The hidden asset base

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I was speaking with a friend about some of the great quotes from long gone captains of industry. J.D Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Benjamin Franklin and cohort. One quote that got me thinking was this:

“If I went broke, just give me my 5 best people, and we’ll be double the size in 5 years.”

I searched Google, Wikiquotes, Brainyquote and all sorts of places to find who it was with no luck. My buddy said it was JD Rockefeller, but I can’t confirm it is, or even find the quote. In the end it doesn’t even matter. What I do like about it is the layers it carries. Some of which are pertinent in an age of technology disruption.

  • The people around us are more important than ourselves.
  • The business is the people and the culture, not the infrastructure.
  • Business is ephemeral, skills are enduring.
  • It’s easier to grow with a fresh start, than with legacy constraints.

But above all it reminds us that our most valuable asset is what we know. Something which can’t be taken away from us, even when a business falls apart.

Ignore what the teacher told you, and just make things up

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Watch a 5 year old kid play for half a day and you’ll see levels of creativity that’ll blow your mind. You’ll wonder in awe where their natural ability to ‘make things up’ comes from. You’ll be inspired by how they see the world and what it makes them think and do.

We used to see the world that way too.  But what happened was for the first 18 years of our lives we got told how to see the world. In fact, the concept of making things up brings back some very strong and personal memories for me. I can remember when I reached High School (Grade 7-12 in Australia) and that it was no longer Ok to make things up. We had to reference where we got our ideas from. All of a sudden my opinion didn’t matter. What started to matter was researching someone else’s opinion, someone who had been ordained by industrialised society and had been published. It felt so weird. Why couldn’t I just write what I think? Why did it have to be a quotation from someone else? Why did what they think matter more than what I think? We all got taught  got taught stop thinking and start rehearsing. Rehearsing for what you may ask?

Rehearsing the lines for some kind of monetary industrial pantomime.

We were getting taught how to play inside the the modern economy.  An elongated economic play in which we would become ‘extras’ in someone else’s dreamscape. Someone else had the starring role, but they needed all sorts of support so they could be the stars of the show. And we went along with it. But now the exact opposite of what we got told, is where all the value is being created.

The trick they pulled on us to not have any original ideas, to not create anything new, to keep our opinion to ourselves is rapidly becoming redundant. And this gets me excited. We all still have the ability to just ‘make things up’. Now that we have access to the tools to create anything, now that the economy is being totally redesigned, we just need to forget what we got told, and start to write some of our own lines.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

Going back to the well

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This year I’ve been working steadily on my new book and sharing ideas with people who want to know about the technology revolution. And while it is true we are always learning while on the job, I feel like people in the information business need an off-season as much as professional sportspeople and musicians do. Problem is we don’t tend to plan for it on an annual basis as much as other ‘seasonal industries’ do. Which could lead us into a dangerous pattern of already knowing what we know, or at worst obsolescence through ignorance. The ironic thing is that this exact behaviour pattern is what is causing large corporations to be disrupted. They are so busy doing what they do, making what they make and utilising the assets they already own that they rarely go back to the well.

If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer (like I am) then we need to ensure we don’t get so deep into our work wormhole that we ignore the world around us. Screens and offices are very dangerous places to watch the world from. It’s probably better to make, break and explore a few things outside of our work to ensure we keep our edge.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!

What school forgot & the School of Life

School taught me three really important things. It taught me to read, to write and to count. Pretty much that is where it ends. At University the process of being inside it taught me how to learn. While I’m being somewhat flippant, if I actually break it down and look hard at the subjects taken and the lessons learned, there wasn’t much outside of these things. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that everything important I know: Including how to make a living, and how to interact with other humans and my family, I taught myself. I owe all of what I learned to my family, my friends, observation and my self curated library.

Have you ever noticed that economics lessons in school, and University for that matter (I should know I majored in it) teach you about the economy as it pertains to the national and global version? Have you ever noticed that accounting and finance lessons in school, and in University for that matter, are focused on how the numbers work in running large corporations, not the corporation that is you and your personal finances.The system was set up by and for them. Not us. That’s why the majority of the happy people I know have taken personal vocations of learning to fill the void that schooling created. That’s why self help books sell so well.

In fact, most people know who to earn money – but very few actually know how to manage it. Most people know how to manage communication in a company setting – but few of us know who to manage our own personal lives so well. It’s not an accident, our education system was designed as part of the industrial revolution. In itself its primary purpose was to educate kids so that they could work well in the emerging industrial economy as employees. An interesting chart below is from Googles book scanning program – this ngram as they are known measure the frequency of any word appearing in books in percentage terms. I inserted the word ‘job’ and  you’ll see that the word job, basically did not even exist until we were well inside the industrial period of living.

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We’ve been indoctrinated for the first 21 years of our lives. At a time when our mind is so malleable, to be employees, more than humans. We got taught how to operate in the system, but they forgot to teach us about the human operating system. The good news is that this is changing. We now know that the human mind is far more malleable as we grow older than previously thought. We are also lucky enough to have a sub culture of innovators doing something about it.

Step Forward the School of Life.

The School of life is a new space in Melbourne which is a cafe, bookshop, classroom and community enterprise which endeavours to fill the gaps formal education inevitably creates. It’s a startup I can really appreciate. The brain child of global thought leader Alain de Botton. The moment you walk in you can feel what they are trying to do. You can sense the empathy and the humanity. The books they sell and the courses they teach provide lessons for humanity, as opposed to lessons for the economy. Maybe if our governments focused on the former, there’d be less problems with the latter.

I took a few pictures when I stopped in for a morning coffee.

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The photos are telling. You can see everything from a list of courses which matter so much to us as people, to the little nudges and messages which request we challenge our own doctrine. I’m hoping this type of thing is the start of our community redefining what learning is for , but also redefining the type of learning that matters in the post industrial age of abundance.

If you happen to be in Melbourne, or any of these cities globally, then I think it’s worth the effort to pop in and say hello.


Which Columbia?

Famed musician Billy Joel needs little introduction. I find the back story of artists and musicians full of lessons for entrepreneurs – especially during the halcyon period of the music industrial complex circa 1950-1995. But today I read some things about Billy Joel which really inspired me:

Firstly, he didn’t finish high school because he took a gig playing in a piano bar at nights to support his single mother. At the end of the year he didn’t have enough credits to graduate:

“I told them, ‘To hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there’.”

The final irony is that he now has 6 honorary doctorate degrees from famous colleges.


Memorise this

The most outdated form of learning is memorising. Other than the ability to write and speak – it’s hard for me to see a future for memorising anything when I have access to the knowledge of the world, in real time, in my pocket.

So why do we still ask kids to memorise lists, States, Ex Presidents and the first 20 elements of the periodic table?

The really valuable part of computing power is the ability to process the data, the RAM. The hard drive (the storage) is less expensive and I’d say not as important. How often do we go into our files to find that presentation, spreadsheet or file from 2 years ago? – Almost never.

I think it’s a lot like our human brains, the real value is in problem solving, not rote memorising. Ironically personal computers seem to be moving back to the way they began – without the potential to store data locally. The data stored on our hard drive is quickly moving to the cloud and away from our computers. And it’s my contention that we should do the same thing with memorsing stuff and outsource that to the micro chip as well.