Wooden On Leadership

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As I am on vacation this Friday and next, I’ll be recycling some materials that I think are good to revisit, this week starting with Wooden’s On Leadership.

Wooden’s philosophy and approach to leading both in basketball and life has caused me to pause in my own approach and take stock in how I lead others.  At first, I didn’t think that I would enjoy the text that much simply because I’ve never been that interested in sports unless I’m playing them and that happens rarely (classical singing is athletic enough as is raising two girls under six).  After reading, however, I’d gladly recommend it to any leader or potential leader I know.  To be honest, I felt that just the materials regarding the pyramid of success were “good enough” in my mind for a book, but they certainly weren’t good enough for Wooden which is both an illustration of how committed a leader Wooden was and how thorough a resource this text is.  To me, while Wooden’s foundation is strong, I also believe that trust is essential at that base level in an organization.  I would also add healthy conflict with intent and purpose (strive for what Lincoln achieved in his cabinet), accountability and a results focus to the pyramid in addition to what Wooden highlights.

The Pyramids or Success

While I note above some additional areas that I would add to the bottom layer of the pyramid in an organization, I think that Wooden is spot on with the other components of his foundation.

  • Industriousness: In my own career I’ve many time seen not only the impact of hard work on the organization but also on the individual.  While the entire pyramid results in competitive greatness, this is one of the hardest to realize not because it is difficult to work hard, but because of the difficulty around working in balance, a concept still evolving in my own mind.  Wooden later in the book speaks of how he only has a total of 2 hours a day through the course of the season – that seems more reasonable “long-term” (i.e. only over four years) than the 5 – 6 days a week we’re now working, 10 – 15 hours a day.  When you are working, yes you have to work hard, however as a leader you also have to set the right pace and tone for your organization and remind people to find balance when work pulls it out of whack or to be intentional in how you balance so it is net in balance.
  • Friendship:  I find that I treat friends at work similar to how I treat friends in the rest of my life as many of us do, and while the foundation (mutual respect, esteem, and camaraderie) do create essential “infrastructure,” the tendency is to reveal too much, be too casual or informal in work.  There may be a coworker or two with whom you long-term develop that relationship, but the reality is that if you lead or intend to lead an organization, there is a degree of distance that must be built into your friendships.
  • Loyalty:  Loyalty to yourself in this day and age is something that seems the inverse of what organizations demand.  By that I mean that companies today tend to want you to be assimilated into their culture and to be loyal first to the company and then to all other parts of your life.  I agree with Wooden that first you must be loyal to yourself – not selfish, but loyal to the standards and ideals in which you believe.  In looking for an organization to work in or lead, the first thing one should do is evaluate the mission, vision and values of the organization to see if they align with your own.  If leading an organization, the hard call to make is if and more likely when to change those fundamental aspects so that either they are in alignment with your leadership or you are in alignment with them.
  • Cooperation:  This is the area of the foundation that I think tells more of one’s leadership potential and capacity than any other – many times, people who are viewed as “leaders” are simply strong individuals with a unique vision but lack the ability to hear the voices of others.  To this end, a leader needs to be able to not only actively listen what others are saying when possible (and it should most often be possible), but also encourage healthy conflict and debate within his or her organization so as to make sure every voice is heard.  The concern needs to be, as Wooden puts it, for what’s right, not who’s right.
  • Enthusiasm:  Enthusiasm in my view is one of the key defining differences between a job and a career or avocation.  When you do something because you have to it’s an onerous task.  When you do something because you are passionate about it, engaged, involved and committed, it becomes not only an inspiration to yourself but others as well.

 

The Pyramid’s Second Tier

  • Self-control: One key to lead a team with consistency is through self-control, but not just in the way you interact work with others, but in every aspect of your life.  I’ve observed that strong leaders lead by example, and part of that example is by how they treat their physical self.  While it is augmented in Colorado because of how outdoors and health focused the populace is, wherever I go and interact with other leaders, the majority of people are very fit – it’s simply a part of their nature.
  • Alertness: While good to strive for, I think that we have to be careful on how hard we push for alertness, at least in the context of how Wooden describes it.  I definitely agree that observing, absorbing and learning from the world around you is a critical component of a leader or team’s make up, pushing yourself to an extreme in this area can be harmful given that in a sense it could result in a degree of sensory overload – best to build up this competency over time.  In a sense, I equate the risk here with being a performer who is “on” all the time or an extrovert who is never allowed to have any down time – just like any muscle, ability and strength has to be added incrementally over time.
  • Initiative: To me, this is also known as failing fast – in essence, lean forward, get things done so that in the end if we are going to fail, we fail faster so that we can learn from the experience and move on to the next possibility.  As Wooden notes, a strong leader can’t be afraid of mistakes nor can he or she be hesitant, indecisive or vacillate.  An approach of failing fast makes sure that when we make mistakes, we make mistakes of commission, not omission
  • Intentness: Acting with determination and purpose is core to any leader and organization.  If you look at what Patrick Lencioni with The Table Group has written with regards to the need for every employee to identify how what they do is relevant and has an impact, taking it to the next level speaks to intentness.  Once you figure out what makes you relevant in your organization, you can then act with intent in whatever you do.  For me personally, this means continuing to refine what I excel at and making a conscious choice of that which I am not only going to focus on but also those areas where I am going to push/force growth within myself.

The Heart of the Pyramid

  • Condition: Physical conditioning is an essential aspect of being a leader, but conditioning also applies to mental and moral strength but also emotional and relational conditioning.  This is perhaps one of the hardest components of the pyramid to master simply because of the commitment and intent it takes to accomplish, especially with the personal histories that are in conflict with these very requirements of a leader.
  • Skill:  The individual and the team need to be well-rounded and know and be able to execute on all facets of their job, not just one that they excel at.  I know many developers who are great at hacking together code but create code that is very buggy.  Because they are able to create solutions to complex problems, we frequently ignore that the code often takes many hours after the initial development phase to work out all of the bugs, which typically falls on the shoulders of another member of the team (to clean up the mess) after the “hero of the moment” goes off and works on the next shiny problem.  To truly excel, however, that individual should be looking at their own code and not only cleaning up after the fact but learning to balance the skill set so that while they may be great at one thing, they are good at all things required of their job and if they aren’t, they push themselves to get there.  For leaders this means continuous learning and improvement, with a desire to identify all of the blind spots within their personality and fill them in and then communicates and enacts it throughout their organization, including putting the mechanisms in place to enable and ensure this is the case.
  • Team Spirit:  There are many cheesy sayings around this point, my favorite being “there is no I in team … but there is meat.”  That said, and as much as our current organizational culture may ridicule and push back on this concept given how our society is now driving the individual over the organization, it is still a fundamental truth.  Teamwork is critical and essential to any organization, but what does it mean?  It is an eagerness to sacrifice personal interest for the glory of all (a different intent than willingness) and to that end the individual must be enthusiastic in their desire to put the needs of the organization ahead of their own personal agenda.  The crazy part of this sacrifice is that when you have a group of individuals who truly function as a team, they realize personal success as the team or organization is successful, and many times are viewed as “mystical” given their working methods and what they are able to accomplish.  People try to make their success be based on something very complex or some unknown or some political connection but in the end it comes down to the simple act of self-sacrifice and commitment to the team with an eagerness and joy in the approach.

 

Getting to the Top

  • Poise: I really appreciate how Wooden has ordered the layers of the pyramid because not only are the lower layers essential for the upper ones, they also lead to competence and enable those layers above them.  Case in point is poise.  If you excel at the base and middle tiers of the pyramid, poise becomes a simple trait to embody.  Without them, and without the maturity that they bring about, it is difficult (if not impossible) to achieve and maintain.  The ability to be true to oneself and not get thrown off is a tough one in today’s business climate because of how often organizations and industries change.  No one thought five years ago that Apple would be the most valuable company on the planet, nor that the iPhone would be such a disruptor of the technology sector (especially given the abject failure of Apple’s previous forays into the area, the Newton and the Rokr).  That, however, is a testament to the volatility of capitalism and how quickly industry to turn to a different direction.  Having the wherewithal to be true to yourself when all others are blaming or scapegoating you in bad situations and worse.  Poise is, as so aptly stated, being able to meet with both triumph and disaster and treating both the same.  The outside world doesn’t throw you, doesn’t cause you to second guess or question your own choices nor get panicked when the unexpected happens.
  • Confidence: Confidence, to me, is quiet and quieting (just as poise).  It is a belief in yourself that is unassailable, however at the same time it can’t be false or out of place.  Confidence builds on a constant need for growth and learning, being intent, taking initiative, being alert and other parts of the pyramid.  However, the risk we run is one of false or fake confidence or arrogance.  That is what makes confidence quiet and quieting – the individual who has to proclaim to the world what they know isn’t confident but arrogant and the individual who puts on airs of false confidence isn’t a leader but is a fool.
  • Competitive greatness:  “A real love for the hard battle, knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required.”  What more does one need to say than that?

Good Values Attract Good People

This point is where leading by example comes to the front – if you don’t lead by setting the example of the values you desire and tolerate values that you don’t, you simply won’t attract the talent that will unify your organization and help you realize success long term.  Values always have to come first, and with good reason.  Without the right value system at the core of an organization, hardcore resisters are bred, born and hired and a culture of blame evolves.  Accountability isn’t reasonable if you don’t have good values at the core of your business and they must come first.  Character is innate, rarely something that you can coach or help an individual to adjust, adapt or realize and it starts with the little things, the attention to small details and one should never value the one who will do anything to win, at any cost.  However a part of good character in a leader is realizing that sometimes people simply make mistakes – the tough call is determining if it was truly a mistake or a part of character.

 

Use the Most Powerful Four-Letter Word

It’s refreshing to see a leadership system that not only views itself as a variation on parenting but also at its core has is based on love.  Having love in your heart for all people in your life and in your organization radically shifts your outlook and approach with those individuals.  It also impacts how they perceive you as approaching someone with an attitude of agape love is something that anyone can perceive and will find hard to resist.  However, even though Christ loved all of those around him and treated them as such, he still asked hard questions and had great expectations for all people.  Part in how you get your employees to engage is by knowing them, by making them feel valued through your intention and how interact with them.  At a certain point, however, an organization will grow too large to feasibly know every employee that works for you and while you still strive for this ideal, approaching people from a position of love results in a completely different experience than any other.  This doesn’t mean, however, that you like everyone with which you work or don’t hold people accountable, nor that you are any less demanding in your expectations – it has to do with the quality of your relationships with the people around you.  However, even with this love and the charity in your heart that comes with it, there is a need to keep yourself apart from your team and employees.  This doesn’t mean being aloof or doing it for its own sake, but in essence is for the sake of objectivity.  With all of this, you have to know when it is time to be flexible and when it is time to be firm – never be flexible on those rules or expectations that speak to your core values or philosophy, but remain soft hearted in everything else.

Call Yourself a Teacher

There’s a great quote out there from the CEO of a local company who, when asked why he doesn’t have his title on his business card he replies with “because every day this job is different and the title doesn’t matter – today, I’m the janitor” or something along those lines.  I think that many times we can get caught up in titles and status that is conveyed by them.  That, however is just a part of Wooden’s intent in in calling yourself a teacher and not really an explicit one at that – in fact he states that you should put teacher on your business card.  His view is that you should first and foremost always view and call yourself (at least internally) a teacher.  But why?

Viewing yourself as a teacher shifts your approach and view of the world and those around you drastically.  Not only do you attempt to perceive more and find six different way to explain a concept or hold a conversation, but also how to enable those under you to perform at their very best – not THE best, but THEIR best.  In that process, you must also know how to teach and be teachable.  Part of teaching, however, is patience, which for many is a talent that must be developed and learn to differentiate between simply telling someone how to do something and teaching them how to do it.  You also have to get used to wearing many different hats through the course of the day and be able to move adeptly between them.  Don’t fall into the trap of presuming that your professional competency equates to an ability to teach, nor into the belief that your answers are always right as that will lead you to stop asking questions.  Back to the poem I quoted in class, I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day, I’d rather one would walk with me than merely show the way.  The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear, fine counsel is confusing but example is always clear.

Emotion is Your Enemy

There is a clear difference between emotionalism and intensity – intensity leads to consistency whereas emotionalism derails it.  When you let emotion take over the conversation or interaction, even if for show (which calls into question honesty) or an intentional purpose, it not only takes the focus away from the content of the situation but calls into question your maturity as a leader and derails your (and others) ability to do your best.  Emotionalism also throws a leader off track in having consistently maximum performance – having intensity with emotional discipline, on the contrary, allows you to stay on track and on target, allowing you to bring intense calmness and reason to any situation.

It Takes Ten Hands to Score a Basket

Ten hands to score a basket is about understanding the big picture and realizing that when the team wins, you win … and the team winning can lead to you winning much bigger than you ever could on your own.  You continue to push the team to grow by sharing information, ideas and more across the board.  This also means to recognize the players who don’t have their hands on the ball during the game and the members of the team who never even touch the ball.  In other words, recognize the assist as at least as valuable to the success as the hero of the moment.  In fact, if you’ve built a team based on a value set that vectors towards this, the people on your team who are the “star performers” likely will be of a character where they would rather see those given the assist recognized in public while you make the time to congratulate and validate them in private (because positive validation is part and parcel of “good parenting”).

Little Things Make Big Things Happen

Focusing and perfecting the details are critical to seeing broader success.  In part this is because it allows you to enjoy small successes upon which you can build, but also it keeps the trivial from derailing your success.  We frequently set the big, hairy audacious goals (as we should) without a clear path on how we get there, or what the intermediate steps are.  Other times, we continuously shift our focus on the newest bright, shiny object to hover in our periphery.  The reality is that while you need to set those distant goals, by focusing your attention and intent on the trivial or smaller steps, it will both lead you to those goals and allow you incremental successes to track and leverage to motivate your team.  It’s certainly not about being a perfectionist, but about doing your best in any given moment while not allowing the quest for perfection to pull you out of balance.  In the end, it is the accumulation of many different little things that get you from here to there – focusing on those will help you organization get from point A to point B no matter what shrapnel may be flying from the sides.

Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

Time management is a constant struggle for any leader and one which I’ve faced personally and am currently coaching another leader on to help resolve the lack of balance in his schedule.  The catch, however, is that time is something that is completely in your control and one just has to learn to not only get the most value out of every minute in a given day but also make sure your day doesn’t dissolve into nothing being accomplished because you’ve committed to too many things.  Along with that, while a failure to prepare destines for failure, you always have to remember that there is only so much of you that you can give before you burn out and at the same time can’t make up for a lack of effort today by giving more effort tomorrow.  An effective (although tedious) way to gain control back over your schedule is to divide your week out by a percent of time to spend spread across the total hours you typically work.  This does two things: it sets stated limits to the number of hours you work in a week and how many hours you can spend working on any given thing.  Then you have to have the discipline to punt things to the next week or to someone else when they don’t fit into that structure.

The Carrot is Mightier than the Stick

This, more than any other portion of the book, is one that I want to incorporate immediately into my parenting at home.  I frequently find myself both limiting options and using a stick more often than a carrot – in part because the carrot my daughter prefers is more like carrot cake – we’ve gotten into a habit where rewards are equated with food and not necessarily food that is healthy.  I’ve in the past tried to “establish boundaries” for my oldest daughter as so much of the literature calls for and yet the idea of making firm suggestions is much more appealing because it then gives you flexibility and also empowers your child to make their own decisions while you teach them through discussion and allow them to fail from time to time.  At work, this is equally as applicable, and we should leverage rewards systems that make sense versus ones that are arbitrary or not aligned with the effort or focus.

As a leader, you also have to vary wary of how you use both criticism and praise – you don’t want hollow praise to be part of your vocabulary, or praise for praise sake and you want to make sure that if all possible you criticize in private and at all times attempt to be positive in your criticism.  How is that accomplished?  By using a positive performance by an individual or a team and relating that praise to an area that needs improvement.  There’s also a theory in performance management that states that you should have people work on the things they excel at and reassign the things they don’t to people who are passionate about them, therefore setting them up for success.  While I see the intent behind that and to some degree agree with it, I believe it has more to do with the role they excel at, not the specific items of work.  If someone is better with tactical planning and action, don’t stick them with strategic unless they desire to grow in that area.  I also believe that only the leader should give criticism.  Too often you see colleagues who are either trying to be helpful or spiteful who tear others down without a plan or the authority to create one on how to build them back up.  Leaders don’t tear down (except in specific circumstances like hardcore resisters) and all of the criticism they offer is both aligned with the organization’s needs and the individual or teams ability.

Make Greatness Attainable by all

Making greatness attainable by all means that you identify what greatness is in every role and then enable each individual to attain it for their specific role, in the end creating a “great” organization through empowering individuals to be their best.  That, however, is the measure – doing the job to your very best, and then sticking to that being what is best in that moment for that individual.  You have to instill the belief that there is an opportunity for greatness in any and every job.  Greatness can be a supporting role, as noted before – it doesn’t mean that you are the star or the hero.  As the leader, you have to encourage ambition and make it clear that any advancement is dependent on the mastery of current roles and assignments.

Seek Significant Change

As a leader, you need to look for the excuses that are keeping you from success; doing so may be incredibly challenging as those excuses at times can be so ingrained you won’t realize them for what they are.  To that end, look for yes men who will say no; individuals who are there for the success of the organization but are willing to ask hard questions when they need to be asked.  This doesn’t mean asking questions for the sake of questioning, but to make sure that nothing is left unexamined.  Encourage a culture that doesn’t say no but
instead asks how.  As a leader, you have to be an excellent active listener to both empower the culture and make sure you fully understand the points and positions of those around you.  Most people think that by its very nature that conflict is negative, but in reality conflict can be positive, as long as it doesn’t get personal and isn’t for the sake of being a contrarian.  In all of that, be wary of being satisfied with the work delivered, for satisfaction can lead to failure.

Don’t Look at the Scoreboard

Once goals are set, focus on the near term steps that it takes to achieve them.  Forget about the future – the future and the bright and shiny can make you lose your focus on what lies right in front of you.  As you work against those incremental steps you must also hold your competitors with the respect that should be accorded to them.  To do otherwise leave you vulnerable.

Adversity is Your Asset

When I was living in Kitty Hawk, NC after I graduated from college and had my first “real” job (as a real estate agent), I faced a lot of financial adversity and had no support whatsoever – that adversity was due to irresponsible decisions that I (and many others) had made in college around credit cards and debt.  Even in the face of that, however I always believed that God wouldn’t put any challenge in from of me that I wasn’t strong enough to conquer – I viewed it all as a test and as a challenge for me to overcome.  And overcome is exactly what I did, taking the lessons I could learn away from it and carrying them with to today.  In that vein, while fate may throw a wrench in our lives from time to time, we can’t control that – we can’t control others or what may happen in the world as we can only control ourselves.  How do we control ourselves, though?  We can control how we react to those situations and respond to it; if we can’t we can push ourselves to grow in that area and build that skillset.  You have to live with the circumstances dealt and make the best of them.  At the same time, never give your word unless you intend to keep it, as not only are you as good as your word, by setting expectations and committing to actions you can’t realize, you are setting yourself up for a swift kick in the pants by fate.  Failure, though, is never the fault of fate – it is the individual leader who determines how to deal with adversity and whether to view it with the right attitude and spirit and turn that adversity into advantage and success.

And now for something completely different: a buddy of mine is on the TED landing page once again and it’s a fascinating talk.  Balise Aguera y Arcas is one of the smartest people I know and he always gives engaging and evocative talks.  In this TED talk, he shows how neural nets that are trained to recognize images can be run in reverse to create them.  As Blaise says, “Perception and creativity are very intimately connected.  Any creature, any being that is able to do perceptual acts is also able to create.”

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

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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

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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.

Meet Viv, The Flaws of Machine Vision, Facebook vs. Conservative News + more

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Google Now, Cortana, and Siri.  Those are the three “main” players that we use when it comes to a virtual assistant on our phones.  Microsoft has made a play to bring Cortana to all Windows devices, but what’s more interesting to me is what’s coming next from the creators of Siri: a platform-ambivalent, smarter version of Siri.  Viv is different than our current assistants because “she” writes her own programs to answer the queries you ask and take action on them.  Viv is, as the article notes, scary smart.

Speaking of Cortana, earlier this year Microsoft offered $55 billion to acquire Salesforce, only to be turned down.  Now, however, it appears that Microsoft is becoming Salesforce’s hottest competitor.  Oh, and Microsoft’s new work sharing app is not only entering an invitation-only phase of using GigJam, but according to Business Insider, might be crazy enough to work.

If you hadn’t heard, there’s been a bit of cost cutting at Silicon Valley startups.  Dropbox is the latest to cut a number of perks, all aimed at bringing them closer to profitability as a weaker Venture Capital funding environment and a stalled tech-IPO market have forced startups of all sizes to cut back or lose early investor confidence.  Perhaps that explains the down turn in ping pong table sales.  While you’re pondering that, take a moment to read about why Pinterest is a sleeping giant.  Or read about how this Silicon Valley billionaire wants to give us all robot bodies.

There’s a good article this week from Forbes on the five signs you are working for a truly great manager – it’s a good, quick read and a great one for us to invert and do some self-reflecting on when looking at how we are managing our people.  Remember, our people not only need to know how they are being measured, but also how their work is relevant and how they fit into the bigger picture.

All the way back in 2010 Niciola Marzari set his smart phone to the task of calculating the electronic structure of silicon in real time.  The task took 40 seconds, a task that used to take many hours on a supercomputer to carry out quantum-mechanical calculations.  Now, just six years later, artificial intelligence is being used to create the next “wonder material,” with researchers believing that machine-learning techniques can revolutionize how materials science is done.

We’ve been discussing machine vision and computer learning quite a bit of late, and with good reason.  MIT this week looks at the flaws in machine vision, in that new evidence has emerged that the neural networks used by machines to recognize objects and faces may be flawed.  Along with that is an interview with Gary Marcus on whether Big Data is taking us closer to the deeper questions in AI, another on learning about deep learning, and last one on how as Moore’s Law is running out of room, its successor is being desperately sought.

A bit of a story in the last week was Uber and Lyft’s campaign to change how ridesharing works in Austin.  Both companies worked together and spent around $8 million in support of Proposition 1, just to see it fail.  Both companies have pulled out of the city since, and it’ll be interesting to see if and when they come back.  What was the issue at hand? Finger-print based background checks on their drivers and placards on driver vehicles noting they “worked” for the companies.  Mind you, Uber pretty much has monopoly status at this point in spite of Lyft’s best efforts.

The top 2016 Cybersecurity Reports are out from a number of companies – take a moment to read more about those trends here.

Ever heard of Palantir Technologies?  I’d not be surprised if you, like me, hadn’t.  Palantir supposedly has proprietary software that allows for its customers to mine for data about consumers that results in much more lucrative results.  It has certainly been lucrative for Palantir, with some customers paying more than $1 million per month for the data.  Of all the odd sources, Buzzfeed did a deep look into who and what Palantir is, how it started, and where it is headed.

There’s been a slew of stories this week about how Facebook has been manipulating the news, so much so that the U.S. Senate wants Mark Zuckerberg to testify on the matter.  Now, I think we all need to recall that Facebook is a social media platform, the “social network.”  It has never purported to be a news organization or a news source.  That said, it’s interesting to think about how much we now rely on it for our daily news, for keeping up on what’s happening across the world.  Now, Facebook denies censoring the news, but more interesting is how we’ve shifted to using alternative media.

Plans to visit one of the Disney properties this summer?  Redef has a great, deep look at how Disney as a Service is bringing the company closer to Walt’s vision than ever.

Alphabet was briefly valued more than Apple the other day and looks to be on its way to be the most valuable company in the world.  I’d say that’s due to Alphabet’s desire to make big bets on future technology without knowing the return.  Astro Teller is the head of X (formerly Google X), Alphabet’s “moonshot factory,” and in his TED talk he explores the importance of celebrating failure and why the team’s at X feel comfortable working on “impossible” projects.

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.

Passwords Are Dead, The Amazon Tax/Dropbox’s Exodus from the Amazon Cloud, When Teamwork Works Best + more

It’s an information security heavy week this week and with good reason.  Back in 2014, a Russian crime ring stole more than 1.2 billion passwords, and ever since we are regularly hearing stories of further thefts and breaches.  It’s not surprising, then, that there has been a push for  multifactor authentication.  Re/code digs into that this week, citing a recent op-ed by Barack Obama in the Wall Street Journal.  I think we’re all aware, however, of the need for multifactor authentication these days, and we’re seeing our technology add that ability as it advances.  Along with that, however, are the risks faced by the utility industry, how AI and other technology can advance and change the landscape of information security (we can only hope that AI will be as ethical as the Siemens Systems 4004 that was featured in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), and other factors we can see the continued growth in information security and why so many white hat hackers are active today.  The top concern of CIOs at public and private institutions alike these days is information security, which is also why we’re seeing so many CISOs being added to the C-suite.

I’ve linked a few other articles in the past about the vulnerability of medical devices as the Internet of Things continues to grow and more devices become connected.  This article in Wired delves into pacemakers in particular, but not only from their vulnerability, but also their lack of transparency when it comes to the code used to operate them.  The author is an atypical user for a pacemaker and the standard code inhibited her ability to resume her normal lifestyle.  As she notes, providing “security through obscurity” isn’t the best way to reassure your users of the safety of your device and offer little opportunity for an easy fix for people who may be outliers in their usage.

This is an interesting glimpse into some of the machine learning work that Facebook is doing.  What is machine learning, you ask?  This is a good basic overview of what it is, here’s how it fits in to search engine result optimization and how you explain it to non-CS minded people.

I mentioned last week how Google’s AI DeepMind had won the first two matches against human competitors and shared some articles on what that meant, and this week The Verge interviewed DeepMind’s founder, Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future.  Hassabis believes that AIs best future use is in advancing science faster.  It’ll be interesting to see how AI impacts both labor markets and research in the next decade or two.  Wired may give us a glimpse into what that experience will be like as well.

Safety in the cloud is a concern that often has to be overcome when we talk to our customers about whether to move their infrastructure to a cloud based solution.  What comes along with that push for the more secure infrastructure provided by the cloud is the tax for it – for example, the Amazon tax, or cost of having Amazon (or others) host your data for you.  It makes sense, depending on the size of your enterprise, to leverage Amazon’s economy of scale.  What happens, though, when your demand outpaces the availability and the scalability of Amazon, not to mention when the cost of Amazon’s economy doesn’t scale?  Dropbox’s recent exodus from the Amazon cloud is case in point of a company outgrowing the capacity and cost benefits of using a third party provider.  That said, Apple just shifted to Google for some of their cloud hosting as well.  Amazon has dominated in this arena for the better part of a decade, but competitors large and small are coming out looking for a way to unseat the empire.

We wouldn’t think of it this way, but GE is acting more and more like a startup these days, albeit a 124 year old startup.  Jeff Immelt is and has been driving that culture and is starting to see his bets into the Internet of Things start to pay off.

TechCrunch has an interesting dig into how Sindustry is creating the next big tech companies and how those companies are being valued.  They seem to be the unicorns inside and out of Silicon Valley that are burning out – “PlentyofFish, an online dating site, sold to Match for $575 million. WeedMaps, a cannabis dispensary directory, is valued at $300 million. And Ticketfly, a live-music ticket seller, recently sold for $450 million to Pandora.”  $300 million valuation for a map where marijuana can be bought legally?  In great part this is being driven by the shift of millennials from wanting products to wanting experiences and as well the devaluation of the “nuclear family” within American society.  There’s a whole lot of thought out there about all the various dating apps out there and how they are changing society and culture.  Then there is the excitement that came out of CES in January around the Sindustry applications around Virtual Reality.  It’s an inescapable that we as leaders need to adapt to these new market demands and also decide what business we’re willing to pursue and what business pushes our own ethical boundaries too far.

So, when DOES teamwork work best?  Harvard Business Review thinks that it is when top performers are rewarded, and rewarded well.  Companies have attempted to reward teams based on the performance of the whole and have discovered that that model just doesn’t work … again and again.  By recognizing top performers you will drive the performance of all, and in the end, everyone will benefit.  Along those lines though, we should talk a little about leadership.  Most times when you see Organizational Design practitioners brought in to “fix” ongoing organizational issues, it’s due to not a lack of leadership, but poor leadership all around – and yes, these can be two different things (although one often overlaps the other).  Sometimes organizations can succeed in spite of their leadership, but it will only last so long.  One of the fundamentals, a loyal and intelligent workforce, will eventually lose their loyalty and stop caring without effective leaders.  So great organizations are the result of great leadership.  Why?  Because leaders are the shapers of culture and organizations will die on the vine if change isn’t managed well by its leaders.  Trust is a foundational part of any organization and is instrumental in any change initiative an organization drives. If a  leader doesn’t have a hand on the tiller of the boat, organizations will lose focus and perspective.

Being a manager takes a set of skills that are clearly identifiable and trainable; leadership skills, while straightforward, are not as natural or “simple.”  Leadership is a combination of caring, comfort with ambiguity, persistence, communication, negotiation skills, political astuteness, humor, level-headedness, engagement, challenging, self-awareness, and future focus.  Observation of how a leader acts will tell you as much if not more about that leader than who they say they are – again, coming back to leading by example.  That said, this seems common sense to us – leadership isn’t mystical, it comes down to a few fundamentals: vision, credibility, adaptability, and (most importantly) courage.  I’ve spoken before about the difference between management, leadership, and transformational leadership (management is about the what we’re going to do, leadership about the why, and transformational leadership is about the organization that is going to be and the how to get there).  Along with any form of leadership, aside from the usual suspects like strategy, ROI, our people, et cetera, we have to have our own fundamental definition of what leadership means to us … and that definition is going to be different for every leader.  That definition will then help guide us in defining roles, fundamental direction, and  identify and explore strengths and weaknesses.  So leaders must develop their own leadership philosophy.  If you’ve not defined it for yourself, it’s only a matter of time before it is defined for you and you are removed from leadership.

Rocket Ships, Transforming how retail banking works,How Does In-Flight Wi-Fi Really Work? + more

Many of us have heard much of Elon Musk’s aspirations around commercializing space flight with his company SpaceX, little has been known about Jeff Bezos’ own passion and aspirations around rocket ships.  This week, the New York Times gave us a look into his company,  Blue Origin, and while it is just a start, it seems like exciting things are to come from Bezos and the commercial space race should amp up a few notches in the near term.

Slack has gotten a lot of press of late, with its irreverent CEO and how it is extending its reach and new users at a rapid pace – over 2.3 million daily users at this point.  Arstechnica looks at how Slack got started (modifying IRC so non-technical people wouldn’t find it to be “a pain in the ass”), the desire to change how we work so we can all be virtual, what the transition to Slack was like for the author, the myth of increased productivity, and many other topics.

ZDNet takes a look at the rise of IoT hacking and the implication for security and solutions being pursued.  It’s a good look at how cyberattackers are exploiting any weakness or vulnerability they can find in the enterprise and as we see the growth of BYOD across companies as well as the numerous devices that can and do connect to enterprise networks, those attackers are using anything and everything they can get to to access and exploit networks.  The author suggests asking three key questions when evaluating existing and new assets that have access into your company’s network: what is connected, where is it, and what is it transmitting. That start to fill in the gaps when deciding what the proper protocols are and hopefully uncovering the unknown unknowns that exist in a firm’s network.

Retail banking has gone through a few bumps in the past decade and has struggled to keep up with changes in technology and the market.  TechCrunch puts some thought into what that will take to transform how retail banking works, from going all-in on mobile, the need to cross-sell and up-sell, act as a virtual financial advisor, and focusing on letting the data drive the business.  One thing is true: unless banks start shifting and adapting to accommodate the digitalization of consumer’s lifestyles, they won’t last in the long run.  Along with that, they have another article around the broken world of mobile payments and how to fix it.

I’ve posted several times about Unicorns and how they are and aren’t flaming out, what may or may not be happening from a bubble standpoint, and Bloomberg this week has some more insight into what’s happening from a mutual fund standpoint and how different mutual funds who have invested in various Unicorns are now viewing those investments.

If you’ve not heard of it, Google’s A.I. program AlphaGo has beaten another ‘Go’ champion, and it looks like it is on the way to claim the overall victory in the humans vs. A.I. tournament.  Rolling Stone has a two-part special report on the artificial intelligence revolution that is long but worth the time to digest – Part One is here, Part Two here.  Then there’s how augmented and virtual reality are being used to change how doctors treat patients and the potential there.

Facebook is eating the world.  Or so the Columbia Journalism Review states.  I’ll just leave that there.

Many startup companies make light of how easy it is to sell to big companies, and many of those start ups are here and gone before the ink is dry on those quotes because what sales they do make don’t necessarily have longevity.  Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce (that little company that no one thought would last in the late 90s) thinks the opposite is true: selling to Enterprise isn’t something that should be taken lightly and is something that takes time and focused effort, not just word-of-mouth.  In this article from strategy+business, Benioff explains why.   The contrast to it is Dropbox, which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it seems like an incongruent comparison, as Salesforce is strictly Enterprise based, whereas Dropbox is heavily focused in the consumer space as well (and finds a lot of its traction resulting from that).

Last, we’ve all suffered the woes of lackluster in-flight Wi-Fi from the likes of GoGo.  I’ve always been a bit curious as to how in-flight Wi-Fi really works, and this week The Points Guy posted an article answering exactly that, making it so I didn’t have to go and do any pesky research myself.