Remaining Relevant in Transformative Times Through Re-invention.

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On February 8, I was invited to speak at the Facebook Global Marketing Summit. I made my comments without notes or teleprompter. There has been an interest in me sharing what i said and so via memory I have re-created my talk in the piece below. 

Today we are living in deeply transformational times.

These transformations are driven by three unstoppable forces.

Globalization.

Science.

Demographics.

You may wonder if these three forces matter today in a world that seems to be anti-globalization, anti-fact/post truth and questioning of the “other”

Yes, they do.

There are a billion people in Africa today projected to be 2 billion by 2050 and 4 billion by 2100. There are 3 billion people in Asia.

As the world demographically changes and intermarries the future will be brown.

Nothing anybody can do about it. No tweet or wall will stop it.

So chill everybody. Chill!

Globalization overall works and will continue.

People want to get better. Globalization is the result of our Darwinian urge to better our lives for ourselves and our families. We want to be able get more for less. We want to be safer and better fed. We want the best that is possible and globalization is a result of this urge as people, capital and ideas seek best outcomes.

Today, there is a countervailing force against Globalization as the Middle Class in developed countries feel the downside of this competition and wonder what they get from it? They are asking who is on their side as globalization makes China and India pull people out of poverty and multi-national companies and their shareholders benefit? Brexit, Trump and the rise of populist Nationalists is in part this resistance to the downside of such changes and must be heard and addressed through a combination of political and economic and educational imperatives. True leadership and investment versus blow hard unrealistic propaganda.

But the underlying force will continue because too many people gain and the majority of the world will not yield to the very countries who promoted globalization but now have changed their mind since the rest of the world has become more competitive.

Science too cannot be stopped or denied. Look around and see the forces of digitization and its impact on your life. Are you overall better off with your smart phone, Google/Baidu, Facebook/Tencent or did you prefer a less connected, enabled and empowered life?  How about pharmaceuticals, sanitation, electricity, or heat? People who fight science get in time to become North Korea.

So yes, we have a somewhat scary set of leaders who seem to be anti-globalization, anti-science and anti-demographic change. And we do have large groups of people whose voice we have not listened to and whose concerns must be addressed.

But

Facts are stubborn things.

Truth has a habit of breaking in.

Reality lingers after fantasy fades.

Yes, make your voice heard but also find ways to remain relevant in these changing times by making the most of the one reality you have which is your life.  Grow and re-invent in a world of demographic shifts, scientific progress and globalized connectedness. Improve your and other peoples lives.

What is life?

My definition is as follows.

Life is a journey through reality and time in search of meaning.

This definition in many ways is mirrored in the timeline of Facebook.

For instance, the three defining characteristics of life are Change, choice and chance. We become what we have because of chance happenings like who we were born to and where we were born or the chances we took or were given as we grew older. It’s the choices we made or the choices that others made whether it was who loved us and who employed us. And all the while change kept happening. Change in the world around us, change within us.

Look at the Facebook time line or Instagram feed. It changes all the time. We choose what we like and your algorithms choose what we see. It’s pure chance what we interact with based on not just the algorithm but the time we decide to look at Facebook and how long we look at it.

Life is also a journey through time and reality.

The most real thing is that we have limited time.

Our timeline begins on our birthday and our timeline scrolling will end on a date we do not know except each year we pass our future death anniversary.

And as we get buffeted through chance and change and choices we make along this diminishing timeline in the reality of the world, we find ourselves on a journey looking for meaning.

One way we make sense of this journey is through telling ourselves and telling our stories.

Joan Didion the great essayist, noted we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Story telling in many forms is the basis of Art. Art has been defined as the lie that tells the truth and in our curated and embellished stories we glimpse the truth. It is why story telling is so powerful and sharing our life stories and their curation and communication and glimpsing other stores is so addictive. One of the reasons nearly two billion people are on Facebook.

And what meaning do people find in their life? Well if we at the timelines we see three themes.

The first is improvement. People are trying to get better all the time. Or make the people they love better. You see education. You see dieting. You see a quest for a better self. In fact, half the most popular/shared articles in the New York times are about bettering oneself.

The second theme is self-actualization or discovering who we really are. I have often advised my daughters never to live in other people’s minds but live in their own. Be aware and learn from what other people have on their minds but do not live there in their expectations. People who thrive and flourish become the best at who they are. A lot of activity on Facebook is people finding or helping loved ones find their fit. Not just discovering but pursuing their passions. Transforming and changing the co-ordinates and contours of their lives in search of who they are or were meant to be.

The third theme and in many ways the most powerful is finding connections. Connecting with people. Finding love. Finding relevance. Connecting with old and new friends and known and unknown discoveries. Helping people. Facebook. Instagram. WhatsApp. All our about connecting in different ways.

Facebook power as a platform has been that it has aligned with our story telling journey for self-improvement, self-actualization and a greater connection.

This has made Facebook the company and many of you famous, powerful and wealthy.

Sometime this quarter you will pass 2 billion users on Facebook alone.

But is that enough?

Is Fame, power and wealth enough?

Is Fame, power and wealth meaningful?

Fame is fleeting.  Just take a look at the obituaries today and you will read about movers and shakers that ruled their age whom we have never heard of.

Or power. Whether Royalty, politician or CEO or any other powerful person, they sooner or later loses it.

And wealth is either given away or often appears to own the wealthy rather than they own their wealth. Counting and managing and keeping score or showing off assets is how so many fritter away their time. When we were younger did we not say the whole point of having money was that we did not have to think about it?

Actually it is not power, fame or wealth that we most admire.

It is wisdom, grace and elegance.

And its time for Facebook to grow up and become wise, graceful and elegant.

Wisdom is to realize the important things before it is too late. Wisdom to realize that people are not a sum of their likes and content they imbibe and are often mysterious and cannot be fully known or profiled.  When someone believes they have been totally understood or defined they will go out of the way to show you that you are wrong. Wise to realize that privacy matters and we are only our real selves when we are alone. Wise to realize that Europe and other countries will probe on privacy not because of jealousy of Silicon Valley but their own history.

Graceful to know how powerful a platform of 2 billion people can be. If you are so impactful with marketing products you also are therefore powerful in the way news is consumed, ideas formed and much more. So denying this is bullshit. You are now a global force and this requires you to recognize that much of concern about your impact is real and that mantras of moving fast and breaking things or not being afraid needs to be gracefully adapted.

And finally elegance. The world is not black and white but shades of grey. Of course you have to compete against your current and potential competitors. You need to make money to ensure that you care for your employees and shareholders. But what about the fact that your advertisers are not sure of how things are measured or even more they wonder whether you want to disrupt them by owning the consumer/customer? How do you elegantly unify, balance and integrate your need to keep winning with the growing concern about you?

How do you remain relevant in these transforming times by re-inventing yourselves?

And when you do you will become what you really are capable of being.

Not just a Facebook but a Lifebook.

7 Takeaways From Davos 2017

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Over four days there are over 400 sessions on the official World Economic Forum Annual Summit program. In addition, there are a multitude of breakfasts, lunches and dinners with speakers and panels. And then the myriad conversations one shares with some of the 3000 plus delegates. No person can truly summarize the event since one only gets to experience a sliver of what is possible.

Keeping this reality in mind, here are some of the key themes and takeaways from my perspective.

1.Middle Class Driven Populism is and will be the driving force in Western Politics: A combination of a) liberal governments who moved money to the less well to do b) de-regulation and weakening of unions which drove money to owners of capital and c) globalization which moved opportunities to Asian and Southern hemispheres all coming at the time of minuscule economic growth has left the Middle Class in most nations in the West wondering who is on their side? According to the Edelman Trust barometer 53% of people globally do not believe the system is working for them.

Globalization on the whole has been dramatically good for the world, helping lift a billion people out of poverty, reducing prices, and bringing new opportunities. This is true on the whole, but for individuals who do not have the right skills or find their job outsourced this is a calamity. As a result, huge swaths of the voting public in the US, UK, France and other countries are voting against globalization and for national interests first.

The World Economic Forum’s goal is to “improve the state of the world” but individuals do not live in the broad world but in a particular area or country and many things that improve the overall world, hurt particular countries and localities and it is this oversight that has made people question globalization and the supposedly stateless “Davos Man”

For the next few years we can anticipate at best a modified form of globalization where the impact on the middle class and local economies will be the first filter that both politicians and business leaders will be forced to contend with. Donald Trump’s “America First” mantra will be repeated in many other places where elections are held as the middle class revolt against what they believe is a system rigged against them.

2.Artificial Intelligence (Cognitive Computing) has arrived and will add to the disruption and create a huge need for skill training:

The concept of AI has been around for over 50 years but it is only now with the advent of deep learning made possible by huge amounts of data, cloud based computing and low cost storage that pattern, image and voice recognition has reached a point where their capability is growing exponentially.

If you use Google Translate you will find that in the last few months it has advanced more than it did since it was launched years ago due to AI. From Amazon Echo to Watson Cognitive Computing, AI is the new frontier of technology and it will drive a huge increase in automation which will impact jobs as much as off shoring did.

This reality caused every AI conversation in Davos to constantly focus on the impact on jobs. IBM’s CEO recently published an internal manifesto on AI which focused on terms such as purpose and transparency and noted her belief that IBM wants to augment versus replace jobs. For instance, IBM Watson today which has been trained on 18 Million documents helps doctors make better decisions for Cancer patients because only a machine can imbibe the 8000 new papers being published daily in Oncology.

Major questions arise on AI, where the machine learns on data, as to who trained the machine and what data was used. Just like you and I come out differently depending on what our experiences have been an AI machine will reason differently depending on how it was trained!

Can an AI machine make a blue collar worker now do white collar work by helping them up-skill? Or will they lose their jobs? Will an AI trained person be a “new collar” worker? Long before driverless cars, it is these reasoning/seeing/speaking computers that all of us will have to be contended with.

Therefore even after attempting to  keeping the immigrants out and putting up barriers to trade, we will find that computing progress will challenge employment and will require a major investment in skill development to keep people working. Education will be critical but a new type of hands on skill versus four-year college will be required.

3. As the world gets increasingly connected we are also sometimes getting more disconnected: Today over 3 billion people are connected with over 1.5 billion people on Facebook alone. But oddly a combination of people seeking out people like themselves, algorithms that maximize engagement by showing us things we agree with has actually left us disconnected from ideas, individuals and initiatives that do not “fit” our lives. Thus we float in our little bubbles, warm in our soapy self-loving embrace, while occasionally flaming and pricking other bubbles that float by which are not aligned with our way of thinking.

This lack of connection and trust was seen in Edelman’s Trust Barometer where trust levels for business, leaders and the media were at all-time lows. People now look to friends and family and people like themselves for news, opinion and expertise. We can make fun of some of our “post-truth” politicians but if we spend our time in our own self-reinforcing chambers are we not also “post-fact” or “post-truth”?

And it is here where I found the folks at Davos were behaving with trepidation and uncertainty. For instance, given the huge concentration of wealth or revenue in a sliver of companies and people (10 percent of the companies drive 80 percent of profits, 8 people have the same wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion, and technology is actually making more wealth go to fewer people with in many tech industries one company taking it all) there was very little real discussion on any painful steps that would be needed to be taken to ensure that those left behind and angry do not explode. No talk of new regulations or laws. No talk of taxes. No talk of re-distribution. Apparently providing training (with no details of even how this was to be done) and some light self-regulation will be enough.

The reason that at Davos there was uncertainty because the folks know that society is changing in ways where an unmitigated quest of globalization, improving the state of the world at the expense of the state of a country and pursuing stock holder return/wealth creation alone, no longer resonates or will be accepted.

It is the reason many companies are leading with the “Responsible and Responsive” focus ensuring that in addition to CSR activities they truly help people’s lives get better. The soft edges of a companies will become competitive edges.

4. China Rises: For the first time at Davos the President of China participated. In a 30-minute talk President Xi built a case for globalization and for being protective of the environment. Without mentioning the US or Donald Trump he worked to show that China was ready to take the mantle of world leader due to its openness and solidity.

In many other panels various Chinese leaders from Jack Ma of Alibaba and more spoke of how they would be enabling jobs, importing goods as they moved to a consumer driven society, focus on soft power through entertainment and much more. There is a clear belief and feeling among the Chinese that this is now their time as EU grapples with its self-identity and Brexit and the US figures out Trump. Disengaging from the world at this time is not really an option.

While there are lots of challenges that China itself grapples with from its heated leveraged real estate market, environmental issues, capital/talent flight and the role of the Communist Party, it feels stronger than ever before because maybe the West seems more confused than ever before.

5.Companies are going to have to change their behavior and their structure: Companies are struggling to integrate the short term reality of markets looking for results and the need to invest for the long term to remain relevant and re-invent themselves. Most CEO’s are smart enough to know that they have to find a balance between these two extremes but worry that they are more biased towards the short and rather the long term and therefore are likely seeding their own self-disruption. The markets almost seem to look at established firms as cash cows that they need to milk while moving their grass (green dollars) to newer firms that have been designed for the mobile connected world.

Bain Consulting put out a study noting that in an age of Amazon Web Services and other platforms companies will quickly have to decide are they platform companies? Outsourcings specialists? Product companies? or Service companies? Being all things to all people will no longer work. Focus on one and connect to the others to deliver the solution.

Bain Consulting also re-iterated something everybody in business knows which is that the next generation of talent is not looking to climb a hierarchy but are looking for purpose, impact, experience and skills and do not want to be managed but inspired.

Finally, speed is a competitive advantage and therefore companies are going to have to be decisive with the yes and no and then decentralized with empowered teams to make things happen.

Organizations and leaders need to re-imagine themselves in this connected age.

Net, we need to go from being controlling, centralized, short term oriented managers to empowering, federated, long term inspirers.

6.Trust: If there is one overall theme from this Davos it is trust. How to get it? How to keep it? How to regain it?

There has been a breakdown in trust with all four institutions (Government, Business, NGO and the Media) seeing simultaneous declines according to Edelman tracking (  http://www.edelman.com/10-trust-barometer-insights/ )

Can our politicians be trusted to look after the people who vote for them or  will they look after the people who pay for their campaigns? Will our business leaders think beyond short term profits and global domination and think of the communities they work in and invest in keeping their people relevant and make long term decisions? Can the platforms like Facebook that run black box algorithms and refuse to share their data be trusted with the news and connections and results they show us? Can we really believe that Artificial Intelligence will not come to replace us and the IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, Tencent, Alibaba, Google, Apple and Uber that are driving our future in this area can be trusted with this?

This Davos was clearly one filled with uncertainty and change more than ever before. The themes that I took away (again one person’s perspective based on what I was exposed to) may make one feel pessimistic but we need to keep in mind that the World is better off today than ever before but many people have been left behind and we need to re-think the coming age with inspirational thought, deep feeling and generous sharing of perspectives and the views of different groups as we build an even better future.

And this is something that World Economic Forum does very well and it will adjust to this new reality as all of us will since tomorrow in the long run is always better if we work at it.

7. Implications for Business and Marketing: If there is one theme that business and marketers should focus on is how to be seen as a trusted brand or company. In todays connected world being authentic, purpose driven and transparent is key to gain trust not only among purchasers but also current and potential employees. Thus companies need to have significant programs externally to ensure they are helping communities, that they are careful about where they source from, that they look at things beyond the bottom line and their Brands are aligned with the greater good. In addition, as employees become the key ambassadors for Brands and the talent wars heat up it will be key to constantly communicate, train and connect with employees making plans and senior management accessible.

The AI world will impact marketing in a big way. We already saw at CES that Amazon’s Alexa voice operating system was being incorporated into many products and services from Refrigerators to cars. Voice based search will change the way we manage search. And importantly AI bots will augment CRM. These are all scalable today and AI will be a key platform for marketing. At the same time the augmented capability of AI to up-skill and do things faster than humans will require companies to both up-skill their own people and to consider what jobs should be primarily done by machines. The economic competition and price pressures all companies face will not disappear and AI is one way to increase productivity.

Finally, given the emphasis on data, business really needs to interrogate whether their data programs are as valid and relevant as they can be. Can a company’s data be actually a bubble of delusion as they frame things through their brand or their category versus what people actually want and feel? In an age of AI are they truly utilizing the correct co-relations and algorithms. Most importantly we often choose with our hearts and then use numbers to justify what we just did. In such a world marketer should never forget the emotion and the feeling that makes us human which often overrides logic and rationale.

 

 

The Dawn of the Third Connected Era

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Two decades ago in 1996 with the advent of the Netscape browser we entered the first connected age where the key connection artifact was the web link. Click on a link and you found yourself in a different space and experience including the ability to shop. The companies that were built on best exploiting the link in the first connected era which lasted a decade was Google and to a lesser extent Amazon.

In 2007 we entered the second Connected era built around the smart phone and social networks where it was a constant take it with your connection and the ability to share and democratizing of publishing. Apple, Facebook and Tencent were the big new winners of this era, while Google and Amazon continued to thrive as they adapted to a mobile world.

In 2017 at CES one began to see the third connected era which builds on the link, mobility and social networks with three new connection paradigms.

  • Deep connections between data which enable machine learning that powers Artificial Intelligence. (AI)
  • Distributed computing and connections across a spectrum of objects which connect to everything resulting in the Internet of Things including big things called automobiles(IOT)
  • New ways of engaging and connecting utilizing Voice, Augmented, Virtual and Mixed reality to enable communication and tell stories in new ways (Voice/AR/VR/MR)

This Third connected era which builds on the first and second decades of connection is likely to be the most impactful, wealth creating and industry/society disruptive era of all.

It is also likely to be the most competitive.

At CES it was clear that the leaders of the first and second eras were likely to be dominant players in the third era joined by some new players from the computing eras of the 80’s and early 90’s.

Amazon with Alexa dominated the show as its voice operating system was found embedded in toys and cars. Google with Google Assistant, Google Home, a super powerful new Google Translate, Deep Mind and its AI first mantra highlighted that this generation of leaders will not be easy to displace. But in the wings IBM with Watson, NVidia whose chips seem to be the chips for AI and no longer just fancy gaming graphics and a re-invigorated Microsoft with Cortina, LinkedIn and Azure will ensure that this third era will be more competitive than ever before.

Implications for Marketing and Marketers 

  1. Next Generation CRM and Customer Service: AI and Voice will change customer expectations on relationship management and customer service. They will expect that next generation recommendation engines driven by AI will anticipate their needs and will be easy and simple to interact with using Voice. Marketing will become increasingly anticipatory versus reactive. If Netflix and Amazon can recommend what I need these same algorithms should be available across all service interactions.
  1. Search will be revolutionized: Recently Google replaced its head of search with its head of AI. Google realizes that increasingly as shown in Google Now we expect answers before we query the search box. Over time as voice becomes a key interface what will search advertising look like and how will it affect the ecosystem? 
  1. Frictionless Commerce may be so smooth that there could be a backlash: If every object around the voice can be addressed to order things could we find ourselves so impulsive that we find ourselves swimming in debt. Alexa order me ….
  1. The rise of a new generation of Creative story telling: A combination of voice based search, ad blocking, and increased penetration of ad free content like Netflix and Amazon will result in fewer and fewer opportunities to engage and interact with people, thus placing a premium that every single interaction be as resonant as possible. One can anticipate a new creative renaissance which uses smart bots, deeper engagement palettes like VR/AR/MR and “ads” being replaced by “connected experiences” which combine intelligence, creativity and technology will grow in importance.
  1. The Third Connected Era may reduce Google and Facebook dominance in marketing: Google and Facebook will continue to very powerful platforms but as we move from ads to connected experiences, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Amazon, Apple and many others will make it a far more competitive landscape as marketers focus on marketing experiences versus advertising experiences in the third connected era.
  1. Control and Sharing Fetish may indicate growing uncertainty and isolation: There was a plethora of devices which allowed consumers to monitor, control and calibrate every aspect of their home, health and much more. Drones, robots and other mechanical objects listened and obeyed. All the data and images could be shared. But is this control really a pacifier for a world changing fast and in uncertain ways and if we are constantly streaming does anybody have the time and the bandwidth to watch or listen?

This post first appeared in Media Post

 

 

Four Key Takeaways From Summer Davos

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Recently,  I attended  the World Economic Forum’s,  Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China which is also known as Summer Davos. Here were four key takeaways.

1.We all want to stop the world and slow things down but underlying forces will not co-operate

 At Davos the backdrop was the stock market decline in China that spread to other markets combined with a collapse in oil prices which tinged the proceedings and this time it was Brexit. Both events were unexpected and six months apart. In addition, in the US we have Trump as the nominee, a surging anti-immigration backlash around the world and the arrival of negative interest rates in Europe and Japan.

The new normal is not low growth but high uncertainty. The reality is life is uncertain but despite repeated attempts to slow or stop them we can be certain of three trends which are digitization of everything, demographic shifts including larger populations in Africa and the move to safety or opportunities with hundreds of millions of immigrants who will not be stopped and globalization which is out of the bottle and cannot be stuffed back.

Today 150 million Chinese travel widely. The second largest and in some cases the largest number of employees for all the major American tech firms are in India. More than half of all the sales of Fortune 500 companies are outside North America. Backlash there will be. Anyone trying to stop it will be whiplashed.

2.The future of Consumption is going to change dramatically impacting all Companies

 Technology breakthroughs are coming fast and furious and are feeding off each other creating even more exponential change.

Eight factors that are driving change: Artificial Intelligence (Cognitive Computing), Internet of Things, Robotics, 3 D Printing, Block chain, Autonomous Vehicles, Digital Traceability, Virtual Reality

These eight factors create five systems of future consumption which are the on demand economy, the sharing economy, the circular economy, the experience economy and the platform economy.

A company like Uber displays all these five economies in that a single Uber car replaces 30 cars and could reduce the number of cars in London from 2 million to 1.6 million within a year showing how a circular economy works. It’s a platform for not just delivering a vehicle but food, it’s clearly a sharing and on demand economy but also an experience economy since more an and more people believe the experience of getting a car with a push of the button and then sitting back and looking at their mobile phones is a better experience than driving themselves. 10 percent of millennials have given up their driver’s license.

Every firm must now adapt and re-invent itself for these five economies of consumption which will impact the global 5 trillion-dollar consumption economy.

3.AI and VR and other technologies are re-inventing how we get information and will be entertained.

Today there is a breakthrough in AI like never before due to machine learning algorithms particularly a technique called deep learning. Deep learning has allowed for major leaps in natural language processing, speech recognition and image recognition.  Here is a wonderful presentation on AI (the first 20 minutes are a bit boring but explain history but the last 20 minutes are wonderfully illuminating)

http://a16z.com/2016/06/10/ai-deep-learning-machines/

When Alexa speaks from Echo, when Netflix recommends a list of movies or Buzzfeed shows you the articles you want to read all of these are AI deep learning. AI in our business at one level is about hyper personalization but also will give rise to issues of privacy.

Virtual Reality is about to break through due to the fact that it can be delivered via a mobile phone and with little as a Google cardboard one can experience things. The New York Times won a Cannes Grand Prix for its work in VR for itself and Clients. See Displaced by downloading the NYT VR app on your phone. You do not even need a google cardboard.

The key with VR is that it makes you believe you are in a place and it can be addicting. Some have called it an empathy machine and it opens up completely new fields not just in story telling but in experiencing travel, getting educated and much more.

4.The Future Does not fit in the containers of the past.

 Today the big challenge is whether it be government or academia or media or business organizations all of us are struggling to cope with the shifts underway with organizational structures and rules of engagement fine-tuned for an eroding age.

In a world of cross border companies like Google, Tencent, Facebook among others how can todays governments and structures manage? In a world built around ownership where access (music, experiences, transport) is growing how does one adapt. We have to disrupt ourselves.

The multi stakeholder approach at WEF and the move to systems (understanding that systems are interconnected) makes this conference key to adjusting all of us to the future.

 

TED 2016: Forsee (Four C) Future

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Chris Milk speaks at TED2016 – Dream, February 15-19, 2016, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

TED 2016 which concluded this past Friday was themed “Dreams”.

My takeaway was that we should watch the inter-connectedness of the 4 C’s of Computation, Communication, Connections and Creativity which are increasingly intertwining and re-inventing, re-energizing each other, taking quantum leaps to a different level.

This will change society in ways we can barely comprehend.

And mostly for the better!

Here are where the combination of 4C’s have already got us…

A.The Final Mediums?

Three of the most compelling demos at the conference were about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

Virtual Reality

Chris Milk took 1200 folks through the largest collective viewing of virtual reality. A segment of us can be seen in the picture above.

Chris  noted that most visual media requires a suspension of disbelief, but virtual reality will have our minds be the medium. Today music is the medium that leverages our minds best, but virtual reality soon will do so. Even though it is in the very early days, Virtual reality has an amazing ability to make you feel you are in an environment creating an amazing  feeling of empathy. Chris has called Virtual Reality the “empathy machine” and it is true.

It is very easy for you to experience virtual reality even without Oculus or even Google Glass. All you need is a smart phone and a pair of headphones and download the free VRSE app from Apple or Android stores.

Here is a collection of movies and how to see them so you can experience VR right now. I would suggest “Clouds of Sidra” and “The Displaced”.

Augmented Reality

There are at least three companies today working feverishly on Augmented Reality which is different than virtual reality in that it fuses the analog and digital worlds by superimposing one on the other. The three firms are Magic Leap, Meta and Microsoft. Both Meta and Microsoft demonstrated their product. The Microsoft HoloLens demonstration allowed us to see what Alex Kipman the driving force behind the project saw in his HoloLens. He saw amazing gardens (picture below) , brought an astronaut onto the stage and then brought in and had a conversation with someone in another room! This shit is for real!

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Unfortunately, HoloLens is not yet a consumer product since Alex Kipman who was behind Kinect wants to make sure that there are enough useful cases before introducing the head set for the rest of us.

You can learn more about HoloLens and experience some holograms at this Microsoft site and see some of the other compelling demos at TED if you click here.

One can safely predict that communication, the ability to connect with folks and  story telling creativity is at the cusp of a mind boggling leap and within the next couple of years.

B. The Dance of Drones

Along with Alex Kipman’s amazing HoloLens demo was a live in-theater demo of what is possible today with Drones. The most modern drones use sophisticated location computing technology to “see” each other without any cameras and they can even “dance”. Here is a video of the talk  that is a must see. Imagine drones shooting virtual reality movies….yes….coming soon…

C. Computational Data  Re-Inventing Art

Who says big data and brute computing has to end up with a scientific output. Can we not use it for Art. If Art eventually lets us better understand ourselves cannot data infuse art in ways that reveal new connections and make us feel and think in new ways.

R Luke Dubois is a computational artist who finds a way to fuse technology and creativity into making data art. The picture below are eye charts of the most used words by different presidents in the State of the Union addresses over the years. The more the word is used the higher/bigger it is in the eye chart. The word most used by George Washington was “Gentlemen” and by Nixon ironically was “Truly”. Looking at these are revealing indeed. Can you imagine what President Trump’s most used word will be…Fear?

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This is just one of many different ways Dubois converts data into art. To see more visit this collection.

D. “Inception” was not a Fictional Movie. The Cutting Edge of Brain Science.

 

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Modern Brain science is now making it possible to show how one can virally influence communication and record and influence dreams! Yes right now.

But now Brain Hackers (yes a real title) like Moran Cerf a professor at Northwestern who used to be a computer hacker  are learning how to influence your dreams and you, while you sleep…

In recent years, Cerf says, neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is susceptible to external influence while people sleep. 


“In those moments, your brain actually listens and rehearses,” Cerf says. “When your brain rehearses memories during sleep, you can intervene using sounds and smells and things that the body responds to without waking. This process can help navigate the brain towards certain thoughts and memories.”

The result, Cerf says, is that, “you can actually change behavior.” Cerf cited a recent study where people were able to significantly decrease the desire to smoke cigarettes after being subjected to external stimuli while asleep and dreaming.

“During this small window of time when the brain can rethink what it wants, you can make it find the choice of smoking less rewarding, by creating an association in the brain between smoking and bad experiences,” Cerf says. “And when you wake up, you suddenly don’t want to smoke as much.”

But there is more…we can brainwash people…

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When you see a television show your brain patterns respond in a particular way. Surprisingly anybody else who sees the same show responds with the same brain patterns. When you recall the show your brain patterns replay in the same way. But here is what is extra-ordinary…when you tell the story of the show to somebody who has not seen the show their brain patterns respond as if they were seeing the show! Communication is truly viral and which explains why sometimes get so deeply influenced or almost brainwashed

Read more about Uri Hasson and his understanding of how we communicate


E. Are We Gods Now? Genetic Coding and Where its Going.

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Riccardo Sabatini speaks at TED2016 – Dream, February 15-19, 2016, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Two speakers spoke about the powers and perils of genetic modification which modern computing power is  making increasingly powerful.

Riccardo Sabatani shows how the DNA of a single human takes up 175 volumes of the size of an Encyclopedia Brittanica. We now are understanding at such a level that we can predict and adapt humans by predicting just with a pinch of blood what a person looks like. And therefore we can tell what they can look like so we can choose what our Children look like. While that is scary the same technology can attack cancers and much more…

But while some of this is distance a word processor for gene editing is already here.

It is a reality in that we will soon be able to design specifics of our offspring and using “CRISPR”  which is a word processor for Genetics which just like Microsoft Word allows us to cut and paste genes.

This allows us to undertake “Gene Drives” eradicate species such as the mosquito that transmits malaria!

F. Connecting Conundrums. Opportunities/Implications from AirBnB and Uber

Uber existed 100 years ago in San Francisco ! Folks saw long lines at Street Cars and decided to put a sign on their motor cars offering to take folks to where they wanted for 5 cents. A nickel was known as a Jitney and so this gave launch to the Jitney service in 1914 which by 1915 was being used to transport 150,000 people a day…in places like Kansas City and New York

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What happened? By 1918 the Street cars and other legacy firms got Jitneys regulated out of existence. If that had not happened we may not have had the personal cars, massive highways and parking lots, pollution, OPEC..

It is clear that as we move to the current legislation ( see latest news on Apple encryption) has not been built for a connected age.

What made AirBnb succeed when previous efforts did not? Some of it was luck. Some of it was timing but the Founders believe it was “design” of the reputation system that allowed renters and guests to rate each other in ways that were not too comprehensive but useful.

This ability to rate attacked the stranger=danger reality and got guests to understand that AirBnB is about sharing which is a combination of renting a place and involving oneself.

123 million room nights have been made possible by AirBnB and tonight 785,000 people in 191 countries will AirBnB to “connect” in ways that the computational math or reputation systems , the communication learning of how much data is enough and the creativity of a connected idea.

A summary of their talks are available at Wired

G. Inspiring Creativity and Story Telling That Modern Democratized  Tech Computing Makes Possible

Between each session of speakers TED curators share strangely compelling videos that they have found. Some are by amateurs and others by professionals using simple low cost capture and editing tools. Here is a fun piece which makes you wonder how they did it..

 

You can experience the entire collection of amazing videos at this TED microsite. Strongly recommend you look at the “Human” movies and for fun see “Kyoto”

H. The Importance of Original Voices and Visions

Originals

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While the visual stimuli of seeing different realities, amazing computation, flying drones and inspiring  thinking we were reminded that behind all these breakthroughs in approaches and thinking were humans with original voices and unique visions.

Adam Grant’s new book Originals which I have recently read and which he summarized in a talk shows that all of us can be unique and these originals are a) not early movers but copiers, b) they fret and are anxious and hedge risks like crazy and c) they strike out a lot having many many bad ideas along with the original great idea. You can read more or buy the book at Amazon.

Authentic! Passion! Big Idea!

The single most compelling talk for me was by Adam Foss,an Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts. It was a talk without a single visual delivered without notes with deep passion.

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Adam Foss speaks at TED2016 – Dream, February 15-19, 2016, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Why did it work so well? Because what we heard was a) a unique authentic voice b) a breathtaking insight that the best way to defend people and offer justice is to be an prosecutor since prosecutors have all the power to determine what they will arraign a person for and c) addressing of a massive problem ( the US spends 80 billion a year imprisoning 2.3 million people who often then are ostracized from society) by thinking upside down. When his speech is online listen to it and you will be moved and recognize that a voice, a unique idea and passion is the flame that will drive all the new technology too. Till then here is a summary of his speech.

Procrastination

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Many of these original thinkers also were procrastinators. Do you procrastinate? Tim Urban explained why we do so and what we can do about it in the big areas that matter where we do not have deadlines to wake us up. A simple exercise is to realize that we all have about 900 months of life and by mid life you only have 400 left so what are you waiting for? You should definitely read the piece or get the pdf.

So in the end the most important insight is the fifth C. Carbon Based Humans!

Finally Bill Gross of IdeaLab whom I am lucky to have worked with always does a great re-cap of TED which you should read.

And do not forget to experience past TED talks and monitor the new ones released all the time at TED.Com….

Re-Winding. A Collection of Videos.

Half a dozen videos of my most popular talks and interviews which many folks have found helpful are now collected in a single place

1.A Ten Minute Overview Of Marketing  in a Transformative Age

This is an opening keynote at a Video Everywhere Conference in New York City in  November 2015 which was popular both for the content and the lack of any notes or slides….

2. How to connect with people in a data driven, content filled age

An Interview in Johannesburg, South Africa in October 2015 which explains how companies should rethink a lot of assumptions including how they think about data and content and even marketing. Click the link below  the picture for the video

download

 How To Connect With Customers In a Content and Data Driven Age

3. Six Key Trends Driving the Future of Marketing

A short talk at Yale School of Management in New Haven in August of 2014 including how the future of marketing is really about outsourcing market to the customer!

4.Why Agencies are like Cockroaches and will not go the way of Dinosaurs but will transform ourselves like we always have

A pep talk to the Industry at the 4A’s in New Orleans in 2013 on how not to let change get one down

5. Change and the Future. A  TEDx Talk at the University of Chicago

What are the key trends driving Change and how should people and companies adapt. A talk in June 2013 at TEDx University of Chicago

6. How To Build A Personal Brand

In todays networked world it is key that everyone focus on building a Brand by understanding their niche, their story and their voice

Davos 2016: Leading in a Transformational Era

 

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The official theme of Davos 2016 is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” in recognition of the range of upheavals that have begun and are anticipated driven by technological advances from robotics, genetic design, 3-D printing, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and the exponential power of connected mobile devices. A free download of the book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” is available here

The Four Key Discussions

At the end of four days of listening to panels, attending breakfasts and dinners with businessmen, government officials, social workers, artists and scientists,  technology was only one of four key discussions.  The four big themes were

  1. China: Christine Lagarde’ of the IMF  framed China’s economic challenge as how to manage three transitions in its economy from a)export to import, b) infrastructure to consumer consumption lead and c) high growth to mid growth. The decline in oil and commodity prices, currency wars and softness in emerging markets (with the exception of India which remained a shining star at Davos) were all seen as originating in China.  In addition to the economic challenges, China faces a demographic challenge of an aging population , an environmental situation which is leading to significant health issues and hundreds of millions online who are insisting on change. While the range of expectations on hard landing to soft landing, big yuan depreciation to slight yuan depreciation and adjustment to environmental and demographic change ranged dramatically the general belief was that China would be alright if its leadership maintained the faith of its key internal constituencies and did a better job communicating its intentions and its numbers could be trusted.
  2. Immigration: Globally there are 240 million immigrants and while historically immigration has been a net positive and shows no sign of slowing it has become a huge issue due to lack of economic growth creating angry unemployed youth and resentful “natives”. The recent floods of displaced refugees (there are 60 million displaced people) whose numbers are increasing exponentially due to the troubles in the Middle East and Africa which is overwhelming Europe’s sense of self and its open borders policies (Schengen). As we have seen with  the different styles of a Donald Trump (who was a big topic at Davos too and increasingly seen as a likely Republican nominee) to Angela Merkel, the quality of leadership will matter to adapt to this new reality which is transforming societies everywhere.
  3. Inequality Schism: Globally  just 62 people have as much wealth as the bottom 3,700,000,000 (3.7 billion) and the top 1% control more wealth than the remaining 99 percent. These trends of concentrations have been growing due to a combination of government actions biased towards capital, the network economic effects of technology companies, slow growth and the ability to replace carbon based life forms with silicon based digital computers. In addition to economic inequality the inequality of opportunities and pay between men and women, caucasian and colored, connected (half the world is connected to modern science and another half lacks electricity or water or internet).  The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the top quarter of society increasing  regaining trust with business and other leaders while the bottom 75% are losing trust. Society is now questioning its leadership all over the world who are seen as short term, selfish with narrow goals  who are forgetting we are living in a multi-stakeholder world.  As someone on a panel noted ” we have rulers not leaders”
  4. Impact of Technology: Many CEOs are fearful of technology  with the CEO of KPMG noting that 1 in 3 CEO’s see their business being highly disrupted by outside competitors in the next thousand days . Some folks were gloomy wondering if a combination of locked in network effects ( Google, Tencent, Facebook, Amazon) and AI/Robotics/Chips would lead to even further radical inequality and mass unemployment.  But overall mood was that we were about to have some of the most amazing technological advances if applied correctly could transform society and create 100 trillion dollars of new economic benefit within a few years!  And most consumers see huge benefits to a digital society.  These benefits would not just be in more wages and better lifestyles but better health, more immersive and empathetic story telling, wider distribution of culture and much more. The question is how will business, government, society leaders understand and adapt technology to its goals. Technology is not bad or good but it can be used for good or bad goals.

Tectonic Trio Transformations creating a Crisis of Leadership

We are living in a transformational era driven by the Tectonic Trio of globalization, demographic and technological shifts which is changing society with great force ( masses of people undergoing accelerated change). The potential for great positive change will depend on all of us learning to lead our organizations, our communities and ourselves.

The future is uncertain and uncertainty is crippling leadership. Truth is the future has always been uncertain but right now the pace of change is making one question ones very model and self confidence. The challenge is relevance and whether todays ways of working are relevant in the future.

As Marc Benioff the CEO of Salesforce yelled ” we do not have a technological crisis we have a leadership crisis”

Thus the real key theme from Davos: Leadership in a Transformational Era.

Seven Ways to become a Transformational Leader

Across the conference I kept my eyes and ears wide open for how the best leaders or thinkers had learnt or were doing to ensure an optimistic outcome from this transformative age. I went to cultural panels, health panels, business forecast panels, panels on the future of religion and to ones with government leaders convening and between meetings read the WEF blogs and reports published at the forum. Here are some key learnings

1.Be hopeful/optimistic: In reality, globally the world is much better today than 20 years ago. Over a billion people have come out of poverty around the world. Radical breakthroughs have given people “god like power” of mobile phones and search engines. We have voices and connections due to social networks and more advanced and better health care. While racism, wars, inequality, slave like work conditions remain widespread there has been considerable progress made. As someone said ” I am not afraid of the world but I am afraid of the news”. More people have more access to services and each other than ever before and increased empowerment and connectivity has always led to significant gains in societal and business wealth.

The World Economic Forum completed a land mark global survey on Digital Media and Society and its Implications in a Hyper Connected Age  which indicates that significant majorities feel more empowered, more connected, more productive and have more access to learning. The only significant but a huge concern regards control of privacy and identity in a big data age. Should we own, monetize and control our own data? This is an issue we will be soon discussing but even data well used is hugely enabling.

People do not follow pessimists or stay in companies with tyrannical, scared, inward looking leaders. Hope matters, and realistic pragmatic future based growth plans make people hopeful. Technology is going to allow for major new ways to innovate, service and benefit people across every industry. A hundred trillion dollar opportunity said some at Davos.

2 .Think Longer Term: Some of the biggest challenges we face is because leaders are focussing on the urgent versus the important. Growth which is a challenge requires investment and innovation which takes time. Culture, talent growth, impact of acquistions and change management does not happen overnight with edicts and vision statements but is an iterative process of years. True leaders do not do only what the numbers tell them to do but think higher and feel deeper. If you manage by the numbers one of the new AI robots is poised to replace you since they can compute faster than you can. Mark Benioff wondered whether Governments should not have a Minister or Ministry  for the Future so they could prepare their societies for tomorrow and not just today. Many company leaders are so busy putting out Client and Market crises that the future melts away in the heat of the present…

Technology and Transformation are long term sustained investments and initiatives and press releases on partnerships and deals or hiring a digital officer or two is worth a hill of beans. The key is how to remain relevant, lead the change and transform.

3. Manage & Constantly Communicate with Multiple Stakeholders: We are living in an interconnected and networked world and leadership will be balancing between multiple constituencies. In business, a new word of quadruple bottom line which measures not just how a company is doing for it stock holders but also the environment, its community and its employees. Often these run at cross purposes but simplistic thinking of maximizing shareholder returns for business despite short term pressure of financial markets is an era that is passing. A key is to identify key stakeholders, communicate with them on setting goals and then measure and adapt based on performance. Constant communication is a key otherwise others hijack the narrative.

4. Build a Collaborative and Creative Mindset:  The lines between industries is being dissolved due to the acidity of digital technology which does not recognize analog or industry borders. Consumers expect quick access with minimal friction. Clients expect seamless and fast deliveries and punish balkanized firms whose inner dysfunctions lead to heat but little light. Superior performance at competitive prices on unrealistic timelines is now the digital reality and only highly networked and collaborative leaders and companies will thrive.

This often requires creative new ideas, new ways of telling stories, new ways of developing and delivering products and services. Creativity and Innovation become critical.

5. Question your organization design and skills: The future does not fit in the containers of the past and most current successful organizations have been optimized for yesterday. If you were to launch a competitor to yourself today what would it look like. It is unlikely to look the way your firm or school or business does. Re-inventing their structures and investing in talent and skills.

6. Earn Trust through Purpose, Authenticity and Empathy: Key themes again and again were the best firms, the best governments, the best leaders spoke to and delivered to a higher purpose, were authentic in their behaviors and listened, felt and understood others in an empathetic way . Millennials in particular are looking for purpose driven companies. They compare notes constantly and inauthenticity is a huge fail.  They want their point of view and their hopes and dreams to be understood. This is not just true for millennials but for all people. One of the most admired recent leaders is Pope Francis who embodies Purpose, Authenticity and Trust. The key is to be genuine. People ask is my leader, is my company the real thing?

7. Grow yourself: A key struggle among all constituencies was remaining relevant in changing times. The challenge was often personal. Could they learn new skills or appreciate new models. Could they re-invent themselves? Some of the ways leaders were growing themselves that seemed to work were

a) Going on learning tours: These tended to not just be to Silicon Valley but could be to consumers, new competitors or other travels that would create a sense of disorientation and therefore questioning of the status quo.

b) Finding reverse mentors: Get younger folks to mentor them on different topics, create junior boards that presented to the real boards and go to lunch/drinks with folks many levels outside of the corporate headquarters confines to get the real scoop.

c) Learning to communicate better particular using newer platforms: In an always on world blogs, social media, online video channels,  and “all hands” meetings are the new way forward rather than long memos, press releases and corporate message massaging. The problem with these new forms is one has to do it oneself or be deeply involved  and not have some one do it for you ( authenticity matters) and there is always talk back (not always nicely and respectfully). But in a battlefield of narratives the leaderships voice cannot be intermittent or delivered by carrier pigeon.

d) Stepping outside themselves: Oddly ,the busier and more harried the best leaders should be what was clear is that they did more than work. Two common additional goals were giving back via charities or causes or education and the other was a deep involvement in some form or art, literature or culture. This stepping outside seems to have made them more authentic, purposeful and empathetic but also synch to a more longer and harmonic time spans.

So if we are to truly leverage the data driven, silicon based, digital possibilities it is us emotionally complex, carbon based, analog lifeforms who will have to make it happen.

A harmony. An alchemy of technology and creativity. Of silicon and of carbon.

Davos as usual was incredible and illuminating and is a place for dialog and interacting which both makes one feel smaller and leave bigger.

You can experience it increasingly virtually here