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Can computers make mistakes?

This blog post is going to be a short one for a topic that could take a bunch of different directions. I just hope we can start a small conversation about this specific issue of artificial intelligence so please share your views!

I just started a new series called WestWorld. The amazing synopsis is inspired by the movie by the same name, it takes place in a world where human-like robots have been placed into a Wild West theme park. Visitors can pay 40.000 dollars a day, to do whatever they want: kill, torture, rape or fall in love with the androids. I haven’t finished it but so far I highly recommend it.

I was watching episode 3 yesterday in which there is a scene where one of the android asks one of ‘her’ programmers if she had made a mistake. At that moment, I believe the writers of the show want us to ask ourselves the question “Can machine make mistakes?”.

If a computer program goes wrong, the normal reaction is to say that there is a bug because the programmers have made a mistake. With today’s technologies, it would be impossible to say to a machine has made a mistake, because a machine is purely following orders.

However, we do have a tendency to personify the machines. If you can’t install a new software on your old computer, you will say “I couldn’t install it because of my stupid computer”. The blame is not put on the programmer who did not allow the machine to deal with future possibilities; it is the machine that is being blamed for being too old. So we do to a certain extend hold objects accountable (there is some great research on personification and anthropomorphism  if you get a chance you should read some more!).

Is it possible that objects would one day be able to make mistake or will we always track back responsibility to the initial mistake of the creator? At what point can we consider that the object’s accountability is detached to its creator’s. Instinctively, I thought that it will never be fully detached. Then , I started to think about other creations with personalities that we already have been dealing with for centuries: companies.

Companies have been granted with legal fiction a personality. The creation of a company implies the artificial creation of a person. When a company is first created, the actions of the company are highly correlated with the one’s of its’ creator, so even if there is a legal separation there is still a de facto union of accountability. However, what happens when the company grows, more people are on board, different people are at key decisions until the creator is actually out? Well, it would be ridiculous to link the accountability of the company to its’ creator’s.

If we go back to the comparison with computers, we could say that all the actions and decisions the founder of a company has made is the source code. There is a causal link between this source code and everything that happens after the creator is gone. The reason why we don’t think about that causality when thinking about the accountability of the company is because the company has grown independently from its creator.

Could that one day happen with computers in the context of artificial intelligence? the machine will indeed be the product of a source cause which will always hold genesis causality Then the artificial intelligence will evolve with the multitude of interactions that cannot be predicted by the creator (otherwise there would be no point developing AI!).

So the next question is what would qualify as a mistake? I honestly am not exactly sure what a mistake is. I think that, to make a mistake, the machine must be given a purpose. If a machine’s purpose is to recycle, a mistake would be to throw batteries in the wrong recycling bin. STOP there, artificial intelligence must make mistake to progress, that’s a keystone of the expansion of intelligence.

I am confused now, because if making mistakes is necessary for artificial intelligence to serve its purpose, are mistakes really mistakes, or simply anticipated learning milestone. For a machine, to fail to serve its purpose once is maybe not a mistake but a necessity. What would be a mistake, would be to fail to serve its purpose twice in the same context. If the machine learned the hard way that batteries are not recyclable if it throws away batteries again, that’s a mistake.

This answer is still somehow too trivial. When the android asks “Have I made a mistake?” there was something more profound to it. There was a sensation that the machine did not serve its purpose well or perhaps has gone beyond its purpose. How can AI go beyond what it is programmed to do? I’m not sure, and even if I was this post is already way longer than I was hoping it to be.

 

Are we in a disruptive age?

Today I want to ask you and myself if all we are hoping for with the advent of new disruptive technologies and models isn’t simply one big joke. Don’t get me wrong we are doing amazing  things and I am truly positive about what direction we are going in terms of technological innovation. I simply wonder if we aren’t fooling ourselves in believing that we live in an age of actual social disruption like we witnessed during other great Revolutions.

 

Loss of meaning

Every time the word disruption is pronounced, it looses a little bit more of its substance. It is reaching the point where today we can consider that ‘disruption’ wouldn’t be the odd word out in the sentence: “This totally disruptive technology has so many synergies; its innovative power is definitely the future of society… unbelievable”.

The loss of meaning due to the expansion the scope of its’ definition is not a problem in itself. I don’t mind for instance that literally can mean figuratively; languages evolve and we shouldn’t have to be bound by relics of the past. Eg. I can call the word “disruptive” “bullshit”, it doesn’t mean I literally mean that it is a pile of bovine feces.

The problem with this overuse lies in the fact that the word disruption has acquired an important role in defining our shared representation of what direction our civilization(s) are going to take. For instance, when told Uber is a disruptive technology, I see a future where the existing coopted state-endorsed institutions  are broken down in favor of a more liberal system allowing individuals to directly exchange services between each other. So I might be tempted to kick my feet up order Ubers to go everyone and passively wait for the social and economic revolution to happen.

Cultural significance of ‘Disruption’

Indeed, disruption is now perceived as more than simply acquiring market shares with a new product or business model. I believe that when we say or hear disruption we think about changes of great magnitude, that have significant direct or indirect effects of different natures on large populations.

It is undeniable that nowadays disruption is part of our cultural doxa. It is so strongly assimilated, that it is often used as a defining expression of the era we are living in: the disruptive era. Companies, people, administrations are on a common mission to disrupt society the same way they were putting civilization on the path of “progress” in other eras.

It is hard for me to make a difference between disruption and progress. Of course, there is a positive connotation to the word progress; where disruption is supposed to be more neutral. Progress can mean better and disruptive can mean different. Disruption implies a challenge of the status quo, which is a neutral mission. However, we  live in tormented times and we are deeply critical of the systems we are living in. Thus the status quo, which is a mirror of the ‘past’, of backward times, has a negative connotation. By opposition, forward changes symbolize the future, improvement, progress… Thus, it is undeniable that in today’s language disruption implies a degree of improvement from a past situation.

 

Disruptive era: same process different results

So what is a disruptive era? I think it is often perceived as a transition period in which innovation (and more specifically technologies) will significantly alter (disrupt) the existing socio-economic order, to better reflect the positive values of society.

You can already see that there is a catch here by introducing the subjective notion of ‘positive values’.  In a conversation about disruption, even if people think they are talking about the same process , they have different horizons.

For some, disruption will simply mean access to better products to a large audience, eg: the introduction of cheap reliable solar panels and batteries. It is disruptive because people have access to cheaper power and do not rely on energy providers and dirty energy. Others envision a greater reorganization of social relations  with new  business models. the Philosophy between P2P networks is not neutral it  carries values like giving access to services to a larger population by lowering prices, taking down the big guys, have a greater freedom of choice.

In both these examples, disruption is a tool to change the existing relations  between different nodes of a network and their individual experiences. This every definition of ‘disruption’ implies a reorganization of social structures. And anyone talking about social structures is really talking about distribution of wealth (I realize I am making a big and pedantic leap here but I don’t have much space to explore that statement next post maybe!). Whether you are a company making a lot more money thanks to a disruptive technology, or an organisation leveraging technologies to provide better public services; wealth distribution is a critical issue. I think that in a way when we want a fairer society we are thinking wealth being distributed in a way which one considers fair.

Disruptors have an urge to challenge the current way wealth is allocated to better  represent their values. So at the end of a disruptive age there should be at least a fundamental redistribution of wealth and at best a complete reorganization of social structures  (except if there is no end, then maybe are out disruptions not that efficient!). the only thing that differs from one definition to another is what shape that redistribution should have.

Internet Revolution and socio-economic changes

So let’s come back to our initial question: Are we in a disruptive era? Well… if everything is relative then maybe not. Following our definition of disruption we should focus on distribution of wealth, so we have to look at a highly polemical data set: inequalities. I don’t want to write an economics paper, so I won’t go into details about it. To go straight to the point Piketty  observes that the inequalities are growing in recent years and predicts that it will get worse over time. His analysis has been widely acclaimed even though a strong minority have opposed his theory.

The fact that there is even a debate about whether or not inequalities have increased in recent years shows that societies are not becoming “fairer” with the rise of constant disruptive, revolutionary technologies since the 90s. We can notice that during most economic revolutions there are both an increase of inequalities and a rise of the standards of living.  The problem today is that with the “Internet revolution”, standards of living don’t seem to be getting noticeably better in the western world (if compared to previous eras).

Let’s focus on the US which is the first country which is supposed to be affected by the digital disruption coming from the Silicon Valley. To me, the most relevant indicator to exemplify the lack of positive improvement in society are poverty and extreme poverty rates. 1 out of 7 American is living in poverty which is huge compared to the situation in the 1990s.

 

Extreme poverty.png

A recent report from IMF points out an “increasingly polarized income distribution, high levels of poverty, falling labor force participation, and weak productivity growth, and policies to combat these trends”. They predict that the wealth distribution and poverty could get worse in the coming years.

Of course, we can all argue that in making macroeconomic analysis we have to take into consideration the whole picture. One can argue that without the Internet Revolution the economy and poverty would be way worse. I’m just want to point out here that there are problems that are claimed to being addressed by ‘digital disruptors’ which are far from being solved. And the burden of proof should lie on the self-proclaimed ‘disruptors’ to show that they are indeed making the world a better place.

The role of technology in disruption

There might be no end to the disruption because we are amazing at tearing things down but not that great at creating new things. The Silicon Valley is giving the impression to be shaking the existing establishment but might be replacing it with a copy of it. At the moment Airbnb is under high scrutiny because it seems like the same problems it was supposed to solve keep resurfacing. Uber as well seems to simply have replaced a bunch of co-opted cab companies with a single giant entity. The services might have improved but at a fundamental level, things have not changed. They might be even worse since the previous oligopoly has been replaced by a monopolistic actor controlling it all.

One can argue that it is not the role of technologies to solve all the problems of the world. And that is probably true. However, numerous modern startups and transhumanist-like movements are making such claims. If we want technology to make such a difference and have a positive disruptive role in society, then we have to seriously think about other ways to leverage it.

We have to be cautious that we aren’t being fed a highly processed ‘disruption package’ to satisfy our need for purpose. The illusion of disruption may  distract us from deeper issues that aren’t addressed by technologic innovation. We see that the world is shit, but we believe that we will be making a difference in the future, and forget about the very similar situations of the present and past.

Maybe there is an opportunity for serious disruption with the recent technological changes. Just in case it’s not enough, let’s not put all our faith in technology to solve our problems and let’s be conscious that those disruptive companies will remain companies. They make money, cut down costs, and will prioritize profit making, consolidating their position to social impact. Let’s not forget that one of the characteristics of neoliberalism is to reinvent itself, disruptive companies might simply be one more iteration of it.

Some sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/the-disruption-machine

Click to access Lindert2000.pdf

 

https://hbr.org/2016/07/airbnb-is-facing-an-existential-expansion-problem

Click to access policybrief28.pdf

Hunger in America: 2016 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts

 

 

 

 

 

Limitations. Potato Coucher to Ultra Runner Part 3

 

It is not unusual to hear people talking about going beyond your limits to succeed. I don’t think that is possible when running  except if I cheat or  seriously injure myself.  I want to be the best somehow, but performance enhancing drugs? really? Not for me. Then I didn’t pick up a sport so my health would be worse off. That being said, when I started running I  wanted each workout to be as hard as I possibly could make it. Guess what happened? I hurt myself, a lot.

Knowing my limits was essential to obtain sustainable results. At some point, I had to tell myself: no you are not running today, you are not working out, you are resting. Even if I have great results on the short and middle term, they will not compensate the time I’ll spend out of the tracks because of an injury. What I did was to strategically identify my limits and push myself to reach them, and slowly push them further away. To do so, I diversified my workouts, the types of run I would do, and included some extra time to walk and stretch after key efforts for injury prevention.

Ironically there is another side of the spectrum. Sometimes you are just too mentally drained to run at all. This can be caused by overrunning, but I think it is simply inherent to any long-term effort, no matter how well sustained. Consistency and repetition are hard and mentally draining. One day, in the middle of an easy 10k , for no apparent reason I just had to stop, and fell weirdly emotional. So I had to find ways to trick my mind to go out on these lazy days and continue the effort as far as I could. For example, I would run as far as I could with nothing but my phone so that it would be too long to just walk back home.

I like to think that I applied these tricks to be a better self, but it is probably not true. Even if I am able to apply certain qualities to one type of activity, it doesn’t mean that I can do it in every other space of my life. There are specific adaptations and efforts which ought to be made in order to expand our potential in a specific area. I feel like if I want to get better at something I simply have to start all over again and put efforts into developing that quality in a new space. The only big advantage I have starting again is that I know where I am going and I have an idea of how to get there.

For example, there is a point in the run when we start losing focus and our running form starts getting bad, and it usually gets worse. So there are two qualities we need to develop, staying focus as long as we can, and when we start losing focus mitigating the effects on our body. these skills can be applied to almost any work, and yet I am better at staying focus when I am running then when I am preparing a presentation.

Of course, I believe like most people that learning a skill can be useful for a broad range of domains. But I also feel like we tend to exaggerate the capacity of a skill to be reproduced in every single situation. I don’t believe that running a marathon makes a person active and determined. There are some lazy marathon runners out there believe it or not, but they aren’t lazy when they are running.

With this last paragraph, I just want to point out that we tend to follow blindly a set of rule which leads us to give authority to single-skilled prophets who want to preach their success as an overarching unidirectional story applicable to all of us mortals. Maybe some ventures follow the same rules, but no two ventures follow the same story. I hope I am not being too preachy, and that reader you believe that all I am trying to do is tell stories and from which we can just pick what we want.

Breaking Habits Apart and Trying Potato-Coucher to Ultra-Runner Part 2

Running an ultra is tiring, so you have to prepare yourself to be tired, and to be prepared to be tired you have to train!

Like most people, I always have a lot of grand plans, and objectives, but I don’t really follow up with them the long term. For some reason, it is extremely difficult to maintain a  diet, continue going to the gym, or reading 50 pages every night before going to bed instead of watching stupid TV shows.

There must be a lot of psychological elements coming into account, which I don’t pretend to know. However, I know a big deal about slowly falling back into old comfortable habits after a couple weeks (at best) of resolutions. The difference this time is that it worked!

How did I change my habits? There are a lot of elements that can be considered. I think that being in a new environment helped a lot because I didn’t have reminders of old habits to tempt my influenceable mind. I had both a passive and active role on the redefinition of my environment. On the active side, I  tried to modify other habits which are more or less related to running everyday. In the supermarket, I won’t go in certain alleys anymore because I know that I will succumb to temptation. I also tried to trick my mind. For example, I crave sweet things at night, so I started preparing healthy versions of junk food. Nowevery nightt I dip a banana into melted dark chocolate (preptime 45 sec), or every now and then will prepare black bean brownies or other baked treats.

But don’t think I changed! Only my habits did. Yestterday there was half a cadbury milk chocolate bar left on the table by my housemate. It was gone in less than 30 minutes. So I didn’t change my habits by becoming better, I changed my environment so that the parts of my personality which are stopping from reaching my goals don’t surface.

A new environment is great, but it’s not the only component of this change, since I already tried to get fit before in a new environment and failed. There are two things which helped me to change. The first one is that I had a set objective which I made public. I think that announcing my goal to run 50k has put me against the wall. Now that it out in the open I felt like I had to deliver, there was no other option, except ridiculing myself. Maybe some people would feel like signing up for the race would have a greater impact for them. I didn’t sign up to the race until a few weeks before it started, I don’t think that when I signed up it made a crucial diference, even if it was a great reality check.

So the last element of success is that I actually tried, over and over and over again. Maybe  this time I was lucky that and  it worked out. I like to think the past failures have thaught me how to really try this time. I had a well defined training plan, I was motivated, I told people about the project. But the truth is that it might just have been a lucky shot. All the stars were aligned so that this time it would work for some reason.

I’m not an astrologist, I don’t know when the stars will align, I can’t just wait, I have to try and try until hopefully one day I will try at the right time.

 

Potato-Coucher to Ultra-Runner The Potato-Coucher Part

That’s it, it finally happened… 6 months, 15kilos, and a few  kilometers later,  I finished my first ultra-marathon. 

To give you a bit of context on how my journey started, when I decided to run the Surf Coast Century, I was over a bit overweight. I have always been a bit fat, close to obese as a kid, but at that point, I was far from being obese. A couple of my friends kindly nicknamed me Pumba and were partly disappointed to see me losing weight.Before taking that decision I smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a week, got drunk a few times a week, I wasn’t too careful about nutrition, and most importantly I was extremely lazy.

In other words, I a life of moderate excesses, and I am not the kind of person who is looking back thinking “how could I live like that?”. I was extremely happy I was living in a form of hedonism which additional small pleasures here and there. Now I guess my life is more epicurean, in that I am more in the quest of simple pleasures. But I didn’t end up here, because of a sudden philosophical schism. Necessity drove me here.

To those who don’t know, about 9 months ago I co-founded a company with two friends. This means no more time and no more money. I didn’t really have resources to go out with my friends and socialize, and as I started getting more ad more inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit I felt like I needed to use my leisure time to something more productive. At the time, I thought doing a sport might be what I needed to be satisfied and have a sense of achievements. I thought it would  allow me to find an escape from my worries to reach a certain psychological (spiritual?) balance. I specifically running because it was also  a great way to socialize and most importantly: it doesn’t cost a dime. At least I thought it didn’t, some unexpected cost  came along the way.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this is that maybe the saying “necessity is the mother of all inventions” is true. I personally prefer the older proverb ‘need taught him wit’ because it doesn’t have the arrogance to set itself as an absolute truth. As a new entrepreneur, I was completely out of my comfort zone, my scope of action limited so I had to find ways to reinvent my daily life. I know I’ll sound a bit overdramatic, but I had to reinvent also my persona, who I am on the outside.

I couldn’t be the happy drinker, who always is amongst the last to leave a party, searching for lighters. The people who didn’t know me before, see me as a determined health freak. They often don’t believe that I smoked or was overweight, and my old friends don’t believe I’m healthy now. I don’t know if I am better for it or that I feel better, sometimes quite the opposite, I feel like lost more than I gained.

I lost time I’m spending on the tracks, I lost the pleasures that come along with excess, I lost some of the social skills that come from being relatable. I also won, and we’ll see what in the next post.

The extra room

Yesterday, I had dumplings with my associates. The restaurant was as standard as it gets: a counter to pay, tables and chairs. After the meal, I needed to go upstairs to use the bathroom. It is a weird experience first because I had to go up these stairs which transported me into a home. There was a strong contrast between these two environments. You wouldn’t imagine that this asepticized front room could transform into anything with a tiny bit of soul.

At the first floor ( or second floor for the Americans out there), I could see that there was a huge empty dining  room with no lights on. Even though it wasn’t fancy, it seemed that the room was nicer than the front room. My first reaction was “Wow, it must cost a fortune to have that empty room!”. Then I started to wonder why they have that room, and what it could be used for.

#1 We are gonna be big baby

At first, I thought the room might have been created when they opened the restaurant thinking they would have an immense success. The room was going to host many cheerful faces every day. People will be queuing up to get a taste of our sweet, sweet dumplings, and we’ll pack as many people as we possibly can in a restaurant that is obviously a victim of its own success.

I like that, and I can definitely see myself thinking like that the day I open a restaurant (even if I’ll be aware I shouldn’t). I have been watching the Netflix documentaries series Chef‘s Table and almost all of them say that their restaurant was completely empty when they started.

Ambition is a characteristic of probably all entrepreneur, but sometimes it can get out of control and lead, to irreversible damages. In this scenario, where the top room is never used (which is probably not the reality) the damage is that the owners have to pay for extra rent every month, and there is nothing they can do about that ongoing cost. That’s why we sometimes have to temper with reason or even pessimism.

#2 Weekend room

When I went to the restaurant it was during the week, and there was a fair amount of customers. So I am thinking that they probably get a full house during the weekend,  maybe do they open that room then.

I find it a bit odd because it seems like there is only so much staff that they can hold in their tiny kitchen. It seems like the logistics of organizing a full service on two floors would be extremely difficult ( we got a wrong order even when we were the only customers there). If you double the size of your restaurant during the weekend, you have to not double, but significantly increase your staff. This means, finding people that are willing to only work during the weekend, and having to pay everyone extra while dealing with the uncertainty of the customer flow.

I believe that the financials can work out somehow. However, in any case, it sort of breaks my heart to see so much value unused most of the time. A big space like the one they have in a great suburb is expensive and is very sought after, so there must be other uses for the room.

# 3 Catering and special guests

I think the main (only) use for the extra room is for special occasions and for special guests. It is much easier to plan a catering than it is to deal with a regular service. You can have your stock ready in advance, and prepare what can be done in advance.

Even if they do a few catering jobs a month, I still cringe at the thought of this room being all sad and empty most of the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the financials work completely fine, but at the same time, I can’t help to think that so much more could be done with this space. I often see a few odd  business decisions made by restaurant owners (and others sorry I’m picking on a specific group).

If these odd business choices are bad decisions, I wonder if the business owners are too close to their business to see the obvious. I think all of us entrepreneurs have some crazy ideas we think are great, bold, ambitious and are fail-proof. It is extremely difficult to give up on an idea you cherish. Some people say you should not give up on your ideas despite things not going your way. On the other side, it might be giving up on the project you love that is harder, and might lead to other successes.

Since we are all so smart, when it comes to judging other people’s work I thought we could think about how we would use that room.

#4 Office space

This idea is very driven by my personal necessity. Finding a cheap and good office space is extremely difficult and a huge business decision. The development of  common or shared office spaces  exemplifies the fact that businesses cannot afford to have their own office. It is an extremely important decision, for a business like mine, where everything can be done online; office space is a luxury. The benefits of the space would be to allow better communication between my partners and I, and keep constantly motivated. We are not that interested in hosting clients (most of them want us to come to them anyway). So I think we would be happy working on the first floor of a dumpling’s restaurant!

Now that I think of it, how cool would it be to have an Airbnb of office spaces? There are a lot of drawbacks for both the tenants and the host, but the benefits could overcome them. What do you think?

Would you do something else with the extra room or keep it for the main business? If so what would you do?

 

 

Sick day

Today, I am sick, I have a severe case of man flu, so I think this is going to be a bit of a whingy post. I was trying to find the mental strength to do some work, and then I realize, but why should you? Why can’t you just watch series all day?

 

Once you are stuck by the entrepreneurial virus you stick with it. Everything you see and hear always somehow resonates like an opportunity. So you always want to explore  the real potential of that opportunity.  Then you work, you work, you work and you start realizing that even during your breaks you can’t really let go and are somehow stuck in the working spirit. Unfortunately for me, that working mentality has strongly overtaken other aspects of my life, but not necessarily in a productive manner.

There are different ways, this working mentality is affecting the quality and quantity of my work. First, I feel like when I am relaxing, I am actually working so I feel a form of contentment with that situation. I feel like everything that helps me grow as a person, makes me grow as a businessman. For example, I when I run, or when I read tech articles related to my business, I feel like I am indirectly improving the business, by expanding my range of knowledge and qualities. That’s true only to a certain extent. At some point, we obviously must do the dirty, mindless work, over and over again. This will not help me grow as a person however, it will grow the business.

Moreover, my new way of relaxing is to start doing some research for new projects when I think there is great potential. Since, I am finally quite well-driven I end up spending a lot of time on a projects I do not have time to sustainably maintain. This problem is aggravated by the fact that since I have started a business I have a mindset that is telling me that I can in fact do anything. In reality I can do anything … that I have enough time to do.

Another more obvious way workaholism affects the quality of my work, is that I don’t really fully relax. When I do fun instructive activities I do it not because I like learning, but because I think it might be useful at some point. When I do ‘mindless’ activities, I never fully commit to them, have something in the back of my mind that prevents me from fully relaxing. Maybe when I run, is the only time I empty my head more or less, but after a workout during which I push my limits, I am mentally drained, I am in pain,and don’t feel  like doing anything constructive. Now everyone is saying that to be a good worker you need strong mental balance and that inability to balance things out might be a wall in my career.

I am aware that this kind of way to think is very in sync with some of the sort of alternative movement; TEd-talky, hipstery, new-new-age kind, social-capitalist way to think. It is true I like to think that happy employees provide better work, but I am not sure it’s true, absolutely not. That’s why it’s not something I want to profess and claim high, and judge harshly everyone that is living in the traditional industrial approach to labor.

Today, a lot of people are using traditional metrics to justify their alternative ways of the working structure. Productivity, efficiency, efficacy, quality, and quantity are often used as arguments to make that switch. These arguments rely on the idea that one should fight fire with fire. The problem I have with this method is that ‘old’ or actual system has proven time over time that it is working well enough to satisfy these metrics. So why take the risk to change if the reward (if any) is only very small in regards to these goals?

Anyway, I am sick and I can’t work properly. I have trouble relaxing because I feel like I should be improving myself every day. Every day I want to be a better person, in order for this will to turn into action it has to overcome the constant fear of not being able to achieve this goal and deal with the shock of seeing time passing, crushing each imaginary milestone one after the other. Personnaly I have about a million different goals, objectives and dreams  every year, and a lot of them I strongly believe in. In that huge mass only a handful will sprout into projects, and then maybe from a couple a few action, finally maybe one will resist the challenge of time.

I’ve hear that this might be something specific to some millenials. The quest personal development might be  an exaplnation to  why so many start ups are starting. Having a career is good, but being the best you can is better. On this endless quest for self-perfection, there is not well-defined goal or compass to guide us. So we do everything we can to be better. With no one specific objectives, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed and fall in a strange form of self-improving procrastination (I can’t count the hundreds of hours I have spent ‘learning’ one Wikipedia instead of working). I think creating a company is a great way to channel the need to feel like accomplished person. It is a great source of motivation because in case of failure there is only one person to blame in case of failure, everyone knows it and you know it so there is inward and outward pressure. Maybe most importantly, not matter what the excuses are; if you do not do your work properly  your livelihood is in peril. I hope that this necessiy will help me to find ways to identify when my ‘self-improvement’ quests are actually self-improving or when they are actually detrimental to my business.

So at the end of the day financial matters are a great way to get a good kick in the butt and get to work. (Except today).

Rewiring Reality

This is a blog post I wanted to write for a long time, but I couldn’t find the right opportunity to do so. Pokemon Go has given me that  chance. When reality and technology are uniting again, an endless world of opportunities is opening to.

Digital technology has been and still is working on absorbing what we call reality and transcribing it in a series of ones and zeros. This transcription has been descriptive and destructive of reality. When I say destructive it means, that the transcription in the digital world caused the destruction or disappearance of physical components, which is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, digital documentation saves millions of trees every year.

Sensory, physical  experiences of the world are getting increasingly rarer. There are multiple factors to explain this. It is undeniable that digitalization has had the biggest impact on our perception of our own lives. I personally can’t think of any moment I am completely disconnected. When I’m sleeping my phone is on to wake me up in the morning, I wake up going through news about home (8hours time difference), during the day I’m always working on my computer, to relax I watch TV or run, I listen to music when I cook, I run with my apps on, I always go out with my phone.

Tell Me What Matters

All these technologies are making my life better in the sense that they are enabling me to save so much more time, and achieve so much for tasks than if I didn’t have them. The catch is that instead of spending more time having more real life experience, I spend more time doing more things in front of my screen. I think this can be explained by multiple factors. First, we always want more as soon as we get what we have. A second element is that these tasks; that technologies are supposed to manage for us,  might be key components of living. Is the experience of physically buying a book simply a barrier between you now and you reading the book, or is this is experience also an end in itself?  That’s a grey area of new technologies, and categorizing  what is a means to an end and what is an end should be one of our priorities. I believe that technologies are doing that categorisation for us, and many successful businesses have thrived by creating stories by categorizing a product, an experience or an activity as one or the other.

For example, if I’m an online grocery store. The story I will tell will be accentuating the fact that we spend too much time going to the shops, carrying heavy bags around, walking back home in the rain when instead you could be spending time with your family, taking yourself, and so on. Shopping is a means to an end in that scenario. If I’m a grocer my story will depict your life as series of tasks performed in front of your screen. I’ll show you all these people in my store holding colorful vegetables, smelling  fresh coffee beans, literally laughing out loud with the employees. The computer is a means to an end, shopping is an end.

Story-telling has a much deeper and meaningful impact on our lives than we imagine; it is fundamental to know what is important or not. What is important (ends) may be broken down in today’s paradigm into a few categories. I can think of family, money, good social situation, unique experiences, health, being a good person. In that picture, whether we are reaching these goals in the outside world or in front of the computer doesn’t really matter. The exception is living unique experiences, or at least feeling like they are. However, these experiences or not lived in everyday life. I think there are many instances where a physical experience is the final output of a new digital innovation. For example, travelling websites, different online comparators, online reviews have given us the tools to have the best possible experiences at the cheapest prices. However, I hear a bittersweet note when someone says ‘I felt so alive’ after a bungee-jump, because it makes me wonder if that person feels ‘alive’ the rest of the time.

Everyday life is perceived as a chore, something you must endure to be able to live those real moments.If real, physical experience of life is not the fastest lane to reach your goals, then it makes sense to completely disconnect from that reality.

Connecting, Disconnecting, …

If we see the world as being made of men and women using their free-will alone to make decisions; we can say that we chose for our lives to be lived that way because that is what we rationally think is best for us. And I can’t really argue against that vision of the world.

However, I can’t help to think that the way new  technologies is structured and displayed has a major impact on how we use them. There are an array of studies, which analyze how the slightest change in the display of a product, can completely modify how much time people spend on the given product. If Facebook, didn’t beep would you have checked your phone, watched that video Sarah sent you, and watched that second video recommended by Facebook’s algorithm?

Like so many other assets we humans have been digitalized in so many aspects. An extreme example of how the digital became more important than the physical reality is can be seen in finance. The digitalization of physical assets aggravated the disconnection of financial products with the physical assets they rely on. GM for long lost money on car sales, but made tremendous money with their financial services.  If you are familiar with  daisy chain in the context of oil freight, you know there is no doubt that the oil cargo itself is of almost.  You don’t want to buy physical oil, it’s unpractical, on the other hand, a title for oil is much more precious. What you want, is to see is x$ on your screen, not in your hands.

The digitalization of humans has taken many forms. Until recently, this digitalization has taken targeted  aspects of our lives, transformed life into an input and made the screen the final output. For example, if I like reading I will go to the library, ask questions, maybe buy a book then read the book. All of this can be digitalized: I can go on Amazon, read reviews, download a book. The final output is my screen on which I’ll read the book or the headphones with which I’ll listen to it.

Another way the digitalization of humans occurred, is by the transfer of identity information. The input is not aspects of our lives;  it is what literally defines us as being us. The whole wearables movement is going to have a significant disruptive impact on accelerating that digitalization of our lives. All the components of our identity will be digitalized. Age, height, sleep pattern, sports performance, location, temperature, hours spent in front of a screen. This information is not a disconnection of reality, as these are not physical experiences, but data. However, with that information, you can give considerable incentives to change lifestyles.

Reconnecting and Rewiring

Now there is a shift which pushes towards other types of outputs. Where the technology pushes the user beyond the screen as a final output. This doesn’t mean that the screen is not an output, it is simply combined with another output in a hybrid form.

Going a decade back, I can think of a few instances of projects where physical experiences and digital ends started to fuse. For example GPS technologies, have and are helping us to go from point A to point B. However, strangely, this type of technology is not really what we think of when we think of the mixture of the physical and the digital. I remember when I was younger I couldn’t wait for these video games where physical movement would be transcribed into a digital one instead of using a keyboard or a simple controller. To me, that was the ultimate mix of physical and digital realities. Even if I still find it extremely cool, that Wii started it, I still think that there is much of a theoretical step made between the controller that we manipulate with our fingers and the Dance Dance revolution. That is because, we use our body as an input, and the output is the digital reaction. (However, you might argue that the output is the workout you get and the sick new dance moves you learn.)

In recent years, I think we have been increasingly thinking about the real theoretical gap where the output is of a completely different nature. The output is not real or digital, it is a mix of both. Google glass offered a crystallisation of our thought of conceptualising a way of going beyond the screen. The brilliance of this project was to try to create a world in which we can experience both types of outputs at the same time. This simultaneous occurrence dismisses the idea that it is simply an aggregate of the two output instead, it  would have created something that is more  not quite one or the other. Maybe that’s why it failed, maybe it has to be one or the other.

 

Now, does Pokemon Go create that pure hybrid output? I have a hard time answering that question, I believe that for every perspective on the game lies a different answer. For those not familiar with the game. You have to walk around your area to catch Pokemons. the game guides you to tell you where you are most likely to catch a specific kind of Pokemon. When you reach it, you look at your screen and can see the Pokemon standing in front of you (your camera catches the background). One can say that the final output is the screen because, what you want is to catch Pokemons, and have them stored on your phone. Others can say that by telling you where to go, the app is running a command, that you as a human are executing physically for it. So the physical experience is the output. then with your cam” era you have that weird mix of augmented reality that is hard to put in one category or the other.

Pokemon leveraged multiple innovations to reconnect people with the outside world. But they did not rewire users the same way. There is a new lens which is dictated by the app, and will influence where users go. I can’t think of any other technology which has had such a tremendous subversive impact on users physical actions.

Alternative outputs

I strongly believe that thinking about how to create new ways to experience and connect with reality is necessary to prepare our future. By that, I mean that usually technologies are  seen to improve reality. But in the case of Pokemon Go, reality becomes the playground of the digital.

In our day of age, the lines between the digital and the ‘real’ are extremely blurred. Those who saw it coming are the ones who could leverage that knowledge to develop a range of product and services which are immensely successful: Snapchat, Uber, Instagram to cite the most obvious ones. The success of these apps greatly relies on how we experience our everyday lives (or maybe they shaped it). And now all the big companies have to adapt to these changes, marketing is nothing like it was. One of the interesting shifts can be seen in how now consulting firms are putting a lot of their efforts into building digital section (eg Deloitte Digital) which are slowly overtaking the original businesses.

This shows that having a digital strategy is getting more important than anything else. Whether this is a good thing or not is not up to me to judge. The problem with a lot of these strategies is that they conceive the digital as an abstract construct. It is important to contextualize such strategy, by identifying a concise purpose and by precisely defining the material assets it is trying to serve.

TACTICAL PATIENCE: TIME ISN’T YOUR ENNEMY

 

Being a big football fan, I set my alarm clock at 4:30am this morning to watch the opening game of the 2016 Euro. France has a much better players than Romania, to give you an idea the 23 French players are valued at 340.5 million £ and Romania’s at 42. Maybe more than in any other competition, in the Euro these numbers show a dominance but guarantees no certainty.

The Game

The Romanian team did more than just resist to the French squad, they showed they are a serious opponent. After less than 5 minutes Romania shot on target, and only luck and a little bit of the goalkeepers talent saved France. After that France, started showing its muscles, but it was a very sterile domination. It was only at the 58th minute that France finally scored. After that it seemed like the victory was their’s. Well Romania showed resilience and character, they pushed hard and got a penalty in their favor after a stupid fault made by the French defender. From their on it seemed like it was going to be very difficult for the French team. As time went by, their chances to win were diminishing. That was until the very last minute of the game when Dimitri Payet finished an amazing game, on an astonishing note, with an incredible goal.

Work with your values

There is maybe more to be learned from Romania’s game than France’s. They know they aren’t the biggest guys and they cannot compete in many areas with them. That doesn’t mean they have to lose to the big guy. They focused on specific aspects of their game to bring out the best out of their strengths.  These strengths are a direct product of their values: team work, rigor, tactical intelligence.

Romanian players were able to use their strengths at the right time. In a way they knew that to compete against the big guys timing is key. When France scored, where many teams would have panicked, they kept a cool head and continued playing forward. This might have caught the French players off guard.

There is something else I saw in the Romanian tactics that can be a good entrepreneurial  lesson. In a way they forced the French players to play in a certain way, instead of facing them upfront with their qualities. They drove them into a corner where it would be more difficult for the French players to express their talent. I believe that is a key in business too, you can’t face the bigger, stronger competition by trying to do the same things it does. You have to identify their weaknesses and make the competition take place in that arena.

 

Talent and luck

The French team is full of immensely talented players. Yet, the two players which are often described as potential MVPs of the competition were substituted early on. Talent isn’t enough to win (every time).There was a need for more cohesion in the team and the coach made the necessary changes to achieve that result. Since there is a lot of talent in the team, the coach gives more freedom to his players. Contrary to Romania, France gives less importance to tactical rigor and leaves more room for the expression of creativity between the players.

The outcome of the game justifies the idea that it is pure talent that won. Indeed, the goal was scored only because of Payet’s individual talent. The goal scored came out of nowhere. However, we must not forget that one of the major factor of the win is luck. The french team was lucky that Payet had a sudden burst of genius in the money time. If he had this inspiration a few minutes later, it would have been too late.

Only time will tell

Now the two factors of success we identified are freedom of talent and luck. The other great lesson is that success can appear at any moment in time. Of course, I am talking about when the goal was scored, but I also want to talk about who scored it.

Dimitri Payet has always been an irregular player. He played in France for all his career until he joined West Ham last year. In France, he was considered as a good player with an above average technique, but he was making too many mistakes and had too many off games to be considered a fuoriclasse. No one would have ever put a nickle on the success he encountered in the Premier League. This is not because we thought he didn’t have the talent, but because he was 28 and too old to suddenly become a fuoriclasse.

He proved everyone wrong and is now considered one of the best players at his position in the world. Even he said in an interview “if you told me a year ago that things would happen this I would not have believed you”. So no he didn’t believe in himself, but he kept working hard. He was able to thrive by taking a new challenge, in a new environment with a team who believed in and now trusts his talent.

I’m sure there are people out there who believe that the train has left the station and it is too late for anything special to happen to you. Maybe the problem is not perseverance, but you may need a new environment to thrive in and reveal all your potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RUN MORE GET MORE; WANT MORE NEED MORE

In the midst of marketing bombarding, finding a spot to thrive for free is becoming impossible. You have to spend for to get more is what they tell us. You can’t even benefit from the effects of the sun if you don’t smear yourself in sun-screen. Can you really only pick the fruits of success if you have the right tractor? 

In this blog, I will draw a lot of my entrepreneurial lessons from running, here is one example.

The more you read about running the more needs you accumulate. You start thinking, that you need more products that will allow you to exploit your full potential. Somewhere between the scams, I am sure that there are a lot of products out there that will allow everyday Joe’s to run  a bit faster or diminish their chances of injury.

A lot of the product can for example bring extra comfort. Like warmer cloth, anti-chafing creams, special socks, and so on. It seems like there is always something else that can be added to a diet or as a gear which will increase performance. And if you are a bit hooked on running you will always want more of these products. When you don’t have them it is easy to grow the feeling that you can only reach peak performance if you use these products.

More buying less doing

This syndrome is even more significant with beginners. I remember not going out running more than twice a week, because I was waiting to be able to afford a specific pair of shoes which would diminish the pressure I put on my joints.  Guess what happened when I bought these shoes? Running still hurt my joints. Joints hurt when you go from being sedentary to running and there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is safely train more until the pain goes away.

More advanced trainers shouldn’t be laughing though! Have you never used the “I don’t want to risk getting sick” excuse on a rainy day because you don’t have the best warm sports gear (I don’t even own any)? Well buddy if it there is heavy rain on race day you will regret not having conditioned your body to different environments.

Run, live or work to do, not to buy

It is a bit strange that sports products are constantly getting more expensive when the best way to enhance performance remain free or at least cheaper. You can have all the best products in the world, I can run better than you with my flip flops on if you don’t train regularly.

If there is one advice I can give to non-athlete runners it is : focus on what you can do now instead of distracting yourself with what you could do. Your margin of progression is huge, it is only when we will be at the top that we will need these extra vitamins to gain an extra minute on our 40k. With regular training you can gain 30 minutes on your 40k.

So you might be thinking ‘maybe it is not the best way to improve my time but it is better than nothing’. This is just an hypothesis, I think that focusing on wanting more is wasting time you could be using to accomplish other things. It sucks your attention and relegates distorts our priority lists.

There is no fast lane, take the one which can bring you the furthest

The key of any successful enterprise is to identify what are the foundations of it. First identify what is the fastest way to achieve the first 90%. When that bar is reached, then only should we work on the details which will allow us to exploit our full potential, thus distinguishing ourselves from the masses.

In running all I  think I really need is motivation. Even living off processed food and beers, I’m sure that almost anyone can finish a sub-4 hours marathon. I don’t want to give off the impression that I’m sort of anti-capitalist, technology-hating grump; so I’ll end up on a more positive note.
I think that the most breaking through technology for running since the invention of shoes are the running apps. They can give us motivation and data which makes us involved in our running. it gives you opportunities to see your progress and even to compete with other runners. Running is being gamified, and technology is finally inviting us to reconnect with reality. These free-apps are greatly participating for me to reach my 90%.

In my plan is a sub-3hours marathon.   I can achieve this without the help of coaches, fancy sport watches, advanced running equipment, gels and so on. To perform better under that time, I think I might need that help, but that is a question I’ll have to ask myself the

We are insanely lucky to live in an age where so many amazing tools are free or insanely cheap. Maybe they are not the best ones, maybe you think that you can only do what you want to do if you could afford the premium version. The truth is that if you are thinking that, your premium version will probably not be of any use.