Uber “exits” China, Growth and Developing Economies, Minecraft and the Future of Work + more

photo-1423784346385-c1d4dac9893a

This last week we learned that Uber, who invested heavily trying to win in the China market, has decided to sell that investment to its competitor in the market, Didi Chuxing.  Now, while Uber “lost” while Didi won, in the end Uber is ending up with a $1B cash infusion from Didi and an ~18% stake in Didi that is worth another $7B, what the Uber venture in China was valued.  Now, some might view this as a smart move on Uber’s part, as it allows Uber to shift its expansion efforts to other markets while maintaining a stake in China, but the Wall Street Journal notes that Uber, like many other Western tech companies before it, faced the same issues of favoritism for the local competitor and obstacles being thrown in their way by the Chinese government.  By selling to Didi, it allows Uber to remain competitive in China through this new partnership, but is also allowing Didi access to Uber’s algorithms.  That said, there are other threats out there to Uber than just unfavorable governments, from driver-owned apps to Uber itself.

Apple, by far, is one of the best marketing companies in the world today.  Yup, you heard me, not technology, but marketing.  They create their message in a way that creates an identity people want to be part of.  Yes, they make great technology to boot, but also encouraged all of us to think different in the process.  What about the world of public relations at Apple though?  Well, in this article from HBR, Cameron Craig talks about four key rules: keep it simple, value reporters’ time, be hands on, stay focused, and prioritize media influencers.  While we might not be dealing with the press on a day to day basis, these rules reinforce how we as leaders should interact with our people, perhaps worded like this: keep it simple, value our people’s time, be hands on (without micromanaging), stay focused, and prioritize people over all else.

Lithium ion batteries are something we use every day and are all well aware of their capacity issues,  Well, as odd as it is for me to be this excited about, lithium-air batteries might finally have reached a point where they are no longer theory.  What does that mean for us?  Lighter batteries that will have twice the charge capacity of the batteries of today and will last longer as well.

VB has a good follow up on chat bots this week – yes, they’re the most hyped tech add in this year, but this article gives an update on how bots are progressing as well as some of the challenges faced in the UX design.

Michael Spence may not be a name you’re familiar with, but he is a nobel laureate in Economics and wrote this week on the growth models of developing countries and how robotics and technology will again shift the way and where things are manufactured.  The slow growth were seeing in advanced countries is likely to persist, and that will tempt developing countries to pursue quick fixes, fixes that would burden those economies in the long run.  One of Spence’s points is that “entrepreneurial activity is vital to translate economic potential into reality.”  That’s my long set up for another two articles on tech in Africa, one about a day in the digital life on that continent, the other about how fintech is building the African financial market (not disrupting it).

Interesting things are going on in Dubai, where AstroLabs, a tech incubator, has set up a coworking space that allows companies to obtain free-zone company licenses, without which entering that market would be a huge hurdle.  It’s the first incubator of this sort to gain traction in that region, and it will be interesting to see how companies are able to leverage it to test out the Dubai market.

For those of us not paranoid enough, Motherboard has done a good job this week of capturing some of the things we should be scared of from a hacking standpoint thanks to the internet of things.  They posit that the IoT will soon see the first large scale disaster due to hacking.  For those of us that follow the infosec space, this isn’t a shock.  Motherboard goes on to have a collection of articles about the current state of hacking you can find here.

Microsoft’s Nokia purchase is leading to even more job cuts.  Yahoo is on a hiring frenzy despite layoffs.  Our brains are on a new drug and it’s called our phone.  A radical change to how kids learn everywhere might come from an online school.  This may be the smartest thing Facebook has ever done.

Last, Jim Fowler, the CIO at GE, has some interesting observations on how Minecraft predicts the future of collaborative work.  He posits this will happen in four ways: we will live inside our designs, we will work on platforms that attract skill and unleash creativity, through collaboration, no problem becomes too difficult to solve, and last, science and technology education will be more like games and less like school, making them both more engaging and exciting.  Also critical, though, is easy access to technology and data and the freedom to find the best way to use it.

I stumbled across a great TED talk this week by John Green titled “the nerd’s guide to learning everything online.”  To Green (who starts his talk with a story about a made up town), we all need to find out how learning works best for us.  He didn’t understand, when he was younger, why people would put nooses around their necks and then head off before it was daylight out to something that seemed to make them miserable.  As a child, if education led to that, why would he want education? Eventually he did, but it took a different kind of school for him to do so.  Check it out.

The Psychology of Fear in Organizations

weeping-angel-desktop-wallpaper-windows-mac-prank-2

Good morning all!  After re-visiting Wooden,  I wanted to go a little bit broader when it comes to fear and the impact it has on an organization.  While some studies out there discuss and prove to a degree the NEED for fear as a tool in some organizational settings (consequences), for the most part I think we all agree that our teams are much more productive in an absence of fear than when it is the default environment.  Often, though, we don’t talk about fear and this creates issues in and of itself.  Why should we talk about fear?

  • Fear is the elephant in the room. In this time of rapid change, austerity and uncertainty, fear is the specter that haunts us the most, as individuals, organizations and society – whether we acknowledge it or not.
  • Fear has many faces – the fear of loss of face, prestige, position, favor, fortune or job
  • The dominant fear at present is the fear of the unknown

But what effect does fear have on our everyday lives and our working lives, and our ability to foster innovation within our organization?  Fear within organizations leads to:

  • Frustration
  • Powerlessness
  • Lack of control
  • The frenetic pace of life
  • No time for reflection
  • ‘Doing’ not ‘being’
  • Alienation
  • Toxic environment
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Loss of identity
  • Disengagemenent

Along with this, fear breeds a need for control, whether it is hierarchical control, target control, or control through withdrawal or working to the rule (and not innovating).  Innovation rarely thrives in this kind of environment and there is an alternative to managing by fear and control.  Instead we should focus on creating an environment of trust, engagement, and motivation to create an innovative culture.  These all seem very intuitive, no?  However, research indicated that trust in organizations and leaders is at an all-time low and we know that employees that have high trust in their organizations stay with those organizations longer, put in more effort and work more cooperatively.  Employees with low or no trust often reduce the effectiveness of their work and often engage in behavior that is counter-productive.  To that end, to remove fear and that negative behavior, we need to focus on creating a culture of trust, and in some cases that is an uphill battle given that we’re often dealing with the culture of our customers which is out of our control.  That means we have to remain hyper-vigilant to maintain our core values and strive for a culture of trust amongst our teams.  How do we do that?

A few initial ideas around this include:

  • Foster organizational cultures in which greater individual autonomy and small organizational risks are part of everyone’s jobs
  • Encourage people to think independently
  • Make it so everyone is responsible for the development of innovative thinking, whether it’s true innovation or innovation around ways to increase quality, mitigate risk, or reduce costs
  • Change the nature of conversations in organizations to empower an innovative mind-set and performance breakthroughs
  • Encourage healthy dissent, diversity and challenge; new thinking grows out of bringing new ideas together
  • Encourage trial and error – learn from failure
  • Don’t overdo targets and performance monitoring

If you are interested in reading more about this, Keegan has written The Psychology of Fear in Organizations: How to Transform Anxiety into Well-being, Productivity and Innovation which is a great starting point along with the attached article on 8 Ways to Decrease Organizational Fear.  For the counterpoint to this, I’ve attached an article of how fear can be appropriately used in organizations to address short term behavior changes.  That said, fear stifles creativity and kills innovation as it makes risk taking unpalatable to all.

The New Economics of Cybercrime, Entertainment & Media: A World of Differences, Why Is Chick-fil-A’s App Number One in the App Store? + more

photo-1461770354136-8f58567b617a

As we’ve seen ransomware in the headlines and gaining prevalence when it comes to cybercrime, it’s good to take a look at what progress has been made and as well some of the new dangers that are out there.  This week The Atlantic looks at how we’ve progressed over the past decade and the rise of ransomware and then there is a companion piece from Euronews in February about how the Internet of Things is being impacted by cybercrime.

“Code wins arguments,” “Move fast and break things,” or “Done is better than perfect.”  Those are some of the mantras that ring in the halls at Facebook and it has led to their ability to get to market faster and build dominance through their open environment.  Zuck has done everything he can to pummel Google Plus into the ground, and now that open culture may lead to Facebook’s dominance in AI.  As well, there’s this piece on how AI is changing SEO.  Speaking (orthogonally) of machine intelligence, Steven Sinofsky has a good read out on the rise of it at this year’s code conference.

If you’ve not really taken the time to consider the Maker Movement and its impact and influence, take a moment to check out this article to get a start.

You may recall Marc Andreessen’s famous “Why Software is Eating the World” essay from the Wall Street Journal, (and if you have a chance, catch the recent Tim Ferriss Show podcast featuring Andreessen), and this week TechCrunch follows on with how software is STILL eating the world five years later.

For many, print media, especially newspapers, have become a thing of the past.  This week, The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy explores how that’s not true for the Washington Post, how Jeff Bezos is reinventing that beleaguered news institution, and what others in the newspaper business may learn from it.

One thing I missed last week when talking about Uber was the news that they’ve joined a partnership with Saudi Arabia to provide transport for Saudi women, which many view as a major setback in the twenty year campaign to allow Saudi women to drive themselves instead of having to hire male chauffeurs or rely on male family members.

If you’ve not heard, Apple made some major changes to how the App Store functions recently.  For a summary, take a look at this blog, and for analysis into it, we can turn to The Verge.  There’s also this piece on how Apple has lost its simplicity, and whether or not that is a good thing.

strategy+business has an in depth look at the Entertainment & Media companies and how they are striving to pivot to serve digital consumers around the world.  This breaks into five shifts that are roiling the industry: demographic shift towards serving younger users, content is still king with regards to competition, the relevance of bundling even in light of everything we hear/read, growth markets, and the ability to build trust.  To that last one, historic shifts are now under way forging the creation of new business models, and perhaps even new industries. Those that are able to integrate the capabilities and approaches that create value for customers will continue to thrive and continue to build loyalty and trust in their customers.  While we think that long range planning for E&M firms may seem nonsensical with as much as the industry has been disrupted and continues to be, there’s also a truth to the staying power of many of the E&M companies due to their ability to pivot while focusing on the power of youth, the primacy of localized content, the resilience of a new kind of bundle, the deepening of developing markets, the potential for new business models.

Wondered how much money Hamilton is making on Broadway and where it’s all coming from/going to?  This piece from the New York Times goes deep into that.  Needless to say, the show is well on its way to becoming a billion dollar phenomenon.

Not that this is news we want to hear, but George Soros is back at it trading again.  Why, you ask, do we not want to hear that?  Because he is incredibly bearish on global markets, betting heavily against China and stating that China’s financial system right now “eerily resembles what happened during the financial crisis in the US in 2007-08.  Looking for more behind the why of China’s fall?  Read here.

Mike Curtis has led engineering teams at Facebook and Yahoo and is now a VP of Engineering at Airbnb.  He started out, however, knowing zero code and in this article looks back on the most important lessons he learned on his journey, including treating engineers like business owners and when to adopt a new technology stack.

When we think of Microsoft, we don’t think open source given the history of the company and how closed the platform has been.  Well, the times they are a changing, a good example of which is this article that starts by delving into Microsoft’s purchase of Xamarin, which makes tools that allow developers to use a shared code base to create “native” applications for mobile operating systems made by Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

It’s a bit out in left field for what I usually dig into, but this week we saw Chick-fil-A’s app become #1 at the app store.  How did a fast food chain climb to the top of the charts so quickly?  Well, in part because they told anyone who downloaded the app that they’d get a free chicken sandwich, and in part because of how they’ve targeted their demographic.  Chick-fil-A has gone above and beyond to secure the loyalty of families and even when there have been the occasional media black eyes, the company has survived and even thrived because of the audience it targets.  How do they do that?  Well, I think it all ties back to how they stay true to their ideals, and while you may not agree with those ideals, you can see the power of that and the loyalty it stokes.  It’s a good lesson for us all.

Along with speaking about culture and values, my brother shot me an article this week about giving away your legos.  This is, in essence, a metaphor for how you have to be willing to let go as you scale your start up.  Another great one from First Round is about the principles of quantum team management.

Fintech continues to be dominating the news cycle, and with good reason.  Most people inside the traditional Financial bulwarks of today despise fintech without even understanding it, and more and more excitement is being generated in the startup world by any number of companies out there.  This article from TechCrunch explores how fintech is playing the long game.

It you’ve got some time to kill this weekend, head over to watch the full Elon Musk interview from the code conference.

My youngest has a tendency to declare that every moment, every thing, every experience in her life is awesome, and while I pretty often agree that that is the case, a few conversations with her this week reminded me of this TED talk.  We’ve seemed to lose sight of what awesome truly means, and by using it in excess, we lessen the impact of that word.  Mind you, I’ll still argue that through my five year old’s eyes, everything does seem pretty awesome.

You’re Never Done Finding Purpose at Work, Yahoo’s False Prophet, Mary Meeker’s 2016 internet trends report + more

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0024.JPG

There are two great recent articles from HBR that you should take some time to read this week.  The first, about finding purpose at work, dives into how we always have purpose, or our personal WHY, drive our work, not our jobs or careers.  They recommend taking the time to journal for a few weeks and really keeping track of how much time you spend in the job, career, and purpose mindsets.  That’s a great exercise, but you know what?  First you have to understand your purpose, your why.  That’s a topic I’m pretty passionate about, as anyone who knows me would tell you.  Whether you know it or need to discover it, plaster that thing in front of you every day and spend time in your purpose with intent. Oh, it seems science also tells us that complaining is bad for you.  Go figure.

The second HBR article looks into whether lean manufacturing can put an end to sweatshops.  The author of the article, Greg Distelhorst, spent time tracking the manufacturing practices of Nike’s apparel supply chain.  Nike’s initiative sought to improve manufacturing operations — to deliver high-quality products in relatively small batches and on shorter production deadlines.  Sounds a bit like the model Zara uses.  While this is a start to this research, Distelhorse and his collaborators did find that violations of labor standards did fall by manufacturers incorporating lean principles, pursuing new managerial practices, and educating their workforce.

If you’ve not really been tracking what’s happening in South America, there’s Brazil to worry about and now Venezuela.

Snapchat may seem like a great deal of hype to many, but Fortune this week looks into why their impressive growth curve may justify that $20 billion valuation.

Disruption as a strategy has been touted out there a bit, with disruptive innovation being pivoted off of by many. There’s an interesting blog this week from Jerry Neumann on why disruption is not a strategy.

Microsoft is turning the tables this time on the Federal Government in the U.S. by suing over privacy issues and security in light of ongoing activity by the Justice Department.  As this article from the Wall Street Journal notes, over the past three years, Microsoft has sued the federal government four times, challenging law-enforcement efforts to secretly search customer data on servers at Microsoft’s data centers in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Forbes recently sat down with Google CEO Sundar Pichai for a conversation around AI, hardware, monetization, and the future of search.  Go check it out here.

There’s a great article over at Bloomberg this week about the prosecution of insider trading by the Federal Government.  It’s an interesting story, and better still is how the infographics change as you scroll through the story.

Variety, of all sources, had a really great article summarizing the many ways in which Marissa Meyer has failed Yahoo and its shareholders since her reign began just three years ago.  From the sense-lacking purchase of Tumblr for over $1B to squandering the digital properties Yahoo did have, Meyer has a lot to answer for as Yahoo puts itself up for sale to the highest bidder.

I used to have a Blackberry, and so did everyone with whom I worked.  Heck, I know some folks that are still adamant users today.  Lately, though Blackberry has been used as a term of disparagement, especially in comparison with Apple.  Thing is, though, that Apple’s position may be much worse than Blackberry’s ever have been if they refuse to move away from their closed systems.  Speaking of Apple, let’s take a moment and reflect that we don’t all need to aspire to their design practices.

Two news articles of interest this week about Uber: the first, Wall Street taking an interest in Uber’s car leasing plans with Goldman Sachs leading the charge with a $1 billion line of credit.  This credit facility will allow Uber to continue ramping up its subprime auto leasing business.  The second details how Uber knows too much information about you.  That shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this, and sure, it’s from a somewhat liberal media source, but still something we may see added to the security concerns that continue to grow.

Speaking of Goldman Sachs, though, Goldman has a great piece (including video) on how 5G is going to enable the surge from 12 to 30 billion devices connecting to the Internet of Things

In the news this week is the report that doctors have found the first case of a person in the U.S. carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort.  That could signal the end of the road for antibiotics.

recode has put up all of Mary Meeker’s slides around internet trends from the code conference as well as some analysis .  For those of you unfamiliar with Meeker, she is a venture capitalist and Wall Street securities analyst, with deep knowledge on the Internet and new technologies.  The three takeaways from the talk include internet growth slowing down (excluding India), the way we search continues to evolve from typed words to image and speech-driven search, and apps might rival the home screen on mobile devices for user engagement.

I think we all see ourselves as having some creative bent within us, either in our professional or personal lives.  So how do those we identify as “creative geniuses” come up with great ideas?  This TED talk by Adam Grant delves into that, studying “originals” who dream up new ideas and then make them reality.  Grant talks about the three unexpected habits of those originals, including how they embrace failure.

The Curse of Culture, Trends Shaping the Future of Mobile Connectivity, Innovation for Hire + more

sundial-1388070_1280

As I sit here in the pre-dawn hour writing this week, it brought back to mind a conversation I had with a colleague where they made the comment that they were “burning the candle at both ends.”  It’s an idiom we often use, similar to “burning the midnight oil,” denoting living at a hectic pace.  But this idiom is interesting in that, while today we almost take a sense of pride at it, reality is that its origins implied a reckless waste.  So as we head into a holiday weekend here in the U.S. and embark on summer for the northern hemisphere, take a moment to reflect on the pace you’ve found yourself drawn into the past few months.

Ben Thompson has an excellent read this week about the curse of culture, drawing parallels between Apple and Microsoft and in particular Jobs and Ballmer, but more so because he delves into the multiple levels of culture, from surface artifacts all the way to assumptions that blind us and hobble our organizations.  Check it out over at Stratechery.  While we’re on the subject of culture, let’s skip over to strategic leadership, and take a moment to read strategy+business’s thoughts on the ten principles of strategic leadership.

While I’m on the subject of Microsoft, our friends over there laid off another 1850 people this week, all tied to Windows Phone.  That seems to indicate further retreat when it comes to the smartphone world; however there is a glimmer of hope in the news around a possible Surface Phone.  All in all, the failed Nokia acquisition that Ballmer pushed through cost the company over $16 billion.  At the same time, Walt Mossberg is posing the question of whether Apple can win the next tech war with a shift to AI.

Deloitte has an in depth report about the five trends shaping mobile connectivity.  You can access the report here, and it is definitely worth the read as a whole, but Deloitte has provided a handy infographic for us as well.  The five key trends shaping the future of mobile connectivity include (per Deloitte): mobility comes in all shapes and sizes, consumers can’t get enough mobile screen time, text and instant message are consumer favorites, mPayment usage is picking up speed, and network versus Wi-Fi is a regional preference.  Deloitte also just trashed a whole lot of hype around the “$180 billion” fintech market.

Just a quick thing to note: researchers now say that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in America.

We’ve heard a lot of doomsayers talk about how tech is going to destroy any number of jobs, with much denial from various government entities and others.  Let’s face it, technology and advances in artificial intelligence will kill some jobs.  That’s a given.  But that doesn’t mean we should slow down tech advances to save jobs that are ending their life cycle naturally. One of those jobs?  Over-the-road hauling – which brings up the subject of the amorality of self-driving cars.

Dealing with a pessimist on your team or elsewhere?  Inc. has a few suggestions this week on how to interact with a pessimist, including such advice as not making too much eye contact.  It sounds funny, but it’s a good article that wraps some very practical methods around dealing with people who are low on the EQ spectrum or generally unpleasant.  Inc. also delves into seven habits you need to be an effective leader, and there will be no surprises there.   A companion piece to the pessimism one is this one from The Atlantic on why so many smart people are unhappy.  All I can say is that I must be an idiot.

There are a whole lot of incubators out there, from 500Startups to Stanford’s primarily alum-focused StartX and many more, so yet another wouldn’t seem like much news, except when this one is coming from Google.  The work 500Startups has accomplished is pretty amazing, and incubators are now even focused on specific verticals like solar.  Many incubators these days require their participants to have revenue and funding in place before they can join and are much less willing to take a shot over to the moon, all driven by competition.  It’ll be interesting to see how Google plays in this space with Area 120. At the same time, there is the looming question of why are so many startups failing.  At the same time, Snapchat just raised another $1.81 billion of funding.

Virgin, or all places, has a great article this week on innovation for hire, or how corporate giants are now injecting themselves with innovation.  It speaks of the need for companies to foster intrapreneurship through an incubator model, and we’ve seen some amazing things come out of such programs at places like Microsoft’s Research arm or Google and others.  To quote, “The notion that innovative working must become a staple of any 21st century organization is no longer in question. The question is whether or not more companies will embrace the change sooner rather than later.”

With Virtual Reality no longer being a part of a distant future, it’s time to start looking at how we can apply it beyond gaming and entertainment.  Michael Bodekaer explores what is possible for science education through virtual reality in this new TED talk.

A Dive into Artificial Intelligence + more

photo-1461710727236-2366afa21725

Today’s is a bit of a different read as after I listened to This Week In Startups and a podcast on Artificial Intelligence I got curious as to what’s developed in the past couple of years and what the future looks like.  More on that later, though, first your weekly digest of what’s interesting (at least to me):

First, if you’ve not heard of it, the President of Brazil was impeached last week by her congress.  While it may seem trivial or inconsequential to some (we think back to Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the 90s), for the world it has serious implication, some of which are explored by Marketwatch.

Speaking of leadership and issues around it, HBR has a good article this week that asks the question “why do so many incompetent men become leaders?”  It’s interesting to note that the mythical image of a leader aligns with narcissism, psychopathy, histrionics, and Machiavellianism and how many male leaders that have embodied those traits.  Strategy+business also had two interesting articles this week, one on how to design a team to deliver powerful capabilities and another on the obsolescence of traditional organizational structures.

Last week I had a few articles about how Facebook has supposedly been squelching conservative news from people’s feeds. This week, the New York Times has an interesting take on the topic, including that there was a whole bunch of hub bub over nothing, for even if the editor’s at Facebook were biased against conservative news sources, the “Trending Topics” section was so small that it was inconsequential (it’s practically invisible in the mobile UI).  The issue more lies in the algorithms that determine what users see in their feeds.

Also on Facebook, here’s a look the Book’s attempt to bring millions of Indians to the internet and how it failed.  Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a good summary of everything Google discussed at its i/o conference.

Since last year’s market peak, Apple has lost on quarter of a billion dollars of market capitalization, and even with the recent influx from Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, the stock is still hovering at $94 per share, versus the market high of $132.  The Conversation this week posits that Apple has gone from being a disruptor to being the disrupted, with Apple losing momentum and direction on what the next “one more thing” may be.

If there’s one trend we’ve been seeing, it’s that personalized medicine is the next big thing when it comes to mobile health.  There’s an estimated $42 billion market waiting to be opened up and a mad dash to do so.  Techcrunch this week has a good read on how that blue ocean is going to be regulated and monitored by a partnership between the FDA and the FTC.   That said, there is and has been a flurry of activity when it comes to personal health apps.  In talking to friends of mine in the startup space, they say that all those regulations from the government get in the way.  It appears like the partnership between the FDA and the FTC is intended to make that ocean more accessible.  Speaking of startups, though, here’s an interesting article from someone I know from my days in Boulder that poses the question “do startups have a drinking problem?”

In a bit of a turn of events, it appears that emerging economies are turning out to be early tech adopters.  The World Economic Forum terms this as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and MIT Technology Review has a good overview of the how and the why.  The technology most driving this change?  The mobile phone, which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.  Also from MIT is an article on how wireless, super-fast internet access is coming to our homes.

For those of you who have paid attention to Zappos and the organizational structure there, you’ll know a little something about Holocracy.  For those that don’t, Holocracy is a system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.  Well, it seems that system may not be living up to its hype.  In fact, it may be time to put a nail in that coffin.

As a bit of a segue into the world of Artificial Intelligence, there’s an interesting article this week about how companies are trying to be more human.  In a similar vein to our introduction to Viv last week, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and even Facebook are augmenting their personal assistant efforts. While there may be some question around privacy, AI, and Personal assistants, bots are pushing ahead in this area as well.  Brands attempt to act like people as well, engaging with and talking to consumers on social media.  We see that extended in the TV show Community where, in order to open a franchise on campus, Subway enrolls as a student in the school. The next step, according to the author, is for Google to install an always-on device that listens and analyzes everything you say, allowing Google to become even more attached to your life.  And if that turns your stomach, you’ve not seen anything yet.

Artificial Intelligence.  I’ve shared a few articles about this space over the months but was listening to a podcast earlier this week about Vicarious and I thought it would be good to explore a bit the different types of AI together and end with a question:  what happens when we finally achieve artificial general intelligence and have massive computational power behind it.

So what is AI?  Many of us think of the Hollywood-ized version of AI when we think of it: everything from Teminator to Star Wars and a whole lot in between.  The reality is that AI is already everywhere, although not in those fanciful ways.  It ranges from your phone’s calculator to self-driving cars to something in the future that might change the world dramatically. AI refers to all of these things, which is confusing.  We use it all the time in our everyday lives but we likely don’t even realize it.  John McCarthy coined the term AI in 1956, and as he did he complained that once it works, it’s how things have always worked and we don’t acknowledge it as AI anymore.  Because of this, AI often sounds like a mythical future prediction more than a reality. At the same time, it makes it sound like a pop concept from the past that never came to fruition.

To clear it up a bit, I’m going to talk about Artificial Narrow Intelligence (what we have today) and Artificial General Intelligence (what companies like Vicarious are trying to achieve), and Artificial Super Intelligence.  Along the lines of clearing things up, it is good to note that AI doesn’t mean robots.  Robots are the shell that holds the AI, the ocntainer – think the latest Avengers movie with Ultron occupying Ironman armor. AI is the brain, and the robot is its body—if it even has a body. For example, the software and data behind Siri is AI, the woman’s voice we hear is a personification of that AI, and there’s no robot involved at all.

Secondly, you’ve probably heard the term “singularity” or “technological singularity.” This term has been used in math to describe an asymptote-like situation where normal rules no longer apply. It’s been used in physics to describe a phenomenon like an infinitely small, dense black hole or the point we were all squished into right before the Big Bang. Again, situations where the usual rules don’t apply. In 1993, Vernor Vinge wrote a famous essay in which he applied the term to the moment in the future when our technology’s intelligence exceeds our own—a moment for him when life as we know it will be forever changed and normal rules will no longer apply.

So back to those catergories of AI: Narrow, General, and Super:

Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): Sometimes referred to as Weak AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence is AI that specializes in one area. There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and it’ll look at you blankly.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Sometimes referred to as Strong AI, or Human-Level AI, Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is a much harder task than creating ANI, and we’re yet to do it. Professor Linda Gottfredson describes intelligence as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” AGI would be able to do all of those things as easily as you can.

Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): Oxford philosopher and leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.” Artificial Superintelligence ranges from a computer that’s just a little smarter than a human to one that’s trillions of times smarter—across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of AI is such a spicy meatball and why the words “immortality” and “extinction” will both appear in these posts multiple times.  It also may be able provide the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

Currently we are in a world of Artificial Narrow Intelligence.  Artificial Narrow Intelligence is machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence or efficiency at a specific thing. A few examples:

  • Cars are full of ANI systems, from the computer that figures out when the anti-lock brakes should kick in to the computer that tunes the parameters of the fuel injection systems. Google’s self-driving car, which is being tested now, will contain robust ANI systems that allow it to perceive and react to the world around it.
  • Your phone is a little ANI factory. When you navigate using your map app, receive tailored music recommendations from Pandora, check tomorrow’s weather, talk to Siri, or dozens of other everyday activities, you’re using ANI.
  • Your email spam filter is a classic type of ANI—it starts off loaded with intelligence about how to figure out what’s spam and what’s not, and then it learns and tailors its intelligence to you as it gets experience with your particular preferences. The Nest Thermostat does the same thing as it starts to figure out your typical routine and act accordingly.
  • You know the whole creepy thing that goes on when you search for a product on Amazon and then you see that as a “recommended for you” product on a different site, or when Facebook somehow knows who it makes sense for you to add as a friend? That’s a network of ANI systems, working together to inform each other about who you are and what you like and then using that information to decide what to show you. Same goes for Amazon’s “People who bought this also bought…” thing—that’s an ANI system whose job it is to gather info from the behavior of millions of customers and synthesize that info to cleverly upsell you so you’ll buy more things.
  • Google Translate is another classic ANI system—impressively good at one narrow task. Voice recognition is another, and there are a bunch of apps that use those two ANIs as a tag team, allowing you to speak a sentence in one language and have the phone spit out the same sentence in another.
  • When your plane lands, it’s not a human that decides which gate it should go to. Just like it’s not a human that determined the price of your ticket.
  • The world’s best Checkers, Chess, Scrabble, Backgammon, and Othello players are now all ANI systems.
  • Google search is one large ANI brain with incredibly sophisticated methods for ranking pages and figuring out what to show you in particular. Same goes for Facebook’s Newsfeed.

ANI systems as they are now aren’t especially scary. At worst, a glitchy or badly-programmed ANI can cause an isolated catastrophe like knocking out a power grid, causing a harmful nuclear power plant malfunction, or triggering a financial markets disaster (like the 2010 Flash Crash when an ANI program reacted the wrong way to an unexpected situation and caused the stock market to briefly plummet, taking $1 trillion of market value with it, only part of which was recovered when the mistake was corrected).

So what will it take to get us from ANI to AGI?  Well, that’s a tough one.  Nothing will make you appreciate human intelligence like learning about how unbelievably challenging it is to try to create a computer as smart as we are. Building skyscrapers, putting humans in space, figuring out the details of how the Big Bang went down—all far easier than understanding our own brain or how to make something as cool as it. As of now, the human brain is the most complex object in the known universe.

What’s interesting is that the hard parts of trying to build AGI (a computer as smart as humans in general, not just at one narrow specialty) are not intuitively what you’d think they are. Build a computer that can multiply two ten-digit numbers in a split second—incredibly easy. Build one that can look at a dog and answer whether it’s a dog or a cat—spectacularly difficult. Make AI that can beat any human in chess? Done. Make one that can read a paragraph from a six-year-old’s picture book and not just recognize the words but understand the meaning of them? Google is currently spending billions of dollars trying to do it. Hard things—like calculus, financial market strategy, and language translation—are mind-numbingly easy for a computer, while easy things—like vision, motion, movement, and perception—are insanely hard for it.

What you quickly realize when you think about this is that those things that seem easy to us are actually unbelievably complicated, and they only seem easy because those skills have been optimized in us (and most animals) by hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution. When you reach your hand up toward an object, the muscles, tendons, and bones in your shoulder, elbow, and wrist instantly perform a long series of physics operations, in conjunction with your eyes, to allow you to move your hand in a straight line through three dimensions. It seems effortless to you because you have perfected software in your brain for doing it. Same idea goes for why it’s not that malware is dumb for not being able to figure out the slanty word recognition test when you sign up for a new account on a site—it’s that your brain is super impressive for being able to.

One thing that definitely needs to happen for AGI to be a possibility is an increase in the power of computer hardware. If an AI system is going to be as intelligent as the brain, it’ll need to equal the brain’s raw computing capacity. The second key to creating AGI is to make it smart.  There pretty much are three ways to do this: plagiarize the human brain, leverage evolution through simulation, or to make the whole thing a computer’s problem, not ours.  For the middle one, we’d leverage a method called “genetic algorithms” which would work something like this: there would be a performance-and-evaluation process that would happen again and again (the same way biological creatures “perform” by living life and are “evaluated” by whether they manage to reproduce or not). A group of computers would try to do tasks, and the most successful ones would be bred with each other by having half of each of their programming merged together into a new computer. The less successful ones would be eliminated. Over many, many iterations, this natural selection process would produce better and better computers. The challenge would be creating an automated evaluation and breeding cycle so this evolution process could run on its own.

The downside of copying evolution is that evolution likes to take a billion years to do things and we want to do this in a few decades.

But we have a lot of advantages over evolution. First, evolution has no foresight and works randomly—it produces more unhelpful mutations than helpful ones, but we would control the process so it would only be driven by beneficial glitches and targeted tweaks. Secondly, evolution doesn’t aim for anything, including intelligence—sometimes an environment might even select against higher intelligence (since it uses a lot of energy). We, on the other hand, could specifically direct this evolutionary process toward increasing intelligence. Third, to select for intelligence, evolution has to innovate in a bunch of other ways to facilitate intelligence—like revamping the ways cells produce energy—when we can remove those extra burdens and use things like electricity. It’s no doubt we’d be much, much faster than evolution—but it’s still not clear whether we’ll be able to improve upon evolution enough to make this a viable strategy.

The thing is, all of this could happen now.  Rapid advancements in hardware and innovative experimentation with software are happening simultaneously, and AGI could creep up on us quickly and unexpectedly.

I’ll leave the question of ASI out there simply because we don’t know enough yet to even really conceptualize it – we need to get to AGI before we can truly understand what is possible with ASI.  Perhaps Roddenberry will have been right all along with his vision from the 60’s.  If you want to get up to speed on how to converse in AI, check out this resource from of all places the BBC, or check out this article from The Verge for more. Also, check out that podcast I mentioned to get some answers to what might be instore for us from AGI.

To end this week there are two TED talks on the AI: one from Nick Bostrom on what happens when our computers get smarter than we are and another from Jeremy Howard on the wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn.

How Big Data Creates False Confidence, A New Map for Business in Africa, How Giving Up Refined Sugar Changed My Brain + more

How big data creates false confidence.  That’s a doozy of a headline, especially with all the press about how magical and glorious and wonderful big data is.  Sure, we may have a hard time parsing any usable information out of that data sometimes because there is just so much of it, but still, the truth is out there buried in the data, no?  Nautilus has a great blog entry this week about the assumptions we make about big data, a term that can’t even really be defined.  We just know that the data sets are huge and they have patterns buried into them if we can just find them.  So if we do find them, they must be valuable, and right.  That can create a false sense of security, so always remember what Samuel Clemens said: “there’s lies, damn lies, and then there’s statistics.”  The same holds true for big data.

How do leaders create and use networks?  Back in 2007 Harvard Business Review answered that question and it’s a good one for a refresher.  The good meat in this article is around how to be successful at strategic networking, an area that consumes so much energy and the risk around getting bogged down in operational networking.

strategy+business gives a great overview of the current business climate in Africa, highlighting the need for companies to understand the local context in order to be successful.  Africa is home of seven of the world’s megacities and the World Bank expects consumer spending to be US $2.2 trillion by 2030, but the continent is made up of 54 separate sovereign states that cover a vast range of cultures, languages, and people.  Along with that is this article from Quartz about how megacities are the world’s dominant, enduring structures.

As well, strategy+business put together a compendium of twenty questions for business leaders and some hints at answer to those questions, ranging from “how do we win” to “what is honorable.”  My favorite?  “What the hell is leadership.”

Fortune has an article this week about the 21st century corporations and our new business model.  To quote “Imagine an economy without friction—a new world in which labor, information, and money move easily, cheaply, and almost instantly.”  Along with that is the concept that you might be aware of – that the assets of most corporations in today’s day and age are the employees themselves.  The 21st-century corporation will be based more and more on the work of knowledge workers and ideas-based business across all sectors.  That has and will continue to lead to barriers to entry coming down.

One of the top ten leadership stories Fast Company published last year was about how Michael Grothaus gave up refined sugar and how it affected his brain.  I’ve done this a number of times before but haven’t been able to maintain it yet, but I’ve noticed the same issues he highlighted in his article: when refined sugar is in my diet, I’m crankier, I’ll make rash decisions, and I just feel stupider when I do, or at least not as clear headed as when I’m not ingesting it.  The detox isn’t much fun, but it’s a good read and something to consider, especially once you experience the veil of refined sugar lifting.

How good are we at employee recognition?  No, really, how good are we?  Have you paid attention to your own employee recognition program?  Is it a passive part of culture or is it something you are actively engaged in?  Well, for your consideration are a couple of articles: first, one about the top ten reasons why companies fail at employee recognition and then another on why managers fail in this area.  While you are looking at that, take a moment to look at the 2012-2013 Towers Watson paper on balancing employer and employee priorities.

We all believe we know how a successful business must be run, what rules it must adhere to.  Even as we look at all the startups out there, all the corporate giants, even mom and pop shops, we all end up falling into the same rules, the same structure either from day one or when we hit certain milestones.  Semco Partners didn’t. When he founded it, Ricardo Semler asked the simple question of what happens when you take away all of what expect (“the rules”) and just let people work.  Watch his TED talk to learn what did.

Google beyond Search, Build Networks, Not Bots, Facebook’s Vision for the Year 2026 + more

To start off, take a look at this article from CNET that hints at the different areas that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is investing in to find new Blue Ocean for the company.  While search continues to be a cash cow, Alphabet is wary enough to realize that at any time disruption could occur and that diversification is required.  The question is, how much leeway will Alphabet’s investors give the company; profit missed expectations in Q1 and if that trend continues, we may see a shift in the appetite of Alphabet’s shareholders.

Construction may not be the first thing to come to mind when we think of big data and analytics, but this article from Forbes highlights how the industry is being transformed by Hadoop and data lakes.  The constant tension between architects, engineers, and owners may find a happy medium through the use of big data.  When working through the complexity of large construction projects, firms need access to both two and three dimensional models, financial and corporate data, schedules, pipelines, weather, and much more.  The industry is now working directly with tech firms to develop specific tools to enable hoped for efficiencies.

re/code adds its voice to the Bot conversation this week with the position that when focused on who consumes your content or product; one should first focus on building the network of users behind that product before venturing into the arena of bots.  Why?  If we look at the number of apps out there that are downloaded and used once and then never used a second time, it’s staggering – some 75% of all apps suffer from this.  Why?  Because the companies that release them don’t create the ecosystem to hook users into using them by making them feel part of a network.  If companies start building bots for other people’s platforms without learning their lesson from failures in single use apps, they will fail to engage their audience again.  With that, take a moment to look at a dive into what chatbots reveal about our own shortcoming.

Will we see algorithms replace the RFP process familiar to so many of us?   That’s the aim of Agency Geek in the marketing vertical. By having agencies fill out a survey and submit a profile, Agency Geek hopes to leverage its 100-point algorithm to skip a step in the process as a start and identify agencies that fit the customer’s needs before the search process even begins.  While it’ll be interesting to see if the company finds success with this method in the marketing vertical, I think it again points to a great use for big data and analytics in the future.

There’s a great excerpt from Algorithms to Live By: the Computer Science of Human Decisions at Wired this week – how computer science reveals exactly how to organize closets.  It’s not a short read, but it has some of the better analogies when it comes to computer science which is easily accessible for non-technical people out there.  The book itself looks promising and I’ll have to add it to the bottom of my current stack.  The top of that stack right now?  The Power of Thanks, but more on that in another week or three.

If you think that you already share more information than you should with Facebook, check out the vision Zuckerberg laid out at the F8 conference and you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.  That said, with the way we continue to opt in and vary how we connect with others, it will become the norm with relative ease.  As part of that, we can expect a world where everyone has an internet connection, where we will choose who our “personal tribe” is not by proximity but by choice, and Facebook will have an ecosystem where their platform in the backbone of the business to consumer space in our new semi-virtual world.  Speaking of our coming virtual world, Motherboard has a good look at how photogrammetric virtual reality is where it’s at.  Then there’s this article about Magic Leap, the world’s most secretive start up.

That’s enough for this week, although if you’ve got some extra time, there are two good articles from HBR this week on the secret history of agile innovation and why unicorns are struggling, as well as Fortune’s article on why Richard Branson thinks you should hire from within and let employees work from home, and last James Baldwin on the creative process and the artist’s responsibility society.

Since this has been an algorithm heavy week, it seems only fitting to end with an excellent talk from Kevin Slavin on how algorithms shape our world.

The Actuated Internet, Good Bosses Create More Wellness than Wellness Plans Do, the Global Power Shift + more

It was an oddly light offering with regards to tech news this week, even with Facebook’s F8 conference, although one man did accidentally erase his entire company with one line of bad code.  That said, here’s a rundown on a few items from the week:

This article from Medium this week speaks of how we might in twenty years’ time look back at 2016 as the year the Internet broke free from its current constraints and “became one with the physical world.”  The author spent time with Andy Rubin, creator of Android, at his lab in Palo Alto, California and from that believes that this is the year we’ll see an AI-actuated version of the internet come to life and with people like Rubin involved, it will be an open source one.

Given how much press they are getting right now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some of the most recent press on Bots for the week: Life on the Human/Bot Continuum, Inside Microsoft’s build-a-bot strategy, and Facebook Messenger introducing ‘chat bot’ artificial intelligence.

Last week in HBR was a thought piece on how it’s good bosses, not wellness programs, that bring about wellness in employees.  Time and time again, we see that employees prefer a happier workplace to more money.  But what leads to employee happiness?  A humane workplace.  An organization that is built on trust and respect, as well as kindness, forgiveness, and inspiration.  The best way for us, as leaders, to improve our employee’s well-being is through what we do day-to-day, not through wellness programs.  Also from HBR was an article on how we’re making the wrong case for diversity in Silicon Valley.  Instead of just focusing on the social case, let’s look at the business case as well.

Along with that, there’s a terrific post from Kim Scott, a former Google and Apple executive, on the need for radical candor, regardless of gender, in the workplace.  As leaders, we need to get our teams to overcome their fear of conflict, starting with a foundation of trust, and not shy away from sharing what they really think of an idea.  Along with that, we have to get over a fear of offending, and we certainly need to retrain ourselves from decades of coddling some individuals due to gender and also viewing women who are direct in a negative light.

For those of you who’ve heard quite a bit of rumblings about cable being dead, Wired has a good article about Layer3 and their plan to take on Comcast to reinvent cable.  While I think we’re going to see content providers going away from the standard cable package for delivering their content (and already have), the intent behind Layer3 is to re-vitalize the cable market by making the cable experience better.

Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, has invested $250 million dollars in his Parker Institute to develop cancer immunotherapies.  This is the largest donation to the field of immunotherapy ever, and is meant to fund something of a cancer cure moonshot.  Broadly speaking, cancer immunotherapy researchers seek to understand the mechanisms by which cancer cells evade detection. They are bringing new therapies to market, notably immune checkpoint inhibitors, which help the immune system recognize and target cancer cells as foreign. Parker is approaching cancer research with a startup mindset, funding the ideas that are too complicated or too ambitious for the status quo.

strategy+business has a long missive around the winners, losers, and strategies in the new world economic order.  It’s a longer piece, but a good one to read for an overview on where we’ll see the world economy as a whole trend over the next few decades.  They also give six key areas businesses should be focused on: developing a cyber-focused center of excellence, mastering the RMB, recognizing relations as a key competency, effectively managing in a multipolar world, cultivating talent wherever you do business, and nurturing innovation everywhere.

One of the more noticeable schisms between younger consumers of technology and everyone else is the tendency for younger people to simply opt in when it comes to sharing sensitive data with the world.  One might point to snapchat and say that this isn’t true, that younger users are concerned with privacy.  To me it seems they are more interested in limited privacy, and have little concern for what information they share overall with the world, in particular when it comes to location based or demographically based services.  This TED talk from 2014 goes into why privacy matters, both in the services we use and with regards to what others (and our government) can discover about us.

Why A Virtual Reality Web May Never Happen, As Hospitals Go Digital Human Stories Get Left Behind, In Praise of the Incomplete Leader, The Panama Papers + more

I wrote a bit last week about Virtual Reality and how it is starting to impact our world.  Fastco Design has a quick read on why we may never see our existing web experience translate to that medium.  While demos exist of “what could be” today, no designers or developers are lining up to actually help create the experience.  The user experience of the web has been defined and solved, and while that UX may evolve over time, it has the same principles at its core.  As it stands today, the VR web is just transferring a very two-dimensional experience to a three-dimensional (even possibly four-dimensional) space.  It’s not immersive; it’s not what we might expect from a world with immersive 2-D experiences like Second Life and The Sims.  It seems like looking at those 2-D immersive experiences is getting in the way of a new UX for virtual reality.  That said, we know that’s what people expect, so let’s give it to them and then direct the crazy ones, the misfits, and the rebels who can re-imagine our world as a four-dimensional virtual one to focus on so they can break us out of the box that is our existing browsing experience.

Also from Fastco Designs is an article about how Kik thinks Chatbots will kill webpages.  Continuing the story of Tay, the “teen” AI/bot that Microsoft unveiled a few weeks ago just to pull down and how bots are seen as critical both in China and by the larger tech companies in the US, Kik, a messaging app, has a new platform which allows anyone to create a chatbot.  In Kik’s paradigm, the bots are “summoned” to provide contextual information and are created by the users themselves (or will people pay $.99 to buy a bot that someone else has created?).  The belief is that bots are going to solve the problems with the App ecosystem, but unfortunately it doesn’t’ look like Kik is set to use bots for what is most beneficial: machine learning.  Chatbots, apparently, are going to be everywhere.

One of the tougher nuts to crack of the past few years has been creating an interface for medical records that keeps up with the changers other industries are seeing, again from a UX standpoint.  I’ve known quite a few entrepreneurs who have tried to crack the “gamification” nut that seems to serve so many other thought-based industries well, however they’ve failed.   I think that is in part due to the high level of government regulations and requirements, but this article from STAT points to another issue: the interface used for tracking patient records gets in the way (in this case EPIC), and in fact reduces the most complex portion of a medical practitioner’s diagnosis, the emotional side, to information that is simply lost in translation.

Business Insider has a great piece this week on how we should forget about unicorns, and that investors are looking for “cockroach” startups now.  The premise is that unicorns are mythical creatures that are appearing to be more over-valued than not and have a huge amount of risk due to market fluctuations.  Cockroaches, on the other hand, are resilient. After all, the legend has it that only the cockroaches would survive a nuclear war.

We all have high expectations of our leaders, and as well others have high expectations of us as leaders.  The belief is that we’re flawless, that we can do no wrong, and that we have it all figured out.   The reality is, no one does, and we’re all pushing ourselves to grow every day.  Being a lifelong learner goes hand in hand with being a good leader, and we have to realize that with a lifetime of learning comes a lifetime of growth.  HBR outlines four components in their framework of distributed leadership: sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing.  The article from HBR also provides a framework for evaluating where you are in relation to those skills and can be used to diagnose your team or organization as well.

It’s hard to think of the Harvard Business Review without thinking of Peter Drucker, the management guru of the latter 20th century.  Success had a piece back in 2010 that captured his career and how he created what is modern management theory that is as relevant today.  Looking back for that article was inspired by a brief collection of ten Drucker quotes I stumbled upon from Entrepreneur.   While you’re digesting that, take a moment to read what Forbes thinks are the lessons we can learn from Disney’s staggering CEO succession failure.

Along the lines of privacy, WhatsApp just turned on encryption for a billion people this week without even blinking an eye.  All the news of late has been about the face-off between Apple and the FBI, and while that has been getting a lot of news cycles, other tech firms have been quietly addressing security issues on their platforms, I guess while we’re all distracted.

The Panama Papers.  I’m sure every one of you has heard something in the news the last week about these.  There are numerous articles out there, but what fascinates me is how close to 400 journalists kept quiet about it for a full year before the story broke.  Take your pick on who you want to read: 6 things you need to know about the bombshell Panama Papers leak from Salon, The Panama Papers and SF’s housing crisis from 48hills, McAfee’s opinion that “a time bomb is hidden beneath the Panama Papers” from Business Insider, A Primer on the ‘Panama Papers’ Offshore Revelations from Bloomberg, or What you need to know about the #PanamaPapers investigation from PBS.

Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab, has an excellent TED talk that speaks to how, in order to innovate, we have to be focused on building quickly and improving constantly.  This doesn’t apply just to software, but to hardware, manufacturing, bioengineering, and more.