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Super Olympics

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…a thought on using human enhancement and augmentation in sport

Super Olympics is a really simple concept. Basically, competitors can incorporate any type of modification to their bodies, up until the point where over 50% of their human body is un-human. In other words, not made up of their natural selves.

Let’s start with some basic examples:

  • A swimmer could wear a snorkel so they didn’t have to take breaths
  • A high jumper could use a pogo stick
  • A long-distance runner could wear an oxygen tank

But this is just adding stuff on the outside. Let’s widen our perspective:

  • What if an archer could have a mechanical super-powered eye placed into their head, enabling increased visibility of aspects like wind direction and zoom-in control?
  • How about a boxer with a robotised super-arm that delivered a knockout punch?

You can’t say it’s not fair. Anything goes.

If the technology was still not as super as one would need, I guess an extension of this would be to breed athletes with webbed feet and elongated arms? Genetic mutations would be all the rage and the vast range of imaginative technological implants would be a wonder to behold… if that’s your ‘thing’.

And I can guess your next question. What about drug enhancement?

Well, I’m not about to condone any illegal drug use, but the more rebellious amongst you may consider a scenario where an athlete could utilise any form of ‘performance enhancer’. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. Lance Armstrong shouldn’t expect a call to be the spokesperson just yet.

I’m just wondering how we can embrace the convergence of humans and technology in a good old-fashioned sporting event?

What other modifications do you see being viable? I have more but I’ve said enough.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

The time I broke my brain

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I’m a big believer in treating life as a series of experiments. It’s a great way to learn about yourself and it stops you from stagnating. But not every experiment is successful. And some of them can leave you with lasting side-effects, as I discovered many years ago.

This is the story of a creative experiment I conducted on myself that wasn’t exactly a blinding success.

The hypothesis

When I was an eager young advertising copywriter back in 2000, I decided to do a little experiment to see if I could make myself more creative. My thinking went like this: to be creative you need to break out of established patterns and do things differently – so if I applied this principle to every area of my life, I’d become more creative in general.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The method

I duly embarked on my little experiment. I tried to do even the most mundane things differently every time I did them.

When I woke up in the morning, I’d randomly pick what side of the bed I got out of (sometimes slipping out of the bottom of the covers to make it interesting). I’d then decide what order to do my ablutions. And I’d brush my teeth in a different way – sometimes starting by scrubbing my top left molars, other times starting by polishing my incisors. I’d put my clothes on in a different order (but always underpants before trousers) and vary my route to the office.

This would go on all day, trying to make sure that I didn’t slip into any pattern. I would even pay attention to my vocabulary and try not to use linguistic crutches like ‘cool’, ‘no way Hosé’ and ‘that’s the badger!’ Patterns were the route to formulaic thinking, after all, and that didn’t have a place in my life. No sirree.

I did this for months and got better at it as time went on. Every time I saw a pattern emerging, I’d break it. The one habit I got into was pausing before I did anything so that I could do it differently to the way I did it last time.

I must have been an infuriating bugger to everyone around me.

These are not the results you’re looking for

On the plus side, the experiment worked. I did indeed feel more creative. I was coming up with more ideas – although I don’t know if I actually came up with any better ideas – but I felt a bit more sparky and innovative.

But there was one drawback. Quite a big drawback: I was no longer a fully functional human being.

How do you make coffee again?

It all hit me one day as I stood in the kitchen trying to work out how to make myself a coffee. I was at a complete loss. I stood there trying to work out the steps in the process.

What equipment was needed for the task? Where could I find it? In what order did I use it? Everything had become a conscious decision and I was wasting a lot of time and energy doing everyday tasks that I previously didn’t need to think about. And that meant that I had less time and energy left to actually use my mind in a creative way.

I discovered something that I’d learned about during my university psychology courses. The mind automatically bundles actions together into tasks to allow you to operate on autopilot. Most people don’t think about how they make a coffee – they just do it and can hold a conversation while their hands get on with the well-practiced routine. I had destroyed most of these little task bundles during the course of my experiment. And it was making my life harder and harder to live.

Recovery is a slow process

It took me just over six months to cause the damage and at least another year to feel pretty much back to normal again. It was a slow process of rebuilding the tasks I’d broken down. I believe even now my struggle with routine and consistency has its roots in this experiment. Things like putting my keys in a different pocket every time and then having to pat myself down when I get to my front door. And my drive to find different routes rather than fall into a routine journey. You have every right to feel sorry for my poor family.

Wisdom from a wise man

A number of years later, I was having lunch with Rory Sutherland and recounted this story to him. At the end of it, he laughed uproariously and said “Dave, you’re an idiot! Do you not know that a man’s intelligence can be measured by how many things he can do without thinking?” Well, clearly, I hadn’t thought about it that way. And maybe he was right.

But did that stop me from experimenting? No siree!

Last year I did an experiment with my friend, Relja Dereta, to see if we could teach our weaker hands to draw. It was slightly more successful than this one. Maybe I’ll tell you about it soon.

Read Dave’s original post here: http://openforideas.org/blog/2017/01/30/the-time-i-broke-my-brain/

Dave Birss

The Art of Courageous Living Week 1: What is Courage?

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Yesterday I started teaching a class at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, GLBL252 Courage in Theory and Practice. Over the coming semester, I’ll be sharing a pared-down version of the class with you, my online readers. I wish you could be there in the classroom, as I anticipate lively discussion around these topics, and I’m sure I’ll learn at least as much from my students as they do from me. But failing that, I’ll post a blog each week, and once Producer Vic gets back from his well-earned vacation, we’ll be podcasting too.

If you want to take a look at the reading list/syllabus, you can find it here. GLBL252 Courage Syllabus

And there is an abridged version of the slideshow here.

Okay – on with the blog post…

Why does courage matter?

It’s possible you don’t feel the need for more courage in your life. For the things you do every day, you’re on top of it. You’re operating inside your comfort zone. You know what you like and you like what you know. No courage required, thank you very much.

And that’s all fine…. for now. Not wanting to be the scaremonger, but things change. Relationships change, finances change, jobs change, health issues change, governments change, weather patterns change. It takes courage to handle those changes with resilience and confidence, rather than stress and anxiety.

More than that, the world as a whole is sailing into uncharted waters. Computerization, robotization, a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, religious fundamentalism and intolerance, an unprecedentedly huge human population putting stress on supplies of water, food and housing… you may need to be courageous sooner than you think, and it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

As national leaders challenge our trust in their leadership, we need to look for the leader inside ourselves, and believe that we have the power to make a difference in our corner of the world. As outgoing President Obama said in his final speech to the nation, “I do have one final ask of you as your President… I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours”.

What is courage anyway?

I used to think that courage was something that other people had – adventurers and explorers, soldiers and generals, firemen and first responders, CEOs and politicians. Testosterone seemed to be heavily correlated, too.

But I wasn’t really understanding what courage is. Many of the aforementioned are indeed courageous, but courage is more subtle than that. Courage is not fearlessness. Courage is not over-confidence. Courage is not (always) doing what you have been trained and paid to do. Courage can be something soft yet steely, gentle but determined, slow-burning yet stubborn. It is what used to be called backbone, when that was fashionable.

What I am really interested in is the art of living a courageous life, rather than the impulsive courage of the have-a-go hero. This ongoing courage is, I believe, what the world needs right now. And this is what, as individuals, sets us on a very different trajectory for our lifetime.

Average life vs courageous life

To get technical for a moment, Christopher Rate (2007) tentatively defined courage thusly:

  • A willful, intentional act
  • Executed after mindful deliberation
  • Involving substantial risk to the actor
  • Motivated to bring about a noble or worthy purpose
  • Despite the presence of fear

It’s important to note that the risk need not be physical – it could be loss of social standing, loss of ease, loss of anonymity, or anything else that we care about.

But most important to note is the last line, about the presence of fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, or teenagers doing dumb things would be getting awards for gallantry. Courage is feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. And why would we do that? Because of our motivation to bring about a noble or worthy purpose.

My theory for this is that:

When motivation is greater than fear, you get courage.

So if you want to be more courageous, pump up your motivation.

Can courage be taught?

As I was putting together the syllabus for my class on Courage in Theory and Practice at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, I encountered a certain amount of skepticism from friends about whether courage could be taught. I firmly believe that it can (and not only because I’m being paid to teach it).

I say this as someone who used to be utterly non-courageous, who now regularly gets mistaken for a courageous person, having rowed – solo – across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans in a 23-foot rowboat. (I also occasionally get mistaken for an idiot, which is also understandable.) What motivated this venture, which was outrageously audacious for someone who had never been to sea before, and doesn’t particularly like physical exercise?

It was that “motivation to bring about a noble or worthy purpose”. I’d had an environmental awakening, and wanted to do whatever I could to bring the urgent need for sustainable living to a wider audience. I knew my contribution might be minimal, but I just had to do something. I had no history as an activist, but now this went to the heart of my identity – I didn’t want to see myself as the sort of person who would stand by and watch the Earth go to hell in a handcart.

My motivation was so great that I invested my life’s savings, and got in a tiny rowboat, and rowed 15,000 miles to try and make a difference. It’s hard for you to appreciate just how far outside my comfort zone this was, because you don’t know me, but trust me – it was a leap of faith times ten.

So if I can make the transition from apathy to action, from bystander to badass, from cowardice to courage, then I really believe that anybody can. You just need passion, and purpose, and maybe a fair dollop of naïve optimism that you can make a difference.

And one thing’s for sure – if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know.

Next week we’ll be looking at the Hero’s Journey, and how it can help make you more courageous.

See you then!

Roz Savage

Read the original blog post from Roz Savage here

Roz Savage

Interview with Oleksandr Albul

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In all the busyness of my life, travelling all over the world, one of the most important things I do is to stop and sit quietly. There are many techniques of doing this but ultimately it’s about the control of your breathing. This is a yogic discipline with origins in ancient India, called Prāṇāyāma.

In Sanskrit this is written as राणायाम and is composed from two Sanskrit words: prāṇa meaning life force (the Chinese call it ‘chi’, the Polynesians ‘mana’, the Native Americans ‘orenda’, and the ancient Germans ‘od’), and either yama (to restrain or control the prāṇa, implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results) or the negative form ayāma, meaning to extend or draw out (as in extension of the life force).

When I’m using my Android phone, I use an app called ‘Prana Breath’ (there are iOS apps with similar titles). Prana Breath was developed by a Ukranian Android Developer called Oleksandr Albul.

Prana Breath

I contacted Oleksandr to see if he would be willing to answer a few questions on behalf of the Thought Expansion Network. I was delighted when he said yes! Here’s what he had to say:

1. What inspired you, or motivated you, to do what you do?

When I was at school, at the University, at the job as an employee, people were always telling me what to do. I felt pretty stressed! Now, as I am self-employed, I feel very motivated to do what I always wanted – to create high-quality programs. And as I do breathing exercises a few years in a row, I decided to make it easier for myself as well as for other practitioners with the Android app I named Prana Breath. I keep being inspired to improve it because of the feedback I get from users, and because my own daily practice, so I have a big “to implement list”.

2. Do you feel that mindfulness is needed in modern life?

I think mindfulness is one of the most important things for happiness in modern life. I think nearly every human being has the “inner radio” constantly broadcasting in his head. And this mess of random thoughts does not increase our effectiveness, but take away our energy, and does not let us concentrate on what we do or what we truly feel. That’s why there are so many people, lucky people, who have plenty of tasty food, comfortable shelter and interesting communication, but are resentful and unhappy. We just can’t realize stop their own hurricane of thoughts and look around at the beauty of the Nature and acknowledge how gifted we are to live.

When it gets too overwhelming, we usually name it as “stress”, and try to get rid of it in the easiest and the most available for the moment way: smoking, drinking, or taking a bubble bath. Some of those ways are healthy, and some are killing, some are regular for us, and some are unwonted. That’s exactly what I like about breathing gymnastics – it’s easy, healthy, and takes a little time to work. And the greatest thing for me – it stops this molesting “inner radio” and gives that feeling of inner peace.

3. What are your greatest hopes about the future of humanity?

My greatest hope about the future of humanity is the education. Education that will allow everyone to realize oneself as the creator of his/her life since the very childhood, and will make a word “responsibility” sound not pestered and annoying, but admired and inspiring. Education that will develop the personality with the taste to creating but not only consuming, with the perception that everything is connected in the world, and together as the one we can do so many incredible things for fun and for thriving of the life!

4. What are your greatest fears about the future of humanity?

The thing that scares me the most about our future is the high-techs taking over the humanity. That would be so tragic if we give up our thinking potential to the physical comfort, if we rely on robots to spend more time searching for new dummy amusements. Especially if the new generation is raised with the attitude that it’s alright. This way humans can become nothing more than operating personnel. As I see it, that’s not an extraordinary fear – there are lots of books and films about that.

5. If we could all learn one thing from your experience, what would that one thing be?

If you have an idea that you consider brilliant, if you have a passion about it so you think about it day and night – just do the first step, then second and third! No matter if there are many familiar things at the market or your friends make fun of you – do what you want to do! If you succeed – you will be proud, if you fail – you’ll be experienced.

Thank you again to Oleksandr for giving the time for this, I’m very grateful not only for your contribution, but also for Prana Breath that enables some of the silence in my life.

 

Refuelling at Peace Time

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Refuelling at Peace Time
It seems like every day there is a new example of a marketing campaign that “went wrong”.

At the time of writing this chapter in 2013, the examples included the twitter campaign from McDonald’s restaurant that was ‘hijacked’ by the public who decided that the #MCDStories hashtag could be used for negative opinion rather than positive – thus turning the hashtag into a bashtag.

Elsewhere the Covent Garden Soup Company ran a competition that promised a prize of a £500,000 farm, but from the 200,000 entrants, none had the winning code so the prize wasn’t given away.

You may be surprised to know this didn’t go down terribly well with the entrants – however the lawyers state the competition mechanic complied with regulation. That’s ok then.

These are just two examples of daily stories that we all see in front of us, and are the result of the paradigm shift we are experiencing in the commercial, sociological, technological and communications landscape.

One question I’m often asked is, “If these examples are claimed as having a negative impact, how come people are still (e.g.) queuing at McDonald’s and/or buying Covent Garden soup?”

It’s a fair question. After all, it is commonly thought the ultimate success a company can report is revenue, profit and/or share price. If the revenue, profit and/or share price remains in good shape, what exactly is the problem if these little campaign maladies are apparent?

To answer this I’d like you to imagine the competitive business landscape as a war zone.

In the old world, your army would consist of your staff. Your artillery would consist of your products and services.

In today’s world, your army also consists of your customers and consumers. This is because of their empowerment enabled by the capability and affordability of technology, meaning they too can create and edit brands. They too can change the perceptions and opinions of others. Thus, your artillery now consists of their output also.

So, you have your combined army and often you have to go to war.

In the old world, your army of staff and artillery of products and services would be up against other armies of a similar structure. In today’s world, your asset is your army of staff, customers, and consumers, in addition to your combined artillery. In the old world, at peacetime, you would just be fuelling your staff and polishing your artillery. In today’s world, at peacetime, you must also be fuelling the whole of your army, and polishing the extended artillery.

This is so you are prepared for when you go into battle. Practically speaking this requires you to consider things like:

– identifying the levels of trust you have amongst your consumer/customer/user base
– creating resonant missions that people will believe in
– facilitating and promoting the work of fans
– etc…

These activities, amongst others, will better prepare you for the battles I speak of in the metaphor, which in real life look like:

– a new market entrant who is disrupting your organisation or market place
– a change in fashion that renders what you do less relevant
– a trend that alters the perceived value of what you create or deliver
– etc…

Sound familiar? These have always been common occurrences in every market place, yet now the risk is extended to competitive challenges that are non-organisational. Yes, the empowered public may be the cause of battle for a company today – and that, if nothing else, justifies the need to extend your army before those troops are aligned against you.

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved”

Sun Tzu – The Art of War

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

Let us not fight hate with hate

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Let us not fight hate with hate - Jonathan MacDonald
It’s all kicking off on my social media channels. One contact of mine has unfriended “dozens of people” and another has posted a vitriolic video full of venom. A school teacher friend of mine tells me of children hurling racist abuse in the playground at other children of any ethnicity, Irish to Italian. The shopping centre seem tense, the queue for the car park seems slightly more stressed than usual, and every conversation is populated with one question: “What did you think of the result?”

This is not a post to discuss what happened in the European Referendum on the 23rd June 2016, instead this is a post to describe a personal observation in the wake of the voting result itself where the UK population said it preferred to leave the EU rather than remain part of it.

Back in 2011 I wrote a a piece entitled “A Sect Cannot Be Destroyed By Cannonballs” which addressed the tendency to attack the alleged sources of violence with a similar style of attack, and the theory that this approach was probably the least effective. The post was pretty popular, in fact Stephen Fry retweeted it which sent hundreds of thousands of people to my site and crashed the page. He has apologised many times since; unwarranted. Unfortunately however, the post mainly landed on deaf ears and the same activity continues to this day, fighting fire with fire and hate with hate.

What I’m noticing now, following the EU Referendum result, is a similar tendency to attack those who voted in a certain way, with a level of contempt that I fear shows a dark undercurrent to our human nature. Whilst I absolutely understand what it is like to feel aggrieved that a decision didn’t go in the way one would have hoped, what I find harder to understand is how this level of contempt is likely to bring about any positive change, if that is indeed what the purveyors of this contempt desire.

And to that point, is it definitely the case that those who show contempt at others who disagree, want positive change? I ask because those who are currently very loud, seemed awfully quiet in advance of the voting. Surely if the passion is so strong after the results, the passion would have been there in advance?

Why did the current armchair experts not share their wisdom with the voting public in advance of the vote, so as to avoid a decision they would dislike?

I don’t know the answers, but I do believe that a democratic decision typically requires:

A) Our ability to have a say – E.G. a vote

B) Our personal accountability in understanding (as best we can), the contexts within which we have the ability to have a say – E.G. learning as much as possible about what’s going on and what it means

And in addition to these requirements I believe we should add a third point:

C) Our respect for the outcome and the human beings that may have voted in a different way than ourselves

This point isn’t anything other than a basic human right, yet much of the hatred that is being slung around the web at the time of writing is everything other than basic human rights.

Yes, I get that people are angry. Yes, I understand that people are fearful of the future…but I have to make it absolutely clear that there is one sure-fire way of zero progress being made, and that is to attack each other.

If we really want to unite and work together, we really need to start acting like it. I don’t just mean the media channels that throw emotive headlines at us to allegedly trick us into making bad decisions, I include all the people in our social timelines who are mud-slinging.

I mean you, your friends, your families, your colleagues. I mean every single one of us. We all have the opportunity to collaborate and build better, but oftentimes our default reaction is still to pick up the nearest stone and throw it at someone else’s head. So much for progress 🙂

Let us not lower ourselves to a common denominator of playground bullying.

Let us rise up and take whatever challenges we face, together not apart.

Let us remain positive in the face of negativity and seek solutions rather than rally around problems.

Let us not fight hate with hate.

JM – 17.08, Sunday 26th June 2016

The Poison of Omnipotence

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Sometime around 500AD, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite asked whether it was possible for God to “deny himself”. The question was arguably the first emergence of what is called ‘The Omnipotence Paradox’ which states that:

If a being can perform any action, then it should be able to create a task it is unable to perform, and hence, it cannot perform all actions. Yet, on the other hand, if it cannot create a task it is unable to perform, then there exists something it cannot do.

Whilst it may be enjoyable to venture into a debate on whether or not it is possible to ever be omnipotent, the fact is, it’s tremendously attractive to imagine having unlimited, universal power. Not just as a person but as a business too.

I see numerous companies express monstrous capabilities to appear more competitive. Check out some of the halls at pretty much any exhibition and you will see stand after stand of slogans and tag lines including terms like ‘end-to-end’, ‘360º’ and ‘total’. I see products launched that, allegedly, are super-powered. I see services launched that, allegedly, will solve even the most challenging needs.

I wonder how much pressure comes from potential customers who, especially in new concepts, seek companies who ‘do everything’, citing economies of scale and efficiency as justification. I wonder how much pressure comes from competitors who claim omnipotence thereby forcing you to do the same to stay competitive. The whole thing feeds itself. Bigger and bigger claims, mostly based on sand.

Numerous agencies in the advertising world claim to be the ‘world’s greatest’ this or that. The ‘home of’ something or other. The writers of such statements often believe the words to be true, even if nobody else does. One could argue that such expressed omnipotence is an internal communication tactic, making staff feel as if they are in the right place to work. Here’s the deal:

I feel there is no long-term benefit of outputting claims of ultimate power or capability. In fact, claiming this is a very bad idea in many ways, and I call this The Poison Of Omnipotence. Of a cast of thousands, here are the three biggest disaster zones with this poison:

1. Over-promising. This is perpetually linked to under-delivery. Even if a deal gets won by some whizz-bang claims of extreme ability, the execution stage will be ever more painful. This is very pertinent in the current world of new advertising formats where minimum revenue guarantees are requested by potential customers who, frankly, should know better, and providers who, frankly, should do too.

2. Believability. In new areas where customers may not know what would be possible, you would think you could get away with seeming to be omnipotent. However, once levels of awareness and understanding increase, it’s only a matter of time until the parameters are better known. Then you are in big trouble.

3. Trust and Integrity. This is totally impossible when the first two minefields come into play. Trust can only come from positive interactions, augmented by consistency and honesty, which builds integrity: the mother of all goals in reputation. In the long run, it would be better to have trust and integrity than to live in the hope you never get found out for not being the omnipotent force you seemed to be. You may do less business, but you won’t be hated, derided and unable to function in the business world.

So, what is the antidote to this poison?

1. Leave it. I truly believe it’s best to leave your competitors to kill themselves off, suffering from the three areas outlined above. Then you will still exist and have a clearer market.

2. Differentiate. Do this by not claiming to be omnipotent. Focus on what you are fantastic at. This isn’t to say you should limit yourself, but only market competencies if you actually have them. If you think you need them to compete, then learn or buy them – but don’t claim you have them if you don’t.

3. Change perspective. Most companies follow competition. Markets are defined by this. This is why we so often are in a race to the bottom, trading in lowest common denominators, blindly competing for prizes that are evaporating. Just because the market seems to be going one way, that doesn’t justify you following it.

One final thought: If you actually are omnipotent, or do have ultimate capability in your space, then the competitive advantage you have will express itself, through people. By telling everyone you have superpowers, you will simply look like all the others who say they do too. Leave them to make the claims, and you can get on with being fabulous.

The truth will eventually come out.

All you are is what you are.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

This Is Your Heart

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This is you heart

The year is 1931 and a man called Michael Unterguggenberger has just been elected mayor of a small Austrian town named Wörgl. The events of the coming two years will create a story of vision, courage, and one of the most ugly, most pertinent examples of industries that would prefer to suffer than change. Due to that starkness, this story may well have been missing from your history class, even if you studied economics. However, this story is one of my favourite examples of how purpose, focus, and velocity, can produce the most miraculous results. Let us begin.

Born into a Tyrolean peasant family and having apprenticed himself to a master mechanic, Michael built a modest career whilst striving for social justice. His hometown, Wörgl, had grown rapidly in the early 1900s but was affected significantly by the financial crash of 1929. At the time, Michael was town councillor and eventually mayor two years later. Despite the numerous projects to re-build the town, the depression had driven a population of 4500 to include 1500 without a job and 200 families penniless.

Michael studied a book called “The Natural Order” by Silvio Gesell and theorised that the faltering economy was principally caused by the slow circulation of money. Money that increasingly moved from working people into the banks, without being re-circulated back into the market. His plan was to replace the common currency with “Certified Compensation Bills” that the public would be given to be used at their face value (1, 5 and 10 shillings). 32,000 such bills were printed and circulated.

Wörgl bills were designed to depreciate 1% of their nominal value monthly and the owner had to buy and place a stamp on the bill on the last day of the month, showing the devalued amount. Obviously as nobody wanted to essentially pay a premium (by losing value), bills were spent as fast as possible.

On the back of the bills this was printed:

“To all whom it may concern! Sluggishly circulating money has provoked an unprecedented trade depression and plunged millions into utter misery. Economically considered, the destruction of the world has started. – It is time, through determined and intelligent action, to endeavour to arrest the downward plunge of the trade machine and thereby to save mankind from fratricidal wars, chaos, and dissolution. Human beings live by exchanging their services. Sluggish circulation has largely stopped this exchange and thrown millions of willing workers out of employment. – We must therefore revive this exchange of services and by its means bring the unemployed back to the ranks of the producers. Such is the object of the labour certificate issued by the market town of Wörgl: it softens suffering’s dread; it offers work and bread.”

What a statement.

During the 13 months following, Michael initiated all the intended projects: new houses, a new bridge, even a ski jump. Six neighbouring villages copied the system to great effect and the French Prime Minister at the time, Edouard Daladier, made a special visit to see the “miracle of Wörgl”.

Spin forward to January 1933 and Michael addressed a meeting with representatives from 170 towns and villages, all interested in adopting the concept.
The public was happy, employment was high, and poverty was virtually non-existent. People paid their taxes in advance enthusiastically and price increases (the first sign of inflation) didn’t occur.

However, the Central Bank started to freak out due to its lack of control over the situation and decided to assert its monopoly rights by banning complementary currencies. Following a court case where the Austrian Supreme Court upheld the ban, it became a criminal offence to issue “emergency currency”.

Wörgl quickly returned to 30% unemployment and social unrest spread like wildfire across Austria. Michael died in 1936 having watched his life’s mission come into being, succeed brilliantly, then be stripped apart.

Two years later a chap called Hitler entered the scene and many people welcomed him as their economic and political saviour.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The thing that moves me about the story of Michael and Wörgl is the implementation of a vision into real life. There are so many good ideas around, so many interesting things that could be done, and so many idealists, but very few executors. To me it doesn’t matter so much that the concept was ultimately outlawed (although it saddens me that many great concepts are killed at birth), the point is that it actually went to market.

I witness numerous people with new companies, new offerings, new concepts, all with kick-ass technology, fancy slogans, and cool haircuts but I rarely see robust go-to-market actions. It’s almost as if we are living in perpetual concept stage.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Michael was only able to execute because he was mayor, in fact by 1912 he was elected representative for the union of Innsbruck Rail Engineers in the committee for personnel. He was seen as the person who represented the concerns of the workers against the capitalist interests of the railroad. His active campaigning at that time had a positive result for workers but yet a negative effect on his career progression because of it. His perseverance was due to the purpose that was in his heart. This was a guy who had found his path, focussed like hell, and applied his courage to move things forward.

I see a direct correlation between people who are following their heart and actual outcomes happening, versus people who are following only their head.

Maybe we should look within and ask, “Why am I really doing what I’m doing?” It is said that to truly know where your heart is, one must observe where our thoughts are when they wander… and I say that magical things can happen when we are properly playing from our heart. A blend of both is likely the best mix, but let’s take the head thinking as a given, it’s the heart piece I’m seeing mostly a lack of. But as Miles Davis said, “It takes a long time to play like yourself”.

Michael, along with using your head, you played it from the heart. I salute you.

Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald, available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation

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The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation

On November 16th 2010 an article appeared in Harvard Business Review (HBR), written by James Allworth, about Google’s strategy. The gist of the piece can be gained from these two enclosing sentences; the first from the start, the second from the end:

1. “…But Google may regret the strategic choices that have led to this victory over Apple.”

2. “The Android operating system is, as Google initially intended, untethered to any particular partner. This was a smart way of fighting the opening battles of the smartphone wars against Apple.”

Basically the author is saying that mobile handsets with Google’s Android mobile operating system are out-shipping Apple’s iPhone due to Google’s free distribution through what is called the Open Handset Alliance, yet this openness means there is no control over third parties choosing non-Google services instead, thus diminishing Google’s competitive position.

In my opinion this critique of Google’s supposed competitive strategy is entirely dependent on a context of traditional and centralised business practice. I believe this context is fundamentally questionable. For it to be the case, Google would be displaying certain personalities of traditional centralisation, such as the need to control distribution or directly attack competitors, for example.

When things are centralised, ownership and enclosed resilience is vital; as what you have to hand defines your central unit of power. If Google traded in such a way, the HBR article would be contextually accurate and the opinion based on a valid conceptual construct.
However, Google is not a fully centralised business and their practice is fundamentally unlike many of the companies that commentators would seem eager to pitch it against. Allow me to clarify.

There are three types of organic business structures:

1. Centralised businesses (just as centralised organisms in nature) have a core hub and externally dependent spokes like a spider does. All behaviour, including competitive behaviour, is focussed on increasing the power of the core hub and decreasing the risk of the core hub being destroyed, which would end everything as all vital parts are within the core.

2. Decentralised businesses (just as decentralised organisms in nature) have all vital parts distributed throughout like a starfish does. There is no dependency of any part on any other. In fact, the further distributed it is (like when you cut off a starfish leg), the more the organism continues to grow. The starfish grows another leg, and the cut-off leg grows into a starfish. It’s like Agent Smith in The Matrix. Remember?

3. Hybrid businesses are, unsurprisingly, a combination of centralised and decentralised architecture. In Google’s case, as a hybrid business, there is centralised decision-making and decentralised execution. It is the decentralised execution that positions Google in a different way from their most obvious competitors (who tend to be extremely centralised – Apple for example).

Due to the common misinterpretation of their organic structure that leads to what I believe to be fundamentally inaccurate assessments of competition strategy and risk, I feel compelled to illustrate a different reality than portrayed in the original HBR article, and by doing so, address what I call The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation.

In 1943 Peter Drucker was commissioned by General Motors (GM) to investigate and interpret the secrets of their success. For 18 months Drucker probed and questioned all parts of the organisation and finally published his findings, as agreed he would, in a book called ‘Concept of the Corporation’.

Due to the findings GM were very angry and Drucker was very surprised at this reaction. After all, in his book, Drucker had praised GM for their way of working, even likening them to the US Government’s ‘Federal Decentralisation’.

Drucker said: “In Federal Decentralisation a company is organised in a number of autonomous businesses.” Just as the US Government ceded power to the states, GM let go of central power to autonomous, decentralised divisions. Drucker’s advice was for GM as a hybrid organisation to become even more decentralised. He claimed their success was primarily due to the level of decentralisation. Drucker suggested such measures as hard-coding customer feedback into deep strategy.

But no. GM hated it.

Their response was, in essence, “We are at the top of the game so why should we change?”

By the way, the Japanese car manufacturers took a far more proactive approach to Drucker’s advice and the rest, as they say, is history.

Around this time, Drucker spoke of an organisational position that is often referred to as ‘the sweet spot’. The place where organisations or offerings are centralised enough for control and commercial reality, yet decentralised enough for mass adoption and agility.
Google, with their decentralised execution, currently resides in a sweet spot of openness and pervasiveness.

Decentralised execution cares nothing for the supposed ‘risk’ of other players. In fact, the concentration is on creating tools for competitors to be empowered.

Did Google arm their competitors? Absolutely. On purpose.

Decentralised execution cares nothing for ‘market share’ of specific technology. Instead, the concentration is on becoming invisible, yet always there. The point of the story of GM and Drucker isn’t about the reaction. It’s about the empirical competitive advantage of decentralisation.

Despite unarguable evidence, the most common thought is that businesses are similarly structured with selfish centricity. The presumption by most commentators, including those in respected publications, is that companies are as centralised as spiders and compete accordingly. This is pure poison and shows an ignorance of business structure and market dynamics.

The poison is, however, extremely common. In the (absolutely vital) book, ‘The Starfish and The Spider’ by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, the second principle of decentralisation is: “It’s easy to mistake starfish as spiders.”

The frequency of commentators and competitors mistaking decentralisation for centralisation actually helps the decentralised compete. Put another way: The more that people misinterpret and treat decentralised companies as centralised, the bigger the threat. This is one of the main reasons that decentralised companies will rarely, if ever, correct a commentator or competitor who mistakenly uses centralised constructs in their reasoning. It is better for a starfish that others think it’s a spider.

Despite this reality, The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation can be found everywhere. Another example can be found in an article called ‘The Truth About Google’s So-Called Simplicity’. In this, the commentator writes of confusion over Google’s product range:

“A long time ago, 1968 to be precise, a wise person named Conway wrote: ‘Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.’ So true: I can see this in products from many a company. Except with Google, there appears to be no organizational structure of the product. Hmm.”

The poison lives on healthily, demanding a level of naivety to exist.

In closing, and to be fair to the HBR article, one thing I would like to raise is what Google’s strategy would be if they actually felt under attack. To quote again from Brafman and Beckstrom, the first principle of decentralisation is: “When attacked, a decentralised organisation becomes even more open and decentralised.”

The message therefore is clear. Not only can we predict less predictability in competitive moves under attack, we can be assured that The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation will continue to empower the hybrid and decentralised. Faced with this reality, who would you bet on to win?

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

The Real Reality

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I’m fascinated by the way our brains actually operate, generating thoughts that generate our framework of what we call reality. I first became interested with the way we think when I studied Social Biology at college many years ago. This fascination never relented.

Interestingly, it takes around half a second for something to happen and our brain then experiencing it. In that time there’s a lot of processing that happens where the brain is essentially constructing a story. This story, not the thing that happened, becomes our reality. Different for everyone and, in fact, meaning that we’re all living in the past by about half a second.

Our brains have far more input on what we experience than our senses provide. For example, when we see something in front of us, there’s actually far less traffic coming inbound to our brain than there is coming outbound from our expectations. These expectations make up what is called our “internal model”.

A clear example of this is what happens when we look at something. Our eyes aren’t remotely stable, they move 4 times a second. What’s actually happening is what you can recreate by filming something with a really shaky hand! But we think we’re seeing things in a really stable way. This is because our internal model is imagining what we’re seeing. The visual cortex sends information to the thalamus and the thalamus compares those to what’s coming in through the eyes. The difference between the two is sent back and updates the internal model – our reality of expectations.

This impacts everything about us, from our identity to our aspirations in life. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. It is tempting to assume that we get more wise, but what’s happening is that our internal model is getting more established. It isn’t necessarily better, it’s just been modified more. Our memories change as our internal model changes over time. Memory is therefore exceptionally unreliable as it is remarkably changeable. Our continual narrative gets updated and in turn, what we remember and what we think is re-shaped dynamically due to experiences which have their own significant challenges.

This is because our human biology severely limits what we experience. We only pick up one ten trillionth of the spectrum of frequencies that are running through us. In terms of sight, this is the visual spectrum of colour – again, something that doesn’t exist in the world, only in our heads. Other organisms have increased sensitivity on other parts of the spectrum, and this is scientifically down to how everything evolves.

In terms of time, our experience is not remotely linear and differs dependant on experience. Try and think of an experience, perhaps a bad one, that seemed to take ages. Or maybe a good one that went by too fast.

This time distortion actually happens in retrospect. It is a trick our brain plays. The memory of an experience expands the storyline and thus, the memory of something taking much longer, or shorter, appears real when we speak of it after the event. This could be ‘immediately’ (meaning at least half a second afterwards), or at a later date. Either way it’s a retrospective story that has been biologically invented.

Scientifically, we are controlled solely by our thoughts, for better or worse.

Reality is, in fact, whatever our brain tells us it is.