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20 December 2013

Kick-starting the future – less than 24 hours to go

Filed under: Anticipating 2025, collaboration, communications, futurist — David Wood @ 10:18 am

By chance, two really interesting projects both seeking support on the crowd-funding site Kick Starter are coming to their conclusions in the next 24 hours.

They’re both well worth a look.

shift2020-book-cover

shift 2020 is a collaborative book about how technology will impact our future. The book is curated by Rudy De Waele and designed by Louise Campbell.

As Rudy explains,

The idea of shift 2020 is based upon Mobile Trends 2020, a collaborative project I launched early 2010. It’s one of the highest viewed decks on Slideshare (in the Top 50 of All Time in Technology / +320k views). Reviewing the document a couple of weeks ago, I realised the future is catching up on us much faster than many of the predictions that were made. I thought it was time to ask the original contributors for an update on their original predictions and new foresights for the year 2020.

The list of authors is extensive. I would copy out all the names here, but urge you to click on the links to see the full list.

My own set of five predictions from early 2010 that I submitted  to Rudy’s earlier project Mobile Trends 2020 seems to be holding up well for fulfilment by 2020 (if not sooner). See slide 36 of the 2010 presentation:

  1. Mobiles manifesting AI – fulfilling, at last, the vision of “personal digital assistants”
  2. Powerful, easily wearable head-mounted accessories: audio, visual, and more
  3. Mobiles as gateways into vivid virtual reality – present-day AR is just the beginning
  4. Mobiles monitoring personal health – the second brains of our personal networks
  5. Mobiles as universal remote controls for life – a conductor’s baton as much as a viewing portal.

5 predictions for 2010

I’ve added some extra content for shift 2020, but that’s embargoed for now!

People who give financial support via Kick Starter to shift 2020 have lots of options to consider. For example, a pledge of £13 will deliver you the following:

NO FRILLS PAPERBACK (UK SHIPPING).
shift 2020 Black and white printing on cream-coloured paper with a full-colour soft cover (5×8 in 13×20 cm) + 80 pages specially designed for business travellers, printed by blurb.com. Shipping costs included.

Estimated delivery: Jan 2014; Ships within the UK only

And £60 will deliver this:

PERSONAL NAME IN THE BOOK (PRINT VERSION).
shift 2020 shift 2020 nicely designed quality Hardcover, ImageWrap Standard Landscape 10×8 (25×20 cm) +80 pages Photo Book printed by blurb.com on Premium Semi Matt Paper, including a mention of your (personal) name in the acknowledgements page.

Estimated delivery: Jan 2014
Add £5 to ship outside the UK

Whereas shift 2020 seeks funding to support book publication, PostHuman seeks funding to support a series of videos about transhumanism.

The three supersThe “BIOPS” team behind this campaign have already created one first class video:

The first video by the British Institute of Posthuman Studies (BIOPS), entitled “PostHuman: An Introduction To Transhumanism”, investigates three dominant areas of transhumanist thought: super longevity, super intelligence and super wellbeing. It covers the ideas of Aubrey de Grey, Ray Kurzweil and David Pearce.

I’ll let the BIOPS team tell their story:

Writers Marco Vega and Peter Brietbart (that’s us!) have shared a passion for philosophy since we first met at Sussex University five years ago. Over time, we became frustrated with the classical, removed armchair philosophy, and began to look for philosophically sophisticated ideas with real human impact. Transhumanism stood out as a practical, far-seeing, radical and urgent field, informed by science and guided by moral philosophy.

We soon realised that our philosophy buddies and lecturers had barely heard of it, though the ideas involved were exciting and familiar. The problem for us is that even though transhumanism is incredibly relevant, it’s practically invisible in mainstream thought.

Influenced by YouTubers like QualiaSoup3vid3nc3CGPGreyRSA Animate,TheraminTreesVsauceCrashCourse and many more, we saw that complex ideas can be made accessible, entertaining and educational.

Our dream is to make this project – the culmination of five years of thought, reflection and research – a reality.

We’ve just released the first video – PostHuman: An Introduction to Transhumanism. We made it over the course of a year, in volunteered time, paid with favours and fuelled by enthusiasm. Now we need your help to keep going…

In the year 2014, we want to write, produce and release at least 6 more fully animated episodes. We’ll investigate a range of different transhumanist themes, consider their arguments in favour, highlight our greatest worries, and articulate what we perceive to be the most significant implications for humanity.

We’re worried that such critical topics and concepts are not getting the coverage they need. Our aim for the video series is to bring awareness to the most important conversation humanity needs to be having, and to do it in a way that’s accessible, balanced and educational.

In addition to animating the ideas and concepts, we also want to seek out and challenge influential transhumanist thinkers. We’ll record the interviews, and include the highlights at the end of the videos.

We’re looking to raise £65,000 to allow the production crew to make this happen.

I’m delighted that Marco Vega and Peter Brietbart of BIOPS will be among the speakers at the Anticipating 2025 event I’m holding at Birkbeck College on 22-23 March:

I wish both shift 2020 and PostHuman the best of luck with their fundraising and delivery!

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25 April 2010

Practical magic

Filed under: communications, Events, Humanity Plus, magic, marketing, UKH+ — David Wood @ 10:26 pm

I won’t reveal the content of the tricks.  That would be unfair on the performer.

Our dining group at Soho’s Little Italy restaurant had been pleasantly surprised by the unannounced entrance of a lady magician, before the orders for coffee were taken.  Where were we from, she asked.  Answers followed, hesitatingly: Belgium, Germany, Sweden, New York, London…

The atmosphere changed from guarded politeness to unguarded amazement as the magician blazed her way through some fast-paced sleight of hand with newspapers, water, money, ribbons, and playing cards.  Many of our group of hardened rationalists and technophiles were gasping with astonishment.  How did she do that?

It was a fitting end to a day that had seen a fair share of other kinds of magic.

Despite my nervous forebodings from earlier in the week, the Humanity+ UK2010 event had seen a 100% turn out of speakers, ran (near enough) to time, and covered a vast range of intriguing ideas about forthcoming new technology and the enhancement of humanity.  An audience of approaching 200 people in London’s Conway Hall seemed to find much to think about, from what they’d heard.  Here’s a brief sample of online feedback so far:

Awesome conference – all your work paid off and then some!

Great conference today #hplusuk : thank you!

Enjoyed H+ event, esp @anderssandberg preso. Learnt about singularity, AI+, wireheads, future shock, SENS, protocells & more

Most enjoyable conference today. Thanks to the organisers and speakers

A few hours literally day dreaming, blown away by human cleverness.  These people should be allowed to talk on prime time on BBC regularly

Humanity+ today was terrific. I particulary enjoyed the talks from Amon Twyman – Expanding perception and transhumanist art, Natasha Vita-More – DIY Enhancement, Aubrey de Grey’s Life Expansion and Rachel Armstrong’s Living Technology

Great talk @davidorban how the #internetofthings could free us to be human again. Couldn’t agree more. #hplusuk

Love David Pearce, a true visionary! #hplusuk

Behind the scenes, a team of volunteers were ensuring that things ran as smoothly as possible – with a very early start in the morning following a late evening the previous day.  In my professional life over the years I’ve often been responsible for major events, such as the Symbian developer events and smartphone shows, where I had visibility of the amount of work required to make an event a success.  But in all these cases, I had a team of events managers working for me – including first-class professionals such as Amy Graller, Jo Butler, Liza Fox, and Alice Kenny, as well as brand managers, PR managers, and so on.  These teams shielded me from a great deal of the underlying drama of managing events.  In contrast, this time, our entire team were volunteers, and there was no alternative to getting our own hands dirty!  Huge amounts of thanks are due to everyone involved in pulling off this piece of magic.

Needless to say, some things fell short of perfection.  I heard mild-mannered grumbles:

  • That there wasn’t enough time for audience Q&A – and that too many of the questions that were raised from the floor were imprecise or unfocused;
  • That the audio from our experimental live streaming from the event was too choppy – due to shortcomings in the Internet connectivity from the event (something that will need to be fixed before I consider holding another similar event there);
  • That some of the presentations had parts that were too academic for some members of the audience, or assumed more background knowledge than people actually possessed;
  • That there should have been more journalists present, hearing material that deserves wide coverage.

The mail list used by the Humanity+ UK organising team is already reflecting on “what went well” and “what could be improved”.  Provisionally, we have in mind a follow-up event early next year.  We’re open for suggestions!  What scale should we have in mind?  What key objectives?

Because I was rushing around on the day, trying to ensure everything was ready for the next phase of the event, I found myself unable to concentrate for long on the presentations themselves.  (I’ll need to watch the videos of the talks, once they’re available.)  However, a few items successfully penetrated my mental fog.  I was particularly struck by descriptions of potential engineering breakthroughs:

This kind of information appeals to the engineer in me.  It’s akin to “practical magic”.

I was also struck by discussions of flawed societal priorities, covering instances where publications give undue prominence to matters of low importance, to the exclusion of more accurate coverage of technological issues.  For example, Nick Bostrom reported, during his talk “Reducing Existential Risks” that there are more scholarly papers on dung beetle reproduction than on the possibilities of human extinction.  And Aubrey de Grey gave examples of sensationalist headlines even in a normally responsible newspaper, for anti-aging news of little intrinsic value, whilst genuinely promising news receives scant coverage.

What is the solution to this kind of broken prioritisation? The discussion among the final speaker panel of the day helped to distill an answer.  The Humanity+ organisation, along with those who support its aims, need to become better at the discipline of marketing. Once we convey our essential messages more effectively, society as a whole should hear and understand what we are saying, and respond positively.  There’s a great art – and great skill – to the practice of communication.

Some people dislike the term “marketing”, as if it’s a swear word.  But I see it as follows.  In general terms, “marketing” for any organisation means:

  • Deciding on a strategic focus – as opposed to a scattergun approach;
  • Understanding how various news items or other pieces of information or activism might be received by people in the wider community;
  • Finding better ways to convey the chosen key messages;
  • Engaging within the wider community – listening more than talking – and learning in the light of that conversation;
  • Repeating the above steps, with increasingly better understanding and better execution.

At 5pm, we had to hurriedly leave the venue, because it was needed for another function starting at 6pm.  It was hard to move everyone outside the main hall, since there were so many intense group discussions happening.  Eventually, some of us started on a 20 minute walk through central London, from Holborn to Soho, for the post-event dinner at Little Italy.  The food was delicious, the waitresses coped well (and with many friendly smiles) with all our many requests, and the conversation was first class.  The magician provided a great interlude.  I left the restaurant, several hours later, with a growing list of suggestions for topics for talks in the normal UKH+ monthly meetings that could bring in a good audience.  Happily, I also have a growing list of names of people who want to provide more active assistance in building an enhanced community of supporters of the aims of Humanity+.

31 March 2010

Shorter and sharper: improved video on priorities

Filed under: communications, futurist, Humanity Plus, presentation, YouTube — David Wood @ 1:06 pm

The above video provides context for the Humanity+ UK2010 event happening on 24th April.

It’s the second version of this video.  In the spirit of continuous improvement, this version:

  • Has better audio (I found out how to get my laptop to accept input from a jack mic);
  • Is shorter (it needs to be under 10 minutes in length to be accepted onto YouTube);
  • Has some improved layout and logic.

As a video, it’s still far from perfect!  As you can see, my video creation skills are still rudimentary.  But hopefully people will find the contents interesting.

It’s probably foolhardy of me to try to cover so much material in just 10 minutes.  I’m considering creating a short book on this topic, in order to do fuller justice to these ideas.

Video transcript

In case anyone would prefer a written version of what I said, I append a transcript.  Everyone else can stop reading now.

(Note: this transcript doesn’t match the video exactly, since I ad-libbed here and there.)

My name is David Wood.  I’m going to briefly describe the Humanity+ UK2010 event that will be taking place in London on Saturday 24th April.

As context, let me outline what I’m calling “The Humanity+ Agenda”:

  • This is a proposed set of 20 priorities – 20 items that in my view deserve significantly more attention, analysis, resourcing, and funding, over the coming decade.
  • These priorities are proposed responses to an interlinked set of major challenges that confront society.

The first of these challenges is the threat of environmental catastrophe – lack of clean, sustainable energy and other critical resources.  Second is the threat of economic collapse.  We’re still in the midst of the most serious economic crisis of the last 60 years.  Third is the risk of some fundamentalist terrorists getting their hands on fearsome weapons of mass destruction.  Fourth is a more subtle point: the growing sense of alienation and discontent as individuals all over the world increasingly realise that their own share of possible peak experiences is very limited and transitory.  All this adds up to a radically uncertain future, made all the more challenging due to the need to drastically cut back activities to pay for the ongoing economic crisis.

The single thing that will make the biggest difference to whether we overcome these deep challenges is technology.  Accelerating technology can supply many far-reaching solutions.  But technology cannot stand alone.  Improved technology depends on improved education and improved rationality.  The relationship goes both ways.  There’s another two-way relation with improved health and improved vitality.  Likewise for improved social structure; and for the full expression of human potential.

The 20 priorities fall into these five themes.  These are five areas where there’s already a lot of expenditure – from both government and industry.  But we have to raise our game in each of these areas.  We need to become smarter and more effective in each area.  Rather than “health” I’d like to talk about “super health”, or “health plus”.  Similarly, we need substantially improved education and reasoning ability, substantially improved technology, and substantially improved social structure.  All this will take human experience and capability to a significantly higher level – “Humanity plus”.

So let’s start listing the 20 priorities.  You’ll notice many interconnections.

In the field of Health+, we need to accelerate the progress of preventive medicine.  Fixing medical problems at early stages can be a much more cost effective way of spending a limited health budget.  Healthy individuals contribute to society more, rather than being a drain on its resources.  Going further, the slogan “better than well” should also become a priority.  People with exceptional levels of fitness, strength, perseverance, and vitality, can contribute even more to society.

Anti-aging treatments are an important special case of the previous priorities.  Many diseases are exacerbated because our bodies have accumulated different kinds of damage over the years – which we call “aging”.  Systematically removing or repairing this damage will have many benefits.

Education+ refers to people improving their skillsets and reasoning ability, all throughout their lives.  Behavioural psychology is pointing out many kinds of irrational bias in how all of us reach decisions.  We all need help in identifying and overcoming these biases.

One example is the undue influence that fundamentalist thinking can hold over people – when dogma from “scripture” or “tradition” or a “prophet” overrides the conclusions of rational debate.  The world is, today, too dangerous a place to allow dogma-driven people to hold positions of great power.

An important part of freeing people from limited thinking is to boost education about the status of accelerating technology – covering the opportunities, risks, context, and options.

Another way we can become smarter – and more sociable – is via cognitive enhancement and intelligence augmentation.  This includes drugs that improve our thinking and/or our mood, and silicon accompaniments to our biological brains.  Being connected to the Internet, via the likes of Google and Wikipedia, already boosts our knowledge significantly.

Before long, we could have at our fingertips access to Artificial General Intelligence, whereby computers can provide first class answers to tough questions that previously eluded even the smartest teams of people.  For example, I expect that many cures for diseases will be developed in collaboration with increasingly intelligent silicon super-brains.

That takes us to Technology+, the set of technologies underpinning the other changes I am describing.  Improved robots could provide unmatched precision and manual dexterity, as well as great diligence and power.

Nanotechnology could enable the creation of highly useful new materials, compounds, and tools.  Synthetic biology, in turn, could apply techniques from manufacturing and software to create new biological forms, with huge benefits for health, food, energy, and more.  Research into large-scale clean energy could finally solve our energy sustainability issues.  And underpinning all these technologies should be new generations of ICT – information and communications technologies, especially improvements in software.

But technology requires support from society in order to advance quickly and wisely.  Under the heading “Society+” I identify four priority areas: patent system reform, smart market regulation, the expansion of the domain of collaborative voluntary enterprise, and vibrant democratic involvement and oversight, which enables an inclusive open discussion on the best way to manage the future.

Finally, under the heading “Humanity+” we have three priorities: expansion of human choice and autonomy, developing new ways of measuring human accomplishment – that avoid the well-known drawbacks of purely economic measurements – and “geo-engineering capability”.  I’m reminded of the recent statement by veteran ecologist Stewart Brand: “We are as gods, and HAVE to get good at it”.  It’s a frightening responsibility, but there is no alternative.

In summary, 20 interlinked priority areas in five themes: health+, education+, technology+, society+, and humanity+.  In each case, we must reach new levels of achievement.  Happily, we have in our hands the means to do so.  But let’s not imagine that things will be easy.  The next 10-20 years will probably be the most critical in the history of humanity.

In the midst of great difficulties, we’ll no doubt be sorely tempted by six dangerous distractions.

First is the idea that human progress is somehow inevitable, as if governed by some kind of cosmic law.  Alas, I see nothing pre-determined.  We need to become activists, rather than passive bystanders.

Second is the idea that the free market economy, if set up properly and then left to its own devices, will automatically generate the kinds of improvement in technology and product that I am talking about.  Sorry, although markets have been a powerful force for development over history, they’re far from perfect.

Nature – and evolution by natural selection – is another force which has accomplished a great deal, but which is far from optimal.  Nature is full of horrors as well as beauty.  Humans have been augmenting nature with enhancements from technology from before the beginning of recorded history.  This process absolutely needs to continue.

Risk aversion is another dangerous temptation.  Yet if we do nothing, we’re going to be in significant trouble anyway.  Either way, we can’t avoid risk – we just have to become better at evaluating it and managing it.

Next on this list is religion – any view that all the important answers have already been revealed.  I see religion as akin to several of the other temptations on this list: it has achieved a great deal in the past, but is far from being the sole guide to what we must do next.

Last on this list is humanism – the idea that humans, with our present set of attributes and skills, will be sufficient to build the best possible future environment.  However, present-day humans are no more the end point of progress than were simians – monkeys – or mammals.  In my view, it is only the significantly enhanced humans of the near future who will, collectively, be able to guide society and civilisation to reach our true potential.

We can succeed by progress, not by standing still.  We can succeed by transcending nature with enhanced technology, and by restructuring society in ways more favourable to innovation, collaboration, choice, and participation.

If these ideas strike you as interesting, one way you can continue the discussion is at the Humanity+ UK2010 event, on the 24th of April.  This will be held in Conway Hall, in Holborn, London.  You can register for the event at the website humanityplus dash uk dot com.  There will be 10 speakers, including many of the pioneering thinkers of the modern transhumanist or Humanity+ movement.

  • In the morning, the key speakers are Max More, Anders Sandberg, and Rachel Armstrong.
  • After lunch, the speakers will be Aubrey de Grey, David Pearce, and Amon Twyman.
  • Later in the afternoon, we’ll hear from Natasha Vita-More, David Orban, and Nick Bostrom.

You can find more details on the conference website.  If you’re quick, you may also be able to book one of the few remaining places at the post-event dinner, where all the speakers will be attending.  I hope to see you there.

I look forward to continuing this important discussion!

28 March 2010

A video experiment: 20 priorities

Filed under: communications, futurist, Humanity Plus, presentation, UKH+ — David Wood @ 9:38 am


Video: 20 priorities for the coming decade

The video linked above is my attempt to address several different requirements:

  1. To follow up some ideas about the list of priorities I mentioned previously, tentatively named “The Humanity+ Agenda”;
  2. To find an interesting new way to help publicise the forthcoming (April 24th) “Humanity+ UK2010” event;
  3. To experiment with creating videos, to use for communications purposes, as a complement to textual blog posts.

As you can see, it’s based on Powerpoint – a tool I know well.

What I didn’t appreciate about Powerpoint, before, is the fact that you can embed an audio narrative, to playback automatically as the slides and animations progress.  So that’s what I decided to do.

First time round, I tried to ad lib remarks, as I progressed through the slides, but that didn’t work well.  Next, I wrote down an entire script, and read from that.  The result is a bit flat and jaded in places, and there are a few too many verbal fluffs for my liking.  When I try this again, I’ll set aside more time, and make myself re-do the narration for a slide each time I fluff a few words.

I also hit some bugs (and quirks) when using the “Record narration” features of PowerPoint.  Some of these seem to be known features, but not all:

  • A few seconds of the narration often gets truncated from the end of each slide.  The workaround is to wait three seconds after finishing speaking, before advancing to the next slide;
  • The audio quality for the first slide was very crackly every time, not matter what I tried.  The workaround is to insert an extra “dummy” slide at the beginning, and to discard that slide before publishing;
  • There’s a pair of loud audible cracks at the start of each slide.  I don’t know any workaround for that;
  • Some of the timing, during playback, is slightly out of synch with what I recorded: animations on screen sometimes happen a few seconds before the accompanying audio stream is ready for them.

I used authorSTREAM as the site to store the presentation.  They offer the following features:

  • Support for playback of presentations containing audio narration;
  • Support for converting the presentation into video format.

The authorSTREAM service looks promising – I expect to use it again!

Footnote: I’ll update this posting shortly, with a copy of the video embedded, rather than linked.  (I still find video embedding to be a bit of a hit-or-miss process…)

18 October 2009

Influencer – the power to change anything

Filed under: books, catalysts, communications, Singularity — David Wood @ 12:48 am

Are people in general dominated by unreason?  Are there effective ways to influence changes in behaviour, for good, despite the irrationality and other obstacles to change?

Here’s an example quoted by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his presentation Cognitive Biases and Giant Risks at the Singularity Summit earlier this month.  The original research was carried out by behavioural economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1982:

115 professional analysts, employed by industry, universities, or research institutes, were randomly divided into two different experimental groups who were then asked to rate the probability of two different statements, each group seeing only one statement:

  1. “A complete suspension of diplomatic relations between the USA and the Soviet Union, sometime in 1983.”
  2. “A Russian invasion of Poland, and a complete suspension of diplomatic relations between the USA and the Soviet Union, sometime in 1983.”

Estimates of probability were low for both statements, but significantly lower for the first group (1%) than the second (4%).

The moral?  Adding more detail or extra assumptions can make an event seem more plausible, even though the event necessarily becomes less probable. (The cessation of diplomatic relations could happen for all kinds of reasons, not just in response to the invasion. So the first statement must, in rationality, be more probable than the second.)

Eliezer’s talk continued with further examples of this “Conjunction fallacy” and other examples of persistent fallacies of human reasoning.  As summarised by New Atlantis blogger Ari N. Schulman:

People are bad at analyzing what is really a risk, particularly for things that are more long-term or not as immediately frightening, like stomach cancer versus homicide; people think the latter is a much bigger killer than it is.

This is particularly important with the risk of extinction, because it’s subject to all sorts of logical fallacies: the conjunction fallacy; scope insensitivity (it’s hard for us to fathom scale); availability (no one remembers an extinction event); imaginability (it’s hard for us to imagine future technology); and conformity (such as the bystander effect, where people are less likely to render help in a crowd).

Yudkowsky concludes by asking, why are we as a nation spending millions on football when we’re spending so little on all different sorts of existential threats? We are, he concludes, crazy.

It was a pessimistic presentation.  It was followed by a panel discussion featuring Eliezer, life extension researcher Aubrey de Grey, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and Singularity Institute president Michael Vassar.  One sub-current of the discussion was: given how irrational people tend to be as a whole, how can we get the public to pay attention to the important themes being addressed at this event?

The answers I heard were variants of “try harder”, “find ways to embarass people”, and “find some well-liked popular figure who would become a Singularity champion”.  I was unconvinced. (Though the third of these ideas has some merit – as I’ll revisit at the end of this article.)

For a much more constructive approach, I recommend the ideas in the very fine book I’ve just finished reading: Influencer: the power to change anything.

No less than five people are named as co-authors: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.  It’s a grand collaborative effort.

For a good idea of the scope of the book, here’s an extract from the related website, http://influencerbook.com:

When it comes to influence we stink. Consider these examples:

  • Companies spend more than $300 billion annually for training and less than 10 percent of what people are taught sticks.
  • Dieters spend $40 billion a year and 19 out of 20 lose nothing but their money.
  • Two out of three criminals are rearrested within three years.

If influence is the capacity to help ourselves and others change behavior, then we all want influence, but few know how to get it.

Influencer delivers a powerful new science of influence that draws from the skills of hundreds of successful change agents combined with more than five decades of the best social science research. The book delivers a coherent and portable model for changing behaviors—a model that anyone can learn and apply.

The key to successful influence lies in three powerful principles:

  • Identify a handful of high-leverage behaviors that lead to rapid and profound change.
  • Use personal and vicarious experience to change thoughts and actions.
  • Marshall multiple sources of influence to make change inevitable.

As I worked through chapter after chapter, I kept thinking “Aha…” to myself.  The material is backed up by extensive academic research by change specialists such as Albert Bandura and Brian Wansink.  There are also numerous references to successful real-life influence programs, such as the eradication of guinea worm diseasee in sub-saharan Africa, controlling AIDS in Thailand, and the work of Mimi Silbert of Delancy Street with “substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom”.

The book starts by noting that we are, in effect, too often resigned to a state of helplessness, as covered by the “acceptance clause” of the so-called “serenity prayer” of Reinhold Niebuhr

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference

What we lack, the book says, is the skillset to be able to change more things.  It’s not a matter of exhorting people to “try harder”.  Nor is a matter that we need to become better in talking to people, to convince them of the need to change.  Instead, we need a better framework for how influence can be successful.

Part of the framework is to take the time to learn about the “handful of high-leverage behaviors” that, if changed, would have the biggest impact.  This is a matter of focusing – leaving out many possibilities in order to target behaviours with the greatest leverage.  Another part of the framework initially seems the opposite: it recommends that we prepare to use a large array of different influence methods (all with the same intended result).  These influence methods start by recognising the realities of human reasoning, and works with these realities, rather than seeking to drastically re-write them.

The framework describes six sources of influence, in a 2×3 matrix.  One set of three sources addresses motivation, and the other set of three addresses capability.  In each case, there are personal, social, and structural approaches (hence the 2×3).  The book has a separate chapter for each of these six sources.  Each chapter is full of good material.

  • For example, the section on personal motivation analyses the idea of “making the undesirable desirable”
  • The section on social motivation analyses “the positive power of peer pressure”
  • The section on structural motivation recognises the potential power of extrinsic rewards systems, but insists that they come third: you need to have the personal and social motivators in place first
  • Personal ability: new behaviour requires new skills, which need regular practice
  • Social ability: finding strength in numbers
  • Structural ability: change the environment: harness the invisible and pervasive power of environment to support new behaviour.

Rather than bemoaning the fact that making a story more specific messes up people’s abilities to calculate probabilities rationally, the book has several examples of how stories (especially soap operas broadcast in the third world) can have very powerful influence effects, in changing social behaviours for the better.  Listeners are able to personally identify with the characters in the stories, with good outcomes.

The section on social motivation revisits the famous “technology adoption” lifecycle curve, originally drawn by Everett Rogers:

This curve is famous inside the technology industry.  Like many other, I learned of it via the “Crossing the chasm” series of books by Geoffrey Moore (who, incidentally, is one of the keynote speakers on day 2 of the Symbian Exchange and Expo, on Oct 28th).  Moore draws the same curve, but with a large gap (“chasm”) in it, where numerous hi-tech companies fail:

However, the analysis of this curve in “Influencer” focused instead on the difference between “Innovators” and “Early adopters”.  The innovators may be the first to adopt a new technology – whether it be a new type of seed (as studied by Everett Rogers), a new hi-tech product (as studied by Geoffrey Moore), or an understanding of the importance of the Singularity.  However, they are bad references as far as the remainder of the population are concerned.  They probably are perceived as dressing strangely, holding strange beliefs and customs, and generally not being “one of us”.  If they adopt something, it doesn’t increase the probability of anyone in the majority of the population being impressed.  If anything, they’re likely to be un-impressed as a result. It’s only when people who are seen as more representative of the mainstream adopt a product, that this fact becomes influential to the wider population.

As Singularity enthusiasts reflect on how to gain wider influence over public discussion, they would do well to take to heart the lessons of “Influencer: the power to change anything”.

Footnote: recommended further reading:

Two other books I’ve read over the years made a similar impact on me, as regards their insight over influence:

Another two good books on how humans are “predictably irrational”:

1 March 2009

A different kind of job title

Filed under: catalysts, communications, openness, vision — David Wood @ 11:29 pm

The companies where I’ve worked for the last twenty years – first Psion PLC, then Symbian Ltd – were, in the end, commercially driven companies, with a mission from shareholders to generate profits. The Symbian Foundation is different: it’s a not-for-profit organisation.

That’s not to say we are blind to commercial considerations. On the contrary, our task is to support a collection of member organisations, many of which are highly profit-focused. We have to manage our own finances well, and we have to enable our member organisations to earn significant profits (if that’s what they want to do). But we’re not, ourselves, a fundamentally commercial entity.

With this thought in mind, we took the decision that we ought to rethink other aspects of how we organise ourselves, and how we communicate. We did not want to take it for granted that elements from the setups of our previous companies would automatically also appear in the setup of the Symbian Foundation.

One outcome of this is a decision to avoid overly business-oriented language like “vice president”, “officers” and “chiefs”, in describing the senior management team. Instead, we’ve eventually settled on the term “Leadership Team”. Hopefully this terminology conveys an emphasis on openness, approachability, and a pioneering spirit.

To designate my own particular area of responsibility, I’ve taken a deep gulp, and I’ve plumped for the description:

Catalyst and Futurist, Leadership Team

In brief:

  • As catalyst, my role is to enable the Symbian software movement to discover and explore innovative solutions for the many challenges and opportunities faced by the mobile industry;
  • As futurist, my task is to distil compelling visions of the future of technology, business, and society – visions that provide the energy and inspiration for deeply productive open collaboration among the many creators and users of mobile products.

As catalyst, it falls to me to accelerate reactions that might otherwise occur too slowly. These reactions draw on energy that’s already present in the ecosystem, but my activities should help to ignite that energy. I’ve written before about the important role of catalysts in ecosystems, in my review of the book “The starfish and the spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

What’s involved in igniting reactions? In part, it’s to hold out an attractive vision of a different way of working, a different kind of product, a different software architecture, a different user experience, and so on. That’s where the “futurist” part of my job description fits in. In part, it’s also to act, on occasion, as an irritant.

From time to time, I’ll be acting as an ambassador for Symbian, as an agitator, as a networker, and as an evangelist. I’ve got mixed views about the term “evangelist”. On reflection, here’s why I prefer “catalyst”:

  • Evangelists come with pre-cooked solutions – they already know the answers;
  • Catalysts come with suggestions and ideas, but the answer actually comes from the ecosystem, rather than from the catalyst;
  • Evangelists listen, but only to improve their prospects for converting the listener;
  • Catalysts listen, in order to find the ingredients of a solution that no one fully understood in advance.

If I should forget this advice in the future, and speak more forcefully than I listen, I’m sure that members of the ecosystem will find the way to remind me of what true openness really means!

28 February 2009

Ambushed

Filed under: communications, fun, retrospection — David Wood @ 1:16 pm

The invitation made good sense to me:

Apologies for the short notice but are you free tomorrow afternoon [Friday] after 3pm to meet with us to provide your feedback on MWC please? It should only take 30 mins or so.

It would be a chance to discuss with the Symbian Foundation marcomms team my reflections on our activities at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona the previous week: what had gone well, where there was room to improve, what we should try to do differently at future events, and so on. As a big fan of the practice of retrospection, I was happy to carve out 30 minutes in my diary for this purpose.

As I climbed up the stairs to the first floor of #1 Boundary Row – where the marcomms team sits – I briefly rehearsed my thoughts. I had many positive recollections of how everyone had prepared for and then supported the Symbian Foundation presence at Barcelona. (My main negative observation was that the music in the party was, at times, a bit too loud, and impeded networking conversations.)

But when I came into the room, Anatolie Papas asked me to review a press release. I could see there were lots of quotes on it. Then I noticed the title of the release:

DW 2.0 TURNS 5.0

SLIGHTLY BELATED BIRTHDAY PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION!

The man who helped put the ‘smart’ in ‘smartphone’ celebrates his half century and becomes a friendly spaceman

and I realised I was being ambushed – but in a very pleasant way!

Then a cake materialised, magnificently decorated with what is becoming an increasingly familiar picture:

A knife and forks appeared, and we collectively set to dividing up the cake and eating it. It was particuarly yummy! (The marcomms team get the credit for the design of the cake, but the manufacture was apparently by Konditor and Cook.)

The endorsements on the “press release” left me (unusually) lost for words. I won’t repeat the endorsements here – that would be far too indulgent – but I do nominate Bruce Carney (from Symbian’s Foster City office) as the provider of the geekiest quote:

“Congratulations on your 0x32nd birthday and thank you for your tireless contribution to get Symbian to where it is today; ready for the most exciting decade in all of our lives; the ‘Internet without wires’”, said Bruce Carney, Symbian^h^h^h^h^h^h^h Nokia.

The upbeat creativity that shone through this “press release” gives me all the more reason to be confident that this team will continue to devise and deliver suberb market communications as the rest of the Symbian Foundation accelerates into top gear over the months ahead.

15 January 2009

Daring to twitter

Filed under: communications — David Wood @ 1:25 am

For some time, I’ve been holding off experimenting with Twitter.

First, because the name of the service still rankles with me.

Second, because I’m fearful that it will turn out to be a distraction.

On the other hand, I remember having similar apprehensions before starting to blog, and before registering on Facebook. These are two experiments that have turned out very positive for me. So I hope to have a similar positive experience with Twitter:

  • So I can understand better why so many people speak well of it
  • So that I can improve my communication network.

I tried to register the name “dw2-0” for myself on Twitter, but it seemed not to like the hyphen. I’ve ended up with the simpler Twitter name “dw2”.

23 November 2008

Problems with panels

Filed under: communications, passion — David Wood @ 6:56 pm

As an audience member, I’ve been at the receiving end of some less-than-stellar panel discussions at conferences in the last few months. On these occasions, even though there’s good reason to think that the individuals on the panels are often very interesting in their own right, somehow the “talking heads” format of a panel can result in low energy and low interest. The panellists make dull statements in response to generic questions and … interest seeps away.

On the other hand, I’ve also recently seen some outstandingly good panels, where the assembled participants bring real collective insight, and the audience pulse keeps beating. Here are two examples:

The format of this fine RSA panel was in the back of my mind as I prepared, last Monday, to take part in a panel myself: “What’s so smart about Smartphone Operating Systems“, at the Future of Mobile event in London. I shared the stage with some illustrious industry colleages: Olivier Bartholot of Purple Labs, Andy Bush of the LiMo Foundation, Rich Miner of Android, James McCarthy of Microsoft, and the panel chair, Simon Rockman of Sony Ericsson. I had high hopes of the panel generating and conveying some useful new insights for the audience.

Alas, for at least some members of the audience, this panel fell into the “less-than-stellar” category mentioned above, rather than the better examples:

  • Tomaž Štolfa, writing in his blog “Funky Karaoke“, rated this panel as just 1 out of 5, with the damning comment “a bunch of mobile OS guys, talking about the wrong problems. Where are cross platform standards?!?”; Tomaž gave every other panel or speaker a rating of at least 3 out of 5;
  • Adam Cohen-Rose, in his blog “Expanding horizons“, summed up the panel as follows: “This was a rather boring panel discussion: despite Simon’s best attempts to make the panellists squirm, they stayed very tame and non-committal. The best bits was the thinly veiled spatting between Microsoft and Google — but again, this was nothing new…”;
  • The Twitter back-channel for the event (“#FOM“) had remarks disparaging this panel as “suits” and “monologue” and “big boys”.

It’s true that I can find other links or tweets that were more complimentary about this panel – but none of these comments pick this panel out as being one of the highlights of the day.

As someone who takes communication very seriously, I have to ask myself, “what went wrong?” – and, even more pertinently, “what should I do differently, for future panels?”.

I toyed for a while with the idea that over-usage of Twitter by some audience members diminishes the ability of these audience members to concentrate sufficiently and to pick out what’s actually genuinely interesting in what’s being said. This is akin to Nicholas Carr’s argument that “Google is making us stupid“:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle…”

After all, I do think that I said something interesting when it was my turn to speak – see the script I prepared in advance. But after more reflection, I gave up on the idea of excusing the panel’s poor rating by that kind of self-serving argument (which blames the audience rather than panellists). That was after I remembered my own experience as being on the receiving end of lots of uninspiring panels – as I mentioned earlier. Further, I remembered that, when these panels started to become boring, my own attention would wander … so I would miss anything more interesting that was said later on.

So on reflection, here are my conclusions, for avoiding similar problems with future panels:

  1. Pre-prepared remarks are fine. There’s nothing wrong in itself with having something prepared to say, that takes several minutes to say it. These opening comments can and should provide better context for the Q&A part of the panel that follows;
  2. However, high energy is vital; especially with an audience where people might get distracted, I ought to be sure that I speak with passion, as well as with intellectual rigour; this may be hard when we’re all sitting down (that’s why sofa panels are probably the worst of all), but it’s not impossible;
  3. The first requirement is actually to be sure the audience is motivated to listen to the discussion – the panel participants need to ensure that the audience recognise the topic as sufficiently relevant. On reflection, our “mobile operating systems” panel would have been better placed later on in the agenda for the day, rather than right at the beginning. That would have allowed us to create bridges between problems identified in earlier sessions, and the solutions we wanted to talk about;
  4. Less is more” can apply to interventions in panels as well as to product specs (and to blogs…); instead of trying to convey so much material in my opening remarks, I should have prioritised at most two or three soundbites, and looked to cover the others during later discussion.

These are my thoughts for when I participate as a panellist on someone else’s panel. When I am a chair (as I’ll be at the Symbian Partner Event next month in San Francisco) I’ll have different lessons to bear in mind!

13 July 2008

A picture is worth a thousand words: Enterprise Agile

Filed under: Agile, communications, waterfall — David Wood @ 8:44 pm

Communications via words often isn’t enough. You generally need pictures too.

For example, in seeking to explain to people about the merits of Agile over more traditional, “plan-based” software development methods, I’ve often found excerpts from the following sequence of pictures to be useful:











The last two pictures in this series are an attempt to show how Agile can be applied in multiple layers in the more complex environment of large-scale (“enterprise-scale”) software projects. Of course, it’s particularly challenging to gain the benefits of Agile in these larger environments.

I drew these diagrams (almost exactly 12 months ago) after having read fairly widely in the Agile literature. So these diagrams draw upon the insights of many Agile advocates. Someone who influenced me more than most was Dean Leffingwell, author of the easy-to-read yet full-of-substance book “Scaling Software Agility: Best practices for large enterprises” that I’ve already mentioned in this blog. I’d also like to highlight the “How to be Agile without being Extreme” course developed and delivered by Construx as being particularly helpful for Symbian.

Dean has carried out occasional training and consulting engagements for Symbian over the last twelve months. One outcome of this continuing dialog is an impressive new picture, which tackles many issues that are omitted by simpler pictures about Agile. The picture is now available on Dean’s blog:

If the picture intrigues you, I suggest you pay close attention to the next few posts that Dean makes, where he promises to provide annotations to the different elements. This could be the picture that generates many thousands of deeply insightful words…

Footnote: I’ve long held that Open Source is no panacea for complex software projects. If you aren’t world class in software development skills such as compatibility management, system architecture review, modular design, overnight builds, peer reviews, and systematic and extensive regression testing, then Open Source won’t magically allow you to compete with companies that do have these skillsets. One more item to add to this list of necessary skills is enterprise-scale agile. (Did I call it “one more item”? Scratch that – there are many skills involved, under this one label.)

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