Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hello Open World - Satyagraha 2.0 - (updated Dec 30, 2015)

I've been once drunk tossed out of a bar, 
but I aspire to get tossed from a café for my unread verse. 
It has to be said. 

That the rooster was once a leaf. 


China on its surface may glitter wealth and prosperity, but beneath the facade is a troubled nation with moral decay and spiritual voids. The rotting roots are in part created by the anchored practice in information and media censorship robbing the Chinese people of their freedom of the arts and expression; in fact robbing the people of its soul. Censorship is counterintuitive to maintaining China's national stability and advancing the Chinese characteristics in a global community. China is in desperate need of opening its society's access to information from around the world, opening civic participation in the global governance structure, opening its media to its own public as the “fourth estate” not just to account for profits, and allowing the arts to flourish to deliver the needed social commentaries reinvigorating a new era of Chinese exceptionalism.

Things are easier said than done. Since China entered the “belly of global capitalism”, the Chinese government sees social stability synonymously linked with political stability through sustained economic development. See Ching Kwan Lee & You-tien Hsing, Social activism in China, Agency and possibility, RECLAIMING CHINESE SOCIETY (Routledge, 2010). This itself is not problematic, but China's censorship renders its economic developments void of certain moral courage to do the right thing. Despite aggressive circular economy laws and political rhetoric, China's provincial political elites are leading us to a depleted world with accelerated climate changes, social unrest, and human rights violations; all the while, the central government keeps the Red Curtain over its people and make empty promises to the rest of the world. To date, the Chinese people see the authoritarianism and corporate greed as the price to pay for better lives; the world turned a blind-eye to China's problems for profits' sake. We stay silent and let the self-imposed censorship consume what's around us, detrimental to our global moral core.

A critic would gladly stop at this static view of the problem. A careful China observer, however, would see the beginning of China's peaceful and quiet transition through its uniquely linguistic leverage, connecting to the world through the Red Curtain. In China's civic environmentalism, for example, activists have created a new language master-frame of “greenspeak” directly reflecting global citizen actions (Rom, Brockmeier, and Muhlhausler 1999: 2). See Guobin Yang, Civic environmentalism, RECLAIMING CHINESE SOCIETY (Routledge, 2010).

This type of linguistic “quiet activism” (hereinafter, “Satyagraha 2.0”) is not surprising. The Chinese language itself is riddled with ancient verses and on-the-go rhythmic prose. There is a rich field of symbolism people use daily for their humor and discontent. It is one of the few ways by which the Chinese people have empowered themselves. They set the rules and influence the rhetoric. They then make positive changes in incremental and gradual ways passively disarming the bureaucracy that resists change. Poetry in particular is an even more powerful thing to be leveraged. Properly understood and directed, it is something that can rekindle the Chinese exceptionalism we desperately need.

However, Chinese poetry, like other forms of art remotely suggesting any varying opinions, is unmistakably hunted towards extinction.

To restore the Chinese moral core and fully leverage China's Satyagraha 2.0 through language and poetry, the value and dignity of the individual must be respected. The voiceless must be read and heard. In particular, Chinese poetry must be revived in the modern context and be given a global voice. Without poetry, China will not have an open society and the world will not have a future. But once the Chinese poetic exceptionalism is awaken, it is capable of great things. With one-fifth of the world's population, China's will-power aligned can transform our future for the better, or worse if we let it be.

 The choice to change is ours.


Believe in the Future 
When spider webs seal my stove without mercy 
When ember smoke sighs over sad poverty 
 I spread out the despairing ashes stubbornly 
And write with fair snowflakes 

(-Shi Zhi, translated by Michelle Yeh) 

仁 礼 誠 人 
人 必 治 法 
法 修 其 德 
德 治 其 國 

jin (2011)


(Update: I recently discovered two other posts I've written on this topic. 
(1) On Language and Games – the Wittgensteinian Fly From a Bottle; and 
(2) Imaginative Re-Colonization.  I'm sure there are more, but you will have to find those on your own. Cheers, jin.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dear China

Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.
                                              - Mahatma Gandhi (1896)

The universe has a funny way of toying with me sometimes.

A few days ago I had a conversation with someone about authenticity of “green” marketing. You can read my post here. Today, I had lunch with some friends and had an interesting discussion about China's travel obsession for buying luxury goods abroad. Some fantastic stories were told, most of them true I am sure. They all involve Chinese tourists coming to America clearing out some luxury brand store, or electronic “brick-and-mortar” such as Best Buy of their latest iPads.

From what I'm hearing, the Chinese these days are all about touring and visiting not for culture's sake. Instead, their travels are more about buying the latest or the greatest of brands for the cheaper prices. (China puts a heavy tax on luxury goods to curb its corruptions.) This trend, I'm guessing, is all about China's struggle for its value and identity in the post-Mao consumer world. As my generation (30-40 year-olds) of Chinese were raised in the money-for-money's-sake era, the youth today is attempting at a existential emergence with the money they inherited.

I left lunch in disrepair. Is there really no hope for China's future besides consumption?

I went to the inter-web to find solace. This Huffington Post article brought some sense of relief:

"Brands take heed: in order to win over Chinese youth, you must stand for something. Youth crave values, and fancy brand names don't stand for much but exclusivity, elitism, and in the worst case, corruption. In their time of need and self-exploration, how will you guide them?"

But the question remains: what must a brand stand for to guide the China's tomorrow?

On the one hand, China represents the largest consumption market and companies stand to make a lot of money from its future. On the other hand, China represents a great will power that can transform how goods are sold and how businesses are done to promote our global sustainability goals in the future. While the China youth today is half trapped by the money-for-money's-sake mentality, and slowly finding their identity in the “small luxuries” of indulgences in things crafty and sentimental, western brands holds immense power over the future fate of our common human experience.

What a challenge indeed. How would China recognize and be guided by the authentic brands? 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dear "Mr. Macy" - A Challenge

Someone asked me the other day: How does a corporation stay authentic in an ever more green-washed market place?

Fair question. My immediate response is to say: don't market anything. Because that's not what we do. Marketing intrinsically means selling something your customers don't need. That's why people are inherently suspicious of marketing regardless of how true the content may be. But the big open secret is that customers will indeed buy based on marketing, so it is easy to get tempted. Some corporations try to use the sustainability movement as a marketing opportunity, ruining the playing field for the rest of us.

So, how a corporation approaches their marketing (philosophically, fundamentally, and responsibly) is very important. In this way, corporate social responsibility achieves authenticity and not mere window dressing.

Recently the movie “Miracle on 34 Street” has been on TV. It is a movie about Macy's and all advertising points to the other scheduled show times, sponsored by Macy's

Fair enough, it's a good movie; but one scene struck me in particular: there was an 'apparent' angry customer stopping Shellhammer to rant about Kris Kringle (“Santa”) directing Macy's customers to other stores. Shellhammer was shocked to find out the customer wasn't angry at all but praised Macy for the Christmas spirit to do the good deed. The dramatic dialogue ended with this customer pledging to be a loyal returning customer and Mr. Macy's advent approval to extend the practice beyond just Christmas.

And there you have it, an authentic moment on the silver screen.

Being the ever optimist, I assume a corporation sells widgets or service that customers actually need. But that's the hard part, isn't it? Corporations are so focused on selling more that they forget there is more than one way to sustain a brand and a business. So when competition gets fierce, corporations think they will have to race to the bottom. A tragedy of the commons.

But the simpler truth and escape is just as Mr. Macy (in the movie) pointed out: something authentic must be authentic. You can't fake it because it will never make it.

So I stand by my recommendation then and now: the right path is to look at this as an exercise of actual engagement. Yes, you the corporation must engage your stakeholders.

Get to know them, understand them within the framework of sustainability. What are their social and environmental problems? What are their goals? What can they do to then contribute? What are the barriers to change and what are the benefits to change? How do you initiate change? How do you test and measure for improvements?

From there, the engagement then becomes a community based action. Based on the maximum effective solution possible and stakeholder engagement, a corporation can find a new path to create new models of doing business. This is the only way to make the business responsible and sustainable to its community. This is also the only way to authentically continue your corporate brand.

As I said before in an another post, this process based approach is slow and painful. It is incremental. It requires trust and collaboration which we Americans seem to lack these days. I therefore remain doubtful that any corporation is willing to embrace the challenge.

Or perhaps this is my challenge to all the corporations: MAKE A CHANGE. STOP MARKETING AND START CARING.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays. 

- jin [Challenge issued to "Mr. Macy" in particular. Cheers.]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Project Management from a Social Sciences Perspective

- by Lauren Campbell-Kong

My background is in psychology. I only have a bachelor’s degree. I say that like it isn’t an accomplishment, but it is. Anytime an individual takes the time to pursue learning, it is an accomplishment, especially with how expensive ‘certified’ learning can be.

That’s what it is like living In the information age, where information is readily available and individuals can make millions of dollars without a degree, just like they can make 30K a year with one.

I love psychology. I have since I was young, I’ve always been interested in how people think and why they think. On my 16th birthday my stepfather gave me a subscription to Psychology Today. I had that subscription until I went to college to study psychology.

Back then the magazine was more ‘journalistic’ in its ways. It provided research and recently published studies. I recently started receiving the magazine again. It’s not like it was… it’s much more commercial and mainstream, including cover lines like “How People See You.” That’s not the psychology I know or love. The magazine is meh… I rarely read it because when I do I get shitty about the loss of quality.

I started college at Indiana University. At the time the psychology program was ranked 2nd in the country under Stanford.

It has the oldest continuing psychology laboratory in the America, and has produced famous psychologists like B.F. Skinner and Alfred Kinsey, and (my favorite attribution) even made its way to the show Home Improvement when in the last episode of the sitcom, Jill tells Tim that she was accepted to teach psychology at Indiana University in Bloomington and the family will be moving.

The Psychology department there is still comprised of dedicated individuals. My first professor ever, like legit an 8am class on the first day of school, was a well known neuropsychologist who worked with some of the most famous ‘cases’ that psychology has ever seen. He did work with Oliver Sacks, the gentleman who was able to make psychology fun for many people and helped shine a light on how interesting this area of study can be.

The psychology department at IU has made a global impact and for a while I was a part of that. I’m saying all of this because for me, psychology runs in my blood and is a core part of who I am and how I think. But, I’m not a practicing psychologist, I’m not licensed, I don’t give counseling, basically, I’m not a ‘psychologist’.

But I am...

Adjusting to the corporate world has been difficult for me. Growing up I always pictured myself in academia, but experiencing the political rhetoric around the institution drove me from wanting to be a part of it. And I could never figure out how the churning wheel of academia gave back to those who needed their work. A core part of what I want to do with my life.

So I thought I will just take what I love and make it into what I want and how I want it

Easier said than done.

So we started a company; one where I can use my passion for psychology and where I get to define how it is used. Where PhDs aren’t required, and where the stigma around having one vs. not having one doesn’t stifle a room full of people to near choking.

This doesn’t mean we don’t learn, this doesn’t mean we don’t challenge ourselves. But it does mean we don’t judge others for what they do or do not have. Where we respect everyone who comes to the table as long as they are willing to stand for something and to maintain a curiosity about it; a curiosity that motivates innovation and acceptance. And in the process, empowers others.

This is how I found myself in the position of managing a project locally. A project where we get to better understand the psychology behind curbside recycling behavior. A project that I was tasked with managing…and had very little experience doing so.

The projects have gone well. It’s been an intense learning curve for myself. It is through these projects that I have learned what my strengths and weaknesses are. What I find important in a project and what I need to make a priority.

What I find most important is the relationships that I build with people; the networking, the discussions, the follow-thru.

What I need to make a priority is organization, preparation, and execution of the project.

The big picture if you will

Project management is no easy task. Nor is it something that I ever studied, experienced (outside of volunteer projects), or thought about in a ‘professional’ way. But I’m learning. And I’m learning about not being embarrassed to learn. I’ve joined some online courses, through Coursera, and I’ve enjoyed the discourse so far.

I notice that many projects provided as examples are engineering and medical projects. Very few discuss dealing with people and how to create a system of human beings vs. machines.

This is where I hope to bridge the gap.
As we move into the age of Social Sciences, many projects are going to involve the building of people not just monuments. I hope to be at the forefront of what can be done with a small bachelor’s degree, some passion, and a little bit of learning from an online platform. 

The Psychology I love is curious about the human condition. Why we are how we are. Each of us is unique and we each offer something important in this world.

The Psychology I pursue is about how to bring that out in people and how to use that momentum to create positive impact that lasts longer than any constructed monument.

And that’s going to take one hell of a project manager….

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Is Process Innovation Anyway?

It struck me today that not many people know what process innovation really is. No wonder when I tell people about my company, the raised eyebrows signal many suspicions that I’m simply selling snake oil.

But rest assured that process innovation is a real thing. It's also a very productive and useful thing. It’s very different from the dominant form of product-based business innovations (*ah hem, Apple*) that drives transactions we know today. Process based innovation is not well studied; it is more complex, slow to be seen because it attempts at holistic results, and it does not attract capital attention because it is not single focused on capital returns.

Only mature firms currently apply process based approach to refine their product based businesses staying current with market trends (Toyota - Six Sigma - set off a whole wave of this in many industry and sectors). Smaller firms do not have the patience nor do they see the value in the process based approach yet. This is because we still have some very antiquated worldviews about how market innovates, creates value, and how we make productive gains in our global economies.

There is no time like the present to challenge the status quo, is there? First, understand that process based ventures means the focus is on the existence of the market as an ecosystem. The market is presumed important. The default method calls for defining the market, then measuring and analyzing to design market strategies. Process based approach also involves ongoing updates of variability to control for market improvements. Process based ventures therefore adopt the deliberate slow approach to solving uniquely localized problems with ongoing "agile" improvement efforts.

Product based ventures on the other hand focus on the level of demand and profitability, rather than the existence of the market. The market is not presumed to be all too important. Innovation is therefore for the pure sake of innovation a new - hence our patent laws has to define novelty and usefulness criteria to award these nonsensical IP exclusivity rights. Ranting aside, it is important to recognize product based ventures by default are preoccupied with disguising the "product" and ignore the market. While process based ventures generally tailored and localized to market and solution needs, product based ventures standardize components to incumbent products and enter multiple markets in plug-n-play manner. The goal is not the ecosystem, but of the successful product itself.

So who is really selling snake oil here?

Process based innovation ventures are not popular because they have traditionally been linked to long learning curves, painful consensus building exercises, tedious documentations for measuring impacts, and ongoing management of data validation to control for condition variability and need for new evolution of products in place. The process approach is also riddled with uncertainties based on the ongoing efforts to controlling variability of the system. But of course, venture capitalists do not like uncertainties nor are they known for their patience. Which is another reason why process based ventures are not popular amongst aspiring social entrepreneurs. These days, we find many of our peers thinking of the next great gadget the consumers will never want. Few are applying a process to seek localized product solutions that are needed. 

We began our social company from the opposite direction. We've been referred to as a unicorn of sort but I don’t believe in unicorns. So, we hope you walk away a little enlightened about process based ventures and why we believe in the business model. However, all things are about a balance. We caution that even the process must also be balanced against product market trends. To quote someone famous, one must be like water to move like water. So, we believe successful process ventures will exploit the generic nature of open technologies, will position themselves in upstream or midstream target markets to effect change from stakeholder upstream and return on investment downstream, and they will participate in both the market for sharing knowledge (licensing) and making products (generics). Product based ventures have had a narrower market focus historically and that has gotten us to an unsustainable consumer patterns. They have traditionally positioned downstream or midstream in their target markets for the product’s sake. Although they chose target markets with less uncertainty and assures capital investments with greater confidence, but is is important to recognize that confidence is build on an incomplete understanding of the value creation and impacts in the ecosystem where the market is presumed important. So don't be fooled by the magics of products alone. Know the process and why we are making products. Be not afraid of the magics in process innovations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Choice To Be Free From Violence

(Ten years ago Tupac's music made my life a lot more tolerable coming back from war. Today, a kind friend reminded me of the way it is. Things will never be the same.)

I shall fear no one but my shadow
Though I walk through the valley of death
I shed no tears for the waking sorrow

Time is short

Life beats no rhythm but its own
Try as we may drowning our pain
Blood shed nowhere for the wicked weak

Long live the strong

What other choices end where they begin
Who controls the freewill to enable

- jin 2015

Happy Veterans Day TO ALL for we who made the choice to fight give you the choice to be free from it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Intelligent Sustainable Economy

fractal fluidity
The global economy is perhaps the single largest man-made system in existence. It is more unified than language but more consistently damaging than religion. It may also be the most impactful system in place, even with all other human endeavors combined. If properly incentivized, it can steer humankind into sustained survival and take us to unimaginable places.

But currently, our economic system is a barrier to progress. It is a patch work of outdated incentive models and it is reactive. There is not sufficient transparency and is sometimes filled with meaningless metrics. Take the GDP for example; it measures national activities without regards to the benefit of those activities. Practically speaking then, a man-made disaster may even register positive on the GDP scale. So the public is extremely misinformed about what is going on in the GDP and similar data.

Our economic model does not have to be a barrier. It is also impossible to change our current economic model overnight. What must occur, as one economist (Andrew Fynn) had pointed out, is a fluid exchange system gradually introduced into redirecting the economic incentives, giving credit to where it is due and transforming market trends. To do this, as Mr. Fynn rightly suggested in his presentation to the 2015 Disruptive Innovation Festival, we would need to introduce a new “intelligent sustainable-designed hybrid economy” that is grassroots by nature and filters up best practices from implementing "Fractal Fluidity" to net balance incentives. Leaving the economics aside to the real economist, I want to add that transparency of metrics is an important factor in implementing better predictive outcomes allowing us to better steer the world towards sustainability. While Big Data has made this possible, open access and open participation, along with meritocracy and rapid incremental solution-prototype developments, should be built into the intelligent economic model. It will be a few years before we can get there. But here's to hope.

(The 2015 Disruptive Innovation Festival is ongoing from November 2 to 20th. It’s set to GMT so if you are in the United States, be sure to account for the time difference.)

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Story of (dot) Us - Tragedy of Commons

Yesterday a friend emailed and asked about population control. This was in reference to the blog post I wrote on “The Story of (dot) Us.” I was confused. How did we get on that topic? This morning, my wife asked me what “tragedy of commons” is. After much discussion, I realized this is an important idea that has been largely ignored in some people’s minds. And for those who are remotely exposed to the concept from its history, it’s tied to some pretty controversial population control theories. So, now we have to set the record right:

First and foremost, the way I use “tragedy of commons” as a term is to denote a situation where independent actions based in self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource. I use the term this way because it is an easy way to describe the root of our sustainability problem. To me, it's a a form of meta-problem statement that can transcend context in economics, policy, psychology, anthropology, or combinations thereof. It’s in a sense applied philosophy. The applied philosophic methods I use are rooted in game theory (discussion below).

Second, as my wife informed me this morning, there may be a grave misunderstanding in reference to “tragedy of commons.” For those who are not familiar with its modern usage, it may be perceived as linked to some socialist propaganda about population control. This is because William Foster Lloyd and some other early European economists used the term “tragedy of commons” to advance their work in population control. Taken out of context, without a sense of modern movement in game theory, it would be easy to make the jump of inference. Me being Chinese, it easy to be seen as I am advancing some twisted population propaganda by also using this term.

Let’s be clear: the right to choice and life is with the individual and not some government or private effort to “control” population. This is why I became a citizen of this country, fought for this country, and will again. Because we have the freedom in the US to make an individual choice and be informed when we do make that choice. Population should be balanced with nature through the freedom of open information and allowing individuals to decide how many children they will have. Collectively, I hope we are smart enough to work out a plan without some government or religion or organization enforcing some agenda on us. But I know some will argue, even in this country, we are wasting our freedom, to which I do not disagree. It is also another matter to debate the pro-life and woman’s rights issues, and I leave that in the capable hands of politicians. Here, I am concerned with the topic of sustainability. So to remind ourselves again:

“Tragedy of commons” is about independent actions based in self-interest behaving contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource. 

I first came across the concept studying sustainability and game theory. Game theory is important. My interpretation of it is rooted in what little Wittgenstein I remember. Doing it injustice, it’s about seeing the world as interactions, and hypothetically as a game that we have some freewill to dictate what rules we want to play by. We set rules to language, for example, so we can talk to one another. We set rules to computer language, so computers can talk to one another around the world without barriers. The idea would be to set new rules about sustainability, so we can engage globally and solve our problems together. Anything is possible because we have the choice to rationalize our collaborative efforts, make things efficient and effective, exist with nature harmoniously, and explore the worlds beyond.

So this is really about individual freedom and choice to me, but is more importantly about individuals being informed and actively making responsible choices and contributions to the whole. So from this very general aspiration based in Wittgenstein philosophy, I see game theory developed to inspire a generation of mathematicians, economists, philosophers, psychologists, environmentalists, and many others. Scientists like John Nash and legal scholars like Robert Coase worked out the market efficiency and rationalist theory; from which empirical data are gathered by people like those working at the Harvard NASA Challenge Lab. They’ve been building momentum for this fundamental shift we are experiencing. Their inquiry revolves around how we can sustain human life on this planet reasonably. From this common core problem, and a new applied game theory approach combined with process based thinking to continuously improve, are we possibly seeing the next global enlightenment? One can only hope.

That’s why we see the trend today calling for more data driven impact measures. More recently, the United States called for open science and citizen participation (See Whitehouse Press Release 9/30/2015). This new policy direction is probably a direct reflection of the empirical work done at the Harvard NASA Lab. I’ve been tracking this trend for some time now. We believe the many smart people around this country also see the potential for using empirical data and game theory to help us better understand the tragedy of our commons and make sensible choices. We believe in the idea of enabling and empowering citizens to have the freedom to act. How population configures into that is only a small fraction, but unfortunately politicians are very good at distracting us from the real issues and focus on what divide us. We don’t have a whole lot of control over politicians or the media, so we will just focus on building our little corner of the world where we have higher aspirations for the commons. Call it "hope of commons" if you like. So again, that's the story of The Green Elephant and our new social company BrainBox ltd.

Cheers friends.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Story of (dot) Us


The Green Elephant began as a blog project for Lauren and me to better understand sustainability. It was the R&D arm of our then start-up rethink(i3). Sounds impressive, but really it was just us doing the random R’s and very little D for a small business that eventually dissolved for lack of activity.

The Green Elephant continued. We’ve started other start-ups, and The Green Elephant remained a small part of our focus and still a tool where we post random research works. But recently, I started down a path to get a better understanding of open source culture. I wanted to see if the principles can be cross applied to other industries other than IT. Even more interesting of an inquiry is how “open” might fit our sustainability goals. My intuition was red hot on that trail and I was sure I’d find something there. What I’ve found was much more. What I found is a global happening. It was enough for Lauren and I to together take a closer look, so we put The Green Elephant on intermission and began our quest.

We are still very much on this journey, but the more we learn, the more we realize something very fundamental is shifting. The world around us is transforming. Scientific and industrial revolutions have enabled humankind to look beyond the functional appeals of our environment as we experience the information revolution. We are now looking for better ways together. Our common human experience in civil society has been elevated by the motions of defined, refined, and controlled social improvements. Globally, we have now put in place many process-centric evident-based global civil communities together via the Internet. (For example, Doing Development Differently is carrying on a core principal work doing exactly this with governance. Lauren and I became signatories to their efforts when they launched. Another example is the Open Knowledge Foundation's recent establishment of Open Sustainability - a network to open knowledge and source sustainable developments.)

Our collective consciousness is shifting from assets to knowledge, from scarcity to abundance, from hierarchy to network. We are connecting the dots and drawing up nodes on maps of our human capacity as a whole. This shift from the traditional functional, hierarchical orientation to a process-centric orientation is driven by a demand for efficiency and effectiveness. A primary target of opportunity is to increase information access and transparency. As our collective human experience transitions from hierarchies to networks and from disconnected functional decisions to process-centric development models, we are seeing a reinvention in institutional philanthropy and an emergence of distributed and disruptive social enterprises; both are measurable impact driven. A new generation of free society netizens began to see the world not for its scarcity of resources but for its abundance of knowledge and human capacity to make a difference. They are entering the shared information economy and the global community is beginning to understand the whole is in fact greater than the sum of its parts.

Under pressure, our old market competition model, based in the tragedy of the commons, is being transformed into a new way of strategic positioning to maximize our mutual advantage towards common goals. Put it simply, we are shifting from a labor-based economy to a knowledge-centric global free-marketplace. This has been fueled by the Internet and web 3.0 (collaborative) technologies. It will soon reach a tipping point where even censorship cannot prevent the cascading effects.

I’ve been feeling hopelessly lost with The Green Elephant for a while now, but the surest way to find a path is to create one. I recently realized that Lauren and I had been trying to create this path with our pathfinder company (BrainBox) that was founded just a year ago. Since then, we’ve applied the process based thinking, impact measuring methodologies, and open source methods, and executed a scaled research study into recycling habits and fostering sustainable behaviors with the City of Cincinnati.

From here, more work is to be done. There is much we want to accomplish. Lauren and I have been working on developing a learning schedule to get to know more about distributed masses' collaborative capacity to solve our sustainability problems, openly.

So. the Story of (dot) Us is only beginning.

/Stay Tuned/

Thursday, September 3, 2015


The Green Elephant is currently on intermission.

Something big is happening and we are part of it.


Jin & Lauren 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

“If You Had A Big Idea, Would You Keep It To Yourself?”

Part I – Pharma's Problem.

In 2014, Tufts University estimated that $2.6 billion are required per new drug gaining market approval and only 7% succeed in “a process often lasting longer than a decade.” The rapidly evolving diseases and resistant pathogens seem all the more frightening. The current development process neglects the vulnerable for lack of economic incentives. Human clinical trials also tend to burden the poor in a vertically integrated large cap-player market raising ethical concerns. The development process is also irrational in some instances. Bad drugs enter the market because of regulatory approval ease, not for their therapeutic needs. Add to that, the clinical trial process often lacks transparency jeopardizing treatment decisions downstream. Pharma, in some cases, is misinformed and inefficient. If nothing is done, cost and time for development will continue to rise. Consensus has been that the industry needs change. The economic goal is to cut development cost and time, but it is also a wonder if we can also enable rational market and treatment decisions, enforce quality and ethical standards, and deliver to the under-served at the same time.

Open innovation has been trending popular as a path forward in pharma with proven results. According to one consultant group, drugs sourced via open innovation triple their chance of later phase clinical success (Deloitte, 2015). Companies like Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer, AstraZeneca have been leveraging open innovation (e.g., outsourcing, joint ventures, and permissive licensing). Academics are building open access and exchange of research and data, some with “copyleft” mechanisms. Professional analysts have also been producing useful advice helping the industry unriddle open commercialization. All the while, something fundamental about the marketplace is changing. Crowd is converging on-line, sharing resources and information, restructuring global transactions. The Internet has enabled collaborative responses in real time and increased our capacity; there is now a “whole swaths of economic life . . . beginning to move to a different rhythm.”

Part II – Business Model Innovation.

McKinsey & Company recently wrote that business innovation involves identifying and dissecting the long held beliefs about how value is created and reframe the beliefs to innovate. One of the most long-held belief in pharma is the ownership concept of exclusivity in patents. But it is difficult to put patents under the microscope. The mere suggestion to re-examine patent's role in pharma development is controversial. It often draws criticism and fear of losing private sector fundings. There is also a lucrative cottage industry of non-market participants (e.g., patent trolls), which likely will impact the conversation. But any meaningful dialogue about opening therapeutics must involve a closer look at the patent system.

In an economic sense, patents are especially problematic for pharma. Patents limit a therapeutic business model's life-span usually to 10 to 12 years. Upon patent expiration the technology enters the public domain. Developers have to lean-out fast and that's becoming ever more challenging in a global market place. Patents are also capital intensive (before and after the grant of patent). It silos information and inhibits scientific progress. There are also anti-trust and price fixing concerns with the patent-driven vertical integrations that naturally occurs. To further complicate things, patent laws, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms also lag behind developmet and market trends. There is also no guarantee that patents will translate to market dominance. In the United States, Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) jeopardizes even patents that have been granted. In developing jurisdictions such as India and China, patent enforcement often is wildly unpredictable and costly to defend (e.g., Gilead's struggle with its patent for hepatitis treatment in China and India).

Reliance on patents can also hinder the industry's growth. According to a 2015 industry report, bioengineered drugs continue to increase their market shares against conventional drugs. But patenting these biologics will be more difficult and traditional drugs. This type of therapeutics also involves, in many instances, laws of nature or natural phenomena which are excluded from patent protections. Patent examiners and courts will struggle as they have when the information technology (IT) industry first began to challenge the patent paradigm. This will put the market sector on elevated risk platform. Investors will stay off early R&D. This will further starve the capacity needed to actually engineer biologic based therapeutics. The success of this biopharma market sector, and the industry generally, will likely depend on a reframe of how we understand and leverage patents and other intellectual property types in the various emerging open innovation models.

Part III – The Reframe.

Patent and ownership have become ubiquitously linked in our conversations about therapeutics. Development often starts with patent leveraged investments to conduct clinical trials. The patent grows in value with positive trial results. Once regulatory approval is granted, more value is added to the patent. This allows for additional investments for manufacturing, advertising, and other operational expenses. This is our current model, but it is premised on the idea of scarcity—an antiquated frame of mind from our understanding of real and tangible property ownership. Yes, it is true there are only so much land in the world and it is important to exclude others from exploiting the one you own. But with intellectual property, the reverse is true: there is an abundance of possibility of ideas when we put our intellectual capacity together.

Another important observation ti make here is with respect to the valuation question. In a complicated transaction involving very expensive and risky human clinical trials, regulatory approval, and manufacturing, just exactly how does one value patents along the way to “de-risk” the process? Is it by excluding others from the development process, shift the risks to large-cap players, delay the risk to more mature developments, and starving the development pipeline? Or does it make more sense to collaborate? In modern accounting, valuation is highly depended on the subjectivity around the product's exclusivity of market. What happens if exclusivity is removed and replaced instead with collaborative capacity?

Disease is an old enemy, but bioengineered therapeutic options have only recently been explored (e.g., Amgen's T-VEC). To reframe how we work and to fully leverage biopharma developments meeting the increasing demands, a public interest open community that is self-organized and self-governed is needed. Finding a sustainable balance between self-interest and ecosystem health is key (see Howard Rheingold, TED 2005). The purpose is to enable distribution of biopharma knowledge, data, and developments freely and globally. The goal is to develop viable therapeutics in less time and for less cost compared to the current proprietary patent-driven model. It is disruptive, certainly; but it can also be distributive. It is disruptive to the current commercial model and incentivizes open science and open access for the industry. The distributed market model connects the “publish or perish” academic culture with practical support structure and application development opportunities to utilize the rapidly accumulating knowledge set. An optimist would believe the open-source markets will adjust to a rational equilibrium based on the law of economic efficiency and lowered cost of information. Adopting the open therapeutics model means a company is indeed an optimist. But even for a pessimist, open-source offers undeniable benefits.

Part IV – The Shared Information Economy for Saving Lives.

“Open everything,” a friend once joked. But this is not about whether you want to open or close a business model. The key is whether you believe in finding a balance between protecting intellectual property rights and using those rights to enable collaborative problem solving. Once a market participant sees this paradigm and sees open as a spectrum of free market choices, superficial barriers (regulatory jurisdictions, language, culture) tumble. It is then a matter of finding a good opportunity, finding the lowest cost provider, leveraging existing intellectual property rationally, copyleft, and participating in the therapeutic development process fully—together.

Open science and open data exchange is the driver of this process because scientists and researchers holds the key to the therapeutic development process: knowledge, know-how, resources, connections, etc. They can chose to turn the key right excluding others and go down the patent-based commercialization route—a path of billions of dollars in investment, decades in development, a small chance of successful market entry, to then face a limited patent period demanding rapid lean-out of production and product delivery. Or they can turn the proverbial key left (copyleft) and see what the crowd is capable of accomplishing.

If open therapeutics community is to succeed, it must find and connect the capable and responsible research scientists around the world with innovators who've turned that copy key left to the public. The community must include engineers and vendors who can help design and deploy strategies to promote fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory market development and distribution of therapeutics. Open access to science and open exchange of data are only the first steps. Open reproducibility should improve quality and safety. Open standards should improve efficiency and emergency demand response time. Open trials should improve overall system integrity. All of this coming together to make a community of open therapeutics thrive, like Linux.

For an advocate of human progress, open therapeutics is a path forward with SynBio-based innovations. A friend once said about open therapeutics: “It is social engineering if you really think about it. Let's call it for what it is. But in the end, this is about saving lives.” Undoubtedly, it is. It is for supporting a good cause and empowering collective actions to respond to crisis, unless we squander the opportunity for a tragedy of the commons type of ending. To the curious mind, open therapeutics should strike a chord as a better alternative worthy of consideration. It should be self-organizing with the freedom to innovate. The possibilities for solving problems are endless. We hope the practitioners of the open-source way will be the pathfinders of our endeavors and the lifeblood of open terapeutics. If we can save just one life, this will have been worth our time.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Same Path Less Traveled

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
                                                                             -  R. Frost 

T. Cheng, OldBoy

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mortal Man

The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it
Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city
While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive
One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly
The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar 
But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits
Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him
He can no longer see past his own thoughts
He’s trapped When trapped inside these walls certain ideas start to take roots, such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city

The result?

Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant
Art by: Jyoti Thomas

Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the eternal struggle Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.

Lyrics from Mortal Man (Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly) 

Social Capitalism in an Open Economy - the synthetic biology narrative.

Altruism – The very first question to ask about social capitalism is whether altruism (being self-disinterested) is a moot point in a market economy? Or can there be self-disinterest for a purpose greater than the economic good that will render possible the offer of compromise to escape the prisoner’s dilemma or the tragedy of commons?

The first question assumes market economy and altruism are mutually exclusive. I leave you to that debate. The latter I think is possible in therapeutics – the “broad idea of everything done to protect or improve someone else's health”; because therapeutics is by definition self-disinterested. Also because of its anthropomorphic nature, an awareness of impact on the global ecosystem also presents opportunity for the economy of therapeutics to move the entire economic model into a more balanced state – by definition sustainable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Synthetic Biology - The Irony That Needs a Narrative

“To inhabit a nomos is to know how to live in it.” - Robert Cover, The Supreme Court, 1982 Term – Forward: Nomos and Narrative. 

We are beginning to understand our interrelated world from an anthropomorphic center. The “normative” – a universal concept of acceptance, is ever increasingly the law. We are more and more reliant on the operations of law (rule by the law) when in fact it is no different than slavery – a form of self-imposed mental slavery. But when the law protects the dissent and preserves the language of progress, we have the rule of law and we are in control and inhabit a nomos – a normative universe. Isn’t this the hope for how law plays a part in our lives?

In a normative world, the “law and narrative are inseparably related.”

Every prescription is insistent in its demand to be located in discourse – to be supplied with history and destiny, beginning and end, explanation and purpose.” Robert Cover. 

Collaborative creativity works the same way doesn’t it? Law on the large scale where we are passive participants, the context is uncertain. Law on the large scale where we are active participants and the narrative is the understood context, certainty comes from a sense of fluid development from crowd intelligence. In the synthetic biology context, where markup language (SBML for example) and open-sourced annotation are community driven, passive participation translates to risks of automation driving innovation that can do more harm and good. But on the other hand, where the community driven initiatives understand the automation as the syntax of a synthetic biology in a narrative of anthropic biology, we are in control of the history and destiny, beginning and end, explanation and purpose of biologic adaptation in the context of evolution.

So, if we are to have an open universal discourse about our biology and shape its future as we do with math and science and our atomic bombs through synthetic discourse, then let’s have a constructive one and build on the past mistakes we’ve made with math – the language of our physical universe. A normative system or language master frame must both ground predictable behavior and provide meaning for behavior that departs from the ordinary. If we are to tinker with the unknown, then we owe the world a diligent and constituted approach. The Chinese word for this is “su-zhi” (素质) – or in English I think “diathresis”.

Su-zhi, or diathresis, depends on three things from which it stands to the test of time: that it is always “open” (open sourced, open accessed, open platform); that it is always evolving (process based and controlled); and finally that it is always altruistic. The open, evolving and altruistic synthetic biology language master-frame is part and parcel of a complex normative world. The master frame includes not only axioms and elements, but also syntax and mythos – narratives in which the synthetic biology is located and can act upon it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Adventures of an Old Bossy Troll

"If a man is not ready to risk his life, where is his dignity?" André Malraux, La Condition Humaine (1933).

Three travelers walked into an inn and handed the keeper ten silvers each. “We are traveling fools and we need a place to stay; we are decent folks and we want no trouble.” The inn keeper took the thirty silvers and told the bellhop to show the travelers their rooms. "No trouble follows I hope" the bellhop mumbled.

Half through the night, the inn keeper saw a red cardinal land on his windowsill. In these bad lands of frequent toil, this rare bird was a sign of better times ahead, or so he thought. He hadn’t seen one since his father was still alive and that was decades ago.

“The gods must have smiled,” he said to the bellhop who was falling almost to sleep, “it seems our guests either had brought this luck upon us or they had followed their luck here to my inn. Regardless, we will honor this sign of grace. Take five silvers from my safe and return them to the travelers as a token of our goodwill.” The bellhop counted the five heavy silvers into his palm. The cold silvers were heavy and tugged strangely on his legs as he walked those old creaking stairs. Just atop of the second floor, the bellhop stopped to ponder as gravity took its full toll.

“I have five silvers and there are three guests, how am I to divide this equally?”

Seeing that the guests may never know just how much was in his pocket now, five heavy silvers, he would just give one to each guest and keep two silvers for himself. Tomorrow is his birthday and he deserves a pint of aged sour ale. Win and win for all.

He knocked on each of the three guests’ door, told the same tale of tale of the red bird and good fortune for all. He handed each guest a silver from his pocket. Each guest gave the same gawk and gladly accepted the silver back into their palms. The bellhop hopped away with two heavy silvers in his pocket and dreamed of pints of old aged sour ale.

The red cardinal flew from the inn’s windowsill to the city near and found the old bossy trolls. The red cardinal told the tale of the inn keeper, the bellhop, and the heavy silver for the aged ale. The troll smiled to himself and mumbled back to the red little bird, “yet another riddle plagues the world.”


The city had been gloomed in darkness for a while now. Trolls had been trolls for the last few centuries and no one can remember much beyond the age of trolls. Sometimes, a glimpse of light would escape the toxic clouds above, and the old ones would muster some nonsense tale of old earth and green trees, people standing tall under the sun, and birds of all colors flew the clear sky and fish flew the sea; air afresh and water pure. Trolls would laugh because no one believes the living could be any other color besides brown, black, gray and the occasional red from blood and death. Only machines and neon signs took on the shades of yellow, blue, green, pink, and it was only the toxicity of color that the trolls could see. Nature, as the trolls believes now, is incapable of being or anything else.

The city had been gloomed in darkness for a while now. Now one seems to know what had happened but darkness took over. Everything now is a shade of gray and the sun hadn't been seen in years. Living things are rare these days other than the different mutated trolls; at least rare from what the eyes could see. But then again, most trolls don't have very much of an eyesight to begin with as they have adapted to the gloom and city life. They live on the edge of polluted mesh of land and spillage. They are guided by blinking neons and pitched noises to tell when they should eat, sleep, and pass into the abyss. Most of them have never seen a red cardinal in the city before. The only birds that flew the roof tops above the neon signs are crows. Red-beady eyed crows with blood redder than the trolls own bleed. A red bird is rare as the impossibles: sunlight and fresh water, both of which are forgotten by a forgotten people. The little red bird is a sore sight for the grayish world of the bossy trolls but the little red bird flew to the edge of one old troll’s windowsill. From the inn to the city, from the keeper to the troll, two windows and two different memories of what led to this world. The keeper kept his window open for the hope of seeing the little bird but this one bossy old troll had forgotten to close his window – a rare occurrence indeed.

To be continued 
(Copyright - Jin Kong, all rights reserved)