Thursday, December 27, 2007

Future Mind Coaching

At 6:16 AM, Eastern Standard Time, the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto was confirmed by US news outlets. This outrageous act is one more demonstration that the concept of "normality" is continually being challenged, now more than ever. Normality implies that there is some sort of standard mode of being through which the present condition of a system can be evaluated, as in "It's normal to start work by 9AM." or "It's normal for American women to have 2.1 children." Normality means that you don't have to start every day wondering if it might be a complete discontinuity from the one before it.

I believe that our sense of security and well-being is deeply rooted in the implicit assumption of normality. I also believe that the presumption that tomorrow is going to be pretty much like today is no longer valid.

A sense of reality that reflects insight into the disparity of forces colliding is a more accurate description of the facts of life. It is as though a googol of vectors from every conceivable provenance are constantly putting out their energy and interacting with each other in ways both understood and awe-inspiring.

Normality is a delicate weave of these factors that we take for granted; it is the fractal we have come to know and expect. Normality can be anywhere from bland to grand, as in this Kells book image that implies/describes infinity:

Reality is the interaction, the collision, the dynamic turbulence of a multitude of fractals in ways that frequently are self-canceling (bland) and occasionally absolutely climactic, as in the literal crashing of galaxies:

When vectors collide, replicate, interact, entrain in new ways, they create feedback effects for which we have no preparation.

And that is the point.

Even though there are a multiplicity of ways in which nothing seems to be changing, ours is an era in which the pace of change is accelerating beyond all known precedents. Who will be assassinated tomorrow? Who will be born tomorrow? Who and what will be understood tomorrow?

Those of us whose minds are wedded to yesterday's assumptions are woefully unprepared for the complexity that is coming...Hell, it's already here! In fact, we may be so locked in to what we know and how we know it that we can't even begin to see what we cannot see.

So, when the inevitable happens, we are surprised. We are shocked. We might even be so astonished, we die.

Nowhere is this lack of readiness more apparent in today's American lifestyle than in the fields of energy and transportation. These massive carbon-based systems are going to collapse someday. They simply aren't sustainable. At some level, everyone knows this, but the vast majority of us live as though this impending crisis will always remain a myth instead of crystallizing into reality.

But -- in spite of the fact that I've been wrong for years! -- I don't believe that the inevitable can be permanently postponed. Someday -- and it may be someday soon -- it will be upon us. And, when it arrives, most of us will be frightened, confused, worried and surprised! (Not all of us, but most of us.)

Dramatic change in energy and transportation dynamics will exert an enormous impact on where and how we live and how we interact with each other in getting around. I believe that our sense of individualism is greatly reinforced by the fact that so many of us spend a great deal of time alone in our automobiles. And, as a result of this "freedom," we live in relative isolation from each other in our suburban and exurban environments. The consequences of these patterns of living on our individual and cultural consciousness is largely unseen, but immense. A real inflection point in energy prices will threaten assumptions we are not even aware of because they are such background constancies in our reality.

And, when we experience existential threats and conditions, we will make tremendous demands on our leaders. It will be a time when the old aphorisms and homilies fail. It will be a day when only the demagogues and the legitimate big picture thinkers will be heard. It will be a time of a great struggle between those who want to serve themselves and those who want to serve the well-being of the planet and the viability of humanity's preeminent democracy. The looming energy discontinuity won't be solved with a 35 mpg fuel standard.

Anticipatory Leaders will be ready for this moment. They have time to prepare their minds, their hearts, their communication skills, their passion, their values, their information, and their networks right now. Working with the systems thinkers of the Society for Organizational Learning, Art of the Future is offering a range of future mind coaching and consulting services to those who are ready to embrace the new reality, i.e., the recognition that a singularity of some sort is approaching, a moment when humanity will confront the possibility of consciously reinventing itself (including the ways in which it generates, uses and conserves energy) or choosing the suicide of a requiem scenario.

Future Mind Coaching includes the following ingredients:

1. The scope of Future Shock with particular emphasis on the implications of the crisis of carbon

2. Discovering and challenging fundamental assumptions -- what you take so for granted that you can't even seen it and what a difference it makes to reconsider what you think you know

3. Becoming new through a range of processes, technologies, meditations and readings devised to "change your mind" to, as Gandhi said, be the change.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The PsychoDemographics of Attracting Creative Talent

We recently attended a presentation at Babson College by Tom Davenport, co-author of Winning on Analytics and a generally talented thinker. Analytics is the science of developing raw data into information, knowledge and wisdom. As presented in Davenport's talk, very smart organizations, such as Amazon, are mining data to support a remarkable customer orientation, e.g., knowing what sort of books to recommend whenever a returning customer logs on to its website. (In one of the talk's humorous moments, Davenport chided a Netflix user for not paying attention to the company's recommendation in building his viewing queue: "Big mistake.") Through analytics, the websites of large organizations can actually get to know you better and show more concern about you than a lot of smaller enterprises, especially the one where the 23 year old who is supposed to be giving you service is telling you to hold tight for a minute while she takes a call from another friend.

By linking monetary and near monetary rewards to customer loyalty and choice, organizations that study their data and learn from it are in a powerful position to drive specific behaviors. For example, what if you were to receive your favorite (and expensive) health supplements from your insurer for free for engaging in fitness related purchases? Maybe your insurance company would have an arrangement with your drug store to award everyone who made ten approved supplement purchases a year, as long as they could get a copy of the transactions. Even if a reward like this were to be a complete surprise, for a lot of people it would be an excellent "thank you" for simply making an intelligent choice.

Sounds pretty good, right. But, privacy concerns are one of the shadows to our suppliers knowing so much about us. By analyzing our purchasing patterns, our driving routines (via transponders), our food consumption, our professional (LinkedIn) and social (Facebook) networks and on and on, the owners of large data mines could actually know more about us than we know about ourselves, at least in some respects. They would become the practitioners of PsychoDemographics, the art of knowing what individuals and groups of people will do by studying the patterns of their publicly recorded behavior. For example, I know I like chocolate, but I'm not sure that I want Trader Joe's to be the ultimate repository of just how much of a sweet tooth I actually have as a result of their keeping better track of my purchases of cocoa-based products. But would I say no to the free bar of bitter sweet with almonds they'd give me at the check out line? Would the person in line behind me say no to the free cloth bag they'd give her for never using one of their paper bags? Would the person behind him say no to the free bottle of chardonay he'd get for making his sixth wine purchase in two weeks?!

Of course,
somber Orwellian possibilities are easy to envision when one considers what could happen if a powerful entity uses information against the interests of particular individuals or groups. Certainly this sort of David and Goliath match up would not be new. For example, as documented in An Unreasonable Man, in the 1960s General Motors noted Ralph Nader's frequent visits to a particular supermarket, where it sent a femme fatale in an effort to seduce him and ruin his reputation, an invasion of privacy which was ultimately revealed at a Congressional hearing, causing the company significant embarrassment. Imagine what could and is being done in an era when every click is being monitored on thousands of websites. You think maybe this is why so many mail order drug companies have decided to remind me how very much I need Viagra now that I am of a certain age?

When I asked Davenport if privacy concerns were coming up in any of the conversations he was having about analytics, his response was provocative:
In Europe, absolutely. But, here in the US, we don't seem to care as long as we get rewarded for giving up our data. Of course, you know what Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy said about consumer privacy : "You have zero privacy. Get over it."
(Hmmm. I wonder if Scott McNealy has zero privacy. I'd sort of bet he doesn't, but that's just a hunch.)

From the standpoint of future relationship between employers and the creative people they want to have working for them, there would seem to be a number of paradoxes deriving from the fact that so much is--or at least could be--known about us. On the one hand, Google's interest in hiring young people who've held leadership positions in clubs or wacky activities of some sort could lead them to track the performance of children in elementary school. Imagine how thrilling it would be to any sixteen year old to be contacted by a Google after placing 2d in a local high school debating society tournament or putting up a new mix of spoems: "Hey, we are checking out how hugely technocratic you are!" On the other hand, imagine how a teenager like
16-year-old Robert Santangelo feels about the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) suing his mom for his allegedly illegal file sharing. I bet that was a surprise, and not a happy one. I don't think Robert will be applying for an entry level position with Sony anytime soon, but I could be wrong. Who knows; maybe they'll come to appreciate his initiative and offer him an executive slot someday.

Here's my hypothesis: The companies that use the openness of the digital era against people will, ultimately, lose share in the competition for energetic self-starters to those who use it to demonstrate that they care about the people they understand through PsychoDemographics. The Palisades Medical Center will pay a very high price for having abused the privacy of George Clooney and turning his records over to the celebrity-obsessed media.
Top talent won't go for that organization culture. But, companies like Apple that use available data to find people who love to be part of great teams will be big winners in a future where growing the zone of personal trust and intimacy within an organization will be an antidote to the loss of privacy in the public sphere.