Facebook Enables Marketing to a Strictly White Only Audience

Segregated cinema entrance

I should be more precise: Facebook enables marketing to a strictly ‘white affinity’ only adience.

Doug Neil of Universal Pictures and Facebook’s Jim Underwood presented Big Box Office: Marketing Films in a Mobile World at SxSW a few weeks back. They promised the audience that they would get to hear about “the best approaches for mobile marketing: how a monster hit like Jurassic World benefited from mobile-friendly content delivered to a mass audience while genre films benefit from insights into audience segments ranging from multi-cultural to multi-generational.”

In the session Neil explained how the movie Straight Outta Compton was an unexpected breakout hit. According to Business Insider he credited segmenting the audience into three parts: the “general population” (meaning non-African-American and non-Hispanic), African-Americans and Hispanics:

Neil credited part of this to a specialized Facebook marketing effort led by Universal’s “multicultural team” in conjunction with its Facebook team. They created tailored trailers for different segments of the population.

Why? The “general population” (non-African American, non-Hispanic) wasn’t familiar with N.W.A., or with the musical catalog of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, according to Neil. They connected to Ice Cube as an actor and Dr. Dre as the face of Beats, he said. The trailer marketed to them on Facebook had no mention of N.W.A., but sold the movie as a story of the rise of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.

The trailer marketed to African Americans was completely different. Universal assumed this segment of the population had a baseline familiarity with N.W.A. “They put Compton on the map,” Neil said. This trailer opens with the word N.W.A. and continues to lean on it heavily throughout.

As to the trailer produced for the Hispanic market, it was a shorter spot that included flashing quotes in Spanish.

Let’s sidestep the fact that Hollywood still seems to think that “black” movies have a hard time being successful. And let’s ignore how tone-deaf these two gentlemen are when it comes to the current situation around race in Hollywood (think #OscarsSoWhite or the upsetting story of Nina Simone’s botched biopic). Instead, let’s look at what this really is:

Racial profiling enabled by Facebook’s data lust

Facebook was quick to explain that they are not identifying their audience as being black. Instead they are merely assessing your affinity with black culture, or as they would call it: whether you “like African-American content”. They promise they won’t make that assessment on the basis of your photos (although surely their research lab must be working on some form of “fracial recognition” system), your name or census data. Instead they’ll look at what you ‘like’ and read online. In simple Facebook-algorithmic terms: if you watch BET and post #BlackLivesMatter links, then we can tell our advertiser you probably know N.W.A. well and don’t need to see the whitewashed trailer.

Some people can’t see what is wrong with a bit of personalisation and are happy that this movie has managed to find a big audience. But they are missing the bigger picture.

Facebook has this type of affinity data on most of its close to 1.6 billion(!) monthly active users. We now have a commercial company building a massive world-scale database that enables anybody with access to that data to slice up the population in whatever way they might find convenient.

  • Looking for strictly white patronage for your Airbnb? Facebook can help you with that.
  • Only want millionaires on your dating site? Show some ads to Facebook users from the “rich affinity” group.
  • Desperate to sell your cancer medication? Facebook can get you a set of people who have ‘liked’ cancer.
  • Need a list of all the people with Kurdish affinity? Facebook is ready for you!
  • Jews? Muslims? Facebook can now personalise their experience too…

After initially enabling ‘Web 2.0’, Facebook is now enabling segregation 2.0. I mean, what could go wrong?

Managing Unconscious Bias at Facebook

I’ve written before about how the lack of diversity in the companies that are shaping our world is literally hurting people. I specifically referred to Eric Meyer being confronted with his deceased daughter. Facebook does realise their lack of diversity is also hurting their business. So they’ve started an internal course to battle what they term unconscious bias. They’ve put an interesting set of videos of the course online. From their blogpost:

To reflect the diversity of the 1.4 billion people using our products, we need to have people with different backgrounds, races, genders and points of view working at Facebook. Diverse teams have better results, so this is not only the right thing to do – it’s also good for our business.

and:

One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have.

Google is focusing on unconscious bias too.

I am aware that so-called affirmitive action has gotten a bad reputation, but if I were to change a company’s culture on this topic, this isn’t where I would start. To really make an impact these information giants will have to start directly addressing the structural societal problems that lead the lack of diversity.

Interested to learn more about diversity in the technology sector? Check out these resources.

TruBaltics, An Unconference on Recruitment

#TruBaltics

#TruBaltics

Today I attended #TruBaltics one of the Tru Conferences on recruitment.

The Recruiting Unconferences are a series of pure unconferences organised worldwide, where the emphasis is on conversation, communication and the free exchange of ideas and experiences, (dis)organized by Bill Boorman.

These unconferences have four simple rules:

  1. No Presentations
  2. No PowerPoint
  3. No Name Badges
  4. No Pitching

The driving forces behind this edition of Tru seemed to be Aki Kakko and Ruta Klyvyte.

The topic of recruitment is very new to me, so this was a quick way for me to get an overview of the topics that people are worrying about and be more at the edge than if I’d gone to an event organized by Bersin for example. I attended a set of tracks and kept some notes:

Job board versus social

Mike Sandiford explained how in the UK people are declaring the job board dead. He is not sure he agrees: People go to job boards because they are looking for jobs. That is not necessarily the case for social. The most important thing is to find out where your target audience is spending time online. What is best really depends on what you are looking for and on the market. Whether you use job boards or more social tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, you will always find that brand is of course an important part of your presence on job boards and in social media.

One participant in the track argued strongly against using job boards at all. You don’t get much for what you pay for and you actually cast the net way too wide and then lose a lot of time in the screening process. According him the war for talent isn’t because there is scarcity of talent, but because there is too much talent and you have to spend time selecting the right person.

There is company that has created a lot of training materials on how you use social tools in recruitment: Social Talent. There seems to be a permanent race to use the latest social tool. People discussed using things like Foursquare, Pinterest and even Spotify (if you are the Hard Rock cafe you could create a playlist and hire the people that like your playlist…, yes yes).

Value-based interviewing (as opposed to skill-based)

Liena Ivanova and Darja Milova led this track which tried to answer whether companies should, can and will assess a candidate’s values during the interview process.

We first discussed whether companies can have values (or whether only people can have values). We quickly talked about Edgar’s Schein‘s three levels of organizational culture: artifacts, values and assumptions.

Some people in the track really preferred to look at somebody’s skills rather than at their values. Other people were very interested in how you would assess people’s values in the first place (there didn’t seem to be any answers for this in the room). Heineken has a funny ad that shows how you can go beyond the traditional way when assessing candidate:

One thing you can do is create a video as an artifact of a company’s culture which can then attract the right candidates. Facebook has an example of this:

My employer has done something similar:

Of course we also discussed Zappos who seem to have managed to make their values part of their brand proposition (but are now themselves part of Amazon which seem to be pushing work practices in a terrible way).

This stimulating track left me with two questions/thoughts:

  • Don’t companies just get the candidates that they deserve? Or put another way: isn’t there a natural matc between the company’s values and those of the candidate? Isn’t the easiest intervention you can do when you want to have different candidates to change your company?
  • How does diversity fit into this picture? Diversity is part of many company’s value statements, but we don’t seem to have an appetite for hiring people who hav different values than ours.

The death of social recruitment. What’s the next big thing?

Rihard Brigis wanted to discuss what new technology is coming up that actually works. We touched on things like workforce marketing, social referrals, cloud recruiting and the increase in the use of analytics. The latter can help you find people on the basis of what they do rather than on the basis of what they say. Tools like Knack It serve a similar purpose.

There are few companies that claim to have interesting technology that helps the recruitment and that might be worth checking out. I will look into Jobscience, Bullhorn and Joberate. Joberate is developing a product that sounds very interesting. It is called “signal” and tries to find candidates that seem to be ready to change jobs and are thus ripe for the picking. This has obvious external applications, but could even be useful internally: who doesn’t want to know when is on the cusp of leaving? Read more about signal here.

Another things that is happening more often is that companies organize events that manage to attract who don’t work for the company (think of a hackaton) and then let current employees decide who they like to hire from those events. It boils down to organizing things that expose people to you. I think that this is what the larger MOOC providers like Coursera will ultimately do. As a company don’t you want to know who are the top performers in certain courses?

I actually think there must be a market for what I’ll name slow recruitment (or slow recruiting for SEO purposes): not using the latest online technology to continuously accelerate the sourcing and selection process, but take your time instead because you know that is just better. When I mentioned this in the track no eyes lit up (yet).

“Marrying” the candidate – pro and cons (building a close relationship or not)

Inna Ferdman and Irina Točko discussed an important recruitment topic: how “intimate” can you afford to be with your candidates. There is a trend in recruitment to build longer term relationships with candidates maybe even before they are ready to move. They used the metaphor of marriage to explore the topic.

For me this topic is very much about what I’ll term the directionality of the hiring relationship. If I am a recruiter for a company that can find many people for a particular job, then I can afford not to have a relationship with the candidate. If a candidate’s skills are so rare that he can pick different employer (flipping the hiring process so to say), then it pays of to invest in a candidate. (A sidenote: I am toying with the idea of doing an RFI/RFP process for my own employment where I would put down my requirements and then let employers bid against each other, could be interesting).

I don’t know this profession at all, so maybe somebody else can tell me whether the following is a feasible business model for a recruiter. Could you build very solid relationships with a group of very talented people that you then each place once every four years or so? How many people would need to be in your talent pool? Would it be less than Dunbar’s number? I guess that would depend on the field and how high the commissions are.

Employer branding 2.0

This track was led by Jacco Valkenburg from Recruit2 who is a LinkedIn recruitment guru.

According to Jacco we’ve been building recruitment sites for the past 10 -15 years. He now believes that these websites are at the end of their product lifecycle. Mainly because the web is disappearing: people are checking Facebook in the morning, rather than visiting a website. He adviced everybody to move their whole recruitment site into Facebook. Facebook’s interactivity make it a great place to show what an interesting place to work you are.

He showed how a company like Q-Park has created a Facebook page for recruiting. They follow their employees and then share what they share (if it is interesting) on their company page.

Anybody who has read this blog before knows that I have some longstanding issues with Facebook. As a company I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the so-called free basket of a company that is notorious for changing their policies and their functionality at their whim. I also don’t find it decent to make your prospective employees (or even customers) pay with their data for the data and functionality that you are getting. I tried to argue these points in the session, but they seemed to fall to deaf ears mostly. The “dark side” of social technologies weren’t mentioned in any deep way during the day actually except for one fleeting reference to LinkedIn’s scary practices.

About this type of unconference format

Sitting in a circle without slides definitely leads to much better conversations. I wish more conferences had much larger parts of them organized in this way. The one things I did notice is that I have a hard time with the fact that it is perfectly normal to switch tracks mid-way. I personally can’t do it (I also finish books I dislike) and was distracted by people leaving mid-sentence. I do understand why allowing this is essential to making the format work. One other thing that was wonderful was how refreshingly non-commercial the whole thing was. You really had to put effort into finding out who worked for what vendor.

Tru actually seems to have turned itself into a very active and connected community with all angles of recruitment covered. I will definitely attend another one.

My open questions

After the full day I was left with a few open questions on the topic of recruitment:

  • Everybody seemed to think that it is necessary to have recruiters (I guess that is what I would think if I was a recruiter myself), but doesn’t the technology disintermediate the recruiter? How is the profession changing in reaction? We didn’t have any solid discussions on this topic.
  • What is a proper typology for recruitment? The directionality was barely ever addressed directly. What types of recruiters exist?
  • There is a lot of talk about “employer brand”, but there was no talk about changing the company to attract different staff. If you want better people, shouldn’t just be a better place to work? Seems like common sense to me.
  • Are we indeed moving from a discoverability problem to a selection problem?

As always curious to hear your thoughts!

Learning. Who is responsible?

A hero: Ivan Illich

A hero: Ivan Illich

Just now I delivered a keynote at the 20th Annual Israeli Learning Conference. I was there at the kind invitation of HR Israel and Amir Elion.

My talk was pitched as follows:

Over the next few years the role of the learning organization will shift, moving away from the current focus on course and curriculum design. Two new responsibilities will appear: 1. Supporting individuals with their self-directed learning and 2. Creating behavioral change interventions for smaller and larger teams. Hans de Zwart will take a fresh perspective on the underlying causes of this shift (like the increasing percentage of knowledge workers or the easy availability of global virtual collaboration tools), he wil give a wide and historical range of examples of existing “do-it-yourself” learning and he will share his thoughts on what this means for you as an HR professional.

I have come to believe that SlideShare is fundamentally broken, so while WordPress.com is hopefully working on providing the ability to show PDF files inline in my posts I’ve decided to just post a PDF version of my slides online.

The slides can be downloaded here (or here for a Dutch version)

The talk was divided into three parts:

Why is DIY Learning relevant?

Firstly I showed that the accelerating change of pace is not just a cliché, but that technology actually does progress exponentially. I showed some of Kurzweil’s graphs to back this up.

This means that we are increasingly living in a complex world. According to the Cynefin framework the sensible approach to problems in the complex domain is to first probe, then sense and finally respond. This aligns nicely with Peter Drucker’s definition of the knowledge worker who necessarily is solely responsible for their own productivity: they are the only ones who can understand their own job. For me a logical consequence of this is that you cannot create a learning curriculum for a knowledge worker. With the increasing mobility of labour, you could even argue that businesses will not want to invest in training a knowledge worker but that they will just assume competence.

Next I talked about Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society. We are institutionalizing students through the school system. We mistake teaching for learning and diplomas/certificates for competence. Illich’ solution is radical: to replace school with what he calls “learning webs”. He had some very practical ideas about this, that have become easier now that we have the web.

Another reason for DIY learning to come to the forefront is the ubiquity of free (mostly in beer, but also in speech) tools that enable us to connect with each other and organize ourselves. It is simple to set up your own website with something like WordPress.com and tools like Google+ (hangouts!), Facebook and Twitter are amazing in enabling people to take charge of their learning.

Examples of DIY Learning

I shared a set of examples of existing DIY learning efforts from a wide variety of fields.

The first example was from the European Juggling Convention in Lublin. People organized workshops there by using a simple central board and a set of activity templates.

Sugatra Mitra realizes that there aren’t enough good teachers to teach all the children in the world. He is therefore looking for a minimally invasive pedagogy. He has found a simple method: give groups of children a computer with access to the web, ask them an interesting question, leave them alone (maybe give them a bit of “granny pedagogy” support) and come back to find that the children have learned something. Do check out his wiki on Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLEs).

The original Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs (as first run by Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others, now known as cMOOCs) are great examples of learning in a decentralized fashion.

Open Space technology (with its four principles and a law) is another example of how people can learn in a completely self-organized way.

Yammer groups are a great way for communities of practice to construct knowledge together. Anybody can start a group and these are often on topics that are relevant, but don’t get addressed top-down (an example I know of is a group of Apple users in a Microsoft-only company sharing knowledge with each other on how to use Apple products in that situation).

Dale Stephens has shown that there are alternatives to a formal college education with his Uncollege platform.

The reading group I organized in 2010 was the final example I used of a group of people getting together to learn something.

What should you (= HR) do?

All of this means the role of the HR Learning department will need to change. I see three imperatives:

  1. It is crucial to devolve the responsibility for learning to the learner. Stop accepting their “learned helplessness” and stimulate everybody to become truly reflective practitioners.
  2. Make sure to provide scaffolding. You should build things that will make it easier for the learners to build their own things. This only works if your approach is very open. Both for the learning materials (think Creative Commons and OER Commons) and for who can join. Efforts should be across organizations and across businesses. Don’t accept the naive (layman’s) idea which always seems to equate learning with content. Instead focus on designing learning experiences. Nurture any communities of practice and invest time in moderation.
  3. Finally, change the unit of intervention. You should never focus on the individual anymore. The unit of change is now the team (at minimum).

Notes

I’ve used the fabulous Pinpoint to create this presentation. This allows me to just get a set of image files and write the presentation in a very simple text based format. The PDF output doesn’t quite look like I’d want it to. Does anybody know whether it is possible to set the width/height ratio of the PDF export (4:3 rather than 16:9)?

I started collecting the licenses for each of the images in the slidepack so that I could attribute them correctly (find my incomplete list here). At some point I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. My blog is just too insignificant and I really do believe I can have more positive impact on this world by doing something (anything!) different with my time. If your picture is used and you are very disgruntled then I would be more than happy to make amends.

Reflecting on South by Southwest (SxSW) 2012

SxSW: The Place to Be (photo CC-licensed by Debbs)

SxSW: The Place to Be (photo CC-licensed by Debbs)

It has been a few months since I attended SxSW in Austin. Time to do a bit of reflection and see which things have stuck with me as major takeaways and trends to remember.

Let me start by saying that going there has changed the way I think about learning and technology in many tacit ways that are hard to describe. That must have something to do with the techno-optimism, the incredible scale/breadth and the inclusive atmosphere. I will definitely make it a priority to go there again. The following things made me think:

Teaching at scale

One thing that we are now slowly starting to understand is how to do things at scale. Virtualized technology allows us to cooperate and collaborate in groups that are orders of magnitude larger than groups coming together in a physical space. The ways of working inside these massive groups are different too.

Wikipedia was probably one of the first sites that showed the power of doing things at this new scale (or was it Craigslist?). Now we have semi-commercial platforms like WordPress.com or hyper-commercial platforms like Facebook that are leveraging the same type of affordances.

The teaching profession is now catching on too. From non-commercial efforts like MOOCs and the Peer 2 Peer university to initiatives springing from major universities: Stanford’s AI course, Udacity, Coursera, MITx to the now heavily endowed Khan Academy: all have found ways to scale a pedagogical process from a classroom full of students to audiences of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. They have now even become mainstream news with Thom Friedman writing about them in the New York Times (conveniently forgetting to mention the truly free alternatives).

I don’t see any of this in Corporate Learning Functions yet. The only way we currently help thousands of staff learn is through non-facilitated e-learning modules. That paradigm is now 15-20 years old and has not taken on board any of the lessons that the net has taught us. Soon we will all agree that this type of e-learning is mostly ineffectual and thus ultimately also non-efficient. The imperative for change is there. Events like the Jams that IBM organize are just the beginning of new ways of learning at the scale of the web.

Small companies creating new/innovative practices

The future of how we will soon all work is already on view in many small companies around the world. Automattic blew my mind with their global fully distributed workforce of slightly over a hundred people. This allows them to truly only hire the best people for the job (rather than the people who live conveniently close to an office location). All these people need to start being productive is a laptop with an Internet connection.

Automattic has also found a way to make sure that people feel connected to the company and stay productive: they ask people to share as much as possible what it is they are doing (they called it “oversharing”, I would call it narrating your work). There are some great lessons there for small global virtual teams in large companies.

The smallest company possible is a company of one. A few sessions at SxSW focused on “free radicals”. These are people who work in ever-shifting small project groups and often aren’t very bounded to a particular location. These people live what Charles Handy, in The Elephant and The Flea, called a portfolio lifestyle. They are obviously not on a career track with promotions, instead they get their feedback, discipline and refinement from the meritocratic communities and co-working spaces they work in.

Personally I am wondering whether it is possible to become a free radical in a large multinational. Would that be the first step towards a flatter, less hierarchical and more expertise-based organization? I for one wouldn’t mind stepping outside of my line (and out of my silo) and finding my own work on the basis of where I can add the most value for the company. I know this is already possible in smaller companies (see the Valve handbook for an example). It will be hard for big enterprises to start doing this, but I am quite sure we will all end up there eventually.

Hyperspecialization

One trend that is very recognizable for me is hyperspecialization. When I made my first website around 2000, I was able to quickly learn everything there was to know about building websites. There were a few technologies and their scope was limited. Now the level of specialization in the creation of websites is incredible. There is absolutely no way anybody can be an expert in a substantial part of the total field. The modern-day renaissance man just can’t exist.

Transaction costs are going down everywhere. This means that integrated solutions and companies/people who can deliver things end-to-end are losing their competitive edge. As a client I prefer to buy each element of what I need from a niche specialist, rather then get it in one go from somebody who does an average job. Topcoder has made this a core part of their business model: each project that they get is split up into as many pieces as possible and individuals (free radicals again) bid on the work.

Let’s assume that this trends towards specialization will continue. What would that mean for the Learning Function? One thing that would become critical is your ability to quickly assess expertise. How do you know that somebody who calls themselves and expert really is one? What does this mean for competency management? How will this affect the way you build up teams for projects?

Evolution of the interface

Everybody was completely focused on mobile technology at SxSW. I couldn’t keep track of the number of new apps I’ve seen presented. Smartphones and tablets have created a completely new paradigm for interacting with our computers. We have all become enamoured with touch-interfaces right now and have bought into the idea that a mobile operating system contains apps and an appstore (with what I like to call the matching “update hell”).

Some visionaries were already talking about what lies beyond the touch-based interface and apps (e.g. Scott Jenson and Amber Case. More than one person talked about how location and other context creating attributes of the world will allow our computers to be much smarter in what they present to us. Rather than us starting an app to get something done, it will be the world that will push its apps on to us. You don’t have to start the app with the public transport schedule anymore, instead you will be shown the schedule as soon as you arrive at the bus stop. You don’t start Shazam to capture a piece of music, but your phone will just notify you of what music is playing around you (and probably what you could be listening to if you were willing to switch channel). Social cues will become even stronger and this means that cities become the places for what someone called “coindensity” (a place with more serendipity than other places).

This is likely to have profound consequences for the way we deliver learning. Physical objects and location will have learning attached to them and this will get pushed to people’s devices (especially when the systems knows that your certification is expired or that you haven’t dealt with this object before). You can see vendors of Electronic Performance Support Systems slowly moving into this direction. They are waiting for the mobile infrastructure to be there. The one thing we can start doing from today is to make sure we geotag absolutely everything.

One step further are brain-computer interfaces (commanding computers with pure thought). Many prototypes already exist and the first real products are now coming to market. There are many open questions, but it is fascinating to start playing with the conceptual design of how these tools would work.

Storytelling

Every time I go to any learning-related conference I come back with the same thought: I should really focus more on storytelling. At SxSW there was a psychologist making this point again. She talked about our tripartite brain and how the only way to engage with the “older” (I guess she meant Limbic) parts of our brain is through stories. Her memorable quote for me was: “You design for people. So the psychology matters.”

Just before SxSW I had the opportunity to spend two days at the amazing Applied Minds. They solve tough engineering problems, bringing ideas from concept to working prototype (focusing on the really tough things that other companies are not capable of doing). What was surprising is that about half of their staff has an artistic background. They realise the value of story. I’m convinced there is a lot to be gained if large engineering companies would start to take their diversity statements seriously and started hiring writers, architects, sculptors and cineasts.

Open wins again

Call it confirmation bias (my regular readers know I always prefer “open”), but I kept seeing examples at SxSW where open technology beats closed solutions. My favourite example was around OpenStreetMap: companies have been relying on Google Maps to help them out with their mapping needs. Many of them are now starting to realise how limiting Google’s functionality is and what kind of dependence it creates for them. Many companies are switching to Open Street Map. Examples include Yahoo (Flickr), Apple and Foursquare.

Maybe it is because Google is straddling the line between creating more value than they capture and not doing that: I heartily agree with Tim O’Reilly and Doc Searl‘s statements at SxSW that free customers will always create more value than captured ones.

There is one place where open doesn’t seem to be winning currently and that is in the enterprise SaaS market. I’ve been quite amazed with the mafia like way in which Yammer has managed to acquire its customers: it gives away free accounts and puts people in a single network with other people in their domain. Yammer maximizes the virality and tells people they will get more value out of Yammer if they invite their colleagues. Once a few thousand users are in the network large companies have three options:

  1. Don’t engage with Yammer and let people just keep using it without paying for it. This creates unacceptable information risks and liability. Not an option.
  2. Tell people that they are not allowed to use Yammer. This is possible in theory, but would most likely enrage users, plus any network blocks would need to be very advanced (blocking Yammer emails so that people can’t use their own technology to access Yammer). Not a feasible option.
  3. Bite the bullet and pay for the network. Companies are doing this in droves. Yammer is acquiring customers straight into a locked-in position.

SaaS-based solutions are outperforming traditional IT solutions. Rather than four releases a year (if you are lucky), these SaaS based offerings release multiple times a day. They keep adding new functionality based on their customers demands. I have an example of where a SaaS based solution was a factor 2000 faster in implementation (2 hours instead of 6 months) and a factor 5000 cheaper ($100 instead of $500,000) than the enterprise IT way of doing things. The solution was likely better too. Companies like Salesforce are trying very hard to obsolete the traditional IT department. I am not sure how companies could leverage SaaS without falling in another lock-in trap though.

Resource constraints as an innovation catalyst

One lesson that I learned during my trip through the US is that affluence is not a good situation to innovate from. Creativity comes from constraints (this is why Arjen Vrielink and I kept constraining ourselves in different ways for our Parallax series). The African Maker “Safari” at SxSW showed what can become possible when you combine severe resource constraints with regulatory whitespace. Make sure to subscribe to Makeshift Magazine if you are interested to see more of these type of inventions and innovations.

I believe that many large corporations have too much budget in their teams to be really innovative. What would it mean if you wouldn’t cut the budget with 10% every year, but cut it with 90% instead? Wouldn’t you save a lot of money and force people to be more creative? In a world of abundance we will need to limit ourselves artificially to be able to deliver to our best potential.

Education ≠ Content

There is precious few people in the world who have a deep understanding of education. My encounter with Venture Capitalists at SxSW talking about how to fix education did not end well. George Siemens was much more eloquent in the way that he described his unease with the VCs. Reflecting back I see one thing that is most probably at the root of the problem: most people still equate education/learning to content. I see this fallacy all around me: It is the layperson’s view on learning. It is what drives people to buy Learning Content Management Systems that can deliver to mobile. It is why we think that different Virtual Learning Environments are interchangeable. This is why we think that creating a full curriculum of great teachers explaining things on video will solve our educational woes. Wrong!

My recommendation would be to stop focusing on content all together (as an exercise in constraining yourself). Who will create the first contentless course? Maybe Dean Kamen is already doing this. He wanted more children with engineering mindsets. Rather than creating lesson plans for teacher he decided to organise a sport- and entertainment based competition (I don’t how successful he is in creating more engineers with this method by the way).

That’s all

So far for my reflections. A blow-by-blow description of all the sessions I attended at SxSW is available here.