My prediction about confusopolies was better than I imagined. For example, I keep reading articles about entrepreneurs starting their own electric car companies. When the barriers to entry for starting your own car company come down, you know we're in a commodity world.
Thanks to the Internet, relatively efficient capital markets, and the fact that some company in China can make just about anything, anyone with drive can start just about any kind of company. The interesting part is that in the near future it can never be profitable to do so, because a hundred other people will start the same company next week and drive down your margins. Your only defense is to be confusing, so customers believe, incorrectly, that your product has advantages.
When I started my first restaurant I was surprised how easy it was for someone with no experience to succeed in that business. I hired the right people or companies for every facet of building the business and my operating partner put all the pieces together. The restaurant was an instant hit and lines wrapped around the block when it opened.
But you know the rest.
The fact that it was easy to enter the business is exactly what eliminated the margins. Scores of independent restaurants opened in the general area in the next few years and all cannibalized each other. With our current economic downturn, I predict 40% of the restaurants in my area will shut down within three years. Their margins had disappeared even before the economy imploded.
My theory of confusopolies had a lot to do with my involvement with dilbertfiles.com. It's a business with lots of competitors, and the options and features are confusing. Most of the comments on this blog about the service took the form of "Why would you need a car when a horse can do the job!" In other words, the competing services had confused people about exactly what they offer to the point of equating a horse and a car.
My involvement with dilbertfiles.com is different from the typical celebrity endorsement in an important way: I actually use the service for my own work, and did so long before I had the notion to partner with sendyourfiles.com for a Dilbert branded version of their product.
When you see a tennis star endorse a tennis racket, there is no chance that star uses that actual racket. Pros use heavier rackets, tricked out for their preferences. You couldn't buy Roger Federer's actual racket if you wanted.
I could give other examples, but the point is that you rarely see a case where the celebrity was already using the product before the endorsement or licensing deal was initiated. Sure, he might play professional games in the sneakers that have his name, but there is little chance he would have chosen that particular shoe if his name wasn't on it.
Obviously I could be risking my reputation and lying about a product I use, trying to make a few bucks, but my incentive to do that isn't high. I see my role with dilbertfiles.com as "a guy you know (sort of) who is already using the service and is happy about it." If you don't want to wade through the confusion and do the research yourself, that can be helpful to know. And realistically, no one has time to research every little decision.
Big money is made when markets fluctuate and when you have better information than other investors. What better way to game the system than to cause the fluctuations yourself?
Now you might argue that such a conspiracy would have to involve so many people that it would be impossible to keep it a secret. I'm not so sure about that. First, you would only need to succeed in manipulating the media 55% of the time, just to pick an example number, and that would be enough to reap huge profits over the long run. And there could still be plenty of dissenting voices and competing points of view, so the manipulation could get lost in the noise.
The key to making the manipulation work is making the manufactured crises more compelling or more "sticky" than the plain vanilla stories that are competing for attention. For example, the story about the shopper stampede only needed to be picked up by one influential news source in order to be copied by all. It could as easily been ignored.
And the stampede story is "sticky" because I will probably remember it for the rest of my life, whereas I won't remember a report of some particular store having lower sales this season. It's the same process used by trial lawyers when they argue their cases in terms of human suffering to have a larger impact on the jury.
It wouldn't require the involvement of many people to control the source of economic statistics. At some point in the process of tabulating the results I assume there is literally one person who sees the total before anyone else. Hypothetically, the "story" of brisk retail sales for Black Friday and shopper stampedes might involve only a few paid conspirators beyond the inner circle of the puppet masters.
I don't actually believe the theory I just described. At least not yet. But if your comments tell me the stores you visited in the past week were empty too, I might revisit that position.
I wonder what it means to say my consciousness is separate from yours. After all, I can pick up a phone, or author a blog post, and tell you what is on my mind. And if I observe your situation, my empathy tells me roughly how you are feeling. I can't experience your situation exactly as you feel it, but as long as we can communicate I say we are part of a shared consciousness.
By analogy, I'm sure the various parts of one person's brain don't experience reality the same way as his other parts, yet we consider a brain the agent of one consciousness not several.
I was thinking about this recently as I contemplated the enormous coincidences in my life, and how they suggest that I'm living in some sort of a programmed reality that is far from random. It seems odd that at the age of six I would pick a career as a famous cartoonist and then thanks to a spectacular series of coincidences it actually transpires. And what are the odds that Dilbert and Dogbert would have no mouths then their creator loses the ability to speak to an exotic and reportedly incurable condition? And then, against all odds, he is alive at exactly the time in history that one surgeon in the world, who lives nearby, perfects a surgery to cure it. And it works.
Sure, I know life is full of coincidences. But mine seem off the chart. And this makes me feel I am living in some sort of programmed reality, or perhaps a Boltzmann Brain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain
The good news is that no matter what model of reality you pick, we're all part of a shared consciousness as long as we can communicate and empathize.
Have a great holiday if that applies to your country. I probably won't post again until Monday.
To begin, the article identifies Copernicus as the guy "whose theories identified the Sun, not the Earth, as the center of the universe."
I'm no astronomer, but I'm pretty sure our sun isn't the center of the universe either. The current thinking is that the sun is the center of our solar system. Apparently Copernicus died in vain. I wonder if his skeleton was spinning in its grave when it was discovered.
I also wonder what the researchers plan to do with his body. I recommend attaching a generator to his bones and then reading the Yahoo News report to them once a day. That should solve our energy problem.
I wonder if Polish law allows you to buy a guy's skeleton if there are no known relatives to claim it. That would make a great conversation piece for some billionaire. If I owned them I would hang them from a moving track around my office so Copernicus always revolved around me when I worked. And I would refer to my office as the universe, because apparently that word can mean anything.
We should have seen this coming. I blame Obama and his whole "Yes I can" philosophy. Suddenly even the pirates are thinking big. Six months ago these pirates were probably robbing convenience stores. After they saw Obama get elected president, they figured anything was possible.
The funny part is that they are probably right. No one is going to start shooting in the general direction of a supertanker (except pirates), and the pirates have an excellent track record for releasing hostages unharmed for a price. It looks like this scheme might work.
I wish I had seen the meeting where they first cooked up this supertanker plot. There must have been a whole lot of audacity of hope, and obviously some potent cannabis. I wonder if the other pirates laughed when one of them suggested the idea, or if it sounded like a good plan right from the start. And is there a Somalian pirate equivalent of the catch phrase "That's just crazy enough to work!"?
I have to wonder where this trend will stop. If you are hijacking supertankers, it can't be that much of a leap to complete the distribution chain and make some real money. Somewhere in Somalia a band of pirates is passing a bong and designing logos for their chain of gas stations. I can see it now: You get a free eye patch with every tank, and the price is always AAAARG!
Today only, all of your comments should incorporate AAAARG!