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We Don’t Need You!

The 21CN has established consumerism as a significant cornerstone in social and economic development. It has been identified as a key global growth factor and as such is widely adapted by veteran capitalism countries, as well as many of the new emerging world forces in China and India. Sadly, the negative effects it has on the environment and sustainability are widely documented , and so is the damaging impact on our well-being, such as from the institute of well being or from consumercide (The New Politics of Consumption: Why Americans want so much more than they need). The observer from March-2010 quotes a research from the Economic Journal by Curtis Eaton and Mukesh Eswaran:

There is another downside. As people yearn for more status symbols they have less time or inclination for helping others. This, the authors argue, damages “community and trust”, which are vital to an economy because they ensure the smooth running of society. They conclude: “Conspicuous consumption can have an impact not only on people’s well-being but also on the growth prospects of the economy.” The theory may go some way to explaining the public backlash against the louche lifestyles of the UK’s footballers, bankers and politicians.

So, to counter those harmful aspects, organizations such as Ethical Consumer have put their mission to offer alternatives.

I Shop

As far as my contribution, perhaps looking slightly at a bigger picture, I will outline in this post, 7 consumptions sins: seven things you don’t really need. Yes, really. No, you don’t need any of those.

With no particular order:

  1. Branded Clothes – From Naomi Klein‘s “No Logo”, to stores that sell unbranded clothes, this phenomenon is not new. You want to belong, and be unique, so you buy your jeans at Levi’s or Diesel, and feel you achieve this balance. You should know better and perhaps  join the scouts, and likely learn more about sharing, teamwork, togetherness, and being part of something bigger than you; while still having lots of fun in the meantime. So have clothes you like and can afford, and I did not even start to mention they will often be more comfortable. Let’s get back on track –
  2. Latest and Greatest (aka Gadgets) – If you are one of those people with iPad  considering an upgrade to iPad 2, this is a must read for you. You may ponder on this – coming form a Technology guy or at least one pretending to be such, it may initially sound shocking. In fact, it shouldn’t. I know that from any 10 new ideas I have, 8 tend to be on the rubbish side, 1 is OKish, and one may be worthwhile (I flattered myself, I know). Your percentile may vary, but you get the idea. Sometimes to get to the quality, you need to keep the flow of quantity running. When I did copyrighting school, the most important lesson for me was the association game: throw more and more ideas into the room, zoom in and out, play with them preferably with a team, gather the ones that best fit the brief, make it happen. Sometimes combine few, sometimes you will inspire others, or be inspired by others. The floor will be full of walked on garbage ideas. So, what is that all nostalgia reminiscence? Maybe, instead of throwing the shitty gadgets you are bound to be buying acquiring all those latests, don’t get them to begin with! You can always get later the ones that stick around, that really make an impact on your life, that make a difference to your relationships, to people that matter to you. Use the passing time to your advantage and get proportion. Indeed, you may want to be first, so you can have those bragging rights. Alas my friend, bragging is another thing you don’t really need…
  3. Bragging Rights (and Show Off in general) – Whenever you need something external to make you feel good about yourself, halt. You are doing something wrong. This may be the part of your Ego that is not helping you. You give one of your best assets, the control on your happiness and well being, to something you do not control. It’s often a big mistake. It will lead you to reliance upon that external substance. Something that can be taken away from you. Replace it with inner strength. Easier said than done, I agree. But a good clue is to avoid any bragging, any show off, any status symbols, anything that smells “I’m better because I have it and you don’t”. You are very important because you mean a lot to the few people that care about you. Nothing else. And while we are on external substances…
  4. Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and other addictions – Unless your name is Jane, those are a no no. They take away your second vital asset: short span of time you were given by mighty ____ (feel up based on your religion or beliefs). Some even take your free will so in the name of freedom you willingly take yours away, dominate your thoughts (e.g. getting more of the substance) and replace your needs with new illusions of perceived needs. Do you really want perceived needs when you already have real ones? RIP Amy.
  5. Gambling – A close relative of above, as a common addiction – but with a slight addition to being evil and destructive: it is mathematically proven wrong doing, manipulating lots of hard earn cash to make profits for those that already have too much sins commited. It is sponsoring criminals and Mafia. Who else needs a Wonga.com paying 4200% interest for 400 GBP (max) for a month, if not a mind-stolen gambling junkie? Evil services from the dark side, even Darth Vader would fear.
  6. Guilt & Greed“What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”. Well, slightly beyond the scope for this post, we sometimes carry those emotional feelings, in as much as we carry fear, lack of confidence, envy – to name just a few. To a certain extent all of those are not needed, but they do serve as some kind of a warning sign, and in moderation can turn the wheel in your favour and have positive outcomes. Fear can direct you away from trouble, and envy can perhaps give you motivation for initiative. Even guilt, a voice from your conscious, or greed, an act of ambition, can sometimes drive you to the right track. The reason I chose carefully guilt and greed, is because they have a dimension directly linked to buying things. Guilt often causes you to compensate. And compensation is not as pure, and as fitting, as the original causality. Buying excessive toys to kids because you do not spend any time with them, is an example of the former. Greed is the fundamental drive causing you to need things you do not need. So eliminating one bird, will cause the whole tree to fall. Or something like that. I’m pretty sure there was another bird somewhere, originally. But we don’t need it either.
  7. Big Weddings – Something that is almost a plague in my homeland. And I do not mean,  to those that can afford it. It is those couples that struggle to have or rent a home, do not get a lot of help from their parents, their current work income is hardly sufficient to their basic needs, yet they spend a fortune inviting 600-800 people some of which they hardly know, with expensive catering, bar (in my country it is usually free for the guests – here in UK that is almost suicidal…), exquisite scenery and location, music, dresses and cloth, flowers and décor, invitations, party theme, lavish car to pick the newly wed, a top photographer… it is endless. In the name of “our life are going to be tough so at least we make one day perfect”, the young couple throws themselves down many a steps in the ladder, they will than need few years just to get back to where they were. Extremely short term satisfaction never lasts  (if at all, many a times it is another case of bragging, hiding the real situation, or pseudo-satisfaction meaning external show off rather than a real intrinsic one). I’m all for experiences in general, and they prove to be more valuable to ones long term mental health than consuming things, but this is more about consuming artificial commodities in the experience.  You can make a lifelong shining experience, by focusing on the things you do need in your wedding: relations, friends, party atmosphere, fun. Everything can be reconsidered to fit your budget and needs, helping you to start your life as a couple on a positive note (and positive balance). Your real friends will want this for you as well.
  8. Bonus – Too long posts by people that tell you what you need and what you don’t need – they make me sick. In fact, I’m sick. I wonder why.
So what do you actually do need? This is surely deserving it’s own discussion, and I promise a separate follow up post sometime, but if you have basic roof and security, you surround yourself with loving friends and family, go outside, choose the positive options life present you, engage your body and your mind often, use your imagination, and have something significant to your life: you cannot be too far off the track.

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Is Modesty the Best Policy?

Recently in a reality celebrity show, the celebrity playmate had to help raise money for a charity, and failed to secure the right amount. The host asked her if she had called Hugh Hefner, and to his disbelief she said No. Attacking with “You could secure that amount there and then easily”, she replied – “I wanted to keep the big cannons for later rounds”. But unfortunately for her, there were no such later rounds, as is the nature of reality shows loses.

So, should we fire all our guns on the first round?

Quite often, one has to present himself to others; whether in a date, conference, job interview or party: you are expected to share something about yourself.

Depending on the circumstances, you may have plenty or no time at all. Equally, depending on your confidence, past accomplishments, and general character,  it may be easy or difficult for you, to to fill that time with self praising.

Pushing it slightly, are those two approaches:

  • Type 1 – Those that speak in details about everything they have done, mentioning every trophy, accolade, and award from kindergarden to current times, dropping names as they go by, and essentially bombarding with “look at me and what I have done”.
  • Type 2 – The other side of the spectrum, almost shying away from anything that can be considered vanity, and when cornered to say something on their achievements, they attribute it to their teams and peers, environment, or pure luck.

This seems to suggest that the formers – are the successful people, and the latter ones – failures. Is that so?
Before I try to answer this, let’s move through time forward, and foresee a possible 7th meeting with that same person, way past the initial acquaintance and into some form of more established relationships: friend, colleague, peer or such. The situation now is different, and often calls for different conversation type:

  • Balance – sharing comes from both sides, one has to blend speaking with listening.
  • Steam  – did you stretched and tell everything on your first meetings, forced now to share dust bits as you are running out of steam; or do you still have plenty of gems, you did not fully reveal on the initial instances, perhaps until developing some trust?
  • Trait – perhaps indeed the one with all the stories, can back it up time and time again with more of those, truly being a good story teller and over achiever; and the silent lamb has indeed nothing but “Baaaah Baaaah” (or “Meeeeh Meeeeh”, depending on your culture) beneath his sleeves.

Obviously, a 7th meeting will be a telltale. But having no such luxury, we are back to the first meeting, so here is my simple rules or formula to resolve it, that you can refine to meet your experiences:

  1. Assume all people are type 1 or 2, so there is nothing in the middle.
  2. Assume type 1 “real” achievements are 50% of what they tell you (e.g. divide by 2), where type 2 ones are actually doubled to 200% (e.g. multiply by 2)

That’s all – these are the views you are forecasted to have on that 7th meeting.
The logic behind the first rule, is that often in such first meetings, the tension of the circumstances accentuate natural character traits, so even if you are just slightly leaning towards one side, it will exponentially multiply. So by simply taking this all the way, you get at a  reasonable assumption, plus the triviality of those rules is easy to follow.
The reasoning for the second rule, is that it is still possible for modest people to just have nothing, and vane people to have it all – you just need to modify their own “perceived” value, typically bloated for type 1, and “shrunk” for type 2, to the reality.


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Global Carrier PrePay

Some ideas are stupid. Mine have a strong tendency to fit into this category. However, from the darkness, sometimes beams a powerful beacon light. OK, I exaggerated a little bit. I meant a twinkly faded one. Anyhow, I’ll throw some of those meteoroids at the internet sky, and perhaps one will have a magnificent shooting star effect one day for some one. Sit belt on.

We are used to “prepaid” mobile phone accounts, where it’s easy to control costs. But this service is often offered by a particular carrier to meet the carrier own services.

A possible extension, is a global PrePay. This service can be tied to a user or even multiple users, rather than the user and it’s service provider. While still not a mobile payments or mWallet, it allows a user, family or a small business, to control costs and allocate monthly (or otherwise) money for various mobile communication expenses together, or even control each seperately (e.g. different pool for SMS, voice calls, internet, and roaming):

  • A registry is created for families phones across multiple carriers, or a small business phones, or even a single person using multiple phones from possibly multiple carriers.
  • A prepaid services is offered, where unlike the carrier provided one – it is “shared” across carriers.
  • In addition it may even be provisioned to be shared across multiple users, e.g. the business partners, family members, etc.
  • The prepaid amount may be further allocated to different applications  (e.g. pool for SMS, pool for voice, pool for app download – or globally shared)
  • When one of the eligible users deposit – all can benefit.
  • When one consumes, overall balance is reduced
  • Policies can further refine this to multiple needs, domains and solutions

Note:  Direct integration to carrier prepaid solution as well as OTT are both feasible.

Some trivial use cases are:

  • Setting mobile phone pre-pay allowance for a family.
  • Setting media consumptions for multiple family members (one may use for iTunes music, other for android apps)
  • Small business communication costs control

This is primarily a consumer service, but can be linked with service providers, or target Enterprises of a small scale.

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Dan Pink: Panther

I had a great opportunity to get one hour lecture from Dan Pink. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture, and want to congratulate neustar for organizing  this, and all the other innovation series events. What an amazing motivational speak  on his latest book: Drive. He surely practices what he preaches and showed some passion.

Dan started with the Candle experiment, showing how monetary incentive may indeed narrow the focus and hence achieve better results for some simple missions but fails on tougher ones (such as avoiding functional fixingness of the box in the candles problem demanding some creativity and… in-to-the-box thinking). This was further explored in an MIT students series of tasks, where money helped on the physical or mechanical tasks but failed to deliver on any “rudimentary cognitive” tasks. Dan argues “if-then” rewards are ill suited for creative tasks.

Dan then referred to Israel childcare fees for parents that come late, and showed again how it fails to achieve the desire results: removing the guilt and making being late an economical transaction that some parents had bargained for, and even having some damaging long term effects by creating a new behavior patterns (those being late, maintained this behavior after shedding those guilt feelings).

Simply controlling humans with “button alike” incentives seems not to always work – even if traditional wisdom is that it should. Surely some parts of our drive are biological, and based on punishments and rewards. However Dan offered three additional layers he demonstrated as highly motivational – he called them intrinsic motivators (to replace the extrinsic ones):

  • Autonomy – In time, tasks given, technique and team selection
  • Mastery – We naturally want to get better at things
  • Purpose – We achieve much more when we have associated meaning to the results

Dan followed with some concrete evidence. Some of the samples are well known (Google 20% do-whatever-you-want-we-keep-IP) but some were illuminating (call center without call recording, timing and monitoring becoming one of the most efficient ones…). Very good challenge to management “wish to control” and “fear of losing it” while strangling innovation in the process.

10 years ago, a well funded and incentivized encyclopedia (Encarta by Microsoft), got professional experts and managers, and pays them to write an online expert entries. On the other side, wikipedia was done for fun, without any monetary rewards. No (sober) economist could predict which of those would prevail…

Dan addressed another interesting related point: wouldn’t we do nothing if not “managed” – depicting the lazy and inept devil within us? Well he argued we are active and engaged (like any 2 years would demonstrate) so adopting an autonomic environment, with clear purpose guidelines would nurture our habits to become better to work for ourselves (and that management).

Dan believed management in its “full control” manifestation is a legacy 18th century technology we invented to enforce others doing what we want, which is nowadays obsolete.

Dan also objected only monetary incentives – they may be useful as a form of recognition, but not as sole motivation tool.

I also liked his sports/arts analogy for feedbacks – where annual (or bi-annual) feedbacks for a professional seems ridiculous, and semi automatic text is often given instead of a reoccurring personal feedback  and personal.

PS #1

I have special interest in his views, as they seem to repeat findings we had previously forming an Innovation Program. It was based it on 4 pillars manifested in tools and procedures for – ideation and knowledge creation, idea collaboration and sharing, immediate feedbacks, and rewards and recognition. We have found similar things – people wanted more autonomy to deliver their ideas, and we did experience the challanges of losing control and faced some natural reluctancy to move forward even for a moderate 8% do-something-new (one short afternoon a week) for a subset of the groups.

PS #2

Dan immediately caught my ear when he argues that people want to contribute in something bigger than themselves, as I use the following in my CV for ages now: “I seek to share my technological leadership within a superb team, reaching broader realms than my own humble shoulders can carry, or the head upon them can dream of.”

See also:

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What am I doing while writing this post (or can I multitask?)

In GTD (Getting Things Done) and other productivity programs there is a lot of criticism about the so called multitasking myth. It is claimed that very few people actually benefit from multitasking, due to something every computer scientist knows: context switching. It basically means that while we shift from one task to the other, gather our thoughts, and prepare for the new task while tiding up mentally the one we just moved away from, we are wasting energies for nothing.

Furthermore, it seems we are more like iPhone 3 then iPhone 4:

iPhone 4
iPhone 4

We can do some things in parallel if they are based on different input senses (e.g. listen to a friend, while looking at our child in the garden), but when the same sense is involved we cannot easily work simoultanouskly and actually work in sequence, involving lots of rapid context switches, wasting focus and resources.

It seems that the current era pushes us to the limit with distractions (called tasks – most of them are pure noise) so I have found myself looking at a NY times article (thanks Mark P) of an overly-doing-it . It is interesting to see, as he nearly missed a 1.3M$ acquisition email of his company due to his other “tasks”.

The fun part was experimenting with the research “games” done by Eyal Ophir and Clifford Nass, Stanford University.

I tend to work with music on and ambience happening since I was a child, possibly matching a pattern where I need my “hearing” sense to be fully occupied by a controlled stream of low importance (e.g. background music) where I can easily filter it and focus on what I’m doing with my other senses (e.g. thinking, reading and writing) – with this technique I avoid the need to give attention to the audio stream (as I “control” it in low priority) and perhaps earn focus points on the task I’m doing. Hence I enjoyed the
first test of handling distractions. I guess the reason I did best when confronted with full distractions is this habit.

The second test was about rapid context switching. It seems I was between high and low multitaskers, where I over performed high multitaskers, but underperformed the low ones. A call for improvement I guess. The researchers have found that multitaskers seem to be more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.

What does it all mean? I’ll guess I’ll just grab a bite of my sandwich, have a sift of coffee and remember not to talk while eating as multitasking is hazardous in this instance…

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Free D #2 – 2D Barcodes – Another step at making the world Digital, Online & Dynamic

Mobile 2D bar-codes are becoming accessible across handset technologies, formats, carriers and advertisers. But if we dig deeper, I believe it helps to expand an even bigger market: Digitizing and onlining the world, and making it Dynamic. I’ll try and explain what I mean by that.

Digitizing / Onlining

The revolution of information accessible and searchable in the internet, progressing to images, music (iTunes), video (YouTube), voice recognition (shazam), books (google) is continuing. By making everything online, we can navigate in the ever expanding world offering more choice. More choice traditionally seen as freedom, is heavily debated to be chains as well (see the Paradox of Choice – Why more is less), forcing us to spend a lot of time and resources, doing things that were trivial and equally enjoying in the past. 285 types of cookies to choose from in a supermarket? Surely it would drive monster cookie from sesame street insane, as if it does not already have popularity issues being a monster. So more choices, but with ability to filter and narrow down, potentially offers the end user both sides of the stick.

2D barcodes allow neustar to convert traditional media and product, and make them online. This makes it not only searchable, but accessible later, and from different consumption points. I can scan a window shop, of a closed shop, and later purchase it online from my PC. Very simple use cases is often something that helps drive massive usage. Time will tell.


As a past programmer, I’m “trained” to see the evolvement between “constant” (hardcoding), variable (placeholder for something that may change), and even higher level of pointers (a link to something, that links to something).

The trick is the trade off between simplicity of seeing something immediately recognisable as such, while still allowing our constant changing world, to adapt that representation to what is relevant the most, for a particular party, and a particular time and place.

Didn’t I just outline what is trivial to any advertising and media company? I apologise for the inconvinience (that’s what people here at UK do when they step on someone’s toe). And yes, by creating easily recognisable bar codes, we help the consumer feel a somehow consistent (“constant”) representation, and by having neustar registries, we actually allow this to reference something that may change in time, place, and fit itself to the end user consuming it, in the most relevant way to him: fit his device, location, environment and needs.

Another interesting aspect of it, is that the dynamic nature even of stable brands, in challanging economics that favour scale at certain times, and trending in general – allow us to to point a bar code of Pepsi Max toward (1) http://www.coca-cola.com website (if a future M&A will so dictate, and no – I have no inside information of CocaCola buying Pepsico, and no – this post does not constitute a recomendation to buy or sell certain stocks the reader may have own), that is (2) local to the country or current location of the person and (3) is fitting the needs of that consumer (a can, a 2L family bottle, or a container full of that black gold liquid for the addicted ones). This is a result of “server-side” value adding, that can link information together before actually targeting the given URL.

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