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🛰 The VUCA Observatory - Amazon, Data, Uncertainty

September 23 · Issue #24 · View online
The VUCA Observatory
Hi there,
good to see you again.
I have somewhat only half dropped the news at the restart two issues ago, when I mentioned that Internet of People is on indefinite hiatus. What I didn’t mention is that I signed up with another firm,, doing much of what I’ve done previously: being on the lookout for emerging technologies, helping understand the underlying logics and identify opportunities for asymmetric competition, and craft strategies that thrive on volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
If that sounds like it could be your cup of tea, please do let me know; we’re always on the lookout for new, talented people to challenge our thinking.

If last week was Apple’s week, this week undoubtedly belonged to Amazon. The retailer/infrastructure provider/AI company/uberplatfrom announced a large line up of new Alexa-infused products which has many analysts scratching their head about the future direction of the platform. The Alexa-enabled microwave is an interesting choice. At the same time data emerged about the firms monetization and more effective use of search ads, which propelled it to #3 in online ad spend (sorry Twitter, no cookie for you.)
Amazon’s appetite seems boundless, but it’s also becoming clear that it’s main business is becoming more and more legible.
Back to Amazon. Some recent Amazon success stories: Logistics, PRIME (especially free shipping), Basics, And now Advertising
Logistics that Amazon has created is truly awe-inspiring. To be in retail or tech in 80s/90s was to know Walmart‘s insane logistics. Anecdotes like scanning Pampers at the register would cause a warehouse palette to be placed on the next truck heading to that store were endless.
The scale is crazy big now. Walmart’s scale was crazy big at the time too.
Given that even Amazon is now making money off of search, the discussion around how monetization of data happens seems to have gotten a new impetus. And with it, the fallacy of because somebody makes money with something in aggregate, the thing itself must have value and I better start to profit from it continues. Maybe the notion that data can be owned or is mine needs some re-examination to begin with.
What is clear however is that the discourse about data use and misuse, disclosure, and specific protections is only just getting started. And people start to think about how the business models of companies might align with their interests.
It’s always fun to go back at big pronouncements about future developments. Predictions are hard, especially when pertaining to the future. Nonetheless, there’s something to be learned here — apart from the Gruber’esque claim chowder. Take the the Facebook story for instance, in which Christopher Mims attests:
Facebook is a large, inefficient engine for transforming electricity and programmers into a down-market place to sell low-value advertising. 
Fast forward five years and the same company is not only eyewateringly profitable, accused of inappropriately interfering with a US presidential election, aiding and abetting genocide in Myanmar, and potentially requiring reconceptualized antitrust approaches. And the case isn’t just Facebook, as the profile in Wired neatly shows:
When Uber and Airbnb first arrived, they wore the halo of this broad sharing phenomenon. In July 2012, Alexia Tsotsis penned a glowing early profile of Uber in WIRED. “If this new model of resource maximization succeeds, it won’t just put extra money in the pockets of everyday people,” she wrote. “It will also change the way we think about work and consumption, with every purchase becoming a potential investment, every idle hour a potential paycheck.”
These early views of the sharing economy were accurate depictions of the moment, but poor visions of the future.
It almost feels like we’re increasingly overconfident in our ability to project forward from what little we’ve seen happen in the digital economy. And even investors, who have the most to win and lose from being halfway accurate in their predictions have a mixed track record.
Try to keep this in mind when thinking about how to approach AI or Blockchain or Autonomous Vehicles or anything that’s currently up for discussion and where currently the positions are staked out in how and where to compete to begin with.
Odds and Ends
End note
That’s it for this week – I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think at and forward this to your friends and colleagues if you think they might get value out of this.
Until next week,
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