Image: Nieman Lab

Break things and fail. Or, even better, break things and win. This mangled version of Facebook’s early motto could be our lode stone as the stakes get higher.

The poor little Twitter bird image is a perfect symbol of how Elon Musk broke the social media platform (and what our planet is going through, now we’ve broken our delicate life support system).

Artificial intelligence and quantum computing are the next big behemoths of change. They will absolutely break our existing models – of almost everything! Whether that’s a win or a fail for humanity is up to who controls them.

According to Harvard Business Review the original Mark Zuckerberg idea of “move fast and break things” was about design and management processes. And for a while that looked great. Uber, Airbnb.

Now says the learned temple of business management – Harvard not Zuckerberg – we need to consider the social impact of what we do or invent.

What we break could be a win in the short term and a fail in the long run.

The potential for the negative is never more so that with AI. People are worried it will take over the world and kill all the humans – especially if we give it a mandate such as “save the planet”. Oopsie.

The planet? Yep, it’s beautiful, wonderous, magical. But many people may not rate it so highly if we humans are destroyed in the process of saving it. Call this human centric bias. But along with living humans comes all the other living things that support us. Including insects. (Check out the rising concerns for the fast disappearing insect world).

A wider view is good.

Break the economic and architectural model in favour of social value – and win

And it’s a relief to see federal treasurer Jim Chalmers flag that the well being of people is as important to the economic outcomes we strive for. In fact, many would argue it’s the point of the economy.

This is a trojan horse but it’s on our side.

The Australian Institute of Architects have recently applied this thinking to the built environment and with an inaugural Award for Social Impact

It’s to “promote the common good…and reward practice that preferences empathy over aesthetics.”

This year’s award, by the way, was won by The Fulcrum Agency based in Perth, which is an architectural practice that works almost entirely on remote Indigenous housing projects.

Wow. Without wanting to cause offence this focus on impact over aesthetics breaks a few shibboleths for many architects. It came as a surprise to hear i2C’s Claire Bowles who hosted one of our recent masterclasses tell us in an interview recently that her studio was not “overly aesthetic” but focused more on impact for people and place.

Brett Pollard, senior researcher from Hassell S who’s working on helping to shape up the Green Building Council’s new work on social value, says however, it’s a work in progress to figure out how to define and measure the outcomes under a definition of social value.

He’s working with around 25 organisations to come up with a solution and also talking to people in the UK GBC which started working on this in 2018. It’s not about inputs, he stresses. That’s the good intentions bit that may not yield the results we need.

“What’s needed is the ultimate outcomes in people’s lives and well being.

“We’re trying to get people to lift their eyes about the numbers.”

This is such a subjective thing and much harder than running an abacus, of course.

Part of the process, he says, is working with people to help them gain greater awareness of their needs “Not everyone knows they need help”.

That’s not patronising. That’s the principle of “ you don’t know what you don’t know.”

In the UK says Pollard the UK has a social value act and any procurement from government agencies – whether a hospital or office equipment – now requires demonstration of the social value that’s created by the procurement.

Local government authorities, he says, are starting to follow suit.

In Australia the work is still at the investigation phase, but among the leaders, he says, is insurer Australian Unity, which is a member owned model.

Break the ownership model and win

It’s not so surprising to see that the outperformers on social good – and environment – are the companies or organisations that are not traded on the stock market – they’re mostly owned or controlled by private interests with much longer term views that publicly traded outfits can offer.

Worth a thought that.

And it brings up the related idea – who’s driving this thing that we’re about to break with AI and quantum computing? Is it the kind of captains who resemble those of the Titanic – or the Titan?  Or is it those from Australian Unity or any other form of community owned enterprise?

The owners of our economic tool – the people who control the most strings on the puppet – have been around for ever. The historical pattern is slavery, feudalism, industrialisation, colonialism and so on.

What’s different now is that the tool has become so powerful it’s brought our planet to its knees. The heat dome in Europe and the near 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature in the water off Florida all you need to hear.

The technology effect will accelerate the concentration of string ownership. Take a look at this company, Oddity, that sells cosmetics. The images alone tell you that they are disrupting everything you thought couldn’t be disrupted, for the most personal of all consumer products – what you put on your face.

The big concern – the fail or win scenarios – is that these bigger more powerful but smaller number of ownership groups are now able to assemble the smartest people on the planet by offering them irresistible salaries and benefits to work for them.

Break the media model – and fail

The big impact is with technology but that’s generally hidden away – until it’s too late and we have it in our midst.

In the media it’s more apparent. Vast corporations and organisations, private and public both, are snapping up the talent in media and journalism and corralling it to tell their stories.

In other words the spin merchants are winning.

Break the politeness model – and win

Young journalists, where they still have jobs in actual journalism and not marketing, now seem increasingly squeamish about asking the hard questions.

So when a group of young student journos watched a video of the former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian being pummelled in a news conference by an “aggressive” journalist the students were horrified. That was no way to treat a premier – it lacked respect, they said.

No notion of the lack of respect the premier showed to her constituents by behaving in such a questionable manner that it was subject to inquiry from the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Hopefully these young people will land jobs where the values of tough questioning still apply.

Sometimes politeness is not okay. As we like to say, nice petitions rarely change the world.

This week came the bad news that confirmed our suspicion on journalism. Charles Sturt University has canned its journalism degree. It came a week or so after we heard promotion from a university in Melbourne to promote a communications degree. No mention of journalism, just media management and communications. That is, these students will be empowered to meet the market and tell the story that the owner of the story is happy to have out in the market place. Also known as free advertising.

Increasingly the biggest brands are dumping advertising altogether and snaring talented influencers instead.

Bjorn Lomborg breaks language to fail

So given all this it should have been no surprise to hear Bjorn Lomborg, one the most successful anti climate action influencers of all time, rail against people who switch sides in the climate debate. Tim Forcey from “My Efficient Electric Home” dived in to the LinkedIn feed so say he’s one of those converts and – so what? There are people who’ve seen the light!

Lomborg’s brand of linguistic manipulation/brain fuzz is to say if you care about people worry about those dying right now from malaria or hunger for instance, put your energy into solving that problem. Don’t worry about climate problems in the future.

Well bad luck, Lomborg, the future has arrived early.

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  1. ..In other words the spin merchants are winning……sums it up nicely – the propaganda of endless growth trumps reality.