Cars as friends? or Cars as keepers of all knowledge about us.

USC has built a car that monitors vital signs and driving patterns in order to help drivers make healthier choices while on the road. The post suggests the car could help us make better decisions around our health. Is this useful in a car? Do we want this? And how will this get smarter as the cars themselves become smarter. That is, as our cars start doing the driving for us, they'll know where we're going. Tying that data together with our health data, that car will know an awful lot about us. This information could be very interesting to insurance companies, government agencies, companies… and who will control it? One could imagine a vendor relationship management (VRM)-style system in which we sell access to it, or trade that access for, say, lower insurance premiums. Or, one could imagine a google owning it, and selling ads to us based on our habits, health, etc. What would you prefer? 

Updated use of this blog

For a long time, I've found interesting tidbits and broadcast them to the universe via twitter (@gabrielscheer). However, I've resolved to get better at putting some of those finds, and the thinking that goes with them, on this blog. So, stay tuned for more posts here soon! 

Some thoughts on the approaching election

Dear next President: 

The words "climate change" are pretty unequivocal, stating that we can expect change. "Change" implies things that we can't necessarily predict, in as much as we can predict anything weather related. Currently, most of the east coast is shutting down. Our power grid does not contain enough on-site, distributed generation to keep separate places powered when others go down; they're all part of a grid. Our mobility options are shutting down – including roads for single-occupant personal vehicles. Schools are closing, and businesses with them. The economic loss solely from all of this cessation of activity will be staggering. Yes, the inevitable destruction counts as GDP – great! growth! – but the on the ground reality is that this is bad for the people and other living things in the storm's path, it's bad for our national economy, and it's bad for the world. That doesn't begin to consider the environmental, health, or community impacts.

We could keep arguing senselessly about whether climate change is happening, but what's the point? Look at the weather events of the last year, and then let's get out that ol' can-do American attitude toward leading and finding solutions to problems. The nice thing about science is that it doesn't care if you believe it, but that doesn't absolve us of taking advantage of what could otherwise destroy us. 

So, a road map: when you take office next year, I'd respectfully suggest you fundamentally re-prioritize: focus on local, sustainable energy production – even if connected by regional or national grids. Focus on localized food production systems, even if connected by regional or (inter)national distribution systems. Focus on creating and supporting myriad mobility options – not just more roads for cars. And last but not least, focus on creating regulatory certainty around carbon. Cap it. Trade it. Market base it, but let's get serious about adapting and leading in this changing world. Doing this will not only show that the US can still lead… it may even (gasp!) create fantastic, massive new business opportunities around which our entrepreneurs can plug exciting, new, money-making, job-creating, tax-generating solutions! Ooooh… and there may even be "externalities," side effects such as cleaner air, healthier kids, cleaner water, and other trivialities. 


Constituent #257,000,241 (I may be off a bit on the number)

PS: Sorry if I'm long-winded. Turns out that snarky missives about saving the world don't really fit on Twitter.

So what’s social innovation?

RVL, my company, is a social innovation consultancy. What does that mean? 

In short, the world has sped up, and everything has become more social. That means social in the sense of social media and communications, of course: people are communicating, sharing, and engaging more than ever before, to the point of exhaustion. However, people are also increasingly demanding that organizations "make as positive an impact as possible," in the words of lefty rag Forbes. The social impact piece is increasingly being demanded, despite or perhaps even because of the current chaotic, scary state of the world. 

So how do these things play together? Well, organizations are increasingly having to engage with their constituents – customers, clients, stakeholders, shareholders. Transparency is increasingly the name of the game, as internal and external players make sure the world can see the inner workings of any corporate machine (for example, see the recent Google +/Amazon outting). If your organization has a good social story to tell, you should be telling it via every means possible: the social communications part. If your organization doesn't have a good social story to tell, the truth will come out – so you'd best start thinking about how to improve.

In either case, RVL has an amazing group of folks from which to put together a team to help: design, implement, evaluate, and tell the story – we're most at home where the socials meet! 

Reflections on the life of an entrepreneur

I was recently asked to speak at the Whidbey Institute during the Bioneers Conference. The topic was "Social entrepreneurship in the new economy," something I've been living for the last three years. Speaking on this topic was a great opportunity to reflect on what has been a tremendous learning experience. 

The short version: I created a company, bringing in business partners around a mediating object (creating a space for social entrepreneurs in Seattle, an incubator, like the Hub). We realized pretty quickly that you don't need six partners who want to make a living doing interesting work to manage a building, so we refocused on consulting – what most of us had been doing before. However, we also realized there were a number of interesting products and services we'd like to see built, so we tried to do those, too. 

You know how focus is key in building something big? Steve Jobs is famous for killing products so as to remain focused on those most likely to succeed. We, sadly, weren't focused, and despite building a decent brand with amazing clients and an excellent team, we had too many interests. So, we decided to split into a few different companies, freeing us to work on things about which we most cared. 

I continued consulting, partnering regularly with many of my former colleagues. It was disappointing to let the old brand go, but at the same time, freeing to be without much of the responsibility of building a company in the traditional sense. My new team was excellent, and we got to work with even more great clients. 

The happy ending to this post is that, early this month, I relaunched the old brand, Re-Vision Labs, with the blessing of my former business partners. The new company is much more focused, and is proving to be a lot of fun! My former partners are doing really cool stuff, and the Hub is opening in Seattle. Things seem to come out in the end. 

My Favorite Thing

People have been asking me, understandably, about my "favorite" aspect of this trip.

The short answer is… the trip.

The longer answer has a few sections. I'll try to lay it all out below:

1) Surprise. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Poland. I expected to love Copenhagen – and I did. I knew I'd be glad to again be in the cacophony of Turkey, and I was. I had no idea I'd love Poland. It's an amazingly vibrant country, beautiful and writhing (can I use that word in this context?) with opportunity. I want to figure out how to do business there. The Chinese already have. It's an exciting place.

2) Food. The whole darn trip was full of amazing eats. From the hotel breakfasts (the one in our Ankara, Turkey hotel was particularly incredible; I've included a few photos below, and you can't even see the olive bar) to wine-soaked Parisian lunches, we ate like kings and queens. That's not hard to like.

3) Access. I've met some amazing people in my life, but this trip was a seemingly never-ending parade of amazing people. From one meeting to the next, we continuously met with people in whose company it felt an honor to be. Quite the experience.

4) Tour guides. I've always sworn off guided tours as a waste, preferring to find the deep back roads less traveled. I still like that method of travel… but good tour guides can really shape an experience. Three examples that stand out: at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, we were guided by a woman with decades of art history expertise. She curated a massive museum into an incredibly informative, 1.5hour tour. It was spectacular. Similarly, in Warsaw, we were given a tour of the Old City by a guy who seemed to know everything about Warsaw, and I learned more than I'd learned in quite a bit of reading on the town. Finally, the Auschwitz tour was incredibly provocative (see previous post on Krakow to read more about that one).

5) Time. It was an awesome experience (in the true sense of the word) to simply have time to think about the world and one's place in it. I will long be grateful for that opportunity.

Finally – moving back to a nutshell: it was a very fun, incredibly educational experience.


We finished in Paris…

Ah, Paris.

From Warsaw, we caught flights to Paris, the massive pension strikes happily not affecting our ability to get to the City of Lights.

I love Paris. It is an incredible city, buzzing with an energy I’ve found in only a few cities (London, Tokyo, and New York, to be specific). It’s full of incredible architecture, an endless array of boutiques, cafes, bars, and alleys to explore.

Upon arrival at CDG airport, we were hustled into a waiting mini-bus and shuttled to Elysee Palace, the home of the President of France. There, we were taken through security by a member of President Sarkozy’s cabinet, only to be told we must wait in the courtyard (i.e. couldn’t proceed to the room in which we were to be meeting) as the President was about to leave. We waited, and waited, but sadly, he didn’t come out; finally, our escort decided we’d best go, as he was needing to get back to running the country. Yes, it’s a busy life.

Our stay in Paris continued with a series of amazing, if somewhat grueling meetings (our longest day went from 8:15am until…approximately 11 at night, though I’m not totally sure, with almost no breaks). We met with a pair of French journalists in the restaurant where the Obama family ate when last in Paris, and there heard their stories of the changing face of journalism and the news in France. We met with the Executive Producer at the relatively new TV station, France 24, which broadcasts simultaneously in Arabic, English, and French (and which, incidentally, has a great iPhone app), who told us of their effort to provide a more comprehensive competitor to CNN and the BBC. We also met with the leaders of a defense think tank, of a massive public park, and of the French equivalent to the US Chamber of Commerce.

It’s fair to say that by the time we got to France, my group was exhausted. All of us had been in more meetings than we could remember, with short nights the result of amazing, if “working,” dinners followed immediately the next morning by more of the same, coupled with a heavy travel schedule (everyone had at least five cities in 24 days; I had the most, at 7 cites). We were all relatively sick of our clothing, and looking forward to no longer washing our undergarments in hotel sinks. However, I also believe it’s honest to say that we are all emotionally, and intellectually, invigorated. It was an incredible trip, a trip of a lifetime, and one that will not soon be forgotten. The friendships developed in those 24 short days will, in many cases, I believe, persist for years.

As I’ve noted, we were in meetings for hours every day. Many of the conversations led my mind to new business possibilities, new opportunities to engage in the world. In a rare turn of events in a person’s adult life, we were endlessly learning, with no obligation to turn those lessons into any immediate “outcomes.” We met people from all walks of life, people doing every kind of work, and were able to talk politics, economics, sociology, and culture, with no expected result save gaining a better understanding of the world and our places in it, and further developing the Transatlantic relationship. It was an incredible experience.

Below, some images of Paris.