In 1993, advertising legend Jay Chiat announced his radical plans for the office of the future. His agency, Chiat/Day, was already a paragon of creativity — its legendary campaigns included Apple’s “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns — and its new LA office, designed by Frank Gehry was to be its monument.
The space was engineered to be playful; with decorations that included pieces from fairground rides and a four-story sized set of binoculars. Chiat also banished the traditional office cubicles and desks in favor of public spaces where executives could meet in impromptu places and brainstorm ideas.
It was a disaster. As Tim Harford explains in his book Messy, our desire for engineered spaces — even creative ones — can kill productivity and innovation. At the same time, disorder and disruption can help us to do our very best work. While this defies conventional wisdom, decades of research suggests that a messy desk may very well be a mark of genius.
The Tidiness Temptation
Kyocera, the Japanese technology giant, strictly adheres to the 5S workplace philosophy (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain). Employees are discouraged from cluttering up their desks or hanging personal items on the walls. Inspectors routinely patrol to enforce compliance.
This type of uniformity may be great for the factory floor — some believe 5S was originally derived from Henry Ford’s CANDO system (Cleaning up, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline and Ongoing improvement) — where efficiency is the primary goal, but there is ample evidence that it may seriously harm productivity when creativity and problem solving are required.
In 2010, Alexander Haslam and Craig Knight, both researchers at the University of Exeter, set out to understand how office environments affect productivity. They set up four office layouts and asked subjects to perform simple tasks. They found that when workers were able to clutter up the space with personal knickknacks they got 30% more done than in the 5S environment.
Yet the issue goes far beyond a bit of clutter. Harford points to a number of examples, from musicians to software engineers to daily commuters — that suggest that we often produce our best work amidst some kind of disruption. As it turns out, being thrown off our game can actually bring it to a whole new level.
Why Messy Works
To illustrate why disorder can lead to better outcomes Harford offers a simple hill climbing analogy. Imagine if you had to design an algorithm to find the highest point on earth. The simplest way to do it would be to pick a point at random and simply move to the next highest point. With each move, you would go higher and higher until you reached a peak.
Your performance on the task, however, would greatly depend on where you started. You might do better selecting a number of different points, but here again, you would basically be relying on luck. You’d be just as likely to end up in the lowlands of Holland as you would to find yourself in the Himalayas or the Andes.
The best approach would be to combine the two strategies by picking a limited set of random points and then hill climbing. That would allow you to avoid getting stuck in lowlands and still benefit from steady improvement. It wouldn’t guarantee that you would end up on the top of Mount Everest, but it would outperform either strategy alone.
There is evidence that the hybrId strategy produces better results in the real world. In fact, a team of researchers analyzing 17.9 million scientific papers found that the most highly cited work is far more likely to come from a team of experts in one field that borrowed a small piece of insight from another. Injecting a little bit of randomness can work wonders.
The Two Sides Of Diversity
Steve Jobs is renowned for his attention to order and detail. A micromanager of the highest order, he even insisted that the insides of his computers look elegant and streamlined. It was, in part, this meticulous approach that allowed him to make some of the most successful products ever.
Yet when designing workspaces, he did just the opposite. Both Pixar’s office and Apple’s new “spaceship” building feature central atriums where employees are bound to run into people they ordinarily wouldn’t. The legendary Bell Labs was set up with the same idea in mind, almost forcing researchers with widely divergent expertise to cross in the halls.
Once again, there is ample empirical evidence that backs up the this idea. A variety of studies going back decades suggest the diverse teams perform better, even when compared with ones that objectively have more ability. Giving yourself more hills to climb increases the chances that you’ll land on a high peak.
However, research also shows that being exposed to diverse perspectives is challenging and often uncomfortable, giving rise to tension and uncertainty. That’s why the best teams often function as part of a larger small world network, with tight-knit groups connected to and interacting with other tight-knit groups, combining stability with diversity.
Clearly, the most effective work environments have a healthy mix of order and disorder. The strict conformity of 5S workplaces can feel oppressive, but so can the imposed craziness of the Chiat/Day offices. In both cases, our own personal sense of autonomy is violated. More subtle prodding, such as the run-ins catalyzed by Pixar’s atrium seem to get better results.
Still, every workplace has its own tribes and cliques. Marketing teams clash with engineering and sales teams, while everyone chafes under the watchful gaze of finance and admin. We all have an instinctive need to form our own cohesive groups and to protect them from the incursions of outsiders.
However, those tensions can be overcome if diverse and competing tribes share a greater purpose. In a classic study done back in the 1950s with boys at a summer camp, it was shown that intense conflict would break out when teams were given competing goals, but that tension gave way to cooperation when they were given a common objective.
Many managers today go to great efforts to design innovative workplaces and they take a variety of different approaches. Yet what seems most important isn’t the actual specifics of the architecture, but whether it’s designed to empower or to dictate. If we feel we have power over our environment, we tend to be much more productive and collaborative.
Of course, when everyone gets to make their own decisions things can get a little messy, but that’s what often produces better results.
The Hadrian X robot is made by Fastbrick Robotics from Australia. It can lay 1000 house bricks in an hour (video below). The average bricklayer lays around 500 bricks a day. We will soon see robots doing much of the standard work in building assembly with a small number of skilled craftsmen supervising them, applying finishing touches or completing tricky tasks. McDonald’s is trialing a “Create Your Taste” kiosk – an automatic system that lets customers order and collect their own configuration of burger meal with no assistant needed.
But it is not just manual labour which will be affected by the inexorable roll out of robots, automation and artificial intelligence. The impact will be felt widely across skilled middle class jobs including lawyers, accountants, analysts and technicians. In many financial trading centres traders have already been replaced by algorithms. The world’s first ‘robot lawyer’ is now available in 50 states.
The World Economic Forum predicts that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than 5m jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020. Many think the numbers will be much higher. A report by the consultancy firm PWC found that 30% of jobs were potentially under threat from breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. In some sectors half the jobs could go.
The rise of the robots will lead to an increase in the demand for those with the skills to program, maintain and supervise the machines. Most companies will have a Chief Robotics Officer and a department dedicated to automation. However, the human jobs created will be small fraction of the jobs which the robots will replace.
Any job that involves the use of knowledge, analysis and systematic decision making is at risk. Robots can not only absorb a large body of knowledge and rules. They can also adapt and learn on the job.
Where does that leave the displaced humans? The standard answer is education. Policy makers advise that people should retrain into higher skilled professions. The problem is most training simply provides more knowledge and skills which can also be replaced by automation.
“So what jobs can robots not do? Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ It is in the application of imagination that humans have the clear advantage.”
Here are some things which robots do not do well:
1.Ask searching questions.
2.Challenge assumptions about how things are done.
3.Conceive new business models and approaches.
4.Understand and appeal to people’s feelings and emotions
5.Design humorous, provocative or eye-catching marketing campaigns.
6.Deliberately break the rules.
7.Inspire and motivate people.
8.Set a novel strategy or direction.
9.Do anything spontaneous, entertaining or unexpected.
10.Anticipate future trends and needs.
11.Approach problems from entirely new directions
12.Imagine a better future.
Let’s leave the routine knowledge jobs to the robots and focus on developing our creative skills. The most successful organisations will be those that combine automation efficiency with ingenious and appealing new initiatives. We will need more imaginative theorists, more lateral thinkers, more people who can question and challenge. We will need more innovators.
First #innovationbootcamp of the year in Montreal.
If artificial intelligence (AI) is the future, the future is now, and it’s all around us. Despite what science fiction and futuristic fantasy may have you believe, AI isn’t all about recreating human consciousness. Rather, it’s a practical, efficient way to help business technology get smarter as a product gains traction. AI allows companies to use insights from a large community of users to continually improve upon their products.
However, AI isn’t all games and robots. It takes a cross-sectional skill set to successfully implement good AI, and in order to do so, companies need to both understand their consumers’ motivations and capitalize on them using the right tools.
AI and Crowdsourcing: Better Together
Plenty of businesses rely on data from the usual suspects — business analytics, internal data, information gathered by employees — but few understand how to actively manage data contributed by users. Alexa and Siri are prime examples of how AI can leverage this crowdsourced information to improve the customer-company relationship.
Using crowdsourcing to gather human-contributed information and funneling that information through AI technology is the simplest path toward more meaningful insights. This method allows business owners to stop hunting down insights one at a time and to instead receive targeted data to inform smarter business decisions. This collaboration produces results that are greater than the sum of the parts.
The value lies in asking the right questions at the right time using AI and reporting the findings to the people who could benefit from the information. Collectively, crowdsourcing and AI produce truly intelligent market research.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Companies must integrate crowdsourcing and AI to produce a scalable, intelligent model capable of handling their needs indefinitely. Many implement AI without really identifying how it can help them. Other, more tech-focused companies often find themselves trying to lay crowdsourcing on top of existing technology without properly understanding how to motivate their crowds.
Crowdsourcing matches people to questions that the community needs answered. Those with information to share can provide feedback on their fields of expertise according to the needs of those searching for that information. Meanwhile, AI technology filters out the answers and extracts meaningful intelligence from them, creating a powerful advantage over companies that fail to combine these tools to their full potential. What advantages, you ask? Here are a few:
1. A streamlined end-user experience. Alexa, Siri, Waze, and Skype Translator are all embodiments of the improved end-user experience thanks to crowdsourced AI insights. In the early stages, using these tools can be frustrating as they continue to gather data.
Waze took traffic navigation — something very few people like — and improved it with real-time updates, personalized vocal guides, and other features.
A wealth of information is the foundation. AI and crowdsourcing can build on that base to create a valuable, magical experience.
2. It brings outsiders into the fold. Waze began by gathering information on the patterns of power commuters eventually building up enough data via crowdsourcing and expert consultations to create optimal route maps for its users. Thanks to the app, people new to an area can have the same driving experience as someone who has lived there for 10 years.
The powerful crowdsourcing-AI combination has the capability to bring any outsider into any inner circle. The more comfortable a user is with the information — especially if he provides it — the more likely he is to become a repeat visitor.
3. Lots of intelligence, all in one spot. Currently, business leaders must track down information in silos. For example, only a specific department can answer specific questions, and help is often stalled while a department waits for approval from another division.
When done properly, this streamlining of processes even allows leaders to see connections they otherwise might have overlooked.
While some technologies introduce only complications to established processes, the power of combining crowdsourcing with AI is worth the disruption. If your company is looking for better insights and new advantages, consider the benefits of this powerful merger.
With its jet-propelled firefighters, million-dollar drone races and plans for its very own Hyperloop, Dubai ain’t a bad place to see advanced technologies in action. In the latest example of the city’s early-adoption mindset, the local transport authority has revealed that it has been testing Ehang’s personal taxi drone, with plans to launch real operations this July.
We first laid eyes on the Ehang 184 passenger drone at CES last year. As far as drones go, it’s actually much less drone and more automated helicopter, using onboard navigation systems to carry passengers to their desired location without the need for a pilot. It can be ordered via a smartphone application, fly for 30 minutes at a time and take passengers as far as 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 mi) away with a payload capacity of up to 100 kg (220 lb).
This might all sound pretty out-there, but the Chinese company has already signed an agreement with the State of Nevada to conduct flight testing and also teamed up with a biotechnology firm to use its pilotless choppers to deliver artificial organs.
But it looks like both efforts might be beaten to the punch by the UAE, with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority announcing the plans at the World Government Summit today. It revealed that it has already carried out a test run and has earmarked July 2017 as the launch date for full operations. If anyone seems capable of pulling it off …
Source: Government of Dubai (Facebook)
While there’s a healthy selection of compact solar panels to keep our mobile gadgets charged up – light permitting – the vast majority of these are either too small to be effective or too bulky for carting around. The creators of Solar Paper are looking to buck this trend with a portable solar charger that generates up to 10 W of power, yet is lighter than an iPhone 6 Plus and only slightly wider and longer.
So called because its panels are thing enough to slot between the pages of a notebook, and touted as the “world’s thinnest and lightest solar charger” by its creators, Yolk, Solar Paper measures 9 x 19 x 1.1 cm (3.5 x 7.5 x 0.4 in) and weighs 120 g (4.2 oz), while the actual solar panels are only 1.5 mm thick.
But Solar Paper has more going for it than just its form factor. Unlike most solar chargers on the market, it features modular panels that connect via embedded magnets. If you want more power, you can connect up to four panels together. Each individual panel generates a maximum of 2.5 W of power, so four will provide up to 10 W via USB. On a sunny day, that’s just as good as a 5V/2A wall charger.
Solar Paper also has some built-in smarts to help users get the most out of it. To avoid the hassle of manual restarting when the available light drops, as is the case with most competing solar chargers, Solar Paper has been programmed to automatically resume charging when it detects sufficient sunlight. So when that cloud passes overhead, you won’t have to intervene.
There’s also a built-in LCD screen that displays the current being delivered to a connected device. This is useful to understand how weather, angle of inclination, and orientation to the sun affect the charge rate, so you can easily set it up in the best position.
Add in water resistance and grommet holes for utility/attachment options, and it’s easy to understand why so many have pledged their support to the device’s Kickstarter campaign, with it shooting past its US$50,000 goal in just the first two days. If all goes as planned, the project creators anticipate the first batch will ship in September 2015, with the second batch following in either October or November. Pledges range from $69 for a 5 W Solar Paper, all the way to $450 for a set of four 10 W Solar Paper.
The team’s video pitch can be viewed below.