongest. Also here the solution might need to be readjusted because after a certain amount of time it’s been shown not to fulfil its purpose as it should have. Yak shaving is common.

And finally, there are complicated problems: Having a business. Causes. Political campaigning and lobbying.
The complication results from various factors: Solutions will need to be constantly readjusted because decision parameters change. Decision criteria themselves change. People involved in the process change their minds. High financial risk. Circumstances assumed and results expected are permanently subject to change. It’s like a theme park on a raft, somewhat chaotic. The main skill required for this kind of problem is knowing when to stick to a decision and when to quit. There’s an upside too: At any given point in time, the problem is only a complex multi-subject one. It’s only in the long perspective that it’s complicated. Yak shaving is compulsory.

Special case: Vanity problems. This is Yak shaving. These are solutions for one of the four previous degrees, but there’s no problem.
This ranges from believing you need a new hairstyle (simple) to building an underground railway station when you have one on the ground (complicated).

So what’s the point? Am I shaving the Yak? No, it’s just the setup for the next post: Solutions. That’s what I really want to talk about.

“One day, the Web will be friggin’ empty”

October 23rd, 2011

That’s what the CEO of the German VPRT, the lobby of commercial broadcasters and tele-media, said on his keynote during the Munich Media Days last week. No, wait for the punchline! It’s also his organisation who’s commissioning the study which concludes that the web is full of illegal content (in this study, everything that was availbale for free was counted as illegal — yes, they were and still are on a mission).

What he meant to say with the headline quote was of course that the world needs his peers to enjoy the richness of online media, and he argued that the government needs to push for stricter copyright laws. Like what? Sanctioning free content because it’s harming his peers’ business? I’m sure he’d love that. It’s just that way of 19th century thinking that once you’ve set up your factory, it’s going to run forever and all the boss has to do is maximize profits. In addition, new industries would pop up and the one with more money would buy the other and so forth. And it all keeps growing and growing.

But as the post-industrial age has kicked in long ago, it should have become obvious that it doesn’t work like that any more. And it won’t help that your industry is not producing material goods but collecting and repacking information (or rather data, I can’t help but come back to my axiom again), because it’s still run like the old-fashioned factory. We don’t need factories any more, we’ve had them long enough.

What’s not working anymore is people who used to buy an issue of a magazine with at least 50% advertising in the real world, won’t do this online. They have the choice of getting their desired information one article at a time from the source they like best. With ads or without. Paid or for free. Yet publishers had a hard time adapting their question “How can I get as many people as possible to buy / subscribe to my magazine?” to “How can I offer the best content for an acceptable price?” (of course there’s also the industrial “How can I lower the quality without losing too much of the readership?”), but the new question is a different one.

This new question is “How does my stuff fit into the big picture?”. There are millions of outlets on the Web offering articles on the same topics as pay-for magazines, but for free. Not as consistent in terms of output volume and regularity, but often in terms of quality. This leads to my idea where commercial publishers seek the cooperation with authors who publish for free. The commercial publishers will then support the free authors by publishing their (commercial) articles on their (free authors’) website or blog, like guest articles (of course these article have to be paid for when someone wants to read them, and the free author whose site the thing is published on gets a small share), thus improving the experience for the audience.

Instead of trying to persuade the world to come to their place, publishers of every kind of media must start serving all the outlets out there (this is what Seth Godin refers to as curatorship). What publishers understood is they need to be on the shelf in as many stores as possible. Now, moving beyond physicality, the number and variety of stores is infinite. And infinity has always been a good prerequisite to make money for a long time to come. If you embrace it.

When Adding Momentum

January 24th, 2011

In one of the early Spiderman comics it says “ With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” (and further reading on the quote can be found here, it’s quite interesting). It also applies when power is little. And often enough, responsibility doesn’t scale down proportionally.

The issue I’m talking about: Last week, a show host of German radio station Fritz (located in Berlin) published an Open Letter to Kristina Schröder, German Minister for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (or as I used to refer to it, DEBYM), in which she heavily attacked the minister who had tried to sympathize with young families because she’s pregnant now. Voilà, promotion — Twitter took it to the next level. And then Fritz’s program director stepped in and took the page offline, accompanied by a statement that “the Open Letter did not represent the opinion of Fritz’s editorial team … [and they would] not accept infringements of Personal Rights.”

And that’s how the fight started. What the program director did wasn’t the best he could (and should) have done. The appropriate thing to do here is to make your employee see sense and ask her to publicly apologize for the inappropriate remarks. That way he would have avoided the accusations of censorship that are now being raised by the audience who have already taken care of the issue themselves.

The problem is that the Web makes it easy to let things run out of control. Once an information has been published, it’s being cached, copied, multiplied in all sorts of ways, and whenever it’s done manually, the ones in charge don’t necessarily pay attention to what they’re doing. Issues like this are easy to pull out of frame, because the outraged public doesn’t necessarily understand that just because you feel a certain way, it’s not okay from a moral point of view, neither from a legal one, to insult a person in whatever medium. That’s why the page was taken offline, but it’s not what the public thought the reason was. The story of some politician trying to undermine Freedom of Speech spreads much better, and so does support by people who think that censorship must be fought against with all means available. The only problem is that whoever re-publishes the original article without additional comments, just to add momentum for a perceived good cause, becomes liable for the same reasons that Fritz would have become liable had they not taken the page down, and this is what most people don’t know.

Which again leads us back to media competence, and why this would make an excellent case study for social science lessons at school. It’s a multidimensional issue, covering social dynamics, media dynamics, public law and, last not least, communication. This is something not only the next generation better knew, but it’s also the most sensible place to discuss the topic outside of Fritz’s commentary section, in the real world, because that’s where having the discussion can really have an impact and make a difference.

Forced to Noise

December 19th, 2010

Last friday US Congress passed a law on electric vehicles, which until then used to have two upsides: Their exhaust carbon footprint is eco-friendlier and they make a lot less noise. The latter is what the US Senators and Governors seemed to be concerned about, because the law they passed says that an electric vehicle must be audible so you can hear it approaching. It’s not too hard to imagine a bunch of elderly folks wondering what the difference between this new tech and their old tech is, suddenly having a rare Eureka moment: “It’s the sound! Yes! We need sound! Vroom!” (People who are more into conspiracies can feel free to prefer the idea that Big Oil has, ahem, brought in some persuasive, irrefutable arguments.)

When you think about it, this is not only nonsense, it’s madness. Instead of taking the leap forward, they took the step backward. What would have made sense is passing a law obligating car manufacturers to fit their cars with an autonomous telemetric system that recognizes people crossing the driving lane and automatically slowing down the car. This is not SciFi, these systems are already at hand. Of course today no one would buy this expensive extra because everyone believes they’re a good driver, it’s only the others who are the idiots. Instead of using the potential that’s available through electric vehicles and take it to the next level, which by the way also means a push for technology ventures (now there’s an incentive to improve these systems!) and enhances the circulation of money (re-defining “must-have-extra”), people with poor imagination minimized the benefit of innovation by taking the choice to make the new technology more similar to the old one. Car manufacturers now have to increase air friction to produce more noise, or install sort of a loudspeaker making noise, adding more weight—either way the mileage goes way down.

So now both advantages electric vehicles used to have could be gone in the future. What remains is increased cost, because service for these vehicles won’t become a lot cheaper if there are not enough models on the road. The consumer’s choice, again, is thrown back to where we’ve already been. Hint: It’s not where we should be going.

Outrage, for Starters

August 6th, 2010

Germany’s Federal Department for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (a.k.a. the department for everything except young men, because they’re taken care of by the department of defense, a remainder of history) has started an initiative with 5 corporations in which, for one year, applicants will not reveal their names, age, nationality, marital status and religion. This pilot project is meant to qualify if this process leads to more equal employment opportunities and the avoidance of discrimination.

And while this project has not been launched yet, conservative lobbyists are already outraged and defending the status quo. “Enterprises need information about age and gender because they are crucial decision criteria.” Which is to say, when in doubt, they don’t employ women. Another quote: “If we don’t know who the candidate is, we would have to invite everyone for an interview.” Which means they don’t invite people whose names they can’t pronounce.

Both men (no surprise here) that have been quoted above represent a mindset where employers still a looking for replacable cogs at minimum cost. The irony is, they too would profit from an application process I posted one month ago. Other than that, the good old resumée still offers enough options to say no:

  • what kind of school did they go to?
  • extra-curricular activities
  • hobbies
  • languages spoken
  • university: who can afford to study in a state where students have to pay a semester fee?

All of these will be more important, but different than expected, because employers will try to extract as much additional, yet speculative, information from the chunks that are left. This initiative is surely well-meant, but it won’t change a lot because the old system remains in place.

More equal employment opportunity does not translate to more equal employment. Doing things by half doesn’t get them halfway done.

New found Power

July 26th, 2010

One of my favourite news releases last week came from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in which she complained that it’d be ever harder to get political messages and issues to people because especially the younger generation would not get their overall news coverage from the traditional media, but instead selectively from their favourite channels on the internet. Her final conclusion was that things used to be easier years back, because when people met in the workplace, they’d all talk about the same topics (note: this was back in the days when there were only three channels on TV, and people got their paper every morning).

This is all true, except she elegantly left out the part that’s worst for her and all the others that made a profit from the way things used to be. Not only do the established channels keep on losing their influence, but it is ever easier for people to practise real democracy. Because if you really care about something, you just have to connect to people who do as well. Then you can start an online petition, and all it takes is 50,000 subscribers within 3 weeks. And if there’s one thing we can learn from a pretzel, it’s quite easy to gather 50,000 people — if they care. Because if they don’t, they won’t go through all hassle with registering on the parliament’s web site just to click a button. That’s the only obstacle. Other than that, there’s nothing that could stop anyone from using their democratic power.

And that’s scary for polticians, because not only will their flaws and misbehaviour be spread faster than ever, but also people can now make them go away, or the rules they’re trying to establish. Who loses? Everyone who profited from the old system: Lobbies, who still spend millions to buy votes help MPs reconsider their opinion. Politicians who are now exposed more than ever and thus have to deal with the consequences. Some years ago these “minor issues” would go by the board in favour of “important news” in the general news coverage. Yet the traditional media are losing power and influence in both directions. And if they can’t control the public, they don’t help to maintain civil order, and then they’re losing value to the ones in power, who in return won’t see a lot of use in supporting a system that doesn’t support them. This top-down system was built in the fact that there was no other choice, no politician or similar folk needed to build an asset of permission to talk to the people directly — because this taken care of by the media, mostly public broadcast. The situation has flipped over (to be honest, it did so slow enough that anyone could have easily figured where this was going), and no matter how much anyone who seemed to have a voice that mattered now doesn’t.

There used to be a small number of players on the political field — now everyone can have their license to play too. This is a great opportunity which can change our lives dramatically, only if we make use of it.

Tax marketing

June 8th, 2010

Never having really thought about it before, it occured to me that the marketing of a change of a country’s tax policy is quite a tricky issue, because it clearly shows how people are more afraid of losing something they have than eager to get something they don’t have yet — especially when what they get is a non-bankable idea. But let’s start from the beginning.

As long as I can remember, we’ve been sold on the idea that progressive income tax is just and fair. The strong can and therefore should carry more load, they said. That’s why people with smaller income have been paying less tax than people with big income. Then the strong said, “Wait! We’re the ones who give work to the others, and our factories and means of production depreciate, so politics must make sure we can do this in the future — or else!” And politics did just that, complying well-behaved so the system would survive. They created exceptions and loopholes for the strong and said this is just and fair, because otherwise the economy would be put at risk, and we need a healthy economy to survive and thrive.

Over the years the whole tax system got more and more complicated, which in return meant a lot of jobs for tax consultants, and everyone got used to the year in, year out modifications of tax law, closing old loopholes and creating new ones and so forth. But altogether everyone got used to the way it was and no one really made an effort to change the system. What for? It was just and fair. Or was it?

Enter the (German chancellor’s) financial adviser: “A tax rate of 25% for everybody is just and fair. There is no reason why a CEO should pay 45% tax on earned income and the company owner only 25% tax on unearned income. Plus, there will be no future eceptions and loopholes. And everywhere I speak, this clicks with the audience.” The explanation is of course, when you speak in front of privileged people only (most of them being both CEO and owner at the same time), hardly anyone will refuse. Try to do that when the audience consists of 1% board members and 99% workers, who will very unlikely be happier when you tell them that a tax advantage by working night shifts is cut.

The point is once again not what is, but how it feels. Anyone who can do basic math intellectually knows that same tax for everybody and all exceptions cut is an overall balanced equation — but it doesn’t feel like one. And that’s the problem with marketing the new justice and fairness. At the moment, they don’t feel as good as — never mind better than — the old ones. Who can you sell that to?

(Sidebar — Another whack on a journalists head: If you want an answer, just ask one question about one issue at a time. Asking two or more, you give the interviewee cover to answer none of them. Quote: Journalist: “Many citizens are more than upset that compulsory federal saving might take away their tax benefits: tax-priviliged nightwork, tax-deductible commuting expenses or reduced GST with food, for example. At the same time the government provides billions of Euros in financial aids for other coutries. Is this fair?” — Expert: “The question is, is it legitimate?” — Ouch.)