Friday, December 23, 2016

Artificial Intelligence could make you happier

As Artificial Intelligence improves, Bots become more effective and algorithms develop the capability to know ourselves better than we do, huge challenges for society emerge.
In recent months I have discussed several of those challenges here:
1. Can an algorithm do a better job of serving our best interests than we can:
(Could Your Next Vote Be Your Last?)
2, Which version of ourselves should hold eminence?
(The Fourth Dimension of Experiuence)
3. And - exploring some of the challenges discussed in the upcoming book What To Do When Machines Do Everything *- I discussed the challenges for work in The Technology Storm That Will Blow Trump's Promises Away

At the heart of all of this is how we derive meaning because it is core to why we worry about the rise of the machines.

Some see machines as the new bogeyman. They'll get so clever they decide they don't need us. I'm more optimistic than that, preferring instead to see a far future in which 'we' are as much part of the machine as the machine is part of us - an evolution which makes us digital and releases us from the constraints of the physical world. I grant - that's a long way off. But that goal demands a relationship with technology nearer equality than master and servant on either side. The bogeyman is a risk, but a manageable one.

Some see economic threat: They will take my job. And it's hard to say yet how far reaching that will be into blue and white collar roles but given the markets are already primarily run by algorithms and key decisions for financial institutions and Governments alike are aleady the reserve of machines, no one should feel too certain of their future. Again, I greet this with optimism. The machines we envision - self-driving cars and trucks, self-operating manufacturing, warehousing, customer service and delivery, robot farming and mining, AI health services etc etc etc will generate huge cost savings, increased efficiencies, a closer match between supply and demand in real-time (driving out waste). How will you pay for it? Well, in abundance would we actually need to pay? Money is the token the market uses to allocate resources. If the market has a more effective way to deliver that (data and ever improving AI decisioning built on it) we may not need to the old tokens. And if we did, perhaps we'd all get a comfortable base on which we can earn additional credits by performing tasks and behaviours the algorithm chooses to reward (those being to our own benefit - as it knows what is best for us). I know this all sounds distant and scary but if you told early capitalists they would one day be trading in a series of ones and zeros behind which there was nothing physical to pick up and carry away, not even enough promissory notes, let alone gold, they would have been terrified, too.

Others see threat to meaning: There is the obvious tradition of the protestant work ethic to consider. Ask someone what they do and they will tell you their line of work. The French ask 'what do you do in life?' Yet we still answer - businessman, binman, pilot, rather than husband, father, son.
Another way to consider this - as raised by my good friend Ted Shelton - is in reference to the central statement of the American Declaration of Independence.
    "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
It is worth breaking that down in the context of algorithms which have the potential to know us better than we know ourselves. Who or what defines the limits of our liberty?

But, perhaps more importantly in the context of this discussion is, what constitutes happiness?

A meaningful life is surely a happy life. So a life filled with the right kind of work is a happy life?

But is work the necessary route to fulfillment? Some may feel service to others provides their true fulfillment. They may use their 'spare' time to do exactly that.

Others may find their fulfillment in the service of a God or religion. Others find happiness in making others happy - particularly their nearest and dearest.

So provided we retain the freedom to pursue our happiness, work may be less the critical element to our identity, our construction of self-worth, our definition of meaning, than we often believe.

And if this is true, if we can disentangle ourselves from the concept that work=meaning, then we can plan a future in which the machines do the work (by which we also mean generate the wealth) and we pursue our happiness (among that abundance).

Merry Christmas.

Disclosure: *What To Do When Machines Do Everything is written by three fellow Cognizant employees; Malcom Frank, Ben Pring and Paul Roehrig. Everything I express here and elsewhere online is my own view and my own view only and should not be considered representative of Cognizant's corporate voice.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Could your next vote be your last?

My recent focus on trying to understand the constituent parts of experience (particularly in relationship to the experience of customers) when combined with the impact of the capabilities of both Cognitive Computing and Artificial Intelligence raise challenging questions about the primacy of the self and therefore of liberal democracy.
This starts from the premise that we don't know ourselves particularly well - and therefore we may not be best placed to know what is in our best interests.
And that's built out of the Open Business principle of Trust. Trust is built from the belief that the entity you are dealing with has your best interest at heart (this is what partnership requires, too).
So first - why don't we know ourselves particularly well - and why does that matter. Anyone who has read my articles, the third and fourth dimensions of customer experience will have had a reminder of the work of Daniel Kahneman onwards showing how we make short cuts all the time when making decisions. We recall experience using the Peak-End Rule. We average our low score and our score at the end. We don't aggregate the sum of our experiences.
We have evolved to experience this way to enable us to survive in fast moving environments. It was the most effective way of dealing with the data.
Wouldn't it be better if we could take account of all our experiences when making a decision. Like whether to turn left or right at the next junction.
Google Maps already does a better job of this. It (potentially) takes the sum of all the experiences of all the drivers on the road and plots your routes in the best interests of all. It does this very even-handedly. There's no way to upgrade so that everyone else gets sent out of your way, for example.
It makes better decisions for us than we do. In Google we trust.
Ok, so why not let Google select our partners? By storing and being able to access and analyse all of our experiences (at least those shared with Google - which are plentiful enough) Google could claim to know us better than our Narrative Self (the one that makes decisions based on recalling experience in its short-cutting Peak-End Rule way. It also has everyone else's experiences and outcomes to draw upon for its calculation.
Should you marry prospective partner A or B?
Those using dating sites are already handing over much of this cognitive spade work to algorithms. In Google we trust?
And if you want to hand the decision making to the algorithm for the selection of your life partner, why not to cast your vote?
If the algorithm knows your best interests better than you know yourself, why not let it make the right choice for you - uninfluenced by your short-cutting Narrative Self?
En Masse, why bother with voting at all. Are we ready for Government by Algorithm?
Humans have been, for a long time, the best things we had available to gather and intepret data.
Control (via Trust) has tended to concentrate with those who both have access to and interpret data for practical benefit. Priests could interpret the word of God to give you temporal guidance. Astrologers could read the starts to tell you when best to plant your crop. As economies grew more complex being able to read helped you make better decisions, bureaucracies grew, measuring, recording, predicting data about fields and roads and cities and people and incomes and food production and disease and health and threats and technologies and the instruments of Government grew around these data warehouses.
Now, to predict the complexities of the weather, the markets, the needs of the people, we turn to algorithms. They have become faster and better at interpreting more and more data than the best human agencies.
So why not be Governed by Google? By knowing us better than we know ourselves it can provide for us better than we can choose for ourselves. If only Google cars were on the roads, we would need a fraction of the cars currently produced (most are parked at any one time) and we would all get to where we wanted to go faster, with less pollution.
Give it control of our health and we would all live longer happier lives and our medical care could be delivered at a fraction of the current costs. Take a look at what Google Deepmind is currently engaged with the NHS to deliver for one small segment of improvement the algorithm could deliver.
Give it control of the economy and imagine the potential for supply to meet demand and the wastage that would cut.
This feels really uncomfortably like centralised, command and control economics to those in the liberal tradition.
And it's hard to deny that's very much what it is. But the difference is there is no politburo, no five year plan - no numbers set by politicians. This would be an economy run in the best interests of those engaged in it by a benign dictatorship of an algorithm which genuinely has your best interests at heart. The command and control is the needs and desires of the people.
When the time comes that the algorithm really could do a better job of governing us than our politicians, would you be prepared to make your next vote your last vote?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Fourth Dimension of Customer Experience

Image by Salvador Dali
In my last article I discussed the need to better understand what experience is in order to really make advances in how we can improve it.

I arrived at Three Dimensions which I will summarise below – but feel free to refer back to the original for the full story because now I want to move us on to consider a Fourth Dimension:

1. Dimension One: Thoughts.

An experience can be described in terms of the thoughts arising in my mind at any one point in time. Customer Journey Mapping has been relatively successful at grappling with this. This is the realm of:

  • Rational choice.
  • Mapping out what the customer is doing and what the customer is trying to achieve – the process
  • Transaction points

We can streamline it and make it easier and see incremental improvements.

2. Dimension Two: Emotions.
  • Design Thinking is increasingly playing a role in experience design. 
  • Placing yourself in the shoes of the individual helps you understand where they may be driven to anger, what prompts fear, what inspires love. 
3. Dimension Three: Sensitivity.
  • The layer in which we can personalise and contextualize experiences.
  • Responds to the mass of previous experiences that create an individual's Sensitivity.
  • Solves the Trip Advisor problem: Two people have the "exact same experience" but score the same hotel very differently
  • Our sensitivity to the experience is our context. 
This third dimension is rarely called out for separate consideration yet it is where we must focus our efforts if we are to offer truly personalised experiences. This will be the dimension in which Decisioning technologies and the application of Artificial Intelligence will have the greatest impact. Bots are already capable of keeping a record of what they have learned about an individual customer and using that to shape their future interactions with that customer.

Many see a crazy amount of complexity to deal with. Others see the possibilities for AI and the full set of cognitive computing capabilities to make sense (and profit) from unstructured data.

But where to start? Well first, let me add an additional complexity. We like to think about ourselves as a single self – an individual. Yet science (neurological and behavioural) tells us we are really the intertwining of two selves: The Experiencing Self and the Narrating Self. You don’t have to take my word for this. Start with the cannon of work by Economic Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman

The Experiencing Self is the one in the now. It experiences – discomfort in the long queue to see the Princess at Disney. It experiences a sense of fun when it interacts with the smattering of supporting cast found towards the head of the queue. It experience great joy when it gets its brief moment with the Princess herself.

But more often than not the decisions get made by the Narrating Self.

The Narrating Self will evaluate the experiences it has had and generate itself the story of what it has done, from these experiences.

It is the story the Narrating Self tells itself that gives it ammunition to decide whether or not it’s going to endure the misery of the length of queue for the next Disney attraction. It makes its judgment call based on everything the Experiencing Self has gathered – not in aggregate but on average.

So, in the Disney case, if you asked guests to score their experience at each part of that journey (1/10 while I was stuck at the back of the queue, 6/10 when I met the supporting cast, 10/10 when I met the princess) a simple average would give us (1+6+10) /3 ~5.7.

And if we weighted that for time spent in each phase (queue 90% of time, cast 8% of time, princess 2%) then our satisfaction score would collapse to much nearer 1.

Why then do we in fact remember a magical experience and one we rush to repeat?

It is because the Narrating Self – our big decision maker – places a great deal more weight on the end of the experience and completely discounts duration. End on a high.

Disney gets this, It’s why their experiences are structured the way they are. The classic Kahnemann experiment involves volunteers placing their hands in cold water for X time. The same volunteers then place their hands in water of the same temperature for X time + Y time (and during Y the temperature of the water is slightly raised),

When asked which experience they would like to repeat they choose X+Y.

This is because the Narrating Self discounts duration and actually adopts a rule we cannot ignore when designing experience – The Peak-End Rule.

It retells the experience only in terms of how it felt at the peak (and this will usually be a peak of discomfort) and how it felt at the end. It is the average of these that determines how we take decisions. That’s why 2% of the time with the Princess at 10/10 is remembered – and talked about as much as the 90% of the time you spent in the queue.

What are the implications for how we go about our work in Customer Experience?

4. Dimension Four; Narrative.
  • We have seen that duration has little impact on the final story of an experience we tell our Narrative Selves and it is this Narrative Self that will make the decision on which experiences it wants to repeat. It is the story of our experience we share with others, too.
  • We know the Narrative Self uses a Peak-End Rule to evaluate. This means it calculates an average of the worst it felt during the experience and how it felt at the end. The duration of these phases has little or no impact.
  • An experience which offers an improvement in experience at the end versus peak discomfort will be seen more positively even if the period of peak discomfort is considerably longer than the End phase.
This gives us important parameters to work within for improving personalized experience.

Just as with Senstivity, while we may occasionally stumble across and apply elements of the Fourth Dimension of Customer Experience when conducting our work (Leave ‘em on a high, for example!) it is seldom called out as a tool of inquiry and a framework against which experience can and should be assessed and designed.

I am confident that considered one-by-one, the four dimensions will help us design the experience customers will both enjoy in the now and choose to repeat in the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Voters must learn to trust voters again

Image via A-Z

Trust. Given the seismic societal and geopolitical events of the last year I think it's worth reminding ourselves about Trust.

58% of eligible Americans didn't bother voting. Liberal democracies work on the assumption that the voter knows best. This is built on a basic trust. We have faith that the 'other' has our best interests at heart.

As the world has globalised, the question of who should vote on what issues arises. If you take a global perspective why should a nation vote alone on whether or not it leaves (for sake of argument) The European Union. The impact of the decision made by voters goes far beyond the impact on themselves. Do they have the right, within one nation, to vote for things that harm others?
Climate change, accords and fast-growing heavily polluting nations raise similar concerns - as does the free movement of refugees. People moving from difficulty to plenty has been the story of human expansion over the face of the Earth - until we invented passports and border controls.

Democracy it seems can only work if we share a basic beliefs/traditions/outlooks with most other of your fellow voters. When fellow voters are like us we accept the results - and I reiterate, we do so because we assume they have our interests at heart, too.

When those interests are ignored, we don't accept the results. If their experiences are far removed from my own, if they don't understand how I feel and don't care about the things I hold dear then I'm unlikely to accept the result no matter how 'conclusive'.

Is this what we have seen at play in Brexit and in the election of Donald Trump?
Or is there more that binds the people of the UK and the people of the US than divides them?

To move forward both nations must find a place where voter can trust voter again (this is more important than whether we trust politicians, for whom we all have our crap filters set to stun permanently anyway).

I do believe that trust can be rebuilt - I wrote a book (The 10 Principles of Open Business) which lays out how we can do it in brands and business and the principles are equally applicable to our institutions and way of life.

In the main we do share basic beliefs and traditions. If there are differences it is in outlook. Some see the post-globalised, digitised world through fearful eyes. Others with optimism.

If we connect more, share more, enter more transparent discourse, act ,more as what we are - partners in civil society - we can help rebuild trust. In so doing we can enable more people to identify and access the benefits of the connected world so many of us have enjoyed.

If we cannot we will break down (and self-organise ourselves) into the bubbles our Facebook timelines seem intent on generating.

Think for a moment how important trust is in winning this battle, in rebuilding the partnership we aim to have with each other in civil society -
The following are excerpts from The 10 Principles of Open Business.(Palgrave-Macmillan 2014).
"Without trust there can be no relationships of any value. Without relationships there can be no organizations, no customers, no believers, no advocates, no future. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt went as far as to say in his 2009 University of Pennsylvania Commencement Address that: “In a networked world, trust is the most important currency.” Every politician, every newspaper editor, every CEO, every brand manager, every one of us knows it is essential. It is what ties customers to brands, families to each other, organizations and societies together. It is a very human trait and one which has given us an evolutionary advantage defined at its simplest as: “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” 
Evidence from neuroscience (e.g., “The Neurobiology of Trust” by Paul J Zak in Scientific American, 2008) suggests we get chemical feel-good rushes to reward us when we trust and are trusted, and that there are large portions of the brain developed specifically to deal with its complexities. Being able to trust our neighbor allowed us to build civilizations. We’ve evolved to demand it. To work closely with people, requires it. Partnership, the paradigm of Open Business, demands it. And when trust diminishes we are in crisis.
Trust,... is a measure of the belief in the honesty, fairness, or benevolence of another party. Build this kind of reciprocal trust and your partners are more likely to forgive your failures of competence; they will cut you slack if they trust that you are trying to do your best for them and being honest when things go wrong.  


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The third dimension of customer experience

Image via
Experience is the primary differentiator in the selection of products and services in a post globalisation world. Making it better is at the heart of any digital transformation where humans engage.
There is a reason we value it so highly - in an increasingly humanist world it is replacing religion as our arbitor in gathering ethical knowledge - best described in the phrase "If it feels good it must be right".
Our feelings - built entirely on our own experiences and our experiences of others provide a 21st Centurry equivalent of scripture.
This argument for the primacy of the internal self, that the pursuit of wisdom is the collection of experiences, is well made in Homo Deus - a brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
In the last fear years Customer Experience has become very hot with marketers and technologists, CFOs, CDOs, CTOs amd CEOs.
But few have really stopped to understand what experience actually is - and without doing this we are missing a trick in improving it.
So let's start with the basics:
An experience isn't empirical data. It can't be found in the air around us or in the atoms of the desk in front of us. This is important because so much of experience design has focused on optimising for one generic experience.
Experience is not done to people - it is done by people.
It is subjective. And it has three dimensions.
1. Dimension One: Thoughts.
An experience can be described in terms of the thoughts arising in my mind at any one point in time.
Customer Journey Mapping has been relatively successful at grappling with this part of the mix. This is the realm of rational choice after all. We can map out what the customer is doing and what the customer is trying to achieve and it's all very transactional and rational and we can streamline it and make it easier and see incremental improvements and roll the same journey out on the assumption we are all rational actors (which any regular reader of this blog will understand is very far from the truth).
2. Dimension Two: Emotions.
There has been an emerging focus on emotion in the customer experience world which is to be commended. This is often because Design Thinking has played a role in experience design. Placing yourself in the shoes of the individual helps you understand where they may be driven to anger, what prompts fear, what inspires love. But again there is a one-size-fits all weakness to this which leaves room for improvement.
3. Dimension Three: Sensitivity.
This critical third dimension is the layer in which we can personalise and, very importantly, contextualise experiences to meet the experiential needs of the individual.
We can design for customers based on their past behaviours and (if we can apply AI to the unstructured data of their latest published thoughts) their self-expression of mood. What we have difficulty responding to is the mass of previous experiences that create an individual's Sensitivity.
I call this the Trip Advisor problem. Two people can have what we have come to describe as the "exact same experience" and score the same hotel very differently. Our sensitivity to the experience is our context. As my old friend Alan Moore is always fond of saying, Without Context There Is No Meaning.
Reviewer One may have been spoiled with five star hotels his entire life. His sensitivity to quality is therefore somewhat raised. Reviewer Two may be more used to the Two Star life. When both end up in a four star we may design their experiences to be exactly the same from booking to check-out but their own sensitivity will determine if this is a better than normal experience or a worse one for them.
Sensitivity means paying attention to your sensations, emotions and thoughts - and allowing them to influence you.
Without it we do not experience.
And yet we continue to work on customer experience without giving this third dimension - this dimension of context - due attention. We stumble into it rather than calling it out as a specific area of work to be considered.
I believe by identifying and describing this third dimension of customer experience we can go a long way to greater application of technologies such as Decisioning and Artificial Intelligence to deliver contextualised customer experiences which best fit an individuals sensitivity.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The technology storm that threatens to blow Trump's promises away

Image via
President Elect Donald J Trump (which is something I never imagined having to type) faces the Brexit problem. How to deliver on all the Make America Great, on-the-hoof, populist claims he made to secure the votes of a majority.

He has promised. Now he must deliver.

His problem is that he has made promises to the 'forgotten' those manually skilled, rarely college-educated, family and God loving folk who jobs have come under significant pressure from vast global economic forces which, frankly, are beyond his control.

Even if they were, he would be facing up to an even bigger challenge right now,

Consider for a moment some of the biggest technology trends reshaping our world ;

Next Generation Batteries; Most of the batteries you use apply the same principles as were discovered for making electricity hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago. New power sources will make intelligent devices more self sufficient, give commercial and long-distance reality to electric cars and transform how we consume power (with all that entails for the supply chain of fossil fuels).

They deliver high enough capacity to serve whole factories, or towns. Based on sodium, aluminium or zinc. They avoid the heavy metals and caustic chemicals used in older lead-acid designs, are cheaper, more scalable, and safer than the lithium batteries currently used.

Critically for the energy workers in the traditional industries Donald is setting out to unforget, the new batteries are much better suited to transmissions from solar or wind power. (Hint, Donald, focus here and you don't have to pollute the planet, either)

Which takes us to Autonomous Vehicles; What are all the truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, white van drivers, Donald's driver... what are they all going to do?

An Autonomous Vehicle is really just an extension of the Internet of Things. My guess is Google will do a better job of organising the information required to get us all from A to B swiftly and safely than we can individually. Choose surge pricing and perhaps you get their faster. Emergency services would get right of way and ignorant drivers failing to move to one side would no longer be an issue. Accidents down (ambulance and fire and rescue drivers) less need to police the roads (police drivers); less time stuck in traffic. More time doing what you were going somewhere to do. Less stress. What's not to like?

Unless you work as a driver.(Pilots, you should worry, too).

Then we have robotics - ready to do all those manual labour jobs the lowest paid, hardest workers have to do. If you have a house robot why do you need a Mexican maid?

And if the boss has a dozen 24/7 robots to work your warehouse, why does he need you on your forklift?

Apply AI and the threat to humans in jobs spreads quickly into blue collar jobs. Even many parts of white collar roles will be threatened - there are many parts of a lawyers work or a doctors work (such as sifting case law, or looking for patterns in patient treatments and responses) which AI can happily handle - delivering results faster.

Put these parts together and why would you ever need to go to a shop (your IoT devices would tell you when they needed upgrading, identify the best price source, place the order, a robot would make it, AI and autonomous vehicles would handle the logistics and the product would be in your home both produced and delivered as efficiently as possible with real-time processes applying machine learning to both make decisions and continuously improve.

All of that was once done by humans.

Trump's challenge, if he is to make good on his promises, is to ensure those forgotten people feel part of this revolution of the abundant. That requires a rethink of value and a restructing of what schooling is.

If he really wants to Make America Great Again he should start with the greatest skills retraining programme in history and follow up with defining what national education for a world of permanent innovation looks like.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Open -an essential attitude for successful people

Skills are important - don't get me wrong. Experience too. But Attitudes - they shape how effective we are at using both.
It seems to me the key attitudes to have in fluid-state, experiment-led environments where Design Thinking and Lean Start-up are shaping the future, are to be;

1. Curious. You  retain that child-like sense of no-holds-barred imagination that makes 'What If?' lead to 'Wow!' Adventurous thinking (ideally in a culture where the safety nets overcome the fear).
2. Optimistic. You have the belief that things can be better. The combination with curiosity makes you the kind of person for whom 'good enough', rarely is. Optimists see opportunity where others see barriers.
3. Collaborative - The need for continuous innovation in today's organisations mean we must strive to connect and reconnect both with ideas and with people. The ability to organise adhoc supports this attitude. Silos do not.
4. Open: You have to be prepared to be open with others, to build the relationships of trust the quality of your collaborations will depend on.

Google research recently found (after years of research and heaps of data analysis) the consistent point of differentiation between high and low performing teams was the equality of their communications (every one gets to speak about the same amount) which was likely an outcome of their ability to empathise.
There is more to the collaborative mindset than a desire to share; to succeed in teams it requires genuine social connection - care about those you are collaborating with. And, to connect like that, requires an openness that does not come easy to all.
Given the rate at which we may move from team to team, this openness becomes a key attitude to hold, too.
For thoughts on how you can create the right environment for teams who care about each other, it's worth looking at how Google turned data into a call for emotion - here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Digital is not a destination

I see a lot of talk about the journey to digital transformation as if its some kind of destination.
Becoming digital is not the end point. In many ways it's a launch pad to becoming a business prepared to engage in an increasingly digitized world.
There are some basic essentials with anything digital - understanding the technology requirements, the role of the data ( where you are going to get it from, store it, what it's going to inform, how you are going to draw insights from it) - the architectures required to bring business, hardware and software together, the layers of integration demanded; The people and the processes; the skills and the new ways of working, etc
But all you will achieve is the same but faster and cheaper (ideally) if becoming digital is your end game.
Becoming a different kind of business is where you should be headed; one which places customers in a different role; and one in which the business itself sees itself playing a different role. Setting this new goal, this new destination, is your first essential step. The roadmap comes second.
Digital is the way we connect ourselves; it reveals to us a connectedness which requires us to open and think differently about our role in the world. Does our presence in the life of customers offer us unique opportunities to understand behaviour; does that understanding reveal new business opportunities - does it reveal new benefits for society?
Uber is valued so high because it set out to value data first. It figured that by being a peer-supplied taxi service it would get lots of data about moving people and things. It is this data which they see as their long term business - delivering what ever you need where-ever you need it when-ever you need it.
That *may* reduce the carbon footprint of vehicle deliveries in the long run. It *may* reduce your costs or benefit your convenience. Soon they are going to have to be explicit about this every time your data is shared with them.
Be sure that businesses must  begin to think holistically about this - about having the best interests of their customers at heart and being able to demonstrate this. Without this they will not be allowed to take advantage of the new bounties data is offering.
Digital Transformation has always been a journey, not an end in itself. The end remains becoming an Open Business.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Is Capital approaching its own Singularity?

Strange times - and so a second post on the economic-societal discontinuity we find ourselves amid.

Strange times when the politicians find themselves out of control (most parliamentarians in the UK wanted to remain in Europe, for example, most 'reasoned analysis of the promises of Donald Trump would have him sidelined by the US Presidential campaign process - and still he comes...).

Strange times - when lies become the gold-standard for political currency and we find ourselves evaluating who to trust in a post truth world?

Who and what to blame?

Spare a moment to consider The Singularity - not of computer technology - but of Capital.

Markets are meant to be the single most effective tool we have for distributing resources. The idea was that resource ends up where people have greatest need for it - supply scurrying to meet demand.

And in pursuit of this perfect market dynamic we have relentlessly handed control of the market to capital. The Bank of England has been out of political control for decades, the free market is almost universally saluted as a paragon of doing the right thing.

But rather than become the ultimate distributor against need, the market has become the single greatest machine of growing capital for capital's sake. It creates volume very efficiently - it has failed to match this with an evolution in distributive capacity. Indeed - it has proven it can't be trusted to do so.

It puts the payouts in the hands of fewer and fewer who simply use their gains to gather more and more, er gains (see what I mean, for its own sake?). What is the point of any individual having more than 10 million dollars in the bank? I'm not saying its morally wrong, or reprehensible, but in a world where millions starve you may have thought that a free (frictionless) market would have the capability to correct itself if its purpose is the efficient distribution of resources.

The reality is it isn't - never has been - at least not as far as 'most people' are concerned. In the past we placed more controls on it. And the wealth to poverty gap was a much smaller one. We had progressive taxation. Now the rich pay a lower % of personal income than the poor.  How does that help distribute resource efficiently? Freedom to choose to spend on what you choose is the argument of the defenders of the rights of capital over the rights of people.

So maybe - just as the predicted point at which computers make cleverer computers than themselves and go into a cycle building ever cleverer machines until they are wiser than all human thought, maybe capital has reached or is rapidly approaching its own singularity - the point at which it generates more and more capital in an unstoppable cycle and without a moment's thought for the humans it was once meant to serve.

In the technological singularity the arrival of the super intelligence (best guesses around 25-30 years from now) heralds the end of the Human Era.

"...the new superintelligence would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate." It would make of us what it chose.

Perhaps capital has escaped its moorings and is cycling in a wilder and wilder vortex of self-gratification, sucking up everything in its path, hoovering it into an ever reducing pool of power-wielding pockets, until at last there is nothing left to own, buy or sell, the pile implodes and, big bang style, redistributes its content thinly and more evenly across the world's markets...

What can save us from the Singularity of Capital. Perhaps a return to the basic trust on which capital was built in the first place - the promises it made (on its bank notes being backed by real values), genuine trust?

Perhaps by winding back and taking a different turn. I'm thinking how Co-operatives emerged to defend against the early excesses of capital against the man in the street.

Perhaps by understanding that aggregation of wealth beyond need has a cost for the rest of the world we inhabit.

I'd like to think the revolution of the web still has the power to bring to fruition a world in which we are valued as much for what we share as for what we accrue.

I just hope that world can find its feet before Capital reaches its singularity.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Immigration is not your enemy - bad handling of the impact is

I rarely comment on global politics on this blog - but the UK's vote to leave the European Union - marginal though it may be - prompts me to try to rebalance how the mainstream media is characterizing this event.
TV and press reporting is consistently telling us that the key reason behind the Brexit vote were concerns about immigration.
The concerns about immigration that people had were NOT about immigration itself, but about the impact of it on their lives. These are different and distinct things over which there are separate controls and separate controllers.
Freedom of Movement does mean people can come to the UK to work. In good times the net flow will be inbound. All these people arrive, work - and pay taxes.
The local government - in our case the UK - then decides how to spend that cash.
The decisions our government has made in how to deal with the impact of immigration are pretty much (barring a few language issues) exactly those they would have to deal with if we had a zero immigration policy but the native population boomed. New schools, additional hospital beds, ensuring there are job opportunities for all, infrastructure is kept up to pace..
. Freedom of movement means more people can come to help service those who are already here, if you have shortages in, say, science and maths teachers...
The Remain campaign was led by a PM and Chancellor who were themselves responsible for the inadequate response to the impact of a growing population. That was not a reality they could dare to confront in the campaign. But it's one Labour should of.
But from now on in it's essential that the opposition is heard - that immigration (and freedom of movement) is not the enemy - bad handling of the impact is.
Those responsible sit on local councils (having much to do with resourcing on the ground) and central government (having everything to do with providing enough for local councils to do something positive with).
We've punished the wrong institution for entirely the wrong reason.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Knock knock - who's there? Your customer experience

John Lewis is no longer the exemplar in UK customer service. Amazon has stolen its place at the top of the list. It is precisely JL's inability to replicate its in store customer experience online which is costing it so dear.

See the top 50 here

In store they can control. Online, they lose control of the last few yards - the delivery. Tesco, it seems, has understood this - investing in training for its delivery van folk. They seem on the whole a cheery bunch (at least where I live), happy to be doing their job and representing the brand with real concern. They have understood where the human touch of brand interaction actually happens in an online transaction - on the doorstep.

Compare and contrast to a John Lewis delivery. Some great - some not. None controlled by the brand. The click and collect system seem to melt down at Christmas (a camera I went to pick up in store never arrived. Hours spent on the phone resulted in it finally being delivered to me at home. That came with a promise of a £20 goodwill refund. Checked my credit card statement only today (nearly a month later) and the refund never was made. Another phone call today should have remedied that - fingers crossed).

Some fragile deliveries have been slung over garden gates.

JL aren't alone in getting the less-the-perfect service from the delivery outfits they employ. But given the very high value they place on service they have to ask themselves if the gap in control of the customer experience they have opened up is too great.

Consistent customer experience has to drive through the entire journey. The last touch-point you can afford to scrimp on is the one where the customer physically interacts with the brand. Often, and increasingly, that's the delivery person.

Is Amazon perfect? No but more of its deliveries go right than anyone else's I try - and that is my experience of the brand and therefore the one I share with my peers.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The 10 Principles of Open Business - in Chinese

I'm pleased to say the rights to publish The 10 Principles of Open Business in simplified Chinese have been sold to China Renmin University Press.
I'm really looking forward to seeing how it looks and delighted that the message is being shared with the world's most populous and fastest-growing nation.
I'm fascinated to see the results of that...

Monday, January 11, 2016

He told us not to blow it

David Bowie taught a generation is was great to think different.
He was as much a  platform for innovation and creativity as Apple ever will be.
Yes I have been a lifelong fan, Ive seen him play arenas, festivals, Cambridge Corn Exchange and, on one memorable occasion in the tiny below stairs nightclub of a London hotel as he warmed up for the Earthling tour.
I published a fanzine dedicated to the man called Hunky Dory. It sold in its niche around the world. Don't know what a Fanzine is? It's what we used to do before blogging.
So it's easy to conclude I'm biased. I'm going over the top because he who fell to Earth is now raised up among the stars.
But I'm serious about the Apple comparison. For my money two men impacted our culture more than any others in the late 20th Century and early 21st - Steve Jobs with his hard and software and David Bowie - with his permission.
He gave us the permission to be different, to challenge the normal, to seek something extraordinary - in ourselves and in each other.
As news of his death starts to sink in, I'm finding the best way to cope is to remember what he gave us - and to try to use it everyday.
Look out your windows - and don't forget to sparkle.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?