Deep Machine Learning… Wow!

Accountability Contribution Transformation

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Key Point: Those of you that regularly read my blog know that I write a lot about “repotting ourselves” through personal disruption and reinvention. I also point out how digital disruption is impacting literally all organizations surrounding our personal eco-systems. However, sometimes I read or watch something that just makes stop in my tracks and think, “Holy S#!&, Lorne do you REALLY know what’s going on out there? In his recent article on backchannel.com, Steven Levy writes about Google remaking itself as a “Machine Learning First” company. It made me pause. 25,000 top-notch Google engineers worldwide are dedicated to this. Facebook is doing the same. What does this mean to you and me? Please read a few quotes from the article to get the drift:

  1. “Though machine learning has long been part of Google’s technology — and Google has been a leader in hiring experts in the field — the company circa 2016 is obsessedwith it. In an earnings call late last year, CEO Sundar Pichai, laid out the corporate mindset: ‘Machine learning is a core, transformative way by which we’re rethinking how we’re doing everything. We are thoughtfully applying it across all our products, be it search, ads, YouTube, or Play. And we’re in early days, but you will see us — in a systematic way — apply machine learning in all these areas.’”
  2. “Obviously, if Google is to build machine learning in all its products, it needs engineers who have mastery of those techniques, which represents a sharp fork from traditional coding. As Peter Domingos, author of the popular ML manifesto The Master Algorithm, writes, ‘Machine learning is something new under the sun: a technology that builds itself.’ Writing such systems involves identifying the right data, choosing the right algorithmic approach, and making sure you build the right conditions for success. And then (this is hard for coders) trusting the systems to do the work.”
  3. “’The more people who think about solving problems in this way, the better we’ll be,’ says a leader in the firm’s ML effort, Jeff Dean, who is to software at Google as Tom Brady is to quarterbacking in the NFL. Today, he estimates that of Google’s 25,000 engineers, only a “few thousand” are proficient in machine learning. Maybe 10 percent. He’d like that to be closer to a hundred percent. ‘It would be great to have every engineer have at least some amount of knowledge of machine learning,’ he says.”
  4. “Google’s bear-hug-level embrace of machine learning does not simply represent a shift in programming technique. It’s a serious commitment to techniques that will bestow hitherto unattainable powers to computers. The leading edge of this are ‘deep learning’ algorithms built around sophisticated neural nets inspired by brain architecture. The Google Brain is a deep learning effort, and DeepMind, the AI company Google bought for a reported $500 million in January 2014, also concentrates on that end of the spectrum. It was DeepMind that created the AlphaGo system that beat a champion of Go, shattering expectations of intelligent machine performance and sending ripples of concern among those fearful of smart machines and killer robots.”
  5. “The competition to hire recent graduates in the field is fierce, and Google tries hard to maintain its early lead; for years, the joke in academia was that Google hires top students even when it doesn’t need them, just to deny them to the competition. (The joke misses the point that Google does need them.) ‘My students, no matter who, always get an offer from Google.’ says Domingos. And things are getting tougher: Just last week, Google announced it will open a brand new machine-learning research lab in Zurich, with a whole lot of workstations to fill.”

Character Moves:

  1. Look… You and I may never be ML (machine learning) engineers, but we better know what the implications are for our organizations and ourselves. It’s like, geez, “I’m just learning about the impact of all things digital, the Internet of everything, full mobility, new Gen Data science, block chain and now this advanced ML?” Yup! (for ATBers who read this blog and want to be part of Pinnacle 3, you will aspire to learn copious amounts about block chain, AI and cognitive ML).
  1. Within five years, there are credible predictions that 45 percent of what we do will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning. How will it impact you? How are you going to participate? Know this: When companies like Google apply 25,000 engineers at 100 percent focus, hang onto your hat. What hat is that going to be?

Deep ML in The Triangle,

Lorne  

One Millennial View: Man, sometimes I wish I paid better attention in math class. I waved bye-bye to engineering skills circa 7th grade, but all joking aside, it certainly makes you think about your relevance. We’ve all likely seen Tesla cars driving themselves. There will always be a role for us humans, and I don’t think we’re facing a Terminator situation anytime soon, but staying relevant is obviously something we should be frequently asking ourselves. Basic understanding of concepts like ML keeps us ahead of the game, because rest assured, a machine can likely learn something a lot quicker and cheaper than you can. Even Millennials have to be wary about getting left behind by rapid technological advancements like ML. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Take Off the Mask

Authenticity Courage Respect

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Key Point: Vulnerability in leadership involves the courage to be real, authentic and self-aware enough to be able check our ego at the door. Easy to say, well researched and documented, and yet a road less travelled by too many of today’s leaders. Why? It’s scary to be vulnerable for many of us. What will people think of us? Will they see us as weak? Will we be taken advantage of? 

As the Chief People Officer of our organization, our CEO and I recently gathered all of the top management team and their direct reports for an entire day. Our purpose was to take another small but important step to advance our leadership capabilities. We believe people have a right to great leaders and leaders have a responsibility to be great (not perfect). This involves getting fierce feedback and help from those we work closely with. Each of our top team leaders were presented with a data pack that outlined the collective feedback, and an assessment of their leadership competence as viewed by their direct reports and boss (the CEO). Each top leader then shared the unvarnished results with his/her entire team. In intimate circles, each of our CEO’s nine direct reports huddled with their direct teams in deep conversation, sharing strengths and shortcomings outlined in the packs. The common phrase from each executive was, “Thank you for your frank insight.” This past week, approximately 30 days later, we checked in with participants regarding the value of that Leadership Day. One common theme: How powerful it was for the top team to be vulnerable, and openly share areas for personal leadership improvement. For most attendees, that was a “wow,” and a great example of courageous leadership. 

According to professors Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes, who arguably have the richest research based insights on leadership on the planet: ”If there’s ever a place for leaders to ‘model the way,’ it’s vulnerability. When leaders aren’t vulnerable, everyone wears a mask. Encourage vulnerability by practicing vulnerability.” Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said, “The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability… When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.” And one of my favorite social scientists, Brené Brown, who is an expert on social connection, conducted thousands of interviews to discover that vulnerability lies at the root of social connection. Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “professional distance” and “cool” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Leadership opportunities through vulnerability present themselves to us at work every day. 

The following five benefits and 10 practices of vulnerability, based on Posner/Kouzes work was published in SOLUTION SATURDAY – 10 WAYS TO BUILD VULNERABILITY INTO CULTURE.

Five Benefits:

  1. Self-protective leaders spend their energy maintaining image. It’s draining. Vulnerability enables leaders to spend their energy on energizing others.
  2. Courage to be seen gives others courage to connect. Vulnerability is an open door for those who wish to connect.
  3. Protective silos block teamwork. Vulnerability breaks silos.
  4. People dare to engage when they dare to be themselves.
  5. Strong relationships require transparency.

10 Ways to Build Vulnerability into Organizational Culture:

  1. Extend trust. Trust is given, not earned. The most vulnerable thing a leader does is extend trust. 
  2. Practice optimistic transparency. Don’t pretend things are easy when they’re challenging.People won’t trust you if they think you’re faking.
  3. Reject ridicule.
  4. Listen with empathy. When you feel compassion, let it out.Leadership empathy fuels momentum. Don’t use empathy to validate failure or lack of effort.
  5. Speak from your heart. Organizations are filled with talking heads. Leaders of influence speak from the heart.
  6. Honor constructive dissent. Reject whining.
  7. Welcome new ideas and learn from mistakes.
  8. Share what you’re learning. Expose personal ignorance.Say: A. I never thought of that. B. I’m learning. C. I’m reading…
  9. Give credit.
  10. Live by shared values. The fence around safe playgrounds is built of shared values. Call out public violations of shared values.

Character Moves:

  1. Know what vulnerability is, and recognize when you see it in action. Note that none of the above 10 practices involves walking around with a box of Kleenex (although there is a place for that too).
  1. Accept vulnerability as a strengthBeing vulnerable makes us better leaders because we stop wasting energy protecting ourselves from what we think other people shouldn’t see. (Ironically, everyone knows our weaknesses anyway). By accepting vulnerability as strength, we stop worrying about having every answer. It’s also being real enough to recognize and admit that we will be wrong. Trying to hide that fact is what can make us weak.
  1. Practice vulnerabilityMost of us need to practice being vulnerable because it doesn’t always come naturally. There is a well-established myth about leaders having to lead every charge with the right answers blaring out from our bugles. Nope: Remind yourself that it’s not about you, but the people around you.

More vulnerability in the Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: There’s a term Millennials are likely aware of called a “try-hard.” It refers to the individual that goes way above and beyond to appear to be something they’re not. Was the person who “tried” to be the coolest, ever the coolest? The person who attempted to be funniest, ever that funny? Not in my experience. Pretending to be completely invulnerable is so transparent, it’s so “try-hard.” Having the integrity to be real is so much more respectable.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Why Purpose Matters So Much!

Accountability Organizational culture Purpose

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Key Point: You and I are worth much more than a commercial transaction. Yet, that’s what I often feel like: Just a process transaction. I would like to remind everyone that there is a human being impacted by every transaction. This lesson was very personally and poignantly reinforced during the past week.

On June 16, I had the unfortunate experience of forgetting my briefcase in a hotel room. It was uncharacteristic, because I carry and guard that case like the famous “football” with the nuclear launch codes. Why? I travel frequently, and find it necessary to have it with me at all times. The bag has my Canadian and U.S. passports, Nexus pass, several hundred dollars in various currencies, social insurance cards, birth certificate, all my frequent flier cards, etc. Before you judge me as to the wisdom of keeping all this “stuff” in one bag, I trust you get the value and importance of the briefcase.

I was on my way to an airport in the Okanagan of B.C. to fly out and pick up my 9-year-old grandson in Seattle. The plan was to road trip back by car to our summer home in Canada so he could spend a few of his holiday weeks with his grandparents. He and I were both excited about the prospect. The hotel where I left my briefcase was four hours away from the airport, and you could imagine my stunned reaction when I arrived at the terminal to realize that I could not fly to the U.S. as planned that day.  No briefcase, no passports. My knees literally buckled when I realized the situation and consequences. What would I say to my daughter (his mom) and grandson? Months of planning… Geez. I felt super frustration, guilt and an overwhelming desire to beat myself up (even though I blog all the time about how wasteful and useless self/other blame is).

The next 48 hours involved a desperate attempt to retrieve the briefcase. Here’s the summary:

  1. I call the hotel. “Yes sir, we found your case. We can send it by courier to the destination of your choice.” (I needed it to be sent to Kelowna… I’ll miss my flight, but can recover by getting to Seattle a day later). The woman at the hotel was very understanding and empathetic. She appreciated my pain and went out of her way. The briefcase was scanned and received by courier at 3:30 p.m., and the bag was supposed to arrive by midnight at their depot in Kelowna. They were to call me to confirm its arrival.
  1. The next day, 7:00 a.m., (after a restless sleep), I call the courier office in Kelowna with the tracking number in hand. The call is answered by someone who is not very interested… “Hi, I’m calling about ____, tracking number _____ .” He responded asking, “Did I call you?” Me: “Well no, but I hope my package arrived…” Courier guy: “Well, if I didn’t call you, it’s not here.” Me: (Now feeling incredible angst), “Do you know where it is?” Courier guy: “Last time it was scanned was in ____ at 3:30 p.m., hasn’t been scanned since.”
  1. For the next 24 hours I dealt, in the most respectful way I could muster, with an unbelievably insensitive, unresponsive number of people representing the courier company. I felt so helpless and alone. One courier employee actuality said to me, “Hey… It’s your problem, if the package doesn’t get scanned I can’t help you and I really don’t care. I can’t tell you where it is and have no idea when it might show up. After 10 working days, if it still isn’t here you can fill out a claim form.” Exasperated, I emphatically explained: “You don’t just deliver packages, you deliver goods real people depend on, and it often dramatically impacts theirs and others’ lives.” I’m pretty sure my plea and viewpoint didn’t register.

Finally, 48 hours later than promised, (and after an unbelievable set of circumstances and relentless persistence on my part), I did eventually get the briefcase and most importantly, managed to bring our grandson home. What struck me though was how devalued I felt being defined simply as a process transaction. This happens too often because people doing their jobs think of the work they do as just that, a “job;” just another darn transaction between paychecks.

Character Moves:

  1. Purpose deeply matters. I really believe if the people at the courier company sincerely understood they were in the life impacting business, and not simply in the package delivery industry, their reaction and support to me would have been much different. Not once did anyone give me any indication that I was more than just any old misplaced package with a tracking number. How about you in your job? Who is at the end of the processes you’re responsible for? Do you know them? Do you care? What is your purpose? Trust me… It really does matter.

Purpose in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: Wow, what a nightmare. Anyone who has ever had a wallet or phone stolen, or misplaced, knows that sick feeling of missing something imperative. Certainly, if someone is in a position that can help solve these situations, it’s nice to believe they’d have the pride and wherewithal to understand that their conduct will have great impact on those they’re assisting. We get it, it’s “just a lost bag.” It’s a lost material item in a world where toddlers are getting eaten by alligators on vacation at Disney World. But, you know what? Just because it’s not life or death doesn’t mean it shouldn’t matter. It’s too bad we’re quicker to trivialize than take care.

– Garrett Rubis

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Talk Back and Stand Out

Management Organizational leadership Respect

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Key Point: How skilled are you at talking back? How do you stand out? Over the years, I’ve come to relish and embrace people around me who have the strength, courage and conviction to have a view that might be different than mine. I’m not endorsing behavior that is plain stubborn, negative or simply combative. People who trend that way exhaust me. Rather, I’m describing behavior that comes from deep listening, thinking “yes” first, AND expressing a view that likely gets us to higher ground. People that roll within that framework energize me. When they present a view, however contrary, I do my best to listen and embrace the difference. Sometimes I push back a little harder to determine the depth of their conviction. Most often, the debate helps us travel to ideas or a resolution neither of us started with. Sometimes as the “boss” (although rarely), I thank them and stick to my original position. Ideally, we’ve “fought” well and moved on as one. I just spent an evening reminiscing with my old team (we spent eight years together), and we fondly applauded our ability to “fight” and “rise.”

Over the years, I’ve found that the best leaders and organizations embrace fierce conversations, constructive disagreement and highly spirited differences. When leaders and organizations believe teamwork means “doing what your boss says,” or accepting “bland consensus,” expect underperformance at best and ultimately some material disaster. The most dangerous organization has a CEO where people line up to agree and take orders. Talking back, in that case, means career limitations and a likely exit. If you’re in one of those situations, get out now, as fast as you can. Why? Your growth mindset will be undernourished and your confidence undermined.

The Japanese have a wonderful maxim that loosely translates to: “The nail that sticks out will get hammered down.” I believe this refers to people who are overtaken by their ego and tend to come from an “I” first mentality. Standing out, from my perspective, is to become so competent at something that you distinguish yourself. Becoming known to be an expert at something people and organizations really value is important. This combines technical competence AND behavioral values people would not want to be without. As an example, a communication function can find lots of great writers. However, master storytellers are unique and enormously valuable. Combine that with the ability to reimagine and carry people along on a magic carpet of emotion; well, then you stand out in a way that the group or organization would be diminished without you.

Character Moves:

  1. Are you capable of talking back in a way that moves things forward? Are you a leader that seeks it out? If the answer is no, in either case, get out now! As an individual you’re worth more. If you’re a leader who has to be right all the time, please do something other than lead people.
  1. Learning how to stand out is a planned process. Think beyond a job or some specific responsibility. What distinguishes you? What have you learned this past week to move you further along that path? If you can’t answer that, you’re likely just going for the ride. Good luck, and keep the unemployment insurance website bookmarked.

Talk back and stand out in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: You never seem to see a movie or television show that depicts a boss being reasonable in this department (think Devil Wears Prada or Entourage)… But, that’s why entertainment is fiction. Think about the last time you had a job interview. Did they ask you if you had any questions? Why would it stop there? Respectful conversation  should be appreciated, and since you’re playing for the same team all searching for positive results, hopefully “talking back” and “standing out” is encouraged. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Even Millennials Need to Stretch

Accountability Books Growth mindset

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Preface: I asked Garrett to write the main blog this time, from a Millennial perspective. I heard Karie Willyerd speak at a conference the other day, and although we’ve referred to her book “Stretch” before, I thought Garrett’s view might be unique. Even Millennials need to stretch. In role reversal, I have submitted “One Boomer’s View” at the bottom. 

Millennial Key Point: As relatively new career starters, we’re constantly mindful that we’re expected to prove ourselves. We’re the “fresh fish,” and we need to convince everyone we can swim. That’s just the way it is. Karie Willyerd and Barbara Mistick’s book, Stretch: How to Future Proof Yourself in Tomorrow’s Workplace, speaks to the question: How do you stay relevant at work? 

They say, “The problem is you are so busy keeping up with your day-to-day that you can’t prepare for tomorrow.” Interesting.

The book lists “Five Practices” that we all need to know (in every generation) to keep current and relevant as our careers and corporations inevitably evolve. Below is my Millennial response to each: 

1. Learn in Any Situation: 

Followers of this blog have heard this one before. If Millennials have the advantage in anything, it might be this. In the workplace, we’re like 4-year-olds with iPads. We learn something every time we update our iPhones, or download a new app. We can’t be sticklers to one technology or method… Sheesh, even our everyday terminology has an expiration date. What was socially acceptable yesterday could get us roasted today if we don’t keep current. This translates to the workplace too; being “in the know” is just everyday life. 

2. Open Your Thinking to a World Beyond Where You Are Now: 

Just two years ago, some of us were probably still renting DVDs!! LOL! All we know is a world beyond where we are now. Every Millennial is kicking themselves because we all likely imagined the concept of SnapChat before it came out. Now its market value is over $20 billion dollars. Thinking about it isn’t the issue; it’s knowing how to implement it… Which bring us to the next practice.

3. Connect to the People Who Can Help You Make Your Future Happen:

 Now we get into tougher territory. I think some Millennials are hesitant to reach out to others, especially higher ups, because we’re afraid they’ll assume we A. Want something from them, or B. Want to take short cuts. I’ll admit that this fear has certainly stopped me in my tracks from time to time. This reverts back to Practice 1 for me, because I think if we learn how to ask for guidance without ever implying that we’re trying to piggyback, it’s likely we’ll be able to connect and receive their two-cents. After all, great leaders have a responsibility to develop others, and the idea that lower level people should know their place is an outdated viewpoint. 

4. Seek Experiences That Will Prepare You For Tomorrow: 

As comfy as entry roles may be, sooner or later you have to find a coach or mentor who’s willing to take you off the bench and put you in the big game. In a world with many players on a roster, it’s easy to stay on the sidelines for longer than you want to. Does that business trip sound scary, inconvenient, stressful and out of your league? Good. Try to take it. 

5. Stay Motivated Through the Ups and Downs of a Career So You Can Bounce Forward: 

As Millennials and post-grads, we can sometimes get anxious about how long ago college was, and what we have (or have not) accomplished in between. Often we forget that we have decades (literally multiple 10-year-spans) ahead of us, where we’ll be working with many new ups and downs along the way. That shouldn’t be daunting, it should be exciting. We can spend this time learning, thinking, connecting and experiencing throughout it all… If that isn’t enough motivation, then, well, I don’t know what to tell you. 

Millennial Character Moves: 

  1. Be thankful that you may have some technological advantages and a more youthful spirit to take risks, dream and progress… But you need the help, courage and guidance of those above you to make the correct connections to unglue yourself from any stuck position. Try not to be such a wuss, and turn those LinkedIn connections into handshakes. 
  1. Remember that time isn’t slowing down for you, things will never be easier, and you need to keep “stretching” unless you want a career ending injury. 

Keep limber in the Triangle, 

– Garrett 

 One Boomer View: Staying relevant is a growth mindset combined with applying the five practices and more. If we’re not staying “fresh fish,” as Garrett puts it, we end up stinky. On a practical basis every one of us needs to learn on the fly, identifying exactly what we’ve added to our skill set in the past day, week, month. If we can’t do that we are not really consciously advancing. Note the butterflies in the stomach test. When was the last time you had that edgy nervousness? If not for a while, are you really pushing yourself? Or are you just coasting in a routine? Get a little scared all the time. That’s where the growth is. If not get out of the way and let that fresh fish swim past you. 

– Lorne