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We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing Wrong
Tim O’Reilly
O’Reilly Media
@timoreilly
October 5, 2015
@timoreilly
“Senator, you have to understand…”
2
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI
Four or five years ago, I was at dinner with Reid Hoffman, the founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. In the course of the
conversation, I remarked, “We need a Moore’s Law for healthcare.” The Senator asked, “What’s Moore’s Law?” Reid’s answer was classic. “You have to
understand, Senator, that in Washington, you assume that every year, things will cost more and do less. In Silicon Valley, we assume that every year, things
will cost less and do more.”
3
Of course, Moore’s Law is that famous doubling of chip density every 18 months that has led to the computing revolution, that, as everyone says, means
that your watch has more computing power than we used to get to the moon in 1969.
@timoreilly
4
Oh, wait. That’s supposed to be a cheap Timex watch, not an Apple Watch. The Apple watch has WAY more computing power.
@timoreilly
5
"I've seen no need for more than five computers
in the whole world."
-Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943.
Moore’s Law is also responsible from the remarkable evolution in demand for computing.
"I've seen no need for more than five computers in the whole world." -Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943.
This photo was from considerably later (from an ad from the System 360 introduction in 1965.) Obviously, he had changed his tune by then.
@timoreilly
Moore’s Law has been responsible for a cascade of miracles.
Moore’s Law has been responsible for a cascade of miracles.
@timoreilly
It has given us great powers.
It has given us great powers.
@timoreilly
Are we using them wisely?
Are we using them wisely?
@timoreilly
We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing Wrong
A few weeks ago, I published a piece on Medium called “We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing All Wrong.” https://medium.com/the-wtf-economy/we-ve-
got-this-whole-unicorn-thing-all-wrong-3f3d108cc71d I wanted to take aim at the notion so popular in Silicon Valley these days that
@timoreilly
“A unicorn is a startup
with a valuation of at
least a billion dollars”
That a unicorn is a startup with a valuation of at least a billion dollars.
@timoreilly
Crunchbase is even keeping a “leaderboard” of Unicorns. http://techcrunch.com/unicorn-leaderboard. There are now 149 of them. Some of them are
really valuable, others may have bubble valuations. But I don’t think that this idea is wrong because we’re in a bubble. It’s just that valuation is a pretty
sorry test for a real unicorn.
@timoreilly
“A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third
place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn
cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are
precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme,
a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a
second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which
point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it
will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but
only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses
there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is
as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience.”
- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
12
I prefer Tom Stoppard’s definition, from his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. “A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of
no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to
be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added
that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more
witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomesuntil it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience.”
@timoreilly
WTF!????
In other words, a unicorn is something that makes us say WTF?! Landing a man on the moon was a unicorn. There are still people that think it was a fake.
But society has been reaping the spillover benefits of that Unicorn investment for the past 45 years.
@timoreilly
This is one of the original unicorns. Photo, Jameel Winter, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameelwinter/5362037986/ Can you imagine the first human (or
pre-human) who built a controlled fire? How amazed her companions were. Perhaps afraid at first. But soon warmed and fed by her boldness.
@timoreilly
Some Other Early Unicorns
Old oxcart, photo by Cristina https://www.flickr.com/photos/cristinacards/512220671/
Stone age cutting tool https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephaniewatson/3470101545/
Thomas Jefferson’s “Moldboard of Least Resistance” http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/moldboard-plow
I like to include this, because Thomas Jefferson put his improved plow design into the public domain, so everyone could benefit from it
@timoreilly
Real Unicorns Change the World
And like Tom Stoppard’s unicorn, are eventually
taken for granted, becoming “as thin as reality.”
@timoreilly
When did this stop being magical to us?
I was reminded of this recently when riding the bus in San Francisco. I was sitting next to two old men. One saw me checking Google Maps to figure out
where to get off, and asked what I was doing. The other jumped in eagerly, explaining that the blue dot followed our progress. I left them, one still in
wonder, the other confident in the new reality, now demoing Google Maps on his phone to the other, who had never seen it.
Photo by Quinn Dombrovski. https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/5307143490/
@timoreilly
The infrastructure of unicorns
No one believed in it.
Built for military use, then opened up to
the world.
Enabled everything from Google Maps to
Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, and self-
driving cars.
I want to single out the GPS satellite from that last slide to indicate the cascading nature of unicorns. Unless this military program, a project started in
1973, had been opened up to civilian use, we wouldn’t be talking about such wonders as Google Maps (and all the other location-based smartphone apps),
self-driving cars, and many other things, some still in the unicorn stage, so now as thin as reality. Satellites are part of the infrastructure of unicorns.
@timoreilly
So what makes a real unicorn?
1. It seems unbelievable at first.
2. It changes the way the world works, and ultimately changes the
people who encounter it.
3. It has enormous economic impact, far beyond that captured by
the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who birthed it.
@timoreilly
“Successful innovators don’t ask their customers to do something
different. They ask them to become someone different…. When Apple
television advertisements show iPhone users asking Siri questions or
telling ‘her’ what to do, the company is doing far more than showing off
the versatility of its voice-recognition, artificial intelligence interface. Siri’s
company asks its customers to become the sort of people who wouldn’t
think twice about talking to their phone as a sentient servant.”
Michael Schrage, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become
Michael Schrage sums up that second characteristic of unicorns. They change the world, for good or ill. “Successful innovators don’t ask their customers to
do something different. They ask them to become someone different…. When Apple television advertisements show iPhone users asking Siri questions or
telling ‘her’ what to do, the company is doing far more than showing off the versatility of its voice-recognition, artificial intelligence interface. Siri’s
company asks its customers to become the sort of people who wouldn’t think twice about talking to their phone as a sentient servant.”
Michael Schrage, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become
@timoreilly
Some 20th Century Unicorns
The automobile
The airplane
The electric grid
Radio
Television
Cell phones
Some 20
th
century unicorns: The automobile, The airplane, The electric grid, Radio, Television, Cell phones
@timoreilly
Think Entire Ecosystems, Not Just Inventions
Not just the Model T, but the assembly line.
Not just the assembly line, but higher
wages, so workers could afford the product.
Not just higher wages, but weekends, and
the Sunday drive as a form of
entertainment.
Factories, roads, bridges….
Henry Ford: Not just the Model T, but the assembly line.
Not just the assembly line but higher wages, so workers could afford the product.
Not just higher wages, but weekends, and the Sunday drive as a form of entertainment.
Factories, roads, bridges….
@timoreilly
These unicorns were sources of wonder,
but also became sources of horror.
Or banality.
These unicorns were sources of wonder,
but also became sources of horror.
Or banality.
@timoreilly
From “WTF?” To “WTF!!!”
We have too often gone from the WTF? of wonder to the WTF?!! of horror or dismay.
Wright Brothers’ image courtesy Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_Flyer
Drone image: US MQ-9 Reaper assassination drone http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/05/05/409522/Afghanistan-US-drone-Nangarhar-
TSA liquids image: http://www.everywhereist.com/the-inherent-sexism-of-airport-security/
@timoreilly
How do we put our unicorns to work making a better world?
How do we put our unicorns to work making a better world?
@timoreilly
This is the subject of my Next:Economy Summit, to be held Nov 12-13 in San Francisco.
@timoreilly
Our 21st Century Unicorns Still Have a Ways to Go
Imagine reinventing healthcare using
Watson, Google Glass, and Uber style
technologies.
On demand house calls by community
health workers “upskilled” by AI and
medical sensors, and able to call in
expert consultation as needed via
mobile devices.
Imagine reinventing healthcare using Watson, Google Glass, and Uber style technologies.
On demand house calls by community health workers “upskilled” by AI and medical sensors, and able to call in expert consultation as needed via mobile
devices.
Image source: http://hl7standards.com/blog/2013/03/21/google-glass/
@timoreilly
Yes, Glass will be back, when Google focuses on
community health workers rather than fashion models.
Yes, Glass will be back, when Google focuses on community health workers rather than fashion models.
@timoreilly
29
Imagine reinventing the energy grid
Imagine reinventing the energy grid, so that it enables peer production via distributed solar, with electric vehicles the norm rather than the exception.
Photo: Nick Cave, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksie2008/10347439843/
@timoreilly
We’ll talk with Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE about why a services economy isn’t enough, how the internet can transform the industrial sector, and
how the lessons of networks and on-demand can help to transform the energy sector.
@timoreilly
Imagine reinventing public transportation, as Logan Green, co-founder and CEO of Lyft, has done, so that it becomes an affordable on-demand service for
everyone, not just a private car for the wealthy.
@timoreilly
Imagine using intelligent agents, augmented reality and other 21
st
century technologies to make workers more effective, making us all more capable.
@timoreilly
Imagine using technology to augment workers so they can do new, amazing things, rather than just using it to replace them.
@timoreilly
Imagine a people-centered economy, where we were creating great experiences not just for consumers but for the people who deliver those experiences.
@timoreilly
Sebastian Thrun’s self-driving car project at Google is perhaps the most eye-opening application of AI. When widely deployed, it will up-end millions of
jobs, demolish entire industries, and even reshape our cities. Now Sebastian has gone on to found Udacity, an online learning company that is engaged in
retraining millions of workers for the jobs of the future. Keeping in mind the human cost of our inventions, we have to solve not just for disruption but for
what comes after.
@timoreilly
What have we learned about managing talent in the Networked age?
@timoreilly
How do we think about a future economy that works for all of us, that creates value for society as a whole, not just for entrepreneurs and their VCs, that
keeps our market economy vibrant, because it understands that workers are also customers, and our entire economy is an ecosystem. When that
ecosystem falls out of balance, everyone suffers.
All this and much more at the Next:Economy Summit. http://oreil.ly/FUSCyl
@timoreilly
Create more value than you capture
This is my advice to anyone who wants to create a real unicorn. Amaze people, yes. But then become useful to them, transform our world for the better.
And always, create more value than you capture.
@timoreilly
Join us in San Francisco for the
Next:Economy Summit to learn how to
build a world-changing unicorn
http://oreil.ly/FUSCyl
Register for the Next:Economy Summit: http://oreil.ly/FUSCyl November 12-13, 2015 in San Francisco.

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We've Got This Whole Unicorn Thing Wrong (pdf with notes)

  • 1. We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing Wrong Tim O’Reilly O’Reilly Media @timoreilly October 5, 2015
  • 2. @timoreilly “Senator, you have to understand…” 2 Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI Four or five years ago, I was at dinner with Reid Hoffman, the founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. In the course of the conversation, I remarked, “We need a Moore’s Law for healthcare.” The Senator asked, “What’s Moore’s Law?” Reid’s answer was classic. “You have to understand, Senator, that in Washington, you assume that every year, things will cost more and do less. In Silicon Valley, we assume that every year, things will cost less and do more.”
  • 3. 3 Of course, Moore’s Law is that famous doubling of chip density every 18 months that has led to the computing revolution, that, as everyone says, means that your watch has more computing power than we used to get to the moon in 1969.
  • 4. @timoreilly 4 Oh, wait. That’s supposed to be a cheap Timex watch, not an Apple Watch. The Apple watch has WAY more computing power.
  • 5. @timoreilly 5 "I've seen no need for more than five computers in the whole world." -Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943. Moore’s Law is also responsible from the remarkable evolution in demand for computing. "I've seen no need for more than five computers in the whole world." -Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943. This photo was from considerably later (from an ad from the System 360 introduction in 1965.) Obviously, he had changed his tune by then.
  • 6. @timoreilly Moore’s Law has been responsible for a cascade of miracles. Moore’s Law has been responsible for a cascade of miracles.
  • 7. @timoreilly It has given us great powers. It has given us great powers.
  • 8. @timoreilly Are we using them wisely? Are we using them wisely?
  • 9. @timoreilly We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing Wrong A few weeks ago, I published a piece on Medium called “We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing All Wrong.” https://medium.com/the-wtf-economy/we-ve- got-this-whole-unicorn-thing-all-wrong-3f3d108cc71d I wanted to take aim at the notion so popular in Silicon Valley these days that
  • 10. @timoreilly “A unicorn is a startup with a valuation of at least a billion dollars” That a unicorn is a startup with a valuation of at least a billion dollars.
  • 11. @timoreilly Crunchbase is even keeping a “leaderboard” of Unicorns. http://techcrunch.com/unicorn-leaderboard. There are now 149 of them. Some of them are really valuable, others may have bubble valuations. But I don’t think that this idea is wrong because we’re in a bubble. It’s just that valuation is a pretty sorry test for a real unicorn.
  • 12. @timoreilly “A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience.” - Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead 12 I prefer Tom Stoppard’s definition, from his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. “A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomesuntil it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience.”
  • 13. @timoreilly WTF!???? In other words, a unicorn is something that makes us say WTF?! Landing a man on the moon was a unicorn. There are still people that think it was a fake. But society has been reaping the spillover benefits of that Unicorn investment for the past 45 years.
  • 14. @timoreilly This is one of the original unicorns. Photo, Jameel Winter, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameelwinter/5362037986/ Can you imagine the first human (or pre-human) who built a controlled fire? How amazed her companions were. Perhaps afraid at first. But soon warmed and fed by her boldness.
  • 15. @timoreilly Some Other Early Unicorns Old oxcart, photo by Cristina https://www.flickr.com/photos/cristinacards/512220671/ Stone age cutting tool https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephaniewatson/3470101545/ Thomas Jefferson’s “Moldboard of Least Resistance” http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/moldboard-plow I like to include this, because Thomas Jefferson put his improved plow design into the public domain, so everyone could benefit from it
  • 16. @timoreilly Real Unicorns Change the World And like Tom Stoppard’s unicorn, are eventually taken for granted, becoming “as thin as reality.”
  • 17. @timoreilly When did this stop being magical to us? I was reminded of this recently when riding the bus in San Francisco. I was sitting next to two old men. One saw me checking Google Maps to figure out where to get off, and asked what I was doing. The other jumped in eagerly, explaining that the blue dot followed our progress. I left them, one still in wonder, the other confident in the new reality, now demoing Google Maps on his phone to the other, who had never seen it. Photo by Quinn Dombrovski. https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/5307143490/
  • 18. @timoreilly The infrastructure of unicorns No one believed in it. Built for military use, then opened up to the world. Enabled everything from Google Maps to Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, and self- driving cars. I want to single out the GPS satellite from that last slide to indicate the cascading nature of unicorns. Unless this military program, a project started in 1973, had been opened up to civilian use, we wouldn’t be talking about such wonders as Google Maps (and all the other location-based smartphone apps), self-driving cars, and many other things, some still in the unicorn stage, so now as thin as reality. Satellites are part of the infrastructure of unicorns.
  • 19. @timoreilly So what makes a real unicorn? 1. It seems unbelievable at first. 2. It changes the way the world works, and ultimately changes the people who encounter it. 3. It has enormous economic impact, far beyond that captured by the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who birthed it.
  • 20. @timoreilly “Successful innovators don’t ask their customers to do something different. They ask them to become someone different…. When Apple television advertisements show iPhone users asking Siri questions or telling ‘her’ what to do, the company is doing far more than showing off the versatility of its voice-recognition, artificial intelligence interface. Siri’s company asks its customers to become the sort of people who wouldn’t think twice about talking to their phone as a sentient servant.” Michael Schrage, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become Michael Schrage sums up that second characteristic of unicorns. They change the world, for good or ill. “Successful innovators don’t ask their customers to do something different. They ask them to become someone different…. When Apple television advertisements show iPhone users asking Siri questions or telling ‘her’ what to do, the company is doing far more than showing off the versatility of its voice-recognition, artificial intelligence interface. Siri’s company asks its customers to become the sort of people who wouldn’t think twice about talking to their phone as a sentient servant.” Michael Schrage, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become
  • 21. @timoreilly Some 20th Century Unicorns The automobile The airplane The electric grid Radio Television Cell phones Some 20 th century unicorns: The automobile, The airplane, The electric grid, Radio, Television, Cell phones
  • 22. @timoreilly Think Entire Ecosystems, Not Just Inventions Not just the Model T, but the assembly line. Not just the assembly line, but higher wages, so workers could afford the product. Not just higher wages, but weekends, and the Sunday drive as a form of entertainment. Factories, roads, bridges…. Henry Ford: Not just the Model T, but the assembly line. Not just the assembly line but higher wages, so workers could afford the product. Not just higher wages, but weekends, and the Sunday drive as a form of entertainment. Factories, roads, bridges….
  • 23. @timoreilly These unicorns were sources of wonder, but also became sources of horror. Or banality. These unicorns were sources of wonder, but also became sources of horror. Or banality.
  • 24. @timoreilly From “WTF?” To “WTF!!!” We have too often gone from the WTF? of wonder to the WTF?!! of horror or dismay. Wright Brothers’ image courtesy Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_Flyer Drone image: US MQ-9 Reaper assassination drone http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/05/05/409522/Afghanistan-US-drone-Nangarhar- TSA liquids image: http://www.everywhereist.com/the-inherent-sexism-of-airport-security/
  • 25. @timoreilly How do we put our unicorns to work making a better world? How do we put our unicorns to work making a better world?
  • 26. @timoreilly This is the subject of my Next:Economy Summit, to be held Nov 12-13 in San Francisco.
  • 27. @timoreilly Our 21st Century Unicorns Still Have a Ways to Go Imagine reinventing healthcare using Watson, Google Glass, and Uber style technologies. On demand house calls by community health workers “upskilled” by AI and medical sensors, and able to call in expert consultation as needed via mobile devices. Imagine reinventing healthcare using Watson, Google Glass, and Uber style technologies. On demand house calls by community health workers “upskilled” by AI and medical sensors, and able to call in expert consultation as needed via mobile devices. Image source: http://hl7standards.com/blog/2013/03/21/google-glass/
  • 28. @timoreilly Yes, Glass will be back, when Google focuses on community health workers rather than fashion models. Yes, Glass will be back, when Google focuses on community health workers rather than fashion models.
  • 29. @timoreilly 29 Imagine reinventing the energy grid Imagine reinventing the energy grid, so that it enables peer production via distributed solar, with electric vehicles the norm rather than the exception. Photo: Nick Cave, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksie2008/10347439843/
  • 30. @timoreilly We’ll talk with Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE about why a services economy isn’t enough, how the internet can transform the industrial sector, and how the lessons of networks and on-demand can help to transform the energy sector.
  • 31. @timoreilly Imagine reinventing public transportation, as Logan Green, co-founder and CEO of Lyft, has done, so that it becomes an affordable on-demand service for everyone, not just a private car for the wealthy.
  • 32. @timoreilly Imagine using intelligent agents, augmented reality and other 21 st century technologies to make workers more effective, making us all more capable.
  • 33. @timoreilly Imagine using technology to augment workers so they can do new, amazing things, rather than just using it to replace them.
  • 34. @timoreilly Imagine a people-centered economy, where we were creating great experiences not just for consumers but for the people who deliver those experiences.
  • 35. @timoreilly Sebastian Thrun’s self-driving car project at Google is perhaps the most eye-opening application of AI. When widely deployed, it will up-end millions of jobs, demolish entire industries, and even reshape our cities. Now Sebastian has gone on to found Udacity, an online learning company that is engaged in retraining millions of workers for the jobs of the future. Keeping in mind the human cost of our inventions, we have to solve not just for disruption but for what comes after.
  • 36. @timoreilly What have we learned about managing talent in the Networked age?
  • 37. @timoreilly How do we think about a future economy that works for all of us, that creates value for society as a whole, not just for entrepreneurs and their VCs, that keeps our market economy vibrant, because it understands that workers are also customers, and our entire economy is an ecosystem. When that ecosystem falls out of balance, everyone suffers. All this and much more at the Next:Economy Summit. http://oreil.ly/FUSCyl
  • 38. @timoreilly Create more value than you capture This is my advice to anyone who wants to create a real unicorn. Amaze people, yes. But then become useful to them, transform our world for the better. And always, create more value than you capture.
  • 39. @timoreilly Join us in San Francisco for the Next:Economy Summit to learn how to build a world-changing unicorn http://oreil.ly/FUSCyl Register for the Next:Economy Summit: http://oreil.ly/FUSCyl November 12-13, 2015 in San Francisco.