It's Not About Technology

Tim O'Reilly
Tim O'ReillyO'Reilly Media
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
It’s Not About Technology
Tim O’Reilly
Velocity
May 27, 2015
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
If you take a flat map
​And move wooden blocks upon it strategically,
​The thing looks well, the blocks behave as they should.
​​The science of war is moving live men like blocks.
And getting the blocks into place at a fixed moment.
But it takes time to mold your men into blocks
And flat maps turn into country where creeks and gullies
Hamper your wooden squares. They stick in the brush,
They are tired and rest, they straggle after ripe blackberries,
And you cannot lift them up in your hand and move them.
It is all so clear in the maps, so clear in the mind,
But the orders are slow, the men in the blocks are slow
To move, when they start they take too long on the way -
The General loses his stars, and the block-men die
In unstrategic defiance of martial law
Because ​still used to just being men, not block parts.
​From Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body​
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
In this fast-paced event, you'll hear from business and IT leaders who are
successfully reinventing their organizations to boost profits and create a
culture of optimization, performance, and continuous delivery. You'll learn
how to use IT-driven innovation to respond quickly to opportunities,
reduce time-to-market, and gain a competitive advantage over
businesses that follow more traditional practice.
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly@conference @timoreilly
Lyft driver dynamic view of passenger
concentration by neighborhood
@conference @timoreilly
Data exposed to workers, not just
managers
Most importantly, workers have agency:
they choose when and how long to work
Uber “surge pricing” makes a market to
match supply and demand
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly@conference @timoreilly
Text
@conference @timoreilly
Text
@conference @timoreilly
Text
@conference @timoreilly
@timoreilly
This is technology used to give workers super powers
Dick Tracy: 1946 Star Trek: 1964
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
“a culture of optimization, performance, and continuous delivery”
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
@timoreilly
“The secret to high performance and
satisfaction—at work, at school, and at
home—is the deeply human need to direct our
own lives, to learn and create new things, and
to do better by ourselves and our world.”
@timoreilly
“even in low-cost settings, leaving employees
behind—with bad jobs—is a choice, not a
necessity. Drawing on more than a decade of
research, Ton shows how operational
excellence enables companies to offer the
lowest prices to customers while ensuring
good jobs for their employees and superior
results for their investors.”
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
Technologies can treat people like Steven Vincent Benet’s
wooden blocks, or they can recognize, anticipate, and take
advantage of their humanity.
#VelocityConf @VelocityConf @timoreilly
This is the great challenge of the 21st century
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It's Not About Technology

Editor's Notes

  1. As most of you know, it was Memorial Day on Monday, and because of that, my friend Nat Torkington sent me this marvelous quote from Steven Vincent Benet’s poem about the US Civil War, John Brown’s Body. It is a bit dark to start this way, but the quote is so perfect that I wanted to share it.
  2. I wanted to start with Benet because of the promise that we made you in the marketing for this event.
  3. That could easily be misinterpreted to think we are going to teach you to build the 21st century equivalent of a workplace like this, where people are cogs in the machine.
  4. Esther Kaplan’s chilling article in the March 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine explores just what that kind of world looks like in the 21st century. She describes the instrumented world of work, from UPS and low wage retail and service jobs to Odesk, and highlights how fine grained monitoring of work can be used to create enormous efficiency and profitability gains, but at the cost of building a culture of fear. Data analysis is used to “optimize” shifts on behalf of the company, while making them intolerable and disempowering to workers. Full text of article: http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/HarpersMagazine-2015-03-0085373.pdf
  5. This seems to me to be a really interesting contrast with services like Lyft
  6. and Uber, which use data to empower workers. These are still low wage jobs - not great jobs by many standards - and they lack many protections of traditional employment. Yet the workers I’ve talked to tend to love them. They find them far better than their previous jobs or alternatives. Why?
  7. Data exposed to workers, not just managers Most importantly, workers have agency: they choose when and how long to work Uber “surge pricing” makes a market to match supply and demand
  8. I’ve been thinking a lot about the issues raised in books like Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAfee’s Second Machine Age and Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots, which warn that AI and robotics are on the verge of taking away even complex white collar jobs. But this isn’t an inevitability. Technology can be used to upskill workers, and create new jobs, not just to take them away.
  9. Most of us have probably experienced this from the passenger side. Both passenger and worker are augmented by our smartphones and GPS, given abilities that we didn’t have before. And in the case of workers, it’s allowed a vast expansion of the workforce. In London, you used to have to pass a test called The Knowledge to become a cab driver. It is generally considered one of the hardest exams in the world. Now, anyone with a GPS can do the job. Technology need not just replace workers, it can augment them.
  10. and You’ve probably seen the Microsoft Hololens demos, with examples of how the headset could be used in fields from architecture to medicine.
  11. This kind of superpowers. Our phones used to be the tool of superheroes.
  12. When we talked on the website for this event, we talked not about technology but about building “a culture of optimization, performance, and continuous delivery.” Our industry is an industry not just of technology, but also with a culture that emphasizes and rewards certain things.
  13. Think about open source software, for example,
  14. or devops
  15. These are poster children for the kind of culture that Daniel Pink talks about in his book Drive. He says “The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” This is the culture we aspire to in our companies. It should be the culture we bring to non-technology customers as well.
  16. And this kind of quest for autonomy, mastery, and purpose shouldn’t be restricted to high end knowledge workers. Zeynep Ton, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says, in her book The Good Jobs Strategy, “even in low-cost settings, leaving employees behind—with bad jobs—is a choice, not a necessity. Drawing on more than a decade of research, Ton shows how operational excellence enables companies to of­fer the lowest prices to customers while ensuring good jobs for their employees and superior results for their investors.”
  17. Todd Park, formerly White House chief technology officer, and still a special adviser to the President (and before that HHS CTO, and before that, co-founder of both AthenaHealth and Castlight Health), pointed me earlier this morning to a Florida company called ChenMed. Because of changes brought by the Affordable Care Act, which focuses on paying for outcomes rather than for procedures, ChenMed has found that they can actually provide in-person concierge-like services (like delivering medications, and other home-care visits) for low-income patients with two or more chronic conditions, who were previously “frequent flyers” at emergency rooms, for less than the cost of their original care. That’s the closest I’ve heard yet to an “Uber for health care.” I want to learn more!
  18. I’ve had a personal experience with this recently. A long time friend with Parkinson’s disease recently had to enter an assisted living facility, leaving her beloved apartment in New York, because she needed someone to make sure she takes her medications every three hours. In an ideal world, she’d have had someone come do that at her home. As our population ages, there are going to be more and more people needing this kind of care. Ironically, at the same time, there are many people out of work. An uber-like concierge service could solve both problems at once, and, for many patients, at lower cost than the current institutional approach.
  19. Technologies can treat people like Steven Vincent Benet’s wooden blocks, or they can recognize, anticipate, and take advantage of their humanity.
  20. This is the great challenge of the 21st century. I hope you will take it up with pride, and that today’s sessions will give you tools to tackle that challenge.