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Managing the risks of virtual events

Australia is currently dealing with its second wave of COVID-19. And event organisers, many of who were hoping to ride things out until we return to normal, are facing the realisation that ’normal’ may be a long way away.   

Of course some have seen the current environment as an opportunity to explore alternatives. According to Eventbrite there has been a 2,000% year on year increase in online events. Yet others have been waiting on the sidelines, hoping it will all blow over. At a C-Suite level, the most common reason to avoid online events is the perception of risk. 

Following is a breakdown of the four key risks of online events and how we help clients overcome them.

The risk of attraction
The risk of attraction is the risk associated with marketing our event and getting people to attend. How can we promote and sell tickets to an event when it doesn’t have a track record? When we don’t have footage or testimonials from last year’s event? Or when deep down we’re not even sure ourselves how the event will look and feel online?

Attraction risk also extends to sponsors. How do you entice sponsors to support an event when you don’t know how many people will attend? How do you translate old branding opportunities such as a banner in the foyer into online space?*

*The value proposition of virtual events for both audience and sponsors is actually very attractive. We do a lot of work with clients to help them understand that proposition and articulate it. We often go so far as to produce promotional videos to market the event and hold education sessions with event sponsors. 

Although attraction risk is a very real short term problem, over the long term it’s the least significant risk. Over the long term, the answer to attracting both an audience and sponsorship is simple.

Deliver an event that’s amazing.

If you do that, your audience will rave about it and sponsors will come flocking. But the inverse is also true. If you deliver something average it’s incredibly easy for your audience and sponsors to go elsewhere. 

23 hours into the 24 hour Everyday Creative book launch

The risk of attention
Fundamental to delivering an amazing event is keeping people’s attention. The risk of attention doesn’t have the biggest consequence, but it definitely has the highest likelihood. Why? Because most seasoned event organisers aren’t yet familiar with the nuances of online events. 

Maintaining attention online isn’t easy. Every minute of your event you are competing with a world of fine-tuned distractions. There are emails to check, text messages going ding, YouTube videos to watch, and Zoom calls to attend.

We encourage event organisers to think of their event in terms of TV. TV programming has evolved over decades to capture and maintain our attention. But online events can be even better than TV. Unlike TV, online events provide an opportunity for your audience to contribute and shape the content. To do this, events need to be live, your audience needs to be engaged, and your programming needs to be spot on. 

The risk of execution
We often see this as the biggest risk. This is the technical risk associated with getting the event up and ensuring people can access it. Over the last few months we’ve all been exposed to webinars, Zoom calls, and other online events that didn’t go to plan. 

There is also execution risk when it comes to physical events. A power outage, a fire, a missed flight…or a pandemic can all wreck havoc with our event.

Understanding the underlying technology, how it works and how it connects is incredibly important. Not only to give you the reassurance that risk is manageable but also to ensure you have plans in place should something go wrong. 

The risk of inaction
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.” – Helen Keller

All this talk of risk might have you thinking ‘Why bother? Let’s just wait for this to blow over’. But the biggest risk right now is the risk of inaction. 

Given the current roller coaster we are on, how sure are you that we will be back to ‘normal’ next year? Or in two years, or in seven? And how sure are you that within that unspecified time frame your audience and sponsors will wait for you? 

The risk of inaction is the result of two aligned forces. First, the longer this goes on the less likely people will want to go to the types of events they previously went to. They will be cautious about travel. They will be forced to wear masks. They will avoid networking and unnecessary social interactions. And second, online events will keep getting better. The technology will improve. New approaches to networking will be devised. Programming will get better. 

As I’ve previously written, inaction can turn operational risks into strategic ones. You might avoid the risks of attraction, attention and execution but in doing so you create a new risk — the risk of irrelevance.

How to predict the future (and almost always get it right)

Understanding the future is the ultimate competitive advantage. Defining strategies and making decisions become a whole lot easier if you already know where the future is taking us. Unfortunately, knowing the future is incredibly difficult…but that doesn’t seem to stop us trying.

  • People buy lotto tickets hoping they’ve predicted the winning numbers.
  • Property investors buy property expecting to make a capital gain.
  • Executives create annual budgets that determine spending priorities for the next 12 months.

Now perhaps this feels like an unfair comparison, and in some ways you’d be right (but perhaps not for the reasons that you’d expect). But if I was being unfair to anyone in this comparison it would be property investors. Well, perhaps not all property investors, but at least long-term property investors. Long-term property investors aren’t too concerned about whether they are right in the short-term. They believe, and the evidence is there to support them, that over the long-term property values go up. So although there is a bonus in buying property at the bottom of a property cycle, over the long-term it won’t make that much of a difference.

Buying lotto tickets and creating budgets (along with any other form of strategic decision making) is, like property investment, a bet on the future. But unlike property investing, the odds of getting it right over the short-term, or even the long-term are not stacked in your favour. The odds of winning lotto are something like 8,000,000:1 which means that if you were to play the same set of numbers for both the Wednesday and Saturday draw for approximately 78,000 years you should expect to win the jackpot once.

And yet I would tell you these are better odds than you creating an accurate 12 month budget.

“Heresy!” you say? Yet, this is the truth. Even though the odds of winning lotto aren’t great at least they are calculable and finite. At the end of the day, there are only 8 million or so different combinations of numbers and we know that one of them has to win. When it comes to budgeting we are making a prediction about not just the organisation’s priorities, but also its operating conditions and countless other factors outside an executive’s direct control. Unlike lotto where the options are finite, for organisations the number of possible permutations of the future they could face are infinite.

And yet, although the odds of getting our budget right are infinitely lower, most people put more faith in their budget than their lotto numbers. People are generally aware that their chance of winning lotto is low and don’t go and spend their winnings until they’ve won. But in business, people will happily start spending their budget well before they know if their predicted future will come to pass.*

*Those of you who are regular readers of my blog would know that I have a general dislike of budgeting. Although this isn’t the focus of this particular article, I can’t help myself but to reiterate that an overt focus on working to budget encourages people to justify decisions based on the cost rather than their value generation. This leads to some perverse outcomes where people spend their budget on just about anything at the end of the financial year. This is rarely strategic, and has little consideration for value generation. Instead it’s done to ‘protect’ their budget so as to justify similar levels of spending in the next budget period. But perhaps the most perverse part of this is that by spending the organisation’s money on things it may not actually need they are likely to get praise from their manager for their ability to ‘work to budget’.

The problem with budgeting, along with many other planning activities undertaken in organisations are reflected in this quote by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

I would argue that in the way in which many organisations approach their planning activities is that they a) put too little thinking into the planning, and b) put too much faith in the plan.

The starting point for any meaningful planning or budgeting activity needs to be ‘we don’t actually know what’s going to happen’. We cannot predict the future accurately and circumstances WILL change. It naturally follows then that any plan that emerges from the planning process has to have the flexibility to change and adapt as new information comes to light.*

*And this is where I’d argue that budgets are particularly insidious. The data and numbers are often presented (and interpreted) as facts rather than as representations and guesses. This is a growing problem with data-driven decision making more broadly. We forget that the data is often just a representation of something else (ie the amount of time someone spends on your website is meant to represent their level of engagement or interest in your products…as opposed to their level of boredom).


An approach to strategic decision making where only one future is considered (normally the one we prefer the most) and one plan developed is more than just naive, it is Reckless, especially in a world where technology is driving rapid and unpredictable change.

A better proposition, and an approach I see a number of organisations attempt, is to acknowledge that their future is unpredictable and to maintain multiple options that can be enacted if the right conditions emerge. The only issue with this approach is that it’s Reactive and relies on the organisations to be able to identify environmental changes in real time.

An even better approach is to acknowledge the inherent uncertainty that organisations face and take the time to consider multiple futures (or scenarios) during the planning process. Not only will this result in a better plan, it will provide decision makers with the foresight (or memories of things to come) to know if/when the plan is no longer suitable.

But the most Robust approach of all would be to consider multiple futures during the planning process and then have a suite of options you could draw on as conditions evolve and opportunities emerge. This approach not only gives decision makers foresight, it provides them with ready-made plans that can be put into action as required.

Another failed attempt at predicting the future

These are the foundational ideas of scenario planning, a strategic planning approach pioneered by Royal Dutch Shell back in the 1960s. It was famously used to predict and prepare for the formation of OPEC and assisted South Africa through its post Apartheid transition.

Interestingly enough scenario planning was my last ‘real job’ before moving to Melbourne back in 2010. For close to two years before leaving Perth I worked in Rio Tinto’s scenario planning and strategy team, helping the various business units develop robust plans and strategies for the future. And although a lot of my work since has had a futurist slant to it, it was only in the last couple of months that I’ve had the opportunity to work in the scenario planning space again.

Over the last two months I have been working with a state government agency to develop four 10-year scenarios of their future. These were finally delivered at their leadership team’s strategic offsite last week. Using the same video and sound driven approach I use for my keynotes, each of the scenarios was presented as mini movie with customised soundscape that transported participants into four very unique stories of how the future might unfold. We then provided participants the opportunity to ask questions about the future and work on tables to understand what each of the futures might mean for them.

Now this whole article has made my headline look a lot like clickbait. On one hand I’m suggesting that you can predict the future and on the other I’m telling you the future’s unpredictable. It turns out that the secret to predicting the future is to not fall into the trap of picking just one future. Instead of picking one future, scenario planning seeks to define the boundaries around the future, and then help you prepare for a future that will inevitably fall somewhere in-between.

What this means is I can’t tell you specifically what the lotto numbers will be on Saturday but I can tell you that each of the six winning numbers will be between 1 and 45, and no two of them will be the same.

Let’s check back next week and see if I was right.

What professional speakers could learn from the Rolling Stones

For the last nine months or so I have been working on a secret project. It would have been called a skunkworks project if I worked at Lockheed Martin, or a moonshot if I worked at Google, but as I work at neither of these places (and have a much smaller budget) I just called it Project Live.

Project Live is an (ongoing) experiment in the future of keynotes and live events. It was born out of a realisation that most professional speakers present cannot compete with the prerecorded virtual versions of themselves. Just like TED.com has a far bigger audience and reach than the actual TED conference, the incredible quality and unparalleled convenience of the online version means that live experiences need to evolve if they want to compete. This is not just a problem for professional speakers, it is also a massive issue for conference organisers. How do they compete against the convenience and quality of free TED talks and endless YouTube clips?

As William Gibson pointed out “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” This suggests that other people are likely to have already dealt with this same issue, and maybe they might have also found some workable solutions. So what other industries could speakers and event organisers potentially learn from? The most natural learning opportunity would be that of live music.

Live music has had to deal with the impact of Napster, peer to peer sharing platforms such as Pirate Bay, iTunes and more recently music streaming services such as Spotify. So how is it that musicians have responded? The answer is to go big on live performances.

Below are two images, the first is from a Rolling Stones gig in 1972, the second is from a gig from 2017. Notice anything different?

1972

 

2017

The big difference is not what is happening on stage, although Mick is somewhat spritely still for his age he can’t quite cut the moves that he did 35 years ago. The big difference is what is going on around it: the lights, the screens, the imagery…the experience.

Great music is no longer enough, if I want great music I can listen to the fully remastered high definition version on demand in the comfort of my own home. To entice people to come to gigs you need to provide an experience, an experience that is so big and so unique that people will be willing to forgo the convenience and fork out the money to share in the moment and say they were there.

And just like great music is no longer enough for musicians, great content is no longer enough for conference speakers (this is not to say that great content is not required, but rather that it’s the price of admission and you still need to do more from there). To be relevant in the world where everything can be streamed you need to be able to create an experience that cannot be replicated online.

Project Live was created from this idea. I ditched PowerPoint and started playing around with live video mixing software (similar to what is used in a Rolling Stones concert), I started replacing still images with HD video and started mixing my keynotes live on stage. Now that I’ve got this part largely down pat I’m now looking at producing soundscape elements and live mixing them along with the visuals to create a truly unique experience every time.

I’m not telling you this because that’s what everyone should be doing but rather that anyone who wants longevity in the industry needs to be doing something. I’m constantly inspired by other speakers such as Dr Jason Fox and Mykel Dixon who are constantly tinkering with visual, musical and other theatrical elements in their events. Although they are two of the hottest speakers in Australia at the moment they are also constantly pushing boundaries in both their content and their delivery.*

*And even outside the events industry I believe all organisations need to be constantly tinkering and experimenting if they want to ensure their future relevance.

Bell & Howell Overhead Projector

When I started Project Live at the end of last year it was based on a gut feeling, but in March I found proof that this was the future. I was speaking at a conference in Canberra and found an old Bell and Howell overhead projector from the 1970s, the same one that many of us might remember from back in high school. This is the same era as the image of the Rolling Stones pictured above. But whereas the Rolling Stones (along with most other live acts) have fully embraced what it means to give a live performance, professional speakers have limited themselves to a digital version of the overhead projector.

The future is here my friends…and it’s LIVE.

The fine line between sharing and self promotion

There is no doubt that digital technology has greatly enhanced our ability to share and connect with others. Whether it be email or social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we are more connected than ever before. As the ease of connection has grown we have expanded our networks beyond the tradition inner circle of friends and family to include many ‘weak ties’, people we’ve met at networking events, people who found our profile online, people who’ve reached out to us and we felt obliged to accept their ‘friend’ request lest we hurt their feelings…people we would struggle to recognise on the street.*

*Professor Robin Dunbar famously determined that we can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. This was termed ‘Dunbar’s number’ and has been shown to apply online in much the same way as it does in real life

Sharing with an audience of people we don’t know well is impacting how we communicate. For some, it means sharing less on public platforms, unsure of who is listening and what people might think. For others, it’s carefully curating the content we post online to highlight the best parts of their life and work. And for a few, it is a genuine and meaningful opportunity to expand reach and impact.

But the real risk that lies within these expanded networks is that we stop caring as much. Rather than considering them as friends or acquaintances we start to think of them as an audience (either a personal or a professional one). We can still pinpoint close friends and relatives within that network, but when we consider them as a collective, the number of weak ties often outweighs the number of people whom we care deeply about…and we don’t have the capacity to care about them all.*

*The definition of care is ‘the provision of what is necessary’ and I don’t believe we can show true care for others without taking the time to understand their personal interests and needs.

And so just like an actor treats their audience different from their loved ones, we start doing the same. We play a part for our audience that is different from what we show in private. We seek approval…and we self promote.

The line between sharing and self promotion is a fine one. From the outside they appear much the same but the intent is so very different. Sharing is done from a position of generosity to help the people we care about. Self promotion is what we do to make people like us and remember us…and to confuse matters further, sharing will generally result in some element of self promotion, and self promotion always requires some form of sharing.*

*Case in point is this post. As much as possible, I’ve tried to write this from a position of generosity, to articulate a problem I see many of my peers dealing with and help them find a way past it. But if we are to assume for a moment that it achieves it’s objective, then there is also little doubt this post will also serve to promote me. 

This fuzziness between sharing and self promotion is not just theoretical, it’s a problem I’ve been struggling with over the last few months.

About a year or so ago I started working with Mykel and Dave Dixon (aka The Dixon Effect) to produce a short video that articulates the motivation behind the work I do. It was based on an awesome video that they had done for a good friend of mine Dr Jason Fox, a video that beautifully captures his wonderful complexity and thoughtfulness.

I acknowledge that my willingness to fund the project was not altruistic, it was conceived of for promotional purposes…but along the way the intent changed. The original script was rewritten, Mykel composed new music and Dave reshot some of the video because I felt so uncomfortable with the self promoting elements in the first cut…so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be happy sharing the video once it was finished.*

*The final product is more a call to action about the choices we make with technology than it is about me. I wanted people to see that making smart choices (or any choice at all) about how we use our digital tools can improve balance and quality of life. 

I received the revised video a month or two ago but have continued to struggle with how and when it is OK to share it.

This dilemma has meant that apart from one little airing on Facebook the video has spent most of its life sitting dormant on my hard drive.

So where does that leave us?

The fuzziness between sharing and self promotion means that only we can determine whether what we post online is done from a position of generosity or selfishness. The fuzziness also means that we will always be able to pretend to others (and ourselves) that one was really the other, but if we continue to operate from a position of selfishness we will ultimately devalue our networks, including the people in them that we genuinely care about.

So with that in mind, I’m sharing my video with you now in this post. I’m sharing it because I think it is a good example of the fuzziness that we are all grappling with when it comes to social media. I’m sharing it because regardless of the self promotion, I believe the message is an important one…

…and I’m sharing it because if you like the video and you find it valuable, well maybe you will like me just a little bit more as well.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Your technology doesn’t care about you

There has been much written over the last few years of the threat that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies pose to existing employment. There is no doubt that there have been incredible achievements in these areas, consistently outperforming people who would normally be considered the ‘smartest in the room’.

There is no doubt that smart machines will become increasingly prevalent in our lives but they have a significant shortcoming that is unlikely to be addressed any time soon.

At the end of the day, the machines don’t care. They don’t actually give a shit about you and the impact their decision has.

…and to illustrate this point we need to discuss the biscuits I baked on the weekend.

In actual fact, my wife, Naomi, baked the biscuits.

Perhaps the most well known of these smart machines is IBMs Watson which, in 2011, beat not just two of the smartest people in the room but two of the smartest people in the United States. In a special edition of the game show Jeopardy, Watson was pitted against the game’s best ever players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (both previously undefeated champions), and beat them…twice.

Since graduating from quiz shows, IBM’s Watson technology has been applied in a whole bunch of different ways including helping doctors diagnose cancer, facilitating tax returns and providing advice on where to get the best Chinese food. But of all the applications perhaps the most intriguing has been Chef Watson. Chef Watson is what you get when you combine machine learning with a large database of recipes. By parsing 30,000 odd recipes Watson started matching which ingredients work well together. The free Chef Watson app then combines this with Bon Appetite magazines recipe database to generate new and intriguing recipe combinations.

Last weekend I was speaking at the Mindshop conference in Sydney and thought it might be nice to bake some biscuits for the delegates.* So after browsing Chef Watson and disregarding the biscuit recipes that included pulled pork and other types of meat, I settled on cream cheese, red onion, pecan and raisin cookies. According to Watson these ingredients have a 98% synergy.

*OK, anyone who knows me knows this is a lie. I don’t bake, I only cook. I think this comes down to two things, firstly, with cooking you don’t need to really follow instructions (and I don’t like following instructions), and secondly, I will almost always order the cheese platter over the dessert. So in actual fact my wife, Naomi, baked the biscuits.

 After handing out the biscuits at the conference the feedback I got was close to unanimous.

“Mehhhhh”

They weren’t terrible but they clearly weren’t great. And the truth is, Watson doesn’t even care. On the other hand, if I’d called my Mum and asked her for a recipe she would have taken the time to find out the type of biscuits that I wanted, gone through some options helped me narrow it down…and then probably baked them for me.

Now the theory is that if I then gave my feedback on the recipe back to Watson it could then use that to fine-tune the algorithm and serve me up a better recipe next time. On the Chef Watson website IBM suggest “Chef Watson really needs you to use your own creativity and judgment”…but all this is really doing is outsourcing the care to users. At the end of the day if Watson doesn’t care about us, why should we care about it.

So what does this all mean?

Most jobs involve other people and as a result require more than just facts, answers and judgement. They require a full range of emotions including compassion, empathy and care – all of which are required in any relationship worth having. Even call centre work (which is generally regarded as one of the most likely short term victims of AI and machine learning) is not immune from this. A study by Duke University suggests that customer satisfaction within a call centre environment is overwhelmingly influenced by how they were made to feel (81%) rather than the information that was presented (19%).

It is through human connection that we may gather information that in turn feeds our AI systems, and it is through human connection that we will also get people to understand and accept (or debate and question) the advice that is generated.

And what will make human employment safe for the foreseeable future (though potentially in different form) is that unlike technology, care and human connection is far more difficult to scale.

Following the match Ken Jennings wrote a piece for Slate magazine which included this:

“Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of ‘thinking’ machines. ‘Quiz show contestant’ may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

I have no doubt that Ken is right but it also highlights both the strength and weakness of smart machines such as Watson. They excel at jobs where success is defined by facts rather than feelings. In a quiz show, the only thing that matters is whether you are right or wrong. But in most jobs, being right or wrong is often just one small part of the equation.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Where’s your humanity?

WARNING! LONG POST

[Insert cup of tea here]

In a month or so I’m delivering a keynote entitled ‘Will technology make us more human?’ It’s a keynote I’ve had in my speaker guide for over a year but until now, no one has actually booked me to deliver it. I’m not sure why that is. It feels like a discussion that many organisations need to start having. There is a very real risk that, without clarity on what we want from our technology, we will ultimately accept anything we are given.

When you delve into any news report and research about our emerging but unknown future, a future where we face being outsmarted by our technology, you piece together a story that goes something like this. Sometime in the next 15 years you have at least a one in three chance of losing your job to a robot or AI. This will be a challenging time, you might try and re-skill into something more current like coding (it’s the new blue collar work) but as technology keeps getting better it will be hard to keep ahead of AI. At some point 20 to 30 years from now it will be deemed that the singularity has arrived, meaning that Artificial Intelligence has surpassed human intelligence at which point we will either need to merge with AI if we want to remain relevant or face becoming technology’s ‘pet’.*

*On the flip side of this doom and gloom is the argument that many of the jobs that face being automated weren’t that great anyway. And I’m not just talking about monotonous factory work, the good news is many lawyers and accountants face automation as well

But something important is missing from this view of the future, and that is…why? What’s the point of all this technology driven productivity? What is it that we want out of life? And before we decide to merge with AI or upload our consciousness to a hard drive, what will we potentially lose or leave behind?

At the core of all this is a question that’s been bouncing around in my head for some time now and that is ‘What does it mean to be human?’ As technology continues to encroach on the activities that we once considered the domain of people, it is reasonable for us to question what it is that makes us special.

Now bear with me. From a philosophical perspective we often use the word ‘human’ in a contextual way. From an evolutionary biology perspective it might mean ’not an ape’ but from a interpersonal perspective it might mean ‘fallible’ (as in ‘we’re only human’). Ultimately, being ‘human’ is being similar to how we see ourselves. Which leads us to an important point, technology will never be human (no matter how good it gets) because it would undermine our own sense of identity. Kiwis hate being considered the same as Australians and Canadians hate being confused with Americans…but everyone would feel a little bit hurt if, during a phone call, someone thought they sounded like an automated answering service.

So, what is human is ultimately defined by what our technology is not.*

*This is compounded by the fact that once we create a technology to do something the value of that thing falls. This is a basic supply and demand equation, technology makes things more abundant and ultimately the value falls. When we didn’t have mechanical tools, physical strength was valued. When we didn’t have calculators, mental arithmetic was valued. And while AI is still in its infancy we will still value certain types of knowledge and expertise such as what you learn in eight years of medical school. 

In this sense, the definition of humanity continues to evolve. In our not too distant past, physical prowess paid a far more significant role in defining our humanity. The Alpha Male is a throw back to when the ability to lift heavy things and swinging them around your head (like, say, a sword) had a significant impact on both our personal success and our value to others. But with the advent of steam power and the flourishing of mechanical technologies, physical strength meant less and less.

In fact, with the first industrial revolution came a revolution in humanity. We came to value people for their brains more than their bodies. Bodies couldn’t compete against the technology of the times and as a result brains became the new competitive advantage.

In his book Unnatural Selection: Why The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth author Mark Roeder argues that many traits that were previously considered detrimental to human survival such as Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD or being on the autism spectrum have now become an advantage. This is not to say that physical appearance no longer matters, but rather that ‘the book’ is not ‘the cover’.

But this is neither the end of evolution in either technology or our definition of humanity. The rapidly emerging field of AI is casting a shadow across what were once greatly valued mental feats. We can no longer compete again computers in Chess, Go* or Texas Hold ‘em. Computers are helping diagnose cancer, completing our tax returns and even recommending where we can get the best Chinese food.** So if the geeks can’t outsmart our technology who get’s to inherit the earth?

*It is interesting that during one of games between the world champion of Go and Google’s Go playing AI, Alpha Go, a response to one of the moves by European champion Fan Hui was “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move”
**In fact that’s all being done with just one AI called Watson. Just don’t ask Watson what’s for dinner, his food suggestions have been generally less than appetising.

Notwithstanding the potential risks to the very survival of the human race that unfettered AI brings, it is perhaps time to once again redefine ourselves and embrace the next chapter in human evolution. Just as in the past, the things we will value going forward, the things we will choose to associate ourselves with, are the things that our technology can’t do for us. This will include traits such as empathy, love, ingenuity, ethics and, perhaps even romance.

Which is a lovely segue to the Business Romantics.

Perhaps the highlight of my last two weeks has been The Business Romantics tour I went to last Friday in Melbourne, The tour was hosted by Mel Grablo of Talking Sticks and Mykel Dixon and featured the amazing Tim Leberecht. What was truly inspirational about this event was not just the content (which could have just as easily being downloaded via YouTube or read on a Kindle at greater convenience) but Mel and Mykel’s commitment to creating an event that rejected established norms (read logic) and catered to an emerging humanity.*

*For someone who speaks at a lot of business conferences it was the first time I’d seen a three piece band to accompany the speakers, a host with a grand piano, a resident artist, an unscripted half hour slot for audience contribution…and a whole lot of wasted catering when this overtook the afternoon tea break.

In his keynote Tim made one particular point that stuck with me. The Romantic period of art and literature was a direct response to the obsession with empirical evidence and the scientific method that emerged during the industrial revolution. We are now in the midst of a new industrial revolution (the fourth apparently) and echoes of the same overt focus on productivity, logic and data can now be seen throughout society’s (and most strongly in business).

But just as data and logic failed to complete our understanding of humanity 300 years ago I believe it will fail again now. This is not to say that there isn’t value in scientific pursuits but rather that parallel to these pursuits we need something else, something more, something that is difficult to automate and therefore retains it’s inherent value.

Our value has always been in our humanity, even if our understanding of what this means has changed over time. I believe we all need to start exploring what we want humanity to mean next. Failure to do so leaves us open to both replacement and control by AI and other emerging technology. In which case, we better hope our future AI keepers like having pets.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.