Breaking Bad Habits
Freek Vermeulen, an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School, is already known to InnoTown attendees. In 2013, his InnoTown talk became one of the highest rated. This time he introduced some amazing ideas from his book “Breaking Bad Habits”. And by these bad habits, he implies blind following widespread practices, superannuated a long time ago.
Such outdated norms become harmful to business and should be defied, he states. And he proves his position by fascinating real-life examples of organizations who introduced innovations and unlocked their hidden potential.
Freek used the UK company HMV as a sample of the rise and fall of a niche business that failed to catch sight of a turn from niche stores to retail and from offline to online. He then drew parallels to the rise of iPhone and the fall of Nokia and Blackberry.
He also mentioned a positive example of Citizen M, whose concept is to offer a great hotel experience at a low cost by eliminating all the costly extras and focusing on what the specific customer group needs. Their approach is based on the identification of the customer group, eliminating things this group doesn’t care about and introducing the alternative the customers will enjoy.
Freek reminded the audience that strategy is not only about looking forward but also about reacting to change and making decisions based on this.
The second part of his report was devoted to the ‘safety in numbers’ hypothesis. According to it, by being part of a large physical group or mass, an individual is less likely to be the victim of a mishap. This is an important thing we should keep in mind when dealing with our staff and customers. Help your employees grasp the impact of their work. Let them know that their work is noticed and appreciated. And try to reduce the anonymity between the customers and the workers.
The Battle Within
Robert Mood is the President of Norwegian Red Cross and a former lieutenant general. His 40-year service record includes leadership positions in the NATO and the United Nations. As Chief of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, Mood was commissioned to assist Kofi Annan in his work as a special envoy of the secretary-general and the Arab League on the Syrian crisis. Apart from this, he is known as an outstanding speaker, writer, and commentator.
His InnoTown speech was dedicated to the issue of leadership. For him, it first and foremost goes about responsibility. The uncertain future demands from the leaders of contemporaneity being accountable, relevant and loyal to the values of society.
A leader should develop people through caring, and combine caring with clear demands. This will motivate people and bring out the very best in them, inspiring them to climb the ladder and move forward.
The first step in delegation is to set clear goals. How will you measure whether the job has been done properly? Clarify for the subordinates what they are expected to achieve, and don’t leave topics in the corner. Also be clear about what they must not do, and what actions they may not take. These instructions may be on a low level, like, “Be sure to keep this customer satisfied” and “do not invoice this customer for overtime”.
You as a leader should also remember about integrity and do as you teach. Don’t show up at work in shorts if you don’t want your team to show up poorly dressed in front the customers.
Be mission-focused, never look back, only look forward, and make the team as complimentary as possible.
Robert also reminded us about the importance of values. The team should define their core values. As well, the leaders should formulate their personal leadership concept. And there is a good practice helping to find out how personalized and internalized this concept is: just try to formulate it on a piece of paper without googling and stealing quotes from other.
Utopia for Realists
The Case for a Universal Basic Income
Rutger Bregman is considered to be one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers. Bregman is a historian by profession, and an author of four books on history, philosophy, and economics. Apart from this, he is also a regular writer for The Correspondent.
The key issue he investigates is a redistribution of power in the modern world. He gives capitalism its due in developing a stable social base, though, at the same time he points out the need for change in economic and welfare systems. He goes further with presenting universal basic income, a 15-hour workweek, and open borders as key ideas to make his case. This, he believes, will bring humanity to a completely new social structure.
The world has never been better, Rutger states, except for marriages that brake more frequently, high rates of domestic violence (1/3 all murders are domestic), and a top-heavy level of consumerism. What was a utopia in the 19th century, is a reality now, in the 20th century. The real crisis is that we cannot come up with something better—the next iteration—the next huge thing. Now we need the vision, a “new utopia” for the 21st century.
Rutger’s idea for future improvements is that, instead of stimulating bureaucracy, people would be better off with a universal basic income to stimulate them to work shorter hours, grow their own interest and be motivated to contribute to the society. His theory is that UBI would pay itself, as most social security and welfare systems have a huge overhead in management and control.
Personally, I find this idea a little bit doubtful. Won’t UBI remove the incentive to work, affecting adversely the economy and leading to labor and skills shortage? The risk is that kids choose not to take up learning but live on the bare minimum instead and play XBOX all day.
Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins
Garry Kasparov, the last InnoTown speaker I am happy to introduce in this article, is well-known all over the world as the greatest chess player of all times. Having retired from professional chess, he went on to participate in democratic and human rights protection movement. He is the author of several books and a contributing editor to The Wall Street Journal.
Garry is also famous for being one of the first humans to practically interact with AI. In 2007, Garry played and lost to Deep Blue, a chess computer algorithm. The case was seen as very symbolically significant. Many people considered it a sign that artificial intelligence was catching up to human intelligence. Keep in mind that chess has always been seen as the ultimate intelligence challenge, there are more game-trees of сhess than the number of galaxies, and more openings, defenses, gambits, etc. than the number of quarks in our universe!
No wonder it inspired Garry to deepen into the topic of AI. For many years, he has been exploring the potential of human and machine cognition, competition and collaboration.
Garry devoted his InnoTown talk to the way AI is transforming human behavior and interactions. AI development generates numerous expectations, but at the same time numerous fears, he mentions. And if we want to get most out of this technology, we need to face our fears and conquer them.
Garry told about three different levels of computing algorithms, where A is the brute force approach, B is artificial intelligence and C is self-learning computers. He believes that what is waiting for us in the future is Augmented Intelligence instead of Artifical Intelligence—that is, humans and machines complimenting each other.
It is really instructively that instead of disassociating himself from AI and chess computers after the defeat, Garry embraced the new technology and is working on combining the computing power of modern algorithms with human imagination, insight, and ideas.