Are MOOCs Failing?

There have been recent articles featuring primarily Sebastian Thrun, the earlier leader of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and founder of the company, Udacity, which specializes in developing and delivering MOOCs.

The first was a piece in Fast Company about how Thrun has been disappointed by the experience of MOOCs.  This was followed by a more positive piece in the New York Times about changes in MOOCs that are being considered in order to address their failures.  The failures turn out to be the small percentage of people who actually attend the full course and the fact that most of them already have degrees.

However, the discussion might be misleading.  It not so much whether online courses are good or bad, but how it is very difficult to succeed with a new innovation by casting it as a minor modification of something that already exists.  In this case, the idea that online learning should be very much like a typical college course, but just online, may not have been an innovative enough idea.  For example, the Khan Academy, which packages learning into ten minute videos that anyone can access, is a much greater change from convention and has also been much more successful.

Indeed, the fact that many in the MOOCs already have degrees maybe should make MOOC developers reconsider their target.  Perhaps MOOCs will be much more appealing as a cost-effective means of lifelong learning for those who cannot afford the time or additional money to attend college than for those who would be college students.

In a knowledge age, the biggest challenge is how to provide learning opportunities for all adults – all of whom need to continue to learn.

(Disclosure: While this blog has had previous posts on higher education, it is now more relevant since I was recently appointed to the board of the Westchester Community College.  Of course, my views do not represent those of the College now, or as it may turn out, even in the future 😉

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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Large County Innovation Summit

The National Association of Counties’ Large Urban County Caucus – LUCC, as it is known – represents the largest counties in the country, where a significant percentage of Americans live.   LUCC held its 2013 County Innovation Symposium in New York City last week from Wednesday through Friday. 

(I was invited in my new role as the first Senior NACo Fellow.)

Although Thursday’s schedule included sessions on health care, criminal justice and resilience, the meeting on the other two days focused on economic development.  Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author of the recent book, “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy” kicked off Friday morning.

He and other panelists noted the evolving role of counties and NACo itself, as the old suburban vs. urban disputes are overtaken by important socio-economic trends. 

First, there is an increased understanding and recognition among public officials now of the metropolitan, really regional, nature of economies.  The old game of providing incentives to companies to move within a metropolitan area, resulting in no new jobs in the region, is wearing thin.

Second, the global nature of the economy implies that regions are now competing with each other, not localities.  And only a regional scale can generate the funds necessary to compete on a global basis.

Third, the demographic differences that used to separate suburban and urban areas are diminishing.  The two are beginning to look a lot alike.  Brookings’ research indicates that today there are more poor people in suburbs than in cities. 

Along with this discussion of economic strategy, there was a strong interest in encouraging innovation and in learning how to get good innovations to diffuse quickly.  This interest is one reason why NACo has appointed Dr. Bert Jarreau as its first Chief Innovation Officer.

With that in mind, the group went to visit Google’s New York labs.  (It is interesting to see Google’s entry into the sub-national arena over the last year or so, as more traditional IT companies have withdrawn somewhat from this market.)

A predictable big hit was the demonstration of Google Glass and a discussion of Glass apps, called GlassWare, that might be of value in the public sector.

There were also presentations of two applications that were extensions of Google’s search and other tools.  One was for integrated predictive policing, with heavy use of video cams (both public and private) and unstructured, narrative data.  Similarly, Macomb County, MI (population 900,000) showed how it uses a search tool, called SuperIndex, for text and images of land records.  The latter, by the way, is financially self-supporting.

By the end of the meeting, NACo LUCC decided they will make this innovation symposium an annual event.  It is often these kinds of unexpected, under-the-radar, developments that surprise people later.  County governments has not had a reputation for innovation, but keep your eyes open for what develops with this group.

©2013 Norman Jacknis

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What Culture Is Needed For A Virtual Workforce?

A few weeks ago, the New York Times had a story about HP and its telecommuters – “Back-to-Work Day at H.P.”  While not quite calling for an end to telecommuting as Yahoo done earlier this year, HP said they had added space and “invited” its employees back to the office.  Once again it seemed that a big tech company was doing a decidedly untech thing – downplaying the use of technology and pointing out how it can’t really substitute for old fashioned patterns of interaction.

How do tech companies expect people to believe them, if their words don’t match their actions?

While the current technology for virtual interactions and a virtual workforce can certainly be improved, it’s not the major obstacle anymore.  A more important part of the disconnect between words and actions is that these tech companies are engineering leaders, but not leaders in organizational culture – and it is culture that is the real hurdle here. 

Tech and non-tech companies that want to ensure success for their virtual workforce need to build an appropriate culture and practices. 

For example, everyone involved with telecommuting needs to understand that email, text, even phone calls constitute only a small part of the communications that human beings expect and is insufficient to support a high level of trust.  However, video chatting does enable people to get much of what would be communicated in person and has been shown to enhance trust.  So video ought to be the rule, not the exception, for virtual interaction.

Another important part of the culture of innovative companies is the encouragement of random interactions and collaboration among people.  This is what underlies the Three C’s which Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s emphasizes:  collision, community and co-learning.

He clearly believes that this is only possible in a physical environment.  But these three C’s can also be well supported in a virtual environment, if the company sets up that environment for such collisions and makes it a part of its everyday culture.  Indeed, the range of people who can interact easily in the virtual workforce is much greater than in a physical office.

The company also needs to ensure that telecommuters don’t feel their chance of career advancement is dramatically diminished unless they show up at the office and hobnob with the right executives.  The article “Creating an Organizational Culture that Supports Telework” relates a good example of this situation, along with good general guidance on the positive actions that companies need to take.

In sum, as James Surowiecki wrote earlier this year in the New Yorker:

 “At companies with healthier corporate cultures, it [telecommuting] often works well, and [former head of Xerox PARC] Seely Brown has shown how highly motivated networks of far-flung experts  — élite surfers, say — use digital technologies to transmit knowledge much as they would in person.”

Building a 21st century culture of successful virtual interaction won’t come easily to companies that developed their more traditional culture in the 20th century.  But in an increasingly virtual and mobile world, it will be necessary for the HPs, Yahoos, and others to flourish.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/69691956542/what-culture-is-needed-for-a-virtual-workforce]

Changing GDP To Reflect The Digital Economy?

Previously on this blog and in my presentations over the last couple of years, I’ve pointed out that we are not adequately measuring what’s happening in the economy because GDP was developed during the 1930s to measure the industrial economy.  In significant ways, it underestimates the value of digital products and services.

I even referred back to a great old quote from Senator Robert Kennedy – http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/16816367505/robert-kennedy-on-measuring-the-economy-too-much

So it was with interest that I read earlier this week (“Getting Creative With the G.D.P.”) that the Federal government will be adjusting GDP this fall to better account for the new economy.  In March, the Government issued a report about this topic, entitled “Preview of the 2013 Comprehensive Revision of the National Income and Product Accounts: Changes in Definitions and Presentations”.

The BEA report says: 

Currently, expenditures for private R&D are not re­corded as final expenditures in the calculation of gross domestic product (GDP). Expenditures for purchased R&D are classified as intermediate inputs, and the costs of producing own-account R&D (that is, produc­tion of R&D by an enterprise for its own use) are sim­ply included with the other costs of production and are not identified as contributing to the output of a separate commodity.

Investment in R&D will be presented along with investment in soft­ware and in entertainment, literary, and artistic origi­nals in a new asset category entitled “intellectual property products,” … The recognition of R&D as investment will improve BEA’s measures of fixed in­vestment, allow users to better measure the effects of innovation and intangible assets on the economy, and make the NIPAs more consistent with recommenda­tions in the SNA [the government’s “system of national accounts”].

The strategic consultants, McKinsey, in commenting on this change this week, noted:

In our knowledge-based economy, this is a sensible move that brings GDP accounting closer to economic reality. And while that may seem like an arcane shift relevant only to a small number of economists, the need for the change reflects a broader mismatch between our digital economy and the way we account for it.

The change doesn’t fully address the under-measurement of the impact of the digital economy, but it does start to fix the problem.  Now, as both the public and private sector make investments in expanding the digital sector of the economy, the return on those investments will become clearer.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/56970517124/changing-gdp-to-reflect-the-digital-economy]

US Mayors Pump It Up?

Along with Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I made a fun presentation at the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors.  More about that, but some background first.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Council on Metro Economies and The New American City of the US Conference of Mayors on a future-oriented, 21st century strategy for economic growth.   

This project recognizes the increasing proportion of Americans who will earn their living by providing digital products and services, on the one hand, and the increasing availability of high quality, casual video communications and collaboration on the other hand.  

Together these lead to some significant changes in the character of the economy and of cities.  (See my presentation at the ICF Institute for more about these changes –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNxLmIQ4O8.)

In the early stages, the strategy focused on ideas for mayors as they respond to these changes on behalf of the residents of their cities.  More recently, with USCM staff, we’ve started to create pilot demonstrations of these ideas.

Recognizing that these changes in the economy enable many people to make a living almost anywhere, one part of the strategy is to provide a high quality of life, a “WOW” experience, that’s unique to a city so people come and stay there.  The by-product of this experience is that it can also inspire residents to innovate – a key factor in economic growth.  

With the Internet everywhere across a city, blending the physical and the virtual can create new WOW experiences.  The presentation showed various examples that included displays and projections on walls and other physical structures, on a controlled mist from Long Island Sound, etc.

Bridgeport is a good example of a city that can benefit from this – an older industrial city of 150,000 that is cut by an interstate highway.  It has locations and structures that wouldn’t normally be considered attractive, but offer great potential in a blended virtual/physical world.

Consider this smokestack that is the first sign of Bridgeport that drivers see on Interstate 95.  

image

Why not make it a video screen? 

image

This blending of the virtual and physical makes it possible to show what’s happening in real-time in another part of town or from another time in the same place.

Consider the multi-modal transit center that people see when they arrive by train, bus, ferry or even a car.  It certainly could be more welcoming.

image

Each summer, there is a big music festival in Bridgeport – the Gathering of the Vibes.  My last example showed how this wall could be transformed so it presents one of the star acts, Elvis Costello.  

image

The song he’s singing, “Pump It Up”, is also the message to mayors and what they can now do with what used to be dreary places.

I left the mayors with this final thought: this is not primarily about something artistic or a way of getting advertising or even promoting big events.  In a fundamental way, this is how cities need to think about urban design in this century.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/53929055163/us-mayors-pump-it-up]

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

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/53358099312/how-to-be-the-most-intelligent-community-in-the-world]

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

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/52788966705/does-innovation-destroy-or-create-jobs]

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.

image

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]

Community Colleges And Workforce Development: What’s Missing?

I had the opportunity this week to participate in a summit run by the Chancellor of the State University of New York on Community Colleges and the Future of New York’s Workforce.  

The participants came from both the community colleges and industry.   As a group, they represented some of the smartest and most dedicated folks trying to improve the workforce.

The special focus was on STEM and especially advanced manufacturing, represented in New York by the photovoltaic, optics, and fab foundry industries, among others.

Some key takeaways:

  • While particular job training is useful, the community colleges should not go too far in the extreme and essentially become a vocational education vehicle.   The private sector executives noted that it is hard for businesses to predict the next big trend and community college officials are likely to do worse than business executives – so ensure that more general STEM skills and critical thinking are also taught.  Many business executives would also admit that their companies are subject to tremendous short-term pressures that should not necessarily overwhelm the long-term foundation that colleges need to provide.
  • (When I used to speak to college students about the software industry, I would tell them that the most important things they could learn were not any particular computer language, but how to think clearly and how to learn on their on own.)  
  • The economy is global, so the training of students has to include more than a local aspect.  Chancellor Zimpher, for example, highlighted the great value of coop working opportunities for students – more than 90% of coop students get jobs, a much higher rate than for others.  But she also noted that these coop opportunities could and should take place outside the US.
  • A good community college will encourage companies – both large and small – to expand nearby.  For example, one company with factories in New York and Georgia decided to expand dramatically in New York because of its better community college system. 
  • The jobs out there are more than what is traditionally thought of as STEM-based jobs.  There is a large need for welders and auto mechanics, both of which apparently are now computer-based jobs.

What I didn’t hear was also important:

  • How does this scale?  The employers are saying they have many job openings, but are not finding the people with the right skills.  The public officials and educators also say that workers will need lifelong learning, not just education when during their childhood or even a once in a lifetime retraining as middle aged adults.  In the knowledge economy of this century, learning is a continuing necessity.  So how can community colleges help provide this education in a cost-effective manner?  It’s worth noting that, while community colleges are less expensive than other kinds of higher education, as they currently operate, they may be too expensive to meet this demand.
  • What about innovation?  Many economists and public officials point out that the key to 21st century economic growth will be innovation.  Those people, places and companies that can innovate will be the ones that generate growth.  While there is lots of talk about training on specific existing skills, what about helping students to enhance their creative, their innovation skills?

Unless community colleges also fully address these two questions, their well-intentioned plans and diligent efforts will be undermined.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/50517716137/community-colleges-and-workforce-development-whats]

Art In The City Or The City As Art (Part 2)?

Last week, I blogged about the blending of physical and virtual space to create new places and experiences in a city.  This way the city itself is the art form, not merely the backdrop for some unrelated, unintegrated work of art.

There are a few examples of this blending of the virtual and physical already happening in various ways.  

  • In Aarhus, Denmark, the public library opened a public space for residents to use their mobile devices and create a collective work of digital art that could then be “posted” on the walls.
  • In Times Square in New York in 2010, the retail outlet Forever 21 put a fashion model on a display screen.  She took pictures of the real crowd below and then showed it on the screen.  (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtLX52z4kPU)  The story goes that it was so successful, the police asked the company to shift the angle of the screen because drivers were stopping to look.
  • Just as in a connected world, we say that “work goes to people, instead of people going to work,” so too have retailers started to bring the store to where people are instead of trying to entice them into stores.  As an example, PeaPod converted the walls of the Chicago Transit Authority into virtual supermarket display cases where people can use their smart phones to buy food that will be delivered to their homes later.  
  • In Australia, partly as a public health measure to encourage walking instead of escalator use, the city painted some stairs to look like piano keys and then linked that up to computer generated sounds.  As people walked on the stairs, they were playing music.  Another “Wow” experience that is not expected by residents and visitors – http://www.chordstrike.com/2009/11/piano-stairs.html
  • Mercedes Benz has demonstrated “transparent walls”, on which is projected what is happening on a side street a car is approaching.  That way a driver can see something coming before it would normally be visible.  The safety benefits are pretty obvious.  For a video, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LqCMv3Nz4ZQ#

Of course, each city is different so there is still a large element of creativity in developing an appealing and appropriate blend of the virtual and physical.  That will be a challenge for artists, technologists, planners and even local government leaders.  It will be lots of fun to see how this all develops.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/49933187503/art-in-the-city-or-the-city-as-art-part-2]

Art In The City Or The City As Art (Part 1)?

New forms of lighting, optics, connectivity and computer technologies have enabled artists to use the outdoors and other unusual settings as a new kind of canvass for their artwork.  Sometimes called projection mapping, here are some of the more interesting examples:

These are wonderful works of art.  BUT – all of these are expressions of art in a city, merely using the cityscape as the surface upon which an unrelated piece of artwork is laid.  These are not fully integrated with the city and don’t transform the city itself into art.

When I’ve spoken to audiences about the blending of physical and virtual space, I’ve had something much more ambitious in mind – the creation of new destinations and new experiences in a city which are attractive because they combine what’s there with virtual capabilities.  

This blending also provides residents and visitors a way of stretching and replicating time and space in the city.  Imagine showing in a location at night what it looked like in the morning or six months ago.  Imagine showing what is happening in another part of the city – particularly useful if you want those embarking trains or planes to learn of an event taking place elsewhere. 

Think about augmenting reality not through a smartphone camera or fancy glasses, but by augmenting reality in its place.  I’m certainly not alone is seeing the potential.  In his article “Augmented Reality Will Make Boring Cities Beautiful” [http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/video-how-8216augmented-reality-will-make-boring-cities-beautiful/691] Christopher Mims notes that: 

“Once augmented reality is widespread, the difference between a great and a mediocre city won’t just be its built environment. To some extent, it will also be the degree to which that environment is a suitable tapestry for the creatives who will paint it with their augmented reality brush. Digital artists who learn to re-appropriate the city with the most innovative augmented reality add-ons won’t just bring themselves fame and fortune — they’ll also be attracting others to the places they love.”

Next week I’ll share a few examples of what has already been started.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/49379484414/art-in-the-city-or-the-city-as-art-part-1]

Rockefeller Foundation Medal For Betaville

Last Thursday night, the Rockefeller Foundation had its (Storm Sandy-delayed) ceremony for the winners of the 2012 Jane Jacobs medals.  My co-founder of the Gotham Innovation Greenhouse won the award for Technology and Innovation – the first time such an award has been made.

In this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9SSn0JQuS0), Carl presents some of the ideas that led to this award, including Betaville and its use by a global community in the Open Line Studio project of the Gotham Innovation Greenhouse.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/45834422031/rockefeller-foundation-medal-for-betaville-last]

How Can Resistance To Innovation Be Overcome?

To those of you who are not the elected chief executive of your jurisdiction or who are not a senior executive in government, it may come as a surprise that there are public sector leaders who want to innovate.  Particularly during this period of mounting problems and what seems to be a fast changing world, innovation strikes many public officials as the order of the day.

But like their counterparts in well-established private sector organizations, they face a high hurdle in overcoming resistance to innovations and the change that is a necessary part of innovation.

Its often said that people fear change which is why its so hard to get them to accept innovation.  But the Nobel Prize winning work of Princeton Professor Daniel Kahneman makes it clear that the situation is more complicated than that and there is hope for those who would innovate.

In his Prospect Theory, Kahneman points out that there is no general aversion to change or even merely to risk.  Indeed people might make a more risky choice when all options are bad.

But there is an aversion to losses, which people often exaggerate beyond reality.  The sense of loss is greater if what might be lost has been owned or used for a long time (aka entitlements).  Regret and other emotions can also enhance this sense of loss.

Also, in situations where all outcomes are bad, people may become more risk-seeking. 

Putting it all together (from http://www.econ.pitt.edu/papers/Lise_PTChoicePrice.pdf ):

when faced with a risky prospect people will be:
(1) risk-seeking over low-probability gains,
(2) risk-averse over high-probability gains,
(3) risk-averse over low-probability losses, and
(4) risk-seeking over high-probability losses. 

Considering this background, what can you do if you want to innovate in government?  Here are some thoughts on how to overcome the resistance to change.

  • Reduce people’s estimate of their potential loss.  For example, the new highway won’t be paid for by a 25% toll increase, but by an extra dime each time you use it.
  • Increase the perceived value of the change and/or the perceived likelihood of success positive vivid images help to overcome lower probability estimates of the chances of success; negative vivid images help to magnify the probability of loss.
  • Help people redefine the perception of loss. (Shift their frame of reference, which determines their expected starting point.)
  • Ensure that loss is perceived as a fair outcome (and not meanness), which may require you to find a way to allocate real (not potential) benefits widely.  This was one of the reasons New Deal programs, like Social Security, were applied equally to all seniors.
  • Reduce the overall size of the risks – which means it is best to introduce small innovations, piled on each other. (Note: behavioral scientists have also observed the irrational fear of loss versus the possibility of benefit is reduced when a person has had experience with the trade-off.  A series of small innovations will help the public gain that experience.) 

Since any innovation is an experiment, theres no guarantee of success.  Some will fail, but if competent people are implementing the innovations, you’ll succeed sufficiently more often than you fail so that the overall impact on the public is positive.

  • Work to convince people that their certainty of loss is only a possibility.  People react differently to being told something is a sure thing, than a 90% probability.
  • Since risk taking is no longer avoided among bad choices, show that the obvious loss is less than a bigger possible loss. 

(Of course, a long-term decline of nations/states/cities is usually accompanied by a shredding of the social fabric and a dysfunctional civic culture.  Under such circumstances, a public official may find it difficult to exercise any leadership, never mind try to persuade people to adopt innovative solutions.)

Fortunately, the availability of the Internet and the general reduction over the last decade or so in the cost of software development makes it easier to do small experiments (think apps).

The body of work that Kahneman presents in his best selling book “Thinking, Fast And Slow” is more nuanced than presented here and the book is itself only a summary of years of research by many behavioral scientists.  But this summary should be enough to start. 

Of course the application of this research to the public sector is only beginning.  So help us figure this out and please provide everyone with good examples.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/45266748744/how-can-resistance-to-innovation-be-overcome]

Telework: Good For Productivity, Bad For Innovation?

As a full time teleworker, I have been bemused by the widespread and unusual attention in the general news media this week about telecommuting.  See, for example, the front page story, “Yahoo Orders Home Workers Back to the Office” in the New York Times this week (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/technology/yahoo-orders-home-workers-back-to-the-office.html) or “Does Telecommuting Hurt Your Career” from CBS Money Watch yesterday (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-500395_162-57571587/does-telecommuting-hurt-your-career/)

Yahoo has its own peculiar problems to address that don’t necessarily apply to other companies.  The news reports about Yahoo would seem to indicate they did not understand that telecommuting is not just about the technology making it possible, but is part of a larger transformation of management and employee behavior.  It’s no wonder they feel it hasn’t worked out so well for them.

This provided an opportunity for the usually hidden critics of telecommuting to come out of the woodwork.  It reminded me of the “I-told-you-so” crowd in the print newspaper business a dozen years ago – when the dot.com bust occurred and they thought the threat of the Internet was vanquished.

There has been much pushback from advocates of telecommuting.  They like it for the work/life balance, the reduced greenhouse gases, a less draining commute to work, the sense of autonomy, among other reasons.  And, despite early concerns to the contrary, the evidence seems to point to increases in productivity on the part of telecommuters.

So, some recent critics of telecommuting are offering a more balanced critique, which has quickly become the conventional wisdom of the day.  They say that telecommuting does indeed increase productivity, but it isn’t any good for innovation – which, of course, we know is the key to 21st century prosperity.  The message: if you want to succeed at high-level jobs you’ll have to go back to the 9-to-5 office routine.  

See, for example, the discussion yesterday on Public Radio’s The TakeAway – http://www.thetakeaway.org/2013/feb/27/pros-and-cons-telecommuting/ .

Perhaps the argument about innovation is just the latest excuse.  First, let’s not forget that an office often breeds “group think” too and its social pressures can severely dampen innovation.  Innovation occurs when people are exposed to different currents of ideas outside of their usual environment.  The global connectivity that the Internet offers is more likely to enable that kind of creative leap than just showing up at an office and talking to people who likely have the same background and mindset as you do.

Second, we need to recognize the fact that the Internet is actually quite immature.  If you think about what we do with telephones today, then, by comparison, the Internet today may be at a stage equivalent to where the telephone system was in 1920.  People then had only a cloudy vision of the various ways that phones would be used and incorporated into everyday lives.

It will take more time – perhaps ten years or more – before we have the software, cultural habits, incentives, ubiquity and all the other factors lined up to enable the collaboration and creative serendipity that can occur when people are physically face-to-face.  (I suppose we ought to replace the phrase “face-to-face” with something like “touching distance” since I can be face-to-face in a videoconference 😉

Are we there yet?  No, but does that mean we reverse course, instead of further developing the Internet and moving to a better virtual future?  Of course not.

What do you think?

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/44219104836/telework-good-for-productivity-bad-for-innovation]

Does The President Need A 5th Column?

President Obama is now in his second term and he seems to realize that his ability to get things done through legislation is limited.  So he is very much dependent on his executive powers, including executive orders which can get him partly down the road he wants to go.

As chief executive, he also has at his disposal the formidable executive branch of the Federal government.  Every day, millions of Federal employees make decisions affecting the lives of tens of millions of other Americans in countless ways.  However, to an outside observer, the President has not adequately mobilized these employees to help him achieve his goals.  

Partly this is due to the fact that, like many other Presidents, Governors, Mayors and other public sector chief executives, he has focused on the formal organizational structure of the bureaucracy.  But, besides the President’s wishes, Federal employees face pressures from Congress, their own career bosses, the personal agendas of Cabinet secretaries and other political appointees.

This is why in his classic book, Presidential Power, Richard Neustadt starts with the story of President Truman speaking about what his successor, President Eisenhower, would face:

He’ll sit here and he’ll say, “Do this! Do that!” And nothing will happen. Poor Ike.  It wont be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating. 

Many a chief executive in the public sector has heard “yes” many times, only to find out six months later that nothing happened to actually implement that supposed affirmation by staff.

In the election of 2008, many Internet observers were impressed by the Obama campaigns use of Web-based tools and social organization to win a tough primary campaign against the “inevitable”, establishment candidacy of Hillary Clinton.  Yet, the lessons of the campaign seem to have been forgotten when the President took office in 2009.  

Now the President has another chance and he should consider creating his own “fifth column”.   I realize the phrase “fifth column” has negative connotations, since it has designated a group of supporters who are hidden within and undermine the enemy camp.  

But that may be exactly what the leader of an entrenched bureaucracy needs – a group of supporters, at all levels, who will help him achieve his goals.  The President can mobilize an informal network of the large number of change agents and innovators in Federal service, a network that can exist in parallel to the formal organization.  By doing this, he can also provide encouragement to those innovators, who may sometimes feel lonely and could get support from each other. 

Of course, there were be those who object to anyone, even the President, trying to sidestep the formal organization chart.  That’s nice in theory, but many long time senior executives in Federal service already know that, in practice, its the informal relationships that let them get things done.  Why shouldn’t the President learn these same techniques?

Various Internet collaboration tools, like wikis, social media and video chat, make creating this informal network a lot easier than would have been the case decades ago.  Indeed, some of this informal network already exists.  This week, for example, there is #SocialGov Summit 2013, hosted by the 18-month old Federal Social Media Community of Practice (http://www.howto.gov/communities/federal-web-managers-council/social-media).

Build on that base, expand it to a larger network of innovators and the President may find it easier to get things done – at least in the Executive Branch.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/43591603826/does-the-president-need-a-5th-column]

What Is An Appropriate Strategy For Mid-Sized Cities?

Wednesday, this week, there was a conference in Puerto Rico, on “The Role of Cities in a Global Economy”.  The New York Fed Bank, in part, played a role in the conference and suggested that I be invited to speak because of my work on economic growth.

The conference materials had a predisposition toward cluster strategy; “agglomeration” was a frequently used term.  Along with this predisposition, there was a feeling that metropolitan regions should learn from the past successes of cities like New York. 

So I first raised what I thought was the big open question: how should a place like Puerto Rico (and its San Juan metropolitan area) advance the economic well being of its residents?  

While New York succeeded in the industrial age because it had the largest agglomeration of resources, this does not mean that Puerto Rico should try to imitate such a large metro area now.  

Rather than trying to “win the last war”, there is an opportunity for Puerto Rico to find a leading role in the future economy by not playing according to industrial era rules.  At least some of Puerto Rico’s economic strategy should focus on this future.

Other speakers and interesting insights:

  • Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT Senseable City, expanded the vision to include Public Participation 2.0 and reminded people again that when technology becomes ubiquitous it becomes invisible and most useful.
  • Martin Fleming, Chief Economist of IBM, recommended that cities decide what brand their city should be and then go about implementing that brand.  (Of course, I liked this statement since I’ve told mayors that they have to start thinking about themselves as brand managers, who need to understand market segmentation.  Everyone does not agree on what is the ideal quality of urban life, so find what your city can offer best and that becomes part of your brand.)
  • Anthony Townsend, Research Director of the Institute of the Future, talked about clusters forming the foundation for economic growth – but innovation clusters.  This is not about the traditional one-industry physical clusters, but instead about networks of creative people.

The conference brought together many of the thought leaders about the future of cities and it was also inspiring to see an audience that intends to act upon what they learned to leapfrog their economy.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/36808228839/what-is-an-appropriate-strategy-for-mid-sized-cities]

Can Prediction Markets Test Public Policy?

Prediction markets are hot again.  With the Presidential election next week and the relative accuracy of prediction markets about the election in 2008, I decided to finish this article that I first started in March 2009, but put aside for various reasons.

What is a prediction market?  James Surowiecki, the author of the book, “The Wisdom of Crowds” explains:

The premise is that under the right circumstances, the collective judgment of a large group of people will generally provide a better picture of what the future might look like than anything one expert or even a small group of experts will come up with. [Prediction markets] work much like a futures market, in which the price of a contract reflects the collective day-to-day judgment either on a straight numberfor instance, what level sales will reach over a certain periodor a probabilityfor example, the likelihood, measured as a percentage, that a product will hit a certain milestone by a certain date.

[F]or a crowd to be smart, it needs to satisfy certain criteria. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowds answer. It needs to summarize peoples opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information and dont worry about what everyone around them thinks.

These markets have been around for a few years and have a good, if not perfect, track record.  Various studies have found prediction markets to be better than experts or public opinion polling.

But my focus is not on predicting who wins the White House or the SuperBowl or the number of coins in a large bottle.  Rather there is a use of prediction markets for government leaders testing the likelihood that a particular public policy will achieve success, especially if the policy is intended to change the behavior of people.

Often it is difficult to assess how the public will react to a proposed policy will people actually sign up for program X; will people recycle; etc.  I’m suggesting that prediction markets be used to estimate the reaction ahead of time.

Implicit in the diversity of views that Surowiecki notes is that enough people need to care about the policy.  The reason they care may be to win money, in some cases, but thats not the only reason.  They might care because the market deals with something that affects their lives.

And, the nice thing about this is that if only a few people care about a policy that also tells you something about the policy or, at least, whether youll get into deep trouble proposing it.

You can learn from prediction markets and they may be more effective predictors of policy success than traditional tools.

So far I can tell this has not really been tried yet in the way I’m describing.  The closest was in 2003, when DARPA created a Policy Analysis Market to be “a market in the future of the Middle East”.  That market looked, to critics, like a betting parlor on political assassinations by terrorists and was withdrawn.

In a more futuristic vision, Robin D. Hanson, an economist at George Mason University and a fan of alternative institutions, writes about futarchy, “a form of government enhanced by prediction markets. Voters would decide broad goals of national welfare, but betting in speculative markets would determine the policy steps to achieve those goals.”

I’m not proposing anything so revolutionary as he is.  Instead, let’s try to use prediction markets on a more experimental basis.

More background on prediction markets can be found in:

  • Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prediction_market and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_Analysis_Market

  • When the Crowd Isnt Wise

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/sunday-review/when-the-crowd-isnt-wise.html

  • Interpreting the Predictions of Prediction Markets

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_url?hl=en&q=http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.159.7574%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf&sa=X&scisig=AAGBfm3lg0YqMPEHYfN6LogKNPFcL1GZww&oi=scholarr

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/34709617211/can-prediction-markets-test-public-policy]

30 Years Of Inc-500

The Kauffman Foundation sponsored a study of the companies in the Inc. 500 over the last thirty years.

State and local government have had way too much unwarranted belief in physical clusters, especially of high tech industries.  In the next thirty years, these trends presumably will get stronger as Internet collaboration and video tools become more widespread.  

In part, this study is significant because it has been widely distributed among American governors (see their summary at the end):

“Analysis of the Inc. 500 geographic and industrial information led to the following major findings:

  • So-called high-tech sectors constitute only about a quarter of fast-growing Inc. firms: IT (19.4 percent) and Health and Drugs (6.5 percent). Other major sectors include Business Services (10.2 percent), Advertising and Marketing (8.5 percent), and Government Services (7.3 percent). Thus, innovations and growth of firms come from a wide range of industries.
  • Among large metropolitan areas, Washington, D.C., has the highest concentration of Inc. firms in terms of the number and normalized score, with more than 46 percent of them in Government Services. This rise of D.C. high-growth companies is persistent in the last two decades, regardless of party administration, and demonstrates that, ironically, outsourcing federal government services plays a large role in the growth of private firms.
  • There are innovative, high-growth companies outside of the usual suspects of technology places, like Silicon Valley. Such surprise regions include Salt Lake City (second), Indianapolis (sixth), Buffalo, N.Y. (eleventh), Baltimore (fifteenth), Nashville (eighteenth), Philadelphia (nineteenth), and Louisville, Ky (twentieth). These clusters of Inc. firms, including those in the area’s so-called Rust Belt Region, suggest that population growth in the region is not necessarily a factor for growth of firms.
  • While regional development literature suggests the presence of venture capital investment, high quality research universities, federal R&D funding (such as SBIR), and patents are good sources for growth, Inc. firms had no correlations with these factors. In contrast, we find that the presence of a highly skilled labor force is important for concentration of Inc. firms.
  • We do not find a uniform trend of increasing or decreasing concentrations of Inc. firms across regions in the last thirty years. This geographic inequality comes in a cycle of twelve to thirteen years. Most states remained at their relatively similar Inc. score throughout the last thirty years, while a handful of states experienced radical moves: D.C. and Utah became the rising stars, New Hampshire declined steadily, and Delaware had ups and downs.”

From the National Association of Governors’ newsletter:

Fastest Growing Companies Not Always Part of Tech Industry

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation released an analysis of the Inc. 500 list, an annual list of the 500 fastest growing companies in the United States, between 1982 and 2010. The report includes data visualization tools allowing readers to examine specific counties and states. The report’s authors found there was no correlation between the factors traditionally cited as drivers of growth (such as venture capital investment, high quality research universities, federal R&D funding, or patents) and the existence of Inc. 500 firms. The concentration of firms in states largely remained constant across regions and states in the last thirty years despite varied economic development programs. Only a handful of states made radical moves in concentrations of firms, with Washington D.C. representing the largest jump. Among large metropolitan areas, Washington D.C. has the highest concentration of Inc. 500 firms, with half of firms providing government services.

The authors also found that the fastest growing companies were located in a variety of regions and industries, rather than in the high-tech industries often targeted by state economic development programs. Although cities like Austin, TX that are traditionally associated with the high-tech industry were in the top 20 metropolitan areas according to number of Inc. 500 companies, rust belt cities like Buffalo, NY and Baltimore, MD also made the list. Outside of Washington D.C., the Inc. 500 firms were found in IT (19.4 percent), health and drugs (6.5 percent), business services (10.2 percent), advertising and marketing (8.5 percent), and government services (7.3 percent).

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/32388695228/30-years-of-inc-500]

A Test Of Social Impact Bonds In NYC

A Test Of Social Impact Bonds In NYC

Five Books To Help Us Think About Our Times

I’ve been quiet on the blog for the last few weeks during the summer doldrums and vacations – a great time to catch up on reading books, including some that were published a while ago.  

Here are quick highlights of some of my more interesting summer reading.

1. Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century by Cathy N. Davidson (2011)

This book describes how we should be thinking about life in the 21st century.  In many instances, Davidson completely upends well established patterns of the industrial era.  She is well known in academic circles as a neuroscientist and former dean at Duke University, where she introduced the widespread use of technology among students.  The book covers a variety of topics, including education, work and aging. 

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)

Kahneman, Princeton Psychology Professor and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, has pulled together the basic knowledge in cognitive science and how people actually make decisions.  If you want to catch up on what’s happened in behavioral science since you left college, this is the book for you.  It draws out some of the implications in a variety of contexts.  (Later, I’ll be posting a blog on the implications for public officials who want to gain acceptance for innovations.)

3.  When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication In The Late Nineteenth Century by Carolyn Marvin (1988)

If you believe what you read and watch on the news media, we live in an age unparalleled rapid change in which technology causes people to become detached from each other by technology among other awful new phenomena.  Marvin takes us on a history of technologies, like the telegraph and telephone, which we now take for granted but once were new.  The same kind of observations we get today about the Internet were foreshadowed long ago.  (Later, I’ll post a separate blog with some wonderfully juicy quotes along these lines.)

4.  Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford (2011)

With so many people saying they are innovative, Harford shows how those people will not succeed at innovation unless they develop some patience, even an appetite, for the failures that often precede success.  He provides fascinating examples.

5.  Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack Rakove (1997)

In this year’s unusual election of ideological contrasts, there has been an underlying (and often visible) debate about the views of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the constitution.  Rakove’s book provides the details of their debates and their own ambiguous feelings about many of the decisions which we now treat as is handed down in stone by the supreme being. 

These were politicians with great insight into political behavior and how it might be shaped.  Their concerns were well-founded, since some of what they worried could happen has happened.  But, in part, they were reacting to experiences in the 18th century that we do not share today. 

It also revealed the Founding Fathers’ concerns about those who sought some clear original meaning in what they wrote – and when their short term political objectives encouraged them to make the same kind of arguments about original meaning that politicians today make.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/31399036091/five-books-to-help-us-think-about-our-times]