What It Takes

What It Takes

Out With The Old, In With The Fused

By Callie Oettinger | Published: January 3, 2014

“In an Uber-fied future, fewer people own cars, but everybody has access to them.”

Marcus Wohlsen, Wired (January 2014 issue)

In the above quote, “Uber” refers to a company. Set that factoid aside and think about the meaning of the German word uber, translated as above, beyond . . .

Substitute the word cars with the word televisions or theaters, or books or radios, or other modes of transporting words and stories and sounds to readers and viewers and listeners.

Then, substitute the word them with the corresponding action.

For example:

  • “In an uber-fied future, fewer people own televisions, but everybody has access to watching shows and series.”
  • “In an uber-fied future, fewer people own movie theaters or tickets, but everybody has access to watching movies.”
  • “In an uber-fied future, fewer people own books, but everybody has access to reading fiction and nonfiction stories.”
  • “In an uber-fied future, fewer people own radios, but everybody has access to listening to music.”

Being able to access what you want, when you want it, and how you want it—rather than watching TV, going to a movie theater or bookstore, or tuning in on a radio—is the transportation du jour for entertainment and information content.

As the company Uber is proving with cars, fewer and fewer need to spend money on owning the expensive modes of transportation. Instead, they pay as they travel—whether they’re traveling through a film or on a road.

As I played with Google Chromecast over the holidays, and wondered why I bought Apple TV instead of Roku, I thought about where we would go next.

The services offering the content have replaced the old ways. We don’t need a radio to listen to music or a TV to watch television shows, or a movie theater to watch movies, or books to access stories.

We can get what we want when we want it.

But what comes next?

Do you know Campbell’s Law?

In the January 2014 edition of Wired, the same one with the Uber quote and article by Marcus Wohlsen, there’s an article by by Felix Salmon, titled “Numbed by the Numbers” (retitled in the online edition as “Why the Nate Silvers of the World Don’t Know Everything“) which discusses Campbell’s Law, among other things:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” [sociologist Donald T. Campbell] wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

The article continues:

On a managerial level, once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metric rather than doing the rest of their job—just as Campbell’s law projects.

Quant-tempering is one factor to consider when trying to answer that big “What’s next?” question.

What are quants?

Earlier in the article, quants are described as “people whose native tongue is numbers and algorithms and systems rather than personal relationships or human intuition.”

In the article, Michael Lewis’ Moneyball is cited as an example of the quants winning:

. . . [it] vividly recounts how the quants took over baseball, as statistical analysis trumped traditional scouting and propelled the underfunded Oakland A’s to a division-winning 2002 season.

Now to that part about why all the eggs can’t be placed in the quants’ baskets:

But what happens after the quants win is not always the data-driven paradise that they and their boosters expected. The more a field is run by a system, the more that system creates incentives for everyone (employees, customers, competitors) to change their behavior in perverse ways—providing more of whatever system is designed to measure and produce, whether that actually creates any value or not. It’s a problem that can’t be solved until the quants learn a little bit from the old-fashioned ways of thinking they’ve displaced.

Think about the evolution in bookselling as one example of this. There were the independent bookstores. The chains came along, offering a new buying option. Customers adapted from the indie and went for the chain. The chains became comfortable and customers’ adapted their buying habits again, this time toward online buying/selling. Along the way, the indie rose again, this time as small publishers and self-published authors, able to take advantage of distributing their works online as they never could before via bricks and mortar stores, and the publishers took a hit. Same goes for TV and film. Netflix jumped into original series production, which use to be a terrain owned by network television companies.

What we’ve seen over and over is a level of comfort—of false security—fed by the numbers. The numbers look good, so how could anything bad be lingering in the background?

It’s Campbell’s Law in action. Once one option becomes the route du jour to success, it becomes ripe for corruption and mismanagement. There’s often a sense of “we won”—with those sitting in the throne forgetting the many regime changes of yore—that one day someone will most likely top them, too. It’s happened to entire countries, not just corporations.

That brings me back to that “What’s next?” question.

As stated above, we used to rely on certain venues and formats to obtain entertainment and information.

Now there’s the rise of different streaming companies, such as Netflix, which are creating original content in addition to distributing back-list content.

This past week, Netflix announced a new pricing plan to compete with Amazon’s streaming service, which is a scenario as old as the battle between Coke and Pepsi. In the soft drink wars, both managed to survive, but in the case of others . . . VHS vs betamax anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? One came out a winner and then died itself—same scenario with indy bookstore and chains. One seemed to come out as the winner, but eventually died in the end.

How will consumers adapt? And what will be created that they will adapt to? What will be the next big thing?

I wish I had a crystal ball (and a winning lottery ticket and a money tree) but. . . I don’t.

I know that relying on the numbers and being comfortable with winning won’t work—that as soon as something proves successful, it’s time to find a new modus operandi.

Toward the end of Salmon’s Wired article, he wrote:

It’s increasingly clear that for smart organizations, living by the numbers alone simply won’t work. That’s why they arrive at stage four (READ THE FULL ARTICLE FOR ALL THE STAGES): synthesis—the practice of marrying quantitive insights with old-fashioned subjective experience. Nate Silver himself has written thoughtfully about examples of this in his book, The Signal and the Noise. He cites baseball, which in the Moneyball era adopted a “fusion approach” that leans on both statistics and scouting. Silver credits it with delivering the Boston Red Sox’s first World Series title in 86 years.

I know that fusion is another factor to consider when forecasting the future.

For the December 2013 edition of Fortune, Geoff Colvin wrote an article titled “In A Digital Era Does Youth Trump Experience.”

Toward the end, he asks:

So bottom line, who’s better?

Then he answers:

No business succeeds without a team that combines widely varied skills and experiences, and it doesn’t matter who brings them. Young entrepreneurs who never took finance courses need to acquire that knowledge. Gray-templed CEOs who think Candy Crush is a soft drink have a new world to learn about.

The most valuable trait in today’s economy may be absolute fearlessness in acknowledging what you and your team lack. It’s present—and rare—at every age.

I know that Fusion is:

  • a mix of numbers and relationships.
  • a mix of youth and experience.
  • a mix of sectors
  • a mix of risk and fearlessness “in acknowledging what you and your team lack.”

Back to Uber (this time the company instead of the German word.

Uber is taking the taxi and limo industry head-on, offering travelers an option to “summon rides at the touch of a smartphone button”—a new way to offer an old service, with customers that have adapted their behaviors. Shades of Campbell’s law . . .

I know that fusion is, then, also about sharing.

However . . .

According to the Wired article, some elected officials, who rely on the votes of the taxi industry in some big cities, have pushed against Uber. Instead of fusing the young and the experienced, bring together different sectors to share strengths, or asking what the current systems lack, they are positioning Uber as competition, rather than working together to transform transportation across the board. (Something which could also lead to decreased traffic congestion and gas usage if they could fuse instead of compete.)

And, Uber’s transportation of people isn’t the only thing the company could be used for . . . There’s transportation of goods, too, which brings us back to fusion again, mixing sectors.

As Wohlsen pointed out in his article:

No less than Google itself believes Uber has potential. In a massive funding round in August led by the search giant’s venture capital arm, Uber received $258 million. The investment reportedly valued Uber at around $3.5 billion and pushed the company to the forefront of speculation about the next big tech IPO—and [Uber Cofounder and CEO Travis] Kalanick as the next great tech leader.

The deal set Silicon Valley buzzing about what else Uber could become. A delivery service powered by Google’s self-driving cars? The new on-the-ground army for ferrying all things Amazon? Jeff Bezos is also an Uber investor, and Kalanick cites him as an entrepreneurial inspiration.

A few weeks back I wrote about Bezos and his same-day drone deliveries of the future. Same-day Uber deliveries seem within closer reach. Ride-sharing would go beyond sharing a cab uptown. You might be riding with a few packages, too—fusion, again  . . . Packages, meet riders. Riders, meet packages. Enjoy your ride.

End of article, I don’t know the answer to “What’s next?” but I do know:

It will involve fusion and Campbell’s Law—and the need to temper quants with personal relationships.

Those companies and individuals who can share rather than always compete; those young and experienced individuals who know they still have much to learn; those organizations that look outside their boxes for inspiration; and those who are fearless and willing to say “I don’t know” or “I need help”; or those who can balance the numbers and the relationships will be the ones implementing that next big thing.

Fusion, even in the face of all of its possible variations, is as much a constant as the others—and all have remained as such, whether the year has been 1814 or 2014.

Happy New Year—and Happy Fusing!

Posted in What It Takes

9 Responses to “Out With The Old, In With The Fused”

  1. Bonnie M. Benson
    January 3, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Great article Callie!! Will have to read it a few more times to get digest it all but love the fusion approach. Moves us towards collaborating and respecting each others’ contributions.
    Many thanks!

  2. January 3, 2014 at 7:03 am

    Callie, you make some excellent points about fusion. In most organizations that I have been involved, it always seems there is a tension between the numbers people and the people mangers. An integrated approach using tools from both is a powerful concept. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mary
    January 3, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Excellent article Callie, with lots to think about! Experience and innovation, relationships and quants…there is room at the table for everyone, so that the next big thing is also a great thing. Having to constantly adapt to change is challenging and often stressful, but it keeps the blood pumping. What’s the next big thing? I’m looking forward to finding out.

    Now, I’ve got to go figure out how to hook up my Roku…

  4. January 3, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Ah, serendipity! Seth Godin’s blog this morning talks about understanding, planning for and acting in the future. He titles it, “Accuracy, Resilience, Denial.” Your post is an eerie, longer, referenced discursive on the same topic.

    You are pondering Resilience, and bringing examples of it in action. Also, of course, urging us, the readers, to consider our own positioning in the next stage.

    Campbell’s Law does seem to explain much of the off-the-cliff collapse of companies, industries – even policies and ideas. Perhaps those who bet on Accuracy assume that once was always is and enter Denial. Regime change.

    Putting this in the context of Steven’s examination and diagnosis of Resistance, we might say that quantification and perversion (reverse that, and we have a new P&Q to mind) results from Accuracy being accurate, and that inherent in Accuracy is Denial – inherent in the success of Q&P is its own regime change. Both, then, are forms of Resistance – the highest of highs – success!! (with a double exclaim). Here’s a line: Resistance infects us with success. (Success lets down our guard, and we often stop doing what made us successful. Hence, “the hardest thing to win is a won game” – or repeat.)

    The answer is Resilience. And for Resilience, we need fusion – integration, harmony, flexibility, etc.

    Thanks, as always.

  5. January 3, 2014 at 9:16 am

    “Creative destruction” does seem to be picking up steam, as it were (boy, is that an ironic metaphor). Campbell’s Law deals with something slightly different, still tremendously important: the invisible, or hidden, shift in values, resulting in a “feedback loop,” like the squeal of a microphone from a singer standing too close.

    Packaging more important than product; creating fear to win an election; focus on test scores instead of education; anxiety of a Profile harassing a Principle; protecting cabs from the past instead of embracing the future: any such self referencing “emergent system” is prone to twisted outcomes.

    You chose Apple TV instead of Roku because of Pirsig’s Law of “quality.” My $35 Chromcast received the movie directly and shut down my very capable Chromebook; My Link (cellphone to you) to society receives movies, books, emails and calls, and is also a link chaining me to corporations who profit from knowing where I am, what I like and who I contact, and share that info with a government I do not trust. And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

    It’s a brave new world.

  6. January 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

    My biggest surprise as I finish Pride’s Children and post a new scene Tuesdays on my blog has been the amazing diversity of the people who are reading along – young, especially.

    I NEVER expected to hit certain demographics with this story I write for myself – I thought I was aiming at the grownup women who read most hard cover novels. But my best beta reader is a 20 year old Southern dental hygienist with an amazing mind.

    Love this world.

  7. January 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Callie -
    As always a thought provoking post. I used your word fusion to articulate something I’ve been saying about our business for the past two years but your word was perfect. You can see what I wrote on our blog http://www.littleshantyfries.com/blog

    Thanks for helping to crystalize my thinking and articulate my vision. Still owe you a burger.

    Happy New Year,

    JL

  8. January 4, 2014 at 4:08 am

    As an artist, introvert and Thoreau loving simple living wanna be I would rather contemplate the wonders of the natural world than try to keep up with the ever shifting, grasping, modern race for aggrandizement.

  9. January 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    I’d must test with you here. Which isn’t one thing I normally do! I get pleasure from reading a put up that will make people think. Additionally, thanks for permitting me to comment!