Smart Cities

As go our cities, so goes the world.

Some 80+% of us live in urban centers. And the vast majority of population growth this century will happen in these and new cities not yet even imagined.

This is one of the most urgent challenges and the largest opportunities of our times. Fix our cities and you impact the planet and global culture in truly formative ways.

Cities are in many ways both the cause and the solution to a large part of what worries us today: global warming, food supplies and practicality of local sourcing, our health as a population, how fiscally solvent are governments are, how open we are to diversity and how human in our responsibility to take care of each other.

And while certainly, the reality on the streets of New York is not the norm, how we address our problems here creates learnings that can be used everywhere–from Cincinnati to Tbilisi to Porto t0 Ljubjana.

What is a Smart City really?

Honestly, while I think about urban density and its impact on every piece of our lives often, the moniker of a smart city didn’t engage me till my friend Tom Critchlow sent over the link for the upcoming Smart Cities NYC event.

Two of their premises dragged me in:

-Defining Smart Cities very broadly as a category, similar to the terminology we use for the Wellness market or Natural in the food and wine segments. A high-level umbrella to aggregate community and innovations under without limiting the scope of our thinking.

-While broad and multidisciplinary by definition, there is a lot of tool talk, tech especially and understandably so. Cities are built on broad horizontal platforms and tech is transforming most of them daily.

The organizers of the event define Smart Cities as the ‘ intersection of curating technology to the benefits of urban life’ which while this is true, I think of it more from a people first perspective.

Starting with the needs of urban populations as captured in these five simple concepts:

1. Safety first

The overarching necessity that we are all ok and safe because of the depth and mass of humanity, not in spite of it.

2. Mobility and transportation

How to enable literally millions of people to get around on foot, on bikes, in cars, on subways, by water taxi in a seemingly effortless way to gather in groups at an infinite number of destinations.

3. Information and communications

The real-time massively-scalable need to find out what-is-where-when, through each individual’s smartphone regardless of language or economic status.

4. Community and neighborhood

The super glue that makes cities work. We need laws and enforcement but the community and civic ownership is prime.

Without it, without interpersonal and cultural respect, the world and NY itself will simply become unhinged.

5. Public spaces

This is the beating heart of our urban lives and the soul of our cities.

Each of us feels that every open foot of public space is our own. They are and that is what makes it all work in a reality that is almost impossible in its complexity.

People first is always where to start

Cities by definitions are their own markets. People and their well-being are the only criteria for success.

I lived in NY and in many other cities before Citbike and Zipcar, Uber and Lyft, Google maps and endless data feeds that make safety, navigation, transportation, communication and community possible.

Life is immeasurably better today through the hooks horizontally into our broad social nets and vertically through countless apps and solutions.

But even prior to the Internet, places like NY have been dramatically transformed through open space planning and community actions, way before the advantages of networks became a tool for us.

The safety and beauty of a place like Bryant Park today from the true slum that it was in the 80s.

Central Park truly a scary place then, now one of the wonders of the world, open till 1 AM every night and safe without being antiseptic or tame in the least.

The openness of new ideas in recreational spaces like the Hudson River Park, that extends from the South Seaport up to the GW Bridge. Free and clean and available to everyone.

Or the brilliance of the private-public partnership that built The Highline, one of the most innovative new parks in any city in the last decade.

In each of these, there are components of community organizing, of urban design, of crowdsourced funding, of city government cooperation and of tech, that came together in impossible ways to make each possible.

But we are simply just getting started.

Many say that the future is defined by where technology and urbanism meet.

I think the future of urban life is where livability, affordability, and environmentalism meet collectively with the people who inhabit these places. Where the goals are clear and the tools to get there—part technology, part community, part government–are shared by all.

Nothing is perfect obviously and there are monstrous problems that we don’t even know how to approach here in NY.

Affordable high-speed connectivity where you can’t lay fiber is a massive gotcha for NYC.  Figuring out how to fund all of this and still make the city affordable for all, damn near impossible.

But I’m completely in on this idea of the city as the schematic for the world.

And as a New Yorker, a technologist, a community builder and marketer, and a pragmatic optimist it feels personal to me to help try and solve these problems.

So–do share if you have ideas of orgs or people that I should know about.

Blogs and podcasts are a good place for me to start so I can get to know the person and narrative, not just the ideas.

If you are attending Smart Cities NYC, contact me as I plan on being there.

The liberal arts

I’ve been asking myself how I got to where I am today.

What’s the unique piece in the crazy mix of education, life experiences and lucky breaks that made me who I am?

As counterintuitive as it may seem in the face of today’s connected reality and my role in the tech world, I sense that my core as an individual is grounded in the perspectives that I cultivated as a liberal arts student.

Giving myself the unencumbered freedom to plunge with abandon into literature, philosophy, and film. Studying the connections between art and architecture. Writing incessantly and debating fiercely on the most nuanced and obscure of topics.

Play acting the thoughts of the greatest thinkers and artists of all time.

Is there really a connecting thread between what I do today as a profession to that kid spouting Rilke, Baudelaire and e.e. cummings? Sartre and Artaud? Bergman and Kurasawa?

I think absolutely so.

Obviously, we are all products of our times.  When I emerged out of this period studying the history of thought and the human condition, I fell headfirst–and hard–into the beginnings of the software and tech revolution.

And I stayed there through each piece of its growth, from the first computer publishing programs to computer games to well…. today. Software publisher, market maker, online business builder, enterprise sales strategist, community and web thinker.

I’m still obsessed with contextual interconnections, with the power and fluidity of the nature of thought and behavior.

With the realization that what we say or create is less important than what is heard or seen. That the true visionaries are those that listen to the quiet pulses of the world, too faint for most to hear. That language extant from stories that touch emotions and spur reflection is always inadequate.

This is true in art. True in communications. True even in the architecture of platforms. And certainly true in the power of community and brands that touch the heart of the market.

Up to this very day, every time it is my turn at the whiteboard, or in front of a group, surrounded by brilliant technical minds, I lean on this perspective and strength. It is what makes me feel I can give it an authentic shot without fear of falling flat. Or fall prey to thinking that the status quo is something to hold onto.

That part of myself I believe came from the freedom as a student to play act my way through the thoughts and ideas of the world’s most disruptive minds. As while we look at classics as just that, in context they were each historically the crazy ones. The futurists. The free thinkers. The often misunderstood.

This is, of course, more nuanced than simply saying I got this from studying Camus or reading Faulkner or Charles Olson.

Even though I’ll admit, I cannot ride my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge without hearing Hart Crane, I rarely, reread many of these books.

The grasp of the power of the ineffable as a defining truth is what I made my own from my education. That was my takeaway.

Liberal arts as an unencumbered poise towards integrated thought and embracing completely the process of discovery.  A curriculum designed to pursue literacy as a vocation and fluidity of open thinking as a platform for lifelong learning.

I lean on this every day.

And I give it credit for those breakthrough moments when I get something just right, something that touches people with an idea or a product or something they can make their own.

I believe this point of view, this personal DNA if you will, had time to discover itself, back in those college and university days, tempered of course over time by the rigors of experience.

It’s intriguing that recently there’s been a mini-meme floating around, forecasting a resurgence of sorts for the liberal arts.

The idea is that with more leisure time, with distributed, flex-time workforces, a greater segment of the population will tend towards studying and appreciating the arts. That when automation removes countless jobs that today move data and paper around, there will be a shift towards lionizing the thinker and artist to the status of the maker and developer today.

I honestly doubt this will happen hard or fast, but I do think, in the best minds, business and technical alike, it’s already there.

Not a rereading per se of the masters in an isolated world of classrooms certainly. But an understanding that the integration of multidisciplinary thought is necessary to intuit our way forward in an always shifting world. That the arcane can be instructive. That the obvious is often the wrong course.

This is food for thought for all of us.

Just maybe liberal arts is already having a subtle renaissance, reimagined to our times, and in context to the world as it is today.

Try it on and see if works.

It does for me.

 

The new normal is anything but

Our lives and the very markets we inhabit have become increasingly and overtly politicized at their core.

Our personal conversations online and off, our relationships to our customers and the connections we have to the brands that matter to us.

At an atomic and principled level, communications and language as well.

This has been sucking our time, inflating our emotions, and scattering our efforts.  It’s no surprise that an exhaustion permeates many of our social channels.

And the most unnatural thing is to act like everything is still the same.

It is not.

Many of us have desperately needed personal reboots and the more we find actions that satisfy the need to do something in the face of a changed world, the better we move forward.

Professionally as well, there needs to be a refresh.

In this unique instance in history, personal and professional both need to be rethought together. From the ground up on how we communicate. How we make decisions on what to engage with. How we market and advertise and affiliate ourselves.

The reality of course is that when emotions drive the majority of our responses–which they are more and more today–we need to re-examine communications at a behavioral protocol level itself.

We need to realize that the politicized spark is omnipresent, and ready to surface just about everywhere. And depending on who you are and what you selling, it is the smart move to step back and decide how to address this upfront.

The social nets are both the cause and the effect in many ways.

We are flocking there in even greater numbers to search out community and conversation. The base population for advertising and commercial engagement has never been greater, yet the the core state of the engaged has been transformed.

What we see is for the most part, laced with an underlying layer of vitriol and anger.

An endless array of arguments. Trollism as a new characteristic on all sides. And nothing be it the Superbowl or workout gear,  movies or art is extant from this. Behavior-and likewise commerce—has become a political statement by default.

This is the new normal.

It’s been a switch of utterances of the things that we like (the Facebook effect) to things raved against, the never ending list of things that cause disgust, fear and frustration of having few avenues to act on.

It’s become a normal reaction though invariably shrill. And wildly unproductive.

From a cultural perspective, we are all in need of avenues of expression. Somewhere, someplace to connect, talk, act out.

It’s uncovered the raw technological holes in our social platforms (see my post here) and if you are blogger or online brand, or anyone who spends a part of their waking hours online looking for community, it has also challenged you to find a poise around this.

So what do we do?

And how do we as individuals, as leaders, as companies find a productive and actionable poise towards socialization and work in a reality this raw and politicized?

A loaded question without a lot clear answers.

I started writing this post a few weeks ago and thought—wait!—maybe a new equilibrium will arise and we will inherit the normal again.

I think not.

We’ve turned a cultural corner and that door is shut behind us forever.

What’s telling is that the new normal touches everything from the education of our kids, our belief systems about the planet, animal rights, basic income, welfare of the unfortunate, the power of the 1%. Everything!

So how do we find a new pace? A new poise?

How do clothing manufacturers change their ads for underwear or socks on Facebook? How does this stylize how we talk about wine? Or exercise? Or vacations? Or the software we sell?

I’m not a believer that we need to wear all of our beliefs on our sleeves. But I do think we need to make decisions on how to address this new world in how we communicate, how we market, how we design new products and platforms for this new world.

To me there are three top-of-the-list rules that have been helpful:

Own your beliefs and understand that they are who you are, and how your market will view you.

Think hard about your beliefs, and then own them. Whether you shout them from your Facebook wall or not, they are who you are. Whining is unacceptable. Ownership of your thoughts is the new ethos of authenticity.

Pretending that nothing is changed is a losing strategy.

Embracing change and making it your own is always the right choice to make.

This is especially true if you work on the social nets. Understand that you are what you post and that no act, even a decision not to engage, is an act in itself.

Learn that the most powerful choice is often not to respond at all.

And that the common knowledge on the value of engagement has changed.

Posting is one thing. Fueling conversations quite another.

As blasphemous as it is coming from me,  I am much choosier about whether to respond at all in many instances. Often I don’t.

So…

We have had cataclysmic change before. But unlike the collective response to  9/11, for example, this shift is divisive more than disruptive, and in these early days seemingly isolating not connecting.

And this change is fed by the very amplification of the social web itself. Supercharged momentum living by gesture alone and the seeming enemy of nuance and reflection.

We as a culture are beginning to find our way in this.

But this is not a blip in time that peaks and ebbs. It is, I believe, the beginning of a rippling dramatic change, that will change everything about how we work, govern and live.

Whether it is circumstantial or serendipitous, I don’t know but the gates are very much open.

And as well, this post, for me, is a beginning.

Re-energized and inspired to figure out how not only to think about the new normal but use it, to manage this change to its advantage and move on to the business of life.

Stepping into the new year

(My site and this 1/2/2017) post were hacked and recreated below.)

This is what’s on my radar entering 2017.

These aren’t predictions so much as topics of interest.  Some I’m working on, some invested in, some chasing after the best ideas on how to get involved.

For predictions, see the brilliant post by Fred Wilson from yesterday.

Here goes!

Humanization of the social nets

The social nets showed their raw side in 2016.

They proved themselves incapable of platforming true serious debate. Structurally they appeared miswired to deal with human touch at scale and balance gesture and conversation, nuance and emotional beliefs.

I reject the idea that closed small groups are the only answer to true conversation and that social nets only really work face to face. Somewhere in the intersection of how our broad social nets host communities of interest lies the answer.

I’m presuming that Facebook is already working on this. I think Twitter has some unique advantages but appears too caught up in fear of failing to take advantage of this market opportunity.

I posted most recently on this here.

Rebirth & reification of the episodic, long-form conversation

The truth today is grey at best.

And conversations require nuance of thought and regardless of the complexity of the topic, some patience.

Blogs and podcasts, extended groupings in real life will become the town halls they were a half dozen years ago. I see this as less retro and more an awareness that gestures alone are not speech and that brands of value can’t be built on the back of hyperbole and mechanized content publishing.

In the face of ignorance and hate, we need intelligence, articulation and openness.

And as well, the skills of thoughtful analysis and storytelling will become the most important train of leadership and success.

The miscast intention of growth hacking and the data-before-thought trend will be pushed aside and market awareness, brand integrity, customer connections, and behavioral consumer understanding will be the first words on our whiteboards as we map our future.

Marketing as the art of communications with the market is overdue to be reimagined.

Local as a workable model

The more our population centers in vertical urban centers, the more real the smart city becomes and the more that logistics become a tool not a challenge to new solutions, the more essential the reality of local as a business model not just a market, becomes essential.

This is both the largest of messes and the ultimate opportunity.

Today, especially in the consumable goods industries, artisanal is a broken concept and invariably hits the wall within the margin crush of distribution, transportation, retail oligopolies.

In effect, local is both the answer and the problem.

The opportunity that must get fixed through the intersection of government cutting back restrictions, partnerships with the smart city infrastructure itself and a cutting into the monopolies of distribution model

Robotics as a panacea for the artisanal food conundrum

Artisanal as a model for consumable is fraught with issues of scale and margin.

I ran into this video last month and it sparked the idea that hand made is ready for disruption.

That one way to solve our food problem is to harness technology itself. The consumerization of robotics as a potential answer.

Crazy—I don’t think so.

I think that as this becomes the answer, where technology is a tool in the artisanal for hand-made and personal.

Think of science fiction caricatures of agriculture on Mars as a reality in Brooklyn to feed the metropolitan area.

Every backyard as part of a web of supply for an unfeedable urban demand.

Top down/bottoms up distinction will start to vanish

I’ve been touching on this for a year now.

That the pendulum of innovation is moving from the bottom to the top, from the individual to the enterprise, from ideas at incubators to corporations with the resources to truly accumulate and parse the data that sits behind most everything.

This is not obviating the startup culture certainly but nothing changes the world than the huge ship of the enterprise embracing it.

From changes in how we work, from incorporating IoT and I think the most profound, the resurge of understanding that enterprise sales, strategic selling into the world’s largest entities will become a rare skill as much if not more so that the need for the most brilliant programmers.

Location as a point of commercial value

Today, location data is free. Ubiquitous.

I think that proximity, dynamic location that includes not just where thing are but where they are in relations to everything else will come of age.

And that this will redefine location as free to a dynamic that is part of a business model itself.

Maybe through IoT finally surfacing out of the chaos of devices to a platformed software model. Maybe driven to address the mobile aspect of the changing workforce.

I know that many are tackling this and the groundwork for this to break open becomes more real daily.

What I am clear on is that this will happen in the enterprise first.

Happy New Year to all!

Through change comes opportunity. Through surprise comes the push to understand the why of what happened.

We certainly have lots of change and loads of surprise to take away from 2016.

And there are lots of opportunities in front of us.

Humanizing our networks

In the aftermath of the election, I keep waking up thinking “What do I do now?”

What can each of us individually do to impact the status quo?

For the last decade, we have turned to the social nets for this very activity.

For information. For engagement. For solace and support in the communities we form there.

This no longer appears to be working.

Possibly through the painful discordance of this year, the divisiveness of the conversations themselves, we are now more aware of the foibles of the social nets and their innate points of failure.

Their flatness. Their structural lack of nuance. The actuality that the analog/digital divide we herald so often as vestigial, is indeed not gone at all.

An interview with Albert Wegner on the ethical challenges of the networks, inspired me to approach the topic from a different point of view.

Understanding that while certainly the social nets are a digital reflection of our analog world, they are not a true mirror of it.

That we need to fess up to the fact that the very platforms we live on have a built-in numbness. A structural insensitivity that has left us somewhat churning as a culture.

On one hand, the nets are packed with rich media today,  real-time broadcast infrastructures.

But they are really black and white, monotone, even tone deaf by nature.

When our limited gestures become the nature of language, then thought is constricted by the primitiveness of the medium itself. And maybe indeed this flatness is why the messages now sound so shrill and hard edged.

When you think of it, our nets are simply an amplifier. Simply a transport system.

No filters. No carryover of human poise. No innate values.

Just a marble shoot of weightless data, where volume is the quotient for fact.

It took this year, for me at least, to come to grips with this.

It took the ongoing in-your-face political Facebook ads. The endless, real-time push attacks and retorts that made both sides appear tasteless, grating and wrong.

An unpleasant and unproductive shit storm. A context gone wild. A medium unsuited to the very debate that brought us there.

I’ve blogged on how different 9/11 would have been in a wired world.

But in the aftermath of it 15 years ago, I spent every day in Union Square with large circles of people—expressing ourselves, arguing, hugging and working out a new gestalt of community in that unprecedented circumstance.

It helped in a way that many seem unable to find today.

And with all this connectivity at our fingertips, all these communities ready to be formed, the nets have really not worked to societies benefit this year. Rather than a medium for conversation and connection, they’ve become a platform for dispute and divisiveness.

I’m a tech geek by trade. A community builder. A populist for a better future infused with the reach and power of a connected world.

But I need to say that both the apologists for Trump and postings on my news feeds from good friends warning of a doomed world, equally sound wrong and off to me.

We all agree that these are very challenging times, but the very nature of the medium itself feels not up to the job at hand. Or in the least, not flexible enough to handle the nuance of debate that this requires.

It feels like good intent squished into some Twilight Zone plot making everything appear a bit sideways and wrong. A shouting match. Barkers on the street corners and bullies in the halls.

I find myself pining for longer-form blogs and podcasts. Gobbling up the New Yorker. Searching for nuance and banter between people.

Hanging out at Racines, my local winebar, often with friends. Talking and listening. Looking into peoples faces.

Not necessarily finding an actionable answer to the question–What do I do now?  But experiencing the grounding effect of human touch.

We all know that it is so easy, almost tempting at times, to be a complete ass online. While in person, most of us are invariably emotionally correct even when politically we are on different sides of an idea.

And that emotional civility and correctness is a large step toward change that at some core level is absent on the networks today.

This post is a challenge to myself and my community to think this through.

We are certainly not going to abandon the social nets. Nor is face-to-face a scalable solution on its own.

We need to reinvigorate our social nets to be more human in scale. To be useful for debate.  To connect more naturally to the real world.

To be more emotionally correct.

To be aware of the connections between who we are and what we think, and the very platforms we use to express ourselves.

I firmly believe that for most things of importance, the medium is inseparable from the message.

This medium sorely needs humanizing as it is surely not as good as we are as people, and that is simply not good enough.