Thursday, September 24, 2015

3 Predictions

Three predictions from my Inaugural Lecture, 15 September 2015 at the University of Auckland.

Title of the Talk: 'Connectivity isn't everything (but it's almost everything)'

I thought it would be an interesting challenge in this context to make a few predictions about connectivity.

Prediction #1: Off-line will become a legitimate space where one can go without apology or fear of retribution.  By this I mean that switching off a connective device, or not checking email, or even leaving your smartphone at home will increasingly be considered an acceptable option.  We have heard of ‘digital vacations’ and no phone use during meals.  I believe we will see more of this behavior at least by some individuals and groups in the future.

I was recently heartened to hear of a friend’s young son leaving for a school trip to Japan and leaving his mobile phone at home.  The school had learned the fundamental principle of experiential education, that the best experiences are those that are felt and lived directly.  I was impressed by the school, but the best part of that story was that this young man understood and willingly left his smartphone at home, asking simply for an old-fashioned digital camera to take pictures.  (I imagine there were still lots of selfies.)

Prediction #2: Machines may take some jobs, but not the best ones.

Despite the current fear of artificial intelligence, a thoughtful and creative human with a decent machine will still outperform the best supercomputer in the world.  This has been proven in the Watson vs. human chess competitions.  The supercomputer, IBM’s Watson, can beat any human on their own, but a human with a rather average computer can out-perform the supercomputer (Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2014).
‘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, The Second Machine Age, p. 192).

Prediction #3: Sh*t will happen. Perrow’s observation of ‘normal accidents’ in complex systems suggests that we can expect connective breakdowns and security breaches on more or less a regular basis, with the possibility of major systems meltdowns. This is because the Internet is a complex system and though adaptive measures are in place, things are going to break from time to time. Having said that it’s normal won’t make living through such episodes any easier.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


From my Inaugural Lecture, 15 September 2015.

Title of the Talk: 'Connectivity isn't everything (but it's almost everything)'

In conclusion, we have defined connectivity, but it could also be said that connectivity defines us and our time. It has transformed education, social interaction and work.  It seems to be almost everywhere and everything.  But, if, as I have suggested, it isn’t everything, what is it not?

As much as it serves as a platform for so much of contemporary society’s day-in-and-day-out interaction, connectivity on its own does not necessarily equate to what we might call the connected life.

The connected life reflects where we have been and where we are physically located.  The connected life has connections that are constant, beyond technology.  As Heidegger suggests, we are always close to those we care about.  We need some connections that are always close to us, regardless of whether we can reach them on a mobile phone.

The connected live means practicing conscious ‘disconnects.’  For a host of reasons, we need to be able to throttle down some of the connectivity overload that many of us experience.

The connected life is also an inclusive life, where the digital divide gets conquered.  If smartphones are an essential tool for the so-called developed world, they are 10 times more powerful in a developing economic context.

Do we need more connectivity?  That is a moot question.  We are all going to experience ever increasing levels of connectivity in our lives. 

The question is this:  How do we make a more connected life a better life?

Thank you.

Full text as pdf can be found on and ResearchGate.

A good summary article was posted on the Business School's web site in November 2015.


Darl G. Kolb is one of the first foundation professors in the Graduate School of Management (GSM) at the University of Auckland Business School and the first Professor of Connectivity in the world.  He has been defining, theorising and empirically exploring connectivity for 15 years, having written articles on the ‘metaphor of connectivity,’ ‘requisite connectivity’ and ‘states of connectivity.’  His field research has looked at connectivity in globally distributed teams and how smartphone users manage ‘media flow.’  Prior to joining the GSM, Darl was a member of the department of Management and International Business (MIB) for 20 years, during which time he received several distinguished awards for excellence and innovation in teaching.  Outside the Business School, he has worked with hundreds of small to medium-sized New Zealand businesses through ICEHOUSE growth programmes.  Prior to his academic career, Darl spent 10 years as an experiential education instructor/facilitator/leader with the Colorado Outward Bound School and the Santa Fe Mountain Center.  As an academic, he has held visiting fellowships at the University of Sydney and the University of Cambridge, where he is a Life Member of Clare Hall.  He holds a Bachelors degree in sociology from Illinois State University, a Masters degree in experiential education from the University of Colorado/Boulder and a PhD in organisational behaviour from Cornell University.