Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lost and found

Most of us have spent time looking for something we needed to locate. Be it the car keys, that important paper or something else we urgently need.

Sooner or later that lost thing often turns up. With a bit of luck before the opportunity where the thing that is lost is needed.

In order to find the lost item fast enough most of us applies some kind of search, be it structured or more unstructured.

And everytime we search that lost thing is located in the last place we would search.

Naturally it is. Why would we look any further once we found what we are looking for? That wouldn't be rational.

We stop looking when we find the solution to the problem. That is the rational thing to do. But it is also a problem. Sometimes it is even "the problem". It might even be an irrational thing to do.

If you have a problem that needs a solution, it is very easy to stop looking when you find the solution. But likely you haven't found the solution, just a solution.

How do you know that there's a better solution, if you just keep looking? The problem is that you don't, so it wouldn't be rational to continue looking. But think again, compare with your experience from the past. How many times have you, sooner or later, identified a better solution after a while?

So how long should you then keep looking?

In the case of a simple problem like the car keys, the answer is obvious (or at least seems obvious). But there might be an other type of answer, and in order to identify that we return to the time before you found the car keys, or a solution to whatever type of problem you try to solve.

What thoughts went through your mind at that point in time?  Perhaps thoughts like "where did I (mis)place the keys?", "when did I see them last?" or even "who took my keys!?".

Or did you search for the solution (sorry, the car keys) while at the same time looking for an alternative solution? "If I do not find the car keys I need to take the bus, and in that case I need to stop searching in 45 mins and instead walks to the bus station." Or "if I do not find the car keys I can call my friend and ask for a ride".

If you continiously look for altetrnative solutions some magic starts to happen.
  • You will likely find an alternative solution before you find the car keys.
  • When you have a backup, alternative solution, you are not as stressed for finding the expected solution (the car keys).
  • And, in the general case, you realize that the expected solution is just one alternative solution among others, some of which known now, some of which will emerge in the future.
This is a liberating experience. And mind-blowing. It's the solution to all problems ;-)

(Some might draw the parallel to "parallel computing", or even with phenomena like quantum physics and Schroedinger's cat - but that's up to you. Just be careful, it might lead into a parallel universe or a higher dimension!)

So, next time you found what you where looking for, keep looking. You should constantly look for things. And at the same time you always will have an alternative solution ready.

Now, where are those car keys..?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cleese on Creativity

Serendipity is a great thing. Tomorrow I will be in the audience when John Cleese is on stage, and when I mentioned that at the lunch table today I was recommended to look for an old video where John Cleese talked about creativity.

Which I did. And I found several.

Two of the videos caught my attention, One shorter (approx 10 mins) and a longer one (more than 30 mins). Both are highly recommended, and I suggest that you enjoy them in this order. (Both videos are embeded at the end of this post.)

Cleese elaborates around two modes; open and closed  - and that creativity mood only can appear in the open mode.Suggestions on how to enter the open mode and unlock the creativity are given, and complemented with the note that actual creative insights sometimes (often) appears after the visit in the "tortois enclosure".

The shorter video is not dated, but might be from 2010. The longer video seems to be from 1991. It is fascinating to compare the overall messages and note how similar the stories are, but still performed differently - not only in the length of the talks.

There's a lot of take-aways from these talks, and I am sure you will both recognize some aspects, get ideas on how to move into the mood of creativity found in the open mode and - above all - enjoy the talks as such.

So - enjoy the videos, I did. And I will enjoy John Cleese live tomorrow, regardless if any lightbulb jokes are included. I am sure it will be a creative performance by a very creative comedian and public speaker.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Metrics; why Ratios are not always Rational

Here are 16 minutes you definately do not want to miss.

Clayton Christensen takes you on a journey to explain why the interest rates on eg our homes are so low. And indicates why the reason for them to be low should make us worried.

It starts of with a classification of innovation into three classes. Then hops into metrics and how we mesure things. Finally ending in the connection to the interest rates, after a brief detour over to Japan.

There's a lot of take-aways in here. But the importance of metrics, and how we measure things, is central.

It is rare to find a very complex line of reasoning presented in a very understandable way. It is even rarer to find a few of the simple rules that guides the behaviour of a complex system neatly identified and presented, in a way that makes the connection almost obvious.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Exploiting externalities exponentially

How can we ensure that exponential activities don't create and exploit  new and old negative externalities?

A while back I finished reading the book ”Exponential Organizations”.

If you haven’t read Exponential Organizations the “slide version” is here, and slide 32 is the one-slider that summarizes the concept:
To me the most fundamental part of the concept is on the next slide:

Instead, this post is about a passage on the very first page of the book, in the foreword:

Salim has studied and interviewed CEOs and entrepreneurs whose companies are leveraging a newly available set of externalities and, as a result, scaling their organizations at many times the normal rate of typical companies.
The key phrase is "leveraging a newly available set of externalities".

Even though externalities can be both positive and negative, the most infamous set of externalities are the negative ones. Like getting rid of waste by dumping it somewhere.

A few days ago I read a post by "the undercover economist", Tim Harford. That post also touches upon the potential externalities that a multi-sided, peer-to-peer, market with exponential characteristics may cause and explore, on both of the market sides.

Tim Harford further more hints on a way to view such markets; as an arbitrage game where the price differences in a specific market (and thus an inefficient market) are exploited.

But he also indicates the positive values for a broader community that peer-to-peer markets creates; the activity adds fluidity (and thus a more efficient market is the result) and it creates a mechanism that can take care of peaks, eg on the demand side.

However, the question around externalities remains. A near zero-marginal cost society will create more exponential businesses. And a key component in exponential activities is to leverage externalities.

How can we ensure that exponential activities don't create and exploit  new and old negative externalities?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Two cats, two antipodes and the Networked Society Gini

Describing a future scenario is tricky. Time travel is even harder than time management. Any predictions you make seems affected by quantum mechanics in the large scale. Both Heisenberg and Schrödinger are hovering over the keyboard, along with your own thoughts.

But the quantum theories also come to your rescue. Just like the poor cat of Schrödinger, who is neither dead nor alive but both at the same time, the future is in a dual state until the future unfolds and we observe and take part of it. In order to map the future onto the cat we only need to identify the two states the future could have. What is the “dead or alive” equivalent of our future?

The Networked Society
In order to find these states we will look into the core of the Networked Society, of which we are “at the inflection point”.

What is the Networked Society? As it is part of the future that already has begun, we would like to understand what defines it.

It started out as a statement of “50 billion connected devices”, a great business outlook for companies like Ericsson.

As the Networked Society unfolded, marketing took over and told a large number of stories. Stories that showed that the Networked Society was unfolding in a fast pace, and provided benefits for individuals and the society. Access to an all communicating world becomes easier and cheaper, and the flow of data and media become both faster and more enriched.

In short, the marginal cost of communications went down.

At this stage the next level of insight of a networked society strikes.

A networked society is a near zero marginal cost society. And not only in the IT and ICT areas, but in every aspect of the networked humanity.

Read the last paragraph again.

A near zero marginal cost society.
Sounds innocent, but at this stage another cat appears.  The Cheshire cat.

Entering a near zero marginal cost society scenario is like following Alice down the rabbit whole, or through the looking glass. You will recognize what you see, but the logic has changed. Completely changed.

In this strange world of a near zero marginal cost society, what is the “dead or alive” states of the future cat? What extreme endpoints will define a relevant dimension which will describe the potential state of the future?

For this I will not put a cat in a box, but a Gini in a bottle.

The Gini endpoints
Let’s use the endpoints of the Gini coefficient as the antipodes of our scale.
(Actually, I use the Gini term broader than the original one. I project the whole distribution and consumption of resources on the scale, and I also include other nodes than "individuals" in my mental compilation . I realize that this merrits a separate blog post. But that's for the future ;)

The Gini = 1 endpoint
As the transaction cost is included in the overall marginal cost, also the transaction cost will be close to zero. This will not only speed up the evolution, it will also strengthen the forces that powers the Pareto law.

This can lead to a well-known scenario in futuristic literature and movies; one or a few very large entities control everything. The entities could be a foundation, corporations or states.

This is a “Winner takes it all”-scenario. Imagine that as marginal costs gets close to zero, the market forces will bring down the prices. And as transaction costs for information also goes down the information will flow fast, and thus the only way to get a competitive advantage and be able to charge a premium is to establish a monopoly. And as the network effect goes across all industries the monopoly will not be in a niche market, but ultimately across the whole society.

The Gini = 0 endpoint
What about the other end of the scale? This is an "equal distribution" scenario. The same forces; close to zero marginal cost and close to zero transaction costs, could potentially power also this extreme end.

One way to view this is that “as marginal costs are almost zero the prices will be zero, and thus everyone can afford everything”. And the low transaction costs keeps that balance across the whole economic system, very much like the fact that the sea level is constant (well, almost…) across the ocean.

“Dead or alive”? For the cat “dead” is in most cases seen as the bad scenario, and “live” as a god outcome. On the Gini scale, which one of the extremes is the good, and which one is the bad endpoint? The answer for the Gini scale is not that obvious, and depends also on other parameters.

Also, in the case of Schrödinger’s cat the extremes are mutually exclusive. The cat ends up either dead or alive. The Gini scale is a continuous scale. Neither the “most likely outcomes” as nor the “most wanted outcomes” are found at the endpoints (I strongly believe). But where?

Well, we'll see
The future will tell. But we can shape the storyline and create our common future.

Given that the Networked Society is at the inflection point, that a networked society is a near zero marginal cost society and that it is all fuelled by transaction costs closing towards zero – a really interesting and challenging scenario - what shall we do?

As individuals and as part of a networked society we can, we must and we shall take an active part in shaping the future.

The future begins with us. Here and now.

Disclosure and disclaimer: I do work at Ericsson. However this post, and this blog as a whole, are my personal views and opinions, not those of my employer.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Facebook. The Feed, the Filter and the Firehose.The Flaw and the Fix.

Sometimes you see something that is interesting and useful. Occasionally it also explains both how to fix the symptoms of an issue, as well as trigger you to understand why the issue causing the symptoms is there in the first place. Something that triggers a strong "Aha-moment". In very rare cases such an Aha moment makes you finally write a new post for your old blog.

A few weeks ago I watched a four minutes long video by Robert Scoble . Now I am writing this blog post.

Facebook needs no further introduction. Not everyone has an account, true. But many have. Our feelings for Facebook could probably be categorized as a "love/hate paradox" to some extent.

Regardless - Facebook has a central role in many people's online activities. What we see or not see in our Facebook feed matter.

The Feed
Most of us the central functionality of Facebook is the endless feed filled with updates and shared content from our Facebook friends and from Facebook pages you "like". However, the feed does not show every update from your connections.

One reason for this is that not everything in your feed is interesting. Facebook wants to maximize your pleasure when you are facebooking, in order to enhance your urge to return and spend more time inside Facebook. One way to maximize your Facebook experience is to ensure that the mix of new updates you see contains as few uninteresting items as possible

The Filter
Therefore a filter learns what you enjoy the most. It identifies both which friends you are most likely to interact with, and what type of posts that are most likely to engage you. The filter then this learning to show you the items you are most likely to like.

Many users know about the setting to toggle between "Top Stories" and "Most Recent" for the News Feed.

However none of these will give you the firehose. Both of these options will give you a selection based on what the filter believes you want.

The Firehose
What is "the firehose"?

It is basically "all social updates from everyone". In most cases "something you don't want to drink from". Many social platforms only provide the firehose under certain conditions.

In the context of this blog post firehose refers to all updates from all your social connections on Facebook.

Even so, your personal Facebook firehose is very likely to contain a lot more than you usually see.

The Flaw
So, what is the flaw? Is there a flaw?

The risk is obviously that the filter filters out things you'd like to see.

And - as the filter gets more and more trained, it is likely to show you things it has learned that you like. From that position the continuous training of the filter will be based on things you see in your feed and interacts with. And thus things that the filter sorts out and doesn't include in your feed are less likely to get interacted with by you.

One scenario is that your feed content gets more and more monoculture-ish.

Now, the structure of the "filter" facebook uses (formerly known as Edgerank) is complex and for sure includes aspects to counteract the bias over time.

Nevertheless. The feed you see is only a subset fo what your social connections do on Facebook.

The Fix
In the case you want to enjoy your personal firehose there is a way to achieve this, as it seems. This is what's described in the video I mentioned in the beginning. If you haven't viewed it yet, now is the time: