Success Hacking

Sense Making

Success Hacking takes a very experimental and evidence based approach to achieving outcomes. Target. Do. Observe. Learn.

Many of the activities I have pursued in my life were conducted in this spirit. I’ve tried to capture them as portfolio projects. Some were not successful per se but the learning in every case was. Which I then took on to my next project.

Success Hacking can be applied to any pursuit. It can be organisationally or business focused. Or you can apply it at an individual level too as I do – my Dharma Hacker post post explains this. As Herbert Otto said,

“Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life.”

From an organisational and business point of view, the world around us has become very complex and is constantly in flux. The only constant is change and the only certainty is uncertainty.

Data is in abundance. In itself, it is only a contributor to complexity. Deriving meaning from it though purposeful experiments is where opportunity lies. These days, as software eats the world, the opportunity to build applications, services and experiences lie everywhere. So too the possibility to collect and understand the data behind them.

The success hacker learns by doing and observing outcomes (and reading the data “tea leaves”), progressing quickly with what works, discarding what doesn’t. They don’t believe in elaborate plans, seeing experimentation as the new planning.

The success hacker is the chief experimenter, sensemaker and intrapreneur in your organisation. Nurture them.

Organisations can and should attend to some basic needs but to succeed going forward they need to become engines of possibility. Creativity and innovation are excellent aspirations for the modern organisation to actualise around. Also for the Success Hacker. In other words, the outcomes we strive for should aim to create new possibilities, new innovations. More on that here: The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs.

An obvious outlet for this type of approach is in my professional role as a customer success manager. Indeed they are deeply intertwined. I’m writing about Customer Success in a new eBook / trend report on this site:

You will probably see this approach in everything I do but as linked to earlier, particularly in my portfolio projects.

Innovation is the why, change is the how

Sense Making

There is a lot of talk about being more agile, responsive, lean, etc. These are all very worthwhile approaches. They all very often take a view on different ways of dealing with change starting with the need for change.

The central theme to all of the above is very often that the pace of change is accelerating. We live in exponential times and it becomes an imperative to bake into the organisation the capability to master change. The ability to turn on a dime when the need arises. Very often it is in response to competitive activity and that is increasingly coming from nimble startups disrupting an industry.

Then we need to take into consideration the very substantial industry that exists around managing change in its own right. The purpose of many organisations is purely to facilitate the management of change for other organisations. A substantial part of many organisations is also geared towards offering professional services around managing change.

Amongst the latter organisations, often ones that sell groundbreaking technologies, the focus is frequently geared towards helping organisations deal with the implementation and adoption of the technologies themselves. More fundamentally is the need to change the way you work or think about the way you have been working – a mindset shift in other words. This requires thinking about behaviours and processes, not just the technology. All hard nuts to crack.

What many often miss though, is the real reason for the change itself, the why if you will. All are busy running around changing or trying to change others. Little is understood about the purpose.

The reason the pace of change is accelerating is very often because new innovations are driving users to change their behaviours. This very often forces organisations to change the way they have to deal with these users – customers and/or employees alike.

Some times, in the best cases, the change is brought about by an innovation the organisation itself has come up with. At worst it has been disrupted by another. This is the worst change to manage because it is based on a crises but often it is essential, survival is at stake.

At the intended heart of all innovation, whether disruptive or incremental, is progress. Something that is better than what came before. If you get it right, it is a positive force for good. With progress often comes the need to change.

Why many often put the cart before the horse

Innovation is hard. Anything worthwhile takes time unless you are very lucky and few are. It’s far easier to change something. Many times we do for the sake of it. Just by taking a different tack this provides the appearance of action and we often fool ourselves into believing it is groundbreaking.

As human beings we are also a rather fickle lot. We get bored very easily. Especially with an abundance of digital distractions, it is easy to let ourselves get carried away by the shiny new thing. A new trend here, a new gadget there. Thats all we sometimes need to start following a new piper, but as with the rats, it often ends in a damp squibb.

Organisations are no less susceptible to the vagaries of our time. Many organisations role out one change initiative after another. Many of those initiatives fail – the statistics say that on average over 80% of change initiatives fail. The initiatives are often purported to be in the name of innovation but mostly they are fruitless attempts to fend of another organisations innovation.

How to change the game

Here are some ways to make sure that the change you are making is in pursuit of something truly groundbreaking:

  • Spend a lot of time thinking about the objective of the change effort, this will easily tell you if the reason you are carrying out the change is in pursuit of innovation or just for changes sake
  • Build change capability into your organisation, the ability to very quickly respond to new opportunities in the marketplace – that way you are not at the mercy of change programs
  • Put innovation at the heart of your organisations modus operandi, that means very individual in it is thinking about coming up with new innovations and they are empowered to act on it

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

Sense Making

You’ve 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, all those movies had it right. So is it time to start a resistance movement?

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.


In this post, I’m attempting to set out my stall for the next trend report I write. This will be my third. You can find out about the first two in the trend report page.

This is going to take about a year because I’m doing this alongside a day job. This post expands on the main hypothesis I am working on verifying.

No doubt it will change over time.

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


This post is also a part of an attempt to work out loud as much as possible. That could take the form of an occasional post to update on progress.

Or I will curate articles and any research I compile as I did before and after publishing my last trend report. See these posts tagged research and innerventuresupdate.

Follow along if you have a mind to or an interest. Better still, take part. But don’t feel obliged.

For my last trend report I set out with great intentions to involve contributors.

I found out it’s not so easy especially when you are time constrained to start with. It takes effort to do well. Others are in the same boat and have their own priorities.

So if you manage even a read and a comment, I would be grateful :)

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. Wether 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.