Getting on with AI

At the 2017 Robot Art Competition, robotic painters produced paintings like graduating art students, described as ‘aesthetically ambiguous’. The bearded face of a man stares out from one canvas, another depicts human emotion with jagged, gloomy stripes of black and purple.

AI is a field of computer science that mimics the natural learning process of the human brain by creating artificial neural networks. Developing machines that think is not new. World War II code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing trailblazed the idea. Virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri use AI engines to respond to enquiries. Siri can learn by using the feedback it gets to refine the results it provides. That’s why you can ask Siri to call ‘Dad’, once you’ve told it what name in your contacts is your father.

Most of us don’t intimately feel the impact of AI in our lives, or perhaps recognize it as the engine behind Siri, for example. And some of us assume ‘not in my lifetime’. Since WWII, we have come a long way. And with Google, Facebook and Microsoft investing heavily in AI systems, the future will start to look a lot closer.

AI is already advanced enough to enter into companies by way of virtual assistants, and in industries such as banking, as virtual tellers and advisors. AIs are good at processing huge amounts of data, and that’s valuable for services such as fraud detection and security surveillance. They are being used in law and medicine, not only to read and assess documents but to make recommendations, while advances in robotics are allowing doctors to perform surgeries remotely. It’s possible that soon simple surgeries will be performed by AI. South Korea has already introduced a tax on robots. They fear robots may take away jobs leading to mass unemployment. And Elon Musk is worried about AI. Speaking from a vantage point of being intimate with cutting-edge AI tech, he thinks AI could pose a threat to humanity. An AI already exists that can solve the Raven Progressive Matrices Test, an intelligence test of visual and analogical reasoning, better than the average American. Then there is Pepper, the humanoid robot featured in the cover picture, designed to read emotions by analyzing expressions and voice tones. (See this interview with Pepper.)

In future, diversity at work will include AI’s

We should learn to get on well, says Benjamin Wolh in his article ‘How artificial intelligence and the robotic revolution will change the workplace of tomorrow’, because diversity at work in the future will certainly include AIs. If robots are great at many things we don’t like or are not very good at such as performing repetitive, monotonous tasks, concentrating for long periods of time and quickly searching vast databases of information, we should welcome automation of tasks. We could do ourselves better service by putting our unique human attributes to work.  But what does it mean to be human, what value do we bring? In a sense, a lack of better insight in this area is part of the problem.

Liz Ryan, Founder of the Human Workplace, will tell you that we have lost ‘humanity’ in the workplace:

‘There are people in this world who cannot tell you what they think and what they believe. They simply don’t know. They are programmed to be the person they think someone in authority — a hiring authority, for instance — wants them to be.’

For the longest time we have been working hard at managing down the human factor. Humans have posed challenges to the idealistic, ultra-productive workplaces.  They have emotions, they get sick, they get tired, and they get ‘sick and tired’.  Humans can relate and create however, and when in FLOW and working together, they can innovate new and better futures.

Working alongside machines will involve learning how to be better at being human

Michael Harré, AI enthusiast and lecturer in Complex Systems at the University of Sydney, says that living and working with AI will push us to rethink basic assumptions about our sense of self. He believes that we will have to revise what we think consciousness actually is. Preparing for a robotic future of working more alongside machines, will force us to learn how to be better at being human.

The truth is, AI is coming for a lot of the jobs we know now. Whole careers will be innovated out of existence. But we will also innovate whole new careers into existence. People who are flexible and open to learning will continue to be in demand, says Harré, as will those who are more willing to be agile within the jobs they take.

We need to rethink what it means to be human, and what’s deeply valuable about that. Given we’ve spent a lot of time taking the human elements out of workplace, that’s going to be a big shift for some.

 

There are people who chop through the digital transformation buzzword bingo that peppers our work lexicon these days. They inject a new reality into the aging mainframes of our organisations. Their persistence in hustling and rustling managers, rules and mindsets to achieve a vision extraordinaire, is admirable. We need them. They are the ones who can make … (at this point feel free to insert the buzzwords from your own organisation goals such as digital transformation, digital enablement, disruption, innovation, or ‘exponential, digital, social’ as I read about today) happen. So, naturally we ask, what can we do to attract these game changers to our organisation?

For a start, it is helpful that we have more clarity on the characteristics of game changers, thanks to 2015 research. They are big picture thinkers, creative and passionate idea generators, ambitious and driven to succeed. They also take risks. Where some see a glass half empty, for them it’s overflowing. They posses a creative imagination, a way of seeing things that you and I may not, as well as what psychologists have termed “productive obsessionality.” It is this last characteristic that provides them with the grit to keep on where others fall off. After all, it’s hard to change the status quo – tenacity is part of the reason many game changers can and do. This blueprint of their DNA helps to shed light on what is likely to make the game changer tick.

We assume we need to do ‘something’ to attract them, but they are not the type of talent that plugs and plays for cash, leadership titles or big projects to deliver. In fact, most of our organisations don’t have the sockets for game changers. They do not fit.

Game Changers challenge norms in pursuit of new realities. Difficult conversations are important for them, and organizational hierarchy typically not. A position of leadership may throw other responsibilities in the path, distractions that frustrate the dream they are trying realise. Bigger budgets and more people to manage do not necessarily feature in their plans, it’s the idea being realised that matters.

Paradoxically, it should strike you that the very qualities identified in the research into game changers, namely, imaginativeness (create the exceptional vision) and productive obsessionality (find a way to drive it through), mean it is likely that game changers do not need you. If you frustrate their efforts, they will likely find a way to do what they want to, without you. Some, in an obsessive pursuit of their vision, may just use you to push their agenda. Powers that pay service to relentless digital and innovation hype only with innovation labs, hubs, centres or cells (there’s another opportunity to add buzzords), I challenge, are not creating the type of enabled serendipity you need on a wider and more fundamental scale. We need more than the game changers and the hubs.

What if we said that what we really need, is a type of enabled serendipity in organisations, a flexibility, a pool of resource, the freedom to take a chance on something that might not work? We would need to accept that this may likely offset the neat cogs that drive what I hear described as “hard business”. How can we attract game changing talent is a big question and a larger challenge than perhaps most of us expect.

It is not only the game changer input we need, but rather a team of people enabled to deliver game changing outputs, with some room to wonder from delivering the hard business. We need to work out a different kind of socket, and build it. It’s probably a multi-plug, and the power source not exclusive to the organisation. To have a shot at building something significant, we need a big measure of courage to challenge our organisations on ‘the way things really get done around here’, and why. Put another way, who does this serve, and for how long?

If you haven’t read the book “Wellbeing Economy” by Prof of Political Economy at the University of Pretoria, Lorenzo Fioramunti, maybe now is a good time to do so.

By Gaylin Jee

Even a giant can streamline, increase speed and encourage innovation. 

General Electric (GE) has done this through making lean startup part of the mindset and the culture at the organisation, using a programme called FastWorks.

Leader of GE Culture and co-founder of GE FastWorks, Janice Sempe:

“We had a culture of being addicted to being right, … we had a culture of perfection. We didn’t know how to partner with our customers and see their problems from their perspective.” “We had to train our leaders to lead in a different way. We had to get them to ask questions in place of provide answers.”

Often our focus is on activity, or getting things done. If we shift the focus from customer requirements confusion to customer validation, to building a minimum viable product and then pivoting, to learning as we go along, we get better product to market more quickly. In place of having thinly spread teams, GE builds dedicated teams. These teams are fast, and focused. Using FastWorks, GE has successfully introduced lean startup principles in a non-tech environment, and in a highly regulated industry.

Based on the lean startup methodology principles of Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup methodology, FastWorks is essentially a set of tools and practices designed to build better products for customers, more quickly. There are 100s of FastWorks programmes across GE. FastWorks decreases the cycle time for product development. GE uses it to get closer to customers, to encourage innovation, increase speed to market, improve chances of success, and, generally, to make it easier to get things done.

Sempe shares the challenges and tangible successes that GE has driven through creating a culture of experimentation in the podcast interview How An Enterprise Makes Lean Startup Part of The Mindset And Culture. These kinds of successes she notes are about a lot more than training. You have to think more broadly about your organisations ability, in terms of its behaviours and cultures, to support the application of a lean startup approach. This is more than giving permission to fail, it is asking the questions: What new skills are needed and can be developed? Will new behaviours required be rewarded? How will our performance management system support this? What are the new expectations we have of employees?

At GE, 5 new belief statements were introduced. They wanted to think about failure in a different way, and to reframe barriers, giving permission for people to accept and adopt new ways of thinking and acting. Not meeting an outcome is a great way of getting to a better solution. You learn as you go along. The bold GE statements are:

  1. Customers determine our success
  2. Stay lean to go fast
  3. Learn and adapt to win
  4. Empower and inspire each other
  5. Deliver results in an uncertain world.

The GE performance management system has also been reworked, from a linear process of setting and measuring goals at the start and end of each year, to an on-going process that encourages asking the right questions. It allows for adaption. Employees are expected to experiment and pivot based on what they are learning from their customers.

It would be naïve to think that an organisational change like this is easy. Sempe says they are learning as they go, and she admits that it is hard. There has been considerable commitment to the programme. In the first year of implementation, Ries trained around 1000 GE executives on Lean Startup. There are also numerous coaches in the organization. But the results are tangible. Sempe offers two proof points in her interview:

  1. A new product (an engine) getting to market 2 years ahead of competitors with significant cost savings to the company, positioned very well with customers as a result, by using FastWorks principles;
  2. An efficient low cost energy solution for their power and water business, development costs were reduced by 60% by using the principles of FastWorks.

Define your company's mindset orentation

The Singularity Hub describe FastWorks as part of the company’s Mindset Orientation, or MO, one of 8 principles for leaders to make the most of the exponential age. It is worth reading the article to find out what the other 7 are.

What is your organization’s mindset orientation? What commitment is there to learning and adapting faster than the change that’s happening around you?

 

I’ve been working with some coaching clients this week and I find myself saying this quite a bit:

“Make it work”

This simple phrase can say two things. Firstly, whatever it is, the block, the challenge, the issue, resolve it. Get to a better point or place, refuel or restore the relationship, find a better way to do things, catch a new idea. Make it work.

The second way of understanding this I only realised after I had said it out loud myself, on leaving, head halfway out the door. Make it Work. Focus on what inspires you, what you enjoy doing and make it what you do, full-time in place of part-time or out of work hours. Find a larger significance and purpose for it. Make it your work.

Can you?

Make it work

 

As guru Brian Solis recommends, I like to seek inspiration beyond the oversimplified.

At our fingertips online is a generous sharing of insights and opinions, thought-provoking, present, creative, curious and clever. Whatever you are looking for you can find. It’s up to you to pick, pocket and personalise your sources.

I’m sharing a few of my secret sources here. They inspire me, shuffle my thinking and give me ideas to connect to each other.

idea-1289871_960_720
Ideas

https://www.brainpickings.org/ described as ‘An inventory of the meaningful life’ and ‘cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more.’

https://aeon.co/ ‘Ideas and culture.’ Aeon is a digital magazine of ideas and culture, publishing an original essay every weekday.

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/ ‘What studies say about human behaviour and productivity.

And then there is http://www.getpocket.com. Pocket is actually bookmarking tool. But it also curates content and delivers it to me in a newsletter. It looks for articles based on the articles I have previously bookmarked or saved to Pocket. What they feed me is spot on. Quite ingenious really. Almost every headline fascinates me.

Rather than bemoan our world that is so information-laden, I celebrate the rich access to all this clever insight and opinion. As said above – it’s up to you to pick, pocket and personalise your sources.

Where do you find your inspiration?

There’s plenty of chat about how vulnerable the financial services sector is to being significantly disrupted. From a consumer (human) perspective, we are coming to expect a lot more than good service and competitive offerings from our financial services partners. By good service we include attentive, quick, personalized, easy and cheap to access (no waiting on costly helplines or in patience-testing queues). We want intelligent responses, queries that are fully solved and solutions that meet our changing needs and pockets. And we expect this in more ways than traditionally we’ve been offered (telephone, face to face, website), because we are starting to understand that technological advancement and applied thinking is making this possible.

So here’s Mondo. Time for a new kind of bank.
‘Beta-test the bank of the future. New features weekly.
We’re building a smart bank from the ground up to deliver intelligent banking on your smartphone. Think timely alerts, useful data and instant payments. We’d love your help.
Be one of the first 500 people to try the bank of the future.’
Would you sign up for Mondo?

The point is there is a large vacuum between what we are beginning to realise is possible, and what we are currently offered, a chasm that over time will be crossed.

In response to the need to up their game, the EFMA 7th Annual Innovation in Retail Banking Report shows a growing trend for banks to invest in start-ups through dedicated venture funds or on an ad hoc basis. Banks have an opportunity to collaborate and partner with start-ups to launch new products and services, and thus drive innovation and transformation. To maximize benefit, you need to reposition your view of start-ups as disruptive competitors, and start working more closely with them.

‘More and more banks are setting up accelerators/incubators, or are working with independent accelerators/incubators.
Investment in innovation has been increasing consistently for the last few years at most banks according to our surveys. There are signs that this investment is making a difference in that innovation performance is also perceived to be improving.’

But let’s hold up a real mirror on what we’re doing internally too. It’s not so much about the hub and the ideas (although these are obviously important). It is about the people (humans) who will make them a reality for your consumers (humans). What they do, every day, is key – the activity, outputs and mindsets that you encourage, reward and enable, with employees, suppliers, contractors, consultants and wider networks.

MotivationsInvesting in hubs and start-ups may bring an innovative streak into your mainframe, creak it a little, but the people who drive your business forward day in and out need the right mind and skillsets, skills of the future. They need to be equipped for the innovation age we operate in. That includes leaders and others in so-called positions of ‘authority’. Without an honest appraisal of what happens on the ground, innovation is at most idealism.

So apply this ‘start-up’ partnership modelling, like EFMA says we can do with innovation hubs and new fintech entrants, to people performance.

What is your investment in people and skills innovation hubs?
Who are you partnering with for this element?

How are you preparing your teams for continued ‘failure’ – which is famously touted by the top management thinkers and business gurus as the bedrock of true innovation? How is your mainframe skillsbank increasing over time with the sort of skills you need to build for the future? What skills will you need? How do you enable experimentation, partnership working, social collaboration? How are you spotting, enabling and rewarding innovative thinkers and doers within your organisation? They are not the people who typically show up on your traditional talent management ladders. Nor are they necessarily motivated by the promise of climbing the corporate ladder.

If you don’t want to be out-disrupted, you need to think about the people and partners who can take you there, the way business gets done on a daily basis, and what sort of players you’re liberating in your organisation.  For the new skills economy is rapidly dawning, and the corporate ladder is practically dead.