Future of Public Libraries

Remember the scenarios for public libraries in the year 2030? Well the pack of strategy wildcards that I mentioned a few weeks ago is now available online from the State Library for purchase. A snip at under $20. Link coming when I can work out how to use the new wordpress blog!!!

An Age of Rage?

I’m becoming slightly concerned. I’ve always thought that civilisation was a veneer. Look at Thailand and Greece. It doesn’t take much for rage to erupt. Could such rage be transferred to places like Britain? I think it could.

The problem is the convergence of a number of issues. First, the UK government is in debt. As a result they will have to put up taxes significantly. I’d expect VAT (sales) tax to increase to 20% and I wouldn’t be surprised if some forms of indirect taxation were to rise too. The top rate of 50% personal taxation is probably not going away either. But that’s just the start of it.

Unless growth in some parts of the world slows down significantly, energy costs (especially oil and gas prices) will go up dramatically. This means higher costs at the fuel pump, but it also means higher electricity prices, higher domestic heating costs and higher food prices. These might not sound important but they can and do cause riots.

But if that were not enough, I’d expect government investment in essential services and infrastructure to crumble. So worse roads, worse education and worse hospitals. Opportunistic crime will go up but investment in policing will go down. Add all this up and you have increasing frustration running alongside declining trust in politicians.

Those at the very top of society do not have a problem. They are generally mobile and will simply leave the country at a certain point. This is happening already. Equally, those at the bottom don’t really have anything further to lose.

But those in the middle, the bulk of the country essentially, will be unable to afford the same standard of living as their parents. The idea that the future is always better materially than the past will start to evaporate and these people, traditionally people that do not complain, will become increasingly angry. I’d expect all this to fuel nationalism, protectionism and disengagement with global issues and institutions.

Meanwhile, in Asia, there is the possibility of rising living standards, or at least the continued embrace of concepts such as free trade and globalisation. That’s an interesting combination. A declining ‘developed’ world running right alongside a rising ‘developing’ world.

The Problem with Innovation

I am starting to feel a bit uneasy about the word innovation. Five or ten years ago it signaled someone doing something genuinely different, usually for commercial gain. These days an innovative company is a company that has got an innovation process.

It is someone that is ‘doing’ innovation. This is good. Who wouldn’t want to be innovative these days right? Who doesn’t want to “Do an Apple”?

I don’t want to dwell on Apple because if there’s one thing I’m more fed up with than the misuse of the word innovation it’s the use of Apple as a poster child for the innovation revolution. Don’t get we wrong. I’ve been an Apple fan since 1992 and the company is in my view one of the two most interesting companies on the planet.

The other one is Google.

But, as far as I can see, the company is innovative because of culture not process. Rules are what artists break and the memorable never emerges from a formula, as John Bernbach, the founder of DDB used to say. Obviously, in Google’s case, the memorable did emerge from a formula, but I’m sure you get my point.

First off I think there is a genuine difference between innovation and originality. Big companies that ‘get’ innovation hire consultants that sell them innovation process and innovation metrics. This is fine. As I say, who wouldn’t want to get better at innovation? Big companies love process and numbers because when things don’t work out you can always hide behind them.

But here’s the rub.

You can teach innovation to anyone just like you can teach anyone to play the piano. But you can’t teach anyone to be a concert pianist. This is the point that most organizations don’t get. They think that if they’ve got a process they can be innovative. They can. With a half decent process you’ll be able to crank out dozens of half decent ideas, some of which might actually make some money. But what you won’t be able to do it produce game changing ideas one after another. You might be able to create endless evolutionary improvements, but it’s very unlikely that you will produce a single Apple or Google.

Real innovation is something that’s cultural. Men and women in suits don’t generally start revolutions and neither do organizations with innovation processes turn categories and markets upside down. It’s the same with artists. Do you seriously think that Picasso was a genius because he followed a rigid process? No. He learnt the rules and then he decided to break them.

Again, you can teach anyone to paint but to be a great painter is something that’s in your soul. Equally, great artists don’t ‘research’ their work to see whether anyone might be interested in buying their art. They don’t conduct focus groups to see what potential buyers will be interested in acquiring before they start painting either.

To be continued…

Sense of Entitlement

My 2010+ trends & technology timeline is being translated into Polish for a magazine. The guy doing the translation has asked me what I mean by ‘Sense of Entitlement’? Apparently the phrase doesn’t translate very well into Polish.

What I mean, and I think this is important, is that people increasingly believe that they are at the centre of the universe. That they are entitled to have anything they want anyway they want it. This obviously has strong links with individualism and personalisation, but the question to my mind is whether or not this trend is on the wane?

Peak Oil

Do you remember all the fuss about peak oil just before the GFC hit, when oil was $147 a barrel? Unless the US or Europe collapse, expect the price to continue rising (largely due to Asian demand) and expect all the media fuss about ‘peak oil’ to come back too.

But remember this. The response to the question “how much oil do we have left?” is “it depends on the price.” If the price of oil continues to rise we will find more oil and get more oil out. However, the speed at which you recover the oil also influences how much is down there. If the price is high and you get it out fast you recover less oil. Conversely, if the price is low you go after less but you recover more. Geddit?

The Dangers of Personalisation

Is serendipity dead? I think things are moving in that direction. One of the unforseen consequences of digitalisation is that we are able to personalise incoming information. This is great on one level, but on another it allows for people to reinforce their own prejudices. More and more we are able to select sources of information (including news but also people) that match our own views. We are therefore less likely to have our views challenged and we are more likely to become hostile to opinions (or people) that do not match our own thinking. This is not good for quality debate or understanding.