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Can You Tweet @JeffBezos?

Friday, September 1st, 2017

As most of you know, in June, Jeff Bezos turned to Twitter for philanthropy ideas and received nearly 47,000 responses.

The story got more interesting after Unanimous AI got interested.

Unanimous AI is an artificial intelligence platform that claims to make super-intelligent decisions based on the wisdom of the crowd, but not in small numbers.

Apparently, crunching big numbers can provide some amazing results.

When the company has held these swarms, the group has correctly predicted the winners of the 2015 Oscars, the first four horses of the 2016 Kentucky Derby in 2016, and the eight teams that would make it to the 2016 MLB playoffs, including the Chicago Cubs’ victory.

You have to admit those results are pretty impressive (especially the Cubs’ victory).
Long story short, after crunching the data access to clean water was the “winner.”

Two things have happened since then — one you couldn’t help noticing and the other more esoteric.

  • Hurricane Harvey brought the issue of clean water front and center in most people’s minds; Harvey changed the focus from “somewhere else” to “home.”
  • A product called the OffGridBox.

Pre Harvey, OffGridBox estimated 720,000 US families needed the box.

Post Harvey, the need is in the millions — and bottled water won’t cut it, even ignoring the environmental effects of all that plastic.

To date, only 28 OffGridBoxs have been installed.

But those 28 units have impacted 12,100 people!

The basic unit costs a reasonable $15,000.

Certainly Bezos and his network have the chops to help the business scale quickly, which should bring the cost down much further.

Now I need help from you, my readers.

As you all know I’m no social media maven, so I’m asking those of you who are to tweet @JeffBezos the link to OffGridBox.

I honestly don’t care if he sees my post; the important thing is for him to see OffGridBox.

Harvey left unbelievable devastation in its wake.

Irma and (possibly) another storm may not be far behind.

Ducks in a Row: Handwriting Enhances Creativity

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pazzani/15583603389/

Yesterday’s post focused on the importance of good writing when in a professional setting.

Pure coincidence, but an article today in the International Business Times talks about the negative effect of using smiley faces in business emails. (Emphasis mine.)

According to the study, while smiling during face-to-face communication was perceived as warm and indicated more competence with regards to the first impressions created, a text-based representation of a smile in computer-mediated communication did not have the same effect.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” said Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.

Definitely something to share with your team.

What else can writing do?

Free up your creativity.

But only if you put down the keyboard and pick up a pen or pencil.

Anyone can benefit from penmanship’s cognitive benefits, whether you’re taking notes at a meeting or just trying to figure out what you think.

Put another way, writing by hand engages your brain, while keyboarding does not.

Brain scans during the two activities also show that forming words by hand as opposed to on a keyboard leads to increased brain activity (pdf). Scientific studies of children and adults show that wielding a pen when taking notes, rather than typing, is associated with improved long-term information retention, better thought organization, and increased ability to generate ideas.

Writing by hand forces you to turn off distractions, whether smartphone, computer, or music.

Writing by hand forces you to focus.

Writing by hand forces you to really listen; it makes you process what is being said and be more selective in what you record as opposed to running on autopilot.

If you never learned to write by hand, or have forgotten how, there are classes.

And if you don’t believe it works, try it.

You may find yourself very much surprised.

Image credit: Mike’s Birds

If The Shoe Fits: Tech R People

Friday, August 18th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe top stories currently engaging the tech world and spilling over to the real world are the Google memo and Uber.

A major underlying point of the memo is how unnecessary soft skills, such as empathy are in tech, which has been soundly refuted.  

Tech is an umbrella term embraced by a wide range of industries; hence there is fintech, medtech, legaltech, etc.

The inclusion of the word indicates that companies within that industry, frequently startups, are revamping/revolutionizing the business using various kinds of technology.

But none of it happens in a vacuum.

No matter how large or small or how disruptive — from Uber to a solitary founder — they are still part of a larger community.

Consider Uber.

It’s ideal because it is a perfect microcosm of a disruptive startup, with the machinations, interactions and effects on its industry and society in general, since it includes all the elements — positive and negative.

Founders take note.

Uber’s storyline hasn’t moved in a straight line, nor will it in the future, because it involves people.

Companies are people.

Societies are people.

People are messy.

Technology is not an end in itself, but a means to many ends.

One way or another, all those ends are people.

Successfully navigating people requires empathy (keyword: successfully).

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: You And Your Market

Friday, July 28th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYou could be a

  • charismatic, visionary leader;
  • talented manager;
  • brilliant developer;
  • fine storyteller; and
  • able to raise multiple, large investment rounds.

You could still fail.

Why?

For the same reason nearly half of startups fail.

42% of startups fail because of no market need according to CB Insights.

Peter Drucker says it best.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Another Silicon Valley Myth

Friday, July 21st, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you believe that Silicon Valley is the best (only?) place to start a company? That there is some almost magical ingredient that isn’t duplicated anywhere else?

Many people do and more did back in 2010.

Demis Hassabis, co-founder of high-flying DeepMind didn’t believe the myth.

“I was born in London and I’m a proud born and bred Londoner. I obviously visited Silicon Valley and knew people out there and also I’d been to MIT and Harvard and seen the East Coast. There is this view over there that these kind of deep technology companies can only be created in Silicon Valley. Certainly back in 2010 that was definitely the prevailing view. I felt that that just wasn’t true.”

Investor Peter Thiel was one of the true believers.

“At that time he’d never invested outside of the US, maybe not even outside of the West Coast. He felt the power of Silicon Valley was sort of mythical, that you couldn’t create a successful big technology company anywhere else. Eventually we convinced him that there were good reasons to be in London.”

Hassabis convinced Thiel to invest; Google acquired it for $400 million, and DeepMind is still making AI history.

One of the major reasons Hassabis wanted to stay in London was the availability of incredible talent.

“One of the things was I thought it [staying in London] was going to be a competitive advantage in terms of talent acquisition,” said Hassabis. He went on to claim that there weren’t that many intellectually stimulating jobs for physics PhDs out of Cambridge at the time that didn’t want to work for a hedge fund in the city.

Unlike Silicon Valley which, in addition to its normal talent shortage, suffers a severe talent crunch in whatever tech is hottest.

Silicon Valley may be a great place to start a company if you are connected, but for the majority who aren’t there are plenty of locations that are just as good, if not better.

Of course, that depends on whether your goal is to found a company valued for funds raised, which is best done in Silicon Valley, or to found a company that is valued on actual revenue, which can be done anywhere.

In fact, for the latter, anywhere could even be preferable to Silicon Valley.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Educating For The Future

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

St. John’s College

Yesterday we revisited Does Education = Thinking?; today is a look at what education actually needs to do to accomplish that.

Education focuses on developing and boosting inherent smarts for career purposes, but the definition of smarts is radically changing.

“The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning.” –Ed Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business and co-author of Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age,

The new smart will include a high degree of empathy — not a common trait in highly educated men.

A growing real-world demand for workers with empathy and a talent for making other people feel at ease requires a serious shift in perspective. (…) SEL programmes in the US explicitly teach students strategies for developing empathy, managing their own emotions and working with others.

“The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.” –Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf schools are private (not cheap) and based on Steiner’s ideas. The schools have no tech — no computers, no iPads, no iPhones. There’s one in San Francisco and 75% of its student body are the children of tech executives.

Three of my sister’s grand kids attended the Waldorf in Denver; according to my sister, “Waldorf kids are usually ahead of other kids when they reach regular school.  It’s a very impressive regimen they follow.”

There is no argument that education is critical, but is education about learning specifics that fit kids for jobs today or should it be more?

Shouldn’t it, in fact, fit them for the yet-to-be imagined careers of tomorrow.

Put another way, AI can be taught to code, taking programmer jobs in another kind of outsourcing, but, on its own, AI can’t conceptualize what to code.

Just as importantly, or perhaps even more so, is the need for education to offset helicopter parents, who have followed their kids from college to the workplace. From the comments…

There are many young millennials employed where I work. Many are unable to navigate the most basic work interactions and have no idea about professional or workplace etiquette. (…) These young folks typically have a very difficult time when faced with any conflict because they have never had to think for themselves or handle difficult life situations by themselves.

What does it take to educate kids to think for themselves in spite of over-involved parents and the world they live in? What is needed to live and work successfully in 2030 and beyond?

A recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,408 technology and education professionals suggested that the most valuable skills in the future will be those that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. In short, people need to learn how to learn, because the only hedge against a fast-changing world is the ability to think, adapt and collaborate well.

Is that the secret sauce that makes the Ivies so prestigious and expensive? Not really.

Ever heard of St John’s College?

Like Waldorf, St John’s specializes in learning how to learn and has done so since 1696.

St. John’s offers only the Program; it’s prix fixe is a higher education world of a la carte. Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors. (…)

This curriculum is carefully designed not only to build knowledge, but also to understand how knowledge is ultimately created; it is teaching students how to learn. In this respect, St. John’s students de facto major in epistemology. And for those of us who never studied Ancient Greek (a St. John’s requirement for two years), epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge, or the investigation of what distinguishes substantiated and supportable belief from mere opinion.

These are the skills that abound in true leaders, but are feared and despised by pundits, ideologues, despots. politicians, command and control bosses, and others too numerous to list.

Image credit: Preservation Maryland

A Dearth Of Humanity

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

It’s been well-documented that human touch is crucial for babies and I’m willing to bet that it’s just as crucial for humans of all ages.

Which makes this one of the most demoralizing promotional videos I’ve seen.

This technology isn’t changing the world for the better — it’s making things worse.

Videocredit: info vinclu

Support Ocean Guardian Robot On Kickstarter

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Can you spare a few Starbucks visits to help

  • save Atlantic reefs and fish;
  • assure yourself a gourmet dining treat;
  • create a new online sport;
  • all of the above?

Easy to do.

Just donate to this Kickstarter campaign by June 3.

The problem is the unchecked proliferation of lionfish in the Atlantic; they are voracious eaters, have no local predators and females can spawn 2 million eggs a year.

Colin Angle, executive chairman of iRobot, a consumer robot company that builds and designs robots, and founder Robots In Service of the Environment (RSE), a nonprofit organization set up to protect the oceans, built a machine named the Guardian specifically designed to hunt and capture lionfish.

He also wants to turn lionfish hunting into an online sport.

“With advances in wireless technology, we can actually have an app where people pay to go hunt lionfish and capture the fish by remotely operating the robot,” he said, adding that, if robots can catch lionfish, a new market in which chefs can turn an environmental hazard into gourmet cuisine might emerge.

I’m not a gamer, but I’d play this one frequently!

So click to donate; think what a difference donating just the value of a week’s worth of Starbucks visits — or more — will make.

Video via BI

If The Shoe Fits: Tech And Responsibility

Friday, May 12th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAlthough I rarely get comments, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on this subject.

KG sent a press release he thought would interest me; it should interest you, too.

The Montreal-based artificial intelligence startup Lyrebird today unveils its voice imitation algorithm.
With this innovation, Lyrebird is going a step further in the development of AI applications by offering to companies and developers new speech synthesis solutions. Users will be able to generate entire dialogs with the voice of their choice or design from scratch completely new and unique voices tailored for their needs.

First, a quick story.

Years ago a friend got in trouble when someone spoofed his email, catfished him and made a bomb threat to a local school.  Fortunately, he was able to prove it wasn’t him.

It turned out that it was a kid who was mad at his teacher.

People are catfished all the time. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes, as with my friend, potential repercussions can be very serious.

Nobody likes being catfished, but think of the damage that could be done using Lyrebird’s algorithm.

How could you explain a threatening or obscene phone call in your voice?

Lyrebird talks about benign uses, such as “personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios“ and shows off audio examples, including Donald Trump.

Now think what the outcome could be from a highly inflammatory call to Kim Jong-un mimicking Trump’s voice.

Tech people talk all the time about how they are “changing the world” and making it better, but they seem far more focused on enhancing their personal brand and making money, while turning a blind eye to any potential negative effects.

Are they truly amoral?

Or do they even owe humanity at least some consideration of the possible negatives?

What am I missing?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

Friday, April 21st, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have some great links for you today.

Yes, I realize I’m preaching to the choir and that those who really need to see this won’t.

Unless, of course, you forward it to where it’s most needed.

I’m sure you are tired of my griping (ranting?) about the bro culture, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that bro culture dates back to ancient Greece, although knowing doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Philosophers are the original, archetypal “brilliant jerks.” And hundreds of years have done little to change that.

It’s not surprising how many brilliant jerks have an “I’m the next Steve Jobs” mentality, which is rarely warrantedtrue genius is all around us, including the urban ghettos — and gravitate to startups.

So what does a life of true brilliance, genius, if you prefer, look like?

It looks like Robert W. Taylor  (died 4/2017) who, in 1968 said, “In a few years,” he wrote, “men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” and then proceeded to make sure it happened.

Even more so, it looks like John Goodenough.

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

Stupid professor, along with as all those who believe that creativity is an act reserved for the young.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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