Monday, August 16, 2010

Bill Gates sees having to 'go' to university going away soon

By MG Siegler

"Bill Gates thinks something is going to die too.

No, it’s not physical books like Nicholas Negroponte — instead, Gates thinks the idea of young adults having to go to universities in order to get an education is going to go away relatively soon. Well, provided they’re self-motivated learners.

“Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Gates said at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA today. “It will be better than any single university,” he continued.

He believes that no matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether it’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.

He made sure to say that educational institutions are still vital for children, K-12. He spoke glowingly about charter schools, where kids can spend up to 80% of their time deeply engaged with learning.

But college needs to be less “place-based,” according to Gates. Well, except for the parties, he joked.

But his overall point is that it’s just too expensive and too hard to get these upper-level educations. And soon place-based college educations will be five times less important than they are today.

One particular problem with the education system according to Gates is text books. Even in grade schools, they can be 300 pages for a book about math. “They’re giant, intimidating books,” he said. “I look at them and think: what on Earth is in there?“

According to Gates, our text books are three times longer than the equivalents in Asia. And yet they’re beating us in many ways with education. The problem is that these things are built by committee, and more things are simply added on top of what’s already in there.

Gates said that technology is the only way to bring education back under control and expand it."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A peek at the future of agriculture

This Aljezeera clip documents sun powered (at least in theory) artificial climate agriculture under test in Qatar. It's a bit like renewable energy vs oil itself; as the price of the new comes down and the price of the old goes up -- due to resource constraints, or social or political instability, or for any reason, these "vertical farms" must become an important part of the future.

Posted via email from The Future Café: People, Policy, Trends, Technology, Leadership, Foresight, Innovation, Design

Forging a future for the music industry

The Irish Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Forging a future for the music industry

Making music pay: Composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin being interviewed at Dublin Castle.

Making music pay: Composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin being interviewed at Dublin Castle.
Photograph: Ian Oliver

Technology has brought music to the masses, but at what cost? The Future of Music in a Digital Age conference set out to discover just where the music industry is heading, writes JIM CARROLL 

THE HEAD-SCRATCHING and hand-wringing show no sign of abating. Over the past dozen years or so the future of the music industry has been debated and pored over ad infinitum like the lyrics to an old Bob Dylan tune.

Those who make, sell and consume music seem to spend as much time debating what a brave new world will mean for them as they do listening to the actual music. From Napster and iTunes to cloud computing and copyright, music activists argue about technological changes with gusto. Meanwhile, those engaged in film, book publishing and other creative sectors look on and wonder what this means for their trade.

Last Friday’s The Future of Music in the Digital World conference at Dublin Castle was a lively affair. Organised by the Contemporary Music Centre, as part of the annual get-together of the International Association of Music Information Centres (Iamic), it brought together Irish and international artists and administrators keen to get a steer on what may well happen in their future.

The best value for money was provided by Gerd Leonhard and Andrew Dubber, a pair of speakers who, on paper at least, came at the issue from diametrically opposed stances. Leonhard is “one of the leading media futurists in the world”, as the Wall Street Journal describes him; Dubber’s presentation was titled The Future of the Music Business and Other Fictions. It was a pairing that could have turned nasty.

On top of all the heavyweight pronouncements, you also had more personal and poetic ruminations about the cultural importance of music from the Irish composers Bill Whelan and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, plus a brief céad míle fáilte for the delegates from the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Mary Hanafin.

It’s a pity the Minister didn’t stick around for some of Leonhard’s talk. An experienced and well-regarded commentator on the relationship between technology, media and entertainment, the German’s input was a provocative, thought-provoking and entertaining look at how to turn the trials and tribulations of Music 2.0 into a way for all music creators to be paid.

Opening with a slide featuring this newspaper’s report on Eircom’s move to cut off the broadband service of customers found to be repeatedly sharing music online illegally, Leonhard asserted that the problem

is that control of music now

does not necessarily equal


In the old music industry such control was a means to income, but the internet has changed this scenario completely. Now, Leonhard believes, getting paid means connecting with fans, offering them added value and giving them reasons to buy your products. While this was always the case, the internet makes it a far more important proposition. Control is no longer the key to a pay day. “Kicking people off the internet for using BitTorrent is so ridiculous,” he said. “The only people who get paid are lawyers.”

The current situation was “conceived by people who print their e-mails”, and their conservatism makes the “dysfunctional” music-industry approach “like trying to put horseshoes on a car”.

Leonhard argued that, with more than 300 ways of sharing music online, and global sales down 65 per cent in the past decade, it is time for a rethink.

This would mean a creator getting paid for work as part of a blanket approach similar to that for TV and radio. Leonard’s all-encompassing licence was

“a toll-booth solution we can all live with”.

As with road tolls, some people would try to avoid or circumvent the toll, but the vast majority would happily pay a collective, fair blanket licence for music usage on the internet that would benefit the music’s creators.

He pointed to Denmark, where TDC, an internet service provider, has a deal with local music-industry lobby groups and royalty-collection agencies for a flat-fee music service. The reason it works, he said to laughter from the audience, is because “no one gives a damn what happens in the music industry in Denmark”.

Afterwards, when questioned by members of the audience, Leonhard asserted that a blanket licence approach can only work if there is a change in agenda. It has to be about the creator and user’s agenda, not the middlemen, so the onus is on the creator to force the change at various institutions and lobby groups. It is now, he told a delegate from the Irish Music Rights Organisation (Imro), about “survival or death”.

Andrew Dubber takes a completely different stance to Leonhard on futurism. A lecturer and author on music business innovation, Dubber believes that predictions about the future of music are “worse than useless” and that you can’t predict the future by extrapolating trends from past events. The answer to the question about the future of the music business depends on who is paying for the research and on what they want the

future to be, Dubber said. All independent music industry surveys are simply “lies”.

It is possible, however, for music creators to analyse and adapt to the present environment. Outlining five media ages – oral, scribal, print, electronic and digital – Dubber explained how those involved in creating music adapted to what were then seismic changes.

In the overall scheme of things, the recorded-music industry is just a blip. Surviving and thriving, Dubber emphasised, is therefore about understanding each media shift and not engaging in the pointless notion of predicting the future.

The conference ended with a panel discussion featuring Dubber, Leonhard, Bill Whelan, Imro’s Keith Donald and Iamic’s Stef Coninx.

While many in the audience were relishing the prospects of a good-natured scrap between Dubber and Leonhard to end the day, the discussion ended up falling between a number of stools. Light-touch moderation of questions from the floor also meant there was an over-emphasis on royalties, copyright and the accountability of collection agencies rather than on the proposed topic of the future of music.

Indeed, many of the questions and points seemed to dwell more on the negatives than on the positives of new technology. There were too many questions about how music creators could control use of their work in a digital world, with Whelan wondering if a proposed blanket licence would allow him to opt out of having his music used if he so wished. As the panel ran around in circles, it really did feel as if we were asking the wrong questions.

While nobody expected the conference to come up with any definitive answers to the topic of the day by 5.30pm, it did, at any rate, provide plenty of food for thought. Conversations like this are a good starting point, but it’s abundantly clear that it’s the creators and the consumers who will dictate the future of music and the pace of change in the digital world. Over to them.

Further information from

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Taleb predicts a period of global discipline and rising interest rates

Nassim Taleb talks about reframing the problem of "recession" to one of "debt" and says that a period of global austerity (or, as it may be more palatably phrased: "discipline") is the only way out of the global debt problem. "One doesn't get out of debt by having parties." His market advice: hold instruments that hedge against inflation.

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Shannon Fagan on the Future of Stock Photography

Photographer Shannon Fagan just returned from Dublin, where he spoke at the CEPIC New Media Conference. Shannon was part of a panel entitled “What’s next?: How will the stock media business evolve?” Shannon is President of the Stock Artists Alliance and an Advisory Board member of the Young Photographers Alliance. He has deep knowledge of the stock photography industry, both from personal experience, and from his role helping other photographers develop their businesses.

(c) Shannon Fagan

The following is an interview I conducted with Shannon over e-mail about the industry.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into the field of photography in general, and then into stock photography?

Believe it or not, it was in Second Grade.  That’s when my first interest in visual pictures began.  We had reading time at the end of each school day and in the back of the classroom there was a stack of magazines, shelf of books, and a row of beanbag chairs.  I would race to be the first to grab National Geographic’s World magazine off the rack.  And, I wouldn’t read it…I would flip through the pictures. It was my introduction to color, light, gesture, and place.

Years later, my photography interests aligned with art courses in high school.  I studied figure drawing, painting, and did printmaking in professional classes, while maintaining photography and experimental darkroom work outside of class on my own.  I entered college with a variety of interests at the University of Memphis and I was able to explore all of them via my academic degree.  Business and art history meshed themselves with languages and writing.  I majored in Art with a concentration in Photography, but the bulk of my professional training took place during regular summer internships each year in New York.  I worked as a photography assistant upon graduating in 1999, and soon found my place as a professional photographer in New York City.

Stock photography was a perfect fit for all of my interests in production, creativity, business, and travel.  I was good at managing my own time and taking the initiative.  I enjoyed taking risks.   Contracts to shoot for a variety of agencies were thus initiated and I found a support network of photographers to aid me as my business grew.  I found that busy stock photographers were intelligent business owners, self-motivators, and very keen to share their experiences.  I had a natural draw to them as mentors to learn more, and thus, my career took off.

Can you describe the changes in the stock photography industry over the last 5 years and how these changes have affected your peers?

I could discuss the changes in stock photography or I could discuss the changes in anything being sold as intellectual property content over the internet; ie. music, writing, news, and art.  All of these have seen significant evolutions since around 2004.  I point to that year specifically as it was when, in professional commercial photography, the Canon 1DS Mark II camera was first introduced.  iTunes was made available one year prior.  (I, however, was still listening to cassette tapes and kept my contacts on a Palm Pilot.)

This was a bellwether year for photography.  The Imacon virtual drum scanner was replacing more expensive traditional drum scans.  High resolution professional grade digital capture could now be obtained on a 35mm camera system at nearly half the price as a medium format digital back.  Led by stock agencies, the commercial industry for photography was moving away from a reliance on film and moving towards digital exclusivity.  Licensing agencies began to only accept digital files on DVD.  Online portals for digital submission were soon to follow a couple years later.  We saw the first layoffs of the larger agencies’ staff as workloads were reduced.  For smaller agencies, there was a massive buying spree of their collections by larger umbrella distributors.  There was one dirty word in the industry, and it was called Wholly Owned content.

Jump forward to five years later, and we’re now full of new buzz words: 5D, Red, micropayment, and crowd-source.  The next five years will see the latter word as the most significant measure of future forecasting.  And the effect it has had upon my professional aspiring peers?  Pain.  Justifiably.  It has been a wound disseminated through the stock and assignment sectors of commercial photography businesses alike.  The future of content sourcing for the next five years is no longer about being a standout due to a piece of equipment that makes creativity better, a portfolio glossier, or a lighting technique shinier.  It is about rising to the top of the crowd-source through service, trust, and stratification of offering.

Are Professionals leaving the ranks of stock photographers and saying no to stock shoots?

Yes.  It’s systemic and will continue for the foreseeable future.  When the supply of images exceeds the demand for them, the price of the images naturally declines.  When the cost to produce these same images stays flat or rises for production quality concerns; profitability decreases.  It reached a tipping point in 2009.  The expense outlay on a per image average basis has exceeded normal average returns in a time frame to allow for reasonable reinvestment of the earnings back into more images.  Professionals are intelligently re-diversifying out of stock photography and into other less risky ventures.  For some, these new ventures are not even in the realm of commercial photography. Some are of retirement age, others have assessed that a career change at this time is ideal.  Once gone, these professionals in stock photography are not likely to return.

What changes do you expect over the next 3 years?  Will more boutique agencies get bought by Getty or Corbis or will they close their doors?

The next three years will see two divergent paths collide.  On the one hand, agencies will realize within one year from now that most of their professional photographer contributors have stopped submitting to stock photography on a regular basis.  Many of these contributors will go on a hiatus, and as I mention above, likely never return again.  It is already occurring now, but it will take more time to assess whether this process is a mere blip on the sourcing map, or more permanent.  Looking at all of the causes on a macro scale economically, I suggest that it will be a permanent decline.

By next year we should see more changes with dramatic effect upon agency overheads.  It will become naturally more difficult to supply the buying clientele with diverse imagery whose production costs are by necessity above one hundred US dollars per final selected photograph. It will also become more difficult to supply the buying clientele with diverse imagery whose production costs are above just fifty US dollars per photograph, and so on.  These numbers for managing shoot costs seemed barely achievable two years ago, and yet, here we are today negotiating production budgets that are half what they were twelve months ago.

Agencies will start to aggressively recruit new talented photographers.  The vast majority of this new talent, perhaps over 90%, will be part-time photographers.  They will have another full time stable professional career that pays well enough to protect them from the volatility that active professional photographers will see for the foreseeable future.  The remainder of this newly recruited talent will be involved in faster cash-generating areas of commercial photography such as weddings, portrait studios, or catalog work.  Their time to take on stock productions will be naturally limited.  It is likely that they will produce a few shoots for stock, perhaps more than several for some of them, and then retire their interests into another area of photography or elsewhere over time.

The time to recruit new talent vs. the actual returns on investment in number of shoots will become a central agency conundrum.  What is saved in more highly targeted imagery per photographer will be lost by the overhead salaried time it takes to see these new recruits off to perform independently on their own.  Our industry is not in a time of budgetary allowance for agencies to initiate, produce, art direct, edit, and manage many photographers at once.  The photographers must be self-starters.  Going back to the above, those educating themselves about entering commercial photography are likely better off at this time to hone their craft around service and initiation, rather than around what they take pictures of.  This is the value added that the industry will need.

It would not be surprising if large agencies begin to focus their internal efforts to restructure themselves.  Those on the micropayment side are likely to be the new content aggregators.  They will find the content for sale and be the front door for artists.  The large macro distributors, however, will need to adjust their services to areas of online distribution and selling that have higher barriers to entry.  Over the next couple years, it would seem entirely possible that major agencies drop their reliance on money generated from licensing images, music, motion, and type/design alone.  I expect to see them enter into newly found technology for search engines, advertising, distribution, or retrieval. Making money from selling pictures as a middle class income is closing its door as a business model globally.  The service of the selling, that’s where I’d be looking to for future growth.

As to what this means for the artists creating the content, one can research and read many listings of articles in regards to that decision process on any major news network.  To write it here would be seemingly outwardly pessimistic.  I prefer to be pessoptimistic.  Take the forecast and plan accordingly.  This industry is focusing itself more than ever upon newcomers and transient participants.  They are a crucial component of the new licensing community for low price and near-free mechanisms for sales.  Flickr alone has proven that.

In the near future, do you think Google will take a major position in the stock photography business?

Like stock motion, we’ve been predicting it for years.  And like stock motion, we’re still waiting for it to initiate.  Note that Google focuses itself, on the search engine side, as a direction pointer to find some type of information or content.  They aren’t focused on making money for that actual content that they point to – at least not directly.  Google may, in turn, be telling the world that financially they don’t need to sell it, they just need to point to it.  The New York Times is doing the same.  They don’t sell us the health care insurance mentioned in the wellness article, nor the hotel stay noted in the vacation story to Honolulu.  They inform us about it and point us in a direction from their standpoint of expertise.  Look at Google, as with any search engine, to bridge itself in-between.  There’s already too much competition for being an actual sales force.  Google would be better positioned to give it away for free, which is in line with the general public’s perception that the content should be free anyway to start with.

Is it possible to make a living as a stock photographer these days?  Does a photographer need to be signed with Getty or Corbis or both to make a go of it?

This is such a complicated answer because it really depends on the individual makeup of the photographer, first and foremost being their personality and skill attributes.  I’ll answer it by touching upon all of the arrows that point to the theoretical circle of making money at something you’re passionate about.  You need to be interested in your craft, which is to say, you first need to have a skill which you have crafted in order to be competitive.  You need to have startup money in some shape or form.  You need to anticipate what you’ll do financially while you are waiting for your investment to break even, and then later, ideally turn a profit so that you can reinvest.  You need to consider creating a stable peer group of experts that you can seek advice from.  You need to not take yourself too seriously; have fun with it, enjoy it, and remember that your crafted skill is your passion first, your job second.  You need a backup plan.  I suggest two or three of them and pay close attention to the ways in which they interlace with each other.  You’re going to need to be flexible.  What you want to be and who you are, are two completely separate concepts.  Use your skills to speak to an industry’s needs.

You will need to have multiple contracts in stock if you want to have any remote possibility of doing it profitably.  You will need to consider diversifying yourself into different licensing types of Micro, RF, and RM.  You will absolutely have to be a self-starter.

Are any of the smaller agencies worth a look for photographers to try to sign with?

Any and all are worth looking at.  Go with trusted support structures, proof of service, proof of sales, and who responds the best to recruit you.  Recruitment doesn’t mean who chases you the most.  It means that you should pay careful attention to the agencies who offer to give you the needed information that you require to initiate a contract.  In this way you can situate yourself as a consummate creative contributor. Nearly all agencies have a crisscross form of global distribution now.  Talk to the photographers signed to the agencies that you are interested in.  Do your homework first, and then attend the class.

What should a photographer spend to make a stock image and expect to make a profit?

Ask ten different photographers and you’ll get ten different answers.  Shoot at the lowest cost you can, including for free.  When starting out, shoot everything that you can at no cost or low cost.  That should answer this question.

Once an image is in a major collection such as Getty or Corbis, how much do you think the average image makes in a year?

It depends on how you shoot and what you shoot.  In general, for the audience that is starting out green and looking to learn from their mistakes, I’d stick with $25 per image per year.  Some readers might ask “why so low?”  My answer is because then, when it’s lower than that, you’ll have channeled your expectations elsewhere.  Put your sights aimed at $25.  There will be a lot of hidden costs that’ll make up for it being higher.  Remember, we’re saying per year here.  Not the life of the image.

How long will the average image sell well for in a major stock collection?

2 years.  The jury is admittedly out on this one.  No one industry wide can give an adequate measure for it.  No doubt, it’ll sell for years.  As to how many years it will sell robustly on a month to month basis is clearly declining industry wide.

Do you know any photographers who are selling stock images on their own websites and or using licensestream?

I do.  There are several technologies out there for direct marketing of imagery (or other forms of content such as music).  It’d be wise to investigate them all and talk to the photographers using them.  How will you find the photographers using these technologies?  Ask the companies who are selling the products.  They should have testimonials from the success storiess.

Do you think stock video will be the next boom for image makers?  Will it be worth it to start shooting video for stock agencies?

This is another really tough question to answer.  You’ve got fantastic questions here Greg!  The competition in video is low, but will become more and more saturated.  Sales have been sluggish and production costs are higher than stills.  This will remain an area of barrier to entry due to cost and time to initiate a production.  Motion is not as easy as setting up still shots.  No one knows if and when motion will truly take off.  Part of this has to do with internet wireless connection speeds and cell networks like G3.  The content is meaningless if it cannot be quickly accessed and used for advertising effectively as a result.  The last thing you want to do as an advertiser is use motion in a way that annoys the public.  Motion also takes longer to look at, and our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

It’s safe to say that anyone heading into motion should tread with caution for any outlay of production expense.  Nearly everyone is suggesting it as a focal point for education and experimentation.  Interestingly, when compared to 2003 and 2004 when agencies were actively teaching their photographers about transitioning from film to digital, we are not seeing that same process take place for initiating movement from stills to motion.  This might give a bit of guidance as to the reality of what the agency needs are based on where the sales are forecast vs. what is being projected amongst the photographer crowd.

The gear should continue to get better and better; and like 2004, when the Canon 1DS Mark II became the game changer for shooting 50mb files for stock, it might be wise to wait on major investments until the path is clearly delineated.  The lead into motion right now reminds me of the 2001-2004 lead into digital.  Everyone then said, “are you shooting digitally?”  Everyone now says, “are you shooting motion?”  It took a few years for the dust to settle.

The difference between shooting digitally vs. analog film, and moving into motion vs. sticking with stills, is that motion advertising usage is entirely based on something which the stock agencies cannot control.  That being the expansion rate of fast wireless mobile connectivity.  The clear growth in our marketplace are devices like smartphones and tablet computers.  Laptops can be included in this too, but smaller devices that include phone/contacts/email/and web access are taking hold.  I will point out that if there is any prediction of a cash cow to be made in selling motion to mobile devices, one might heed what happened in stills.  Still imagery for mobile phones was projected to be a potential major growth segment; but it didn’t happen.  The dot com era ending in 2000 also projected a major leap in internet connectivity.  The timing was off.  If you’re creatively inclined, add motion to your repertoire because you’re passionate about it.  Don’t do it because you feel you have to, as otherwise you might be very disappointed.

Have you changed the way you run your shoots or do business in the last 2 years?

Definitely.  I’ve taken all of what I have said above and injected it into my present and future plans.  The one major difference between when I started out vs. working now, is that I’ve made a conscious decision to only work with people that I genuinely trust in work ethic, commitment to the project, and service to the team.  I know that it might seem obvious, but when I’m choosing a direction to move in, I seek assistance from individuals who can think on their own two feet and who have integrity.  I’m asking for it, the industry is asking for it, and customers are asking for it.  There are a lot of distractions now to our everyday lives thanks to the technological revolution that we crave.  Thus establishing integrity is critical.

Will you continue to aggressively shoot stock in the next year?

I have plans for several ventures for which the jury is still out.  I won’t say that I’m necessarily exiting stock or commercial photography, but I will say that I’m paying very careful attention to the “need” vs. the “want” of the entire marketplace; for price, for competition, for creativity, and for challenging invigoration.

Posted via web from The Future Café: People, Policy, Trends, Technology, Leadership, Foresight, Innovation, Design

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Your gadget life in the next 20 years

Microsoft's riffs on the gadgets of the future, unashamedly techno-optimistic with realism filters turned off.
They've teamed up with the Alloy Design agency, and claim its all based on research currently being undertaken in the world’s labs and design studios.
Just a bit of harmless fun.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Future of Education UK: individualised vs. collective vs. contested

Beyond Current Horizons, a Bristol-based education foresight institute, has released its scenarios for the future of British education, 2025, at the end of a mammoth state-sponsored study.


The site says: "They (the scenarios) are structured around three potential worlds, each built around a different set of social values – increasingly individualised, increasingly collective or increasingly contested approaches towards life and education.      

World 1: Trust yourself
A world where society holds strongly individual values, where people take charge of their own lives and the state accepts few responsibilities

      World 2: Loyalty points
A world where relationships between people and the groups they belong to are managed by contracts, and personal reputations are carefully managed

      World 3: Only connect
A world where people see themselves as members of society first and individuals second, and success is shared around everybody."

Each world has two interior scenarios, making a 6-scenario matrix:

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Full text of Rockefeller Foundation - GBN 'Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development'

The full text of the Rockefeller Foundation - GBN 'Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development' is available below. Source:

From the report:
"For decades, technology has been dramatically changing not just the lives of individuals in developed countries, but increasingly the lives and livelihoods of people throughout the developing world. Whether it is a community mobile phone, a solar panel, a new farming practice, or a cutting- edge medical device, technology is altering the landscape of possibility in places where possibilities used to be scarce. And yet looking out to the future, there is no single story to be told about how technology will continue to help shape — or even revolutionize — life in developing countries. There are many possibilities, some good and some less so, some known and some unknowable. Indeed, for everything we think we can anticipate about how technology and international development will interact and intertwine in the next 20 years and beyond, there is so much more that we cannot yet even imagine. For philanthropies as well as for other organizations, this presents a unique challenge: given the uncertainty about how the future will play out, how can we best position ourselves not just to identify technologies that improve the lives of poor communities but also to help scale and spread those that emerge? And how will the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political conditions of the future enable or inhibit our ability to do so? The Rockefeller Foundation believes that in order to understand the many ways in which technology will impact international development in the future, we must first broaden and deepen our individual and collective understanding of the range of possibilities. This report, and the project upon which it is based, is one attempt to do that."

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Rights for whales and dolphins

One of the interesting trends over the last thirty to forty years has been the growth in concern in human rights - as if the removal of economic rights in the face of globalisation and financialisation has been compensated for in other domains. And the logical extension is that other species have rights as well. Which is why it's worth noting the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins at a recent conference in Helsinki. It is a significant weak signal, I think.

You can read the declaration for yourself - or even sign it, if you want to - but the preamble is clear that the Declaration is founded on an extension of human rights and of international law:

Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;
Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and cultures;
Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests a growing sense of entitlement by cetaceans;
We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.

My company recently did some 100-year scenarios for an environmental client; one of the scenarios proved to have complex arguments about rights for species (their scale and their extent). As pressure on the biosphere becomes more intense, it seems likely to become an increasing flashpoint for ecological, political and moral conflict. 

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

'There's a place for mining short-term opportunities, but too many are doing this at the expense of building out their long-term strategy'

by John Hagel, Co-chairman, Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge

"It’s not just the economy that seems to be inching back into a recovery these days. Most of the executives I talk to lately are also in recovery mode, emerging from the bunker mentality that has marked their every working day for the last year or two. They’re looking at new opportunities and trying to make sense of the new reality that has emerged. A few are already in M&A mode, bolstered by the feeling that they are once again on firm financial footing for the long term. As a group, they’re focused on seizing short-term opportunities before they disappear.

"I understand that. There’s definitely a place for mining short-term opportunities to support future growth. But too many of the people I talk to are doing this at the expense of building out their long-term strategy. I don’t want to strike too grim a note, but it’s simply a fact that long-term trends are working against us.

"In our recent book, The Power of Pull, my coauthors (John Seely Brown and Lang Davison) and I summarize the metrics we developed for the Shift Index – the first attempt to quantify the longer-term trends that have been reshaping the business landscape over the past four decades. Of the 25 metrics in the Shift Index, one in particular stands out: return on assets for all public companies in the US. Since 1965, return on assets has collapsed by 75 percent - a sustained and substantial erosion in performance. Just as bad, there is no evidence of any flattening of this trend, much less turning it around.

"What does this mean? It provides strong evidence that any “recovery” is merely a short-term relaxation of pressure and that there will be no “back to normal.” We often hear executives talk about the “Red Queen” effect, where they feel they are running faster and faster to stay in the same place. ))The actual situation is far worse: we are running faster and faster and falling farther and farther behind. There is no reason to believe that the long-term performance erosion will not continue.

"The key question is what to do about it. Market economies are generally successful in spawning innovative new approaches to overcome existing performance pressures. That has not yet happened here. The fact that this trend has continued over such a long period suggests that the causes of the performance erosion are deeply embedded in our current management practices and institutions.

"Companies need to first recognize how the sources of value creation have shifted. In the past, economic value creation was built around a company’s ability to “own” knowledge. Today, the key to creating more value is rooted in the ability to participate in a growing number of diverse knowledge flows, to more rapidly replenish the company’s knowledge reserves. This is closely related to the pull approach, which seeks to develop scalable pull platforms that amplify a company’s ability to draw out the right people and resources – when they need them, where they need them.

"To be sure, for most companies these are very big steps that will require major changes in the areas of management and organization. But the option – ignoring long-term trends and hoping for the best – isn’t really an option at all for companies that want to come out on top in the long run."

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