Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Busy day plotting strategy

Good (early) morning, folks!  Today’s going to be another busy day, but while yesterday was chock full of more tasks than you could shake a fist at, today is full of meetings in which we’ll be helping to map out some high scale strategies.  We’re meeting with a couple of different groups today to discuss some new project ideas, and one of them deals with what I’ve taken to calling the “garage video” industry.  We’ll actually be looking at establishing an ecosystem of companies to develop a wider array of businesses and jobs within a couple of key industry sectors.  It’s yet early in the planning, but we’re all pretty excited.  In conjunction with this, we’ll be seeing if we can get our hands on some reliable and explanatory data on the current local economy and the array of business development policies that exist today.  We might ultimately be mapping out a high scale “strategy”; really articulating what is probably a disjointed collection of programs and policies.

Later today we’ll be entering into another session of our Energy Working Group that came out of last year’s Summit.  Today’s session ought to be fairly productive with some decisions on near-term deliverables.  The purpose of the group is to promote a clean energy future for Hawai’i, and we are at the point of articulating a clear and simple strategy for this year and linking that to some success objectives.  For anyone interested check out SummitNet.

Think about tomorrow.


Filed under: Business, Economics, Energy, Summit

Economic justice?

Morning, everyone!  I didn’t get around to posting yesterday due to being a little overwhelmed managing an information deluge (that’s going better today) and being immersed in my paper.  But along these lines, if you enjoy looking at lots of information and what a new way to organize and centralize your feeds, check out Netvibes.

Back in November Thomas Friedman, the well-known author of The World is Flat, wrote in his New York Times column about the (then) proposed auto bailout.  He quoted another writer who suggested that if the government (read: society) bailed out the auto companies, then the leadership should go and investors should lose their equity.

Recently in Davos, Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and writer about risk and uncertainty (particularly in finance), summed up the financial bailout in wonderfully simple (and politico-economic) terms: in bailing out the banks, we kept profit privatized while socializing loss.  It was, he said, the worst of both capitalism and socialism, and one for which taxpayers bear the worst burden.

I think both of these are examples of an often much-needed step back from issues to see them in their larger (and unfortunately to the hyper-pragmatists in life) and often philosophical contexts and consequences.  We talk about these economic recovery plans as acts of government, but forget that government is in fact a creation of society and an agent for society’s benefit.  Many of these very large, complex issues need to be reframed in terms that illuminate larger issues of societal fairness and responsibility, referring to both private businesses and government.

Think about tomorrow.

Filed under: Business,

Looking for survival, and ultimately, growth

Morgen, folks.  A tad slower on the boot-up this morning, but the caffeine is beginning to kick in!

One of the things that we’ve been noticing in working on several different projects with a variety of different decision makers and thought leaders locally is an interesting confluence: on the one hand many people, decision makers included, are concluding that we (Hawai’i, the US, the world) need some transformative change and now actually have a small window of opportunity.  They are looking for it, but like many of us, the breadth and scale of the issues interacting to create our current immediate crises and longer-term vulnerabilities is overwhelming from an analytic standpoint.  It’s just hard to make sense of things and figure out what actions might really lead to successful systemic change.

At the same time, first- and second-hand feedback seems to show that people all over the place are hungering for, dare I say it, vision.  And not the airy-fairy vision statements most organizations and communities make, and not vague statements of purpose or topic, but a truly compelling vision of clarity and breakthrough thinking.  People do want hope and they do want (need) something to believe in, especially in these times.  But as has been shown the last several years, particulary in Hawai’i, such clear and compelling vision has been absent, from the government, from business, and from community.  We’ve gotten good at our ‘politics of protest’ and striking out after what we in narrowly defined groups want to protect, but we’ve either lost or abandoned our capacity for creating and articulating a collective vision.

And right now, from the vaunted World Economic Forum in Davos, to the communities and meeting rooms here in Hawai’i, people sense there is a short window of opportunity for meaningful change and they are looking for the clarity and foresight that might lead them through it.

Along these lines you might check out a number of recent articles and postings all relating to this, but this morning a couple in particular would be good:

  • Robert Scoble writes about the lack of focus on supporting small business through our various economic recovery plans
  • and Scoble notes small business owner Andrew Field who offered a new plan for bringing the economic stimulus straight to small businesses in a form they need
  • and the NYT Magazine has an interesting article on the economy and economic recovery
  • and an interesting visualization of the economic stimulus plan

Think about tomorrow.

Filed under: Business, Change, Economics, Vision, ,

Web design and business plans

A colleague asked me to drop in on a college course he teaches to help watch and critique student business plans last night.  I have to say that it was nice to see some good work and good thinking in these plans, at times a fair bit more thinking than we unfortunately find in existing businesses.  I was impressed with the detail of some of their operational plans and with the thought they had given to some of the unique operational flows that their businesses would require.  We’re referring some of them to an organization one of our client/partners suggested today in a meeting.  Not that I or anyone here needs anymore things to do, but it might be nice to touch bases with each of the major programs in town that formally help students and residents develop business plans and employ some social media to create a network and collaboration site for start-ups, if it hasn’t already been done.

On another matter, we’ve been talking with a number of people for potential web developers for a project we have going that will be developing a web site to promote and harness more local civic engagement in general, and understanding of our government in particular.  It’s a modest project, but an extremely worthy one based on a very simple but interesting idea.  We’ll be making choices in the next couple of days, so there’s still time for people to suggest some local web developers who would be interested in participating.

Also, based on some direct feedback, we added a couple of designs last night to our VFS Apparel line: some long-sleeve shirts and women’s tanks.  If you have any suggestions or request, just let us know and we’ll be happy to work on putting them together.

Think about tomorrow.

Filed under: Business, Democracy, Wealth

Virtual Economies

This arstechnica article on the IRS being urged to tax activities in virtual worlds once again reminds us that when it comes to diversifying the economy, there are many ways to do that.  We normally talk about the economy in terms of major sectors like ‘construction’ or singular pillar industries like ‘tourism,’ but the economy is actually a very complex and dynamic thing, and our traditional focus on single shot cures for both short term recovery and long-term growth are likely to fall short of either hope.

There are leading-edge theories about economic growth that posit that our modern, post-industrial economies grow through the development of new technologies and the changes those new capabilities provoke in how we do work and how we produce value.  At the industry and organizational level, we would then be looking at how businesses evolve through applying new technologies and reorganizing themselves around those technologies, not just for greater efficiencies but also to produce new things of value.  Broad change and evolution in economies then is not achieved simply through a government stimulus package or by simply dumping money into public works projects, but more likely through consistent support of new R&D, new businesses, and lots of experimentation.

For Hawai’i, one has to wonder how many different (and new) areas of entrepreneurship and experimentation we should be open to and supportive.  No one really nows what ‘virtual’ economies (which actually are real economies for intangible goods) could become for Hawai’i, but for a place with geographic isolation, multi-cultural populations, and reasonable tech infrastructure, maybe more of us should be looking at developing and growing creative new online economies.

Filed under: Business, Economics, Hawai'i, Technology, Wealth

Fixing the auto mess

A November article by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke to the trouble with our big 3 American automakers.  The article got me thinking about other ways we might address the problem.  Rather than bailing out the auto makers, what if we followed some of Friedman’s advice and then implemented a more radical solution to the long-term issues of the American economy, transportation systems, and smarter practices?

The Federal Industrial Redeployment Program:

We can prepare for the eventual failure of the major US automakers by laying the groundwork for the rapid creation of an entire ecosystem of new, 21st century transportation companies, an entirely new industry, to be staffed by the line staff (not leadership or ownership) of the former Big 3.

The goals of the program would be three-fold:

  1. quick re-employment of thousands of skilled workers
  2. reintroduction of the conditions of competition and innovation
  3. creation of transportation companies focused on next-generation vehicle technologies and standards

Instead of a bailout, we could use the money to create what essentially would be a business (industry) incubator.  It would be a 2 – 3 year program, with the government (or some agent thereof) playing incubator to the complete range of companies, from design to aftermarket suppliers.  All of them would be required to incorporate new technologies and new sustainable standards.  The program would facilitate connecting entrepreneurs, workers, and investors.

Fanciful?  Perhaps, but increasingly we need completely new perspectives and more radical ideas that can mobilize a wide range of actors to engage in the problems and to generate a multitude of experiments and possible answers.  As so many are starting to recognize today, simply shoring up the past is no longer sufficient to ensure our future.

Contact us: Vision Foresight Strategy

Filed under: Business, Economics, Sustainability, Transportation

4-Day Work Week Mistake?

In recent months cities and states across the country have been debating and experimenting with the four day work week.  It has even hit the federal scene, with congressmen calling for a four day week in DC.  And in almost every case the driving concern has been the reduction of car fuel savings and energy costs for the employer.  And of course Hawaii is half-way through it’s state experiment and responses seem positive.  But will this response to a ‘crisis’ set in motion more difficult strategic challenges in the years ahead?

The idea of the work week has been under criticism for some time; it is, after all, an arbitrary construct.  For most of human history, most people engaged in the work of living pretty much every day.  Long before there were farms or agriculture, humans had an amount of socialization and ‘leisure’ time that many of us would envy.  It’s partly to the Judeo-Christian worldview that we see the week as having days that should be without work (and thus, if we have to make our numbers, we’re supposed to cram them into our ‘work’ days).  And it’s to the mechanization and drive for cost-reduction created by the industrial revolution and mass production that we owe the time card and the concept that your hour has a certain dollar value.

But an interesting new book by cognitive scientist John Medina, Brain Rules, points out a host of provocative new findings about how the human brain works and how our modern approaches to education and work often run counter to the most effective lifestyles for our delicate and wondrous brains.  Did you know that 10% of people truly think and work best early in the day, being very early to bed and early to rise?  Or that 20% of people are truly better late at night and seldom get to bed before 3 am?  A full 30% of our citizens are literally not wired to do well in the standard 9 – 5 routine, yet we have in recent decades required everyone to confirm, with measurable losses in mental abilities, focus, and productivity.

We’re not designed, mentally or physically to sit at a desk for 8 hours, much less 10, yet that is the kind of routine with which we’re experimenting.  It is certainly too early to judge the long-term effects of extending the work day, and the ‘solution’ is really intended to address energy costs.  But once we open up this issue, it’s an opportunity for us to consider broader or additional changes in the construct of the work week.  For instance, in the short term, with our current dependence on fossil fuels to generate the energy we use to get to and from work and to light up the work place, reducing the number of days while lengthening them seems prudent.  But in the longer-term, as renewable and alternative sources of energy come online, the energy issues change, and we will want to keep in mind alternatives that increase overall happiness and productivity in even more fundamental ways.

If anyone has any good sources on scientific studies of alternative work schedules, we would love to hear about them.


Filed under: Biology, Business, Economics, Energy, Hawai'i, Transportation

Democracy in Moderation

An article posted today took a brief look at how Encyclopedia Britannica, that old quick-reference guide to world knowledge that we all relied on back in the day, is slowly modernizing itself.  And this means: how is it coming to grips with Wikipedia and the big trend in ‘collaborative’ sites and services (think blogs, wikis, and commentaries for everything) where the people at large contribute, edit, and argue.  Britannica is moving to some wiki platforms, but they have decided to maintain the key role of the expert in the production of their branded information.

This kicked off two things for us: 1) how this fits into the trends in information production and publishing; and 2) how this relates to the contemporary seizure with all things bottom-up

Publishing: A recent NY Magazine article looked at the changes in the massive book publishing industry, from the gradual change in publishers from small and artfully-run to the massive corporate media empires that are hit-driven just like Hollywood.  It mentioned Amazon.com and the Kindle, it’s e-reader, and the fears that physical publishers have about Amazon’s future ability to be the Microsoft of book publishing.  At the same time that e-readers continue to try to make inroads into our reading habits, web-based self-publishing and print-on-demand services have been expanding for everyday folks.  And then the blogs…

Certainly it’s clear that the technology is changing so that everyday folks have access to publishing their own thoughts, news, and stories.  Everyone can yammer away into the void with their own blogs, and they can pay to have their work printed (just like the old vanity press), but what’s the real impact to the idea of information, about what’s news-worthy and thus read-worthy?  What is the role of the expert in selecting ‘quality’ material?  And especially important as everyone begins to panic about the economy: what writing should we pay for?  When do we care about vetted material enough to pay for it, and when does instant gratification drive us to be satisfied with writing that might lack for quality or accuracy?

We also have to wonder about the potential for the Long Tail-type theories of business opportunities.  While Hawaii likes to argue over massive state programs to promote targeted economic growth in major industry clusters (one can hear the visitor industry growling in the background), there is probably a lot more that could be done at a much lower level of cost to promote the types of niche micro-businesses that the Long Tail suggests, which for Hawaii could very well include the evolution of new writing and publishing models.  Like most side-businesses, all it takes is to link up people’s passions with a little extra income to make a difference in their economic lives.

Bottom-Up: And then there’s the bottom-up issue.  It’s all the rage today to disparage the expert, the official, and anything that smacks of top-down.  Collaborative software like wikis and blogs and social network technologies allow us to connect to each other and share and contribute without any of the types of social, economic, or political structures we’ve lived under throughout recorded history.  Everywhere people conflate this with democracy and hail a new age in which the ‘community’ (a word which no longer means the neighborhood but a collective of people), the grass-roots, the crowd trump any other process or authority.

But down through history thinkers and philosophers have made a distinction between the People (arranged in a deliberative process) and the Mob (simply a mass of individuals).  What’s important is the question: when is ‘the community’ the right process, and when are experts required to lead and produce?  Even the Athenians, those symbols of democracy, understood that sometimes the individual was needed to make a decision instead of the multitude.

And when we come back to the issues of publishing, writing, and sharing, the collaborative tools and the social networking technologies force us to contemplate changes in what we define as ‘news’ and as valid information.  When ‘the people’ are able to connect with one another, and if they are left to their own devices (as opposed to the interests of mass media that has traditionally defined and pumped the news to people), what do they define as news, and what are they actually interested in learning about and reading about?

As any review of services like Twitter indicate, what’s important news to people is often stuff that mass media can’t replicate: what’s going on with my friends, family, and colleagues?  When taken from the perspective of the individual, important news and information is nuanced into much more personal spheres than the nightly news or newspapers can address.  So, what new balance might emerge from the tension between the expert and the community in defining, producing, and ultimately selling news and information?

Filed under: Business, Culture, Democracy, Economics, Governance, Hawai'i

Socializing Entrepreneurship

BusinessWeek online has a new special report on the best young entrepreneurs under 25. The report links also include short articles on resources, education for, and examples of Millennial business starters.

The education and socialization and our youth really does need a major overhaul and redesign, both in terms of process and outcomes. Most current generations were trained in the industrial age model and have had to develop wholly new skills to be competent and contributing adults in contemporary society. It is interesting that in a society (and indeed, a civilization) that is built upon market economies and esteems the ‘company’, we do so little to socialize our youth to the opportunities and realities of business. And we don’t mean business in the Ebeneezer Scrooge, 19th century robber-baron sense, but in the community-minded, globally-aware and connected 21st century sense. Education and socialization need to be rethought and mapped against the emerging realities (and hopes) of contemporary life.


Filed under: Business, Education

The DIY Economy

A CNET article from last year (gasp!) talked about the emergence of the do-it-yourself Web, where new companies online provide fast and easy tools for non-techies to create professional looking and more sophisticated websites. The article also talked about new services to let non-programmers build web ‘mash-ups’, a typically inelegant internet term for an online service that fuses two or more information sources and tools into a single application (or experience).

Thoughts: Although we don’t often think about technology this way, one of the applications of technology is to embed competency or capability into a tool to allow humans to do something they naturally cannot do, such as fly, explode objects, or create precise, visually stunning documents. This has been a characteristic of technology from the earliest times, and today we can see the evolution of this to new heights.

While being able to code is certainly a plus in today’s economy, you certainly don’t need such skills to operate in the global marketplace. We’re seeing the emergence of what some have anticipated for years: the beginnings of an economy where ideas and content really are economic drivers and where more and more of ‘the masses’ can participate, not simply as consumers, but once more a producers of valued content. From WYSIWYG software for building websites, to home video editing software, to the new services to allow non-coders to build mashups on the Web, we have been witnessing the slow application of technology to enable the average person to produce, distribute, and theoretically make money off of their original content, something previously relegated to corporations with large finances, reach, and technical staff.

In the future we will be watching for more instances of this shift, such as in movies and CGI, where developments in the last few years have slowly but surely brought professional-grade computer animation and movie making to the home desktop. It does not take a professional futurist to anticipate that in the not too distant future, any individual with basic computer literacy, an internet connection, good imagination, and good social networks could build their own successful media conglomerate, with highly unique news, entertainment, and whatever new forms of fusion media they can imagine. Add to that the parallel trend in fabrication technology, and that person’s ideas could easily take physical form (more on that in later posts)…


  • The Long Tail: a book based on an earlier article that argues that the emerging economy will allow the small little niches, not profitable from the mass market retail point of view, to be viable busineses in the 21st Century.
  • The Movies: a computer game that simulates a movie studio. It became almost more popularly because a sub-component of the game allowed players to script, selected costumes, scenes, and props, and paste together simple computer-animated scenes and thus literally produce the movies they wanted their fictitious characters to star in
  • Maya: a popular and award-winning program for 3D modeling
  • Popfly: a new Microsoft application to allow users to use shapes rather than actual code to create mashups

Filed under: Business, Economics, Wealth

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.

The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


Vision Foresight Strategy

We work with organizations to anticipate strategic change and to craft the strategies that will shape their desired futures.

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