Prosperity’s moral code

A few months ago, TechCrunch had a post debating the role of capitalism in a world that includes AI, where jobs are disappearing at a rate faster than new jobs coming in.  Capitalism has always been played as a finite game, focused on profit for a set of people, largely irrespective of the costs to others or society at large. As I wrote in “A shift in the world order“, its only real foe in the recent past has been the nation state, and its executive arm – the government. A foe increasingly struggling to even defend its own relevance, I’d say. As the dominant system of the world, we will then automatically (whether rightfully, is debatable) begin questioning capitalism’s morality codes. More than what we are doing currently, because the impact will not just be higher, it will also start affecting more people.

Earlier this year, I had written on how if it intends to survive, capitalism needs to expand its scope, and play an infinite game – whose purpose is to continue the flow of the game, and bring in new players. Something similar to what Douglas Rushkoff calls digital distributism (read) a model that aims for the circulation of money rather than the extraction of money. An evolution that capitalism needs to go through, or it runs the risk of imploding. This, of course, is not really in line with the way an earlier generation of corporations, or Silicon Valley operates.  As Maciej Cegłowski writes in “The Moral Economy of Tech“, treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we’re hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people. More

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

Map making



In “The Case Against Cosmic Justice” I’d brought up how (IMO) randomness was the key driver of the universe, and that pretty much every other concept (God, karma etc) was a narrative fallacy. I think that requires a little editing. To use a phrase from “Sapiens”, these other concepts aren’t really fallacies, they are inter-subjective realities. That means it they are belief systems that a lot of people share and agree to. e.g. money, nations. This is different from subjective reality – my personal reality as I experience it or choose to see it e.g. Salman Khan should be in jail for killing people, and objective reality – one which exists irrespective of anyone’s belief systems e.g. gravity. More

Work, Parenting & the Monoculture

Sunday morning gave me a fantastic read, via  multiple shares on my timeline – “Why do we work so hard?“, in which Ryan Avent traces the evolution of work (hours) from the time after the second world war, and wonders why a trend was reversed and we started working more hours. She considers her own as well as her father’s experiences, and explores whether it is the treadmill effect, the satisfaction of work, or a combination of both. She sums up one of her answers thus –

It is a cognitive and emotional relief to immerse oneself in something all-consuming while other difficulties float by. The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.

Something about it gave me a sense of deja vu. I realised that this has also been my hypothesis about parenting! Back to that in a bit. Meanwhile, she ends the article with

..precisely why what I’m doing appeals to me. They are asking about a job. I am thinking about identity, community, purpose – the things that provide meaning and motivation. I am talking about my life.

It reminded me of a short conversation with S recently, where we agreed about how (many) people follow up their introductory “Hi, I am XYZ” with their designation and/or place of work, irrespective of the meeting context.  More

The immortality of time

Thoughts on immortality and its implications on personal and societal aspects of life have long been a favourite subject here. It has also been an area of interest from a philosophical standpoint. For instance, if we could live forever, what would be the relevance of time? Would our current existential questions be rendered irrelevant?  There is also an understanding that it is a process – our lifespans would progressively increase – as we replace our bodies (and later, minds) with mechanisms (augmented human) even more robust than the ones nature gave us.

I found an excellent post on Quartz which dwells on the evolution of time management and makes the point that time management is actually making our lives worse. It also brings up something I had written about recently in the context of work, money and AI – the never ending race for efficiency. The article argues that the idea that managing time would get one back in control is a fantasy that only works in a finite world and that our to-do list is actually like the mythological Hydra!  More

Money : AI :: Present : Future


I might have found a remedy for the Mad Men withdrawal symptoms. “Halt and Catch Fire” – that’s where the line is from. While the show has me glued, it also made me really consider the connection between money & AI.

A key factor that is driving the increasing adoption of AI in the work context is efficiency. Somewhere in the equation of calculating efficiency lies money, and how much of it can be saved. I am ignoring ‘time’ for now, because even that, mostly comes down to “time is money”. Jobs increasingly become task oriented and the objective is to make each task more and more efficient. If we continue that way, the pessimistic AI future is easy to imagine – it will happen in a ‘frog in boiling water’ manner, but it will happen. 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‘.

Plan C

This post has been pending for a while, the date of publishing of the article that inspired the post is evidence enough. It is about people who leave their jobs to follow their passion, but instead of the success stories we are used to, it focuses on the difficulties on that path. Even if you’ve not taken that path already, it’s quite possible that you have contemplated it. It’s romantic – the freedom, being your own boss and doing the thing you like – Plan B. But it’s not easy, and it begins as early as even identifying one’s passion. (must read)

Interestingly, NYT themselves had an article almost a year later that asked “What Work is Really For” and answered that with an Aristotle quote “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” Though I didn’t know about this quote until recently, this is a perspective that I have often used to debate with people who say those who do not like their jobs should quit. There are many reasons why people don’t, and one of them is consciously making a choice to work (possibly on things they don’t enjoy) for the 2 days (and vacations) when they are able to spend their resources – money, effort and time – on things they enjoy.

The reasons people don’t scale up those 2 days could be many, including the difficulties involved in the early stages of setting up, and then maintaining a positive balance – of money and life. Money is after all an essential resource. It buys things, it opens doors. But when your passion becomes your work and your principal source of money, does it feel the same? Or does it become a job?

I liked the second NYT article also for its last 3 paragraphs. It addresses the money conundrum. It talks about how right from when we are born, we are taught to be consumers, thanks to capitalism, which though calls itself an open market where we have the freedom to buy is actually a system unto itself.  The choices are not really independent. It points out that education should be meant to make us self determining agents. True freedom requires that we take part in the market as fully formed agents, with life goals determined not by advertising campaigns but by our own experience of and reflection on the various possibilities of human fulfillment. But that’s not an easy path either. It calls for independent thinking and a subjective view of fulfillment and happiness. And that brings us to the familiar “to each his own”

until next time, work it out :)

Bonus Read: Six Rules to guide your career

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.