The Exits Lounge

Looking for a new job is generally a stealth project. Secretly updating CV’s, sneaking off for job interviews and quiet phone calls with recruiters. But imagine if a company encouraged staff planning on leaving to get them to help them out – better still, what if it had a formal ‘Exits Lounge’ which was a known, open company policy.

I know this sounds kinda crazy, and maybe it is, but sometimes we need to think of things in reverse, to see this could play out. Most firms have a formal recruiting process, but the exit process is informal and undercover, it’s as if they are pretending the traffic is only one way – people only come in, and they never leave. Which is kind of ridiculous. Imagine instead that employees could register their intention to leave a company. Have an honest, non judgemental discussion about why they’ve chosen to leave and be assisted along the journey.

So how might this work? Maybe they’d get assistance with improving their CV, maybe get their current employer to be a referee (if the employee deserves it). Possibly give the leaving staff member a short lead project to work on to make them more employable elsewhere. No, let’s get even weirder – imagine a physical co-working space for people who’ve decided to leave where they can work on the process of leaving, with assistance from the company, while getting full pay. The company would certainly know how happy their workers are based on how full, or empty the exits lounge was. Forget contrived culture surveys – just go see how busy the exits lounge is!

I’m certain any company which had the courage to create a formal assisted exit program would help them become an employer of choice and here’s why.

Firstly, it would be a more attractive place to take on work knowing the path out, is assisted. It would significantly reduce the risk of anyone coming in.  The company would have more time to find appropriate replacements for those on the way out. They would gather important cultural feedback from the ‘exiteers’ and have a chance to fix it – improve the way work gets done in their organisation. They’d see where the real staffing problems were – which divisions, what resources, which bosses. They might even be able to find a better or more suitable role for the person intent on leaving, before they leave and stop it. The process might even save the company money.

The kind of approach could make the company more like a learning institution, or a University where people actually expect to graduate from it – which in reality most people do. Almost no one stays at a company for life these days. It would even be a bit like a family where people learn, grow and eventually leave the home – with the help of their parents. But also, it would be a more human place to work because this process would replicate the human reality that people move on over time. And where they come from is usually regarded as quite important. “We got this recruit from Company X, you know the one with with the ‘Exists Lounge’ – all their staff are usually great.” 

The future is a weird place. Often things which seem counterintuitive and unimaginable at first become something future generations can’t imagine living without.

We’re the ghost in the machine

Worried about being taken over by robots? Here’s another thought: We are becoming robots. We’re merging with machines.

I know this sounds scary, but the patterns of technology tell a story of what’s next. The future is so often written in the past. If you consider the evolution of computers, we can remember machines once as big as a room have now become a small piece of glass that slides into our pockets, which is also a billion times more powerful. Pods go into our ears, wires come out of our pockets and some crazy people are getting chips inserted under their skin too. Think of computers like this:

We used to go to the technology to use it – in big Government and military institutions.

Then the technology turned up on our work desks.

Eventually it appeared in our homes.

Later, it got small enough to carry in bag.

Suddenly, it can slide into everyone’s pockets

and now we wear it, insert it under our skin and it never leaves our side.

Our world is changing so quickly that we have collectively discovered a way to evolve outside of our bodies with technology to cope with the world, until we of course figure out a way for the technology to enter our bodies. Which will turn us into cyborgs.

Every day we already see humans augment their senses (smart phones, smart glasses, wearables, watches and earpods) all enhancing our cognitive ability. Simultaneously technology is being developed to create ‘fake bodies’ we can wear in the form of exoskeletons so we’ll be able to run faster, be stronger, work harder, move for longer periods or play totally different and weird sports we can’t even imagine yet. The trend isn’t us versus the robots – it’s us evolving into them.

I’m the first to say that I’d never get a chip installed for pure convenience reasons, All that to just open a door to log into a computer, no thanks. But If I could gain all of the utility of a smart phone, by having upgradable technology permanently plugged into my brain so I can think and react in real time like a super human – then sign me up. I’d much rather that than competing with AIs as an organic human to try and survive on this revolving orb.

This is already happening. The technology is getting smaller and smaller, and metaphorically attaching itself to our bodies – and so it is inevitable that it will enter our bodies. We’ll also eventually figure out how to breed progeny with the upgrades to humanoid already installed from our parents – let’s call it DDNA (Digital DNA). Information technology will merge with biotechnology and it will operate on the nanoscale. So if technology is getting under your skin… well, you haven’t seen anything yet.

It does raise some serious concerns – change always does – but this will most significant in our history. It could well end up as a split in our species, akin to the chimpanzees who chose to leave the trees and cross the savanna. We may well end up with a two-breed reality of Neo-Humans and Sapien-Luddites. And just like every revolution – those with all the advantages will be those with access to greater financial resources so they can ‘upgrade themselves’.

In the short term, the thing I worry about most is coming much sooner than this. For the first time in history – humans will become a hackable animal. Already large technology firms can know where we are, where we are going, where we’ve been, what we think, what we want, what we value, whom we support, who we care about, how we feel and all manner of activities and emotions. And this isn’t just click through patterns. It’s now also achieved by observing our unique biometric outputs such as facial expressions, and heart rhythms. Now that large technology corporations and Governments have infinite processing power, data and biometric measurement, they can predict and even manipulate human choices on a level much deeper than ever before possible. Now imagine the possibilities with external algorithms and computational power running through our bodies.

Eventually these biotech algorithms will understand us, better than we do. If we are accessed somehow by a bad actor with nefarious intentions, it’s not a stretch to imagine a person acting against their own will – or even worse, for them to believe it was their own personal intention. While this might sound alarmist, let me bring this back to a human level. Always remember that we are the ghost in the machine. The machines will always be a manifestation of us. We design them, we build them, we hack them and so they fully reflect the good and bad of the human condition. And if we don’t want to be hacked in our cyborg era of living, then it’s best we put in collective effort now to stop those manipulating us through a simple screen.

Thanks for reading & stay rad, Steve. 

The Age of Digital Colonialism

For the first time in Australia’s history, we no longer own or control all of our critical infrastructure. And to that list we can add any country which isn’t the USA or China. Welcome to the age of digital colonialism.

Show me a rich country and I will show you a rich infrastructure. For anyone who has travelled to a less developed economy, we see it right in front of our eyes. Electrical wires scrambled like spaghetti linking up houses. Water only the locals will dare to drink. Roads that scare the most adventurous driver. Hospitals that make you want a helicopter lift out after an accident and education which isn’t a right, but a bonus for the fortunate few. The simple and clear difference between wealthy and poor countries is their infrastructure. It’s the platform which invents the economic possibilities of its people.

It’s easy to forget that wealthy countries didn’t just click their fingers and get their wonderful infrastructure. They had to invest billions of dollars over decades and centuries. When new technology arrived they had to embrace it, and very often build out the projects using government funds in large capital works, and at times, even take over private firms who got too powerful (antitrust). This is only ever possible in a moderate democracy. A country governed by people with its constituents’ best long-term interests at heart. It’s very difficult indeed to build the physical structure required for a wealthy economy in a corrupt state.

The infrastructure we so often take for granted is what businesses and the populace have danced on top of for the past 200 years. And in this time we’ve also had the greatest ascendancy in living standards in human history.

But now in this digital age we are building a new form of infrastructure. I like to call it the metastructure.

Metastructure: The data and algorithms which now preside over how we organise people, infrastructure and physical assets in the post-industrial era.

Some ‘non-exhaustive’ inclusions would be:

  • Search and Artificial Intelligence (Google is really just an AI engine)
  • Social Media – tools of connection with the general population.
  • Transport and logistics organisation platforms
  • Large data centres

China and the USA are the only countries that we know of on the globe who are building these pieces of metastructure at a Nation State Scale. In fact, they are going well beyond their own boundaries and are now deeply ensconced in a period of Digital Colonialism. Every other country it would seem is now renting their metastructure from the new overlords.

The funny thing is that we can’t really blame anyone or any Government for being complacent. This happened a lot faster than anyone expected, and unlike other infrastructure – it doesn’t reside in the country in physical form. The nature of data is that it doesn’t need a passport to enter a country and can colonise a market by stealth – a little like a virus would.

Its easy to say here – how is this any different to Coca-Cola becoming a global corporation or General Motors selling their cars around in every market the world over? The difference is simple. These things can’t swing an election, lead to ethnic cleansing or influence how your population thinks, feels or acts 200 times a day – but the metastructure can.

I think the smartest country in the world right now is China. They had the presence of mind to remove Google, Facebook (and their digital business units) from operating in their country so they could build out their own versions of them. They also understand that the new arms race is in Artificial Intelligence – rather than explosive fire power which defined the 20th century military industrial complex.

Any country that wants to maintain its sovereignty in the coming decades needs to invest heavily in the Structural Digital tools which will define the next 50 years. Not owning or controlling your own infrastructure can only every mean you’ll be subservient to those who provide it.

 

What to teach your kids (& yourself) – My TED talk

The most common question I’m asked in my work is this: “What do you teach your kids?  How do you prepare them for an unknown future?” It really is the question. It’s also the topic of a TED talk I did this year in Melbourne.

In the talk I tell the story of how society shapes children, and systematically removes their entrepreneurial spirit – something all humans are born with.

In a world where our future is super unknown – there are some things we do know: We’ll need to be economically independent, manage our own careers, constantly upgrade our skills and embrace inevitable technologies like robotics. You will need to Outgrow Your Job – the title of the talk.

Rather than writing about it – please invest the time to watch it here. It’s a 14 minute video which will change how you see the world. And it might give some cool ideas on how to make your kids future proof.

Oh, and remember to share it with someone whose future you care about!

thanks, Steve. 

The Technology Wildfire

Fire – one of the first technologies we mastered around 230,000 years ago – isn’t much different from our modern day torch light, the smart phone. They both became vital work tools. We hunt with them, they give us access to new types of food, they provide signals and direction, and they facilitate all manner of night time activity which was previously impossible.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine our ancestors walked around with a lit torch in their hands for most of their waking hours. There seems to be an eerie similarity with fire and our lithium ion-powered, handheld digital torches. They both have life-changing power and utility, but unless we learn quickly of their dangers, I fear we’re going to get burnt.

The problem, as I see it, is that we are allowing the technology to control us, instead of us being in charge. We haven’t learned when to put it down, or out, and to let it serve us. It seems at this point we are serving it – and it is the technology companies who power the fire. I was speaking at a conference just last week when a question from the audience was, “Do you think there will be a new technology which will help us put down the technology and get on with a little bit of humanity?’ And this was my answer:

‘We already have that technology – it’s called self-discipline. We can choose to switch off and ‘go dark’ and if it is that our boss, industry or family expects us to be connected at all times, then it might just be a matter of communicating when we won’t be available. Sure, there might be an emergency – but we all know there probably won’t be. Besides we still catch those long flights when emergencies could happen… It’s really just a choice.’

But in all honesty, I do think we need more regulation around digital technology and its use. At the moment technology is spreading like a wildfire which we do not have under control, and the few organizations with the power to bring it under control (our Governments and the big tech companies) are happy to let it burn – even thought it might hollow out important parts of our homes and maybe our civilisations.

Humans have sadly proven again and again that we’ll misuse technology unless guardrails are put in place to protect us, by those who know and care enough about the dangers. It’s easy to forget that workplace health and safety didn’t exist for most of the industrial revolution. We forget that road rules and safety features on cars didn’t just magically appear and that air travel was reserved for crazy risk takers early last century.

We may even be able to convince ourselves that the examples above are vastly different – that this time the technology is just information and can’t possibly harm people the way cars and dangerous machines can. I like to think of it this way: everything physical is informational first. We must first conceive, design and communicate all physical things informationally we make before they come into being. We must also remember that anything technology companies do, happens at scale. They don’t just effect a cohort of buyers or an isolated market.

But it’s not just the technology itself – the size and power of these firms is worth pondering. Consider the fact that the top 5 tech companies (Alphabet / Amazon / Apple / Facebook / Microsoft) now have a collective market capitalisation of $3.7 trillion. That’s more than $1,000 for every person single connected to the internet. It’s also more than 15% of the entire US stock market value which tracks over 3,000 corporations. Every now and again capitalism is put at risk by winner takes all technology. This is why Standard Oil and AT&T were split up into a bunch of smaller firms.

It’s time to tame big tech and regulate – they need to be responsible for anything bad that happens as a result of their products. And if you think regulation is bad for the economy – just remember that next time you board a plane, strap on your seatbelt or have more than one choice of product at a shelf.

Our careers as projecteers

The riskiest career choice of the future will be to have a single job. When we have a job, we not only have 100% of our cashflow linked to a single customer (employer), we see less of the changing world. For the best part of 200 years – craftspeople, artisans and farmers couldn’t compete against the industrialisation of pretty much anything. But we live in the generation, where all this is about to change. The best careers will become those of projecteers.

While no one really knows the exact technical skills we will need in the future, we do know that the world will be a very different place 10, 20 and 50 years from now. It might even be that for the first time in history we can’t specifically tell our children – that qualification XYZ, will hold them in good stead. The one thing that they, and we, will need for sure, is the ability to reinvent ourselves repeatedly through our working lives. This means that human based skills like emotional intelligence, anti-fragility, and adaptability will become increasingly important.

If we think about work, we have historically tied ourselves to titles. Often, the first question we get asked at a social gathering is what we do for a living. We psychologically link ourselves to that ‘thing’ we do to make money – and in some ways this makes it difficult for us to change direction. If traditionally we have built our economic identities like stone houses with very deep foundations, going forward it will make more sense to build economic identities like tents, that we can fold, pick up and move elsewhere. Even though we don’t know exactly where we will have to move, we know shifting constantly will be inevitable.

Then – Why has this person moved around so much? Are they unstable or incompetent?

NowWhy has this person been in the one place so long? Are they scared or incompetent?

By taking the ‘tent‘ approach, every move creates a new knowledge set. A new set of experiences created by the new environment itself. We’ll see new things and develop new ways to ‘set up the tent’. The mobility, invents the skill set. As a projecteer this is exactly what I do. Economically I change places almost everyday… it’s a weird and wonderful mix of different, yet related experiences. A keynote speech here, a c-suite strategy session there, a media interview the day after, startup mentoring and investing, a new book next year, and a hacker project or two on the side. Yet, I still maintain the single minded proposition of what I do: Experiment with emerging technology in business.

The breadth and variety of work we’ll do in the future, will be the thing that makes us more valuable to those who seek our services. The skill corporations, governments and communities will need in the future is flexibility of mind – not process efficiency.

If we’ve ever viewed our life as a movie we star in – then we all need to start thinking a lot more like big movie stars. People who will be in far more than a single blockbuster – but a large number of movies, some on the big screen, and some indy side projects. We’ll play a variety of different roles, in different movies, but each set we walk onto, we’ll bring with us what we learned on the previous gig.

If you liked this post – you’ll dig my latest book

Why reaction videos matter

Reaction videos are hot, reaction videos are now and reaction videos tell us so much about what will matter in the future. But before we get into the why, let’s cover off the what.

Reaction Videos: People filming themselves react to seeing something for the first time. In the bottom corner they’ll play what the are watching, while the major part of the screen is their reaction. They often comment while watching, stop the video to give an opinion and generally let their emotions flow.

These days there are reaction videos to all manner of pop culture events – politics, sport, music, events, you name it. They can be reactions to something recent or something from decades ago. My personal fave is the old stuff, because we get to see the generational social impact. YouTube is the place to get your fix. Personally, I love watching people react to music for the first time. Some of my favourites include:

Joey Reacts – I love his sincerity.

Lost in Vegas – These guys force themselves to have an open mind & explain their feelings.

King KTF – This guy brings in fun quirks and sound effects to show his emotion.

While watching reaction videos, it really remind us what it is like to be a human. That feeling, that inexplicable emotion when we are exposed to something for the first time, something radical, different or special. A robot can’t ever feel it like we can. It’s almost as if we barrack for their emotions to flow, we hope they felt what we felt – whether the emotion is hilarity, joy, disgust or anger – it’s the connection we want to see. We want confirmation of emotion which reminds us ‘Hey, I’m just like you too’. We want to know we’re in it together.

The thing about these videos, is that the reaction doesn’t matter as much as understanding that other people, strangers in fact, feel like we feel, that we are the one species.

The future of what matters to us as a species will be how we make each other feel. While technology will continue its merry path of increasing its functionality exponentially, the thing that will matter socially and economically in an automated world is the experiences we share, regardless of what they happen to be.