Tuesday, January 31, 2012

6 characteristics of the future web

Kevin Kelly remains an amazing intellectual force. In this podcast – of a presentation he gave at the Web 2.0 conference back in November - he presents his 6 characteristics of our relationship with the future web:

- Screening, every surface will be a window to information

- Interacting, we will be IN the web, not on it, with full body interface to ubiquitous data.

- Sharing. Anything that can be shared will be shared, and when information is shared it will increase in value.

- Flowing, data will be organized like streams, moving forward, weaving together the data emitted by every object and every person. The default mode is always on

- - Accessing. Without owning. You don’t buy individual items – books, music, films – you access it when you need it.

- Generating, raw data will have little value, but qualities that are generated for a particular context will be where the money is.

The whole thing lasts 20 minutes. You will feel wiser afterwards.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The ghost of Malthus is rising

Last year, Jeremy Grantham, CEO of the US assets management company GMO, observed that the outcome of the famous wager between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich had changed.

In 1980, Julian Simon was so frustrated with Paul Ehrlich's gloomy prediction of an exploding population and the depletion of resources, that he made a bet with Ehrlich. Ehrlich chose 5 major commodities - copper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten - and they bet whether the prices would go up over the next ten years.

Prices fell, and Ehrlich lost, and for many, the wager was a demonstration of human capability to innovate and thus stay ahead or Malthus’ old prediction that the population and our needs would grow faster than we were able to increase production – leaving the masses to starve.

Well, Jeremy Grantham in his quarterly newsletter in July pointed out that if the bet had continued till today (Simon in fact proposed to extend it), Ehrlich would have won. Prices on all 5 commodities have risen above the 1980 level in recent years.

An excellent recent report from McKinsey Global Institute, The Resource Revolution, documents how the entire fall in commodity prices that industrialization and new technologies created during the past century have been erased by the rapid rise in prices since 2000.

I guess that’s bad news.

Diminishing returns of material goods and happiness

One of the lessons of the many studies of happiness is that the more you have already, the more it takes to make you happier. In that sense, we’re on a curve of diminishing returns, which drives us to exponentially higher levels of consumption in order to satisfy our desire for happiness.

Meanwhile, the planet’s natural resources are in overshoot. We’re extracting more and faster than the biosphere can re-generate. The fat, virgin sources of materials are getting depleted, and we’re moving to the margins, where it gets ever more costly – in terms of money and disruption – to extract resources.

We’re in a pinch; we need much more to feel happier, but it’s getting harder and harder to produce it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck

I'm reminded of the old Paul Virillo quote:
"When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution...Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress." (From: Politics of the Very Worst)

Disasters have their own spectacular fascination. Here's a satelite shot of the Costa Concordia from Digital Globe.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The hidden beauty inside everyday objects

For years, Nick Veasey has made these amazing x-ray images of all kinds of everyday objects: animals, shoes, sea shells - and larger (really large, in fact) objects like entire air planes, busses and excavators.
It's beautiful, and very informative, too. You really get to see a different aspect of reality.
Check his site.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All copying is not the same

One of the crucial features of digital information is that the copy can be just as good as the original. This has opened the floodgates of copying and obviously made it a lot more complicated for anyone who has invested in creating digital content to charge money for access to it.

But what if the copy is even better than the original? If the one who copies does more than that – and actually adds to the original by adjusting, redesigning, tweaking, remixing…

At a system level, this is exactly what you want copying to lead to – enhancement, development, the emergence of new value.

This is the promise of a free exchange; to move beyond the original. Not always, but sometimes.

All copying is not alike. There are plain rip-offs, passive, even degrading copying. And there is copying as inspiration and re-combination.

It’s hard to draw the line exactly. The latter is a fundamental mechanism of evolution. We need it to stay fit for life. So you don’t want to stop the creative type of copying.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Der bliver trængsel i senior-afdelingen

Analyse-instituttet DREAM laver en årlig fremskrivning af sammensætningen af den danske befolkning. Ifølge deres 2010 fremskrivning ser det sådan ud frem mod 2040 - jeg citerer:

"Hovedårsagen til, at antallet af personer uden for den erhvervsaktive alder er steget, er, at der er blevet langt flere ældre, mens antallet af børn – med undtagelse af en kort periode fra 1940 – ikke er steget. Således er antallet af personer over 64 år steget fra knap 200.000 i 1900 til ca. 900.000 i 2010. Denne udvikling ventes at fortsætte i de kommende år, således at antallet af ældre topper omkring 2042 med 1,47 mio. personer. Det vil sige, at der om godt 30 år skønnes at være ca. 600.000 flere ældre end i dag."

"Der forventes en relativt større stigning i antallet af ældste ældre end i ældregruppen som helhed. Således skønnes antallet af personer på 80 år og derover, at blive fordoblet fra omkring 228.000 til 464.000 personer i løbet af de kommende 30 år"

"Fremover forventes der at blive færre i den erhvervsaktive alder og flere uden for den erhvervsaktive alder. Det betyder, at der omkring 2040 forventes at være 4 erhvervsaktive til at forsørge ca. 3 personer, der ikke er i den erhvervsaktive alder."

Coping with poverty

Just read a bunch of reports about the strategies people have for coping with poverty. It obviously takes considerable effort to get by. Here's a couple of quotes from the report "Just coping" from the Kent city council in the UK:

”Life on a low income is characterised by deep unpredictability. Just one unexpected bill – a new school uniform, or a bank charge – can disrupt the entire weekly budget. The families we met were operating from day to day, in a way that often felt very out of step with the patterns and rhythms of financial help such as tax credits and housing benefits”.

”Men were notable by their absence. Poverty is without question a gendered experience, and it is often women on whom most of the coping work falls”.

"In order to describe the money situation faced by the families, the research team came to use the term ‘Milkybar economy’ after noticing that several of the families seemed to have a predilection for that particular chocolate bar. There are two facts to observe here: first, the ‘Milkybar’ chocolate only costs 15p (about half the price of other chocolate bars) and, second, buying them was a deliberate, economic choice. The cheaper price allowed parents to buy children a sweet or treat with the small change left over from other shopping without impacting too much on budgets.
Of course, not all of the families ‘bought Milkybars’, but these kinds of small margins were a consideration for all."

And here's a quote from the report “You just have to get by - Coping with low incomes and cold homes" from the Center for Sustainable Energy in the UK:

" Overall, 62 per cent of low‐income households had cut back on their heating costs in the previous winter by turning their heating off or down, heating only one room, or using their heating intermittently. However, their experience of cold at home also depended on the effectiveness of any strategies they used to compensate for their loss of heating. These included wearing more clothes, wrapping up in blankets, staying in one room, going to bed early and having hot drinks. The most income‐constrained households were adept at juggling these options as part of their wider strategies for coping on a low income.

The low‐income households who experienced cold homes reported adverse impacts on their mental health, physical health and social lives: nearly half (47 per cent) said the cold had made them feel anxious or depressed, 30 per cent said an existing health problem had got worse, and 17 per cent did not feel able to invite friends or family to the house."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Frugal solutions - IKEA are the masters

Currently, I’m researching on a concept we call ”frugal solutions”.

Danish companies are usually inclined to compete by developing ever more sophisticated new features, moving up the value chain in order to stay out of commoditization and low margins. The problem with that strategy is that you loose sight of another, potentially much larger market. In the coming years it’s very likely that a lot of consumers will demand products that are a lot cheaper. They will focus on need to have, rather than nice to have – out of necessity. High unemployment, aging society, polarization of incomes and a welfare state with budgets under severe pressure will translate into a much larger lower end of the market. And Danish companies are not used to operating in that space, so there is imminent danger that foreign, lower priced companies will move in with their offerings.

This is where ”frugal solutions” come into the picture. The idea is to create solutions that can meet a demand at a radically lower price, but with little or no compromise in utility to the end user. The infamous Tata Nano car from India is an example; The M-PESA mobile phone banking system from Kenya is another. Generally, a lot of frugal solutions seem to emerge from emerging markets.

But there are Western examples, too. Discount supermarkets, low price airlines, the Swatch watches are some of them.

My favorite Western example, though, is IKEA. Visiting one of the blue and yellow warehouses is like an exhibit of brilliantly executed frugal solutions.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of details and system that are invisible to the casual visitor, but let me run through some of the elements that are obvious and easy to observe.

Let the users do some of the work: This was the original IKEA revolution: knocking down furniture into flat packages that could be transported by customers and assembled at home. IKEA has made it as painless as possible. Their manuals use no words, and they are impressive examples of clear communication. Just try any another manual for assembly, to appreciate how well they work. Obviously, this is not by co-incidence, but because the company has invested in developing the entire experience – not just the furniture.

One could say that IKEA has created a whole language or logic around their products. If you have tried assembling a few different models, you will be familiar with their special screws and fasteners.

In the warehouses, IKEA has moved a few steps further. Consumers go to the storage racks and fetch the packages, and they check out themselves, scanning the barcodes and paying with their credit cards. In the cafeteria, the logistics are similar: You are clearly instructed to follow the line, picking utensils, glasses etc.

Modularization: Many of IKEAs lines - kitchens, closets, book shelves… - are modularized, allowing end-users to configure a highly individualized result from standardized parts. This is not unique to IKEA, of course, but never the less part of why you can offer a satisfying experience at a relatively low price.

Democratic design: Clearly, IKEA has been able to create designs that a lot of people like, and make it available to just about anyone. Having IKEA objects in your home is nothing to be ashamed of. Fancy home decoration magazine will show homes with things from IKEA alongside other designer objects many times mores expensive.

Sometimes, IKEA in fact comes up with their own, new classic designs – and of course, at least as often, they create their own low price version of competitors models that they can see are popular in the more expensive shops.

Massive scale. Good design and massive scale of production translates into sometimes amazingly low prices. It's one of those great factoids of the times that the IKEA catalogue was printed in 197 million copies in 2010 - 3 times more than the bible.

Simplified design and cheaper materials: Some IKEA furniture – shelves, tabletops, cabinet doors… - are really almost just cardboard and a hard coating. Clearly, there is a constant strive to simplify models and use only the materials and the amount of materials that really contribute to the user’s experience.

At the moment, IKEA is replacing their many, many wooden pallets for transportation and storage with a new, lighter and disposable pallets made of cardboard.

Understanding the end-user’s context. For several years it’s been a main theme of the annual catalogue to show solutions for maintaining order and comfort in very small spaces. IKEA has developed lots of furniture that makes it possible to cram more stuff and functions into a tiny flat.

The interiors in the catalogue are not all vast, spacious rooms, but small, cluttered, real. An example is the STORÅ bed, on pillars, so you can place a sofa and a table underneath (see the video above).

Decency. Even though IKEA boast of their focus on low price, they also make extensive efforts to operate as a sustainable company. Sourcing wood from decent producers, cutting down on waste and toxic ingredients etc. Again, proof that a low cost solutions need not be morally corrupt.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

No jobs - but so much that needs to be done

Weird how we've set our self up. Millions of able and eager young people looking for a job - and at the same time there is so much work that needs to get done. So much decay, neglect, halfway finished projects, looming problems - yet we pay people for being passive. And not just a few - an amazing part of the working age population have no job. In Denmark, 2.050.000 people live on welfare, pensions and student grants. 2.769.000 people have a job - although the salary of 92.000 of those is partially paid by the government (løntilskud).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tatooes or what?

Here's a slightly unsettling video. Zombie man going back and forth between looking normal and looking absolute tattooed freak. At some point (1:25 or so) things start to blend - that's where it gets interesting.

Friday, January 13, 2012

When I'm 80 we'll all be old

I'm preparing for a stint as a moderator at a conference about the future of health care, arranged by the Danish Engineering society. It's amazing to read just how dramatic the aging of the Danish population will be, in our own life time.
With some luck, I'll be 80 years old in 2041. By then, 8% of the Danish population will be 80 or above. Today the figure is only 4%.
19% of the population will be above 70 years in 2040.

Another stat: By 2020 - in less than 10 years - there will be 2 million Danes with chronic diseases - out of a total population of 5,5 mio.

Source: IDA og Det Nationale forskningscenter for Velfærd.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Very cool invention - a fridge made of clay

The Miticool fridge is a wonderful example of creating frugal solutions that are both cheap and which fit local conditions very well. The fridge is made of clay and it is kept cool by water which drips down the side from an upper chamber and evaporates.
No electricity needed, no maintenance. No Noise.
And very different from what a Western company would come up with.
Add Image

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

School of one - sounds amazing

Anyone interested in how to improve the efficiency of schools is likely to be fascinated by the School of one concept - an experimental program used in New York City. The program is based on targeting online exercises and instruction to students based on their moods and style of learning - using algorithms that are similar to those used to personalize music on internet services like Pandora.
It's presented in this episode of Freakonomics radio. Maybe the presenters gloss things over a bit, but it does sound like School of one is on to something.

Where Apples come from (is not a pretty place)

An excellent, thought provoking and very different podcast piece: Mike Daisey, an American stand up storyteller and Apple fan goes to Shenzhen in China to understand where those beautiful machines are made. It’s simply a guy telling a story of what the city looks like, what the workers told him, what the factory floors and cramped dormitories and endless hours are like, how workers are crippled by repetitive motions and toxic chemicals… Very bleak, very stirring to hear about – and remarkably, even entertaining to listen to.

I can certainly recognize his description of Shenzhen and the particular harsh and repressive side of Chinese culture that you see such places.

Mike Daisey may be a bit colorful, and certainly his mission is not to try to give a balanced view. It’s emotional, but the producers of the radio show, which aired his report – This American Life – have tried to fact check everything he told. In the second half of the program they talk to experts and rattle off regular journalistic data that largely supports the first story.

It takes an hour to listen - it's very well spent.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ipencil - the complexity of a making a simple pencil

I stumbled upon a very interesting, classic essay: "I, Pencil: My Family Tree". The author, Leonard E- Read, traces the many steps that are necessary for manufacturing a pencil: Cutting wood, producing the saws to cut the wood, cooking the coffee to warm the loggers, mining the graphite, processing it, producing the lacquer, the label, the eraser and the metal holder of the rubber. It goes on and on - the point of course being to demonstrate how incredibly widely connected and interdependent an industrial process is.
As Read puts it: Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make a pencil. It takes the cooperation and skills of thousands and thousands.
The essay was first published in 1958, and
since then the complexity has reached a whole different level. Think of an I-phone compared to a pencil. The phone is useless without being in ongoing connection to a network of communication, software, songs, news feeds - all of that. It's useless without regular charging from the electricity grid. Its value resides both in what producers have created, and in content created by the users that are connected through it. Read ends his essay arguing that the fact that so many people can come together without detailed instructions to make such a complex happen shows that we must leave men as free as possible to let the invisible hand work its magic. I would draw a different conclusion: The interconnection of everything and everybody is perhaps the most important trend shaping our future. it proves that we are increasingly interdependent. Our fate is common, we have shared interests. We should think less in terms of local, individual and short term gain - and more according to a planetary community. You could write a whole book about it - in fact, I did.

Friday, January 06, 2012

AsiaNBC i Deadline på DR-TV

Jeg var en tur i Deadline på DR-TV igår for at præsentere Universefondens AsiaNBC projekt.
Indslaget ligger her.
(forneden i rammen kan du klikke dig direkte hen til interviewet: det er den fjerde hvide pind):

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

AsiaNBC website is online and kicking

For the past couple of years I have coordinated the Asia New Business Creation project at the Universe Foundation. We have compared companies in Denmark, China, Singapore and Korea and their approaches to innovation and business development. The differences should be an inspiration and a challenge to any Western company concerned with their place on the markets of the future.
You can read all about the conclusions - and a lot about Asian business in general - at the new website.
You can also download the booklet which summarizes the findings - right here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

An upgraded tuk-tuk

Bajaj, the Indian maker of the three-wheeler "tuk-tuk" that is ubiquitous in India and other developing countries has launched an upgraded version - a "four-wheeler".
Top speed 70 km/hour, 35 km. pr. liter.
We'll see if it fares better than the Tata Nano, which for all of its surrounding hype still lacks sales.

Same words, different meanings

Fascinating, how many of the core words that define our culture have very different meanings, depending on who you are.

We use words like growth, quality, community, democracy and creativity to describe our aspirations, but we hear different meanings behind the concepts.

You can describe very different realities with the exact same words.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Shanghai: Fast forward, large scale

The Atlantic brought two photos of the Bund and Pudong in Shanghai - one shot in 1990, the second shot in 2010. A very clear illustration of large scale change.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


An Abu Dhabi sheik has written his name in the sand of an island he owns - in letters that are two miles wide. This makes them plainly readable in Google Earth. As you can see on Google Earth, the letters were created by digging canals in the dessert and pumping them full of water.
Very creative way of spending your money.