Friday, May 25, 2018

Actions speak louder than faux rationality

Photo by taha ajmi on Unsplash
When trying to understand human behaviour our biggest mistake is to seek the rational in what we think or what we believe. 

"Rationality resides in what you do" - Nassim  Nicholas Taleb.

If you ask people why they do something, or even ask them to accurately describe what they do, the answers are clouded by self-justification and self-protection - obscuring the actual. They will tell you what they think they do (or even what they think you want to hear). They will tell you what they believe is accurate.

Observing what they do often reveals significant differences between their belief and the real.

This has obvious and applicable benefit in reducing the risk in innovation. Respond not to what people say they do or think they do, but what they actually do. A-B testing, Design Thinking and Lean Start-up methodologies are all rooted in this.

The faux rationality of conclusions drawn based on our constructs of behaviour and abstractions there-on (replete with our own cognitive biases) is where we reintroduce risk. When this doesn't fail we should far less seek to repeat - than count ourselves lucky. No-one stays lucky forever.

Mathematics does not allow for constructs or abstraction. It demands precisely defined objects and relations. Without which - no algorithm can function.

Nvidia's research into teaching robots to perform tasks by having them observe humans illustrates again how the pursuit of AI is revealing to us what is really rational about people.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Predicting how long your job will last

If you want to predict the future, look at what has stood the test of time.

When we talk about the future of work - naturally there are going to be new roles. There may be less or different tasks, the latter more likely.

But what you can bank on is that the roles that were here 100 years ago are far more likely to be here in another 100 years than those roles that have been with us for just a few short years.

That's not to say none of the new ones will stand the test of time, but a far higher percentage of the old ones will.

The longer anything lasts - the longer it is likely to continue to last. This is one of the lessons we can draw from Antifragility and other work by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He would say it is a lesson we can learn from the wisdom of our grandparents.

Will a teacher's job exist in 100 years time? 90% yes. Will a social media strategists? 90% no.

We are often dazzled by the new and make projections into the future on very shallow data. This fails. As AI is proving all over again.

To create value with AI the proposition needs to be reframed in terms of prediction. But unless the correct weighting of what has come before is built into the programming, researchers find they hit the problem they call 'catastrophic forgetting'. The solution is to build in virtual memories (eg Deep Mind's Differential Neural Computer).

For AI to succeed it has to factor for what you and I instinctively know - the longer something has lasted, the longer it will succeed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The professional touch: And other ways to kill your effectiveness

What does being professional mean in a digital world?
Once it was 'professional' to complete and perfect products to the nth degree before releasing them from secrecy. Now it is the norm to release Betas and Alphas to learn from doing, to measure response, to shape to adoption and behaviour.
In the same way professional writing, publications, presentations and thought leadership once served to provide a clear and final view. This was how it was. No argument expected and few tolerated.
Blogging, and other social media changed that - a space was created where ideas were kept alive rather than shot dead to be stuffed and placed on the wall as some kind of trophy.
The digital world requires a different kind of 'professionalism' - one which is less about the refinement of the 'professional touch' and more about using your skills to engage, learn and iterate.
This is a world in which a messy kitchen is more valuable than a neat and tidy professional one. Clay Shirky came up with the analogy in an interview I conducted with him 10 years ago. He argued that people felt less comfortable about joining in if they entered a kitchen in which nothing was out of place. If there was a little bit of mess, we were more likely to pick up a utensil and help out.
There's evidence from the world of dodgy fonts, too. While the professional approach is to use clear fonts with limited amounts of variation in size, emphasis or hue, what actually works is somewhat different.
Studies at Princeton discovered hard to read - or what designers call 'ugly' fonts deliver greater retention of what has been read. If you want to land the message make it ugly, messy and... naturally add some emotion.
Professional detachment is of low value in this last case. Creating memories does not simply rely on the world we experience externally. It is as much about our feelings at the time of experiencing. Let the excitement shine out.

Maya Angelou — 'At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.'
If we accept that we can scale our effectiveness as professionals when we gain engagement, and in so doing can better land an idea, then what passes for professional communication demands to be reappraised.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Avoiding the holes in your future

"Planning involves conjectures about the future and hypothetical cases. They are so busy with actual cases that they are reluctant to take on theoretical ones."

Henry Kissinger was talking about US Government policy makers when he wrote the above - in his doctoral thesis. The insight is equally valid for businesses today.

When 'planning' what is often conducted is an exercise in reactive tactic making - trying to solve the problems facing you right now, usually in the order they appear to be impacting. It is planning in the rear-view mirror.

The result is a drag on future capability, with resource allocation skewed toward problems that have already happened versus preparation to take advantage of emerging opportunity.

Kissinger advises you must create the time to lift your eyes and look as far ahead as you can see.

Words like 'hypothetical' and 'theoretical' are too often dismissed in the daily challenge of dealing with what's right in front of you (by which we usually mean, what is immediately behind us).

So for those who are still more concerned about their to-do list (let's call it our 'should've already done list'), here's a real-world example from the world of advanced motorcycle riding: The further ahead you look, the faster you can go.

Looking further ahead when riding allows you to:

a) Identify risks, and plan to deal with them
b) Get a long view of the road ahead and plan your best position not just for the first bend you can see, but for a series of twists and turns.

The opposite leads to 'target fixation'. This is a known phenomena beyond motorcycling.

From Wikipedia: Target fixation is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object (be it a target or hazard) that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object.

Simply: You End Up Going Where You Look.

If you focus too much on the pothole in front of you, you are more likely to end up riding straight into it.

Look away from the danger and towards your opportunities and you are better able to make a plan to avoid the hole in your future.

That's planning.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What if Facebook is doing us the biggest favour of all?

What if Facebook's scooping up of our personal data is doing us a huge favour?
How can that be? Let's imagine, and think, really big for a moment.

Humans as corporeal beings may be facing an extinction event. We are destroying our eco-system at an alarming rate, making large tracts of land uninhabitable. Sperm count has fallen in developed countries by 50% in four decades. If the rates of decline continue we'll be hitting 'The Handmaid's Tale' scenarios before we run out of Earth to live on.

There are those that argue (Life3.0) that far from dieing out, we may be about to evolve. That evolution would see us abandon our bodies and attain consciousness as digital beings.

To do so would free us from the challenges of keeping our bodies in a decent state - alive for example, and enable us to explore the universe, giving meaning to the vast tracts of it that currently have none (because there is no consciousness out there to experience it).

With me so far? Ok. So how does that mean Facebook is doing us a favour?

AI needs a lot of data to start learning and doing things humans do. It will need even more to recreate conscious versions of ourselves to live in infinity as zeros and ones.

What if this is Facebook, Google, Baidu, Yandex, Amazon's real mission - even if they don't realise it themselves? They are gathering and storing the data - to enable our evolution-as-upload as part of (rather than subject to) The Singularity.

Someone has to do it. If Facebook wants to make use of my data in the meantime to personalise an ad or two - I think that's a very reasonable exchange.

Happy Ishter!

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?