We need to open up the digital black box

Imagine for a moment you bought something at the supermarket, a packaged food you intend to eat and it didn’t have an ingredient list, let alone a nutrition panel. You’d think twice about consuming it wouldn’t you? In the early days of packaged foods this was the way things were. It was exactly as explained – we had no ideas what was in the box. Before the early 20th century food and medicine we consumed was a total crap shoot. There were literally no regulations, or information as to what we were all consuming if it wasn’t in its raw form. Eventually, we collectively decided this wasn’t good enough.

Boxes filled with secret ingredients, sometimes dangerous ones, developed by the manufacturers so they could sell more and keep it shelf stable longer, were marketed as natural and safe. Quite often the labelling on food and medicines was down right dangerous. The changes didn’t come easy though, manufacturers (Coca Cola, Kelloggs, Phillip Morris, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Nestle to name a few) not only sought to mislead to sell more, but often claimed the ingredients in the box were some kind of trade secret that, were valid in a capitalist society. A black box of secrets? –  Sounds a little like something that is going on today doesn’t it?

mind control

Everything we consume in digital form today comes with its own secret set of ingredients. We are ingesting information into our minds that might shape our lives as much as food does. Yet, for some reason we don’t question the opacity of the digital black box. We need to also to be smart enough to realise that shaping peoples minds could well be more dangerous than addictive and unhealthy ingredients are. They don’t just shape us, but they can reshape geo-politics as well, maybe even democracy. The lessons of history are easy to forget, especially when others fought the battles for us before we were born. It’s possible to take for granted the toil undertaken for the civility we bask in today.

A new revolution has arrived with a new set of corporations designing our consumption patterns, and just like before, the behaviour is the same – the large companies at the front line, call ‘competitive secret’ in order to profit seek against an unaware public. We instead need to push back and ensure that the society being built, with a meta structure on top of it, is one we want to live in.

It’s time we exposed the ingredients in the algorithms that shape our digital existence. We need this in the same way we know ingredients in packaged food. Algorithmic Nutrition Panels might just be the start of a more informed society. People might finally understand why they’re addicted to Facebook or Buzzfeed and why they see what they do on the screens in in their lives. It might just start a movement, one in which people realise what they’re actually giving away and why it matters.

What goes in our mind, is at least as important as what enters our mouths. It’s worth mentioning here that we are only on the precipice of the data deluge. The pending trillion sensor economy made possible the internet of things will mean every human interaction involves an algorithm. Algorithms as trade secrets, will increasingly shape our world and our lives, for as long as we tolerate it.

You’ll never believe what these guys are really selling!

The other day I was in the airport where a new startup was sampling itself. It’s an app to jump the coffee queue. I’m always stoked to see people having a go at a new business and got them to give me their pitch. It’s always good for entrepreneurs to practice unprepared. Then I realised I got a coffee but didn’t use their service. And here’s why:

Part of what I’m buying is the wait.

Yep, some of the people getting their morning java actually enjoy the wait. The wait is what is being sold. Sometimes it’s the conversation with the Barrista, and sometimes it’s the walk to the cafe. I guess we can throw the coffee on that list too.

Morning coffee

This is why you’ve seen a hundred other apps for people to jump coffee queue and they never quite work. I’m also wondering what happens if the app is successful?  Wont all those who used it end up ‘in a queue again’ via a digital deli ticketing system? The problem probably isn’t the arrival time, but the output bottleneck in peak demand times.

It;s another reminder that an effective business model isn’t just about demand – it’s very often about why we buy, and the model and the friction… and how money can be made through the transaction process, not just with the transaction itself.  As for the entrepreneurs, they did the right thing by having a crack. They could prove me wrong and I hope they do. Their worse case scenario is that they learn plenty and pivot closer to the success they deserve.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight. Click here if on mobile to add now.

The future of stealing music and everything else

Before technology allowed for recorded music, it was a pretty difficult thing to steal. You’d listen to the medieval minstral and maybe sing it to yourself after they’d left town. Heck, I’m sure that’s what they wanted. In those days, money only happened when they we’re ‘in the room.’ But then music changed…. it was something you could listen to when the musician wasn’t present.

When we entered the magnetic tape era, it become relatively easy to copy or ‘steal’ music for the first time. When I was a teenager there were a few ways of making copies of music:

Tape it off the radio: Wait patiently during the American Top 40 for your favourite song to come on, and hope like hell the DJ doesn’t talk over the top of it and screw it up. It was annoying to hear their voice each time your re-listened to it.

Tape it off the vinyl record: Have a friend who had the money to buy the record and tape record it onto your tape. We’d often do a swap – buy one record each, and tape each others – it was very give and take. A bit like the web should be – let others access your files while you access theirs. The basic economics of trade – by sharing we both had more.

Tape it off a tape: The old school double decker tape recorder – put the tape in and make another version off it.

Steal it from a music store: Heck, I’m sure some people did this, in those days it was the only way to get a perfect recording. All the other methods above had quality issues as the copies were imperfect, until…

… we entered the digital age. All of a sudden anyone could make a perfect copy, from perfect strangers. Napster…. Limewire…. Kazaar……Pirate Bay…. Youtube. Some got shut down, but the music never stopped, and the battle is still alive. It’s a battle people selling recorded music will never ever win. The technology is an organism with its own agenda. So what happens next when there is no device or host of the music?

“What – no host? What are you talking about Steve?”

20 years from now you’ll have a chip with petabytes of standard holding capacity. It’ll be attached to your body, and most likely inside it permanently. It will be an extension of our brain capacity in much the same way as our notebooks, libraries and computers are today. Except, it will record everything perfectly. It won’t just be what we interpret, it will be an exact copy and it will be inside us. Every sound, every song, every visual, every movie we ever hear or see will be on recall on demand for us to re-listen to and re-watch on demand. We only need to be exposed to it once and we’ll have a perfect copy, forever.

Will that be stealing? 

It will be difficult to police, because the technology will arrive and be implemented into ‘people’ before most industries realise the implications – especially those pertaining to copyright. When our technology merges with our biology, when it becomes part of our permanent memory and experience how can it be stopped? How will corporations even know what we are holding in our organic data banks?

The connected augmented human

The reality is that all biology and technology is built upon the concept of ‘copying’. Everything from single cell organisms, to our DNA, to manufacturing, to emergent technologies. Copying is ‘the’ feature, not a bug. Any business model built on this idea that all copies are controlled by the originator is flawed. It’s a business model that worked for a blip of time for humanity during the 20th century – it was the anomaly. If any business wants to survive in the future, it should be built around the idea where things getting copied is what you actually want.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight. Click here if on mobile to add now.

A simple Amazon strategy every business can implement

Jeff Bezos Genius

The future is a pesky little thing to predict. Much of it will surprise us no matter how well versed we are in emerging technology. A lot will change 10 years from now in ways we just couldn’t imagine. But, some things won’t change, and it is easy to know what these things are. So much so that this is a key question Amazon leader Jeff Bezos bases large parts of business strategy on:

“What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?…. You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time…. In our retail business, we know that our customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want a vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says; ‘Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”

And it is clear to see that while they use technology to make these things possible, the future is predictable and something Amazon or any business can build their strategy and infrastructure around. Jeff said this 4 years ago at the Amazon Web Services forum. With 40% of that 10 year window expired, and I’d say it’s all still true. Seems he has predicted the future, just by flipping the question.

So the only question remaining for your business or startup is this: What things can you be working on that just won’t change?

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight. Click here if on mobile to add now.

This will change your perception of brand loyalty forever

Loyal dog

Brand loyalty is a strange thing, it seems like it is a bit back to front to me. Powerful and large corporations expect you to be loyal to them. But ‘we’ are the one’s who feed them with our money. If a dog should be loyal to it’s owner – those that feed it – then surely brands should be loyal to us?

Here’s another error companies make when it comes to loyalty. They are loyal to marketing methods, social forums and their infrastructure. If there is anything a brand should have total disloyalty to it’s the methods in which they go to market. They are just tools. And tools should always be replaced when a better method arrives. Especially when the objective is serving others.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight. Click here if on mobile to add now

How to Start Small to Grow a #MASSIVE Company

One of my totally favourite projects is working with Pollenizer getting startups off the ground and doing corporate venturing. The biggest challenge many entrepreneurs and pretty much every big company trying to get internal startups going is understanding why small is beautiful. Unless the initial business is small enough to test, weird enough to get attention, and easy enough to try in an analogue fashion, then we’ll never get off the ground. We need to think #antiMASSIVE first.

Here’s some of my thoughts on the topic.

 

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight. Click here if on mobile to add now

A business model for every startup

Flying Dog

Here’s a simple business model which should be built into every startup.

Ways to make money using technology which is not available today.

The possibilities of connection are changing so rapidly these days it is quite possible that the way we make money in a few years, is not even technically possible today. The startup may invent the technical possibility, or leverage an emerging possibility for the community they are building. Either way, the path is simple – startups need to ensure that their future revenue streams consider a future possibility, not just the reality of today.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight. Click here if on mobile to add now