Book Review: Measure What Matters

Whether you’re a seasoned CEO or a first-time entrepreneur, you’ll find valuable lessons, tools, and inspiration in the pages of Measure What Matters.

Read the full post on LinkedIn.

Why panels suck

Soon, self-driving cars will turn Highway 101 into an office park, and we’ll all keep working right through rush hour. But where is the technology that will liberate us from a productivity killer that’s nearly as lethal as the morning commute?

At thousands of conferences every year, millions of panel sessions consume billions of man-hours of attention. And for what? A panel is an algorithm that makes three to six leaders in a given field sound dull.

I’m not the first person to say this. Or even the second.

By now, there have probably even been some panels on why panels suck. And yet panels remain an entrenched part of the conference experience – which is unfortunate because conferences are so critical for professional development.

In The Startup of You and The Alliance, I write about how personal networks have replaced the company as the main way that people advance their careers now. Instead of climbing the career ladder in a single organization, professionals jump from opportunity to opportunity. The personal networks they develop play a major role in how successfully they navigate this journey. (Personal networks also end up benefiting companies too, as individual professionals cultivate ever-widening spheres of intelligence and reciprocity that increase their effectiveness as employees.)

One key way to develop the kinds of relationships that lead to strong networks is to position yourself at the hubs of where information flows. Industry conferences are great places to do this.

Anyone starting out in a new industry should go to as many major conferences as they can manage. But not for the panels or even the keynotes. For many people, the primary draw of conferences is everything that happens in between the official business.

My friend and fellow venture capitalist David Hornik even established an annual gathering in 2007 called The Lobby where all of the components that typically define traditional conferences were cut in favor of more time for free-form networking. "In a great conference, the conversation in the lobby is the content," he explained in his introductory invitation.

At most conferences, however, panels persist as a key organizing element. And obviously they have their virtues. In fact, from a conference organizers’ perspective, panels make a lot of sense. Putting multiple people on the same stage increases the chances of multiple points of view and a broader range of content – at least in theory. Panels also help attract larger audiences, because each panel participant will likely appeal to different sets of conference-goers and bring their own constituencies. Finally, they divide responsibilities in a way that participants typically welcome. While an appearance on a panel means you won’t have as much time in the spotlight as you would if giving a speech, it also means you won’t have to spend much time – or really any time – preparing.

For conference organizers, panels represent an undemanding ask. For participants, they’re a way to put themselves in the middle of the action without needing to invest significant amounts of prep time. Unfortunately, this usually ends up creating a "co-owners are no owners" dynamic. When responsibility gets so distributed, no one feels obligated to carry the show themselves. Even moderators may feel comfortable just winging it.

But this is only the start of a panel’s structural problems. Because there are so many people to introduce, introductions take too long. Because panelists know they’ll only have limited time to speak, they tend to focus on clear and simple messages that will resonate with the broadest number of people. The result is that you get one person giving you an overly simplistic take on the subject at hand. And then the process repeats itself multiple times! Instead of going deeper or providing more nuance, the panel format ensures shallowness.

Even worse, this shallow discourse manifests as polite groupthink. After all, panelists attend conferences for the same reasons that attendees do – they want to make connections and build relationships. So panels end up heavy on positivity and agreement, and light on the sort of discourse which, through contrasting opinions and debate, could potentially be more illuminating.

In this context, it’s just safer to be upbeat and agreeable than it is to be negative or contrarian. Even competitors behave in overly diplomatic fashion. And, unfortunately, any parties whose disregard for each other is strong enough to produce candor aren’t likely to agree to appear on the same panel!

For all these reasons, most panels aren’t very instructive unless they’re on a subject you know absolutely nothing about. And while I do sometimes participate in panels, I generally do so only as a favor to a friend.

As both a participant and as a member of the audience, I much prefer fireside chats – i.e., a dialogue between two people who both have clear-cut roles to play. The interviewer is there to ask relevant and perceptive questions. The correspondent knows the audience is expecting in-depth answers.

With the fireside format, both parties feel accountable for their role in the conversation –so they invest an appropriate amount of time in preparing. Since there are only two people involved, there’s also much less repetition. Ideas can be explored with more nuance, and at the same time, the conversation can go in more directions, because there aren’t five people waiting for their turn at bat on Question X.

While I believe that fireside chats have significant advantages over panels, this doesn’t mean that panels can’t be improved. The key to making them better is to make them more structured – to essentially turn them into semi-formal debates:

  • Participants should be given specific and unique questions – eliminating repetitive answers.
  • They should be discouraged from chiming in when others answer unless they have an opposing or contrasting point to raise.
  • At the close, the audience should vote on who they found most persuasive with a show of hands.

The sense of competition this introduces would probably make it harder to attract panelists. But it would also raise the stakes enough to ensure that those who do participate are sufficiently invested in the endeavor. Even with these changes, I’d still choose a fireside chat over a panel. But at least panels would suck somewhat less.

Agree? Disagree? After this solo diatribe, I’d like to hear what the other panelists think!

Building the Next Economy

In this series, professionals attending Next:Economy share their insights on the future of work. Read the posts here, then write your own. Use #NextEconomy somewhere in the body of the post and @mention Next:Economy conference panelists when sharing. For more insight and news on the Next:Economy, sign up for the weekly newsletter here.

The idea that we’re shifting to the "next economy," to borrow the title of an O’Reilly Media conference I recently co-hosted with Tim O’Reilly in San Francisco, presupposes that our current one is ending.

And that of course can be an unsettling prospect. People are wondering how they’ll pay the bills. Where they’ll find purpose. What life will be like in a world where AI, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things proliferate so rapidly that even the most diehard technophiles begin to wonder how long they can keep up with the treadmill of progress.

But while fear and uncertainty are natural precursors to major change, the key takeaway at the Next:Economy conference this year was the sense of optimism that informs the cultural shift that is underway.

Entrepreneurs are well-acquainted with emotions like fear and uncertainty, because even in eras of stasis and conformity, they choose risk and the unknown over the tried and true. And so they recognize the potential of this current moment when so much is in play. Existing companies can use new technologies to create new competitive advantages. Startups can create new markets, introducing products that people don’t even realize they need –  until they try them and realize they can’t live without them.

On the stage at Next:Economy, 19-year-old Stanford student Joshua Browderoffered one example of this phenomenon. A little over a year ago, after he’d just obtained his driver’s license in England, his home country, he found himself getting more parking tickets than his parents were willing to foot the bill for.

So Browder started searching legal regulations for information he could use to appeal these tickets. The appeals he generated using his newfound knowledge were often successful, and as a result, he soon became the "local parking ticket guru" in his North London neighborhood, dispensing advice to friends and family.

To streamline this process, he created a website in August 2015 called DoNotPay.co.uk that helps people draft their own appeals via a chatbot that guides them through the process. At Next:Economy, he told the audience that the site’s users have successfully contested 180,000 tickets and saved approximately $5 million in the process to date.

But that’s just the start of Browder’s story. Once people saw how his site helped them with parking tickets, they started asking about other legal issues, such as seeking help with evictions or repossessions.

Quickly, Browder realized there were vast swathes of legal assistance that he could automate with his "robot lawyer" and provide to people for free.

As a result of this highly automated service, people who could never afford traditional legal assistance have a new resource at their disposal. And various kinds of legal actions that may not have made economic sense to pursue using human lawyers – such as challenging parking tickets or seeking compensation for delayed airline flights – suddenly become feasible in a world of robot lawyers.

Of course, in using AI technologies to create new services that make legal assistance more accessible to people who have often never used traditional legal services, Browder is setting the stage for further disruption. Many services that legal professionals have made a good living charging for can be automated too, and as Browder’s "robot lawyer" grows more sophisticated, it will increasingly compete with human lawyers.

Ultimately, Browder believes DoNotPay.co.uk will help streamline government services and deliver value to millions of people who need help navigating the different regulatory mazes that governments put into place. But its potential to displace some human lawyers touches on the primary theme of this year’s Next:Economy: Namely, how do we create a new, tech-enabled economy that keeps humans in the loop – and not just in a nominal or obligatory way, but rather, in a way that is both financially rewarding and personally fulfilling?

Or to put it another way: How can we use automation, AI, and other technologies to make human work better, instead of making it obsolete?

This isn’t an easy challenge. But many of the people who spoke at Next:Economy are already exploring how to do this. Paul English, founder of the travel booking start-up Lola, explained how the app uses AI to amplify the efforts of live agents who interact with customers. In my conversation with IBM’s David Kenny, who oversees the company’s Watson initiative, Kenny noted how in medical contexts, Watson takes over the "grunt work," like radiology diagnoses, so human physicians can focus on solving the hard problems.

Historically, both markets and government policies have rewarded entrepreneurs, investors, and inventors for being more efficient with capital by reducing the costs of labor. And this approach has had huge social benefits. Increasingly efficient deployment of capital led to an abundance of goods and services that both increased human well-being and simultaneously created more opportunities for people to pursue a wider range of meaningful work.

But now that we’re reaching a point where it is technologically possible to remove greater numbers of human workers from the system, we should think about new ways to allocate rewards to capital that privilege the creation of meaningful human work. Moving forward, we must incent the entrepreneurs, investors, and inventors who create the businesses that lead to jobs in the right ways.

For example, what if capital that is used to create companies that employ more than, say, 100 employees at an average salary of $75,000 is taxed at a lower rate than companies which do not meet these thresholds?

Of course, before anyone turns a blue-sky idea like this into actual policy, a great deal of due diligence and iteration would have to take place. What are the optimal thresholds to use? How might the policy be gamed, and what unintended consequences might it produce?

I present it not as a fully baked policy proposal, but rather as a thought exercise that shows how economic ecosystems are never inevitable manifestations of "natural" laws or principles, but rather the product of incentives and regulations that privilege certain actions and values over others.

As we look to deploy AI and other technologies that have the potential to radically transform our economy, our workplaces, and even our sense of what it means to be human, we must remember this basic fact: The choices about the incentives we create and the values we favor are ours to make.

And if we thoroughly understand all the factors in play, and embrace the future with a thoughtful but fearless and adaptive mindset, it is well within our power to make the right ones.

This post was originally published here on October 20, 2016

Talent and Opportunity in the Next Economy

In this series, professionals attending Next:Economy share their insights on the future of work. Read the posts here, then write your own. Use #NextEconomy somewhere in the body of the post and @mention Next:Economy conference panelists when sharing. For more insight and news on the Next:Economy, sign up for the weekly newsletter here.

In the U.S. alone, almost 5.9 million jobs currently go unfilled because of a mismatch between job requirements and the skills of potential employees.

Around the world, this skills gap looms even larger.

At the same time, there are real concerns about rapid advances in technology and the impact it is having on available jobs, the economy, and what role work, that profoundly human endeavor, will play in the lives of future generations as technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics play a larger and larger role.

Traditionally, technological innovation has always led to profound shifts in our work lives, which in turn has led to shifts in the culture at large. And while these shifts have caused disruption and unease, as people try to adapt to new work patterns, a need for new skills, and new rhythms of life in general, they’ve always led to greater overall prosperity and a widening range of opportunities to pursue meaning through one’s work.

This time, perceptive observers believe, the shifts and changes are happening so fast the creative destruction will be even more substantive than usual.

Innovations like AI, robotics, on-demand services, and network-based platforms and businesses have already started changing traditional employment relationships, work patterns, and corporate structures. And such trends are destined to accelerate as these technologies mature and disperse across the market.

But while these news technologies can amplify the challenges that companies and individuals face, they also give us extraordinary new powers to adapt to fast-changing conditions in creative, efficient, and productive ways.

Consider LinkedIn: In 2002, when my co-founders and I created it, our goal was to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

Today, our ambition is much greater. We want to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. To do that, we’re building the world’s first Economic Graph, a digital map of the global economy that aims to include every member of the global workforce, every employer, and every educational institution.

Mapping this information on a single platform enables tremendously valuable insight into where opportunities are, where challenges may arise, and what companies, other institutions, and individuals should be doing to adapt to changing conditions.

For example, around 12 percent of the unfilled open positions in the US require information technology skills. As a result, LinkedIn has also been working with the White House and the non-profit organization Opportunity@Work on an initiative called TechHire. A public-private partnership, TechHire combines federal grant funding and resources provided by large private-sector companies to create tech talent pipelines that can train individuals in accelerated fashion and give them the high-demand tech skills that today’s employers require.

This is one of a series of initiatives that government policy makers, think tanks, foundations, and thoughtful investors and entrepreneurs have been spinning up in recent years to tackle problems that are paradoxically among the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs but also too often ignored by them.

For some in Silicon Valley’s booming tech economy, it’s all too easy to miss that there are swaths of the country that are worse off than they were a decade ago. Many people worry about their futures in the changing work landscape, and especially about the futures of their children.

The adaptation challenges we face are real.

In my books The Start-up Of You and The Alliance, I’ve explored some ways that individuals and organizations should respond to the new opportunities and challenges that arise as we shift to a 21st century economy.

But we should also be thinking of how we adapt on a macro level as well. And the challenges we face won’t all be solved simply by the entrepreneurial dynamism of the market.

Markets do a spectacular job of addressing some problems, and they have created enormous wealth for the world. But markets also need thoughtful public policy interventions to achieve their full potential. And they need entrepreneurs who take a broad, long-term view of our impact on the world.

That’s why I’m co-hosting an event called The Next:Economy Summit with Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media on October 10 -11 in San Francisco, CA. We are trying to understand the profound changes that technology is bringing to the world of work, business, the economy, and the culture itself. In the process, we hope to help entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, business and labor leaders, and Washington policy makers develop an informed long-range vision for how to manage our transition into the Networked Age and a truly 21st century economy most productively.

There are a lot of conferences that focus on what’s hot today in Silicon Valley, and what the next flavor-of-the-month platform or service will be.

This is an event that helps us think about the long-term impact of what we do. I hope you’ll join us in San Francisco or follow the discussions on LinkedIn and Twitter (#nexteconomy). I look forward to the robust discussions next week.

This post was originally published here on October 6, 2016

Extra Sensory Production

As Joshua Cooper Ramo suggests in his important new book, The Seventh Sense, massively scaled, always-on connection changes the nature of objects and institutions. A heart-rate monitor that shares information with a million other heart-rate monitors functions differently than one that operates in standalone fashion. The same is true for automobiles, spare bedrooms, and the individuals who make up a TV audience or a country. The Networked Age doesn’t just amplify or accelerate existing instances of knowledge transfer, economic exchange, and political action. It enables entirely new possibilities and behaviors.

Still, the extent to which networks are reshaping our lives and most important institutions remains surprisingly underappreciated. The Seventh Sense is Ramo’s deeply considered attempt to address what’s at stake in these early days of the Networked Age, and to envision what paths we might pursue as we move forward.

A former Time magazine senior editor who now serves as co-CEO and vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, he understands that it’s not just code or hardware that defines our age. Instead, it’s networks, the always-shifting set of relationships that the code and hardware enable, the near-omniscience that arises out of perpetual and pervasive feedback loops. Knowledge is power, the old saying goes, and today, thanks to networks, knowledge accrues and disperses and recombines at speeds and in ways that can be liberating and unsettling.

Or as Ramo puts it with poetic succinctness: "Constant connectivity taps like a hammer on the glass of our most comfortable institutions."

With his background in statecraft, Ramo is far more circumspect about "disruption" or the consequences of "changing the world" than the average Silicon Valley growth hacker. He recognizes that ISIS is as much a product of the Networked Age as Uber or Instagram.

But ultimately Ramo positions that tapping hammer of constant connectivity as a constructive force, one that can make our most vital institutions more productive, more responsive, more resilient. In his estimation, we’re at a turning point as significant as that of the Age of Enlightenment, when the Scientific Revolution ushered us out of the Dark Ages and into a new era increasing trade and prosperity, longer lifespans, and greater individual autonomy.

So how do we steer toward the best possible outcomes in our own moment of major and often chaotic transformation?

The first step is to develop what Ramo dubs the seventh sense – an "ability to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection."

In the Networked Age, thousands of spare bedrooms becomes the building blocks of a new hospitality marketplace. Drivers seeking route-finding information become sensors who collectively reveal local traffic conditions.

And as I’ve written in the past, when exploring the idea of network literacy, individual and organizational identity changes too. Networks make identity multivariate, distributed, and in part, defined by outside forces. In the Networked Age, you’re never just "you" anymore. You’re who you know and what they know about you; who they know; in what contexts they know you.

The power of connected systems, Ramo notes, derives from "the number, the type, and the speed of the relationships they establish and then use." That’s true of the individuals and organizations enmeshed within networks as well as the overall networks themselves. Today, individuals and organizations who possess the greatest network literacy will always be the first to learn about and adapt to changing conditions, new threats, and new opportunities. Without a well-developed seventh sense, you falter. With it, you possess the adaptability and resilience that individuals, companies, and even countries need now to prosper in a complex, fast-changing world.

Ramo isn’t just interested in diagnosing how network power works. The ultimate goal of The Seventh Sense is to plot a path forward, to suggest how we can best utilize all the new connected systems where so much of our lives play out now – especially as these systems become even more essential to trade, finance, education, health, and overall economic and national security. Ramo views the challenge through the lens of a statesman: His counsel arises from a desire to ensure that this next generation of networks are informed by "American values of democratic choice, freedom of thought, and privacy."

Ramo’s vision rests on a strategic approach toward network development that he calls "Hard Gatekeeping." America’s networks, he suggests, must be developed and controlled with more emphasis on security. And while Ramo strategizes at a high level, it’s clear he means the United States government should take a more proactive role in developing and controlling what he calls "gatelands," the networks where we will conduct much of our lives.

"Completely open technology standards can be hijacked too easily," he writes. Thus, he envisions a world in which America no longer permits "any nation to plug into the country’s markets or technologies or educations systems."

Presumably, stronger forms of identity will be one feature of this new system. Another that Ramo suggests is a national "BitDollar" – i.e. a digital currency backed by the U.S.

Greater transparency and trust would potentially make these new gatelands more desirable venues for trade and finance, and thus they’d also function as powerful tools of diplomacy. Other countries that wanted to plug into America’s systems would have to play by America’s rules. Ramo offers an example: If a nation wanted access to America’s trading platforms or cybersecurity databases, it would have to forgo any nuclear research.

Other countries, Ramo notes, would have gatelands of their own. And he emphasizes that America should not "force anyone else into its gated systems." Another possibility, of course, is that networks characterized by an even greater degree of openness than today’s will emerge as a hedge against the reduced opportunities for anonymity, pseudonymity, and unregulated behavior in the gatelands that Ramo envisions.

But if Ramo presents tomorrow’s gatelands as an opt-in phenomenon that users choose voluntarily because they offers more security and better overall experiences, he also recognizes that any gatelands that achieve critical mass will exert an increasingly significant cost on anyone who opts out. That is precisely what gives them their leverage, both internationally and domestically. "Many future gatelands will express their power as much by cutting nations or people out as by counting them in," he concludes. "Imagine if you were not allowed to transact in the new Bitdollars."

The Internet and the networks it has enabled grew as fast as they did, and are as popular as they are, because they’ve largely been characterized by both permissionless innovation and permissionless use.

Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and other members of the PayPal team, including myself, didn’t need to obtain any web-specific licenses when we starting offering online money transfer services in 1999. Satoshi Nakamato launched a new currency into the world without any government’s prior approval. And while the regulatory status of trailblazing startups like Uber and Airbnb continues to evolve, they were able to introduce services that created massive value for both consumers and individuals seeking new sources of income, without having to obtain prior approval from any network gatekeepers.

But while it’s hard to imagine that the web would have grown as fast as it did in the 1990s as a result of its fundamentally open nature, it’s also true that many of today’s most popular networks and platforms require user registration and other even more exacting forms of identification. So at this point it may be that users and entrepreneurs would flock to the more secure and transparent networks that would exist in the gatelands that Ramo envisions.

Ultimately, what The Seventh Sense makes so clear is that in 2016, 25 years after the birth of the World Wide Web, we’re still in the formative stages of the Networked Age. And what makes the book so useful is the way that Ramo homes in on the crucial question of our age: How do we want the networks and platforms that grow more and more essential to our lives to evolve?

Ramo describes the power of networks with a statesman’s feel for history and sense of the moment, and that’s precisely what we need right now. Networks are reshaping the world, and the questions and debates about who gets to control them and how we should design them for maximum benefit to all are only just beginning. To participate most productively in this moment, you need the Seventh Sense – both the book itself and the understanding and facility for the Networked Age it will help you develop.

This article was originally published here on August 19, 2016