Naked life


Naked life
Life without walls
Just picture your neighbourhood without walls, your neighbours walking around around in their underwear, drinking their morning coffee in plain view of all before they manage to get their face to sit straight. The warm familiarity of a warm hand down the front of your trousers while watching TV or that moment when the bile rises in repugnance of a spiteful comment from your dear spouse. Our lives depend on walls. Without walls when would we pick our noses or break joyous wind.  But this is exactly the experience that camping gives us and I have to admit, it is a very pleasant one.  

As a Brit, I have always viewed camping as an exercise in resilience. I remember shivering

Camping in Britain
kingdom of rain

throughout the night as a small child, fear stoked by campfire ghost stories; the sounds of nature morphed by the imagination into ghouls and monsters. Waking up with a raging hangover in a puddle after a stormy night at a festival as a teen.  Camping in Britain is a badge of honour, a rite of passage to fill the heart of any Victorian explorer or even Baden-Powell himself.


Then, I tried camping in Greece. Camping in Greece is not an SAS survival course; it is an exercise in prolonged nudity. Not just the fact that you spend most of your time in your trunks or bikini but  that people set up complete roaded suburbs from canvas and string, it is true open-plan living.  The result is taste of life without walls. The barbeque indicates the kitchen, a piece of string the laundry room.
What really started to make an impression on me, though was how a life without walls can be quite liberating. Stripping life back to basics is 5star living on 1star expenses, your every need is fulfilled because you don’t have any. The most taxing dilemma of the day is whether to make the trek down to the beach or sit and read a book in the hammock. The most arduous task is lighting the barbeque for dinner.

Your neighbours are all very semi-clad and this seems to make them more open to a good morningand a friendly chat. The lack of boundaries makes open visits so much easier and we enjoyed meeting people that we may not have otherwise spoken to on a hotel break. We shared food and drinks with them without fear of encroaching or interference.
The whole experience got me thinking what my own neighbourhood would be like without walls. Would we be a little more considerate without our doors to close, a little more charitable if we saw what was on other people’s plates.

naked camping
life al fresco
Then there is the matter of vanity; you would think that being naked all day would make you very self-conscious but quite the opposite is true. When the illusion of perfection is no longer made possible by push-up bras or baggy shirts, people look more human, more flawed and less intimidating. We tend to imagine what we cannot see and we tend not to imagine the worst. That said, you do become more in-tune with your own body and are more likely to pass on another sausage from the grill when you feel your tummy starting to protrude. One of my neighbours was a young guy with a fantastically chiselled physique but seeing his mealtimes served from a carefully prepared Tupperware box helped me appreciate that nothing comes for nothing. I personally found people less pretentious and more attractive for it.               

Taking some of the pretence from life might help many to feel less inadequate and more happy with reality. The walls that protect us from prying eyes also allow us to become more influenced by illusions from the popular media than by the people we live around. Reality becomes what we think everyone else is doing.

I can thoroughly recommend a couple of weeks under canvas each year, without push-up, lycra or baggy trousers. It would help to realign our notion of reality and view others in a more human light, not to mention redressing the illusions foisted upon us by the photoshopped media stars.      




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The Century of DIY part 4



Every few years we get to exercise our democratic right to elect the government, the suits who will relentlessly appear on terribly dull news programmes talking about GDP, unemployment and who they feel we should feel we need to wage war on. Every few years, they tour round the country, kissing our grandmas and babies, get chummy with rock stars and actors and appeal to our good sense to give them our vote. Politicians are our representatives; they look after our needs and the needs of our nation. A democratically elected government is the management team, responsible for making sure our needs are met and we are cared for. This mammoth organisation is funded and its (our) employees are paid through the taxes. So why are they slowly but surely passing these obligations to private industry who charge us again for the same services? This is the century of DIY
Everyone knows that the Greeks invented democracy, the word itself means rule of the people. Around 6th century BC some clever Athenians decided that every citizen of the state should have a say in how the state was run and taxes were levied on the people for the defence of democracy. This model was used by subsequent republics for millennia and the taxes were collected by monarchs and autocrats to keep them in palaces and armies.

It wasn’t until the 1850s when Otto von Bismarck, the first elected chancellor of Germany, expanded the remit of the government to the welfare of the people by taking over and consolidating the role of charitable organisations.

It was the British who really threw themselves into social welfare, maybe in a bid to stem the tide of communism or maybe because they were just really good people but liberal prime ministers Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George furthered the reach of the government with state pensions, unemployment benefits and health cover.

This was the beginning of governments taking responsibility of the people they were expecting to keep them in a job. Under the guidance of John Maynard Keynes and the findings of the 1942 Beveridge report Britain established the welfare state to tackle what William Beveridge called the “five Giant evils” of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.  To this end, the people of Britain made contribution to a system of national insurance and in return received housing, schooling, unemployment and disability benefits, work and health care. This idea quickly spread and some countries, such as Sweden are famed for their high levels of taxation and exemplary public services while others lag behind with the bare minimum of welfare such as USA. The one thing is universal, we have become used to looking to our governments to provide for our needs and this justifies our payment of taxes. 

And the payoff was that it enabled the state to manipulate the populous and thus the economy more efficiently.

In the 70s, attitudes changed and a new age of neoclassical, laissez-faire economics came to the fore under the influence of Milton Friedmanand Friedrich Hayek (Margaret Thatcher’s mentor). Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”, written around the time of the Beveridge report, warned of the dangers of government intervention in welfare and Friedman openly spoke out against social welfare. Critics of the walfare state argue that if you provide for peoples’ needs you encourage them to develop their needs over their abilities. In fact, revered author and philosopher, Ayn Rands’ magnus opus, “Atlas Shrugged” tells the story of a world gone mad due to a society of need rather than giving the reigns to super dynamic industrialists.

By the 80s, many governments were beginning to devolve their welfare systems, sell public industries, sell public housing and encourage private industry to run free and proliferate. The result was a boom time for many. Wages rose, bonuses swelled and credit made almost everything attainable to almost everyone. But it wasn’t to be for long; the boom went bang.  

The 90s were spent trying to balance the books after the bust. The main strategy was to deregulate banking and finance and allow laissez-faire economics to drive a new era of wealth and then when things were looking good, it all collapsed around our ears.  
Now governments are trying to rake back the losses made from propping up the private sector, a new welfare state, for the welfare of industry.

As for Sir William Beveridge’s “five Giant evils”

Squalor: Public housing has been sold off leaving private landlords to turn any cupboard into a “studio flat”.

Ignorance: Higher education is now the privilege of those able to take on huge student loans to have the possibility to get  a job that will enable you to pay it off.

Want: Pensions and unemployment benefits have had the goal-post moved so far that private pensions and zero-hour contracts are now the base line.

Idleness: With unemployment and under-employment across the western world at historic highs, especially amongst the young and old, entire generations are dispossessed and not contributing to the community.     

Disease: National health services are crumbling under the pressure. Britain’s NHS is being propped up by the private medical insurance despite the fact that the recession has ensured that less people can afford it. Greece’s system has changed names and protocols so many times recently that even those working in it are unsure of what advice to give patients. France’s system is hanging in but costs are spiralling.

You can still vote, you can still pay taxes but make no mistake, you are on your own.  

The state is adopting the freemium business model. You can have basic services from the state, but in order to get anything more, private industry is on hand to provide supplementary services. The private sector is expected to provide the same, if not better services than a non-profit institution like the state while still keeping an eye on the profit margins.

Social entrepreurism is the new way with individuals encouraged to take up the slack. Set up an NGO and plug the gaps in the state. While the state props up the private sector, with your money.

For what was, in reality, a short period of history, governments made an admirable effort to care for the people who put them there in the first place. Then came the civil war of public versus private and private won. Now you are on your own again, governments and industry are washing their hands of any public responsibility with taxes, once again, collected to fund the wars on the global markets.  



When the lights go out

Chapter 15
I set about my duties at my makeshift mayoral desk full of ideas but without a clue, dear blogees. What on earth does a mayor do, I googled it. After reading Wikipedia and how stuff works dot com, I slumped back in my chair totally discombobulated.  I called Socrates and put the question to him, his answer was thorough, included some choice vocabulary and I’m pretty sure included bullet points, he asked if I understood, I said no. He told me to call a meeting. Two minutes later, I called him back. A meeting with whom?

I managed to get representatives from the police, fire service, the education authority, a handful of utilities and Tasos, the janitor. 

bored meeting
Bored meeting

The electricity people said that since the central government had decided to collect a new tax hike through the electricity bills, people had stopped paying at such a rate that they couldn’t keep up with the disconnection procedures. I asked him what the procedures were and how zealously he had been pursuing them.


“I assure you, Mr. Mayor, that we are doing everything in our power,” he paused and his chest puffed a little. “We have even shut down the power to some schools and citizens advice bureaus.”

 I enquired as to how successful this strategy had been.

“Over 80% of householders in arrears are now on remedial repayment plans,” he announced.

“And the schools?”

His reply was by way of pursed lips and a downward look, “a harder nut to crack.”
I asked who was liable for these arrears and he found a piece of dirt under his pinky nail. Tasos, the janitor was the only to speak, “You are, sir.”   

“Great, then reconnect immediately! We’ll settle up,” the accountant chap, who had remained quiet in the corner with his laptop, coughed, looked at the screen and gently swung his head, the well-assembled secretary looked over the accountants shoulder and made another gesture but I got briefly distracted.     

I told him to reconnect all public services and I would be over within the week to make arrangements. The electric man said he would be able to reconnect after terms had been arranged. Socrates, who had slipped in unnoticed and kept his silence, broke it, “The mayor said he would make arrangements within the week.” He looked at the electric man the way he had looked at me when I was in prison. The electric man made a note in a book and Socrates repeated himself. He pulled out his phone, said “within the week” emphatically and excused himself.

The lady from the education authority asked if the teachers, who had been unpaid for some months now could expect the same attention. I assured her that everyone would be dealt with in due course and Socrates smiled, almost.   

The water board man was predicting another summer of cuts due to the pre-crisis building boom in the area and the lack of funds to update the network. I asked why the network had not been upgraded in accordance with the building permission applications before the building boom. His reply was something about not having access to such information and went quiet.

The fire brigade had been forced to let a number of buildings burn due to a broken down engine and some dry hydrants. The boys down the station had managed to botch up the engine with some spares from a decommissioned engine but they had come across a number of hydrants with no supply. The water board man fiddled with his phone while the fire chief spat this last comment in his direction.      

I called the meeting to a close citing a very busy afternoon and everyone gladly left.
“We are so fucked!”

“We too must endure and persevere, and then courage will not laugh at our faintheartedness in searching for courage; which after all may, very likely, be endurance,” was Socrates’ reply.

I looked back at him and repeated, “We are so fucked!”

I needed to clear my head so I headed into the streets to get some air. It was market day and the streets were closed to traffic, replaced with stalls full of produce and old women with wheely baskets. A group of shaven-head heavies were talking to a stall holder. As I approached I could see that they were performing some kind of check, the stall-holder had handed over his licence and the pit-bulls were examining it. They nodded and moved on. It occurred to me to confront them but my face still hurt too much. At the end of the row of stalls I found an Asian looking man picking broken plastic toys from the floor, his make-shift stall in crumbs around him. I asked what he was doing and he answered, without turning round, that he was picking up and leaving. When he did turn I recognised the face; it was like the face that had greeted me in the mirror the previous day. He was shaking with fear, grabbed what he could and ran.
       
It was late in the day when I arrived back at the town hall. Many had left for the day but I managed to find Tasos, the janitor. I called him and broached the subject of our infestation. He looked confused. In the basement, I reminded him and he shuffled uneasily. I asked to take a look down there to see what could be done. He told me that it wasn’t very pleasant down there and maybe I should just let him deal with it.  

If I was to have any hope of dealing with the prefecture, I would first have to get my own house in order. What I found in the basement would take more than Rentokill to solve; my house would need some serious order. 

Some bedrooms would be a start.
   

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Ark building in Northern Greece

It’s been raining now for forty days, four days, I’ve lost count but mating couples of all species have begun gathering at my door. Autumn is here and it’s doing it’s bit to support BP’s lost profits, forests are being razed and burned on open fires and my trusty Vespa is cold and dejected on the driveway. My parka is no match for its relentless volleys and the other evening as I was ascending the peak home my face was pocked with shards of frozen cats and dogs.

And the government will accept no responsibility. Typical!


The Century of DIY part 3

Not since the industrial revolution has the world seen such a tsunami of technological change. A change that affects each and every one on the planet, in fact many maintain that the industrial revolution was but a blip compared to what we are living through now. The big difference now is who is paying for it. The steam revolution was bankrolled by the new middle classes and industrialists and built on the backs of the new factory workers. The tech revolution is being paid from your pockets and history has taught us some important lessons about betting on the wrong horse when you know nothing of the stables.
Don’t panic…SELL!

Toward the end of 1929 Wall street was looking shaky, the Dow Jones had taken a tumble in the spring but rallied again after the National City  Bank had propped it up with a $25 million injection but those in the know knew that it was time to cash their chips and move to another table. By the end of October chips were being cashed quicker than the market to sustain and “Black Tuesday” signalled the beginning of a world depression. The Rockefellers and Billy Durant made a brave attempt to save their investments but with over $30 billion (when $30 billion was a sum of money) wiped off the markets in a matter of days, even they could not stem the tide .


There have been many market crashes throughout history, most bizarrely the  Tulip mania crash of 1637, and more recently “Black Wednesday” in the early 90s, the dot-com bubble at the end of the millennium and the one that we are still reeling from now that seems to have begun when Lehman brothers fell in 2008. The nature of markets is boom and bust, when speculators see a chance at massive returns they will do what speculators do; speculate, and when the nuts and bolts of the stock will no longer support the market value the bears move in and the prices fall.

Tulip Mania – Middle-ages dot.com

The issue is now who loses when the markets slump. In 1929, as the new middle classes and industrialists lost fortunes on the markets, the working classes lost their work.  We also need to understand what happens in a bear market. A bear market, as defined by Investopedia  is more than 20% downturn in multiple stock indexes in a 2 month period and in the crashes this happens in a matter of days but those who are close to the market react quickly and sell their stock before losses bite too hard, leaving those outside the loop to take the brunt. Around the end of the 90s, when Charles Schwab and E Trade introduced online trading, the markets became available to all. The flipside of this is that it made $billions of private funds available to the markets. Many of the these services allow individuals to trade with a credit account, in other words they allow you to speculate much more than you may have to lose. Speculation drives prices, speculation by individuals without the same access to information or understanding of company values as professional traders. This is a fantastic democratisation of the markets but when it goes wrong it is the inner circle that gets out first drawing the profits up the food chain and the losses to the little fish.


Crowdfunding is seen as the new way for the common man to get in on the investment ladder; services like Kickstarter and Crowdcube allow anyone to become a venture capitalist by investing in start-ups and expanding businesses. In a world where the banks are becoming all too reluctant to invest in new and uncertain ventures, the householders have come to the rescue once again. Mark Shuttleworth’s recent Ubuntu Edge campaign, while unsuccessful in raising its target $32 million, did reach and unprecedented $12 million, proving that if you have the right concept you can get people to buy a product that is still on the drawing board. This gives many commercial venture capitalists the opportunity to sit back and allow ventures to fly or flop before they get their hands dirty.  

Stop grumbling and build an app!

The democratisation of investment would be a huge opportunity for us to build a nest egg from our disposable income but in an age of austerity and credit crunch more of us are speculating on credit with a dream of joining the ranks of the steadily growing number of superstar billionaires. It seems that, not satisfied with consuming commercial products at an unprecedented rate we are now expected to dig deep to facilitate the financing of more stuff for us to buy. The message is clear, with pension and equity funds managed by professionals losing our money in toxic investments and flawed strategy, building that retirement nest egg is another DIY responsibility. 

Part 4: How, after a brief flirtation with social welfare, government has put your welfare back in your hands    


The Century of DIY part 2

You may be sitting at your desk, well before your time, making sure the boss sees the commitment you have to the company. You may be sitting at home coding the next big app for the app-store. You may be calling your friends to sell them some dish soap, a sandwich box or a vibrator. You may be sat in front of a camera talking about the latest ephemeral star’s dress sense. You are doing it for yourself. Or are you doing it for someone else. The contrivance of a global recession has set the scene for Go-Get-It enterprise, the internet has given you the global reach but are youreally getting it.


In 1948, Earl Silas Tupper developed a new kind of container for keeping food fresh, but it was Brownie Wise who began a movement that would change the way we work. Brownie Wise began network marketing when she discovered that the best people to sell domestic products were the same people who used them. After WWII, many women who had been working on aluminium drives in the community and in munitions factories for the war effort were returned to the kitchen, for some this must have been a relief but for others it was an unwelcome return to domestic hum-drum and they missed the extra income for the little pleasures of the new consumer life. Brownie gave them some new purpose, selling Tupper’s plastic containers to their friends through party plans. And, while they were becoming new age entrepreneurs they were also turning their friends into Tupperware’s customers.

It didn’t take long for other brands to realise the potential of this business model and soon Avon began using the model for their range of cosmetics and the Avon Ladies were born. Now it is possible to buy anything from baby clothes and jewellery to sex toys at an invariably women-only party.

This use of social networks to act as the shop front for companies was taken to a new level when companies like Amway developed the model further by encouraging individuals to become their own boss and make huge incomes selling their products. Anyone who has attended an Amway meeting will find it difficult to remain unaffected by the hype of success. Amway and its peers focus on internal marketing to make sales of their products, their network of “independent business owners” (IBOs) are sold on the dream that they can make fortunes by selling to their social network and recruiting more to do the same. Anyone who has been approached to join this network will be familiar with their techniques, an experience that I share. Super successful evangelistswill tell you of how they were once builders or bank clerks but now live a life of plenty with huge incomes thanks to taking matters into their own hands. What Amway have done though, is to put the execution of their marketing plan into the hands of credible sales people with their own marketing budget; Amway makes  the products while you do the marketing, sales and accounting for them from your own pocket.
The tech revolution seems to have democratised the marketplace and now anyone can become a successful ebayer, Amazon marketplace holder or sell your crafts on Etsy. This shift has reversed the Amway model by selling the network to enterprising individuals to market their wares and it is this global reach that gives them the power to make the rules.

Once Apple released the first iPhone the game would change again. Apps, small

programs that could be developed by individuals or small groups would be sold to smart phone users. Now the R&D department had been outsourced. Google now sell other peoples products in the name of entrepreneurship. The poster-boys of tech are selling their creations for millions. Young people are now being sold on the idea that in order to make it big they must make it for Google, while Google are making it hand over fist.


This year’s Forbes list boasts 210 new billionaires with an increase of nearly a trillion dollars aggregate wealth over the previous year.     

Youtube has “democratised” programme production by giving everyone the ability to create content for their advertising platform.

Recent advances in 3D printing means that we will soon be able to “print” products in our own home. This has already begun to bring with it huge opportunities for enterprising people to begin designing and producing goods to sell through online marketplaces. As the complexity of these products progresses it will be possible to download plans from the major tech companies to print your own phone or tablet and thus lower production and distribution costs while reducing the reliance on staffed retail outlets. But, just as with IKEA’s self-assembly it will also outsource the accountability of build quality.    

The responsibility to staff has already begun wither as so-called “Zero-hour” contracts have hit the news recently in UK. The controversial employment contract means that employees are not guaranteed any fixed hours of work and must be on-call for when they are needed by the company. They are not just used by fast-food chains and supermarkets but Universities and energy companies have also realised the benefits of making salaries a more variable expense. And it is not just the UK; a recent protest to the president of MacDonaldsin the US by a lone employee highlights the emphasis on self-reliance even in the employment relationship.

The contrived world recession is laying the ground for an environment of resourceful self-reliance; UNION is now a dirty word and employers are developing commitment issues. And we are in danger of going back to the work-houses with one difference, we will have to buy the tech, the access and build the machines that will run it.  





The century of DIY part 1



Stand up now, look around, do it! You may be in a room full of people, you may be in a busy street, you may be having coffee with a friend but know this; you are alone. We are on the tipping point of a society that completely defers all responsibility to the individual to the point where a social modularism replaces democracy.  

Mankind, like many animals, has an innate ability to create communities.  And, like so many other things we do, we feel superior to the animals in this ability; we create civilisations. We, again like many animals, create hierarchies, a chain of command and responsibility where everyone has their place and duty. This is a structure of interdependencies that break down the complicated mechanisms necessary to maintain civilisation into manageable tasks. This democratic spread of obligationsmeant that we could specialise in particular skills and disciplines according to our abilities. The quid pro quo is that we take a share of the profits and get to choose those who manage the system.

Karl Marx predicted that this interdependence would develop into a society that would eliminate need and cement communities into a society of equality through socialism. As Marx’s theories were beginning to be put into practice in one of the biggest social experiments ever undertaken, Sigmund Freud focused his attention on the individual.

Do it yourself
Then came a subtle shift. In America, Edward Bernays, began to develop ways to study consumers’ habits and drives using his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s studies. He discovered that the potency of his uncle’s research allowed him to not just understand individual behaviour but to influence it. According to Adam Curtis, this began a systematic movement from community to the “Century of the Self”. He proposes that the knowledge obtained through Freud’s development of psychoanalysis has been used to manipulate society. As early as 1927, Paul Mazur, a top banker from the now defunct Lehman brothers wrote “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed.”By tapping into these newly nurtured desires marketeers have managed to make us desire their never ending stream of life-enhancing devices and services.  Now, it is not the enterprise of this that is of most concern, it is the side-effect. In the beginning advertising focused on peer acceptance and being a good member of the mass democracy. Then, after the dust of WWII had settled the sense of self became the target. People were told that it was their right to have whatever they wanted and the more they acquired, the better people they were. People became judged by their appetites and their ability to satisfy them. Conspicuous consumption replaced the satisfaction of needs and those who consumed most conspicuously became the billboards of commerce. By the end of the last century it was every man for himself.

We are now leaving the “century of self” and entering the “century of do-it-yourself”.   

Cheaper than China
1943, In Sweden, a young Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA and soon discovered that there was one place where labour could be sourced cheaper than China. By entrusting the consumer to assemble their own purchase, significant savings could be made on production. Now most of us routinely assemble our own furniture and think nothing of it. If anything we are proud of our achievement and attach more value to the item we have built. The knock-on effect for IKEA is that we not only make more impulse furniture purchases due to the convenience of buying a box that fits in the car but that they have deferred the build-quality responsibility from the manufacturer to us.

Driven by the desire culture and the systematic devolution of obligation, civilisation has begun to outsource responsibility to the individual.

Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 best-seller “The secret”  declares that we are all capable of being and having what we want so long as we project the idea strongly enough. More importantly, it maintains that our lack of wealth and success is our own fault. Ok, now I agree that if you sit on your arse and expect everyone else to do the running you will get what you deserve but on the subject of human tragedy such as Indonesia’s tsunami, 9/11 or even cancer, Byrne declares that they only befall people who are “on the same frequency as the event”.  So we are now accountable for epidemics and natural disasters.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Smile or Die” investigates the self-help culture and its apportioning of blame to the sufferer for not being ‘bright’ enough. Her experiences with breast cancer and the support groups that she turned to for help are indicative of our new “keep calm and carry on” society where you are welcome to lean on a friend as long as you don’t make a fuss about it.
The current swathe of motivational speakers and self-help books are pushing the philosophy of individualism and self-support. None of them suggest that you should turn to friends, family or community to share. None advocate building support networks, that may just hit their sales. You are on your own and you better get used to it.

Governments around the western world are reducing state health care and pensions and the message is clear; you have to work through your waking hours until you are no longer able, pay your taxes and insurances but if you haven’t made adequate provision for your retirement then just don’t retire (the DIY government is coming in another part). The years of double-shifts or building your own business have already weakened your bonds with your kids enough that they have little desire to care for you, even if they weren’t too busy doing the same thing and more. The current resistance to Obama’s health care plans highlights the attitude of “pay you own way and get what you are given”. 

I’ll close on my own piece of self-help advice. There is no shame in needing help from others and if you don’t need it, offer it. 
      

The next part of this observational study will explore how the IKEA philosophy is being applied to the workplace and how new technology will put us back in the workhouse with one main difference – we will buy the machines.



Ssssh!..It’s a secret

Beware: Dastardly cads

One of the main worries of many young would-be entrepreneurs is having their genius idea stolen by some dastardly cad. You wake up in a sweat soaked bed and have the epiphany of the century, you keep it close to your chest until you have to share it with somebody and BAM! next week one of the big companies have produced the home bread slicer and you are back at your day job.
Intellectual property is a big deal and after the wranglings between Apple and Samsung in USA and more recently James Dyson taking action against Samsung for breach of patents relating to the steering technology on one of his vacuum cleaners.  Two things become clear, one that it is very important to get your patents in order and two, patent or not, companies can and will come along a take you invention or brilliant business model and sell it as their own if they see enough profit in it.    
Some companies rely entirely on revenue from patents such as ARM, the processor technology that sits at the heart of so many mobile devices, including the iPhone.
Your goal should be not whether or not someone might learn your secret but whether you get it done. The difference between a would-be entrepreneur and a have-done entrepreneur is action and action relies on sharing. Eric Ries extolls the virtues of putting your ideas out there in his lean startup methodology, get it out there, get some feedback, get better. 
Mom knows best

So, who should you be sharing with. Well, while Mum and Dad may a good place to start their input will not be unbiased and unless your Mum is Anita Roddick or Arianna Huffington it may only provide a pat on the back. If your idea is an app or a device you need to build an MVP, a minimum viable product that addresses the core idea of your idea, then let people try it. The matter of patents depends on the nature of your genius and what parts of your device or app are truly new and patentable. Patents can be very expensive and time consuming so get good advice before you proceed. However, for the most part, chances are that other developers, inventors and the big boys will be so consumed with their own genius and will not give it much interest until it gets some momentum, by which time it is your momentum. One thing I would recommend is registering your trade marks and product names. Your momentum and marketing budget can very quickly go down the toilet if someone finds that your trade marks and brand names are unregistered and starts using them for their products. 


If your idea is a service, then opinions are of very little value. 

Over ten years ago now I had the idea of selling children’s literature over the net to parents and teachers of English in Greece. Greece had and still has a very healthy EFL market with thousands of language schools and even more parents eager for their children to learn. The idea was that all the books were categories according to age groups and the type of vocabulary and structure contained. We set up a forum and chat room where teachers would share and give advice on using the books. We found a good supply that enabled us to be competitive, we had teachers with years of experience, it was a complete service. We had discussed this with dozens of prospective customers and everything looked good to go. Very soon we had hundreds of thousands of hits and plenty of enquiries. Trouble was, all the interest was from abroad and Paypal would not, at that time, would not set up a full payment account from Greece, the credit cards would not play ball unless would could guarantee a level of sales that we couldn’t, We tried to negotiate shipping costs but still couldn’t compete. From Greece, we made a respectable amount of sales but almost all through Tupperware-type parties. We sold our stock and licked our wounds. Knowing what I know now, we could have pivoted and found a workable niche but what I did learn was that only transactions will validate demand, everything else is pillow talk.

At the end of the day, the point is that people should find out about your idea, as many as possible, people should learn about your genius when they pick it off the shelves in favour of other products, when they download it and recommend it to friends. People should learn about your idea because you make it real. Hiding you light under a bushel  will get you nowhere. Tell everyone… except maybe Samsung!   

   

Death of a Madman


The modern age of Google-based advertising promises to be a very dreary affair. Google has spent so long farming our online habits with analysts pouring over their every nuance that they know more about what makes us tick than we do ourselves. Let’s not just demonise Google, everyone is in the business of data mining now, Facebook, linkedin, Amazon anyone who has a click to be clicked, a date to be marked, a friend to be made is interested in your choices. Kinda makes cookies lose their sweetness, eh?  Those who track our online trawling have such a well-rounded profile of all our habits and weaknesses they only need to produce a handful of clickable images to trap all of us to such a high degree of accuracy. This is the science of conversion rates.

Advertising is not just about getting product off the supermarket shelves, it has become an art form in itself. This is a fact that was never lost on Andy Warhol who embraced its pop aesthetic. It amazes and delights in equal measure and all our childhoods are punctuated by its jingles and characters. Advertisers used every trick they could to become our friends then sell us a chocolate bar. We all remember the Jolly green giant, Ronald McDonald, The Michelin man, Tony the tiger the list goes on and on but they all have one thing in common; they entertained. It was almost a fair exchange, they taught us to sing and we bought their fizz. 

Goodbye orange head man
  • roller skating tampon ads
  • “Where’s the beef?”
  • The Marlboro man
  • Coke at Christmas
But, like art, great is random.
Great buildings were built with vision and arrogance but not much efficiency. The pyramids took years and thousands of slaves, Gaudi died in abject poverty building the Sagrada Família. 

Great movies were made with arrogance and passion; blockbusters, on the other hand, were made with Tom Cruise.

Advertising, despite being focus-grouped, demographically adjusted with broad spectrum appeal has often managed to be shocking, catchy, sexy and funny and even socially pertinent.

In the beginning online advertising was much the same as offline, ubiquitous banners, unending spam and even TV-style video adverts on some sites. Now, however, the advertisers have a more insidious tool at their disposal; personal online data. Your web surfing behaviour is being monitored, not by the NSA, well maybe them as well, but the marketeers are profiling you. They know the probabilities of you clicking on a cute kitten or a pair of boobs, they know which words are likely to get a reaction and the technology can do this autonomously, morphing into the most effective bait. Peer pressure is one of their methods. Facebook tells you when your ‘friend’ ‘likes’ something, 4square tells you when a ‘friend’ goes somewhere, Amazon tells you what other people are buying.

This is just the beginning, now technology exists that allows offline surveillance to work with mobile technology to give you the messages you need just at the right time. Just imagine, you are near a certain supermarket when your android shopping list reminds you that you need milk and fish fingers and sends you suggestions of the brands that are on offer at the time. Very effective but hardly art, hardly memorable. 
  
The pioneering madmen of the twentieth century have had their day and with them goes their art. The big web players are working on such economies of scale that traditional advertising cannot compete. Newspapers are slowly going behind paywalls because they can’t make it on advertising revenues and the glossy magazines will follow. The game is quantity over quality and the price will be dear and I, for one, will miss them.  


further reading:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23425297


Punk Rock entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. I may not be the first to draw that analogy and entrepreneurs will not be the last group to be allegorized in this way; TV chefs , footballers and even scientists have all had a similar comparison made. “… are the new rock-stars” is the vocational equivalent to fashion’s “… is the new black”. Rock stars are the benchmark of wild and glamorous. Rock stars have to beat the girls off with a sweaty guitar; rock star means success in excess.   
I wish I was coding
There was a time when every teenager wanted to master the guitar, synthesizer or a pair of decks and play Wembley, Shea or headline Glastonbury. There was a time, and not so long ago, when teens wanted to be getting the action that Steve Tyler, Robert Plant or Tommy Lee were getting. But, now instead of a band many bedroom barons are trying to form a plc.


And here lies a more pragmatic comparison, because becoming a rock star is not all about the music. Becoming a rock star is all about getting out of a mundane life, making shed-loads of money and living large.

Original rock-star/entrepreneur hybrid
Muse may think they are from outer space but it is Mark Shuttleworth, whose Ubuntu Edge recently raised the most pledges in a crowdfunding campaign, who has really been into orbit.

The digital age empowered a sector of youth who didn’t look cool, who didn’t play guitar and couldn’t grow their hair long. What they could do was understand the new age of technology.  They learned to master it and play it like Hendrix. The digital age made smart cool and when they realised that they could make things that would be worth fortunes, everyone started paying attention. The geeks were rock stars and they began making money, lots of money; they became entrepreneurs.

Geeks went into overdrive and their projects got bigger and bigger; Napster, Mozilla and Google became the stadium-fillers. Jobs and his Apple became the deity of tech; his sublime creations, the envy of all. They grabbed huge swathes of the technology market and left very little room for anyone else. Microsoft became one of the biggest companies in the world rivalling the traditional order of oil and banking and in 2011 reports were rife that Apple inc. were more liquid than Uncle Sam, Google owns everyone’s personal data and Facebook owns everyone’s leisure time.

Now in the age of mobile, entrepreneurs are the new Punks. A few bedroom coders have shown the world’s geeks that it ain’t that hard. Google’s play and Apple’s app store has given a stage to the privateers and we are now in a frenzy of global entrepreneurial activity the like the world has rarely seen. Instead of picking up a guitar and throwing shapes in front of the mirror teams of young bright developers are building tools for the smart revolution.    

Cash from chaos
So, the big money is only there for the coders and the developers hunched double over their Thinkpads and Macbooks developing new uses for phone hardware; gps, accelerometers, voice recognition or cameras. No, this is PUNK, anything is possible. Everything is online and if it isn’t yet, it will be soon. If it is online then it will be mobile soon; retail, service, leisure, medical. If you can find a new or better way of doing it cyber, you have a chance to disrupt the market, play with the big boys.   
The internet is a huge shopping Mall and mobile is your chance to open a stall outside Amazon’s anchor-store. Rock star entrepreneurs? Meh! we are Punk rockers!