The Board’s Role In Complex and Uncertain Environments – Part One

A couple of weeks ago I delivered a Master Class Workshop for Not for Profit Organisations as part of the Leadership Victoria Director Dynamics Master Class Series : How do successful boards manage the“unknown unknowns?

As part of that process I re-examined my own thinking on what board’s should be doing generally in this area and decided I should write down my process of thinking through the issues in a format that allows more examination of the issues than the confines of the workshop.

As the start of the process I was drawn to an MIT Sloan Management Review article written by Didier Cossin and fellow futurist Estelle Metayer :  How Strategic Is Your Board? (sign up required) as I felt it provided a useful framework to overlay foresight thinking and approaches on to

In particular I was struck by the following graphic they used about the board’s role in the context of various operating environments:

Board's role in strategy dependent on context from MIT Sloan Review

In the article Cossin and Metayer have the view that the role of the board varies depending on the context they find the organisation in and that when those contexts change then the board needs to change its role.

My view is that boards are generally operating in an environment that is simple, complicated, or complex and occasionally dipping into chaotic environments, which most people would define as crises. If we look at the graphic from that point of view then boards that are operating towards the right hand side require both a different approach but also more time to commit to the organisation. As the context moves to the right the requirements for a supervisory role do not diminish but the requirements in the rest of the roles increases. More and more boards are operating in complex environments due to the increasing complex, networked and connected world we live in. This presents a problem in its own right.

In my experience a lot of boards and the management have not even thought through the context they operate in this deeply and are not really operating in the optimal way in a relatively stable environment (in this case stable does not mean the opposite of complex or chaotic but that the organisation is operating in one context or another). Thinking through this more deeply is highly valuable for the board because until they have decided what environment they are largely operating in then the role that boards tend to take are dependent on historic operating modes of the organisation, or tried and true ways that directors have operated previously.The problem with this approach is that confronting new problems with old approaches only works if the problem is similar to the old problems.  In my early days as a board director I was enormously impressed by a Chairman who seemed to be a great thinker and strategist. Over time I realised that it was the product of a long experience and applying previous approaches to problems. As the organisation encountered more and more complex environments his ability to strategise fell away dramatically as novel problems and issues presented themselves.

However I am not saying that we all need to start operating in a mode that suits complex environments. This works in both directions. Boards should not apply complex context modes of operating to simple operating environments. There is as much danger in doing that as applying simple modes of operating to complex environments.

I think that this is a particularly apt to thinking about the boards of not for profit organisations because in my experience they have the following issues which differentiate them from commercial boards:

1/ While strategy should be about the exploitation of risk defined by an appropriate understanding of the risk appetite of the organisation many not for profit board members are more concerned with managing their own risks rather than the risks of the organisation. This results in a risk aversion mindset due to their requirement for there not be be “problems on their watch” which means avoiding failure at all cost. Which translates into “avoid highly visual failure at all costs” . However failing by not taking appropriate risks is not as visible and therefore risk is minimised at all costs which includes either constricting the capacity of the organisation or creating crippling compliance requirements. I have witnessed a board that deferred to the lawyer on the board when talking about risk because they felt that he had the appropriate expertise without realising that he was all about building his board resume and looking for other board positions and so was highly risk averse for the wrong reasons. In the context of the framework that Cossin and Metayer have provided this often results in a board being overly supervisory and spending too much time in that role to the cost of their other roles.

2/ Not for profit boards generally have less time to commit to the organisation. This varies tremendously for individual board member, some of which spend an enormous amount of time and effort on the organisation. However the time for collective strategy efforts tends to be constrained by the length of board meetings and how much time the more time pressed directors can spend on the organisation. In the context of the framework presented this means two things. Firstly with limited time boards tend to feel that they have to get the supervisory role right and therefore co-creation tends to take second place. I have worked with several boards where it is the first time they have spent more than an hour on foresight and thinking deeply on their strategy (as opposed to reviewing a strategic plan presented by the management). Secondly in environments that are more complex the time commitments are higher and this makes it more and more difficult for the board to feel that it is carrying out its role well. This can sometimes work well in a chaotic environment  where it is all hands on deck in a heroic stance. However it is far more difficult when operating in a complex environment in an ongoing manner.

Before we move on to my thoughts on the role of the board and the foresight approaches and principles that need to be applied we need to define what is meant by these operating environments. My thinking on this has been greatly influenced by the Cynefin model and Dave Snowden’s thinking and writing. I recommend that you go to Cognitive Edge for a deeper and more nuanced discussion of thee model but basically :

1/ Simple environments are defined by simple cause and effect relationships which can be readily understood where best practice is the main approach.

2/ Complicated environments are defined as where cause and effect are still understandable but they are more complicated. This is the area of systems thinking and expertise. There may be feed back loops and time delays and multiple interactions but with sufficient expertise and analysis they are understandable.

3/ Complex environments are defined by interactions and relationships that are only discernible in retrospect. For example we may now be able to explain why the price of oil has dropped dramatically but a year ago it was impossible to predict because they are so many interacting factors and the reactions of actors in the environment to change cause even more possible forward scenarios. You can start again with the same starting environment and get a completely different future. Some people make the mistake of thinking that expertise is not important here because you cannot understand the system in prospect. However multiple expertise perspectives is the way to operate here. I recommend that you read Dave Snowden’s recent blog on this:

Of experts and expertise

In my next section of this series of posts I will explore what a board can do to operate in increasingly complex environments and then move on to ways of thinking about foresight and strategy.

You can now see that post at:

The Board’s Role In Complex and Uncertain Environments – Part Two

Paul Higgins

Major Disruptors of the Next Decade Section 3 – The Uber Pivot

This is part of a larger series on major disruptors. You can see the previous post in the series at:

Major Disruptors Section 2

The posts so far have focused on both the gains to be made from driverless car technology and the disruptive effects of that technology on various industries and landscapes. The next post was supposed to be on opportunities from driverless cars rather that disruptions. That post will be along soon but meanwhile lots of people have been asking me about the Uber business model in relation to driverless cars.

Uber has worked by displacing the taxi industry to a certain extent by harnessing unused capacity in vehicles in our communities but also by bypassing regulation and maximising the use of application and location technology. Given that the company has been valued at US$18 billion according to its latest funding round, (Taxi app Uber valued at $18 billion in new funding round) and my view that driverless car technology might be fully implementable in 10 years the question has been how does the company valuation make sense when the model is likely to be completely wiped out?

Firstly I think that the business model does have some short to medium structural problems. It is highly possible that the taxi/driver based car system is the one that will be initially replaced in the implementation of driverless cars. If this becomes clear then I think that Uber will have trouble retaining drivers and gaining new drivers in the transition period before the implementation period becomes practical. Who is going to invest in a vehicle or throw in their job, or turn down a job if they are likely to be replaced in one or two years. This is is similar to the problem that the car manufacturing industry will have close to a full scale implementation that I mentioned in my initial post.

The second issue is one that a lot of companies are facing right now and more will in the future. In a world that is changing more rapidly and where disruptive business models or technologies can turn up from anywhere how do you maintain a strategy and a profitable business model that has longevity? Market valuations are supposedly based on the forward view of cash flows (market irrationality aside). In a world where you business model only lasts for 10 years or less how do you maintain a valuation, especially if those cash flows are negative while you rapidly expand? The only way that Uber can do this is a long term vision of pivoting their business model significantly and that model has to be one of being a significant player in driverless car models. In the meantime they have to maintain a profitable or funded model that makes sense to people. In the longer term the game has to be one of using that platform to accrue a huge amount of data and expertise around customers and their travel requirements. It may seem crazy to have a 10 year plan to expand to hundreds of cities just to create a new business in the future but that is what is necessary in these times for lots of businesses. To me it is the only way that the current valuation makes sense.

 

What is your business model/strategy to deal with these sorts of issues given that as Gary Hamel has said “somewhere someone is making a bullet with your business’ name on it”.

 

 

The iQ Zeitgeist: Futurists Forecast the World of Tomorrow

As part of the 2nd birthday celebrations of Intel’s IQ platform they have published a 2 part article interviewing 7 international futurists. I am one of them and I feel in pretty good company  as you can see by the list below. Due to space considerations my answers were edited down so I am putting up links to the articles here but also publishing my answers in their entirety:

Brian David Johnson is a futurist at Intel Corporation. His charter is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020.

Dan Abelow is an American inventor, author, speaker, and technology consultant. His latest patent-pending invention, the Expandiverse, is new technology to build an advanced Digital Earth today.

Daniel Burrus is a technology forecaster, the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, and the author of six books, including The New York Times bestseller ”Flash Foresight.”

Paul Higgins is an Australian futurist and keynote speaker with a Masters degree in Strategic Foresight; a guest lecturer at Victoria University (Melbourne Australia); a tech editor on Tumblr; a partner at Social Venture Partners International (Melbourne); and a very slow triathlete.

Whitney Johnson is a Managing Director at Springboard Fund, and co-founder of Clay Christensen’s investment firm.

Frank Rose is the author of “The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories” and a correspondent for Wired.

Vivek Wadhwa is a Fellow at Stanford University; Director of Research at Duke University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering; and Distinguished Fellow at Singularity University; and was listed as one of 2013′s 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech by TIME Magazine.

You can read the articles at:

The iQ Zeitgeist: Futurists Forecast the World of Tomorrow Part 1

The iQ Zeitgeist: Futurists Forecast the World of Tomorrow Part 2

 

My answers to the questions in full are below. For those of you who want to read more on some of these issues please refer to my ongoing series of major disruptors here on this blog :

1. Every piece of technology we own or online service we consume has Gordon Moore’s 1965 law as a common denominator (Moore’s Law = # of transistors doubling in microchips about every two years). Based on this, how do you think the tech landscape will change in 2 years, 4 years, and 8 years from now? Describe what a typical person’s day might be like at the office and at home.

[Paul Higgins]

Our view is that we have reached the point where with all this technology in the hands of hundreds of millions of people who are all capable of innovating both the hardware and the software platforms it is the height of arrogance to forecast what will happen. What I do know is that there will be enormous change and innovation based on the disruptive effect of these technologies.

2. Which technologies do you think will have the biggest impact on the humankind by 2025? 2050?

[Paul Higgins]

By 2025 I think that the most impactful technology beyond what we are seeing today likely to be driverless cars and while by 2050 artificial intelligence is likely to have the greatest impact. It is possible that large scale implementation of driverless cars can be done in many countries by that date although it is likely to be a little slower. Driverless cars have the capacity to create wholesale change across our communities with significant reductions in road trauma, requirements for hospital resources, and greatly reducing the capital investment needed in cars. The effects will go wider than this with significant impacts on the car manufacturing supply chain worldwide, elimination of the taxi industry, airport parking, and big changes in road and public transport infrastructure as well as urban planning.

The effects of significant levels  artificial intelligence are almost unimaginable. Combined with improvements in robotic technology they have the capacity to wipe out large swathes of current jobs and I am unsure whether the new jobs that are created will replace them. If this occurs we may see a fundamental restricting of the economy and a complete rethinking of people’s relationship to work. My fear is that this will be played out as a have and have not type of scenario and while here may be a strong chance of a rosy future that some science fiction paints the path to that future my be traumatic and tumultuous.

 

3. What technology / innovation that’s currently in development are you most excited about?

[Paul Higgins]

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence are the most exciting from my point of view, both in their capacity to enrich our lives but also from a risk point of view. The problems with artificial Intelligence capabilities have been a lot more stubborn than many people envisaged they would be and we commonly underestimate the capacity of our own brains which we should stand in constant awe of. However developments in both understanding of the brain, increases in computing power and the development of systems able to understand natural language and concepts are all driving us forward faster than in the past. Major projects such as The European and US Brain projects, and the development of technologies such as neuromorphic computer chips promise big leaps in our understanding and capacities over the next decade.

 

4. What will the role of tablets be in the future? How do you see personal computers evolving as they’ve gone from desktop, laptop, ultrabook, 2 in 1 and tablets?

 

[Paul Higgins] I think that we will naturally move towards wearable systems that will become more integrated into our lives. I cannot recall who said it but there is a line that I like that goes something like “it is when the technology disappears when it gets really interesting”. So in the not too distant future the use of smartphones and tablets will seem a little archaic. Wearable technology is at its early stages now and people are still fumbling around for a solution or combination of solutions that really work. However we tend to forget that tablets of different kinds were around for a long time before the iPad got such widespread adoption. Ongoing increases in computing power, changes in user interfaces, continuing miniaturisation and reduced energy requirements, plus rapid trialling of different systems and business models will move us a long way down this path in the next five years. The interfaces we deal with are likely to be even more intuitive than the ones that we have today and be a combination of wearable technology, cloud computing and projected interfaces that can be easily controlled through speech and motion.

 

5. Will humans ever decide to forgo real-life companions for virtual ones?

 

[Paul Higgins] Absolutely on several fronts. If we finally move to uploading our own consciousness (which I have significant doubts on) then virtual artificial companions are likely to be indistinguishable from “real” ones anyway. Before that in a world where we have had pet rocks, and people (including my 7 year old niece) have named their Roombas, and increasing people seem to be living alone I think that it is highly likely that semi-intelligent virtual companions are not far away.

 

6. What can we do today to prepare for technological advances of the future?

[Paul Higgins]

I always think of this in terms of a dog getting in a car and being driven along with the window open. They just accept the technology and embrace it and do not care about the technology as such, more about the experience. They just hang out the window with their tongue out and exude pure enjoyment. I think that the best thing that we can do is to embrace new technology and experiment with it continually. I do despair at times though that we are using these great technologies for trivial purposes and that some of the brightest brains in the world are focused on trivial applications because that is where the money is. We need to think a lot more deeply about the human and social applications of existing and new technologies because in the end that is all that really counts. I get depressed about technology when I read stuff like Michael Lewis’ latest book Flash Boys which describes about the use of technology to get a few milliseconds ahead of the market and cream off huge amounts of money without adding any value. At the same time I am enormously buoyed by the large numbers of people who I meet and work with who are totally engaged in making the world a better place. Last year I spoke at the Nexus Youth Philanthropy Summit in Australia and was blown away by the people in the room , mostly in their twenties, who were all doing fantastic things with technology and in particular social applications. It made me tired just to read their biographies but gave me enormous hope for the future.

 

7. Which prediction of yours didn’t come true (if any) that you were most disappointed about?

[Paul Higgins] In our work we actually eschew predictions as we believe that prediction does not work at any meaningful level of detail. Instead we work with people to envisage multiple futures and then to work with the uncertainty that is inherent in that approach and the real world. That has changed over time and we work a lot closer to the present than we used to. Having said that one of my big misses in picking up how things might we be used was the use of cameras on phones. I certainly did not consider how much they would be used and how important they would become in a personal and a political sense.

 

8. What films or books do you think best represent the future of technology? Will the world become The Jetsons soon?

[Paul Higgins] I am an avid reader of science fiction, both for enjoyment and for thinking about my own work. In that area I tend to read further in the future than our work is based. My favourite authors/books are:

 

Iain Banks and the Culture series. Sadly he passed away last year way before his time. The depiction of a society where work is no longer required and where idiosyncratic AIs run much of the systems, and structures is both highly entertaining and stimulating to think about.

 

Ramez Naam who wrote Nexus and Crux and who is on the short list for the Arthur C Clark award this year writes about nanotechnology and the possibilities of inserting it into our brains in order to both have more capacity, but also to commune with others. Couched in a political battle between idealists and governments seeking to control the technology it provides an interesting social perspective. I am also proud to have him as a Twitter follower.

 

Hannu Rajaniemi who wrote Quantum Thief and Fractal Prince and the upcoming Causal Angel writes really interesting fiction on the far future and harnessing of quantum physics. So dense that I have to go back and re-read the previous one to fully understand the next one.

 

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is a favourite. It depicts a future world where there is conflict between the haves and the have nots where there has been environmental and technological disasters including climate change that are hinted at rather than described.

 

David Brin writes superbly on all sorts of areas of future technology and the dangers of ecological collapse, and is another Twitter follower I am proud to have,

 

And of course William Gibson, whose seminal book Neuromancer contributed significantly to my interest in science fiction and the field in general.

 

I would recommend that people read widely of these authors and others to think of all sorts of possible futures rather than nominating a particular book or film that best represents a future which is inherently unknowable

 

 

 

Major Disruptors Section 2

On Tuesday I started a blog post series on the major disruptors of the next decade. You can see the first post at:

A Series on the Major Future Disruptors of the next decade – Section 1

The first post centred on introducing the subject and looking first of all at driverless cars and the effects it may have on the insurance industry, taxis, and the road building supply chain. Today we continue to look at other sectors that may be affected in a major way:

Public Transport

A system of government subsidised and supported driverless cars would essentially be a hybrid public/private system. It is a complex issue to compare the utility of public and private transport in those circumstances but the most likely scenario is that more people will transfer to cars and away from trains, buses ad trams. The advantages of a personalised transport offering with increased comfort, door to door delivery, and specialised and personalised  services will be pretty compelling.

As always this will be a dynamic situation as less congestion on public transport may make that more appealing for some people. Overall though it is likely that there will be less demand for public transport, less demand for new public transport investment and a problem for all the shops and systems that have built up around the train and tram stops.

Hospitals and the medical supply chain

A 90% reduction in road trauma would have a significant effect on the hospital system and its supply chain. Road trauma supplies a large part of the business of major hospitals. Having suffered such trauma myself there is also a large component of ancillary services such as rehabilitation services, physiotherapy, insurance systems etc that flow on from the original trauma.

Apart from the reduction in the emotional toll if we saved $30 billion a year in hospital costs (see the first post in this series) it will have significant flow on effects in terms of short terms need for new hospitals, long term care requirements for the seriously injured, and all the income flows that come with the whole system.

Car manufacturing

Global implementation of driverless cars will mean sweeping changes to the car manufacturing system due to a number of key factors:

  • If we do not own cars then we are likely to be less concerned about the models of cars that we use and we will have far less model ranges. The experience will be far more focused on what happens when we are in the car from the point of view of connectivity, entertainment, safety and our capacity to work while in motion than they will an emotional attachment to a car model.
  • Cars will be driven far more than they currently are. Cars are currently used on 4-6% of their daily life. If we reduce the number of cars on the road by 60-70% then the mileage done by most cars will be much higher than it previously was. In fact some uses may be five times as high if a model is adopted where a basic car model is the workhorse of the system and we use other cars less for specialty occasions such as moving stuff or a luxury dinner night.

This means that it is likely that the number of car models will reduce significantly and the focus will be on durability and reliability and a faster changeover of the life of cars measured in time while they last longer in terms of kilometres traveled. So while there may be a bloodbath in car manufacturing as these adjustments are made there is the capacity to have significant reductions in the costs of car manufacturing and running costs based on improved model volumes and increased durability from improved design, and more rapid innovation cycles.

Real Estate Markets

One of the key drivers (sic) for real estate prices in inner city areas is the price of the commute to work for a large number of people. That price is both on of an economic price of vehicles, fuel and parking but also one of a personal toll in terms of time spent travelling and lack of productivity. I live I Brunswick (6km from the Melbourne CBD) because it is 15-20 minutes into the city via tram or train, it is 15 minutes to the airport (and I travel a lot interstate and internationally), and it has a car sharing service which means I save money I would otherwise spend on owning a car. I am prepared to send more money on housing for those reasons.

If the time spent travelling can be reduced by the smart use of driverless cars creating less traffic on the road, and if costs can be reduced by sharing use of those cars and no parking, and you can get all the connected services you want inside those cars would you be prepared to travel further? If you could work in the car on the way back and forwards to an office with specialised cars that allow that in comfort plus use virtual reality technologies to have meetings while you travel would you travel further? If you could have a drink on the way home and watch your favourite comedy show in the car that no-one else in the family likes watching would you travel further? Personally I would like the capacity to have a 30 minute power nap.

If the answer to any of those questions is yes it is likely to cause a reduction in price pressures for inner city living and an increasing prices for real estate a little further out.

As an extra change all those inner city car parks will disappear, freeing up more space for accommodation and/or offices. I would be factoring that into my investment thinking right now.

Postal and Delivery Services

If we think through the issues of driverless cars and demand for their services if we implement a wholesale implementation of driverless cars then obviously there will be peak demand times around travel to work that will determine overall volumes. This means that there will be lots of times where there are large excesses of available vehicles. If we combine this with the opportunity for advances in robotics to create automated delivery systems it is easy to see a system that will replace all current postal and parcel delivery systems

A semi-autonomous system that would flex and change and link to when people are actually at home rather than based on logistics systems that seek to get us to provide a window of our time would be much more efficient. Imagine a system that senses when you arrive home and sends you a message asking if you are able to take delivery in the next 90 minutes. Parcels could be kept continually in motion and exchanged between vehicles in a way that keeps the parcel within deliverable distance of your home on a continual basis using smart logarithms. This would eliminate warehousing and provide a much more efficient system and provide a much reduced cost of delivery by utilising vehicles that are already in motion and being used rather than those dedicated to delivery.

 

Urban Planning

A significant change to road use, the number of vehicles on the road, changes in parking requirements, and the desirability of living areas has significant challenges for urban planning. If this change is likely in 10 years then the changes start to impact on the thinking for urban planning well before that point. At what stage should the approaches to urban planning change? This is a very tricky question. Even if we had an implementation date right now it would still be a difficult question to answer. We should all start thinking through these issues now

 

 

Most of the focus on these issues so far has been on the disruptions of existing infrastructure, industries and business models. In the next post I will look more at the possibilities for new jobs and services that might spring from the wide scale implementation of a driverless car society.

 

Paul Higgins

A Series on the Major Future Disruptors of the next decade – Section 1

I have had a bit of a holiday from blogging over the last couple of months due to a variety of reasons but now I am back.

Last week I did a presentation for the Cambooya Family Education Day on what the future looks like. This was both for them to look at how they should think about future investments but also to think about the future of their children and grandchildren.

We had an interesting discussion on a variety of issues and it prompted me to think a bit more deeply about the major disruptors in our global society. This was because part of my premise was that we are facing increased levels of change and disruption and therefore we need to rethink our views and measures on investments and their returns.

First of all this needs a definition. By disruption I mean a sudden change that alters a sector or industry rapidly and extensively. The definition of rapid here can be quite misleading. It took the iPhone years to really disrupt the sector and Airbnb took several years to ramp up to the size that it currently sits at but these are rapid changes when looked at form a historical perspective. Other changes such as turn by turn navigation being available on Google maps were a single individual change which revamped the GPS industry overnight.

By major I mean the capacity to completely transform large slabs of our entire society and economy.

So what do I believe are the major disruptors in the next decade.

The first of these is the driverless car. My last post:

Implementation of Driverless Cars – A case for public subsidy of private transport systems

was on how I believe there is a business case for government subsidies to implement a widespread adoption of driverless car technology given the savings that accrue to government in the process.

Given the promise that driverless cars could eliminate 90% of all accidents lets look at the industries and sectors that could be changed by such an implementation, some obvious, some not that obvious:

Car Insurance

The obvious one here is that car insurance as an industry would shrink enormously due to the reduction in accidents but there are a number of other interesting angles:

  • What happens to insurance of a vehicle where you are not driving – where do the risks lie and how do you insure those risks? If an accident is due to the failure of an algorithm then who is to blame if that algorithm has reduced the risk by 90% but still causes the accident? There is a case here for a comprehensive insurance of the system as a whole.
  • If there is wide scale implementation of driverless cars what does it cost to insure your car if you still want to drive? If you are 10 times more likely to have an accident or kill someone will anybody share those risks? If the government has implemented wide-scale adoption and is relying on the business case of reduced medical costs to fund that change are you liable for any costs incurred, including all medical costs? If so would only the super rich be allowed to drive and would we actually allow it?

Taxis

Taxis are an obvious one – put a fork in them they are done. There are some large legacy issues here. In Melbourne we are seeing protests from taxi licence holders because the government is going to issue extra annual licences which the current owners believe will devalue existing licences. Now I have little sympathy on anyone that builds a business and borrows money based on government policy on issued licences and then complains when government policy changes but there are political considerations here when taxis licences become worthless. I would not be buying one as a long term investment.

Road Building

The estimates are that we will need 30-40% of the vehicles on our roads if a complete system of driverless cars were implemented (Toward a Systematic Approach to the Design and Evaluation of Automated Mobility-on-Demand Systems: A Case Study in Singapore)

We have already started to talk to councils about what this might mean for road building and maintenance. It is clear that if we drastically reduce the amount of cars on our roads then we will need both less new roads built and less road maintenance. Of course there are all sorts of variables here about what might happen. It is likely that there would be a significant shift from public transport to private transport and that would be significantly different in different cities.

We also do not really know what happens to demand when we move from a cost that is largely embedded to one where costs are directly related to an individual decision. For instance I no longer have a car and use a car sharing service called Flexicar here in Melbourne. I estimate that it has reduced my car costs by about 60% but every time I use a car the cost is right in my face rather than being involved in my annual registration and insurance costs, or the costs of capital involved in owning a car, so I am much more likely to walk, cycle, or use public transport. The reactions of people around me are similarly different. People offer me a lift or ask me “will you have a car” or say “don’t go to that expense” when I talk about coming over when they would never do so if I owned a car. A full scale implementation of driverless cars will be an interesting experiment in people’s reaction to those costs.

What is clear is that road building companies and their supply chains will have far less demand in the long term future.

 

Please join me in the next installment where I will discuss some of the less obvious changes including effects on real estate prices.

 

Paul Higgins

 

Section 2 of this series can be found at

Major Disruptors Section 2

 

Implementation of Driverless Cars – A case for public subsidy of private transport systems

My family had a vigorous discussion over the Christmas break on driverless car technologies and the implementation timetable and pathway (yes we are like that, and if you don’t like it don’t turn up).

While we disagreed on the timelines there was general agreement that the technology is inevitable and desirable. My view was that there is a strong case for government subsidies to implement the technology which has some similar network effects as the fax machine: who buys the first fax machine?

Now, having a driverless car has some initial advantages, even if you are the only adopter. For instance if you can read/work/sleep instead of driving it is a great time saver while reducing your chances of having an accident. However the benefits of us all having driverless cars are far greater because network benefits accumulate exponentially as the number of vehicles with the technology grows.

This means that there is a significant case for a huge publicly funded effort for implementation to maximise early adoption rates. This was reinforced for me in the last week while reading several items:

The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups

Audi’s traffic light assistance helps you hit every green light

The Men Who United the States: The Amazing Stories of the Explorers, Inventors and Mavericks Who Made America

In the New Killer Apps the authors describe some of the cost savings that implementation of driverless cars in the USA including:

“The American Automobile Association studied crash data in the ninety-nine largest urban areas in the United States and estimated the total accident-related costs— including medical costs, loss of productivity, legal costs, travel delays, pain, and lost quality of life— to be roughly $ 300 billion. Adjusting those numbers to cover the entire country suggests annual costs of about $ 450 billion. Now take 90 percent off these numbers. Google claims its car could save almost 30,000 lives each year on US highways, prevent nearly two million additional injuries, and reduce accident-related expenses by at least $ 400 billion a year”

Mui, Chunka; Carroll, Paul (2013-12-02). The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups (pp. 19-20). Cornerloft Press. Kindle Edition.

They also go on to postulate that there would be other savings include fuel costs due to more efficient driving, and productivity improvements due to time saving. They also state that the demand for cars would be reduced by 90% due to improved utilisation of vehicles. While it is true there would be reduced demand for cars I highly doubt it would be at this level because the reduced demand theory is largely based on the fact that we only use use our cars a small percentage of the time. I no longer have a car for this reason and use Flexicar a local car sharing service. In Australia the data indicates we only use our cars on average 4% of the time and they lie idle the rest of the time. However the figure of 90% reduction in car demand is likely to be an exaggeration due to two factors:

  1. There will be a requirements for cars at peak times that will need to be filled, meaning that at other times there will still be a large capacity underutilisation.
  2. If we increase the overall capacity utilisation of our cars then they will not last as long. If we increase average car utilisation to say 20% then we will increase the mileage of our cars 5 times. In Australia that would mean moving average distance traveled to 70,000 km per year instead of the current 14,000 ( 9208.0 – Survey of Motor Vehicle Use, Australia, 12 months ended 30 June 2012 ). That means a 5 year old car would have traveled 350,000 km so changeover rates would be much higher. (there are some interesting design issues here – designing and building cars with greater durability while still allowing technology updates for instance)

There are clearly huge savings to be made in implementation of a true driverless car system if the Google assumptions are only partly correct.

In the Audi story the article states:

“Using both live and predictive data beamed into the vehicle’s navigation unit via onboard wifi, TLA doesn’t need a single camera to tell you when the light is going to change. Local data sources provide information about traffic light patterns, and the in car system uses that data and the motion of the car to predict exactly how long it’ll be until the green light goes red”

Clearly this does not work that well unless almost everyone is on the system. If drivers ahead of you are travelling too slowly for the system or brake suddenly then it would not be of much value. Also if you were travelling slowly to match your speed against when the next light would change and behind you was a trail of angry drivers trying to pass you then it could cause more problems than it solves. This magically disappears if all cars are on the system and fuel and time efficiency are gained as well as reduced accidents.

This is what I mean by network efficiencies. There must be a tipping point at which once there are enough driverless cars on the roads that benefits start to accrue more quickly and more adoption takes place. For instance if nearly all the cars on the road were driverless and communicating with each other then travel time information would be greatly improved. However the benefits accrue to different sections of the community rather than just accruing to the user, and accrue at different time frames, and there will be many self interested parties. The following are just a few examples:

  • Reduced accident rates mean a huge reduction in physical trauma and medical costs on top of the reduction in emotional trauma. This is largely saved in the government sector both in operating costs but also in continuing demand for new hospital facilities (this is also complicated by demographic changes, growth of cities, and urban intensification).
  • Individual car owners will save money in the longer term but will have the legacy costs of their current vehicles and their financing costs which may inhibit adoption and cause political backlashes. For instance if you new car is suddenly almost worthless and you have a car loan against the asset what do you do?
  • A number of sectors will miss out on income. The government will miss out on speeding fines and drink driving fines. Panel beaters, car insurers,and car manufacturers will all suffer significant revenue losses as will taxi operators and taxi licence holders.
  • If the general public came to the conclusion that large scale adoption of driverless cars was a good thing and about to happen in the next 3 years new car sales would plummet. Who would buy a new car today if it was virtually worthless in 3 years time?

Which brings me to Simon Winchester’s fine book,The Men Who United the States. In it he describes how a young Eisenhower was part of an army project to cross the USA by road in 1919 to test the capability the road system for military transport in case of war (Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower – Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919).Winchester claims that this experience led to Eisenhower’s long term commitment to the National road system which was later built at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and changed the nature of America.

There is a similar case for a large scale public investment in the adoption of driverless cars across the world. As many of the benefits accrue to government through lower costs in the health system then there is an overriding case for the government to get involved on several levels:

  • Implementation of the necessary technology systems outside of the cars themselves which link the cars to the rest of the transport system including traffic light systems.
  • A major effort to overcome any legislative barriers and risk issues, and coordinating national approaches to the problems. As an example the implementation of all this technology is likely to result in more accurate data on causes of accidents even if the overall numbers fall significantly. There will be cases where failures in the car technology causes an accident. In that case the manufacturers are likely to be held liable for the costs in that accident through the courts. At the same time the manufacturers would not accrue any of the benefits of the large reductions in accidents flowing from the technology adoption. There is a strong case for governments sharing those costs with the manufactures to reduce the costs of implementation ( I would be against indemnifying the manufacturers as they need some skin in the game).
  • Public subsidy of the system in a similar way that we subsidise private road use and public transport systems now but at least initially for a different reason. There is likely to be significant barriers to adoption of the technology which will be tied to initial costs and social attitudes. In a networked system such as large scale of adoption of driverless cars the advantages accrue much faster with higher rates of adoption. A pure business case can be made to government subsidising the system in the initial phase to significantly reduce costs and ramp up adoption rates with the payback being more rapid reduction in government costs.

Beyond all the economic arguments the human cost of road trauma is enormous and long lasting. As someone who was hit by a car 2 years ago and was lucky to escape with some serious injuries which I have mostly recovered from I have enormous sympathy for those who have not been so lucky. I was in hospital for 10 days and had 4 anesthetics and two lots of surgery but the day I left a patient in my ward was being moved to rehab after being in hospital for over 3 months, with the prospect of never walking normally again. I was able to compete in a triathlon again last Sunday in an embarrassingly slow time but at least I could finish. My thoughts go constantly to those who have not been so lucky.

My question is where are the visionary leaders of our time who will take on the huge challenge of implementing a system that can change the lives of thousands of people over the next 50 years? Who will hold the experience of meeting a severely injured car accident victim in their head in the same way Eisenhower held in his head the difficulties of crossing the USA in 1919 and set about changing the system?

Paul Higgins

Further Links:

Large-scale trial of driverless cars to begin on public roads

The world’s first large-scale test of driverless cars will involve 100 Volvos taking to the streets of Gothenburg in 2017

BMW FORECASTS CARS WILL BE HIGHLY AUTOMATED BY 2020, DRIVERLESS BY 2025.

U.K. town will build driverless podcar system

Milton Keynes, a town of more than 200,000 people, announced that it will begin a pilot program for a transit system that uses driverless, electric podcars starting in 2015.

The £65 million pilot project will use 100 podcars (that can hold two passenger each) which can be summoned by a smartphone. The initial test will have the podcars travel on a one mile route between the city’s train station and shopping centers and offices. Each ride will cost £2. The pilot will run for two years and continue if the test run is positive, possibly even spreading to other cities in the U.K.

Further links posted up by futurist P A Martin Börjesson:

New IHS Automotive study forecasts nearly 12 million yearly self-driving cars sales and almost 54 million in use on global highways by 2035

The Driverless City

 

Update:

Volvo’s first self-driving cars now being tested live on public roads in Swedish city

My job advice to my nephews and nieces for 2025

I spent a few days over the Christmas break down at my parents house near the beach on the Mornington Peninsula and hung out with my brothers, sisters in law, and my nephews and nieces.

During one of our later night discussions which are always willing but friendly one of my sisters in law posed the question of what my view was on what they should be advising their children on their future work prospects and directions. We had a bit of a discussion on that but then I sat down and collated a few thoughts for them and some things I think they should read. This is the gist of that advice:

Bottom line is that I believe that we are at the edge of a technological revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Advances in robotics that include cheaper and better sensors and intelligence capacity will move them beyond manufacturing and into cooperative manufacturing, and assisting and replacing humans in all sorts of physical tasks.

Advances in artificial intelligence due to massive increases in computing power and moves towards much better natural language computers/semantic knowledge/deep machine learning will move computer intelligence out of just replacement of easily routinised jobs due to data crunching capacity, and into many more areas of human work – e.g. computer assisted journalism

There are really two scenarios here – that we will see more changes than we can imagine as in the industrial revolution, and more and more jobs will be created, or large slabs of jobs will disappear for ever and not be replaced, and that will cause significant disruption and competition for work unless we move to a new way of having an economy. Now you can take the Luddite view or you can take an optimistic view but the key to thinking about the future is to create a strategy that deals with multiple possible futures as well as you can, whilst understanding that most of the futures you can think up will probably not go close to mapping what the world will look like.

Just to put this in context my youngest niece will probably not enter the workforce until at least 2025, and more probably 2030 and will then have a working life which is likely to extend to 2080 so we are talking about long time frames here.

So what advice would I give to a parent of a 5-15 year old at the moment.

The key is involvement in :

  • Jobs that are not easily routinised – my brother mentioned plumbing and other trades and he was right– the capacity to carry out a complicated task that is different every time and interact with people will still be highly human centered.
  • Jobs with high levels of manual dexterity – robotics still find that hard to master although some systems of surgery are better than people already.
  • Jobs that require high levels of empathy and capacity to interact with people – e.g. aged care, teaching, although stuff like retail is likely to become more data and network facilitated than through an individual shopping experience.
  • Jobs that require the capacity to coach and facilitate networks to perform rather than the current emphasis on managers and hierarchies – requires empathy as well.
  • Jobs centred around the ability to find insight in data – assisted by AI but value added by people.
  • Jobs that are highly creative and require visions and connection.
  • Jobs that cross the boundaries of the jobs types I have listed above.
  • Jobs centered around the ability to code

In terms of thinking about this more I would recommend looking at the following

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs – by the fantastic Kevin Kelly

Algorithms, Robots and the Future of Management – a previous post by me with a great addition from my friend and colleague Stowe Boyd

I also recommend you read Stowe’s :Beneath the chatter about the Future Of Work lies a discontinuity which I think is more about the near future than the long future.

The IFTF report on future work skills – details drivers and skills

In the end we can give all the clinical and logical advice we like but the most important thing for them to do is to pursue what they are passionate about with a weather eye out to the fact that you need passion, skills and a market to make a living and:

  • If you have passion and skills but not market you have a hobby
  • If you have skills and a market but no passion you will be mediocre or burnout
  • If you have a market and passion but no skills you will fail in an increasingly competitive world

The great thing about the modern world is that skills are easier and easier to gain, and markets can span the globe for an individual or a small organisation. So passion is the cornerstone.

Paul Higgins

Some readers have requested some further links and reading on these issues. Here are  a a few from our scanning database:
Robots Can’t End Amazon’s Labor Woes Because They Don’t Have Hands

This was written by RACTER, a computer program that can generate original English language prose and poetry at random

SWARM Quadrotors (Aerial Robots): Coordinated Flight of Small Quadcoptors Interacting with Humans

A Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton Will Kick Off the 2014 World Cup

Brainlike Computers, Learning From Experience

Algorithms, Robots and the Future of Management

Over at the HBR Blog network Walter Frick has an interesting article/blog post entitled:

“Algorithms Won’t Replace Managers, But Will Change Everything About What They Do”

Including:

“The labor market is about to be transformed by machine intelligence, the combination of ubiquitous data and the algorithms that make sense of them. That’s according to economist Tyler Cowen, in an argument spelled out in his recent book Average is Over. As Cowen sees it, your job prospects are directly tied to your ability to successfully augment machine intelligence.”

and

” In any company, you need someone to manage the others, and management is a very hard skill. Relative returns to managers have been rising steadily; good managers are hard to find. And, again, computers are not close to being able to do that. So I think the age of the marketer, the age of the manager are actually our immediate future”

I recommend that you go and read the whole thing because I think that the potential disruption from robotics and improved artificial intelligence is huge. Now people have been belabouring that sort of point from way back, including the often quoted Luddites but we have muddled through and adapted, and created new jobs that we had not previously conceived  However there is a real possibility we are moving through a major turning point that we will only really understand in retrospect and it has the potential to rewrite the world far more fundamentally than the industrial or information age.

I think that the interview that Walter has done is interesting but I do not think that it addresses a key point which is that the fundamental nature of management is changing anyway without these advances. Existing changes and disruptions that are enabling connections between people through social media and social business tools are re-ordering the way that work and strategy are carried out. On top of that the capacities we are giving to individuals and small networks mean that many things that required a large organisation to carry out 5 years ago no longer do so.

This means that the role of management is in part being devolved to the network and so existing concepts of the middle manager are already almost obsolete and therefore to look at the future through a frame of disrupting that role is missing the point.

The role of management is moving towards one of coach and facilitator rather than management and the more skills and capacities that individuals in the network gain, the harder that role will become and the lower the number of ” managers” required”.

I have been looking at some of these things from the point of view of the food and agriculture supply chain and in particular the role of the adviser which has traditionally been the interpretation and handing over of the holy tablet of knowledge. As networks take over part of the role the adviser is challenge and we are struggling with thinking through how the business models look. Any thoughts would be gratefully accepted.

Paul Higgins

Update 23rd December 2013:

I think a very useful addition to this viewpoint is one from my friend and colleague Stowe Boyd:

Network performance is the single most important characteristic of successful employees

including:

“I think business leaders and HR departments do not understand this shift, or the fact that this shift is accelerating, so that in a year or two 75% of a peoples’ value will be based on their network performance, their ability to contribute to and accept from others. We will have to totally rethink performance measurement. It may in some sense be unmeasurable, but at the very least it should be some sort of distributed valuation based on all those who benefit from a person’s participation in work activities, weighted by the closeness and frequency of interaction. Today, it is madness to default to a single individual — the supervisor — to assess a person’s performance, if it ever made sense at all”

Medium, Tumblr and Community Based Business Models

It has been a while since I wrote something here. Life has been getting in the way. However I noticed something form my colleague and friend Stowe Boyd which stimulated me to respond. Over at Tumblr Stowe posted:

Medium becomes more Tumblrish

Hamish McKenzie noted that Medium had become significantly more of a curated experience  in its recent facelift. But I think in his positioning of Medium and Flipboard as two competitors for our attention, he misses something important

He concludes with:

“I find it interesting that Tumblr seems to be changing so slowly — hardly at all — since being acquired by Yahoo. And one of the obvious ways to draw more interest to Tumblr would be the simple avenue of making the curated topics a/ public and b/ better looking. Right now they look like the (relatively unappealing) Tumblr dashboard, and there is little or no room for advertisements.”

“But I have made several of the curated topic feeds — like Tech and Design — a part of my central daily practice. I have not done that with Medium, although I do use Flipboard every day, too”

You can read the whole post by going to: http://stoweboyd.com/post/69485777176/medium-becomes-more-tumblrish

My response to this is:

I am one of the Tumblr tech curators/editors and I am not sure about how I feel regarding advertising on the curated areas of Tumblr. On the one hand I can understand the appeal and like Stowe have made looking at the curated areas part of my daily information practice. I can also understand that the service needs to make money to sustain itself and I am supportive of that as long as it is done in a way that is not intrusive on the reader/community. On the other hand I am somewhat leery of Tumblr/Yahoo making money on top of my voluntary efforts. I would need to balance off that against my view of my contribution to the community and also any value I feel the extra profile of a public and promoted page may do for me and our business.

This is the delicate balance of some of these new business models where the community is producing the product. Too delicate an economic business model may imperil the economic viability of the service, and too intrusive a model may damage the goodwill of the community and therefore make the whole thing evaporate or at least to a level that is non viable. Fundamentally I think that this is easier outside of a large company where transparency can allow the community to make finer grained judgements about the economic model and what it is delivering as long as it is transparent. That is much harder inside a larger company that tends not to publish data on the individual performance of its parts in a way that is clear for everyone to see.

I would be interested in comments.

Paul Higgins