The Human Experience of the Internet. #6 #cong16

By Leon Tunney-Ware.

The human experience of the internet…..

Modern day technology has moved us intellectually into an intangible, virtual world, without engaging the true essence of what it is to be human. In the blink of an eye it seems we have taken a quantum leap from the industrial age to the digital age. We are only at the conception of what I believe the digital age will bring. Our modern lives as we know them will shape shift into a part sensory lifestyle, whereby we engage without engagement....without the shake of a hand, the syntax of language, creating a possible devolution of the human consciousness. 

Take the human element of true, tangible social connection into a reality of interpersonal relationships. Many of the things we take for granted in todaysí timeline; shops, cinema, bowling, libraries will become a thing of the past. If you look back in recent times at how music has evolved, through this evolution you see a devolution of the high street music store, from what it was to what it is now.... I think we can all see the future of the high street music store or lack thereof. 

Taking the music store as an example I'm sure with foresight you can see how our tangible world will change. I am conscious as I write this that it may be perceived that I am against the digital age or that I have an undertone of negativity towards technology...It could not be further from the truth! With this digital transformation I do believe that we have to be responsibly conscious of the impact on the youth of today and not allow the digital rollercoaster to consume them and detach them from many of the everyday life experiences they will need to create social interactions.

Without a digital social conscience the future of the digital age could bring the past of the human age....What I mean by this is the human being is a social animal...we have come from a grunt to a sophisticated language and with that transformation manifested a social society made up of everyday, tangible interactions, a consequence of those interactions is a by-product of empathy. Empathy is an accumulation of full sensory input and as we move into the future of the birth of the digital age, a social responsibility is knocking at the door of society to create a realisation that a social engagement is in fact a "social" engagement. 

Whichever direction the digital age travels, it will solve many of societyís problems for example, traffic jams will more than likely become a thing of the past as many people will work from home as virtual employees. As the population grows we will have virtual classrooms, colleges and even virtual health clinics, whereby you will have an app that will take your heart rate, blood pressure, specimen of breath etc.  It will probably be connected to a database and with perhaps a wristband that will connect you to a cyber health clinic that will send out a text to make you aware of predicted future health problems!

Speed cameras will become a thing of the past, GPS governance on your vehicle to ensure you do not speed!

 An immobiliser fitted to your vehicle that you will blow into to ensure that your blood alcohol is below the legal limit!

A chip will be implanted into people on probation to monitor their whereabouts at all times!

These are obviously all possibilities, but I am sure you can see they are congruent with the algorhythm that is the digital age. 

In many ways our world as we know it will change, in good ways and bad. For us to remain truly human we need to protect from isolation of individuals creating hermit like families where they possibly mightn't even know their next door neighbour unless they are a friend on Facebook or the like, that in itself is not the problem.

The problems that society will have to address will possibly be an increase in depression, obesity and probably the worst of all a breakdown of tangible society. 

Without true social empathy and everyday sensory interactions on the level we experience in this modern age, logically society itself will not exist the way we know it. Without everyday sensory input we cannot engage with each other in the manner of a true human being. 

I'm sure that there will be many virtual products in our future that will look to resolve some of the effects in our digital future history, whereby artificial intelligence will be more human than the human itself.

Big Data is not the answer. #5 #cong16

By Syed Ghazi

The movement of science and technology is (and perhaps always has been in some sense) towards the shores of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The idea that we will demystify the inner workings of the human brain, then codify it and finally replicate it into an intelligence that is not limited by the human condition is an ancient idea which continues to fascinate our collection imagination. 

There is the controversial argument that theology professed faith in AI before science even acknowledged the hypothesis, but that is for another time. The AI aspiration comes coupled with the hope that it might hold the key to unlocking the biggest mysteries of our world. 

The underlying assumption of course is that the main objective of science and technology is to help solve the biggest challenges faced by humans, to name a few; climate change, cancer, incompetent rulers, etc. The objective is not necessarily the creation of maximum economic value; however in theory the two are not mutually exclusive. 

We all agree that there is a lot of hype about AI, but that is what it is – hype! The general consensus in ‘The Community’ – AI experts and 

researchers – is that not only are we quite far from general AI, but that we are headed in the wrong direction. Andrew Ng thinks we might reach Alpha Centauri before we get AI. Yes, one would assume he knows that it takes more than 4 years at the speed of light. 

To some extent the excitement stems from big data and machine learning. Big data’s popularity is owed to the idea of commoditisation of data at a previously unimaginable scale. Yet, Gary Marcus for one is convinced that big data does not help us answer any of the critical questions in artificial intelligence. He argues that the important questions have more to do with the human ability to comprehend language. As such, the important questions are not about making perfect recommendation engines or building machines that are very good at chess. 

A lot of people mistake a Siri update for progress in AI (I hope not). To be fair to Siri, speech recognition has made remarkable progress and it gets majority of what we say right in majority of the cases. However, it does not understand what we say and without meaningful comprehension there is no AI. To reiterate: speech recognition does not equal language comprehension. 

Although, it is true that getting the words right even if it is just speech recognition is hard and the progress is impressive nonetheless. This brings about the question – how come speech recognition is improving at such a fast pace? The short answer is that it has definitely improved but not quite the way it is generally perceived. 

For example, it works best for Caucasian males (native speakers) in quiet surroundings. If there is noise in the background and/or a non-native speaker it does not work so well. There is a very good reason for it and that is the methodology behind speech recognition: brute force. The power and fundamental limitation of brute force is that it requires copious amounts of data to work; ideally all possible permutations and combinations. Where there is not much data, brute force fails. 

Children on the other hand, do not use a fraction of that amount of data to reach logical conclusions about the world around them. Let us take the example of human language. Professor Chomsky talks about ‘poverty of stimuli’ – the idea that we as human beings are capable of making infinite sentences with a finite number of words. Machines cannot do this – not yet and not anytime soon by the looks of it. This is a big problem and big data is clearly not the answer. 

If you're thinking: let us have more data and we can solve the problem. Take a moment to think that all data is not cheap. But for the sake of argument, let us suppose that cost is not a factor. It still won't work. 

One simple problem is that it is impossible to create a database of all the sentences that could exist (which is infinite) and what they mean in a particular context so that we could use deep learning to give the machine the ability to comprehend language. It cannot be done. 

The idea that a machine can listen to cricket commentary and understand what is going on, is pure fantasy right now. Similarly, if we take the example of medical science; we have more than 10,000 papers a month coming out of cancer research and it is impossible for individuals to read and understand all of it to connect the dots. Now imagine that machines had the ability to read, synthesize that information and draw logical conclusions. That would be a game changer. This is one of the reasons why the obsession with data has to go because the stakes are too high. We need to move beyond data. It is obvious that brute force data processing cannot lead to scientific understanding. 

That is also why driverless cars are not going to take over your streets anytime soon. They might work fine in San Francisco on a sunny day but if the weather is not clear or you put a car that learnt to drive on the streets of San Francisco, on the streets of India, it won’t work the way you expect it to. 

This is because it does not have enough data and the data that it does have, is for a completely different style of driving. You cannot compute an algorithm 

for road rage and then do multiple test repetitions so that the car can learn. This is a major drawback of learning by memorisation – there is no ability to reason independently in a new situation. 

Think about it, all driverless cars obey all traffic laws at all times and all humans don’t obey all traffic laws at all times. This very idea that 'abiding strictly with all rules and regulations without any independent thinking is not safe’, is impossible for a machine to comprehend because even if you do somehow compute an inherent contradiction in a logical function, you will still need to train and test the machine. This points to a structural flaw within machine learning as a whole. There is a dependence on a training set and a test set, where the test set is designed to test the training set, thus both are more or less similar. Training is obviously controlled and the objective is memorisation of data. Testing is the real world scenario. 

However, you cannot guarantee that even if it does work well in the training and test sets; it will continue to work well in the real world because the variables are infinite. Google celebrated when its driverless cars learnt to recognise ‘leaves’. Think about this ‘achievement’ and think about all the other things like ‘leaves’ that a car would need to learn. 

Another misconception is that we have new algorithms because of big data and surely that makes things so much better. The truth is that we don’t really have new algorithms. They are for the most part the same ones that we have been using since the 80s and the harsher truth is that those algorithms are also just variations of the ones from six decades ago. 

As mentioned earlier, the real difference is the commoditisation of data at a large scale now; hence, the obsession with big data and bigger machines. It is now profitable to use brute force data processing to churn algorithms but they are not even close to being comparable to human intelligence. 

Yes, Deep Blue can beat Kasparov and DeepMind can beat Lee Sedol because they can train with themselves millions of times within a strictly defined set of parameters, but that is meaningless to real world applications. 

Anyone who has worked on recommendation engines will tell you that they are also right most of the time for most people and no one is bothered if they do make a mistake every now and then. Who cares if Amazon suggests a venison cookbook to a vegetarian? Probably no one. However, a driverless Uber on the roads of Mogadishu or Dublin does not afford us the luxury of being wrong even once. Tesla realised this much earlier than the recent crash. They scaled back their ambitions and put restrictions which did not allow the cars to be used on particular kinds of residential streets. 

These are all problems that will be solved at some point but that will take a decade or two or even three to solve. Some believe it might take half a century, which is still ambitious given the complexity and the scale of the problem. There is an inverse correlation between enthusiasm to solve a problem and the estimated time required to solve that problem. Yann LeCun fears that this optimism about AI might turn into disappointment - another AI winter. This hype has come and gone before and people might lose interest again because it is too hard. 

So the next time you come across something that promises driverless cars or robots in your house – think about Alpha Centauri. 

 Syed Ghazi 

The emergence of the online female entrepreneur. #4 #cong16

By Chris Collins.

The emergence of the online female entrepreneur

In the year 2016 the world has a female German Prime minister, a female British Prime minster and potentially for the first time a female American President, unfortunately you would not be able to name a single female founder in the world's top ten most visited websites, or even in the world's top twenty most visited websites which include the likes of Google, Youtube, Facebook, Baidu, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Amazon, QQ, Twitter, etc.,  However there are some very fascinating facts about the contributions of women to the internet not to be ignored.

The future of 2017, 2018 could be very different, with more female entrepreneurs dominating and owning the most visited websites.

Women drive the trend towards visually oriented social sites such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, which are the three fastest growing social media networks today.

Women on eBay on average earn less than men, and there has been a shift recently by women towards joining other online selling platforms such as Etsy and founding their own, which perhaps convey an 'Elegance' that women love that isn't present on established selling platforms such as Amazon and eBay.

Etsy an online selling platform, a serious contender to eBay, where, Etsy is dominated by 86% women, with annual gross sales of over 2.39 billion. Etsy also happens to be founded by four guys! However the influence of the female touch could arguably contribute to their success, the Chairman of the board of Etsy is Caterina Fake founder of Findary, previously co founder of Flickr. Flickr co founded by Caterina Fake was purchased by Yahoo for a staggering  25 million dollars.

There are many inspiring stories of female entrepreneurs who have founded well known websites such as, Huffington Post, Flickr, Blurb, Lifehacker, Meebo and Ning, to name but a few. Even Cisco was founded by a woman!

Fascinating stories of driven female entrepreneurship include which was co-founded Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp who met at Harvard Business School. is one of the top monthly box-subscription services created for women looking for new beauty product samples to try. Birchbox has more than 800,000 subscribers and brings in over $96 million a year in sales.

Some of the most interesting online female entrepreneurship stories prove you don't need to have a Harvard or MIT degree to succeed in online business, they  include those of Catherine Cook who founded  when she was just 15, MyYearBook has grown to 3 over million members worldwide and rakes in annual sales in the seven figures! You are never too young to start. Juliette Brindak came up with the idea for at just 10 years old, nine years on her business is worth over $15 Million and is visited by millions of girls every month.

Numerous successful lifestyle websites have sprung up to cater for women's interests, which is a ripe area for female entrepreneurs to contribute and become successful.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Facebook and game designers take the woman factor very seriously, some online gaming communities have women of the age of 55+ accounting for as much as 17% of unique players. Some games are designed with more gender neutral appeal while others 'Pink games' are designed around types of things that girls should like, e.g. fashion, design, cooking, garden, horses.

In the future we can expect more content and brands leaning towards women’s interests. Marketers should seriously take note. If you’re a woman, you should be really inspired by the real girl power behind the growth of the internet and social media.

Dept of Near Future. #3 #cong16

By Tom Murphy.

There are so many possible levers to effect change; finance, education, communication, technical innovation and so on, that planning for the future is now a major challenge. It is not always obvious what the next step is. However, we can narrow the field of options by eliminating the avoidable threats to our welfare.

Not doing stupid things is a strategy that can work surprisingly well for an individual on a day to day basis. On a collective level, climate change is beyond the point of being reversed or even slowed down. So it would not make any sense to make medium to long term plans without taking the possible environmental effects into account.

The consequences of increasing worldwide access to the internet are still ramifying. Although, it may now be more of a utility than a novelty, it would be foolish to think that how things are now on the web will be how things will be later on. By later on, I mean a year or two from now.

Millions of clever people are making smart adjustments and incremental improvements to what the web can do and how it can be made to work better. Goodness knows what they will come up with. But it will be different. And that means change. Change is good - it has to be since it is inevitable. By the same token it has to be acknowledged and managed.

Stability is vital for a business to operate and grow. However, to entrench oneself in one platform or one service delivery method would be tantamount to commercial suicide.

I could go on listing the big events that we all face but it is clear that even with avoiding the obviously stupid stuff there still exists a vast field of possible events with indeterminable outcomes.

This unpredictable future we face can be characterized as chaos. The way we handle chaos is by maintaining balance.

We do that by being sure of who we are and what we are about. Then we can push gently into the chaos. With the capacity provided by our strengths and energy we can assimilate new information and incorporate new knowledge and data into ourselves or our enterprises.

As we keep pushing out (if we don't have some fear and trepidation we are not dealing with chaos) our increased ability and knowledge builds a stronger base to operate from. And so on, until we start pushing up the daisies.

Balance is essential. Too much stability and we risk being overwhelmed by all the challenges we face. Too much chaos and we use up our resources too quickly in an unprofitable manner. All that is required is just enough apprehension to keep you alert - no more.

I don't know what the future will hold but being sensible and brave is probably a good start.

On a personal note: I think the most useful survival tool (we have to survive before we can thrive) is the ability to pay attention. More specifically we have to be more aware of what is effective and what isn't. This is not synonym for efficiency, organisation, or managing deliverables. It means being aware of what works.

The first thing that has to be established is what is it that has to be done. Then we can be as efficient and organised as we like about it. Pay attention, have some courage, and do not do dumb things, (use your cop on, as they say around here.)

Paying attention may or not save us but it will make the ride interesting while it lasts.

The future of education in a world of white-collar automation. #2 #cong16

By Victor del Rosal.

Future of Education in a world of whote collar automation by Victor del Resol

Up until the industrial revolution muscle power was limited to what animals and humans could provide. With the advent of the steam engine, the availability of physical power grew exponentially, marking an era of tremendous progress. This is referred to as the first machine age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee in their Second Machine Age book. 

If muscle power was essential to that age, brain power is the key for the second machine age. However this is not the natural brain power of humans, but that afforded by computers. It is the era we live in, where plentiful computing power—which continues to grow exponentially—multiplies the availability of cognitive power. Today computers are doing the jobs that were reserved for humans not long ago. This is powering the era of automation.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee point out that it is the “exponential, digital, and combinatorial” nature of technology that underpins the powerful nature of the second machine age. Processes which were limited to human labor are now being performed by computer code. Automation will continue to especially impact work that is predictable and repetitive.

The implications are profound and far-reaching. Within two decades the equivalent of billions of new brains will be added to the global economy. But these will not be human brains but artificial intelligence agents performing all sorts of knowledge tasks. 

Not so special after all

As the global supply in intelligence—human or artificial—increases, human cognition loses its value; it is no longer unique, especially as AI systems get more sophisticated. This is because the supply of computing power is steadily increasing, and it will do so until it becomes ubiquitous. Overall the price of a floating operation per second is dropping. All of this powers a cocktail of technologies that make us humans increasingly replaceable. Humans may not be so special after all. Computer code is replacing basic human cognitive functions across a variety of functions and industries.

One of the consequences of the technological progress is precisely our availability to replace human cognition with machine cognition.

Automation is not a new thing

However, automation is not a new thing. In a Pew Research Center study, Jim Warren, the founder and chair of the First Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy, wrote that “Automation has been replacing human labor—and demolishing jobs—for decades, and will continue to do so. It creates far fewer jobs than it destroys, and the jobs it does create often—probably usually—require far more education, knowledge, understanding and skills than the jobs it destroys.”

Rex Troumbley, researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, wrote, “We can expect robots, artificial intelligences, and other artilects to increasingly displace human labor, especially in wealthy parts of the world. We may see the emergence of a new economy not based upon wage labor and could be realizing the benefits of full unemployment (getting rid of the need to work in order to survive)”.

The reason why this will start in wealthier parts of the world is simple: a worker in the developed world is more expensive than her peer in a developing country. There is simply more incentive for a corporation to start an automation process where wages are higher. In the developing world, where labor intensity is still affordable it will take longer, but it will also come of age.

AI and robotics will continue to displace low level worker skills

A top digital media strategist at a U.S. national public news organization responded, “Our continuing failure to re-train under-skilled workers will continue to create a glut of un- and underemployed as advances in AI and robotics require workers that are more educated than ever before. Those who attain those education levels will find new opportunities while under-skilled workers are left on the curb.”

Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group and author, responded, “Enterprises will require a highly educated, digital and data literate workforce, which does not bode well for blue-collar workers, or softer skill white-collar workers. Given trends in U.S. education, this could lead to high demand for engineers from foreign countries (as we've seen in the past) with advanced degrees in engineering, mathematics, etc., as institutions of higher learning in this country fail to produce enough graduates with the requisite skill sets.”

Education for the new wave of knowledge workers

If we accept that the new knowledge worker is an augmented human capable of leveraging knowledge and emerging technologies to achieve what a small army of non-augmented humans could do a few years ago, then we have to seriously ponder: how do you teach a learner like that?

No more carbon copies

In an Industrial economy, education was designed to replicate workers, so that they were interchangeable pieces of well-oiled machinery. However, exact copies of worker are no longer as useful or relevant, because, by virtue of automation we see that eventually most predictable patterns will be ultimately replaced. Emerging education must recognize that learners in the new economy are moving towards an era of specialization, where workers and entrepreneurs will be highly rewarded for coming up with unique solutions.

Education will then move away from the mass-production of graduates towards highly customized educational programs. Instead of following a cookie-cutter approach to teaching and learning we will realize that it makes more sense to follow highly personalized teaching-learning methodologies which are adapted to each learner. While technology will serve as a key enabler of this, the biggest challenge will not be technological or even methodological, but cultural. We need to reconsider the role of education for the era we have entered.

Realization of the student-worker-preneur

One of the questionable assumptions relates to how the educational system sees the learner: is she an employee? Is she an entrepreneur? Is she a perennial student?

John Baker, founder of Desire2Learn, asserts that “life in the industrial economy was typically viewed as a series of discrete segments: school, work and retirement. But this thinking is no longer viable as we have entered the era of lifelong learning.”

Are we then teaching students to be employees and not entrepreneurs? While we may be tempted to answer that everyone must be trained as an entrepreneur, it does not mean that everyone wants to be exclusively one or the other. The reality might lie somewhere in between: we need for learners to become proactive lifelong learners, who will likely work for a company as a full-time employee at some stage, and will more-than-likely start their own company, or be a freelancer. Hence a more balanced term which reconciles reality and work trends might be summarized in the realization of the student-worker-preneur, a term I have coined to represent that each of us is a student who is a worker and an entrepreneur in different degrees throughout our careers.

Memory augmentation: commoditized knowledge

If, for all practical purposes, knowledge is a Google search away, memorizing things will become irrelevant. The idea of regurgitating dates and names for the sake of it will be seen as a waste of time. Access to information will become increasingly commoditized and it will also be enhanced and sophisticated: from voice commands, to augmented reality displays, to automatic face recognition—the trend in memory augmentation is clear: we will need to memorize less and less. This implies that as educators the emphasis should not be placed on getting students to remember and regurgitate data. The case is strengthened by the increasing volume and speed at which information is generated; the body of knowledge in any given profession can change not in a matter of years but months or weeks. Hence, knowing is not enough. The actual competence, doing, achieving something, is the real test.

Questioning the purpose of education

How can education keep up in times of exponential change?

Whereas in an Industrial age the quantity of graduates was the key variable to optimize, in the new economy, it will be the quality of graduates. Thus, instead of graduating professionals with the same (commoditized) skills, the most valuable education will be that which is able to cultivate the uniqueness of each learner, including an optimal mix of hard and soft skills, that is, technical and interpersonal competencies.

Learning to learn

Decades ago it used to be enough to learn a trade in a four or five-year university program. However today, by some estimates, half of the technical information that you learn in a university program might be outdated by the time you finish.

In an era where new industries and business models are born overnight, it is clear that being able to learn at a record speed will not only give the learner a competitive advantage but it will become an essential skill for life.

However, as explored, the limitation for this is no longer access to information. Nowadays anyone can learn virtually any trade online, thanks to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC), or through full university courses made available by Universities including Harvard, Stanford, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While certification is still closely held by universities, the actual knowledge to be learned has increasingly become commoditized. As the new currency is being able to do, and not just knowing, the ability to proactively engage in self-taught education that helps develop real world competencies will become paramount.

Raison d'être: the motivation to learn

Underlying the ability to learn is the motivation to learn. In an article by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University, author Barbara McCombs, director of the Human Motivation, Learning, and Development Center at the University of Denver, is quoted on seven qualities of students who are optimally motivated to learn. McCombs points out that optimally motivated students see schooling and education as personally relevant to their interests and goals; they believe that they possess the skills and competencies to successfully accomplish these learning goals; they see themselves as responsible agents in the definition and accomplishment of personal goals; they understand the higher level thinking and self-regulation skills that lead to goal attainment; they call into play processes for effectively and efficiently encoding, processing, and recalling information; they control emotions and moods that can facilitate or interfere with learning and motivation, and; they produce the performance outcomes that signal successful goal attainment.

From my own experience working with students and business clients over the years, I see a clear correlation between the motivation for learning and the ability to learn. I would argue that it is more important to have a reason for learning, a powerful why that inspires the learner to pursue education.

This can be tied back to the importance of solving problems. To paraphrase McCombs, learning can be enhanced when the learner sees that what they learn can serve as a tool to impact the world in area that is relevant to their own interests.

This is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities we have today: helping learners discover a reason and purpose for learning.

Passion, Curiosity, Imagination, Critical Thinking, and Grit

Peter Diamandis often gets asked a question about raising children in times of exponential change. “So, Peter, what will you teach your kids given this explosion of exponential technologies?”

“In the near term (this next decade) the lingua franca is coding and machine learning. Any kid graduating college with these skills today can get a job. But this too, will be disrupted in the near future by AI. Long-term, it is passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and grit.”


“You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a mission in life. A calling, something to jolt them out of bed every morning,” writes Diamandis.

Developing a passion is a key. It can be understood as the driving force, the true motivation behind work or any other endeavor.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, “the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

In this state of flow, a student-worker-preneur can be completely absorbed in an activity, especially one involving creativity. During this “optimal experience” you feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of your abilities, according to the author. The key to this is setting challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for a person’s abilities.

In a talk at Singularity University, Ray Kurzweil, Google Director of Engineering, was asked "When robots are everywhere, what will humans be good for?" His answer was that, if under the logic that automation will take away a big chunk of the drudgery, the work humans don’t enjoy doing, it will leave us with more time to explore what we want to explore. Part of his advice then was to “develop a passion.”

American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson says that “what you need, above all else, is a love for your subject, whatever it is. You've got to be so deeply in love with your subject that when curve balls are thrown, when hurdles are put in place, you've got the energy to overcome them.”

Developing a passion is closely linked with other three ingredients: curiosity, imagination, and critical thinking.


Jeff Bezos said this about success and innovation: “If you want to invent, if you want to do any innovation, anything new, you’re going to have failures because you need to experiment. I think the amount of useful invention you do is directly proportional to the number of experiments you can run per week per month per year.”

At an award’s acceptance speech in London, Google co-founder Larry Page, said “we tried a lot of things, most of which failed.” He elaborated that when they set out to create the world’s biggest search engine, they were just pursuing their interests, hopefully arriving at something that would be useful. The key takeaway comes in the form of direct advice from Page: “You should pick areas that you think are interesting, that could be valuable, or where there’s a lot of activity. I was interested at links because I knew no one else was interested in them, and I figured you could probably do something with them.” We can infer from this that curiosity is key to arriving at what actually interests you.

The author of Silicon Guild, Peter Sims, points out the work of INSEAD business school professors who surveyed over 3,000 executives and interviewed 500 people who had either started innovative companies or invented new products. They concluded that a number of the innovative entrepreneurs learned to follow their curiosity. Without curiosity it would be impossible to expand the frontiers of what is possible.

Videogame inventor Will Wright, co-founder of Maxis (which became part of Electronic Arts) points out the importance of the joy of discovery: “It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you.” SimCity, one of Wright’s creations, is an example of this.

Curiosity and the joy of discovery are closely linked to imagination, another quality identified by Diamandis.


“Entrepreneurs and visionaries imagine the world (and the future) they want to live in, and then they create it. Kids happen to be some of the most imaginative humans around… it is critical that they know how important and liberating imagination can be,” says Diamandis.

“Imagination is one of humanity’s greatest qualities,” says Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, “without it, there would be no innovation, advancement or technology, and the world would be a very dull place.”

Critical thinking

“Critical thinking is probably the hardest lesson to teach kids. It takes time and experience, and you have to reinforce habits like investigation, curiosity, skepticism, and so on”, says Diamandis.

A movement called Philosophy for Children, also known as P4C and under the auspices of Stanford University, began with the late philosopher Matthew Lipman’s 1969 novel Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery. The novel and accompanying teacher manual were designed to help children in K-12 learn how to think for themselves.

Dr. Peter Facione, who spearheaded the American Philosophical Association’s international study to define critical thinking elaborates on the meaning and importance of critical thinking: “We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based…. The ideal critical thinking is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are the subject and the circumstances of inquiry”.

Ad Astra school: “to the stars”

Speaking of education for disruptors, it makes sense to examine how disruptors are teaching their own kids. Elon Musk’s disruptive endeavors span finance (PayPal), solar energy (Solar City), cars (Tesla), space exploration (SpaceX) and now, education. He didn’t like his kids’ school, so he started his own. It is called Ad Astra which means “to the stars”. For now the school is also serving kids of SpaceX employees. One of its features is a focus on problem solving. “Let’s say you’re trying to teach people about how engines work,” said Musk to a media outlet. “A more traditional approach would be saying ‘We’re going to teach all about screwdrivers and wrenches’. This is a very difficult way to do it. A much better way would be, like, ‘Here’s the engine. Now let’s take it apart. How are we going to take it apart? Oh, you need a screwdriver’.” This is clear approach to ignite motivation and critical thinking. “It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitude and abilities,” also remarked Musk. Interestingly, Musk reports that his kids “really love going to school” so much that “they actually think vacations are too long; they want to go back to school.” 

The Montessori approach

In a Wall Street Journal article, Peter Sims points out that “the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite.” He cites that it is so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia. Graduates include Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

In an interview with Barbara Walters, Larry Page said: “we both went to Montessori school, and I think it was part of that training, of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.”

The Montessori learning method was founded by Maria Montessori and it features a collaborative environment without grades or tests, multi-aged classrooms, as well as self-directed learning and discovery for long blocks of time, primarily for young children between the ages of two and a half and seven.

The approach nurtures creativity, taking after the work of inventors who typically improvise, experiment, fail, and retest. Sims points out that inventors such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were voracious inquisitive learners.

In a world flooded with often-conflicting ideas, baseless claims, misleading headlines, negative news and misinformation, you have to think critically to find the signal in the noise, explains Diamandis.


Finally, grit is seen as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals,” and it has recently been widely acknowledged as one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success.

Pinterest was launched in 2010. The story of co-founder Ben Silbermann is a great testament of perseverance. In 2008, Silbermann decided to quit a job he hated. However, he didn’t know what he wanted to build, so built an app called Tote… and it flopped. He then decided to try a new idea, a site for collecting things, and it was rejected by many investors. He made fifty different versions of the site, launched it and got 200 initial users. Silbermann personally wrote welcome emails to his first 7,000 users, and in this process he discovered that his early adopters were “moms”. The rest, as they say, is history. Today Pinterest is home to over 500 employees. The company recently doubled its valuation to over $11 billion.

Education and life as process of self-directed learning

Sergey Brin said “there are many important things to life aside from financial or career success, and in fact, it’s not necessarily the ultimate success that motivates you, it’s the process of getting there; the technology, the products that you build. I am not too concerned about finding something to do, though I do think it will be based on doing things that I really enjoy, and not have some end goal in mind.”

Being exposed to new people and ideas

Speaking of predictors of career success, according to Ron Burt, one of the world’s top network scientists, being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success, a discovery based on multiple, peer-reviewed studies.

Burt explained that if you are a member of a “large, open network where you are the link between people from different clusters”, as opposed to being a member of a “small, closed network where you are connected to people who already know each other” you have a much higher chance of overall career success

“The more you repeatedly hear the same ideas, which reaffirm what you already believe. The further you go toward an open network, the more you’re exposed to new ideas.” Simmons concludes, based on network science, that people who are members of open networks, and hence open to all sorts of new information, are significantly more successful than members of small, closed networks.

The relevance of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) education

The other key distinction in terms of education directly correlates with the first part of the book: emerging technologies.

The fact that a number of highly disruptive technologies are coming of age in a relatively short time frame presents an opportunity for student-worker-preneurs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM). This is due to the competitive advantage that comes from being the first movers in those particular technologies.

Software guru, Jesse Stay, comments that, “there will be a much stronger, and greater need for engineering, and STEM-related jobs.”  

Overall employment trends by the US Labor Market Statistics, point out that graduates of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors are and will be the most demanded areas. In the United States, STEM employment grew three times more than non-STEM employment over the last twelve years, and is expected to grow twice as fast by 2018.

Emerging technology companies will demand specialists in the areas we have reviewed, including 3D printing, advanced robotics, big data, biotech, nanotech, etc. presenting an economic opportunity of close to $20 trillion in the next 10 years. This will require specialized graduates in a wide array of industries, according to McKinsey & Co. However, as reported by Manpower and various studies, even at present, tech companies are struggling to find qualified candidates, resulting in unfilled positions and reduced growth.

Importance of the Soft skills: the 4 C’s

Perhaps some of the hardest skills to teach, the so called soft skills, may be the most important ones in a new economy. While we have already referenced creativity and critical thinking, communication and collaboration will also be essential enablers for the modern student-worker-preneur. Referred to by some educators as the 4 C’s, these soft skills are already instrumental in the workplace.

Leaders and Entrepreneurs

At the intersection of the technical and interpersonal competencies we can appreciate that two traits emerge: leadership and entrepreneurship. Arguably this is the intended result of the educational system. Moreover, I conclude that a focus on developing leaders and entrepreneurs might be the right educational aim, as this in consonance with the workplace shifts occurring over the next two decades, where less repetitive and predictable tasks are performed and where higher order tasks, in terms of cognitive complexity, will be the norm.

One of the projects we have started at Emtechub is precisely to identify young talented individuals from around the world who are doing impressive work with emerging technologies. They are emerging as leaders in their fields, addressing real world problems. We call it the Emerging Technology Leaders Global Initiative. Emtechleaders (for short) is a non-profit initiative that will help inspire young students around the world to pursue STEM careers, with a focus on emerging technologies.

Inspiring the young and young at heart

Neil deGrasse Tyson affirms that “Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers, poets, actors, journalists, they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don't fight science and they don't fight technology.”

Putting it all together

The Berkeley Alumni magazine points out that the inventor of the CRISP-cas9 DNA editing method, Jennifer Doudna “came to UC Berkeley from Yale in 2002 with a reputation for working side-by-side with Nobel laureates and having a knack for building alliances with other creative thinkers. She was also known for her brilliance at teasing out the purpose of biomolecules and for an uncanny ability to glean the shapes of the virtually invisible: the remarkable molecular machinery that spins within living cells”.

This is a very telling statement. It not only reveals the importance of the hard technical skills, but how important it is to be able to collaborate, and to think creatively.

It strengthens the idea that the way forward in education has to do with a mix of hard and soft skills.

High tech companies are not only looking for proficiency in the hard, technical side of technology, but on the soft skills. In a Forbes article, Rich Milgram, CEO of career network Beyond, is quoted saying, “And more about how you think systems through and work within the context of the team. Learning a technology is the easy part. Having the mindset to apply it, having the mindset and logic to process it, being thorough and detail-oriented while doing so, these are the critical skills.”

Teaching with automation in mind

If we accept that machines will progressively take over predictable and repetitive labor, it makes more sense to teach with a focus on the tasks that cannot be performed by AI systems. This will become more evident as automation advances in the coming years. Hence, it makes more sense to focus on nurturing a skillset of both hard and soft abilities aimed at solving complex problems, out of the reach of automated systems, at least for now.


The future is working (remotely) #1 #cong16

Simon Cocking #1 The future is working (remotely)

Firstly future technology will continue to make remote working better.

This will not be a techno-solutionist paean to how everything will be rosy in the future. However the unintended byproduct of massive improvements in personal computing means it is more and more possible to work from remote locations. It is highly likely that commuting to sit in front of one keyboard in an office rather than another one where you live will be something we look back on as a curiosity. Already many people come home in the evening to use tablets, smartphones and other devices to access data / digital content / entertainment. It will become more possible for us to be rated on the quality of our work and the timeliness of its delivery, rather than how we interacted with our boss or work colleagues.

Better versions of skype, slack, trello and other workflow tools will all increase the importance of creativity and reduce the necessity for middle management. 

Our digital footprint will be our brand and our reputation

This need not be too Orwellian a concept. It’s true there will need to be deeper thought given to thinking before we tweet / text / IM, but that might be no harm. For coders, Github, Stackoverflow and other online user groups are already clear demonstrations of the value of digital reputations. This concept will just expand into wider areas, especially for the creative industries. 

Dull repetitive jobs will be offloaded to machines, creativity will increase  

While Ray Kurzweil’s predictions of the Singularity by 2030 (machines achieving consciousness and massively superior intelligence to humans) can lead to Skynet concerns (the dystopia of the Terminator movies). However before we get too negative we are also looking at a possible golden epoch where the drudgery work is done by machines and humans have more time, resources and energy to spend on creative endeavours. This offers great potential for an increased quality of life, for those willing to embrace the challenge of working differently. 

Driverless cars illustrate this possibility

Yes many of us love driving. But just consider what it would be like if we had a device that could move us from A to B in a hands free way. Statistically driverless cars are already much less likely to crash than humans. Imagine if that travel-pod carrying you also had great wifi. Well would you rather tick off the service stations between Cork and Dublin, or watch that movie / read that book / write that article? Already we could be looking at a massive gain in our free time in a 3rd place - not home, not work, but the spaces travelling in between those places. The hyperloop is also currently being prototyped, to rapidly, cheaply and effectively ping us across the planet at speeds faster than flying. This offers the potential for more time to be spent doing great things, or squander it, the choice is ours though.

What would the social impacts be? 

12987914 10154123703642265 1537275770 n

This is something exciting to consider. Drawing on the small rural island community we have moved to, with around 100 to 120 people in the winter, and several hundred more in the summer, there are some exciting possibilities. People come together and help each other out. The broadband, ethernet and wifi all ensure that we’re not isolated (and yes it would be good if it were faster) but stepping outside the house, with areas of no coverage on the island you also rely on human contact too. In the first 10 days here we spoke to more people than we had met in our Dublin suburb in eight years. When you’re outside, rounding up runaway ponies, dropping someone’s dog back home, giving a neighbour’s kids a lift home, these are all things that help to build the fabric of rural communities. There is massive potential for technology to enable the repopulation of the Irish islands, and their Irish speaking communities too. The work we have, and the growing clients and contracts coming in could all spin over into more work for others here too.

There is a massive potential, by connecting and upgrading the rural areas to re-balance the onslaught of massive urbanisation that has been the prevailing trend of the last 70 years, post world war two if not more. 

Will we see bigger companies follow this trend?

I think the rational answer is no, but there are inspirational remotely distributed companies like Basecamp who are breaking the mould and being hugely successful too. Therefore I think it’s ok to appeal to the visionaries and big goal achievers first. Generally a few inspirational people then impact on many many more. Big companies won’t follow this trend. However small dynamic, mobile, agile companies will lead the way. These path blazers will map out an exciting alternate future for those willing to take the plunge. They will use technology to empower and enrich their work and quality of life for those that chose to follow this path.   

Communications Needs a Culture to Match #84 #cong15

By Eoin Kennedy.

I recently had a meeting with a technology company who wanted to improve their profile and particularly interested in inbound/content marketing.  As I listened to their CEO in the glass walled meeting room telling me about how dynamic and exciting he wanted to position the company, I could not help but notice the rows of glum faced employees, the bare walls and overall lack of personality.   The words all made sense, they were on a journey and wanted dynamic people but some how it felt vacant.

The conversation quickly moved to what channels and approaches could be used and predictably Inbound and Content Marketing featured high.  The company wanted to be like Dublin based Intercom and required training and content creation/editing to help them get there.  

In the consulting world it is hard to resist taking the money but this had all the hallmarks of a doomed strategy.  Content is expensive and hard to produce – even bad content.  It can also be an agonising process if a company has not thought through the process (like tone of voice) and is trying to be something its clearly not.

For me the process works best when you begin further upstream with some thinking on the culture and possibly some change management.  You can intellectually understand how the platforms work and word-smyth articles but it can be very short lived if the ethos of the company does not match as the force of culture will eventually win. 

Culture can be a very subtle and hard to grasp concept.  In the services arena Leonard Berry talks about culture being  “Shared perceptions of what is important in an organization, and shared values and beliefs of why those things are important”.  

Staff knowing why they are producing content and sharing insights and how it can be positive for them and the company in a way that reflects their internal values is a very powerful catalyst in uniting people in a common culture.  Considering the effort it takes to create good engaging content and that most companies/individuals tend to hoard information it takes strong leadership to re-orientate people especially when results might not be instant.

Equally important is how employees internalise a culture.  Christopher Love in Service Marketing advocated that 

Employees rely heavily on their perceptions of what is important by noting what the company and their leaders do, not so much what they say. Employees gain their understanding of what is important through the daily experiences they have with the firm’s human resource, operations, and marketing practices and procedures.

In short senior management need to write, share, motivate, be open, evangalise and lead (in this instance in creating great content) if they want to inspire the rest of the company to follow suit.  This is time consuming task and requires specific skillsets, energy and belief but those that do it with conviction can harness lost water cooler conversations in to powerful marketing tools.

A content led culture also relies on customer centric view and those who intimately understand their target markets find this transition easier as they create content that resonates.

Once this culture is in place and nourished great content marketing is easier and more sustainable.

The choice of Intercom as the company they aspired to be like was interesting, one that many people admire and who produce great content.  It helps when they have one of the country’s leading technology writers on staff (demonstrating their commitment) but their journey began much earlier.

Intercom have a open culture where the most senior staff are happy to share insights, opinions and things they have learnt – some of it being at best tangential to their core business.  Posts from senior management that sit along side new recruits are genuinely useful and shareable.  The engrained culture of sharing is led from the top and I am pretty sure reflects internal activities and an atmosphere of openness.  Faking culture even appears on topics they publicly discussed in a post on You Cannot Fake Culture.

As I left the technology company mentioned at the start, amid errie silence, my gut feeling was a pattern I had seen before.  Sheer will and resourcing would propel this content journey so far but would always feel forced and eventually swimming against the tide would take it toll.  Fostering some internal sessions on finding champions and management leading by sharing insights and company vision would not alone gain buy in but slowly create a new culture.  

Knowing who you are is a better starting point than trying to convince others that you are something you are not.

Smart Cities Will Be Driven By Open Data. #83 #cong15

By Darrell Crowe.

Smart Cities Will Be Driven By Open Data by Darrell Crowe

Smart Cities will be driven by Open Data access – but how do we access disparate data sets. 

There is great talk of intelligent sensors and IOT in helping deliver smart cities. The commonly used description of a smart city is one that uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs, resource consumption and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.

But what does this mean in reality for us citizens. The talk is of things like smart sensors on road and traffic lights that can be responsive to real traffic situations. That apparently instead of lights being set on traditional timed sequences they could be responsive to large traffic volumes and change the sequencing to improve traffic flow. 

Street lights that would be dimmed if the streets are empty or the intensity increased if there are large volumes of people on the streets. A road with sensors that recognise the road temperature and communicate to your car to slow down. 

These are wonderfully aspirational concepts. But how real and close are we to the delivery of such. I would argue like the self-ordering fridge these are aspirations that catch our imaginations but not the reality of where IOT and smart cities will deliver real visible change to us citzens. 

Firstly, how much more will these ideas touch us personally and directly enhance the quality of our lives? These will become intangible and invisible to most of us in their impact. As we will normalise their outcomes. However significant the quantifiable benefits, they could and will potentially improve traffic flows marginally, improve safety but maybe frustrate us users as the ultimate gains are eroded by increasing road usage. But who will pay for the investment in these technologies to commercialise them?  

The reality in my view is that the first phase of smart cities will be the collection and dissemination of information in an open source basis. As per open sources like android and IOS it will be the tech industry driven by commercial opportunities that will develop the real innovative solutions and not the municipalities. Just as Apple opened its eco systems to developers, which allowed the development of apps and brought usability to smartphones so will the opening up of data on our cities to developers allow for the creation of user based applications? 

Let me expand upon this idea. Imagine a city where all of the travel data is available in open source data for any user FOC. Then imagine when stepping out of your front door in the morning you are told the actual travels times to your place of work by Car, Bicycle, Foot, Luas/Dart or Local bus, based on my location and real time information. Now instead of having to listen to the radio or Traffic reports, identifying traffic exceptions and maybe gestimating your travel times based on weather (i.e rain) you can make a real time choices or decisions on mode of travel based on real time geo located information. How interesting would this be for you or me, the municipality or other users if for example 50% of commuters discovered it was actually quicker to travel by bike or foot to their destination than by car or bus. Would this change behaviour? absolutely. If city cycle paths were designed using information from the city bikes showing routes actually travelled across and through or cities rather than designed by engineers to fit into our urban spaces and left unused. Local Hospitals planned staffed and resourced according to usage data geographical location of users rather than arbitrary geographical defined borders and budgets/resourcing based on historical practices. 

Would this transform our cities to enhance quality and performance of urban services? yes, reduce costs and resource consumption, yes, engage us citizens more effectively and actively with our municipality’s infrastructure, very definitely yes. 

But how do you collect information from disparate and often legacy systems such as water infrastructure, roads, buses, pedestrians or commuter trains etc. Firstly we will need thousands of sensors and data gathering points. Secondly we need to make this available in a common format in one source location or Do we? We have some this information already but in different formats take traffic info it is in video, traffic flow and densities speed etc, but is this gathered for bike and pedestrians I argue no? But the reality is we can’t gather all this data in one common format from legacy systems never designed to communicate in a common language or common format into one one large single searchable database. This task is too large and too cumbersome. 

Alternatively we need to look at the internet and how Google and Yahoo manage data and information on the WEB. They don’t store all websites and information in one large database in a common format. Instead they make the web “Indexable” allowing searches in multiple ways defined not by the host Google but by us the user. This is how municipalities will and should be progressing with smart cities. Information is power. Once we have data in common searchable indexable formats we can use it to inform how we manage and control our cities. Technology companies will also develop innovative user based solutions. 

The Voice Inside My Head #82 #cong15

By Paul Killoran.

Being a CEO is tough. And no, I’m not talking about cashflow, customers, employees, product or any of the other rational things that I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. No, I’m talking about the one irrational thing that I can never escape from; the voice inside my head.

The same voice that questions and analyses every single thing that I do. A voice that debilitates me at times. A voice that don’t seem to have an “off” switch.

And so, I started to ask myself where did this voice come from? Why do I have it? And how in the name of God, can I turn it off?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Web Summit in Dublin. I walked around the RDS looking at early stage start-ups pitching for their lives all trying to disrupt something. Everybody was so busy disrupting, that if you weren’t disrupting you were clearly wasting your time.

After an hour of being disrupted, I finally found a coffee shop. I sat down and ordered a hot chocolate. It was divine. It was probably the most disruptive thing that had happened to me all day.

On the train home, I read an article by David Heinemeier Hansson (Founder of Basecamp/37Signals) called “Reconsider”. In this article, David questions the modern day obsession with unicorns and the idea that we need to disrupt everything. We’re no longer interested in building simple products, for simple customers, for simple money. 

Nobody wants to sell a simple mug of hot chocolate anymore. 

Why? Because we want to feel special.

We want to prove that we’re better than everyone else. We want to believe that we’re the main character of a very special story called “Life” and that everything in the world revolves around us. Creating a unicorn would prove this.

But deep inside my head, I have a constant fear about being found out. A fear that I’m just regular normal person and that I’m not special at all. A fear that I’m just plain deluded.

Feeding one’s ego is probably the easiest short-term way of suppressing these fears. Essentially, if I can collect enough social trophies I can convince myself that I’m successful and that my perceived reality is not in fact a delusion.

But will this work in the long term? Do I need to ground it in something more tangible? Am I special? Am I normal? Am I deluded? Does it matter? Who cares?

Social Media – What’s your Strategy? #81 #cong15

By Greg Fry.

I thought I would be all fancy and create a Video for my post, but that was never going to work for an e-book. So here is a blog post.

One of the biggest challenges when helping a client with their Social Media efforts is that they want to jump in and make a bunch of noise with no clear plan.  They are so obsessed copying their competition’s poor social media tactics that they forget to attach any meaningful Business KPIs to their Social Media efforts.  And whilst great social media tactics are a key ingredient of a successful Social Media Strategy………….Tactics do not equal a Strategy.  Time for a thought provoking quote:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." - Sun Tzu

According to Smart Insights 2015 survey 50% of business where using Digital Marketing tactics, but had no clear strategy in place to support their efforts.

In many ways having no social media strategy is as “bonkers”as setting up a buisness with no business plan. So what exactly is a Social Media Strategy and how can you develop one that will deliver results for your or your client’s business?

A social media strategy is a working plan that maps out the actions needed in order to achieve your business goals. Rather than “high five” yourself for getting a shed load of “likes” on your Facebook page assign real business KPIs to your Social Media efforts. A clear plan will also help employees and key stakeholders “buy” into your strategy, increase effectiveness and make it easier to measure your Social Media ROI.

So what should be in a Social Media Strategy? 

In a nutshell clear objectives, a defined target audience, a structured content plan, agreed social media channels, an approach and budget for social advertising and detailed costings for all Social Media activities. Smart Insights have some brilliant resources for a company or consultant looking to develop and implement a Social Media Strategy. Check out their RACE model -   Reach, Act, Convert, Engage

Enough about Smart Insights……here are my 10 steps to developing  a Social Media Strategy that develops real business ROI:

1. Align with existing business goals – Look at your existing business goals and even your offline marketing and business efforts and make sure all Social Media efforts are complementing existing efforts and working towards achieving the same business goals. Like a good football team – social media working together with all your other business efforts will out perform independent efforts.

2. Set Objectives – What is the job of your Social Media efforts? What do you need to achieve from your efforts? Clear objectives will make everything you do measureable. Don’t be afraid of attaching ambitious “Sales” and “Lead Generation” objectives to your Social Media efforts. Make sure your Objectives are SMART ones. (They need to “Specific”, “Measureable”, “ Attainable”, “Realistic” and have a “Time” frame that they need to be completed by.)

3. Identify Ideal customers, Advocates and Influencers – Be clear who your audience is and take some serious time out to understand what interests them. Make sure your content and advertising efforts focuses around their “needs and wants” rather than targeting them with a “self serving” sales pitch.  You should also look at where your target audience are “hanging” out online and what conversations they are having and what content they are engaging with. This will help decide on what social platforms to use and what content to create. Many companies will create “Buyer Personas” to try to get a better understanding of their existing and prospective customers interests.In fact Salesforce Pardot have life sized cardboard cut outs of their customers throught their office so staff are always thinking about their clients needs and wants. Check out Hubspot’s free persona tempate here

 Savvy Marketers will not stop at listening to and identifying prospective and existing customers online, but will also spend time looking for influencers and brand advocates. Develop a plan to enagage and collaborate with these advoactes and influencers. With 90% of people trusting an endoresement from a friend or influencers over a brand message….Imagine the ROI you can get influencers and advocates share your content and champion our brand. 

Some cool tools to identify influencers online include –, followerwonk and Klout.

4. Research Competition -  Rather than follow the competition’s poor Social Media tactics…….analyze what they are doing. Look at what platforms they are on, what the they are posting, how big their online communities are, who is engaging with them, what influencers are talking about them etc. Look at what they are doing badly as well as what they are doing well. Now develop a plan that trumps their efforts. Hootsuite have a nice competitor analysis spreadsheet which you can download here 

Some free tools to help you benchmark your Social Media activity against your competition include:  Agorapulse’s Facebook Barometer - and Simply Measured social media tools.

5. Select channels and develop tactics – Remember it may be better to be on less social media channels and build a meaningful community rather than taking a “supermarket sweep” approach and try to be everywhere. Pick the right channels to achieve your Social Media goals and “implement like hell”. Most successful social media strategies will have a variety of content. Eg. Short videos, Images, text updates, website links etc.  Some tactics that you may curently want to consider - Use images and GIFs on Facebook and Twitter, add links near the beginning of your updates, Use relevant trending hashtags in your updates (check out, create 15-30 second videos, post content when your fans/followers are most likely to see them, tag and mention influencers and advocates in updates, involve your target audience and encourage user generated content. 

6. Create a Content Marketing Plan - Once you know what you are trying to achieve, who you are targeting and where you are going to “hang out” online, it is vital that you engage you’re your audience through great content. The content you create should be “valuable” and “useful” to them. So don’t fall into the trap of creating boring, self serving and too “salesly” content. Consistency is a vital part of a company’s content plan: Companies should know where they are posting to, how often they are posting and what type of content they are going to create. This is vital as a sporadic approach to social media does not yield results. A well-thought out Content Calendar is the framework that helps many companies succeed in the social world. So open excel and start putting together a Social Media structure in place. 

A few tools that may help craft your content include: Buffer’s new content calendar - (NB. Only works if you use Buffer to schedule or post content), Canva – to add text and even logos to your images, Pixabay – for quality non copyright imagery (of course - where possible use your own images for your social media updates), to find great third party content for inspiration or even to repost, Pocket for bookmarking great content, Grammarly – to ensure one’s posts are spellchecked and well structured and finally Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer to craft the right titles for your blog posts.

7. Have a plan for Social Ads – In 2016 creating great content is not enough you will need to invest in advertising to ensure your content reaches your desired target audience.  

Social ads have become so advanced; you can now be “super” targeted and serve up the right ad, to the right person, at the right time on the right platform. What is also great here is that social ads are relatively inexpensive if done right.  

Create three types of ads to generate ROI:

  1. Ads to generate awareness
  2. Ads to build a relationship
  3. Ads to convert

Remember you need to build awareness and a rapport with your target audience before they are likely to convert into sales.

Ads that are proving very successful right now include Re-Marketing Ads on Facebook and Twitter, Video Ads on Facebook (check out the new Slideshow Ads),  Facebook Unpublished/Dark Posts, Instragram Ads, lead capture ads and Facebook and Twitter Lead Generation Ads.  

If you are creating multiple ads on Facebook you may want to look at AdEspresso a tool to help you manage and optimise the ROI of your Facebook ads. 

8. Set a Budget  - Social Media is not free. So you need to set a clear budget for it.   Some of the costs you should factor in include:

  • Salaries (A staff member spending 40% of their day on Social Media should be factored in. So 40% of their salary needs to included in your Social Media costings).
  • Social Ads – How much money are we going to factor in for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram ads etc?
  • Tools – What 3rd party tools are we going to use in your social media marketing that require investment? e.g. Listening tools, scheduling tools, video production tools etc.
  • Equipment – Do you need to invest money software or hardware for your Social Media efforts? e.g. a tablet or video recorder.
  • Images – Do you need to buy copyright imagery?
  • Outsourcing costs – Do you need to hire a digital agency or even a graphic designer from time to time for your social media activity?
  • Crisis Management Fund - Do you need to have money in the kitty in case of a crisis? It is a good idea to have some spend available should a social media crisis break out.

9. Assign Roles and Take Action – Decide who in the company needs to be using Social Media and make sure everyone has a clearly defined job description and relevant training. Remember Social Media stretches well beyond the marketing department.  Looks at the Sales team, the Customer service team, the HR & Recruiting team, the IT team etc. Develop a process for all communications relating to social media across different departments. Eg. If a customer service query comes in via the marketing twitter account how is that message passed on and tracked to the Social Customer Service team. 

10. Measure and Refine - Be brave enough to listen to the data and ditch what does not work. A Social Media strategy will constantly evolve. There is no end point. Review your activity regularly. Set and stick to schedule.  Use Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics etc to measure your Social Media ROI. That said if your Social Media Goal is sales don’t forget to focus on the money in the till;) If using Facebook ads make sure you use conversion tracking pixels to calculate the exact ROI of your ad campaigns.

Finally – the Social Media world is constantly changing and what works today may not work in the future. A Social Media strategy will require regular reviews and constant change.  Today’s inovative strategy will become tomorrow’s dinosaur if you do not tweak and iterate.

© Eoin Kennedy 2016 eoin at congregation dot ie