I’m currently in the middle of some annual leave, in the perhaps unwise situation of having a work meeting in the middle of my leave. It’s a familiar journey from being in the midst of work-mindset to being able to relax, but I find myself trying to score the level of relaxation that I’m achieving, rather than being able to switch off entirely from the work mindset so that I’m able to “make the most of the downtime”, whatever that looks like.

A range of AI resources

So many different websites and newsletters jumping on “generative AI’shype cycle at the moment. A course I completed recently made a range of resources available and I wanted to put them in one place.

The intriguing sounding “Hugging Face” shows a range of different approaches to high-speed use of AI tech, along with the kind of tech that is often called AI but doesn’t strictly qualify. Elsewhere, Fairlearn seeks to ensure that upcoming AI systems have greater transparency, to limit the harm that may come from training new systems on biased data sets.

There were reflections on how to use analytics to enhance business, more specifically what to do to improve your experiments, and then how to build a culture of experimentation in your organisation. To make the most of the benefits of experimentation, it will involve making changes to the structure of the organisation, not just to try out the occasional experiment.

What does this look like in practice? A long 2015 article on the Disney theme park MagicBand project shows the breadth of changes involved in rolling out a significant consumer-facing technology project.

There were other resources too: some that could help someone think through a business model – Lean Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas, the various design thinking models and whether they have a measurable impact – event a way to assess the innovation value chain to examine the benefits of innovation more closely.

And some broader resources – the Stanford AI Index Report 2023, a website dedicated to the work of AI pioneer Professor John McCarthy, an outline of how to map out a digital transformation journey or digital partnering, and even a white paper on the metaverse and the NSW government.

Convergence of digital marketing approaches

I woke up early today to dial into a webinar for a product that claimed to be able to revolutionise my productivity. It’s the season for such things, the Christmas to New Year lull, where approaches to work are up for review more than at other times of year.

It was a ninety minute webinar with a nominal sign-up fee, and I should have been able to tell immediately when there was an up-sell at the checkout to attend an additional “VIP session” that it would be a particular kind of session, but I pressed on (without the upsell) as sometimes there is a benefit just to carving out some focused time.

Predictably it was a slow start, with the “type where you are dialling in from in the chat”, kind of zoom webinar. I was gratified to hear my location read out in the chat: this was actually a live session, as far as anyone can tell, not just a pre-recorded session being passed off as live.

There was some useful content about an hour in, but that’s when my AirPod battery dropped out, and that broke the spell as they toured through another software platform to help with the personal goal setting and tactics that exists, in various forms, across a range of products.

The secret sauce this time was in a further upsell, to buy a year of online community and coaching for a larger slice of money, that comes with the software package as well. Buying all these things, if you do the work, is an investment in yourself not an expense. All the usual phrases from this kind of self-help product.

And I really wish them well; they’re helping a number of people, there is a level of enthusiasm around these things, but the search for a silver bullet, when the same people in the call have any number of not-completed information products in their email.

When my AirPod batteries ran out, I think I saw the framework even more clearly: keep building a marketing list with free content, hit them with a series of promotional emails around the webinar, create the FOMO, add some additional products you haven’t sold for a while to create an offer that’s worth some thousands of dollars, round down to a price ending in $97, and create some artificial urgency with a deadline of a day or two.

There is less and less new “under the sun” here; the long-tail of work done by Product Launch Formula increasingly making the experience of learning online products almost homogenous.

Whether it’s an Instagram reel that re-markets across other social channels, the automatic sign-up box, the 5-10% off first sale, the drip feed of freemium content that slowly up-sells to a paid product offering to a subscription to a masterclass, it matters less and less what the actual product is.

And all of this means that the marketing team that creates that funnel and integration is increasingly pushing a commodity; APIs talking to each other, making more and more similar content.

My device-time is increasingly spent watching short, shallow, amusing videos, interspersed with ads for products of dubious quality, which, if fleetingly engaged with, will then follow me around for a day or two until growing weary and looking for someone else to bother.

I’m not working as much in this space, so I haven’t been trialling chatGPT, but its media cycles are predictable. As the output from digital workers becomes more and more creating grist for the mill, do we really need the spark of human creativity? Does the algorithm, as we keep feeding it from an increasing array of sensors on our devices, triaged against ever growing datasets, know best which levers to pull so as to engage the wheels of commerce?

Or is this just another chapter of dystopian sky-falling prediction that will show itself to be misguided ten years hence?

Maybe this whole pattern of thinking is just an indication I need some downtime and then to get back to thinking about the Great Commission.

What I learned trying to fly a plane

There’s a scene in Get Smart where Max fights with the KAOS agents while they’re on a plane. It turns out that both of the pilots on the plane were agents, and Max comes back to the passengers and asks “does anyone know how to land a four-engine jet?”

And that was the premise for an activity I went to a couple of weekends back. in pairs, we had to keep a 737 in the air for 20 minutes, get it onto a particular heading and altitude and deal with any challenges that are thrown at you. In a simulator.

We had 5 minutes to read an instruction manual on how to fly a 737, then we had to sit down, and shortly afterward, the autopilot failed and we were off to the races.

The first thing you notice is how much information is available. There are screens, buttons levers everywhere. Your mind is racing, thinking of any frame of reference you might have for being a pilot; movies, shows, anything.

Then you have to work out how you are going to make sense of the information that’s coming in, and how to make decisions based on that information. You can wait, and see what happens, but the plane is already doing whatever it’s doing, and the longer you wait, the worst a situation can get.

As you think you’re understanding the basics, you get system failures. This is where we went wrong – each of us thought the other had the plane under control, we both went to the booklets to see how to fix the failures, and what felt like moments later, we were hearing some kind of attitude warning.

So then we learn the importance of pushing down the uncertainty, going back to basics on communicating with each other, dividing up the tasks, and continuing to make sense of all the information and the decisions.

And we made it!

20 minutes later, we were still in the air, where we were supposed to be, and the exercise’s mythical landing device takes over and brings us to safety.

A great learning experience, and one I’ll keep coming back to.

BOOST feedback method

Just watched a video a friend posted about (among other things) how to give feedback using the BOOST method. Feedback should be Balanced, Objective, Observed, Specific and Timely. Balanced: not just an emphasis on the negative, but both negative and positive. Objective: not framed emotionally, but looking at the facts. Observed: based on something you have witnessed yourself, not something second-hand. Specific: looking not just at a broad issue, but the exact matter you’re talking about, and providing guidance on how to correct it. Timely: if there’s a deadline (the person will repeat the mistake) then working to that deadline, but otherwise giving the person a suitable amount of time to process the immediate fallout of their behaviour before providing the feedback.

waiting – a lesson from elevators

Last weekend was the first sermon I’ve preached in a long while, on Acts 6:1-7. It’s a story from the early days of the church where a complaint had come up that some of the widows (of a particular people group) were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. We can learn some lessons from it about how to handle complaints: the making of complaints, and the handling of complaints, and as you expect in that part of Acts, it raises expectations of how quickly people could learn about and embrace the Christian faith, and in what numbers.

One of the ways I illustrated the idea of complaints was to talk about an old design thinking story where there were complaints about elevator waiting times. 

In the original story, the source of which seems to be a book from 1970’s (Wyckoff, D. D., Sasser, W. E., Olsen, R. P. (1978). Management of service operations: text, cases, and readings. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.), a building manager is receiving complaints about the waiting times for the elevators. 

Elevators have come a long way since the 0.2m/s travel times of the original Otis elevator in 1856. The current fastest elevator in the world – in the CTF Finance Centre – can travel at 20m/s (over 60km/h!). And there are other technology developments to reduce travel times, and improve flexibility of travel.

As it turns out, we don’t like to wait. And of course the solution in the original story was unrelated to making the lifts faster. Realising that the people were complaining about the perception of time passing, the wise building manager installed mirrors in the foyer. The travellers, now distracted by looking at their reflections, didn’t notice the wait times as much, and so the complaints stopped.

Oh, and the strangest device I found in my reading was the Paternoster.

end of another era

It’s the end of four years studying towards an MBA. It’s a degree with a strange configuration, really; split into two parts, the first stage is comprised of eight subjects to complete in trimesters.

Harbour Cruise with friends


The MBA attracts people with different levels of ambition and so for some people, despite demanding full-time jobs, they manage to take two subjects in a single trimester, maybe multiple times, and finish in less than the four years.

When we found out Mum was sick, I decided to take a trimester off earlier than later, so I could spend more time with her while she was still relatively well. In fact, when I said goodbye to her for what turned out to be the last time, I had uni readings with me. A life-long reader, she was happy, I think, to see me studying again.

The second stage of the MBA is a year-long programme, with four “double” subjects – each one has the weighting of two subjects. It’s a lot of work to get through, but has a transformative effect on the person doing it: building up their confidence, a range of skills, and creating a community from a group largely of strangers.

This photo is from our end-of-year harbour cruise; sadly not everyone was able to be there, but it was good to see so many people I have had the privilege of getting to know gathered in the one place, sharing stories and laughing together.

I was given the “wikipedia” prize by the cohort for my breadth of knowledge and fast internet searching skills, but more valuable to me has been the chance to live out my faith in a community of mostly non-Christians: I’m hoping for further opportunities to spend time with them in the years to come.