Geoffrey Moore, the author of Crossing the Chasm and Escape Velocity, appeared in Seattle last month at the Technology Alliance’s annual luncheon.
Moore gave a thoughtful talk, speaking about the risks of disenfranchising the middle class. (See earlier report: Geoffrey Moore: How the tech industry is killing the middle class and what to do about it).
After the talk, Moore took some time to answer a few of the questions that rolled in from the audience.
Here are some of Moore’s responses to those questions on topics related to housing prices, net neutrality and biotechnology.
1. What are your thoughts on the capability of the more hands-on, blue-collar middle class to be retrained for the “new” middle class jobs?
“There is no question these new jobs—because they are mostly about relating to others via digital channels—privilege people who are socially adept, naturally empathetic, and effective communicators. That does not map particularly well to the stereotypical blue collar work force.”
2. If cost of living is a key issue for the middle class, how can you ignore housing? Isn’t that the issue at the heart of the Google bus, not the cost of education and health care?
“Housing is indeed core, which is why middle class incomes have to be so large (I used $80K to $120K as my benchmark). Housing prices are a function of supply and demand, however, so it is virtually impossible to control their costs. Health care, higher education, and government services, by contrast, are all susceptible to productivity initiatives of the sort that manufacturing has so successfully embraced. We know how to make these improvements—and improve quality of service while so doing—we just lack the political will to do it.”
3. How can we focus on changing cost-of-living for everyday costs like housing?
“As noted above, we cannot control the cost of housing per se. We can, however, move to shared dwelling models that spread the cost of housing across multiple sources of income. We can also invest in mass transportation services that make long commutes more productive and relaxing than driving.”
4. How do you direct tech to support the remaining good U.S. manufacturing jobs and products?
“I think the pendulum is already beginning to swing back on shore wherever the demand is for customized deliverables, faster cycle time, or collaborative R&D. The problem is, in all the new models the labor content is relatively low—so even when you bring the jobs back, you don’t bring back anywhere near as many as you sent over.”
5. Won’t most of the next-gen and in-house value chain functions for middle class jobs be replaced pretty soon by AI and analytics?
“Darwinism never ceases. That’s the hand life on Earth has been dealt. So yes we must continue to evolve our ability to add value. But tech has taught us an interesting lesson here. Whenever something that used to be expensive and difficult becomes cheap and easy, something else becomes expensive and difficult as a result. There is always a bottleneck to help address. It’s just that it moves.”
6. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): what is the future of internet infrastructure, especially with regard to net neutrality?
“I find it hard to imagine any future that is not anchored in a utility model along the lines of power, water, sewer, and the like. Net neutrality, in my view, is a red herring—it is more about which mega-corporations are going to pay what share of the video traffic that will dominate our communications. I believe governmental policy will end up being effective here in finding a safe landing.”
7. How will a move away from net neutrality impact the cloud and the related services it delivers? How will it impact the middle class?
“We already are getting so much benefit from the Internet it is hard for me to focus on the inequalities remaining to be resolved. I do not think any of this affects the middle class at all.”
8. Is the “exchange” economy sustainable without one party having a traditional job with benefits?
“Good question. In a community with a relatively low cost of housing, I believe it might be. In addition to creating new opportunities for income, it is quite good at lowering the overall cost of living for its participants.”
9. What about the “blue stack” versus “red stack” of technical education?
“Cool idea. The blue stack would be a command-and-control infrastructure focused solely on creating and certifying individually competent graduates. The red stack would be a collaborative network focused on engaging and enlisting participants of varying competence who become certified via social ratings and rankings.”
10. Education is attempting to change through MOOC’s, but not successfully. What’s next?
“MOOCs is a broadcast mechanism that democratizes access to leading experts lecturing. There is definitely a place for that in the new educational model. But education is mostly about shaping learning through individual attention, and that requires intimate interaction. I am a big fan of Sal Khan’s ideas which include connecting with each student via a tablet, maintaining statistics on everything and using them to improve everything, flipping the classroom, and involving the more advanced students in helping the ones struggling get to their next milestone.
11. What would a collaborative biotech business look like?
“Pretty much what biotech looks like today. If you step back, the initial discovery often happens in university labs in doctoral and post-doc programs. The best stuff then gets funded into start-ups which are by nature collaborative, following the lab culture model of a network of peers (Craig Venter’s companies being a spectacular exception). It is only when you have to post up against the command-and-control regulatory agencies around the globe that you need to co-opt a matching structure and license your molecules to the big guys.”
Here’s the full talk: