I may not use Airbnb anymore, and the reason is not what you expected.

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Are you planning your summer vacation? I will be flying out to Asia tomorrow and like many of you, I’ll be staying in some stranger’s house in Bangkok that we booked through Airbnb. You can book a room, a house or even a chateau for anywhere from a couple of days to months from their owners. I relish the experience of having a home away from home and posing as a local in places like Chengdu, London and Portland.

Most people that I have talked to either love the idea behind Airbnb, or are baffled by this thought–why anyone would want to stay in some stranger’s house? That same feeling is extended to many startups in the so-called Sharing Economy: Uber, TaskRabbit, Grubhub and their global counterparts such as Delivery Hero or Food Panda. We all love to have our needs and desires fulfilled, on-demand, by a simple click on our phone.

Airbnb, Uber: The Rise of the Sharing Economy

But when I look past my own satisfaction, I’m starting to ponder if the Sharing Economy is really such a good thing. I did a thought experiment: what if I booked a house via Airbnb instead of staying at the Hilton on my business travels? I’d have a kitchen and could eat healthier. I will not fanatically searching for my water bottle after housekeeper tidied up the room. I won’t even need to say hi to the friendly receptionist when I’m dead tired by the end of the day and just want to rest.

I took my thought experiment to the next level: what if everyone ditched the Hilton and went Airbnb? Then I think about the receptionist, the pool guy and the housekeeping lady. What do we share with them by pushing them into the on-demand, gig-by-gig sharing economy?

a. Sharing Economy creates less stable jobs
Corporate jobs may seem rigid and soul-crushing, but we cannot deny that it comes with a stable, predictable salary, opportunities for promotion, and maybe even benefits.

Contrast to that the Sharing Economy. Airbnb has no need for a hotel receptionist. Guests connect directly with the hosts on the Airbnb platform, and our host is usually there to greet us when we arrive.

Sure, the receptionist can, hypothetically, start a new career as a Uber driver. Uber claim that drivers–who are not employees but independent contractors–can make $90,000 a year. The Washington Post did the math and found out that most drivers take home a mere $30,000 a year, just a touch above the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, Uber gets a 20% commission every time we ride.

Uber–and consumers–are emerging as winners in this new game. They raised a whopping $2.8M in their Series E, and is leading the exclusive Unicorn Club that is made up of startups with valuation in excess of $1Billion.

b. Sharing Economy provides less predictable income
When the pool guy from the Hilton gets off his shift, he may still wonder if he’ll earn enough money to put food on the table, but at least he knows just how much more he’ll need.

Contrast that to the life of an Instacart shopper. Full disclosure: I love the folks at Instacart, wonderful people. The idea of Instacart is that you order groceries from stores such as Whole Foods through from your mobile phone. An Instacart shopper will go to the store, pick up your tomatoes and yogurt, and deliver everything to your house within 2 hours for $7.99. Instacart shoppers are also independent contractors, and while they could make up to $20/hour with tips, Huffington Post reported that uneven workloads create huge anxiety as shoppers don’t know how long they may sit idle without making any money.

c. Sharing Economy disproportionately affect job prospect of the least educated
Some of us may think, everyone should be able to find a better job in our new economy.

While the hotel general manager may be able to transition to a new career, I’m not sure my housekeeping lady, who can barely speak English or afford a fancy phone, could transform herself into a rock-star programmer.

During the Industrial Revolution, technology evolved at a pace where a father could no longer expect his son to be doing the same thing to make a living. The Digital Revolution is accelerating this rate of change, and it is hard to imagine that any of our skill sets will be in high demand for the next 40 years, the average number of years most of us will spend working. I’m not sure if our education system is adequately preparing us for the need for constant reinvention.

Tomorrow, I’ll be hanging out in our Airbnb apartment in Bangkok. I’m not asking any of us to stop using Uber, Airbnb or Instacart, because I’d be a hypocrite if I did. If you can just pause for a few second and think about what the sharing economy will mean to the less fortunate members in our society every time you fire up one of these apps, it’d be a great start.

Do you agree with me?
Photo Credit: @screenpunk, Creative Common License

You are a genius if you cannot solve this puzzle

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What did you when you first came across this brain-teaser? Some of you may have dived right in and experienced a brief moment of satisfaction after having solved it. Some of you may have averted your eyes and quickly moved on to the next post to avoid the feeling of defeat.

No matter what your reaction was, I bet we all have something in common. We believe the person who can solve this puzzle in short-order must be a minor genius. I used to believe that people who can spot patterns in chaos will surely get promoted, make tons of money by betting on the right investing opportunities, and thrive in our future digital economy.

But I’m losing my religion. I’m starting to believe those puzzle-avoiding individuals may actually be the ones who have the critical skills to thrive in the future job market.


Turns out, computers are very good at pattern recognition. The current wave of innovations in Artificial Intelligence is fueled by a branch of advanced analytics called machine learning. Computers are trained to recognize patterns and relationships without a programmer telling them what to look for. Remember IBM Watson, the Jeopardy-winning machine that beat their two greatest champions in 2011? Watson is the face of A.I. that will come to our workplace in the next 5-10 years.

Fear not. According to Andrew McAfee of MIT, the right combination of machine and human smarts, not machine alone, generates the best performance. We have the unique skill-set to innovate. Here are three ways to race with the machine.

1. Improve your emotional intelligence
Politicians may seem persuasive with their facts and figures, but we are won over by the hopes and fears they arouse. The iPhone is a coveted product, but we are just as drawn in by the anticipations and desire that Apple creates. The ability to anticipate, read, and react to others’ emotions is what separates great leaders, marketers, and waitresses from the merely competent ones. Improving your emotional intelligence is critical in your race against the machine.

Can computer sense emotion? Boston-based startup Affective is a pioneer in the field of emotion analytics; they are helping marketers to understand if their ad campaign is generating the emotional resonance they are looking for.

2. Boost your creativity
Do you know that company earnings reviews on Forbes have not been written by human writers since 2012? The algorithm of Chicago-based startup Narrative Science, is probably also writing the article about last night’s NBA playoff that you just read.

While you may soon be able to enjoy the performance of robot actors in your local theaters, creating an imaginative and immersive universe like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings can still only be perfected by a human.

You may say to yourself, “I’m not creative”. Think again. Remember when you were 5-years-old and you wanted to open up all the cabinet doors and drawers to see what’s inside? Creativity is in all of us–we just need to reclaim our creative confidence.

3. Fight your instinct to pattern-match
You may be proud that you can solve puzzles like the above, but Andreessen Horowitz, arguably the most famous venture capitalist, would disagree. Who is he? He places early bets in industry-changing startups such as Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Skype, Airbnb, OculusRift and many others. The key to his success, according to this excellent New Yorker article, is to fight your instinct to pattern-match.

“Breakthrough ideas look crazy, nuts,” he said. If we tried to pattern-match, we would not have known what to think of Facebook had Mark Zuckerberg approached us in 2004. We would have quickly turned him away in favor of some newer e-mail technology.

All of these seem daunting? Try this. Give yourself 10 seconds to think about how others will response to your email before pressing the send button. Take a different route on your commute home each week. And don’t let the sense of pride or despair overwhelm you when you see these damned puzzles again. All this will help you be better positioned to thrive in the workplace of the future.

Will disruptions come to your industry? Three simple ways to help you stay in the know.

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Sven Lohmeyer
Don’t want to lose your job? 3 simple ways to keep you informed of disruptive forces of your industry
“The Lesson is, we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change”
― Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

Have you ever wondered if some obscure startup will disrupt your industry and your company out of the blue, causing the experiences and skill sets that you’ve built up over the years to become irrelevant?

I wonder about that all the time, and lately I have seen this happening to my friends. Disruption in your industry is always something that happens to other people… until the day it happens to you.

I want to find a better way to help everyone track whether their industry is on the verge of change. If we cannot stop the change, we should at least be prepared by catching the early signals.

The rule is simple: Follow the money. Smart money invests in industries and companies that have the potential to change the rules of the game. But how? Here are a few questions to keep in mind:.

1. Which industries are Venture Capitalists investing in?
We call VC money, “Smart Money,” and there’s a reason. If VCs are investing in a certain segment – let’s say, getting a taxi with the press of a button on your phone. That means a lot of smart people will be building new companies with new ideas in that area and if you are in the taxi business, you need to pay attention to the activities of these startups.

How do you follow where the VC’s collective brain is going? I love the blogs of well-respected and generous VCs, such as Brad Feld and Chris Dixon. If you are real geeky like me, you can devour brilliant VC data analysis on CB Insight. Their newsletter is super cool. Check out their research on Consumer Product Goods Startup Ecosystem Disrupting Procter & Gamble.

2. Which companies are being covered by the new media?
If reading VC blogs is too much, there’s a growing field of tech media that can give you early access to what’s hot in the investment circles. If someone shows you an article about a startup in your industry written in the New York Times, or god forbid, Time, you are probably too late to the party.

Techcrunch is a good news source, but if the Silicon Valley speak is too much for you, Business Insider can give you a far more entertaining version of the same news. If you only know Fox and CNN, it is time for you to take a look at emerging media empires such Vox and Vice.

3. Which industries are celebrities investing in?
I saved the best for the last. Not interested in reading tech news sites either? You can still figure something out by looking at where celebrities are putting their money. Hollywood and Sports celebrities these days are very much in tune with the startup world, and what’s not to like when you can get business insight while reading People?

For example, did you know that Ashton Kutcher is a respected Angel Investor? Jessica Alba’s billion dollar baby product empire, Honest Company, will go public this year. Wiz Kalifa is investing in the weed business. You see where I’m going?

Next time when you come across the latest picture of Ashton Kutcher’s cute baby girl, make sure you read up on where he’s investing too. Knowing where the smart money is going is not just fun, it can help you see whether your industry is at the crossroads of change.

[Photo Credit: Sven Lohmeyer, Creative Commons]