Tag Archives: Ethics

Progress and Innovation according to Arthur Lochmann

Magnificent book again, La Vie solide (The Solid Life) by Arthur Lochmann that comes at the right moment when France asks the question of repairing the frame of Notre Dame. Starting on page 182, he makes a brilliant analysis of heritage and innovation. He talks about duration and time, which immediately made me think of all the activities I took years to master (venture capital, research on startups, more personal hobbies on Street Art). Without duration, no mastering. Here are my last (translated) excerpts from this beautiful book.

At the other end of the spectrum wriggles innovation. In a few decades, this has replaced the idea of progress in public discourse. The success of the rhetoric of innovation is one of the most palpable expressions of the phenomenon of acceleration of time in modern space. Today we speak of disruption to denote radical innovations that have the effect of breaking existing social structures. As Bernard Stiegler puts it in a recent work [1], this disruption has as an operating principle going faster than society without giving it time to adapt. […] As the author summarizes, for the “lords of the economic war […] it is a question of going faster than societies to impose on them models that destroy their social structures”. How not to go crazy: this is the subtitle of this book which focuses on the effects on individuals and social groups in the nihilist desert that is born of these constant mutations.
The physicist and philosopher Etienne Klein compared the conceptions of time that underlie notions of progress and innovation respectively. Progress, a structuring perspective since the Enlightenment, is based on the idea of a constructing time, “an accomplice of our freedom”. The future is credible and desirable; it is this that allows us to make sacrifices of personal time now to make possible a better collective future. Innovation, on the other hand, projects a completely different conception of time: it is corruptible, it damages things. This was already the case before the Enlightenment, especially for Bacon, for whom the notion of innovation meant the small modifications necessary to preserve the situation as it is. This is again the case today, in a slightly different way: facing the ongoing climate catastrophe, who is still able to imagine any future? In short, innovation is the notion that has taken the place of progress when it has become impossible to think of a future. Like heritage, but in an inverted way, it’s a form of immobilization in the present. In short, heritage conservation and the cult of innovation are two aspects of one and the same thing: the abolition of duration by the advent of a time that has been left out. [Pages 185-7]

“A liquid society is one in which the contexts of action of its members change in less time than it takes for the modes of action to freeze in habits and routines,” wrote Zygmunt Bauman in La Vie liquide (The Liquid Life) [2]. In the capitalism of innovation, every day brings new changes. Social structures, as well as friendly and loving bonds, have lost their former rigidity to become fluid. Everything is always going on and time is running out to be a present without perspective. The paradoxical effect of acceleration is the petrification of time and the erasure of duration. [Page 191]

It is no coincidence that the figure of the craftsman has seen in recent years a return to grace, both on the side of social criticism by a Richard Sennett or by a Matthew B. Crawford and with enthusiasts that are the makers of the fablabs or the “firsts of the class” in reconversion. First of all, because the craftsmanship is very alive and constantly shatters the apparent opposition between tradition and modernity. On a construction site, there is no choice between old techniques and new ones. There is always a clever mix of each other. The practice of the frame, in particular, teaches us that being at the forefront of modernity does not mean giving up centuries-old techniques. The knowledge of the past is not outdated; it is enriched by new methods of work, and sometimes even by older ones that are rediscovered. [Pages 193-4]

[1] Bernard Stiegler, Dans la disruption : Comment ne pas devenir fou ? Paris, Les liens qui libèrent, 2016.
[2] Zygmunt Bauman, La Vie liquide, translated by Christophe Rosson, Paris, Albin Michel, 2013, p. 7 (modified translation)

Crafts vs industry, the meaning of work according to Arthur Lochmann

Following my recent posts about the meaning and values of work through Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, here are a few lines translated from the magnificent book by Arthur Lochmann La Vie Solide. I say magnificient because the writing is beautiful, precise, aerial.

Here are pages 99-102

Certainly, all intellectual knowledge, even the most abstract, involves a make, is realized in an action: the knowledge of a theorem of mathematics includes knowing how to apply it. But know-how is distinguished from intellectual knowledge in that the latter can just be available, actionable when needed, and stored in the meantime on external technical supports. The movement of outsourcing knowledge, initiated by writing, – this is the whole topic of Plato’s Phaedrus; writing, at the same time as it preserves knowledge, is also what exempts us from retaining it and making it truly our own – is today exacerbated by the development of new technologies and the permanent accessibility of knowledge offered by these. The relation to knowledge is modified. Knowledge becomes peripheral, whereas what one makes one’s own, what one interiorizes is the capacity to find it again and, above all, to process it. Probably this relationship to knowledge will experience deeper transformations in the coming years with the development of artificial intelligence, which allows to outsource not only the storage of knowledge, but also part of its analytical processing.

Know-how, on the other hand, is characterized by being internalized, incorporated. It involves an intuitive dimension that allows us to recognize the salient features of a situation and to identify the rules of action. You do not consult a video on Youtube to know how to pass a beam of five meters in length in a stairwell, you must have acquired an intuition of space. It alone will allow us to orient the beam to best use the diagonals of space, it alone will have anchored in us the continuous perception of both ends of the beam. However, it is not magic or innate ability. On the contrary, this intuition is an intellectual conquest. Intuition is developed with work. And in this elaboration, which is called experience, the repetition of operations plays a decisive role in making it possible to establish cumulative links between the experienced situations and the chosen solutions. Experience thus consists of a process of appropriation of life.

Several critics of modernity have diagnosed, even found, a gradual destruction of experience. First, because the lifespan of skills, and therefore the experience of their practice, tends to be reduced. In certain areas of activity that are particularly geared to change – as in the case of consulting, the function of which is to change institutions – experience is even ruled out in favor of innovative talent. More deeply, some thinkers of modernity consider that the very possibility of experience is called into question by the acceleration of social and professional rhythms. The appropriation of the “shocks” of everyday life and their transformation into experience requires stable narrative models to establish links between the past and the future. Like the analysis by Hartmut Rosa, when waiting horizons are constantly changing and “spaces of experience are constantly rebuilding” [1], we can only witness a gradual loss of experience.

In the craft trades, however, the techniques evolve slowly, and the skills retain a long life span. Experience therefore remains absolutely crucial. With time and situations, we acquire a whole repertoire of methods and tips that enrich, clarify and complicate material thinking. It is estimated that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice [2] to learn a trade in medicine, music or crafts. In terms of structure, it is indeed the time it takes to acquire an overview of the various situations that may arise and to master all the details. This duration also corresponds to the seven or so years of training (apprenticeship and then the tour de France) which are traditionally necessary to be granted companion by a companionship guild.

[1] Hartmut Rosa, Accélération, Paris, La Découverte, 2010, p.179
[2] In the venture capital world, one says that it reqiures five years and ten million to be come a good investor. Another illustration that experience matters there too and that VC is more about skills and crafts than about an industry of knowledge.

Then pages 153-155:

This knowledge, because it has been developed over time by and for the community, is similar to what we now call common goods, that is to say goods that are intended to be universal and that privatization can destroy or diminish – and which therefore require specific care. In contrast to the “professional secrecy” claimed by certain corporations to grant their knowledge only to those who would have been worth it, in contrast also to the idea of patenting techniques and methods, the will of transmission of knowledge that I have encountered on most sites is in my view of the same logic: know-how is an intangible treasure that belongs to all of society. Each worker is the temporary custodian. As such, her or his responsibility is to make it alive by transmitting it. “Any received word that you have not transmitted is a stolen word,” say the companions.

It is in such a conception of know-how as common goods that the attitude of computer developers working according to the principles of free software and open source is placed. The Linux operating system or Mozilla Firefox web browser is developed and constantly improved by a community of developers who produce their own software. They work first for themselves, making the tools they need, but also for the common good. This is the pattern followed by most free software: first developed to meet the specific need and not yet satisfied by a private community, they are then made public and made available to all, so that everyone can use them and, eventually, adapt them to their own use. Better still, the principle of collective intelligence on which this work is organized consists in considering that the best software will be obtained thanks to the collaboration of the greatest number.

Developers, artisans of modern times, are therefore in the lineage of the dêmiourgos – a term that refers to the artisans, from the ancient Greek ergon, work, and dêmios, public – while renewing its registration in the community. The community here is instituted by the sole decision to take care of a common good. It is not located geographically: it is that of the users of the whole world, in other words the universal common good. It is no more historically located: the process of transmission from generation to generation of old know-how is the process of real-time sharing.

This example, far from being trivial, is a sign of the vitality and modernity of craftsmanship as a way of working, of organization and more generally as a culture and ethical model concerned with the common good through the sharing of knowledge – this while standing out from traditional communities and social structures.

The Capital Sins of Silicon Valley

People who are close to me are sometimes (often?) tired of my enthusiasm for Silicon Valley. It is well known that the creative energy in innovation is quite unique and the resulting value creation pretty huge. This energy is contagious and as Steve Jobs said: “[There are] two or three reasons. You have to go back a little in history. I mean this is where the beatnik happened in San Francisco. It is a pretty interesting thing. This is where the hippy movement happened. This is the only place in America where Rock‘n’roll really happened. Right? Most of the bands in this country, Bob Dylan in the 60’s, I mean they all came out of here. I think of Joan Baez to Jefferson Airplane to the Grateful Dead. Everything came out of here, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, everybody. Why is that? You’ve also had Stanford and Berkeley, two awesome universities drawing smart people from all over the world and depositing them in this clean, sunny, nice place where there’s a whole bunch of other smart people and pretty good food. And at times a lot of drugs and all of that. So they stayed. There’s a lot of human capital pouring in. Really smart people. People seem pretty bright here relative to the rest of the country. People seem pretty openminded here relative to the rest of the country. I think it’s just a very unique place and it’s got a track record to prove it and that tends to attract more people. I give a lot of credit to the universities, probably the most credit of anything to Stanford and Berkeley.” A paradise? That’s a nice question! I will try to address the maybe lesser-known dark sides of the region.

All those office perks come with strings attached. Reuters/Erin Siegal
from Those cool Silicon Valley offices? More like secretly evil empires

Single-minded devotion to self-interest

The topic is not new. In 1984, the authors of Silicon Valley Fever devoted two chapters to the difficulties of the region, one is entitled “Lifestyles” and the other “Troubles in paradise”. On page 184, they say: “In the 1980s, cracks began to appear” and concluded (page 202) that “perhaps the greatest threat of all is the single-minded devotion to self-interest at the expense of the common good. ”

I think this is the most serious problem in Silicon Valley. In a recent article in the Nouvel Observateur, The hidden face of the oligarchs of the net, Natacha Tatu is critical of the wealthy entrepreneurs who “sometimes become rich against the American interests.” In fact, the large technology companies (Intel, Oracle, Google, Apple, etc.) have made real war chests outside the U.S. and prefer not to repatriate them to avoid paying the taxes they consider excessive. “The effective tax rate of the high-tech giants was only 16% in 2011. At this game, the champion is Amazon, which taxes amounted to only 3.5% of its earnings in 2011, followed by Xerox (7.3%) and Apple (9.8%)”, according to BFM TV in How Google, Apple & Co use tax havens. Furthermore, “in 2004, George W. Bush, magnanimous, had given such a “tax holliday” – the repatriated profits were taxed at only 5% instead of 35% -, that HP took the opportunity to repatriate $16 billion, IBM 12 billion, Intel 7.6 billion, Oracle 3.3 billion, and Microsoft 1 billion.” This tax selfishness may partly explain the poor infrastructure (public transportation, low quality highways, schools, health services); this is a typical American vice that is not unique to Silicon Valley. The fact remains that the gap between the wealth of the region and poverty in the public system is more extreme.

A very expensive area with large inequalities

I quote now Chris Schrader in What’s The Dark Side Of Silicon Valley? “The amount of wealth in the area has driven up home prices near the places where the jobs are to astronomical levels.” If we add the cost of health and education, living in Silicon Valley is a nightmare if you do not have comfortable income. I do not even talk about the “working poors” whose situation is more difficult admitting that their situation is legal. Not to mention either that much of the production is outsourced to emerging countries where working conditions are even more difficult. Needless to return to the example of Foxconn in China that provides the bulk of Apple products.


This is known. In Silicon Valley, people work a lot. Not just for the money, no doubt, but the material considerations seem to be the only common concern to everybody. This is probably the consequence of this devotion to self-interest as much as of the cost of living. In order to pay for home, health care and education, you have to work a lot. But it goes further, and this is probably linked to the Protestant ethics and culture as well as to the pursuit of wealth that startups give hope to. Social life is sacrificed and I remember that many students at Stanford thought only of their education, which is a little sad…

This geek culture does not help in making Silicon Valley a balanced society. Discrimination and inequality remain strong. Noyce, the founder of Intel, was afraid of the unions and thought their arrival in a company were killing business. Undeclared work exists and working conditions are not nearly as idyllic as is sometimes described. More simply, the behaviors are often arrogant, hypocritical and superficial.

A deteriorated quality of life

The authors of Silicon Valley Fever mention some negative consequences of the points above: the lack of free time has obviously negative impact on family life, which is sacrificed at the altar of hard work. Little vacation, little curiosity too. In addition to degraded life conditions related to stress and a high divorce rate, these financial constraints induce a struggling transportation system since people generally work far away from home. Traffic jams are so unreasonable that Chris Schrader said, “I have to establish my schedule based on commute traffic which typically has me out of the house well before 7 am and many times back home by about 8pm. Leaving work at 5pm simply doesn’t make sense, because I would get home at the exact same time if I left at 7pm.” I’m not even talking about public transportation which is almost non-existent compared to European cities or even the metropolitan areas on the East Coast of the United States.

Security is not such an important topic in the Bay Area, but there are significant pockets of insecurity in East Palo Alto and Oakland. I’ll let you see the picture I took a few years ago. Again this is a more general American issue.


A poor socio-cultural life

Contrary to the statements by Steve Jobs I quoted earlier, Silicon Valley does not shine by its cultural life. Few major artists (compared to the wealth of the region). Athens, Rome, Florence in the distant past or Paris, London, Vienna and New York today did much better at their peak. No major museum in the region. No major figure in the political or social life despite two major universities. If you go to New York, Washington, Chicago or Los Angeles, I’m pretty sure that you’ll find a richer cultural life.

A herd mentality

I am far from having a complete list of negative elements in the region, but I will finish with a point that certainly creates a lot of frustration for innovators and creators. The fashions and trends are so strong that it is difficult to express oneself or worse succeed if one swims against the current. This “herd mentality” implies that one rarely listens to those who come up with ideas seemingly farfetched. Even the Google founders had struggled several months to convince anyone. More recently Elon Musk dit not use for Tesla Motors the usual Silicon Valley investors to finance his dream of electric vehicles; however, he has become the latest darling of the region. In the late 90s, it was the dotcom bubble, today, you need to be in social media. Innovation is much broader, but the money is flowing though in dozens of similar and often less innovative projects… Employees in start-ups follow the same trends and have no attachment or loyalty to their employers. This has probably some good sides (employees can negotiate for example, companies need to do their best to retain talent), but the superficiality of social relations in general can be problematic.

I do not in any way deny my enthusiasm for Silicon Valley which remains in my mind one of the most dynamic and creative regions in the world. I found inspiration and enthusiasm at critical moments of my life and the beauty of the surrounding nature, the enthusiasm (even if artificial) of the population and the sweetness of life (if you can afford it) make the region much enjoyable and exciting. It does not mean it is a paradise and there is clearly room for improvement.

The crisis and the American model

I seldom do it this way. I will not translate my French post about a personal analysis of the crisis and the American model. A crisis which is much more general than the financial and economic crisis. It is also a crisis of creativity, invention and innovation at least in Europe. So we look at the USA for a model and solutions. This creates tensions. Many of my friends and colleagues disagree with my fascination for the USA, which by the way, is limited to a very small number of things!

So I give a few directions including a previous post on the book by Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics. Go to French or if you do not, at least go and watch No One Knows About Persian Cats. Where’s the link? I think our crisis is about individuals and society, the inability of the university, of the school, of the family, of the society in general to let people express their dreams, their self-confidence, their creativity and their inventiveness. The pressure is so high that (self-)censorhsip and fraud prevail sometimes.

You may think I am out of my mind. So let me finish with the way I finished my book by quoting Wilhelm Reich from “Listen, Little Man”. A small essay by the number of pages, a big one in the impact it creates. “I want to tell you something, Little Man; you lost the meaning of what is best inside yourself. You strangled it. You kill it wherever you find it inside others, inside your children, inside your wife, inside your husband, inside your father and inside your mother. You are little and you want to remain little.” The Little Man, it’s you, it’s me. The Little Man is afraid, he only dreams of normality; it is inside all of us. We hide under the umbrella of authority and do not see our freedom anymore. Nothing comes without effort, without risk, without failure sometimes. “You look for happiness, but you prefer security, even at the cost of your spinal cord, even at the cost of your life”.

I am quite convinced that our crisis at least in Europe is about self-confidence, trust, creativity, inventiveness and innovation. It has not much to do with the technology, the economy and a lot to do with how individuals can grow in the society. If you followed me until now, thanks! Please, please, react!

The Trouble With…

I just finished reading The Trouble With Physics by Lee Smolin. It is a GREAT book. Now what has this to do with innovation and start-ups? Well I see a link:  In my book I refer to Thomas Kuhn, the author of the “structure of scientific revolutions”. Indeed Innovation and Research have similarities in the way they progress. The specific topic he focuses on is the lack of progress in physics. Don’t we have a similar issue with innovation? I also quoted Pitch Johnson, one of the grandfathers of venture capital who wrote: “Democracy works best when there is this kind of turbulence in the society, when those not well-off have a chance to climb the economic ladder by using brains, energy and skills to create new markets or serve existing markets better then their old competitors.”


Smolin considers Science needs two ingredients: ethics and imagination. If the established science and scientists prevent the emergence of young people and new ideas, there might be a crisis. It is what he analyses brilliantly in his book. (By the way, his book tells much more, it is a really great book). When Silicon Valley people such as Joe Costello and Richard Newton claimed that Silicon Valley needs to take more risks and that greed is more important than ethics, I see similarities…