How Physical and Knowledge Work Are Not Independent

In this interesting post ‘The Ingredients for Making Something that Lasts’, I noted an important statement: “We forget that there’s physical work involved in knowledge work, too. That we learn with our whole bodies and not just with the head. And it works both ways.”

The prime mover is work, and work involved our entire being, not just our head or our body. It is important to remember because this needs to influence many aspects of our activities, be they mostly intellectual or physical.

The way we feel or behave physically will influence our creativity and intellectual production. The way we feel mentally will heavily influence our physical performance. As humans both dimensions are intertwined, something we need to grow to respect and build upon.

Physical work and knowledge work are intertwined and indisociable. Let’s remember this in everything we do.


How AI Can Support Creative Scientific Research

This provoking Scientific American article ‘AI Generates Hypotheses Human Scientists Have Not Thought Of‘ actually provides an excellent example of how AI can supplement human thought and together create a more productive and creative ecosystem.


Creating hypotheses has long been a purely human domain. Now, though, scientists are beginning to ask machine learning to produce original insights. They are designing neural networks (a type of machine-learning setup with a structure inspired by the human brain) that suggest new hypotheses based on patterns the networks find in data instead of relying on human assumptions. Many fields may soon turn to the muse of machine learning in an attempt to speed up the scientific process and reduce human biases.

The interesting part here is around reducing human biases, a topic which comes back several times in the article: avoiding preconceived ideas and theories and probably the burden of the institutional view on things. AI can provide an independent view and the combination can spark creative and innovative outputs.

I am convinced that we will find AI to be a great help rather than a competitor in all creative endeavors, like scientific research. And this is just the beginning!


How to Improve Personal Projects

Seth Godin in his post ‘Five useful questions‘ advises us to ask some fundamental questions on our personal projects so that we address the right things and so that we don’t let us being distracted by less important stuff.

  • What’s the hard part?
  • How are you spending your time?
  • What do you need to know?
  • What is the scary part?
  • Is it worth it?

Having the right answer to those questions enables us to identify which projects are really those that will make us evolve and improve.

I like in particular the questions about the hard part and the scary part. It is those parts we will struggle to address, not necessarily because they are so hard, but because they are beyond our comfort zone and usual capabilities. Still if we want to progress we need to address those and make sure we increase our comfort zone reach. This is particularly true about getting the right data and the right interactions to reach our goals.

It is really useful to interrogate our projects with some fundamental questions about alignment and whether they will effectively lead to self-improvement.


How Scientific Truths Need a Generation of Researchers to Pass Away to Be Overturned

Following on our previous post ‘How Facts and Truths Have a (Short) Half-Life‘ and some insights from the book ‘The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date‘ by Samuel Arbesman, one interesting aspect is to observe how much a usual half-life for scientific ‘truth’. It turns out often to be one generation, or approximately 50 years.

The reason is simple: it takes the mandarins and opinion- and career-making professors to disappear naturally for new ideas to take ground.

Two Australian surgeons found that half of the facts in that field also become false every forty – five years . As the French scientists noted , all of these results verify the first half of a well – known medical aphorism by John Hughlings Jackson , a British neurologist in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries : “ It takes 50 years to get a wrong idea out of medicine , and 100 years a right one into medicine . ” This means that despite the ever – expanding growth of scientific knowledge , the publication of new articles , refutations of existing theories , the bifurcations of new fields into multiple subfields , and the messy processes of grant – writing and – funding in academia , there are measurable ways in which facts are overturned and our knowledge is ever renewed . I’m not simply extrapolating from this half – life of medicine to argue that all of science is like this . Other studies have been performed about the half – lives of different types of scientific knowledge as well

So if you are in a field where you uncover a new ‘truth’ but this cannot be heard by whoever is the old guy in charge of your career, either you conform, or you have to go outside the institution and use it for yourself.

With a quicker developing world, this limit of 50 years half-life for scientific truth may become quite a problem! Maybe some age limit on researchers may be a good idea?


How We Need to Consider Heartset as well as Mindset

Robin Sharma makes the point that when it comes to personal leadership or change, mindset is clearly not everything. We also need emotion, or what can be covered by heartset.

As we move progressively away from the rationalism, foundation of the Industrial Age, the mobilization of emotions become visibly increasingly important in terms of success and differentiation. And it thus comes down to developing one’s own heartset in parallel of one’s mindset.

What is a heartset? According to wikipedia, mindset is “a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by [a person]” – and it defines how we respond to an event or an action. Accordingly, heartset could be defined as a set of emotions and emotional states held by a person, that define how we respond emotionally to situations.

Your mindset is important, and you should also consider developing your heartset. Emotional work is a decisive skill in the Collaborative Age.


How to Overcome the Science Reproducibility Crisis

Following up on our previous post on “How Fake Science is Strongly on the Rise and Endangers Us“, the issue or reproducibility in science is also coming up strongly: even paper and findings recognized as legitimate for a long time are put in question by the inability to reproduce results, and more specifically in human sciences. This post ‘Why Your Company Needs Reproducible Research‘ provides a good summary of the issues at stake.

Recent efforts are reproducing psychology results lead to “Only about 40% of the findings could be successfully replicated, while the rest were either inconclusive or definitively not replicated.” Similar proportions are obtained in business-related research.

While this may be due to very human bias like the need to show some results from research, and the inherent complexity of the environment around some experiments, there is definitely a need for more thorough replication requirements prior to confirming results. This puts more challenge on researchers but is probably a need in a world that sees increasingly fake science.

Science will always progress by invalidating previous results or restraining the boundaries of validity of previous results. This is a normal process, still we need to be wary to ensure reproducibility of results before they are spread as invariant truths.


How Innovation is Actually Behavior Change

In her post ‘Innovation is About Behavior Change‘, Valeria Maltoni makes, I believe, and excellent point. Innovation or invention is not about the tangible product, it is about how it changes habits and behavior.

This explains why there are so many inventions which seem quite a breakthrough but that never spread: it is because the associated behavior change did not happen. Maybe because there was a force of inertia, maybe because something else happened at the same time that pulled behavior change in the opposite direction.

It is a lesson for all inventors and innovators: don’t just focus on how marvelous your product is. Spend most of your effort working on the behavior that needs to change for its adoption. Work on the habits, on the social aspect of behavior, and anything that will make your innovation unavoidable on a day-to-day basis.

Innovation that would not consider behavior change is doomed. And as a Business Angel I will recognize that as a major criteria when judging the adequacy of the development plan of startups.


How Leadership is Really About Influence, Not Position or Authority

It is worth remembering from time to time that actual leadership is about influence. In large organizations it is still too often associated with position and hierarchy; and even more with formal authority levels. In reality, actual leadership shows in transverse situations where influence is key to get things done.

This is a particularly difficult issue because leadership is nowadays often an important source of value creation (creating new processes or products is always down to a transverse effort, often not formally framed), therefore, leadership capabilities should lead to higher compensation. However, as a skill it is difficult to measure and recognize.

I am often involved as a consultant in the definition of ‘influence’ positions where people monitor some progress, but are not formally in charge. This is typical for example of project manager or package managers which have to see that all the required elements will converge, but have no formal authority over all the contributors. Those positions require a lot of leadership and inter-personal communication capabilities. Yet they almost always fail to be recognized to their value by organizations, because they are transverse, and the skills required are distinct from a functional development trajectory.

At the end of the day, real leadership is about influence, and not about formal authority. It is about achieving things. Let us not be influenced by immediate recognition or authority. Being a leader is something of an internal calling, and the achievements brought by it are what count.


How to Deal With Different Storytelling Approaches

Following up on our post ‘How We Believe The First Explanation We Hear‘ I like this post of Valeria Maltoni ‘We Have two General Models of Storytelling. One is Ancient. One is New. It is Only a Matter of Time Before they Collide‘. Storytelling is how we develop our view of the world. The article is meaningful because it adds a dimension between the subjective, relational storytelling and the new storytelling generated automatically from computer-based knowledge.

There would be two different kind of storytelling:

  • anecdotal storytelling, passed between individuals and based on a low level of information – local and variable,
  • the statistical storytelling, produced by new technology based on global information and data – global and standard.

Quoting from Christopher G. Moore: “We have a generation who are getting their stories from the global library, and the international group of story-tellers are transmitting stories that may conflict or contradict what they learned at home or school. As storytellers compete for the attention of an expanded global audience, the stories essential to sustain local cultures are threatened. Stories that inspire are no longer exclusively based on local elites, celebrities or events. […] The statistical story has disrupted and threatens to displace the anecdote.”

Valeria Maltoni makes a powerful point by contradicting this statement: “we have a hard time shedding the subjective story. Because it feels more real […] The reason why we feel more connected to a subjective story is that it influences our emotions. The statistical story keeps changing based on updates and fixes. We have a hard time connecting to that. But the statistical story can make us more efficient, improve our decisions.

In any case, the conflict between statistical story and a more subjective, emotional one is I believe an essential conflict for all of us today. Let’s be more conscious of it.


How Simultaneous Invention Shows that Progress is Inevitable

There seem to be an increasing awareness that simultaneous invention is more the rule than the exception. This means that when society reaches a certain stage of technological development, certain inventions become inevitable – and this tends to happen more and more often. This excellent Quartz post ‘Simultaneous invention’ summarizes this awareness, that can be complemented by Malcolm Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker ‘In the Air’.

The whole history of inventions is one endless chain of parallel instances. There may be those who see in these pulsing events only a meaningless play of capricious fortuitousness; but there will be others to whom they reveal a glimpse of a great and inspiring inevitability which rises as far above the accidents of personality.” It would be the availability of scientific knowledge, and its continuous increase, that would create this inevitability.

We need to accept that invention results from building on others’ ideas and findings, and that as more and more people devote time and effort to invention, more and more inventions will be simultaneous in several places and contexts.

Of course, as the Quartz article remarks, this creates an increasing issue with the concept of Intellectual Property – why give the benefit of temporary monopoly to the first that publishes? Isn’t that rather detrimental to society and not as beneficial as conventional theory exposes (the benefit being the publication of the patent)?

Those questions are at the core of the future of Intellectual Property law and should not be underestimated.


What Makes an Expert Really Different

We hear so much about expertise these days, that it becomes important to remind ourselves what features distinguish an expert from someone simply experienced in a field. In short: an expert is not only very experienced, but he/she must be able to:

  • transmit knowledge
  • change the policies and the rules.

And this is a very operational criterion used by many organisations to define the expert level in a trade.

The ability to transmit knowledge is essential, as it demonstrates reflection and full understanding of the material. In addition, transmitting knowledge is an excellent way to deepen one’s knowledge, so this is clearly a self-accelerating competency.

The ability to change policies and rules is another feature of being able to transmit knowledge, albeit this time in a more institutional setting. It demonstrates the ability to stand for one’s knowledge, work out the internal politics and convince the organisation to change based on knowledge.

Of course, the issue of expertise in a complex world is that it is mainly based on consideration of the past, however I find this definition of what makes an expert special quite useful and operational. Are your experts really ‘experts’?


How You Should Journal in Your Blog

Many self-development authors and speakers describe the benefits of holding a journal. It is even a trendy occupation with journal notebooks being produced specifically. I agree and disagree: journalling is good, but why not doing it in a blog?

Holding a journal is a great way to take a few minutes self-reflection on current events impacting one’s life. It is also useful – sometimes amazing and sometimes sad – to come back to a former entry weeks or months afterwards. But nobody will ever benefit from your reflections and thoughts. So why not write them in a blog? Of course, deeply personal issues can’t be shared so easily, but what about your thoughts and reflections on what happens in the wider world? Writing them in a blog – even if no-one reads it – forces to reach a certain quality of output and thought which is a good challenge. And certainly, holding a blog with a fixed publication schedule forces me to sit down and reflect from time to time, even if I am very busy.

So, why not hold a blog instead of holding a journal?