Self-Fulfilling Prophecies In Business

Posted on August 23, 2016

In a fairly recent issue of the Institute of Directors magazine there was an an article framed around the issue of diversity by David Morrison, former chief of the Australian Army. Leaving the issue of diversity aside, one of the most perceptive quotes was that organisational culture is "the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves".

They become reasons we use to justify our actions or our lack of action. They become self justifying. They define us as different, as special, as a reason to stand out from others. A point of difference. They become self fulfilling prophesies.

We don't have to think things through. We don't have to search for our moral compass, We don't have to confront whether we are doing things well enough. We can just lean back and rest on the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves to get us through. They're comfortable.

Recent research about the fallibility of our long term memory has discovered that when we think about the past, our memories are transferred into our short term memory, edited and photoshopped, before being posted back. The more we think about something, the more often it gets edited. The thought becomes contaminated by the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and in time becomes part of them.

In this upheaval of rapid change, organisations and individuals need to confront the change, to identify the stories  we tell ourselves about ourselves, and to embrace the changes having consulted your moral compass. If the change outside your organisation is faster than the change within, then trouble is not far away.

Google Sets The Bar With Machine Learning As A Service

Posted on May 17, 2016

Recently the launch of one of the most profound and exciting services happened.

It isn’t always obvious when a seachange occurs.

For example, when Apple released the iPod Classic in 2001, who would have thought it would have led to the smartphone transforming the way we do everything from banking to reading the newspaper, following maps, taking photos or videoconferencing. There is no doubt that with hindsight, the iPod Classic was utterly transformational.

Of course the rise of the smartphone wouldn’t have been possible without the transformational effects of Software as a Service (SaaS). Coincidently the idea of SaaS was first conceived in 2001, although it would be several more years before this seedling bore any fruit.

The first significant SaaS offering was Google’s Gmail in 2004. While it wasn’t immediately obvious how the world might be changed so comprehensively in such a short time, it was nevertheless very obvious that it had one huge advantage. You were no longer tied to a piece of hardware in a fixed location to read your email. You had the flexibility to move anywhere in the world and your email went with you.

Within 2 years, this was followed by two Google acquisitions, Writely (later Google Docs) and Google Spreadsheets, now all part of Google Drive. Now the transformation was becoming obvious. People in different parts of the world (or at the desk next to yours) could edit the same document at the same time – no tracking changes, no file locking, no multiple copies of a document. Such a transformational change wasn’t obvious to Microsoft however, who didn’t release Office365 until 2011, a full 7 years after Gmail.

This just underlines how even experts and leaders in their field can be blindsided by Creative thinking that produced transformational results.

In mid April 2016 Google launched Machine Learning as a Service, available to anyone.  Typically, Google’s release has been very low key – just a few selected email invites to try it out for free.

This has the potential to be the biggest change we’ve seen since the iPod and Gmail started the mobile and SaaS revolutions. May be it won’t be as widely used as previous game-changers perhaps, but it has the potential to be more profound with further reaching consequences.

So how does it work?

Neural Networks are combination of data structures and algorithms that supposedly mimic a newborn’s empty brain and set about learning to solve a particular problem. They are now widely used, particularly by organisations like Amazon and Spotify to suggest what you might like to read, listen to or purchase, it allows Facebook to recognise faces in photos, and Google to translate languages.

Neural Network artificial intelligence has been around a long time – since 1948 in fact. Faster computer processing speeds and increased memory have made Machine Learning more effective as well as improved processing algorithms such as backpropagation. Backpropagation is essentially feedback that is passed back to the learning engine so it gets to learn, improve, and recognise.

The huge advantage for computers is that they can control the experiences that they get to learn from and have hundreds of thousands more opportunities to experience a phenomenon than any human ever will.

As we’ve come to expect, Google’s marketing continues to be low key. It’s been largely limited to a 5 match series between one of the world’s best Go players, Lee Sedol and Google Deep Mind. Google Deep Mind won 4-1, with the Korean champion revealing that his solitary win in the 4th game to be one of the happiest moments in his life. Most interestingly, the defining move that led to the win in the second game was a move that Lee Sodel claimed ‘that no human ever would have made’.

This sounds scary, and exciting, in equal measure. How comfortable will we be at trusting a computer to make decisions?

With Go the outcome is very measurable, and the inputs and outputs are very clear and the outcome is known within hours. If we start using Deep Mind with inputs as flawed as the GDP for example, can we trust the decisions that are presented, particularly if they are ones ‘that no human ever would have made’?

And if we use Deep Mind to make decisions that affect the environment where much of the data is subjective, the inputs are polluted with beliefs and personal values, and the outcome may not reveal itself for years or decades, how will we cope? Will we ignore the advice of a system that can clearly outperform the best human thinkers and squander the chance to make wonderful decisions?

Will our personal investment in an existing industry and way of doing things, prevent us from using this technology and allow us to be outflanked by newcomers who have nothing to lose and know no fear?

And just how can we take this new opportunity and apply it in new and unconventional ways?

It’s quite revolutionary and available to anyone. It’s in-your-face!

 - Bryan Clarke


Your Customers Don't Care About Your Journey

Posted on May 1, 2016

Recently we were with some Gen-Y’s who were using Netflix, that disruptive service that revolutionised the entertainment industry as well as the way we thought about doing business.

They thought they would stream 2001 – A Space Odyssey, after all it has been described by critics as one of the greatest films of all time. Asking our opinion, we ventured that although it had been a very long time since we’d seen it, it was “pretty good”.

It was ground-breaking. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, it was the first movie to have big budget special effects. They might be lame by today’s standards but every sci-fi movie since, including the latest Star Wars sequel, has 2001’s fingerprints on it. And in 1968, writer Arthur C Clarke’s ideas were utterly visionary.

To be fair it wasn’t always like that – like many paradigm busters (take Picasso or van Gogh for example) it wasn’t necessarily widely appreciated at the start. In 1968 many critics thought it an “incomprehensible mess” and it didn’t screen in New Zealand until 1973.

The Gen-Y’s were rather underwhelmed. After 30 minutes they switched to another movie. Really, was our advice that off the mark? Were the critics that wrong?

The visionary stuff, like security controlled through voice print recognition, or skyping home from the moon just didn’t do it for the Gen-Y’s. Ho-hum. They’d switched off before they got to the HAL-9000 talking computer (like google navigation) with artificial intelligence that could recognise faces (like Facebook) and play unbeatable chess (like IBM’s Deep Blue).

They simply didn’t understand the technology context of the time. In 1968 it would be over 20 years until the Mouse was invented or Windows developed – GenY’s haven’t known a world without mouses or Windows. In ‘68 there were no communication satellites. The TV news of the day was read out and pictures of events weren’t available for 3 days until the camerman’s videos had returned to the studio, been edited, copied and flown around the world on infrequent flights to be broadcast locally.

Not only did the Gen-Y’s fail to be wooed by Arthur C Clarke’s technology vision, much of which was so on the mark that it is now commonplace, they didn’t appreciate Stanley Kubrick’s direction of the movie either.

It was just toooo sloooow.

Raised on a diet of fast paced action films, with the sensory overstimulation of sub-second scene changes, sound effects, explosions and techno music, the scenes where the space flight attendant gingerly walks down the aisle to Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz to retrieve a weightless fountain pen floating about in the space shuttle seemed painfully tedious to them.

On the contrary, Kubrick did a brilliant job directing the movie, it was just that the social context was dramatically different for the Gen-Y’s.

In 1968, space shuttles didn’t exist, man hadn’t even stood up in a space craft let alone gone for a walk or land on the moon. He did a brilliant job trying to visualise for everyone what weightlessness would look like, what some of the practical problems might be (such as walking, eating or drinking), and what the pace of space travel would be like.

The biggest cultural difference was that ‘2001’ was a film you had to think about in order to understand it. The plot wasn’t handed to you on a plate. Today’s audiences enjoy being shown – thinking is hard work, it takes time and you might not come up with the right answer or insight.

The demand for instant gratification is insatiable. Gen-Y know that you don’t need to know things, Google will find it and Wikipedia will explain it. Nor do you need to think things through. Someone else will have thought it through for you before they blogged. And you don’t need to learn things. YouTube will show you how it’s done.

It’s important to realise that your customers will expect to be treated the same way and that the services and software and support that you provide them will need to meet the same threshold. Oh and fast – really fast. Otherwise they’ll switch off your app as quickly as the Gen-Yers switched off 2001.

It’s easy to take change for granted. To forget that, as Isaac Newton put it, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants and to forget the journey – to turn around and appreciate the scenery that sits behind you, to fully appreciate where you’re at, how you got there and how much fun it has been and despite the challenges, what a great position we have got ourselves in to.

It’s also important to remember that your customers don’t give a damn about the journey that’s happened before they got there. They’re interested in now and what’s next. Don’t let that be ho-hum.

 - Bryan Clarke




Choosing A New Python Integrated Development Environment

Posted on April 15, 2016

Programmers usually fall into two camps. Those who studied Computer Science or similar at school; and those who are eventually pushed into the programming world and use interest and necessity to drive their progression.

As a graduate with a Management Masters and a BSC in Biology, programming is far from my background.  Even after learning python and touching on a few web languages, I constantly found myself wondering where on the spectrum of understanding I actually stood. If you’re like me and are constantly trying to advance your knowledge and practise good standards then you too might spend a lot time on Google going around in circles. I recently learned that not all IDEs are created equally and because I had used Wing101 for so long I decided to do some research to see if I could better my practise in python.

             The Python IDE library

 A quick google returns a plethora of blogs about useful environments from fairly expensive to cheap, right down to free ones. Many that offer license based IDEs offer a free one with limited options but ones that are still useful for those starting out. Wing, Sublimetext 3, Eclipse, PyCharm the longer you look the more that emerge and with cult like support for each, it was hard to simply pick one.

The most obvious thing that stood out for me was that in today’s python world if your IDE doesn’t have support for more than one language, and doesn’t support common Python frameworks like Django, then it is time to find a new IDE. After reading many documents, blogs, articles, reviews and general comments on IDEs and text editors there were a few common and recurring options.

In recent times, PyCharm and Komodo have been mentioned as heavyweights in the Python IDE world. Older long standing champions include Wing IDE, NotePad++, Emacs and PyDev in Eclipse. Depending on your budget and goals, any one of these is acceptable. Do your research and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

Komodo IDE is a nice package to with further language support for RUBY, PHP etc., but at $99 for a single use licence without update support, $395 for the full transferable license and only a 21 day trial I was less inclined to give it a go. Emacs is a very highly regarded environment but comes with its own learning curve because it is built using the GNU framework. If you are comfortable with python and want to build your own libraries this is the IDE for you. Wing comes in three different packages, having used Wing 101 I didn’t want to simply update to the professional version, although for some of you this may be all you need to see a lot of benefit.

After some research, I decided to try PyCharm, because it offers a free python only option, and is very highly regarded by those who have used simple lightweight IDEs beforehand. The commercial license is only a $100 license and adds support for JS, Node, CSS, etc, and because I will likely be doing web design and mapping applications in the future, this suited me.

Initially the step up from Wing IDE 101 to PyCharm was vast in a way that was both daunting and exciting. There are many more toolbars, from the inspector which can find bad practises and spelling, to the structure toolbar which displays functions, classes and variables. While there are many more menus, it all seems very similar. As I said I was excited to try much of this new functionality.


Pycharm has functionality like an Android (sorry Iphone users), and there are many tools I have still yet to use however, the ones that I have used and continue to use are outstanding. Pycharm lets you load different versions of Python in (32Bit, 64Bit, 2.7, 3.0…) as well as creating virtual environments and installing packages for you. It even automatically re-opens all of the files you were using  when you load a project. If there is one drawback it is that it suffers from memory problems and crashes randomly after extensive testing and debugging periods. It also saves as you type. Removing the need for constantly pushing save and run, however if you delete some code during a redo/undo and it crashes you’re stuck with what you had.

If you have considered using a different IDE to better your understanding of a language or have never changed are stuck using a seemingly obsolete IDE, I would recommend an upgrade. And while there have been times where I felt like it’s going to be too steep a learning curve, hanging on and pushing through has helped me in the long run. Do your research and find what you feel is the best match to not only improve now but also provides options to do it again in the future.

 - Cody Kinzett


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