Tag Archives: Innovation

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 5

This new episode of Philippe Mustar’s book relates to the history of Criteo, a startup already mentioned on this blog here and there.

For once, I disagree slightly with a quote from the book (which is not from the author): “The profile of the team formed by the three creators of Criteo is a perfect example of the one described theoretically by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Professor of Management at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program) as “the best it can be.” Kathleen Eisenhardt, based on a lot of research on the subject, defines (somewhat mechanically she herself admits) what a great team is:
– it initially consists of three, four or five people. If there are only two, it is not enough because there are so many things to do in a start-up and above all, being two does not offer a wide enough diversity of opinions, of points of view. If there are six, seven or eight, it is no longer a team, it is a group whose management and coordination take too much time.
– it is multidisciplinary and transversal, that is to say it combines skills in engineering, marketing, finance. But, these skills must be real, that is to say not based only on a diploma, but on actual experience.
– it includes people who have already worked together, this is an important asset because the creation of a start-up is made up of stressful situations, which are easier to share with people you know.
– finally, and this is more surprising, the “best teams” are those which have people of various ages, not only young people in their twenties but also others who have more experience. This often allows you to see different aspects of the same problem.
For Kathleen Eisenhardt, teams that meet these criteria are the ones that perform best. ”
[Page 199]

As much as I can agree if we talk about the management team, I believe that at the time of creation, the founders have different pedigrees. As I wrote in my own book in 2008, “A start-up is a baby created by its parents – the founders. They are responsible for its development and to help it adapt to an evolving world. It does not mean that a founder has to give up control of his start-up. Would a parent give up his child just because he has no experience in feeding and educating? Is the analogy of little value? There is also a responsibility in succeeding in the development. Experts will be used, medical doctors, teachers for the child, professionals, and consultants for the start-up. The Google founders kept such “ownership” during the company’s growth. Eric Schmidt has become CEO but he is more a partner of the two founders. Start-ups seldom develop that well and investors sometimes have to make tough decisions when they take away the “parent” power from the founders. Investors do not like to do this in general and only do it when they consider it absolutely necessary. This is an ideal world but everyone knows reality is more complex”. And I could add, two parents is probably the ideal model.

On the other hand, I fully agree with the sources of innovation: The sociology of innovation has shown that the sources of innovation, like those of the Nile, are multiple and sometimes difficult to identify. It also pointed out that ideas for new products or services are the most common things in the world, and even that they are always bad, always poorly framed and approximate at the origin. As Bruno Latour says: “All important discoveries are born ineffective: they are hopeful monsters,“ promising monsters ”. [Page 251] and the French text by Latour http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-92-PROTEE.pdf . [A short parenthesis about Hopeful Monsters, a term I knew only from one of my favorite novels, and I blogged about it here.]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 4

Following two previous articles here and there and there again about this very interesting book, here are a few more lessons.

About selling a product

Expliseat is as rich as DNAScript in lessons especially about the description of how 3 young people with no experience in the field will find and bring together the skills to design, produce and sell. We also see one of the founders leaving the ship without the adventure stopping and finally page 186: During these years, Benjamin also learned that the only economic argument (“we make you earn money”), and more broadly those which are purely rational, are not sufficient to convince the customer:

“If you come up with a purely rational product, it’s not a good product, because the buying process isn’t one hundred percent rational. It was important for us to understand this. With the […] then the […], we said: “this is the best […] on the market”, but for the customer, the best […] is also a [product] which is beautiful, which one desires, which inspires confidence … It requires commercial work on the product to make it attractive. The end goal is that people no longer just buy a [product], they buy [our product], something that is beyond the product, they buy a brand, an industrial experience, a purchasing experience, a customer experience, an after-sales service… This is typically what you do when you buy an iPhone, you don’t buy a phone, you buy an Apple, you buy an experience, well it’s the same thing in industry and B2B ”. [Pages 194-5]

The “process of innovation”

What surprises about this story is the apparent mix of genres: the [product] is not yet certified, nor realized and entrepreneurs are already selling it. We are witnessing a real whirlwind in which the team experiments, manufactures, sells, tests, collaborates with various actors, negotiates certification, modifies the project, transforms the [product], changes alliances, partners and market, goes back, takes a detour to a research laboratory abroad, develops a new prototype… We are far from the classic model of innovation, a linear model where distinct stages follow one another: research, then experimental development, prototyping, industrialization and, last step, commercialization. In such a process, the customer or user is passive, she or he enters at the end and the only room for maneuver is to accept or refuse the innovation.

This linear process is a kind of relay race where the end of one stage marks the start of the next stage; and, within the company, each of these steps is the result of a different department: research department, design office, production department, then marketing and commercialization … This sequential vision has been widely criticized by literature, whether it is evolutionary economic theories, the sociology of innovation or the management of technology.

About the market

Expliseat seems to be coming at the right time in their [market]. Often companies with their innovation arrive too late or too early in the market they are targeting. The Greek word kairos [1] qualifies this moment, it is the time of the right moment, the instant of the opportunity. [Pages 195]

[1] The Greek god Kairos is the winged god of opportunity, to be seized when it passes. He is represented by a young man who has only a tuft of hair on his head. As he passes nearby, either you don’t see him, or you see him and do nothing, or you reach out and grab his hair, thus seizing the possibility, the opportunity.

I’ll let you explore the author’s use of the Scrabble metaphor to show you that there is no real innovation process out there, nor opportunity there, but permanent construction from next to nothing.

About decision making under uncertainty

The founders’ ability to act is found in particular in the multiple choices they are faced with, and in the variety of options available to them. For what type of aircraft can this ultralight seat be produced? What form should this take? What materials to use? Which shareholders to bring into the capital? Where to install the company? Should we do it or have it done/outsourced? Which subcontractor to work with? Which research laboratory should be mobilized to solve a specific problem? Which engineer to recruit? What modifications should be made to the structure of the seat? With which industrial partner to enter into an alliance? Which business strategy to choose? Which business model to adopt? At what price to sell the seat? How to organize the business? Etc.

Along with the diversity of actors that we have highlighted, the process I am studying is also populated with a multitude of choices. These are many options that entrepreneurs explore. Here too, they are as much technical as they are economic, organizational or social. The story of Expliseat is the story of an expedition, its actors engage in unknown territory: which options to choose, which to close, which to open or re-open? “To govern is to choose”, says the maxim of the Duke of Lévis. Many options explored in this story lead to dead ends, others that will be exploited lead to failures, and finally others lead to success – and one could say, after the fact, but only after the fact, that “it was the right choice”. [Pages 203-4]

Food delivery startups – a quick analysis

Yesterday I discovered an Indian startup filed to go public on its national stock exchange. I did not know it, shame on me. Zomato is the latest filing in a small number but extremely visible services in the food delivery sector. Who does not know Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats and others.

I am not sure that twenty years ago I would have pu the sector in technology innovation, but I have to admit innovation has many faces. On Crunchbase, the sector is said to have 616 organizations with $12.5B in funding (see Crunchbase Food Delivery Startups). Traxn gives the largest players here. So thanks to my database of 777 cap. tables, I could have a look at some statistics, with the exception of FoodPanda (acquired by Delivery Hero, funded with $318M including Rocket Internet), iFood (Brazil, owned by Movile, $587M in funding) and Swiggy (India, $2.5B in funding including Accel). Here are the data at time of the IPO filings.

Start-up JustEat GrubHub Zomato Delivery Hero Deliveroo DoorDash Median *
Geography United Kingdom Illinois India Germany United Kingdom Silicon Valley
Founded Aug-01 Feb-04 Jan-10 May-11 Aug-12 May-13 Sep-02
IPO / exit Apr-14 Apr-14 Apr-21 Jun-17 Mar-21 Nov-20 Mar-13
Years to IPO 12,7 10,2 11,3 6,1 8,6 7,5 7,4
VC Amount 88 86 1529 1711 1856 2578 84
1st round 8 1 1 4 4 2 4,4
Sales ($M) 150 137 338 297 1 680 885 23
Income ($M) 10 15 -310 -202 -312 -668 -14
Market Cap. 1 465 1 988 6 782 4 700 10 220 17 384 560
PS 10 15 20 16 6 20 17
PE 147 133 102
Nb of Emp. 886 680 3 469 12 098 2 561 3 279 189

*: the median value is based on 777 startups compiled over years. PS and PE are the ratios of market caps to sales and earnings (profit)

Just Eat has no data on founders as the initial Danish company with 5 founders has been bought and moved/launched in the UK.

Here are the data to date (GrubHub has been acquired by Just Eat in 2020):

Market Cap. $B Sales – $B Loss – $M PS Employees
Just Eat 15,4 2,8 -151 5,4 9 000
Delivery Hero 39,4 2,0 -939 19,5 35 528
DoorDash 46,0 2,9 -458 15,9 3 886
Deliveroo 6,3 1,6 -225 3,9 2 060
Zomato 6,8 0,3 -310 20,1 3 469

What is interesting is the difference in dynamics between companies launched before 2010. Something not really new if you follow this blog, in terms of growth dynammics. Here are some more data about shareholders

Start-up JustEat GrubHub Zomato Delivery Hero Deliveroo DoorDash Median *
Found. 5,7% 6,2% 4,5% 7,1% 12,0% 9%
Emp. 9,4% 25,1% 7,0% 17,2% 18,9% 18,5% 21%
Emp. shares 9,3% 12,1% 3,1% 11,7% 9,4% 4,8% 8%
ESOP-granted 0,1% 9,7% 0,6% 5,5% 9,5% 11,8% 8%
ESOP-reserved 3,3% 3,3% 1,9% 5%
Dir. 0,2% 0,06% 0%
CEO 1,0% 3%
VP 0,2% 1,1% 0,2% 0,2% 0,8% 1%
CFO 0,2% 0,3% 0,2% 1%
Investors 66,0% 59,3% 70,2% 59,9% 74,0% 68,7% 51%
IPO 24,6% 9,7% 16,6% 18,4% 0,6% 16%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Nb of Dir. 2 2 2
Dir % 0,1% 0,03% 0,2%
Nb of found. 2 4 3 2 3 2
Found. % 2,9% 1,6% 1,5% 3,6% 4,0% 4,5%
Found. age 27 31 31 33 23 37,6
F1 28 27 31 33 29
F2 26 29 33 21
F3 31 20
F4 38

The founders are young, own little. How teh sector will develop, I do not know. There is already concentration. Barriers to entry look low. Some experts have doubt about long term profitability… tough to say. Deliveroo shows no IPO shares as the initial filing did not include any new shares. It may have changed at the recent IPO which was not a success; and here are the individual cap. tables.

The Age of Founders – Again!!

As an interesting coincidence, I was mentioned twice in a few days a recent research about the age of founders:
– Colleagues from IMF – the International Monetary Fund – mentioned to me this morning an article from The Harvard Business Review published in 2018: Research: The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder Is 45 by Pierre Azoulay, Benjamin F. Jones, J. Daniel Kim, and Javier Miranda.
– Just before Christmas, I had a debate with French economists about the age of founders, and they mentioned to me Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship by Pierre Azoulay, Benjamin F. Jones, J. Daniel Kim, and Javier Miranda.

The same authors, the same messages… In a nutshell: “It’s widely believed that the most successful entrepreneurs are young. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg were in their early twenties when they launched what would become world-changing companies. Do these famous cases reflect a generalizable pattern? […] Our team analyzed the age of all business founders in the U.S. in recent years by leveraging confidential administrative data sets from the U.S. Census Bureau. We found that the average age of entrepreneurs at the time they founded their companies is 42. […] But what about the most successful startups? Is it possible that companies started by younger entrepreneurs are particularly successful? Among the top 0.1% of startups based on growth in their first five years, we find that the founders started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old. […] These averages, however, hide a large amount of variation across industries. In software startups, the average age is 40, and younger founders aren’t uncommon. However, young people are less common in other industries such as oil and gas or biotechnology, where the average age is closer to 47. […] In light of this evidence, why do some VCs persist in betting on young founders? We cannot definitively answer this question with the data at our disposal, but we believe that two mechanisms could be at play. First, many VCs may operate under a mistaken belief that youth is the elixir of successful entrepreneurship — in other words, VCs are simply wrong. Though it is tempting to see age bias as the leading explanation for the divergence between our findings and investor behavior, there is a more benign possibility: VCs are not simply looking to identify the firms with the highest growth potential. Rather, they may seek investments that will yield the highest returns, and it is possible that young founders are more financially constrained than more experienced ones, leading them to cede upside to investors at a lower price. In other words, younger entrepreneurs may be a better “deal” for investors than more experienced founders.”

The age of founders has been an interesting topic here as you may check with tag #age. In particular I wrote
Data about equity of 600 startups in April 2020
The Age of Founders of Start-ups – Again! in April 2019
Age and Experience of High-tech Entrepreneurs in June 2014

What you will find in common between this recent research and my posts is that there is variation with the field. I am not sure this new research looks at the first entrepreneurial activity and it would make sense as their emphasis is towards experience. I also had different answers about the impact in value creation in my research with this striking illustration:

All this drives me to a second line of thinking:
– the importance of creativity: check #creativity.
– the importance of experience: I had a piece of research with strange results many years ago about serial entrepreneurs. The end result my be counterintuitive. Check #serial entrepreneur

I will not really conclude but say in the end it depends… except by mentioning Galenson‘s work about conceptual and experimental innovators: “Experimental innovators work by trial and error, and arrive at their major contributions gradually, late in life. In contrast, conceptual innovators make sudden breakthroughs by formulating new ideas, usually at an early age. […] Experimental innovators seek, and conceptual innovators find.” from Old Masters and Young Geniuses. This could be an answer to the authors’ question on the choice of VCs: they would be looking for conceptual innovators.

A comparison of the Swiss and French innovation ecosystems

Here is ma latest contribution to Entreprise Romande, it dates back to february 2020, that is before the Covid19 lockdown…

A comparison of the Swiss and French innovation ecosystems.
Hervé Lebret, former head of the start-up unit, EPFL.

Having left Switzerland last August after more than twenty years at the service of high-tech innovation to come back to my beautiful native country, France, where I will continue to work with the founders of startup, I will try to make here a brief comparison of the two innovation systems, with the aim of giving some advice to my friends who stayed in Switzerland, assuming that it may not be necessary!

At the risk of disappointing the reader, it is at the margin that I see differences and this is undoubtedly good news. In the past twenty years, all European states have understood the importance of innovation for the future of the economy and jobs; one speaks about FrenchTech, SwissTech, but in reality one speaks all the more of the same thing as the mobility of ideas, people and companies attenuates the national characters.

However, there are still some differences. What strikes the most, at the risk of caricature, is that France remains the centralized state that Louis XIV then Napoleon sculpted while Switzerland is viscerally federal. For example BPIFrance, the National Public Investment Bank, is critical to innovation both in Paris and in the regions and I don’t think there is an equivalent in Switzerland. The CTI, which would be closest to a national innovation agency, manages a few hundred million Swiss Francs where BPI manages tens of billions of Euros. The ratio is out of proportion to the relative size of the economies of the two countries.

The two agencies have great similarities in the sense that they finance a number of programs from awareness-raising and training in entrepreneurship to funding innovation projects in research centers and personalized advice to entrepreneurs. There is, however, a significant nuance: the public authorities do not directly finance companies or investment funds in Switzerland and these activities are left to the private sector, while in France, BPI finances startups and venture capital funds. . This is a major difference which partly explains the weakness of venture capital in Switzerland. The impact remains difficult to measure, however, because Swiss startups find capital abroad.

The French system also remains more bureaucratic despite major changes in recent years. Switzerland remains more pragmatic: philosophically it seems to me that the law expresses what is allowed in France, what is prohibited in Switzerland, it is a nuance which makes Switzerland more flexible and let us not forget that smaller size has many advantages over complexity. However I have wondered in recent years if the Swiss system has not had a certain tendency to become more complex and even to become more rigid like the French system, but this is just a feeling; I do not have enough data. I am refering, for example, of all the national or international programs, the objective of which is to make the ecosystem more visible: Digital Switzerland on the one hand, Startup Nation on the other; Human brain on one side, quantum computer on the other. Woe to those who are not members of them…

So if I can allow some advice, innovation is not a big machine that we can plan. A multitude of initiatives is better than big programs. Faced with the France of the CAC40, Switzerland has always preferred its fabric of SMEs, at the risk for each country to forget the importance of startups. Both countries have positively evolved, but I have a little fear of convergence towards this complex and slightly bureaucratic planning that I briefly mentioned. In reality, innovation is a fragile object, it is necessary to deal with a good deal of benevolence and tact [1].

[1] https://www.startup-book.com/2015/10/19/what-makes-an-entrepreneurial-ecosystem-by-nicolas-colin/​​

Applied Sciences? Does it exist?

I had to wait many years to discover there was a book written about science and innovation which convincingly shows there is not such thing as a linear model of innovation described usually as Basic research → Applied research → Development → (Production and) Diffusion

Thanks to Laurent for mentioning to me Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation by Donald Stokes. There is more on Wikipedia.

Pasteur himself apparently said: “There is not pure science and applied science but only science and the applications of science”. More precisely he seems to have said according to Wikipedia again:
« Souvenez-vous qu’il n’existe pas de sciences appliquées, mais seulement des applications de la science ».
(Remember that there are no applied sciences, but only applications of science)
and
« Non, mille fois non, il n’existe pas une catégorie de sciences auxquelles on puisse donner le nom de sciences appliquées. Il y a la science et les applications de la science, liées entre elles comme le fruit à l’arbre qui l’a porté »
(No, a thousand times no, there is not a category of sciences to which we can give the name of applied sciences. There is science and the applications of science, linked together like the fruit to the tree that carried it.)

I have agreed with this for so many years and for the same reasons I never really understood the concept of R&D, I mean why the concepts of research and development would be associated in the same unit, but that is a slightly different topic!

Here is a long extract from Stokes (taken from a pdf found here) worth reading I think:

The examples from the history of science that contradict the static form of the postwar paradigm call into question the dynamic form as well. If applied goals can directly influence fundamental research, basic science can no longer be seen only as a remote, curiosity-powered generator of scientific discoveries that are then converted into new products and processes by applied research and development in the subsequent stages of technology transfer. This observation, however, only sets the stage for a more realistic account of the relationship between basic science and technological innovation.

Three questions of increasing importance arise about the dynamic form of the postwar paradigm. The least important is whether the neatly linear model gives too simple an account of the flows from science to technology. An irony of Bush’s legacy is that this one-dimensional graphic image is one he himself almost certainly never entertained. An engineer with unparalleled experience in the applications of science, he was keenly aware of the complex and multiple pathways that lead from scientific discoveries to technological advances-and of the widely varied lags associated with these paths. The technological breakthroughs he helped foster during the war typically depended on knowledge from several, disparate branches of science. Nothing in Bush’s report suggests that he endorsed the linear model as his own.

The spokesmen of the scientific community who lent themselves to this oversimplification in the early postwar years may have felt that this was a small price to pay for being able to communicate these ideas to a policy community and broader public for whom science was always a remote and recondite world of affairs. This calculation may well have guided the draftsmen of the second annual report of the National Science Foundation as they stated the linear model in the simplistic language quoted earlier in this chapter. In any case, these spokesmen did their work well enough that the idea of an arrow running from basic to applied research and on to development and production or operations is still often thought to summarize the relationship of basic science to new technology. But it so evidently oversimplifies and distorts the underlying realities that it began to draw fire almost as soon as it was widely accepted.

Indeed, the linear model has been such an easy target that it has tended to draw fire away from two other, less simplistic misconceptions imbedded in the dynamic form of the postwar model. One of these was the assumption that most or all technological innovation is ultimately rooted in science. If Bush did not subscribe to a linear image of the relationship between science and technology, he did assert that scientific discoveries are the source of technological progress, however multiple and unevenly paced the pathways between the two may be. In his words,

new products and new processes do not appear full-grown. They are founded on new principles and new conceptions, which in turn are painstakingly developed by research in the purest realms of science.

Even if we allow for considerable time lags in the influence of “imbedded science” on technology, this view greatly overstates the role that science has played in technological change in any age. In every preceding century the idea that technology is science based would have been false. For most of human history, the practical arts have been perfected by “‘improvers’ of technology,” in Robert P. Multhauf’s phrase, who knew no science and would not have been much helped by it if they had.

[…]

But the deepest flaw in the dynamic form of the postwar paradigm is the premise that such flows as there may be between science and technology are uniformly one way, from scientific discovery to technological innovation; that is, that science is exogenous to technology, however multiple and indirect the connecting pathways may be. The annals of science suggest that this premise has always been false to the history of science and technology. There was indeed a notable reverse flow, from technology to science, from the time of Bacon to the second industrial revolution, with scientists modeling successful technology but doing little to improve it. Multhauf notes that the eighteenth-century physicists were “more often found endeavoring to explain the workings of some existing machine than suggesting improvements in it.”

Deirdre McCloskey, a libertarian economist of another kind/gender

This article is linked,even it may not look obvious, to the previous one, Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure.


By Yann Legendre for Le Monde

I recently discovered in newspaper Le Monde the economist Deirdre McCoskey. I am apparently not the only French person to have ignored her: “The last in a series of 18 books (while waiting for a 19th that she is about to publish, and a 20th that she is in the process of completing), many of which have marked economic science and have been translated into a dozen languages … but not into French. Markus Haller, eponymous boss of the Geneva publishing house, translated one, The Secret Sins of Economic Science (2017 – the original was published in 2002!): “French publishers are flocking to French economists who have become stars in the United States but superbly ignore the American economists who generate the most debate.” I will definitely have to make the effort to read her. The article Deirdre McCloskey, économiste libertarienne d’un autre genre is available for a fee on Le Monde, here are two extracts …

More than the neoclassical equation “capital x labor x technological innovation = wealth”, more than the advent of the rule of law, of democratic institutions or the modern state which the “institutionalists” defend, it is, she says, the production of intellectuals and artists who create a shift in the ethics of time to make freedom, creativity and individual innovation the new moral virtues in place of honor, rank and submission to the Church and to the prince.

Liberal values freed successively white men, slaves, Irish Catholics, Jews, victims of fascism, colonized people, women, victims of communism, gays and … transgender people. Neither slavery nor the exploitation of workers has made us wealthier, she says; on the contrary, it is their liberation that makes us all richer, more creative. Quoting the African American poet Langston Hughes – “Let America return to the land where every man is free” – and she adds, “And every woman”.

NB here a link to Let America Be America Again By Langston Hughes:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147907/let-america-be-america-again

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.

Gandhi and Technology, according to Bertrand Jarrige

A second post about the excellent Technocritiques – Du refus des machines à la contestation des technosciences after that one: Techno-critics according to François Jarrige. Jarrige surprises me by giving Gandhi‘s views on technology. Fascinating. I (in Fact Goodle translate was a great supporting tool…) translated his full account that you could read in French on pages 192-195.

No one better illustrates the ambivalence of the relationship to technology in the colonial world than Gandhi. If indeed he uses a simple traditional spindle to weave his clothes, he travels by train and uses a watch. The figure of Gandhi deserves attention because criticism of the machine occupies a central place in his speech and action. But if his successors and followers have venerated him for his contribution to India’s political independence, they have rarely taken seriously his criticism of the technical surge and his proposal to restore the local indigenous economy. For Gandhi (1869-1958), the “machine civilization” and the big industry created a daily and invisible slavery that impoverished entire sections of the population despite the myth of global abundance. While some reduce Gandhian thought to a set of frustrated and simplistic principles, others see it as a rich “moral economy”, distinct from both the liberal tradition and Marxism [1].

Born in 1869 in the state of Gujarat, while British rule over India grew and the railway network expanded, Gandhi went to England to study law in 1888, like hundreds of young upper caste Indians. After 1893, he went to South Africa, where he thrived as a lawyer and woke up to politics in contact with racial discrimination. He gradually developed a method of non-violent civil disobedience that will make his celebrity and organize the struggle of the Indian community. On his return to India, after 1915, he organized the protest against the taxes considered too high, and more generally against the discriminations and the colonial laws. During the inter-war period, as a leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi led a campaign to help the poor, to liberate Indian women, to encourage fraternity among communities of different religions or ethnicities, for an end of untouchability and discrimination of castes, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the nation, but especially for Swaraj – the independence of India with respect to any foreign domination.

In 1909, Gandhi wrote one of his rare theoretical texts in the form of a Socratic dialogue with a young Indian revolutionary. This text, Hind Swaraj, written in Gujarati before being translated into English, aims first at detaching Indian youth from the most violent fringes of the nationalist movement [2]. The book was banned until 1919. According to Gandhi, these young revolutionaries are indeed the victims of a blind veneration of technical progress and brutal force imported from the Western world. He is therefore gradually extending his political criticism of the industrial and technological civilization itself. Gandhian thought is based on a sharp criticism of Western modernity in all its forms. On the political front, he criticizes the State and defends the ideal of a non-violent democratic society, made up of federated villages and based on the call for voluntary simplicity. He denounces the notions of development and civilization, and the technical surge that founds them, as sources of inequality and of multiple perverse effects. According to Gandhi, “the machine allows a small minority to live on the exploitation of the masses […] indeed the force that moves this minority is not humanity or the love of the like, but envy and greed “. Political autonomy is therefore futile if it is not accompanied by a profound questioning of modern industrial civilization. “It would be foolish,” says Gandhi, “to say that an Indian Rockefeller would be better than an American Rockefeller,” and “we do not have to look forward to the growth of the manufacturing industry.” Gandhi defends the development of self-sufficient local crafts within the framework of village autonomy and a limitation of needs.

Gandhi belongs neither to the Indian neotraditionalist currents that consider the ancient Hindu civilization as intrinsically superior, nor to the camp of the modernizing nationalists seeking to copy the Western world to turn its weapons against the colonial order. He intends to define a third original way. Gandhian thought feeds on multiple sources. In a way, it belongs to the anti-modernist current that developed in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. He read William Morris and John Ruskin, and was marked by the anarchistic Christianity of Tolstoy [3]. His vision of the world feeds on the intellectual atmosphere of the end of the Victorian era and the ethical and aesthetic critique of the technical and industrial surge that was then developing. Gandhi is neither hostile to science nor anti-rationalist, as it is sometimes written. He first criticizes the way in which scientific discoveries and the use of reason are applied and put at the service of the powerful and exploitation. He criticizes the blind faith of the Western wolrd in material progress and the desire for power embodied in technical surge. He also wants to save England from its own demons. According to him, “mechanization has impoverished India”; it turns factory workers into “slaves”. It is not by “reproducing Manchester in India” that Indians will emancipate themselves from British rule. One of the particularly powerful technical bases of British rule is precisely the development of the railroad: “Without the railroads, the British could not have such a stranglehold on India. “Supposedly to liberate the Indian people, the rail is actually used primarily by the power as an effective tool of mesh and domination.” The railways have also increased the frequency of famines because, given the ease of transportation, people sell their grain and it is sent to the most expensive market” instead of being self-consumed or sold on the closest market. Gandhi tries to link his criticism of big industry and European technologies to his project of political emancipation. It shows that progress leads to a worsening of living conditions, that “civilization” permanently creates new needs that are impossible to satisfy, that it digs inequalities and immerses part of humanity in slavery. For him, this type of civilization is hopeless. The mechanization and globalization of trade is a disaster for India, the mills of Manchester having destroyed the craft industry and the world of Indian weavers: “The machinist civilization will not stop making victims. Its effects are deadly: people let themselves be attracted to it and burn themselves like butterflies in the flame of a candle. It breaks all ties with religion and in fact only derives tiny benefits from the world. [The machinist] Civilization flatters us to better drink our blood. When the effects of this civilization are fully known, we will realize that religious (traditional) superstition is harmless in comparison to that which nimbuses modern civilization.

Gandhian criticism of machinery intrigues much in the inter-war period. It is reflected in his economic program based on the defense of village industries as in its project to “de-mechanize the textile industry”, which appears immediately unrealistic and unrealizable. Moreover, Gandhi’s positions went from total opposition to European machines to a more nuanced criticism: in October 1924, to the question of a journalist, “Are you against all machines?” He replies: “How could I be … [I am] against indiscriminate craze for machines, and not machines as such”. He also rises against those who accuse him of wanting to “destroy all machines”: “My goal is not to destroy the machine but to impose limits on it”, that is to say to control its uses so that it does not affect the natural environments or the situation of the poorest. He ultimately develops a philosophy of limits and control of technological gigantism.

But this discourse provoked a lot of misunderstanding and was gradually erased as a reliquat of obscurantist tradition. The Socialists and with them Nehru himself in his autobiography published in 1936, lament that Gandhi “blessed the relics of the old order”. His analysis of industrial technology was soon marginalized to the independence of the country by the forced modernization project. But Gandhi’s figure also exerted considerable fascination far beyond the Indian peasantry. In the inter-war period, his criticism became a source of inspiration for social movements and thinkers from very different horizons, even as criticism of the “machine civilization” was growing in Europe.

[1] Kazuya Ishi, The socio-economic thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as an origin of alternative development, Review of Social Economy, vol. LIX, 2001, p. 198 ; Majid Rahnema and Jean Robert, La Puissance des pauvres, Actes Sud, Arles, 2008.
[2] Hind Swaraj, translated in English as Indian Home Rule, and later in French with title Leur Civilisation et notre délivrance, Denoël, Paris, 1957.
[3] Ramin Jahanbegloo, Gandhi. Aux sources de la non-violence, Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoï, Editions du Felin, Paris, 1998.