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January 29, 2014

The Opportunity is A Hell of a Lot Bigger than Google and Advertisers

If you are reading this, it is probably because you are participating in one of the most important moments in recorded history:  The start of the Cambrian explosion in the instrumentation of the physical world.

You have read here, heard from us in conferences, and perhaps experienced in our work, that INEX too is participating in the definition, development and deployment of the instrumentation of the physical world. We collect and PED intelligence on these opportunities. We are investing in IoT startups. We are working for some of the most forward thinking Fortune 5000 managers.

It is most often called The Internet of Things.

We use the language ‘instrumentation of the physical world’ sometimes, and in this case, because we think it accurately describes the scope of impact this work will have in laying the foundation of many new systems, or new versions of existing systems, that are coming. And because other than Internet of Things, most other language is either inherently limiting, or already co-opted.

We try to remind ourselves every day that someday in the future, our children or our grandchildren will experience some intellectual, professional or financial disappointment related to their work lives. For they will have ‘work’ lives. (A ‘futurist’ named Peter that I shared a stage with last year  tried to convince a few hundred Fortune 5000 C-level executives that ‘if’ their was ‘work’ in the future, that it would be a four-hour-per-week gig in the entertainment industry.) And it will not always go well.

People need meaningful work. A hell of a lot more than we need more solutionist ‘convenience’.

We cannot follow solutionists down the path of automating anything and everything that can be automated to ‘take humans out of the loop’ and solve every minor imperfection in every process or inconvenience in every life.  That is bullshit.

Nor can we honor luddites by burying our heads in the sand and isolating ourselves from authentic value-creation advances because they are enabled through silicon. That is cowardice.

We are in The Great Synthesis – whether we like it or not. The era when analog and digital, silicon and carbon, physical and virtual are merging. It has many names. But it is all of a larger moment.

As we work to break through another frontier with our technology, we simply cannot forget why we do anything ,really. Is it not so that we can support ourselves, our families, our communities? With money and meaning?

Do they really need to be mutually exclusive? Are we really that simple? That dull?

Too many ‘leaders’ in business, tech and finance blindly accept, and misapply, only one of Milton Friedman’s many pithy quotes. The one that forcefully states that the sole function of a for-profit corporation is to increase the financial wealth of its shareholders.

Friedman said a lot of brilliant stuff. That one was not his best.

If we do not find alternatives to our current practice of capitalism, then it is likely that most of our children and grandchildren will ask us what the hell we were doing during this period, when the dominant form of capitalism practiced on the planet was Winner-Take-All, Hyper-Concentration Capitalism.

Note, that language. There is not ONE capitalism any more than there is ONE socialism, spiritualism or entrepreneurism.

If pursue only profit on our way to instrumenting the physical world, we will leave most of the potential of this great work on the cutting floor.

And yet, I am not so sanguine on the classic practice of social entrepreneurism – lofty ideals, creative ideas, illiquid models.  Alas, typically failure against one the social entrepreneur’s core goals: sustainability. As such, their good work gets thrown out with their failed idealism.

Frankly, neither one holds the answer for me for what ails us. Neither profit, nor people are dirty words. Money is not evil. Meaning is not a hoax.

If you spend time in both the exclusive places and the real world, you know this debate is raging. Maybe we should re-think the argument.

Maybe we are in Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago’s Blindness.  Infected with a virus that blinds us to the possibility, no, the destiny that is ours.

Instrumenting the physical world will bring more ground truth to our lives. It will tell us more about water and food and agriculture and energy and population health and transportation and the environment and ourselves, our societies and our systems than we have ever before considered.  It will also tell us more about ownership, control, access and opportunity, too.

It will tell us that we had, we have, the opportunity to create new ways of thinking about life on earth in all these domains. It will tell us that we do not need to leave meaning to chase money, or be poor as we pursue purpose.  It will tell us what we value — and how well we did working and fighting, living and dying, earning and sharing for those values.

It will also tell us if we sold ourselves, our children and our grandchildren out in that new frontier.

If we are not committed to creating more opportunity for more people to pursue meaningful work through the intelligent, intentional deployment of the internet of things, we should kill it now.

If the greatest thing we can think to do with the Internet of Things is feed an ad platform, we should never prosecute another hacker.

If the Internet of Things does not have immediate, material, sustainable impact on the grand challenges confronting us, we should boycott the vapid brands consuming our potential and getting in the way of meaningful value creation.

Now, I need to run to a handful of calls and meetings with some of the most amazing people I have ever met who are building IoT companies that will make a hell of a lot of money, and enable a lot more people to engage in meaningful work.

January 29, 2014