Dirk Knemeyer

AI, Big Data & Brand Loyalty, January 13, 2017

The issue is right now it’s dumb data, so Netflix for example, very intelligently can push to us what we’re going to like to watch, and figure out what things to make to determine what we’ll enjoy. Their ownership of that data isn’t that valuable. If I … It’s convenient that I’ve rated a bajillion things on Netflix, and that is all there, but if I left Netflix tomorrow for some new service, I’m not losing that much. The data for me as the consumer, it doesn’t do much. It helps them maintain their business model of getting $12.99 a month out of me, fine, but beyond that, it doesn’t have a more over-arching value. I’ll say the same thing for Amazon. Amazon purchases. Those are even stupider because I don’t think that Amazon, that’s probably really, I’m naïve. I’m sure Amazon is using those things to figure out how to push things towards me that I would be more likely to buy, but it still is dumb.

There’s going to come a time, and it’s decades away, not years, when a machine can interpret that data and can draw conclusions about me as an individual. Conclusions that would draw me to date better people, draw me to pursue a better career. Draw me to spend my time in ways that are better for me. Draw me to … Plans to work around my weaknesses, or to proactively work with my genomic data to have me doing things or buying things, or behaving in context to make it less likely I die at an early age. That’s when it’s smart and that’s when it’s interesting.

Right now it’s being levered for capital gain which is fine and good, but it’s just not that interesting. If I left Amazon or left Netflix, it really matters very, very little. There’s other places to buy products, and certainly there’s other places to watch shows. Now, if anything, that market is overly saturated with Hulu and Amazon and others. The point I want to make is that yeah, in these ways that allow a company to be successful in capitalism, it’s great, but in terms of doing really meaningful things or things that matter to me where I’d be like “oh my God, I’m going to keep my Netflix for the rest of my life, because leaving it would just be too catastrophic”, it’s just nowhere near that. To me, that’s when this data will become really interesting, is the decades down the road when they understand the human animal well enough to use machine power to translate the choices we make into really, really changing our lives.


Twitter, Business Models & Information Overload, December 8, 2016

At some point, Twitter will get acquired. There’s too much money to be lost to not sell for at least something well below what they hoped and their investors were driving for. Business model, they haven’t found it yet. I’m not seeing an obvious business model in the current sort of Internet technologies stack for Twitter. I mean, look, there’s theoretical business models. They have a business model now, quote-unquote “business model,” with promoted tweets and other rubbish, which is following sort of the old-school commercial approach to attempting to monetize. That is a business model, but it’s not a very successful one.

The question is how will Internet technologies evolve in the years ahead and how could that meta-platform and the platforms within it better enable a product like Twitter based on ease of use, free information, network effects, access to celebrity, among others, not just celebrities, of course, for that to be brought together in a way that it can make money. Right now it can’t, because they’ve given it away for free. Maybe they had to give it away for free in this environment. The reality is if now they yanked it, somebody else would give it away for free. Even if you can’t find a business model around it, the power of the platform is immense. The fact that we are all essentially directly connected to everyone else, except for the very few who don’t opt for Twitter at all, even though they’re famous and would benefit from it or the people who are unknown and not sort of relevant to a networked effects conversation at that level. I mean, we’re connected to everyone, within those exceptions.

Super powerful. Super valuable in non-capitalist ways, but not super valuable relative to the investment, relative to the expectation, relative to the scale of their burn within a normal business structure.

I’m sort of a late Twitter user. I wouldn’t say I really enjoy it, but I do see the value in it. Do we need the news in the way that the news has become accepted as a thing in our lives? Do we need to know that that plane was coming down? Do we need to know that that plane landed on the Hudson River at all? Much less, do we need to know that that plane landed on the Hudson River two minutes within it actually happening? Certainly, the latter is completely unnecessary. I mean, that’s first-world privilege at the max. I would say even the other isn’t necessary. We don’t need that bit of news. That news is not relevant to us. I mean, there are some people in Manhattan or in places where the plane was coming, destinations, very specific people, but for our nation of 300 million-plus people or let’s take the whole world, six billion or whatever the number is now as it continues to spiral upwards, totally unnecessary to know that there was this plane accident on the Hudson River at that time, that it ever happened. It’s unnecessary.

We’ve become conditioned to thinking that all of this stuff is necessary. Oh my god, there’s a child in a well in Guatemala. Oh my god, this, oh my god, that. 99% of what we get on the news we don’t need and, you could argue, is bad for us in a number of different psychological ways. The sort of meta question over all of this Twitter stuff is this urgency, this notion of how it fits into some view of news in the global world, even relevant? I think no. I think that we’ve been taught it is, we’ve conditioned to it being, but my life would be better if I stopped hearing about the person who sawed somebody’s head off on a bus in Africa or all the crazy rubbish. I mean, it just makes me sad and depressed and fearful and suspicious. It’s not good at all. I don’t know, it’s not good at all.

 


“Chief Inclusion Officers” & the American Legacy, November 10, 2016

I think it’s totally a question of maturity. I think for now, today, it’s absolutely appropriate. It’s valuable, it’s not just that that person can be empowered to make things happen, the very presence of it is a signifier of the seriousness, of the investment that the company is taking. Now, in 20 years, I don’t know there should be anybody with a title like that because we should have in the culture of business generally, in our society from a more over-arching perspective, has moved beyond this uncomfortable moment. It will be over by the time that this is published, but we’re right on the doorstep of this election with the death rattle of the conservative white male here embodied in Donald J. Trump. Hopefully in 20 years that death rattle has turned into death, and we buried some of that backward, undeveloped thinking, culturally speaking. We’ll be to the point we don’t need to have an inclusion officer. It’s just more a part of how we function, but for today, I think it makes perfect sense.

I don’t know how to respond to stupidity, so I’m not going to even try. Single viewpoint, I feel sad for those people and I hope they’re lifted from ignorance at some point. Listen, how much longer this country is going to be the leading world power, how long this country is going to be a leading world power, how long this country is going to be a country in the form that we understand it now, are total unknowns. Years, decades, centuries, but at some point it will end. It will decline. It will cease to be the that way we know it now.

The greatness that will be remembered from the United States, from this experiment, as it’s often called, is diversity and openness. It’s not the Constitution. The Constitution is not nearly one of the best Democratic Constitutions written. It has slavery, it has a lot of f-ing problems. That document is not what people think it is. The flag, the national anthem, all that nationalistic rubbish, not at all. In the United States the openness and the diversity, the spirit of that, that has been among the leaders in the 20th century and the 21st century of openness and inclusivity, bringing everyone in, and benefiting from the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic vibrance, participation of a lot of different people, that’s what’s going to really matter.

That’s what one of the positive legacies. I fear most of the legacies are going to be negative for the United States, but I think on the side of positive legacies it is these issues of social liberalism in practice. There’s things I’m proud of, and things I’m certainly happy to see the business world at large and the tech community more specifically taking more seriously and investing in because it will be to it’s best benefit as well.


Silicon Valley & Inequality,

I want us to be clear, when we talk about diversity and inclusivity, both of which are important to me, what exactly are we talking about? I wryly noted that you mentioned minorities, after mentioning that Asian men were very present in the tech community. The community that I came from, a little suburb called Sylvania, Ohio, which has a very highly-rated public school that I attended, and the non-white people could be counted on my hands in the school of over a thousand people, more or less, at that time. It’s become more diverse since then. From my perspective, being an Asian male within a culture that was historically white males is a part of diversity. Asian males in our culture, certainly in the sub-culture that I grew up in, that was very white and sheltered, would have been considered a minority. You excluded that group from being a minority. I’m interested in your framing, and let’s be really clear on what we’re talking about when we say diversity and inclusivity.

I lived in Silicon Valley from 2004 or 2005 until about 2008 or 2009, so about four or five years that I was there. What struck me when I was in Silicon Valley, was from a racial and ethnic perspective, it was certainly the most diverse place I had ever been. As a white person, this may or may not be true, but my impression was that a Caucasian was the fourth most common ethnicity.

That’s present around me, in the spaces that I worked with knowledge workers were far-east Asian individuals. I don’t know if that’s the right term, so I’m certainly trying to be inclusive in using that. I apologize if it’s not the politically correct term. Also, Indian individuals. People of Indian decent, which I definitely distinguish from far east Asian, were very common. Then the other, which was not within the knowledge work, but in the community at large, was hispanic. That culture as well.

I went to Silicon Valley, and I felt like I was in the most diverse environment that I’d ever been in. What was missing from that picture were women. Certainly on engineering teams at that time, the men were predominant, well over 90% men, but of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. As you would get into other parts of the company, say marketing, then you would start to see more women. With a little bit of a background in marketing, I would say, still somewhat less than maybe I had seen in other industries or other parts of the country before I went to Silicon Valley.

I never know what to do with statistics like the 29% that you threw out there, because superficially, you know, we say, everything should be equal. Equal translates to 50/50. We get 29%, and we’re like, “Oh my God, it’s a horrible statistic.” It may be a horrible statistic, but I think in our rush to equality, we’re going for equality of outcome, when really what we want is equality of opportunity. Whether or not a similar proportion of women want the same specific job or title or role that men would want in different cases, who knows?

Anecdotally, from living with people of different genders, and doing different things, I know that there’s certain types of people that like to do these things in more proportion, certain types of people that like to do that thing in more proportion, so I think if we’re looking for 50% in outcomes across the board, I think that’s short-sighted. I think it’s sort of well-meaning liberalism going overboard. I think really, what’s important that there’s equality of opportunity for everyone. If a woman is interested in the same role or job or company as a man, that the opportunity should be there equally.

I would even argue that because diversity and inclusion are so powerful and important to the benefit of the company and the other employees there, even allowing a minority group, whether it be ethnic or gender, advantages to get things closer to par is a good thing. The diversity inclusion in and of itself is beneficial for all. I think we need to be a little bit more nuanced in making sure people are paid properly, people have equality of opportunity, but that doesn’t translate into a world were necessarily every company is 50/50, every role is 50/50. I think that’s really, really short sighted. I’m liberal, but that’s where the liberal agenda tends to break down.

Before I forget, I want to make a couple of other comments about Silicon Valley culture. As much as I loved the diversity there, I will say that there was never once, and I worked as a consultant. I worked with over 50 different companies, some of them quite large. I worked with, I would say thousands of people, actually, in ways large or small. There was not a single African-American person who I worked with in Silicon Valley in these great companies, in knowledge working roles of importance. That’s certainly, on the ethnic cultural side, a glaring omission. The other thing I will say is that there’s very few older people working in Silicon Valley.

When I was in Ohio, where I was before I started Involution with Andrei, I was always the youngest person in the room. It was like, there’s Dirk, and there’s a lot of executives who were 40, 50. One of my bosses called me the Boy Wonder. That was my reality. As soon as I started in Invo, moved to Silicon Valley, how old was I? I was 30, and I was they oldest person in the room. Almost immediately. Now I’m working with these CEOs who are younger than me. I’m the design bitch. In the beginning, certainly that was the role that I was playing.

That was weird, and it really spoke to the the culture of youth that permeates, particular the start-up culture in Silicon Valley, but it certainly matriculates into the large corporations which are born of start-ups as well. Anyway, that was winding from a different place, but before I forgot, I wanted to, with more crispness, talk about issues of diversity in Silicon Valley as I lived them for five years.

You know, there’s another way to look at it too, coming back to Silicon Valley. Most of the people there, and again this doesn’t speak for everyone by any means, but, a majority for the people that I dealt with came from wealthy families and many of them had Ivy League or top-level educations. One of the things I took from my time in Silicon Valley is it’s really a culture of wealth begetting wealth begetting wealth over generations.

At one point, Invo was doing quite well, quite well, and I talked to my accountant out here who lived there for his entire life, and I said, “I can’t even dream of owning a big house here. How the hell does anybody afford it?” He said, “Dirk, the dirty secret of Silicon Valley is these young people, their parents buy them the house in Silicon Valley, and then they get the job and they throw them money, and it’s generation over generation over generation.”

I do want to also speak to a lack of diversity from the standpoint of socioeconomic status. From that perspective. I think that’s a really important one. I think a lot of people who would be valuable to Silicon Valley, would be valuable to technology are just shut out.

If they want to live a comfortable lifestyle, and they don’t have the Daddy Warbucks parent or hit the one-in-a-thousand shot on being with the right start-up, or some other existing money or super unusual circumstance, you can’t have the same quality of life there as you can have in the Midwest or even here by comparison. When we talk diversity, inclusion, that tends to very quickly go to racial, ethnic, or gender, but I think there’s other ways to look at it. I think socioeconomic status is a big one. It’s also one that in part speaks to why there is an absence of certain racial and ethnic background of individuals in the knowledge work in Silicon Valley too.

 


Progressive Corporate Hierarchy, September 23, 2016

What I was hearing from Lincoln Electric’s example was the same sort of mistake the progressives have been making for hundreds of years. I’ll specifically mention communism and communism in the former Soviet Union. The idea behind communism, the power to the people. I mean, that all sounds great, right, but the problem is when they set it up, they have the people take over and then the people created the same hierarchical power structures that existed before, just instead of it being a hereditary monarchy, now it was this iron-fisted despot, right?

We can argue to what is a despot. We certainly cannot argue that Stalin was a major freaking despot. With Lincoln, what they’re doing is they’re bringing elected group of labor people – it’s sort of how you put it – in to join the management in some capacity. To me, that’s going down that same path of communism which is namely seeing the world through the top-down hierarchical structure, so we’ll elevate the leaders from the workers who will join the owners in some degree of management and how much of that is really that the labor leaders’ contributing and how much are they passive observers? I don’t know. We cannot know.

I would have found it far more progressive if what Lincoln was doing was saying, “Look, every week there’s a senior executive meeting and there will be three workers who are randomly selected and everybody’s going to get their turn over the years or each month, there’s a board meeting and three members of the workforce randomly selected.” Whether or not that’s the correct solution, I’m not sure but the point being they’re going back to the hierarchical top-down model of, “These are the people in charge who are going to filter information and push it down to the masses below them.”

It’s a very different thing when you’re able to have every person come up and be a part of that. I mean, it’s one reason why in all of my companies, I’ve always insisted on a human scale where the owner of the company is tied to the, basically, the lowest person on the totem pole. There’s a direct connection where they’re working together, know each other’s name, see each other on a daily basis. That creates more humane outcomes. I would have been much more heartened if Lincoln was saying, “Look, the CEO is going to meet Jane who is the lowest of the low on the hierarchical worker pole.” Jane’s voice matters just as much as Bobby who is this charismatic guy who can get voted to be the leader of our labor group, right? I don’t want to take anything away from Lincoln. I’m sure what they’re doing is progressive.

It’s better than what many other companies are doing, but when I’m looking for innovation, things that would turn my head or more down to the kind of path of what I was talking about. I’m suspicious that what Lincoln is doing is making similar mistakes to what many people have done in terms of bringing up some of the masses to just create a new level of overlord.


Home Automation & Consumer AI, July 18, 2016

You know, the technology will get more sophisticated and better, but I want it to be really powerful. I don’t want it to have these 5 nice things it does that I’ve memorized, and the only 5 things that I can rely on it for, that amount to things as pedestrian as, “Turn the lights down, please, Alexa.”

It’s this very flat, very limited amount of information, and additionally, it’s not giving context for how I live. I have no idea what the temperature is that leads me to layer, and then unlayer as the day goes on, or I don’t know where the temperature break is where I go from jeans to shorts. I don’t know that in terms of numbers. I know it when I see it, and it would be very easy to program the AI around this stuff, to learn from us, how we respond with simple questions. “Dirk, was it hot or warm or cold for you today?” “It was warm, Alexa.” Now, Alexa knows what I think of as warm. “Dirk, what sort of clothes would you be comfortable wearing today?” “Today felt like a jeans day to me, Alexa.”

Alexa can simply say, “Dirk, it’s going to be a beautiful day out today, however, I recommend you wear jeans, wear 2 to 3 layers, and maybe bring an umbrella, just in case.” That is where value is. If it did that, I would say powerful. If it just spits out “Sunny and 70,” I say bullshit.

Probably the best home automation that’s out there are from companies that nobody’s ever heard of. They don’t happen to have voice interface, the way Alexa does, which is very sizzling and sexy, but does very powerful things around home house control of room by room, not just room by room temperature, but music, coverings, window coverings, status, light status, what movies are being shown all around. That technology’s been out for decades now, and has done very well by workman like companies we’ve never heard of. The big consumer companies we have heard of are going to, I believe, are going to completely outflank them, probably buy them, and take up their infrastructure, and all of that.


The State of Virtual Reality, May 25, 2016

You know Jon, no, but I think that [Google] Daydream’s on the right track. VR is still at a stage where bleeding edge early adopters might find it exciting and interesting but it’s not particularly practical or sustainable or something that can be like a core part of a normal person’s lifestyle. It ain’t there yet. Google is starting to move it closer with Daydream by virtue of usability and simplicity and integration.

That goes back to the Google roots of the company. Certainly Google wasn’t the first search engine by a mile but what they did is they took the idea of search engine as sort of the powerful central point of a giant platform of crap. They removed the crap and so the search engine is the important part.

What they’re doing with Daydream is moving down the path of having the technology be more usable, more accessible, and more able to be integrated into someone’s daily life and environment instead of being some gigantic thing strapped to their head. Which is how the most popular VR technologies have been manifesting so far.

I’m heartened and optimistic about Daydream as the Google foray into VR but for me VR technology ain’t there yet. I’m happy to sit on the sidelines and let other people burn a lot of money and energy dallying with the latest and greatest stuff that thirty years ago would have been in a Sharper Image store. Then when it gets to be something really practical and interesting, I’ll get into it more in my own life. Daydream is a path down VR as integrated part of a digital life and that’s great. It shows that Google’s thinking about the problems in the right way as they generally do.


Future Leadership in the Design of Personal Computing Devices, November 19, 2015

Mobile is a whole different beast, we have less than a decade now of mobile. We’re still, we collectively meaning the whole, everybody is still figuring it out. Mobile doesn’t lend itself to the point-and-click paradigm that desktop personal computing lent itself to. I’m not going to make the case that the things Apple is doing or any of the manufacturers are doing are correct, but I think it’s just a new animal.< They’re saying “Here’s all these best practices, why aren’t they there?” Those are old practices and we need to really reinvent what mobile computing looks like, taking lessons where they’re appropriate but... I don’t know man, the point and click, that whole frame isn’t relevant and you have a tiny bit of pixels when you’re dealing in direct manipulation. Even on the hardware side, the whole Apple Watch thing now, to me that is just one of the many gyrations of what does mobile computing truly look like? Because I don’t think the form factor is correct of a mobile phone. I also don’t think the watch form factor is correct. We’re trying to figure all of this out on the hardware and the software side. In terms of Google, yeah, if there’s a mainstream consumer tech company that I’m going to buy the stock of it’s going to be Google. I’m very bullish on Google for a lot of different reasons but on the design side I don’t know. They’ve never been great at design, they’re really engineering-driven. Their newest Nexus phone just came out and it was produced by a different hardware manufacturer. Whereas Apple controls their hardware, controls their software, the design that emanates for that Apple takes credit for. Google can’t take credit for those. The phone is really beautiful but it’s not Google, it’s this other hardware manufacturer. The degree to which Google’s going to be a design leader and/or practice exceptional design, I’m not sure. It’s never been a staple or a hallmark. A big picture of what’s happened is that the decay of Apple over the last 5 years has just brought them back to the pack. Now, who’s the design leader? I don’t know. I don’t know that there is a leader, they’re all kind of similar-ish. Nobody is this perfect … Apple used to be this clear cut above. There ain’t the clear cut above anymore.


The Future of Personal Computing Ecosystems, August 20, 2015

Look at the history of corporations, they all die, they all go away. None of them make it. If you look at the biggest companies, like an Andrew Carnegie, they don’t exist anymore. They die, despite being, at certain points, the biggest and most successful companies in the world. That’s because they’re born of a certain time and place, with a certain vision, carving out a certain space in the world. As time passes, the impact of that space, the degree to which people desire that space waxes and wanes. The more time that passes, the more it’s on the wane side.

Apple is a company that I don’t remember their initial mission statement, but it boiled down to putting computers in everyones living room. Taking these giant machines for processing and make them a personal and part of peoples everyday lives, that’s a mission that’s been addressed a long time ago. Whereas Google, their mission of organizing the worlds information … information applies to DNA, information applies to all kinds of different things. Even though Google’s first manifestation was in the context of a search engine, from the very beginning their vision for what they were trying to achieve in the world was much bigger.

I think there are still exciting things for Apple to do. It would be great if Apple could solve the personal computing ecosystem. There’s a gap right now where we’ve got the watch, we’ve got the iPhone, we’ve got the iPad, we’ve got the laptop or desktop computer, we’ve got the devices in our cars and in other places, wearables that are all part of this. It’s really clumsy. There’s too many devices, they don’t work that well together. There’s still a lot to be done in that space, and I do think Apple’s the right company to do it. The question is, do they have the leadership vision present to do that? I think the Jony Ive fan boys would say yes. I’m not so sure though. I’d like to see them do it because I own Apple devices, I’ve invested a lot of money in the iTunes store. I’d like this ecosystem to continue. There’s a big opportunity for it to really up level. I hope Apple does it.

I increasingly think it’s more likely that it’s going to be some kind of disruptor. I don’t necessarily think Google’s the one to do it, because Google’s excellence is not in design ecosystems, Google’s excellence is in engineering. On the design side, more simple, straightforward, not from a design perspective, but from an overall business model prospective, in ways that are more open but don’t necessarily result in a great user experience. It may be another company entirely. Going back to Amazon, it might be Amazon, although I don’t think it will be them either. I don’t know who it will be. There’s a big opportunity here, and it is one Apple can take advantage of. The question is will they? Your guess is as good as mine.


Apple Watch Will Be a Failure, June 11, 2015

Apple’s jumped the shark. The idea of these [release] events being memorable and interesting and giant buzz-worthy things are garbage. Apple has settled into the same kind of status that Microsoft has had for decades, of a company that has had it’s best acts in the past and is living off of those past glories and is trying to wrap shit with a bow and tell us it doesn’t stink. I don’t know why anyone cares about these announcements anymore. I certainly don’t.

Consistent with Apple’s vision-less execution, in recent years, they’ve taken [an event] that had real cache, that “one more thing” was exciting. It wasn’t necessarily every time, hint-hint. It was like, “We’ve got something special that we want to do and it’s really going to take your breath away.” They’ve totally piddled that away.

I think they’re just totally out of touch. If you go into Whole Foods in Cupertino, CA, you’re gong to find yourself surround by a lot of people who look like they could and would support the iPhone and the Apple watch. You’ll see a lot of those people. You’ll even see people using both of those devices. That’s the bubble that Apple lives in. I’ve been to that Whole Foods, I’m talking about a very specific place here.

If you go and randomly pick 100 towns in the United States. If you had a random generator and you went into whatever is the closest thing to a Whole Foods in those towns. Most certainly wouldn’t have Whole Foods, right? You’re probably going to end up in more mass market supermarkets and if you observe the people in those places you will immediately realize that there is no market for this beyond the very small-high percent.

Again, what are you creating? The iPhone has penetrated into those markets. You’ll see people who, from a socioeconomic perspective, look like they probably couldn’t or shouldn’t be spending money on that kind of thing, but they are armed with their smartphone. Adding an expensive watch into that ecosystem is just stupid.