Is TED becoming another online filter bubble by censoring Nick Hanauer?

As a TED-junkie I was a bit disappointed when I received an email from a friend who informed me that a Nick Hanauer‘s TED-talk had been “banned” from the TED web site.

What’s going on? Is TED turning into yet another online filter bubble where the TED staff decides which talks are appropriate for its online audience based on what they think the audience wants to hear? Did someone powerful enough dislike the talk so much that he or she forced TED to remove the talk? Or is this just some self censorship going on? I guess we’ll never know since Chris Andersson, curator of TED, apparently didn’t want to comment on the subject.

Now, banning the talk from the official ted.com site of course doesn’t mean that the talk is unavailable online – you just have to watch it on YouTube instead.

So what is this controversial talk about? Well, Nick is talking about one of the most politically sensitive subjects in the US; taxation of the rich – the capitalists.

He’s also talking about the relationship between wealth and job creation, since a lot of (mostly rich) people argue that the more wealthy capitalists a country has the more jobs will be created (actively by the wealthy capitalists). The reasoning goes something like this; the wealthier a capitalist gets the more he or she will invest in new companies and thus new jobs will be created.

When one first hears this argument it sounds quite reasonable, but one important factor is forgotten about and that is basically the main point of Nick’s talk; without enough consumers (with enough money to spend) there is no need for a capitalist to start a new company since no one will be able to buy the products or services the new company produces. Nick compares this to a complex eco system where everything depends on something else – remove something and everything will be affected.

Nick also made a very funny and insightful remark about the capitalists view on job creation; a capitalist sees hiring someone as a last resort – they only hire new people if it’s absolutely necessary to do so. If they are forced to do so.

There are a few other potential problems with the relationship between wealthy capitalists and job creation:

– Wealthy capitalists often prefer to invest their money in the financial sector instead of starting new companies, for example buy buying stocks, bonds, etc. There are many reasons for this, but if you have a lot of money it’s often easier since starting new companies doesn’t require that much money and often takes a very long time to generate profit.

– Wealthy capitalists often prefer to create jobs in low wage countries rather than their own , so why should the people of their own country subsidize their activities by allowing them to pay as little tax as possible?

– Wealthy capitalists pay as low wages as possible, often forcing people to take multiple jobs and thus increasing competition for jobs among the workers. In effect this might mean that even though more jobs are created, fewer people are employed!

Let’s return to taxes for a short while since I’m currently reading the book “Dead Aid” by Dambisa Moyo and one of the most intriguing things mentioned so far in the book is the relationship between taxes, the government and the people of a country. My interpretation of what she writes is this:

– In a well functioning country both the people and the government respect each other and know that they are dependent on each other.

– The people thinks it’s ok to pay (high) taxes since they know the government will spend the country’s money wisely and thus the people will benefit from it.

– The government realises that they are dependent on the people to get the money the require to build the country they want and thus have to spend (enough of) the country’s money on things that benefit the people.

A similar reasoning can probably be used for wages, capitalists and workers where each part realises that they need each other and capitalists understand they have to pay quite high wages in order to get consumers with money to spend on the products the capitalists produce. The workers understand that they cannot have too high wages since the company wouldn’t survive and then they would lose their jobs.

Just like the eco system Nick is talking about!

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“Shared value” as a fix to capitalism?

Since I recently have become interested in the future of economic systems and our societies themselves, my better half showed me a video interview with Michael Porter where he presents his ideas (nicknamed CSV, Creating Shared Value) on how to “fix capitalism” by focusing on the real needs of the society and the people in a society. In the interview and the article which is the base for the interview, he argues that there are huge untapped profits to be found for companies focusing on these “new areas” of capitalism.

Skärmavbild 2013-01-05 kl. 03.02.42

I really liked a lot of what he said and was actually surprised to hear these thoughts from a Harvard professor since Harvard isn’t known for caring about people and the society but rather caring only for businesses and their needs. I was even more surprised when I found out that Michael apparently has a strong following among many of the world’s largest corporations which means that his ideas can potentially have a big impact!

I was very disappointed though when he was asked to give a concrete example of this paradigm shift and he started to talk about fair trade involving a poor farmer somewhere in the world. He said that instead of focusing on giving the farmer a bigger piece of the pie in order to improve the farmer’s profit as fair trade works today, a company should focus on creating a bigger pie and thus improve the farmer’s profit by expanding the farmer’s business. He also argued that the company should help the farmer improve his production and quality in order to be able to sell the farmer’s goods at a higher price.

This is easier said than done since it would not only require existing customers to pay more for the company’s products, but it would also require the company to find completely new customers who are willing to pay the new higher price.

Overall a pretty bad example for such a new groundbreaking idea!

When I’m reflecting on these things, I instead usually try to envision a situation like this: Identify a real problem, like bringing cheap electricity to developing countries. Spend the company’s money on finding the best solutions for the problem, focusing on the needs of the people and the society where the problem exists and don’t forget about the environment! After this, educate the people on how to use the products, and even how to manufacture/assemble them and do maintenance on them – involve the society and they will reward you handsomely by becoming loyal!

So how does the company make money from this? Well, for example, all components in a solar power plant (big or small) will probably not be possible, or even meaningful, to manufacture locally. This enables the company to sell those components to this completely new market! The company will make more money by finding a new market and the people “in need” will get an improved situation in life both by having a major problem solved and by getting a new source of income through their newly started solar energy company!

A traditional, capitalistic, profit focused company would of course try to get as much profit as much possible from this critical component, but that is just stupid since it probably would kill the new market instantly. It would probably also try to protect this component with their life and crack down on pirated versions on the component, etc. What the company instead should focus on is building relationships with these new customers by helping them rather than fighting them in every possible way. This again created loyal customers, and loyal customers is the best asset any company can have – just look at Apple!

I think there are far reaching positive effects from acting like this. Not only will the company get a new market, loyal customers, a lot of goodwill, etc. but the company will also get a lot of new experiences and knowledge. I think this is real “shared value” – by giving something away you can get more! In the solar energy example, the company will have to produce more of the critical component and the increased production will probably lead to lower production costs which in turn might lead to higher profit in the established markets or a lower price and thus an improved competitive position.

When researching this blog post I quickly stumbled upon Steve Denning’s article where he criticises Porter’s idea quite intensely. Denning’s article is very insightful and I especially appreciated the references to similar historical “new ideas” which were embraced by big companies but typically only made the management consultants richer. Some of the comments to Denning’s article are also quite good.

So is “shared value” (in its broadest mean) a “fix for capitalism”? Well, it depends on how you define capitalism. In general capitalism is about maximizing profit and guaranteeing a modest increase of wealth (typically around 3% per year) and using that definition I don’t think it will fix capitalism. But if you’re interested in making the world a richer place (in its broadest mean) instead of just making the company and its shareholders rich I think it is a good idea.

Realizing that you can get further by sharing is such a basic concept so why just restrict the profit sharing to your current shareholders – why not include the whole world?

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Life in the “developed” world

Many years ago I heard a statement along the lines of “In the stone age people spent about four hours a day finding food [and doing other things required to survive]”. That immediately got me to think about how much time people in modern societies spend on “finding food”. Since hearing it, it has also been my favourite reason for thinking that something in our modern “developed” society is horribly wrong.

Most of us work eight hours a day and if you include the trips to and from work it easily becomes nine to ten hours a day. This means stone age people spent 28 hours per week “working” (four hours a day, seven days a week) while modern men spend 45-50 hours a week (nine to ten hours per day, five days a week). To put it simple, the stone age people only worked half as much as we do today – for the first time it seems as if things actually were better in the past!

ImageA few days ago I decided to search for the source of the statement and it seems to originate from Marshall Sahlins book “Stone age economics” published in 1972. The Wikipedia article on “Original Affluent Society“, which talks about the book, also came up high in the search results and sums up Sahlins’ theory by saying that hunter-gatherer societies were living affluent lives with plenty of leisure time rather than hard lives where they were constantly striving to survive:

“Sahlins argues that hunter-gatherer and western societies take separate roads to affluence, the former by desiring little, the latter by producing much.”

This idea of course appealed to me since I like simplicity and desiring little is much simpler than producing much.

Humans need food and water to survive and we of course have to work a little to acquire both, but isn’t it reasonable to think that the more “developed” a society is, the simpler it should be to fulfill these basic needs? If so, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction, since people seems to be working more than ever in these times even though we have access to highly advanced technology and think we are very efficient in producing food.

What’s even worse is that the time we spend at work isn’t enough to survive – it’s merely a means for acquiring the money required to actually buy the food and water we need!

Of course, the money we get from working is also used for all the other stuff we “need”. No, food and water are far from enough for modern men! There are so many things we “need” nowadays. Things worth working hard for it seems since we typically spend 40-45% of our awake time working (based on nine to ten hour work days and eight hours sleep per night). Stone age people only spent 25% of their awake time working (based on four hour work days).

If you start looking at the required “supporting activities” of working things get even worse. Things like taking our kids to kindergarten or school, waking up or going to bed at unnatural times, thus disrupting our natural sleep patterns which in turn probably leads to negative stress and inefficiency.

What I’m trying to say will all this is that truly developed societies should aim for as short working days as possible in order to get as much leisure time as possible. This leisure time should be spent on what we want instead of just on what we need. Spending time with our loved ones, playing and exercising, reflecting on things and “evolving” ourself and our societies. And let’s not forget: having fun!

I wonder what people in the “primitive” societies did with all their leisure time? Nobody knows, but judging from some of the artifacts still remaining from their cultures it seems as if they reflected on important things ranging from the wonders of nature like astronomy or the healing powers of herbs to how to build pyramids!

What do modern people in developed societies do with their very precious and hard earned leisure time? Watching funny clips on YouTube? Updating their statuses on facebook? Buying more stuff they don’t need?

The funny thing is that youngsters often get the advice to choose a fun education and try to get a job which matches their interests rather than just getting any job. This is a great idea since if everyone would be paid to do what they want we have managed to eliminate work and offering everyone 100% leisure time! 🙂

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Strange coincidences

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My three and a half year old son loves a special type of bread (depicted to the left) made by the Swedish company Polarbröd.

Now, a few days ago a friend of mine informed me that the very same company has announced the first winner of their newly established prize Utstickarpriset.

In their original press release they defined the prize as follows:

(In Swedish)

“Utstickarpriset är ett erkännande av modiga människor som går sin egen väg och visar hänsyn och handlingskraft, nytänkande och uthållighet.”

(In English, by Google Translate)

“Utstickarpriset is a recognition of the brave people who go their own way and show respect and energy, innovation and sustainability.”

Note: The word “utstickare” loosely means someone who “stands out” in Swedish, but it’s apparently also a job description in the bread baking business.

Now to the strange coincedence. This year’s winner is Margrit Kennedy and Bernard Lietaer who according to the press release from December 4, 2012, get the prize for:

(In Swedish)

“sitt mod att våga sticka ut genom att ifrågasätta något så grundläggande som pengarnas funktion.”

(In English, by myself)

“their courage to stand out by questioning something as fundamental as the function of money”

When I read this announcement I was just in the process of collecting my own thoughts in order to be able to write my first blog post in a series on the very same subject – isn’t that a strange coincidence?

Both Margrit and Bernard are totally unknown to me, but I of course got very interested in who they are, their work and their ideas after reading about them on Wikipedia. Margrit’s most famous book Interest and Inflation Free Money: Creating an Exchange Medium That Works for Everybody and Protects the Earth is freely available to read, or download after registration, on issuu.com. I have downloaded a copy and will try to read it as soon as possible.

All this reminds me of the situation when you have just learned a new word and you start seeing it everywhere. It was there all the time, but you just didn’t notice it because your mind was closed, or even worse, you never even noticed it since your mind filtered it away. When you think about it, this isn’t just true for words, but for everything – a lot things is going on all around you without you ever noticing it.

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The enigma of money

stack of dollar billsAs a formerly convinced “capitalist” and “market economist”, I was a bit surprised, or even shocked, when I quite recently realised that I had never tried to understand economics and money – the very foundations of my conviction. To be honest, I never even realised that there was something to be understood. I had just taken it all for granted; the value of money, supply and demand, paid work (salaries), interest on saved and borrowed money, etc. – the dogma of my belief.

This is not like me at all. Normally I have a hard time accepting or believing anything without understanding the basics of it. So what went wrong this time? The convenient answer is that these subjects are not taught properly in schools or passed down between generations (any longer). A less convenient answer is that I have kept my eyes (and my mind) closed.

A couple of years ago something happened. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it finally opened my mind. What really made me start thinking about all of this, though, were the Zeitgeist movie trilogy. These highly controversial movies are heavily biased, full of wild theories, speculations and interpretations and even contain plainly incorrect statements, but all of it is presented in a very convincing way. When you think about it, it’s not too different from how things are taught in academics and religion…

enigma_large

Confronted with the, for me, radically new perspective of resource based economy as an alternative to the currently reigning scarcity based economy and the idea that all people on Earth – rich and poor – probably could live a richer and more equal life than we do today, I felt compelled to understand money and economics. My first steps included some excursions into the Illuminati conspiracy theories and the mythical fractional reserve banking to see if anything worthwhile could be gleaned from them, but it wasn’t until I read David Harvey’s book The Enigma of Capital (which also inspired the title of this blog post) that I got a first glimpse into how everything (society, nature, etc.) is related and interconnected.

secrets of the temple

I continued my journey by reading William Greider‘s book The Secrets of the Temple, which tells a fascinating story of how the American economy evolved during the period of roughly 1850 to 1985, with a focus on the The Federal Reserve – the central bank of America – and it’s unique role in the country.

It gives insights into the experiments conducted by – and on (by the government and the FED) – the American people during this period, ranging from details like different taxation systems/rates and farming cooperatives to major things like political directions (from the quite far left to the very far right). It also quite clearly exposes that even people who have studied and practiced national economy for a long time don’t know how the system as a whole – the society – functions and therefore often have a hard time predicting how a change will affect the economy.

four horsemen

A friend of mine warns me of getting caught up in studies like these – diving into the details and mechanics of the current systems – since it might be a side track that prohibits you from seeing the bigger picture – the really important things in life. I guess it’s my engineer soul which lures me into this, so it’s good to be pushed in a more philsophical direction once in a while to get the balance right. However, after watching the Four Horsemen (available on UR Play for Swedish readers), my studies don’t feel just as wasted any longer, since, apart from presenting a lot of interesting information and views on our current economic system, it contains a quote that goes something like this: “to understand something is to be liberated from it”.

After this lengthy introduction it’s time for me to return to the title of this post – the enigma of money. The question I’m trying to find an answer to now, after stepping back and trying to focus on the bigger picture instead of the details, is how it’s possible for money to be such a powerful driving force in our society considering that it basically is worthless?

I think that money, and the eternal struggle for it in order to “survive”, is just a distraction which have been created by us humans (humanity as a whole) to offer a path – a meaning to our lives. A reason for getting up in the morning and doing something. Most modern people struggle to find a meaning if no clear path is offered to them and therefore one has been created – get an education, get a job and start earning money. The strange thing about this path versus other paths like religion, is that it is enforced upon us. We cannot choose not to believe in money – everyone in a society has to accept it and work hard for it. A more conspiratorial view is that money has been created to control people, forcing the masses to do the bidding of the elite.

The sad thing about this path is that it leaves a lot of people feeling meaningless, since it only offers a clear direction for the first 20-30 years in life and for some even shorter than that, depending on when they “wake up”. Once you have gotten an education, a job, earned your first money, had a little fun with it by consuming stuff that you “want” and “need”, you are left on your own devices. Most people – sooner or later – come to the point where they ask themselves “Now what?” Was this all? Spending all your life just saving/investing money or consuming stuff just isn’t enough for everyone.

The mind boggling thing is this: Considering that money in itself is worthless – you cannot do anything with it by itself since it’s just pieces of paper or numbers in an account – was money really required to build the modern cities which many of us enjoy, provide us with easy access to water and food, find cures to diseases, fly to the moon, build the Internet, etc.?

The follow up question is, how many people are really and truly motivated by money? Would it be impossible to find people who want to build a spacecraft or search for a cure for cancer if money didn’t exist? Probably not. Would it be impossible to find people who want to do the “dirty work” – taking care of garbage, drilling for oil in harsh climates, etc. – which is required in our current society Probably so.

So, how did we get here and is there an alternative way forward? That’s probably the subject of my next post.

 

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Playing makes exercising fun – even kids know it! ;)

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Last year I discovered MovNat training and immediately fell in love with it. Mainly because it’s a really liberating way to exercise and improve your physical skills, but also because this is how I have always wanted to train – jumping over stuff while running, climbing in trees, jumping down from high objects, etc. 

Wanted is an important word here, since this isn’t how I have trained before discovering MovNat. Sure, I’ve happily jumped over branches, stones and other objects while running in the woods or jumping over low objects while running in the city, but I have always been a bit of a coward when it comes to performing more “dangerous” physical movements and activities like climbing in trees. I have always felt like I needed instruction (and supervision) to try some of the more advanced movements.

That’s why I became very happy when a MovNat workshop was announced to take place in Stockholm (where I live). Finally I would get the instruction I felt that I needed! I immediately signed up and after a long wait finally attended the workshop last weekend. It was a beautiful end of the summer day – no rain at all! – and we were around twenty people who learned how to stand properly (posture), walking appropriately in an different situations, walking and turning while balancing on fallen trees, climbing stuff, jumping, etc. 

As it turned out, I wasn’t as depending on instruction as I thought I was. The workshop was great and I learned a lot of new things, but during my year of experimenting on my own – inspired by the wonderful MovNat videos – I had learned a lot more than I thought and have actually become a lot less of a coward and have been filled with quite a deal of confidece. What a great feeling! All thanks to the wonders of YouTube 🙂

What really made me realise what a great way to exercise this is wasn’t the workshop though. It wasn’t my own experiences in the woods, beaches and outdoor gyms, it wasn’t the beautiful videos, but an encounter with a couple of kindergarten kids at a playground today!

I work in the city, but some days I take a long lunch break and run 2 km (barefoot through the city streets, of course) to a nice area in the outskirts of Stockholm city called Vanadislunden. Today was such a day.

In Vanadislunden you can easily perform a lot of MovNat inspired training. Climbing small cliffs(!), precision jumping up some very very long outdoor granite stairs, climbing trees, lifting and moving heavy stones, etc.

However, there is also a small playground filled with typical playground things which most kids enjoy. This day, a couple of kindergarten kids showed up with their teacher while I was hanging upside down on the playground bars. Some of the boys immediately spotted me and happily shouted things like “Look at him! “What is he doing?” I continued my training and they continued to comment what I was doing!

Soon I found myself surrounded by four or five kids bombarding me with questions “What are you doing?” “Can you do it again?” “Why are you hanging upside down?” “How can you lift that heavy stone?” They also started to play themself, climbing the bars, rolling/somersaulting in the sand, jumping from stones, etc. They became really excited and wanted me to show them more stuff!

If a bunch of happy, excited and curious kids isn’t an evidence of a natural training method I don’t know what is! 🙂

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A recipie for happiness?

Nothing worth blogging about has happened in my life since my last post. Until now. And now I understand why. I have been too busy. Working too hard. Spending too little time thinking.

Of course, it was a TED-talk – this time from psychologist Shawn Achor – which made me think. My favourite quote from the talk probably is

Not just how to move people up to the average, but how to move the entire average up.

which he mentions while talking about how it’s the anomalies that are really worth studying and how that’s how you discover new things. In todays society, we often tend to focus on the normal and how to make everyone fit the same mold. The only problem with the normal is that is normal because it’s average. Think about it, most people say “I’m rather normal” which has a good ring to it, but how would it sound to say “I’m rather average” – quite a difference, right? Doesn’t sound very positive, does it? I don’t think many people would call themselves average, even though it basically means the same thing as normal.

The part of his talk which really got to me though was

First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades […] And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there.

Why did this get my attention? Well, for starters, it’s about education – my pet peeve – and secondly, I recognised myself completely in it. During my “higher education” in high school and at the university I felt a need to get good grades, really good grades. I never thought about why back then, it was just something you should do. Study hard to get a good future and then become happy, I guess.

The only problem was that it very quickly became meaningless. Achieving good grades, that is. It became mechanical. No feelings involved what so ever. Sure, it was… fun(?) to learn new things and the good grades became a tangible result of this, but it never made me feel successful. Never made me feel happy. Not then and not afterwards. It was just hard work and a lot of stress.

During his research, Shawn discovered the same thing while studying students at the prestigious Harvard university.

 And what I found in my research and my teaching is that these students, no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privilege of being there, nor on their philosophy or their physics. Their brain was focused on the competition, the workload, the hassles, the stresses, the complaints.

Isn’t this sad and once again an example of how schools – even the “best” ones – absolutely kill creativity and take the fun out of learning?

So, why should we focus on becoming happy instead of just successful? Well, because it will allow us to “move the entire average up”.

Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.

“Having fun” just doesn’t make you happier, it also makes you smarter! That’s really amazing! The only problem for me, is his recipie for how to get there. How to become more positive and thus happier.

We’ve done these things in research now in every single company that I’ve worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they’re grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.

For a cynic like myself, this recipie sounds all too easy – like all those “Teach yourself X in 21 days” books – and something that might work for average people, but not for people who tend to think and analyse too much. People like myself. But I’ll give it a go, starting right now:

Three things I am grateful for today:

1. My wonderful 45 minute training session in the sun down at the beach close to where I live. Running barefoot 1 km to the beach and then playing(!) MovNat-style at the beach for about half an hour before running home again felt absolutely great. Thinking about it, natural exercise has similar effects to what Shawn is talking about. Playing on a beach is quite a different exercise compared to sitting in a machine in a gym.

2. Sitting in the sofa reading books with my three year old son.

3. Eating half a pack of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream.

Wow, wasn’t that hard. Will be interesting to see how tomorrow goes – a normal Monday at work where I will spend the whole afternoon looking at my watch in order to not forget about time and become late to pick up my son from kindergarten.

See you in 21 days! 🙂

 

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