Bankers are looking over their shoulders these days. There have been calls for a cap on their bonuses - the issue was even discussed at the recent G20 summit - and there's little sympathy that these highly-paid folks report feeling like scapegoats.
It's no secret that some people earn more than others, but the gap is huge, and getting bigger every year. There have been some cool innovations designed to try to address this imbalance, but none have caught on in a big way. And now a couple of clever guys from Silicon Valley may just have reinvented the compensation wheel.
Joseph Hentz and G.W. (Gregorio) Reid co-founded a company called Open Year It's based on a revolutionary idea: that influence can be measured and monetized.
Open Pay is their first service. It will track who influences you and who you influence. And allow all parties to be compensated accordingly.
How does it work? You register to be part of the service, and load the Open Pay program into the devices you want to use - let's say your laptop and your iPhone. Then, interactions - what you seek out, and what others send you - are tracked based on keywords. (Open Year has developed an algorithm analogous to Google's page-ranking system.) Best of all, you don't have to do anything. Just go about your business, and decide when you want interactions to be on or off the record (a simple on/off function).
Think of it like your VISA statement in reverse. Every month, VISA tracks each of your purchases, and sends you a statement. With Open Pay, you get a summary of the top 50 people you influence, and the top 50 who influenced you. But instead of a bill, you get a cheque.
Open Pay can work inside companies. Imagine you're toiling for a sportswear firm, and a big group assembles to talk about designs for Fall 2010. You're watching the design team present, and somehow an idea for a shoe pops into your head. So you mention it, "What about a Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze runner?". A couple of people roll their eyes, because they think it's a lame idea. But three others jump right on it, pull out their Blackberries, and start Googling Jimi Hendrix and Purple Haze. Before you know it, the idea starts appearing in emails and reports. It gets added to the line up, goes into production, and hits all the stores. Since you're the one who suggested it, your influence is huge. And since both you and your company subscribe to Open Pay, you do very well.
It also works outside organizations. You're reading this column right now. Let's say we both subscribe to Open Pay, and we both have chosen to be on the record. By reading my column, you're sending me points. If you click on a link, digg it, or forward this post to a friend, that adds up, too. On the other hand, if you comment and I reply or write about an organization you recommend, that goes on your account.
OK, so, if you're like me, part of you is jumping up and down with excitement. And another part has objections screaming as loud as the U.S. Navy jets that flew overhead as part of our local air show last weekend.
When I interviewed Joe and Gregorio, I wanted to know what about privacy - do I really want all of this information about me and what I'm doing floating around? And aren't companies going to be concerned about trade secrets? Gregorio says that companies can choose to host the system on their server, inside their firewall, and decide whether they want to measure influence outside their organization, or keep it strictly inside. As to my more general question, "Open Year is not interested in content - not in what everyone's talking about - but simply in the transactions themselves, the fact that we're interacting," he said.
What about people gaming the system? Joe jumped in, "You mean like three people setting up shop and pinging each other to death?" Well, yeah. "We've addressed that in the design. What you would see is this instance is that it's just three people in a box. They're not influencing or being influenced by others." OK, but what if someone turns their system off when they're reading my column, and then on again when they're trying to influence others? "Part of everyone's score is the amount of time they're on the record. We'll be able to determine if people are trying to game it that way, too."
And then I wondered, "What if I'm making $30,000 a year, and Warren Buffett influences me on a regular basis? Am I giving one of the world's richest people money and not getting any in return?"
That question raised two issues. First, where does the money for Open Pay come from? In part, it comes from super earners like Buffett. In the U.S., Open Year is looking at the top 1% of earners, that is, those who earn more than $325,000 a year. Joe and Gregorio think that super earners will contribute 3% of their earnings to the Open Pay system (more on why in a moment). The pool will also be fed by earnings from Open Year's other services.
Why would super earners want to be part of this? Open Year's founders waxed philosophic about the benefits to society of leveling out the playing field - crime is reduced, health care goes up, the economy grows. But, they pointed out, there are also direct benefits for super earners. "These people will get a widget that they can attach to their profiles. It's a signal to everyone that they're walking their talk. Which will give you a huge advantage when you're trying to advance your agenda. Or looking for innovative ways to recruit or retain people," Joe added.
IBM has invited Open Year to beta test Open Pay this fall. If that goes well, the trial will be extended to include key customers and suppliers (yes, IBM - more on the extraordinary things going on inside this New Radical Innovator organization in a future column). Watch this space - and Open Year's site - for emerging news.
In the meantime, sign up at Open Year's site. [http://www.openyear.org/] They need people to register so that they can make the case to investors that there's a demand for the service. You're not subscribing yet, but simply adding your voice to the chorus of support for this big idea. There's even a poster you can download and put up in your cube to start the conversation inside your organization.
My name is already there. Because I think Open Year is priceless.
I've given Joe and Gregorio the heads up that I'm posting this story today. So, feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below. I've encouraged them to check in and reply - and to add to (or correct!) what I've written. As always, I invite you to email me directly at julia (AT) wearethenewradicals (DOT) (COM).
Readers often email to ask where they can hear me speak about the New Radicals. Mostly I do private events (corporations, associations), but there's one public forum on my schedule this fall. I'm on the bill at the Why Everything Must Change conference. http://www.ychange.ca Hope to see you there.
Julia Moulden is in demand on the lecture circuit. [http://www.speakers.ca/moulden_julia.aspx]. She speaks about the New Radicals. [http://www.amazon.com/Are-New-Radicals-Manifesto-Reinventing/dp/0071496300/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252684935&sr=8-1]
Follow Julia Moulden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juliamoulden