Category Archives: Blatant self promo

How Many Weak Ties Can You Tolerate?

Another thought from Six Degrees

It was a bit of a surprise to me to learn that we knew back in 1973 that “weak ties” in networks play a “strong role” in determining outcomes. Weak ties — as opposed to strong ties — open the door to diversity and coaltion building, which are critical in making networks more potent.

That raised a question for me. What institutions encourage more weak ties? Put another way, how many different ways are there at our disposal to develop weak ties?  The more the better, right?

And it occurred to me that perhaps the best type of weak ties are those that delight. Shared delight can be ephemeral, but it does bind in apoistive way. And as Steve Johnson wrote in “Wonderland”, innovation starts with trying to satisfy our endless human need for delight in creativity.

So which institutions will delight us as we go forward? Hmmm … I have to put on my thinking cap.

Networks that Build Momentum

One of my current obsessions is how to design and use networks that accelerate learning within a group. To be more precise, not just to share ideas between really, really smart people, but to help people level up by joining and participating in a group.

Think about this for a second. Ask yourself, why are some localities locked in poverty? Sometimes it is because they are physically isolated from markets that could bring them prosperity. But that does not explain urban poverty. In that setting, physical barriers may play a role in isolating people, but they are not the only barrier. Even if the poor can mix in with their more well to do neighbors, they do not share the same learning curves.  They are locked out for other reasons. Something else has to happen in order for them to catch up.

That is an extreme example of a problem that may be  widespread. We are getting used to the idea that certain localities are evolving into “innovation hubs”. These places draw in creative people and eccelerate the rate of innovation that occcurs there. So what happens to localities that are not innovation hubs? They do not participate in the networks that create the most value added. They will not share the same level of prosperity.  They may stagnate or worse.

So how do learning networks work? The first step is to get a handle on basic network concepts themselves. From that you can start understanding what affects what I call “network momentum”. I will be posting on network momentum as I get deeper into this theme.

Stay tuned!

AI will Stay Stupid Before it Gets Smart

When Google first put out its search engine, I initially thought that I had found nirvana. I could now connect with anyone, anywhere, and find out just about anything. We now know that while search is useful, it is far from perfect. And there are inherent limitations to search that are not easily overcome.  We are thinking about life beyond search.

The same is true for AI. While AI promoters are evangelizing how AI will enable us to do much, much more, current realities are that deep neural networks cannot perform on an error free basis. And my best guess is that this will remain true for the foreseeable future.  Siri will get marginally smarter, but will not become Einstein overnight. BTW, Einstein was not perfect either.

That means considerable value added can be gained by designing business models that  take advantage of AI, but that are not prisoners of AI. In other words, business modesl that reward learning itself and sharing that learning to network partcipants. What to call this? Learning networks? Something like that. But the odd thing is that we still don’t do this very well. We are still wedded to ecologies that exploit curren tlearning rtaher than develop future learning.

That should change.

Errrr … Excuse me, but how Comfortable are your Underpants?

It is, of course, not a question that one is asked every day. Nor is it a question that most of us think about very much. They are likely “good enough”. Indeed, that is why many men tend not to replace them very frequently. Hmmm …

But a company called MeUndies wants to change all that. MeUndies wants you to consider that your underpants could be more stylish and comfortable. And they could cost less than the Ralf Lauren or other brand name products that you can buy at department stores.  And they could be delivered to your home, so you don’t even have to go to the store to get a regular supply of whatever styles you like.

It is an odd idea, but I think it is a good one. That is why I contacted MeUndies and said that I want to subscribe. There is only one problem. The shipping fees to get MeUndies to me here in Tartu are too high. That problem could be solved if MeUndies went international. And I pitched the idea.

How would it work? Simple. MeUndies makes their products in Turkey. At least they do for the time being (businesses in Turkey are being targeted by Erdogan). Instead of all this product being shipped to the US, ship some to a distribution center located somewhere in Europe. Perhaps Estonia? And create local franchisees that can advertise in local languages. The local franchises do all the front office sales work, and the back office delivers. You get superior customer service, fast delivery and reduced shipping costs.

Did my pitch work? Errr … not yet anyway. So, in the meantime, you can get MeUndies outside the states, but the product is a bit expensive with the shipping costs thrown in. BTW, I can attest that the product itself is really nice.

Stay tuned!

Quintuple Loop Learning for Sale!

You might wonder what in God’s name am I talking about!

If so, be patient. I will explain.

We start with a guy named Chris Argyris. Chris was a Harvard professor who pased on just a few years ago. He is best known for proposing something called “double loop learning”. The idea sounds complicated, but it is really quite simple. It is a recipe for learning how to stop banging your head against the wall.

Bang once – that is the first loop. Then stop and ask yourself is there a better way? The learning you get from asking that question is the before mentioned double loop.

Don’t we do this? According to Chris, the answer is “nyet” The reason we don’t do it is not because we are stupid., It is because we are not taught to challenge the assumptions that are the basis for what we do. By accepting them, we join the “I bang my head against walls every day” club. You can imagine what their luncheon meetings look like!

As smart as Chris was — and he was a very smart dude — I don’t think this goes far enough. We need more tools to be able to effectively challenge assumptions. Dan Kahneman provides a great one in his book “Fast and Slow Thinking”. Dan points out that we tend to think fast — in other words use conclusions that we believe in (sounds like the good old single loop learning to me!) But we can think slow too, even if we don’t like to do that. We start thinking slowly by asking questions that we cannot answer straight away. You might also call this thinking strategically.  If we quiet our minds and let them offer suggestoins, it is amazing what happens next. They do just that! Even while we sleep!

Right. Much better! But I think there are in fact, 3 more learning stages.

The third stage is to learn how to SHARE what we are thinking. Doing that in ways that does not pissple off requires certain skills. Those used to be taught in prep schools and finishing schools. Now we go to conflict management courses and in extreme cases, psychiatrists.

The fourth stage is to learn how to place what we learn in CONTEXT. In other words, reality is not a photo album. It moves, and the context of our slow thinking and sharing changes as it does. The trick here is to learn how to ride the waves rather than smacked in the face by them. Some call that a “reality sandwich” — when instead of you banging your head against the wal, the wall comes after you! Sort of what the French got when the saw the Germans go around their impregnable Maginot Line.  Ooops!

The fifth stage is to learn how to SCALE what we are learning. It is fun to share stuff with your spouse (and sometimes even with your ex) but it is a lot more fun to share stuff that changes the world for the better. Sharing that changes behavior? Yes, it is possible.

So that is it. The quintuple loop model. And you got it for free!

What was I thinking?????

Worried about the Popped Crypto Bubble?`Get over it!

It was bound to happen, and it is happening. The rapid rise in the valuations of bitcoin and Ether have ended and prices have tumbled. They may tumble further.

Does this mean the end of the crytpo-currency fad? Fred Wilson thinks not. He argues that crypto is not primarily here as a speculative invetment vehicle. There are other reasons why folks are experimenting with it.

I agree. But do I own any bitcoin or ether? No. And I would not buy any either. On the other hand, I have chatted with folks about ICO’s. So far, we have not found a platform where it makes sense — and we have found out that we do not  have enough experience from a business modeling point of view to take any huge risks. I think ten years from now, that will sound quaint.

Did You Survive the 4th?

I was anticipating a quiet 4th of July. A 4th where the most challenging task would be to crack open a bottle of Chateaux Thames Embankment and listen to some old Grateful Dead favs, reminiscing about hippie lasses that I have partied with. Instead, I found myself seated in a restaurant called the Meat Market staring at the largest cheeseburger this side of the Himalayas. “I dare you!” It seemed to grumble at me in a nasty sort of way.

BTW, Meat Market is a rather upscale retreat here in Tartu that specializes in … you guessed it. I thought I might need surgery after devouring a steak there a while back.

“I ordered the fish last time and got sick” the nice young lady sitting next to me said. And what did she expect? They call it the MEAT market for a reason, don’t they?

To make a long story short, I dared, which started a very, very late night. At least part of that night was spent searching for a waitress who was willing to demonstrate a Bulgarian folk dance (a challenge that went unmet) and a drunken, passionate discussion of the difference between serfdom and slavery. followed by speculation whether Donald Trump bowls nude in the White House. That last one was John Oliver’s thought that I cannot get out of my head.

So this morning … oops, it is no longer morning here … I long for even less engaging tasks. Making coffee? Sadly, I have only enough for a half cup, and my car is in the shop.

But the electricity is still on, and the internet obliges. Vox offers a lovely set of book recommendations from indie booksellers. Most intriguing for me was “Like a Fading Shadow” by Antonio Molina.  Here is the promo

Exploring the possibilities of auto-fiction, Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina lays down two different narrations that advance in parallel throughout the novel. One is the story of James Earl Ray’s flight to Lisbon after murdering Martin Luther King. The other one is focused on his personal experiences in the late ’80s while he was in the process of writing his second novel, Un Invierno en Lisboa (Winter in Lisbon, unpublished in English). This is a brilliant dialogue between reality and fiction in which the author, smartly and full of empathy, recomposes those things that must have happened but we don’t know. The best thing of this book: the insightful reflections on the process of telling a story.

See anything that  you like??