An App Store and Service to Completely Change the World

We are standing in the middle of one of the major turning points in technology history.

We will only know whether that statement is true in retrospect in a few years time but I believe that the developments around the Watson computing model are creating a new wave of innovation possibilities.

ZDNET has reported on IBM setting up a Watson division with $1 billion dollars in funding and 2,000 employees to leverage the investment that has gone into developing the Watson cognitive computing model:

IBM forms Watson Business Group: Will commercialization follow?


The Watson Business Group will break down into four groups:

  • One focused on research and development on cognitive computing.
  • Another aimed at applying Watson to new industries to “disrupt and transform how business is done.”
  • An implementation group to ensure Watson has services support to keep customers satisfied. 
  • An engagement team to sell and market Watson.


Specifically, IBM is launching the following Watson cloud services:

  • IBM Watson Discovery Advisor is aimed at pharmaceutical, publishing and education research. The promise here is that Watson will wade through search results to deliver data and context faster for researchers.
  • IBM Watson Analytics Advisor is designed to be used by enterprises to send questions and raw data sets to Watson and allow the system to deliver insight.


Big Blue said it will invest $1 billion into the Watson division including $100 million to fund startups developing cognitive apps

This follows a story in The Verge in the middle of November announcing that Watson was being opened up to developers through an API that would allow people to build applications on top of its platform:

IBM’s more powerful Watson supercomputer is opening up for public use

The combination of natural language/cognitive computing capability, with the system operating as a platform that others can build new applications on is analogous to the levels of innovation that we have seen in smartphone and tablet application markets in the last few years. The major difference is that the focus will be almost purely on applications that can disrupt whole systems and industries deliberately.

The value in the app development market has been twofold:

  1. The possibilities envisaged by tens of thousands of developers all around the world adds hugely to the perspectives and possible ideas that can be generated compared to keeping things in house.
  2. The fact that all those people are prepared to risk their money and time to try stuff has bypassed the normal “MBA spreadsheet” assessment of ideas and funding so that lots more stuff has been tried. Trying more stuff means more stuff gets to prove it can work.

This has led to a huge flowering of applications, many of them trivial but some of them have been fantastic and world changing.

This can lead to big bang disruption as described by Steve Denning in his review of the book of the same name : Big Business’s Worst Nightmare

If IBM and Watson and the developers involved can get this right then I expect much higher levels of big bang disruption over the next few years. This means that the levels of change experienced by people and business over the next decade might pale into insignificance over the next decade.

As my friend Stowe Boyd would say: “welcome to the post normal!”

Paul Higgins


My Favourite Applications

I was asked yesterday to do some guest lectures on the influence and future of web technologies to Digital Media, Education and Creative Arts university students. In some ways I  find that a bit daunting because they will have grown up with the web. It got me thinking about what to talk about and I guess a perspective from an old fogey who has lived through the changes is worthwhile. One of the things I get asked a lot after keynotes and workshops is what applications do I use and why?  I am getting a new laptop delivered today (maybe my last one ever because of tablet developments) and it got me focused on what were the first applications I would load on to it to get me going and to coordinate with my other devices and work colleagues. So here are my top web based cross platform technologies (after of course basics like a Chrome Web Browser)- in order of importance.

1/ Evernote

If I had to pick one application it would be Evernote as it has become the core of what I do.

We use it to store all of our environmental scanning material which then feeds into client work, keynote presentation preparation. For example we generally have a 3-6 month lead time for presentations so on top of our core scanning notebook I collect  cross links to the notes in our system under specific presentation titles to go back to once we start to put together a narrative

I use it to track project notes because I can record it on my desktop, my iPad and my android phone.

I use it for check-lists for travel for the same reason

The web clipper allows me to clip interesting articles and reports for about 30 minutes in the morning which then syncs effortlessly so I can read them on my iPad when travelling

I photograph workshop worksheets and maps and share those with clients afterwards.

The system allows export of all the data so we can keep offline back ups and get our stuff out any time that we want to.

Bets of all it is free although we pay for the premium version


I pray every day that they stay as a stand alone business and do not get taken over by Microsoft especially.

2/ Drop Box

For those not familiar with it Drop Box allows you to place a folder on your hard drive and anything that is saved in there is synchronised to the cloud and then synchronised to any device you have the application loaded on to.

I use drop box to:

Share a folder with my farm manager so I can see his reports and back up database files any time that I want to from wherever I am

Share a folder with Kim our office manager so I can see all our scanned documents (which is most things) at any time

Keep all the images that we use for presentations so I can access them from any device for preparation.

Save a copy of keynotes before I travel to present (I am paranoid about not having a presentation work so I save one on the hard drive, one on a USB stick, a separate portable version on a different USB stick which I put in a separate bag, upload one to Prezi (see below), and download one from Prezi to my iPad)

Share client documents for workshops and project work


3/ Kindle 

I no longer buy any non fiction books it printed version (I still like a printed book for fiction reading in bed and on planes and one of the people that prompted this post told me the other day he buys eBooks and prints them!!!)

The convenience of being able to carry so many books with me that I have notes in and being able to access that on desktop, iPad and smartphone is fantastic for me ( I mainly use the iPad). The convenience of having a book delivered to me 1 minute after making a  decision to buy it, and to have access to a much wider range of publications than I ever could locally is great.


4/ ABC iView

This is more an entertainment one and local to Australia than a work one but we use it a lot. I rarely watch TV when it is on these days, preferring to time shift my viewing habits. iView works seamlessly and we use it a lot on the iPad either stand alone or plugged into the TV. It allows you to create a watch list and to watch programs and remembers where you were if you only watch part of a show. That is useful because I am often up well before Jo and Miles and watch a bit on my iPad while having breakfast.Image

5/ TweetDeck

I use TweetDeck more on my computer than I do on my iPad because I am not that keen on the iPad app and find it hard to integrate my overall workflow with it on the iPad.

I use Tweetdeck to organise my Twitter stuff and have several columns set up inside it than I find useful:

A Follow column which is for all the people I follow. This is too large a group to look at all the time but I try and dip into “the stream” 2-3 times a day for serendipity.

A mentions column to track where I am being mentioned and re-tweeted

A direct message column which is set up with a pop up notice so I can respond to people

A “my perspectives list” which is a core group of people I follow assiduously on a daily basis for scanning and information purposes If you want to see this – it is a public list at!/futuristpaul/my-perspectives-list)

A scheduled updates list because we tend to queue tweets to get a spread over different parts of peopel’s day in different parts of the world and to manage workflow on our side.


6/ Skype

Which we use all the time for internal communication and for travel, both on the laptop and on the iPadImage

7/ Prezi and Prezi Viewer

We use Prezi for all our presentations and I love using the Prezi Viewer application on my iPad because I present without notes and like to do multiple run through and rehearse presentations. Having it in a format the looks just like my presentation on my iPad allows me to rehearse multiple times on planes and taxis and hotel rooms and get the flow down pat. I usually give it one more run through just before going on.Image

8/ Carbonite

Carbonite is an on-line back up system. Like most people I am variable when it comes to making back ups and also wanted an offsite solution so that if we had a fire or a burglary we would be able to recover all our important data. It is a set and forget system that works in the background and backs up all the files that you designate and can be accessed from other devices. Image

9/ Got to Meeting

We use Go to meeting all the time for on-line internal collaboration meetings, for practice run through of presentations and for draft presentation checks with clients that want them prior to workshops or keynotes


So there you go and it certainly demonstrates how integrated web services are to how we work these days.

I would be interested in any suggestions from others on their favourite applications that I should try.

Paul Higgins

Why Would You Publish a Book About the Future Without a Kindle Version? (or another ebook version)

Or why you have to remove all possible friction in your customer’s buying decisions

I went to Amazon to look at purchasing James Howard Kunstler’s new book yesterday after seeing a couple of recommendations from people in my social network that I trust.:

Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation

As far as I could tell there was only the hard cover version.

I don’t know about everyone else but I have stopped buying non fiction print version books.

That has happened for two reasons.

The first is convenience. I now carry an iPad almost everywhere I go and the Kindle application works fantastically well. For non fiction books the opportunity to dip back into them and find notes that I have made is important for my work and thinking. I am also constantly referring to my favourite books and authors and the convenience of being able to open up the iPad and show people the book is a nice thing to do.

The second is the ability to make a purchase decision when I want to and have the product straight away. Particularly for the non fiction books that I purchase it is highly unlikely that they will be available locally. Therefore I have to order them in which can take quite a while. The Amazon system is great in terms of being able to order and download immediately.

The fact that I could not get the book straight away means my attention has gone away from it and I may never return. I am constantly talking to clients and in my keynote presentations that they are not competing with their standard competitors any more. Now that my attention (and my money) has gone somewhere else it might not be focused on a different book, it might be focused on backing a Kickstarter project, or making a charitable donation, or buying a new music album. The demands for my attention are myriad and are coming from all sorts of places that were not there 5 years ago.

So why would you publish a book without an easily obtainable electronic version in this day and age. All you are doing is putting an obstacle in my way of buying your product. The same applies to lots of other product and service offerings. In a modern world you cannot afford to do that for long.

Paul Higgins

ps: I still buy printed versions of fiction books because I like the idea of reading in bed with a book and the same on planes for take-off and landings. We are all dinosaurs in some part of our behaviour!