Tag Archives: books

Curiosity might have killed the cat…

…but for the previous eight lives she’d have had a lovely time finding out about all sorts of interesting stuff.

It’s funny how sometimes a word keeps popping into your consciousness. For me, right now, that word is: “curiosity” (definition: a strong desire to know or learn something).

I interview quite a lot of people, and many of them are relatively junior. Quite often, when I ask what questions interviewees have for me, they’ll want to know what qualities I look for in employees. Curiosity has become almost always the first one I mention.

Funnily enough, my mate Wadds was also mulling the qualities he looks for when interviewing people and came up with this list. I chucked my new watchword into the mix, and was rapidly seconded by the splendid Matt Muir with this beautiful example of straight-tweeting:

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I couldn’t agree more.

For people working in a creative agency (as I do) curiosity is not only essential in doing a good job, it’s critical in enjoying the one you do (which, let’s face it, are two things that should nicely align). I want people who are curious about what their clients do, what the clients’ objectives are – both organisationally and individually – what’s going on in their clients’ industries, what their clients’ customers are interested in. Asking questions often leads to opportunities I’ve found. “What do you need to achieve this year?” is a good place to start.

Curiosity is a hugely valuable human quality, both inside and outside the workplace. I’ve recently finished reading Ruby Wax’s book, “Sane New World” (which is excellent if you’re interested in your own and others’ mental health) and there it was again – the penultimate chapter, “Curiosity”. I liked these bits:

If you are curious about someone else, and show it, it is the most flattering thing you can do for them; they will give you anything; the keys to their car, their business, they’ll probably even marry you.

In business, if you learn to listen and be curious about another person and pay attention to how he feels, negotiations would be a breeze. Huge amounts of money, time and energy are wasted by people talking at each other rather than with each other. There should be training simply to learn to be curious rather than endless MBA programs. People are what sells, nothing else. You like and trust the person, you’ll do business with them and if you are genuinely curious, people won’t be able to resist you.

So, why not build a bit more curiosity into your day. What’s the worst that could happen? Unless you’re a cat.

 

 

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Why your doctor should be a bot…

…and why you should be happy about it.

I think once every two years is a good cadence for publishing blog posts, don’t you?

This post has been prompted by a couple of things. The first is the book I’ve just finished reading (more on that in a bit). The second is an issue raging in the UK at the moment about the pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) and, more specifically, the difficulties faced by everyday doctors, or General Practitioners (GPs) as they’re commonly known. That issue involves GPs being put under pressure to work longer hours, telling sick patients not to come to the surgery, and the potential of the UK hiring hundreds of GPs from overseas.

Most people with experience of it would probably agree that a trip to the doctor in the UK can be a painful experience (whatever your symptoms). Though that’s in no way to denigrate the skills and dedication of the vast majority of GPs. It’s also not to criticize them to suggest that they could, and perhaps should, be replaced by bots (and here’s a good piece to get yourself across the reasons why bots will be huge over the coming months and years). Put simply, a trip to the doctor is an algorithmic process, and can therefore be solved by, well, an algorithm. A patient presents a set of symptoms, these are examined against the GPs education and experience, a diagnosis is made and a suitable treatment prescribed. There’s nothing in there that a decent bit of artificial intelligence (AI) linked to a load of data couldn’t do more quickly and accurately than a human being.

Sceptical? Here are a couple of scenarios. The first one I’m sure many can relate to. The second a view of the brave new bot-driven world.

Both scenarios start the same way: you wake up on a Monday morning feeling pretty dreadful. Sore throat, fever, aches…certainly in no shape to get into work, and definitely in need of decent proper medical advice and treatment.

In scenario one, you have a choice to make. Do you start ringing your local surgery trying to book an appointment, or do you drag yourself down there and hope to get a walk-in? Either way, if you’re lucky, a while later you find yourself sitting for longer than expected in a waiting room packed with other sick people until you’re invited to see the doctor. You’re in front of the doctor for less than 10 minutes. She’s stressed, possibly feeling under the weather herself, and has a short time to listen to your symptoms, glance over your medical record, make a diagnosis, and prescribe you a treatment that will hopefully suit your physiological make-up. A couple of hours after you left home (again, if you’re lucky), following a trip to the pharmacy, you’re back at home, almost certainly feeling worse than when you left.

In scenario two, you grab your phone, fire up the NHS chatbot, log in, and start inputting your symptoms. The bot asks increasingly specific questions based on your responses (and has all the time in the world to do so), compares your symptoms against those of millions of others worldwide, and narrows down to an accurate diagnosis. Then, based on your entire health record, your sequenced genomic profile, perhaps the genomic records or your parents (which you’ve granted it permission to access), and millions of similar genomic profiles, it prescribes a course of treatment. It sends the prescription to your mobile phone for you to nip out and pick up at the local automated pharmacy, or perhaps even get delivered directly to your door. Probably by a drone.

This scenario is obviously quicker, more comfortable for you, and almost certainly results in a more accurate diagnosis and, therefore, effective treatment.

This is something that should happen within the next few years. In fact, for a student starting medical school this year – and maybe even one who’s a couple of years in – the prospects on graduation might be pretty bleak. Or at least, in my view, should point to taking a slightly different direction.

The scenario above is focused on the overloaded GP: the first port of call for anyone who’s feeling unwell, at least if it’s not serious enough to warrant a trip to accident & emergency (A&E). And I reckon the bot solution would probably address the symptoms and sickness of about 80% of people that visit their GP on a daily basis. This obviously takes a huge burden off GPs, but intelligent bots should also result in more people being steered towards a specialist medical practitioner more quickly. So if I was a medical student today, I’d be thinking about what I’m going to specialise in, rather than becoming the generalist.

bookNow, back to that book. This post, in broad terms, reflects the theme explored in a startlingly thought-provoking way in Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari. In short, Homo Deus looks at where our current technological trajectory might take humankind. But it’s not solely forward-looking. In fact, most of the book deals with the historic references that point to how humans deal with advances in society, science and technology. It’s an amazing book. Advances in technology have a history of replacing the utility and value of animals (the internal combustion engine and horses is an obvious example), and there’s a lot of evidence that technology is starting to replace the value and utility of humans. You won’t like some of what’s in it, you almost certainly won’t agree with everything, but it’s a brilliantly constructed argument, and beautifully written. Recommended.

 

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Cynicism

I read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Build A Girl‘ recently. As a father with a 12 year old daughter, I thought it might help prepare me for the years to come. I think it did that t an extent, though I’m not sure it’s made me feel any less worried!

But it’s a good read, not least because it’s set at the exact time I was in the same stage of life as the central character, Johanna.

However, the passage that has stayed with me is about cynicism. It’s brilliant and I agree with every word. Here it is:

“…when cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas. Cynicism means your automatic answer becomes ‘No’. Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment. And this is, ultimately, why anyone becomes cynical. Because they are scared of disappointment. Because they are scared someone will take advantage of them. Because they are fearful their innocence will be used against them – that when they run around gleefully trying to cram the whole world in their mouth, someone will try to poison them.

“Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a think black carapace begins to grow – like insect armour. This armour will protect your heart, from disappointment – but it leaves you almost unable to walk. You cannot dance, in this armour. Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.”

Fantastic stuff. Show me a cynic who ever created something amazing.

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Book review: Culture Shock, by Will McInnes

ImageI’m not one for reviewing books, generally. The last thing I can remember reviewing, in fact, was a piece of direct mail from Rapha, and that was more than five years ago! But there are a number of reasons why I feel compelled to offer up my thoughts on Culture Shock, by Will McInnes, which are:

  • I’ve known Will for a while. Well, I say ‘known’. We’ve met, I think, twice and connect on Twitter and that, but I’ve been an admirer of his company, NixonMcInnes, and intrigued by some of the approaches to business that they’ve been experimenting with there and which obviously form the basis for much of the thinking in the book.
  • In keeping with much that he espouses in Culture Shock, Will approached writing the book in a very open and transparent way, publishing chapters as he drafted them on his site for comments and feedback. That I found very interesting from the start and though I can’t remember adding a great deal of value, Will’s been kind enough to mention me in the acknowledgements section of the final printed version!
  • Finally, I genuinely believe that the way businesses run themselves and reward and motivate their people needs to change over the coming decades and therefore a book with the strapline “A handbook for 21st century business” would seem to be one I should have a look at…

So all of that’s hardly going to lead to the world’s most unbiased review, right?

Right.

I loved the book. Will presents a perspective on building and running businesses which is hugely inspiring (and in the truest sense of the word, by making you determined to change behaviour and take action) but which also doesn’t shy away from the massive challenges inherent in tackling the inertia found in businesses that have been run in the same way for decades. This is no pie-in-the-sky vision of business utopia – one where employees are permanently happy simply through the emotional fulfilment of the workplace – but definitely shows how businesses can be run with an eye on both profits and purpose.

What really makes the difference for me, however, is the practical nature of the book. Yes, there’s plenty of theory but it’s balanced – if not outweighed – by examples of businesses big and small (including Will’s own) who are putting into practice the techniques and methods detailed throughout, along with plenty of specific actions we can all take to move towards the vision. There’s also shitloads of extra reading recommended by Will. I’ve already bought three other books.

Will’s passion truly comes through in Culture Shock’s pages. Half the time it feels like he’s shaking you by the shoulders and shouting at you to take action. Which is a bit scary, because he’s not a small fella.

If I were starting my own business (and who knows, now?) then a copy of Culture Shock would be given to every employee that walked through the door. And every client, customer and partner.

Nice one Will.

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