Learn and Forget

One of the ideas you hear a lot for a long time now is how you have to keep learning going into the future. Have fun with that.

The technology adoption lifecycle, aka the normal distribution says something else about the future. The transition from early to late moves the focus from carrier to carried, from IT to the departments doing other work, from the horizontals to the verticals, from geeks to consumers, from players to payers, from firewall disdainers to firewall payers. All of this happens at the mean of the normal. At the mean, we have to forget.

The transition from early to late also does other things. It switches your stock price outlook from growth to decline. IPOs were big, but now will be smaller, as the premium goes away. And, you miss a quarter, because you forecast continuing growth, but now having sold more than 50% of your available market, you have fewer prospects ahead, more pragmatic prospects, smaller companies ahead, and marketing pushing the wrong people down your pipeline. Sales might even feel like going for the CxO sale, which slows down the deal flow immensely.

So you missed your quarter, so stock price effects happen as well. You have to take your employees off of stock option compensation, since those stock options are worth less and will not grow, which means you’ll be renegotiating salaries upward. You look like an ordinary company. You are not a startup anymore. It happens. You’re VCs will be pushing for your M&A, if you took VC money. Yes, your company could have a 10x larger market after you’re acquired, but that accrues to the acquirer. Much happens crossing from early to late, aka crossing the mean.

But, lets get back to what your product team learns and forgets. Lets bring this home.

25 World as  Bits 02

In this figure we look at what the development team is doing right now. The x-axis is time. Below the x-axis is functionality provided by your value chain suppliers, say your cloud vendor. The world that development created includes their code, above the x-axis and the bits provided by the value chain, the whole product. Make is above the x-axis. Buy is below it. A lot of coordination is required at the x-axis, maintenance windows, et.al.

Now is a vertical line slicing through the distribution. Inside the distribution is what was just released, or what will be released the next time. It is what we are making now. Below the x-axis is what we are buying now. Above the normal is a population we will come to serve in the future. The buy portion of the line also has a segment looking to the future and what will be bought in the near future. Consider that your value chain providers likewise operate under their own normal distribution. Your future buy is their future sale.

To code for the future populations, aka make, and to buy for the future populations is learning via accretion or accumulation, as described in Stewart Brand’s, How Buildings Learn. Yes, your organization learned its way across the technology adoption lifecycle (TALC), as it sold its way across it as well. When I’m talking about the TALC as a normal, I’m talking Bayesian probabilities, where there is knowledge under the distribution, rather than the frequentist’s randomness.  Moore said that pragmatism organizes the TALC, so the lifecycle is not random. I did have a sales rep describe his lead-handling process as a random one. Marketing is Bayesian, aka not random, while Sales is Frequentist, aka random–A fundamental conflict. Likewise, content marketing lays out content under the normal, so consistent with marketing’s inescapable approach, it’s knowledge under the distribution where time and pragmatism is the coordinates of place, and learning.

So let’s cross the mean and look at the other side.

25 World as  Bits 03

Here now is right of mean, deeper into the future. I think of those bits I mentioned earlier as the size of the world. Here the world is large in the sense of total bits, but most of those bits are not relevant any longer. We have left customers behind. We have dropped the geeks as our market. Sure they are still there, but we don’t serve them. We’ve even been charging for our services, because our consumers pay for things. Free doesn’t fit anymore.

On the figure, I’ve labelled the forgetting, since that is what we are doing. As me move into laggard, phobic, and non-adopter spaces, we are disappearing into the stack. It’s hard to disappear if you are a media operation striving to capture attention in your content layer as your carrier layer is disappearing. Beware of your monetizations when they run contrary to forgetting. We have forgotten things in the past. We have ongoing forgetting operations. Making the future is just there to accommodate the forgetting. When we first crossed over the mean from early to late, we had to hide controls, while retaining the power of our application. Moore called this task sublimation. Look at all the things we don’t do in our mobile apps that we used to do. We don’t save files anymore. Everything is in a database that we don’t administer. We make a little for now. Our buying side undergoes the same forgetting pressures. Our supply chain has to survive on selling less, not more. Their bits are disappearing just like ours. So the right side of the normal is about forgetting.

Next, I’ve put both sides on the same figure.

25 World as  Bits 05

And, I sum up some points next.

25 World as  Bits 06

The world we made traverses the normal from left to right, from the past to the future. We consume bits converting them to dollars, as we consume customers. We have a scorched earth approach to consuming customers. We only have one initial sale. We retain them, but it is the initial sale that moves across the x-axis. The customer is the tick of our clock. The bigger the customer the sooner we get to the mean. Crossing the mean we begin to reduce the size of our world. We stop growing the number of bits. We undergo bit reduction. Oddly, our organization concocts a growth myth, so it can stay larger as it depreciates bits. The organization gets larger in terms of standard deviations, which lowers the ceiling under the distribution as our margins get thinner.

Notice that I labeled a particular point on the surface of the distribution with the word “Stop.” In calculus, we approach a limit defined by an arbitrary height epsilon. Epsilon is what I’m calling “min.” We need a minimum amount of cash to keep going. You can only layoff so much. “Stop” is where the normal converges with our burn rate.

The TALC is the lifecycle of a category. Blue oceans happen near that epsilon convergence. Crossing the mean should have us looking for the next discontinuous technology to ride. Today we are comfortable with capturing cash, instead of creating wealth, building entirely from other people’s whole product, starting out to the right of the mean. We are comfortable with stasis. We live in small worlds with rich pasts. We look back at that past and forget that it taught us. It fit the populations it served. If it didn’t we wouldn’t remember it at all. It didn’t lack design. The ethic was different.

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