Expertise during a data explosion

No one really knows how much data is being created in the world. We know that most of the data that exists was created in the past couple of years. Some people say it is doubling every year. The reason that this is even possible comes back to lower barriers of entry. Until we had low cost computing, internet connectivity, and more recently the smart phone, data was isolated, segmented and verified by institutions who were given the authority to create, curate and store it. Authority in this instance was a function of finance. The cost of creating permanent information was expensive – print materials, broadcast hardware, costs of distribution all limited the ability for information to be created and shared. It meant there was far less data, but it also meant we knew where to look to find what was available.

Data has moved from being something which was structured, in know-able places, to something which is unstructured, distributed and without authority. It’s now organic, alive and rapidly evolving. Authority and tools go hand in hand. Now that the tools of creating and storing data are omnipresent and almost free, their is no authority governing it. This means two important things:

  • It will continue to increase exponentially
  • Knowledge no longer has a boundary

So how can anyone be an expert on anything?

In this environment expertise has no choice but to change. No one can know everything, even in the most niche of subjects. If we add to this the idea that the major factors of production are shared – that being 1’s and 0’s – then the potential for cross fertilisation of ideas is infinite. What is true today might be kiboshed tomorrow by new inventions, ideas and collaborations.

The new art of expertise has to become this – knowing where to look and who to rely on.

While we’ll never know everything that has ‘just happened’ and we’ll never be able to predict exactly what is next, we can study the trajectory. Pattern recognition, is quickly becoming more important than knowing. What experts will need to be able to determine in the future is how likely something is, how to assess the sentiment of future behaviour and how to be able to verify what just happened. Expertise is becoming a weird kind of reverse archaeology.

Increasingly what we need to know is how to work with the tools to uncover knowledge as it is created.  The age of memorising things for future reference is quickly becoming obsolete.

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Come join me Tuesday Night in Melbourne to dig into your future and some of The Lessons School Forgot – register here. See you then, Steve.

The leadership secret no one ever talks about

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And it is this simple maxim:

If you want to be leader of many, then you must first be faithful with few.

One of the most important sentences I learned from the late great Jim Rohn. And it matters in all walks of life and business regardless of our ambitions. The picture above is from an after dinner talk I did recently at a local Rotary Club. One of the things I have done a lot lately is deliver speeches on the technology revolution we are all living through. This is mostly the result of my book. Sometimes I get lucky and get paid to do it at a conference. But often I am also asked by local community groups who are interested in some of my stories. Which is what happened with Essendon North Rotary. It’s events of this size where I first got asked to share a few ideas and learn the craft of public speaking. In the startup community many times I’ve shared some lessons with new entrepreneurs. For more than 10 years I did unpaid speaking with tiny audiences… that is, the few people who had enough faith in me to give me their time so we could both have a valuable exchange. If it wasn’t for this, then I’d never be able to present in larger audiences like this. But on the flip side, we should never forget the few, even if we have the attention of the many.

It raises a few question of how we might behave in a startup:

Do you love the customers you do have? Are you faithful with those who gave you a try before you have any scale? And if you have many followers, do you still take the time to reply to the few who reach out? Do you still support the low profile few who made what you do possible, or just gravitate to the high profile few who you now have access to?

An easy way to test this is to tweet a famous person or brand and see if they respond. If they don’t, then they should be clear they won’t on their profile. I’m not saying every web tool can scale, I’m just saying we should be clear with our audience on what to expect. If you think it isn’t possible, I can tell you that Seth Godin still answers every email himself (he doesn’t tweet). I can also tell you that Cory Doctorow advises in his twitter profile of better ways to reach him. I can also tell you that Skype answers every tweet you send to them.

In the end leadership is about giving thanks and paying homage to the trust you’ve been granted by those prepared to take the journey with you, from the start. But it’s also about not be too ‘big’ to engage with those who helped you get there once you’ve arrived. It’s not easy, but the real job of leaders in the pre and post success era is to bethink both the few, and the many.

Bill vs Gerry

With great wealth comes great responsibility. The key word I’d use to describe this is ‘legacy’. When entrepreneurs become successful financially, then I think it makes sense to leave a legacy which creates pride beyond money. Often this comes in the form of the business that has been built. A footprint of good stuff the business created – which is the source of the original monetary rewards. Great entrepreneurs go beyond their business and create value for society.

What successful people do after they are financially rewarded is more important than what they did in order to arrive.

So let’s consider the tale of two billionaires. One from Australia and one from the USA. Granted the USA version is much wealthier, but when we are talking billions, I think it matters not.

Billionaire 1 from the USA: Bill Gates. No introduction needed. Gates has made The Giving Pledge to donate over half of his wealth to charity. He has given more than $28 billion to charity and focuses the majority of his efforts fighting poverty and disease in 3rd world countries.

Billionaire 2 from Australia: Gerry Harvey. Retailing magnate known for having strong opinions and doing his own voice overs for his radio and TV advertising. Sure his industry is changing (Just like Microsoft is under siege from web based software platforms) but rather than being happy he’s a billionaire and doing some good, he’s investing his wealth and energy into lobbying the government to change GST tax law thwart his competitive threats.

Despite the fact the GST is not the reason people are taking their shopping on line, Gerry has really lacked the decorum and perspective that should accompany a billionaire. Sure, Bill has had his fair share of questionable tactics in business, but he has never cried poor. In some ways, it makes me embarrassed to be Australian when our business stalwarts are showing such a lack of leadership in society.

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts, but I can’t help but think that it comes down to responsible leadership and legacy. If I’m ever fortunate enough to make one….(a fortune that is)… please remind me of this blog post.

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Obey your hunch – Leo Burnett

I happened upon a great quote today from revered Ad Man Leo Burnett which is probably more appropriate for entrepreneurs than advertisers:

“Steep yourself in your subject, work like hell, and above all, love honor and obey your hunches.”

Hunches matter. In startup land we are not in the business of research or satisfying a majority. Rather, we are in the business of sensing a shift and inspiring a minority.

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How to decide

A colleague sent me this quote that I just had to share right here on startup blog. Henri Federic Albert said:

“The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.”

And that is what we must learn to deal with in growth businesses – uncertainty. Our ability to decide based on a intuition and our personal world view is becoming a rare asset. It’s what we must move towards in a world full of data, but very little meaning. The other benefit decisions give us is real world feedback. If we get it wrong we can cross it off the list and move onto the next idea.

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Worldometers are great

I’m really loving the worldometers website. It’s a list of global statistics which are updated in real time

Not only is it a very interesting, but it is a terrific resource for entrepreneurs and marketers alike. No matter what your business you could grab some statistics from it to open the mind of your audience in a presentation. For example:

If in the distribution, health, food business we could present this statistic:

Undernourished people in the world = 1,026,904,563

Overweight people in the world = 1,153,103,026

Which shows that there ‘is’ enough food int he world, it’s just in the wrong places. It’s a distribution issue.

If in the eco energy, or environment industry we could share the following:

Energy used worldwide today = 422,173,999 (MWh)

Solor energy striking the earth today = 39,886,999,999 (MWh)

Showing that we have the 40x the natural resources needed, we just need to harness it.

In fact, the way we could use these statistics is limited only to our imagination. And when we are presenting to audiences, it’s their imagination that we should really be trying to inspire.

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