Category: Government

Bubbling Tech Power Wants California Split

Could there be a state of Silicon Valley, a dream political unit in which innovation can be represented unhindered by the problems typical of the old industrial era? This is what Tim Draper is proposing in his plan to split California into six states.  The proposal cites the reasons of oversized California compared with other states in terms of population, geography and economic power, the lack of proper political representation and poor administrative services.  The movement behind this proposal already has a website for marketing and support gathering.

I assume a lot of effort went into the design of the territorial make up of the new states.  The logic behind this blueprint must consider the history of California, the demographical distribution and its group interests. It is clear though that beneath this general dry presentation that the high-tech are the key influencers. What they really want is to have one state for themselves, the state of Silicon Valley.

This is fascinating. What an idea! On one hand one could think that this is madness, an exaggeration, one of those crazy ideas that are doomed to failure from the beginning.  It could be interpreted as a sign of out-of-touch grandeur of companies that have achieved colossal success at a global scale: the Twitters, the Facebooks, the Apples and the Googles.  It almost sounds like a prank. On the other hand maybe the people behind this proposal are onto something. Tech companies are moving much faster than Washington, they have caused a revolution that is changing the economic landscape not only in terms of novel technological products, but in terms of structure of workforce, education, social relationships.

Regulations are slow to adapt. Maybe this is a good thing and a bad thing in the same time. You don’t want to make mistakes that affect future generations because you made a quick bad decision or because you procrastinated for too long.  This plan goes for speed.  The California six-way split is wanting to accelerate the pace of regulatory change and create a power base for the tech class that can rival those held by the finance, energy, manufacturing and agricultural groups. The Twitters, the Facebooks, the Apples and the Googles are the new dynasties as the Morgans used to be (they still are to some degree).  Or perhaps the likes of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers (Tom Draper is representing one of them) are the real dynasties pushing for this change.  If somehow through a miracle this happens, other states will follow. The consequences are incalculable.

Update 3 Jan 2014:  I found this map created by professor Andrew Shears who created a fantasy version of US based on past partition proposals.




Connect GOP: Transform the Political Process with Social Media

In an interview given to Robert Scoble, John Gotts, the founder of Connect GOP, talks about how social media can politicians communicate with their constituencies they represent. This could be an unappealing story, one of those that you glance over while rushing to the next exciting news, if it wasn’t for the some very interesting remarks John made about how the technology can transform the political process.

First of all the magnitude of this project commands attention, because if it succeeds, it will transform the political process. Connect GOP is building a database of as many voters as possible and help their representatives use that data to get a pulse of what is going on and communicate their political messages. Here is the interesting bit: Connect GOP wants to store the experience of all campaigns and sift through the data to learn from past mistakes and successes informing the new campaigns to do better. But this is not your typical analytical tool. The system will be designed to provide the representatives with a real-time process that takes the simple political message and morphs it based on the past experience in a message communicated through multiple social media platforms and traditional forms of communication such as email.  This has some massive repercussions. The big TV ad campaigns will become much less relevant. The true campaign will be almost invisible to the public eye, and become a stealth operation reaching with much better precision the same audience if not larger with targeted and personalised messages.

Secondly, John’s remark about how many intermediate jobs that exist in the current process will disappear thanks to automation and data analysis. Like office operators in the 70s and 80s, the media staff will be threatened by systems such as Connect GOP. Forget about the days where the communiques where custom crafted on each occasion in each district based on the experience of individuals and the local history. Now the big data will inform a few professionals about what are the best models to be used in various circumstances. John calls this “contextual politics”.

Another interesting thing about this is the issue of trust when it comes to supporting competitors. If you support the team A, you cannot pretend you will help team B in an absolutely neutral fashion.  John talks about Votizen and National Builder and how they had an issue of trust because the suspicion that data from one party could be made available to the other side.  Through extension, this raises the issue of trust large social network enterprises in the context where their leaders take political positions. As soon as this happens, their members have legitimate reasons to ask of whether their trust should be reconsidered. See my previous post When Social Networks are not Social which touches on the issue of trust in the context of  Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign.

Finally, the nature of the politics seems to be in for a big change.  In the past political machine has been revolving around a broad ideological framework and big personalities. The memory of a party has been passed from generation to generation in form of stories, books, speeches and long history. Now, a political party is extending this memory with large networks and cloud data in which past events, voters information, economic data, and campaigns are stored for processing with complex algorithms.  This machinery will play and increased role in the future in the way political platforms are defined and in the way the representatives communicate with their constituencies. Maybe the accountability will be improved through transparency. Rogue politicians will find it more difficult to hide, but in the same time, political heroes will find it harder to make bold moves by themselves. They need data and the help of professional experts.

The battle of Qantas: industrial dispute versus cooperative innovation

Qantas vs. Unions represents a battle of two forces from which only one will win. On one hand we have a global business that needs to stay competitive on lower labour costs and on the other hand we have unions that want to stay relevant on higher labour costs. This is total misalignment. The emotional charge of these two forces is such that it is impossible to reconcile the two.

Qantas and the Unions have 20 days now to resolve their dispute and “bargain” for an outcome. The way things are going, Fair Work Australia will have to use its powers to force an outcome. What will that be? If Unions win, Qantas is doomed because it cannot compete on costs with Asian airlines or other competitors that are less unionised and have the support of a flexible labour market regime. If Qantas wins, it will be very painful and it will need to act quickly and expand in Asia before conflict has time to develop caused by an unhappy labour force. This will not be easy because an Asian expansion needs time to recruit and train proper workforce. There is no large pool of skilled labour floating around waiting to be poached by Qantas. Without the support of a happy workforce in Australia, Qantas will have difficulties to sustain its business. However, this type of cooperation seems to be a very remote possibility because the inherent divergence of goals.

Is there a better alternative? I think it is. As competition in this business is heating up, the demand for a different kind of travel will increase significantly. First of all the new types of aircraft, Airbus 380 and Boeing 787, offer opportunities for more diversified service. We should also note the rise of space travel open to the public. This will open enormous opportunities. An airline that wants to stay competitive in the long term will have to have a strategy in place and prepare its workforce to exploit these opportunities and grow. Qantas in 2075 could service regular flights to the Moon, if it survives that long; that is a real possibility judging by the speed with which commercial space travel develops.

This means that the Unions and Qantas have a common ground: prepare the workforce in Australia for that transition to compete with specialised low volume but high margin services and support the expansion in Asia to compete in high volume low cost services. This is the only way to find a long term solution. The opportunities are many, but this solution requires commitment from the Unions, Qantas and the government because its implementation is not your traditional train-a-skill program. It is about re-educating a large workforce and adopting a new way of thinking.

Smart Government

Most often the wide public’s perception of government is dominated for right or wrong reasons by images of monolithic positioning, inflexibility and appetite for taxes and control. Recent financial buffeting resulting in slashed budgets and staff culling made it even more difficult for governments to appropriate large public projects aimed at reaching grandiose goals.

Perhaps the current financial turmoil is an opportunity to re-invent themselves. They could become nimble and innovative operators and do-gooders again as they were back then when the land was vast, unpopulated and uncharted.

Public good initiatives are rarely the strong point of private enterprise. They are large, they require huge initial investment and they are difficult for profit extraction in a short time frame as demanded by corporate reporting requirements. This is an area where the government should and could excel. However, the voting system in a digital democracy has made this task extremely difficult even for a big government flushed with surplus money.

Public good doesn’t have to be created in form of portentous public spending as the traditional connotation might be tempted to suggest. Public good is… good distributed equally to the public at low or at no cost. For instance, low carbon economy is about promoting products and services with reduced the carbon dioxide emissions which are accessible to the public and for the public benefit. Other examples are: be green energy, important high impact medical discoveries, clean environment, public safety, etc.

What does the government do when these things start to become noticeably important in public opinion? There are two things the government has a preference for: raise the taxes or punish the companies to force them into providing certain products and services. The unifying theme here is that the focus of these actions is on the “push” side: cause a change on in the supply. This is expensive, artificial and it risks alienating both business and public in the same time. This type of action carries also the risk of damaging the country’s reputation for doing business. If the regulations are too unfriendly global suppliers will be reluctant to do local business and go elsewhere.

There are other alternatives which could lead to better results, but they require much more effort and higher skills. The government could focus on creating a “pull” force in the marketplace by stimulating the demand. This is more complex implementation of governing imperatives, but it is much more effective. This smart approach to design of policies and regulatory frameworks provides more certainty, it builds a foundation in which improvements could be added and it creates opportunity for prosperity for both business and consumers.

Smart regulatory frameworks require the government to think about ways in which fair competition between producers is promoted in a transparent way, the system of transmission is open and it offers the opportunities for standard product packaging and the distribution to the public is accessible by the public in a simple, no-hassle manner. This will stimulate the demand side but also the supply side which will have clear incentives to innovate.

This is what governments should become experts in. It is a bit difficult in the current state of affairs where emphasis is on short term polling satisfaction.