Tag: Jerk

Spending Millions to be a Pin: I Get It

contributed by:Spending Millions to be a Pin: I Get It
Robert O’Leary, Managing Director – Client Engagement

If you’re like me, there are certain events in your life that you look back on and realize that they completely changed your perspective.  Your first week at college. Your first job. The day you first became a parent, and so on.  In the few months since Chris Surdak wrote Jerk – Twelve Steps to Rule the World I’ve listened as he has shared his concepts from the book with thousands of people.  At the conclusion of almost every presentation, I found the majority of audiences staring back in stunned silence as they absorbed his perspectives.

One backbone of Jerk is a notion that information is now more valuable than capital. Initially, this concept felt like a strange leap of faith that I had a hard time truly embracing; like ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’. I kind of get that one too, but I never really bought it. In my life I’ve watched many more people hurt by sword induced events than those induced by pens so I guess I’ve been more of a ‘sword guy’.

So, when I started reading Chris’ first book, Data Crush, it took me a while to really buy into the “information is value” thing. But as I read statements such as “Capital is now like oxygen. Its availability is assumed and not appreciated or noticed – until you don’t have any”, it made me tilt my head slightly, like a dog hearing a high-pitched whistle, and wonder how this new concept really makes sense. I thought that I must be missing something. It sounded good, and seemed to have some  reasonable basis like ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’, but it just didn’t push it in my soul like most concepts the way it must in order to really ‘get it’.

When I Finally Got It

The moment when it all came together and I ‘got it’ remains crystal clear in my mind. I can remember what I was wearing, where I was, and the time of day. I was in the backyard of a friend’s house, overlooking the Los Angeles basin.  I was watching the traffic on the 405 thinking about how happy I was to not be in it. I was enjoying a glass of wine and talking to Chris about Jerk. It was March 25, 2016 at 5:15PM Pacific Time.

Yes, I remember it with that level of detail. As I walked around listening to these new ideas I randomly focused on a nearby building. Suddenly, it all gelled.  It suddenly made sense.  In that moment, I swallowed the ‘red pill’ and my world view changed forever.  I’m surprised I didn’t drop the glass in my hand like you see in movies. That building was a Courtyard by Marriott, one of many hotels in that area frequented by business travelers. It has been there for many years and while I noted its presence there many times I never really noticed it.

But this time was different.

As I looked the building up and down, I thought, “Marriott spent millions on that building. They invested in point-of-sale systems, back-end integration with dozens of business information systems, an enormous HVAC system was installed and maintained as well as WiFi, cable TV, utilities, and all of the other amenities expected by guests. Huge sums of capital were invested in branding, loyalty programs, and on and on.  Marriott spent years of effort and millions of dollars to create that capital asset and to maximize their returns on their investment. They put enormous capital wealth into this building with the expectation of creating still more capital wealth.  After all, that’s how investing works, isn’t it? Ten years ago if you‘d asked me if I’d wanted to own a hotel, I’d scream ‘of course!’ It would mean that suddenly I’d have incredible wealth.

But in that moment, I literally and figuratively stepped back and realized: That hotel, and all it took to create it, are just a pin on my Hotels.com app.  Nothing more.

Just a Pin on an App

More and more, when travelers go on a trip and decide where to stay, they jump on some aggregator mobile app such as Hotels.com, Trivago or Expedia.  While they may have memberships in one or more loyalty programs, they are likely to shop around for the best possible deal, with loyalty points being only one input to their decision.  In minimal time, and with minimal effort, the aggregator provides a customized map of properties correlated to ‘our needs’ at ‘this time’ within ‘this budget’ and ‘in this area’ with ‘these amenities’. And after a quick review of user feedback and comments to confirm our choice, we press a button and send money to a lucky winner.

So, what really happened here?

Information was proven to be more valuable than capital. As long as there was at least one hotel that met my need, my decision was based on something more than just availability. This conclusion does not mean that capital has no value. To the contrary: I still need land and I still need capital.  They each have value and are required to successfully build and run a hotel. But, here the availability of both land and capital was assumed, and neither important to my decision.

The real value was the information about the hotel aggregated within an app. The app controlled my choice at that moment through the use of contextual information. The app inverted the laws of supply and demand, ignoring mass appeal to addressed my specific needs at that exact point in time. The app gave me the hotel I wanted, when I wanted, at the price I wanted, where I wanted it and with all the amenities I needed.

Despite branding, marketing, advertising and promotion, in that moment all of the hotels that met my requirements were commoditized.  They were either ‘in’ my search criteria or they were ‘out.’ Beyond that, they won my business either on price, customer ratings owned by the aggregator, or both.

Capital-Centric No Longer Makes Sense

When you view value created in this entire exchange using traditional capital-centric perspectives and metrics, it doesn’t make sense. How does the entity that invested all of the capital, raw material and labor in such a tangible asset become the commodity in the equation? Marriott should be rewarded for making the whole thing work so well. They did all the hard work. Right?
But that’s the point of this whole transition. Capital (in this case, a hotel) is like oxygen. Only the absence of a hotel – with the location, amenity list and price I want –  makes me concerned. Assuming that this is available, I now expect to just pick one that works for me.  And at the end of the day, I don’t really care about which one gets my money. I just want a convenient and cost effective place to stay that meets my needs. The tools that provide this experience are easily available and produce better results. They also capture most of the value in the transaction, turning traditional capitalism on its head.

So to the actual hotel owners and operators, I applaud your commitment to building and maintaining these costly assets. I really appreciate it. I also know it’s tough to accept that my selection was based upon the efforts of a company that owns none of it, and invested little or no ‘Capital in the entire process.

In the end, that translates into  ‘Congratulations on becoming another $20 million pin on my free app’.

Welcome to the value of Jerks in our new world.


Dubai: A City of Jerks

originally published at The European Business ReviewDubai

contributed by:
Christopher Surdak, President & CEO

In my new book, Jerk: Twelve Steps to Rule the World, I discuss how companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Simple Bank are using new business models to disrupt existing industries.  These new innovators cause disruption, or “jerk”, by breaking with the traditional rules of capitalism and embracing Information as the new source of wealth and power in our world.  Combining information with new consumption models such as sharing and bartering economies, Jerks create enormous value for end users by better utilizing present investments and creating increasing information wealth along the way.

Recently, my team and I spent several days with a delegation from the Department of Economic Development of the Government of Dubai. This group, led by H.E. Mohammed Shael Al Saadi, and Mr. Wael Osman, is tasked with driving Dubai to the forefront of the global information economy. Their mission was to visit with experts on Big Data, Security, Blockchain, Smart Cities and the Sharing Economy in several cities across the United States and explore the latest innovations in these areas. Through a comprehensive group of initiatives, Dubai is seeking to jerk or disrupt the way that information is created, stored and utilized around the globe, and to do so in a way that simultaneously emphasizes speed, openness, security and value.

Dubai’s goal is not to become merely a smart city, but rather to become the smartest city, and a model for all other cities around the world.  This is an enormous undertaking that would take any organization decades to implement.  For a government to undertake this effort, with the goal of completing this transformation ahead of Dubai’s 2020 World Expo is truly monumental.  But, as stated by Al Saadi, “We have a God-given ability to fix the challenges that present themselves.  The key is to choose to change and then to do it.  Only then can you find and fix the issues that arise.”

An Open Road to Success

The effort, driven by the Smart Dubai Office, began in March 2014 when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Smart Dubai Initiative within The Executive Office.  A small initiative within a government office was then turned into the Smart Dubai Office, lead by Her Excellency Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr as Director General, with the governance structure and authority to unite public and private sector leaders to deliver an efficient, seamless, safe and impactful city experience for residents and visitors.

To achieve its strategic pillars, Smart Dubai has introduced strategic initiatives and developed partnerships to contribute to six key dimensions: Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Governance, Smart Environment, Smart People and Smart Mobility.

This effort is firmly rooted in the very latest in technology advancement.  However, Smart Dubai is taking its city transformation mandate beyond technology and into measures of actual happiness. As discussed in Jerk, as part of the Six New Normals, the Smart Dubai leadership team is guided by the conviction that “technology is only a means to an end; our end goal is people’s happiness.” To fuel this city transformation to happiness, the Smart Dubai Office recently launched its Happiness Agenda, adopting a globally unique, science-based and methodical approach to impacting happiness for the whole city. Under the Happiness Agenda, Smart Dubai is introducing a framework to ensure that individuals’ happiness, satisfaction or well-being is factored into leadership’s decision making on important city projects.

One initiative within the Happiness Agenda is the so-called ‘Happiness Meter,’ a customer satisfaction metric that was launched by Smart Dubai in October 2014, and is now in use by upwards of 40 government departments at service centers, websites and other ‘interaction touchpoints.’ Results from the meters feed into the ‘Happiness Index,’ a real-time happiness score for the city. City leadership and heads of government departments are able to call up the ‘Happiness Index’ for the city, or their department, through a mobile app.

This May, the Happiness Meter was opened to the private sector as part of the city’s Open Data initiative. Emirates NBD, one of the largest banks in the city, has already adopted the system for its mobile banking services. Upgrades to the Happiness Meter functionality and analytical capabilities are currently underway, with new features scheduled to launch later this year. This is a prime example of how government Open Data initiatives can have a direct bearing on private enterprise, leading to entirely new solutions for residents and consumers.

‘Do, Then Learn’

As discussed in Jerk, “Do Then Learn” is one of the principles followed by successful innovators.  Dubai is actively embracing this approach, as demonstrated by their enactment of their new Dubai Data Law, late in 2015. This law required all government departments to open all of their data to each other and to the public. With the force of this decision by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai has implemented its Open Data plan with a speed and certainty of purpose that is often elusive for government entities. As shared by Al Saadi, “We were certain of the need for smart, decisive action.  Anything less would be unacceptable to us.” “We knew there would be challenges, but we could not know and address them until we actually began to implement.”

The Dubai Data Law called for the establishment of a governing body to oversee the implementation of the law. In accordance with the law, the Dubai Data Establishment was announced in early 2016, under the Smart Dubai Office. Data is the fuel of the city’s smart transformation, and the two organizations are closely aligned. Assistant Director General of the Smart Dubai Office, Younus Al Nasser, is also the CEO of the Dubai Data Establishment.

This is not the city’s first digital transformation. In 1999, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed launched Dubai e-Government, a new department charged with digitizing all government operations. Setting the stage for Dubai’s current ambitions, Dubai e-Government was tasked by His Highness to “make Dubai a digital government in 18 months” – a remarkably short time table that was met.

The Dubai e-Government department continues to operate today, although it has evolved into the Smart Dubai Government Establishment. “SDG” operates within the Smart Dubai Office, under the leadership the CEO, Wesam Lootah. SDG is the ‘technology arm’ of Smart Dubai, bringing more than a decade’s experience developing, implementing and enabling smart services for government departments.  SDG recently published a report quantifying its impact on the government – over 1 billion USD saved over the past 13 years through the use of shared smart services and infrastructure.

SDG are the creators of DubaiNow, a mobile app which aggregates all government services into a single customer interface. Over twenty government departments are already participating in DubaiNow, in addition to several private sector companies, such as telco’s and health providers, and NGOs.

Smart Dubai Government is also the custodian of the Smart Dubai Platform, the ‘digital backbone’ of the city. Unlike most other smart city platforms on the market today, Dubai’s platform was co-created by Dubai leadership and a local ICT provider to fit the exacting requirements of the Dubai’s smart city mandate. The Smart Dubai Platform will ‘orchestrate’ Dubai’s data, and will become the public face of Open Data for the city. Current timelines suggest that the first open data sets will be available to access through the platform in early 2017.

By opening the city’s data for all to use, Dubai creates a tremendous engine of innovation. Before Open Data, it would be difficult for anyone to analyze how the city operated, where there were issues and how they could be improved.  With Open Data anyone can look at the city’s vital signs, its rhythms and moods and look for new ways to improve all aspects of life in Dubai. Open Data allows anyone to participate in this process, creating an environment of competition and innovation unlike any before.

As radical as this change may have been to Dubai’s departments, it is just the beginning.  Dubai’s leadership, including Abdulla Al Madani, chairman of the Dubai Open Data Committee, recognize that it is not enough to make the city’s data open.  This data must be shared by both public and private organizations in order to produce valuable outcomes for the people of the city.  Shared data is the real goal, allowing everyone to participate in the information economy. Creating an infrastructure, architecture and standards for such sharing are the key next steps to realizing this vision.

Securing a Public Resource

Shared Data is a great step towards Dubai’s digital future. But even this is not enough.  Shared data can be both a vulnerability and an asset, hence securing this data is imperative.  Users must be certain of the validity and accuracy of the data that they intend to use.  Hence, a state of the art security architecture is being implemented to protect this public asset.

As challenging as this may be, it is far easier to secure open, shared data than to secure how we operate today.  As explained by Al Saadi, “With the old way of managing data, anyone in the government could be an inadvertent security leak.  A photocopy of a license, application or photo could be left on a desk or thrown away, and a moment later be in the hands of someone wanting to use that information to do harm.  With Open Data, attempts at falsifying or stealing data are known to all, and errors or breaches can be prevented from occurring. With Open Data securing people’s information is much easier, rather than harder.”

Open, Yet Private

This leads to the natural question of privacy. Will Open Data still protect the privacy of individuals? In today’s world of smartphones, apps and social media, the concept of privacy that has existed for the last half-century is largely gone.  Being an invisible resident in a city of millions may have been a reality for many decades, but the Internet and the mobile revolution has brought such anonymity to an end. In this digital era we are returning to a time before the telephone or the computer or the car, where everyone knew each other and were neighbors. People still had their privacy, but much of their lives were spent as part of the community.

With Open and Shared Data we are reviving this sense of oneness and community, only now with millions or even billions of friends, family and neighbors. In this new world, the parts of our lives we wish to keep private will still be protected and respected, while the parts that we share will be used to benefit the whole community. The critical factor is choice, and the leadership of Dubai is ensuring that its people can choose what they wish to keep private, and what they choose to share. This will include anonymizing data, selective participation or opting out where this choice is deemed most appropriate.

Much of this privacy framework will build upon Dubai’s privacy law enacted in 2007, and another update to this law is expected late in 2016.

Welcoming the World

As deployed, this combined solution will enable innovative business models such as resource sharing, capital, labor and expertise bartering, and talent arbitrage, all enabled through the effective use of data.  As these capabilities are launched in Dubai it is hoped that the combined solution is so advanced and its utility so compelling that people worldwide will choose Dubai as the hub of all of their online activities. As Dubai has set itself as a global trade and travel hub, it will soon also be the center of the world of online commerce and living.

Backwards Compatibility

Dubai’s vision is so advanced that it leads to a problem of a different sort; how can others keep up? Indeed the online community and marketplace envisioned by Dubai is so far in advance of what is currently available that many people around the world may find it difficult to bridge the gap.  Again, Al Saadi and his team have anticipated this challenge, “We must anticipate the difficulties people from other cities may have in catching up to where we are heading.  We must provide a sort of backwards compatibility, as you see with computer operating systems, so that people who want to join us are able to make the leap ahead without too much difficulty.”

This goes beyond defining technical gateways such as APIs or standards.  It may include defining regulatory and legal frameworks  that allow for the free flow of open data from and between societies that have not yet caught up to Dubai.  Providing for these bridges now ensures that all cities may benefit from what Dubai learns as it moves forward with its vision, ensuring that it stays at the forefront of this new economy.

The Will to Change

Without doubt, the vision created by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a great leap forward.  many others talk of bold steps, but Dubai has the will to act. There is no illusion that this journey will be easy or that there will not be challenges along the way. But, as I have discussed in my writing elsewhere if you are not challenged by the unexpected or unanticipated you are likely not really innovating at all. To reach a bold new future you must first decide to make the trip and then face each unexpected challenge with the best problem solving you can muster.  This is the path towards new worlds, and by all appearances the people of Dubai may be there waiting for the rest of us once we arrive.




Pokémon Go: The Jerk of Gaming

contributed by:Pokémon Go: The Jerk of Gaming
Rich Buchanan, Managing Director

It’s the latest rage.  If you haven’t at least heard of the newest phenomenon sweeping the Internet, Pokémon Go, you probably aren’t going to be reading this blog either.  Developed by Niantic and published by none other than The Pokémon Company, Pokémon Go is a singular sensation that is breaking all sorts of records, like rate of adoption, that are a marketers dream.  The strength of the app’s launch drove the stock of Nintendo, who holds the licensing to the Pokémon universe, up twenty-five percent.  It is nothing short of a sensation.

The Success of Pokémon Go

The allure of Pokémon Go goes beyond the continuation of one of the most successful brands ever.  It is the first augmented reality game that has seen such high level of play.  Unlike previous games in the franchise, players in Pokémon Go are playing in the real world, augmented by the app.  Players must travel, largely on foot, to achieve their goals.  The running joke on the meme stream is that the game has done more for childhood obesity in one week than the First Lady did in 8 years in office.  There is truth to this statement.  My own teenagers have walked more in the past two weeks than the last two years, or so it seems.  Even my younger one, with a freshly minted driver license, takes the new-found freedom of a car and meets with friends to walk and find Pokémon.

One of the tenants of being a Jerk, in the parlance of Surdak & Co., is to do first and figure out the consequences as you go.  However, this paradigm does not mean thought shouldn’t be given to certain aspects ahead of time.  To not think things through can also just make you a jerk.  Pokémon Go gives us great examples of both types of jerks.

Pokémon Go Negative Reviews

There have been widely publicized complaints, anecdotal and real, of trespassing incidents, car accidents, people falling off cliffs, and hordes of zombie-like teens roaming the streets with their faces glued to their phones (the last item being not too unfamiliar regardless of the game).  There is a din of complaint, largely from the “adults”, that the kids need to pay more attention and that the game is a hazard.  Even the obvious health benefits are eschewed by some under the “in my day we didn’t need AR to go for a walk”.  All these complaints and criticisms are what is to be expected when something is Jerked.  While I have no proof, I’d find it hard to believe that the makers of the game did not have a conversation about such things and said to themselves “we’ll work that out” and kept moving forward.  The allure and success of Pokémon Go, including these distractions, bears all the hallmarks of something that radically and unalterably shifts the domain of which it is a part.  They’re Jerking their world.

Pokémon Go is a Jerk

Not every issue that has arisen with Pokémon Go falls into this category.  When the Pokémon Go app was first launched, iOS users were presented two log-in choices, one of which was using your Google credentials.  When the Google credentials were used, the app was granted full access to the user’s Google account.  While the full technical implications of this access are still being debated, it certainly gave the appearance that the app had complete access, including the ability to send emails.  The outcry reached the US Senate and questions about privacy were raised across the Internet, with social media amplifying the noise.  Parents were upset and the level of participants dropped noticeably.  The developer’s cries of “honest mistake” were challenged since they were incubated within Google and clearly should have known better.  This is an example of not thinking something thoroughly through enough.  It is clearly not an aspect where Jerk principles should be applied, it’s more of they’re just jerks for not thinking it through.  Laziness does not equal Jerkness.  The developer has released an application update to fix the issue, but the damage was done.
The principles of Jerk do not mean you need to think things out.  Au contraire, they mean you need to think things through more thoroughly.  To truly be revolutionary, you need to know what can and cannot be re-accelerated.  Being a Jerk is about vision, thoughtful planning, and disruption.  It’s not about just seeing where things fall.  That’s just being a jerk.

Rich Buchanan is an engineer and technologist who is also one of the adults over thirty who has played Pokémon Go since its release.  He is currently hunting for a Jolteon.




Big Data Impact in Colombia – A Traveler’s Journey

contributed by:Bogotá, Colombia
Charles Snyder, Managing Director

I recently traveled to Colombia with a friend and business partner, Chris Surdak. The purpose of the trip was to present the ideas contained in Chris’s latest book, “Jerk: 12 Steps to Rule the World”.  In this book, Chris explains how entire industries can experience sudden disruptions, or jerks, in their normal operations. He details how the people who cause these disruptions – those he calls ‘Jerks’ – operate.  He outlines 12 rules for being a Jerk, and further explains how existing companies can defend against these Jerks.

The trip was eye opening to say the least. Chris and I have known each other for a long time.  We have worked together in the past for a number of companies.  We actually started our careers together in the aerospace industry. We went to grad school together. We worked for a large financial services company together.  And, we’ve had a lot of fun together: riding motorcycles, attending Formula 1 races, and getting familiar with good scotch and good cigars. During the past almost three decades of experience with Chris, I’ve learned to expect two things:  We are going to have fun, and I am going to witness magic as Chris takes seemingly disparate ideas and concepts and crafts explanations and insights that leave me amazed.

So, with much anticipation, and not sure exactly what to expect, I found myself flying to Colombia late one Sunday night.  Chris’ last email to some of our friends, started with “If no one hears from us, you can contact…“  I felt like Christopher Columbus sailing off to see if the end of the world really was a big waterfall into the abyss.  It didn’t help that I was supposed to be picked up first by two people unknown to me.

When I got off the plane, it was very late.  After putting my bags through an X-Ray machine, I waded into a sea of people holding little signs with names on them.  I’ve never seen so many people looking for their rides. After what seemed to be a long time, but was probably only a couple of minutes, I found myself face-to-face with a stranger who was peering down at his notepad.  I was so close, I could peer down also.  I found myself looking down at a copy of my passport picture.  “That’s me!” I exclaimed. And that is how I met our host for the week.  Alejandro was joined by our interpreter, Jorge.  The three of us had some time to kill before the plane arrived with Chris and Rob, so we found a bar and started drinking.  Let’s see, it’s 11:30pm on a Sunday night. I’m in Bogotá, Colombia drinking with two complete strangers in an airport bar.   What a way to start the trip!

However, as unlikely as it sounds, we immediately bonded. Before we even reached the bar, Jorge started asking me questions about Chris’ speaking style, to better translate him.  I had never thought about the translation issue before, but Jorge explained that there are more Spanish words than English words, so he would have to speak faster than Chris in order to match the richness of the content.  Alejandro was non-stop, talking on the phone, keeping our glasses filled and making me tired just watching him. The guy was non-stop energy!   Pretty soon, I determined that if this was any indication of how the week was going to go, we were in very capable hands.

The next day started very early and the pace didn’t stop all week.  We presented Chris’ game changing ideas to top companies all week; the response was overwhelmingly positive.  Especially rewarding was the fact that all of them “got it”. They recognized that the ideas we were presenting were game changing, and that the biggest challenge in adopting them were the cultural ones.

A typical response went like this:  “I came here thinking I was going to hear about Big Data.  It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I’m blown away by what I did hear.”

It was so rewarding to have that kind of impact.  I am so looking forward to the opportunity to return to Colombia and work with these companies to effect changes that will fundamentally improve their business models.