January 21, 2017

Reality Is Not What It Seems

Every so often, I read something that really strikes a chord with me. Today it was an article in The Guardian about author and scientist Carlo Rovelli called "Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli review – physics versus certainty."

Carlo Rovelli
There is so much in the article worthy of further discussion:

  • How his book "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" has sold a million copies worldwide (even outselling "Fifty Shades Of Grey" in his native Italy!) placing it on par with Stephen Hawkins "A Brief History of Time" in terms of scientific book successes.
  • How in his new book "Reality Is Not What It Seems" he seeks to bridge the divide between the two cultures of science and the arts: “Our culture is foolish to keep science and poetry separated,” adding: “they are two tools to open our eyes to the complexity and beauty of the world.”

What caught my attention in particular, however, were two quotes from Mr. Rovelli that I believe both reflect genuine wisdom and are of particular importance for us all to embrace in a time of such technological, economic, and political change:
"The search for knowledge is not nourished by certainty: it is nourished by a radical distrust in certainty,"
"Only by keeping in mind that our beliefs may turn out to be wrong is it possible to free ourselves from wrong ideas."
As 2016 came to a close, I spent time reflecting on the populist uprising in my country and around the world. I thought about the reasons people pointed to for this insurgence such as globalization and immigration, and how little attention was paid to the technological change - machine learning, artificial intelligence, internet of things, etc. that has brought about self-driving vehicles, manufacturing automation, drone delivery and warfare - underpinning this unrest. However, mostly I thought about my own beliefs and how they were being challenged.

The older I got, the more I felt I had figured things out. I've seen a lot, and felt I had pretty good ideas about how the world worked. I felt I had some corner on the market about which beliefs were accurate and which ones were a load of garbage. This included beliefs about religion, freedoms and rights, discrimination, science, and terrorism, and what we should think and do about each. I found myself discounting the people who similarly felt they had it figured out, too, but their beliefs differed from mine. I had become mired in certainty.

So in 2017, I resolved to not be biased against those who believe differently than I do. I started to question my own firmly held beliefs, to put myself into other people's realities and try to understand their perspectives. Media and the internet have made it possible for us to listen only to people who believe exactly the way we do, and it has polarized us. I realized that I was biased against the same people I thought were being biased against people like me. I was discounting people who believed differently than I did.

And that is why this article struck such a chord with me. I am a person of science; I embrace the pursuit of knowledge through the scientific method. In my work, I am relentlessly data driven. I test out theories, and I'm often surprised by the results. Also, what works in one place doesn't necessarily work elsewhere. I embrace uncertainty in my work. But in other areas, I had allowed myself to get sucked into certainty in my beliefs. Thank you, Mr. Rovelli, for reminding me to have a "radical distrust in certainty," and to always remember that my "beliefs may turn out to be wrong."

November 20, 2016

Constellation's Connected Enterprise 2016 Recap

The Digital Marketing Panel - R. "Ray Wang, Sunder Sarangan, me, and Michelle Killebrew
This was my first time at the Constellation Research annual conference - Connected Enterprise 2016. I originally met R "Ray" Wang earlier this year at an Adobe Symposium where we were both speaking, and was immediately taken by his energy and enthusiasm. When he reached out to me to speak at this event, I was happy to oblige. From the information online about the event, it looked like it would be a good experience.

Well that turned out to be quite an understatement. Connected Enterprise 2016 did everything right: incredible speakers and attendees, not just great thinkers but great doers; a terrific format; and plenty of networking with leaders from so many industries. Did I mention the location was spectacular?

The Ritz Carlton

Half Moon Bay, San Francisco

To give you a flavor for the event, here are just some of the highlights:


I learned about Teamability from the Gabriel Institute. Based in physics and systems theory, you learn what roles you naturally play on a team. According to my results, I'm a Curator. If you'd like to find out more about this and other roles you can check out these resources at The Gabriel Institute.

I saw a panel of leaders across industries - media, automotive, and healthcare - all discuss how they are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive a better customer experience.

Dan Heath, co-author of such great books as "Switch" and "Made to Stick" spoke, and shared some amazing insights. One that stood out to me was shaping the path - making the right behavior the path of least resistance. The simple example he shared was in a restaurant where they found customers would often throw away their reusable trays. So they made the hole on the trash can too small to fit the tray, and the problem was solved. Simple, ingenious. Shape the path.

Dan Heath
We discussed Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and that the skills workers in the 2020s will need are reasoning and thinking. Any job with repeatable tasks and lots of data will be replaced.

Mike Bonifer shared so much insight about storytelling, which was of particular interest to me as a marketer and songwriter. To demonstrate how many possible ways you can tell a simple story, he asked how many ways can you combine 6 eight-peg Legos? The answer is over 600 billion ways - 658,869,076,800 to be exact. That's a lot of possibilities for telling a story.

Mike Bonifer
I heard a fantastic panel about the digital transformation of higher education. Phil Komarny Chief Digital Officer at the University of Texas explained how they were piloting sharing student transcripts using blockchain - making it easier for the student to share the transcript when they needed to securely, simply, and cheaply. What's great about the conference, is that I also got to eat dinner and talk one on one with Patrick McGrath and Vala Afshar on previous nights.

Patrick McGrath, Vala Afshar, Phil Komarny, and Terri Griffith

I could go on about so many more interesting speakers and panels, but I'm going to just highlight a few more. One of my favorites was this mind bending talk from the CIO of the FCC, Dr. David Bray

Dr. David Bray
Dr. Bray is a man who can single-handedly renew your faith in government - although he would caution you about using that term; he prefers public service. I got to spend some time with him during the conference, and was almost able to connect during a recent trip to Washington, DC. A kind and brilliant man, I look forward to the next time we are able to connect.

Dr. David Bray and me
I also got to hang out with Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce. It turns out our backgrounds were very similar; I can only hope my future may look as bright as his present! I suspect will look back on the day I met Vala Afshar as a game changer. 

Vala Afshar and me
Another highlight was meeting Mei Lin Fung known as the mother of CRM. Her career is filled with firsts and ambitious goals including social innovation, transforming healthcare, and the people centered internet. What a pleasure to meet this wonderful human being.

Mei Lin Fung and me

During the big keynote speech, I felt like I was in the presence of royalty, and I sat next to two of them for dinner. This panel included David A. Bray, Mei Lin Fung, Vint Cerf - one of the "fathers of the internet" and Doc Searls - journalist, blogger, author.

Vint Cerf, Doc Searls, Mei Lin Fung, and David Bray
On the final day of the conference, we were treated to author Whitney Johnson, with her new book "Disrupt Yourself."

And last but not least, I got to speak on the Digital Marketing panel. Here is the "graphic recording" of our panel created by Image Think. 

So that's my recap of Constellations Research's Connected Enterprise 2016. I truly hope this can become an annual event for me.

October 5, 2016

Make The Impossible Possible

Three Critical Things I've Learned From Running Marathons

Running and I “dated” on and off for many years until 2012 when we finally tied the knot. I knew I needed some regular exercise, and I've always been attracted to how practical running can be - a good pair of shoes, and you can do it anywhere. But in 2012, I fell in love with running, and like Forrest Gump, I just kept going. Every week I pushed a little bit further. Fast forward to today, I'm about to run my fourth marathon.

When I started running, I never imagined I could run a marathon. I began running to improve my physical health, but the life benefits are so much more: Running taught me how to achieve something that I’d never before considered possible.

I discovered that when you set out to do something big, there are three critical things you must do: learn as much as you can about how to accomplish your goal, be willing to adjust when necessary, and know when to ask for help. First, the basics: I set a goal - finish a longer distance, beat a certain time - then make a plan, and execute each individual task one day at a time. Ah, if it were only that easy! I quickly found out I had a lot to learn, that I couldn’t just toss on some shoes and run forever. Aches and pains, running out of energy before finishing a distance, and battling the voice in my head telling me there was no way I could do this all threatened to thwart my efforts. So I Googled, I talked to other runners, I went to sessions at running expos, and I learned all about training plans, energy gels, foam rollers, and dynamic stretching, oh my!

That helped me get much further than before, but things seldom went as planned. I learned that you have to adjust your training to match your body’s current abilities. It’s a long slow build from where you are to where you want to be, and sometimes you have to take detours. Like taking a break to let an injury heal, or adjusting how far you go on a given day. I had to be willing to adjust my training and those day to day tasks if I wanted to reach my goal.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I found that no matter how far I could get on my own, sometimes the only way to get past a roadblock was to seek expert help. I began to have pains I never had before which were threatening my ability to continue. Finally, I went to see a physical therapist, who found that my treatment and operations from cancer over a decade before had my body all out of whack. Slowly but surely, she helped me fix all the issues. Only after I learned as much as I could, was willing to adjust when needed, and sought help to fix issues with my body I didn’t realize I had was I able to run my first marathon. Now I typically run a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon, and a full marathon every year.

This experience has had a profound impact on so many aspects of my life. At work, I had an idea to create new mobile fundraising app. I learned what I could about how to make that happen, continuously adjusted my approach and efforts along the way, and of course sought the help of numerous people without whom we could never get the funding, the buy-in, and the code to create the app. The app raised about a million dollars in its first year, and is on track to do almost ten times that in its second year. It was just an idea a few years ago, and we created a plan, executed, learned, adjusted, and sought help when needed.

My journey continues both at work and on the pavement. We've embarked on a mammoth project to migrate our websites to a new platform. My approach is the same - a goal, a plan, keep learning as much as we can, and know when to adjust and get help. We’re almost there, just like my approaching marathon.