RAOK

What Random Act of Kindness are you going to do this week? It's best to plan it, or another week will fly past with you reacting belatedly to the pressures of life.

Is it a note in a lunch box? Paying for a stranger's coffee? Finishing up someone's work so they can leave early?

Whatever it is, “Be the change you want to be in the world.” And have a GREAT week!

 

International Friends Day

How are you going for friends?

This question turns out to be far more important than just a superficial nod to social well-being. In a recent TED talk, the current director of the longest serving longitudinal study, the Harvard Study on Human Development, that’s run for 75 years following the lives of 724 men, finds that the single predictor health and happiness is the health of your relationships.

In fact looking at the lives of 80 year olds, then looking back at the data from them at 50 and attempting to predict which would be the healthiest, was not their cholesterol level, but their relationships.

In other words, you have more chance of dying of heart failure as a “healthy”, lonely person, than a fat smoker with deep, nourishing relationships.

Loneliness is a killer. Not only for depressed people, but for your later health. And toxic relationships are a predictor of dementia. It’s better to end a toxic relationship than continue in conflict.

So how are yours?

When last did you take time out for a coffee? Send a thank-you note? Do something outrageous together? Prioritise time for a friendship over your health, your wealth, your work?

Relationships are tough. Messy. Organic. They don’t follow plans. You have to water them, feed them. Spend time, lot’s of time. Prune them.

Here’s a couple of thoughts:

  • Brainstorm a list of your top 13-26 friends (of course family is included). Perhaps go through your Facebook friends, to select the list. Then set aside time once per week to compose and send a hand-written thank-you note for their friendship, and mail it. Then phone them for a catch-up. The only rule is they have to be someone that you’ve spent face-to-face time with at some stage in your life. Either family, or a real friend.
  • Then choose the 12 closest, and set aside a couple of hours a month to take them out for a coffee, a movie, a meal – or just invite them around to your place.

So one call and one thank you card per week. One meal or coffee per month. That should be easy, right? I reckon that from that minimal investment, you’ll grow your relationships much deeper than they are.

Of course you may already invest more than this in friends, at least from a time perspective. But I’d argue that taking time to listen and simply ask, “Tell me about how’re you’re going,” may be necessary in the hustle and bustle of life.

Either way, Happy Friends Day

Australia’s Education Crisis

The recent National Science and Innovation Agenda begins “Innovation is at the heart of a strong economy…”, a sentiment that as Chair of the AIIA Innovation Special Interest Group I agree with. We certainly need to move beyond the “2 gear economy” of mining and agriculture to become a world player, if not leader, in the (digital) services economy.

Technology is disrupting has the potential to transform everything we do. As we move from the printed document being the arbiter of knowledge – every transaction, every process, every learning, every legislation, every agreement is codified in a printed document – to a world where we can have instant access to planetary knowledge, we transform the way we do everything.

Which brings the doomsayers decrying the machines (or rather automation) taking our jobs. The problem isn't that technology is disrupting our economy too rapidly, it is that it isn't.

With regard to automation taking jobs, this does happen at an individual level. It just doesn't happen at a national, or even global level. For years technology has been displacing workers. From the automatic washing machines and dishwashers in the 70's removing servant's to the middle classes, to manufacturing robots replacing automotive factory workers. Yet every economic report from that era show's unemployment figures going down or remaining flat, productivity and wages going up. Automation doesn't reduce labour demand, it shifts it to a different area of skill. And it allows an industry to scale earnings and productivity.

If we look at higher skill professions: Medicine, Law, Education and to a lesser extent Accounting, we see far less evidence of (information) technology disruption.

Quite the opposite, anyone who's been to a hospital recently has to agree that IT systems are impoverished. Here's an area rife with paperwork, where we can't even digitise basic health records. Different departments don't share information leading to massive duplication, prone to human error, delays in patient flow, and an inability to use analytics to ask the most basic questions (e.g. How many people in our area need a pre-emptive mammogram?)

The legal profession is equally behind. Drawing up a simple contract of sale for a house, collating information which in any other industry would take seconds and a couple of queries, takes a minimum of 5 days. Drawing up contracts, researching litigation precedents, even basic court scheduling harks back to the Victorian era. At a recent jury duty I served, the court didn't have the technology to display video footage collected by the police.

These areas are all as ripe for disruption as the monopolies of the taxi industry were. But it begs a couple of questions:

  • Why during the biggest period of IT progress, have these industries languished?
  • What does it mean for the economy to digitise and automate these areas?
  • What should we do at a country, and individual level, to thrive through this change?

Further down in the National Science and Innovation Agenda, in the “Best and Brightest” section we read: “By developing a passion for science and innovation in our young people we’ll give them the skills needed to gain the high-wage, high-productivity jobs of the future.” And here's where I disagree.

Only with the topics and the adjectives. It's not (just) science and innovation. We don't just need more scientists, and tech innovators. We also need nurses, teachers, social workers, lawyers who can all creatively use technology to scale productivity. In the same way as over the last 400 years we've not needed any more authors we have needed individuals in every profession to be able to read and write.

And this is not for “high-wage, high-productivity” jobs. This is for jobs. Period. This is to ensure that Australia's economy doesn't slip from a producer to an irrelevant consumer. This is to drive our healthcare to the highest global standard. To allow nurses move from an 80% administrative workload, to a 100% care workload, with machines doing the repetitive tasks they do so well. But even more than productivity, to move from a healthcare system that aims to treat manage sickness, to one that promotes health.

It's a big ask.

Which brings me to Education.

STEM.

There's a wide acknoweldgement that we need to up the ante on STEM. (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics). And we do. STEM subjects are the “ticket to the dance.”

A brief aside, I personally don't adhere to the current rhetoric on STEAM, the 'A' stands for Arts, or the US centric STREAM, the 'R' stands for Religion. STEAM and STREAM are everything aren't they? Which essentially dilutes the focus and we'll be in the same position we're in right now. Arts (& Religion) are important subjects, but we already have a bias towards these. What we need to do, as a matter of urgency, is turn the dial up on STEM.

And herein lies a couple of intractable challenges:

1. Legacy Beliefs at Home

The last of my four daughters has recently graduated high school. For all four of them they still have peers who's parents assertively drove them into “high paying” careers like Law, Medicine, and Accounting. Parents, despite all evidence to the contrary in their own lives, still adhere to the “good grades -> university -> good job -> earn lots of money” culture.

So from kindergarten, you have parents reinforcing legacy beliefs with school selection, homework, subject selection, extra mural activities, teacher preference and expectations on results. All driving schools to reinforce current positions, and students to reinforce outdated choices.

Counter-intuitively this is exacerbated by parents who've faced redundancies due to technology, either directly through automation, or indirectly through offshoring.

We need to drive education for parents.

2. Legacy Beliefs in Teaching

Whilst there are islands of incredible progress, e.g. Hilltop Rd Public School, which has the most advanced technology strategy I've seen in a Primary School, the vast majority of current teachers don't have the capabilities to teach STEM. Neither do they have the capabilities to use technology for pedagogy, thereby leading by example.

And to be fair (my wife is a teacher), whilst it is true that many teachers aren't invested in adopting new technologies, all of them have to adhere to a legacy curriculum. There is simply no compelling reason for teachers to want to invest in change, neither are there enough resources for those that do.

This isn't unique to public schools either, many private schools show a lip service to technology, they 'use' laptops, but still haven't changed their method of pedagogy delivery, or done even the basic investigation into the changing skills in the industry to develop curriculum. This is hardly surprising, given their customers, the parents tend to work in industries less impacted (yet) by technology.

We need to provide resources, prepare curricula, and aggressively drive education through schools, beginning with principals.

3. Lack of Strategy

As the husband of a teacher for the last 21 years, and by association, friend of many teachers, I know intently their passion to transform lives. To prepare young people to thrive in the world. What's changed is not the 'why,' it's the 'what' and the 'how.' What world we need to prepare our young people for, and how we prepare them. And this to a large part is determined by the education the teachers themselves get, that itself should be driven by our national strategy.

When we look at Teacher training, we don't prepare teachers for the current world, let alone the future. There are no courses on using technology for pedagogy, none on introduction of STEM subjects at current university courses.

Even when we look at how we determine the skills mix in the workplace, our strategy in Australia is determined by 15 year olds. We ask 15 year olds to select the subjects they want to study in year 11 and 12, which in turn determine their options for tertiary education, and ultimately define the capabilities for talent source in the marketplace.

So I do laud the National Science and Innovation Agenda for the start of the conversation. But this needs to be translated into an effective teacher training strategy. A strategy that addresses current and future teachers, students, and parents.

Not just STEM

As I mentioned STEM is the (BIG) “ticket to the dance.” But it's not just STEM skills we need in this future world. We don't only need scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. Nor only people in every industry that are as literate with digital technologies as reading and writing.

Individuals also need:

  • Critical thinking
  • Design thinking
  • Information search, synthesise, and application skills
  • Ability to deal with cognitive overload
  • Interpersonal collaboration skills – both face-to-face and using technology

And so much more.

But we need to start with STEM.

6 Ways VR Will Impact Your Business in 2016

Ah Virtual Reality, heralded since before the 90's. Much vaunted aspiration for entertainment both for immersive movies and games. Until now, however, the tech hasn't matched the aspiration of the vision: Too heavy, poor resolution, not enough processing power. Moore's Law is as ever our friend, and we all have mobile devices, smartphones, with tiny accelerometers and insane displays. Add these to the power of a modern desktop processor, not to mention GPU's, and VR is finally within the affordability of the consumer. (Admittedly a rich consumer in the developed world)

Like so many technologies before it: digital mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Cloud Services, Smartphones, and Tablets, I expect consumers will adopt VR before the Enterprise. There is a reason Mark Zuckerburg invested in Oculus Rift.

But I believe that it's in the business that VR will make its mark. In the enterprise where there are compelling use cases, currently too expensive to service, that the affordability, portability, and power of VR will dominate.

Here are just a few of the ways where I'm currently working with organisations right now to realise business value from Virtual Reality:

1. Simulation for Training Purposes

Of course airlines, space agencies, and even the military have been doing this for years. Admittedly with far more expensive equipment. So these facilities are resource constrained and access is restricted. But with affordable VR systems, you can set up simulations for any training purpose from learning and maintaining expensive equipment like trains or bridges to performing complex procedures like sales calls, presentations, even surgery.

2. Simulation for Exploratory Purposes

 

Let's say you're a bank and you want to A/B test a new branch concept with customers. Until now you've had to physically build the various alternatives for customers to try out. Now you can render almost unlimited options, and get customers to experience them in VR. Then observe what they actually do, where they look etc. The cost of recreating different environments is negligible.

3. Try Before You Buy

Any area where you can give an immersive experience to someone about your product, wherever they are, is a use case for Virtual Reality:

  • Allow people to have a wander around the yacht
  • Sell an event or tradeshow exhibit
  • Let people walk through a new house for sale, and put their pictures on the wall, their furniture in the room
  • Give various travel experiences before people choose a holiday package
  • Take a new car, or motorbike for that matter, for a test spin
  • Sit in a bunch of lectures before deciding what courses you want to take.

I'm positive you can think of many more examples. It just needs to be immersive, and hard for people to experience because of time, location, or expense.

4. Remote Collaboration

Let's be honest, there is nothing like being face-to-face with someone. Current conference tools range from crude to downright painful. We've all seen and laughed at the YouTube parodies of meetings run as if they were virtual conferences.

But what if you could see peoples facial expressions, sense their body movements. What if you could whiteboard something together, or even work on a 'physical' object? Change a part, change the colour of a room, instantly. What if you could do that without flying?

We're not entirely there yet, but we're not far away from being there.

5. Post-mortems, forensics, and replays

Sometimes things go wrong. Not only in medical procedures, or crime scenes, but in every day business. Sometimes a meeting goes south, or a pitch is rejected. Perhaps you bombed an interview. Wouldn't it be good to go back to before things go wrong and see in 3rd person just where the trouble started.

With 360 degree cameras and VR, this will become more and more commonplace.

6. Data Visualisation.

For me this will be the most compelling use and driver of VR in business. Being able to immerse yourself, and others, in massive sets of complex data, and physically see patterns, anomalies, and insights that you simply couldn't in 20 charts and spreadsheets (Or 100. Or 1000).

There are three ways visualising data in VR will add very real business value:

  • Accelerating insights to domain experts.
  • Giving complex domain insight to non-experts
  • Answering questions we haven't thought to ask.

Get Your Gear/VIVE/Rift on.

There is no question that this is the year VR comes into the mainstream. Yes in entertainment, but as you can see, also within the enterprise.

If you're a developer, this would be a very good time to make the switch to a platform that enables these solutions: Hadoop, R, for data analytics and the visualisation engines: Unity3D and/or Unreal for creating immersive VR experiences.

If you're an IT Pro in the business, find a geniune business challenge (not a technology one) like reducing the time to market of a new product, or reducing travel budget for meetings, or improving complex skills in various business units, then start running Proofs of Concept with VR.

If you're a videographer, this would be a good time to get a 360 camera and start shooting immersive experiences for various business sectors.

If you're a Marketing, Information, or Technology Director considering whether this is a Yo-Yo (i.e. new fad) or Fire (i.e. game changing progress), call me. I'd love to work with you and explore this new technology together.