Elon Musk, joking around is serious business!

by Jamie Anderson,  Gabor George Burt & Art Reid

Image result for elon musk

Elon Musk,

Truly creative leaders tap ideas from all ranks, and are typically skilful at fostering innovation. They are open to diverse perspectives, and willing to take risks.  These leadership characteristics can be further enhanced by humor.  In the words of IDEO founder and CEO Dave Kelly, If you go into a culture and there’s a bunch of stiffs going around, I can guarantee they’re not likely to invent anything.” 

There’s an entire branch of social science that studies the psychological and physiological effects of humor and laughter on the brain and the immune system— it’s called gelotology. Discoveries in this field have demonstrated that humor, laughter and fun release physical and cognitive tension, which leads to mental flexibility—a key component of creativity, ideation, and problem solving.  Gelotology can also explain why many frontline business leaders are not just leveraging humor, but are also investing in creating playful and fun work environments.

Up until recently Elon Musk’s eccentricity and wacky sense of humor havebeen seen by most as a reflection of his genius, being a maverick innovator and business leader. His sense of humour has often been on display. For example, when asked how to warm Mars up to make it hospitable for humans he answered: “The fast way is to drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles.” And on how he’d rather die: “I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.” When asked if he was a Martian alien, “The rumour that I’m building a spaceship to get back to my home planet Mars is totally untrue.”

Musk had even considered taking merriment at his car plants to new heights (no pun intended), declaring in one interview “I’m actually wondering about putting in a roller coaster — like a functional roller coaster at the factory in Fremont. You’d get in, and it would take you around [the] factory but also up and down. Who else has a roller coaster? … It would probably be really expensive, but I like the idea of it.”

In February 2018, helaunched his now-famous red Tesla Roadster sports car into space, atop the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Complete with a manikin wearing a spacesuit in the driver’s seat, the car had a GPS Navigation system that displayed the message “Don’t Panic.”After launching the Tesla Roadster into space Musk declared: “It’s just going to be out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years. Maybe discovered by some future alien race thinking what the heck, what were these guys doing? Did they worship this car? Why do they have a little car in the car? And that’ll really confuse them.”

But while certain eccentricities of a leader are idiosyncratic part of their personality, we view humor as a leadership skill that can be studied, cultivated, and leveraged to drive organizational excellence. To provide guidance for this process, we created the Stand-Up Strategist 4C/S Framework (see table below), which specifies four major organizationalconditions or outcomes enabled by humor,and four styles of humor at the disposal of leaders.

Unfortunately for Mr. Musk, his seemingly intrinsic style is that of strong humor, which has the most limited application and needs the most mastery to navigate. Strong humor most often entails sarcasm or cynicism and is used by a leader as put-down, as a signal of dominance or to encourage conformity to group behavioral norms. It is the comic style mostly associated with generating negative emotions, and therefore the one with the most limited application in organizations.

An illustration of Musk using strong humor was a comment reportedly made in Tesla’s early days, in response to an employee complaining about working too hard: “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.” Although Musk’s misuse of humordid not become a major point of friction in the past, things became different when the performance of his company started to be questioned.

Tesla shares crashed 6% and two of its senior executives quit in early September this year, just hours after Musk sparked concern by cracking sarcastic jokes and smoking marijuana on a live web show. Musk’s antics occurred at a time when Tesla’s investors were becoming increasingly concerned over its finances and ability to build cars at scale.

Leaders need to be especially tactful when using humor as a tool to address stress, anxiety and organizational crises. And while other styles of humor may be effective, strong humor must be avoided altogether for this purpose. During a difficult period for the company, the then CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer was widely condemned for joking at an employee gathering: “I’m not here to announce lay-offs (pause)…this week.”

Similarly, Musk’s sardonic tweets, musings about sleeping on the floor at Tesla and wise cracks about becoming chronically sleep deprived have not exactly delighted his shareholders, and prompted severalWall Street analysts to call for the company to appoint a no-nonsense deputy to prop-up Tesla’s operations and standing with investors.

The lesson from Mr. Musk’s ordeal is not to avoid humor. Rather, it is to understand its proper application, and to use it appropriately and effectively, like any other important leadership skill. We see more and more leaders harnessing the power of humor to unleash the creative potential of their staff, connect emotionally with customers, and lay the seed for new, future-shaping, strategic directions.

Afterall, joking around is serious business.

The Stand-Up Strategist 4 C/S Framework

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Why Big Companies Don’t Do Designer Vibrators

DeLight FunFactory

By Jamie Anderson & Gabor George Burt


As Albert Einstein once said “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”.

But in the business world, there is a distinct lack of absurdity! Work has become far too serious, and in most organizations anyone making crazy, strange and outright weird proposals are typically met with frowns and grimaces from the folks in charge. The result is that innovation is often boringly incremental, with new products and services rarely triggering real excitement (let alone mirth) from customers.

Think about Gary Dahl, the independent inventor of the pet rock. He sold the rocks as “hassle-free” pets, complete with a pet training manual and a cardboard box fashioned after a pet carrier. Unlike real pets, the rocks did not need to be fed, walked, bathed, or groomed. They were an instant hit, and turned into one of the greatest toy fads of all time.

But imagine what would have happened if an intern at an established toy company had suggested something as absurd as a pet rock – market research would have almost certainly demonstrated that customers thought the idea stupid, and the intern would have been laughed out of the room. The naively optimistic young person would have taken this as a sign that ‘wild’ ideas are unwelcomed, and made sure to be reassuringly boring in the next product development meeting.

Or how about Joel Comm, the inventor of the iFart app for the iPad and iPhone. A digital whoopee cushion, the app includes 26 flatulent noises including “Record-A-Fart,” “Fart-a-Friend,” and “Sneak Attack.” Selling for US$1.99 it is one of the All-Time Top 20 selling applications on the AppStore.

Again imagine suggesting to your boss in a big company that you should enter the virtual fart business, and pitching the idea using a PowerPoint presentation and some ROI (or should we say ROF) projections? Imagine the look on the face of your boss if you actually started to verbalise some of the potential fart noises. We think you get the picture. This is probably the reason why no established confectionary companies have entered the chocolate dog turd business. But we recently pitched the idea to a group of 11 year-olds and they thought it a sure winner. We’re now thinking about a patent.

Another example is Gino Daniel De-Gol, an engineer who had an absurd idea while looking at a factory robot designed to lift car parts, and asked: “What if you could attach a chair to the end of it? It could make a fun ride.”  This amusing query was the genesis of RoboCoaster, the world’s first passenger carrying indusrial robot. To bring the design to market, De-Gol approached the Germany-based industrial machinery firm KUKA.

At first the company’s executives thought De-Gol was completely nuts, but he convinced them to develop a prototype. It was a huge hit, and the rides are now installed at fun parks around the world. KUKA has subsequently diversified into a range of entertainment-oriented robotic applications through its newly created KUKA Entertainment Division. You can’t get more absurd than the idea of German engineers strapping chairs to industrial robots – just for fun!

Also in Germany, Fun Factory has emerged as one of the world’s most successful designers and manufacturers of erotic devices for women and men. Founded by Dirk Bauer and Michael Pahl in 1997, the company challenged the idea that sex toys should be low-tech and modelled on parts of the human anatomy – which we all know can be pretty unattractive. The company has won numerous awards for the quality and innovativeness of its designs – its DeLight vibrator has even been awarded a coveted RED DOT product design award by the International Design Association, becoming the first sex toy to be inducted into the coveted design hall of fame.

To imagine that a vibrator could win a global design award might have seemed absurd, but the founders of the company decided to go for it anyway. The company’s futuristic Berlin flagship store was conceptualised by New York designer Karim Rashid and looks more like an Apple Store than a traditional sex toy retailer.

Observing the rapid growth of companies like Fun Factory, Philips of the Netherlands has also ventured into the erotic toys market – an area that was previously considered taboo for established consumer electronics companies. Given that the size of the global erotic devices industry is estimated at upwards of US$50 billion, what seems absurd is the fact that the sector remains highly fragmented and very few established companies have entered the market.

What we see is that truly innovative organizations are not afraid to probe the absurd, in fact they embrace it. And humour plays a critical role. Having a sense of humorous observation and inquisitiveness is a natural gateway to the realm of the absurd, a foundation for asking tradition-shattering ‘what if?’ questions – even in established industries.  In the words of IDEO founder Dave Kelly: “if you go into a culture and there’s a bunch of stiffs going around…I can guarantee you they’re not likely to invent anything.” Although Fun Factory might disagree….excuse the pun.

Research has shown that creativity techniques such as brainstorming  are pretty miserable in terms of generating real imagination and absurdity. The first 15 or 20 ideas generated by an individual are generally rather incremental and boring. It’s only when people really start pushing their imagination into the realm of the absurd – in the range of 30 to 50 ideas – that stuff starts to get interesting.

But even if people think of crazy stuff, they rarely have the courage to share their wacky thoughts. We wonder if any Philips product designers proposed designer rechargeable vibrators or pulsating LED-lit love balls during brainstorming sessions for new products back in the mid-1990s? Probably not, even though its unlikely they didn’t know sex toys existed –  after all, many Philips designers are Dutch. It is not enough to encourage creativity – organisations need to be comfortable stepping into the realm of the absurd, creating an environment where wackiness is openly shared and celebrated.

So in your next innovation workshop why not get a little crazy? Push the boundaries of everyones’ imagination and maybe you too can come up with a multi-million dollar idea as strange as a designer vibrator, pet rock or a virtual fart. Weirder things have happened.

May the farce be with you.


Stand-Up Strategy

Jamie Anderson & Gabor George Burt

In our interactions with leaders of the world’s most successful and innovative companies we have been struck by a recurring phenomenon – not only are these leaders intelligent, and forward-thinking, many of them are also very funny. Not only are they able to deliver a flawless punchline at a cocktail reception – they are also able to leverage humor as a strategic tool to achieve four important organizational outcomes.  Here is how you can do the same.

First, you can use humor to foster a strong sense of corporate community. Psychologists and social scientists have shown that people who laugh together have deeper feelings of empathy and bonding. So, draw on jokes, funny anecdotes and stories to get your employees to laugh together.

We recall a joke told by a regional CEO in a European-based telecom equipment company to open an employee meeting: CEO: “Knock, knock.” Audience: “Who’s there?” CEO: “China!” The firm had recently lost important contracts to Chinese competitors, so everybody in the room immediately understood the punch line. The CEO went on to speak about the need for greater agility, alignment and collaboration.

Second, you can apply humor to help maintain composure. Quite simply, individuals with a high sense of humor experience less stress than individuals without, even in situations where both face similar challenges.  Therefore, you should aim to maintain a sense of humor first and foremost for your own wellbeing. Mervyn Eyre, who heads Infrastructure Services for Fujitsu Americas from Jamaica, notes: “While leadership is a serious responsibility, I do think we take ourselves too seriously at times. I have no hesitation to LOL when I find stories or situations funny at work, and occasionally even ROFLMAO.” For the un-initiated, the latter acronym stands for Rolling-On-the-Floor-Laughing-My-Ass-Off.

Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies in Israel offers this advice: “Work hard, go above and beyond your job description if you want to make a difference, and ensure you have a sense of humor. The last one is particularly important, because if you can’t laugh at yourself when someone is making inappropriate jokes or when you make a mistake, then life is going to be toughNever ever forget your sense of humor.”

In group situations, you can utilize humor to reduce the pressure of stress associated with deadlines or crises. Jokes and funny stories are best leveraged in these situations, not to make targets or challenges disappear, but to improve morale and increase solidarity of purpose.  Terry Davis , former CEO of Coca Cola Amatil Australia, was known for his sense of humor. At one gathering he blew-up a competitor’s vending machine, and at another he took to the stage at a time when his sales managers were falling behind budget. He asked everyone to stand, reach under their seat, and find what was there. Every seat had a $5 note or $2 coin taped underneath. He then commented: “You see, all you have to do is get off your arses and you will find revenue.”

Thirdly, in order to navigate a VUCA world, you must excel at piloting ongoing organizational change and metamorphosis. Using humor can boost message retention among your employees, enable positive emotions and re-enforce core company values. Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, is a renowned storyteller. His rags to riches story is inspiring, because he overcame so many obstacles before achieving success.  Here is the humorous, disarming way he tells it:

“I had a lot of failures…I failed a key primary school test two times, and I failed three times for middle schools. I even failed my university exams two times… I applied for thirty jobs, got rejected…When KFC came to China, came to my city, 24 people went for the job – 23 people were accepted, I was the only guy who got rejected.”

 Ma shares his funny stories of rejection and resilience to re-enforce Alibaba’s core organizational values of entrepreneurialism, risk-taking and persistence. Similarly, you should infuse funny elements into your own strategic storytelling.

The fourth organizational outcome humor enables you to achieve is perhaps the most important: creativity. Laughter and fun release physical and cognitive tension, which can lead to perceptual flexibility—a required component for ideation and problem solving. Future-shaping leaders recognize the impact of humor to generate creative ideas from all ranks, spur diverse perspectives and foster innovation. In the words of IDEO founder and CEO Dave Kelly, “If you go into a culture and there’s a bunch of stiffs going around, I can guarantee they’re not likely to invent anything.”

The growing embrace of humor among leaders as engine of creativity is substantiated by the global proliferation of corporate April Fools mischief. Every year, the first of April brings new heights in the number and elaborateness of institutionalized pranking around the world, fully endorsed and even personally fronted by business leaders. You should get your organization to join the fun. It will send the strong, internal message that creativity is a valued resource.

Of course, humor can be subjective – what one person finds hilarious another may not. So, knowing your audience is paramount. Leaders who score high in the effective use of humor also tend to score high in emotional intelligence. The global nature of business today means that you must also be adept at adjusting your style of humor as you cross societal boundaries – an aspect of what has become known as cultural intelligence. Any ‘outsider’ who has worked in Nigeria or Russia soon comes to understand that while locals frequently joke about corruption, foreigners should not.

Now throw the instantaneous and global reach of social media into the mix, and we might soon be talking about digital intelligence too. Using these new communication platforms, your humorous commentary, if used wisely, is only a screen tap away from reaching audiences inside and outside your organization. As a leader, you never before had access to this kind of mass intimacy, which is a natural podium for humorous expression.

It’s high time we jump to conclusions: Future-shaping business leaders are re-discovering humor as a vital driver of organizational success. Consequently, the joke is on you if you fail to seize its power in guiding your organization’s ongoing relevance.

May the farce be with you.

See Jamie’s TEDx Talk ‘The Stand-Up Strategists.’

You Always Have a Choice. Or not?

Guest blog with Cyriel Kortlieven

Creative Thinking is all about seeing what other people see, but then seeing something different. For example, from a mathematical point of view, the answer to the sum 1+1 appears to have one clear answer. But if you look at it from a more creative point of view, it could also be 11 – if you put the numbers next to each other. Or it could become a “+” if you laid one numeral horizontally on top of the other. For the truly creative, there is never one solution to a problem, which means that we always have a choice in the way that we approach complexity.

You always have a choice. Or do you?

 But, do we have a choice in everything?

We can’t choose the weather and we can’t choose whether our partner will be in a good mood or not. That’s true- but we can choose how we respond to the weather or the mood of our partner. Even in extreme cases – for example being robbed in the street – you have choice. You could hand over your wallet, try to escape, wrestle with the aggressor, or shout for the police. But it is pointless to dwell on theoretical discussions in these extreme situations. In 99,9% of cases, we have a lot more choice about thinking, feeling and behavior than we think.

You rarely have a choice

If you always make conscious life decisions then why are so many people still stuck in situations that they don’t like? Why are so many people not living up to their dreams and aspirations?  Why do many people (unconsciously) not make choices?

That’s where our biology comes in. Only some of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are preceded by conscious intentions. But most of the time, we operate on an autopilot with our unconscious mind at the steering wheel.

Our conscious brains can only handle roughly 40 bits of information a second, while our unconscious minds can handle 11 million bits of information per second. Our unconscious brain is fast, instinctive and emotional. The conscious part of the brain is slower, more deliberative and logical. Our unconscious brain cares about 2 things: survival and maintaining the status quo (because the status quo preserves energy, which increases the chances of survival). The decisions that our unconscious brain is making are highly context-dependent. Whatever is going on at that moment – the weather, your state of mind, the time of the day, the last thing you ate or saw or felt – can influence your thoughts and decisions.

Does this mean that your unconscious brain is sabotaging the conscious brain? No, it’s just a different system.

But how can I make a conscious choice (and change my life for the long-term?)

Does this mean that I just have to accept that my unconscious mind is always the master of my thoughts? Must I stop making conscious choices to improve my life (and get out of situations where I’m not happy?). Absolutely not- but don’t assume it will be easy.

The ‘trick’ is to use the substantial power of the unconscious brain. How? By creating a clear pattern. Our brains are wired to create habits, and if we do something often enough (especially if it’s tied to an external cue and reward), it will become second nature. It’s not will-power or self-control that we need to focus on- it’s all about consistency and perseverance. Repeat a certain habit that you want to achieve.

Jocelyn Campbell describes a 4 step process in her article ‘7 Self-Help Myths that are Keeping You Stuck’:

  1. Create an Intention (be specific, and have a clear vision of the outcome) E.g.: I want to lose 5 kg and will complete a 20 km run in August this year.
  2. Determine how you are going to keep your focus on the intention. What’s the cue that could trigger a certain habit? This is an important step because it’s the moment that puts things into motion. E.g. I will place my running shoes next to me before I go bed.
  3. Identify what you will do WHEN things don’t go according to plan. Be sure that things will go differently – it’s not easy to predict what can happen, but you can probably already imagine three or four scenarios when it will be harder to persevere your new habit). E.g. if it’s rainy, my first task for the day is to go to the gym and run on the treadmill.
  4. Reward yourself when you follow through Eg: I will get a nice breakfast after my run.

You can reprogram your automatic behavior so it aligns better with the conscious intentions of your life. But that means committing to the process, being patient and persevering.

It is possible to make conscious and creative choices in life, but it won’t be easy!


Cyriel Kortleven  is an international speaker and author, and has published four books on creativity & change. https://www.cyrielkortleven.com/about/


Innovation Culture: Bring on Renaissance 2.0

Guest blog with Luca Leonardini

Renaissance Art

Venus & Cupid, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, Venice ca. 1480–1556 Loreto)


Think about Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. Think about Tuscany with its magical landscapes. Everywhere you look in a country like Italy, you sense the manner in which a culture of creativity and innovation has changed the world for the better.  The legacy we enjoy today reminds us that the expressive and inventive creativity that leads to innovation originated from culture, and not technology.

Over the centuries, every new church, every new bridge, every new “palazzo” or “campanile” that was built in Italy was not just “another building”: it was something much more meaningful for the whole community. These landmarks were the expression of a unique approach to life, an emerging mentality that changed the world for the better.

Today we are experiencing something very similar with an unmatched explosion of creativity in many companies and organizations – but it could better. This is because the vast majority of people within organizations have come to understand that creativity is important for their job, but few really see themselves as imaginative and curious beings. And only a small fraction believe that their company has a true desire for them to be more creative.

How might it be possible to reverse this situation? Fabiola Gianotti, Director General of CERN, recently stated at the World Economic Forum in Davos: “We need to break the cultural silos. Too often people put science and arts in different silos, whereas they are the highest expression of the curiosity and creativity of humanity.”

We think that Gianotti highlighted one of the core problems with the current approach to creativity, at least for people over 30 years old: things can be hard to change without a new educational paradigm, based upon the principles of “learning to unlearn” and of defying conventional wisdom.

Learning to unlearn from the past, and learning to embrace innovation was a very successful cultural approach in the 14th century: why don’t we embrace it again today as
 a valuable roadmap for creating new prosperity? We could call it “Renaissance 2.0”.

Now think about Amazon, Google, Virgin, Zappos, Facebook and the rest of the innovators group: when innovation is culture, progress and continuous inventiveness are the natural consequences. The continuous evolution and re-invention of these organizations is the result of their cultures of innovation, and their ability to let ideas flourish, to test, fail, to learn as fast as they can, and to iterate the cycle again and again.

The continuing relevance of these organizations is not rooted within their products, but in their ability to continuously redefine their business, in other words their relevance is rooted in a creative and agile mindset.

To get innovation culture right, we believe that organizations need to embrace a number of essential mantras:

  • Innovation does not happen. It must be built.
  • Innovation is not a cost. It’s an investment.
  • Innovation is not rooted in technology, but in ideas.
  • Innovation is not novelty. It’s culture.
  • Innovation is not tactics. It’s strategy.
  • Innovation is not an arrival point. It’s a continuous journey.
  • Innovation is not a trendy debate. It’s team work.
  • Innovation is not a concept; at its heart innovation is about people.
  • Innovation is not for few smart people. It’s for everybody.
  • Innovation is not an add on. It’s an enriching and growing path.
  • Innovation is not to make money. It creates value and legacy.
  • Innovation is not an end to itself. It must be meaningful.

The innovation path is not linear, but exponential; it is about re-imagining new boundaries and achieving continuous relevance.

While humanity might never again reach the rich architectural heights of the Renaissance, we have great opportunities to create value and meaning for ourselves and for future generations.

By truly embracing a culture of creativity and innovation, we could bring forth an age of “Renaissance 2.0”, something for which future generations would be grateful to us. Just as today we are grateful to Dante, Giotto, Michelangelo and Leonardo.


Luca Leonardini is a TEDx organizer, Business Development Advisor, Teacher of Innovative Strategies, and Blogger on Creativity and Innovation. His mission is to build a world where companies will compete to be the best for their customers, not to be the biggest.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lucaleonardini

Website: http://www.lucaleonardini.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucaleonardini/




Being at the Gym at 6am is not work-life balance.


A few years ago I attended a country-level annual employee event of a top international consultancy firm, and as part of the gathering one of the firm’s senior partners had produced a mini-documentary on achieving work-life balance. The film started with a 6am wake-up, followed by step-trainer work-out and shower before 35 minutes with her husband and two pre-school children who were then taken to day-care and kindergarten by the family’s live-in helper. Then came the commute to work (attending phone conference on the way) and meetings with clients until around 7pm. This was followed by a commute home, one-hour dinner with family (prepared by live-in helper) and a 10-minute bedtime story. A quick glass of wine with her husband followed, before another few hours of email and proposal writing.

I witnessed a lot of decidedly uncomfortable looking Millenials in the audience who realised that the partner on the stage was actually being proposed by the firm as a role-model for others. In the Q&A session that followed she revealed that she had taken just six days of vacation time in the previous twelve months.

The scary think in listening to this consulting partner was recognizing so many of the things that I myself had engaged in just a few years before. Trying to keep the three balls of career, family and self in the air is exhausting, and that is why I am still perplexed by people who think they have a work-life balance because they can fit in a 6am gym session once or twice a week, just like I used to do. How is 90 minutes in a gym a week, often while still half-asleep, some kind of balance?

It was the same story with vacations – although I took the mandated number of weeks each year, I was rarely away from my computer or mobile phone. On several occasions I actually left family vacations mid-way through to deal with ‘important’ work matters. Or the times when I was reading bedtime stories to my kids, but finding myself rushing through so that I could get back to my email or the report I was working on. My littlest boy Charlie always knew when I was skipping a few paragraphs from his favourite bedtime story – and he soon let me know it!

The behaviours demonstrated by the partner of the consultancy firm, and the approaches that I had engaged in myself, are part of a repertoire of tactics adopted by high-achievers who are desperately trying to achieve a “work-life balance” and are based upon deeply held assumptions.  The thinking behind getting to work-life balance is that individuals need to prioritize between work (career and how one makes a living) and life (health, family, leisure and spirituality).

According to this approach, people should be able compartmentalize everything into either work activities (work, meetings, conferences, business trips) or life pursuits (focusing on health and wellbeing, spending time with family and friends, taking time for oneself). This is exactly what I was trying to do throughout my 30s – and it was certainly what I witnessed with the partner of the consulting firm in the Netherlands.

The underlying reason for this mind-set is that the vast majority of organizations still adhere to an industrial age operating model, with accompanying beliefs about technology, organization, processes and culture. This is true whether these organizations be publicly listed firms, family owned companies, start-ups or public sector organizations such as universities and hospitals.

In the industrial age advances in technology drove incredible leaps in human productivity and economic prosperity. But there was a massive gulf between the technological resources of organizations and private individuals, and factories and offices were designed around providing access to technology – whether it was machinery or mainframe computing, or communication tools such as the telephone and facsimile machine.  While access to certain specialized technologies is still important in many industries, the degree to which people need to travel to work to access these technologies has changed dramatically.

Step-fold improvements in information and communication technologies have created low-cost access to technologies that often outperform the legacy technological infrastructure of many established organizations. But in many organizations employees are banned from accessing these productivity tools, or are expected to access them only from the workplace.

While old world practices expect people to come into concrete walls to work, with digital technology people can work anywhere. But organization trust is so fragile that many managers still have a need to see their workers to make sure they are working.  And many employees feel that they have to be seen to be physically present to be valued, often working long hours simply to be seen to be working long hours rather than because there is real work to be done.

The pre-digital age organizational model typically involved entities built around activity systems in which key human resources were ‘contracted’ in a more or less exclusive manner. Loyalty was expected, and it was not unusual to meet ‘lifers’ in many organizations. People who changed jobs frequently were often viewed with suspicion, and the opportunity for people to work as ‘free agents’ was severely limited by the technological constraints that we have mentioned above. But over the past two decades these constraints and attitudes have been undermined.

Rather than relying on dedicated human resources, the boundaries of organizations have became more permeable as firms initially looked towards outsourcing and consultancy. More recently there has been an even more dramatic shift – in some sectors organizations have started to employ interim management at even the most senior levels.

The digital age has seen an explosion in the number of intellectual free agents who desire to collaborate openly with other individuals and institutions. Free agents are knowledge workers who determine their own work portfolio and often integrate their own work/life tradeoffs, without a contractual commitment to a single employer. Some of these people have chosen this path, while others have been forced into free-agent status due to losing their jobs.

Despite the explosion of digital technology, and the increasing permeability of the boundaries of many organizations, underlying organizational processes and cultural norms have been much slower to shift.  In the pre-industrial age different work and social activities were typically dispersed throughout the day, and work and leisure was often seasonal.  Some months of the year people worked from dawn until dusk, while in other periods they had long bouts of leisure time.

Of course this is not to suggest that life was easy, and there were large differences depending upon the basis of productive activity. But life in the pre-industrial age occurred at a much more variable pace than it does today.  Industrial age work processes were designed to bring uniformity and efficiency, and this typically required the regimentation of the workday and separation of work and non-work activities.

Isn’t it time to re-think work-life balance?

AI for Busy People: Making sense of the stuff being written about Artificial Intelligence

With guest blogger Patrick Klingler*

Artificial Intelligence  is one of the hottest topics of 2018 and thousands of articles have appeared on the topic. Academics, consultants and others have been forecasting the impact of AI on society, the business world and even private life. There are so many perspectives on AI, which is absolutely okay given that the topic is very broad and involves several scientific and social-scientific disciplines. However, a lot of authors fail to clearly  define AI when writing an article, and this often leads to difficulties and misunderstandings for the reader.

In this blogost we want to help you to tackle this issue by providing guidelines to (i) understand AI articles and (ii) be able to develop a critical view.

An approach to tackle AI

An increase in processing power and the availability of huge amounts of data has led to the renaissance of machine learning (ML) based AI. So in most writings about AI, the author refers either explicitly or implicitly to machine learning or deep learning (DL). However, we want to stress that ML is the mostly often references, but not the only dimension of AI. But what is ML and how should we to structure the AI-related terminology which is often used?

The classical approach to build computer systems is to define a deterministic program sequence in the source code. To do so, you can use operations like if-then-else statements or for-loops to process data and calculate the desired output. In contrast, a ML-based system is created based on data and training. You select a ML-algorithm, feed it with training data, interpret the output and refine the configuration. That process has to be repeated until the outcome reaches a desired quality-level. So the mantra of a classical programmable system is “program and deploy” whereas the mantra of a ML-system is “train and optimize”.

Also, it definitely helps to distinguish between four layers of AI to structure terminology:

  1. Big data: as mentioned above, data is the base of ML-based AI. Therefore you need big amounts of high-quality data to train ML-algorithms.
  2. Machine learning: ML is the layer that brings in the “intelligence”. It makes use of historic data to identify patterns. Those patterns are applied to unknown data to derive probabilistic predictions. DL can be considered as a sub-discipline of ML that makes use of artificial neural networks with a large number of layers for data processing.
  3. Cognitive computing: cognitive computing can be seen as a symptom of AI. It is about the imitation of human cognitive abilities like speaking, hearing or seeing.
  4. Rational decision making: at the end of the day, every ML-based AI system has the objective to support the rational decision-making process. That’s a logical fact as the system follows a strict rational statistical approach.

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Three questions

Now you are familiar with the basic tool set to understand the concept of AI on a very high level. As a second step, it’s helpful to think about some simple questions that help to categorize and challenge an AI article, opinion piece or blog:

Does the author actually write about ML-based AI?

Besides ML there are other techniques for creating “intelligent” agents. For example, robots that perform pre-defined actions based on sensory data or decision-making based on pre-defined decision trees could also be defined as an AI discipline. To be able to follow the author’s thoughts you should find out which technique he or she is writing about. Sometimes this question can cause problems, as the author fails to clearly define the personal definition of AI. Please keep in mind that this guideline is focused only on ML-based AI.

How does the author define “intelligent” behavior?

Generally, there are two ways in which AI-enabled “intelligent” agents can behave. (i) In a pragmatic way “intelligent” agents behave rationally as their decisions are based on data and statistical techniques. So they are only provided with specific domain knowledge and are not able to develop a generic model of the real world. (ii) Second, the behavior of “intelligent” agents can be compared to human behavior. Sometimes human behavior is equal to rational behavior, but often humans follow their own individual (sometimes un-rational) rules in decision making. Also, humans are very good at generalizing and transferring concepts.

While interpretation (i) can be challenged in a very objective way, interpretation (ii) usually targets a subjective Philosophical debate which gives room for different opinions. In some cases the background of the author can provide an indicator how “intelligent” behavior can be interpreted. A scientific author usually tends to interpretation (i) whereas a social-scientific author tends to interpretation (ii).

Is the funnel from data to decision-making fully transparent?

A well-functioning ML-based AI-system has to go through the process of data provisioning, training of the algorithm and creating probabilistic predictions. You should check if that funnel can be re-engineered in a transparent way, or if AI is simply replaced by a magical black box. Quite simply, there are some situations where ML can’t be applied: (i) the problem can’t be approached by analyzing historic data, (ii) the required data is not available in quality or quantity, (iii) the problem is very dynamic, so data-validity is frequently changing. If you can find contradictions or inconsistencies concerning this point you should be critical about the author’s statements.

Never stop challenging

We hope this short guideline helps to de-mystify AI and to make you re-think some of the stuff that you’ve read. We recommend that you always try to fully understand and challenge the assumptions and statements being presented in an article, blog or opinion piece before you act upon the arguments presented. This will help you to avoid being fooled by unfounded (and often very scary or excessive) stories about the future of AI.

Of course, we don’t want to exclude our blogpost from this advice. So, we’re very happy to read your experiences and opinions about ways to make sense of what is being written about AI. The field of AI is evolving rapidly, so please feel free to share our blogpost and express your thoughts!


*Patrick Klingler is a thought leader in the field of artificial intelligence, and researches IT Innovation Management as part of his role at Daimler AG. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrick-klingler-682a6681/