Jonathan MacDonald

Failure – the gateway drug of success

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One of my crowning moments of glory in business was when I trusted the wrong person and ended up penniless with two kids and an extraordinarily angry wife. I say that’s one of my crowning moments as it played a huge part in shaping the rest of my career. I remember a range of feelings I had at the time, primarily negative. Of all the emotions running through me, the one that stands out upon reflection was the feeling that “I can’t get through this”. This is such a powerful thing to say to oneself as it pretty much guarantees that yes, you’re right, you can’t.

I’ve found the word “can’t” is a nightmare to deal with in general. When we look at what we can or can’t do, the truth is there are few things we can’t do and a majority of things we could possibly do if we altered some factors at play – mainly in terms of mindset. If or when we fail at something, it is the way we think that enables that moment to be a gateway to better things…but more commonly we create a negative barrier and don’t allow success to escalate. Failure itself isn’t the trigger, it’s how we respond to failure that does it. Every time.

In my recent book Powered By Change (, which has miraculously landed in the Sunday Times Bestseller list recently, I look at the power of our thinking about change in some detail and the conclusion is; we have an ongoing choice as to how we respond to events, including our own opinion that we simply can’t get through this, or can’t be a success in general. In the past, I’ve also written about “Business Poisons” within which the word “can’t” is a celebrity in its own right. Allow me to draw on those resources for you and look a bit deeper.

The fact is, we can’t breathe underwater, unaided. We can’t fly either. In fact, there are a number of things we simply cannot do. However, I suspect that most of our usage of the word ‘can’t’ isn’t actually related to things we literally cannot do. This presents the inaccurate use of the word can’t as a poison, a misconception based on incorrect reasoning. The main problem is that when we say, “Oh I can’t do that”, the thing we are speaking about gets compartmentalised in our brain, adjacent to being able to breathe underwater, unaided. Happy bedfellows, languishing in the vortex of the un-doable. Our mental filing system then requires extraordinary effort to switch folders from ‘things I can’t do’ to ‘things I possibly can do’, which is why, after being told by someone that they can’t do something, the work is so tremendously difficult in changing their opinion.

Our attachment to failure equalling an inability is one that has the most extreme effect on progress, development and innovation. Stuff that makes people and organisations grow. However, “can’t” is built into our language so deeply that we say it without realising and then the poisonous gremlin takes over. It sits waiting for you to say things like “I can’t” or “We can’t”, then simply opens a mental drawer and plops the thing that you are talking about into it. Job done. It takes a nanosecond to do, and sometimes a lifetime to undo, if at all. If you’re lucky, the folder system you have in your head has weak locks, meaning it’s easier to re-file. But remember, weak locks are bad at keeping things in or out of anywhere, so you may be more susceptible to self-doubt.

In my opening story of being totally and utterly screwed over in business, losing pretty much everything in the process, I was in the mindset of, “I can’t fix this. I can’t make things better.” But, over an arduous five-year period, I realised that I could. And I did. So how can one move from a can’t to a can? Here’s a quick and dirty checklist to enable the gateway to success that failure allows.

  1. You need to define exactly what the thing is that you may or may not be able to do. Define it in exact terms. For me it was, on a human level, to be able to house, feed and support my family whilst not losing my mind in anxiety, stress and/or depression in the process. On a business level, it was to create an even better organisation than I had ever done before. On a moralistic level, it was to enable others to also reach their own potential.
  2. Forget the tactics, forget the ways and means – first address a cold, hard question: “Is it humanly possible to do this thing?”. If the answer is no, your challenge changes from one of struggle to one of acceptance and adaptation. If the answer is yes, your journey begins, but it may be a 2000 or 20,000-day journey.
  3. Now you’ve established what the thing is and whether it is possible, it’s now time to map out the separate steps you would need to take so you can start your journey. These steps should be achievable but you may find there are several sub-steps or dependencies. Then, you just have to get busy. If you have a barrier, refresh your answers to the points above. Remember, provided what you are trying to achieve is literally possible, it is down to you how successful you are.

For me, the above process dug me out of a very dark hole and into what could arguably be termed as success in business and life. Since then, I’ve encountered many more challenges. Even as I’m writing this, I’m facing a theoretically difficult challenge involving someone in my business environment. I could (as the other person would so desperately wish), struggle and collapse – however I’m far from reacting in that way.

My choice of response is based on the possible. The possibility of justice, the possibility of progress and the possibility of what is right.

Life is too short to eliminate the possible.

The Paradox Of Exploitation Versus Exploration

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Plato wrote about a paradox that some call “Meno’s Problem” in which Socrates and Meno are engaged in a conversation about the nature of virtue. Meno offers a series of suggestions, each of which Socrates shows to be inadequate. Socrates says he doesn’t actually know what virtue is. How then, asks Meno, would you recognise it, if you ever encounter it? How would you see that a certain answer to the question “What is virtue?” is correct unless you already knew the correct answer? Socrates’suggests that basic elements of knowledge, enough to recognise a correct answer, can be “recollected” from a previous life, given the right kind of encouragement – and Recollection Theory was born.

Unfortunately, as very few philosophers believe in reincarnation, the theory died (never to return), yet Socrates’ assertion that knowledge is latent in each individual is now widely (though not universally) accepted, at least for some kinds of knowledge. Even Noam Chomsky in the 1950s said, famously, that the basic elements of the grammars of all human languages are innate, ultimately a genetic endowment reflecting the cognitive evolution of the human species.

Shifting from life in general into the corporate world, could it be the case that businesses who struggle to innovate and pro-actively grow, actually have the innate capability to do so; they just don’t have the right kind of encouragement? I believe so. However, they face a paradox. On one hand they should be concentrating on exploiting the existing assets, yet on the other hand they need to be exploring the horizon of opportunities. I call this the Paradox Of Exploitation Versus Exploration.

In my latest book, Powered By Change, I tackle this paradox in detail. Here I’ll use a few of the concepts to give you a general overview.

Many businesses are like an oil tanker. They move slowly and make the most of all the existing assets and resources that are already in place. Organisations have a requirement to make what they normally make, sell what they normally sell, but yet at the same time need to be thinking in a more agile and change-driven way. These companies need to simultaneously be exploring new ideas and territories in a faster way, just like launching a speedboat.

Paradoxes are different from problems. A problem has a solution or an answer, whereas a paradox can’t be solved in a binary way, so therefore needs balance. If this tension between exploitation and exploration were a problem, then you could say something like: “Sink the oil tanker!” Yet what you might then end up with is a potentially unprofitable speedboat with none of the experience and benefit that the oil tanker brings. Another answer could be: “Drown the speedboat!”, but then you find yourself in a prime position just waiting to be disrupted by the perpetual winds of change, while comfortable on your comfortable tanker—which in reality is exactly the same as building a wall to resist change. Instead what we have here is a paradox that requires balance. We need to balance these two requirements and find the most effective way to exploit what we already have and do, while exploring the new.

There are very few companies that have done this really well. One great example of a business that has created an amazing balance of exploitation and exploration is W. L. Gore and Associates. This Delaware company, best known for its invention of the Gore-Tex waterproof breathable fabric membrane used in all-weather clothing, is a sizeable organisation, but somehow it balances the paradox so well that it launches frequent speedboats while the oil tanker chugs along. It uses little innovation teams that act fast, exploring new innovations and approaches. The teams achieve this by establishing a number of enabling structures. The first one is that information-sharing and peer-review are the norm. There’s no hierarchical review; the main review is from your colleagues. Also, there’s no protectionism of information, so everybody shares all information at once. There’s no mention of: “Well you’re not going to see what I’m working on because you’ll take the credit for it,” which I’m sure is an attitude we’ve all seen in many companies.

It’s all about a strong focus on getting the environment right. The teams spend a lot of time in the best physical spaces that allow their staff to work together. They have team coaches rather than bosses. These coaches are people who have experienced more, not chosen because they’re more senior, or they earn more money; they’ve just experienced more about the particular problem they are trying to solve. This organisation has the belief that giving people the tools and the knowledge will bring out their best. Everyone is given the best tools to do the job. They trust people to do the right thing, and the culture creates the opportunity for everyone to make a meaningful contribution.

I go far deeper into this case study in Powered By Change, but the conclusion is that Gore is a great example of balancing the paradox of exploitation versus exploration.

For those struggling to achieve such lofty heights as Gore, I have two pieces of advice that I would strongly encourage you to put into place as soon as humanly possible so that you can begin to balance this paradox yourself.

First, it is absolutely vital to have senior stakeholder buy-in, because if you’re going to build a speedboat, you need to have a senior stakeholder in the oil tanker who can campaign for not sinking the speedboat. Otherwise, the speedboat always gets run over and sunk. This happens all the time when the people in charge of the oil tanker don’t believe in, or buy into, the idea of the speedboat.

Second, you need financial redesign. You need to decouple the profit-and-loss sheet used for the oil tanker’s business as usual, from the profit-and-loss sheet for the new, innovative approaches of the speedboat. If you don’t unlink these sheets, the new business exploration looks too costly and expensive, and the existing business looks as if it’s losing focus due to the investment in these new experiments. Remember, you can’t actually do the financial redesign unless you have senior stakeholder buy-in. Ultimately then, these two pieces of advice are in strict order.

In summary, and to tip my hat again to Chomsky, I genuinely believe that the plurality of oil tankers and speedboats is something innate within business knowledge. It is up to every single one of us in business to remind leaders that one of their primary responsibilities is to continue the exploration even (and most importantly) when the share price is growing out of the exploitation endeavours. Balancing the paradox is the only way of leveraging the vast opportunities on the horizon.

On The Illusion Of Change

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The Eleatics were an interesting bunch. They were a pre-Socratic school of philosophy founded by a guy called Parmenides in the early fifth century BC in the ancient town of Elea. They debated many things, some of which would blow your mind in terms of metaphysical concepts. One of the most mind-bending conclusions they arrived at was that change was impossible and reality was one and unchanging. Their view was that any form of movement was nothing but an illusion. This may seem like a pretty crazy viewpoint, but it isn’t hard to find a business executive that acts as such.

The very first chapter of my new book Powered By Change is entitled “The Reality of Perpetual Change”. The reason I titled it as such is that I still, to this day, find Eleatics in every corner of the business world. I see leaders who announce grand plans about change to teams of followers, eagerly imagining a brighter future, but eventually realising that the leader was only announcing plans rather than planning to execute anything different. I see proud CEOs showing graphs of static growth, claiming that this is somehow proof that competition isn’t having an effect, meanwhile, the competitive landscape repositions itself and the company falls to pieces. I’ve been in meetings where new ideas have been shot down because the requirement to change is seen as “too hard”. One of the most senior execs of one of the largest brands in the world literally said to me “OK, I know what we should be doing, but let’s concentrate on what I could get voted through the board.” This exec wasn’t accepting change, this exec was wanting nothing to change, other than board approval – even if it meant presenting something that denied any change was needed. Utter madness, and utterly common.

This is why the first chapter is fairly robust in terms of stating facts and offering the reader a stark choice as to whether to respond positively or negatively to change. Powered By Change isn’t just a book title, it’s an option.

My premise is simple when discussing the realities of change:

  1. A greater degree of change is on the way than has occurred in the past.
  2. The rate of ongoing change is going to be a lot faster than we have previously experienced.
  3. And history shows that companies are poor at coping with and responding effectively to change.

Deeper in the chapter I release some eye-wateringly ‘anti-Eleatic’ stats provided by AEI research. I mention the fact that 88% of the companies that were on the Fortune 500 list of the world’s largest corporations in 1965 are not on that list today. I then follow that with an observation that over an even shorter sample period of time, corporate resilience is not much better, with 74% of the Fortune 100 list having disappeared since 1980. But even with hundreds of additional statistics and dozens upon dozens of real-life case studies, why is change still seen as something that a) doesn’t exist, b) won’t impact that person or company or c) will either disappear or gradually lessen?

I think it isn’t about change itself, I think it’s about the mindset about change. The word is emotive isn’t it? Maybe you remember dealing with a colleague but the context changed over time? That wasn’t a good feeling. Change = bad. Maybe there was a business decision you made but then the market shifted, leaving you with egg on your face. Change = bad. Outside of business, maybe you packed for a sunny trip abroad only to find it’s a sub-zero nightmare. Change = bad. To be honest, it’s sometimes hard to get a result where ‘Change = good’.

If we look closer though, every event in your business and personal life that has added to your growth, was because something changed. Every time a successful product launch happened, change took place that glued customers to your P&L. So, it would seem there is evidence that change can be positive.

This is why I give the choice to be Powered By Change or not. You may feel that change is an illusion or an irrelevance, and that’s OK, it’s your choice. You may alternatively feel that change is the most empowering fuelling mechanism you could ever apply to your business or personal life, and that’s OK too, still your choice. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer…but what there is, are thousands of years of evidence showing the impact of not accepting or not using change, versus accepting and growing from change.

It is this epistemology, this knowledge, that secures my belief that today is the slowest pace of change we’ll ever experience – and how we respond to it, is the single most important factor of success on earth. Sorry Eleatics.

Dealing with change and why we tend not to

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In my book ‘Powered By Change‘ I reference a fascinating piece of research that was conducted by the Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Advisors. The Association calculated that, out of a cross-section of companies of all shapes and sizes, 52% of businesses go bankrupt primarily because of “internal triggers” — meaning those in-house issues that the management has decided in favour of or against; and tried to execute accordingly. Another 15% go bust due to “external triggers” — those things that happen outside the company that management doesn’t do anything about. 24% of firms sink due to a combination of those internal and external factors that management don’t do anything about, 8% fail because of events beyond their control, and only 1% die simply due to what could only be attributed to pure bad luck.

The conclusions are stark. 91% of the reasons that these companies went out of business is down to the way that people inside an organisation have reacted or failed to respond to the various stimuli that ended up destroying their firms. Looking deeper at cases of failure, there tends to be events that take place that change the landscape, market, internal dynamic, product viability, or something else. Either way, things changed. One level deeper, at the core of the issue, we can observe that the fundamental component in this failure is how people handle things changing.

The findings may be of a business nature, but I’d attest to the data is about humans rather than just humans inside companies. Many of us have heard that today is the slowest pace of change we’ll ever experience. Others have got to grips with the fact that the only thing we can truly predict is that change happens. Nonetheless, evidence shows us that in the face of perpetual change, the majority of people tend to resist it. In contrast, if we were to internally process these concepts in a productive and opportunistic manner, we would be able to maximise the advantage that change brings. This, of course, would require changing the way things are done.

A valid question would be: why? Why is it so hard for us to see change as a positive concept? Why do we resist change even if we could equally decide to be powered by it? The entirety of ‘Powered By Change’ is about this topic, but taking it from a purely human angle, as I deeply investigate in the second chapter called “People”; I explore the various factors and potential solutions. For now, as a snapshot, I’d like to cover a few of the salient points.

My general view is that the benefit of changing has to outweigh the cost of changing, but also, very importantly, the cost of not changing – in other words, the cost of staying the same.

This cost/benefit analysis is something that seems remarkably simple but when it’s applied practically, we often make huge errors of judgement in terms of:

  1. What the benefit of change would/could be.
  2. What the cost of that change would/could be.
  3. What the cost of not changing would/could be.

Errors of judgement in those three areas increase the chances of failure exponentially. Our human biases are so well structured that our answers tend to be as follows:

  1. Not a great deal of benefit, at least not in the short-term where my targets are.
  2. As it’s unknown, probably massive…not least due to the chance of failure.
  3. Relatively low. Everything is pretty much fine right now so it’s best to stick.

As you can see, the likelihood of any positive change being made is exceptionally low – meaning that the likelihood of negative impact is seriously high.

In ‘Powered By Change’ I present numerous toolkits that can address this risk. One I’m fond of is a process that assists people through six stages of uncertainty, resulting in facts that we can know to be true. The six stages are:

  1. Speculations – starting with sheer guess-work without prejudice.
  2. Explorations – choosing some areas to explore, but still without prejudice.
  3. Scenarios – running some potential stories in an imaginary, yet relevant context.
  4. Projections – plotting a few aspirations against the scenarios.
  5. Predictions – placing some targets against the aspirations that have been projected.
  6. Facts – gaining the data points that prove or disprove the predictions.

The ultimate output of this approach is learning. It’s critical that there isn’t an immediate casting of blame if what we thought would happen, didn’t. The vital thing is to gain the learning as fast as possible so that the process can happen again with even more insight. This is where I disagree with the slogan “fail fast, fail often”. I prefer “learn fast, learn often”. This mindset is a change-positive one. A mindset that sees opportunities in the change and chooses to play with what’s possible. A mindset that is truly powered by change.

Stay tuned for my next blog next week that examines why things change, what is the impact and what does it feel like and look like for individuals and businesses. You can unlock additional insights and bonus content by pre-ordering your copy of Powered By Change. When you pre-order on March 15th or 16th, and you will be registered for one of four “Blade” webinars — extra book insights and a deep dive with me in an online interactive Q&A format —  on how to harness perpetual change to enable long-lasting success.


The Poison of Presumed Influence

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Back in 2011, Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote an article in the New York Times entitled “Got Twitter? What’s Your Influence Score?”. Here is the opening text:

“Imagine a world in which we are assigned a number that indicates how influential we are. This number would help determine whether you receive a job, a hotel-room upgrade or free samples at the supermarket. If your influence score is low, you don’t get the promotion, the suite or the complimentary cookies. This is not science fiction. It’s happening to millions of social network users. If you have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account, you are already being judged — or will be soon.”

For those of you in the advertising and marketing industry the above is relatively old news. However, I feel it represents a fundamental poison of modern world business that lives on to this day. This is The Poison Of Presumed Influence.

From an advertising and marketing perspective, there are three types of media. Owned media (e.g. company owned websites), bought media (e.g. search engine terms) and earned media (e.g. external conversations about your brand). Within this triumvirate it is commonly thought that the public value assigned is lowest in owned media and highest in earned media, with bought media in between.

This makes logical sense. After all, conversations that people have can affect the attitudes and behaviours of others, especially when people trust the opinion or advice of the person speaking with them. However, this is very different to how companies often talk at people, hence people tending to prefer personal conversations over propaganda.

Even though the logic may follow that finding those with influence socially are those who are most powerful at spreading brand messages, identifying some online influencers is only a minor part of accessing the power of earned media. The majority part is what you do next. I have observed the common mistakes organisations make are:

1. Treating the influencers like any other consumer and speaking at them rather than with them

2. Offering influencers incentives that are seen as bribes which does more damage than good

3. Doing nothing other than monitoring the influencers, hoping they advocate and don’t turn negative

To properly enter into the world of earned media, an organisation needs to zoom out of the ‘social media’, ‘digital’ and ‘online’ buzz word landscape and address fundamental strategic and organisational paradigm shifts. This includes elements such as assessing the level of porosity your organisation has, accessing and extrapolating the level of ultimate trust in public, creating and implementing engagement protocols, agreeing and testing sign-off processes, authoring and applying crisis management systems, formulating integration into sales conversion, raising staff awareness and infiltrating behaviour mandates, managing the linkage into performance indicators, and so on. This is a brief selection of modern business hygiene factors. There are many more.

My point is, you can start with monitoring and analysis, provided you understand that monitoring and analysis is less than a single percentage of the actual requirement – and even then, as we will see below, it is as far removed from the holy grail as you could possibly imagine. Much of what we’re currently fascinated by in terms of ‘influence’ is ultimately a warm-up act. A sideshow of persistent inaccuracy.

Imagine I publish a public status update that suggests that a particular device is worth buying and someone else gives a similar recommendation at a conference, offline, on stage. Let’s say the same recipient of influence who reads my status update is in the audience at that conference. They see my update and hear a recommendation from someone else at the same time. If they proceed to buy the device, who is credited as the influencer?

In another, simpler scenario, imagine I am amongst several influencers but I was the one who pushed the recipient into conversion. However, the conversion happened offline, totally unconnected with online behaviour or activity.

In the first scenario, I would be the prime influencer as the offline influence at the conference falls outside the remit of online influence. In the second the influence is invisible and the retail strategy may take the credit.

Ask yourself: what would it take for both scenarios to be accurately attributed to the genesis of behavioural change into conversion?

Azeem Azhar, CEO of PeerIndex recognises this, calling it “the Clay Shirky problem,” referring to the writer and theorist who doesn’t use Twitter much. “He’s obviously massively influential,” Mr. Azhar said, “and right now he has a terrible PeerIndex.” Azhar is suggesting this is Clay’s problem and I wonder whether Clay is concerned?

My point is this: if the thing I discuss online, or Clay discusses offline, is converted offline, the only way of tracking influence is to have data sensors on absolutely all physical touch points, linked to absolutely all virtual touch points. This, in addition to CCTV and audio recording devices on every square mile on earth.

Frankly, if those who would like to exploit influence were able to act without regulation and legislation, the ultimate win would be to have sensors inside everybody. Microchips that linked our thought, word and deed. Tracking our every move to place exact accountability on everything. There’s a road map for that. However, there are two significant threats to the effective maturation of this industry:

1. Regulation and legislation may get in the way by limiting what is allowed to be ‘mined’ for various reasons – one of which could be human rights, another could be the terms and conditions inherent to certain platforms

2. People may decide to restrict access to their information and thus dilute the completeness of the surveyed data

Either threat would significantly distort the data but the second threat resonates strongest for me as I personally believe the noise about how all this gorgeous data contains the “black gold of the 21st century”, is fundamentally missing the point that the owners of the goldmines are the general public. Not the companies. The companies would need to petition for the spades, without any pre-existing rights.

By applying this holistic view to today, with every single influence and credibility tool around, if you make several of your online profiles private, you will have low scores and be seen as non-influential. Even if you are influential. The poison lives on.

Many years ago the music industry decided to run a survey to see which guitars were most popular by region in terms of distribution and sales. To be included in the survey each manufacturer had to permissively share their unit sales. One particular manufacturer refused to do so, and that was Fender. The problem was, without Fender in the survey the rest of the data was immediately unrepresentative as Fender had a massive impact on the trend analysis.

I feel the online influence industry is destined to be a partial component in a fuller picture. Currently the buzz is loud enough to skim over the cracks, but take either of the scenarios above and the cracks are poison canyons.

The question then is: What is the maximum level of incompleteness that accuracy can suffer? After all, companies that are seeking to identify influencers surely aren’t willing to discount chunks of real-life influence? Surely they aren’t taking what happens on a handful of channels and assuming that’s anything more than a micro-fraction of the picture?

No, I’d imagine that once the dust settles and the cool, funky technology has become yesterday’s spiky haircut, the proper companies will address this game from an unsiloed strategic place, rather than an online-only viewpoint that tactically assumes what happens digitally is in some way more important or relevant than what happens in total.

Accessing the power of influencers and nurturing armies of fans is mission critical in today’s business environment. However the technologist methodology belies the psychological requirements of modern assessment and engagement. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail – and when you make software, everything can be answered in a programme. Life, however, does not work like that.

There is simply no brand and no system, however cool, that can beat the physiological and sociological realities of how people relate, decide and act. Yes, tools can provide us with some information, but I implore you to see that incompleteness for what it is. Some isn’t necessarily all. Online influence isn’t necessarily all influence. No data gathering equals all actionable insight without addressing points that are seldom related to digital environments alone.

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Super Olympics

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A thought on using human enhancement and augmentation in sport.

Super Olympics is a really simple concept. Basically, competitors can incorporate any type of modification to their bodies, up until the point where over 50% of their human body is un-human. In other words, not made up of their natural selves.

Let’s start with some basic examples:

A swimmer could wear a snorkel so they didn’t have to take breaths
A high jumper could use a pogo stick
A long-distance runner could wear an oxygen tank
But this is just adding stuff on the outside. Let’s widen our perspective:

What if an archer could have a mechanical super-powered eye placed into their head, enabling increased visibility of aspects like wind direction and zoom-in control?
How about a boxer with a robotised super-arm that delivered a knockout punch?
You can’t say it’s not fair. Anything goes.

If the technology was still not as super as one would need, I guess an extension of this would be to breed athletes with webbed feet and elongated arms? Genetic mutations would be all the rage and the vast range of imaginative technological implants would be a wonder to behold… if that’s your ‘thing’.

And I can guess your next question. What about drug enhancement?

Well, I’m not about to condone any illegal drug use, but the more rebellious amongst you may consider a scenario where an athlete could utilise any form of ‘performance enhancer’. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. Lance Armstrong shouldn’t expect a call to be the spokesperson just yet.

I’m just wondering how we can embrace the convergence of humans and technology in a good old-fashioned sporting event?

What other modifications do you see being viable? I have more but I’ve said enough.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Interview with Oleksandr Albul

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In all the busyness of my life, traveling all over the world, one of the most important things I do is to stop and sit quietly. There are many techniques of doing this but ultimately it’s about the control of your breathing. This is a yogic discipline with origins in ancient India, called Prāṇāyāma.

In Sanskrit this is written as राणायाम and is composed from two Sanskrit words: prāṇa meaning life force (the Chinese call it ‘chi’, the Polynesians ‘mana’, the Native Americans ‘orenda’, and the ancient Germans ‘od’), and either yama (to restrain or control the prāṇa, implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results) or the negative form ayāma, meaning to extend or draw out (as in extension of the life force).

When I’m using my Android phone, I use an app called ‘Prana Breath’ (there are iOS apps with similar titles). Prana Breath was developed by a Ukranian Android Developer called Oleksandr Albul.

Prana Breath

I contacted Oleksandr to see if he would be willing to answer a few questions on behalf of the Thought Expansion Network. I was delighted when he said yes! Here’s what he had to say:

1. What inspired you, or motivated you, to do what you do?

When I was at school, at the University, at the job as an employee, people were always telling me what to do. I felt pretty stressed! Now, as I am self-employed, I feel very motivated to do what I always wanted – to create high-quality programmes. And as I do breathing exercises a few years in a row, I decided to make it easier for myself as well as for other practitioners with the Android app I named Prana Breath. I keep being inspired to improve it because of the feedback I get from users, and because of my own daily practice, so I have a big “to implement list”.

2. Do you feel that mindfulness is needed in modern life?

I think mindfulness is one of the most important things for happiness in modern life. I think nearly every human being has the “inner radio” constantly broadcasting in his head. And this mess of random thoughts does not increase our effectiveness, but take away our energy, and does not let us concentrate on what we do or what we truly feel. That’s why there are so many people, lucky people, who have plenty of tasty food, comfortable shelter and interesting communication, but are resentful and unhappy. We just can’t realize stop their own hurricane of thoughts and look around at the beauty of Nature and acknowledge how gifted we are to live.

When it gets too overwhelming, we usually name it as “stress”, and try to get rid of it in the easiest and the most available for the moment way: smoking, drinking, or taking a bubble bath. Some of those ways are healthy, and some are killing, some are regular for us, and some are unwanted. That’s exactly what I like about breathing gymnastics – it’s easy, healthy, and takes a little time to work. And the greatest thing for me – it stops this molesting “inner radio” and gives that feeling of inner peace.

3. What are your greatest hopes for the future of humanity?

My greatest hope for the future of humanity is the education. Education that will allow everyone to realize oneself as the creator of his/her life since the very childhood, and will make a word “responsibility” sound not pestered and annoying, but admired and inspiring. Education that will develop the personality with the taste to creating but not only consuming, with the perception that everything is connected in the world, and together as the one we can do so many incredible things for fun and for thriving of the life!

4. What are your greatest fears about the future of humanity?

The thing that scares me the most about our future is the high-techs taking over the humanity. That would be so tragic if we give up our thinking potential to the physical comfort if we rely on robots to spend more time searching for new dummy amusements. Especially if the new generation is raised with the attitude that it’s alright. This way humans can become nothing more than operating personnel. As I see it, that’s not an extraordinary fear – there are lots of books and films about that.

5. If we could all learn one thing from your experience, what would that one thing be?

If you have an idea that you consider brilliant, if you have a passion for it so you think about it day and night – just do the first step, then second and third! No matter if there are many familiar things at the market or your friends make fun of you – do what you want to do! If you succeed – you will be proud, if you fail – you’ll be experienced.

Thank you again to Oleksandr for giving the time for this, I’m very grateful not only for your contribution but also for Prana Breath that enables some of the silence in my life.

Refuelling at Peace Time

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It seems like every day there is a new example of a marketing campaign that “went wrong”.

At the time of writing this chapter in 2013, the examples included the twitter campaign from McDonald’s restaurant that was ‘hijacked’ by the public who decided that the #MCDStories hashtag could be used for negative opinion rather than positive – thus turning the hashtag into a bashtag.

Elsewhere the Covent Garden Soup Company ran a competition that promised a prize of a £500,000 farm, but from the 200,000 entrants, none had the winning code so the prize wasn’t given away.

You may be surprised to know this didn’t go down terribly well with the entrants – however the lawyers state the competition mechanic complied with regulation. That’s ok then.

These are just two examples of daily stories that we all see in front of us, and are the result of the paradigm shift we are experiencing in the commercial, sociological, technological and communications landscape.

One question I’m often asked is, “If these examples are claimed as having a negative impact, how come people are still (e.g.) queuing at McDonald’s and/or buying Covent Garden soup?”

It’s a fair question. After all, it is commonly thought the ultimate success a company can report is revenue, profit and/or share price. If the revenue, profit and/or share price remains in good shape, what exactly is the problem if these little campaign maladies are apparent?

To answer this I’d like you to imagine the competitive business landscape as a war zone.

In the old world, your army would consist of your staff. Your artillery would consist of your products and services.

In today’s world, your army also consists of your customers and consumers. This is because of their empowerment enabled by the capability and affordability of technology, meaning they too can create and edit brands. They too can change the perceptions and opinions of others. Thus, your artillery now consists of their output also.

So, you have your combined army and often you have to go to war.

In the old world, your army of staff and artillery of products and services would be up against other armies of a similar structure. In today’s world, your asset is your army of staff, customers, and consumers, in addition to your combined artillery. In the old world, at peacetime, you would just be fuelling your staff and polishing your artillery. In today’s world, at peacetime, you must also be fuelling the whole of your army, and polishing the extended artillery.

This is so you are prepared for when you go into battle. Practically speaking this requires you to consider things like:

– identifying the levels of trust you have amongst your consumer/customer/user base
– creating resonant missions that people will believe in
– facilitating and promoting the work of fans
– etc…

These activities, amongst others, will better prepare you for the battles I speak of in the metaphor, which in real life look like:

– a new market entrant who is disrupting your organisation or market place
– a change in fashion that renders what you do less relevant
– a trend that alters the perceived value of what you create or deliver
– etc…

Sound familiar? These have always been common occurrences in every market place, yet now the risk is extended to competitive challenges that are non-organisational. Yes, the empowered public may be the cause of battle for a company today – and that, if nothing else, justifies the need to extend your army before those troops are aligned against you.

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved”

Sun Tzu – The Art of War

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Let us not fight hate with hate

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It’s all kicking off on my social media channels. One contact of mine has unfriended “dozens of people” and another has posted a vitriolic video full of venom. A school teacher friend of mine tells me of children hurling racist abuse in the playground at other children of any ethnicity, Irish to Italian. The shopping centre seem tense, the queue for the car park seems slightly more stressed than usual, and every conversation is populated with one question: “What did you think of the result?”

This is not a post to discuss what happened in the European Referendum on the 23rd June 2016, instead this is a post to describe a personal observation in the wake of the voting result itself where the UK population said it preferred to leave the EU rather than remain part of it.

Back in 2011 I wrote a a piece entitled “A Sect Cannot Be Destroyed By Cannonballs” which addressed the tendency to attack the alleged sources of violence with a similar style of attack, and the theory that this approach was probably the least effective. The post was pretty popular, in fact Stephen Fry retweeted it which sent hundreds of thousands of people to my site and crashed the page. He has apologised many times since; unwarranted. Unfortunately however, the post mainly landed on deaf ears and the same activity continues to this day, fighting fire with fire and hate with hate.

What I’m noticing now, following the EU Referendum result, is a similar tendency to attack those who voted in a certain way, with a level of contempt that I fear shows a dark undercurrent to our human nature. Whilst I absolutely understand what it is like to feel aggrieved that a decision didn’t go in the way one would have hoped, what I find harder to understand is how this level of contempt is likely to bring about any positive change, if that is indeed what the purveyors of this contempt desire.

And to that point, is it definitely the case that those who show contempt at others who disagree, want positive change? I ask because those who are currently very loud, seemed awfully quiet in advance of the voting. Surely if the passion is so strong after the results, the passion would have been there in advance?

Why did the current armchair experts not share their wisdom with the voting public in advance of the vote, so as to avoid a decision they would dislike?

I don’t know the answers, but I do believe that a democratic decision typically requires:

A) Our ability to have a say – E.G. a vote

B) Our personal accountability in understanding (as best we can), the contexts within which we have the ability to have a say – E.G. learning as much as possible about what’s going on and what it means

And in addition to these requirements I believe we should add a third point:

C) Our respect for the outcome and the human beings that may have voted in a different way than ourselves

This point isn’t anything other than a basic human right, yet much of the hatred that is being slung around the web at the time of writing is everything other than basic human rights.

Yes, I get that people are angry. Yes, I understand that people are fearful of the future…but I have to make it absolutely clear that there is one sure-fire way of zero progress being made, and that is to attack each other.

If we really want to unite and work together, we really need to start acting like it. I don’t just mean the media channels that throw emotive headlines at us to allegedly trick us into making bad decisions, I include all the people in our social timelines who are mud-slinging.

I mean you, your friends, your families, your colleagues. I mean every single one of us. We all have the opportunity to collaborate and build better, but oftentimes our default reaction is still to pick up the nearest stone and throw it at someone else’s head. So much for progress 🙂

Let us not lower ourselves to a common denominator of playground bullying.

Let us rise up and take whatever challenges we face, together not apart.

Let us remain positive in the face of negativity and seek solutions rather than rally around problems.

Let us not fight hate with hate.

Jonathan MacDonald, Sunday 26th June 2016

The Poison of Omnipotence

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Sometime around 500AD, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite asked whether it was possible for God to “deny himself”. The question was arguably the first emergence of what is called ‘The Omnipotence Paradox’ which states that:

“If a being can perform any action, then it should be able to create a task it is unable to perform, and hence, it cannot perform all actions. Yet, on the other hand, if it cannot create a task it is unable to perform, then there exists something it cannot do.”

Whilst it may be enjoyable to venture into a debate on whether or not it is possible to ever be omnipotent, the fact is, it’s tremendously attractive to imagine having unlimited, universal power. Not just as a person but as a business too.

I see numerous companies express monstrous capabilities to appear more competitive. Check out some of the halls at pretty much any exhibition and you will see stand after stand of slogans and tag lines including terms like ‘end-to-end’, ‘360º’ and ‘total’. I see products launched that, allegedly, are super-powered. I see services launched that, allegedly, will solve even the most challenging needs.

I wonder how much pressure comes from potential customers who, especially in new concepts, seek companies who ‘do everything’, citing economies of scale and efficiency as justification. I wonder how much pressure comes from competitors who claim omnipotence thereby forcing you to do the same to stay competitive. The whole thing feeds itself. Bigger and bigger claims, mostly based on sand.

Numerous agencies in the advertising world claim to be the ‘world’s greatest’ this or that. The ‘home of’ something or other. The writers of such statements often believe the words to be true, even if nobody else does. One could argue that such expressed omnipotence is an internal communication tactic, making staff feel as if they are in the right place to work. Here’s the deal:

I feel there is no long-term benefit of outputting claims of ultimate power or capability. In fact, claiming this is a very bad idea in many ways, and I call this The Poison Of Omnipotence. Of a cast of thousands, here are the three biggest disaster zones with this poison:

1. Over-promising. This is perpetually linked to under-delivery. Even if a deal gets won by some whizz-bang claims of extreme ability, the execution stage will be ever more painful. This is very pertinent in the current world of new advertising formats where minimum revenue guarantees are requested by potential customers who, frankly, should know better, and providers who, frankly, should do too.

2. Believability. In new areas where customers may not know what would be possible, you would think you could get away with seeming to be omnipotent. However, once levels of awareness and understanding increase, it’s only a matter of time until the parameters are better known. Then you are in big trouble.

3. Trust and Integrity. This is totally impossible when the first two minefields come into play. Trust can only come from positive interactions, augmented by consistency and honesty, which builds integrity: the mother of all goals in reputation. In the long run, it would be better to have trust and integrity than to live in the hope you never get found out for not being the omnipotent force you seemed to be. You may do less business, but you won’t be hated, derided and unable to function in the business world.

So, what is the antidote to this poison?

1. Leave it. I truly believe it’s best to leave your competitors to kill themselves off, suffering from the three areas outlined above. Then you will still exist and have a clearer market.

2. Differentiate. Do this by not claiming to be omnipotent. Focus on what you are fantastic at. This isn’t to say you should limit yourself, but only market competencies if you actually have them. If you think you need them to compete, then learn or buy them – but don’t claim you have them if you don’t.

3. Change perspective. Most companies follow competition. Markets are defined by this. This is why we so often are in a race to the bottom, trading in lowest common denominators, blindly competing for prizes that are evaporating. Just because the market seems to be going one way, that doesn’t justify you following it.

One final thought: If you actually are omnipotent, or do have ultimate capability in your space, then the competitive advantage you have will express itself, through people. By telling everyone you have superpowers, you will simply look like all the others who say they do too. Leave them to make the claims, and you can get on with being fabulous.

The truth will eventually come out.

All you are is what you are.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

This Is Your Heart

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The year is 1931 and a man called Michael Unterguggenberger has just been elected mayor of a small Austrian town named Wörgl. The events of the coming two years will create a story of vision, courage, and one of the most ugly, most pertinent examples of industries that would prefer to suffer than change. Due to that starkness, this story may well have been missing from your history class, even if you studied economics. However, this story is one of my favourite examples of how purpose, focus, and velocity, can produce the most miraculous results. Let us begin.

Born into a Tyrolean peasant family and having apprenticed himself to a master mechanic, Michael built a modest career whilst striving for social justice. His hometown, Wörgl, had grown rapidly in the early 1900s but was affected significantly by the financial crash of 1929. At the time, Michael was town councillor and eventually mayor two years later. Despite the numerous projects to re-build the town, the depression had driven a population of 4500 to include 1500 without a job and 200 families penniless.

Michael studied a book called “The Natural Order” by Silvio Gesell and theorised that the faltering economy was principally caused by the slow circulation of money. Money that increasingly moved from working people into the banks, without being re-circulated back into the market. His plan was to replace the common currency with “Certified Compensation Bills” that the public would be given to be used at their face value (1, 5 and 10 shillings). 32,000 such bills were printed and circulated.

Wörgl bills were designed to depreciate 1% of their nominal value monthly and the owner had to buy and place a stamp on the bill on the last day of the month, showing the devalued amount. Obviously as nobody wanted to essentially pay a premium (by losing value), bills were spent as fast as possible.

On the back of the bills this was printed:

“To all whom it may concern! Sluggishly circulating money has provoked an unprecedented trade depression and plunged millions into utter misery. Economically considered, the destruction of the world has started. – It is time, through determined and intelligent action, to endeavour to arrest the downward plunge of the trade machine and thereby to save mankind from fratricidal wars, chaos, and dissolution. Human beings live by exchanging their services. Sluggish circulation has largely stopped this exchange and thrown millions of willing workers out of employment. – We must therefore revive this exchange of services and by its means bring the unemployed back to the ranks of the producers. Such is the object of the labour certificate issued by the market town of Wörgl: it softens suffering’s dread; it offers work and bread.”

What a statement.

During the 13 months following, Michael initiated all the intended projects: new houses, a new bridge, even a ski jump. Six neighbouring villages copied the system to great effect and the French Prime Minister at the time, Edouard Daladier, made a special visit to see the “miracle of Wörgl”.

Spin forward to January 1933 and Michael addressed a meeting with representatives from 170 towns and villages, all interested in adopting the concept.
The public was happy, employment was high, and poverty was virtually non-existent. People paid their taxes in advance enthusiastically and price increases (the first sign of inflation) didn’t occur.

However, the Central Bank started to freak out due to its lack of control over the situation and decided to assert its monopoly rights by banning complementary currencies. Following a court case where the Austrian Supreme Court upheld the ban, it became a criminal offence to issue “emergency currency”.

Wörgl quickly returned to 30% unemployment and social unrest spread like wildfire across Austria. Michael died in 1936 having watched his life’s mission come into being, succeed brilliantly, then be stripped apart.

Two years later a chap called Hitler entered the scene and many people welcomed him as their economic and political saviour.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The thing that moves me about the story of Michael and Wörgl is the implementation of a vision into real life. There are so many good ideas around, so many interesting things that could be done, and so many idealists, but very few executors. To me it doesn’t matter so much that the concept was ultimately outlawed (although it saddens me that many great concepts are killed at birth), the point is that it actually went to market.

I witness numerous people with new companies, new offerings, new concepts, all with kick-ass technology, fancy slogans, and cool haircuts but I rarely see robust go-to-market actions. It’s almost as if we are living in perpetual concept stage.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Michael was only able to execute because he was mayor, in fact by 1912 he was elected representative for the union of Innsbruck Rail Engineers in the committee for personnel. He was seen as the person who represented the concerns of the workers against the capitalist interests of the railroad. His active campaigning at that time had a positive result for workers but yet a negative effect on his career progression because of it. His perseverance was due to the purpose that was in his heart. This was a guy who had found his path, focussed like hell, and applied his courage to move things forward.

I see a direct correlation between people who are following their heart and actual outcomes happening, versus people who are following only their head.

Maybe we should look within and ask, “Why am I really doing what I’m doing?” It is said that to truly know where your heart is, one must observe where our thoughts are when they wander… and I say that magical things can happen when we are properly playing from our heart. A blend of both is likely the best mix, but let’s take the head thinking as a given, it’s the heart piece I’m seeing mostly a lack of. But as Miles Davis said, “It takes a long time to play like yourself”.

Michael, along with using your head, you played it from the heart. I salute you.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation

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On November 16th 2010 an article appeared in Harvard Business Review (HBR), written by James Allworth, about Google’s strategy. The gist of the piece can be gained from these two enclosing sentences; the first from the start, the second from the end:

1. “…But Google may regret the strategic choices that have led to this victory over Apple.”

2. “The Android operating system is, as Google initially intended, untethered to any particular partner. This was a smart way of fighting the opening battles of the smartphone wars against Apple.”

Basically the author is saying that mobile handsets with Google’s Android mobile operating system are out-shipping Apple’s iPhone due to Google’s free distribution through what is called the Open Handset Alliance, yet this openness means there is no control over third parties choosing non-Google services instead, thus diminishing Google’s competitive position.

In my opinion this critique of Google’s supposed competitive strategy is entirely dependent on a context of traditional and centralised business practice. I believe this context is fundamentally questionable. For it to be the case, Google would be displaying certain personalities of traditional centralisation, such as the need to control distribution or directly attack competitors, for example.

When things are centralised, ownership and enclosed resilience is vital; as what you have to hand defines your central unit of power. If Google traded in such a way, the HBR article would be contextually accurate and the opinion based on a valid conceptual construct.
However, Google is not a fully centralised business and their practice is fundamentally unlike many of the companies that commentators would seem eager to pitch it against. Allow me to clarify.

There are three types of organic business structures:

1. Centralised businesses (just as centralised organisms in nature) have a core hub and externally dependent spokes like a spider does. All behaviour, including competitive behaviour, is focussed on increasing the power of the core hub and decreasing the risk of the core hub being destroyed, which would end everything as all vital parts are within the core.

2. Decentralised businesses (just as decentralised organisms in nature) have all vital parts distributed throughout like a starfish does. There is no dependency of any part on any other. In fact, the further distributed it is (like when you cut off a starfish leg), the more the organism continues to grow. The starfish grows another leg, and the cut-off leg grows into a starfish. It’s like Agent Smith in The Matrix. Remember?

3. Hybrid businesses are, unsurprisingly, a combination of centralised and decentralised architecture. In Google’s case, as a hybrid business, there is centralised decision-making and decentralised execution. It is the decentralised execution that positions Google in a different way from their most obvious competitors (who tend to be extremely centralised – Apple for example).

Due to the common misinterpretation of their organic structure that leads to what I believe to be fundamentally inaccurate assessments of competition strategy and risk, I feel compelled to illustrate a different reality than portrayed in the original HBR article, and by doing so, address what I call The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation.

In 1943 Peter Drucker was commissioned by General Motors (GM) to investigate and interpret the secrets of their success. For 18 months Drucker probed and questioned all parts of the organisation and finally published his findings, as agreed he would, in a book called ‘Concept of the Corporation’.

Due to the findings GM were very angry and Drucker was very surprised at this reaction. After all, in his book, Drucker had praised GM for their way of working, even likening them to the US Government’s ‘Federal Decentralisation’.

Drucker said: “In Federal Decentralisation a company is organised in a number of autonomous businesses.” Just as the US Government ceded power to the states, GM let go of central power to autonomous, decentralised divisions. Drucker’s advice was for GM as a hybrid organisation to become even more decentralised. He claimed their success was primarily due to the level of decentralisation. Drucker suggested such measures as hard-coding customer feedback into deep strategy.

But no. GM hated it.

Their response was, in essence, “We are at the top of the game so why should we change?”

By the way, the Japanese car manufacturers took a far more proactive approach to Drucker’s advice and the rest, as they say, is history.

Around this time, Drucker spoke of an organisational position that is often referred to as ‘the sweet spot’. The place where organisations or offerings are centralised enough for control and commercial reality, yet decentralised enough for mass adoption and agility.
Google, with their decentralised execution, currently resides in a sweet spot of openness and pervasiveness.

Decentralised execution cares nothing for the supposed ‘risk’ of other players. In fact, the concentration is on creating tools for competitors to be empowered.

Did Google arm their competitors? Absolutely. On purpose.

Decentralised execution cares nothing for ‘market share’ of specific technology. Instead, the concentration is on becoming invisible, yet always there. The point of the story of GM and Drucker isn’t about the reaction. It’s about the empirical competitive advantage of decentralisation.

Despite unarguable evidence, the most common thought is that businesses are similarly structured with selfish centricity. The presumption by most commentators, including those in respected publications, is that companies are as centralised as spiders and compete accordingly. This is pure poison and shows an ignorance of business structure and market dynamics.

The poison is, however, extremely common. In the (absolutely vital) book, ‘The Starfish and The Spider’ by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, the second principle of decentralisation is: “It’s easy to mistake starfish as spiders.”

The frequency of commentators and competitors mistaking decentralisation for centralisation actually helps the decentralised compete. Put another way: The more that people misinterpret and treat decentralised companies as centralised, the bigger the threat. This is one of the main reasons that decentralised companies will rarely, if ever, correct a commentator or competitor who mistakenly uses centralised constructs in their reasoning. It is better for a starfish that others think it’s a spider.

Despite this reality, The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation can be found everywhere. Another example can be found in an article called ‘The Truth About Google’s So-Called Simplicity’. In this, the commentator writes of confusion over Google’s product range:

“A long time ago, 1968 to be precise, a wise person named Conway wrote: ‘Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organisations.’ So true: I can see this in products from many a company. Except with Google, there appears to be no organizational structure of the product. Hmm.”

The poison lives on healthily, demanding a level of naivety to exist.

In closing, and to be fair to the HBR article, one thing I would like to raise is what Google’s strategy would be if they actually felt under attack. To quote again from Brafman and Beckstrom, the first principle of decentralisation is: “When attacked, a decentralised organisation becomes even more open and decentralised.”

The message therefore is clear. Not only can we predict less predictability in competitive moves under attack, we can be assured that The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation will continue to empower the hybrid and decentralised. Faced with this reality, who would you bet on to win?

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Real Reality

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I’m fascinated by the way our brains actually operate, generating thoughts that generate our framework of what we call reality. I first became interested with the way we think when I studied Social Biology at college many years ago. This fascination never relented.

Interestingly, it takes around half a second for something to happen and our brain then experiencing it. In that time there’s a lot of processing that happens where the brain is essentially constructing a story. This story, not the thing that happened, becomes our reality. Different for everyone and, in fact, meaning that we’re all living in the past by about half a second.

Our brains have far more input on what we experience than our senses provide. For example, when we see something in front of us, there’s actually far less traffic coming inbound to our brain than there is coming outbound from our expectations. These expectations make up what is called our “internal model”.

A clear example of this is what happens when we look at something. Our eyes aren’t remotely stable, they move 4 times a second. What’s actually happening is what you can recreate by filming something with a really shaky hand! But we think we’re seeing things in a really stable way. This is because our internal model is imagining what we’re seeing. The visual cortex sends information to the thalamus and the thalamus compares those to what’s coming in through the eyes. The difference between the two is sent back and updates the internal model – our reality of expectations.

This impacts everything about us, from our identity to our aspirations in life. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. It is tempting to assume that we get more wise, but what’s happening is that our internal model is getting more established. It isn’t necessarily better, it’s just been modified more. Our memories change as our internal model changes over time. Memory is therefore exceptionally unreliable as it is remarkably changeable. Our continual narrative gets updated and in turn, what we remember and what we think is re-shaped dynamically due to experiences which have their own significant challenges.

This is because our human biology severely limits what we experience. We only pick up one ten trillionth of the spectrum of frequencies that are running through us. In terms of sight, this is the visual spectrum of colour – again, something that doesn’t exist in the world, only in our heads. Other organisms have increased sensitivity on other parts of the spectrum, and this is scientifically down to how everything evolves.

In terms of time, our experience is not remotely linear and differs dependant on experience. Try and think of an experience, perhaps a bad one, that seemed to take ages. Or maybe a good one that went by too fast.

This time distortion actually happens in retrospect. It is a trick our brain plays. The memory of an experience expands the storyline and thus, the memory of something taking much longer, or shorter, appears real when we speak of it after the event. This could be ‘immediately’ (meaning at least half a second afterwards), or at a later date. Either way it’s a retrospective story that has been biologically invented.

Scientifically, we are controlled solely by our thoughts, for better or worse.

Reality is, in fact, whatever our brain tells us it is.

The Poison Of Can’t

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The fact is, we can’t breathe underwater, unaided. We can’t fly either. In fact, there are a number of things we simply cannot do. However, I suspect that most of our usage of the word ‘can’t’ isn’t actually related to things we literally cannot do.

This presents the inaccurate use of the word can’t as a poison, a misconception based on incorrect reasoning.

The main problem is that when we say, “Oh I can’t do that”, the thing we are speaking about gets compartmentalised in our brain, adjacent to being able to breathe underwater, unaided. Happy bedfellows, languishing in the vortex of the un-doable. Our mental filing system then requires extraordinary effort to switch folders from ‘things I can’t do’ to ‘things I possibly can do’, which is why, after being told by someone that they can’t do something, the work is so tremendously difficult in changing their opinion.

The Poison Of Can’t is a nightmare to deal with.

Of all the poisons, this is one that has the most extreme effect on progress, development and innovation. Stuff that makes people and organisations grow. The C word (as I sometimes call it – just to be on the safe side) is built into our language so deeply that we say it without realising and then the poison gremlin takes over. It sits waiting for you to say things like “I can’t” or “We can’t”, then simply opens a mental drawer and plops the thing that you are talking about into it. Job done. It takes a nanosecond to do, and sometimes a lifetime to undo, if at all. If you’re lucky, the folder system you have in your head has weak locks, meaning it’s easier to re-file. But remember, weak locks are bad at keeping things in or out of anywhere, so you may be more susceptible to self-doubt.

When I was totally and utterly screwed over in business, losing pretty much everything in the process, I said, “I can’t fix this. I can’t make things better.” But, over an arduous five-year period, I realised that I could. And I did. So how can one move from a can’t to a can? Here’s a quick and dirty checklist to combat The Poison Of Can’t:

1. You need to define exactly what the thing is that you may or may not be able to do. Define it in exact terms. For me it was, on a human level, to be able to house, feed and support my family whilst not losing my mind in anxiety, stress and/or depression in the process. On a business level, it was to create an even better organisation than I had ever done before. On a moralistic level, it was to enable others to also reach their own potential.

2. Forget the tactics, forget the ways and means – first address a cold, hard question: “Is it humanly possible to do this thing?”. If the answer is no, your challenge changes from one of struggle to one of acceptance and adaptation. If the answer is yes, your journey begins, but it may be a 2000 or 20,000 day journey.

3. Now you’ve established what the thing is and whether it is possible, it’s now time to map out the separate steps you would need to take so you can start your journey. These steps should be achievable but you may find there are several sub-steps or dependencies. Then, you just have to get busy. If you have a barrier, refresh your answers to the points above. Remember, provided what you are trying to achieve is literally possible, it is down to you how successful you are.

For me, the above was my antidote for The Poison Of Can’t. Whatever level of this poison you experience, in others or yourself, try and avoid the C word wherever possible. It produces zero net benefit for anyone. Life is too short to eliminate the possible.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Noise – the business and social disease

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A thought on how we are affected by the volume of meaningless noise.

This is an unusual paragraph. I’m curious as to how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so ordinary and plain that you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it! It is highly unusual though. Study it, think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. If you work at it a bit you might just find out. Good luck!

Noise Destroys

The above puzzle may be familiar to those who often need to make decisions. There’s an initial acceptance that a puzzle has been set, time needs to be spent studying the data and, finally, a decision needs to be made. However, distractions (like reading this sentence) can reduce the focus and provide more information to process. This isn’t a trivial point as the fortune of companies rests solely on whether the decisions made turn out to be the right ones.

As part of my role in life of expanding the way people think, I assist others in understanding and capitalising on the effect that technology has on society and business. Evidently the need has never been greater. More than ever before, the volume of distraction is sky high, especially from connected technology. There have never been so many distractions competing for our attention, making decisions progressively harder. This is partly why it’s hard to spot there are no e’s in the initial paragraph.

In 2016, a single minute saw the emergence of 44.4 million WhatsApp messages sent, 422,340 new tweets, 205,600 million emails, 3.1 million searches, 400 hours of uploaded video on YouTube and 3.3 million Facebook posts, according to Smart Insights.

I’d wager that one of your several digital devices is competing with me right now for your attention. I’m envious; I don’t have neon flashing lights or an icon that displays numbers, rising on a minute-by-minute basis.

I call these distractions ‘noise’. The opposite of noise is ‘signal’, which is what really matters to us in a meaningful way. As we become more connected to each other, we find it harder to filter out the noise to find the signal.

I believe this is the primary reason for many of the negative aspects of modern life, including bad decision-making that often leads to business failure.

I’m convinced that as things progress there will be an increasing need to ‘De-Noise’. This is the activity of filtering meaning out of distraction and has been a major outcome of the sessions I run called ‘You to the power of TEN‘.

The Business Disease

The 24/7 Wall Street analysis of “The Worst Business Decisions Of All Time” makes compelling reading, yet there are many other theories as to how bad decisions happen. Today a popular view is that our brains are wired to be what Dan Ariely would call “Predictably Irrational”.

A few decades ago I was lucky enough to be one of the first students of what is now popularised (by people like Ariely) as Behavioural Economics. Even then we were able to show that all decision-making was affected by a collection of heuristics and biases. Since then we’ve had books like “Nudge” by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein and “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner that show hundreds of case studies supporting this modern theory.

Despite being very fashionable, this isn’t the only perspective. One can find an alternative analysis within the 2009 book “Think Again – Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions” by the Tuck School of Business professor, Sydney Finkelstein. He opens by stating, “Most leaders make bad decisions. Even great leaders can make bad decisions.” His analysis crawls through 83 flawed decisions and finds there are four common “red flag” conditions that can lead to errors in judgement.

1. Misleading experiences – Memories of what is thought to be a similar situation to the present one. For example, a new competitor has emerged in the marketplace and it reminds you of the time when you competed by lowering prices. Your subsequent success in your memory is firmly and forever linked to the price drop. Due to this, your strategic decisions are already biased toward lowering prices.

2. Misleading pre-judgements – Where previous decisions or judgements influence your thinking. For example, if you tend to start a new job by immediately replacing the sales and marketing team, you are biased towards repeating the same behaviour, regardless of whether it is the most suitable thing to do in the present situation. It’s just what you do.

3. Inappropriate self-interests – Subconscious personal agenda that conflicts with the job in hand or the outcome of the business. For example, if a hidden driver is personal fame and recognition at almost any expense, this will affect the decisions that are made even without being fully aware that this agenda is being applied to other contexts.

4. Inappropriate attachments – Loyalty and alliances that overrule rational or logical decisions. For example, giving a particular team member more responsibility even if they didn’t deserve it, or appointing a particular supplier even if they are not the best you could have chosen.

Finkelstein said: “Trust in our own judgement is so engrained it can make us ignore red flags that warn that a decision was flawed from the start. That’s how bad decisions get made.”

Finkelstein’s theories are supported by looking at how I’ve observed decisions to be made – starting with information (i.e. inbound data from outside), into perception (i.e. how we view the information, sub-consciously guided by our heuristics and biases) and finally resulting with our decision (i.e. the chosen way forward).

In conclusion Finkelstein states that the antidote to this situation is in:

– Open-mindedness – Decision makers should be more open to new ideas and not afraid to look outside their comfort zones.

– Own up to mistakes – Being brave enough to admit when they’re wrong.

– Awareness and acceptance of change – In his own words: “Good leaders will get multiple sources of information and get honest feedback to make sure they are not missing or ignoring something that should be obvious.”

Personally I believe the 3rd point is the most problematic as if you initially perceive information ineffectively, you are ultimately doomed in decision-making.

The reality is that it’s becoming increasingly hard to perceive information effectively as there’s so much information to process. However, paradoxically, we need to access more of the information to ensure we are aware of what is happening around us…

…and the distraction paradox grows by the minute.

The Social Disease

From a human perspective it has become apparent that distractive noise is impacting our lives regardless of whether we’re at work or not. In any top ten list of unusual medical conditions, “Busy Lifestyle Syndrome” is often mentioned.

Even a quick glance at the symptoms of Busy Lifestyle Syndrome will make you wonder whether it is really unusual or actually very common.

The primary outcome is losing track of the main thing we were thinking or doing. What was front-of-mind gets lost and we end up wrongly prioritising things that get us into all sorts of trouble.

The lead researcher on this, Dr. Alan Wade, says: “Forgetfulness is an ordinary part of getting older but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is now affecting people earlier in life as a result of busy work and home lives, and so-called ‘information overload’ from the various media channels we consume today.”

This manifests as forgetting people’s names, forgetting a task you were meant to carry out, forgetting the values you stand for, forgetting the main reason for doing something, or even repeating an activity you’ve actually already completed.

Researchers have speculated that the condition could be cured by a low dose of the drug memantine, that is used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes sense if you consider that Alzheimer’s is essentially when the brain can’t convert short-term memories into long-term ones, meaning that memory itself dies away.

There’s a worrying correlation between the volume of noise from connected technology and the increasing volume of relationship breakdowns, and you may have read recently that teenagers are reported to have never been more unhappy, despite being more connected digitally than ever. I’m pretty certain this information is linked to the 53% rise in the diagnoses of ADHD cases. Perhaps there’s even a correlation between these stats and the fact that by the time a child leaves primary school they will have witnessed around 8000 murders on television.

– Are we becoming desensitised as a result of the information overload?

– Are we losing track as a species of who and what we are?

– What does this mean to society and future generations?

Back In Business

In the context of the business world though we are still dealing with humans making decisions. The business context does not remove the social context. We are all still members of society. Walking into an office building doesn’t remove us from the increasing volume of noise in our lives. If anything it turns the dial up and makes the pressure of handling it even greater.

The behavioural economics that impact our decisions happen after the influx of noise. The pressure of the noise kicks in before we even get a chance to be biased.

Noise is the fuel of behavioural economics, accentuating our pre-set conditions, which we default to constantly. The more noise, the more our brain calls on our biases to ‘help’ us and, therefore, the more common it is to make flawed decisions. I believe this is the primary reason why the life expectancy of a business is now nearer 15 years, reduced from around 75 years a century ago.

I believe it is imperative for us to observe what is noise versus signal in our lives, and it is with this priority in mind that I will continue to assist wherever possible.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Effort Metric

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A thought on prioritising effort alongside other standard business metrics.

In the 1995 publication by John Kotter entitled “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail”*, his research from over 10 years showed that only 30% of change programmemes are successful. Almost 2 decades later, McKinsey research found that the figure was still around 30%.**

Kotter found that unsuccessful change management usually failed during at least one of the following eight phases:

– Establishing a sense of urgency
– Creating the guiding coalition
– Developing a change vision
– Communicating the vision for buy-in
– Empowering broad-based action
– Generating short-term wins
– Never letting up
– Incorporating changes into culture

Despite this insightful summary of where failure happens, I think there is another dimension at play. McKinsey’s view is that the “Missing Management Metric” is the assessment of organisational health in relation to certain elements of “management practice needed to improve performance”.

Notably their assessment of performance is determined ultimately in financial terms, as seen from their “five-step process that prioritises management practices needed to improve performance” and as they say, “doing more doesn’t add much value and involves disproportionate, not to mention wasted, effort.”

From observation across all industry verticals, I’ve realised that Kotter’s eight phases are consistently and exclusively viewed through a lens of financial priority.


There is one condition the common mindset depends on: the absolute requirement of a defined outcome with a financial target attached. This condition is valid in times that are stable and predictable, but bearing in mind the combination of macroeconomic crises, slowing consumption and globalisation, alongside the increasing capability and affordability of technology, empowered citizens and democratised value chains; the current and future business environment is anything but stable and predictable.

Rather than defining an end result before the journey starts, the end result will be defined during, and because of, the journey. All of a sudden, change management isn’t a one-off process but rather a constant management of change, and Kotter’s eight phases no longer run as linear but parallel to each other.

Faced with this situation, I’d argue the common thinking achieves the absolute opposite of performance today. Instead, I’d suggest it breeds fear and chastity in innovation, limiting people taking chances and accelerating the probability of the brave getting fired. It ensures organisations chase figures rather than opportunity and it limits flexible growth. I believe that performance management in uncertain times requires a more valid “Missing Management Metric”.

Introducing The Alternative Metric

I propose an alternative metric to supplement financial bias in modern business: Effort. This is because effort creates the opportunities as we exert it – mapping out our path during the journey. Here are five tangible elements needing to be prioritised, each with their own ways of measurement:

People – Identify those who are most comfortable with uncertainty in senior enough positions (or place them in such positions) so as not to suffocate the chances that could be taken. Also, identify or acquire people with this characteristic. The measurement of effort for this element should be via continual people auditing using a grid that plots volume of people with the ‘comfort in uncertainty’ characteristic against the level of seniority.

What good would look like is if there is a high volume of people with this characteristic in numerous senior positions. It’s unfortunately suboptimal if only junior staff have this characteristic.

Purpose – Be extraordinarily clear on what your purpose and vision is, so that every single person inside and outside your organisation knows the mission you are undertaking. The measurement of effort for this element should be via regular checking of how well the purpose is understood within the organisation and throughout external partners. This should be added to by a layer that checks how it is understood externally in public, through monitoring and ideally involvement in conversations outside the organisation.

What good would look like is if there was a) very high understanding and b) a close match between external interpretation and internal aspiration and definition.

Finance – Separate innovative, unproven activities in the balance sheet. Placing the risk of not moving forward as the exact same cost as the funding of exploration. The measurement of effort for this element should be in two dimensions – a) of the finance team/director’s willingness and proactivity in separating the balance sheet, assigning a tangible cost of risk through inactivity, and b) of the funding made available for the fourth priority coming up next.

What good would look like is if there was unarguable evidence of how the finances have been divided and maintained to be that way on an on-going basis, whilst continually assigning an amount for experimentation without formal targets.

Facilitation – Facilitate and reward those who are positively proactive in trying to push things forward whilst enabling them to initiate flexible un-promised projects. Remember not to link their activity to an expected outcome – however tempting. The measurement of effort for this element should be a) in the number of activities that facilitate momentum and b) in the regularity of rewarding the positive proactive people in a way that they feel valuably and relevantly rewarded (rather than something that is simply a token gesture).

What good would look like is if there was a high volume of facilitated activities with involved staff who feel permitted to experiment and rewarded in a way that made them want to strive to achieve more.

Learning – Learn from all outcomes regardless of what you may have once perceived as ‘success’. A learning is as valuable either way. Feed this into iterative projects for constant adjustment at the speed of change. The measurement of effort for this element should be a) in the volume of learnings/insights as an output of each activity and b) in the volume of learnings that have been visibly fed into new efforts.

What good would look like is a direct link between output insights that feed into inputs.

There would be significant benefits of this approach – not least of which is the belief from colleagues that your organisation can flourish, so retaining the best staff will be easier, whilst collectively learning (in advance of your competitors) where the white space of opportunity is.

I believe that innovation would be properly fuelled in an agile and relevant way, and that this framework would legitimately sit alongside the common frameworks of financial aspiration.

I suggest this presents a desirable way forward where financial opportunity comes as a direct result of applied, prioritised and rewarded effort.

* Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail by John P. Kotter (1995) – requires HBR subscription

** The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management by McKinsey (2013)

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Expansion of Thought to Unlock Success

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Bill Gates once said: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” I’ve learned the hard way that this statement is true. Of the many ventures I’ve founded over the years, three of which worked pretty well and four that were outrageously unsuccessful, the main learning and insight has come from what I did wrong rather than right.

One of the biggest problems I suffered from was past successes that, in my opinion at the time, almost guaranteed future gain. In reality, this delusion was dangerous as it caused a significant reduction of thought, and to paraphrase Lao Tzu, this is a major issue as our thoughts determine our destiny by becoming our words, actions, habits and character.

Over time I’ve realised that the starting point of success is from our ability to expand the way we think. Figuratively, our thoughts can be prison guards, travel agents, defence attorneys or sports coaches. Our thoughts create our hopes and our fears. Our thoughts control our perception of everything that we call reality. Therefore we can expand our chances of success in all walks of life by expanding the way we think.

In contrast, one of the most common issues I sense, in personal and professional contexts, is a lack of awareness of what is happening around us. This lack of consciousness is one of the primary culprits in failure. Humans are exceptionally bad at making rational decisions and even worse at being curious in the first place. It’s not our fault per se, our minds are wired with heuristics and biases that skew reasoning, and our lives are full of information that we try and filter on a constant basis. This has been accelerated by the sheer volume of digital connections that generate news feeds, blog posts, tweets, status updates, likes, pings, alerts, and messages every minute of every day. Our lives are full of noise and it is increasingly hard to work out what our signal is.

So, what tends to happen is that we pre-determine what we view as pertinent and disregard the rest. We limit our curiosity as it takes up valuable time that we could use for comforting ourselves with familiar thinking. Paradoxically we limit our expansion of thought as a way of being efficient, despite the fact that limiting our expansion of thought will directly impact our ability to grow and succeed.

Not everyone falls into this trap. The winners in life and in business have a curiosity and flexibility that I find very alluring. And so, without wishing to argue against Bill Gates, it would seem that success can sometimes be a lousy teacher, but ultimately it is down to whether we personally choose to expand our thinking and unlock potential. Our thinking is our own teacher first and foremost, and from our thoughts onward, our destiny is determined.

The Rise of Social Network Class Action

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In law, a class action or a representative action is a form of lawsuit in which a large group of people collectively brings a claim to court and/or in which a class of defendants is being sued.

This form of collective lawsuit originated in the United States and is largely heard of there. However, in several European countries with civil law (different from the English common law principle which is used by U.S. courts by the way), changes have been made in recent years that allow citizen (or consumer) organisations to bring claims on behalf of large groups of citizens (or consumers).

In recent times, class action lawyers have been quite busy with a new set of targets: social networking platforms. Linkedin (see top image), Facebook and Twitter are two that have recent filings against them.

In the lawsuit against Facebook, the lawyers are claiming, on behalf of numerous users under the age of 18 in New York, that Facebook does not receive parents’ “permission before displaying that minors ‘like’ the products of its advertisers.”

In the lawsuit against Twitter, the plaintiffs claimed that Twitter sent them an “unsolicited, confirmatory text message to their cellular telephone after they had indicated to Twitter that they no longer wanted to receive text message notifications.” According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that this act was in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Spam, basically.

To a cynic, these actions may look like litigation-junkie opportunism. To others, like me, these actions (whilst potentially opportunistic) are just the tip of an iceberg that I predict will be increasingly revealed as we move forward – and I believe that the scale of class actions will rise, whilst the subject matter will continue to centre on data, identity and privacy.

I’ve publicly outlined the challenges that commerce has in terms of data, identity and privacy. In the previous chapter I asked a fundamental question:

What if the most private information is the most valuable?

Do you:

A: Find even more subtle ways of getting it whilst keeping an increasingly suspicious public at bay?


B: Put citizens’ privacy under their own control in an honest and decent way?

I’ve also stated that whilst I’m not pushing for the closure of Facebook, I believe citizens should be in control of their own private information. I believe it is a basic human right and is central to our identity.

Now, whilst I didn’t indicate the methods of citizens standing up for themselves, one could argue that these class actions are a method of doing just that.

If people enter into environments where their data is held and used, then at the very least, that information should be upfront, enabling people to have the freedom of choice. Not hidden within a cluster of terms and conditions or un-readable screens.

In my opinion, if companies run practices that are ethically questionable around the areas I’ve spoken about, I think the least they can expect is the odd class action now and again.

Actually, that’s too subtle.

I predict we will see the demise of one or more social network platforms in the future, from mass class action, around unarguable and demonstrable evidence of malpractice in the context of human rights.

The reason I started this chapter with evidence is because the trend has already commenced.

Welcome to the rise of social network class action.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Expectation

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Have you ever been on public transport and seen someone eating a really pungent snack that made the entire area smell? Recently I sat opposite a guy who had a burger that embodied that description. He evidently thought it was appropriate to bring a stinking, greasy burger onto a packed commuter train. Would you ever dream of doing such a thing? Me neither.

Our expectation of what is reasonable frames our opinion of other people’s actions. In our intrinsic desire ultimately for the world to work within the confines of our perspective, we spend a considerable amount of time frustrated at other people, other environments and other versions that do not fit our standards. This is The Poison Of Expectation.

We judge all the time. Someone isn’t driving well enough. We could drive much better. Someone is walking too slowly. We always know when to walk slow or fast. Someone’s house is way too messy. Ours is never that messy. We would never let it get into that state. Taking a smelly burger onto a packed train? Disgraceful, we would never do that. And now, assuming all citizens have the right to their own opinion, perhaps the people, who are accused in the above, also have an expectation of us that isn’t being matched. We’re too busy judging to know that, of course.

Maybe burger man thinks it’s fine if others do as he does? Common courtesy is fine so long as you can define what common is and what courtesy is? These are subjective terms. Your personal hygiene standards may not necessarily be the same as the person sitting next to you on a 13-hour flight to the other side of the world. I have found.

But why is expectation a poison? After all, we’re allowed to expect certain things, right? Well, the poison isn’t about having personal aspiration; it is assuming that everyone would do what you do. The poison gets to work when we simply can’t understand how someone has done something against our expectations, as we are basing our opinion solely on our own standards. This narrow lens creates an almost guaranteed level of confusion in our heads.

The Poison Of Expectation creates toxic fumes so we get more frustrated. It designs itself to move our focus from what matters. Even when we try to pull away and think objectively, the poison knows you will ultimately base your judgment on your own opinion, and by doing so, you keep feeding the poison.

The antidote to this is a tough one as it takes reasoning of other people’s actions to disable the poison. Chuck D from Public Enemy once said, “If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you”. Chuck’s advice suggests two things:

1. To try and change the people around you (by educating, advising, helping or setting a different example)

2. To literally change the people you are around (by moving away from those you are unable to do the above with)

So, if burger man disgusts you, move carriages. If Captain Slow refuses to drive differently, change route. If our adjacent passenger isn’t aware of the concept of washing, switch seats, use nose plugs or, (if you’re brave), offer them your deodorant. Whatever you do, the one thing that leads to an endless negative vortex is to allow The Poison Of Expectation to eat you up inside. People are different. It’s rare anyone will have the exact same standards as you.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Privacy Dilemma

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We are living in a world where our trust can only come from respect of citizen privacy (preceded with credibility, authenticity, consistency and positive interactions).

Many companies, Facebook being a current example at the time of writing, exist in an ongoing dilemma, which is something I get asked about often.

What it boils down to is this:

What if the most private information is the most valuable?

Do you:

A: Find even more subtle ways of getting it whilst keeping an increasingly suspicious public at bay?


B: Put citizens’ privacy under their own control in an honest and decent way?

If the answer is B, then people’s private information can only be gathered with their permission, which is therefore mandatory for understanding preference (which enables us to commercially communicate more effectively).

Elsewhere, a variety of tools enable you to run a diagnostic scan of your Facebook information to see what is secure and what is open to the public.

For some, the process is fairly simple and locking everything down to just ‘friends’ is do-able, however: do you absolutely trust everyone you ever added on Facebook to be so scrupulous with your information?

Do you know for sure that they won’t post a party picture elsewhere on the net?

We are simply scratching the surface of the Privacy Dilemma and as I have said many times, this is one of the main differentiators between the winning tools, platforms and channels in the future and the resources that get turned off en masse.

The multi-billion dollar valuation of Facebook looks seemingly indestructible but actually, their handling of the Privacy Dilemma leaves them, in my opinion, in a very fragile state.

There once was a site called ‘Your Open Book’ where one could scan all the public information that had been leaked by Facebook via a search engine. In this search engine you could enter anything from ‘my boss’ to ‘rectal exam’. All the results were actual, real information that was publicly available, until it got removed from the web.

Around that time there was a ‘Quit Facebook Day’ on May 31st 2010 but only 12,877 committed to quit.

Why such a low number? I think it’s a combination of:

A lack of awareness amongst people about how their information is being used
A lack of awareness of groups like the one featured above
A lack of understanding about what could happen if your personal information is out in the open
A lack of caring about the above
None of this moves me away from my view of how important this is and yes, I’m sure it’s in the early stages of public awareness. I predict it will grow to be on the main agenda.

I’m not pushing for the closure of Facebook but whilst I have breath in my body I will campaign for the right of citizens to be in control of their own private information. I believe it is a basic human right and is central to our identity.

If you are thinking of innovating in the social network space, my free advice to you would be to differentiate around the issue of privacy. If you can still make the business model work, you will ultimately be better placed than the giants of today. And as we can see, some of the giants are really bad at keeping information private:

The wider issue is how to change the behaviour of the other parts of a value chain, eagerly looking (and paying for) more and more personal information.

Ultimately, the dollars go where the people go; therefore it’s down to every single one of us to stand up for ourselves and change the industry from the outside.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

What Lies Beneath

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A while ago, Fast Company published an article relating to a new study from Princeton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, claiming that “Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017”. This article was duly shared around the world across multiple channels, reaching millions of people. If you looked very carefully though, you’d find that the statistics are exclusively based on how many times the word ‘Facebook’ appears in Google analytics. Critically, these analytics do not include mobile usage, which accounts for the majority of Internet traffic, including a rise to over 100 million mobile Facebook users at the time. Such insight was quietly set aside to make way for the attention-grabbing headline.

We see many market reports and professional comment that, one would assume, is valid and considered. However, I see a continuous trend where hidden information resides behind colourful charts that are widely quoted and used as a basis for investment of time, energy or money. In the Black Swan, Taleb calls this ‘silent evidence’.

Are we seeing the full picture? It may be circumstance that determines the answer. After all, sub-editors often remove the subtleties that surround what is written. Obviously, our consumption of information has to be made to fit our increasingly ‘bite-size’ and ‘instant satisfaction’ personalities, but I fear this may be at the expense of real truth.

In its most basic form, silent evidence is easy to spot. For example, if I were to prove to you that sober drivers cause more accidents than drivers under the influence of alcohol, would you conclude that it is safer to drive whilst under the influence?

That seems to be presented in my argument, however what is missing is that there are a relatively small number of drivers who drive under the influence, but who account for a disproportionately high number of accidents.

This trap is actually very common. As it happens, there are a number of ways in which information can be misleading, including:

False data – an easy one, just plain downright lies
Bad sampling – often seen where a very small segment of people are asked a question and the resulting percentages are scaled across a much larger population
Predictive questions – a modern day media classic is “would you like adverts on your mobile device?” This is predominantly asked when the required result is a resounding ‘no’. If you want the answer to include more ‘yes’ responses, you would remove the word advertising and switch it for “useful content that would make your life better?” This leads to a major skew towards the positive. Either way, the questions have predictable answers
Misleading selections – commonly where a snapshot of real data is used which intentionally misses out preceding periods which would harm the impact – for instance, if you wanted to show an upturn in advertising spend, but only three months in a year had an increase, you wouldn’t show the downturn that happened before, only the growing months (which may well be making up a fraction of the previous loss)
Self-adjusted rankings – the editorial right to remove any justification of ranking. In whatever industry you’re in, you may have seen companies who claim to be the “World’s Number 1”. Surely there can only be one, right? But from closer inspection you find that the information not included is the part that defines exactly what ranking conditions they include. Is it in terms of revenue, profit, employee numbers or experience of the CEO? We are only shown the juicy bits and the terms and conditions are nowhere to be seen
Limiting qualifiers – one of my favourites and similar to self-adjusted rankings. This is where you word a statistic in a way that the result is essentially fixed. For instance: “The brown bear is the largest land predator in the world”. The word ‘predator’ rules out elephants which are bigger but aren’t predators, while the word ‘land’ rules out various whales which are predators but don’t live on land. The statement is built for the brown bear to dominate
Percentage accentuation – so common. Take a company making a bunch of people redundant. If the company has 100 staff and gets rid of 20, in the interests of making the statistic sexier, it would be “Company lays off 20% of entire workforce!” because 20 people doesn’t sound anywhere near as dramatic as 20%. However, in a company of 1 million, the 20% is still quite sexy but nothing sounds as big as “Company lays off 200,000 people!” The liberal insertion of exclamation marks is my own of course…
In summary, publishers have a responsibility to promote accurate and contextually detailed data to others, and viewers have an opportunity to dig deeper. As information spreads so quickly in this ultra-connected world, the misrepresentation of truth re-frames what ‘truth’ is – especially when those in a position of authority are relaying information that is believed on sight.

To quote an unknown source discussing statistics:

“86% of statistics are made up on the spot and the remaining 24% are mathematically flawed.”

Spot on.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

A Sect Cannot Be Destroyed By Cannonballs

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This post was re-published shortly after the news of a U.S. air strike, and a day after the attacks in Paris. I published the original piece in 2011.


Here are two quotes from the 1st/2nd May 2011:

“The world is a safer place, because of the death of Osama Bin Laden” President of the United States

“Is this the beginning of the end for the war on terror?” BBC News

…and one from 200 years ago:

“A sect cannot be destroyed by cannonballs” Napoleon Bonaparte

In nature and in business, the most common structure is for an organism or an organisation to be centralised. Spiders, and a traditional bank, are amongst the obvious examples. Centralised organisms and organisations feel the pain of attack on the main unit, for example, by the removal of food (in nature) or funding (in enterprise).

An alternative structure is one of decentralisation.

In these organisms and organisations, there is no main unit as the vital organs are distributed throughout the entire structure. Starfish are amongst the obvious examples in nature. Organisations such as Wikipedia, Craigslist and al Qaeda, are others.

Such decentralised structures handle attack in a totally different way from centralised ones. After all, if you chop off the head of a spider, it dies. Whereas if you chop off a leg of a starfish, it grows another leg – and the chopped leg grows into another starfish.

The news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, triggered me to refer to the work of Brafman and Beckstrom, authors of the vital transcript ‘The Starfish and the Spider’*. In this book, they allude to moments in history that exemplify centralised versus decentralised structures. One example starts with the Aztecs.

In 1519 an explorer named Hernando Cortes stared in disbelief at the Aztec metropolis Tenochtitlan. Expecting to see savages, instead he saw an organised and civilised community. Cortes witnessed a developed system of highways, ingeniously constructed aqueducts, spectacularly ornate temples, and mystically intriguing pyramids.

He also saw gold. Everywhere.

Cortes arranged a meeting with Montezuma II, the leader of the Aztecs. His conversation was not a friendly one – it was a monologue that could be summed up with “Give me your gold, or I will destroy you”.

Montezuma believed that Cortes might be a deity and decided to yield his vast resources. Shortly after that, Cortes repaid Montezuma’s trust and submission by killing him, placing the city under siege, and cutting off its food and water supplies. Within 80 days 240,000 were dead – within 2 years, the entire civilisation had collapsed.

Less than a decade later an explorer named Francisco Pizarro captured and killed the leader of the Incas, Atahuallpa. They, too, were plundered, and within two years the society became an historical footnote.

Over a century later the conquering Spanish headed to the deserts of modern day New Mexico to force a Christian conversion upon the natives there. They would make them Catholics – they would transform them from hunters into farmers.

The primitive people were the Apaches. The Apaches had nothing – except their way of life. No highway system. No permanent towns or cities. No pyramids. No gold. All that was valued was stored under their dark skin – in their immense souls.

For two centuries the Apache battled the Spanish tooth and nail. The wild people of the deserts persevered and prevailed against the Spanish. Why? Because every one of them fought from a spiritual compulsion, rather than the command-and-control coercion of officers and strategy.

The Apache had no appointed chief or army commander, but they did have the Nant’an.

A Nant’an was a spiritual leader who led by example – not by coercion. Warriors fearlessly followed the Nant’an. Nant’ans lived, fought, and died alongside those they led. When one was killed, another seemed to incarnate the spirit of the fallen and press the fight forward. Inspired. Courageous. They resisted. Not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

The Apache have no word or concept for the phrase “you should”.

Not one of those proud Native Americans had to follow their larger-than-life leaders. Neither Geronimo nor Cochise roared “you should”, “you must” or “follow me”.

Apaches were empowered to choose against whom, and if, they would make war.

When the Spanish killed a Nant’an, a new one would take his place. Like Agent Smith in The Matrix.**

When they burned a village, the Apache became nomadic.

The more they were attacked, the more decentralised and resilient the Apache became.

The Apaches won because of their decentralised structure, based on deep relationships, in the absence of leadership, hierarchy and rules. This deep affinity with one another was the primary tool of this insurgency.

Then it all went wrong…

The Americans (of European descent) entered the picture. They too found it impossible to defeat the Apaches. Until, that is, they decided to give them some land and a few cattle. Within a few years the Apache society had fallen apart.

You may question why land and cattle would trigger such destruction of something so decentralised and resilient. And rightly so. In fact, I attest that these lessons are critical to humanity, not just in a political sense of rulership, but also at a sociological level of understanding. Especially in the context of recent events.

It turns out, there are three ways of destroying decentralised structures.

1. Change the participants’ ideology by showing them another, better, way

2. Centralise them by giving them constructs in which greed is built

3. Decentralise yourself

This particular piece is not intended for a full exploration of how the above three points can take shape – but evidently, the Apaches were destroyed by the second method.

In light of the Osama Bin Laden events, and without attempting some political advisory role, or religious bias, I would say this:

1. It would be wise to view the horrific, terrorist acts as manifestations of decentralised, asymmetric warfare

2. It would not be as wise to view this horror as removable, nor reconcilable, by the murder of one man

3. It would be wise to rapidly strategise, distribute, and execute a counteractive plan that takes into extreme context, the very nature of the structural elements involved in the challenge

4. It would not be as wise to celebrate a temporary passing as outright victory, with all respect to lives lost forthwith

As a pacifist and humanitarian, my personal belief is that the demise of others is not an acceptable way of promoting a singular cause. Thus, I give this free advice based on bias toward a more harmonious world, rather than one of conflict.

Nevertheless, if a country, Government or movement is setting out to truly combat acts of terror, the infrastructure of the challenge should be considered in the highest regard.

* The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (2008)

** Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999)

You simply cannot end a war with fire-power. You either use too little or too much” ~ My son, 13 years old at the time.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Option of Civilisation

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During the year 1814 over 96,000 people visited Bethlam Royal Hospital (also known as Bedlam), to laugh at the mental patients. The visitors felt justified in doing so as the patients were considered to be “already destined for hell”.

Many clever people commented on the definitions and causes of madness. One could cast blame on the education system, the Government, family upbringing or financial security, but it came to pass that mental illness was thought ultimately to be caused by moral weakness. Due to this, photography was seen as having a use in treatment and delusional patients were confronted with the image of their real selves. It was thought that issues of morality should be addressed with methods of moral awakening and reason.

Despite the development of thought over the last 200 years, our perception of life remains a product of our understanding of life in general, at any point in time.

Every generation generally believes its wisdom to be advanced. However, this perceived advancement is purely relative to prior generations’ wisdom, so it follows that in numerous generations time our understanding of life will be far more advanced than now.

It is not that our current understanding is without merit, but instead that our current understanding is unlikely to be complete. This incompleteness is not solely horizontal across a timeline of history, but also vertical in terms of whom, at any point in time, has the most authentic, relevant and useful information to form the most complete understanding.

Let me explain.

We have challenges in society that must be addressed and in Great Britain it is the Government who has been elected to guide this. The understanding of life that they must apply can only be a combination of experience and thought (i.e. information) from the Members of Parliament, Civil Servants, and any other organisations or individuals they call upon for advice.

Thus the quality of Governmental decision is directly proportional to the authenticity, relevance and usefulness of Government’s understanding that in turn is directly proportional to the authenticity, relevance and usefulness of the information provided to Government.

Many announcements we see that relate to present issues happening in society are based, understandably, on solving real-time challenges – and to these, everyone has an opinion. Following that phase, the announcements will move towards the wider and deeper issues. Again, these will be met with opposing opinions to which we are totally granted the right to have.

We are charged with having faith that those who will guide us forward are armed with the authentic, relevant and useful information from which to form an understanding and make the best quality decisions.

There are options available if that faith isn’t within you and one of those options is to use the tools, platforms and channels we are armed with as citizens.

Maybe the collective voice of people can make a difference to how we move forward. After all, we have the ability to express ourselves more affordably than ever before.

Another option is to create or identify a political party that you do believe in, and either run for Parliament (if it is yours), or join/vote for it (if it is someone else’s).

We all have options and we all have accountability for our happiness and contentment. However, something that is not an option in a civilised society is violent, criminal destruction.

I defend anyone’s right to opinion and expression within the law, but when it manifests into ruining people’s lives and turning once safe streets into war zones, any opinion becomes invalid.

If one wants things to change, one must use the facilities available and allowed.

All else is mindless thuggish bullying that I find deeply repelling and ridiculous, primarily in its immature ineffectiveness.

“When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.” Arapaho Proverb

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Public Urban Boundary Systems

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Everything is getting so augmented and virtual nowadays – soon we will be able to live much of our lives in a totally unreal place, commanding experiences at the touch of a button, viewing through walls and skin effortlessly.

It’s tremendously exciting – but sometimes I wonder what will happen next. I mean, what will happen after everything is super virtual? What will follow? In my most bizarrely darkest hours I envisage people viewing instant messages and emails as fake signs of emotion, preferring instead to seal hand-written letters with wax stamps.

I envisage people paying a premium for mechanical, cog-based processors for even the simplest of tasks such as ‘telling the time’.

I envisage a global society who communicate virtually in three or four dimensions, never needing to leave their ‘pods’ – but with the option to pay to walk down a ‘Hi Street’. These areas are named as such because that is where you can say ‘Hi’ to a real person, i.e. one with flesh and blood.

Perhaps these toll roads, these ‘Hi Streets’, are encapsulated by areas that act as holding bays for people who would otherwise be greeting strangers…?

These could be called ‘Public Urban Boundary Systems’ or ‘PUBS’ for short.

Eventually, if we push things far enough, we stand a good chance of ending up with reality.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Protectionism

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Over time I have published a number of ideas that, one day, may come to life – with or without my personal involvement. These were my ideas that I have no protection over in terms of trademark or patents. You may wonder why I so openly published these ideas, especially in an environment where people are so protective over their concepts. As it happens, I worked out that for these ideas to take flight, they would require external help. So I could either:

1. Speak to people I know, in addition to some they recommend, then get a confidentiality agreement signed and create a working group.

2. Keep the ideas to myself and try to execute them myself as the sole owner.

3. Share the ideas openly with others and see whether anyone other than me would like to make them come to life.

The risk of option 1 is that the people I find on my own may not ultimately be the best people for the ideas. Plus, I don’t see a great deal of value in a confidentiality agreement when it is very hard, if not impossible, to prove that someone did or didn’t have an idea first. The approach also assumes that the idea is totally unique, which quite honestly is rarely the case.

The risk of option 2 is that it’s improbable only you can make everything happen. Omnipotence is an equally vicious poison. However hard you try there still isn’t a way of stretching 24 hours into 25 and even if you multi-task your head off, focus is diluted from the moment you start the second most important thing, let alone the third.

The risk of option 3 is that others ‘steal’ the idea and run with it. This is why so many people don’t share with others and produces the worst cases of The Poison Of Protectionism.

However, I’d like to propose a different logic as an antidote to this poison. This is what I call ‘The 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention’:

1. It is very rare that an idea you come up with is totally unique. The chances are that someone, somewhere, is already working on it and they may have a greater resource than you, let alone some trademark or patent applications in process. This doesn’t mean your idea is less worthy or has less potential, but it does mean you are in good company and maybe the market is already setting its own scene in preparation for your version of the idea to take life.

2. Not everyone is inspired by the same thing. People who happen to hear you speaking about an idea are exceedingly unlikely to stop whatever they were doing and start a whole new project/company/whatever on the basis of hearing you speak. It’s not that your idea isn’t incredible – I’m sure it is – but people are into different things. Most inventions are too nuanced to be replicable.

3. It’s not actually down to the quality of the idea; it’s the execution of it. Sure you need a brilliant concept but when it comes down to it, success isn’t based on an idea itself. Profit isn’t based on the idea itself. Fame isn’t based on the idea itself. The way you execute it determines all those factors – whichever one you prefer as your metric of success. If you look at this in the context of the 1st principle (it is very rare that an idea you come up with is totally unique), you could have numerous people with the same idea but the ultimate winner will still be the one who executes best.

4. Talent creates and genius borrows. As it happens, originality can be a pain. It’s harder to prove a business case. It’s harder to convince people to invest. It’s harder to show people you aren’t crazy and ultimately, it’s harder to know how the hell to execute as nobody has done so before. As it turns out, many of the ideas around today that have turned into established businesses are based on older ideas, but done better. Google wasn’t the first search engine, iTunes wasn’t the first music player and Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Oh and by the way, I would place money on none of them being the last of their kind, despite being market leaders at the time of writing.

Despite these 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention, there is an extreme level of protectionism in most industries, especially from people who haven’t been in business for a lengthy period. Often, people who are starting up on their own, take a view that the business world is some blood-sucking, evil, idea-grabbing monster which preys upon the young and innocent. Well, from experience, the business world can be like that, but it also exists in the realities of the four principles I outlined above. The truth is that the business world doesn’t normally listen to newcomers, especially those with potentially disruptive ideas. If they did, the reality is they mostly wouldn’t care a great deal.

My advice to those suffering from The Poison Of Protectionism is this:

1. Find something that exists and better it, radically. I’d wager there isn’t anything that cannot be bettered. Plus, this way you can always tell people what you are working on because what you are bettering already exists. One caveat is that it is often counter-productive to follow competition. It is far better to create your own playing field, even if you take the ball (and maybe some of the players) from the old one.

2. If you have something you think is totally original and world changing, decide what your ultimate goal is. If your goal is for the world to benefit from the idea being a reality, don’t fear others ‘stealing it’. Share it openly and if someone does ‘steal it’ let’s hope they either make it real, or even see the genius you are and invite you to join in. If your goal is to become super-rich and famous for being such a stunning entrepreneur, then either form a secret team or do it yourself in secret. Personally I believe you could get the same result from sharing openly but that requires a certain level of faith and a specific clarity in what your ultimate goal is.

3. Learn ‘The 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention’. These will sanity check your thoughts along the way and who knows, maybe it will make the difference between something being great and a non-launched pipe-dream that you never got round to?

Good luck.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Emotion In Artificial Intelligence

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In 1992, Gerald Tesauro created a programmeme called TD-Gammon at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Centre. The TD part stands for Temporal Difference (which is a type of learning system), and the Gammon part is taken from the game, Backgammon.

TD-Gammon quickly became as competent as the world’s best human players, eventually beating them and showing unforeseen strategies that, to this day, are incorporated by humans in backgammon tournaments. The real innovation was actually within the evaluation process used by the programmeme.

Basically, the algorithm became more and more consistent with every move, improving the view of the board and probabilities, based on the most recent move (hence temporal-difference learning). The capability to dynamically learn got the Artificial Intelligence (AI) community pretty excited.

A year later, in 1993, a guy called Vernor Vinge* a mathematics professor, computer scientist and science fiction writer, wrote a book called ‘The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era’**.

This is how the book starts:

“Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive? These questions are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further dangers) are presented.

What is The Singularity?

The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means by which science may achieve this breakthrough (and this is another reason for having confidence that the event will occur):

• The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent. (To date, most controversy in the area of AI relates to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is “yes, we can”, then there is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter)

• Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity

• Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent

• Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect”

Vinge later writes that “I’ll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.”

It may come as a surprise that Vinge wasn’t the first writer who went to these apparent extremes.

In 1847, R. Thornton, the editor of the Primitive Expounder***, wrote (more than half in jest) about the recent invention of a four function mechanical calculator:

“…such machines, by which the scholar may, by turning a crank, grind out the solution of a problem without the fatigue of mental application, would by its introduction into schools, do incalculable injury. But who knows that such machines when brought to greater perfection, may not think of a plan to remedy all their own defects and then grind out ideas beyond the ken of mortal mind!”

And also, a hero of mine Alan Turing**** stated in 1951 that:

“Once the machine thinking method has started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers … At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control.”

More recently (and fashionably), in a 2005 book by Ray Kurzweil ‘The Singularity Is Near’*****, the first chapter discusses what Kurzweil calls The Six Epochs. The penultimate epoch is called ‘The Merger of Human Technology with Human Intelligence’.

This epoch, giving further emphasis to Vinge, is where technology reaches a level of sophistication and fine-structuring comparable with that of biology, allowing the two to merge to create higher forms of life and intelligence. Kurzweil claims that we are now in the process of entering this epoch, thus giving justification to his claims that The Singularity is near.

So far, so good.

The Singularity is a very popular topic now. Those who are really into proper geek technology, have a field day with imagining what life may look like when computers outstrip human capabilities.

There are detractors of course, however the challenges I find most interesting are lesser found in common reviews and posts about The Singularity or AI in general. The challenge I’m fascinated with is:

Can non-benevolent (i.e. non-well meaning) super-intelligence persist?

To this point there was poignant commentary in a piece in 2011 by Mark Waser******. Here’s an excerpt:

“Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers generally define intelligence as the ability to achieve widely-varied goals under widely-varied circumstances. It should be obvious, if an intelligence has (or is given) a malevolent goal or goals, that every increase in its intelligence will only make it more capable of succeeding in that malevolence and equally obvious therefore that mere super-intelligence does not ensure benevolence.”

My favourite quote from Mark is at the end of his post:

“A path of non-benevolence is likely to come back and haunt any entity who is not or does not wish to be forever alone in the universe.”

And this brings me to a point of view still under development in my mind… and to be honest, I’m shocked there is such low volume of writing and apparent thought in this area.

I’m concerned that the people most involved with AI are primarily technologists.

In the same way as Mark Zuckerberg defines privacy, identity, and human rights in a totally different way than I do, I’m concerned that the proponents of AI are considering a different definition of benevolence.

The intelligence spoken of is the type necessary to win at backgammon, or chess – activities that have ultimate scenarios and finite variables. The machine intelligence involved in developments of The Singularity and AI is contextually logical and mathematical.

There is little talk of the illogical and emotional, because the machinery being developed, albeit of exponential capability, is fundamentally hierarchical, not democratic like the human brain. We seem to overlook there is a reason why even the smartest computers cannot beat the best players at poker.

I fear that the intelligence involved is only one part of the intelligence that powers humankind. I struggle to believe that the emotional intelligence has been featured strongly enough in AI computations.

Whilst my personal hope is for benevolent super-intelligence, I’m hard pressed to find enough proof that the AI developments are considering the soft science elements as an equal priority.

And let’s not forget, the estimation of our own emotional intelligence is at best embryonic. It is only in recent times that we have started to realise the deep cognitive patterns that power our thoughts, decisions and behaviours.

Ultimately I’m concerned that we haven’t even scratched the surface of our own emotional intelligence, so how prepared are we to ensure optimal artificial emotional intelligence, if indeed that is even a priority?

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

* Verner Vinge

** The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era by Vernor Vinge (1993)

*** Primitive Expounder, Devoted to Theoretical and Practical Religion, Expounded in Its Primitive Purity, Excellence and Loveliness by R. Thornton & J. Billings (1845)

**** Alan Turing

***** The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil (2005)

****** “Superintelligence Does Not Imply Benevolence” by Mark Waser (2011):

The Poison Of Technology That Can

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When I was younger, the ‘cool’ stuff was created by large, faceless organisations with brilliant logos and jingles. I imagined they sat in massive offices, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and dreaming up incredible solutions to problems we hadn’t realised we had. Growing up, I found this wasn’t too far from the truth – although the non-smoking policy in many buildings diluted the reality.

Let me place down my cards straight away: I love new technology, I’m a geek, and I will pretty much buy anything with some form of wireless transmitter, or trial pretty much any software that increases my productivity.

But equally, I will only keep using stuff that makes my life easier or better… and this is why I have drawers full of useless crap that probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But that’s what eBay is for, right?

When speaking with numerous inventors or creators (of whom most were technologists), I realised a while ago, there is a distinct divide in motivation that leads to invention. Without meaning to be too binary, and purely for illustrative purposes, the divide I see is:

Those who create or invent due to an existing problem that needs to be solved
Those who create or invent due to a technological capability, without addressing an existing problem
The justification of the second type tends to be that the technological capability will address a future problem that, maybe, people haven’t even realised yet. Actually, most people retrospectively state they are in the first camp – the key word here being retrospectively.

If we look closely at the genesis of ideas, there are multitudes of instances where “doing something really clever with technology” is actually the driver, rather than “doing something that will help or add fundamental value to the end user”.

I see it time and time again – the ‘adding value’ part is appended to the end of a ream of technological wizardry and often, people accept the rhetoric if the powerpoint presentation is cool enough.

In reality I see these as solutions looking for a problem, and, whilst we’re on the catchphrases; when you’re a hammer, everything looks like nail.

Worse still, if we work for a company or organisation with a strong technological bias, we may well be pre-programmemed to dream up a ‘use case’ or ‘user journey’ after the technology has already been created (or, at least conceived).

However we arrive at it, these circumstances are symptoms of an exceedingly popular poison known as The Poison Of Technology That Can.

The problem is that the technology around us presents so many opportunities to do ‘stuff’; it’s very tempting just to go ahead and do it.

We can be driven by the desire for money, the desire for fame, or the desire to fulfil a mandate from our bosses. We can invent stories of demand, which actually are based on an assumption that we represent the mass market.

Rooms of people in corporate suits, earning big money, carrying three smartphones, assuming that the girl on the reception desk truly cares about the latest 3.542v processor that enables something that only those in corporate suits can pronounce, but none are brave enough to describe, in case they get it wrong.

“No, you’ve misjudged us Jonathan,” they say. “The 3.542v isn’t for people like her, we are going for the biggest market opportunity, and that is people just like us.”

Then I say, “…but, with respect, you may not actually be representative of the biggest market.”

Then they say, “No, we are! Everyone I know is like me.”

Then I say, “So why are you putting out an advertising campaign aimed at people like the girl on reception?”

Then they say, “Because people like that aspire to be just like us!”

Then I shut my big mouth.

The Poison Of Technology That Can is a terrible virus. It’s everywhere you look. Want to test it? Ask someone who has created something, how they came up with the idea. Here are some potential answers:

“We noticed our competitors getting into the space of…”

“We read a report that this market was going to…”

“We were instructed by our CEO that we had to use our tech capability to…”

If the answer starts with phrases like these, it is quite likely they have been infected by The Poison Of Technology That Can.

The evil beauty of this poison is that you can hide it really easily with key messages and marketing communications.

In fact, even people within organisations can believe they are making real people’s lives better, simply because they have been told they are.

The poison is so damn clever, it sometimes results in successes, thus justifying future creations based on the same approach of technology first, external purpose second. The poison is also intelligent. It is the big brother of post-rationalisation that continues the viral mutation. So – what’s the antidote?

It’s as easy and as hard as having the vision, ethical merit and bravery to continually question “how can we make people’s lives better?” or “how can we add more value to people’s experiences?”

Then, having the courage to invest in fulfilling the external purpose rather than a) following competitors, or b) taking the easy road of doing what’s possible, rather than what’s valuable.

Sounds easy to say, doesn’t it?

Sadly, it really isn’t…

However – if you ever wanted a competitive edge, if you ever wanted to tear apart the marketplace you’re in, or, most importantly, if you ever wanted to attract loyal and loving fans, my advice is to avoid The Poison Of Technology That Can like the plague.

In fact, Technology That Can will almost guarantee you will be left with a Bank Manager That Can’t… and People Who Ignore.

What could be worse?

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

It Is Within

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I remember once walking off stage in Kiev where I had spoken in some detail about the necessity of courage when attempting to succeed. Someone approached me and asked whether I thought courage could be learned or whether you have to be born with it.

That is a good question.

My short answer was: “I think the challenge is less about learning courage and more about addressing the fears that create obstacles to what we desire to achieve.”

Here is my longer answer:

Around 2500 years ago the Orphics had one of the first recognised religions to support the concept of personal heaven and hell. Damnation, redemption and salvation. Within.

Unlike earlier Greek religions that suggested a wide gulf between humans and Gods, the Orphics considered any believer to be able to find Godliness within their soul. Homer’s humanised Gods, in contrast, were absolutely unattainable.

The Orphics said bodies were “the tomb of the soul” which successively imprisoned the soul through numerous birth cycles until final purification. It was thought that when a soul achieved full redemption it could dwell with the Gods evermore. Incurable souls were condemned to lie in the “Slough” forever.

As it happens, I’ve visited Slough in the South of England and I can confirm it’s a truly horrible place.

Anyway, despite the scarcity of historical evidence, (a few gold plates with writing on, buried in Italy and Crete with the remains of believers), Orphicism had a significant effect on all subsequent religions, including those that seem furthest removed from it.

Those enjoyable dinner party guests who have studied c.5th century B.C. enlightenment will confirm the main point being from Hippocrates in his treatise entitled ‘On Airs, Waters and Places’*: “Nothing is more divine or more human than anything else, but all things are alike and all divine.”

When I meet people around the world I sometimes drop in a few questions that tell me a great deal about them. These questions are exactly the same as I ask myself daily:

“What do you truly believe in?”

“Why do you do what you do?”

“What would you actually like to do?”

“What stops you from doing what you wish?”

It would seem these questions are about careers but actually they are about courage.

I like finding out what obstacles people perceive and whether they are capable of overcoming their fears to remove the obstacles in the way of success. You can tell a lot about people from whether they feel they are achieving what they desire.

Dan Gardner writes in the book ‘Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear’** that our level of perceived risk is inversely proportional to our level of knowledge. In other words, when we know less about something our perceived risk is greater than when we know more.

The logic is that understanding means we can be rational and properly assess whether it is actually valid to be afraid of something. Unfortunately though, some of our deepest fears are irrational and not necessarily addressed with increased knowledge.

For instance, I recently had to hold the hand of a 60-year-old Turkish man on a flight to Istanbul because he was petrified of flying. Or at least that’s what he said… I still have no idea why he wanted his leg rubbed.

When it comes down to it, our fear-based obstacles limit us from achieving our full potential. Whilst one can learn whether the other side of an obstacle is attractive and safe, the root of our obstacle placement is based on our feeling of security.

The popular quote “feel the fear and do it anyway” is essentially a summary of the need to feel comfortable with the feeling of insecurity. This is not to say that feeling insecure is good. This is to say that feeling at ease with a lower level of security often opens the door to higher achievement.

I have found this to be true.

In my life I have felt extremely secure and extremely insecure at different times. Oddly, the most insecure I have felt was when I had the most traditional security. For example, when I had a ‘proper’ job, I always felt at high risk of everything being removed by a faceless board of directors. As I am monumentally unemployable this was a realistic fear to have.

Personally I have no real idea of what my life will look like in 12 months and I embrace that feeling. This is because, ultimately, I have belief.

I believe in what I am doing to such an extent that nothing seems impossible. I am far beyond driven.

I have an extreme focus on what it is I would like to achieve and I am pretty sure I know how to get there.
If the road map is wrong, that’s fine too. In fact if my aspirations change I will then have extreme focus on the new set.

As I have an ‘open-arms’ approach to changes in circumstance I am not remotely concerned if circumstances change.

Just as the Orphics said that (literally) every body contained the access path to divinity, I believe that (literally) every body contains the access path to achieving whatever is desired.

This is how I live, accountable and in control of my destiny.

From being given up at birth to experiencing times of hardship, loss, and constraint, I am living testament to the fact that anything you commit to and focus on is achievable.

Whilst the others wait to receive what they think they deserve, you have the absolute power to go out and get what it is you believe in.

It is within.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

* On Airs, Waters and Places by Hippocrates (400 B.C.E)

** Risk by Dan Gardner (2008)

Quantifying BioCrime

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he Nike Fuelband was just one of many examples within a movement known as ‘Quantified Self’. In simple terms this is basically a process of being aware of what we do and how it affects us. For instance, knowing that by running two miles you burn a certain number of calories, or that in a day you’ve walked a certain number of steps.

Moving forward we’ll see more tools appearing that enable us to access the data we’re producing and at the time of writing in the middle of 2013, the vast majority of comment is about the positive opportunities data recording brings. For Nike, last year’s profits rose by 18% in their equipment division due to the launch of the Fuelband, and for the public, it would appear we like recording and observing a lot of what we’re doing and, at times, sharing it with others.

This habit of recording, observing and sharing may seem fairly trivial when it only involves calories burned but we’re on the brink of unlocking a new level in our personal information. The game is already in play and it involves the most advanced storage system in the universe that holds the most detailed personal information on each and every one of us.

Our DNA.

In terms of ‘self’ there is no purer version and the moves toward quantifying it are rapidly taking shape, a subject well covered in Wired Magazine in recent times, inspiring this piece in many ways.

Scientists have been onto this for ages too. The first human genome sequence cost £2billion to complete in the year 2000, today it’s less than £2500 and by the end of the decade it will cost less than a pound. As you read this, genetic engineers are programmeming living things directly all over the world. To aid this effort, thousands of people have proactively shared their complete genetic codes and other biometrics to the Public Genome Project. On the good side we can envisage new possibilities in ‘life betterment’ such as medicines and disease control, on the downside there’s a high chance we are moving into an era of BioCrime.

If you view living organisms as computers, the hardware is the cell and the operating system software is our personal DNA. In short, what we currently know as computer hacking will likely be mirrored in DNA hacking.

After all, if genetic engineering becomes as common as software engineering, there will be millions of new developers in the field and it’s extremely likely (if not inevitable) that sociopaths and terrorists will be involved.

If we look at the range of digital hacks and ask what the BioCrime versions would be, there are some pretty bleak outcomes that could well be round the corner. For now, I’ll resist talking about mass genocide and vicious denial of service attacks of entire cities but instead focus in on four BioCrime scenarios that would appear to be waiting in the wings.


As with computer spam, it’s all about volume. It isn’t targeted very much; it’s just a numbers game.

Bringing the methodology across to BioCrime you could envisage the creation of synthetic bacteria that can easily be distributed to a small group and realistically could spread like a common cold. This could blanket the world in months.

It so happens that pattern formation is already supported in synthetic creations so people could suddenly develop rashes on their skin with logos or other imagery on. Even by writing that I imagine the media industry dreaming up a new terminology. Rash Marketing or some such… Rash is the new Reach… oh boy.

Seriously though, one could imagine new industry verticals opening up with companies distributing anti-spam technologies from synthetic vaccines to body-covering equipment to avoid contact with the spreading BioSpam bacteria. If you are in an anti-virus company today, this may be your next market opportunity.


Taking DNA and placing it somewhere else could quite easily frame someone at the scene of a crime they were nowhere near.

In an article published by the Journal of Forensic Sciences International, researchers demonstrated it is possible to isolate DNA from a tissue or glass and mass-produce it. For instance a piece of skin could be grown or in-vitro sperm produced that frames someone for sexual assault.

Can you imagine the level of policing this would require and the advancement in biotechnology to counteract it? And what type of tools could individuals use to protect themselves from being ‘BioSpoofed’?


500 million times a day an official looking email requests a recipient to open links that then steal information.

In the digital world it is more possible to not leave a ‘signature’ but biologically we leave parts of us everywhere. Signatures with extraordinary volumes of data inside that are way more detailed than any digital interaction we carry out. We may be paranoid about technology companies seeing our passwords but that’s nothing in comparison to what we’re already leaving behind.

We’re always shedding skin cells for a start. Then there’s the saliva left on every cup or item of cutlery, and taxis and plane seats covered in our hair. Hotel bathrooms and beds provide an ideal location for BioPhishing with various fluids left around, all providing material to be used in the same way as our passwords are used when our email accounts are hacked.

Hairstylists and waiters may not seem so innocent in the future and your sewage system could easily be tapped for more private information than you’ve ever even told anyone. ‘Knowing your shit’ takes on a whole new meaning.

The DNA of unborn children doesn’t even escape the threat as baby cells can be automatically sorted out of a mother’s blood sample unwillingly left on a toothbrush.

One could imagine the types of organisations that may combat this. Maybe clothing companies or furniture manufacturers could innovate in areas that show what you’re leaving behind in terms of DNA?

Spear BioPhishing

This is a more personalised version of mass BioPhishing.

Spear BioPhishing is a personalised biological attack where viruses, cells or other nanoparticles are engineered to become activated only when in contact with a particular organism or individual(s).

This could manifest like wiping the short-term memory of a particular group of people (like a shift of factory workers for example), or to ensure a particular politician loses his or her ability to speak…Maybe the monitoring technologies could be used to monitor our relative sanity to check and alert us if any unusual activity is taking place? I’ll resist the obvious punchlines here.

So while the Quantified Self movement is certainly full of funky ways to find out about our fitness and meaningful ways to find out about our core health:

– We must move forward with awareness that the other side of the coin will be growing just as fast if not quicker. Don’t only seek out the information that supports your preference or what suits your particular job, company or industry.

– We must only build the future we want to live in. Everything you do has an impact on what is next. Question everything you are building today and check you’re morally okay with the consequences of how things may play out if extended from today’s version.

If you’re a company looking for the next white space of opportunity, the area of BioCrime is one you may not want to miss out on. In a positive way I hope. Start from considering the above four scenarios in terms of what the human need would be and how you could add extreme value.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Change Is The Enemy Of The Competent

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A long time ago when I started helping companies interpret how to use the Internet I was met with a significant level of negativity.

During my tenure as the Chairman of the retail side of the British Music Industry, one particular retailer who thought that I was “representing the Internet” said that he would make sure I was “shut down”.

Years later I was laughed at in boardrooms when explaining to supermarkets they could sell groceries online.

After this I was kicked out of meetings for talking about the virtualisation of physical products and services.

Within the last six years I’ve been taken aside and quietly told that I have no right to talk about “digital black magic” to serious businessmen. Told instead to “bring back proof and case studies to show how markets had been re-defined online”.

At the time though, no case studies existed and the only proof we had was from Cern, considered to be unrelated to commerciality by many organisations.

As I cut my teeth as a private adviser I was invited by the Government to discuss how the effect of the web could be “slowed down”.

In February 2006, when I announced the forthcoming trend in permission mobile marketing, I was cornered in a corridor by two very angry traditional advertising guys who were absolutely furious that I was “rocking the boat”. Over my entire career I’ve faced these reactions. I’m used to it.

You can’t win against them by arguing back. You can’t win by entering into long debates. To some people the existence of absolute indisputable evidence is the only thing they will accept – but actually that’s not it. I’ve realised that their issue is not the actual issue.

The fact is, change is the enemy of the competent as it re-defines the safe place within which the competent dwell.

The competent cannot stand change. Ultimately it makes them scared as what they think they know is being challenged.

If anything changes, the only way they feel comfortable is if they can pragmatically re-design the walls of their safe place, at their speed and within their level of understanding, without rocking any boats.

However change doesn’t wait for that, hence being so unattractive. Change is persistent and unrelenting in the face of those who resist.

As the Chinese proverb says: “When the winds of change are blowing, some build a shelter, others build a windmill.”

I’m in the windmill business. Are you?

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Certainty

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he more I look for it, the more I seem to find instances of people stating, with absolute certainty, what will or won’t ‘ever’ happen.

Look at TV companies stating that there will “always be TV” or music companies stating that there will “always be record labels”. How about that there will “always be vinyl records” or that people will “always read paper books”?

These statements assume total knowledge of all future scenarios.

Actually I suspect the correct interpretation is, “I cannot imagine a time when…” or “I have no reason to believe that…” But people like certainties, explanations and tangibles.

People like to speak and listen to assured advice. It’s far easier to accept things if they are compartmentalised and well presented. The unpredictable is often seen as dangerous and threatening although I believe the main danger and threat is any level of assumptive certainty. That’s the killer – that’s the risk.

The next time you hear someone state that something will always exist, or never change; ask yourself how on earth they could know the future with such certainty? The past and the present have nothing to do with it. So what can you go on? Intuition? Luck? Guesswork? Yes, it’s awkward to do business without assured futures, so keeping sensory agility is critical.

I’m certain it always will be.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

Human Versus Machine

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In 1996, World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov was undoubtedly the most famous chess player in the world. On February 10th of the same year, in Philadelphia, following many months of reminding the public of his supreme dominance, he sat down to face an opponent called ‘Deep Blue’.

This wasn’t an ordinary opponent of course, this was a computer created by IBM and considered in those days to be the most advanced computer in the world. The idea was to have 6 chess games in total – the winner of the match having the majority of victories. On the machine side there was a team of chess experts and programmemers manually altering the software between the games. On Kasparov’s side he only had his IQ of 190. In this match Kasparov won 4–2. Following this triumph of human versus machine, Kasparov wasn’t slow in coming forward as to his secret for success. “I knew enough to put the computer in misery”, he claimed to NewsWeek in May that year.

At the same time, the IBM team went back to the drawing board. They felt that their machine was sub-optimal and if they could work hard for many months, using the increasingly powerful computer capability they had, they could potentially win. They installed a Grandmaster player as part of the team, a guy called Joel Benjamin, who was basically there to constantly challenge the new versions of the machine. After several months, Grandmaster Benjamin stated that, “When I play the machine now, I can no longer use an anti-computer strategy to pick apart its weaknesses, that’s why I feel it has a real chance to win.” Kasparov was told about this statement in the NewsWeek interview and had a fairly blunt response. “This is crap.”

The following year a re-match was announced and on the 3rd May 1997 in New York, the human/machine battle was re-surfaced in the same format of 6 games. The first game was won by Kasparov in 45 moves, however it was the 44th move that lingered in Kasparov’s mind. Despite his victory, he couldn’t work out why a computer would have made the move it did. He attributed the counterintuitive play to “superior intelligence” and this concerned him greatly leading into the second game the following day. Many years after, the full truth came out – but we’ll get to that later.

This second game on the 4th May 1997 was to become the most famous chess games in history. The game progressed on a fairly even level until one particular move by Deep Blue which repositioned one of the bishops to the square ‘e4’. At that point, the blatantly obvious moves available were to take several pawns off the table and attack Kasparov’s queen. The actual chosen move however, was a move that no human would have been able to conceive, unless they were able to process 200 million combinations every second, which sadly for Kasparov the new and improved Deep Blue could do easily.

With the 44th move of the previous day playing on his mind constantly, Kasparov gradually broke down and, over the next set of moves, became increasingly upset with himself and the entire process. Eventually he resigned the game and accused IBM of cheating. His on-going mood negatively impacted the remaining 4 games and he eventually lost the entire match. The machine had beaten the human.

Following this, Kasparov was very public about his claims that IBM had cheated in some way. He demanded the log files of every decision, stating that, “A computer wouldn’t have made moves like that”.

During the remainder of the year, in the face of public claims of his demise, Kasparov became more and more interested in the human versus machine subject and he invested heavily into something he termed “Advanced Chess”. This was a new version of chess that allowed human players to use a computer as an assistant.

Over time, Advanced Chess had an offspring called “Freestyle Chess”. This version meant that you could use multiple people and multiple computer programmes against your opponent. The “player” was called a “centaur” and, as it happens, in 2014 the Freestyle Chess champion was a centaur named “Intagrand” made up of a team of British players and numerous software applications.

Throughout many matches, the results clearly showed that centaurs were far more successful than only a human, or only a machine. It turned out that the most optimal combination is both, rather than one or the other.

I am fascinated by this progress and I monitor it closely. Not necessarily because I’m really into chess, but instead because I look at this situation and wonder how it could impact other sports and, in fact, other industries. To this end, I’ve written about my concept of Super Olympics in “28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution”, explaining my theory that athletes could use any augmentation they like. A bionic arm for a discus thrower, or maybe zoom-able contact lenses for the rifle shooters?

But how about if human/machine augmentation could positively impact how surgery is carried out in hospitals? How about the beneficial impact in piloting airlines? The educational impact on school teachers? Or maybe Judges in a court of law? All of these professions could potentially benefit from machine assistance that knows everything that has happened before, everything that is happening now and the probabilities of everything that is yet to come – in addition to the human nuances. If it really is the case that a combination of humans and machinery provides the most beneficial outcomes, surely there is a major opportunity in almost every industry vertical?

On one hand this provides a huge potential set of disruptions, but conversely it shows where the major innovations could happen. In reality though, most would observe this story as one about chess. It requires a step-change in thought expansion to translate it across to other areas. This is what many leading innovators do. They can see the developments in one sector and conceptualise the benefit in others.

But, going back to the 3rd May 1997, the twist in the tale is this: the 44th move that day was actually a randomly generated move. The senior programmemer of Deep Blue, many years later admitted that the machine could not work out the next best move, so it took one at random. This was a bug in the software. A flaw rather than a feature. Of all the things Kasparov had considered when playing a computer, this was not one of them.

The reason that disruptors can fundamentally re-define market places is because they are able to think expansively. The reason Kasparov lost was due to his inability to do so. Kasparov was a victim of limited thought. That’s what lost him the game. He interpreted the stimulus, incorrectly reasoned the logic and inadvertently reached conclusions that cost him his crown. Literally and metaphorically.

I truly believe that there are multitudes of opportunities of success, however we define it, provided that we’re able to expand the way we think about the concepts and the contexts we come in contact with.

Your Days Are Numbered

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ave you ever wished there were more hours in the day to get things done?

Have you ever wondered where you will find the time to read the books that people have suggested to you?

How about the gym membership you bought at the start of the year that is yet to be used?

If any of these ring even slightly true, I’d say you are in a vast majority.

The most common thought around today in relation to this, is that our lives have never been busier. However, it is hard to find any scientific evidence of this. It is certainly true there is a deluge of distraction around us, caused by the capability and affordability of technology, but the busyness we now have could arguably just be the modern version of the busyness of old.

Centuries ago the busyness was far more involved in survival in many ways. From diseases to warfare, the olden days were riddled with a different range of activities that most certainly didn’t promote a high degree of comfort for many people. However, it is sadly not the case that everyone has an easier life today, in fact the level of poverty in the western world is at a surprisingly high level, but then again, so is our increasing life expectancy.

Mathematically we’ve never had more time on our hands, so why is it so common for us to feel that we don’t?

Recently I was facilitating a workshop in London to a range of business executives and the final question I was asked was this:

“I manage a group of people who constantly complain that they don’t have enough time in their lives. What can I do about this?”

My answer was pretty much the following and you can perhaps apply it yourself or to your team:

With any question regarding a limited resource, the starting point is to accept that the resource, time in this case, is limited. For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to intentionally avoid a school of thought (which I have some allegiance to) that would argue that time is an artificial construct and all that exists is the moment.

The starting point of acceptance is easy to describe yet sometimes tough to properly digest.

On my 42nd birthday I held a party that I called “15330”. This was simply a calculation of 42 years x 365 days. My attitude to life is structured around the days I’ve been alive and the probability of the number of days I have remaining. For the record, I have decided that I now have fewer days left than I’ve been alive – and I don’t mean to sound negative about that and I’d be delighted if it isn’t the case! Whatever the reality becomes, I can’t guess what will happen in the next few minutes, let alone the next day, week, month or year, so I attempt to live each day as if it is very much numbered. This isn’t to justify acting with reckless abandon (well, sometimes!), but it is to create a personal mindset that every day is drawing from a limited resource.

When a contact of mine asks me about a decision they need to make, I often refer to the options available in the amount of days. For example, to answer a question about whether to commit to something for the next 18 months of a remaining 10 year career span, I would point out that approximately 547 days out of the next 3650 isn’t necessarily a massive investment numerically. 2000 would be higher, right? Of course we need to take into account other factors such as whether the decision would potentially improve career opportunities etc, but in general I believe it is healthy to add the numerical perspective to the mix. An alternative view is that 3650 is already relatively small number in relation to a perceived lifespan, so investing 547 is a hefty price and would need to super-charge the remaining 1453 to really make sense.

Now we’ve appreciated that time is a limited resource, the next step is to work out how much time is spent on things.

If you work out how much time you spend on social media, commuting, checking emails, at the gym, watching TV, spending time with loved ones, eating, sleeping and so forth, you can plot this into a simple spreadsheet and ask, “What does 24 hours look like in my life?”

The final step is to then assign a priority to each thing. Personally I use 3 levels:

Priority 1: Need to have – things I absolutely must do otherwise I am unable to live, without which my mental and physical health would be in danger

Priority 2: Nice to have – things that fundamentally fulfil my mind, body and soul, without which it would be harder to achieve real happiness, however my mental and physical health would not be critically at risk without them

Priority 3: Noisy to have – things that I do that don’t necessarily fulfil me in a fundamental way but I feel I should do for one reason or another

You can choose your own priority levels, however I’d advise that one of the levels is linked to what is mission critical (e.g. my Priority 1). Now the analysis of your day is complete and you may be able to see a pattern. If, for example, your day is mostly Priority 3, this may well be having an impact on your happiness and health.

I believe that the time that could be used doing more productive and fulfilling things can be found in the Priority 3 camp. Sure, some of those things are necessary because of various obligations, but are there some things in there that could be reduced?

When the question was asked in the workshop, I asked the gentleman whether his team spent a lot of time on social media? He said “Yes, they are always on Facebook or something similar”. My short answer was that this could be the area where a time saving could be made. I gave an example that shaving 25 minutes a day off noisy activities could find over 12 hours each month for more meaningful ones. However, everyone is different and some may find it absolutely critical to spend time laughing at cats!

I’m not judging what fits into which priority, but I’d highly recommend trying out this approach to see whether you really are short of time, or whether you have a prioritisation issue that you can absolutely rectify if you wish. In my life I have found this to have a major impact in my productivity and happiness. I hope you do too, after all, your days are numbered.

Unlocking Advanced Innovation

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Over the last few decades in business I’ve seen many companies come and go. I’ve been on the frontline of hugely disruptive innovations and also the founder of several innovative startups, most of which were spectacularly, and sometimes painfully, unsuccessful. Throughout all this experience, when it comes to innovation, there is a common trait that separates those who compete normally and those who appear to have an unfair competitive advantage. That trait is the ability to elevate their perspective of the business they are actually in and then innovate like crazy within the broadened view.

From observation I’d say that the primary opportunities for innovation within any market are limited by the business you perceive yourself to be in. For example, Nokia had the slogan “Connecting People”, but perceived that intention as being “via mobile phones”. If they had elevated their perspective I wonder whether they would have actually created Facebook. I doubt that the iPhone would have disrupted them if they had this type of broader view.

Kodak had a fixed view of the business they were in, opening themselves up for eventual disruption by the camera phone industry. Whereas Fujifilm, theoretically in the same industry, elevated their perspective to realise they were actually in the business of manipulating the effect that light has on material. That was their main thing. This opened up a massive field of opportunity and they launched the market leading anti-wrinkle skin care cream brand AstaLift.

What Fujifilm did was unlock advanced innovation. This isn’t “me too” or incremental innovation, which basically competes in the same context as everyone else. This is innovation in areas that competition simply do not see. Why? Because of their limited perspective of the business they are actually in.

Something unique happens when you are able to elevate perspective and that is the wonderful ability to view everything around you as idea fuel, regardless of industry. For example, you could distill what Airbnb are doing into linking surplus to demand through accessibility and ask “how could we enable our main thing by doing that?”. The same with Kickstarter which, once distilled, is purely linking belief to production through investment. Everything becomes idea fuel.

I run a series of retreats all over the world called The Unlock Sessions ( for small groups of people who are eager to unlock advanced innovation. Participants arrive with an existing business challenge or opportunity, and leave with a totally unfair competitive advantage. Within these sessions I’ve noticed that even the most elevated perspective is still able to be expanded further. I’ve found that ideas can always be supercharged through a method I call “Even better if…”. It turns out the biggest challenge in place is primarily in terms of mindset, including whether it is even worth investing into unlocking advanced innovation in the first place. One thing is for sure though, it is far more risky to compete on a level playing field, especially when there’s a significant risk that your competitors are not.

The Paradox of Life Balance

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ecently I was having lunch in a hotel restaurant, at a table next to a family of four who were only noticeable because they sat in absolute silence. The parents where on their phones, the pre-teenager children were glued to tablets. Their meals arrived just after mine and for around 20 seconds their gaze drifted from the screen onto the cutlery, then to the plates, then back to the screens. The eating motions happened almost automatically, with only a few occasional seconds to navigate the cutlery to the food.

Remembering my manners, I tried hard not to keep looking, but there was no chance whatsoever that they would have noticed if I had. After their food was consumed, they sat for another half an hour in silence, during which point I started to look around the restaurant and was taken aback by the replica behaviour on a dozen more tables. The place was almost silent and almost every diner was on a digital device.

I almost wish I could say I don’t suffer from this type of behaviour but the reality is I may be equally guilty of over-reliance on digital connectivity. This morning I was having a conversation with a friend over breakfast and neither of us had brought our phones to the restaurant. We were trying to explain an exotic location and soon realised that we were sub-consciously reaching for an invisible device to open a Google image search. Later we were working out the cost of something and again, the lack of a calculator meant we were forced to work out the sum in our heads. It was painful!

The thing is, our connected devices are making our lives so much easier and quicker. They enable long distance to be non-existent. They enable instant access to the hardest of questions. It’s really no surprise we are so reliant on digital connectivity – but with what cost?

As I’ve often said before, since the dawn of innovation we’ve been struck with a paradox. Fire on demand was one of the first innovations we managed and immediately we were faced with options ranging from warming our caves, to burning our enemies. Reaching a balance is a process that usually happens after a period of saturation. When we find a new thing to do that we enjoy the benefit of, we tend to do it a lot until we find the way it best fits in our lives. I’m convinced that we’re at the starting point of connectivity and haven’t even scratched the surface yet in terms of how addicted we are to digital activity.

I suspect we are getting used to how instant our gratification is by using these tools. Our expectation for things to appear upon a single tap on a screen, has matured from communications to entertainment, shopping and even relationships. The younger people of today don’t even remember a time when you couldn’t do these things. The digital natives expect instant gratification in all things now – educated by how they view the world through a screen. I often wonder what type of companies they will create? What does industry look like when it is built by people who have a default expectation of instantaneous?

I’d like to make a plea for some analogue to be included in how we raise our children and how we conduct our relationships. Of course we should continue to use the brilliant technologies to solve problems, but with a balance of non-digital reality included. I’d like us all to consider this balance as a priority and pro-actively prioritise non-digital meetings and non-digital solutions. This is a paradox and paradoxes aren’t problems, they don’t have outright solutions. All we have is balance. If, heaven forbid, one of the family members sitting in the restaurant were to pass away later that day, would the remaining family members wish they had conducted a conversation or expressed some emotion at lunch? Do you think they may have re-prioritised things if they knew that non-digital life and relationships are more precious than Facebook?

We have a limited number of days in our lives and I believe that how we balance our activity is of paramount importance.

The Energy Within

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Everything is constructed of atoms.

If you looked at the composition of an atom up close, you would see a tiny vortex containing quarks and photons. If you zoom in closer still, you would see a physical void. The reality is that the atom has no structure. Every physical thing around us is actually constructed without anything physical. Atoms are made out of invisible energy rather than tangible matter. In actual fact, the internal structure of an atom is more like a thought. A thought that can be expanded and contracted, depending on the observer. We are held together by an ether that is totally subjective.

This is the territory of Quantum mechanics, the science of the very small. It is something that is extremely bizarre as it puts into question almost everything that we commonly think. As the Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said: “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”

When you are looking at an atomic particle, it exists in one particular place. If you look away, it ceases be really be there, unless you look again. This is called “Quantum Superposition” – the name for something that can be in one or more places simultaneously. This puts into question every thing and relies purely on the expansion of our thought rather than the expansion of what we see.

When we look at anything, we are fixing a position of it due to our tendency to want to see something in a place. Ultimately we are choosing to see what we see.

Every second, our brains are deciding that the things around us are there at that time. Considering the evidence today, I would propose that instead of thinking of things as “things” we should think of things as multiple possibilities.

Quantum mechanics has confused many scientists. After all, the discovery that our physical material reality isn’t really physical at all, can be a bit tricky to digest. Unfortunately for devotees of Newtonian physics, the consideration of a material universe has been somewhat outclassed by the discovery that matter is nothing but an illusion. Everything in the universe is made out of energy. Nothing is materially real.

It should come as no surprise that the study of Quantum mechanics has been increasingly popular, partly triggered by Einstein’s paper on relativity, although if you look into the Vedic Sanskrit texts dating back 5000 years, you would see that these discoveries had already happened. In reality, our modern fascination with our combined invisible energy, our unity, was known in the East a very long time ago. However we tend to base discovery and invention on what we commonly understand, individually and collectively. Hardcore scientists have seldom respected the more spiritual thinkers of days gone by.

In the same way as we hail modern scientific understanding as new, we award innovators who create on top of a base line that has been imagined to be real. The people we study at school are announced to be inventors or geniuses, despite invention being purely contextual. Genius is merely relative and uniqueness is dependant upon what we already know.

Throughout history we can observe that every generation has considered itself to have the ultimate knowledge, just as we do today.

Up until 1917 the atom was considered to be the smallest and most fundamental particle that existed. Then Ernest Rutherford came along and experimented with a nuclear reaction and the proton was discovered. As ever, this was considered the ultimate element until 1964 when physicists proposed Quarks, an elementary building block.

Common thought had been expanded. The old finite thinking was upgraded to the new. As it happens, the “top quark” was the most recent to be discovered (there are 5 others currently), in 1995. Most online sources will refer to this as the “last” one – perpetuating the myth that we now have ultimate knowledge.

The expansion of thought is not exclusive to atoms however. For example, between the 4th and 15th Century BC, one of the primary arguments was whether the world was flat. Despite Aristotle accepting the spherical nature of the Earth in 330BC, 1162 years later, Columbus found it really hard to get support for his explorations due to the Catholic church maintaining their view of a flat Earth.

Moving from geographical exploration to commercial business, many companies show traits of the same lack of thought expansion. There is major focus on outsmarting competitors by hiding advantageous information, assuming that the competition has the same level of expanded thought.

This would seem to be a fundamentally unrealistic assumption. Thought is not based on static evidence, it is based on our interpretation of information. The assumption that others may have the same thinking is to say that others have interpreted the exact same range of information in exactly the same way. It is as realistic to say that what we have observed is actually there, when in fact we know that when we look away, it is not.

When seeking competitive advantage, in science, cartography or business, the most robust methodology would surely be through the expansion of thought; rather than the pursuance of what we believe to be innovative based on common understanding. We need to prioritise the observation of the unobserved.

In every area we are just beginning to understand what is around us and we have the opportunity to expand our thinking and further our journeys if we choose to do so.

Jonathan MacDonald
11.59pm 31st December 2014

The Advantage Of Productive Paranoia

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ver the years of speaking to audiences all over the world about what’s changing, what this means and how to maximise opportunities, I’ve witnessed a spectrum of responses that range from inspiration to paranoia. I’m always honoured to discover that what I’ve said has expanded thought, especially when it triggers positive action, yet it’s the paranoia that I find most interesting. I don’t set out to make people paranoid, but it seems that some of the themes I detail are quite contrary to what is commonly understood within a company or an individual’s thinking, and this counter-intuitive state breeds paranoia quite often.

As it happens, I believe that a healthy dose of paranoia can be a saving grace, provided it is used productively. This is what I call ‘Productive Paranoia’.

In this post I will cover:

1. An example of modern commentary that essentially argues against Productive Paranoia.

2. Reasons why Productive Paranoia should be a priority.

3. Advice for everyone on how to apply Productive Paranoia in the most powerful way.

On the 22nd January 2015 an article appeared in TechCrunch relating to the claimed demise of a social network called Ello. Here is the first main paragraph of the article:

“Ello hoped to dethrone Facebook by not having ads. But while hipsters had fun hating on Zuck’s creation for a few days, they all went back to it and promptly ditched Ello. Now it’s left with $5.5 million squeezed out of some gullible investors and no reason to exist.”

The article then continues to challenge the validity of Ello’s battle against Facebook, specifically commenting on whether Facebook is, in fact, able to be competed with at all.

“For Facebook to get beaten at its own game…someone will have to build something much better. And Facebook will probably buy it before it gets even close…Facebook’s probably going to be around awhile.”

And then, in one final analogy: “Beating Facebook at its own game is like punching a wall 1.35 billion bricks thick.”

This triggered a number of online commentators to claim that this could be “the end of disruption”, where any potential competition simply can’t win due to the size of one player. I find this point quite surprising, not least because the entire history of competition shows quite clearly that disruption shows no respect to existing structure or success. I’m not talking about Ello here – I’m interested in the opinion that any particular company is more or less likely to be disrupted.

Whether you refer to Chapter 17 in the first Book of Samuel where Goliath was beaten by David, or consider how Airbnb grew over a few dozen months into being a higher valued company than almost all hotel chains, there is a hefty volume of evidence that suggests that the very last thing you can assume is that a company is unbeatable. In fact, the biggest disruptions happen when a company is so large – and this is because under that circumstance the company (and commentators) are convinced they cannot be harmed. In reality, the thing that will disrupt Facebook is the thing that is currently perceived as a low threat, if it is visible at all. For that disruptor, the “1.35 billion bricks” will be as irrelevant as the majority market share that Nokia once enjoyed, prior to the iPhone and the saturation of smart devices.

From studying centuries of disruptive market shifts, I created something called the ‘DNA of Disruption’ to describe what happens, in order. The DNA has 4 main stages:

1. A fundamental change in production, delivery and/or consumption
2. A low perceived threat rating
3. Growth by network effect
4. Inflection point into mainstream

The biggest danger point is number 2 and it is extraordinarily common. Almost all opinion of whether Facebook is hard to beat, resides on an assumption that they will spot the potential disruptor and either buy them or wipe them out.

That’s not what happens though.

What happens is that the low perceived threat rating enforces comfort and arrogance within the company, only until it’s too late. Then everyone looks at each other and asks “Who could have seen that coming?”

Is the Facebook disruptor out there? I’d imagine so…but so is the Google disruptor and the Amazon disruptor. Do any of us know who the disruptor(s) will be? I’d imagine not. Due to the DNA of Disruption.

You see the challenge?

To stand the best chance of succeeding and lowering risk, I would advise the following action points to all companies, regardless of size and fortune:

1. Investigate what you are discounting as being unthreatening – whether it is because you see something as currently sub-standard, too futuristic, or any other shortfall.

2. Identify what things would disrupt your business – not just in terms of competition but also in terms of changing contexts (for example, the landscape shift from bricks and mortar shops to e-commerce).

3. Integrate the above findings into your strategies moving forward – at the very least in terms of how things are constantly monitored, but ideally in how innovation is directed and developed.

If you successfully achieve a massive advantage in this way, the final thing to consider is that your business is still under threat of disruption, regardless of how rich you become, so therefore the 3 action points remain as a constant consideration.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Opening The Chances Of Success

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In 1966, a scientist called Stephenson ran an experiment named “Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeys”*. Over time, other tests have been carried out and the methodology has been adjusted. In essence though, the experiment ran like this:

5 monkeys were placed in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, was a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas was a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spotted the bananas and one started to climb the ladder. As he did, he was sprayed with cold water by the scientist. Then, all the other monkeys were sprayed also.

The monkey on the ladder scrambled off and all 5 sat for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered.

Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas was too great, and another monkey began to climb the ladder. Again, the scientist sprayed the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tried to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pulled him off the ladder and beat him up.

Then, one monkey was removed from the cage and a new monkey was brought in. Spotting the bananas, he naively began to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pulled him down and beat him up.

What happened next is where it got pretty interesting.

The experimenter removed a second one of the original monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey began to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pulled him down and beat him up – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

One by one the original monkeys were exchanged with new monkeys so by the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.

The ladder, and the bananas therefore, remained untouched.

If we consider how many businesses operate, there are several parallels that can be drawn here.

I’ve frequently observed management promoting innovative testing, only to then spray cold water on people and their ideas whenever someone tries something new. What follows, quite often, is business poison spreading throughout the organisation, with employees resisting the urge to take chances – even if they haven’t experienced the consequences of trying.

The learned helplessness is a significant cultural issue that, ironically, is often misinterpreted as being a ‘stable working environment’. The leaders who try to protect their positions of authority, intentionally keep the more creative thinkers at bay, by rewarding only those who operate without risk. This control mechanism is remarkably common and is, in my opinion, one of the best ways of enabling a company to be sub-standard. These are companies where one often hears statements like “That isn’t the way things are done around here” – mostly when nobody can actually articulate why that seems to be the case. Just as in the experiment, the original members have been switched out, but the existing ones still carry the behaviour forward – blindly driving the company into the ground through fear.

The real question is whether anything can be done about it.

Evidently this type of cultural issue originates from leadership. The willingness of leaders has to stretch beyond headlines and punchlines in the press. It has to stretch beyond motivational talks at away-days. It must stretch further than a few slides on a corporate deck, positioned to make others feel like innovation is “at the heart of the organisation”.

The opposite approach would be to award pro-active testing of new theories. I often ask leaders how they view risk, control and reward – not just in their mind, but in tangible ways. Ultimately, an ambitious person needs to find an organisation that encourages and rewards those that want to reach the top.

So, to our story about monkeys, it is worth noting that a later experiment involved a similar methodology but included electric shocks as opposed to water. In that experiment, even after the shocks were disabled and the monkeys were entirely free to access the bananas (but actually fought amongst themselves), one rogue monkey decided to break the routine and climb the ladder anyway.

That monkey took all the bananas for himself, and enjoyed them whilst looking down at the other 4 who had never considered that it was possible to make the climb.

I conclude it is unarguable that it is only by attempting to climb, that we open the chances of success.


6 Signs You’re Missing Out On Your Full Potential

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Have you ever met someone who seems really content with his or her life? Not just relatively happy but annoyingly happy? Happy to a point where you start wishing you could live with such a level of contentment in achieving your full potential – before reality forces you back down to the ground and your boss calls to arrange the next tedious meeting.

If this resonates with you, fear not, you’re not alone. Actually, it is extremely common to feel as if you may be missing out on being all you could be. People at any stage of life can feel held back by circumstance, commitments or fears. Here are 6 signs that you may be missing out on your full potential, and some straightforward techniques you can put in place to make a difference that, hopefully, will enable you to move toward achieving more in life.

1. You feel as if you’re missing out on something but you don’t know what it is

The journey towards reaching full potential is a bit like having a satellite navigation system within us. Just as you would map with any other navigation, the starting point on the path to reaching our full potential is to plot in the coordinates of where we’d like to go. However, because we may not know precisely what our ultimate point is, the coordinates are unlikely to be the final destination but more of a general direction of travel. This is a fairly comfortable situation, yet it is far more common for us not to even know the general direction of travel, and instead set our systems to auto-pilot and put up with what we’ve got. This can be comfortable too, unless you feel as if you’re missing out on something that isn’t definable. This state is a middle-ground where we feel as if we’re living ‘in limbo’.

There are numerous techniques to address this, most of which fall under the category of ‘finding inner purpose’, but the one I’ve found most useful involves drawing three circles. In the first circle, write down the things you are really passionate about doing – activities in your life that make you feel alive and very happy. In the second circle, write down the things you are really good at doing – competencies that you have a natural ability to excel at. In the third circle, write down the things you do that would, or could, provide extreme value to others – offerings that other people would greatly benefit from. The final task is to find what elements in the three circles overlap in the centre. I have found that in the two contexts of business and personal life, adding extreme value is the key to financial and emotional upside.

2. You feel uncomfortable that things are changing

Change is rarely easy to handle. It shakes what we know and puts into question our accepted view of things. Also, change is the enemy of the competent. If we’re good at something we’re unlikely to want things to change in ways that may mean we’re not so good at things after all. However, there is one over-arching reality that we can’t avoid: Change happens. Actually, change doesn’t just happen, it gets faster as time goes on. Even if we feel more things changed last year, the year ahead will hold more changes and the year after will hold even more still. Our lack of comfort with change is therefore a significantly limiting factor in our ability to realise our full potential, because we spend more time battling the change than using the change as a fuel to make things happen.

One technique that I have found very effective in becoming more comfortable with change, is to change the way we see change itself. For example, the next time you find out that something has changed, instead of feeling concern, confusion or contempt, try and replace the first feeling with that of acceptance. This technique is practised by the most fulfilled people on earth for very good reason. Your personal fulfilment can become more real and achievable, provided that your initial mindset is one where the changes that you are experiencing are acceptable, and seen as the most powerful fuel for reaching your full potential.

3. You constantly rely on the same sources of information

As creatures of habit we tend to return to the things we’ve found valuable. Places, brands and food are obvious examples, but our reliance on where we receive information from is something that is rarely addressed. It may be that we read content from the same authors regularly, watch the same news services, or listen to the same experts. These sources are potentially more important than we give them credit for because they shape our opinion and decisions. Our decisions instruct our actions, therefore, our success is directly linked to our sources of information. It can be strange to think that the few sources of information are so powerful, especially considering the vast amount of information available that could direct our future in a totally different way.

To keep reliance in check, I’ve found a constant questioning is effective. For example, the next time you read the same author of a piece of content, add on a totally new author’s piece to balance the mix. The next time you’re watching your favourite news service, try out a competitor just to see whether your scope of information is broadened. The next expert you listen to, enjoy the moment but then seek an alternative expert to see whether you are further inspired. This technique is unlikely to produce more of the same thinking, but instead enable a wider view of information to influence your decisions and therefore, your actions and success in reaching your full potential.

4. You base future decisions on what has worked in the past

Humans are actually not that good at making decisions. This is because our instinct, or gut feeling, is auditioned by our rational mind that acts as a defence attorney to whatever enters the courtroom of our minds. Our defence attorney will stop at nothing to adjust our instinct into a palatable opinion. This is also why market research is riddled with incorrect steers from panellists who made a choice based on logical reason rather than feeling… and the primary culprit of this? Past choice. We’re hardwired to base future decisions on what has worked before. Our past choices are the single greatest evidence our courtroom could ever hear. After all, who could argue with absolute fact. The problem is, that fact isn’t linked to the future contexts necessarily. If anything, the past choices produced where we are today, and only today, rather than our future potential.

Despite being hardwired to fall into this trap, a technique I’ve applied to break the pattern is to constantly rate my choices in terms of how they’re made. For example, if I’m planning on buying a car, I’m conscious of the fact that my in-built preference may be the make I already use, so I must log that bias and check my decisions against it, just to make sure I’m not steering my choice unfairly. The next time you’re making a career choice or a relationship choice, try to remain conscious of the biases you may have in place. Even if you end up making the same decision as you did in the past, at least you will have auditioned the options with equal weighting. This technique is a manual override of your natural biases and reduces the limitations that stand in the way of reaching your full potential.

5. You feel you are being held back by something you cannot change

From personal experience, I relate to those who feel trapped within a holding pattern that is seemingly impossible to break. This could be in a relationship or in business, but the feeling is one where your potential is unreachable due to circumstances outside of your control. It may be that you’re able to see what good could look like, or what happiness should include, but it is the other side of a pane of glass that you are not able to move. Sometimes we are not conscious of this, so the outcome is that we only achieve what we already have, happily without the frustration of feeling unable to explore. Other times we are conscious of this, so the outcome is frustration at feeling that what we have, is all we’ll ever have. In reality there are two design flaws that need to be addressed: 1. Our belief in what it is that is holding us back 2. Our belief in what it is that we can change.

I have found that it is in challenging these two beliefs that provides a really effective technique in addressing this issue. The first thing to do is to quantify precisely what it is that we think is holding us back. What is the detail? Who is involved? What is the timeframe? I’ve found that when we analyse what it is that we think is holding us back, it is actually the first time we’ve properly worked out what it really is. The second thing to do is to qualify precisely what it is that we cannot change. We need to test our assumptions, as I’ve found that very often we are able to address things in different and imaginative ways. One surprisingly effective way is to try thinking about doing the absolute opposite of what you’ve tried before. Another way is to look at what parts of our life could be even slightly altered to move in a more desirable direction. Things don’t happen overnight, and sometimes a slight shift can have a larger impact over time. This technique is to adjust your present reality to allow you to travel the path to reaching your full potential.

6. You justify failure as quickly as possible

Many of us are raised in cultures where there are winners and losers. From the games we play in the playground to the ‘talent’ shows on television, we are surrounded by success and failure – one of which is great and the other is not. This binary view forces us to rebel against failure as best we can, especially if we actually fail. In fact, failing to cover up our failings is super failure. The challenge is that success almost always comes from trying very hard, and trying very hard almost always includes failing very hard first. You didn’t sit at a piano and suddenly play like a virtuoso. You didn’t pick up a pen and write a letter. No, the first time you did both were painfully inadequate but because of the effort to try again, you gradually improved to a point where you reach a level of success. In this common context, failure is actually just a result – a reading of the circumstance that can be built upon. If we managed to accept failure as a learning rather than a negative outcome, we would assert even more effort into reaching our full potential.

As someone who has failed many times, I’ve had to adjust my view as to whether these things are all for nothing, or instead the reason I can now enjoy success. My primary technique of doing this is to itemise results in an agnostic way, rather than just think about how badly I did. For example, the next time you’re trying to learn something new, write down what you tried, what happened and what you learned. This last part is the key. Most of us stop at what happened rather than to conclude what was learned. The learning is the main thing with effort, not whether the outcome was positive or negative. If we assume that positives come from many negatives, you can be safe in the knowledge you’re going to have more negatives first. Now you’ve established that, the learning should be the focus. This technique is the secret behind many successful people and companies, and increases the ability to reach your full potential.

In closing I’d like to refer to a conversation I had with an audience member, after delivering a keynote to a group of senior executives. I was asked the question, “Can courage be learned, or do you have to be born with it?” My answer was, “I think the challenge is less about learning courage and more about addressing the fears that create obstacles to what we desire to achieve.” The point I was making is directly linked to the 6 signs you have just read. These signs are addressing our mindset, examining what we fear and what we believe. It is because so much of our destiny is based upon these constructs that I felt compelled to compile these signs in one place, and if one person can propel forward along their path towards greater success, it will have been worth it.