Incubator for Grown ups?

June marked the end of my first stint with a start-up program.

Called ‘The Validator’, and affiliated with Monash University, and its Generator Incubator, the program was forced online, the way we all were, at the last minute.

For me, the online experiment was half the attraction. I like to be the first in line to try something new. Unless it’s a food challenge, or involves spiders in some way, shape or form.

Having submitted the application, without first checking to see how long the commute might be, the opportunity to renege on my hastily-made agreement to make a three-hour, round trip trek once a week, via at least three modes of public transport, to blustery Clayton, was a step back to my undergraduate days that I was quite prepared to forgo in order to ‘go remote’.

(As you may know, I’m not against jumping on a tram, or a train, and heading out into the night to hear someone talk about things that they know more about than I do.

I have a whole blog about it: http://www.techandthecity.blog

This blog, in fact.

In practice though, the pursuit of self-development has its limits, and the outer edge of those limits are generally confined to Melbourne Myki Zone 1.  Time is money after all.)

What is The Validator?

The purpose of ‘The Validator’ is to take an idea from nothing to ‘viable product’ in a five week period, which is a few weeks less time than ‘normal’ for an accelerator.

Five weeks is a challenge, but it’s eminently doable if you know:

  • what you want to do,
  • what you want to call your start up (and the name is available.)
  • the scope of work that needs to be done to get you where you need to be;
  • who your competitors are;
  • who you most need on the team, in terms of skills and reliability, and have them locked in which I didn’t have; and
  • what the gaps in your knowledge that need to be filled in look like, which I did.

What was it like?

It was fine.

Those of you familiar with the blog know that I’ve become an accidental expert in ‘who does what’, and where, in the start-up, design thinking and entrepreneurship community in Melbourne.

What you may not know, is that I have three full degrees and I like using them.

What can I say?

I like learning.

Having visited most of the pitch nights and accelerator sign-up nights in the greater Melbourne area, and worked my way through all the free Lean Canvas, CX, MVP, design thinking, wire framing and Agile related training on offer, I was hoping that my alma mater would have a point of difference that might be distinctly ‘Monash’ flavoured.

Something that would connect the dots between my education, my business idea, and the world of start-ups.

Due to Clayton being outside of my transportation comfort zone, I hadn’t seen or experienced Monash’s answer to Unimelb’s MAP; Deakin Spark, Swinburne NEXT, Wade Institute, RMIT Activator, Stone and Chalk, Le Wagon or Moreland’s ‘Converger’. Having applied to join the program as an alumnus, I had high hopes of being able to leverage my degrees, and in particular getting access to library resources, that an ordinary alumni membership doesn’t permit, and connecting with specialist materials researchers. (Although, that last part was probably pushing it.)

What did I learn?

For those who don’t know: in start-up circles there are three basic frameworks that people use to do what I would call ‘small business planning’ – Lean start up, Minimum Viable Product (MVP) bootstrap, and design sprinting / thinking.

While they are very cool frameworks, they are just three more frameworks in a menu of useful, workable models that you can use and should have in your tool kit if you’re any kind of management consultant.

I’m well aware that the choir seems to be singing from the same Silicon Valley text book. (Eveybody does a pitch night, and everybody uses Lean. Hence, the search for something different.) And I’ve been curious about the devotion digital natives have to real-world gatherings since before COVID.

I cannot get over, and I will never understand why organisations, in general, are so unable to leverage technology to get things done remotely, but in particular, the start-up community, which plays such a central role in developing these tools in the first place.

Call me crazy, but I expected that people in the business of coming up with ideas for ‘how we’ll all be doing things in the future’ ought to be able to ‘walk the talk’ on how to get things done, futuristically, today.

Shouldn’t they?

To my way of thinking, you cannot do your best, at anything, if you only have one way to get it done.

Can you?

In 2019, I used Mural.co to help a client host an online co-design sprint remotely, internationally and asynchronously.

I’m 46, an Arts graduate and a public servant.

What’s your excuse?

The rigid focus on process and the need for in person services for ‘ideation’ to happen, don’t bode well: as if cycling through cookie-cutter Lean canvas; focus group driven ‘product’ development, and Kan Ban inspired design sprints, (which used to be known as “brainstorming”) rather than strategy, and creativity, insight or timing, are the key to having a definitively good idea, is confusing, and unsupported by the weight of evidence.

I’m only citing Harvard… Most of their start ups don’t make a return on investment, but the ones that do, make up for the hundreds that don’t.

They don’t call them ‘moonshots’ for nothing.

Anyhoo.

If you’re an undergraduate, or a high schooler, (or else you’ve never worked on any business or project planning tasks in your working life), then these Silicon Valley text book tools are a great 101 introduction to starting a business.

And to that extent, the offering works well.

But at 46 years old, I’m the average age for a start-up founder in Victoria.

People my age have the advantage that we’ve already learned a thing or two, about business, including what not to do. Probably the hard way.

Why else did you think that we’re here?

It begs the question: is there such a thing as an accelerator for peopl who aren’t totally new to business planning?

People who don’t need to learn to pitch, because they have their own equity to back them?

Quite why every program in Victoria assumes the cohort needs seed funding, and we’ll have to pitch to get it, instead of loaning money from a bank, or dipping into the mortgage, and is teaching rudimentary business planning skills, when the average age of a start-up founder is closer to fifty than twenty, boggles the mind.

What forty something doesn’t have any equity? 

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that people acting as though something overwhelming and weird isn’t happening right now, (or worse, adopting a pandemic driven strategy for ‘growth and customer acquisition’) comes across as being, well, just a little bit maniacal and tin-eared.

For myself, whilst I like stationery, Post-It notes and meeting face-to-face, just as much as the next person, that doesn’t mean I’ve thrown out all the other ways that I’ve been able to get my work done, any more than it meant that I couldn’t organise a design sprint remotely, asynchronously, successfully and internationally, using Muralo.

Personally, I think there is an opportunity cost to misreading and misjudging your timing, your tone and your audience in public life, and that you should always look at doing market research, and launching your ideas into the world, through a PR lens.

The ‘need for speed’ is important to ideas that have a first mover advantage, but the viability of most businesses involves an element of timing. The pressure to go through the motions needed to launch my business when I had no intention of doing so in the midst of COVID was unexpected.

Whilst I agree with my hosts, that you absolutely can do consumer research during a pandemic, unless you’re unconcerned that the results won’t compare too well to what they would have been under pre-Covid circumstances; (or what they’ll actually be post-Covid19, and across the next three years or so, of this disease wreaking havoc.)

Covid is not a condition that any of my business start up ideas have factored for, and I don’t think there is any harm in holding back on them, until that changes, and the new normal emerges, since it affects their profitabilty and by extension, my comfort level with them.

If you don’t mind?

Let alone expecting me to do at least fifty to one hundred cold calls to friends who are stressed out and learning to work from home and worried that they’ll never have a social life ever again.

On the whole, I thought the approach was biased toward Software as a Service, which wasn’t my business model, and I’m fairly confident that this particular start-up idea would be better supported and suited to a Technical University incubator, that has a materials and manufacturing base.

(Macquarie University, I am looking at you!)

I also really have my doubts about the ability of bootstrap validation to put the ‘v’ in an MVP. The V stands for ‘viable’ and there are shades and degrees of ‘viable’.

A human life can be ‘viable’ for a day or a hundred plus years. If the difference is a bit of mindful effort and pacing, why not apply it?

In summary

It may surprise you to learn that:

  • the start up play book does not know what small business planning is;
  • design thinking isn’t across all the other methods it could be drawing on to develop evidence;
  • the unreliable results and needless expense of cold calling were not seen to be a reason NOT to do them
  • neither was the disruptive effect of COVID on my market research victims customers.
  • surveys and online tools that generate data and reportable insights, that make them preferable and more efficient, to my way of thinking, were also actively discouraged in favour of cold calls;
  • all businesses are valued at a half a million dollars by default, which seems at odds with everything from loan criteria, to Shark Tank, to corporations law, so WTF?
  • viability is defined as fooling enough people onto your mock website, on the promise of a product being created, sometime vaguely in the future, in exchange for money down (nice work if you can get it) or an email address, today. As a consumer, I already hate this so much I will NEVER buy from you. Do not do this.
  • technology101 should not be assumed.
  • Law101 should not be assumed
  • Universityness should not be assumed.

It’s a little-known fact that I would rather use data analytics, (or else feign death in the workplace,) than use statistics. So, if I say to you, that your evidence gathering method is biased, expensive, unreliable, discriminatory, unsuitable and time-consuming, believe it.

I don’t think you can be serious about ‘the way of the future’ and at the same time apologise that you only had a few weeks to pivot your offering, because it never occurred to you that you might need to go online, or worse, that you hope that things ‘go back to normal soon’ because the pandemic means you can’t do your work properly anymore.

I thought this was a design-fuelled, tech revolution?

Don’t misunderstand me, I love gel pens, Sharpies, stickers, stamps and post it notes in fluoro colours more than someone my age, with my responsibilities, and degrees, really ought to, and I have several of the above-mentioned items festooning my desk as we speak. But. That doesn’t mean that I use them in my outputs, precisely because they aren’t the way you do things when you’re a grown-up lady.

I think remote delivery is going to be the new norm, and things will never go back to the way they were.

Is that not normal?

Last but not least, I want to know where the Monash was in my Monash incubator?

Where was the program that leverages what we already taught you?

In my degree, I was taught a slew of methods for generating ideas, and
gathering evidence.

I was taught that social science, isn’t science, and that ‘validation’ as it’s now known, is flawed, unwieldy, and expensive.

It annoys me that design thinking, which is so good at eliciting credible
and workable ideas for innovation and change, relies so heavily on such a
shitty, expensive, and crude method for producing evidence as focus groups and cold calls.

Social action research is unreliable, statistically invalid and unrepresentative. It’s also been the butt of jokes, since before I finished primary school.

Designing questions that don’t lead the respondent to answer one way only, and setting up focus groups that aren’t biased toward English language speakers, alpha personalities and self-interested, squeaky-wheel types, is a technical art form that few people are actually any good at.

Do accelerators not know how inefficient and expensive it is to gather data using cold calls? Or how ironic that something that is supposed to speed things up is using COLD CALLS?

Gen X, my people and the people before my people, come equipped with a ‘get off the line at all costs’ response to unsolicited calls, because we learned to dread this ‘gotcha’ method when it was deployed to sell us insurance we didn’t need or want.

I screen calls from unknown numbers all the time. It’s one of my smart phone’s most valued features.

So why the sudden resurgence in popularity?

The success of Husqvarna, Nintendo and IBM weren’t built on half-finished ‘products’.

Bill Gates never did Lean canvas.

Steve Jobs didn’t work in a call centre asking his friends what they reckoned about his ideas.

And I think you’ll find that Toyota invented Agile.

Thank you.

So I ask, hand on heart, on behalf of all of us who know and remember who Peter Drucker, Michael Porter and W. Edwards Deeming are, and what they contributed to management theory, that you’re now calling a bunch of other off-brand names, is there such a thing as an accelerator for people who are the average age or older for a start up founder?

And can this new entity please help me plug the gaps in my technical knowledge and understanding?

For example: why I would use Wix or SquareSpace or WordPress or Shopify? Or build in Bubble or Outsystems? What is Ruby on Rails, or R or Java? Do I use Here or Google Maps? (‘Here,’ obviously, because Sam is a mate) And lorks a lordie, why can’t the industry find a way to get me a domain name, hosting and email IN ONE TRANSACTION?

Riddle me that.

Now that is the incubator, that I would pay to see.

My year travelling the world with a cluster of digital nomads.

I’m several weeks into living as a digital nomad in my home town, Melbourne Australia.

As can be seen from the blog calendar, I’m successfully hacking the city, numerous times a day. Even if it isn’t strictly “digital”.

(All that matters is that it’s being blogged about. In certain quarters ‘that counts.’ It’s proof of digital life.)

For those of you who haven’t kept up, I spent 2017 and the first half of this year, traveling the world with some self-styled ‘digital nomads’, researching the future of work; ‘learning by doing,’ ticking off the bucket list and seeing and doing All of the Things.

Whilst I was out of the country, I’m reliably informed that I was ‘that friend’ on Facebook, the one with the status updates that leave you full of envy, and make you wonder how on Earth can they be doing this? So that was nice to learn when I got back.

No one ever tells you, when this is happening, that it’s going on. I’m not sure whether finding out I had an audience would have prompted me to get onto Instagram or not.

I don’t quite see the point of Instagram. I have a place I show pictures and a cloud where they are stored. We are done here, surely?

You only have to see my snaps from Venice; London; Budapest, Prague, Vietnam, Chiang Mai, Cuba, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Morocco and Peru to know that I had a wonderful time; (how could I not?) and that the worst part about this list, from your perspective anyway, is that it’s only some of the 23 countries I visited.

Hahaha. Yes. I am rubbing it in.

Across the year I learned:

  1. life is too short to worry about a little old redundancy, and the problem that you will never own a house in Australia.
  2. there’s a big difference between April and May in Cuba in terms of the weather and that difference is: torrential tropical rain;
  3. one month in any given place, is barely enough time to find out all there is to know about a city that you want to, and ‘live like a local’ but you don’t know that when you first embark on this kind of a thing, and it seems as good a starting point as any.
  4. Five weeks is enough time to:
    • work out how to catch public transport and whether Uber is available;
    • see the art and the streets of the city, and the shops if you want to;
    • work out a regular route for walking to and from home and the workplace;
    • have at least one deep and meaningful with your flatmate/s and one shared meal that you all cook together.
      • N.B at these events, it is important that you try to hide how weird you find it that they share so many details that you never wanted to know about their “Tinder date/s” (which is not what I am used to calling a one night stand);
    • see and do all the things on your list and perhaps meet one or two locals before it’s time to pack up again.
  5. I have a gift for packing. It is a rare gift. Not something that many people share. This was unexpected, and the only people to rival me and my 32 kilos of consistently maintained weight are all of the men living out of their carry on sports bags, and wearing a selection of high rotation outfits consisting of one bathing suit, one hoodie, three t-shirts and the same number of pairs of underwear, socks and shorts. If you are not good a packing and would like packing lessons. I am available. I’m a big believer in things having a place for everything and a good reason for going. It’s BroElle. For luggage.
  6. It is really nice having someone who makes your bed and cleans your house and does the laundry for you, and even more exciting to learn that this costs about the same per month as it would cost to be living at home in a share house with no such amenity. I want to thank all the people who provided these services.
  7. the Neon Museum in Vegas was worth it;
  8. there is nothing more Colombian than stumbling across an abandoned gram of coke on the footpath on a rainy night in Medellin, and the satisfaction of leaving where it lays, wondering whether you just avoided a police trap, to gladden the heart;
  9. I would rather stab myself in the eyeballs than give up my time:
    • to write or read just or yet another travel blog; or
    • be in the company of any more woo-preneurs, for any reason*
  10. Peruvians take their food very seriously, and they have a person whose job it is to count the three thousand varieties of potatoes that they like to boast of growing.
  11. I did not get to the Amazon, but I did go to Central restaurant, Machu Picchu, and I did stand up paddle board in a gorgeous national park, in a science fiction landscape in the company of a sea lion, and I nailed it, as they say. I didn’t fall off, not once. I did that all on my own, and that is how you side trip. It is what they are for.
  12. Hoi An in central Vietnam is the only place outside of Australia that I’ve visited more than once, and that I would visit again in a heartbeat. Yes, it has changed. A lot. It’s a lot busier, a lot noisier, and the tailoring is more expensive than it used to be, despite how many more tailors there are (and for that I blame the Europeans,) but there is an art to enjoying crowded places, and I find it easy to find peace and quiet and amazing food, if you want it.
  13. If anyone would like to join me in Hoi An in June 2019 for a professional development travel workshop nomad trip: fifteen days of beach, sea, architecture, tailoring, cooking, biking, ruins and Agile, get in touch!

My message to you if you are in my shoes, and you are sans kids, sans job and sans mortgage:

Go for what’s achievable, especially if:

  • that thing is the only thing left on your bucket list to do;
  • work has always stood in the way of you getting it done, and suddenly, through the miracles of restructure, that’s no longer a problem, (with a lump sum to fund it); and
  • it comes with the added bonus that it can help you find a new home.

Hello Mexico City, Hoi An and Kuala Lumpur. I am looking at you!

On the dark side:

There is a certain amount of patience that’s required to deal with living at close quarters with a variety of people.

 

People have different expectations, and I am no different.

Or am I?

I wouldn’t say that I’m wilfully contrarian, in as much as it isn’t something I cultivate, (I don’t think, others may have a different view,) but I do find it really hard to just do what everyone else is doing, if it makes no sense or brings me no joy.

This latter idea is a concept the Japanese apparently practice and it forms the basis of Konmari, a decluttering practice in which the joy that something brings you is the measure of whether it should stay or go. (I think it’s wider implications: for life and people, are fairly evident but I need to write a book and call it BroElle. I am never going to write that book or read Marie Kondo’s stuff.)

The thing that I appreciated most about the year of travel with my nomads was that my apartments were all well appointed, fairly new and really comfortable; that when I landed, there was someone to hand me my key, my sim card, a bottle of water and take me straight to my home, with its bed, drinking water, towels and toilet paper ;and someone to book all of my flights, which is something I spend a lot of time doing, to ensure I get the best deal, sometimes at the expense of half a day seeing Venice, (for example). Then there was the friendships that I made with ‘the people like me’. This was more of a challenge.

The ‘people like me’ (or at least not wildly, unlike me, to the point of having nothing in common,) were seeking authenticity and honesty in their relationships and their own version of a great experience packed with whatever highs and lows, content, experience and personal and interpersonal challenges the day, the location or the month might bring.

The people not like me, made it really very hard for us to find one another. On the one hand, that’s OK. We were the odds ones out. But it took months of all of us tending to keep to ourselves, because we found it so hard to enjoy being in the bigger group.

The whole group consisted of mainly millennial, mainly Americans largely working in jobs that they didn’t seem to enjoy very much. They had every right to want to form a tribe.

But.

I have a thing I call “festival face.” It’s a face full of anticipation that’s searching in the distance for the fun at a street festival, while its wearer determinedly weaves, eyes fixed, through a crowd of people, who are also walking, but in the opposite direction, and all of whom are wearing the exact same expression. Festivals are mainly excuses to drink and eat in places that you’re normally not allowed to; to walk where cars would normally be, and that’s about it. But a festival is meant to be fun. And there’s the rub. How many of you are in the moment, right now, with your friends, having fun and how many of you are looking ahead, paying no mind to what is happening here and now and dragging your companions along a boring, busy determined path that you don’t know what’s at the end of it, or whether it’s worth it, in the expectation that if we all just keep moving forward then the fun will eventually present itself?

Examples of things that bring others joy, that I have to admit I just don’t enjoy, include following any kind of sport or sports team.

I don’t mind you having your passions, but it doesn’t or shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment that people around you don’t share them. The same as it doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t like what I like, it is OK that I don’t enjoy watching sport.

But most of my tribe weren’t like that. They took it personally if someone didn’t “participate,” by which they meant follow the crowd in all of its things, all of the time. Bear in mind. This is a crowd pinging between excessive drinking, poor diet, the gym, one night stands, Netflix, selfies and all night dance parties.

I like art as much as most people like sport. My interest was sparked because I think I felt a bit sorry for art. As though not enough people like art. Compared to sport, it’s an underdog. My liking art reflects that I think it’s treated poorly. I think.

Now imagine a world in which art was discussed as often as sports is, and you will have some idea what it’s like for me to be around people who want me to like sport.

Why try to force the issue? I do understand that they probably just want me to share something they care about with them. And that’s great. It is. But here’s an idea: let’s find something that we have in common. Unless you’re robust enough to discuss what I don’t like about sport with me, knowing that I don’t enjoy it in which case, please proceed.

Ain’t nobody got time for catching up on twenty years of not paying attention to sport.

Returning to the subject to hand, I haven’t got the benefit of a lifetime growing up in America, with its weird social pressures to overshare, about some things, and stay silent about others.

I only have TV to go on, and obviously that would be sit coms, which are very instructive, but hardly complete in what they prepare you for.

(Did you know, for example, that it is more socially acceptable to tell someone the intimate details of your sex life, than to instigate a conversation about women’s rights, machismo, ethical volunteering, religious beliefs and practices, politics or cultural differences? By which I would mean, important things. interesting things. Things worth talking about. )

I loved traveling with the program, for its flexibility around my leaving my stuff while I wondered out into the world to do my own thing; and for taking care of the time consuming administrative stuff that left me free to fill in the gaps; and for the small number of organised group activities we had to choose from each month: hot air ballooning, sand surfing, cooking and cocktail making amongst them, but when you’re radically unlike the majority in a group and the group is plagued with people pulling festival face, I am going to notice, and call it as I see it.

I am paying for this once in a lifetime experience too, and I want what I paid for.

At times I had organisers demanding that I “participate” without defining what they meant by that. I asked. They didn’t clarify. If I did participate they seemed equally dissatisfied. Picture this: Day one, someone yelling “Woo!” a lot and expecting many of them back in return, when it’s 7am; I haven’t had coffee, and I have literally just recovered from three days of food poisoning (during which time not one of them enquired after my well being). Yeah. You can betcha I am going to shoot daggers at you.

I admit I did laugh when I was offered krav maga lessons from a short man with a faux hawk. Ha! No.

If I can see people using coercion in a workplace, to create an atmosphere of artificial, TV advertorial fake happy clapping; or else it’s clear to me that if I pause to pay attention and take the temperature of the room, there are people around me, who are faking that they are happy and in agreement, and having fun when really they’re not: it matters.

I weigh up my preparedness to join in, against what I am really feeling and what I can see is actually happening, and I respond accordingly and proportionately. Unless I haven’t had coffee. Then it’s just “a hard no” to most things until priorities have been taken care of.

Being two decades older than most of my companions (but by no means the oldest) and one of three Australians, in a group primarily made up of Americans, as well as someone used to traveling solo, who enjoys spending time in my own company, I expected to have to compromise.It’s only fair and reasonable and right.

It isn’t up to me to say one way or the other that I did or didn’t do compromise or come to the party enough, but I found myself keeping an eye out for risks that other people were taking enough to know that my goal of not taking responsibility for other people I didn’t have to was a good goal to set for me.

I travelled with young Americans, and unlike the Bowie song they seem to believe that aiming to be in an unnatural state of constant positivity is required of them, as without it they cannot be accepted or approved of. They won’t have friends and they are not likeable.

When we started drilling into feelings, at about month four, it transpired that a lot of them had not lead uncomplicated lives, in which nothing had ever gone wrong for them, that they should always have to be happy, and yet they saw this as something that was wrong with them that needed to be repressed, Exorcised through exercise, podcasts and colouring books.

What I found was a group of people perfectly willing to demand positivity, while bullying anyone not like them; who required everyone to think and act and speak a certain way; who couldn’t face reality if it was not nice or worse, if it was actually, very bad; and who lived their lives with blinkers on, censoring some things, but not others, out of fear of being disliked or judged and found wanting if they didn’t conform, and who spent time and energy pressing and coercing others into also self censoring and joining the pack, because if they didn’t succeed in this act, then they might have to face the consequences of their own choice to allow peers and authority figures to force them into being something they weren’t.

My peeps know who they are, and just because the whole group wasn’t whole, does not mean that anyone did anything wrong.

Unless it was before 7am and I have not had coffee…

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What is a woo-preneur?

*A woo-preneur is a special type of man made disaster.

A human black hole, whose self-development arrested when they were pre-school aged, or possibly even, a baby, (if we’re being Lacanian about it.)

Generally, they “sell” something that nobody needs, and more often than not they are not actually generating any income from the work that they “do”.

They invest all of their energy into coming up with strategies and plans for duping the gullible into letting them have the things that they want, no matter the cost to the mark.

A fool and their money are soon parted is their modus operandi.

A woo-preneur drains other people’s wallets, time, resources, attention spans, and their will to live. They punctuate the schtick they spew, with an excited, cheerful and unjustified woot! No matter how at odds with what they’re really saying or feeling “woot” actually is.

They’re individuals who’ve convinced themselves that the only point to existence; the main reason we were given a life to live; is to take things that don’t belong to you, without any thought for whether you should, or could earn them, the way that your victim has; or any mind for the harm you may be doing.

There is no sense of your needing to be a better person than the worst person you can possibly be, as long as that person is self satisfied.

Woo-preneurs love neurolinguistic programming, (am I right? Do you know what I mean?) and Tony Robbins is almost always cited as a role model, (although the Kardashians are probably as big a template.)

They don’t seem to grasp the point of charity, or the concept of deserving-ness; what a work ethic is, or the idea of needing to earn the things that they want.

They aren’t lazy, because it takes energy to be this awful, but they do create the strong impression that they weren’t made to be self sufficient, fully formed, or politely ignored. Annoyingly, there is no amount of attention that could be paid to them, that they wouldn’t want more, but like Narcissus in front of the mirror, the most annoying thing about this ‘look at moi’ behaviour is that when you give them your attention, they do nothing with it. Once it’s paid to them, the fact of it seems to be enough.

They’re people whose aim is to have every relationship serving their needs: financial, emotional and physical, without reciprocity.

And some are better than others at playing the game.

And here is me and righteous Ronald Reagan in Hungary. I am also, not quite sure why.

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My week in career hacking.

This week I’m living the ‘urban nomad’ dream.

I landed a contract that sees me drafting a freelance piece about domain name disputes, whilst making a dweeb of myself in a telephone interview for a job that I could do, but it’s not in my industry, or aligned to my background (it’s publishing, albeit a publication about public services, so that’s definitely my patch) and learning to podcast.

Yes, podcast.

I didn’t get the job, I don’t think, but I really do feel energised.

Keep an eye on the calendar for the next learn to podcast at Docklands Library or Kathy Syme, both of which have production studios.

 

Agile and it’s antecedents. The more you know…

The road to catching up with all the shiny new things continues. This time it’s an ‘Introduction to Agile’ session at RMIT Activator.

The Activator is an incubator and it is the place for getting a brief introduction to almost anything that you’re not quite sure about, and want to get the low down on.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. (Although I do advocate that you BYO tea bags as the kitchen has mugs and hot water but no other provisions.)

RMIT’s Vice Chancellor Mr Bean ushered in the word ‘microcredential’ during the ‘Will Robots Eat Our Jobs‘ event and I’m predicting that RMIT’s teaching innovations will cause its graduates to rapidly rise up the employability rankings, because they’re all about gaining breadth knowledge and real world experience while you study your undergraduate degree.

Yes friends, that elusive mix of management insight and technical skill that universities previously didn’t teach you, because they were hoping you’d do what I did, and come back and do post-graduate studies, is now no longer. Industry has spoken, as has people’s willingness to forgo having a house in favour of paying back study debts, the way some did.

On to the subject at hand though:

TLDR

  • For a high level, jargon-free version of what Agile is, here’s the Wikipedia entry.
  • Agile is team work, Tuckman and Deming blended and rebranded;
  • Lean is the mindset or ecosystem Toyota used to come up with ‘Just in Time‘ manufacturing ;
  • Electronic media is undermining people’s willingness to read, research and accurately understand and correctly cite academic antecedents (like the ones above).
  • Don’t take the knowledge I earned studying my Masters degree and snort laugh at it!

What did I learn?

That my Masters degree is still golden.

If you, like me, have studied an MBA or a Masters in Public Policy and Management, and taken it seriously (because it’s what you did instead of buying somewhere to live, for example,) then the one new thing and the fun new game that you most need to know how to play is ‘what strange, new name has someone rebranded what *I* learned to?’

The frameworks you know as:

  • plan do review;
  • forming, storming, norming, performing;
  • thin flat teams;
  • lateral thinking;
  • Just in Time;
  • process re-engineering; and
  • social action research;

(and probably others,) all have fun new names that are designed to make you deeply concerned that you may be out of touch, and irrelevant, when in reality the reverse may be true.

I’d like to think that the investments I’ve made in myself, in my studies and in acquiring wide experience, are at least a respectable match for a training company looking to sell me further professional development.

I have three and a half degrees: two bachelors, a Masters and a half a law degree, and not to harp on it, but they’re all paid for. Instead of doing something sensible, like buying somewhere to live, I learned. I learned a lot. I studied and I read and I compared and I contrasted and I found out the hard way that if you want the really good marks, then you really, really need, as a first port of call, to be capable of sourcing, quoting and citing respectable literature, accurately. This is especially the case, if you’re mounting an argument that completely contradicts your lecturer, and you want to get away with it.

If there is one thing that social media and short attention spans seem extremely ill suited to doing, it has to be the art of writing and researching ideas properly.

Hand on heart, I don’t mind hearing what you have to say, but please, please my millenial friends, don’t pass yourself off as an expert.

Please. Just. Don’t.

If you are someone who:

  • cannot tell your audience who or what the Deming of the ‘Deming cycle’ slide that you apparently cut and pasted from the internet and just projected on the wall refers to;
  • have cited both 7 Eleven and Amazon as virtuous paragons of ideal organisational culture several times now; and/or
  • don’t have any actual software development experience utilising Agile (which is as much as I do know about the origin story of the Agile method*) to speak of because your boss doesn’t think it’s important,; or worse
  • think that no one has ever given social action research a burl before, to know that it’s controversial; or that it’s been discredited and rejected as expensive, unreliable and open to abuse, we are going to need to work through all of this, before we start to see eye to eye.

I am not up for my everyday existence being turned into a snake oil fume fuelled advertorial from the Woopreneur school of confidence-artistry. I spent close to a year explaining this exact problem, at length, to a cluster of self proclaimed digital nomads who didn’t watch the news, and I am looking forward to being so old that people expect me to be mean and step out in front of cars without looking.

I am asking you to treat me with the respect that I have shown you. And for now at least, I am doing it nicely.

I’m going to go on the record with this, this, this…. objectionable, minimising, dehumanising feeling of being more than just a little put out by the treatment of me as being too old to be taken seriously when I say things like ‘that’s not new‘ to someone who gets all their information from social media, Goop and fictional news breaks featured within sitcoms and movies on Netflix.

Please don’t take the knowledge I earned studying my Masters degree and snort laugh at it. To find you snort laughing at me and my hard work and the hard earned knowledge that it resulted in, is not very nice. It’s ignorant and disrespectful.

What is they say about people who don’t learn the mistakes of history?

Agile is a software development tool, but like all good organising principles it’s just one way of looking at a problem.

It’s origins lie in the problem graphic designers know all too well, that the client doesn’t know what they want, but they do know what they like and wouldn’t it be great if just once everyone was on the same page, so that professionals stopped missing the mark with products that don’t meet client expectations.

ON that note here is something that might help with that. And it’s for clients.

How do design a great brief: THIS Monday PM

Experimenta Social and the advent of medical jewellery.

I’m several weeks into living as a digital nomad in my home town. As can be seen from the calendar, I’m successfully hacking the city, numerous times a day.

(For those of you who haven’t kept up, I spent 2017 and the first half of this year, traveling the world with some self-styled ‘digital nomads,’ researching the future of work, ‘learning by doing,’ and seeing All of the Things.)

Now that I’m home, the project continues.

On Wednesday I attended Experimenta Social’s wearable technologies event, where the amazing Dr Leah Heiss, talked about her current projects, the commercialisation pipeline and how she arrived at her career and PhD in designing what you might call ‘medical jewellery’.

Below is an image of a prototype jewell for delivering insulin.

diabetesneckpiece

Experimenta have been one of my favourite sources of ideas, possibilities, artefacts and images of the future since I was a university student. This year, they have just one more social in the calendar. For those of you microhacking (the eat, drink and learn afterwork crew and the nomads of Melbourne), this one is a top spot.

I first met Leah at an event called Human 2.0

It’s people like Leah who’ve made me realise that the aspirations I had to becoming a fashion designer when I was a teenager, that were crushed out of me as impossible, by people who had the best of intentions, haven’t ever really gone away in any meaningful sense.

They’ve been sublimated into my career as a public sector problem solver and someone who researches, consults on, designs and implements change and business improvement.

Imagine a world in which your heart rate monitor wouldn’t look out of place at fashion week, and in which your hearing aids can be colour-coordinated to your outfit, in which medical devices are attractive and beautiful objects and not flesh-coloured, ugly looking lumps and bumps.

Leah’s Facett hearing aid design, which is being sold by Blamey Saunders Hears, and is inspired by the geological collection housed at the State Museum, is so much more than that.

One of the greatest health challenges treating practitioners face is patient compliance.

The teenager who won’t take their medication because it’s uncool. The elderly ambulant who doesn’t always wear their falls button when they get up at night because it’s cumbersome to put on. The self consciousness that comes from having a heart rate monitor strapped to you, when you’re at work and going about your ‘normal’ day.

Jewellery functions as an outward expression of the self. It says things about your taste and who you are, that can be read by people from a distance. It signals something more than the sum of its parts. To be great, a piece of jewellery should touch the heart of the wearer, and say something to the wider world that needs no words to be read and understood. It can be quite profound (‘I am married’ for example.)

Leah is aiming to turn functional devices into attractive items that people want to wear and that other people seeing them will admire as beautiful creations.

Design is more than just aesthetics. It’s a way of looking at the world that strives for simplicity and efficiency, improved and better functionality, the way materials and shape and form contribute to or detract from an end result.

If you’ve ever watched an elderly relative change the battery in their hearing aid, or been asked to change one, imagine a world in which you’ve waited several days in deafness, because taking a new battery out of a blister pack is just too fiddly for you to manage at your age.

A ninety year old has less than perfect hand/ eye coordination. The default design of hearing aids, the design of battery blister packs and the trouble that even sighted people have in changing them over – because it is fiddly and easily muckable: (tell me I’m the only one who’s put the the old and the new battery down side by side and not know which one is which) and the picture of the problems that Leah is aiming to solve becomes clear.

Leah’s hearing aid design incorporates magnetised rechargeable batteries that snap in and out and form the entire lower half of the hearing aid.

The batteries dock in a kidney shaped box reminiscent of the hearing aid’s shape. This acts as a visual reminder to anyone looking at it what the box is for and what it does, which is helpful. You only need to look at it to know that it belongs with the hearing aid.

Because they’re magnetised is becomes more difficult to accidentally drop one and it becomes easier to pick it back up again.

This is brilliant engineering that resolves a real world problem.

Love it!

What will your brand sound like?

This was the question posed at Deloitte Australia’s ‘Conversation – Designing the Interface of the Future’ event, hosted in conjunction with ‘Disruptors in Tech’, a Melbourne based MeetUp group.

I have to admit, quite what a brand sounds like isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about before.

TLDR

  • NAB is about to launch a chat bot. It’s an interesting design journey.
  • Conversation is the ‘next big thing’ augmenting user design and experience.
  • Perton’s law was coined.
  • Always disclose that the user is interacting with a bot. (It’s a trust thing.)
  • Bots that aim to emulate humans reach a tipping point where they become flat out creepy… As in, close, but not exact, or (to use the literal right word for this reaction,) uncanny.
  • For those of you wanting to career hack and benefit from a free introduction to both chat bots and voice command (or conversational user interface, a.k.a CUI) Academy Xi has you covered here.

Close your eyes for a moment.

Imagine a world in which every product in the shop is blaring about itself in natural language. Possibly, even holding a conversation with you, calling you by name, fielding your questions and answering them based on preferences it gleaned from the data that you verbally offered up; your smart devices silently told it (your GPS, purchasing and browsing history); your loyalty accounts, biometrics and even the embedded chip in an existing purchased item that you’re currently wearing, that is interfacing via Near Field Communication, informed it about, all serving as context.

It’s not that far-fetched, but it’s hardly everybody’s idea of Utopia.

I instantly assume that every spokesperson, every brand ambassador and every voiceover talent who ever carved out a career is facing becoming automated, and that an audio apocalypse of the kind ‘Minority Report’ foreshadows is on the cards.

On reflection, I fervently hope that the option to switch to classic mode, by which I mean ‘return to mute’ isn’t overlooked, or else that I can default everything to Patrick Stewart or everyone’s favourite meerkat, Alexsandr Orlov.

(I’d be pretty keen for it NOT to sound like Microsoft Catherine.)

Currently, I’m mid way into a two part webinar, learning how to structure and design text based chat bots, with Microsoft Worldwide online, so this long-ago lecture, (which pre-dates the blog, and is one of its three inspirations,) is starting to resonate with me, but in a way that makes the chat bot idea seem a little bit old fashioned.

Ha!

In my humble opinion, text bots take up far too much on-screen real estate. Especially on mobile. And I say that as someone who loves writing and reading, (but not chatting or instant messaging,). Since I’m on a roll, for the love of all that is good and worthwhile, if I’ve just agreed that your site may install a cookie, my dear UX designers, please don’t follow that up a split second later with a request to take a survey about my experience of the site.

Blink.

You know that I literally don’t have any experience with the site yet, don’t you? I mean, you just installed a cookie a second ago, so it invites the question, complete with raised eye brow, “what experience, prithee?”

For the UX and CX designers confusing metrics with success; high pressure tactics with what people want; bells and whistles with colour and interest; and making account closure more than a two-step process, peppered with mildly threatening, condescending “warnings” that imply I don’t know what it is I’m really doing, I do not need yet another reason to switch to a low footprint lifestyle.

Capiche?

Getting back to the subject at hand….

I think it’s self evident what a Rolex watch would sound like (Roger Federer, obvs.) But what does an Australian shiraz sound like? How about the bus stop timetable? And will the bot have a name, or will it be openly robotic? Devoid of personality?

This event is one of my favourites.

It’s so good, that it’s taken a few weeks to process and decide how to best present it.

The NAB Voice Bot story.

This edition of Disruptors In Tech was held at National Australian Bank’s 700 Bourke Street outpost, (not to be confused with its dockside 800 Bourke Street headquarters, or its two or three other Bourke Street properties which, although equally imposing, are also the utterly wrong address for this particular event)* showcases the bank’s thought process and design considerations as it prepares to launch a chat bot.

A bank bot?

Hmm.

I’m unfamiliar with any scenario where I might be so caught up that I have to make an urgent bank transaction and my hands won’t be available, but OK. People do strange things when they’re in transit.

Lessons learned:

1. Designing a conversational user interface (CUI) is more fraught than you think.

Lesson 2: personality is hard to do.

As it happens, creating a bot with a flat personality, or no personality (and no name) is just as complex as its alternative. In having no personality, the bot still has a personality. Just not a very sassy, cool or chatty one.

Compound the problem with an assistant that has to flatly, blandly and consistently cover multiple divisions and myriad product lines of a newly agile, complex business, (with the added bonus that the bank is currently investing its time in realising that being complex is not an excuse for not being a disreputable corporate citizen) and this makes for an interesting case study.

Have they got it right?

Lesson 3: Spoken word is a different animal to text.

Human conversation is less formal, more shorthanded and incomplete than dialogue. As a result, conversation bot chat shouldn’t aim to replicate, or in any way be substantially based on, text.

(The sound of a low flying sunk cost whooshes by, while the trumpet heralding a serious new overhead plays.

Choose your interface wisely.)

I have to say, this is kind of a bummer for enterprise if they jumped on the wrong bandwagon and are being leapfrogged, but it’s a boonoonoonus for those who write and script for a living, because if you installed a chat bot: the kind that pops up in a window, asking “can I help you?” (a bit like Clippy used to do,) under no circumstances should you use it as the basis for your new conversational interface.

If someone is calling about their home loan, you can’t just text-to-voice your website or ‘play to end,’ as that’s not how people converse.

This is because even the punchiest of chat bot text comes across as stuffy and long-winded.

NAB’s bots triage and escalate non-self service problems to actual humans, on the fly, whether the channel is text or voice, ensuring that you don’t have to repeat yourself once you and you’re compound issue are connected.

Lesson 4: Testers will be jesters

The bank found that in testing the feature some customers could not help but test the limits of the bot to answer non-banking related questions such as “how tall is a horse?”

The flat answer this bot provides to such fodder is that it cannot assist with the question, but in principle it could be programmed to answer all questions put to it, one day, once the basics are covered and are up and running beautifully.

End scene.

Every rose has its thorns…

I made the mistake this week of “upping my game” and attending two tech events that the experts hosting them described as “entry level.”

Unless post graduate, PhD, or decade-plus experience counts as the new “entry level,” they definitely were not “entry level.”

At one event, I hoped to understand the state of play with machine learning, specifically, its approach to causality. Without going into a yuge amount of detail, causality has huge implications for AI, decision support, risk management and crisis response management and the planning thereof, assuming it actually works. So, does it?

I was informed that this would be “the Wikipedia article version” of said subject, and I probably grasped about half of what was said.

I’m going on the record with my disappointment that data analysis still rests on statistical assumptions, that I don’t want it to rest on.

I want real data. Thanks.

If machines are programmed to work things out the way we already do given our existing limitations, such as our assumptions, then they’re only thing to make the same mistakes that we already do, on a larger scale.

At the second event, (which was the first chronologically speaking) it’s difficult to know who the audience is.

I appreciate that information technology operations are highly detailed, and constantly changing, but I’m not the only one here sitting in total dumb-foundedness at the monotonous monologue that issues from the presenter’s mouth, (never an effective move). We sit through whatever this is without the examples that were promised making this tedious and effortful. There is no reason that the words that are tumbling out have been chosen and if the configuration of Azure has been done correctly then a lot of this noise is unnecessary as it won’t let me deviate or depart from the process flow.

I grasp the idea of “virtual machines” and also containers, and the difference between them, and why you might choose one and not the other, by googling the answer.

I grasp that Azure is Microsoft’s cloud storage product, several times over (but not much else,) and the chairs we’re seated in, at this brand new HQ, are so wildly uncomfortable that my backside goes numb in record time, forcing me to have to sit to one side and then the other. (As a rule, I wouldn’t normally admit to any bodily discomfort at a public function, least of all in a public forum, but this was remarkable.)

Get rid of the chairs! Their backs flex.

At least one of the challenges facing technologists, (and confronting me as a communicator, on a regular basis,) is the unfortunate habit of re-purposing words that already have a popular meaning, to mean their opposite, (for example ‘hack’) or something that they just do not mean, for example ‘policy’.

(Sidenote. Dear IT industry. Is there an app for coming up with new words, perhaps using Greek, Latin, or Norse, or some non-US English modern language roots, that you might be able to deploy to make new meaning-filled, technically accurate words?

For inspiration, please refer to ‘The Surgeon of Crowthorn’ and the method etymologyists use to unpack and come up with word forms. Thx)

More than once my purpose on a project has been to explain in lay terms how the information system either is or isn’t going to work the way that management thought it might, whilst co-designing the human, manual, prerequisite inputs, interim and subsequent steps and workarounds that make up a process workflow.

In that role, in an Azure environment, I would be at pains to explain that what I.T. means when it uses the word ‘policy’ does not meet the test of a policy is, and that what they’re describing as a “policy” is at most”a business rule.”

I work in government environments. As you might imagine, they already struggle with ‘big p’ and ‘little p’ policy, by which they mean

  1. public policy: “we shall have a transport system funded by taxes and administered by departments” and
  2. corporate policy “Employees are responsible for securely holding their ID pass, reporting its lost and not allowing its misuse”.

A policy, big or little, is a statement of principle.

As examples go: ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is a pretty good one. (Also, fairly universal. It doesn’t need to be a law for people to go, hey, yeah, I can remember not to do that.)

‘Be a good person’ is another one.

Don’t misuse the corporate resources is another.

Public or corporate, policies are like the Ten Commandments, both in the sense of portent and serious consequence they convey, and how few of them one requires.

I am afraid, my dear Microsoft, that a list of permitted websites and a second list of prohibited ones, are not in any meaningful sense of the word a ‘policy,’ let alone two separate policies.

What they are, is a set of dot point specifics made pursuant to IT security rules, and the higher level principle, or policy that we don’t allow staff to access inappropriate content, whether that content is illegal, obscene or malicious, or only prospectively so.

If you would like help in defining your business rules and mapping these to policy, as part of your corporate governance and its technical manifestations, I am available for hire.

 

Portable Talks: Step away from the app.

“No one wants to participate in daily Turing tests.”- Dennis Mortensen, X.AI

TLDR

  • In the future, you’ll visit the skill store, rather than the app store.
  • AI bots are analogous to macros. Agents that automate simple tasks. You’ll download them and at some stage, they’ll work like an EA to tell you where you need to be; when and where and be able to rearrange your entire day, week, month and year and those of your family and employees.
  • Chatbots should be declared. Customers should be told they are speaking with a machine.
  • Technology needs some new words.
  • In the future the machine adapts to you.  Not you to the machine.
  • Agents will interface and have unlimited answers. So the questions will matter.

The What

Conversational UI. This means Conversational User interface.

In plain English is means Alexa, or Siri, an agent that you interact with verbally. Like these guys are doing:

The Scots in the elevator asking for level eleven

The Where

On the last day of winter, I venture in a different direction and into the City of Yarra.

Portable is a digital design and technology company, and an example of what my service design friends at Academy Xi referred to as “agency” (no pronoun required.)

Portable tell me that they’re interested in access to justice and various good causes. They have government clients too, which I always find interesting. Today’s talk centres on conversational user interfaces (called conversational UI, or voice activated commands and interactions) and is one of a series of talks that they’ll be hosting.

The next one is this Tuesday at 8:30am.

(Register here if you’re interested)

It will nominally be about infrastructure, but based on a typo that I found in the blurb, I’m really rather hoping that it touches on ‘technoclogy‘.

I’m greeted at the door by a cavoodle called ‘Pepe’, a ragamuffin who proceeds to treat my scarf, coat and fingers as oversize chew toys. Pepe punctuates the meeting with painful half pleas to his handler to be released immediately to at least look at the table with all of the food on it. (Breakfast is complimentary and consists of all kinds of yummy bagel and patissierie goodies that I wasn’t expecting. Much appreciated.)

The Details

I’m not sure what law this is, but for brevity’s sake let’s call it Perton’s law. The law being: ‘that which worked fine in rehearsal, will not work at all, when required to.’

It affects everyone in the cutting edge of technology space, presenting to a live audience ninety nine percent of the time and is directly proportional to the importance you’re placing on creating a good first impression.

The guest speaker is participating via video link from New York.

His name is Dennis Mortensen. The lag in the feed from New York makes Dennis, who is the Chief Executive of a virtual assistant company, seem as though he may himself be a programmed avatar.

Dennis speaks without moving his lips. He also has a Danish accent of the kind sci-fi films like to give to homicidal robot ladies and the generic neatness of every hipster in the tribe.

This is early morning performance art, and I’m not the only one to notice. The illusion that Dennis is Max Headroom incarnate makes at least one other person do a double take.

Uncanny!

Dennis’ company, X.AI, is an automated meeting scheduler and/or virtual assistant, that comes in two varieties, Andrew and Amy.

These are personal assistants. The kind that will mean you don’t have to employ an Executive Assistant (which I think underestimates the status symbol having an EA represents,) nor will you personally have to make your own dinner reservations only to be duped into speaking to the restaurant’s bot. (Just like the Google Duplex demonstration, demonstrated.)

Much of Dennis’ presentation covers agents, which he likens to macros, rather than the conversational bits of the interface, which is what I came here to hear about.

Bots will mutely automate a cluster of simple, but cumulatively, time consuming tasks, like scheduling and receipts and renewals. A bit like using auto suggest to fill in an online form or predictive text in an SMS or mobile document.*

Once developed, you’ll be able to install them, run them, and they’ll automate things like bookings, then, at some point, they’ll start speaking to one another, bot to bot and hopefully, be able to automate an entire sequence of events, building on your past choices and decisions.  For example: an entire movie screen play or, less creatively, the flow on effects of a decision to push back a meeting (which is Dennis’ chosen example.)

In the future, your virtual assistant bot/s and the bots that your service providers deploy will communicate and arrange everything from your intial travel, car rental, hotel and insurance to extensions and extra insurance, and the recheduling of other appointments, and auto suggest places of interest that you might like to visit, or restaurants you might like to order from, (although you will still need to physically turn up and experience these in real time with NO setbacks along the way for this to operate at peak efficiency.

I have no words

The day opens with the admission that Artificial intelligence (AI) is “hard to define.”

This is an emerging theme. For the second or third time in as many weeks, I’m struck by thee lack of distinctive words capturing new developments in tech. There’s also a reticence to be definitive about concepts that borders on the incomprehensible.

For example: “ground zero.”

Really… that’s the best you can do?

Also “service redesign.” How can something to self evident be so difficult to define?

I’ve already noticed that this lack of vocabulary is resulting in the regurgitation of the same already borrowed, ill fitting words, to mean their exact opposite. For example: ‘hack’. This can be bad, as in “my account was hacked” or, it can be positive, because “hacks” are the outcomes of ‘hackathons’).

Dennis refers, without pause, or explanation to “disruption” by which he means an actual old school disruption, although I might not have called it that, back in the day.

Lately ‘disruption’ has been exclusively used in a positive way, when actually, at best it’s ambivalent and traditionally, it’s meant a temporary halt to proceedings.

The kind of disruption that Dennis means includes when a website hangs or the AI misunderstands either you, or your intention. (See the Scots in the elevator sketch for an example of this.)

At an event in July about the deployment of chatbots, one of the speakers, referred to “raw chicken moments.”

(Ghastly, I know, but wait.) A raw chicken moment is extremely relatable. It’s any time when your hands are full and you can’t use them to do things like answer the phone or press play, or speak on the intercom or touch the remote control, because what you’re doing is a bigger priority.

It’s during raw chicken moments that voice commands will come into their own.

I know I would appreciate my phone not ringing or pinging when I’m in the middle of something. Ie I’m having a raw chicken moment. There are times when I wish it would snooze, or mute, but I’m too busy to take the time to manually make it do this.  If I could yell at my phone to go to voicemail, and it would do that, or go to assistant I’d appreciate it. Since I’m already yelling at it to shut up and stop interrupting in my head half the time, we are already more than half way there as far as me adapting is concerned.

First world problems?

One of the big bugs for agency, (as it is for management consultants) is time taken to track billable hours. To combat this opportunity cost, Portable are experimenting with Dennis’ AI agent.

For the record, I’m unclear how this automated bit of kit that, well, schedules meetings, takes less time to record billable hours than the humans whose hours it’s recording, but I do understand that it’s meant to leave said humans more time to work on things that generate income.

I hazard a guess that the bot includes middle ware that can evaluate the diary entry fields: ‘who’ the meeting was with and the duration of said meeting, generating a line item in the bill as a result. I guess that must be how it works…

I question whether the value proposition is so niche that it technically it poses a minimally unviable commercial problem.

in his opening gambit Moretensen relates a familiar tale. All you want to do when you land somewhere is find out where the food is, whether there’s a pool or laundry, and orient yourself.

Instead you wind up in the hotel room having to log in to the wifi, and then download an app and well…

I like that Dennis is against businesses creating in house apps, (especially when a website would do just as well, looking at you booking.com and Air BnB and Culture Trip).

I like that he is against the the time, data and phone storage waste that apps represent to a user

As we established earlier in the series, I’m a thin client,low code limited app kinda gal. This is because storage was at a bit of a premium during my recent trip overseas, due to the age of the phones I took with me. I have no time for pig path apps, with bloated code, and the impact they have.

But.

Dennis solution is to install an Alexa in every room, so that as we unpack we can ask questions and multi task, which is great. But. He is also forgetting that hotels have real live concierges, porters and sometimes butlers (thank you Raffles) as well as direct dial in house phones with speaker functions…things that users are already used to using and expect to have access to.

So, he’s missing a trick a bit with that suggestion.

Questions and Answers.

Do we need to know whether the thing on the other end of the line is human or not?

Dennis thinks disclosure is important, but if you’re in any doubt the test to apply is “what can I win and what can I lose?”

This is a test that any reasonable human being interested in doing a good job ought to be asking All. The. Time.

He adss that business is all about trust. People find it weird to be subjected to daily Turing tests, so don’t be weird.

Are we moving towards a post human future?

No.

*Dennis briefly touches on motor vehicle AI and how it “dissappears.” I’m not sure I grasp what he means, but I will say that auto drive presents it’s own unique challenges vis a vis hacking and desirability.  If people liked safe driving we wouldn’t have car culture.

People like status symbols and risk taking. To be robust the business / MVP / user case has to factor human factors in.

 

 

Craft your own business @ Kathleen Syme

TLDR

  • Set retail prices including G.S.T. when you start out, and work out a wholesale price based on this.
  • There is no free lunch anymore. Marketing is a no brainer and Facebook et al are pay to play.
  • Reject offers of exposure unless it leads to tangible results. Specify your terms and conditions or don’t donate.
  • Local libraries offer more than books #3Dprinting #businessadvice #freestuff

The What

There are days when I’m spoiled for choice in terms of what’s going on in Melbourne. Tonight is no exception. I have two events to choose from, and it’s six of one half a dozen of the other which one it will be.

  1. Breaking down the Business model canvas at Academy Xi Exhibition Street at 6PM
  2. Craft Your Own Business: Panel Conversation about what defines success in craft ‘How we built our craft based businesses’ with:
  • Elle-May Michael (incube8r),
  • illustrator and crafter Hanna Mancini (aka Hannakin) and
  • artist and jewellery designer Tasha J Miller (Jubly-Umph).

The map suggests the panel discussion is nearer, so it wins out. I even remember to take back my library book. Win!

I arrive on time and ask for directions which the very nice librarian is happy to give.

A guy who looks exactly like Tom Ballard is one of two men in the audience of twenty people, but his pronounced American accent suggests he is not from round these parts.

In front of me sits what I think may be a Unicorn. I make a mental note to Google Unicorn specifics, on someone else’s pc, at some future date. In any event, it is balyage hair day at the library.

The key messages:

  • When you decide who you are, and who your market is, things start falling into place.
  • Marketing is a must.
  • If you want to boost online traffic, it’s pay to play.
  • Time is valuable and business is business;
  • Play to strengths;
  • Don’t work for exposure, unless it is going to lead to sales and customers and you discuss specifically, how that’s going to happen and agree to terms;
  • Set retail prices that include G.S.T. and base your wholesale price on that.
  • Handmade is not enough of an angle to attract a market. There must be more to what you do.
  • Quirkyness can work against you. If you only do one thing, you can be hot one day and out of business the next. Can your product be easily copied, or will it be exhausted after one season?
  • Online shops are great for mass produced items, but not one offs. Listing and selling of one offs comes at a high cost, if you’re not great at copy writing, photography and/or the web and /or you’re a maker and busy making product it may not pay off.

The Where

The City of Melbourne’s library branches are one of the reasons Tech and the City exists.

Having travelled the world for a year and a half, thinking it was just my imagination,  I’ve come home to find that, no, it’s real, Melbourne really does have a lot more to offer in terms of interesting free stuff to do of an evening than a lot of other places.

Amongst other things, my local library has reinvented itself. It’s now a community hub, which sounds like something Leslie Knope would say but check this out:

The ‘Makerspace’ on level two of Kathleen Syme (Carlton), contains a range of 3D and laser printers that you can just go and play with, once you’ve been inducted and passed on online safety quiz. This takes me by surprise. So much so, that I have no idea what it is that I would like to print, and have to go away and have a think about it.

(In case it’s of interest, I’m thinking something alone these lines.)

There’s even a recording studio at Docklands branch, if you fancy playing rock star for a day; art shows and writing groups. Today though, it’s a three person panel discussion and Q&A about starting your own craft business.