The War Is Over! Big Cities Win

In Tuesday’s New York Times, there was an article explaining “Why Big Cities Thrive, and Smaller Ones Are Being Left Behind” as the headline put it. The article was filled sad stories about small cities and small metro areas facing “dismal performance”. It was said that, in the face of a global technological revolution, these cities “may be too small to [adapt and to] survive.”

The accompanying graphic is a vivid demonstration of the point that the economic war is over and big cities have won – with their huge urban concentrations of people. And so, the author of the article ends it with advice that

“the future for the residents of small-city America looks dim. Perhaps the best policy would be to help them move to a big city nearby.”

There is no doubt that the graphic image is correct and that many small cities, towns and rural areas have suffered economically over the last couple of decades.

How could this have happened when the Internet and technology was supposed, instead, to “kill distance” and diminish the importance of big cities?  

I have argued that we are not really in the Internet age, despite – or because – of all the chatting, social media and email. A virtual version of the kind of casual conversations and interactions that happen in cities is still missing. The way Internet technology is used today limits our interactions. But that situation won’t last forever as more people, including those outside of the big metro areas, finally do get and use ubiquitous, easy and transparent videoconferencing.

This reminds me of my experience with the impact of the web on newspapers. When the web was first becoming popular, I was with a company working on software that was intended in part to help newspapers make the transition to a digital world. Although we weren’t successful in getting most newspapers to respond to the challenge (and opportunity), I was witness to the online discussions of newspaper employees as they struggled with the web phenomenon.

Through most of the 1990s, they were mildly concerned about the threat. When the dot-com bubble burst during 2000, these folks reassured each other that this web thing was indeed a passing fad. Shortly after that widespread agreement that the predictions of the impact of technology were mistaken, newspapers starting to decline and shed staff.

Bill Gates has provided another way of looking at this:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

A hint that there is more to the story could be found the same day in another New York Times article by their long-time technology reporter Steve Lohr. The story, “Start-Up Bets on Tech Talent Pipeline From Africa”, reported about a pool of tech talent in Lagos, Nairobi and Kampala. While Lagos and Nairobi are fairly large cities, none of these three cities is what people normally think about when talking about the metro areas that are the flagships of the global economy. They are not New York or London or San Francisco.

Yesterday (10/11/17) another NY Times story, “As ‘Unicorns’ Emerge, Utah Makes a Case for Tech Entrepreneurs”, appeared about the

“thriving technology hub in the roughly 80-mile swath from Provo to Ogden, with Salt Lake City in between. The region has given rise to at least five companies valued at more than $1 billion.”

Among those featured was Domo, an analytics company based in American Fork, Utah.

At ICF, we’ve seen a number of small cities and other non-metro areas that have flourished by taking advantage of the Internet and using broadband to connect their residents to anyone in the world.

While the wealth and advantages large metros have inherited from the industrial age are still being reflected in their role today, as we continue into this century, the intelligent use of technology to build thriving communities and quality of life will help cities of any size. So perhaps the obituary of small towns is not just premature, but misleading.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

A Small-Town Tech Program That Enables People To Make A Living

There’s been lots of talk about our transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to a digital economy. Many people have been caught in this transition, just as many young farmers were caught in the transition to the industrial era and ended up filling the slums of rapidly growing cities more than a hundred years ago. While we see low earnings growth in cities and suburbs, this has been especially a problem in small towns and rural areas.

With all the talk about the issue, there’s been very little action considering the size of the problem – particularly impactful programs to help these folks. And those that do exist usually deal with part of the one problem, say training but not placement or the other way around. That problem is in part due to silos that have been created by our laws.

Nevertheless, there are some programs worth watching, expanding and emulating. Digital Works, a non-profit organization which currently operates in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas is a good example.

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This is not about creating more computer programming and other high-level jobs in big cities. Nor does it work on helping low-income people in areas with concentrations of traditional metropolitan city corporate employment, such as the successful Workforce Opportunity Services.

Instead, as you can tell from where they operate, Digital Works focuses on rural areas and small towns with high unemployment – the part of the economy that has been most left behind. As an example, one of their locations is Gallipolis, Ohio, about forty miles from the West Virginia border in southeastern Ohio. At its high point in 1960, almost 8,800 people lived there. The Census Bureau estimates there are fewer than 3,500 people there now.

These are also the places that require residents to travel the most to get to big (or even bigger) cities that have concentrated traditional employment in factories, offices and stores. So being able to make a living, by working digitally, in or near your home opens up all kinds of new economic opportunities.

Digital Works trains local people for contact center work that can be done anywhere there is sufficient Internet connectivity, either at home or at a work center. The goal is that the work pays better than minimum wage, with performance-based raises and promotional opportunities.

Digital Works handles the whole cycle that is necessary for the unemployed – recruitment, screening, training, placement, mentoring, development and retention. (It reminds me a bit of the transitional work programs for urban poor and ex-convicts that I helped run much earlier in my career.) They even work with their graduates to obtain the National Retail Foundation’s Customer Service Certification.

They will create remote work centers in partnership with local governments in those areas where broadband is not yet widely available. It’s worth noting that Digital Works is a subsidiary of Connected Nation, which itself is focused on increasing broadband deployment and adoption.

Digital Works is fulfilling the vision of the Internet as the foundation for expanded economic growth everywhere it can reach.

And, of course, to complete the circle, a large part of their effort is on developing relationships with companies that would pay the people to whom they are giving several weeks of training. These business relationships also ensure that the training provided is what employers are actually looking for – something that is often discussed in other training programs, but not so closely practiced as by Digital Works.

With a more global vision, one of the more interesting people to participate regularly in the Intelligent Community Forum’s activities is Stu Johnson, who directs Digital Works. He has said:

“There’s no other workforce training program that offers what we do—it’s really groundbreaking. We are able to offer employer-customized training to high-quality candidates, job-placement assistance, on-going mentorship, and even advanced training and career development. There is an excessive demand for these types of jobs, and Digital Works is connecting those employers with eager and trained job seekers.”

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It is hard to find external studies of programs like this, which operate with little overhead in areas of the country that don’t much national attention. But Diane Rekowski, Executive Director of the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments has noted that

“The best part about this program is that it is free to anyone, and the success in Ohio has shown a 97% placement rate in a paid job upon completion of the training. Whether you are a recent high school graduate or enjoying your retirement years, this is an opportunity to have a flexible career and potential for earning much more than minimum wage.”

Digital Works’ data shows that the program has an 85% graduation rate and that 91% of their placements retain employment for more than a year.

While this program won’t work for everyone, everywhere and it certainly isn’t turning its graduates into millionaires, it is the kind of thing that can make a tremendous difference in real lives as this video shows – https://vimeo.com/150681091 

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

Surprises And Insights As Intelligent Community Leaders Meet Again

Returning to New York City, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) held its Annual Summit last week. Many of the ICF’s 160+ communities from around the world were represented, in addition to speakers and guests from this year’s Top7:

Although two years ago, the Intelligent Community of the Year was Columbus, Ohio, it’s noteworthy that this year no American city or community made it to the Top7. (This year, Rochester, New York, was the only American city even in the Smart21.)

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In addition to the contest, which attracts much interest, the Summit is also a place where people meet and present ideas on how to best use information and communications technologies as a foundation for creating better communities and quality of life.

It’s in the workshops and presentations from speakers who do not represent contestants that often the most interesting insights arise. This post will highlight some of those more unexpected moments.

1.      First, there’s the Digital Government Society (DGS) of academic specialists in e-government, the Internet and citizen engagement. DGS also held its 18th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, dg.o 2017, last week. Its theme was “Innovations and Transformations in Government”.

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Since ICF had a couple hundred government innovators in attendance and DGS is particularly interested in dialogue between academic researchers and practitioners, it was only natural that the two groups took a day last week to have a joint conference. This kind of interaction about areas of common interest was valuable for both groups. They even participated together in prioritizing the challenges facing the communities they lead or have studied.

2.     As part of the program, there were some presentations by companies with their own perspective on intelligent communities. Perhaps the most unusual example was Nathaniel Dick of Hair O’Right International Corp., which is an extremely eco-friendly beauty products company, best known for its caffeine shampoo.  It won’t surprise you that Mr. Dick is a very earnest, entrepreneurial American. What may surprise you is that he and Hair O’Right are based in Taiwan.

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3.     While there has been much talk about government opening up its data to the public over the last several years, there haven’t been all that many really interesting applications – and perhaps too many cases where open data is used merely for “gotcha” purposes against office holders. But Yale Fox of RentLogic demonstrated a very useful application of open data, helping renters learn some of the hidden aspects of the apartments they are considering.

Starting with the nation’s biggest rental market, New York City, they pulled together a variety of public documents about the apartment buildings. Now all a potential renter needs to do is enter the address and this information will be available.  Wouldn’t you like to know about anything from a mold problem to frequent turnover of ownership before you moved in?

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4.     Rob McCann, CEO of ClearCable and one of Canada’s thought leaders on broadband, provided a down to earth review of the current state of broadband deployment and how to address the demand for its expansion.  He noted Five Hidden Network Truths: “The Network is Oversubscribed (so manage it); The Network is Not Symmetrical (accept the best you can); Consumption CAGR exceeds 50% (so prepare for growth); More Peers are better than Bigger Peers; Operating costs are key, not just build costs”.

To get the point across, he also showed an old, but funny, video about Internet congestion.

5.     One of the new communities to join the summit was the relatively new area of Binh Duong, Vietnam (population more than a million).  Dr. Viet-Long Nguyen, Director of their Smart City Office, even gave a keynote presentation

6.     We’ve all heard much about the Internet of Things, the various sensors and devices that are supposed to change urban life – and, unfortunately, the sum of what too many people consider to be smart cities. By contrast, Mary Lee Kennedy, my fellow board member from the Metropolitan New York Library Council led a panel on “The Internet of People”. With panelists with their own perspectives – Mozilla Leadership Network, Pew Research, the Urban Libraries Council, New York Hall of Science – the focus was on the people who are not yet benefiting from everything else we were hearing about that day at MIST, Harlem’s own tech center. (You can read her more detailed post here.)

Overall, the impression a visitor to the summit is left with is that many places you wouldn’t have thought of are rapidly developing their technology potential and, more important, its value for their residents.

Next year, we expect to learn more and be surprised a few times more as the ICF Summit will be held in London and other parts of England.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

A Picture Of The Last Year

It’s the end of the year and I won’t be posting anything new until 2017.

To close out this year, I thought I might create a word cloud from all of the posts over the last twelve months and here it is:

Happy Holidays and, no matter how this year was for you, I wish you a better one in 2017!

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

Doing More Than Just Remembering The Forgotten America

Much has been written about how the results of this year’s Presidential election reflected the feeling on the part of people who live in rural areas and small towns that they have been overlooked and that the severe problems in those areas have not received sufficient attention by public and business leaders.

This Washington Post story, sub-headed “How an electorate fed up with the elite propelled Donald Trump to victory”, is a good example.

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Although we frequently hear that 80% of Americans live in cities now, that still means there are 60,000,000 Americans in the countryside – not an insignificant number as we saw last month.

Even the news stories that feature broad economic trends don’t highlight the uneven nature of those trends in these areas. For example, the decline in manufacturing employment was a standard talking point on the recent campaign trail. But many observers seem to have forgotten that many bigger manufacturing plants had long since departed cities for the countryside. So when manufacturing employment declined, it hit the countryside more deeply, even while that pain was less visible.

So, sadly, the feeling in rural America of being forgotten is not unfounded.

To make matters worse, in too many small cities and rural areas, many people speak negatively of the prospects for the area. This helps create a downward spiral by persuading the brightest young people to leave.

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As sociologists, Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas, wrote in their 2009 book, “Hollowing Out The Middle:

“The biggest question facing anyone who grows up in a small town is whether he or she should leave or stay. A little further down the road, those who make the initial decision to leave, usually after graduating high school, must decide whether to return to the cozy familiarity of their hometown or to continue building lives elsewhere. The fact that this small-town rite of passage should be so intimately bound up with the very future of the Heartland allows us to see how the hollowing-out phenomenon plays out in the lives and decisions of young people, and how their pathways are shaped by the communities and people who surround them as they grow up.”

“The Heartland’s most valuable export is not crops or hogs but its educated young people.”

For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Intelligent Community Forum helping these communities to take advantage of new opportunities open to them in a new century in which close physical proximity of millions of people is not necessarily the only strategy for economic success.

I’ve written before about how technology enables rural residents to take advantage of the kind of resources that you used to be almost exclusively available to residents of big cities — global economic connections, education and culture, even world-class health care — while maintaining the quality of life that draws them or keeps them in the countryside.

With all this on my mind a few weeks ago, I was asked by the Aspen Institute to keynote a community dialog in Sutter County (Yuba City), California. This was part of my participation in the small working group advising Aspen’s project on the future of libraries.

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Although Sutter County is not, by any means, among the most devastated of rural communities, it is still concerned about its future. My observation was that they had some strong assets that are otherwise underappreciated in the conventional economic development perspective.

First, I was impressed by the local leadership, which seemed to have its act together. Leaders who have vision and an understanding of where the world is going are essential for community development.

Second, they have a diverse population, with a variety of experiences including an understanding of entrepreneurial success. Like some other flourishing small cities around the country, Yuba City also has its immigrant groups. It is, for example, known all over North America and India for its long-established Sikh community, which draws tens of thousands of people to the city each year – and can be a connection to the global economy.

Third, they have a library that is prepared to play its role as the central institution of the knowledge economy and help the residents of Sutter County take advantage of new opportunities that I see in a new connected countryside. Much of the Aspen workshop/dialog was focused on the steps the library can take to make this a reality.

It will be interesting to see how well Sutter County achieves its vision and what other communities can learn from it.

And, perhaps for a short time, the situation in the countryside will get a little attention among public officials and the media. But even being remembered, once in a while, really isn’t much of a program.

While Sutter County and places like it across the country are trying to assure their future, it would be easier if national policy recognized and helped them respond to the socio-economic-technological challenges and opportunities facing them. More than merely reducing the sense of being forgotten, it could help accelerate a renaissance in the countryside.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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The Edgy Post-Industrial Economy

Last week, I wrote about the workforce becoming more freelance and the policies that have been proposed to deal with this change.  In this post, I continue the discussion about work in general and more broadly economic trends.

According to the standard measures, the economy is doing ok.  But there are unsettling, even bizarre, trends that make people feel anxious about their economic future.

For example, much has been made about the shift of jobs to China and India – even in popular culture.  About ten years ago there was a movie, Outsourced, about an American who was sent to India to train his replacements.  

But last month, the New York Times had a story that “Chinese Textile Mills Are Now Hiring in Places Where Cotton Was King”.  As manufacturing costs in the US become relatively competitive again with China, Chinese companies are buying American plants and sending their workers here to train Americans on how to do their jobs – jobs that were once in the USA.

I’ve noted before in this blog that the nature of work life is changing in ways that are more fundamental than whether the work is in the US or China or whether you work as a freelancer or in a traditional job.  Ross Perlin pulled together a list of some of these changes in an article in Fast Company magazine.  Its title: “These Are The New Rules of Work: Forget everything you’ve always known about work. The rules have changed.”

Here’s his list:

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But it’s not just that the nature of work is changing.  Many people worry that old jobs are disappearing and new ones not being created fast enough to replace the old or that the economy is not just changing, but somehow imploding.  

For example, in the cover story of last month’s issue of the Atlantic Magazine, Derek Thompson provided a thorough analysis of these issues in an article titled “A World Without Work: For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?”

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Of course, there are other, more positive responses, to the changes that are happening.

Some workers love the changes, as Karoli Hindriks, who runs a service that identifies global job opportunities, reported in “On-Demand Employment: How Today’s Workers Are Choosing Journeys Over Jobs”.

Finally, and reminiscent of the old phrase “the King is dead; long live the King”, Robin Chase (founder of ZipCar and since then an evangelist for the sharing economy) has written “Bye, Bye Capitalism. We’re Entering the Age of Abundance.  The old model of unwieldy behemoths is giving way to a new one of collaboration. Welcome to the world of Peers.”

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© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
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Freelance Labor Day?

Yesterday was Labor Day and there were the usual parades of union members, although freelancers didn’t have their day in the sun – like this cartoon.

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There were also a few Labor Day discussions on television, mostly featuring people who have nice traditional jobs and who don’t seem to have much understanding of what is happening to the very nature of work in a post-industrial economy.

This will be the first of two posts about how the way we make a living – what used to be called “work” – is changing and how the economy is changing more broadly.  

Let’s start off with freelance work, which is estimated to involve 53 million Americans or more than a third of the workforce and looking more like the way that a majority of Americans will work in the future.  As one reporter noted:

No wonder the polite question to ask these days is not “Where do you work?” but “What are you working on?”

Current Labor Department statistics don’t show numbers as large as a third of the workforce, which may partly explain the failure of the government to focus on freelancing.  However, as a Harvard Business Review article last year explained:

“Why is this? Two reasons, mainly. One has to do with definitions — the BLS standard for self-employment isn’t the only valid one. The second is really about history. We may well be witnessing the rise of a new kind of independent worker … Free Agent Nation is out there, and parts of it are growing fast. It’s just not always easy to find”

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Not surprisingly, conventional institutions are having a hard time dealing with this trend.  

In a poignant description of her own situation, Elaine Pofeldt, a writer and exile from corporate America, reported “What I’ve Learned About Government, Big Banks And Consumerism — As a freelancer, the state made me feel like an economic outlaw”

“The moment you step outside the way people are supposed to work in the U.S. — either because that model doesn’t work for you or because you’ve lost a traditional job — you get cut off from the country’s support systems. Never mind that our culture reveres entrepreneurial heroes like Mark Zuckerberg. Depart the W-2 world, and you become a sort of economic outlaw. You don’t get access to unemployment. But you still have to pay taxes like everyone else.”

“Employment attorneys have told me government historically hasn’t wanted more people to join the 1099 economy. It is easier to siphon taxes directly from an employee’s paycheck than to get independent workers to pay the state later.”

Focusing on freelancers earning money through platforms like Uber, Joe Kennedy, senior fellow at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, argued a few weeks ago that “Labor laws are a mismatch with the sharing economy”.  He recommends “Creating programs like these that support valuable new industries is certainly more important than trying to impose an obsolete model on a dynamic market.”

Recently, there have been some new policy proposals that start to address the issues in our new economy.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Sara Horowitz, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union, suggested a way of dealing with the episodic income of freelancers – with accounts for pretax income proportionately made by the clients.  She also asked for easier legal remedies to deal with the widespread late or failure to pay by clients.

Nick Hanauer, venture capitalist, and David Rolf, labor union leader, wrote that “by far the biggest threat to middle-class workers—and to our economy as a whole—comes from the changing nature of employment itself.”  They note that “Our changing economy has given rise to a nation of freelancers and contractors — and the need for a twenty-first-century social contract.”

Among other proposals, they suggest a “Shared Security Account as analogous to Social Security, but encompassing all of the employment benefits traditionally provided by a full-time salaried job. Shared Security benefits would be earned and accrued via automatic payroll deductions, regardless of the employment relationship, and, like Social Security, these benefits would be fully prorated, portable, and universal.”

As Sara Horowitz wrote: “Politicians have been talking about the gig economy using outdated language. They’re not talking about how we work today, and they’re certainly not talking about how we’re going to work tomorrow.”

Whether it’s a shared security account or other policies, it’s time that the nation’s public officials address the way that people have to earn a living in this century, not the last.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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How To Be The Most Intelligent Community In The World?

One of the questions I was asked about the awards given by the Intelligent Community Forum is what does it take to become an intelligent community.  I’ll try to summarize what I’ve learned from participating in the ICF as a keynoter, juror and (before Cisco) a leader of a Top 7 community.

Among the few hundred communities that apply in this contest, it is clear the first step is make sure the community has sufficient broadband.  Almost all of the things that intelligent communities can do for and with their residents depend upon that connectivity in one way or the other.

Second, high-speed connectivity is not enough to stand out in this global competition.  The next question is what a community does with the technology.  Is it transforming: 

  • The way that residents interact with their government?  
  • How residents – from pre-kindergarteners to seniors – are educated?
  • How well the physical aspects of the community are managed?
  • How residents are kept healthy and safe?
  • The local economy and the income opportunities for residents?

… Just to name some of the evidence that ICF is looking for.

Third, an intelligent community is reflected in the collaboration of all parts of the community.  Is everyone getting the benefit of the technology?  Are they working together to build a better future?

Fourth, there is an intangible, but important, element: the culture of the community.  Is there a sense that the culture of the community encourages innovation and encourages the sophisticated use of the technology that they have invested in?

Fifth, ICF looks for progress.  Many of the communities, who have been in the Top 7 and have won the top spot, did not win the first time they applied.  But over the course of a couple or more years, they showed continued commitment to making themselves intelligent communities and they showed great progress.

None of these five factors should be all that surprising.  Of course, as we’ve seen, succeeding at each of these takes a community effort and leadership that is both visionary and effective.

Here is the list of the Top 7:

Taichung City was selected as the winner.

 

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

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Does Innovation Destroy Or Create Jobs?

The Intelligent Community Forum just completed its annual summit, which celebrates the Top 7 most intelligent communities in the world.   These are the global leaders who have already made investments in broadband and in community building – and who are now looking to see how they can build on those advantages.

This year’s theme was innovation and employment, so I was asked to give the keynote presentation on the question of whether innovation destroys jobs and how sub-national governments should respond.  

This is a summary.  The video of the presentation will be available in a couple of weeks.  [Note: there was a foreshadowing of this presentation in my earlier blog post “Are Jobs Disappearing?”]

The current argument that technological innovation is killing jobs has a long tradition, going back to the Luddites.  But today we even have that herald of the Internet age, WIRED Magazine, portraying a near term future in which robots do all the work.    I pointed out that there is still a lot of work to be done whether or not robots are “on the job”, for example curing diseases.

More relevant to the question is whether the new kinds of work that innovation makes possible can be handled if people do not have the skills needed for that work.  The need for training is obvious, but my focus was on the need for life-long learning for the adults, rather than the usual investment in K-16 educational institutions.  In building a platform for lifelong learning, local governments can draw upon the numerous online resources for learning.  Indeed, the local public libraries should be given the task of organizing and making sense of all of these online learning opportunities.

Another, little discussed part of the employment picture is the relative inefficiency of the labor market itself.  I suggested that, at least for their own metro areas, these local leaders use or enhance some of the new software that better matches the talents and temperament of their residents to the needs of the economy.

Any discussion of innovation and jobs also needs to provide the big picture, the context of what is happening.  So I briefly summarized my work on the future-oriented economy, with its twin trends of (1) a more service-oriented and digital (intangible) work and (2) ever increasing high quality visual communication over the Internet that enhances collaboration among people across the globe.

Among the several implications of these trends is that the nature of work itself is changing.  People will still have lots to do, but they will not necessarily be making a living in a traditional 9-5 job at a fixed work location.

Innovation is one word with two forms.  One, that Clayton Christensen called “sustaining innovation” is the kind of innovation that does increase productivity so that fewer people are needed to do the work – in other words, jobs decrease.  The other is what he calls “disruptive innovation”, which can lead to the growth of new industries and companies providing greater income for everyone associated with that growth.  Clearly, it is this second kind of innovation that public officials need to encourage.

In an excerpt from Steven Johnson’s TED talk on “Where Good Ideas Come From”, the audience was reminded that “chance favors the connected mind” and innovation is really a network phenomenon.  This is reflected, as well, in the open innovation movement among many corporations and even the US Government.

To accelerate disruptive innovation and the economic opportunities it can generate, local governments need to connect their residents to the global economy, global flow of new ideas and new services.

Successful innovation also requires a supportive culture, including accepting the failures that are part of innovation and experiment.  Failure is something that many public officials feel comes with a high price, although the historic success of public sector innovators tells a different story.  And, of course, the best path for disruptive innovation is not huge projects that require huge investments, but many smaller experiments.  As the saying in Silicon Valley goes: “fail early and fast” to maximize learning from the experience. 

For their part, public officials can help build a local culture of innovation by using government itself as a model of innovation.  They can even use the experience of being in their city as a continual reminder and inspiration for innovation.  I gave some examples of simple, not very costly ways of taking even the less beautiful parts of a city and turning them into exciting, artistic lessons on innovation.

Finally, using the 19th century example of the reaction of different cities to the railroads, I noted that they should not just wait to see what happens with technological innovation.  Their decision to lead innovation or not to decide will have long-term consequences.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

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Are Jobs Disappearing?

There have been articles and much discussion over the last year or so about how the economic recovery and more generally technological innovation have not generated many jobs.  Indeed it looks like technology is enhancing productivity to the detriment of job creation.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both of MIT, wrote a somewhat scholarly op-ed article in the NY Times several months ago that noted the traditional increases in jobs and income that have followed productivity increases no longer seem to be happening.  See “Jobs, Productivity and the Great Decoupling”.

WIRED Magazine devoted its December 2012 issue to the impact of robots on jobs and life.  It led with an article by Kevin Kelly entitled: “Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs” and a sub-head “Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?"  The magazine even presents a two-by-two matrix about jobs that makes the same point:  many of us won’t have a job for very long.

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Despite the sensational nature of the issue, there is a lot more to this question than robots and technological advances.  One small provocative aspect has only begun to get attention – maybe the traditional, 9-5 job in an office or factory is just disappearing.

So Douglas Rushkoff on CNN’s website had an article entitled ”Are Jobs Obsolete“ in which he argued that the standard industrial-style job we’ve been used to is an historical anomaly and not likely to last in a post-industrial society.

You can find books with similar themes and some self-help advice on what to do about the trend, such as "Making A Living Without A Job: Winning Ways For Creating Work That You Love” by Barbara Winter.

This line of thought also counters the robots-will-do-all-the-work argument.  As James Lee put it in the March 2012 Futurist, “Jobs are disappearing, but there is still a future for work."  See his article ”Hard At Work In The Jobless Future“.

By the way, this is not an altogether new idea.  In 1994, William Bridges wrote "Job Shift: How To Prosper In A Workplace Without Jobs”.

So part of – certainly not all of – the explanation for the elimination of jobs is their replacement by less structured forms of making a living.  I’ll write more of the story in a future post.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/51647985601/are-jobs-disappearing]

What Kills Innovation?

Is innovation dying?  If yes, what is killing it?

This is a bit of follow up to my blog post last week.  Peter Thiel, well-known tech entrepreneur, has for a while argued that technology innovation has severely decelerated (with the exception of the computer business).  

His ideas are presented and somewhat debated in these three articles from earlier this year, among others:

He cites the rapid slowing of the last 200 years of progress in the US and Europe, noting that while existing technology is spreading elsewhere through globalization, new technology is not leaping forward in the US.  He feels we’ve forgotten how to innovate.

Of course, the debate with Gilder makes clear that trying to measure how much progress and innovation has occurred is a bit like the old line: how do you measure the length of a string?  (Depending upon the string you pull, it could be any length.)  

Thiel is a libertarian and identifies government regulation as the proximate cause of this deceleration.  No doubt, bad regulation exists and bad regulations can be a heavy hand on the wheels of progress.

But his perspective (as summarized in the first article) is broader than that:

speaking of “developed” versus “developing nations” is implicitly bearish about technology because it implies some convergence to the “developed” status quo. As a society, we seem to believe in a sort of technological end of history, almost by default.

This has bothered me too, but it points to a different cause than regulation and a set of solutions that involve the government.  

As long as we measure our economy in industrial terms (GDP) and give short shrift to the value of post-industrial, often intangible, goods and services, we will persist in this sense of stalled progress.  

If the problem is that we are telling ourselves that leap-forward innovation is at an end, then we need leaders who can help develop and propagate a new vision of the future – and who can then help change the culture that has created the problem.  This is true leadership, not the 5-point policy programs that result in a press release and not much else.

The US government’s reduction in investment in basic research has also been a negative factor – particularly when it shies away from underwriting many grants for ideas that have no immediately obvious value, which is exactly the kind of thing that leads to things of obvious value ten years later.  (The Fortune 500 corporations are also guilty of this shortsightedness.)

Another culprit is the “shareholder is always right” mantra, which has become the American legal standard over the last couple of decades.  This fiduciary standard has discouraged CEOs from making big innovation bets with long-term returns, since most of their shareholders have adopted a short-term outlook.  For a good assessment of this and other issues, see Lynn Stout’s article, Challenging the Long-Held Belief in ‘Shareholder Value’ where she describes the negative consequences when companies are run with the primary decision making criteria being maximizing return to shareholders.

This isn’t the whole story, but it points to a fundamental weakness in the way we think that is slowing us down.  What will it take to change that?  If you have ideas, let us know.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis August 8, 2012

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/28980374812/what-kills-innovation ]

Diversity And Innovation

There’s an interesting post on the Harvard Business Review blog site by the founder of the Startup Genome project, which analyzes success/failure in new enterprises.  He titles it: “Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas”.  (See http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/07/reversing_the_decline_in_big_i.html)

He notes that there seems to be a lack of big new ideas in the tech industry and suggests that this is because there is not enough diversity in the founding teams of new enterprises.

In a recent presentation, I noted that we’ve learned about the importance of cross-pollination among disciplines for true innovation.  And then I made the point that many of the “innovation clusters” planned by governments instead aim to drill down into one very focused domain of knowledge – which might mean they won’t get the innovation they expect.  

The author’s argument about the homogenous nature of Silicon Valley startups is perhaps another example of this pattern.  All of those public officials who have dreams of duplicating the past success of Silicon Valley should take note.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis on July 31, 2012

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/28409866759/diversity-and-innovation/]


Video: How To Get Fit For The Future Economy


A few weeks ago, in a post “How Intelligent Communities Get Fit For The Future Innovation Economy”, I summarized my keynote presentation at the Annual Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum.

If you’d like to see a video of the keynote presentation that ICF recorded, go to http://vimeo.com/45415273

Unfortunately, the ICF staff also cut out all of the brief video clips that engaged the audience, including holographic-like telepresence, laser projections on city walls, virtual/physical interactions on Times Square and the like.  (I suspect they were worried about copyright issues, although they needn’t have worried.)

If you’re interested in seeing those videos, in their full length, you can find them as follows:

As always, please send me your comments and observations (njacknis@cisco.com).

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

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3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing

3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing

FW: Skills Shortage? Quit Whining

My work on economic growth for the US Conference of Mayors has focused, in part, on labor and how to improve the skills of workers in ways that are not dependent upon the traditionally expensive classroom environment.  

So I found this article by Rob Preston, Editor in Chief of InformationWeek of interest.  Read it at http://www.informationweek.com/news/global-cio/interviews/232601751

It has also struck me that the labor market, especially compared to capital markets, is quite inefficient.  Are people working at tasks that are the best use of their skills and temperament?  How much could the economy grow if people were more optimally allocated to the needs of the market?  As with other markets, the Internet may help increase the efficiency of the labor market by providing better information about all players in the market.  It remains to be seen, of course, how exactly this might play out in the future.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/20405942580/fw-skills-shortage-quit-whining]

Living Long In A Networked Age

This post was started in 2010 in Australia, when I was asked to speak at the biennial world meeting of the International Federation on Ageing (www.ifa-fiv.org/) and the World Health Organization.  They were interested in my early work on socio-economic trends in this networked age.

I don’t like giving packaged presentations and much prefer to talk about things that have some meaning for the audience.  So I did some research on aging and tried to work out in my mind what are the implications of the growing digital network on the way that we live longer.

This post is a summary of that thought process.

First consider the traditional view of aging, perhaps more prevalent in the general public than among experts.  

Basically, as you get older, this view says you will get increasingly debilitated and immobile, have to retire from the work force, become dependent upon government financial support and personal service from others, and spend much of your time in medical facilities.  There is no doubt that some of these things can happen and eventually the body does wear out.  

But is this a necessary picture of aging in today’s world? Not when people can be connected by broadband networks that, increasingly, include video capabilities which really make it feel that you are together with others who are far away.   

First, let’s deal with the dissociation from the work force.  In 1900, 71% of the American labor made goods or food.  This was often back-breaking work, the kind of job that indeed did become untenable for the elderly.

But, by 2000, only 21% of American workers are still in the business of making goods or food.  The rest provide services, increasingly intangible services that are created on computers and delivered over the Internet.  

One of the consequences of this is that many people no longer go to a job.  Their work goes to them wherever they might be.  It is so common that people are working at home or in locations outside of the offices of their employers that many companies have found they need half the space per employee that they did ten years ago.  

So when people are faced with reduced mobility, whether it is due to a skiing accident or the aging of the body, it no longer means that they cannot work and earn a living.

Is this relevant to seniors?  The Pew Internet and American Life Project has found that 41% of those over 65 are online.  Among the next wave of potential retirees,  those between 50 and 64, 74% are online.  

Even a couple of years ago, you could find a story about “Seniors finding social networking exhilarating” (from The Dallas Morning News, October 12, 2009).  And many of us have seen grandparents connect with the grandkids via videoconferencing and social media.

Ok, you might say, that seniors might be able to work, but do they want to or do they wish to just live off their savings and government help?

In an article entitled, “Successful Seniors Who Won’t Retire”,  Business Week featured 105 seniors a couple of years ago who won’t quit, with Jane Fonda as the prime example.

There have been recent research studies about this very question.  Labor force participation by seniors has gone up in recent decades.

In another Pew study, they reported that 12% of current retirees already work for pay.  More than three quarters of current workers expect to work for pay after retirement – 60% because they want to and only 30% because they have to work to make ends meet.  The authors conclusion:

“The latest Pew findings suggest that retirement is a phase of life about which public attitudes, expectations and experiences are in a period of transition.”

This is not just an American phenomenon.  Xinhua News reported:

“About one third of the retired people in Beijing want to keep on working to earn more and to stay in touch with society.”

Although age discrimination is widespread in hiring, it is counter-productive. Other research has found that “Older Workers Had Higher Educational Attainment Overall Than Older Non-workers.”  

Of course, those people, no matter what their age, who have higher education are more likely participants in the knowledge economy – the intangible, digital part of the economy.  Thus the labor force participation rate of those with advanced degrees was about three times that of those with less than a high school education.

But what about the disabilities that seem to be part of aging?

Among those who work with seniors, there has been a movement called “universal design” whose aim is to ensure that every room in a home or other building is designed with ease of use.  For example, look at the work by the NCSU Center for Universal Design (http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud).

Their goal for seniors is to prevent accidents, like slipping in a shower.  (The point has been made, of course, that these improvement also help those who are no so old.  Anyone can slip in a shower if it’s not properly designed.)

In this century, we can do more than be careful with traditional physical design. 

There has been much in the news lately about the “Internet of things”, which is a phrase that describes the increasing number of sensors and other devices without direct human interfaces all over the world, including in our homes.  

This enables architects to design a blended virtual/physical environment for seniors that can monitor their safety and health.  For example, it is possible to build in prevention and detection of falls among seniors.

Being always connected can mean always having access to tele-health.  I’m thinking of what exists now.  There are all sort of devices to monitor chronic diseases, which means that doctors can remotely diagnose and catch problems early before they become critical and expensive.  

These devices allow for a range of options for senior, instead of unnecessary commitment to a long-term care facility.

In the future, sensors that transmit from inside your body and that help repair your body will become available and take tele-medicine to an extraordinary new level.

The connectivity of seniors at home can also lead to better health outcomes as was demonstrated in the Vermont Telecare for Rural Health Project.  They ran a successful, multi-way interactive tai-chi exercise class for those over 70 who did not leave their homes.  As the leaders of the project noted:  

“We know that exercise is helpful for senior patients, but we can’t get to them. And we know that Tai Chi helps keep seniors healthy, increases their well-being and balance.“

So even home-bound seniors with chronic diseases can still participate in the economy and the wider society.

Ok, you might say, we can overcome some of the physical handicaps that sometime accompany aging.  But what about the mental degradation? the intellectual stodginess that is part of the common view of the elderly?  Aren’t seniors unprepared to participate in an economy in which innovation is a critical element of competitive success?

In many, these views are misleading or irrelevant in this century.  Let’s start with the irrelevant by observing our own children and how they use the Internet.

Is a quick and expansive memory for details something they cherish, even among themselves, when there is the Internet to look up almost any fact?

Is it necessary to worry about reminders when "there’s an app for that”?

But the misleading part of this view is more interesting, if less well known.

There was a time that it was assumed that only the very young were creative.  However, there has been more recent bio-medical research on the resilience and continuing growth of the brain even among older people.

There was also the interesting research by the economist Galenson who focused on artists, among others.  In a review of Galenson’s work, Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker magazine, asked: “why do we equate genius with precociousness?" 

Galenson divided creativity into two types – conceptual and experimental.  The complete conceptual revision of some domain, be it art or physics, is often associated with the very young.  

The experimental or experiential type of creativity is evidenced by those much older since it is based on the ability to make connections among diverse experiences that only older people have had.  It is also based on a lifetime of experimentation with the world.  

In discussions of innovations in business and in driving future economic growth, it is this kind of creativity that makes the most difference.

But there is a catch, which is why many are misled about this subject.  The catch is that creativity is a collaborative act.  It is not about some lone 20 year old genius sitting on a mountainside.  As Steven Johnson put it in his book "Where Good Ideas Come From”:

“That is how innovation happens … chance favors the connected mind.” 

No matter what someone’s age, if they are not in the stream of new ideas, they will not achieve their creative potential.  Unfortunately, for most people, they are exposed to new ideas and knowledge less and less for each year they are away from college or their last formal educational experience.

Some colleges, for example Purchase College of the State University of New York, have admirably tried to remedy this by enabling seniors to audit classes for a very low fee.  But classroom instruction is expensive and not always convenient for seniors.

The Internet, however, has a vast potential to put seniors back into that stream so that they too can be innovative.  MIT has put its courses online, among other universities.  Carnegie-Mellon is leading an open learning project.  Florida has a virtual reference librarian available 24 hours a day.  There are training videos and tutorials in almost every subject imaginable.  

Especially interesting is the cooperative, free online university for seniors – University for the Third Age (U3A).  

There is just a tremendous amount of scientific and other research that used to be available only on the campus where it occurred or later in scientific journals and conferences.  Now much of that is available online.  And local librarians can help people find this, if it becomes too daunting to search through for an individual.

Public leaders in the 19th century recognized the economic importance of ensuring that all citizens could read and they created the public schools and libraries necessary to achieve that goal.  In this century, public leaders need to ensure that residents of all ages are helped to identify where they can get 21st century learning. 

Another significant socio-economic trend in this century is the increased recognition of the role played by new entrepreneurs in economic growth – and the way that the Internet makes it easier than ever to start up a business.

Thus, there is no reason that this greater entrepreneurial opportunity cannot be grabbed by a 59 year-old as much as 19 year-old almost-college-dropouts.  Apparently, this is something that older people realize.  The Kauffman Foundation highlights its finding (http://www.kauffman.org/research-and-policy/kiea-interactive.aspx) that the 

“increasing rate of entrepreneurship among older adults has led to a rising share of new entrepreneurs in the fifty-five to sixty-four age group. This age group represented 14.5 percent of new entrepreneurs in 1996, whereas it represented 22.9 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2010.”   

As we enter into the world of ubiquitous communications in this century, we will find that the traditional issues which have handicapped older people are diminishing.  This should generate a whole new way of looking at them and at this part of life – not a phase of debilitation and near vegetation, but an active life despite whatever limitations the aging body may impose.

This new outlook may be represented by a new equation, with apologies to Einstein, e = (mc)²  Enhancement of life experience results from more connectivity which leads to more choices.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/20006652147/living-long-in-a-networked-age]

Robert Kennedy On Measuring The Economy

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.“

– Robert F. Kennedy, former US Attorney General and US Senator, March 18, 1968, University of Kansas [Source: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Remarks-of-Robert-F-Kennedy-at-the-University-of-Kansas-March-18-1968.aspx]

My comment: Forty-three years ago, Robert F. Kennedy spoke about the inadequacies of our measures of the economy.  The sentiment is even more relevant in the Internet age, where the sales of Encyclopedia Britannica are counted in GDP, but the economic and social value of Wikipedia is not.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/16816367505/robert-kennedy-on-measuring-the-economy-too-much]

New Competition Between Governments

The speed and accessibility of digital information and services increases everyday.  Whatever a government does online can be viewed by not only its own constituents, but by anyone else.

This building trend is likely to lead to increasing competition among governments.  Competition between governments is not new – we have a long history of wars between nation-states to prove that point.  Even when relations between governments are peaceful, there has been a strong economic (mercantilist) competition to attract (steal) businesses and the jobs their plants and offices presumably bring when they move.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.  Instead, what will be at stake is the very loyalty of citizens and the relevance of public leaders to those citizens.

This may seem odd.  Historically, governments – no matter their political ideology – have been about control over physical territory and the people who live within the borders of that territory.  But the Internet is all about breaking down borders between people.  As the Internet increases in use, these borders become weaker.  This is true, as we have seen in some countries last year, even when the government has governed through the use of threats of physical violence and coercion.

We have also seen an ever-larger percentage of people who earn a living by the creation and delivery of knowledge, ideas and other intangible services, rather than the industrial era’s tangible services and goods.  These people can and do take their work with them, instead of going to an office or factory.  They may split their time each year between multiple locations, but they can still be in virtual touch with any place.  

This has two implications for the way they look at government.  First, it sets up a competition for the attention and allegiance of these people.  Which, if any, of these locations is the one they consider primary?  In a way, the governments of these different locations are in competition.

Second, while government still delivers many physical services, like maintaining streetlights, government too is finding that an increasing proportion of its activities are intangible services.  Much of what used to be conducted over the counter or desk, such as filing applications or making payments, is now done on the Internet.  

As society has become more complex, government finds itself also delivering digital information about problems from avoiding insect-born diseases to financial literacy.  For many of these intangible services, a person can look to any number of government websites, not just the website of the nearest government agency.

A few years ago, the Health Department in Westchester County, New York, created a web site on women’s health.  That site received visits from people who lived way beyond the New York area, even as far as South Africa.

So government leaders can no longer take for granted the interest of the people who might physically be located within their jurisdiction.  

This doesn’t mean government will disappear.  There will always be some geographic and physical responsibilities for government, like maintaining roads.  But from a citizen’s viewpoint it may become more like a visit to McDonald’s.  When I need it, I want to find it nearby, to be clean and to have good service, but I don’t have any particular loyalty or interest in McDonald’s beyond that.

While they may not normally go out of business, governments can certainly shrink because the lack of interest makes it hard to raise taxes.  And, of course, some governments have disappeared as when city and county governments have consolidated in various parts of the US.

So what’s a leader to do? To begin, public leaders must recognize that this competition is intensifying and that, like smart executives of consumer products companies, they have to think about market differentiation and market strategy.  As well, to strengthen the brand value of their jurisdiction, public leaders will also have to start to exercise the creativity that has made companies like Apple and Starbucks so successful.

To get your creative ideas flowing, I’d suggest two classic books on innovative strategy: “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen and “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

As your thinking develops on this, please let me know so I can share your ideas with others. 

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/16462084069/new-competition-between-governments]

Misdiagnosing the Economic Problem

This – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/ontario-lags-on-prosperity-potential/article2236059/ – is an interesting article, but it misses important aspects of currently evolving economic trend and thus misdiagnoses the economic problems facing Ontario, Canada.

1. Just by itself, the economic development of other areas is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, a general uplift in the world economy can work to everyone’s advantage.  So a narrow focus on comparisons is not helpful.

2. However, too small an increase in the local economy and especially in productivity are important concerns, so Ontario does have reason to worry.

3. If there is evidence of a significant use of the Internet, it may be that some of the economic activity that is going on in Ontario is not being properly measured because it is not monetized.  (Think about how little of the value of Wikipedia is monetized and thus how much of its value is ignored by standard economic statistics.)

4. They do need to step up innovation and the skills/knowledge of the people who live there.  Spending more on traditional educational institutions may not be the best way to do this.

5. You won’t be surprised if I add that “poor functioning of industry clusters, fewer workers living in urban areas” is just a reflection of what is going on elsewhere in the developed world and not something unusual to Ontario.  Economic strategies based on physical proximity will increasing be challenged by virtual connections.  

By the way, the report is much more nuanced than the newspaper story, but unfortunately it is usually only the newspaper stories that get read.

Here’s the link to the report: http://www.competeprosper.ca/

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

It Just Takes Some Imagination

I had the good fortune to be around Miami this past Saturday night as the city hosted Sleepless Night when the clocks were turned back for the end of daylight savings time.  This is part of the international Nuit Blanche network of cities celebrating the arts and culture.  

Of the more than 100 events in Miami Beach, one that attracted a very large crowd was the “vertical dancing” on the glass side of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center, which houses the New World Symphony.  It was performed by Project Bandaloop as “Bound(less)” with Dana Leong.

I posted ten minutes of excerpts from this show at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRpAPPn0_xE.  (There’s a two minute version someone else posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJjV2aB0h-Y.)

Aside from noting how cool this is, as I was watching, I thought how straightforward this was – instead of letting the side of a building just provide a skin for the occupants, this transformed the side of the building into a dance floor.  (The other side of the building is a huge screen that lets people outside see and hear the concerts going on inside.)

It’s simple and, compared to lots of other civic events across the US, it is relatively inexpensive.  All it takes is some imagination to create this kind of Wow! experience in your city.

I realize, of course, that not every city has the large pool of artists, dancers, musicians, etc. that can be found in Miami.  So I’m not suggesting that every city imitate this particular event.  But every city has the potential for interesting experiences, which can be discovered with a little imagination.  

As the broadband-based video communications becomes more widespread and more of what we produce are intangible services and knowledge, there will be an increasing number of people who can make a living anywhere they choose to live.  What a city might have done to attract tourists in the past, it will have to do to retain and attract residents.  

Like SleepLess Night, give them a reason to be there.

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/12468596258/it-just-takes-some-imagination]