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Opinions Technology

Pokemon Go and Google’s inception-ism

Folks, it is the Pokemon Go season ūüôā are you excited?

Battle-Multiplayer
Can someone tell me where does the Pokèmon Go?

Perhaps not?!¬†Ok, tell me one thing honestly. Do you get strange¬†looks from your¬†millennial friends when they find out you¬†haven’t played Pokemon Go or that you don’t know how to use Snapchat?¬†

Don’t play Pokemon Go? good news, you are not alone.

I will give you in on one more secret. I have never watched the “Game of Thrones”. For whatever its worth, I don’t feel like watching it either.

In the hyperconnected ADHD world, virulence is an everyday thing. New fads¬†catch the masses and they spread like wildfire. Profound¬†technology¬†waves however, rarely do so. They start relatively unannounced. Grow like strong forces of nature, and are very hard to stop. The growth is rarely abrupt. Think –¬†iPhone, social, e-commerce etc. the tweet below is a nice reminder.

Artificial intelligence, I believe is one such profound technology wave.

It is growing like a strong force of nature devouring information, getting smarter and better everyday. We are still in its early days but are beginning to see some really really cool applications. 

A London based company, and fully owned by Google is called DeepMind. We recently¬†learnt that it improved the power usage efficiency / PUE of Google’s data centres by 15%. Can you imagine how much money that saves for the company that runs one of the largest data centre ops on the planet? Not too long ago, DeepMind AI¬†became the first to beat a world champion at the infamously difficult game Alpha Go. These are not small developments. On a much larger scale they signify a tectonic shift in the maturity of machine learning. DeepMind algorithms use convoluted learning, more specifically reinforcement learning. In simple words, they learn without specific programming given a goal, they “try to figure the best way” to solve a problem.

These relatively specific developments when multiplied by the opportunity scale promises nothing short of a revolution. 

Abhi Shah

This one¬†I believe is going to be an “Inside-out” one.

Take an industry e.g. aircraft manufacturing, apply deep learning and you have a 15% or even better efficiency in outcomes of a process for instance predictability in ordering of wing parts. Algorithms will let us learn causality like never before by letting these neural networks figure out hidden patterns. There is a good blog post by Google about machine vision visualisation; click the link in the caption below. 

seurat-layout

How a machine sees a painting (credit Google Research)

We are not too far away from an applications of computer vision that once seemed far fetched, for instance looking at your CCTV, your computer might tell you who is on the door before you find out! (Edit: Already solved). Ultimately more exciting and probably scary applications will come too.¬†I believe that will take some time, and to my earlier point, highly potent AI has just made an unassuming entrance, now just wait and watch as it turns into an unstoppable force. I will leave you with an image created by convolutional neural networks – this sort of gives us a flavour of how computers “see” or some would say “dream” things. Credit Google Research.

Only if Google’s AI could teach me¬†how to use Pokemon Go or Snapchat.¬†Nope, I like being stubborn, I don’t think so.

Abhi Shah

So the difference between Pokemon Go and Google’s inception-ism is that one seems like a fad, and the other seems like a unstoppable tech wave, let’s see where they both lead us.¬†

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Opinions

Why product leaders should instil & harness “soft-power”

From “dawn to desk”,  we go from task to a user story. Pressing  deadlines, endless kanban boards, life in the post-it lane is not easy. It can be quite stressful, especially when your friends are called grunt, bower, and git.

On a more serious note though, many of us know that product organisations are unique and team dynamic makes or breaks success for everyone. Most product organisations need to operate at the intersection of creative, customer, data, and technology. In other words, diversity is both desired and inevitable. It is worth pausing for a second and thinking about what contributes positively and negatively to this coveted “team dynamic”. I have observed that big words such as empowerment, collaboration, and alignment can be hard to translate on the ground. It ultimately comes down to how everyone on the team really feels. This in my opinion, is highly influenced by the type of power dynamic within the team.

This tweet really sums it up for me. Most of you may be familiar with leadership constructs that rely on hard power.  Even situational leadership talks about “directive” behaviour. You know, where you order, and people follow; there is little room for opinions or discussion.  While that might work in some places, it is definitely a disaster in product teams. Leaders need to remember that using hard power is a one way street.  Interdisciplinary talent, differing skills & personalities is a norm when it comes to building products. Designers, engineers, data scientists, and marketers are all highly qualified & accomplished within their respective areas. As a product leader, you are rarely qualified to tell them how to do their job.  You use directive behaviour, and the first thing the leader loses is respect. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you don’t hold people accountable or you don’t coach and give feedback it just means that product teams are somewhat different. If a person on the team doesn’t respect you, you get no dedication, commitment and loyalty. The “power trip” you have just had does not help anyone.

There is a secret weapon though…. soft-power! It means influence, or your ability to persuade others without formal authority. This is one of the fundamental tenets of product leadership but very often forgotten. Imagine working on a really complex app, and you need to get your UX designers to create magic. Let us say you want to add an icon to the app to indicate camera functionality. Do you choose an image icon, you choose a camera, or you choose a circle with a red recording button? while it seems like a trivial decision, some product leaders will go on a power trip. They will say this is what I want, it is my way or the highway ūüôā this not only creates a potential sub-optimal outcome, it damages relationships in the team. The UX designer may not want to work with you, may stop caring about product that he may have felt passionately about. Product leaders need to recognise that everybody is on the same side! a product leader could instead suggest how they perceive customer goals, listen to ideas, persuade the designer, even give him or her a free leash to go out of the box and seek direct customer input. In my experience the latter option creates amazing outcomes. When given responsibility and freedom to choose, people put their hearts and minds into the task, they will feel a sense of ownership. This style of collaborative working, where a product leader instils and harnesses soft-power in the decision making, fosters a great team dynamic.

Teams are made up of people and not “resources”, success depends on how everyone on the team feels. Product leadership is not only about the “what”, but it is also massively about “how”

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Opinions

Soft power – why product leaders should instil and harness

From “dawn to¬†desk”, ¬†we go from task to a user story. Pressing ¬†deadlines, endless kanban boards, life in the post-it lane is not easy. It can be quite stressful. Especially when your friends are known as¬†Grunt, Bower, and Git. How can soft power help you? read on to find out more.

Product organisations are unique and team dynamic makes or breaks success for everyone.

Most product organisations need to operate at the intersection of creative, customer, data, and technology. In other words,¬†variation of talent is crucial. It is worth pausing for a second and thinking about what contributes positively and negatively to this coveted “team dynamic”. I have observed that big words such as¬†empowerment, collaboration, and alignment can be hard to translate on the ground. It ultimately comes down¬†to how everyone on the team really feels. This¬†in my opinion, is highly influenced by the type of power dynamic within the team.

This tweet really sums it up for me. Most of you may be familiar with leadership constructs that rely on hard power. ¬†Even situational leadership talks about “directive” behaviour. In other words, you know, where you order, and people follow;¬†there is little room for opinions or discussion.¬†¬†While¬†that might work in some places, it is definitely a disaster in product teams.

Leaders need to remember that using hard power vis-a-vis soft power is a one way street.

Interdisciplinary talent, differing skills &¬†personalities is a norm when it comes to building products. Designers, engineers, data scientists, and marketers are all highly qualified & accomplished within their respective areas. As a product leader, you are rarely qualified to tell them how to do their job. ¬†You¬†use directive behaviour, and the first thing the leader loses is respect. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you don’t hold people accountable or you don’t coach and give feedback it just means that product teams are somewhat different. If¬†a person on the team doesn’t¬†respect you, you get no dedication, commitment and loyalty. In summary, the “power trip” you have just had¬†does not help anyone.

There is a secret weapon though….¬†soft-power! It means influence, or your ability to persuade others without formal authority. This is one of the fundamental tenets of product leadership but very often forgotten.

Imagine working on a really complex app, and you need to get your UX designers to create¬†magic. In addition, let us say you want to work an¬†icon into the app to indicate camera functionality. Do you choose an image icon, you choose a camera, or you choose a circle with a red recording button?¬†while it seems like a trivial decision, some product leaders¬†will go on a power trip. They will¬†say this is what I want, it is my way or the highway ūüôā this not only creates a potential sub-optimal outcome, it damages relationships in the team. Above all, the UX designer may not want to work with you, may stop caring about product that he may have felt passionately about.

Product leaders need to recognise that everybody is on the same side!

A product leader could instead suggest how they perceive customer goals, listen to ideas, persuade the designer, even give him or her a free leash to go out of the box and seek direct customer input. In my experience the latter option creates amazing outcomes. When given responsibility and freedom to choose, people put their hearts and minds into the task, they will feel a sense of ownership. This style of collaborative working, where a product leader instils and harnesses soft-power in the decision making, fosters a great team dynamic.

Teams are made up of people and not “resources”, success depends on how everyone on the team feels. Product leadership is not only about the “what”, but it is also massively about “how”

Categories
Opinions Technology

Bot(x+ai) Рchat = future? 

You are right, computers aren’t all that smart, not yet. A few real world machine learning   applications have made a debut on our smartphones. For instance, your photos app now recognises that you were with a dog at the park. Google photos and the iOS 10 photos both have similar search and classification features. Another example, is my SwiftKey keyboard; it uses machine learning to vastly improve auto-completion, and next word prediction. So much so, that many times it completes literally whole sentences while typing. Now, that’s pretty great and machine learning has come a long way. So what? we love asking this question and rightly so! Different tech companies have slightly different bets to answer this question. However, there seem to be some underlying themes. For example, Bots as a theme has begun gaining traction a lot recently. Especially since Facebook launched “chatbots” a few months ago.

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Notice the spike in Google Trends for Bots (in RED) in April 2016 when Facebook announced chat bots for developers

Google followed with Duo and Allo, and we know that WeChat has been doing this for a while too. Conversational UI, assistant, chat based commerce and all that is apparently the “next big thing”. But is it? What does experience tell us?  well as Ben Evans nicely puts it in his blog –

Are assistants just a bunch of “if-else-then statements”? see original blog post here (open in a new page)

From my experience of using a Facebook messenger chat bot, it would appear so, it is NOT intelligent. Period. Perhaps one day, it will get there. Oh yes, and there is the Uber integration. Have you heard of a newly launched platform that does not have a sexy means to call you an Uber? Alexa, call me an Uber, Google Home Call me an Uber, Facebook bot, yada yada… Enough with the Uber already. I quite like the concept of chat, don’t get me wrong but as Ben Evan’s blog nicely highlights, the magic dissipates as soon as the algorithm starts asking you too many questions. In the short term though, the fact that my Google photos can figure out my Christo Redeemer photos without me labelling them is definitely magic. It happens without me having to chat with anyone, or without providing any significant user input.

Screenshot_2016_06_26_20_03_14
Google magically finds my Christo Redeemer photos!

So, lets recap. Machine learning is great, but its not so great that it can converse with us and create magic yet.

I believe the real magic is somewhere else and we should not get distracted by the user interface such as chat. As the title of this post suggests, we should rather take a real world problem, let’s say “making a shopping list” and apply machine learning till the algorithm matches or surpasses human abilities at solving for the task. For instance, looking through your regular shopping lists and when you want stuff, can the algorithm automatically predict what you need every other week? That would be awesome. Finally, for gods sake do not chat with the user. Chat requires too much user input and my bet is on applications that make the input invisible real fast. Imagine that our machine learning shopping list app just gently notifies the user his or her auto-populated shopping list. Yes, you can then send it straight to Amazon fresh and order stuff at the push of a button. Simple, right? I know!! I appreciate it is a very hard problem to solve – but in my book it would definitely be magic. I am not the only one to say this, a lot of Silicon Valley pundits say that the next wave of startups would take a problem, and add AI. Thats what I find exciting about the future –

I am happy to be proven wrong, but hopefully we can do away with chatbots until they can truly become magical.

Ps. for any VC’s willing to fund my shopping list idea, do reach out at @abhinandanshah or the comments section ūüôā

For now, bot out…