The Birth of Swarm Intelligence

Twitter is the human swarm: an always-on, open, global and decentralized conversation. Twitter has undergone a phase change as a communications tool, and we see its effects globally, from news of the attacks in Mumbai to Toronto’s tech scene. Something new is emerging, something very powerful: Twitter is becoming a platform for collective action.

Whale in the sky, by Gail Johnson
Whale in the sky, by Gail Johnson

In Toronto, #HoHoTO was a holiday party held December 16, 2008 to raise funds for the Daily Bread Foodbank that has had a big local impact and received coverage all over the online and traditional media.  I think the Toronto tech community will look at this event the way some of us look back at the first BarCamp in Toronto in November 2005, a milestone in the emergence of a new community made possible by technology.

Continue reading “The Birth of Swarm Intelligence”

Boom, Bust, Echo and gas price sensitivity

Cross-posted from
The Cost of Gas Today by Will Gotshall-Maxon

Friday’s Globe and Mail featured a prediction by Jeffrey Rubin, the CIBC World Markets economist, that damage from Hurricane Gustav and other intense storms this season could cause a sudden spike in gas prices to $1.75 a litre.

Every time there is a price spike, the media runs to the local gas station to cover the “pain at the pumps”. But does that pain translate into a change in behaviour? How much of an impact do gas prices have on the commuting public in the GTA? Do increasing gas prices cause people to make different personal transportation decisions, or are households just absorbing the extra costs?

It appears that gas prices are affecting vehicle purchasing decisions (sorry GM), but are consumers switching from private vehicles to other modes of transportation? I would love to see the research on that. (Perhaps our friends at Metrolinx have some sources they can share? If readers know of recent research on this question, please leave a link in the comments.)

Surely demographic factors influence gas price sensitivity and the substitution of one mode of transportation for another. It makes sense that household incomes will affect price sensitivity, with the working poor being hit hardest. At the same time, many service workers need to use private vehicles to get to or perform their work (i.e. not the GO train Bay Street crowd) and have few alternatives. This creates a political problem that will bring calls for action.

But I also believe that there is a relationship to a another familiar demographic trend with political and policy implications: Boomer parents versus their Gen Y children.

Continue reading “Boom, Bust, Echo and gas price sensitivity”

The Politics of the End of Suburbia

Cross-posted from

The economic conditions that supported the tremendous growth of North American suburbs during the last half of the 20th century – cheap energy and the modern industrial production system – appear to be undergoing a sharp reversal. What do these signals of the future mean for the suburbs and the demands that will be placed on politicians asked to respond to these changes?

You don’t have to be a peak oil theorist to recognize – as James Smith, CEO of Shell UK has – that “the era of easy oil is over”. The reality that we are not going to ever return to an age of cheap oil is just starting to sink into the consciousness of the marketplace, electorate and policy-makers. Scenarios of a serious supply crunch and $200 a barrel oil are no longer on the fringe.

The Freakonomics blog at NY Times recently held a quorum inviting a small group of smart and opinionated experts to imagine the future of American suburbia in 40 years time. The responses vary from James Kunstler’s “the suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins” to the more hopeful “Suburbia will be flexible, it will be smarter, and it will be hybrid” of John Archer.

What about in the Toronto region?

Continue reading “The Politics of the End of Suburbia”

A Great Transformation

iStock_000004882942Small.jpgAs my own work enters a new and exciting phase, I find myself considering three intersecting and co-evolving forces: the Obama Moment, the New Great Transformation and the Social Web. I see signals in these forces of a new resilience just when we most need it.

The convergence of these forces in the context of tremendous global economic, environmental and political uncertainty signals an opportunity for renewal by change-makers, social innovators and social entrepreneurs for the benefit of us all. The complexity of the world requires better solutions, and we know from the open innovation literature that the ideas we need today do not live within a single organization.

Is this a truly transformative moment at a critical point in human history? Is a new social, economic, environmental and cultural resilience possible, or will status quo forces reassert themselves?

Full essay after the jump…

Continue reading “A Great Transformation”

Ontario government is panning for NextGen Jobs

Digital Media is the hot sector du jour in Ontario, and for good reason. It is one of those rising sectors that are the great hope to support economic growth in an age of de-industrialization. In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a bit of a government-led gold rush going on.

At ICE08, we learned that Ontario’s Ministry of Research & Innovation is investing $9 million in OCAD’s’ Digital Futures Initiative to expand training and research programs in digital media. Sara Diamond, President of OCAD, is a remarkable force of nature and under her leadership, OCAD is aggressively pursuing a reinvigorated research agenda and building partnerships with technology and content industry partners large and small.

We also learned that $10 million is being invested in a new Stratford campus for the University of Waterloo, bringing UW’s acknowledged strength in technology together with Stratford’s vibrant arts and culture community, focusing on digital media.


Both announcements came out of are in addition to the new Next Generation of Jobs Fund, a $1.15 billion initiative modelled after Ontario’s Auto Investment Strategy, which put $500 million into strategic projects and leveraged private investment of $7 billion. The Next Generation of Jobs Fund focuses on three broad sectors: green/clean tech, bio/pharma/health and digital media/ICT. There are three program streams:

What is a “Strategic Opportunity?”

An opportunity where:

  • A large scale global market opportunity exists, coupled with a unique strategy to deal with the competition, or a niche global market opportunity where Ontario has significant capacity and little competition and;
  • Ontario has a demonstrated competitive advantage such as strong private sector strengths including global market leadership, and globally competitive research strength.

Now, here’s an innovation challenge for the Strategic Opportunities Program itself:

How do you identify and evaluate the best strategic opportunities?

The Ministry is holding a series of workshops and doing a SWOT analysis within each of the three focus areas. (sigh)

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good SWOT analysis as much as the next strategy consultant. But have you seen a SWOT analysis yet that provides the needed insight or foresight implied by the goal of developing “next generation jobs”, particularly in an environment of accelerating tech and cultural change?

In the auto industry, panning for job gold is pretty straightforward – you call up the Big 3, the major import manufacturers, the parts and auto technology makers and you’ve got a pretty manageable group to work with. Eventually BIGCO installs some equipment or builds a plant somewhere. Now look at a map of the 11,000 enterprises in the entertainment and creative industries in the Toronto CMA, including digital media and ICT, and you’ll see the problem: 77% of this $9 billion industry are sole practitioners or micro-enterprises. That’s a mighty big river to pan in!

In order for this strategy to be successful, strategic opportunities have to be found, validated by expertise and evaluated against investment criteria in order to be funded. Is there a community engagement strategy that could support this process? What role does strategic foresight, design thinking and collaborative innovation play in its execution? I’m interested in finding out. Leave a comment if you have some thoughts.

LIFT: William Cockayne, “Foresight to Innovation”

See Michele’s fantastic notes from William Cockayne‘s excellent talk at LIFT about foresight, it’s connection to innovation and the roles that people tend to take within a product innovation cycle. Great stuff. I’m embedding the video here: 😉

It’s a great talk which gave me lots of food for thought. Michele took the time to recreate some of Cockayne’s images from his slides, the most important of which is the following which describes the four common roles of expert, breadth + depth, breakout and innovator:


Michele builds upon Cockayne’s foresight to innovation role/actor model to offer an alternative view of an innovation process that more closely reflects the subjective impressions of being part of a open, creative and chaordic system, which I think is genius! She describes it as a model to deliver “timely awesomeness”. (Michele is herself timely awesomeness!)

Check it out:


not flowing along a regulated path, each eddy is an iteration, receptive to changes in external and internal environs, and accept the nature of ambiguity as something to work with. larger eddies flow towards foresight and visioning, smaller eddies flow towards prototyping and design. research does not stop. the process ebbs and flows between the two.

And now you know why I want to work with Michele Perras, Super-Genius. I’ve always found linear innovation pipeline models to be not terribly useful to reflect the ambiguity observed actual creative work. While some industry innovation cycles do look like your standard pipeline or funnel model, the remixability, permanent ambiguity and limitlessness of digital materials mean that old models don’t offer much insight for a new world of digital objects and subjective human experiences of those objects. Michele is onto something here.

LIFT: Holm Friebe and Philipp Albers, “The Hedonistic Company”

Holm Friebe and Philipp Albers delivered a presentation at LIFT on a topic that’s close to my heart: the future of work, exploring new forms of self-organizing “unorganizations” of creative free agents. Of course, I’ve been thinking about similar issues as I consider how to scale Remarkk! Consulting, so I took particular interest and had a great conversation with the guys over fondue. (which, btw, is the best part of LIFT!)

Friebe’s book, Wir nennen es Arbeit (“We call it work”) is a bestseller in Germany that has been described as “youth economic manifesto”. They organized a conference in Berlin also called Wir nennen es Arbeit Festival-Camp, which looked like tremendous fun and is possible inspiration for a Toronto FreeAgentCamp or Future of Work conference. These guys apparently invented Powerpoint Karaoke (fact check anyone?), and put on events like a poetry slam with sms voting and electro-shock feedback. They are looking to develop coworking spaces to accommodate their starfish adhocracy.  This is not your father’s creative agency.
Presentation notes after the jump…

Continue reading “LIFT: Holm Friebe and Philipp Albers, “The Hedonistic Company””