28 Thoughts

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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.

Counterargument

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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?

Or:

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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?

Or:

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: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/worlds-biggest-data-breaches-hacks/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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) http://www.starfishandspider.com/

** Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Smith

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

* Verner Vinge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernor_Vinge

** The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era by Vernor Vinge (1993) http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html

*** Primitive Expounder, Devoted to Theoretical and Practical Religion, Expounded in Its Primitive Purity, Excellence and Loveliness by R. Thornton & J. Billings (1845) http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-sXhAAAAMAAJ

**** Alan Turing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing

***** The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singularity_Is_Near

****** “Superintelligence Does Not Imply Benevolence” by Mark Waser (2011): http://becominggaia.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/superintelligence-does-not-imply-benevolence-intelligence-vs-wisdom-1/

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

* On Airs, Waters and Places by Hippocrates (400 B.C.E) http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/airwatpl.html

** Risk by Dan Gardner (2008) http://www.amazon.com/Risk-The-Science-Politics-Fear/dp/1905264151

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: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/