This year I’m going to be putting the Relationship Economy’s ideas to work in many ways.

The debut event is a day-and-a-half-long workshop I’m running at the GDI — the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institut — an excellent think tank based in Zurich. The workshop will run all day Monday, February 3, and end with lunch on the 4th.

The online description is in German, but I’ll be running the workshop in English. In case your Deutsch isn’t what it used to be, here are a few more details about what we’ll cover.

Consumerism ate the world. It didn’t just change consumer products and entertainment. It changed the way we relate with one another, the way large organizations treat us and even the way we see the Earth — and not all for the better. That consumerist model peaked some years ago, when there were still only a few TV networks and newspapers weren’t falling like flies.

Now we’re in uncharted waters, where a strong point of view on what this big shift is about is really useful. Even better is a strong PoV that has explanatory power looking back at history and out to the future. The Relationship Economy is just such a point of view, and one that is humanist and optimistic to boot (though very messy in the near term). In this workshop we will apply the thesis to that most fundamental area: customer relationships.

Along the way, we will address chewy questions such as, “Are we trustworthy?,” “What are our new sources of value?” and “How is power shifting?” Guests with their feet on the ground in different industries will offer case studies of their experiences. We’ll run through several exercises together. And we’ll wrap up with what to do going forward, to thrive in this emerging Relationship Economy.

If this sounds interesting to you, please sign up here. If you know someone who ought to be at this workshop, please let them know. It’s the best way to strengthen relationships.

Economists and ecologists are often at odds. Why?

In this short video I offer an opinion that gives us a wee glimmer of a possible solution.

Brainstorming a learning platform

Jerry —  September 27, 2013 — 4 Comments

In August I spoke at Catalyst Week, a terrific brain- and heart-blending series of talks and events that are part of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas (more here). The topic for August’s Catalyst Week — they do these pretty much monthly — was education, so I decided to give a speech that would build on the TEDxCopenhagen talk I gave a year ago (here’s a full-text transcript).

Half my Vegas talk summarizes and crystallizes the talks that went before, in order to clear the decks enough to do some serious brainstorming. Of course, there was precious little time left for that brainstorming, so I’d love to continue it here.

On to the new talk:

Jerry Michalski visits Downtown Project Las Vegas from Downtown Project LV on Vimeo.

How we used to live together

Jerry —  August 8, 2013 — 5 Comments

We are modern. We see the world through modern eyes, in a modern context. It’s very hard to unlearn that perspective, or even to understand what it means.

From the modernist point of view, a lot of behaviors and institutions from times gone by make no sense at all. If you want to be entertained learning why the strange customs of the British pre-modern aristocracy were actually well suited to their times and contributed directly to a couple hundred years of Rule Britannia, read The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World, by Doug Allen.

That would be entertaining, but not as useful as a reading of The Great Transformation, written by Karl Polanyi in 1944. In the video below, I distill what I got from the book. I’ll offer some comments after it.

The three ways we stayed alive before: householding, reciprocity and redistribution. The three fictitious commodities brought by the industrial revolution: land, labor and money. Poverty, new in 1650; unemployment, new in 1750. The mind boggles.

I’m going to keep creating 5minUs of books that have influenced me, and I encourage you to, as well. Together we might be able to read our way through huge stacks of important works. Contradictions and debate welcome. That’s the point, too.

If you didn’t post a video to YouTube, you can’t alter it. The machine translation of the TEDx talk I gave last October about education is awful, so I listened to my talk and transcribed it. Aside from saying “so” and “let me” too many times, it ages well. Here’s the full text:

What If We Trusted You – transcript

Go back in your minds to fourth grade. Put yourselves in fourth grade and I am your teacher, if that doesn’t frighten you too much. You are in my writing class and I’ve given you a poetry assignment.

So, you’re actually writing. You’re in the flow, the words are pouring out of your fingertips, you’re really happy. You’re in that place where you’re making something beautiful…

And then all of a sudden, the bell goes off.

Like, what’s up with that? What do we all know is going to happen right now? What’s the next thing that’s going to happen? You’re going to put down your pens, and you’re going to go to math class, right?

Continue Reading…

How will we deal with abundance?

Jerry —  April 24, 2013 — 1 Comment

Provoked by Tim Wu’s review of the book Abundance, Chris Mitchell of ILSR asked whether abundance might not be too much. Won’t we get bogged down in all the choices we have to make?

I love this question because I think seeing abundance (and acting in ways that generate abundance) is a big piece of the solution to the world’s present woes. As a point example, here’s 8 minutes on how we needlessly create artificial scarcity in education, when in fact there is abundance.

We’re just so accustomed to the institution as it exists today — in this case, education — that we can’t see the abundance, which violates many of our dearly held beliefs.

The problem with sudden abundance that Chris described is the Tyranny of Choice (pdf), which Barry Schwartz has investigated well, and Malcolm Gladwell has popularized by writing and speaking about it in his appealing way (I think it’s in this TED talk). A typical story: When faced with 23 jam samples, people bought fewer than when they saw only three. Our mental fuses pop when there’s too much to consider.

When the Cluetrain cabal announced that Markets Are Conversations, a common complaint was that nobody wants to enter a negotiation or selection decision every time they are thirsty for a soda pop. Yup. No doubt.

The good news is that over time we get used to abundance. We form habits. We learn what we like, we share opinions, we groove behaviors that make us happy. Now and then we change them.

The advent of the Internet is the latest firehose of abundance in our lives (compare to the telegraph, then TV). Despite all the hyperbole already written about the Net, it is an amazing thing. Now we can communicate instantaneously with half the humans on this pale blue dot, at zero marginal cost.

Now everything people write on line is available, as well as their movies, tunes, scribbles and (sigh) breakfast photos (well, Zittrain and Pariser show how companies and governments are trying to stop this wanton open sharing, but I’m hopeful it’ll be around a while).

We’re at such an interesting moment in history. When I run workshops about the great change afoot, I’ll sometimes read out loud the semi-famous paragraph from Borges’ short story The Aleph, in which he describes seeing everything that ever happened, is happening, and will happen, through the Aleph (it’s the paragraph that begins “On the back part of the step”).

The Net is our modern Aleph. It just showed up a few years ago.

We’re overwhelmed now, as we should be. (It’s an Aleph!) Since the dawn of hominins (is that what we’re calling our precursors now?), nobody has been able to do what the Net now lets us do — a pretty good reason to preserve Freedom to Connect, if you ask me. It will take us a while to sort out how to deal with it all. Along the way, many of us will just check out or give up. So it goes.

But we humans do sort things out. We find clever mechanisms to sift through the torrent to find what we want. Today it’s hashtagsWODsplaylists, timelines, concept maps and pinboards. Tomorrow, who knows? We curate, share and recommend. We create better tools. Our perception of the environment evolves over time.

The bigger win, though, is when we let abundance back in to industries and sectors of life that have been denuded by notions like “scarcity equals value,” or by social norms and cultural conventions based on trying to stop bad actors from acting badly, rather than on cooperation, then dealing with the bad actors later.

Think about copyright overprotection. Treating the radio spectrum as if it were real estate along a beachfront. The compulsory education system. At the start of this post I pointed to that 8-min screencast about education. I amplify on it in my TEDx talk, which plays out this idea of designing from trust in education, and teases about more.

That’s all fodder for much more than these couple paragraphs. It’s the foundation of the Relationship Economy.

Early on, when the firehose opens up, the barriers crumble and all the new choices multiply, this process takes patience. But it leads to a better world.

Personal vs. personalized

Jerry —  November 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

Are you old enough to remember the first time you received something that was computer-personalized? For me it may have been a cover of Time Magazine with my name printed in it (I forget how; it wasn’t just the address block). Do you also remember how quickly the thrill wore off? Was there even a thrill?

Only four letters separate personal from personalized; the difference might seem semantic. But it’s a world of difference when it comes to service.

I’m all in favor of automated personalization, as long as it’s not manipulative. I love having things customized to my preferences. Dealing with merchants who remember you is far preferable to dealing with those that don’t.

But there’s something palpably inhuman about that automation. It doesn’t have the human, personal touch.

JP has been posting about how “the plural of personal is social,” starting with his fond memories of the stores and restaurants of his youth. His family patronized local small businesses, where they were known and welcomed.

I had similar experiences in my youth, but in Berlin instead of Calcutta. When I was 13, we lived with my grandparents on Uhlandstraße in Berlin (yes, the Wall was up then). Often in the mornings I would follow Omi (my grandmother) as she made her rounds to the baker, the butcher, the dry-goods shop and the fruit and vegetable store. They all greeted her by name (in that formal German way, by last name). They were friendly, though not family.

It’s easy to get stuck in nostalgia or pine for things gone by. After all, big stores are more efficient, have wider selections (don’t they?) and charge less than Mom-and-Pop operations. You can’t do personal at scale, the logic goes.

We miss personal so much that large corporations keep trying to use personalization to emulate it, but that approach doesn’t work. The two are not the same at all.

I’ll dive into the role scale plays in a separate post.

A one-minute REXplanation

Jerry —  November 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

Now and then you get aha!s that help you explain things better. I’ve had several on my way to describing the Relationship Economy eXpedition that I run. Here’s the one-minute (and three second) product of those aha!s:

The talk I gave a few months ago at Rebuild21 got me invited to speak at TEDxCopenhagen, which was a terrific experience.

A few days have gone by and our talks are now online. Here’s mine:

Some time back, I answered the excellent questions posed by the Pew Research Center about the future of smart systems. Enough time had passed that I was pleasantly surprised to read the results, and to see a quote of mine called out. It runs as follows:

Jerry Michalski, president of Sociate and consultant for the Institute for the Future, shared a comprehensive view of flaws he sees, writing, “A few years back, BMW and Mercedes Benz had to turn off some of the onboard electronics on their high-end cars because complexity gremlins were making things break. Those are smart German companies that one assumes have a lot of control over their components and their software. Diabetic Jay Radcliffe recently hacked into his own wirelessly enabled insulin pump, changing his dosage. The Internet of Things and the subsequent world of smart systems, from smart cars and smart highways to smarter cities and smart homes is mostly overblown, and, in fact, poses a significant risk of creating overwhelming complexity, which could take down the Internet we now have. It also opens the door to hacking scenarios we seem to not want to contemplate. Every security technology becomes obsolete. If we connect all these new things and expose them to external control, you can bet some of the forces controlling them won’t be the designers or owners. As these connected devices age, they’ll just become more vulnerable. Imagine also the court cases of people hit by autonomous vehicles, for example. I see our ‘smarter world’ much as I see genetically modified organisms right now: very powerful technologies that could do a lot of good but are being implemented poorly.”

I’m typically an optimist, though not a techno-utopian. Imagining how complex a world full of smart things will be, combined with how unlikely it is that we’ll have a satisfactory field-upgradeable infrastructure (meaning the ability to increase embedded devices’ security in years to come, once they’re installed) makes me extremely skeptical that this ends well for us all.