Category

Blogs

Noise – the business and social disease

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

noise disease

A thought on how we are affected by the volume of meaningless noise.

This is an unusual paragraph. I’m curious as to how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so ordinary and plain that you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it! It is highly unusual though. Study it, think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. If you work at it a bit you might just find out. Good luck!

Noise Destroys

The above puzzle may be familiar to those who often need to make decisions. There’s an initial acceptance that a puzzle has been set, time needs to be spent studying the data and, finally, a decision needs to be made. However, distractions (like reading this sentence) can reduce the focus and provide more information to process. This isn’t a trivial point as the fortune of companies rests solely on whether the decisions made turn out to be the right ones.

As part of my role in life of expanding the way people think, I assist others in understanding and capitalising on the effect that technology has on society and business. Evidently the need has never been greater. More than ever before, the volume of distraction is sky high, especially from connected technology. There have never been so many distractions competing for our attention, making decisions progressively harder. This is partly why it’s hard to spot there are no e’s in the initial paragraph.

In 2016, a single minute saw the emergence of 44.4 million WhatsApp messages sent, 422,340 new tweets, 205,600 million emails, 3.1 million searches, 400 hours of uploaded video on YouTube and 3.3 million Facebook posts, according to Smart Insights.

I’d wager that one of your several digital devices is competing with me right now for your attention. I’m envious; I don’t have neon flashing lights or an icon that displays numbers, rising on a minute-by-minute basis.

I call these distractions ‘noise’. The opposite of noise is ‘signal’, which is what really matters to us in a meaningful way. As we become more connected to each other, we find it harder to filter out the noise to find the signal.

I believe this is the primary reason for many of the negative aspects of modern life, including bad decision-making that often leads to business failure.

I’m convinced that as things progress there will be an increasing need to ‘De-Noise’. This is the activity of filtering meaning out of distraction and has been a major outcome of the sessions I run called ‘You to the power of TEN‘.

The Business Disease

The 24/7 Wall Street analysis of “The Worst Business Decisions Of All Time” makes compelling reading, yet there are many other theories as to how bad decisions happen. Today a popular view is that our brains are wired to be what Dan Ariely would call “Predictably Irrational.

A few decades ago I was lucky enough to be one of the first students of what is now popularised (by people like Ariely) as Behavioural Economics. Even then we were able to show that all decision-making was affected by a collection of heuristics and biases. Since then we’ve had books like “Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein and “Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner that show hundreds of case studies supporting this modern theory.

Despite being very fashionable, this isn’t the only perspective. One can find an alternative analysis within the 2009 book “Think Again – Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions by the Tuck School of Business professor, Sydney Finkelstein. He opens by stating, “Most leaders make bad decisions. Even great leaders can make bad decisions.” His analysis crawls through 83 flawed decisions and finds there are four common “red flag” conditions that can lead to errors in judgement.

1. Misleading experiences – Memories of what is thought to be a similar situation to the present one. For example, a new competitor has emerged in the marketplace and it reminds you of the time when you competed by lowering prices. Your subsequent success in your memory is firmly and forever linked to the price drop. Due to this, your strategic decisions are already biased toward lowering prices.

2. Misleading pre-judgements – Where previous decisions or judgements influence your thinking. For example, if you tend to start a new job by immediately replacing the sales and marketing team, you are biased towards repeating the same behaviour, regardless of whether it is the most suitable thing to do in the present situation. It’s just what you do.

3. Inappropriate self-interests – Subconscious personal agenda that conflicts with the job in hand or the outcome of the business. For example, if a hidden driver is personal fame and recognition at almost any expense, this will affect the decisions that are made even without being fully aware that this agenda is being applied to other contexts.

4. Inappropriate attachments – Loyalty and alliances that overrule rational or logical decisions. For example, giving a particular team member more responsibility even if they didn’t deserve it, or appointing a particular supplier even if they are not the best you could have chosen.

Finkelstein said: “Trust in our own judgement is so engrained it can make us ignore red flags that warn that a decision was flawed from the start. That’s how bad decisions get made.

Finkelstein’s theories are supported by looking at how I’ve observed decisions to be made – starting with information (i.e. inbound data from outside), into perception (i.e. how we view the information, sub-consciously guided by our heuristics and biases) and finally resulting with our decision (i.e. the chosen way forward).

In conclusion Finkelstein states that the antidote to this situation is in:

  1. Open-mindedness – Decision makers should be more open to new ideas and not afraid to look outside their comfort zones.
  2. Own up to mistakes – Being brave enough to admit when they’re wrong.
  3. Awareness and acceptance of change – In his own words: “Good leaders will get multiple sources of information and get honest feedback to make sure they are not missing or ignoring something that should be obvious.”

Personally I believe the 3rd point is the most problematic as if you initially perceive information ineffectively, you are ultimately doomed in decision-making.

The reality is that it’s becoming increasingly hard to perceive information effectively as there’s so much information to process. However, paradoxically, we need to access more of the information to ensure we are aware of what is happening around us…

…and the distraction paradox grows by the minute.

The Social Disease

From a human perspective it has become apparent that distractive noise is impacting our lives regardless of whether we’re at work or not. In any top ten list of unusual medical conditions, “Busy Lifestyle Syndrome is often mentioned.

Even a quick glance at the symptoms of Busy Lifestyle Syndrome will make you wonder whether it is really unusual or actually very common.

The primary outcome is losing track of the main thing we were thinking or doing. What was front-of-mind gets lost and we end up wrongly prioritising things that get us into all sorts of trouble.

The lead researcher on this, Dr. Alan Wade, says: “Forgetfulness is an ordinary part of getting older but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is now affecting people earlier in life as a result of busy work and home lives, and so-called ‘information overload’ from the various media channels we consume today.

This manifests as forgetting people’s names, forgetting a task you were meant to carry out, forgetting the values you stand for, forgetting the main reason for doing something, or even repeating an activity you’ve actually already completed.

Researchers have speculated that the condition could be cured by a low dose of the drug memantine, that is used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes sense if you consider that Alzheimer’s is essentially when the brain can’t convert short-term memories into long-term ones, meaning that memory itself dies away.

There’s a worrying correlation between the volume of noise from connected technology and the increasing volume of relationship breakdowns, and you may have read recently that teenagers are reported to have never been more unhappy, despite being more connected digitally than ever. I’m pretty certain this information is linked to the 53% rise in the diagnoses of ADHD cases. Perhaps there’s even a correlation between these stats and the fact that by the time a child leaves primary school they will have witnessed around 8000 murders on television.

Are we becoming desensitised as a result of the information overload?

Are we losing track as a species of who and what we are?

What does this mean to society and future generations?

Back In Business

In the context of the business world though we are still dealing with humans making decisions. The business context does not remove the social context. We are all still members of society. Walking into an office building doesn’t remove us from the increasing volume of noise in our lives. If anything it turns the dial up and makes the pressure of handling it even greater.

The behavioural economics that impact our decisions happen after the influx of noise. The pressure of the noise kicks in before we even get a chance to be biased.

Noise is the fuel of behavioural economics, accentuating our pre-set conditions, which we default to constantly. The more noise, the more our brain calls on our biases to ‘help’ us and, therefore, the more common it is to make flawed decisions. I believe this is the primary reason why the life expectancy of a business is now nearer 15 years, reduced from around 75 years a century ago.

I believe it is imperative for us to observe what is noise versus signal in our lives, and it is with this priority in mind that I will continue to assist wherever possible.

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 Effort Metric

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

The Effort Metric by Jonathan MacDonald

A thought on prioritising effort alongside other standard business metrics.

In the 1995 publication by John Kotter entitled “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail”*, his research from over 10 years showed that only 30% of change programmes are successful. Almost 2 decades later, McKinsey research found that the figure was still around 30%.**

Kotter found that unsuccessful change management usually failed during at least one of the following eight phases:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a change vision
  4. Communicating the vision for buy-in
  5. Empowering broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Never letting up
  8. Incorporating changes into culture

Despite this insightful summary of where failure happens, I think there is another dimension at play. McKinsey’s view is that the “Missing Management Metric” is the assessment of organisational health in relation to certain elements of “management practice needed to improve performance”.

Notably their assessment of performance is determined ultimately in financial terms, as seen from their “five-step process that prioritises management practices needed to improve performance” and as they say, “doing more doesn’t add much value and involves disproportionate, not to mention wasted, effort.”

From observation across all industry verticals, I’ve realised that Kotter’s eight phases are consistently and exclusively viewed through a lens of financial priority.

Counterargument

There is one condition the common mindset depends on: the absolute requirement of a defined outcome with a financial target attached. This condition is valid in times that are stable and predictable, but bearing in mind the combination of macroeconomic crises, slowing consumption and globalisation, alongside the increasing capability and affordability of technology, empowered citizens and democratised value chains; the current and future business environment is anything but stable and predictable.

Rather than defining an end result before the journey starts, the end result will be defined during, and because of, the journey. All of a sudden, change management isn’t a one-off process but rather a constant management of change, and Kotter’s eight phases no longer run as linear but parallel to each other.

Faced with this situation, I’d argue the common thinking achieves the absolute opposite of performance today. Instead, I’d suggest it breeds fear and chastity in innovation, limiting people taking chances and accelerating the probability of the brave getting fired. It ensures organisations chase figures rather than opportunity and it limits flexible growth. I believe that performance management in uncertain times requires a more valid “Missing Management Metric”.

Introducing The Alternative Metric

I propose an alternative metric to supplement financial bias in modern business: Effort. This is because effort creates the opportunities as we exert it – mapping out our path during the journey. Here are five tangible elements needing to be prioritised, each with their own ways of measurement:

People – Identify those who are most comfortable with uncertainty in senior enough positions (or place them in such positions) so as not to suffocate the chances that could be taken. Also, identify or acquire people with this characteristic. The measurement of effort for this element should be via continual people auditing using a grid that plots volume of people with the ‘comfort in uncertainty’ characteristic against the level of seniority.

What good would look like is if there is a high volume of people with this characteristic in numerous senior positions. It’s unfortunately suboptimal if only junior staff have this characteristic.

Purpose – Be extraordinarily clear on what your purpose and vision is, so that every single person inside and outside your organisation knows the mission you are undertaking. The measurement of effort for this element should be via regular checking of how well the purpose is understood within the organisation and throughout external partners. This should be added to by a layer that checks how it is understood externally in public, through monitoring and ideally involvement in conversations outside the organisation.

What good would look like is if there was a) very high understanding and b) a close match between external interpretation and internal aspiration and definition.

Finance – Separate innovative, unproven activities in the balance sheet. Placing the risk of not moving forward as the exact same cost as the funding of exploration. The measurement of effort for this element should be in two dimensions – a) of the finance team/director’s willingness and proactivity in separating the balance sheet, assigning a tangible cost of risk through inactivity, and b) of the funding made available for the fourth priority coming up next.

What good would look like is if there was unarguable evidence of how the finances have been divided and maintained to be that way on an on-going basis, whilst continually assigning an amount for experimentation without formal targets.

Facilitation – Facilitate and reward those who are positively proactive in trying to push things forward whilst enabling them to initiate flexible un-promised projects. Remember not to link their activity to an expected outcome – however tempting. The measurement of effort for this element should be a) in the number of activities that facilitate momentum and b) in the regularity of rewarding the positive proactive people in a way that they feel valuably and relevantly rewarded (rather than something that is simply a token gesture).

What good would look like is if there was a high volume of facilitated activities with involved staff who feel permitted to experiment and rewarded in a way that made them want to strive to achieve more.

Learning – Learn from all outcomes regardless of what you may have once perceived as ‘success’. A learning is as valuable either way. Feed this into iterative projects for constant adjustment at the speed of change. The measurement of effort for this element should be a) in the volume of learnings/insights as an output of each activity and b) in the volume of learnings that have been visibly fed into new efforts.

What good would look like is a direct link between output insights that feed into inputs.

There would be significant benefits of this approach – not least of which is the belief from colleagues that your organisation can flourish, so retaining the best staff will be easier, whilst collectively learning (in advance of your competitors) where the white space of opportunity is.

I believe that innovation would be properly fuelled in an agile and relevant way, and that this framework would legitimately sit alongside the common frameworks of financial aspiration.

I suggest this presents a desirable way forward where financial opportunity comes as a direct result of applied, prioritised and rewarded effort.

Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail by John P. Kotter (1995) – requires HBR subscription

**  The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management by McKinsey (2013)

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/

Expansion of Thought to Unlock Success

By | Blogs | One Comment

Bill Gates once said: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” I’ve learned the hard way that this statement is true. Of the many ventures I’ve founded over the years, three of which worked pretty well and four that were outrageously unsuccessful, the main learning and insight has come from what I did wrong rather than right.

One of the biggest problems I suffered from was past successes that, in my opinion at the time, almost guaranteed future gain. In reality, this delusion was dangerous as it caused a significant reduction of thought, and to paraphrase Lao Tzu, this is a major issue as our thoughts determine our destiny by becoming our words, actions, habits and character.

Over time I’ve realised that the starting point of success is from our ability to expand the way we think. Figuratively, our thoughts can be prison guards, travel agents, defence attorneys or sports coaches. Our thoughts create our hopes and our fears. Our thoughts control our perception of everything that we call reality. Therefore we can expand our chances of success in all walks of life by expanding the way we think.

In contrast, one of the most common issues I sense, in personal and professional contexts, is a lack of awareness of what is happening around us. This lack of consciousness is one of the primary culprits in failure. Humans are exceptionally bad at making rational decisions and even worse at being curious in the first place. It’s not our fault per se, our minds are wired with heuristics and biases that skew reasoning, and our lives are full of information that we try and filter on a constant basis. This has been accelerated by the sheer volume of digital connections that generate news feeds, blog posts, tweets, status updates, likes, pings, alerts, and messages every minute of every day. Our lives are full of noise and it is increasingly hard to work out what our signal is.

So, what tends to happen is that we pre-determine what we view as pertinent and disregard the rest. We limit our curiosity as it takes up valuable time that we could use for comforting ourselves with familiar thinking. Paradoxically we limit our expansion of thought as a way of being efficient, despite the fact that limiting our expansion of thought will directly impact our ability to grow and succeed.

Not everyone falls into this trap. The winners in life and in business have a curiosity and flexibility that I find very alluring. A year ago I decided to create a network for people with these qualities to interact and learn from one another. I called this the Thought Expansion Network and there are now discussions happening all over the world about things that matter, expanding the thoughts of everyone involved.

After a while I was approached by people from a business perspective who asked me questions such as: “How can I ensure that my business idea has the absolute highest chance of commercial success and competitive advantage?” and “Of all the options I’m surrounded by, how can I work out which ones to pursue that would unlock the biggest potential?” I began to realise that these challenges were also addressable with thought expansion and so developed a calendar of retreats called The Unlock Sessions. These retreats take place all over the world and participants have had their personal and professional lives fundamentally super-charged from this process. It’s a privilege to be able to add so much value to others through the expansion of thought.

What I’ve found really interesting is that some of the people who attend an Unlock Session could already be classed as hugely successful. I’ve noticed that the curiosity and willingness to expand thought isn’t exclusive to those who are yet to find success. And so, without wishing to argue against Bill Gates, it would seem that success can sometimes be a lousy teacher, but ultimately it is down to whether we personally choose to expand our thinking and unlock potential. Our thinking is our own teacher first and foremost, and from our thoughts onward, our destiny is determined.

The Rise of Social Network Class Action

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

Linkedin Social Network Class Action
In law, a class action or a representative action is a form of lawsuit in which a large group of people collectively brings a claim to court and/or in which a class of defendants is being sued.

This form of collective lawsuit originated in the United States and is largely heard of there. However, in several European countries with civil law (different from the English common law principle which is used by U.S. courts by the way), changes have been made in recent years that allow citizen (or consumer) organisations to bring claims on behalf of large groups of citizens (or consumers).

In recent times, class action lawyers have been quite busy with a new set of targets: social networking platforms. Linkedin (see top image), Facebook and Twitter are two that have recent filings against them.

In the lawsuit against Facebook, the lawyers are claiming, on behalf of numerous users under the age of 18 in New York, that Facebook does not receive parents’ “permission before displaying that minors ‘like’ the products of its advertisers.”

In the lawsuit against Twitter, the plaintiffs claimed that Twitter sent them an “unsolicited, confirmatory text message to their cellular telephone after they had indicated to Twitter that they no longer wanted to receive text message notifications.” According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that this act was in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Spam, basically.

To a cynic, these actions may look like litigation-junkie opportunism. To others, like me, these actions (whilst potentially opportunistic) are just the tip of an iceberg that I predict will be increasingly revealed as we move forward – and I believe that the scale of class actions will rise, whilst the subject matter will continue to centre on data, identity and privacy.

I’ve publicly outlined the challenges that commerce has in terms of data, identity and privacy. In the previous chapter I asked a fundamental question:

What if the most private information is the most valuable?

Do you:

A: Find even more subtle ways of getting it whilst keeping an increasingly suspicious public at bay?

Or:

B: Put citizens’ privacy under their own control in an honest and decent way?

I’ve also stated that whilst I’m not pushing for the closure of Facebook, I believe citizens should be in control of their own private information. I believe it is a basic human right and is central to our identity.

Now, whilst I didn’t indicate the methods of citizens standing up for themselves, one could argue that these class actions are a method of doing just that.

If people enter into environments where their data is held and used, then at the very least, that information should be upfront, enabling people to have the freedom of choice. Not hidden within a cluster of terms and conditions or un-readable screens.

In my opinion, if companies run practices that are ethically questionable around the areas I’ve spoken about, I think the least they can expect is the odd class action now and again.

Actually, that’s too subtle.

I predict we will see the demise of one or more social network platforms in the future, from mass class action, around unarguable and demonstrable evidence of malpractice in the context of human rights.

The reason I started this chapter with evidence is because the trend has already commenced.

Welcome to the rise of social network class action.

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

The Poison Of Expectation

By | Blogs, Business Poison | No Comments

Have you ever been on public transport and seen someone eating a really pungent snack that made the entire area smell? Recently I sat opposite a guy who had a burger that embodied that description. He evidently thought it was appropriate to bring a stinking, greasy burger onto a packed commuter train. Would you ever dream of doing such a thing? Me neither.

Our expectation of what is reasonable frames our opinion of other people’s actions. In our intrinsic desire ultimately for the world to work within the confines of our perspective, we spend a considerable amount of time frustrated at other people, other environments and other versions that do not fit our standards. This is The Poison Of Expectation.

We judge all the time. Someone isn’t driving well enough. We could drive much better. Someone is walking too slowly. We always know when to walk slow or fast. Someone’s house is way too messy. Ours is never that messy. We would never let it get into that state. Taking a smelly burger onto a packed train? Disgraceful, we would never do that. And now, assuming all citizens have the right to their own opinion, perhaps the people, who are accused in the above, also have an expectation of us that isn’t being matched. We’re too busy judging to know that, of course.

Maybe burger man thinks it’s fine if others do as he does? Common courtesy is fine so long as you can define what common is and what courtesy is? These are subjective terms. Your personal hygiene standards may not necessarily be the same as the person sitting next to you on a 13-hour flight to the other side of the world. I have found.

But why is expectation a poison? After all, we’re allowed to expect certain things, right? Well, the poison isn’t about having personal aspiration; it is assuming that everyone would do what you do. The poison gets to work when we simply can’t understand how someone has done something against our expectations, as we are basing our opinion solely on our own standards. This narrow lens creates an almost guaranteed level of confusion in our heads.

The Poison Of Expectation creates toxic fumes so we get more frustrated. It designs itself to move our focus from what matters. Even when we try to pull away and think objectively, the poison knows you will ultimately base your judgment on your own opinion, and by doing so, you keep feeding the poison.

The antidote to this is a tough one as it takes reasoning of other people’s actions to disable the poison. Chuck D from Public Enemy once said, “If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you”. Chuck’s advice suggests two things:

1. To try and change the people around you (by educating, advising, helping or setting a different example)

2. To literally change the people you are around (by moving away from those you are unable to do the above with)

So, if burger man disgusts you, move carriages. If Captain Slow refuses to drive differently, change route. If our adjacent passenger isn’t aware of the concept of washing, switch seats, use nose plugs or, (if you’re brave), offer them your deodorant. Whatever you do, the one thing that leads to an endless negative vortex is to allow The Poison Of Expectation to eat you up inside. People are different. It’s rare anyone will have the exact same standards as you.

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

The Privacy Dilemma

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

We are living in a world where our trust can only come from respect of citizen privacy (preceded with credibility, authenticity, consistency and positive interactions).

Many companies, Facebook being a current example at the time of writing, exist in an ongoing dilemma, which is something I get asked about often.

What it boils down to is this:

What if the most private information is the most valuable?

Do you:

A: Find even more subtle ways of getting it whilst keeping an increasingly suspicious public at bay?

Or:

B: Put citizens’ privacy under their own control in an honest and decent way?

If the answer is B, then people’s private information can only be gathered with their permission, which is therefore mandatory for understanding preference (which enables us to commercially communicate more effectively).

Elsewhere, a variety of tools enable you to run a diagnostic scan of your Facebook information to see what is secure and what is open to the public.

For some, the process is fairly simple and locking everything down to just ‘friends’ is do-able, however: do you absolutely trust everyone you ever added on Facebook to be so scrupulous with your information?

Do you know for sure that they won’t post a party picture elsewhere on the net?

We are simply scratching the surface of the Privacy Dilemma and as I have said many times, this is one of the main differentiators between the winning tools, platforms and channels in the future and the resources that get turned off en masse.

The multi-billion dollar valuation of Facebook looks seemingly indestructible but actually, their handling of the Privacy Dilemma leaves them, in my opinion, in a very fragile state.

There once was a site called ‘Your Open Book’ where one could scan all the public information that had been leaked by Facebook via a search engine. In this search engine you could enter anything from ‘my boss’ to ‘rectal exam’. All the results were actual, real information that was publicly available, until it got removed from the web.

Around that time there was a ‘Quit Facebook Day’ on May 31st 2010 but only 12,877 committed to quit.

Why such a low number? I think it’s a combination of:

  1. A lack of awareness amongst people about how their information is being used
  1. A lack of awareness of groups like the one featured above
  1. A lack of understanding about what could happen if your personal information is out in the open
  1. A lack of caring about the above

None of this moves me away from my view of how important this is and yes, I’m sure it’s in the early stages of public awareness. I predict it will grow to be on the main agenda.

I’m not pushing for the closure of Facebook but whilst I have breath in my body I will campaign for the right of citizens to be in control of their own private information. I believe it is a basic human right and is central to our identity.

If you are thinking of innovating in the social network space, my free advice to you would be to differentiate around the issue of privacy. If you can still make the business model work, you will ultimately be better placed than the giants of today. And as we can see, some of the giants are really bad at keeping information private: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/worlds-biggest-data-breaches-hacks/

The wider issue is how to change the behaviour of the other parts of a value chain, eagerly looking (and paying for) more and more personal information.

Ultimately, the dollars go where the people go; therefore it’s down to every single one of us to stand up for ourselves and change the industry from the outside.

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

What Lies Beneath

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

A while ago, Fast Company published an article relating to a new study from Princeton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, claiming that “Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017”. This article was duly shared around the world across multiple channels, reaching millions of people. If you looked very carefully though, you’d find that the statistics are exclusively based on how many times the word ‘Facebook’ appears in Google analytics. Critically, these analytics do not include mobile usage, which accounts for the majority of Internet traffic, including a rise to over 100 million mobile Facebook users at the time. Such insight was quietly set aside to make way for the attention-grabbing headline.

We see many market reports and professional comment that, one would assume, is valid and considered. However, I see a continuous trend where hidden information resides behind colourful charts that are widely quoted and used as a basis for investment of time, energy or money. In the Black Swan, Taleb calls this ‘silent evidence’.

Are we seeing the full picture? It may be circumstance that determines the answer. After all, sub-editors often remove the subtleties that surround what is written. Obviously, our consumption of information has to be made to fit our increasingly ‘bite-size’ and ‘instant satisfaction’ personalities, but I fear this may be at the expense of real truth.

In its most basic form, silent evidence is easy to spot. For example, if I were to prove to you that sober drivers cause more accidents than drivers under the influence of alcohol, would you conclude that it is safer to drive whilst under the influence?

That seems to be presented in my argument, however what is missing is that there are a relatively small number of drivers who drive under the influence, but who account for a disproportionately high number of accidents.

This trap is actually very common. As it happens, there are a number of ways in which information can be misleading, including:

  • False data – an easy one, just plain downright lies
  • Bad sampling – often seen where a very small segment of people are asked a question and the resulting percentages are scaled across a much larger population
  • Predictive questions – a modern day media classic is “would you like adverts on your mobile device?” This is predominantly asked when the required result is a resounding ‘no’. If you want the answer to include more ‘yes’ responses, you would remove the word advertising and switch it for “useful content that would make your life better?” This leads to a major skew towards the positive. Either way, the questions have predictable answers
  • Misleading selections – commonly where a snapshot of real data is used which intentionally misses out preceding periods which would harm the impact – for instance, if you wanted to show an upturn in advertising spend, but only three months in a year had an increase, you wouldn’t show the downturn that happened before, only the growing months (which may well be making up a fraction of the previous loss)
  • Self-adjusted rankings – the editorial right to remove any justification of ranking. In whatever industry you’re in, you may have seen companies who claim to be the “World’s Number 1”. Surely there can only be one, right? But from closer inspection you find that the information not included is the part that defines exactly what ranking conditions they include. Is it in terms of revenue, profit, employee numbers or experience of the CEO? We are only shown the juicy bits and the terms and conditions are nowhere to be seen
  • Limiting qualifiers – one of my favourites and similar to self-adjusted rankings. This is where you word a statistic in a way that the result is essentially fixed. For instance: “The brown bear is the largest land predator in the world”. The word ‘predator’ rules out elephants which are bigger but aren’t predators, while the word ‘land’ rules out various whales which are predators but don’t live on land. The statement is built for the brown bear to dominate
  • Percentage accentuation – so common. Take a company making a bunch of people redundant. If the company has 100 staff and gets rid of 20, in the interests of making the statistic sexier, it would be “Company lays off 20% of entire workforce!” because 20 people doesn’t sound anywhere near as dramatic as 20%. However, in a company of 1 million, the 20% is still quite sexy but nothing sounds as big as “Company lays off 200,000 people!” The liberal insertion of exclamation marks is my own of course…

In summary, publishers have a responsibility to promote accurate and contextually detailed data to others, and viewers have an opportunity to dig deeper. As information spreads so quickly in this ultra-connected world, the misrepresentation of truth re-frames what ‘truth’ is – especially when those in a position of authority are relaying information that is believed on sight.

To quote an unknown source discussing statistics:

“86% of statistics are made up on the spot and the remaining 24% are mathematically flawed.”

Spot on.

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

A Sect Cannot Be Destroyed By Cannonballs

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

A Sect Cannot Be Destroyed By Cannonballs

This post was re-published shortly after the news of a U.S. air strike as reported here: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/africa/2015/11/14/U-S-carried-out-airstrike-in-Libya-against-ISIS-leader-U-S-official.html and a day after the attacks in Paris: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/14/world/paris-attacks/

—–

Here are two quotes from the 1st/2nd May 2011:

“The world is a safer place, because of the death of Osama Bin Laden” President of the United States

“Is this the beginning of the end for the war on terror?” BBC News

…and one from 200 years ago:

“A sect cannot be destroyed by cannonballs” Napoleon Bonaparte

In nature and in business, the most common structure is for an organism or an organisation to be centralised. Spiders, and a traditional bank, are amongst the obvious examples. Centralised organisms and organisations feel the pain of attack on the main unit, for example, by the removal of food (in nature) or funding (in enterprise).

An alternative structure is one of decentralisation.

In these organisms and organisations, there is no main unit as the vital organs are distributed throughout the entire structure. Starfish are amongst the obvious examples in nature. Organisations such as Wikipedia, Craigslist and al Qaeda, are others.

Such decentralised structures handle attack in a totally different way from centralised ones. After all, if you chop off the head of a spider, it dies. Whereas if you chop off a leg of a starfish, it grows another leg – and the chopped leg grows into another starfish.

The news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, triggered me to refer to the work of Brafman and Beckstrom, authors of the vital transcript ‘The Starfish and the Spider’(*). In this book, they allude to moments in history that exemplify centralised versus decentralised structures. One example starts with the Aztecs.

In 1519 an explorer named Hernando Cortes stared in disbelief at the Aztec metropolis Tenochtitlan. Expecting to see savages, instead he saw an organised and civilised community. Cortes witnessed a developed system of highways, ingeniously constructed aqueducts, spectacularly ornate temples, and mystically intriguing pyramids.

He also saw gold. Everywhere.

Cortes arranged a meeting with Montezuma II, the leader of the Aztecs. His conversation was not a friendly one – it was a monologue that could be summed up with “Give me your gold, or I will destroy you”.

Montezuma believed that Cortes might be a deity and decided to yield his vast resources. Shortly after that, Cortes repaid Montezuma’s trust and submission by killing him, placing the city under siege, and cutting off its food and water supplies. Within 80 days 240,000 were dead – within 2 years, the entire civilisation had collapsed.

Less than a decade later an explorer named Francisco Pizarro captured and killed the leader of the Incas, Atahuallpa. They, too, were plundered, and within two years the society became an historical footnote.

Over a century later the conquering Spanish headed to the deserts of modern day New Mexico to force a Christian conversion upon the natives there. They would make them Catholics – they would transform them from hunters into farmers.

The primitive people were the Apaches. The Apaches had nothing – except their way of life. No highway system. No permanent towns or cities. No pyramids. No gold. All that was valued was stored under their dark skin – in their immense souls.

For two centuries the Apache battled the Spanish tooth and nail. The wild people of the deserts persevered and prevailed against the Spanish. Why? Because every one of them fought from a spiritual compulsion, rather than the command-and-control coercion of officers and strategy.

The Apache had no appointed chief or army commander, but they did have the Nant’an.

A Nant’an was a spiritual leader who led by example – not by coercion. Warriors fearlessly followed the Nant’an. Nant’ans lived, fought, and died alongside those they led. When one was killed, another seemed to incarnate the spirit of the fallen and press the fight forward. Inspired. Courageous. They resisted. Not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

The Apache have no word or concept for the phrase “you should”.

Not one of those proud Native Americans had to follow their larger-than-life leaders. Neither Geronimo nor Cochise roared “you should”, “you must” or “follow me”.

Apaches were empowered to choose against whom, and if, they would make war.

When the Spanish killed a Nant’an, a new one would take his place. Like Agent Smith in The Matrix.(**)

When they burned a village, the Apache became nomadic.

The more they were attacked, the more decentralised and resilient the Apache became.

The Apaches won because of their decentralised structure, based on deep relationships, in the absence of leadership, hierarchy and rules. This deep affinity with one another was the primary tool of this insurgency.

Then it all went wrong…

The Americans (of European descent) entered the picture. They too found it impossible to defeat the Apaches. Until, that is, they decided to give them some land and a few cattle. Within a few years the Apache society had fallen apart.

You may question why land and cattle would trigger such destruction of something so decentralised and resilient. And rightly so. In fact, I attest that these lessons are critical to humanity, not just in a political sense of rulership, but also at a sociological level of understanding. Especially in the context of recent events.

It turns out, there are three ways of destroying decentralised structures.

1. Change the participants’ ideology by showing them another, better, way

2. Centralise them by giving them constructs in which greed is built

3. Decentralise yourself

This particular piece is not intended for a full exploration of how the above three points can take shape – but evidently, the Apaches were destroyed by the second method.

In light of the Osama Bin Laden events, and without attempting some political advisory role, or religious bias, I would say this:

1. It would be wise to view the horrific, terrorist acts as manifestations of decentralised, asymmetric warfare

2. It would not be as wise to view this horror as removable, nor reconcilable, by the murder of one man

3. It would be wise to rapidly strategise, distribute, and execute a counteractive plan that takes into extreme context, the very nature of the structural elements involved in the challenge

4. It would not be as wise to celebrate a temporary passing as outright victory, with all respect to lives lost forthwith

As a pacifist and humanitarian, my personal belief is that the demise of others is not an acceptable way of promoting a singular cause. Thus, I give this free advice based on bias toward a more harmonious world, rather than one of conflict.

Nevertheless, if a country, Government or movement is setting out to truly combat acts of terror, the infrastructure of the challenge should be considered in the highest regard.

* The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (2008) http://www.starfishandspider.com/

** Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Smith

“You simply cannot end a war with fire-power. You either use too little or too much” ~ Callum MacDonald (my 13yr old son).

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

The Option of Civilisation

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

During the year 1814 over 96,000 people visited Bethlam Royal Hospital (also known as Bedlam), to laugh at the mental patients. The visitors felt justified in doing so as the patients were considered to be “already destined for hell”.

Many clever people commented on the definitions and causes of madness. One could cast blame on the education system, the Government, family upbringing or financial security, but it came to pass that mental illness was thought ultimately to be caused by moral weakness. Due to this, photography was seen as having a use in treatment and delusional patients were confronted with the image of their real selves. It was thought that issues of morality should be addressed with methods of moral awakening and reason.

Despite the development of thought over the last 200 years, our perception of life remains a product of our understanding of life in general, at any point in time.

Every generation generally believes its wisdom to be advanced. However, this perceived advancement is purely relative to prior generations’ wisdom, so it follows that in numerous generations time our understanding of life will be far more advanced than now.

It is not that our current understanding is without merit, but instead that our current understanding is unlikely to be complete. This incompleteness is not solely horizontal across a timeline of history, but also vertical in terms of whom, at any point in time, has the most authentic, relevant and useful information to form the most complete understanding.

Let me explain.

We have challenges in society that must be addressed and in Great Britain it is the Government who has been elected to guide this. The understanding of life that they must apply can only be a combination of experience and thought (i.e. information) from the Members of Parliament, Civil Servants, and any other organisations or individuals they call upon for advice.

Thus the quality of Governmental decision is directly proportional to the authenticity, relevance and usefulness of Government’s understanding that in turn is directly proportional to the authenticity, relevance and usefulness of the information provided to Government.

Many announcements we see that relate to present issues happening in society are based, understandably, on solving real-time challenges – and to these, everyone has an opinion. Following that phase, the announcements will move towards the wider and deeper issues. Again, these will be met with opposing opinions to which we are totally granted the right to have.

We are charged with having faith that those who will guide us forward are armed with the authentic, relevant and useful information from which to form an understanding and make the best quality decisions.

There are options available if that faith isn’t within you and one of those options is to use the tools, platforms and channels we are armed with as citizens.

Maybe the collective voice of people can make a difference to how we move forward. After all, we have the ability to express ourselves more affordably than ever before.

Another option is to create or identify a political party that you do believe in, and either run for Parliament (if it is yours), or join/vote for it (if it is someone else’s).

We all have options and we all have accountability for our happiness and contentment. However, something that is not an option in a civilised society is violent, criminal destruction.

I defend anyone’s right to opinion and expression within the law, but when it manifests into ruining people’s lives and turning once safe streets into war zones, any opinion becomes invalid.

If one wants things to change, one must use the facilities available and allowed.

All else is mindless thuggish bullying that I find deeply repelling and ridiculous, primarily in its immature ineffectiveness.

“When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.” Arapaho Proverb

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

Public Urban Boundary Systems

By | 28 Thoughts, Blogs | No Comments

Everything is getting so augmented and virtual nowadays – soon we will be able to live much of our lives in a totally unreal place, commanding experiences at the touch of a button, viewing through walls and skin effortlessly.

It’s tremendously exciting – but sometimes I wonder what will happen next. I mean, what will happen after everything is super virtual? What will follow? In my most bizarrely darkest hours I envisage people viewing instant messages and emails as fake signs of emotion, preferring instead to seal hand-written letters with wax stamps.

I envisage people paying a premium for mechanical, cog-based processors for even the simplest of tasks such as ‘telling the time’.

I envisage a global society who communicate virtually in three or four dimensions, never needing to leave their ‘pods’ – but with the option to pay to walk down a ‘Hi Street’. These areas are named as such because that is where you can say ‘Hi’ to a real person, i.e. one with flesh and blood.

Perhaps these toll roads, these ‘Hi Streets’, are encapsulated by areas that act as holding bays for people who would otherwise be greeting strangers…?

These could be called ‘Public Urban Boundary Systems’ or ‘PUBS’ for short.

Eventually, if we push things far enough, we stand a good chance of ending up with reality.

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