Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett in “The Empire Strikes Back” (20th Century Fox, 1980)

Sith Lords, Bubble Filters and Shapeshifting Tech Companies

Vlog version… Warning: opening scene features carnivorous vegetarian (me)

In today’s cultural climate we tend think of other political or economic groups as evil, alien powers. You may have noticed that some of your co-workers have recently become Sith Lords, and your favorite uncle has somehow morphed into Boba Fett.

I’m convinced though, that the current lack of understanding and genuine dialogue stems in part from the well documented “Filter Bubble” effect, which causes us to find and absorb only information that validates our existing ideas and beliefs.

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But today I’d like to highlight two closely related points where we actually seem to broadly agree — and draw a connection between them that perhaps can serve as a starting place for moving forward.

  1. Tech innovation is moving rapidly, and is changing human society. (perhaps a bit obvious)
  2. Our current economic setup — where groups like “Wall Street” and the “tech elite” thrive while huge swaths of the population are scrambling to either attain or hang onto a stable, “middle class” existence — is unsustainable. (This scenario largely results from what MIT business professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee refer to as “The Great Decoupling”.)

But there are already some promising trends that could help repair the rift between GDP and productivity on the one hand, and job and income prospects on the other. According to a very mixed but enlightening report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans are starting businesses at or near record pace — and beginning to succeed at higher rates.

Although far fewer permanent jobs are being created than in past eras of robust entrepreneurship, according to Forbes 30% of U.S. and European workers are now freelance or contract, with most preferring this over a traditional full time job.

In the realm of tech innovation, decentralized structures like Open Source and Blockchain are gaining ground, and the playing field is opening up through the accessibility of SaaS-based tools and platforms, as well as free or inexpensive online courses. And with many technical, financial and social barriers starting to crumble, both startups and NextGen, shapeshifting companies are beginning to thrive outside of traditional demographic and geographic bounds. For more on some of these developments follow Change Catalyst and Mike Street on Twitter, and check out Steve Case and crew’s Rise of the Rest movement.

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I recently had a chance to talk with Cyra Richardson, IoT General Manager at Microsoft. She’s particularly excited about the current momentum in open source hardware, where new ecosystems are being formed by corporations, startups, and even “Makers” moonlighting out of their garages. Last year, 14-year-old Quin Entyre fully crowdfunded his self-powered, Arduino-based microcontroller kit, after founding his own company at the age of 12. On the enterprise front, Microsoft’s IoT Insider Labs has created physical, community oriented microcosms of this larger web of innovation at their Redmond HQ and in Shenzhen China.

photo from Maker Faire NYC 2010, by John Abella / Flickr Creative Commons

Final point… while the near term outlook might be complex and uncertain, I believe with conviction that our human propensity in difficult times to pull together, adapt and innovate will win the day.

Now here’s the real kickstarter: If you know of a story or an idea on how people can come together across economic, regional or other divides to create impactful products, companies or business models — why not share it?

Just submit a comment here, or post your own content and send me the link. Either way I’m looking forward to checking it out!

-Matt Nixon @mpnix

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