Category Archives: Leadership

BIll Gates’ Advice to His 19-Year Old Self

Source: CNBC, Feb 2017
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If the 61-year-old Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates could whisper in the ear of his 19-year-old-self, he would have a few things to say about what he’s learned.

Intelligence is multifaceted

“I would explain that smartness is not single-dimensional and not quite as important as I thought it was back then,” Gates says.
While he now realizes that IQ may be overrated, Gates has often emphasized the importance of being curious. An interest in the world can and should be fostered, he says.
“I think having parents and teachers reinforce your curiosity and explain what they are fascinated with makes a big difference,” Gates says.
He encourages people to remain committed to learning throughout their lives. “A lot of people lose their curiosity as they get older, which is a shame,” he says. “One thing that helps nowadays is that if you get confused about something it is easier than ever to find an article or video to make things clear.”

 

5 Increasingly Dominant Tech Companies

Source: Zero Hedge, Apr 2017

  1. The most valuable companies in the U.S. are increasingly tech companies.
  2. The concentration of value (as denoted by market cap) being created in tech, is increasingly being created by the five largest companies, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon (aka FAMGA)
  3. The concentration of market cap in just five hands will have an increasingly profound impact on innovation and wealth concentration in the U.S..

Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

Source: IAS, 2017

In his classic essay The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Abraham Flexner, the founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the man who helped bring Albert Einstein to the United States, describes a great paradox of scientific research. The search for answers to deep questions, motivated solely by curiosity and without concern for applications, often leads not only to the greatest scientific discoveries but also to the most revolutionary technological breakthroughs. In short, no quantum mechanics, no computer chips.

This brief book includes Flexner’s timeless 1939 essay alongside a new companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Institute’s current Director, in which he shows that Flexner’s defense of the value of “the unobstructed pursuit of useless knowledge” may be even more relevant today than it was in the early twentieth century. Dijkgraaf describes how basic research has led to major transformations in the past century and explains why it is an essential precondition of innovation and the first step in social and cultural change. He makes the case that society can achieve deeper understanding and practical progress today and tomorrow only by truly valuing and substantially funding the curiosity-driven “pursuit of useless knowledge” in both the sciences and the humanities.

Einstein, Godel and Von Neumann were at IAS

23 Principles to Drive AI

Source: Future of Life website, Jan 2017

Artificial intelligence has already provided beneficial tools that are used every day by people around the world. Its continued development, guided by the following principles, will offer amazing opportunities to help and empower people in the decades and centuries ahead.

Research Issues

1) Research Goal: The goal of AI research should be to create not undirected intelligence, but beneficial intelligence.

2) Research Funding: Investments in AI should be accompanied by funding for research on ensuring its beneficial use, including thorny questions in computer science, economics, law, ethics, and social studies, such as:

  • How can we make future AI systems highly robust, so that they do what we want without malfunctioning or getting hacked?
  • How can we grow our prosperity through automation while maintaining people’s resources and purpose?
  • How can we update our legal systems to be more fair and efficient, to keep pace with AI, and to manage the risks associated with AI?
  • What set of values should AI be aligned with, and what legal and ethical status should it have?

3) Science-Policy Link: There should be constructive and healthy exchange between AI researchers and policy-makers.

4) Research Culture: A culture of cooperation, trust, and transparency should be fostered among researchers and developers of AI.

5) Race Avoidance: Teams developing AI systems should actively cooperate to avoid corner-cutting on safety standards.

Ethics and Values

6) Safety: AI systems should be safe and secure throughout their operational lifetime, and verifiably so where applicable and feasible.

7) Failure Transparency: If an AI system causes harm, it should be possible to ascertain why.

8) Judicial Transparency: Any involvement by an autonomous system in judicial decision-making should provide a satisfactory explanation auditable by a competent human authority.

9) Responsibility: Designers and builders of advanced AI systems are stakeholders in the moral implications of their use, misuse, and actions, with a responsibility and opportunity to shape those implications.

10) Value Alignment: Highly autonomous AI systems should be designed so that their goals and behaviors can be assured to align with human values throughout their operation.

11) Human Values: AI systems should be designed and operated so as to be compatible with ideals of human dignity, rights, freedoms, and cultural diversity.

12) Personal Privacy: People should have the right to access, manage and control the data they generate, given AI systems’ power to analyze and utilize that data.

13) Liberty and Privacy: The application of AI to personal data must not unreasonably curtail people’s real or perceived liberty.

14) Shared Benefit: AI technologies should benefit and empower as many people as possible.

15) Shared Prosperity: The economic prosperity created by AI should be shared broadly, to benefit all of humanity.

16) Human Control: Humans should choose how and whether to delegate decisions to AI systems, to accomplish human-chosen objectives.

17) Non-subversion: The power conferred by control of highly advanced AI systems should respect and improve, rather than subvert, the social and civic processes on which the health of society depends.

18) AI Arms Race: An arms race in lethal autonomous weapons should be avoided.

Longer-term Issues

19) Capability Caution: There being no consensus, we should avoid strong assumptions regarding upper limits on future AI capabilities.

20) Importance: Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources.

21) Risks: Risks posed by AI systems, especially catastrophic or existential risks, must be subject to planning and mitigation efforts commensurate with their expected impact.

22) Recursive Self-Improvement: AI systems designed to recursively self-improve or self-replicate in a manner that could lead to rapidly increasing quality or quantity must be subject to strict safety and control measures.

23) Common Good: Superintelligence should only be developed in the service of widely shared ethical ideals, and for the benefit of all humanity rather than one state or organization.

Show How to Innovate

Source: HBR, Jan 2017

  1. … creating a culture of innovation isn’t rocket science. The dynamics are simple: Employees have experiences that come from leaders’ conscious and unconscious decisions and behaviors. Those experiences shape assumptions about what behavior is desirable or undesirable. If you want to change your employees’ behavior, it’s easier to create new or different experiences to shift their assumptions than to directly assail the assumptions themselves.

    How do you do that? Here are four strategies.

    Use Symbolic Experiences

  2. Create Customer Sightlines
  3. Provide “Worthless” Rewards
  4. Develop Talent to Develop the Culture

Use Symbolic Experiences

Zipcar, one of the first ride-sharing services, almost singlehandedly established the “sharing economy” in the United States and paved the way for others in the industry, like Uber and Airbnb. But even a business model innovator like Zipcar must eventually respond to a changing world. A stark reality recently crept up on Zipcar: It had designed its entire customer experience as a desktop-and-laptop experience, so it didn’t have a way to sign up, service, and help members manage their memberships from their phones. The world had changed, and Zipcar needed to change along with it. It would require a big shift in employee mindsets and behavior, and Zipcar needed to move fast.

Zipcar did several things to jumpstart its new mobile model, but one of the first actions orchestrated a surprising employee experience that would immediately become a symbol of its new mobile-first mindset. Employees were invited to a meeting where leadership discussed its mobile business imperative. To help drive home the point, people were given sledgehammers so that they could personally take up arms against the “old view” by pounding on two desktop computers. Smashing the old to bring in the new (literally and figuratively) created a poignant experience and instantly wrote corporate folklore that could be passed on as a symbol of exactly what was needed for the future.

Consciously designing experiences provides the opportunity to intentionally design culture.

Create Customer Sightlines

In addition to orchestrating the sledgehammer experience for employees, Zipcar did something even more compelling. The company created a direct line of sight to its new breed of target customer — the “mobile-first Millennial” — by giving employees a direct taste of the 21st century’s mobile reality. Zipcar’s “member roundtables” occur on Saturdays and include about a dozen customers who share their needs, experiences, wishes, and feedback directly with Zipcar staff. Roundtables are undeniable experiences; it’s hard to disregard customer needs after a face-to-face conversation. These types of direct interactions with customers are powerful ways to shift employee mindsets and create the impetus for change, focusing on delivering value that directly meets customer needs.

Companies don’t necessarily have to bring live customers into the office to create a line of sight to them. Spacesaver Corporation, the leader in commercial storage and shelving for libraries and museums, displays giant posters of their customers’ installations throughout its manufacturing facility. Even workers who never step off the factory floor are reminded every day of the value they create through their efforts, such as the gigantic storage system used by the Field Museum in Chicago that houses dinosaur bones that are enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.

Creating customer sightlines gives people visibility into the all-too-often-missed line of sight between the fruits of innovation, which can be highly motivating, and the day-to-day behavior required for it.

Provide “Worthless” Rewards

Some of the most valuable rewards when it comes to shaping culture cost next to nothing in financial terms. The Chinese company Haier, now the largest appliance company in the world, has a culture of continuous innovation. To reinforce that message, it names new innovations after the employee (called “makers” in Haier’s language) who came up with the idea.

Or consider the public television and radio station in San Francisco, KQED, which designed an award specifically to reinforce both small and large innovations that surface throughout the year. The award is a trophy topped with the letter Q. This subtle branding links the award to the organization and the other innovation efforts happening there, such as the “Q-vation” team, which is responsible for collecting ideas and promoting KQED’s culture of innovation on an ongoing basis.

Other companies give experiential rewards to reinforce innovative behavior. Westin, the hotel chain, awards its top innovators a five-day exotic trip each quarter. Sure, there’s a financial value to the trip, but Westin gives away something that’s inherent to the innovation and to the service the company provides. The award reinforces the value of the customer experience by giving that very experience to those who are most successful in making it better.

While most companies reward those who make a direct contribution to technology or product innovation, the best approach involves recognizing anyone who makes a significant contribution, regardless of the type of innovation. Doing so helps spread the value of innovation into areas responsible for the broader operating model. This cultural diffusion happens as a result of highlighting the underlying values tied to the success story (e.g., this was an HR innovation that transformed how we do college recruiting and now we have a flock of new innovative employees). This can inspire other functions to create the innovations they want to add to the business.

The most valuable rewards go beyond financial incentives to tap into what really inspires people to innovate. It’s the deeper motivations — a sense of affiliation, contribution, and making a difference — that can become infectious across an organization and that change culture for the better.

Develop Talent to Develop the Culture

One of the greatest forms of employee recognition is an investment in someone’s personal growth and development. While many companies provide training, few explicitly link professional development to strategic business growth, let alone create a culture of innovation. NBCUniversal is doing just that. Widely known for its successful television networks, cable channels, motion pictures, and theme parks, the company is facing massive change as it navigates a rapidly changing media and entertainment landscape.

NBCUniversal’s Talent Lab isn’t your typical corporate university. To promote new mindsets and behaviors that grow the top line, the Talent Lab provides programs specifically geared to senior leaders whose role it is to shape culture and business strategy. Its programs aren’t about academic case studies; they focus on high-potential talent, people viewed as game changers, culture carriers, and pioneers for the business. Participants in the Talent Lab’s six-month DRIVE program, for example, comprise 25 top executives from across the company’s portfolio.

The group is divided into five cohorts, all focused on a specific enterprise challenge that requires rethinking the company’s — and the industry’s — business model. Cohorts visit parent company Comcast’s Silicon Valley incubator, meet with strategic partners, and share their observations and recommendations with executive management to conclude the program. Along the way, participants gain new mindsets, strategic frameworks, and tools to use in their day jobs running NBCUniversal’s various businesses. The result is a one-two punch that includes real opportunities for transforming the industry and a talent base that goes back to drive individual businesses with a strategic lens focused on business-model innovation and growth.

Underlying everything the Talent Lab does is the recognition that deep experiential learning viscerally infuses innovation into not only participants’ views of their own roles but also their leadership methods, which helps them to collaboratively shape the future of the company, its culture, and the industry.

Supporting a culture of innovation doesn’t have to be a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort. Rewriting the unwritten rules starts with deciding what assumptions will drive the results you want most. If you give people specific, consistent experiences that clearly communicate the importance of those new assumptions, the behavior — and culture of innovation — will follow.

Elon Musk’s Neural Lace

Source: TechCrunch, Jan 2017

Elon Musk also noted he’s looking to hopefully share more on his progress with developing a “neural lace” next month. That’s a technical term for direct cortical interface,

Here’s how Musk described the potential of a neural lace in terms of solving human limitations when it comes to computing, and helping us keep pace with AI’s progress:

The fundamental limitation is input/output. We’re already a cyborg, I mean you have a digital or partial version of yourself in the form of your emails and your social media and all the things that you do and you have basically superpowers with your computer and your phone and the applications that are there. You have more power than the president of the united states had 20 years ago. you can answer any question, you can videoconference with anyone anywhere, you can send a message to anyone instantly, you can just do incredible things. But the constraint is input/output. We’re I/O bound – particularly output bound. Your output level is so low, particularly on a phone, your two thumbs sort of tapping away. This is ridiculously slow. Our input is much better because we have a high-bandwidth visual interface to the brain, our eyes take in a lot of data. So there’s many orders of magnitude difference between input and output. Effectively merging in a symbiotic way with digital intelligence revolves around eliminating the I/O constraint, which would be some sort of direct cortical interface […] a neural lace.

Related Reading: Gizmodo, Jun 2015

Skills that Innovative Leaders Have in Common

Source: HBR, Dec 2016

  • Manage Risk
  • Demonstrate Curiosity
  • Lead Courageously
  • Lead Opportunities