currency

Privilege & Currency

I read a remarkable set of tweets sometime back on the subject of privilege by @eveewing. She rightly pointed out that it is fairly easy to acknowledge privilege, but reparations are far more difficult. Writing about it, by that measure, is the easiest thing to do, but be that as it may….

I had written about privilege a while back, and used the framework from Breaking Smart – socio economic, cultural and cognitive kinds. The tweets I’d mentioned above are related mostly to the first kind – socio economic – and this is indeed the most visible around. But a recent experience made me think of it a little beyond that. More

Currencies of hope

In The Narratives of our lives, I had written about how, thanks to the advances of civilisation, many institutional narratives like religion, nation, culture etc have assumed increasing levels of importance in our lives, and how these (and our personal) narratives are probably our way of ensuring a sense of belonging. ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines‘, criticism on the concept of singularity notwithstanding, has convinced me on the cold, sanitised nature of evolution, so these days, I try to see what evolution’s play is, in these narratives.

Thanks to a wine-induced pop philosophy conversation, I got thinking about theism and atheism. The epiphany (for me) was that they are just two sides of the same coin, and the currency was hope. Simply put, the foundation of the theist’s hope is God, and that of the atheist’s is the ability to determine his own future. ‘Our beliefs create the world we live in’, but across belief systems, hope is a critical ingredient for man’s survival. I realised that as long as we are the dominant species, hope has to hang around, or vice versa. By virtue of providing a common imaginary friend to a sufficiently high mass, religion not only addresses our need to belong, it also gives us hope. What each of us hope for is a very subjective thing, but collectively, it makes religion a really dominant narrative in many lives. When I thought about it, I recognised an even bigger force – money. More

The overhaul of currency

Back in 2012, in my first post on institutional realignment, I’d written this – “…my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money – will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better.” In the two years since, this movement has not only begun, but is also figuring out its own dynamics. I had expected, or wanted, a disruption of money, but it will most likely be a transition. At this stage, I see at least three broad areas to frame this movement -the democratisation of finance, alternate currencies and marketplaces for value exchange.

Democratisation of finance: This is probably where it began, because the internet has a reputation for removing intermediaries who do not add value in this case, financial institutions. From projects in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe to social investments like RangDe and Milaap, there are now many ways to mobilise funds for me and you from people like me and you, according to personal passions, interests and belief systems. I’ll add more to this in the ‘marketplace’ section.

Alternate currencies: Arguably, money as an institution has built a network involving processes, dependencies and establishments keeping in mind the dynamics of an earlier era. A civilisation connected by the www may find these tedious and irrelevant, and thus it’s only natural that it builds its own institutions. Bitcoin (a good introductory guide) is the one that made this phenomenon (relatively) mainstream, to the point that it even has ATMs. Bitcoin may or may not survive, it is probably the Napster in its domain, it has changed the game irretrievably. While on the subject, do read this fantastic tongue-in-cheek take on how it’d be if the roles were reversed – a cash based mechanism replacing digital currency. Meanwhile, there are other currencies similar to Bitcoin, and then there are completely different thoughts – for example, Pay With a Tweet. Which leads us to the various payment mechanisms that are being built.

Marketplaces & Value Exchange: While the other two are the dynamics, this is where the mechanics play a part as well. In the ‘democratisation’ section, I had referred to several platforms that aid both discovery and action. There are many more stories in this line – from AgreeIt, an app that allows crowdfunding from friends on Facebook to crowdsourcing for emotional advice, ideas and so on to selling one’s reservation at a restaurant/spot in a line through Shout to  a ‘new media company’ Ideapod that wants to “amplify the ideas that shape our world, create genuine and enduring dialogue around ideas and spread ideas that matter through new and traditional media channels.” to ordering food from neighbours, (Eatro in London and Imli – a startup I mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator- closer to home) there are various models of value exchange that are shaping themselves. In fact, the entire ‘social commerce via collaborative consumption‘ route is based on these marketplaces. (a few good perspectives and stats on its drivers here)

But, irrespective of the currency, every transaction requires (another) key element – trust. The social web is also building its own mechanics for this – from relatively generic clout mechanisms (Klout, Kred and the likes) to more context specific ones like LinkedIn or GitHub or even Wiki and review mechanisms. (from Amazon to TripAdvisor to Foursquare to GoodReads to Zomato) We earn trust through our knowledge and actions in these mechanisms. We earn social currency. That brings me to the final portion – how does all of this impact brands and what would be their role?

Brands & the trust economy: Across the ages, corporations have been built on competitive advantages pertinent to the economies they operated in. I found a fantastic illustration in this context here

Economies and competitive advantages

I think relationships are indeed going to be the major competitive advantage in the future, and if so, the currency that would play a bigger role than money would be trust. As in many other developments prior to this, there are opportunities here for brands to weave themselves into the consumer’s narratives and go beyond transactional relationships, and to earn social currency. Many of them are already on it, finding ways to earn consumer trust and helping him/her develop and change perspectives about various currencies and relationships between them. Since we’re talking of finance, let’s use an example in that domain. Fidor bank helps its consumers discover crowd sourcing options, staying true a bank’s generic commitment of excellent wealth management. Yes, it’s still money, but it understands that it can be deployed beyond traditional options. In the process, it also helps the consumer to belong to a community.

Brands actually have an option to join in wherever there is consumer spending. Nike+, as usual, did something back in 2012 – they allowed runners to trade in (running) mileage for Nike goods (I had shared the video in the institutional realignment post too) While this ties in beautifully with Nike’s business purpose, maybe some brands would have to lean a little more towards the consumer side and get into relatively unrelated narratives, and a relationship, before connecting it back to the business purpose. For example, airBaltic’s loyalty program Baltic Miles rewards frequent fliers who jog enough to burn off the same number of calories as miles they’ve flown. One of the aspects of agile marketing would be to enable identification of opportunities early. For example, imagine Coke getting into the act in Beijing’s first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

In what might seem like a ‘changing of goalposts’, just as brands are beginning to vaguely realise that their currencies of engagement with consumers need to change, the consumer’s relationship with the common currency of transaction – money – is also changing. The two are very related, and brands need to tackle both to have meaning and relevance in a consumer’s life, because if (as Godin says) “money is a story“, we’re probably nearing a plot twist.

until next time, the end of money’s monopoly

P.S. For another detailed look at the subject, you’d want to read Gauravonomics’ post on ‘The Future of Money‘.

Emotion as a Service

More than a year back, I had written about institutional realignment and had briefly mentioned the institutions of marriage and parenting. ‘The currency of relationships‘ made me think of this, and family – immediate and extended – as a societal construct/contract/ institution, and probably even as a tradition. Where we are born, and whom we are born to, are apparently out of control, but we do have an illusion of control courtesy the choices we make as we go along. Thanks to these choices, our lifestyle and our perspectives may follow a trajectory that is totally different from the circumstances and people we grew up with/in. This is not just about the people from our childhood/youth, but is a continuous process through life. Each of us find our own ways to deal with the constant flow of people through our lives. These are again choices, and like most choices involves some amount of sacrifice and bring with them their own set of consequences.

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I loved that Goethe paraphrase, because I think it sums up our relationships very well. At the risk of sounding cynical, (or receiving a ‘speak for yourself’ comment) I’d say that we’re increasingly becoming selfish as a species. I have always had the notion that most relationships are contextual, and it would be difficult to scale our emotions/feelings for others for an indefinite time frame. Yes, I do acknowledge there are exceptions, but that’s what they are – exceptions. Do a quick test and find out how many people across your life you’re still in touch with – bouts of nostalgia not included?

It is with all this as the backdrop that I read Scott Adams’ “The Future of Marriage“. It articulates very well a thought that had crossed my mind earlier. (Of course, he obviously explores it way better than I could have) He deconstructs the institution of marriage and argues that marriage made sense “when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met.” Now, he says, the internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships. In other words, a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. He tempers everything by saying that in the future, marriage may be one of the many options available. By sheer coincidence, and in a different context, I came across this quote attributed to Steve Macone “A tradition is a habit whose logic has faded“.

I thought about this in the context of the expectations I had mentioned in the ‘currency of relationships’ post. If the institution of marriage can have a barter economy, why not other relationships? After all, isn’t every relationship a barter at its core? It’s just that we are rarely comfortable with voicing our expectations in the case of an emotional ‘transaction’, quantitatively or qualitatively. (generalising) Parents expect their children to look after them when they are old, in return for bringing you up; relatives expect you to return the favours they once did for you, and so on.

So who knows, maybe our pace of life and our need to be (seen as) fair in all our relationships will conspire to form a barter ecosystem that offers emotion as a service. It is possible that an alternate path to prosperity might take us in a different direction, but in the era of the quantified self and the augmented human, when we slowly transition our selves into the cloud, maybe ‘Emotion as a Service’ (like)  is not an impossibility. What do you think?

until next time, a qualified self

The currency of relationships

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Some people know me way too well! :)

A few days ago, I received a message that gave a jolt to my perception of how I deal with other people and what they make of it. I had written this post sometime back on taking friends for granted, and while that was in the specific context of friendship, this is an approach I extend to all relationships, be it transactional or emotional. I like to think that I’m fair in my approach and try to give back more than I get. But apparently, at least according to one person, I am not, and am “Mr.Use and Throw”. It hurt because I have always acknowledged the help that I’d received, to that person and others. I have not had an opportunity to repay it in kind, but whenever I have felt that my presence would bring happiness, I have made it a point to be there. I did reply with my perspective on the accusation, but it led me to think of the subject and how our actions are perceived by others.

In this case, for instance, there were possibly expectations from me that I had not known of – not of a monetary kind, I think, but some other kind of help or acknowledgement. (Generalising) We live in an increasingly transactional world, where we are able to quantify all sorts of things and are also able to throw money at issues/problems/situations to resolve them. In scenarios where that is not applicable, we use our judgment to repay a gesture of kindness/affection/love. Over a period of time, I have dealt with the latter by acknowledgment and thanks in word and deed, and by paying it forward. But there is no standard currency in relationships, and my lesson from this experience is to not to take for granted that my approach is the one that works for people at the receiving end. I should spend some time first in understanding expectations, and then meeting them. When the price and currency are not agreed upon at the outset, you will need to keep paying until both parties have agreed that there are no dues.

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until next time, emotional monthly installments

P.S. and a happy Thanksgiving 😉

@ Social Business Summit

I was quite thrilled to be invited to speak at the Mumbai version of the Dachis Group’s Social Business Summit – not just because of my awesome co-speakers, but because this is a platform that has seen the likes of Tony Hsieh and John Hagel earlier this year! To confess, a little nervous too, since (as my friend Kavi Arasu, whom I met for the first time after years of knowing him online, put it) I was going to ‘open the batting’! But in the end, it did turn out very well, judging from the audience reaction. Here’s my presentation – The Currencies of Engagement @ Scale, with a talk flow right below since slides with Yoda and Spock could seem way out of context in the subject of Engagement @ Scale.

The currencies of engagement @ scale

It was a fantastic experience – the crowd, perspectives of co-speakers, meeting Gaurav, Haroon, Nadhiya for the first time outside of Twitter, catching up with Gautam, Sumant, Sanjay and Ideasmith, and being introduced to a whole bunch of people that I hope to be in touch with.

But my biggest thrill was in getting this platform to share my ideas on an evolving domain that I am passionate about, and being appreciated by the likes of Jeff Dachis and Michael Jones. It was both exhilarating, and humbling.

 

A few photos here, though my expressions make it seem more like ComicCon or a theatre workshop! :O

I also wrote a more elaborate post at Medianama. Do take a look.

until next time, #SBS2013 #ftw :)

Institutional Realignment

As I was returning from the Bali vacation, I thought about how we had planned our vacation without the help of a big travel operator. Something that would have been infinitely more difficult, if not impossible a decade back. It’s still early in this decade, but when I begin to think about what it will be known for, the recurring theme that runs in my head is institutional realignment. It’s not really the most original thought I’ve had, and I’ve been influenced by several, most notably Umair Haque. He calls it institutional collapse, and the only couple of reasons I have played semantics are one, that while I don’t see a seamless change, I do think that different parts of society – across geography, industry, demographics will shift at different points in time and the change might be distributed across time and space to prevent a complete collapse so that we fail to see that the institutions are completely different from the earlier era, and two, a sense of optimism. :)

To me, these institutions are across all facets of our current existence – political, societal, economical, professional, cultural, health and so on. From an era where most individuals required ‘props’ for a sense of identity, we are moving to an infinitely more connected era where people are using the web to create their own unique identities.

The fall of several regimes, the increasing push for better governance and transparency etc are probably advance warnings that the concept of a nation state is up for an overhaul. Think about it, what really does being ‘Indian’ signify? Is it a common identity? Do you need it any more?

Societal norms on the concept of family and relationships have been shifting for quite a while now. Marriage, parenting, do they mean the same thing as they did until a few years back? Do you even remember an era without marriage portals? As people create their own spaces, nothing is sacrosanct and almost everything is becoming acceptable.

Businesses and corporations. Industries like music and news media have already seen the disruptive powers of the internet. I have already mentioned how travel has completely changed. More industries will follow. Around me, I see more and more people refusing to be tied down to organisations and wanting to do their ‘own thing’. It’s the thrill, the freedom, the sense of purpose and many other reasons. The rigid structure of organisations will probably give way to project based aggregations of individuals. What does that do to economies?

One level before that – education. Two words – Khan Academy. Though variations and different versions of it exist, it’s probably the best indicator of what the current structures will give way to – with a better focus on interest, building useful skill sets and the freedom and processes for the student to identify his calling early on in life. Somewhere during this, I hope to see medicine getting an ‘open API’ :)

On culture, Vanessa Miemis gives us a great read, more so because it goes beyond culture per se.

I see the not-so-hidden hand of the web in all of this. From its elimination of the middle man to its way of bringing out more and more information, it has changed the way we view ourselves, and the operational environment around us. I’m not saying that everything will have changed by 2020, but the seeds will be well and truly sown. Now that I am imagining, my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money, will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better. (Nike has a great idea of what I mean :) )

Job (not the same as work), nationality, education – all indispensable parts of a human identity thus far. Will they be relics in the future as we create new paradigms? When do you think this will all settle, if it ever does?

until next time, bend of an era

PS: Bill Gates has aptly said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.

Coincide

A friend of mine, Soubhagya, is an avid photographer, who, despite my best efforts, still shies away from running his own photoblog. So when he asked me to take part in a writing experiment, I thought it would be a relatively painless way of introducing him to blogging, and hopefully, he’ll like it enough to do it on his own. The idea’s pretty simple – he’s given me a couple of pictures he has shot recently, and wants me to write a few words on each. Here goes

the face of money‘The face of money’ is what Soubhagya calls it.

What’s my value? To a politician, I’m a vote that will help him in his quest for power. To my employer, I am a worker who gets paid for the job I do. To the places I eat out in, to the shops I buy things from, I am a source of revenue. To the people who care for me as an individual, these are perhaps not the parameters of calculating their value for me. It’s a different currency. So the question is complete only if I ask “What’s my value to …. ?”  Now, what if I were to pose the question to myself? Do I measure myself by my financial status, or the lack of it? Is it the ‘Likes’ on Facebook or the followers on Twitter? Or is it by the number of lives I have touched, in one way or another? Is it a combination? Is it what I deem as my potential? How much is that dependent on externalities? And doesn’t that change with time? Which brings me to..

Burnt out ‘Burnt Out’

Purpose. I have always been interested in the purpose of our lives. All life forms in general, and of course, specifically us, humans. Generally, at different stages in life, we get stuck with different routines, sometimes by choice, sometimes not – school, college, work and so on. There is a short term purpose to it all, so we rarely look for something beyond. By my definition, ‘purpose’ gives a meaning to what we do, something beyond the money that it brings in, something that really makes us happy just by doing it, as though we are destined to do it. One could rationalise and say that the money then becomes a tool to ‘buy’ the things that give happiness, but that’s arguable.. We prioritise according to our baggage, some are okay with trading an amazing weekend and regular holidays for mind numbing work, some wouldn’t be able to manage it at all, and there are tons of options in between. The candle reminds me of the passion that we bring into what we do, and I believe that depends on our approach to ‘purpose’. Burn brightly or be a shallow flame? In both cases, there is a finite lifetime in which it has to be done. For me, even the task of finding a purpose is a tough one. Whichever way one sees it, there is always the possibility of a burnout. Such is life. So burn you must, and light up the place as much as you can. :)

until next time, wax eloquent 😉

PS: Now split ‘coin-cide’ and you might figure out a new possibility