The impact of technology

I've read 2 articles recently that touch on the impact of technology on everyday life and the political and societal implications this entails.

The first one is from Ludovic Dubost, my boss at XWiki (FR):

Nevertheless, I think that today we have still not seen the changes that technological innovation will have on society. The impact on the old economy is accelerating. New business models continue to emerge not only in the technology world but especially in the non-technological world. Innovations continue to arrive and things you never thought possible just 10 years ago are emerging today. [...]

These books say the same thing about technology. The possibilities offered by technology arrive sooner than we think and the changes to society and the economy are likely to be faster than society's ability to absorb sudden changes.

Ludovic makes the point that technological change will have and ever-increasing impact on society over the long term. No part of the economy is immune to change: technology will touch more and more parts of the economy, oftentimes with a negative effect for existing industries that are getting disrupted.

The second article is from Ben Thompson of Stratechery:

The ease of communication and distribution on the Internet is rendering vast swathes of the economy uncompetitive, even as certain sectors, companies, and individuals reap absolutely massive profits. I am by no means saying this is a bad thing, but I am certainly sympathetic to those who can no longer compete. I am also extremely concerned that recourse for these changes will increasingly be sought through the political process without tech having a seat at the table, much less a coherent solution for dealing with the human fallout of technological progress.

We as an industry absolutely need to wake up. SOPA, net neutrality, the Google bus protests – all of these are of a piece, and they are only the beginning. [...] The world is changing because we are changing it, just like we all wanted to, and now it’s time to grow up and deal with the consequences in a serious way. I truly hope that the fight for net neutrality will only be the beginning.

Ben takes the viewpoint of the tech industry: the industry will have to organize itself if it is to try and have influence over society's reaction provoked by the changes that society brings to our lives.

Ludovic also quotes Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee:

"Kurzweil’s point is that constant doubling, reflecting exponential growth, is deceptive because it is initially unremarkable. Exponential increases initially look a lot like standard linear ones, but they’re not. As time goes by—as we move into the second half of the chessboard—exponential growth confounds our intuition and expectations. It accelerates far past linear growth, yielding Everest-sized piles of rice and computers that can accomplish previously impossible tasks."

Paul Graham has similar thoughts in "Farming Black Swans":

In startups, the big winners are big to a degree that violates our expectations about variation. I don't know whether these expectations are innate or learned, but whatever the cause, we are just not prepared for the 1000x variation in outcomes that one finds in startup investing.

That yields all sorts of strange consequences. For example, in purely financial terms, there is probably at most one company in each YC batch that will have a significant effect on our returns, and the rest are just a cost of doing business. I haven't really assimilated that fact, partly because it's so counterintuitive.

This is related to the 2 previous points: most people are not really prepared to grasp the full meaning of "winner takes all" situations and the impact is has on society at large. Redistributive policies could be a way to balance out the need to motivate innovators while trying not to leave people on the side of the road.

Article: Drive development with budgets, not estimates

Great article from DHH:

A more common case is that you can get 80% of the feature for 20% of the effort. Which in turn means that you can get five 80% features, improvements, or fixes for the price of one 100% implementation. When you look at it like that, it’s often clear that you’d rather get more done, even if it isn’t as polished.

I would love to find a way to convey this more efficiently to clients, especially when writing project proposals. It should be noted that it can be tough to convince clients that a 80% feature actually answers all of their core needs when they have a 100% feature in mind.

Article: The Surprisingly Large Cost of Telling Small Lies

Interesting article:

As our conversation drifted from an update of my company to a deep discussion about life itself, I asked him what he thought was the secret to success. I expected the standard “never give up” or some other T-shirt slogan, but what he said took me by surprise. “The secret to success in business and in life is to never, ever, ever tell a lie,” he said.

On the face of it, it sounds obvious. Yet in practice, this is very difficult to do 100% of the time. Still pondering the implications...

Article: Entrepreneurship is 80% sales and marketing

Interesting thoughts from Dries Buytaert (developer by training, sales guy by necessity):

Other than the standard things (an idea, passion and the willingness to act), the most important thing that aspiring entrepreneurs need is the understanding that 80% of entrepreneurship is sales and marketing. If as a founder, you're not obsessed with sales and marketing, you're a liability rather than an asset.


How do we create the future?

In a recent TED interview, Larry Page says that his most important state of mind is that he's always on the lookout for things that define the future.

He's not the only successful tech CEO who thinks this way. Jeff Bezos is well known for taking the long view, looking at how things are going to turn out during the next 10 years as opposed to the next 10 months: "We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term."

Mark Zuckerberg also displayed this quality no later than yesterday by deciding to buy Oculus VR:

But this is just the start. After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

How are you planning to create the future?

UPDATE: just read Fred Wilson's take on this, who puts pretty much the same feeling in words:
And now Zuck and his team are looking up and saying “what’s next?”. It’s not that different from what Larry Page and his team are doing at Google. The Charlie Rose interview with Larry that I made Video Of The Week last weekend was a bit of a review of all the things Google is doing to figure out what’s next (balloons, driverless cars, Nest, DeepMind, etc).

On the importance of focusing your company on the right set of objectives

From an interview I came across recently:

INGRES was a major learning experience for me, because I was a product manager and totally focused on creating the absolute best product in the world. You know what we found? It didn't matter. Oracle kicked our asses because they focused on positioning, marketing and selling as opposed to building the best product.

There's some interesting information further down in the piece:

Oracle had its problems scaling, like any company does. But what they did really well was define a set of clear measurable corporate objectives, and push those all the way down on a quarterly basis…measuring quarterly, and making sure that everyone understood their role in participating towards whatever that year's and quarter's target was. That's what really enables an organization to run at 100 miles an hour without having any kind of low-level task management.

Clear sales objectives. Focus. Getting people to internalize company objectives:

David Marquet [...] says you can’t empower people by decree. While you might be able to ask someone to make a decision for themselves, that’s not true empowerment (or true leadership). Why? Because you’re still making the decision to ask them to make the decision. That means they can’t move, or think, or act without you. The way to empower people is by creating an environment where they naturally start making decisions for themselves. [...] Leaving space, creating trust, and having the full faith that someone else will rise to the challenge themselves.