Sense Making

An explorers guide to the new era of work

The explorer

There’s a long list of traits prevalent in the explorer, people that are naturally inclined to overcoming challenges and seeking new discoveries in any field, place or time. Those traits that stand out for me are the joy of mastering new skills or knowledge, an insatiable desire for uncovering truth and new things and stoic perseverance.

No matter how you define it, you sense whether you have it from an early age. I remember as a little boy, wondering the savannas of Southern Africa where I grew up, feeling like Livingstone even though I was only in open fields (veld as its called) immediately surrounding my home. In the early days few houses had been built where I lived and it was more savanna than suburb.

And far from new lands, wild animals and indigenous peoples it was ants nests, puddles with tadpoles spawning, old ruins and early constructions of the new house being built in the twilight hours, after the builders had left for the day, that I was exploring.

I spent hours there. In the holidays it stretched into days.

The joy and thrill I felt has never left me and I know I am not alone in this feeling.

It has guided me in everything I have done since. Leaving the country of my birth to explore London with my new wife a month after we married. A changed career from advertising to technology supported by new studies there. Again leaving for new lands, this time The Netherlands, for new work opportunities and to build a family, three wonderful children all born there. Then after 7 years, back to the UK starting my own business which I ran successfully for a similar time period. Since then it has been forging new paths in customer success management, in itself a new career type.

Being an explorer is part nature part nurture. From a work point of view, my experiences transcended into making me an accidental intrapreneur.

I’m not sure we (as workers) have a choice any more.

I remember reading an article back in 2013 by John Hagel, John Seely Brown, Tamara Samoylova called Unlocking the passion of the Explorer.

It resonated powerfully with me. It captured the essence of what I was and how I approached things. I’m an explorer. I’m passionate.

It captured beautifully the era we live in and the shift we are undergoing, especially in the world of business.

In my mind, the shift refers to the transition between the industrial era into the one we are now in, the digital era.

The Digital Era

Digital explorers have advantages over our industrial era forebears. In the digital era, things can be measured more easily (response and feedback loops are immediate and traceable). It’s all manifested through data. Insights are the outcomes you achieve once you have sifted the data tea leaves. The digital world is more open to more people and experimentation is rife. Experience is more malleable and accessible to more people.

Digital explorers can learn more quickly by doing. They create meaning as they experience. They are data driven and entrepreneurial. They learn from and are driven by others like them who share their learning openly.

Oh what a joy to be a digital explorer 🚀

I put this daneldoodle together to characterise some of the different traits I think are important. Other than the traits needed, whatever you think they may be, the one other factor that you need to consider is speed and agility.

So get cracking fast or face extinction. Being a digital explorer has to be a given in today’s business world if you want to be successful.

And build the capabilities of the explorer that will allow you to discover your place in the next era.

The Next Era

As the industrial era ended, so too will the digital era.

We are well into the digital era and feeling the early impact of the next era.

The next era will be characterised by intelligence, automation and creativity.

The intelligence will be artificial. The automation will be machine led.

The creativity will be human led.

Explorers of all era’s but even more so in future, will have to rely on their imagination, their passion, their humanity and most importantly, their creativity. Things machines are not great at.

I’ve written more about that here: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation

Sense Making

How the specialist engages with work

Choose it, don’t let it choose you.

Engage in the process of engaging.

Don’t just say yes to what is thrown at you from team mates, bosses, customers, random approaches from the web and social media.

Be discriminating or become a generalist. Be focused or fail, as in Warren Buffet’s 5/25 Rule

Arrogant you might think but being a slave to whim serves nobody well.

Work is everywhere but you need to hire the right work.

To become a master of your work, you need to turn things around, you need to reverse roles in the working relationship.

You do not need work that does not serve your specialism, help you grow or that will detract from you achieving your outcomes or helping others achieve theirs.

You are happy to help those that know what they want and are interested in becoming a beneficiary of your talents according to your rules of engagement.

You are the specialist, if even to just the people who are less experienced than you. They are currently unable to get to their desired destination by themselves; otherwise, they would already be there.

If you’re going to responsibly take care of them and the job to be done, you need to be in control.

This happens through a conversation, which has several parts:

Help them to articulate the pain.

What problem needs solving, what outcome needs achieving. Get to the root of the challenge. Every time they lay out a problem or goal, ask yourself why. What’s the heart of the situation? Don’t rule out emotion, it’s not all logic and they aren’t logical until it comes time to justify a close.

Determine your ability to solve the pain.

You cannot just look at this in terms of your capability to provide a solution, you need to look at this in terms of productivity. Do you have the time, would you do a good job compared to other options, what influence do the strategic and growth drivers bring, etc. Add any criteria you want but prioritise. If the answer is no, respectfully decline. If yes, move on.

Inspire them with alternative realities.

How good can this possibly be? In your experience, what should this look like? Paint that picture for them, the one that replaces their pain with a better situation. By asking yourself what could be at the heart of their issue, you’re able to address that here as well.

Recommend the problems which should be addressed as part of the bigger picture.

Note, I did not say to solve their problems. That is part of an execution effort you and they will have to invest time, effort and possibly money into. It is to be determined at a later stage. Articulate which points need to be fixed in order to provide the solution and bring their alternate reality to life.

Encourage them with past stories.

Everyone feels like their problem is big and unique until they hear about others you’ve worked with who are on the journey with your solutions making progress. People need social validation through peers. Connect people on reference calls. This requires you to build customer advocates with activities and programs.

Get to a mutual close.

A simple question creates a fork in the road. “Would you like help with this approach I’ve suggested?” Ask it, and then wait for the answer. A non answer or a no is perfectly acceptable and allows all concerned to move forward. An unequivocal yes requires more work. That is for another post.

Sense Making

The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation

You’ve all heard the news. Jobs will come under fire if not already so. Machines, robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are going to take over. The Matrix, Terminator, could all those movie scenarios have had it right?

What happens if it’s all true but the ending is not a tragic one. Can we find a happy coexistence with machines? In an alternative scenario, machines would be our servants and tackle the hard tasks they are brilliant at. Retaining, processing and repeating rule-based information. Complex calculations in milliseconds. Massive infrastructure and mechanical jobs that require strength, are dangerous and may even need to happen on other planets and atmospheres.

And whither humans? With land, capital, and labour safely being managed on our behalf, might humans be able to realise their full potential? Creative powerhouses constantly renewing and improving, stimulated by human interaction and fired by endless imagination. With time to put that strength to work.

All questions I have pondered leading to this post.

It’s important to start somewhere. A diagram is one of my favourite ways to synthesise thinking. So I drew some lines.

post-robots-ai-creativity-innovation

An explanation of the diagram

I hope it’s straightforward enough. I struggled with this for a while and am still not sure I have the right angles. I’m not referring to the arrows :)

I grappled with how to characterise the trajectories of the three arrows. I mean what did they constitute. I concluded that they were learning priorities. Whether by humans or machines, they were directions of learning intent.

By machines I mean AI for the most part. In the case of super AI even more so. By definition it is self learning and its intent is to become super intelligent.

Robots are something that are going to take over physical work. They have mechanical capability more than intelligence. Their intelligence will come from computers that drive AI.

Together you could see them as a whole – machines.

If all projections on AI are correct, then its trajectory is due for a massive jump soon. Capacity to learn as well as intelligence will rise exponentially.

Human learning is different. Learning directions and priorities are often imposed. By schools that teach who are often lead by organisations that hire based on skills taught.

I have distinguished between STEM based learning directions and creativity based.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (as an educational category). This has dominated learning priorities for at least the last fifty years. As mentioned, institutions of all kinds impose it.

Creativity, if seen beyond the narrow confines of education in the arts, has lagged. That in my view, should change and I’m not the only one. I’m suggesting we will need to see a massive increase in learning emphasis, both at school and at work.

Creativity is as important as literacy. Sir Ken Robinson

I assume there is going to be a need for humans to take care of the machines. Even if humans will not remain on a par, they will have to maintain their STEM focus. They will need it to maintain the machines – at least in the near term. So the STEM based learning trajectory continues roughly on par with past trends.

As for my vertical axis, here too I grappled. I was thinking what is the point of all this activity. For the moment I have couched it in the familiar. Innovation and productivity are after all the holy grail that many organisations aspire to achieve.

So that will do for now on my current standpoint. My hypothesis in essence is as follows:

Machines are self learning and will become super intelligent. There will soon be an exponential rise in their capability. They will outstrip our current STEM based capabilities. We will no longer need the capabilities as much since we can rely on machines. Mastering our creative capabilities is the next frontier. We will use them to put ourselves and machines to work and solve the biggest challenges humanity face. We need to start preparing now.

Below I describe some of the main influences on my thinking so far.

Main influences on my thinking so far

Tim Urban: The Road to Superintelligence

I attended a Tim Urban talk at Transition, an event my company hosted last year. We didn’t record and share the full presentation. Luckily this Google talk he gave was and he spoke about the same topic.

He makes compelling arguments simple, as he is know for doing. A couple of things stood out for me. That we are at the cusp of exponential growth in AI’s capability for self learning. And the distinctions between standard and super intelligence blew me away.

The latter especially lead me to believe we are not thinking big enough about AI. In essence he showed me the limits of my imagination.

He didn’t project futuristic outcomes, he only shed a light on the possibilities. Extrapolate from only recent progress and a super intelligent future is hard to deny.

Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative

The title is not mine – here is the article: Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative. The title alone is what nailed it for me. Then on reading it several points jumped out. The first was this one:

Cheap computing power and rapidly advancing AI mean that machines already outperform us on tasks that involve retaining, processing, and repeating rule-based information.

Then their point about STEM learning which I incorporated into my diagram and thesis.

creativity-vs-robots-nestaThere was also the link to the NESTA report (pdf). This provided rich, research based evidence. The results confirm that “creative occupations are more future proof to computerisation”.

They also define a far broader concept of creativity than common perception holds. That it’s more than the arts. It encompasses “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”.

The part in italics is what stood out for me .

That lead me to Richard Florida’s paper: The Creative Class and Economic Development (pdf).

Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs

Independent of all this, I wrote a post some time ago that seemed to resonate with many from all the likes and shares it received (in the thousands).

Based on Maslow’s model I positioned the Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity and innovation were at the pinnacle of organisational actualisation.

What I left out was the AI and robots element. I’m convinced I should include it. I propose to remodel the hierarchy and include these considerations. I’ll make this a core part of my trend report. I’ll use it to advocate how organisations should change to refocus their efforts.

modern organisation hierarchy of needs

Any feedback at all on my initial thinking would be great. Please add a comment.