April 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
This time I’ve included several Finnish texts in this post in order to refer my FB friends here for links and details and not to crowd the FB pages too much with the related material. But the story behind all this is worth a few words – and there are a few English texts as well as you can see from below. The story:
I have written my critical comments on the current Finnish higher education system, presented them openly, not insulting anybody in person, arguing for my experiences, views and observations on the university system and its evident problems and failures. My critical texts have all appeared on the frontlines of the Finnish media and channels, like in our leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, for example (which has not been interested to publish – as special columns – some of my texts).
You would expect that such an express and repeated activity in criticizing the system would result in numerous interested contacts from the higher education management or at least from people in higher education offices or if not that then at least minimally from your own university, faculty or department. The reality?
No!No! and Ei! Practically total official silence! If I were a simple or even a complex fool, with no academic background, you could understand this. But I have a respected academic history as the Dean (the only psychologist in that position ever) of the largest faculty in Finland, numerous manager roles, even today at UH, work as an advisor for a Stanford research program, and some of my work has even occurred in Nature (long time ago) J. My blog (this one) is quite innovative and I have had numerous high-class international contacts, collaboration and talks in big firms in Silicon Valley. So, I’m a relatively sane academic and would expect some interaction. I know, of course, that I have a difficult message.
Well, to tell the truth – I don’t want any such contacts and communication right now. I have inspiring, creative stuff on my mind and on my desk. So, I have decided to stop this critical writing after one more article on an innovative (vitality-based) higher education system model-paper gets finished and published somewhere. (Note on 10th August 2016): I have still continued some public writing as I was invited to join Saimaa Summit 29th August 2016 and give a talk there on these matters and where we considered these problems in front of an influential local people… But it is time to move asap to other direction). But for you, my young and even older colleagues, working in the system, building it and making it happen – wake up! (I’m retired) There is something scary in this attitude of those responsible for running your education system, which is a significant part of your life and passions. Don’t let silence lead to disasters as it is doing now!
As a result of these writings I have never been seriously contacted by my own university or faculty or received an invitation to tell more and present the case at a relevant (or any other, for that matter) forum, nobody from the ministry of education, practically total official silence everywhere. Except: I’ve received a number of private communications in FB and through my email, telling their individual stories, experiences and encouraging me to continue. And I’ve been invited to serve as a mentor to some young scientists. Which has been an exceptional joy.
I admire Matti Alahuhta, a real exception, the famous Finnish leader (ex-Nokia, Kone, now EK) who has invited me twice for a serious and inspiring discussion on some of the topics – and offering a lunch J He is the only one during about 7-8 years of my open and active criticism on these matters. And of course, as you can see from the last parts of the list below, I’m not only criticizing but also presenting a number of ideas and suggestions for a better system, at many levels
What is happening to the Finnish academia, that is expected to be open for discussion and criticism?? Are people afraid? Are the managers tired and overloaded? Does the system really suck?
First, here are some general thoughts on how I think about the life of a scientist in a university context – it also explains why I’m so strongly against the current higher education management system. I have given a talk on this to some of the people outlining Aalto performance metrics in 2010 – with very little success and then to colleagues at Stanford. I’ve made only some minor changes to the text captions: Life_of_a_scientist
Here are the articles I’ve written on these topics and some quotations from them:
Paikallista elinvoimaa korkeakouluista – nyt! (It-Savo, 10.8. 2016)
“Näkyvissä ei ole vuosikausiin toimijoita, jotka muuttaisivat kehityksen suunnan. On aika toimia korkeakoulujen vaikutuspiirissä ja niiden lähipaikkakunnilla. Lähtökohdaksi voi ottaa juuri ne paikallisesti arvokkaat tekijät, joita maan korkeakouluhallinto ylenkatsoo. Korkeakoulujen parjattu hallintomallikin tarjoaa viisaalla johtamisella ja yhteistyöllä uusia mahdollisuuksia — joita on vähemmän osattu hyödyntää.”
Korkeakoulut tuovat elinvoimaa koko Suomeen (Kaleva 7.6. 2016)
“Korkeakoulujen strategiapeli ja kamppailu hupenevista voimavaroista rapauttaa tieteenaloja ja yliopistoja Suomessa. Uudenlaisia alueellisia, taloudellisia ja kulttuurisia sekä muita kansallisen vahingon ensioireita ilmenee jo ja on pelättävissä, että tämä kehitys syvenee.”
Korkeakoulujen hallitukset pettivät odotukset. (TS 1.4. 2016)
“Hallituksiin ei siis ole onnistuttu tuomaan vaikuttavaa talousosaamista, ne eivät ole hoitaneet yhteiskuntasuhteita odotetulla tavalla eivätkä ne ole edistäneet yliopistolaisten vaikutusmahdollisuuksiakaan.”
Työttömät tohtorit ovat kansallinen häpeä. (HS 2.1. 2016)
”Tohtoreiden työllistyminen ja elämässä selviytyminen eivät virallisessa Suomessa näyttäydy erityisongelmana. Korkeakoulujen strategiapelien tai apurahaongelmien vuoksi työttömiksi jääneet huippuosaavat tohtorit kokevakin ”kaiken maailman dosenttien” hylkiökohtelun.”
Perceptions of higher education – Finnish drama. (Finnishnews. 2.2. 2016)
“Some believe that we will reach the top of the world science. Some doubt it. My question is, what if we reach the top in a haphazard field, what good do we then gain as a nation?”
Suomen korkeakoulupolitiikan strategia on vahingollinen. (Image 2, 2015)
”On syytä pelätä, että näin tosiasiassa heikennetään kansallisen osaamisen perustaa ja kykyä reagoida ennakoimattomiin tieteen haasteisiin. Samalla suomalaiset ja korkeakoulut etääntyvät maailman merkittävistä kysymyksistä.”
Tohtorien työttömyys rapauttaa osaamispohjaa. (HS 12.10. 2014, Krista Lagus in kanssa)
Tiedeyhteisö on hiljaa. (HS 2.3. 2013)
“Korkeakoulu-uudistus hiljensi yliopistojen sisäisen kritiikin.”
Korkeakoulujen henkilöstö on kriisissä. (HS 9.5. 2012)
”Yliopistojen hallinnonuudistus on epäonnistunut pahasti ja saattaa aiheuttaa suomalaiselle innovaatioympäristölle merkittävää vahinkoa.”
Suomen Akatemian rooli olisi syyt uudistaa. (HS 7.4. 2011)
”Kapea huippuyksikköpolitiikka voi mennä muutenkin pahasti metsään. Sen toimintamallien tuloksena Suomeen ei ole kehittynyt kannustavaa arviointitapaa, joka tukisi laaja-alaista kansallista tutkimusrintamaa.”
Re-think higher education strategy for 2020/2030.
(Oivallus-hanke/EK 8.2. 2011)
“It is beyond comprehension to see that nothing is being done to stop this: a clear majority of researchers and teachers in our universities see the present management model as a nightmare, disaster and a floppy (see the recent review by Tieteentekijät ja Professoriliitto and the article by J.P. Roos in Tieteessä tapahtuu 6/2010, ss. 43-46).”
Not only criticism but also new and fresh ideas and thinking:
Millaista korkeakoulupolitiikkaa Suomi tarvitsee: Elinvoimainen korkeakoulupolitiikka koko maan hyvksi (26.4. 2016 Image, together with prof. Markku Wilenius)
Here we outline a novel, higher education model built on the strength of geographically local but also global networking principles. Its aim is to guarantee a distributed, wide-spectrum cultural, scientific and economical vitality in Finland.
Perceptions of the network capital of a small country (26.3. 2016 Finnishnews)
“A widely distributed university system has a significant national impact if it lives on the following two simple principles in its research, education and local interaction.”
Päätöksenteon, innovaatioiden ja oppimisen tulevaisuus. (Kanava 23.10. 2015 yhdessä Timo Hämäläisen kanssa)
“Uudet oivallukset, tieteelliset läpimurrot ja radikaalit innovaatiot syntyvät yhä useammin usean eri alan tietojen luovista yhdistelmistä. Tämä edellyttää tiivistä vuorovaikutusta toisiaan täydentävien alojen asiantuntijoiden kesken. Debatin sijaan tarvitaan dialogia, analyysien oheen eri tiedonaloja yhdisteleviä synteesejä.”
What are we good for: Challenges of education in Finland (Radical renovation of education, together with Markku Wilenius, report to Sitra, not published 1.8. 2014)
Siiloutunut Suomi voisi oppia Piilaakson yhteistyöstä (Ossi Kuittisen ja Markku Wileniuksen kanssa, Te 22.4. 2013)
Ecosystems of Triple Collaboration (Helice Vol. 2. Issue 3.)
“Guidelines for collaboration project, 1-7,
- Establish firm economical and spiritual ground for basic research that is not threatened by economically successful external partnering activities. This is an absolute demand. Applied research can and must make profits relatively fast. Its economical and human time constants are significantly shorter than in ambitious basic research …2. …7.“
University-Business-Government Collaboration: From institutes to platforms and ecosystems
Triple Helix J. 2 (2015) Springer.
” Experiences and learning lessons from small-scale, university-business-government collaboration cases are described and used as supporting knowledge for the hypothetical, bottom-up type of collaboration model.”
Professori arvostelee: Aalto-yliopisto unohti yritykset. (Te 12.10. 2011)
”Yritysjohtajat ja ulkopuoliset jäsenet eivät mitenkään pysty näkemään, mitä yliopistolla tapahtuu”, Nyman sanoo. ”He ostavat hallintobyrokraattien retoriikan, koska eivät oikeasti tunne tieteen tekemistä.”
March 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
I sent this as a blog text to Huffington post but they did not respond indicating (as they tell on the site) that they were not interested in it. But I see the story as quite revolutionary thinking and thought my own blog can still distribute it to those interested. Of course there is a lot to do in this field, globally and I’m not a technology expert on this. But if this is valuable thinking, someone will find it anyway. So:
Imagine that our Fords, BMWs, and Toyotas and their electric and hydrogen versions – instead of having only a low or even a zero CO2 emission – would actually fight the climate change by removing CO2 from the air? The car on the road and in park with its engine running would be transformed from a climate change threat to a global asset and virtue in protecting the atmosphere. “You cannot do that! There is no such technology! Cities are crowded already!” are the expected comments to such an unorthodox idea. But the thought experiment offers new fuel for thinking about the nature of human mobility.
Cleaning the air from CO2
Removing CO2 from the air is a fresh, inspiring dream as the MIT report tells us, but not an unrealistic one. Scientists are imaging and experimenting with novel ways to transform CO2 to valuable materials such as carbon nanofibers for industrial uses. Quite recently, Bill Gates invested in a new system for sucking CO2 from the air and transforming it to harmless carbonates. The global pressure to succeed in these innovations is almost as high as in fighting cancer. No surprise then that there is an incipient trend to imagine and work on revolutionary methods that actually clean the air and the environment, instead of just preventing pollution.
Amazing technologies aim at protecting our environment. A prototype bikini, designed by the engineers at UC Riverside cleans the seawater from various pollutants that reach the sea, cf. Huffpost Science, 10/2/2015, “This Bikini Of The Future Cleans The Ocean As You Swim”. Another invention from University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion offers air cleaning clothing that removes nitrogen oxides from the air – about the same amount produced by the average family car each day! Then, a research team from China (Shan Gao et al., 2016) published compelling new research results in Nature:
“A new material made from microscopic layers of cobalt can convert carbon dioxide gas into formate – a fuel that can be burned with no toxic byproducts and used as a clean energy source.”
It is time to take take a second look at the future roles of cars and other transportation vehicles in this, including the potential of the self-driving cars.
Cars can be a threat and an asset
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in US, the CO2 produced by human activities originates from electricity (37%), transportation (31%), and industry (15%). In transportation the “on-road vehicles” produce overwhelmingly more CO2 than other forms of transportation, e.g. on-road vehicles: 1,442.7 Teragrams of CO2 vs. aircrafts: 148.7 . In EU Cars are responsible for 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide and the law requires that the new cars do not emit more than an average of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2015.
We can see cars on the road, having zero CO2 emission like Tesla and Nissan Leaf (EVs) and even the hydrogen powered Toyota Miral. But the critics, referring to the life cycle analysis of EVs, know that almost half of their CO2 emissions come from the manufacturing and mining of the raw materials of the batteries and from the primary energy sources utilized for making these cars. These energy sources – coal, nuclear, wind – vary considerably around the world and depend on the total energy demand.
Opinions differ on how to exactly estimate the total burden on the environment caused by the production, waste processes and the energy sources, but there is no doubt that the big picture is problematic. Nevertheless, a fair question remains – what if we could make air-cleaning cars capable of removing CO2 from the air? Would it be possible to aim at a car manufacturing model where it is obligatory for any car maker to guarantee that its cars clean at least as much air from CO2 as its cars on the road and the manufacturing process together produce it? Could the charging of a car actually be connected with a grid of air-cleaning systems so that every time it is charged or refueled it would participate in the air-cleaning process.? This would mean a revolution in the way we think about transport, logistics, urban architectures and the health of our environments.
The alarming fact is, of course, that not only the increasing number of cars but the whole car manufacturing industry, including the production of electric and hydrogen powered cars, is producing excess amounts of CO2 right now and fast solutions are needed.
Even if the car industry and the road traffic would be effectively cleaning the air, many would still resist this development because it crowds the roads, cities and public spaces. More cars would remain a genuine nuisance and the cities and motorways cannot take more than already now dominate the scarce public spaces. Many cities have made these long-lasting decisions to provide space for pedestrians, public transport and biking.
However, it is not realistic to assume that cars could be removed from the planet within the next thirty years. It is a long time in developing new technologies and it is highly likely that the developing economies will have more cars when the entering new middle class enjoys the fun and comfort of driving and owning a car. Globally, the situation is becoming serious as indicated by the health-threatening pollution in Delhi, where a driving-ban has been issued to get a million cars off from the roads. Many think that it is not even closely enough
The International Transport Forum has indeed estimated that the number of motor vehicles in the world, being now 1.2 billion will be roughly 2.5 billion by 2050. So, even if we try to limit car use, diminish the car ownership, design self-driving cars and their traffic environment, we should still think about cars also as assets in fighting climate change. The question remains, what would be the optimal strategy in preventing the gloomy future of CO2 emissions? We need a step-by-step, evolutional and creative thinking with a clear goal in mind.
Future of nomadism
People will always be moving and commuting even when the best VR systems have matured so much that information sharing, collaboration and even social manufacturing have become everyday practices. We want to get together, touch and hug each other, feel the closeness, and share the physical presence and participation at work, entertainment and in any human relationships. When commuting becomes fast, easy, cheap and acceptable, people can adopt new roles as modern nomads, different from their classic predecessors who had to move from one place to another. The future nomads can arrange their model of life and living according to their values – in the seamless world of virtual communication and physical mobility – while contributing to the clean air.
December 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
The amazing advances in behavioral genetics and personal genome analysis have taken most of us by surprise: you can purchase a profile of your personal DNA and even receive reports on your health-related risk factors – with a price less than a cheap smart phone. While there are still a number of serious problems and limitations in such tests and we have to be careful with any of their simplifying interpretations, they will surely improve and more is to come, fast.
A parallel technological and sw progress has occurred in the design and implementation of computer games, both entertaining and serious games. It is time for these two amazing, but only apparently distant developments to meet and make possible something wonderful. This is only a short conceptual note on combining game and gene technologies to achieve it:
Computer games where each game character has a specific personal genome, real, theoretical or imaginary! Such games would have immense entertaining and educational potential. The games could be used for running complex and even massive scientific simulations to study, for example, the impact of specific human genome features on human behaviors in specific game worlds and plays.
Such games could also shed light on the interaction of the individual genome with any of the virtual environments where they are played. And of course, time is a flexible variable in such games so that a number of growth, evolutionary, mutation, gene expression, and any other developmental factors can be modeled and studied. Anything that the gene and behavioral genetic scientists can imagine can be implemented as a computer game. Here are some further examples of this huge potential the gene games can offer for science and entertainment and why not also for personal self-knowledge and learning:
Imagine games where either the personal genome of the player or the genome of the characters, which the player controls have personalized genetic, hereditary or environmental background. The genome can be as realistic as is possible based on current research data or it can be just theoretical or imaginary. And of course, all other characters in the specific game world have their backgrounds as well. There would be a lot for new kind of operators to do in integrating science and game data, perhaps even offering open platforms for this.
The specified and implemented gene/environment/interaction factors affect the capabilities, tendencies, vulnerabilities or whatever personal characteristics of each gamer. However, because games can be massive, it becomes also possible to follow the consequences of certain gene pools or types of genome in any such large scale development – and in any game world. But of course, it is also possible to follow individual behaviors and its consequences of such genetically profiled individuals, real, theoretical or imaginary. We can test our own exaggerated genes, for example
Imagine further, that computer gamers join an open project like the Personal Genome Project (http://www.personalgenomes.org), where they offer their personal genome data for the scientists to study and follow them in any of their preferred or perhaps even specifically designed games. Only imagination sets the limits to this approach and we all know the huge global number of players today.
Why I write on this? Well, already for 2-3 years I have tried to get some individual game world people to get excited on this but has met very little genuine interest and fascination with what I’ve been truly excited about ever since 2010. But then just yesterday, I had a wonderful Xmas (very long) lunch with friends on the 11th Dec, invited by a friend, Ernst Grönblom and one of the people present happened to have a strong funding background in gene-related health businesses. His genuine excitement and encouraging attitude made me write this now and share it with my readers. I have not made a thorough literature analysis on this topic, so if this is nothing new, then I know that at least I’m in the same boat, sailing towards new horizons.
Below is an inspirational quotation from the Personal Genome Program (see the link above). Only “Games” are missing there.
“The answers to many fundamental questions about basic human biology, our experiences as individuals, and our history as a species will be illuminated by better access to large datasets that contain many human genomes tied to other forms of personal information, such as medical history and physical traits. Thus far, only a handful of individuals in the world have been extensively sequenced and studied. The PGP aims to change this by giving individuals a platform to share their genome, health and trait data.”
August 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
Dreams carry mysterious creative powers. I even wonder if we actually need dreams to open our minds, to make us aware of things and thoughts that we simply neglect or forget when awake. Sometimes the dreams are impossible for us to understand and often they are totally out of this (known) world. But they are never meaningless and can offer surprising insights like the one I had last night. I was lucky enough to remember it and share the idea from my dream. Coming from the science, technology and business world – where being right is the thing – I’m not surprised that I had to be asleep in order to get this right.
On learning the right stuff
The Internet is crowded with excellent talks, presentations, MOOCs, and other university courses that teach us how things are, what is the right or best way to think about them, what works, what is correct knowledge and stuff. We can immerse ourselves in the world of abundant videos and admire the wonderful, convincing, admirable scientists, businessmen and other thinkers who have solved difficult problems and can now offer us ever better knowledge.
TED talks are a perfect example of this flow of the good and right knowledge, sharp and original thinking, perfect solutions and their fascinated and mesmerized audiences. We learn wonderful things from the masterminds of such talks and texts, their logic and creativity and the ways to deal with complex problems. Especially we can follow their passion, exceptionally productive skills, and ability to think and solve the most intriguing and significant problems. Many seem to think now that this is the way, through the Internet we will learn in the future, by following the best brains in how they can be right in their knowing.
Dream come true and false
But this is not what my dream told me. Instead, in my dream last night, I realized how extremely valuable for a modern man it would be to closely and in detail observe how the mistaken scientists, politicians, other leaders, and artists have explained the world as they have thought about it. And how they have, nevertheless, been able to convince us or other audiences to believe and trust what they have said and shown.
Here I don’t mean the fraudulent people who just want to deceive, persuade, and manipulate us while knowing what they are doing. In my dream the main figures were the scientists, politicians, journalists and activists who seriously believed – and “knew”, just like their audiences did – that they were right and wanted the audience to understand the object of their thinking in the same, correct way. They did this by following all the best rules of logical argumentation, etiquette and style of presentation. But they were just wrong. This should not surprise us at all since we know, how the sciences continuously develop and old science truths turn into wrong or false.
What would we gain from being able to observe such erroneous presentations and moments of unjustified persuasion?
Knowing for a fact that someone has been proven wrong and being able to follow such a talk is not a common privilege. We don’t have TEDf talks (false TED talks). But with the exponentially growing number of videoed talks and discussions we are gaining more and more material where just this happens and TEDf actually becomes a possibility: we can follow in detail someone who is convinced to be right but has been proven wrong. We can even enjoy materials offered to us to know this.
It is an astonishing moment to follow such false talks and discussions. As a relatively recent example, take this video from the year 2003 on Alan Greenspan, one of the worlds most influential economists of his time, previous Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States. He admits being wrong in his assumptions – and after doing that his earlier talks acquire a totally different meaning and significance.
If we would know beforehand that a talk or an article is wrong or false we learn a number of new and valuable things. First of all, we would know – by definition – that whatever these respected masterminds claim and conclude they are wrong in some or all of their claims. More importantly, we would also know that they actually did not have the right to make us believe in what they say: they should have warned us. Further, while observing their story telling and having this pre-knowledge we could relate everything they say or argue to this knowing that they are not right. We could even follow with a different eye the way they express themselves in persuading their audiences. Knowing this true knowledge background could totally change the way we listen to them, and how we would try to understand what they say and how they say it. It is indeed educational for us to recognize this special, critical way of listening because more often than not we face such situations in today’s media.
By listening and following talks that have once been the truth but have since been proven false, we can learn the following:
We learn in detail how false or erroneous data is taken as the solid ground against which the rest of the data is then interpreted and otherwise used.
We learn how wrong or biased deductions are made and how superficially right or promising consequences are actually suggested and forcefully promoted.
We learn how the passion of the respected masterminds is reflected in the way they make their case, use the evidence and treat other alternative explanations – or people disagreeing.
We learn how the recognized masterminds behave in their style and expressions – without any doubts – when they have been offered the chance to be the representatives of “the right thing”.
We learn how we, as the audience, react to such forceful acts of knowledge communication and how we are persuaded to believe what is false. We learn from ourselves.
But of course, we would learn that the false talks, articles and presentations are already here, everyday and all over the media and our world. They argue with false and unsustainable data and evidence, trying to convince us on how things really are and making us uncomfortable that we don’t know better. But we don’t know who they are and where – yet.
We are floating on the waves of the modern and future knowledge and technology society and the pressure to advance, gain, go further, to innovate. We are forgetting how valuable it is to learn from the suggestions and claims that are simply wrong and especially to follow the most prestigious and leading actors persuading us. In science, at its best, this has not been totally forgotten but often it is buried under the not-so-sexy practice of theory-hypothesis formation and the processes of confirmation and falsification. But even there lurk the beasts of modern science pr and media visibility that invites scientists to forget the value of the false claims – or hypotheses: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/h0-heroes-and-h1-fairies-among-us/ But we or our children will see the future videos when it is already know they are wrong.
June 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Imagine buying a car, being really serious and excited about it, intending to get one as soon as possible. Or – imagine that you are just dreaming of buying one. We all know how stimulating it is to get started and to be engaged with the planning and eventual buying process. It is a personal and often a family adventure.
Then make a quick test and see how well the search engines understand you and your excited mental mode – your willingness to buy something wonderful and now! Try telling it to the best search engines.
Try putting “Intend to buy a car” to Google or Yahoo search. I was inspired to do this quick experiment when reading the exciting story about Yahoo: “Marissa Mayer and the fight to save Yahoo!” by Nicholas Carlson (2015). The book tells how the search engine competition is a continuous challenge to Yahoo and I though that my ideas might help them. I even tried to send a note to them but no luck in making this contact. So, I explain my motivations here.
Visiting Stanford I had some extra time to run a miniature experiment. In Figure 1 you can see the screen capture from the Google search and wonder – what are these algorithms thinking about my motivations and intentions, why don’t they care? (well, they have no interest whatsoever in my or your internal world, they just want to record your ‘clicks’). It is the mantra of today to claim that with Big Data they predict your behavior. But this is just nonsense. Most of the time they cannot do that and Big Data systems are impotent.
In the search outcomes shown you can immediately see that they indeed are very sensitive to “buying” in any of its forms and they also get hooked to direct quotations like “intend to buy” etc. But these quotation matches can occur for any context and it does not help us in any way, the search gets totally lost and irrelevant to your present intentions and life in general. The list of search results (mistakes in buying, leasing vs. buying, bargaining etc) looks like the search engine was searching data for another robot, not a passionate, intentional and dynamic human being. Big mistake. The search engines are non-human creatures that hate dynamic human life. They have no interest in what you as a thinking, feeling and intentional individual might have on your mind.
Contrary to what the masterminds behind the search engines and especially their marketing people claim – the algorithms do not know you or your real dynamic life at all. They only have their precious models of it as my colleague Hannu Tuomisaari so eloquently describes.
Then I repeated the minitest with Yahoo! and the results were quite the same, even more straightforward, but at least it found a site interested in my intentions, Toluna, but even that was not interested in my personal case in order to help and support me.
In short – the search engines seem to think that you are interested in finding shops (it is true, quite often), reading other buyers comments (perhaps, perhaps not), getting guidance for buying (maybe, maybe not), or learn about statistics (surely not).
It is by no means surprising that this happens because the engines are guessing what you might be looking for and they do not want to ask about your acute motivation or mental state, they think it is not informative or that it is not very practical to ask for such knowledge. Many seem to think that it is not wise to trust people when they tell about their intentions. What a mistake!
Last, imagine another very human case: you are in a pressing need to buy car, for one reason or another. Next, tell this to Yahoo! or Google. In Figure 3. you can see the results of Google. No surprise that it has no understanding whatsoever of your current state of mind and instead it teases you with information about cost vs. value, what every sucker (!) should know, a flowchart even. We all have our own “musts” and when such a situation exists we have our own constraints – for some it can be time, for other costs. If I were a car dealer paying for these adverts in Google I would be worried: why do they miss a motivated customer. Perhaps we could have a service that could be just for them? There is no way to tell that to the passionately searching customer.
Well, we all know what are our own personal motivations. In case of “must buy” we might have a time limitation, for example (I’m too busy, cannot go to a shop) and we can start looking for “buying service”, perhaps even find a sales rep coming to out home with a candidate car or two. How do I express this need in the search field? “Buy car visit home” does not understand me. “Buy car xx”? Well, surely after some text work we get what we want but is this the best a search engine could do?
Of course these are complicated situation for the mechanical search engines to decipher. But as a teasing end to this, of course I do have human-centric ideas and concepts to solve these problems, but that is another story. The background thinking to this can be found from my earlier blogs on the Internet of Behaviors: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/internet-of-behaviors-ib/,
and especially on the value of intention knowledge: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-psychology-behind-internet-of-behaviors-ib/
I sent an inspiring note already half a year ago to Yahoo, but maybe I had the wrong email address that I found with my search engine?
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
What if I would suggest that it is possible to provide a 100% secure way of storing your data and in a way that the operator itself cannot read or reveal the data it is storing – even in front of any legal or other threat?
For example, the recent eBay episode where their user data (user names, passwords, addresses etc http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/us-ebay-password-idUSBREA4K0B420140521) were stolen would not worry you at all because you could be sure that even if they had all the data in their customer data storage, yours included, they could not find and indentify your data. You could sleep your nights well.
Further, what if you could decide on how various service providers in the net can collect data about you and your whereabouts? This will be possible with this same security solution where the operator simply does not know whose data it has and where exactly it is stored!
I’m lucky to work as the advisor for a project where such a (patented) system is on its way to the market, in various application and service forms. Of course it is an inspiring innovation challenge, but the most motivating ambition is to return the right to privacy to the individuals and to other actors who need protection, the right to own their personal data and the right to decide to whom they reveal it – or their identity. It is not only a matter of protecting our data, it is a profound human right and one of the most foundational requirements for true democracy as Pekka Pere, the chair of our company board has repeatedly emphasized. Sounds like science fiction? It is not.
The inflicted security neurosis
You don’t have to be a security pathologist to understand why people have lost their trust in data privacy. But it is even more surprising how firms and technology innovators alike express this same tendency to worry and helplessness. Having attended a few recent meetings and seminars on data security in Silicon Valley and in Finland I’ve been astonished by the lack of trust in the (near) future technology’s ability to solve the current security problems – once and for all. I know there are highly competent people and teams in the field, take a look at the Stanford University computer scientists, for example, but in general, most of the population and even computer professionals seem to suffer from a social helplessness syndrome in data security.
It is not long time ago when the first seriously dangerous computer viruses gave their wake-up call to individuals and public and private organizations alike. Then came the targeted attacks like the Stuxnet worm in 2010 – only a year after the publication of the famous book “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez, where he painted a black fictional landscape for the worst future possibilities in data crime. Only quite recently we learned from Wikileaks, NSA, and Snowden that no data is safe today.
Last, the FBI and the US Government, in 2014, made their call by ensuring that even a data service operator, with good motivations, cannot offer secure data storage or mail systems to their eager and worried clients: the Government forced the operator to reveal their keys to access the data of interest, actually any ‘suspicious’ data – and in this way, made the trust-based business of LavaBit impossible in USA.
It is time to turn around the security question and formulate it anew:
Now that a perfectly secure data storage system becomes available, protecting your data so that none can hack it from its storage site and the system does not reveal your identity, what can – and what should we do with such a service and application? My prediction for a rather near future is that we will have to relearn the ways of protecting our data and identity but also to learn new ways to express our trust in the world of the virtual. Traditional protection systems are needed as before but the security game as a whole will change and people and firms will benefit from it. This will touch a number of digital service providers in all sectors of public and private life when they cannot take it for granted that they have automatic access to our data.
Hence, here are some of my first thoughts about the consequences of this change in security services and everyday practices. I believe that once we have our products on market and the potential customers – firms, public or private organizations or individuals – have learned to trust the new security tools and services, a game change is inevitable. The team with which I work will not be the only ones trying to ignite it; the markets have been ripe for some time already.
We deserve a 100% security
We all benefit from the services offered by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Pinterest, you name it – in exchange for the personal data we offer them to be used according to any of their business models. Visiting Stanford in 2010 and discussing some of these issues with my always inspiring colleagues there, I started thinking about a possibility to found a data & knowledge broker who could interfere with this situation – what I see partly as an unjust arrangement – and to start taking care of our personal benefits and protecting us when needed.
No such brokers have appeared so far, and then it happened that Manu Rautakoura – a friend and a security business pro, with similar ideas – started discussing this theme with me openly over FB. Finally, we ended up on a better idea related to Manu’s and his colleagues’ work: they had already started a most ambitious and innovative development work on personal data security – the 100% security concept I have mentioned above. We realized that their data and identity protection scheme could become one of the first significant steps towards a new arrangement of the secure, perhaps even dynamically anonymous personal data markets of the near future.
Personal data is our true currency, stronger than bitcoin
The most important data asset we have as individuals or firms is the knowledge of the security status of our data, be it family finances, other economical data and documents, private life episodes, inventions, work in progress, customer documents, health, whatever. Traditional computer security systems are surprisingly weak in providing this asset to us in a trustworthy form and it seems like people have just adapted to this unhappy situation – while being increasingly more worried about their data privacy and security.
It is a serious learning experience for anyone to find out how important it is to have the right to our own data so that it is not used against us in an unjust way. Public and private organizations alike can sometimes put us in a situation where by owning our data and using it according to their whatever business or service models, they can put an unjust pressure on us, affect and limit our behaviors – without offering any alternative solutions to us. There are a number of asymmetric transaction situations on the personal data markets of which well-known examples are the cases where a person’s credit history data is not perfect for reasons the person himself knows but the companies do not care to note. Similar problems occur when a person’s health-related precondition allows insurance companies to deny insurance services.
Most of us have nothing against telling the whole and honest health story when asked by a reliable company or organization, willing to offer its help and to use data for that purpose. But if the company does not have any service offer to its customers who are in trouble – and by that can only cause extra harm to them – then they do not deserve the right to access that personal data neither. It should always be a two-ways street of trust. Actually, the patient or any customer offers valuable capital, the data and identity, to the serving firm, which can then easily turn it into economical capital.
Knowing the true security status
The data security firms have not succeeded in helping us know our own security status and they try to teach us to trust when they say that “your virus defense has been updated” or that “we have a secure system”. When new threats occur, they have “updated their protections systems and services”. We need and deserve more: we simply have to know when our savings and the documents related to them are really safe and that nobody can access our private data.
The knowledge of the security level of our own data is not only a nice service or luxury (or a burden to the security provider) – it is the most influential knowledge that can guide us in managing our valuable assets of life. Anything can happen in the world and cause problems but we need to know exactly what is the security status of our possessions (e.g. customer data if we are a firm, personal data as individuals) in the storage systems we rely on. Our company should be able to provide that level of security within six months from now.
As shown by the scary example on how FBI and the US Government acted in the security case we now know that even the operators cannot guarantee complete security in USA – unless they are offered a suitable technology to do that. Of course, USA is not alone in the security battle and on these problematic markets, and we should better know the related practices in China, Russia and many other countries, small and large alike.
Better UI for data security awareness
Data security and privacy protection systems are perhaps the worst UI examples within the ict applications industry today, especially considering how vital they are to their user. Hence, I had an extra delight to be early involved with our security concept development and for once, could have a word early on how to build the UI so that it supports everything that the tools and the systems have been built for – to help the people and firms in knowing their security status, for real. I assumed the extra role as UI-concept designer for a totally new, simple and fresh way to help people in managing their own personal and identity security. This will appear on the systems to come.
What about cyber-criminals?
It is perhaps a wet dream of the cyber-criminals to have a 100% secure data storage and communication system – like ours – for storing any sensitive and criminal data. This being the fact of future we should again turn the question around: how can we involve people and help them provide secure ways to allow access to any of their data when they think it is relevant and beneficial for them or the society?
Then remain the serious questions of what to do when a cyber-criminal refuses to reveal the key to the criminal data or what does it mean when criminals have 100% secure ways of communicating and conducting their evil deeds? We do not have a solution to these problems now but we are convinced that whatever the solutions will be, they have to achieve the trust of the people who comply with such new arrangements. We will be developing these thoughts further and continue the discussion in the blog and in our coming Youtube videos.
December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is not the right place to make a detailed ‘correspondence analysis’ of the perception system architectures, intelligent perception-action systems (very little is actually known of them), and the strategy process elements but surely this will be happening in the future strategy research. Here I deal with a few less-known but inspiring aspects of perception, which I have admired over the years and explain their implications to strategy thinking. Further, although it is not often mentioned here I assume that all perceptions-action processes are tuned and colored by feelings, experiences, and emotions. We cannot live without them. Of course, not all phenomena described are new or novel, but they are worthwhile to ponder.
I chose the following ones: functional structure of perception, invariance-based perception, and opportunity perception. The last one is a relatively novel concept and even non-existent – as far as I know – in perception sciences (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception/). The point here is to see if they could offer guidelines to the design of efficient strategy processes.
Functional structure of perception
The human perception system is the best example of a successful strategic architecture I can imagine. However, it is not as well known as many would think. If you doubt this claim just try to find a general theory on perception in the scientific literature – it does not exist although masses of data, some promising ‘small’ theories, and research paradigms exist.
No species can survive without agile perception-action; it is our essential capability supporting our development as primitive and cultural organisms – simultaneously. Of course, each species has its own advantages like the extended spectrum of vision in birds and insects, the amazing skill of birds to ‘compute’ the time-to-target time in their flight, the infrared sense of snakes or the zoom-like properties of the eagle eye. These exceptional qualities have provided them with real, perception-based strategic advantages. Here I use a few metaphorical views – derived from the analysis of intelligent perception – for the architectural analysis of the strategy processes in firms.
Strategic lessons of perception architecture
Ascending centers of intelligence. During biological development the increasingly intelligent processes of organisms are progressively drawn upwards in the (neural/sensory-perceptual) system. There are upper limits to this, and because of that the most developed species like some birds, mammals and humans have learned to outsource parts of their perception-action architecture (use of tools, writing, technology in general, cultural objects). These intelligent resources are then refined and incorporated into the perception-action system, while the early object and feature recognition processes are made fast, reliable, and automatic.
There are two parallel development streams in the evolution of the perception-action architecture: towards faster and automatic early processes and towards the intelligent higher levels, including the adoption of tools. Interestingly, when humans learned to produce – outsource their specific perception/action processes – cultural objects, symbols and even writing, development did not stop there. Instead this material then became available for the internal processes as well in the form of imagery and imagination. Because of that, intelligent perception has become a continuously evolving system with interacting external and internal components.
It is not straightforward at all to define any upper limit to the quality and kind of tools that can be adopted. Of course it s possible to speculate about the neural processing limits of the mankind, but we simply do not have enough scientific knowledge to support this analysis (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/203/).
Human retina, for example, does not deal with the most complex visual processing and has allocated it to higher or ‘later’ layers, at the cortex. Frog and rabbit eyes, on the other hand, use significant resources to record movement direction, for example, already on the retina in a way that does not take place in the human eye. The ‘bug detector’, an example of the early intelligence, is a term originally used in the study of frog retina where such detectors exist.
The evolutional pathway may appear as a contrast to the prevalent organizational development of shifting decision power in the top-down direction. But a good strategic question remains, what kind of intelligent processing is valuable enough – and why – to be shifted higher up and transformed in the command chains or system network and what exactly is good to implement at lower levels and in what form and content? It is not only a division of labor between the lower and higher level processes but a genuine change of quality in both. Notice that I do not use the expression ‘should be left to’ – I want to emphasize that it is a matter of intelligent and learning resourcing of the organism’s strategy.
With the complex, emerging value network environments of future firms the distribution of different resources in the firm becomes an increasingly difficult strategy problem. We have outlined some of the behavioral aspects of this challenge in “Behavioral theory of a networked firm in value network environment” (Göte Nyman et al., 2013). Preparing this blog I realized how significant role ‘network perception’ – the way a firm perceives an environment and itself – has in value network analysis.
Humans and rabbits have different strategic landscapes in the world and nature keeps experimenting with the biological strategies. As a result, our higher brain centers have become specialized in the analysis of complex, neurally computable object relationships (related e.g. to spatial analysis, numerosity, scene structures, color relationships, sound source recognition, among many others) in the external and internal world. Surprisingly little, however, is known how the brain perceives the internal environment. I have observed a neglect of the formal analysis of the internal perception in firms, but a similar tendency seems evident in psychological sciences, too – there is a scant interest in the formal-theoretical study of internal perception. This is not the place to go deeper in this topic, but I do mean more than just subjectivity in referring to the problem of strong form of internal perception. I believe hat in a near future many of the internal perceptual phenomena we now call ‘experiences’ or ‘conscious processes’ will be treated as specific forms of pattern recognition and decision making.
Assigning perceptual bandwidth and priorities. Connectivity to the higher centers from the sense organs, the retina for example, is arranged so that the most relevant information from the sensory ‘radar-field’ (the center of view in vision, sensitivity of fingertips, and lips, for example) is assigned a significant information transmission and pre-processing power. There are also ‘fast lanes’ that carry relevant attention-grabbing visual and other sensory information along special pathways somewhere higher in the system, where it has special value. At the moment we can only speculate about these functions. In the Vasa ship case, there was no fast lane to carry the perception data to the King who could have stopped the maiden cruise or warned about its dangers.
Foveal information from the visual field with diameter of only a few degrees uses most of the fibers from the human retina to the brain centers. The primary cortical areas have large cell masses reserved for hands, fingers, lips and the tongue, for example. Frogs for example, have a different retinal organization and the frog’s eye is more uniform in this sense and it roughly reminds of a camera sensor-cell system.
Considering firms, we can ask how should information-action relevance be defined and how to assign the bandwidth within the whole perceptual architecture? Of course it is a strategic resourcing question, but with increasing importance of dynamic, networked environments it becomes a wicked problem. Hence, whatever the answer to this will be – or was in the case of the financial crisis, Vasa ship, Challenger investigations, the Finnish Government – it is a most profound matter of strategic analysis and discourse in any organization. However, it is not uncommon to rely on strategic conventions and measures that together with a rigid power structure actually mask the perceptive processes.
Purposeful feed-back. Division of (fast) labor, feed-back, and functional organization starts as early as possible in the sensory pathway, already before the higher centers are reached, and it continues there and throughout the system. All human sensory systems (and already on the retina, or in the auditory pathway, for example) have strong feed-back (also lateral feed, either inhibiting or exciting) at all levels which helps the system to adapt fast to changing environmental conditions. Feed-back has different functions, depending at what level of the system it happens. The early processing, sensory feed-back can e.g. clean the noisy incoming stream of data and help reveal the relevant signals from other stimulation like overall luminance in vision and the noise background in hearing. At higher levels feed-back can have a role in a complex state control and world model updating, for example.
But not all feed-back is valuable – its system properties like time constants, purpose and processing cost determine its value – which in the natural, dynamic organizational context is actually difficult to model and quantify.
Cross-functional connectivity. Very early and rich connections are made with functionally different (other senses, motion, emotion, attention and arousal control, orientation etc) centers in different parts of the cortical and subcortical brain. All senses feed to the brain centers responsible for the sleep-wakefulness, orientation, and alertness. In other words, they all have access to vital function of our bodies. It is not well known how and why these connections have developed but of course it is easy to speculate that they provide – what is now known in organizations – a possibility for the bottom-up and top-down information to cross functional boundaries in order to guarantee relevant state-related behavior in the multi-dimensional world. Extreme specialization and functional separation would be inefficient, costly, and probably disastrous.
Early relationship processing. This is perhaps the most foundational aspect of sensory and perceptual processing but it is rarely discussed in popular texts on perception: as soon as possible, perception becomes relational (relationship computations). As a result, information about signal feature (and object) relationships – not of the features themselves – is carried to or offered for further analysis by higher centers. For example, there is no exact or unique point-to point mapping between the optical image on the retina and the visual cortex. Knowing that a visual cortical cell is active does not allow back-wards computing to know what exactly has caused its activity. The same is true for all sensory data. We live in the middle of an inverse problem of the brain and life. Top-down connectivity makes this kind of systems even more complex – but also adaptive.
The relationship extraction starts already at the receptor level. In the eye, a receptor cell does not sit there quiet waiting for photons to arrive and to excite it. It has a hidden biological engine that keeps its membrane potential at a suitable level for survival. When photons then hit it, a biochemical process with strong ionic feed-back processes is initiated and the membrane potential changes: this is called cell response, but actually it is a cell system response and intimately connected with the surrounding biochemical processes. The physical world as we interpret and experience it has already at the receptor layer lost its 1-1 mapping on our senses. In this sense it is impossible to exactly perceive the world. But there is sense in this: without such a relativistic process the brain would be overloaded with ‘stupid’ information – copies of the optical images or sound waves and the system just would not work. It would be ore or less like a digital computer memory. If our senses copied the word in 1-1 fashion our mind would be a universe of crowded with irrelevant material – a perfect bureaucracy.
I don’t think that any (human) measurement conducted by an organization is different from what goes on in the retinal cell. It is basically a relationship extraction process by an active recipient (a worker, analyst, researcher, engineer) who extracts (locally, but dependent) meaningful relationship information from the received stimuli (customers, partners, contractors, networks). Then there is the inverse problem in trying to interpret the data – what exactly has caused that data to be available?
In simple firm situations this relationship perception happens without problems: monitoring well-known phenomena or conducting straightforward measurements can be accomplished without errors and we have learned to make the right guesses and behave accordingly. But as soon as the objects of observation become dynamic, complex, dependent on other objects, or just adopt unexpected behaviors, the characteristics of the observer or the observing systems as a whole start affecting the ‘measurement’. This is nothing new to theoretical physicists. The observer characteristics are affected by system variables, like the royal pressure in the Vasa case or the limited field of view of the financial analysts of the US Government during the crisis.
When an event is measured or perceived the priority-one goal for the organism, or a firm, is to guess what has caused the event. But the same percept can occur for totally different reasons. Only a tested or otherwise reliable theory or a model of the world can help the perceiver to interpret the measurement data.
Integration of feature, object and scene information. All incoming sensory information is integrated and sensed together: the perceptual system makes holistic inferences about it and makes always one plausible and possible interpretation (object vs. background, for example) about the world perceived. This is why flight simulators (vision, sense of acceleration, tilt) or 3D movies with various augmentation features (tremor, water puffs, sound surround) work so fine and we are led to feel as if living in one world only – it really is a miracle performance how we accomplish this since other alternative world interpretations do exist always, both in real life and in simulators. Sometimes such a unique interpretation is not stable and we can see alternating versions of the same world. This happens in the well-known figure-ground perception demonstrations but it is not rare in firm contexts where the management can disagree whether they are facing a threat or an opportunity. There are some eye-opening visual demonstrations of this:
Attentive mechanisms guide perception and efficient action. Priority systems govern the perception processes and have the capability to orient the system towards the relevant source and to invest the best resources to the analysis and required responses. Amazingly, the attentive system is actually capable – almost hardwired – to take the full system (body and soul) control for a limited amount of time, as long as it is necessary to gain relevant understanding of the environment or of the organism itself and act accordingly. However, it is not only a catastrophe processing protocol, it is a most natural part of our everyday life and behavior.
Shared resources for internal and external analysis. Partly the same higher processes start dealing with both sensory information originating from the environment and the information generated within the system (imagination, memory, attention, for example). It is not well known how all this happens in the brain and senses although a popular topic are the mirror cells believed to demonstrate just this kind of resource sharing (cf. Rizzolatti, for example).
This is a fascinating but not well-known aspect of perception. In this context invariance refers to the relationship between the elements of the world that remain perceptually constant or similar under variable conditions. When we perceive the world or our own internal states we do not directly experience the invariant relationship because it is inherent or inbuilt in our experiences. A popular example from human vision is instructive. Let us assume that the retinal image size of a person we are looking at from a 2 meter distance is 14 mm high. When the person then moves to 4 m distance from us the size of the retinal image becomes halved and it will be 7 mm. Amazingly, and as we all have experienced it, we do not see the size of a person to shrink (with the size of the retinal image) when he moves away from us. This is called size constancy and it is based on a perceptual size invariance: the brain has detected something in the world, a relationship between the image of the person and then image of his environment (room height, for example) on the retina that remains relatively the same in both situations. This makes it possible to perceive the object size as a constant. We have no experience of this ‘computational’ process happening, it simply happens as a percept.
When firms measure any objects of interests they face the same challenge that some call the contextuality of the data: having the measurement data is not enough and can even be misleading if they do not know the scene against which it has been observed or collected. Market data, for example can be highly sensitive to the cultural background of the consumers which makes comparing the purchasing behaviors in different cultures problematic. This can introduce a risk of misinterpreting the data. On the other hand, having the relevant data about the scene or environment can provide significant added value to the computations and make them more intelligent.
Perception experimentalists do know that if we observe a person totally without the environment, this constancy disappears or is at least weaker. Through the invariance phenomenon we have gained the knowledge that the observed object (the person) has not changed although the image (information) of him has shrunk on the retina. It is a most intelligent and valuable ability to perceive objects and phenomena in the world as the same even though our sensory mechanisms record significant changes that are caused by the environment or the behavior of the target itself.
Our brains have learned to infer the nature of an object from the information provided by other aspects of the world and the workings of our senses. It is an extremely complex process. Perception is not a simple physical measurement process and it is actually rather bad in measuring anything (physically) objectively but it works for us in this world and at the scale of our living.
If we did not have this ability we would be exhausted. According to a story, there is a small fish – the journal reference to which I have lost – that does not have this size constancy and it has been reported to attack anything that produces a certain size of a retinal image on its eye: sometimes the object can be an edible, nearby bug or a large fish far away from its reach. You can guess how such a creature behaves in clear water: it wastes a lot of energy. Maybe it lives in murky waters, where it just cannot see far, I don’t know.
Any organization should be interested in the internal and external object relationships that remain invariant. However, it is equally important to notice when an invariance is breaking down because it is a sign of significant change in the state of the world or of its objects. A current (analogical, a bit far fetched perhaps) example is the popular media discourse on print vs. digital magazine consumption. Not so long ago, some analysts seemed to think that it is basically a zero-sum phenomenon: an invariant total number of printed and digital magazines are read per customer. They claimed that because of this invariance, the fast increase in digital magazine consumption is causing the death of print.
If the ‘perception system’ of a firm is tuned only to direct measures and metrics it will miss the important relationships. For example, market data has not shown the magazine reading to fall with the same speed as digital reading has increased. Similarly, the number of car accidents has not increased in direct proportion to the number of mobile phones used in cars – indicating that mobile phone use in cars is not directly causing car accidents. Such relationships are complex and finding invariances is puzzling. But they are hugely important in understanding the world through perception.
Other current examples are facebook and Twitter, for example, and the type of networks people (unconsciously) build there. There are many business-, technological, and economical reasons to be curious about what in these behavior networks remain structurally invariant even when their size and connectivity changes (http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130828/srep02522/full/srep02522.html. Having this knowledge can help planning campaigns, estimate ROIs, distribute any information and reach audiences- commercially or otherwise. Basically, this too is a matter of recognizing the invariances – and why they occur.
It is a most strategic perceptual decision to select between two or more alternative world-views. The famous works by Kahneman and Tversky, the Nobel laureates demonstrations were no different from this, only the decision domains studied were different: they could show how people make different decisions depending whether they have a vision of sacrificing or saving people. Such a vision would, on average, determine how people perceive the problem at hand, which would then have a significant impact on the perceived problem solving opportunities. On the other hand, there is a good reason to ask how often we actually perceive the world in such a clean arrangement?
Opportunity perception (OP).
I have described the essence of OP as I understand it in https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception. Every now and then organizations are surprised by a competitor perceiving the world in a totally different – productive or disastrous – way. One of my most educational experiences dates back to year 2001 in trying to encourage the technology management at Nokia to open their device systems for sw developers and to create what is now seen as an ecosystem. In giving the talk to the Nokia tech managers – it included this explicit suggestion – I could immediately see and feel that they did not perceive any opportunity in what I was offering. Only one of about 40 participants – she had a psychology (!) background – approached me and commented on its importance and relevance. Surprised by this lack of interest and reaction I wrote a letter back to one of the supervisors, even put it in English and suggested it to be shared:
“The issue concerns the degree to which mobile phone products (or other related or similar products in general) should have an architecturally open structure for usability components”. Then I continued: “There is no doubt that some major player in this area will open up their devices and in some phase get a status as open standard and start an avalanche of usability applications from personal to very specific ones and even technical…” (dated on 5h January, 2001).
Nothing happened, no reaction. Anyone who knows or remembers what was going on in the mobile phone industry then, understands that this was a very-very early indication of an opportunity. We all know what Apple did – apparently perceiving the opportunity.
The question arises: what prevents from seeing even the most valuable strategic opportunities? In this specific case all professionals in Finland already new about the open Linux and everyone could follow the Mac/Apple use culture; the evidence was there for everyone to see, it was not a weak signal – but it was not perceived.
Engagement aversion is a peculiar type of blindness
Immediate threats are easy to see, to recognize the opportunities for being damaged or hurt and to react because it is imperative. It is a very basic biological requirement for survival. Positive opportunities, on the other hand, mean an invitation to a voluntary engagement, perhaps a change of the current world view – and it requires time & work, re-orientation and re-thinking. It is a demanding strategic requirement and especially when the dominant ways to perceive seem to work well. In such situations it is not rare at all to observe what I have called ‘engagement aversion” in managers who already are overloaded by responsibilities and tight schedules.
Opportunity perception and entrepreneurship
‘Strategy’ in the firm relies on the perception of opportunities to achieve the vision and to reach the related sub-goals. In cognitive psychology, chess is a popular research model of strategic decision making and players have been studied in order to understand high-level strategic perception and action together, cf. e.g. de Groot, A. D. (1965). Thought and choice in chess. The Hague: Mouton & Company; Hartston, W. R. & Wason, P. C. (1983). The psychology of chess. London: Batsford.
But even these studies the concept of perception is somewhat vague and researcher like Simon and Chase (1973), for example, were skeptical about the possibility to obtain relevant verbal information about perception at all:
“The player’s perceptual processing of the board is so rapid (and probably unavailable to conscious introspection) that it is impossible to obtain an accurate verbal description of the process from him.”
They focused on the rather primitive concept of ‘chunk’ in perception and memory. Actually it refers to a meaningful cognitive storage and perception entity (the exact nature of which is practically unknown) – a kind of knowledge package – that the players use in various chess-related tasks. A simple lesson from these well-known studies was that the masters of chess perceive and pay attention to meaningful structures and relationships, not individual pieces of the game and in this sense they differ from amateurs. Professional wine tasters have a similar ability: they use a rich and systematic vocabulary for classifying and differentiating wine tastes, which allows them to perform better than amateurs. As far as I know, it is not yet known, which chemical aspects in the wines exactly produce the most informative taste perceptions that the tasters then actually use for evaluating the various aspects of the wine quality.
The exceptional skills of the wine tasters are not rare aspects of intelligent human perception in general, and with my team POEM we have numerous similar findings from the studies on the perception and evaluation of camera and print image quality, for example (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/subjective-image-quality-beauty-and-the-beast-in-vision/). Similarly, Tapio Lokki from Aalto University in Finland has conducted most impressive studies on the subjective perception and evaluation of the quality of spaces like concert halls (cf. https://mediatech.aalto.fi/en/research/virtual-acoustics). In other words, efficient perceptual (subjective) processing is a core competence in extremely complex environmental situations but it requires a systematic and a language of its own.
OP as a concept is receiving increasing interest in the study of entrepreneurship (cf. Shane & Venkataraman, 2000; Eckhardt & Shane, 2003, Zolin, 2013). Most of these studies use the terms opportunity identification, opportunity recognition and opportunity pursuit but with much conceptual variation. However, as far as I have noticed it they do not include any real theory of perception and instead rely on everyday concepts of perception. Hence they have remained descriptive, and conceptually superficial.
Among the OP studies there is an interesting approach concerning the need to speed up the strategy process. Eckhardt & Shane, 2003 have introduced what they call “The life cycle of opportunities” by which they refer to the risk for transient advantages – just like in any strategic choice – in capitalizing on a new opportunity. Their view is related to the classic work and ideas by Schumpeterian (1934) and suggests an approach to manage the temporal risks of quickly emerging and changing competitive landscape.
Participation spans the firm’s perception array
Organizations vary in how much they involve their personnel or the customer-audience in their vision processes. Firms having their roots in the Nordic countries are known from the participatory organizational culture. However, the underlying thought pattern is the same as elsewhere, namely that company vision is to be shared; unit- and even individual visions should be aligned and by that make the vision respected and pursued. Only if something extraordinary – in terms of risk management – happens the shared vision can and should be immediately changed or modified. In normal practice, however, the iteration is accomplished only every year and typically, less frequently, a major change is introduced. Emphasizing the ‘ shared vision’ has overshadowed the real need for shared organizational perception.
The complexities of the present world, the global and multi-cultural giants, the networked environment and the emerging value networks have for some time challenged a straightforward ‘shared vision’ paradigm. For example, the powerful and connected social media – external or internal to firms – networks, and the new information and communication channels have made almost any organizational system practically open and continuously adaptive in nature. Navigating and managing an open system, in a multi-cultural and dynamic network world demands specific framing of the value chains that are fast becoming networks. Ecosystem ambitions, so fashionable a concept in the consideration of the digital markets, flourish and companies try to find competitive advantages through building them or participating in the existing ones.
As a result the traditional strategic orientation of the firm much evolve towards an attention system almost like a perception array being strongly guided and directed by its intelligent and multidimensional perception. Of course, the mission of the firm remains the foundation although even that can become increasingly challenging. Sticking to the traditional vision-strategy cycle is a major risk itself and it can become an obstacle to organizational progress as it has happened to the Finnish Government. The search for a dynamic strategy process model is on.
At the writing of this I just read a hilarious and educating article on how the management of many firms have already learned a double behavior: the strategy life vs. real life: The article “Zorro-management” by professors Mika Pantzar ja Janne Tienari (Kauppalehti 28th November 2013) describes their observations on how the local management of multi-national or otherwise centralized, large companies are learning to lead a double life: to obey to and communicate with the headquarters according to the top-down strategy demands and the jargon to which they just have to respond by “yeas, of course” and “here is our strategy document” and to behave as good company strategists. But at night – in real life – they put on their Zorro masks and work with real, local company people and try to help them to work, make working life worth living, to use their own thinking and understanding to achieve something good. Not all companies have a brave Zorro to dare this and I doubt if a Zorro really ever gets promoted in Finland.
Requirements for the tools of strategic perception
There is the hidden assumption that it is realistic to assume the existence of a unanimous audience for a company vision. As a consequence, the management feels the pressure for effective communication which then forces the vision statements to be condensed and easy to understand by everyone – actually defined by the weakest links – in defining the objectives, either in the form of economical, value-related or other performance measures. It is probably impossible to find a vision definition that would be complex, inherently adaptive, multi-purpose, dynamic and multi-dimensional in nature. There are many reasons for this and one is the requirement to be able to measure the progress towards the vision. Furthermore, a plethora of metric are then used actually to freeze the vision and the strategy work. This overall process has not changed over the years and is getting relatively slower.
The vision statements are meant to be ambitious and to promise all the good for the firm and its customers. It is no surprise then that there is the frequent complaint that “they failed to fulfill the vision”. For example, our leading Government members seem actually afraid of failing publicly to reach – at any price – the visions or goals of which they are responsible in the Governmental Program.
On a national level and even within the political system the information society is making individual (human) visions increasingly different. Accordingly, the perception of opportunities for a progress are becoming fragmented. Instead of emphasizing the coherent vision model in firms, the perception-based strategy view suggests to take it as a fact that a detailed, shared vision is becoming impossible and even be a hindrance to the firm. Of course, shared interest in and possibility for opportunity perception is crucial at al levels of a modern firm: you may call it empowerment, delegation, directing attention, motivation, or value-based behavior, but in essence it means a shared ground that guides the orientation to opportunities. Opportunity perception on the other hand, precedes personal and organizational intentions (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-psychology-behind-internet-of-behaviors-ib/) and the pursuit of opportunities (cf. Stevenson, H. H., and T. M. Amabile. “Entrepreneurial Management: In Pursuit of Opportunity.” Harvard Business School Press, 1999).
Perhaps in the near future some of the following elements will the core elements of a dynamic strategy process in a firm having a purpose, motivation and goals:
– spanning the perception array,
– defining intelligent and purposeful perception,
– processing of intention data,
– support for opportunity perception
– pursuit of opportunities and
– tuning the feed-back architecture.
It may be difficult and risky to change the current system, especially starting from a well-defined and rigid strategy model. The obstacles are many, ranging from strategy-oriented reward systems and power structures to the dominant organizational cultures. I do not have direct data available here but I guess that the speed by which the vision statements are today proving to be wrong, irrelevant or even hazardous, is increasing.
Guidelines for building a purposeful strategy process? Not yet.
To return back to where we started: all animals – alone or as herds – are capable of opportunity perception, of purposeful, goal-directed behavior relying on the biologically implemented strategy systems and intelligent perception architectures. Using these resources they build an internal world model according to which they can pursuit their goals and act with full power when needed.
Opportunity perception is almost totally unknown perceptual-cognitive-motivational-creative phenomenon but it is an essential aspect of intelligent perception. As a first approximation I introduced the foundations of the concept of “Firm perception” which actually means a functional entity consisting of Perception architecture+ Intelligent perception+Opportunity perception+Opportunity pursuit. I will later continue developing it further and bring it closer to perception-inspired building of the strategy process.