Welcome To Extremistan! Please Check Your Career At The Door.

Will robots and software eat all the jobs? No. Will robots and software eat your job? Yes, probably. Eventually. Rejoice! …for your grandchildren. You and your kids are likely to have a pretty tough time over the next few decades. Sorry about that.

Everybody who’s anybody is talking about technological unemployment, the notion that technology will soon destroy jobs faster than it creates them; a conversation kickstarted by MIT professors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, authors of Race against the Machine and The Second Machine Age

Earlier this month, Marc Andreessen, who should need no introduction, weighed in with characteristic optimism:

We virtually never resist technology change that provides us with better products and services even when it costs jobs. Nor should we. This is how we build a better world, improve our quality of life, better provide for our kids, and solve fundamental problems … It is hard to believe that the result will not be a widespread global unleashing of creativity, productivity, and human potential … In arguing this with an economist friend, his response was, “But most people are like horses; they have only their manual labor to offer…” I don’t believe that, and I don’t want to live in a world in which that’s the case. I think people everywhere have far more potential.

Many others are far more pessimistic. One one flank, I give you this misanthropic Hacker News comment on Andreessen’s long-term utopian vision:

Look at the future this guy has concocted in his head: The main fields of human endeavor will be culture, arts, sciences, creativity, philosophy, experimentation, exploration, and adventure. …it’s like he’s never met anyone who didn’t attend a top tier university. Here’s reality: The main fields of human endeavor will be copulating, hustling, consuming low-brow entertainment, eating, and the occasional lunatic running amok.

On the other, Alex Payne responds:

You seem to think everyone’s worried about robots. But what everyone’s worried about is you, Marc. Not just you, but people like you … so much wealth and control in so few hands … Owning a smartphone is not the equivalent of owning a factory … It seemed like a lot of people were going to get rich in the “app economy”. Outside of Apple and Google, it turns out, not so much … Unless we collectively choose to pay for a safety net, technology alone isn’t going to make it happen … Instead, you’re kicking the can down the road and hoping the can will turn into a robot with a market solution.

Andreessen argues:

But it seems to me that there’s a (c): many people will contribute, but not benefit from those contributions, because tomorrow’s jobs will increasingly exist in Extremistan, not Mediocristan.

You won’t be familiar with those terms if you haven’t read Nassim Taleb’s brilliant The Black Swan, which you should. Here’s a primer. Briefly, for our purposes: the remuneration for Mediocristan activities is fixed by boundary constraints — the number of hours worked, the number of clients aided, the number of widgets manufactured, etc. By contrast, the remuneration for Extremistan activities — basketball player, musician, messaging-app co-founder — can scale to an arbitrary amount …

…but only for a tiny fraction of those engaged in the activity. Most would-be pro athletes never make it. Most artists never get to quit their day job. Most startups fail. Few people engaged in Extremistan activities ever become successful enough to start referring to what they’re doing as a job.

I submit that technology is slowly dragging us all, economically, away from Mediocristan and into Extremistan.

Consider college professors: Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, edX, etc, allow individual professors to teach hundreds of thousands of students, while legions of adjuncts live in poverty. Consider lawyers: it may be “more cost effective and accurate to utilize software tools to perform many types of legal work” — but the very best attorneys will remain incredibly valuable and expensive.

Consider even doctors: The New York Times warns: “Health care jobs may be safe now,but our sense of what’s safe has been consistently belied by the impact of our technological progress.” Valley legend Vinod Khosla has been arguing for years that expert systems can replace 80% of what doctors do … but at the same time, tech could greatly expand the remit of the best.

It’s not hard to imagine — whisper it — even software engineering moving into Extremistan. Already, everyone wants the so-called “A-players,” but has only lukewarm interest in second-tier software talent, much less the third tier. The best companies hire the best engineers, who, by definition, are a minority; the best engineers work at, or launch, the best companies; technology increasingly allows the best companies to dominate their markets like never before. Extrapolate that twenty years into the future, and what do you get?

This won’t happen to everyone everywhere, obviously — I’m talking about proportions, not the entire population — but I expect the shift will be significant enough to have enormous consequences. While technology will indeed, as Andreessen points out, create new professions and new fields of human endeavour, the fact that technology is an ever-more-powerful force multiplier implies that those fields will increasingly exist in Extremistan, and be partitioned according to power laws; a few will be enormously rewarded, while the majority scrap for crumbs.

I’ve been writing about technological unemployment for some years now, and whenever I do, commenters always chirp, “we just need everyone to become an entrepreneur!” But of course entrepreneurs have always lived in Extremistan … and most of them fail. Everyone who calls for a future of greater entrepreneurship is implicitly calling for us to move ever deeper into Extremistan.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It seems likely that, considered as a whole, Extremistan is far more creative and productive than Mediocristan. But while its economic pie may be much larger, it is also much more unequally distributed.

I’m not saying this will all happen tomorrow; there will be enormous hurdles en route. (Education, in particular, is as much about context as content, and MOOCs won’t succeed until they figure out a context in which their students thrive.) But it seems apparent to me that the long-term trend is away from Mediocristan and towards Extremistan; in other words, towards a few winners and many losers.

If so, then what will life be like for the losers — by which I mean, the majority? Adjunct professor might not a bad analogy. Poverty wages, supplemented by odd jobs in the TaskRabbit-esque gig economy, while you and the millions of others like you keep knocking on the doors of success, year after year, knowing all along that only a tiny percentage of you will ever be admitted. Or maybe even no wages at all, like artists or interns today.

Now: do I have any evidence that we’re heading this way? Er. Well. The trouble with speculating about the future in a time of rapid change is that the available evidence is almost by definition insufficient. I hasten to admit that I certainly could be wrong.

But there do seem to be a lot of people singing along in tune with this theory. Lawrence Summers, for instance, who writes:

Technology and globalization give greater scope to those with extraordinary entrepreneurial ability, luck, or managerial skill … Most obviously, the best athletes and entertainers benefit from a worldwide market for their celebrity. But something similar is true for those with extraordinary gifts of any kind. For example, I suspect we will soon see the rise of educator superstars who command audiences of hundreds of thousands for their Internet courses and earn sums way above the traditional dreams of academics.

He doesn’t talk about what happens to the other educators. But Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff writes

Until now, our societies have proved remarkably adept at adjusting to disruptive technologies; but the pace of change in recent decades has caused tremendous strains, reflected in huge income disparities within countries, with near-record gaps between the wealthiest and the rest. Inequality can corrupt and paralyze a country’s political system – and economic growth along with it.

Will each future generation continue to enjoy a better quality of life than its immediate predecessor? In developing countries that have not yet reached the technological frontier, the answer is almost certainly yes. In advanced economies, though the answer should still be yes, the challenges are becoming formidable.

Jagdish Bhagwati at Columbia concurs: “technological innovation is driving wages down.” Paul Beaudry of UBC observes, “Many higher skilled workers have moved down the occupation ladder and accepted less challenging employment.”

Federal Reserve economists note the rise in “involuntary part-time employment” which “has led to a concern that there is an underbelly of labor market slack not well accounted for by the overall unemployment rate.” The pay gap between college graduates and non-graduates has increased … but mostly because “the average wage for everyone else has fallen 5 percent” over the last decade.

Meanwhile, “For the first time essentially ever, labor force participation & stock market have totally & wildly diverged.”

…All of which sounds like what we’d expect would happen during the beginnings of a general shift towards Extremistan. (Though of course this is hardly decisive proof.)

It’s obviously hard to tease out how much of this is driven by technology, vs. globalization and economic cycles — but last month I attended a dinner hosted by Silicon Valley VC kingpins Draper Fisher Jurvetson, whose partners all seemed awfully worried that tech is destroying jobs faster than people can be retrained. Vinod Khosla agrees: “Technology concentrates wealth in the hands of the creators of technology and the people who fund them … creates more wealth and jobs for a few and takes away jobs at the bottom end of the spectrum.”

My point: if I’m wrong, I’m certainly not alone.

So, if this is all true — what can most people do?

Erik Brynjolfsson cites three categories of jobs immune to robots and software, for the moment: “creative tasks and inventing new things – ideation, some people call it … [those] involving interpersonal relationships: motivating people, comforting people, caring for people … [and] fine motor control – the kinds of things that a barber or a gardener or a cook or a janitor does.” The first category is classic Extremistan, of course. The second and third are not … but they’re notoriously poorly paid, gig-economy type jobs. And, he helpfully notes, “you can imagine machines getting better and better in all three as well.”

The most pessimistic are arguing:

Unless we intervene, the same economic system that has produced this astonishing prosperity will return us to the Dickensian world of winners and losers that characterised the beginning of capitalism … Our birthright as humans – the ability to produce things by our labour that others find valuable – may become economically worthless … on the output side of our new robot economy, we will have material abundance undreamed of by earlier generations. But on the production side we will have an economy increasingly independent of human labour and so unwilling to pay for it. Hence the crisis … The material abundance being wrought by ever increasing automation makes the affordability and sustainability of a universal basic income more credible.

This is probably a good time to mention that I’m actually an optimist.

My own thesis has long been this: technology is eating jobs as we know them, and that’s good, because when you step back and look at them, jobs as we know them aren’t particularly desirable. We want to be on a slow trajectory towards the utopia Andreessen describes; a low-scarcity society where people mostly spend their time doing what they want to do, rather than “jobs,” which largely consist of people being paid just enough to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t1.

To get from here to there, obviously, we’ll have to shed a lot of jobs … so the devouring of jobs by technology is a good thing, an indicator that we’re on the right path.

Unfortunately, our economic and even, to some extent, our ethical systems are built around the assumption that most able-bodied people have jobs. Those systems aren’t going to change as fast as the economy itself. So the transition, for (probably) you and your kids, is going to be more than a little wrenching — by which I mean, a lot of people who didn’t expect it are going to watch their once-prosperous families sink into relative poverty. But, barring catastrophe, their kids ought to have it great. I hope that’s some consolation.

In the interim, what we need is

Indeed. But if more and more people become unemployed — by which I really mean, fighting to get by in Extremistan — then only one safety-net option will work: a universal basic income. Marc Andreessen is exactly right when he says technology can kindle the kind of economic growth we need; from my perspective, we need it to make a basic income a viable option. I just hope that happens before too many lives are ruined because our politics evolve orders of magnitude slower than our economies, much less our technologies.

1This isn’t true for everyone — many people, including me, actively enjoy what they do, and would continue doing it or something like it for free even if economic utopia descended tomorrow — but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s true for most people worldwide.

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Snapchat’s “Our Story” Is A Genius, Collaborative Reinvention Of The Livestream

What does it feel like to be a massive music festival? Nothing like a glossy livestream of the mainstage. Much more like Snapchat’s new Our Story feature, a curated channel of user submitted photos of videos from all around a big event. I was there last night at Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival, an 140,000-person dance music festival where Snapchat piloted Our Story. I can vouch that the decentralized perspective was remarkably accurate. Our Story has huge potential, and you can follow along tonight by adding “EDC Live” on Snapchat.

EDC App SnapThe startup’s other big experiment at EDC didn’t fare so well.

See, cell phone networks get overloaded at every music festival. Wouldn’t it make sense for Verizon or AT&T or someone to set up extra towers or Wifi to help their customers or lure in competitor’s? Well Snapchat tried to beat them to it by providing free wifi for the mega-rave, but only for using the official EDC app and…Snapchat.

The idea was that while people’s texts, Instagrams, Facebook posts and tweets wouldn’t send, Snapchats would go through in an instant.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really work.

EDC Wifi Fail

I tried more than 20 times across my 8 hours at the festival, and never successfully connected to the Snapchat Wifi networks. None of a dozen people I talked to were able to connect either and many festival goers expressed frustration about the experience on Twitter. It would have been very useful as few people’s mobile networks could handle the load and communication became nearly impossible. But worse than just resigning to being disconnected, many like me wasted battery and attention futilely trying to jack into Snapchat’s wifi.

Maybe that’s why Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel looked a bit hurried when I ran into him for a split-second in the EDC media center just before midnight. Snapchat had secured a nice partnership with the festival that promoted it in the official EDC app. Banners around the grounds advertised “No Signal? No Problem” and advised people to connect to Snapchat’s wifi. Some people must have gotten it to work, but the promotion seems to have attracted more users than the network could handle. Still, it was a valiant effort, and I hope Snapchat and other companies keep experimenting with the concept though it fell short at EDC night 1. We’ll see if it improves the next two nights.

Snaps From EDC

The wifi would have been especially nice for uploading snaps to Our Story. My crummy AT&T network failed to push my clips to it, or let me watch it once the bulk of the ravers arrived around midnight.

But on the ride home at sunrise and hungover in bed this morning, Our Story was a lovely way to relive the night from different vantage points. A buddy who’d come with me to EDC in 2012 watched from home in Arizona and posted “EDC Live is a gamechanger. Can’t stop watching”. If he wanted a high-fidelity look at the big-name DJs on stage, he could watch the official EDC livestream powered by LessThan3, but Snapchat shows what it’s like on the ground.

Front Row SelfieWhat made Our Story special and much better than just lurking a hashtag was the curation. Using geofencing, Snapchat detected who was actually at the EDC festival grounds at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and only offered them the chance to contribute to Our Story.

Snapchat edited out any spam or objectionable content, but also boring and low-quality snaps. It cut down most photos it featured to just 1 second each the parade of Snaps stayed brisk and never got boring. It also managed to avoid overtly sexist content, which is tough when the crowd is full of amped up bros and scantly-clad ladies.

Our Story authentically portrayed the event, from people enduring the entrace lines to throwing down on the packed dance floors, taking selfies in the front row or soaking up the grandeur from the bleachers. No sarcastic quips from afar, no incoherent rambling, and not just the same lame pics over and over from the back of the crowd. Following the hashtag on Twitter delivers some good pictures but also plenty of self-promoting DJs and useless live tweets. On Instagram, there’s just so many photos from people in Vegas and getting ready in their hotels that the best ones from EDC itself are drowned out.

Stage RedIt’s only had one night in the wild, but I think Our Story could be big for Snapchat. That’s especially impressive considering the feature is all about public sharing rather than the private, intimate transmissions Snapchat built its name on.

Snapchat hasn’t announced plans for any additional Our Story events, but they could help keep the app growing and finally let it earn some money. If it’s the best way to follow along with big happenings, perhaps Coachella or the MTV Movie Awards, Our Story could seduce new users to Snapchat. Meanwhile, the feature acts like a digital jumbo-tron. It might re-engage lapsed users or get loyals ones sharing more if contributions to Our Story could make them ‘Snap-famous’.

Events might also be willing to pay for the promotion and cool-factor Snapchat could provide by setting them up with an Our Story. Snapchat could charge for inserting an event’s account into people friend lists, giving global visibility and buzz to music festivals, sports matches, and other big gatherings. Eventually, any geographically-centered community, from colleges to landmarks could have their own Our Story, though figuring out how to keep the curation strong will be a challenge. Two years ago I wrote that location-based photo feeds were what Instagram should do with Explore. Instagram discovery feature has hardly budged since, and now Snapchat is capitalizing on the opportunity.

As our prized possessions like photos and music become digitized, meatspace experiences are growing more valuable. Everyone can’t physically attend events like EDC, but Snapchat may have found a way to make the exhilaration scale with Our Story.

Final Day 1 photo

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How to become a confident public speaker

Matthew Capala is the author of  “Away with the Average,” an NYU Professor, and Founder of This post originally appeared on Matthew’s Medium blog.

I lived in Poland until the age of 23. I moved to New York 10 years ago, where I’ve led several lives: construction worker, scaffold operator, waiter, office manager, digital marketer, consultant, corporate trainer, entrepreneur, professional speaker, professor and executive. In that order.

I never really intended to get involved in public speaking until a couple of years ago when my life took a dramatic turn: I was out of a job and struggled to make ends meet as an entrepreneur. For the first time in my life I was overexposed to debt and new contracts were slow to get signed.

I was looking for new ways to gain exposure and expand my network. I researched successful entrepreneurs in my industry, those I wanted to emulate, and came to one simple conclusion: Successful people are confident public speakers.

I was not comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. And, I was keenly aware of my thick Polish accent. English is my second language, so I never really believed I could become an effective speaker in America. The only way I could keep the audience captivated — I believed—was the entertainment value of watching me embarrass myself.

The anxiety from deciding to become a public speaker was significant, but weighing that against the anxiety of not overcoming my situation was far greater. I have always lived my life by failing forward and have never walked away from a challenge, realizing early on in my career that invisibility is a fate much worse than failure.

Public speaking has allowed me to take my career to an entirely new level, with access to people and places I never had before.

 How to become a confident public speaker

I don’t claim to be a public speaking guru or a particularly gifted orator, but I have delivered a number of memorable keynotes, training seminars, and talks around the globe, including places such as London and Vienna.

Public speaking created opportunities for me I never knew existed

Public speaking leads to wealth. It will help you build your network and relationships. It will help you get new business, job offers and increase your social media presence.

Most people are not comfortable speaking in front of a larger audiences. An article on lists that 74 percent of adults suffer from speech anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

I am certainly one of them. I get anxious every single time I get on a bigger stage or in front of a camera. I think most people do.

Taking a pro-active approach to developing your oratory and public speaking skills can boost your confidence quickly. As your speaking confidence multiplies you will be less worried about addressing any sized audience.

Before my first larger public speaking appearance, I read How to Develop Self-Confidence by Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie, which made me realize one simple truth about public speaking: It’s not about you, it’s about your content.

Take a baby-step approach to developing your confidence. I started by connecting with my former Professors and offered to guest lecture.

My first public speaking gig was an event hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). I was terrified to speak publicly for the first time in front of several hundred professional communicators.

I did my best to prepare. I invited amazing, much more accomplished speakers to join the panel which I moderated. I did a very thorough job researching my questions and working with the panelists.

The event was a big success for me not because I wowed the audience, but because I was able to create great content by brining together exceptional experts in the field. Take a similar approach to take some of the pressure off your chest. Teamwork makes the dream work.

One of the highlights of this experience was that a former President of the IABC NY Chapter, who was in attendance, later referred me to NYU where I now teach as an Adjunct Professor.

 How to become a confident public speaker

Here are a couple of tips to improve your public speaking game that have worked for me when I was getting started.

Know your topic inside out

Ken Linder notes on that “if you talk about things you know and are passionate about, that resonates with people.” He also mentions that you know more about your topic than your audience so it’s your job to educate them.

Confident speakers develop their expertise by knowing their topic thoroughly. Study your discipline to become well-versed in this area. The work you put in researching the topic will be noticed and appreciated by your audience. Avoid picking topics that you don’t feel strongly enough for at any cost — it’s a sure way to ruin your self confidence.

 How to become a confident public speaker

Confident public speakers deliver convincing arguments by absorbing as much relevant knowledge as possible. Read, study, and memorize key concepts. Accumulate interesting facts, stories, quotes, and examples.

Those activities will boost your faith in self because you will have a richer and more interesting content to present.

Prepare yourself by practicing

No successful public speaker became famous without doing their homework and preparation. The best prepared themselves by speaking for hours in front of mirrors or for a few select friends. Some renowned speakers simply speak in an empty room to hone their skills.

Toastmasters International suggests practicing with a timer and allowing time for the unexpected. Unforeseen events can distract unprepared, nervous speakers.

 How to become a confident public speakerVisualize yourself delivering an inspiring speech to prepare yourself. Rehearsing the speech in your mind creates a type of dry run which increases your confidence for the actual speech.

Do not skip this step.

Use eye candy and power wording

Using eye candy like slides, colorful images, graphs, videos and headline heavy copy draws your audience’s attention like a magnet. It also takes away pressure and attention from your actual delivery. Draw your audience’s attention from you to your content.

Even the most dynamic speakers use imagery to keep audiences on their toes. Focus on the task at hand. You want to inspire, inform and entertain by delivering a high energy message. Check out the deck below for examples on how to combine magnetic headlines with engaging images.

Audience members want to use the content being presented for their benefit. Make dramatic statements to convey your message convincingly. Pepper your speech with power verbs to inspire audiences. Here is another example:

Using effective wording and enticing imagery requires strict planning. Do spend as much time as you can sprucing up your presentation to become a confident public speaker.

Enter with boldness

Boldness and hesitation will elicit very different responses from your audience. Hesitation creates obstacles in your path to captivate your audience. Boldness eliminates them.

Start your talk with boldness to appear larger and more interesting—the first impression is critical. Play a video. Tell a rehearsed story or a joke. Make a bold statement about the material you will cover. Don’t start with agenda—that’s boring.

Entering the stage with boldness will also have a magical effect of camouflaging your inexperience and oratory deficiencies. Boldness gives you presence while the timid fade into wallpaper.

Learn from your favorite public speakers

Study from the best to improve your confidence. Follow your favorite public speakers on social media, and sites like SlideShare. I also watch Ted videosto learn from the best speakers in the world.

Attend live events to learn from and emulate your favorite speakers. Observe how they use their hands to add emphasis to key points. Note how they raise and lower their voice to keep you focused on their message. The best public speakers are masters of inspiring an audience. Study their movements and delivery style to feed off of their confidence.

 How to become a confident public speaker

Develop faith in yourself by observing speakers who ooze with confidence and charisma.

Be open to receiving positive and negative feedback

Both positive and negative feedback can improve your confidence. One of the most painful experiences is when I watch a recording of my myself speaking publicly. Although I am uncomfortable every single time I view my speaking performance, I push myself to do it to pick up all the ‘ummms’ and the ‘you knows.’

Watch yourself on video. Observe your overall delivery. What seemed to rouse the audience? How can you improve? Watching yourself from a third person perspective can accelerate your growth quickly.

Negative reviews help you pinpoint areas for improvement. Even though negative feedback might sting your ego, these points of view usually boost your public speaking skills in the long run. It’s worth it.

 How to become a confident public speaker

Being open to criticism helps you to develop thick skin. Even the best public speakers get negative feedback at times. Grow your confidence from both positive, inspiring feedback and negative, constructive feedback to build your confidence.

Speak less to say more

Speak fewer words to power up your message. Brilliant public speakers use words economically to make an impact. Remove all ‘ums’ and unnecessary fillers. Respect your time and the time of your audience. Avoid hesitating unless you want the audience to reflect on some point.

Stick to your speech plan. Refrain from adding points on the fly. Speak on your desired topic only. Do not add extra examples and stay away from straying off course.

Public speaking changed my life. I hope it will change yours. I hope to see you speak at the next conference!

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Yo, Virginia, There Is A Cult Of Disruption

Disruption. From frenzied investment pitches on Sand Hill Road to the name of the top conference for startups in Silicon Valley (i.e. the people who pay my bills), that word has become synonymous with everything and everyone creating innovation today.

Yet, the communal rhetorical choice is quite peculiar. When you deeply think about it, disruption is a pretty unpleasant word to be associated with. We sigh when a schedule disruption cancels our trip to the East Coast because of another aircraft maintenance problem. We search our drawers for candles when a power disruption shuts off our lights. Perhaps the only progressive activity associated with the word is the euphemistic labor disruption (read: strike). And that is certainly not an activity that Silicon Valley appreciates.

In a strange sort of hipster anti-mainstreamism, Silicon Valley loves to place positive spins on such negative words – just look at our society’s views on the word “hacker” compared to our own. It is the ability of our startup community to redefine its reality that makes it so compelling, and yet, simultaneously so riven with flaws.

For we don’t live in the technological oasis that is so often envisioned by venture capitalists and startup founders, where objective technological superiority is always a guarantee of success. Rather, we live in a world where politics, narratives, and human relations play an outsized role, and where incumbents hold most of the cards of the deck.

It is the ability of our startup community to redefine its reality that makes it so compelling, and yet, simultaneously so riven with flaws.

That’s why our obsession of disruption is tragically ironic. It is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process.” And really, that’s exactly what Silicon Valley does these days. For a group of self-described problem-solvers and solution-finders, we seem to have to invent a lot of problems just to be able to fix them. Only through crisis can we find progress.

How did we get here? Well, the theory of economic disruption has a fairly extensive history, but its main academic cheerleader comes from Clayton M. Christensen, the writer of The Innovator’s Dilemma, a book that is certainly at the top of the pantheon of cited references for writers of startups. Christensen posited that industries are disrupted when new entrants into a market build simpler and less expensive products that eventually evolve to compete against incumbents but at a better cost model. Incumbent companies often respond by becoming more specialized, eventually forcing them to ever smaller niches as they retreat from the wider market.

In this week’s copy of the New Yorker, Jill Lepore attempts a strong takedown of Christensen’s work, arguing that its case studies are not diverse enough for such a generalized theory, and questions many of the conclusions of the various industries studied in the book. She also points out an interesting pattern: that many of the incumbent companies assumed by the original book to be heading toward death remain at the top of their fields, while the disrupters are no where to be found.

It is a solid critique, and a much needed corrective to a text held up almost religiously by its adherents. However, it misses so much about the language of disruption that one wonders whether Lepore was effective in her critical analysis.

“Disruption,” like so many buzzwords, is a programmed idiom. These words do not just convey a concept or a theory, but also act as shibboleths, a kind of arcana to ensure that the speaker and listener are part of the same affinity group.

We have so many of these phrases in the Silicon Valley universe that it truly has become its own language, with newcomers expected to pick it up just to be understood. As an example, a first course might be “mobile-first”, “social/local/mobile”, “cloud computing”, “advanced persistent threat”, “big data”, “delightful”, “disruption”, “innovation”, “software-defined networking”, “next-generation”, “ephemeral”, “engagement”, “acquihire”, “net neutrality”, “software-as-a-service”, “rockstar”, “Bitcoin-enabled”, “3D printing”, “partner”, and, of course, “yo”.

Disruption, though, remains at the top of the rhetorical pyramid. It’s occurrence in a pitch deck or presentation is practically a guarantee, yet its meaning is deeply incoherent, and that is the fundamental flaw of Christensen’s theory. By placing his emphasis on a single type of disruption, Christensen misses the wider constellation of directions that innovation can take. Its original narrow applicability has since become so generalized and popularized that few remember that the theory has limitations.

Most “disruption” has not looked like the disk drive or steel mill industries, in which new competitors started with inferior products and then improved to (theoretically, at least) clobber the incumbents. In fact, quite the opposite has taken place in Silicon Valley. The startups that have grown into today’s household names were many times the best in their fields, and were priced at a premium rate to boot.

The startups that become unicorns … fundamentally alter the need for people to have a particular mousetrap in the first place.

Take a startup like Uber. It wasn’t a cheaper taxi service that offered a lower-quality ride, yet one that people found acceptable enough to use. Instead, it came in at the high end of the market, creating a seamless and delightful experience for users at a price well-above existing taxi services. Later, the company developed additional lower-fare options that allowed it to move down the market. It may be “disrupting” the taxi industry, but it did so from the complete opposite direction of Christensen’s theory.

Similarly in hardware, Apple’s iPhone wasn’t a low-end feature phone that evolved to compete with Motorola and Nokia but at a more competitive price point. Instead, it completely shifted what a phone experience could be, and was launched at a price point that was among the most expensive in the market. If you want a more startup-focused example, take a look at Nest Labs. Nest built a beautifully designed thermostat at a premium price point. Its thermostat didn’t disrupt the industry from the bottom, but created a new market at the top through a superior product.

This is the diversity in tactics that is missing from our general usage of “disruption.” The more accurate message is that startups can change their markets in quite different ways. The startups that become unicorns don’t just try to build a cheaper model of a mousetrap and evolve it, they fundamentally alter the need for people to have a particular mousetrap in the first place. The new market may supplant the old one, but the two bear such little resemblance to each other that it seems hard to make the connection between them except historically.

To be fair, there are certainly startups that are more in line with Christensen’s view, such as Warby Parker and its disruption of Luxottica. But even here, it isn’t clear that Warby Parker’s products are inferior to the glasses provided by the Italian eyewear monopoly.

I think that’s why Lepore’s observation that many of the disruptive companies featured in The Innovator’s Dilemma are no longer here, yet the incumbents are. As much as these startups wanted to defeat the incumbents in their markets, they focused on building better products using the same model, rather than changing the model itself. Eventually, the incumbents either catch up through internal invention or external acquisition. The startups that take their market don’t defeat their incumbents, but simply make them irrelevant.

Let’s get beyond the words without meaning to the sentences that could change the world.

I am less concerned about our overuse of the Innovation Dictionary in speaking about startups than Lepore. Our idioms and argot are key for founders to communicate with others about what they are building. We don’t have to fear the Cult of Disruption, but don’t let it stand in the way of clear-headed thought. Never dumb-down your own thinking just to fit a theory or a word, and don’t be afraid to develop whole new approaches to solving a particular market problem. That is often the most important element of designing a startup, and not one to be avoided.

For everyone involved in startups, from journalists and investors to the founders themselves, my call is this: precision in language is just as important as precision in strategy. We are all involved in disruption, if by disruption we mean building new companies in existing markets and product spaces. But the nature of that disruption is quite varied, and we need to be intellectually honest about what exactly we are trying to accomplish, and why that strategy in the market is likely to succeed where others fail. Let’s get beyond the words without meaning to the sentences that could change the world.

IMAGE BY Bryce Durbin

Read the original post: Yo, Virginia, There Is A Cult Of Disruption

The Bay Lights, The LED Art Project Backed By Big Tech Names, Kicks Off $1.2M Crowdfunding Campaign

Just over a year ago, a large scale art project called The Bay Lights turned the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco Bay Area structure that’s historically been the plainer sister to the famed Golden Gate Bridge, into a glittering destination in its own right.

But as iconic as the Bay Lights have quickly become, it turns out that they’re not set to be here to stay. The original erection of the Bay Lights, a roughly $10 million project that was supported by high profile (and high net worth) San Francisco techies including Marissa Mayer, Ron Conway, Matt Mullenweg, and others, has a two year duration that will make the lights go dark in March 2015.

In order to bring the lights back and keep them going for another ten years, from 2016 to 2026, they’re going to need $12 million more. So Illuminate the Arts, the nonprofit behind the project, has turned to crowdfunding startup Crowdtilt to help raise the needed funds from a larger pool of people. The crowdfunding effort, dubbed “Keep ‘Em Lit Through 2026,” launched last night with the aim of raising $1.2 million in 45 days, which is ten percent of the ultimate goal. As of this writing, about $185,000 has been contributed.

It makes sense that the Bay Lights would seek out more tech-centered ways of raising money than your typical art exhibit, since the Lights represent a unique blend of art and technology. The piece itself consists of 25,000 low power LED lights which are attached to the 1.8 mile western span of the Bay Bridge, and switched on from dusk til dawn. All the lights are individually programmed with software algorithms that create a generative sequence making it so that the patterns never occur twice. The piece was created by artist Leo Villareal, who worked as a programmer in Silicon Valley in the 1990s before shifting his attention to art full time.

In an interview at an event Wednesday evening in San Francisco kicking off the crowdfunding campaign, Illuminate The Arts chairman Ben Davis said that The Bay Lights has reached a uniquely large audience. “More people will see the Bay Lights in its two year tenure than will visit the top 15 museums in the United States,” Davis said. “It’s fine art that people can see, without ever buying a ticket.” Not bad for a project that costs $30 per day in energy costs to run (the bulk of the project’s cost is in the insurance and labor costs of erecting and maintaining it on the bridge, and keeping it in compliance with California transit authorities.)

To contribute to the Bay Lights project, go here. And below, you can see a bit of the Lights in action, and watch a short interview that I conducted with artist Leo Villareal when The Bay Lights were first lit back in March 2013.

Read the rest here: The Bay Lights, The LED Art Project Backed By Big Tech Names, Kicks Off $1.2M Crowdfunding Campaign

Facebook Goes Down In Global Outage. Update: It’s Back!

Facebook appears to be a suffering a major international outage this morning, with the site unavailable in multiple regions around the world, including on web and mobile, and Facebook social plug-ins on other websites also acting up.

Facebook down

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The site is unavailable here in the UK and in other European locations including France and Belgium.

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It also appears to be offline in parts of Asia, including India, and Africa. US Twitter users are tweeting about the site being down for them as well.

We’re reached out to Facebook to ask for details on what’s taken the site offline and will update this post with any response. Facebook has now sent a statement confirming the outage.

Update: After a brief — but widespread — outage this morning Facebook appears to be back up. Or it is in some regions, including the UK.

Facebook users suffering social networking withdrawal can breathe a sign of relief and get back to liking their friends’ baby photos now.

It’s never great for a major site to suffer a major outage — but Facebook can take comfort from the global outcry caused by a few minutes of downtime.

Facebook may not be as cool as it used to be, but plenty of people still miss it when it’s (momentarily) gone.

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Update 2: Facebook has now emailed a statement to TechCrunch confirming it had “an issue” that took the site offline – without going into any detail about the cause. And confirming the site is now “100%” back online.

A spokesperson for the site said: “Earlier this morning, we experienced an issue that prevented people from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time. We resolved the issue quickly, and we are now back to 100%. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Judging by tips from users reporting the site was down for them, Facebook’s total downtime this morning looks to have stretched to around half an hour.

The social network suffered another short outage earlier this year, back in May.

See more here: Facebook Goes Down In Global Outage. Update: It’s Back!

Microsoft Social Media “Strategist” Targets The Wrong Guy

Oh, social media strategists, will you never learn? Even after the great Samsung Debacle of a few months ago, a “strategist” working on behalf of Microsoft (and I don’t believe this is Microsoft’s fault, honestly, because even Microsoft wouldn’t be this stupid) sent our own former EIC and anti-payola-crusader Michael Arrington a nice note:


Basically, they want to pay him to write about Internet Explorer. He’s a good writer, sure, but he’s not the kind of guy you want in your blind mailing list.

Again, if you wonder how a lot of the web works, look no further than this exchange. There are few good guys out there – which is why I pride myself on not doing paid posts anywhere and why I try my damnedest to be nice to companies and indifferent to PR people and why TechCrunch never accepts payment of any kind – but there are a lot of people who are in this blogging thing for the money. That’s fine for them, honestly, and I can’t fault them. Marketing is hard and I don’t envy the small guys trying to get the word out about their product. But Microsoft needs a coordinated blog burst like it needs a hole in the head. Think about it: hundreds of mercenary writers who are looking for a quick buck and who will write stuff like “IE is my favorite briwser!” all over the web. It’s not quality content and it’s not a social buzz. It’s just a mess.

So please stop, social media marketers. Just stop. You screw up far too regularly and the resulting blowback makes your company look like a ship of fools. Incidentally, for a nice run down of potential payola acceptors, please consult this link. To sign up for some payola, pop over here and to understand what went on here, talk to Gregg Hanano at SocialChorus where advocate marketing is made easy!™

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The rest is here: Microsoft Social Media “Strategist” Targets The Wrong Guy

Besomebody Inc. Raises $1M To Build A Passion-Focused Community And Experience Marketplace

With Besomebody Inc., founder and CEO Kash Shaikh is hoping to turn his “#besomebody” social media efforts and blog into a real company. Today the startup is announcing that it has raised $1 million from the E.W. Scripps Company.

Shaikh said he first started tweeting with the #besomebody hashtag in 2009, with the blog launching in 2011. He now describes it as “a movement” that reaches 4 million people. (That number isn’t just visitors to the blog, but also people who have mentioned #besomebody on social media.)

A little more than a year ago, Shaikh said he realized, “For four years I’ve been telling everyone to follow your passion and be somebody, but I haven’t done it yet.” So he quit his social marketing and communications job at GoPro to work on this full-time. Since then, Shaikh said he’s taken three trips around the world to talk to people about their passions. His goal, he said, was to take the brand-building process that he saw at his old jobs at Procter & Gamble and GoPro and “flip the whole thing on its head,” focusing first on building a community and then worrying about the product.

So if, as Shaikh argues, this is movement, what’s the movement actually about? Well, he said he didn’t want to limit it with definitions (“Definition is the enemy”), but if you haven’t picked up on it yet, the basic idea is, yes, to follow your passions. That’s been the focus of Shaikh’s blog posts and videos, and with the Besomebody platform, the company will try to help “passionaries” (look, that’s the word they’re using) make money.

The platform is currently in development, but Shaikh said it will both highlight passion-related content and help users find people with similar passions. There will also be a marketplace where experts in a given field can sell lessons and experiences to neophytes. Both the seller and buyer will be able to rate each other afterward, and the marketplace will focus on four areas initially — art, music, fitness, and adventure.

Shaikh also said that the platform will first launch in Austin (where Besomebody is headquartered), that it will focus on live, not online, experiences: “Nobody’s life was ever changed from a webinar.”

Following your passions is an admirable goal (and the topic of at least one presentation at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference), but when talking to Shaikh, I suggested that his constant emphasis on passion, passion, passion may strike some as naive, even entitled.

He countered that sacrifice and suffering are necessary steps in the process, and something he’s familiar with — he not only quit a lucrative job but also left most of his GoPro equity behind (the company is going public) and cashed out his 401k to fund his efforts.

“Passion means suffering … but we can make that window of suffering smaller,” Shaikh said.

As for the new funding, Shaikh described Scripps as a “perfect” strategic investor, given its background in content and storytelling. (Scripps is a publicly traded media company that owns a number of newspapers and TV stations — not to be confused with its spinout company Scripps Networks Interactive.)

Go here to see the original: Besomebody Inc. Raises $1M To Build A Passion-Focused Community And Experience Marketplace

Rafat Ali’s Skift Buys Travel Site Gadling From AOL For ‘Way Under $10M’

AOL today made its latest move in offloading assets that it no longer sees as core to its main business: it sold the travel site to Skift, the travel news portal started by Rafat Ali, who previously had founded paidContent.* At the same time, Skift signed a partnership with AOL in which Skift will use AOL-owned MapQuest’s mapping platform and collaborate on content.

The news was announced by Ali on Skift, where he said Gadling would “stay as is for a short bit while we tinker behind the scenes.” Contacted about the deal, Ali told me that the terms of the transaction are not being disclosed but from what I understand from sources it’s for significantly less than $10 million.

Rafat tells me that there are no people coming over with the site., which became a part of AOL long ago with its $25 million acquisition of Weblogs (which operated 85 blogs at the time of the sale, including Engadget), had no dedicated staff, with the two by-lined authors that appeared on the site people who also worked on MapQuest and AOL Travel.

As a site without too much investment put into it under AOL in recent times, didn’t seem to be doing that well traffic-wise, ranking 15,316th in Alexa’s traffic tables for the U.S., and even lower in its global rankings.

What it did have was a decent presence on Twitter, where it has nearly 180,000 followers, which Skift may be able to leverage better than AOL did, by injecting that feed with Skift’s consistent flow of travel news scoops and analysis (as a point of comparison, Skift has 35,000 followers).

Indeed, Gadling’s online footprint, rather than content assets, seems to be the thing that Ali is focused on. Skift will use it to make a push into more generalised, consumer content as well as a place to gather data for what looks like an analytics-style service, both to complement Skift’s existing focus on people in the travel and travel tech industries.

“We will take over Gadling’s extensive online presence, from the website to its popular social media feeds, and build it as a news-you-can-use companion to the business-focused Skift site,” Ali writes. “We plan to use Gadling as an industry research test-bed for consumer travel interests and habits.”

I asked Ali about whether he thought the sale of Gadling was a sign that AOL is smartening up MapQuest for a sale — AOL has at times been rumoured to be eyeing up selling off MapQuest, which it bought in 1999 for $1.1 billion.

No comment on that from him, either. But considering how so much focus in mobile has shifted to mapping and location-based services, AOL could either have a very good opportunity for itself, or a potentially sellable asset, on its hands.

“No plans to sell off MapQuest,” a spokesperson from AOL said in response to the question. “Very, very focused on launching improved and enhanced products this year.”

AOL’s previous divestments have included spinning off its unprofitable Patch; and selling WinAmp$1.1 billion in patents to Microsoft, IM service ICQ, and social network Bebo.

*Disclosures: TechCrunch is owned by AOL, and I used to work at

IMAGE BY Flickr USER Kuster & Wildhaber Photography UNDER CC BY-ND 2.0 LICENSE

Read more: Rafat Ali’s Skift Buys Travel Site Gadling From AOL For ‘Way Under $10M’

Outsource Your Bitcoin Mining To HashPlex, Which Just Raised A Seed Round

Are too many Bitcoin mining rigs making your office or home unspeakably hot or noisy?

You can just outsource it to someone else.

Or at least that’s the premise behind HashPlex, a cryptocurrency-miner hosting company that just raised $400,000 from investors including SecondMarket co-founder Barry Silbert’s Bitcoin Opportunity Corp. and Facebook engineer Jason Prado.

Basically, you just ship your hardware to HashPlex, which is based in Seattle, specify what mining software you want to use, and they say they’ll take care of the rest for anywhere from $89 per Kilowatt used constantly over the course of a month to more expensive, custom levels of service.

A very loose analogy would be AWS (Amazon Web Services) for Bitcoin mining.

In the Bitcoin world, some people like to buy the crypto-currency outright on exchanges like Bitstamp.

But others “mine” it. In the original Bitcoin paper, there’s this process by which a fixed and predictable amount of Bitcoin is released at different intervals of time. Bitcoin miners solve complex, crypotographic math problems in order to both compete for this Bitcoin and keep up the public record of Bitcoin transactions that have taken place. As Bitcoin has become more valuable, it’s become more resource and energy intensive to “mine” coins and hardware makers roll out more sophisticated and dedicated mining rigs every year.

“Right now, people sort of do it in their basement or their mom’s basement, but we can build out a facility that irons out the frills,” said co-founder Bernie Rihn.

Rihn worked in thermal design at Apple, while his co-founder George Schnurle is a mechanical engineer who trained at Stanford.

They’re using the money to build out their very first so-called “HashCenter” in Central Washington. If you calculate out their rates, Rihn says it works out to be something like $99 per month for a KNC Miner Jupiter to $297 per month for a Butterfly Labs Mini-Rig. You can check out more specific pricing here.

There are competitors like CloudHashing, where you can pay something like $299 for 40 Gigahash a second in mining power. But Rihn says those costs work out to be around ten times the amount you would have to pay if were to buy your own hardware.

Continue reading here: Outsource Your Bitcoin Mining To HashPlex, Which Just Raised A Seed Round