Posts filed under “Disruptive Technology”

Keynote: The Digital Culture of Cities

In February I was invited to keynote at the Dallas Festival of Ideas. I spoke about the “Innovative City” within the context of Digital Culture. I wanted to explore how technology was empowering municipalities and citizens to better organize, communicate and collaborate with each other, improving the day to day quality of life of residents.

In this talk, I focused on three main information exchanges that occur within cities: from governments to citizens, from citizens to governments, and between the citizens themselves. The sum of these exchanges represent the health and vitality of a city’s digital culture. You can watch my presentation below!

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The Twighlight Zone for the Digital Generation: Black Mirror

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

I recently fell in love with a television series called Black Mirror. It’s a British television show created by Charlie Booker that explores some of the darker themes around the influences of technology on our daily lives. Ironically, I found out about Black Mirror via social media. The show was actually created in 2011, but since it’s availability on Netflix in late 2014 it has enjoyed a huge surge of popularity. The first season contains only 3 episodes, each  focusing on one aspect of our technology-obsessed culture. It’s one of the only shows on television taking a frank look at how the lines between online and offline have blurred and the dangers that lurk ahead. It’s scifi enough to entertain, but grounded in a near enough future to have you worried.


We Are Enslaved by Our Screens:

In the first episode, The National Anthem,  the UK Prime Minister is given a bizarre ultimatum by terrorists: have sexual relations with a pig on live television or a member of the royal family that they are holding hostage will be killed. Yes, the premise sounds outlandish, but Booker does a fascinating job of making it all seem unsettlingly plausible. Egged on by the fickle opinions shared on social media, twitter polls and Internet comments, the politician grapples with a decision that highlights how fixated we have become on the screens in our lives that we’re not aware of what goes on around us.

I’ve already stopped bringing my cellphone into my room at night, since I hated the habit I’d developed of looking at it right before I went to sleep and first thing when I woke up. Are notifications really that important to my life? 


What is Reality?

The second episode, Fifteen Million Merits, places us in a post-peak-oil future where people generate energy from stationary bikes and earn a currency called Merits. The daily grind is tedious and the only way to cope is through escapism – in this case a collective obsession with reality television shows. The people in this world are constantly bombarded with advertisements. In one powerful scene, the main character is lying in his screen-lined room and an advertisement comes on. When he closes his eyes to avoid it, the screens start beeping that his vision is obscured and he has a choice of either watching the ad or paying a set number of merits to skip it. The other thing that struck me about this episode was how consumerism had shifted towards digital goods, people spend their merits accessorizing at their digital avatars with hats and sunglasses, further blurring the lines of reality and identity within the online sphere. 

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Always On:

The last episode, The Entire History of You, we’re in a world where everyone is implanted with a “grain”, a device that enables you to record and then replay your memories. This process is called a “re-do” and can be done for an individual or projected on a screen for a wider audience. Considering everyone is always recording everything with their iPhones these days, I found this episode to be very fascinating. What would happen if we lived in a society where recording and sharing was extrapolated to this level of cultural normalcy? How would it impact your relationship with each other, yourself and information in general? With PEW reporting that 90% of Americans own a cell phone and 67% check their phones even when they don’t have a call or notification, Black Mirror makes this premise seem not only realistic but also inevitable.

This is not a happy show, but an unflinching examination of our co-dependent relationship with technology. We love to broadcast our feelings, even when it makes us feel isolated. We love snooping in the lives of others, even when it makes us feel bad about ourselves. Despite the privacy risks, the dishonesty and over-curation, we are incapable of logging off, unable to resist just one more quick scan of our newsfeed or timeline. It’s this look at both the good and the bad that makes Black Mirror both chilling and compelling in equal measures.


I highly suggest you add it to your watch list!


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Thy Pound of Flesh – Public Shaming, Moral Codes and Other Dangers of Cyber Vigilantes

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

In my last post on cyber-vigilantism , I wrote about the three elements needed for such acts to take place:

  • The violation of a social code
  • The lack of traditional accountability
  • The need for tangible consequences.

In this post, I’d like to dig a little deeper and take a look at three implications Cyber-Vigilante behaviour and it’s impact on our digital culture.

1. The People Have Spoken – Too Soon

Once a social code has been broken and an outcry has been made there is always a huge rush to try to track down the suspect. In China, when individuals collectively work online to unmask an individual it’s called the “human flesh search engine,” and it moves crazy fast, often within a few hours or days. This speed sometimes comes with a cost: accuracy.

Often, when the event in question is unfolding at breakneck speed, mistakes are made in the rush to identify the guilty party. The most notable example took place in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, when Reddit users erroneously named Sunil Tripathi, a missing student, as a suspect in the attacks. In the chaos of a breaking-news event, his name was picked up by online sources and eventually, even the mainstream media. By the time the Police unequivocally absolved Tripathi from any involvement in the case, his family had already received death threats and hateful messages.

It turned out that Tripathi had committed suicide prior to the attacks, and sadly, his body was recovered from a river about a month later. By then, the damage to the Tripathi reputation had already been done, adding unncessary suffering to a family in mourning. There are several other cases of people who are falsely identified by a mob intent on delivering justice, many with tangible consequences for the poor individuals involved.

It is an interesting clash between our trusting assumptions that reported news has been appropriately vetted and the speed at which information about developing events is available to the public. That last part has two implications: One, the information received by the public from the media isn’t always accurate, and two, sometimes the public bypasses the news completely and conducts their own investigation. 


2. Controversial Social & Moral Codes

At first glance, having cyber vigilantes hunt down child molesters, drug dealers and animal abusers doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, I share the collective satisfaction experienced by many other web users when such an offender has been caught and punished. But the problematic nature of this unchecked vengeance becomes more apparent when the social codes being enforced are of a moral nature instead of a gap in the law.

Take the 2010 of Jesse Slaughter, an 11 year old girl who experienced the wrath of the Internet first-hand.  It all began when Slaughter, an active Tumblr user uploaded a video to YouTube to address her haters. (Have I mentioned how delighted I am that none of these platforms were available to me when I was 11? I don’t know how kids today cope.) In the video, Slaughter is confrontational and aggressive saying things like “If you can’t stop hating, you know what? I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy.” The video found it’s way onto /b/, a free-for all message board and regular hangout for internet pranksters, jokesters and trolls, who responded by revealing Slaughter’s real name and address and issued a call for their members to harass her. She was the victim of endless prank calls, and hateful messages including demands that she kill herself. Unfortunately, her father tried to intervene by filming his own response video which only amplified the momentum of the movement and resulted in the creation of several memes which brought more attention to the drama. Slaughter was placed in protective custody due to the numerous death threats that she received.


Jesse Slaughter exercised her freedom of speech to upload some questionable content on the Internet. She didn’t break any laws and yet was the victim of the wrath of a cyber-mob because she violated an unspoken code by issuing a threat to her haters, which attracted the attention of another subculture who revel in responding to such challenges. She violated an obscure social code that she probably wasn’t even aware of. Also, regardless of what she said or didn’t say, I’ll reiterate this point for the millionth time: she was 11.

More recently, issues like the harassment of feminist blogger and media commentator Anita Sarkeesian in 2012 have shown the troubling, dark side of punishment for behaviours that aren’t a crime. Sarkeesian’s offence was creating an online video series discussing the most widely used female tropes that exist in video games.


Apparently, daring to raise awareness of some of the misogynistic elements that exists in gamer culture (and by the way: a lot of other cultures) was a violation of a social code that justified a campaign targeting Sarkeesian with hate mail, death threats and hacking attempts on her social network. She received bomb threats and the harassment escalated to the point where she was forced to leave her home. Once again, Sarkeesian’s views might have offended some people, but she did not commit any crime, was not spreading hate, did not do anything that would justify her life being threatened.

It’s fascinating to see that for many people the lack of traditionally accountability (normally used within the context of a legal response) is being interpreted as a violation of a moral or social code. And because neither woman committed an actual crime, a subset of the population felt that they both needed to be “punished” through public shaming and other online vigilante behaviours. It’s one thing when a group of citizens take action against an illegal threat – their actions might be questionable but at least rational in some sense. It’s another thing completely for people to use the web to launch private vendettas against those they simply don’t agree with.


3. The Normalization of Public Shaming in our Daily Lives

The most common aspect of cyber-vigilantism is public shaming, and I believe that through repeated exposure, this behaviour is becoming normalized in our digital culture. Shaming itself is a behaviour that has been embedded is practically in every culture since Adam and Eve were shamed into wearing clothes. Not all shaming is bad, often shaming is used as a social mechanism to deter unwanted behaviour (This 2006 BBC article recalls how a Sudanese tribe  punished a man who was caught copulating with a goat by forcing him to marry the animal in a public ceremony.)

What I find interesting is the unpredictability and widespread reach that digital platforms add into the mix.

More and more frequently I have been spotting the emergence of sites that want to publicly shame people, even if their real identities are not revealed. This is the more benign end of the spectrum, but one that is becoming more common nonetheless.

  • Passenger Shaming is an Instagram account where airline employees and passengers shame people who act inappropriately while traveling.
  • Men Taking Up 2 Much Space on the Train is a tumblr blog that shames men on public transit for taking up too much space. This is now also known as “manspreading”
  • Pet Shaming is a site where owners upload photos of their pet along with confessions of shameful behaviour. (This one is pretty funny)
  • Kid Shaming is a similar behaviour except instead of pets, people upload pictures of their own children. Personally, I find this creepy and unfunny.


This is an ongoing area of research for me, so I’ll definitely be exploring some of these themes in  more depth in the near future.






Seasons of Work: Summer School – part 1

This is a “show your work”  post about sharing some of my thinking around  my own career development. 

I have often spoken about lifestyle design on this blog (here and here) and it remains one of my most important priorities. I always like to step back and make sure that the way I’m living my life is aligned with my optimal energy levels and habits. For example, during the cold months I am very rarely tempted to venture outside of my apartment. For me, winter is my most productive time because I hole up in my little writing cave and work. Spring and fall are in between times, a mix of execution, travel, and projects. Summer is all about being outside, taking some time to think, moving at a slower pace and enjoying the little things like cold ice tea and a walk in the park with Pixel.

One of the saddest parts of being an adult is not being able to take summer vacations anymore, and something that I always vowed to fix in my own career. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to schedule my time so that during the summer I have a reduced active workload. An active workload is any external deliverable that someone is waiting on. I’m still doing a lot of writing and research but am  not committed to anyone else during this time. Sometimes things come up that are unavoidable but generally, this system has worked pretty well. It does mean that I work longer hours in the winter sometimes but for me, the trade-off is worth it.

Summer is also the time I carve out to learn.

One of the things that I love most about working in the digital space is the sheer speed at which everything moves. It keeps you on your toes and forces you to pay attention to what’s going on because everything is constantly changing. For me that means I need to regularly reassess my skills and make sure that my knowledge base is growing in order to continue to deliver value to my clients and on my own projects. In that vein, every summer I poke around online and find a few courses to audit. It’s the perfect summer activity. I do my course readings on patios, in parks, by the Seine. My reduced workload gives me time to explore new ideas, which is the perfect lead in to my ramp up for fall. Armed with new insights I am always energized when September comes around, eager to apply what I’ve learned. Many of these courses are free, and you can audit them if you don’t want to do the course assignments. I usually pick a mix of doing the course work and auditing. I tend to gravitate to a mix of innovation, strategy and foresight courses though occasionally I’ll take a random one that strikes my fancy. MIT’s Open Course platform is a gold mine!  Here are the courses I’m interested in this year:

  • The Sociology of Strategy:  A course that investigates some of the central questions in strategic management through the lense of sociological research with a focus on (a) relative firm performance; (b) the nature of competition and market interaction; (c) organizational capabilities; (d) the beginnings of industries and firms; (e) the diffusion or transfer of ideas and practices across firms; and (f) strategic change.  
  • Advanced Strategy:  A course that explores  the roots of long term competitive advantage in unusually successful firms. It will focus particularly on the ways in which the actions of senior management build competitive advantage over time, and on the strategic implications of understanding the roots of a firm’s success.

Over on Coursera I’ve narrowed down my choices to these three: Understanding Media by Understanding Google from NorthWestern University, Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: the first step in entrepreneurship from the University of Maryland, and Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations.

Audit vs. Take

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll audit most of the courses, meaning I’ll watch the lectures and read the notes but I will be very choosy about which exercises and assignments I do. I won’t get a “certificate” of completion from Coursera but I don’t really care about that as I’m only interested in expanding my own skills. Last year I took Managing Innovation: Emerging Trends which I really liked and so I’m hoping this year’s picks will be as interesting. I enjoy that it’s self-paced so I just go through the readings and lectures at my own speed. What I’ll usually do is review all the course material to see what’s most interesting and then choose the courses that I think will be the most fun and useful. If something is really boring, I’ll skip it.  The Google course looks fascinating and I’ve already read several of the books on the suggested reading list so this will be a nice complement to critically evaluating some of the ideas I’m already familiar with. The coursera platform has a much nicer interface than MIT’s and you definitely have to be self-motivated. I schedule some time each week to focus on this because it’s an important part of my professional development. Yes, we have to stay on top of trends and startups and current events but I’m finding that it’s also important to slow down and re-examine some of the big ideas that are underlying these shifts.


Here are a few articles I’ve found about other people who are taking an innovative approach to professional development.

  • The (now) famous Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman about how to access the same information for yourself.
  • The Tropical MBA – my current obsession about building a location independent business. Part of my next five year plan. So much good stuff here, I’m all over their content: podcasts, blogposts, newsletters…MOAR!!!

I’ll be blogging about the more interesting tidbits of my courses this summer, and sharing some the best stuff with my lovely newsletter subscribers, stay tuned and happy learning!   If you’re interested in staying updated about my research, upcoming books and general cool things I find online, sign up for my monthly newsletters and get my best stuff first. Subscribe here.  

[Data] Decoded: How Much Time Is Your Company Wasting?

This post is a part of my thinking around the concepts I wrote about in my latest book, “The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers.”  You can see other thoughts about big data, organizational culture and talent management here

I spotted a recent HBR blog post last month that underscored our need for better data systems inside organizations. Entitled Quantify How Much Time Your Company Wastes, author Ryan Fuller, laments the wasted, untracked time that goes down the drain at the end of each business day. The numbers he quotes are frightening: one Vice President in the technology sector reported spending an average 44 hours a week on meetings, under 22 hours on emails alone.

“There are so many initiatives, goals, peoples, customers, and vendors competing for our time that it’s extraordinarily challenging to just simply focus,” he writes. “This is changing, however – just think about how many companies are utilizing sophisticated social intelligence algorithms to create a deeper understanding of their customers’ patterns and behavior.”

It’s Fuller’s next piece of advice that really caught my eye, and I think you’ll quickly see why:


The next step is turning these analytics inward – harnessing the massive amount of e-mail, calendar, and messaging data a company already has – to diagnose surprising inefficiencies that exist at an organizational level.


What’s that Ryan? Organizations should know their talent as well as they know their customers?  I totally agree! Though I might be a little biased. The Decoded model is built on understanding that attracting the best talent is now a survival imperative for companies facing today’s economic climate. Attracting those people is only half the battle: the real work is in making sure they are happy, empowered and motivated. That’s where data can come in to help create better training practices, introduce flexible policies and engineer the types of behaviours that create the best cultures.

The article lists three tips for organizations including: identifying expensive errors, monitoring partner relationships and personalizing feedback loops (which we focus on in depth in one of the chapters.)

I wanted to offer my own suggestion:

Measure your baseline time expenditure. 

Humans tend to be naturally optimistic when it comes to estimating the time of work it takes to get something done. We are more likely to under-estimate the actual time. We also are prone to losing small chunks of time that can add up. Plus, the human memory is a falliable thing that is often prone to rewriting experiences to fit our own narratives. This means that many of us think we have an idea of how many times we get interrupted in a day or how long it takes us to complete a task, but without data to back that up, we could be totally wrong.

Here are three ways to experiment with this:

  • Try a service like Rescue Time which runs in the background of your computer and tallies the websites you visit and the tasks you work on. You might be surprised (as I was) that you think you’re only “glancing at twitter every now and then” when you’re actually spending four hours a week on the social media platform.
  • For those that want a more analogue experiment here is a very easy one from the book. Take a pad of paper and a pencil. At the beginning of the work day write down your best estimate for the number of times that you’ll be interrupted between 9am and lunchtime. Then, every time you get interrupted from a task, be it a cheery colleague stopping by or an email that requires your attention, make a tally mark. At lunch time compare the number of marks to your theoretical number.
  • Ask your team to rate the usefulness of the meetings they attend on a scale of 1-10 for one month. They can do this in a shared spreadsheet or you can even ask them to anonymously submit scores on post-its at the end of a meeting, whatever works best for you. At the end of this period, take a look at your numbers. Most people we’ve worked with who have conducted this experiment have discovered that there were a few meetings (or more) that no one found useful. By eliminating these meetings they were able to increase morale and productivity!

Consider the following questions:

  • Were you surprised by the results?
  • Were your estimations of time expenditures accurate?
  • What is the major insight about how you spend your time?
  • Is there something that can be changed?


The best tool you have is knowledge, a true understanding where your time is going. It’s only by understanding your baseline that you can start to make constructive changes, and identify underlying issues – like too many meetings or Kevin from accounting who always drops by for chats that last for 20 minutes.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can apply The Decoded Model within your own organization, feel free to email me as I often (time permitting) take on a few clients to help implement our principles. You can contact me here.


If you’re interested in staying updated about my research, upcoming books and general cool things I find online, sign up for my monthly newsletters and get my best stuff first. Subscribe!