Dont Solve Problems; Seek Opportunities
Until Charles Darwins discovery of evolution, life was
surveyed in the present tense. Animals were probed to see how their
innards worked, plants dissected for useful magical potions, the
creatures of the sea investigated for their strange lifestyles. Biology
was about how living organisms thrived day to day.
Darwin forever transformed our understanding of life by
insisting that life didnt make sense without the framework of its
billion-year evolution. Darwin proved that even if all we wanted to know
was how to cure dysentery in pigs, or how best to fertilize corn, or
where to look for lobsters, we had to keep in mind the slow, but
commanding dynamics of lifes evolution over the very long
Until recently, economics was about how businesses thrived
year to year, and what kind of governmental policy to institute in the
next quarter. The dynamics of long-term growth are quite remote from the
issues of whether the money supply should be tightened this year. The
study of economics has no Darwin yet, but it is increasingly clear that
the behavior of everyday markets cannot be truly understood without
keeping in mind the slow, but commanding dynamics of long-term economic
Over the long run, the worlds economy has grown, on
average, a fractional percent per year. During the last couple of
centuries it averaged about 1% per year, reaching about 2% annually this
century, when the bulk of what we see on earth today was built. That
means that each year, on average, the economic system produces 2% more
stuff than was produced in the previous 12 months. Beneath the frantic
ups and downs of daily commerce, a persistent, invisible swell pushes
the entire econosphere forward, slowly thickening the surface of the
earth with more things, more interactions, and more opportunities. And
that tide is accelerating, expanding a little faster each year.
At the genesis of civilization, the earth was mostly
Darwins realmall biosphere, no economy. Today the
econosphere is huge beyond comprehension. If we add up the total
replacement costs of all the roads in every country in the world, all
the railways, vehicles, telephone lines, power plants, schools, houses,
airports, bridges, shopping centers (and everything inside them),
factories, docks, harborsif we add up all the gizmos and things
humans have made all over the planet, and calculate how much it is all
worth, as if it were owned by a company, we come up with a huge amount
of wealth accumulated over centuries by this slow growth. In 1998
dollars, the global infrastructure is worth approximately 4 quadrillion
dollars. Thats a 4 with 15 zeros. Thats a lot of pennies
What is the origin of this wealth? Ten thousand years ago
there was almost none. Now there is 4 quadrillion dollars worth. Where
did all of it come from? And how? The expenditure of energy needed to
create this fluorescence is not sufficient to explain it since animals
expend vast quantities of energy without the same result. Something else
is at work. "Humans on average build a bit more than they destroy,
and create a bit more than they use up," writes economist Julian
Simon. Thats about right, but what enables humans, on average, to
ratchet up such significant accumulations?
The ratchet is the Great Asymmetry, says evolutionist Steven
Jay Gould. This is the remarkable ability of evolution to create a bit
more, on average, than it destroys. Against the great drain of entropy,
life ratchets up irreversible gains. The Great Asymmetry is rooted in
webs, in tightly interlinked entities, in self-reinforcing feedback, in
coevolution, and in the many loops of increasing returns that fill an
ecosystem. Because every new species in life cocreates a niche for yet
other new species to occupy, because every additional organism presents
a chance for other organisms to live upon it, the cumulative total
multiplies up faster than the inputs add up; thus the perennial one-way
surplus of opportunities.
We call the Great Asymmetry in human affairs "the
economy." It too is packed with networks of webs that multiply
outputs faster than inputs. Therefore, on average, it fills up faster
than it leaks. Over the long run, this slight bias in favor of creation
can yield a world worth 4 quadrillion dollars.
It is not money the Great Asymmetry accrues, nor energy, nor
stuff. The origin of economic wealth begins in opportunities.
The first object made by human hands opened an opportunity
for someone else to imagine alternative uses or alternative designs for
that object. If those new designs or variations were manifested, then
these objects would create further opportunities for new uses and
designs. One actualized artifact yielded two or more opportunities for
improvement. Two improvements yielded two new opportunities
eachnow there were four possibilities. Four yielded eight. Thus
over time the number of opportunities were compounded. Like the doubling
of the lily leaf, one tiny bloom can expand to cover the earth in
relatively few generations.
Both life and wealth expand by
compounding increase, which gives them an eternal slight advantage over
death and loss, so that over time there is constant growth.
Perhaps the most potent physical force on earth is the power
of compounded results, whether that is compounded interest, compounded
growth, compounded life, or compounded opportunities. The inputs of
energy and human time into the economy can only be supplied in an
additive function, bit by bit, but over time the output is multiplied to
compound upon itself, yielding astounding accumulations.
A steady stream of human attention and thought is applied to
inventing new tools, devising new amusements, and creating new wants.
But no matter how small and inconsequential, each innovation is a
platform for yet other innovations to launch from.
It is this expanding space of opportunities that creates an
ongoing economy. It is this boundless open-ended arena for innovations
that spurs wealth creation. Like a chain reaction, one well-placed
innovation can trigger dozens, if not hundreds, of innovation offspring
down the line.
Consider, for example, email. Email is a recent invention
that has ignited a frenzy of innovation and opportunity. Each tiny bit
of email ingenuity begets several other bits of ingenuity, and they each
in turn beget others, and so on compoundfinitum. Unlike a piece of junk
mail, an email advertisement costs exactly the same to send to one
person or one million peopleassuming you have a million addresses.
Where does one get a million addresses? People innocently post their
addresses all over the netat the bottom of their home page, or in
a posting on a news group, or in a link off an article. These postings
suggested an open opportunity to programmers. One of them came up with
the idea of a scavenger bot. (A bot, short for robot, is a small bit of
code.) A scavenger bot roams the net looking for any phrase containing
the email @ sign, assumes it is an address, pockets it, and then
compiles lists of these addresses that are sold for $20 per thousand to
spammersthe folks who mail unsolicited ads (junk mail) to huge
numbers of recipients.
The birth of scavenger bots suddenly created niches for
anti-spam bots. Companies that sell internet access seed the net with
decoy phony email addresses so that when the addresses are picked up by
scavenger bots and used by the spammers, the internet provider will get
mail they can track to find out where the spam is coming from. Then the
provider blocks the spam from that source for all their customers, which
keeps everyone happy and loyal.
Each new invention creates a space
from which several more inventions can be created. And from each of
those new innovations comes yet more spaces of opportunity.
Naturally, that innovation creates opportunity for yet more
innovation. Creative spammers devised technology that allows them to
fake their source address; they hijack someone elses legitimate
address to mail spam from and then flee after using it.
Every move generates two countermoves. Every innovation
creates an opportunity for two other innovations to succeed by it.
Every opportunity seized launches at least two new
The entire web is an opportunity dynamo. More than 320
million web pages have been created in the first five years of the
webs existence. Each day 1.5 million new pages of all types are
added. The number of web sitesnow at 1 millionis doubling
every 8 months. (Think lily pond!) A single opportunity seized in 1989
by a bored researcher began this entrepreneurial bloom. It is not the
lily leaf that is expanding now, but the lily pond itself.
The number of opportunities, like the number of ideas, are
limitless. Both are created combinatorially in the way words are. You
can combine and recombine the same 26 letters to write an infinite
number of books. The more components you begin with, the faster the
total possible combinations ramp up to astronomical numbers. Paul Romer,
an economist working on the nature of economic growth, points out that
the number of possible arrangements of bits on a CD is about 10^ billion.
Each arrangement would be a unique piece of software or music. But this
number is so huge there arent enough atoms in the universe to
physically make that many CDs, even subtracting all the duds that are
just random noise.
We can rearrange more than just bits. Think of the mineral
iron oxide, suggests Romer. Its rust. More than 10,000 years ago
our ancestors used iron oxide as a pigment to make art on cave walls.
Now, by rearranging those same atoms into a precisely thin iron oxide
film on plastic we get a floppy disk, which can hold a reproduction of
the same cave paintings, and all the possible permutations of it wrought
by Photoshop. We have amplified the possibilities a millionfold.
The power of combinatorial explosionswhich is what you
get with ideas and opportunitiesmeans, says Romer,
"Theres essentially no scarcity to deal with." Because
the more you use opportunities, the less scarce they get.
Everything we know about the structu
re of the network economy suggests that it will bolster this
efflorescence of opportunities, for the following reasons:
- Every opportunity inhabits a connection. As we connect
up more and more of the world into nodes on a network, we make available
billions more components in the great combinatorial game. The number of
- Networks speed the transmission of opportunities seized
and innovations created, which are disseminated to all parts of the
network and the planet, inviting more opportunities to build upon
Technology is no panacea. It will never solve the ills or
injustices of society. Technology can do only one thing for usbut
it is an astonishing thing: Technology brings us an increase in
Long before Beethoven sat before a piano, someone with twice
his musical talents was born into a world that lacked keyboards or
orchestras. Well never hear his music because technology and
knowledge had not yet uncovered those opportunities. Centuries later the
fulfilled opportunity of musical technology gave Beethoven the
opportunity to be great. How fortunate we are that oil paints had been
invented by the time Van Gogh was ready, or that George Lucas could use
film and computers. Somewhere on Earth today are young geniuses waiting
for a technology that will perfectly match their gifts. If we are lucky,
theyll live long enough for our knowledge and technology to make
the opportunity they need.
Oil paint, keyboard, opera, penall these opportunities
remain. But in addition we have added film, metal work, skyscrapers,
hypertext, and holograms as but a few of the new opportunities for
artistic expression. Each year we add more opportunities of every
stripe. Ways to see. Methods for thinking. Means of amusing. Paths to
health. Routes to understanding.
The Great Asymmetry of economic life ceaselessly amasses new
opportunities while relinquishing few old ones. The one-way journey is
toward more and more possibilities, pointing in more and more
directions, opening more and more new territories.
"A few decades from now there will be ten billion people
on the planet, and sophisticated computers will be cheaper than
transistor radios," writes science fiction writer David Brin in his
manifesto The Transparent Society. "If this combination does
not lead to war and chaos, then it will surely result in a world where
countless men and women swarm the dataways in search of something
special to dosome pursuit outside the normal range, to make each
one feel just a little bit extraordinary. Through the internet, we may
be seeing the start of a great exploration aimed outward in every
conceivable direction of interest or curiosity. An expedition to the
limits of what we are, and what we might become."
As the transmission of knowledge accelerates, as more
possibilities are manufactured, the unabated push of incremental growth
also speeds up. In the long run, creating and seizing opportunities is
what drives the economy. A better benchmark than productivity would be
to measure the number of possibilities generated by a company or
innovation and use the total to evaluate progress.
In the short run, though, problems must be solved. Businesses
are taught that they are in the business of solving problems. Put your
finger on a customers dissatisfaction, the MBAs say, and then
deliver a solution. This bit of hoary advice inspires business to seek
out problems. Problems, however, are entities that dont work. They
are usually situations where the goal is clear but the execution falls
short. As in, "We have a reliability problem," or
"Customers complain about our late delivery." In the words of
Peter Drucker, "Dont solve problems." George Gilder
distills the essence further: "When you are solving problems, you
are feeding your failures, starving your successes, and achieving costly
mediocrity. In a competitive global arena, costly mediocrity goes out of
"Dont solve problems; pursue
Seeking opportunities is no longer wisdom relevant only to
the long cycles of economic progress. As the economy speeds up, so that
an "internet year" seems to pass in one month, the principles
of long-term growth begin to govern the day-to-day economy. The dynamics
of growth become the dynamics of short-term competitive advantage.
In both the short and long term, our ability to solve social
and economic problems will be limited primarily to our lack of
imagination in seizing opportunities, rather than trying to optimize
There is more to be gained by producing more opportunities
than by optimizing existing ones.
Optimization and efficiency die hard. In the past, better
tools made our work more efficient. So economists reasonably expected
that the coming information age would be awash in superior productivity.
Thats what better tools gave us in the past. But, surprisingly,
the technology of computers and networks have not yet led to measurable
increases in productivity.
Increasing efficiency brought us our modern economy. By
producing more output per labor input, we had more goods at cheaper
prices. That raised living standards. The productivity factor is so
fundamental to economic growth that it became the central economic
measurement tracked and perfected by governments. As economist Paul
Krugman once said, "Productivity isnt everything, but in the
long run it is almost everything."
Productivity, however, is exactly the wrong thing to care
about in the new economy.
To measure efficiency you need a uniform output. But uniform
output is becoming rarer in an economy that emphasizes smaller
production runs, total customization, personalized "feelgoods"
and creative innovation. Less and less is uniform.
And machines have taken over the uniform. They love tedious
and measurable work. Constant upgrades enable them to churn out more per
hour. So the only ones who should worry about their own productivity are
those made of ball bearings and rubber hoses. And, in fact, the one area
of the current economy that does show a rise in productivity has been
the U.S. and Japanese manufacturing sectors, which have seen an
approximately 3% to 5% annual increase throughout the 1980s and into the
1990s. This is exactly where you want to find productivity. Each worker,
by supervising machinery and tools, produces more rivets, more
batteries, more shoes, and more items per person-hour. Efficiencies are
Opportunities, on the other hand, are for humans.
Opportunities demand flexibility, exploration, guesswork, curiosity, and
many other qualities humans excel at. By its recursive nature, a network
breeds opportunities, and incidentally, jobs for humans.
Where humans are most actively engaged with their
imaginations, we dont see productivity gainsand why would
we? Is a Hollywood movie company that produces longer movies per dollar
more productive than one that produces shorter movies? Yet an
increasingly greater percentage of work takes place in the information,
entertainment, and communication industries where the "volume"
of output is somewhat meaningless.
The problem with trying to measure productivity is that it
measures only how well people can do the wrong jobs. Any job that can be
measured for productivity probably should be eliminated from the list of
jobs that people do.
The task for each worker in the industrial age was to
discover how to do his job better: thats productivity. Frederick
Taylor revolutionized industry by using his scientific method to
optimize mechanical work. But in the network economy, where machines do
most of the inhumane work of manufacturing, the question for each worker
is not "How do I do this job right?" but "What is the
right job to do?"
Answering this question is, of course, extremely hard to do.
Its called an executive function. In the past, only the top 10% of
the workforce was expected to make such decisions. Now, everyone, not
just executives, must decide what is the right next thing to do.
In the coming era, doing the exactly right next thing is
far more fruitful than doing the same thing better.
But how can one easily measure this vital sense of
exploration and discovery? It will be invisible if you measure
productivity. But in the absence of alternative measures, productivity
has become a bugaboo. It continues to obsess economists because there is
little else they know how to measure consistently.
As bureaucrats continue to measure productivity, they find no
substantial increase in recent decades. This despite $700 billion
invested into computer technology worldwide each year. Millions of
people and companies worldwide purchase computer technology because it
increases the quality of their work, but in the aggregate there is no
record of their benefits in the traditional measurements. This
unexpected finding is called the productivity paradox. As Nobel laureate
Robert Solow once quipped, "Computers can be found everywhere
except in economic statistics."
There is no doubt that many past purchases of computer
systems were bungled, mismanaged, and squandered. Last year 8,000
mainframe computerscomputers with the power of a Unix box and the
price of a large buildingwere sold to customers imprisoned by
legacy systems. IBM alone sold $5 billion worth of mainframes in 1997.
Those billions dont help the efficiency ratings. The year 2000
fiasco is a world-scale screwup that also saps the payoff from
information technology. But according to economic historian Paul David,
it took the smokestack economy 40 years to figure out how to reconfigure
their factories to take advantage of the electric motor, invented in
1881; for the first decade of the changeover productivity actually
decreased. David likes to quip that "In 1900 contemporaries might
well have said that the electric dynamos were to be seen
everywhere but in the economic statistics. " And the
switch to electric motors was simple compared to the changes required by
At this point we are still in just the third decade of the
age of the microprocessor. Productivity will rebound. In a few years it
will "suddenly" show up in elevated percentages. But contrary
to Krugmans assertion, in the long run productivity is almost
nothing. Not because productivity increases wont happen; they
will. But because, like the universal learning curve that brings costs
plunging down, increased productivity is a rote process.
The learning curve of inverted prices was first observed by
T. P. Wright, a legendary engineer who built airplanes after the First
World War. Wright kept records of the numbers of hours it took to
assemble each plane and calculated that the time dropped as the total
number of units completed increased. The more experience assemblers had,
the greater their productivity. At first this was thought to be relevant
only to airplanes, but in the 1970s engineers at Texas Instruments began
applying the rule to semiconductors. Since then the increase of
productivity with experience is seen everywhere. According to Michael
Rothschild, author of Bionomics, "Data proving learning-curve cost
declines have been published for steel, soft contact lenses, life
insurance policies, automobiles, jet engine maintenance, bottle caps,
refrigerators, gasoline refining, room air conditioners, TV picture
tubes, aluminum, optical fibers, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles, steam
turbine generators, ethyl alcohol, beer, facial tissues, transistors,
disposable diapers, gas ranges, float glass, long distance telephone
calls, knit fabric lawn mowers, air travel, crude oil production,
typesetting, factory maintenance, and hydroelectric power."
As the law of increasing productivity per experience was seen
to be universal, another key observation was made: The learning
didnt have to take place within one company. The experience curve
could be seen across whole industries. Easy, constant communication
spreads experience throughout a network, enabling everyones
production to contribute to the learning. Rather than have five
companies each producing 10,000 units, network technologies allow the
five to be virtually grouped so that in effect there is one company
producing 50,000 units, and everyone shares the benefits of experience.
Since there is a 20% drop in cost for every doubling of experience, this
network effect adds up. Advances in network communications, standard
protocols for the transmission of technical data, and the informal, ad
hoc communities of technicians all spread this whirlwind of experience,
and ensures the routine rise of productivity.
Analyst Andrew Kessler of Velocity Capital Management
compares the plummeting of prices due to the universal learning curve to
a low pressure front in the economy. Just as a meterological low
pressure system sucks in weather from the rest of the country, the low
pressure point generated by sinking prices sucks in investments and
entrepreneurial zeal to create opportunities.
Opportunities and productivity work hand in hand much like
the two-step process of variation and death in natural selection. The
primary role that productivity plays in the network economy is to
disperse technologies. A technical advance cannot leverage future
opportunities if it is hoarded by a few. Increased productivity lowers
the cost of acquisition of knowledge, techniques, or artifacts, allowing
more people to have them. When transistors were expensive they were
rare, and thus the opportunities built upon them were rare. As the
productivity curve kicked in, transistors eventually became so cheap and
omnipresent that anyone could explore their opportunities. When ball
bearings were dear, opportunities sired by them were dear. As
communication becomes everywhere dirt cheap and ubiquitous, the
opportunities it kindles will likewise become unlimited.
The network economy is destined to be a fount of routine
productivity. Technical experience can be shared quickly, increasing
efficiencies in automation. The routine productivity of machines,
however, is not what humans want. Instead, what the network economy
demands from us is something that looks suspiciously like waste.
Wasting time and inefficiencies are the way to discovery.
When Condé Nasts editorial director Alexander Liberman was
challenged on his inefficiencies in producing world-class magazines such
The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Architectural
Digest, he said it best: "I believe in waste. Waste is very
important in creativity." Science fiction ace William Gibson
declared the web to be the worlds largest waste of time. But this
inefficiency was, Gibson further noted, its main attraction and
blessing, too. It was the source of art, new models, new ideas,
subcultures, and a lot more. In a network economy, innovations must
first be seeded into the inefficiencies of gift economy to later sprout
in efficiencies of the commerce.
Before the World Wide Web there was Dialog. Dialog was pretty
futuristic. In the 1970s and 80s it was the closest thing to an
electronic library there was, containing the worlds scientific,
scholarly, and journalistic texts. The only problem was its price, $1
per minute. You could spend a lot of money looking things up. At those
prices only serious questions were asked. There was no fooling around,
no making frivolous querieslike looking up your name. Waste was
discouraged. Since searching was sold as a scarcity, there was little
way to master the medium, or to create anything novel.
It takes 56 hours of wasting time on the webclicking
aimlessly through dumb web sites, trying stuff, and making tons of
mistakes and silly requestsbefore you master its search process.
The web encourages inefficiency. It is all about creating opportunities
and ignoring problems. Therefore it has hatched more originality in a
few weeks than the efficiency-oriented Dialog system has in its
lifetime, that is, if Dialog has ever hatched anything novel at all.
The Web is being run by 20-year-olds because they can afford
to waste the 56 hours it takes to become proficient explorers. While
45-year-old boomers cant take a vacation without thinking how
theyll justify the trip as being productive in some sense, the
young can follow hunches and create seemingly mindless novelties on the
web without worrying about whether they are being efficient. Out of
these inefficient tinkerings will come the future.
Faster than the economy can produce what we want, we are
exploring in every direction, following every idle curiosity, and
inventing more wants to satisfy. Like everything else in a network, our
wants are compounding exponentially.
Although at some fundamental level our wants connect to our
psyches, and each desire can be traced to some primeval urge, technology
creates ever new opportunities for those desires to find outlets and
form. Some deep-rooted human desires found expression only when the
right technology came along. Think of the ancient urge to fly, for
KLM, the official Dutch airline, sells a million dollars
worth of tickets per year to people who fly trips to nowhere. Customers
board the plane on whatever international flight KLM has extra seats on,
and make an immediate round-trip flight, returning without leaving the
airport at the other end. The flight is like a high-tech cruise, where
duty-free shopping and simply flying in a 737 at a steep discount is the
attraction. Where did this want come from? It was created by
Finance writer Paul Pilzer notes perceptively that "When
a merchant sells a consumer a new Sony Walkman for $50, he is in fact
creating far more demand than he is satisfyingin this case a
continuing and potentially unlimited need for tape cassettes and
batteries." Technology creates our needs faster than it satisfies
Needs are neither fixed nor absolute. Instead they are fluid
and reflexive. The father of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, claims that
his passion for inventing VR systems came from a long-frustrated urge to
play "air guitar"to be able to wave his arms and have
music emanate from his motions. Anyone with access to a VR arcade can
now have that urge satisfied, but it is a want that most people would
have never recognized until they immersed themselves into virtual
reality gear. It was certainly not a primary want that Plato would have
At one time a useful distinction was made in economics
between "primary" needs such as food and clothing, and all
other wants and preferences, which were termed "luxuries."
Advertising is undoubtedly guilty, as critics charge, of creating
desires. At first these manufactured desires were for luxuries. But the
reach of technology is deep. Sophisticated media technology first
creates desires for luxuries; then technology transforms those luxuries
into primary necessities.
A dry room with running water, electric lights, a color TV,
and a toilet are considered so elementary and primary today that we
outfit jail cells with this minimum technology. Yet three generations
ago, this technology would have been officially classified as outright
luxurious, if not frivolous. In the governments eyes 93% of
Americans officially classified as living in poverty have a color TV,
and 60% have a VCR and a microwave. Poverty is not what it used to be.
Technological knowledge constantly ups the ante. Most Americans today
would find living without a refrigerator and telephone to be primitive,
indeed. These items were luxuries only 60 years ago. At this point an
automobile of ones own is considered a primary survival need of
"Need" is a loaded word. The key point in economic
terms is that each actualization of a desirethat is, each new
service or productforms a platform from which other possible
activities can be imagined and desired. Once technology satisfies the
opportunity to fly, for instance, flying produces new desires: to eat
while flying, to fly by oneself to work each day, to fly faster than
sound, to fly to the moon, to watch TV while flying. Once technology
satisfies the desire to watch TV while flying, our insatiable
imagination hungers to be able to watch a video of our own choosing, and
to not see what others watch. That dream, too, can be actualized by
technical knowledge. Each actualization of an idea supplies room for
more technology, and each new technology supplies room for more ideas.
They feed on each other, rounding faster and faster.
This ever-extending loop whereby technology generates
demand, and then supplies the technology to meet those demands is the
origin of progress. But it is only now being viewed as such. In
classical economicsbased on the workings of the brick and
smokestacktechnology was a leftover. To explain economic growth,
economists tallied up the effects of the traditional economic
ingredients such as labor, capital, and inventory. This aggregate became
the equation of growth. Whatever growth was not explained by those was
attributed to a residual category: technology. Technology was thus
defined as outside the economic engine. It was also assumed to be a
fixed quantitysomething that didnt really change itself.
Then in 1957 Robert Solow, an economist working at MIT, calculated that
technology is responsible for about 80% of growth.
We see now, particularly with the advent of the network
economy, that technology is not the residual, but the dynamo. In the new
order, technology is the Prime Mover.
Our minds will at first be bound by old rules of economic
growth and productivity. Listening to the technology can loose them.
Technology says, rank opportunities before efficiencies. For any
individual, organization, or country the key decision is not how to
raise productivity by doing the same better, but how to negotiate among
the explosion of opportunities, and choose right things to do.
The wonderful news about the network economy is that it plays
right into human strengths. Repetition, sequels, copies, and automation
all tend toward the free and efficient, while the innovative, original,
and imaginativenone of which results in efficiencysoar in
Why cant a machine do this? If there is pressure
to increase the productivity of human workers, the serious question to
ask is, why cant a machine do this? The fact that a task is
routine enough to be measured suggests that it is routine enough to go
to the robots. In my opinion, many of the jobs that are being fought
over by unions today are jobs that will be outlawed within several
generations as inhumane.
Scout for upside surprises. The qualities needed to
succeed in the network economy can be reduced to this: a facility for
charging into the unknown. Disaster lurks everywhere, but so do
unexpected bonanzas. But the Great Asymmetry ensures that the upside
potential outweighs the downside, even though nine out of ten tries will
fail. Upside benefits tend to cluster. When there are two, there will be
more. A typical upside surprise is an innovation that satisfies three
wants at once, and generates five new ones, too.
Maximize the opportunity cascade. One opportunity
triggers another. And then another. Thats a rifle-shot opportunity
burst. But if one opportunity triggers ten others and those ten others
after, its an explosion that cascades wide and fast. Some seized
opportunities burst completely laterally, multiplying to the hundreds of
thousands in the first generationand then dry up immediately.
Think of the pet rock. Sure, it sold in the millions, but then what?
There was no opportunity cascade. The way to determine the likelihood of
a cascade is to explore the question: How many other technologies or
businesses can be started by others based on this opportunity?