Thursday, June 27, 2013

Out of Africa - innovative work-arounds

Innovation often takes place at the edge.  In this inspiring TED Talk, Juliana Rotich tells how the infrastructural challenges in Africa, including the common lost of electrical power, are being overcome with technology that leads the way on multiple dimensions.

This is a story of entrepreneurship and the spirit of innovation under trying conditions, to say the least. As her team says, if it will work in Africa, it will work anywhere.  Their solution looks like a great idea for any geography.  Basically, they have created a modem (called BRCK, pronounced 'Brick') that works even when the power cuts out and a multi-sim device which switches mobile providers when one drops out and/or to take advantage of the best mobile rates, where cost is often much higher than developed markets.

In Juliana's words:


Requisite connectivity often requires 'work-arounds' as we say in our definition of the term:

"Requisite connectivity is the state of having robust and reliable communication and/or transportation media/modes, with operable alternative work-around options, so that contact may be initiated or maintained at the rate, richness and intensity that we desire for a given task or social outcome" (Kolb, Collins and Lind, 2008, p. 182) (emphasis added).

As often is the case, our desire to stay connected under challenging circumstances may lead the way to great innovations for other or all circumstances.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hero's journey 2.0

As an Outward Bound instructor (I worked at the Colorado School in the 1980s), we often heard from our students that the most powerful part of their 28-day expedition was the 'solo,' the period of time (up to 3 days) spent alone to reflect on their experience in the mountains, their group's dynamics and ultimately on life and its meaning.  In this beautiful, austere setting, with basic shelter and minimal food, students were given the opportunity to live more simply than most have ever done in their lives.

The solo aspect of an Outward Bound voyage, in particular, and the overall experience in general is metaphorically based on the 'hero's journey' archetype in Jungian psychology, wherein the hero (self) must leave the comfort of home, encounter a (metaphorically) dangerous world and return home with a sense of confidence and clarity to serve as servant leader.

Of course, not every trip is a hero's journey, but travel of all sorts can provide perspective, including separation from the familiar, encountering the 'dangerous' or different world with the prospect of new wisdom. But, now we also have the prospect of bringing 'home' with us on our journeys.  And, by doing so, we are less likely to confront our self or the meaning of life.

We bring others with us on our journeys through our social media, video calls. But, by checking in along the way, we can easily fall into translating the challenging and sometimes 'ugly' journey into a series of complaints, thereby missing the chance to draw strength from adversity.  Alternatively, there is the temptation to create a lovely unreal world of smiling, happy photos, wherein the hero is transformed into Narcissus (an entirely different myth).

Now, I am not proposing that you leave the smartphone, tablet or laptop at home.  I would suggest, however, that travel of all types offers us an opportunity to temporarily disconnect and reflect.  It is also an opportunity to connect with fellow travellers, be they pilgrims on the path to an exotic temple or someone serving us coffee or sitting next to us on an airplane.  I find it hard to work on airplanes as I always choose a window seat when flying over land, which gives me a chance to look out the window imagining what life might be like down there on the slice of the planet we are cruising above.  I call the perspective one gets while disconnecting from our day-to-day worries and floating above the Earth 'airplane religion.'  As the digital disconnect associated with air travel disappears, i.e., Internet access is available on more flights and more classes of air fares, the traveler will face the dilemma: to connect or disconnect.

In reality, most of us will do a bit of each. We will keep in touch with those back home and we will also take advantage of some separation, for adventure and reflection. The modern hero's journey is still about confronting ourselves as one of the dragons we must slay.  Some of this must still be done alone, and part of the journey--as always--is a matter of connecting with others we meet along the way, when we look up from our screens.

Happy trails!

See my post on 'loneliness vs. isolation.'

My colleagues Toby Ruckert and Nathan Zeldes have written insightful reflections on disconnecting while travelling.

Toby's post on 'un-location'.

For more on the hero's journey, see Bill Moyer's interviews with Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Social media in China

A graduate class was recently impressed by a student's demo of Weibo, the Chinese social media app.  It did amazing things, and did them very well.

China has more Internet users than any country in the world (over 500 million, compared to 245 million in the USA), although in percentage terms, the US leads China in ratio of users to population (74% vs. 38%).  And, like most places, in China in 2012 Internet searches on handheld devices surpassed PC searches, according to Mary Meeker's Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers 2013 report on Internet use.

While this may or may not surprise you, it is important to note that in China, as in many developing markets, the use of social media is far higher than in developed nations.  A recent McKinsey report on social media in China suggests that 91% of Chinese participants in Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities report visiting a social media site the past 6 months, compared with 67% in the US and only 70% in super-connected South Korea!  And, the Chinese are twice as likely as US participants to reveal 'most everything' or 'nearly everything' on-line, according to the KPCB report mentioned above.

From a business point of view, McKinsey and Co say this is particularly important because social influence and impressions strongly guide consumer behaviour in China.  For more on the future of economic development in China, see another McKinsey special series here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

F.Y.A. For Your Attention

Information is cheap.  Attention is priceless.

Information is global. Knowledge is local.

And, mindfulness makes a difference anywhere.

"The great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world."

The quote above appears in Arianna Huffington's excellent post on the Wisdom 2.0 summit.  The quote is from the web site of Soren Gordhamer, conference founder and author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected.  

In addition to Huffington herself, the 2013 guest speaker list is impressive (see list on Huffington's post). Her point is a good one, namely that it is techno-phobes, but rather the very techno-aware that are calling for us as human beings to stay connected to our inner selves and to connect with each other in meaningful ways, i.e., to give each other attention, not merely information.

Joining the likes of Nicholas Carr (The Shallows: How the Internet is changing the way we think, read and remember), Daniel Goleman (the EQ guy) writes in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, a new book he'll publish this fall: "Overloading attention shrinks mental control. Life immersed in digital distractions creates a near constant cognitive overload. And that overload wears out self-control." (see my Reading List).

We know that too much information reduces our ability to pay attention to what really matters to us personally.  But, giving our attention to others is also extremely important to their motivation, as illustrated in this 20-minute TEDx Talk by Dan Ariely, 'What makes us feel good about work.'

Other posts on distractions at work.
'There's something wrong with the way we work'
'Hamlet's BlackBerry'