Friday, June 23, 2017

Simon Sinek on Millennials as connective addicts

Simon Sinek, whose masterful TED Talks and books on motivation are legendary, has come out with a bold and rather brash assessment of Millenials in the workplace.  He bases their attitudes on growing up with adults hovering over them, giving them rapid and almost constant (often unwarranted) praise and promising them control of their world.  Except it doesn't really work out that way when they get their first jobs.

Importantly, in this video interview, Sinek also describes these digital natives as 'addicts' to connective media.  Addiction--as compared to just bad habits or social norms--is based on chemical reactions in the brain, which come from instant gratification from checking social media.  The addict eventually can't stop looking at their screens.

While there is risk in over-generalising generations, and some evidence that young people's reaction to media is explained more from being young than any other significant difference from other generations (which means they will change their behaviours over time), Sinek's commentary raises some serious questions about personal habits, control and connectivity. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

10 years of connectivity

I initiated the 'Connectivity Corner' blog in December 2006.

Looking back, what's changed in the past 10 years?

Here are five (5) major changes.

First was the arrival of the iPhone in 2007.  As the graphics of this blog suggest, it was created during, and in response to, the BlackBerry era, when hyper-connectivity emerged as a personal/professional challenge.  But, the iPhone ushered in a whole new era of 'smartphone' technologies, the 'app generation' and ubiquitous connectivity.

Then there was (and still is) Facebook and other social networking sites, where connectivity moved from the office into our homes, schools and bedrooms, from the most mundane to the most intimate of social interactions.  We have always known how important social networks are, but this past decade has been all about the social dimensions of what we do, who we are and how we make sense of the world.

Third, was the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), where we learned too little and too late the dangers associated with super-fast computers, nano-second game-playing designed by marginally in-control humans, or rather bankers, some of whom considered themselves a race apart.

Fourth, is the rise and rise of automation and artificial intelligence, where what it means to be human in a world of brilliant technologies has captured our collective imagination.  As computers get smarter and more connected (think also of the Internet of Things), we are struggling to know what humans are for.

Finally, when I wrote about the duality of connectivity in 2008, I included forces that keep us apart (disconnects), but observed that we (the human race) were generally were getting closer through connectivity.  Indeed, at the time the world was truly getting 'smaller' as we were becoming more globally connected.  But, in the past few years, the 2000 march of globalisation has hit a snag, held to ransom by fundamentalism, exceptionalism and revitalised nationalism.

It's been a wildly exciting, and sometimes turbulent, decade of connectivity.  Here's looking forward to the future with hope for connections that bring us closer together.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Is nothing sacred?

The answer is 'yes.'

In these troubled, cynical times, when every element of human sensibility and decency seems up for grabs, it is important to see the special, 'sacred' aspects of life around us.

Time with loved ones is sacred.

Time with friends is sacred.

Family time can be sacred.

Quiet time can be sacred.

Time alone can be sacred.

Walks/runs/rides/swims/paddles, etc can be sacred.

Teacher-student (Mentor-apprentice) relationships can be sacred.

Letter writing (including emails, txts, message chats) can be sacred, especially holiday cards, of which we still get a few.

For many years, we used to create a holiday greeting card to send to family and friends.  They often featured special travel destinations (tourist shots), or mountain/river landscapes, or silly shots, like us hanging upside down ('Heading down under' was the caption.) when we got the offer to move to New Zealand.  This has been a particularly awful year on many levels and dimensions.  And, even so, or maybe because of all that has happened this year, I feel inclined to celebrate all the good we still have in our taking a Christmas photo.

Here's to whatever is sacred to you and yours.

Friday, August 12, 2016

WeChat - Super App

Heading to Shanghai tonight for a week of reconnecting with that dynamic city.

Naturally, our group members have all signed up and are using WeChat.

If you don't live or work in or around China, you may have never heard of WeChat, but as the New York Times reports in this excellent video, WeChat is far more comprehensive than any Western app (at least for now).

Check out how much functionality ('virtality') is built into the app.  Watch video.

The NY Time article claims that, rather than imitating apps from other markets, the Chinese are now leading app developers and have expanded what we think about what apps can do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Serious questions about the future of work

Having just completed a series of alumni talks in Melbourne and Sydney on the popular topic of 'the future of work,' I am left feeling the weight of the topic, given the questions that arose in both of these large and growing Australian cities.

Though attendees were generally upbeat and lively over drinks and nibbles, the Q&A after both talks skipped the 'gee whiz' factor of automation and artificial intelligence technologies and centered on the socio-economic concerns of systemic job loss, structural fault lines and uncertainty going forward into a future where technology may not produce as many jobs as it takes away.

Reading the Financial Review over breakfast, I found Jennifer Hewett's observation matches the mood of responses to my talk. She observes that, along with the benefits of global economic growth and development, '...the dislocation being felt by many in the West due to changes in technology, demand, competition, education and jobs is also real.  For all the advantages, disruptive business models and globalisation can become highly personalised and painful concepts.' (The Australian Financial Review, 27 July 2016, p. 2)

Australia's pain and job loss is more about its reliance on commodities like coal and other extractive industries than it is about technology per se, but the fundamental fear is that when jobs disappear people feel adrift.  When we talk about the future of 'work,' we are also in essence talking about the future of jobs in a world where banks don't ask about the work you do when they are assessing you for a mortgage.  What they really want to know is 'what is your job?' and how will it support your financial future?

In my talks on the future of work, I have to refer to Brynjolfsson and McAfee's book, The Second Machine Age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies.  Our Aussie audience actually illustrated a key point made by these authors, namely that the act of asking questions is what will continue to distinguish human intelligence from artificial intelligence.  As they say:

'Computers are not useless, but they're still machines for generating answers, not posing interesting new questions.  That ability still seems to be uniquely human, and still highly valuable.  We predict that people who are good at idea creation will continue to have a comparative advantage over digital labor for some time to come, and will find themselves in demand.  In other words, we believe that employers now and for some time to come will, when looking for talent, follow the advice attributed to the Enlightenment sage Voltaire: "Judge a man by his questions, not his answers."  (Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2014, p. 192).

We are proud of our graduates for the questions they are asking.  For me, their questions remind me of how little we still understand about the impact of technologies on human lives.
For an excellent overview of the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on work, see the recent special report, 'March of the Machines' in The Economist, 25 June - 1 July, 2016.

Monday, February 29, 2016

What I learned from Tom Peters

For the second year in a row, Tom Peters has been a guest in my MBA class.

Tom's presence is an awe-inspiring experience for my students.  But, watching my Mentor connect with people is beyond inspirational for me.  Here is what I have learned from watching Tom in action.

10 Lessons for Teachers from Watching Tom Peters

1. When you look one person in the eyes, everyone feels the connection.

2. Audacity is good when you're passionate about things and people other than yourself.

3. Bias is OK, when you own it, and admit it might make you wrong.

4. Being clever is a device, not an end in itself.

5. Talk about things that matter to you.

6. Humility gives you access to everyone you meet.  Ego restricts access to the world around you.

7. Remember that most of the fancy things we say, our mothers already knew and probably told us.

8. Walk around the room to keep your thoughts moving.

9. It's not the content, it's the connections.

10. Be thankful for the opportunity to learn by sharing yourself with others.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Connecting to place

2015 has been the year of artificial intelligence, robots and the Internet of Things.  These phenomena all challenge the notion of physicality and locality.  

Having lived in New Zealand for 24 years, I have come to appreciate the Maori concept of ‘whakapapa,’ that is introducing yourself, not by your credentials or achievements, but where you come from.  Where is your mountain.  Where is your river.  Where is the place and who are the people that brought you here and shaped who you are.

I grew up on a farm from which we looked west into West Virginia and north across the Mason Dixon Line to Pennsylvania.  My mountains are the Allegheny Mountains and my river is the Youghegeny River in Western Maryland. In fact, I have only recently come to appreciate the beauty of these Native American place names.  There were others too, like Monongehala and the Susquehanna rivers—beautiful names.  More beautiful than the more general, more common regional name of Appalachia.

My ancestors were once immigrants like me.  Anna Barbara Kolb came from Germany to seek a better life with her two sons in the mid-1800s and the Kolb family is still farming those acres. My Mom's family have Amish roots, who married my Irish grandmother. The county I was born in hasn’t changed very much over the years, and it was a great place to grow up!  We lived off the land in a culture that I came to appreciate when I studied sociology at university.  

The other significant mountain in my life is Denali (‘The Great One’ or Mt McKinley) in Alaska.  Climbing Denali, the highest peak in North America, was a life dream, which gave me the confidence to pursue my other life dream, which was getting my PhD. 

The thing about climbing Denali and running the Grand Canyon and working 20-28 day courses in the Colorado mountains or the Chihuahuan Desert was that I have experienced considerable, unadulterated isolation with minimal or no contact with the outside world.  Such experiences are so rare today.  

Let’s not become dis-placed, disembodied cyborgs.  My experience growing up on a farm and leading people in wilderness environments has taught me the value of keeping our minds and bodies connected. Sociologist Anthony Giddens talks about ‘deterritorialization,’ which refers to mediated and virtual environments lifting us out of our local place.  The danger of losing touch with place and our physical selves is not new, but it is one that is increasing rapidly as more and more of our world becomes increasingly virtual. 

The Maori custom of introductions beginning with a deep sense of place provides important context for human interaction.  Perhaps we all should find ways to 'reterritorialize' ourselves, to the physical places that matter to us.

Have a happy, connected New Year!