Data scientists spend so much time focused on learning: both machine learning and human learning. A machine can learn. A data scientist spends a lot of time just trying to persuade a machine to learn. It just takes a lot of labelled data. What about collections of people? Organizations can learn too. It’s just that the data isn’t all labelled well. Why Organizational Learning is Important I was so impressed with Carl Anderson’s synthesis two years ago, about Data Driven Cultures, that I unpacked it and applied it to startups and strategy. Coming back to it now, in 2018, a lot of what he was saying is purely about learning. Carl Anderson, 2015, described a data driven culture as on that:[…]

There’s a quote from The Office (US) [Season 6, episodes 5/6, “Launch Party”]: Michael: Okay, okay, what’s better? A medium amount of good pizza? Or all you can eat of pretty good pizza? All: Medium amount of good pizza. Kevin: Oh no, it’s bad. It’s real bad. It’s like eating a hot circle of garbage. The launch in that episode was the ill fated “Dunder Mifflin Infinity”, and while the reference in the passage is to the pizza that Michael Scott had ordered, it may as well been referring to the website. For many reasons, people tend to build all you can eat hot circles of garbage, instead of a medium amount of pretty good pizza. Minimum Viable Product and[…]

I was 28 and sleepless when I encountered a marketing version of the logistic function. It was beautiful. It’s one of those things you’re taught about in one context, and when you’re shown it from another angle, it expands your mind. It was like discovering Pi for the first time. I could use it to check the assumptions of a market penetration forecast, and substitute my own estimates for others. I felt empowered and delirious from being able to produce a solid forecast. It became a tool as useful as btau or the crosstab. There’s a part of that math, a variable called saturation, that worried me from the outset. Saturation is the maximum percentage of adoption that a market[…]

Jon Evans wrote a piece for Techcrunch entitled: After the end of the startup era. In it, Evans writes: We live in a new world now, and it favors the big, not the small. The pendulum has already begun to swing back. Big businesses and executives, rather than startups and entrepreneurs, will own the next decade; today’s graduates are much more likely to work for Mark Zuckerberg than follow in his footsteps. And, Because we’ve all lived through back-to-back massive worldwide hardware revolutions — the growth of the Internet, and the adoption of smartphones — we erroneously assume another one is around the corner, and once again, a few kids in a garage can write a little software to take[…]

The other I likened the process for taking apart a Job To Be Done to taking a part a lobster. There’s a very effective way to decompose any problem with enough energy. And then I watched The Founder on Netflix and admired the McDonald brothers using a classic technique in management science to refine a system on a tennis court. And I loved it. They really refined hamburger and frenched fry delivery. And then this morning I read that Andrew Ng in working on a new coursera course for AI. And I’m thankful for his initiative and optimism. Out of those three threads, this one post. The Assembly Line The assembly line was an American invention for Americans. It could[…]

Bart Gajderowicz delivered a great talk at Machine Intelligence Toronto about how people go through stages in accomplishing a goal [1]. The talk was about homelessness and AI approaches to public policy. I instantly saw a connection to all sorts of tensions that people endure when they set out on a goal. To distill the concept, let’s start off with the idea that people have goals, people have emotions, and that time moves forward. As people make progress towards their goals, their emotions change over time. They start off in a good mood, in a state of uninformed optimism. Then, as negative information overwhelms their ignorance, they enter into a state of informed pessimism. So much negative information builds up[…]

Ben Thompson calls culture the accumulation of decisions. Assume that it’s true. How do decisions at a tech startup come into being in the first place? A startup can be instantiated with the business plan. And if you take a Beinhocker (2006, The Origin of Wealth) approach to it, you may believe that there’s a Library of Smith which contains every single business plan that’s possible. There are trillions upon trillions of potential business plans. And management is pretty much reduced to a machine that is able to execute the plan to generate wealth. Everything that has potential is possible at the beginning and assume competent management. (Image related – a bit esoteric*). In the context of a startup, a[…]

A great mind in public policy told me, just this last September, that people are really bad at judging the rate of technological change and when it’ll affect them. It’s like standing on a railway. You can see the train out there. Some people assume that the train is going to hit them very soon. They get off the tracks. Then, when the train is getting very close, others misjudge the speed and assume that it’s still a far way. And then they get hit. It’s a great analogy because it combines prediction with decision. The rate of technological change is actually quite difficult to predict. If it was easy there’d be a lot more successful startups. One Heuristic Start[…]

Some work is very clearly product work. It’s work on things where the success and failure is dependent on the users of the thing. Your users pay you. Their satisfaction matters above all else. Optimizing for the satisfaction of end users is a distinct activity. Hypotheses have to be assessed and then tested – because it’s very likely that you’re going to be wrong. There’s technology that has to be set up such that it’s reliable and robust for the intermediate to long run. It’s designed to be effective and persistent, with all of the instrumentation that goes along with that. That might include manual A/B testing, user-focused analytics, and extra special attention on the optimization objective. Clear product work is[…]

Why does it seem like all the unimportant, easy stuff gets done first? Look up The Urgency Bias. Employing simplified games and real-life consequential choices, we provide evidence for “urgency bias”, showing that people prefer working on urgent (vs. important) tasks that have shorter (vs. longer) completion window however involving smaller (vs. bigger) outcomes, even when task difficulty, goal gradient, outcome scarcity and task interdependence are held constant.- Zhu, Yeng, Hsee (2014) Even when task difficulty, goal gradient, outcome scarcity AND task interdependence is held constant, urgency wins. Even when it would be more beneficial to do something important instead of something urgent, even when you’re painfully made aware of those incentives, you still gravitate towards doing the urgent. There’s[…]