Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Glass Is Half Full

I have decided that I am going to try to stop with all of the dark talk here and elsewhere. The bells have been sounded, the destructive trend was anticipated, and for those close to me who actually listened, hopefully I saved your retirement account a few dollars or something like that.

But as I head into my final year of graduate school, I am realizing that many of the sayings that have echoed in my head about this being “my only shot” and my only having “one life to live” and such sound cliché for a reason – they are true.

Because of that, I am going to try to focus on the “bull” side of the persona and to start using my energy to think of solutions rather than throwing stones in this massive glass house we have constructed for ourselves.

(Those who know me well hear notice the word “try”…old habits die hard).

Part of the inspiration for this move came from an event last night called Mind Share, which featured innovative speakers on a wide variety of topics.

The program, which brings together brilliant and creative people from across Los Angeles for a monthly event of conversation and ideation, featured some brilliant scientists who spoke about some really cool stuff that is going on in the area of vision research, augmented reality, and mind-driven software. I can’t begin to do justice to how cool these technologies were – for example, we saw software that allows you to overlay Darth Vader on a moving scene and a competition between a mind-controlled and traditional remote-controlled pong players.

But the most inspirational part of the talk came in the second half, which was entitled “the Future of Bicycles.” My expectations were low given the title, but the talk turned out to be remarkable. It featured entrepreneurs who were building customized motorized bicycles (, helping to integrate bikes into city living (, developing bicycle-based wheelchairs for invalids in the Third-World (, and an organization dedicated to sharing the hopeful innovations that are happening around the world including an incredible story about how bicycles helped to revolutionize the coffee industry in Rwanda ( and (

The point is: in the midst of all the darkness in the financial markets – innovation, creativity and solutions continue to exist around the world and especially here in this great country.

Because of this, I am convinced that we will continue to solve the problems that we face – including the pressing problems in the financial markets and in particular in the residential real estate markets where homeowners continue to lose their homes at record rates. Perhaps more importantly, innovative creators will find ways to solve the challenges around global warming and our dependence on fossil fuels. And we will continue to find cooler and more efficient ways to interact with one another.

Clay Shirky’s concept of the Cognitive Surplus is an area that I am going to reflect on over the next period of time. The basic concept is that as a society we have a ton of cognitive processing power that has been wasted staring at a television screen and which we can divert elsewhere. This represents an untapped potential for us to collectively come together to solve these various problems. We have tools at our fingertips – mobile devices, keyboards attached to powerful machines with broadband connections, and other forms of technological enablers. The question now is how to direct our attention to the right problem at the right time and in a way that is organized enough to bring that energy to bear to create a solution.

I believe we will. And no matter how dark the top half of the glass may look – the rest is full…and rising.

The Other Shoe

Whoever came up with the saying about the other shoe dropping must have lived in a simpler time. They didn’t live in a world where the currency policy of China interacts with the supply of oil in Iraq to impact the availability of financing in Iowa. It is likely the complexity of the modern-day financial system that allows people to continue to be surprised as the now yawn-provoking melodrama of the credit crisis continues to play out like a broken record for those of us who have been paying attention over the past year. People are accustomed to waiting for the other shoe to drop, dodging its trail and then moving along…but this time, those who stop looking up keep getting smacked in the back of the head.

Today a friend forwarded this Forbes article, which as the title suggests, predicts that a large U.S. bank will fail before the end of this crisis:

Large US bank collapse ahead, says ex-IMF economist

I guess the difference between last summer when I started this blog and today is that last year people thought I was just “paranoid” or that those of us who warned of disaster were just being extremists.

But now, a little over a year later, Noriel Roubini, who many see as one of the fathers of the “doomsday” crowd, got a nice spread in the NYTimes magazine. Here is the appropriately titled article.

Dr. Doom

I guess this means that those who had held out hope that the aftermath of the subprime lending boom would be limited in scope have started to wake up to the realization that what we are witnessing is instead a global retrenchment of credit in reaction to years of poor underwriting across a wide variety of asset classes of which home mortgages are only one example.

Unfortunately, I think we have more pain to bear before the economy starts to turn. Moody’s said recently they expect a 10 percent corporate default rate next year, which means that in reality the default rate will be even higher. Consumers still need to restructure and mortgage finance terms are continuing to worsen even as the government implicitly (and explicitly) stands behind Fannie and Freddie.

I hesitate to even acknowledge that the crappy underwriting needs to be corrected, because, like many Americans, I have personally benefited from cheap financing and a forever rising stock market.

For an America that has become accustomed to buying stuff that we like without really worrying about our bank accounts, we are in the process of a rude awakening that is going to take years to digest.

Thankfully, the “other shoe” instead of dropping all all at once, will instead materialize in the form of a steady hail storm with some too-big-pieces on windshields and hoods. We are in the midst of a twenty-mile pile up and the fog is so thick we can’t see those stacked in front of us even though the story is blaring on the radio…and the brakes are out. But thankfully, we have time to prepare for impact, and if we keep our eyes on the road we can hopefully find a way to come out of the other side better for the experience.