Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Ever wondered who thought up the idea of the Road (no apologies forthcoming, it’s the sort of thing Design Engineers think about)?

Well, one of the first planned roads was the Persian Royal Road, built by Darius I, in 500 B.C in what is now Iran. The Royal Road was about 2,400-km long and stretched throughout ancient Persia. The road was constructed for royal use, enabling Darius to keep up to date, communicate orders, and to move goods needed by the royal court.

    The reason I bring this up, is that I’ve noticed that Middle Eastern technological achievements – first road - don’t get much attention in western media or education. When the BRICS and E7 get tons. In fact, in the Pub the other night a conversion broke out about it; where the overwhelming majority were adamant that the Middle East had not achieved much technological ground at all.

Well, in fact, the Central East has a very long track history of technological innovation! Air Conditioning that circulates cool air through the building without any input of energy were incorporated in buildings as early as 3000 B.C. The irrigating Persian Wheel, a partly submerged vertical geared wheel with containers attached filled and emptied into a trough that carried water to crop fields. The original Postal System appeared in the 6th Century BC Persian Empire. Parts of the postal system in fact outlived the Persian Empire, continuing to operate in Egypt, where it was seen and copied by Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome.

And perhaps we are seeing a return to this tradition of tech-innovation in the region:

For example, Terrain University is developing Surena, a humanoid robot:.Recent tests compared the performance of five world class robots: Asimo (Japan), Reem-B (Spain), Justin (German), Charli (US) including Surena (Iran). The tests – carried out by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) - placed Surena  2nd among the top 5 humanoid robots. Over 10,000 man-hours have been spent on the state-of-the-art robot.

Surena-II, which weighs in at 45kg with a height of 1.45-meters, has a human like stride, and is equipped with sensors such as a gyroscope and accelerometers providing steady motion. The next generation - Surena-III - will walk faster, recognise faces, objects, words and even sentences with intelligent responses.
Then there’s the State of Bahrain and their Economic Development Board supporting the development of a prototype Nanotechnology Centre, supplying hands-on products used in multiple market sectors such as motor transport, medicine and construction. The centre aims to create a technological hub for scientific and engineering breakthrough in the region with significant emphasis on molecular nanotechnology. And it seems ironic that Silicone is one of the key materials in nanotechnology production!

In Qatar, local banks have financed the first solar-grade polyslilcon production plant, a planned $1.1 billion, 8000-metric-ton facility being built by Qatar Electric and Water (QEWC) and Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec), a joint venture of the Qatar Foundation. The mission to go from a carbon-based to knowledge-based energy. 
My pondering here is that while we're steered by western media to look with mild anxiety at the tech-innovation and economic strides going on in China or Brazil or India; we tend to overlook what's going on in regions that are not so well highlighted (if at all) for technological ingenuity, like the Middle East.

And that begs another question: what's going on in Africa? My guess is that you're reflex - I wager - is like my friends in the Pub the other night! 

All will be revealed in a forthcoming post: as the Lions of Africa (as the Desert Foxes of the Central East) are starting to hunt for technological prey!

Just Finished Reading 'GQ: Creative Britain.'

'In the past 20 years Britain has changed beyond recognition. New technologies have revolutionised our lives, undercutting established norms and upending industries. It's in these periods of uncertainty that true innovators revel: radicals keen to reimagine everything from the way we move to the way we read. Whether it's trailblazers creating new models for houses, workspaces, cities, or designers rethinking everything from the chair to the chassis, this next generation of creative minds is keen to recreate the country in its own image: inspired, individual, artistic. A key part of this is the move away from the faceless and mass-produced in favour of a new bespoke, in which bikes are more like art objects and books are things of great beauty, designed to inspire in the Kindle age. Create Britain is GQ's salute to these pioneers: the architects of our nation rethought.'

Click on the links below to see the best of British creativity:

Monday, 1 October 2012

The post The Future of Work (dated 4/9/12) below shows options on the future. Both stark and serious. Because they are high probability outcomes. So I will keep more on this track and develop what I see as the main challenges and offer solutions.

Here’s a first shot:

As I write, Europe has one hell of headache when it comes to unemployment. 17.3 percent of eligible workers are on the dole queue. That is 35-million out of work. Of course, Euroland is quite a diverse inter-nation union, with each nation with its own reasons for slow growth or recession. The USA fares better, coming in at 8.2 percent; or 15 million unemployed. Again depending on which state, depends on the severity of unemployment.

So the EU and USA have to create 50-million jobs!

Next, productivity is going exponential: hence it becomes inverse! And is nowhere near a tipping point yet. The factories of old have all but gone. The factory of the now and the future is digital whether an idea factory or machine maker or service provider. Since the early 1980s the ratio of people needed to work an industrial units has shrunk by 10:1. And there is no reason this trend will end any time soon.

It is estimated that by 2030, there will be 8.5 billion people on this planet. 80 percent of the world population will be urbanised. ~7-billion people will live in cities and lead metropolitan lives.

Put on top of this the fact that schooling will be entirely digital. Teachers will be conductors of education, but Artificial Intelligence will lead. Hospitals will be manned mainly by robotic systems from automated diagnosis to humanoid nursing assistants. Home manufacturing will be ubiquitous: need a new smartphone? Print it out.

Estimates go from 50 percent of the world’s population unemployed to 75 percent! So massive permanent unemployment is the trend! Sounds like terrible, head in the hands news!

One of the challenges is that in the UK the government is to start summoning people to the law courts for hefty fines if they cannot prove that they are hunting for work. And if under a certain period they don't find work, benefits will be cut. This is the equivalent of setting an impossible goal and abjectly punishing for not achieving it.

So what is there to do? Here are two scenarios that paint a brighter future.

Scenario 1:

This is ultimately about culture change. If people still have a mind that they must look for a job when there are extremely limited employment options and opportunities it will lead to a whole host of ugly sins (the riots we witnessed in London last year will seem like a kind of garden party).

So 2 things to do:                                   (Click on picture below)

(1) Instigate/nurture a culture change where it is acceptable not to go gunge-ho looking for employed work. And enable the public at-large to appreciate the complex dynamics of Inverse Productivity in a meaningful and positive way.  That people that are not working are valued. That there is infinite scope for the individual, groups and community innovation.

(2) Free of charge government training programmes and reward systems for D.I.Y innovation need to be put into place. Create and innovate your own job. It more fulfilling, fun, more engaging and you will work harder. Often the pay isn't as good, but for many that does not matter (I've done it for 10 years!).

Scenario 2:

Follow the out crops and spinoffs of the emerging technological meta-trends: renewable energy, robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, WEB4.0, virtual immersion, biotechnology, et al.

Great wealth is going to be made there. And millions-upon-millions of jobs will be created.

Only; the days of low skill and no skill jobs is floundering. High skill is the base-line. But until people have ‘on the edge skills’ they will not meet the new technological intensive industry demands.

Training initiatives need to be brought out of the ‘fortress’ Universities and into local technical colleges, academies, distance learning and privet sector training companies. Too often, Universities  think, plan and teach in today's current context, and hardly ever bother to forecast long-term trends to base their teaching research. Even the University policy-research-units have a hard time thinking 20 years ahead!

Also make teaching innovation compulsory in our young kid’s schools. Again this it about culture change where Innovation is perceived by kids as Kool and superinteresting. Not a dip-stick pursuit, which most kids think it is, and reason for why they are habitually drawn to the likes of X-Factor, Football, meaningless X-box fantasy games, Facebook, texting puerile messages, and hanging around streets with nothing to do, occupying much of their weekends (I not being cynical).

Promote innovative role models everywhere (AND THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. IT IS JUST THAT WE DON’T PROMOTE THEM ENOUGH). Get them themed in movies, TV, comics, gaming, magazines (for youngsters), government election campaigns (which even though they say innovation is job one, they don’t shout about it enough).

And think of this: after a time of learning and applying innovation skills, most people begin to hold tacit skills in creativity and innovation that is rational, problem solving based. 

Thus people are going to be more independent from the state and free to pursue a living that they are passionate about! And if you have ever wondered why/how the likes of NewtonDyson, Branson, Roald Dahl and Willy Wonker create special lives and ventures? That's the answer!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Immersive learning.

Do you recall the experience you had with your two-and-half year old daughter or son (assuming you have one or two or more), when they not only strung sentences together for the first time, but had deep semantic understanding of a problem or task or experience?

I remember my little daughter doing exactly that.

How on earth did she manage to pick up complex strings of grammar in such a short time, and then appreciate their context and relevance.

Take humour! It’s arguably one of the most complex heuristic functions: meaning, juxtaposition of contradictory context leading to a punch line and consequence.

My daughter would have me in hysterics even at here tiny age with her funny quips or facial expressions in synch with some quip situation.

So, how is it that a little toddler manages to learn so fast?

Immersive learning!

Little kids are immersed in the middle of an environment with parents, siblings and other family members. In conversation they pick up the syntax and semantics at a hugely accelerated rate.

Now here’s the question:

Why has it taken me many years to master German? There’s physiological and physiological reasons going on in my brain. But one thing is true, my brain physiology is different in my adult life than as a small child. And facts are facts little kids learn more quickly than even their 12, 20, 50 year old counterparts.

Being immersed amplifies and accelerates learning as you’re cognitively engaged in a real-world setting.

So why are schools and Universities organised in sterile classrooms, and the pupils then merely spending less than half their time in four or five different classrooms (as in pupils walking fairly long distances between classrooms, breaktimes, lunch)? This is not real-world. It is artificial, unnatural and highly unproductive.

Plus, the period of time that kids actually spend in the classroom, they are only engaged for a third-to-half of the time. Things like settling down, opening books, other kid pranks, monotony, teachers doing the same, etc.

So in total, kids are only at best learning for only about a quarter of the time. If a typical school week is 30 hours, that's 7.5 hours of active engaged learning a week! Just over seven hours a week!

Alternatively, immersive learning environments, that are designed as multidimensional tools to accelerate learning, are now coming on-line in the UK.

Kids are collocated in a single class (accept for physical education). And teachers run between classes.

This make sense. For example, I went to a high school with almost a 1000 kids, so that's 30,000 collective manhours a week.

There were 50 teachers, so that's 1,500 manhours. 

So 30,000 v 1,500. 

Then having teachers move between classes is much better, because in fact collectively the kids do most of the work.

Remember my daughter above? She's now seventeen, and it’s taken her 3 years to learn pigeon French with a clear English accent. What's going on Don Professors?

My conclusion is if kids are given immersive learning environments and tools, and stay in the same class (mostly), they’d all do better at school! They'll all speak basic French in a few months! And after a year, well?

And as for the financial cost of doing this? What is the cost of 55 percent of kids (UK statistic) leaving school with very little academic and real-world learning achievements?

MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation Cambridge Judge Business School.

I remember only 20 years ago, when in the UK there was no special Masters or PhD university programme that centred around Innovation

In fact, in the latter  parts of the 1980s, the only 'Innovation' courses I knew of was held a CalTech, USA.

That has now changed - after a very long drawn out period.

Below is a brief overview of such a course held at Cambridge University. What I like about it is its focus on Organisation. One very difficult area to manage (or Unmanage!).

The MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation (ISO) is an intensive nine-month masters programme combining advanced study and research.
The ISO programme has been designed for students wishing to extend their knowledge of social science methodologies and their application to the interdisciplinary study of organisations. It is oriented to those wishing to prepare for a career in academic research.
Link to the PhD Programme.The usual route to a Cambridge Judge Business School PhD is admission via a research MPhil programmes.

The MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation programme is one of the School's specialist research MPhils and prepares students to continue on to a Cambridge Judge Business School PhD.
To continue to the PhD programme, students must achieve 70% or more overall and at least 70% on the dissertation component, and find a committed supervisor from the School's faculty. In addition after applying they will be interviewed by a panel of faculty members, and will need to be ranked sufficiently highly by the panel to receive a conditional offer.

Another interesting course is held at the Centre for Process Excellence & Innovation

From their website:
The Centre for Process Excellence and Innovation (CPEI) is a research centre that brings together industry and academic partners to explore solutions on how to create sustainable competitive advantage through process and product innovation.
We define competitiveness as a combination of two capabilities:
  • to innovate and develop novel technologies and products, and
  • to deploy and improve the operational processes that efficiently produce and deliver these goods and services to the customer.
The centre is based at Judge Business School. It is interdisciplinary in nature. We collaborate with the engineering and science departments, and also provide graduate teaching on the management of technology and innovation to students from engineering, science and technology professional practice programmes across the University of Cambridge.
Furthermore, the Centre has developed strong links with its industrial partners that commonly collaborate with CPEI researchers, as the Centre seeks to conduct research that is not only rigorous in its approach, revealing in its findings, but also relevant to management practice.
A key focus of the centre is to provide a forum where industry and academia can interact and collaborate through research, executive education and student projects. Our research seeks to develop leading-edge thinking and solutions that are of relevance to practice - following our overarching aim of "connecting ideas, technologies and markets".

Learning from failure.

I was was recently asked by a leading product design and innovation lead company how I learnt from mistakes?

In a poignant paper published by Amy C. Edmondson the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, discusses some key cultural points.

One key point is that we learn to avoid failure from an early age.

Here's an introduction to the article:

'The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare. This gap is not due to a lack of commitment to learning. Managers in the vast majority of enterprises that I have studied over the past 20 years—pharmaceutical, financial services, product design, telecommunications, and construction companies; hospitals; and NASA’s space shuttle program, among others—genuinely wanted to help their organizations learn from failures to improve future performance. In some cases they and their teams had devoted many hours to after-action reviews, post-mortems, and the like. But time after time I saw that these painstaking efforts led to no real change. The reason: Those managers were thinking about failure the wrong way.'

Click here for full paper an short video: http://hbr.org/2011/04/strategies-for-learning-from-failure/ar/1