Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Expanding Boundary of Opportunity and Employment

W. Edward Deming taught that quality is achieved by measuring as much as possible and reducing variations.  Japan widely adopted Deming's philosophies in the 1950s and, largely as a result, became the 2nd biggest economy in the world.  This revolution in manufacturing, that introduced a system of quality improvement and innovation, led directly to jobs and economic expansion.

This same kind of revolution is now taking place around decision-making.  Algorithms are now able to expand and codify Deming's philosophies and to take them to the next level.  Algorithms can standardize decision-making and make improvements to them, and for the first time in history uncoupled them from the very human dynamic of unpredictability.  This is a rich area for innovation and job creation.

Markets are often like a balloon - when one end is squeezed the other expands. When the market catches up with a competitive advantage and the advantage ceases, competition is squeezed and moves elsewhere.  Employment acts similarly.  When one industry is contracting, another often expands.  

Digitizing the physical world to more efficiently measure, monitor and make decisions about it is one of those expansion areas where competitive advantages can be found. This area today is rich with new ideas, new businesses and job creation.

Once unknowns become knowns (through data capture, digitization and analysis), smart people will build new businesses and solutions to take advantage of them. Investments and jobs will then migrate to the new frontier, the outer-edge, in search of new competitive advantages.  When something new is made possible - jobs are always created.  As something new ages into something ubiquitous it will be automated, jobs will decrease and investment will move toward the outer-edge.

The good news is that the the outer-edge, this expanding boundary, represents areas of recognized job creation, innovation and emerging competitive advantages.  The rule of the "Expanding Boundary of Opportunity and Employment" says that those who willfully move to the outer-edge through lifelong learning, focus and purposeful career choices dramatically increase their career and earnings potential.  Job markets never stop moving.  What about you?


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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

The Greater Good - Technology on Purpose

Adam Smith wrote about the concept of rational self-interest, which posits we work together for the greater good when it benefits ourselves.  Is this argument valid in the context of robots, automation and employment? I think so.


I believe most of us would agree that replacing large numbers of humans with machines that result in wide scale unemployment and suffering is not in our rational self-interest. Having massive numbers of jobs terminated by the Terminator does not result in a safer, healthier civilization or vibrant economy; therefore, it is not in our best interest.

Just because something is possible, does not mean it is good. A powerful ruler that takes all the food, property and means of production away from his people resulting in their suffering, quickly becomes a target of community wrath.

Businesses that replace human workers with machines and software, out of self-interest, will over time find it increasingly difficult to sell their products to their unemployed or underemployed consumers. At what point do businesses seek to expand employment opportunities out of a rational self-interest rather than decrease them through automation? Is it a realistic option for profit maximizing businesses to seek the greater good?

In the short-term, factories hope to benefit from automation faster than their competition in order to gain advantages, while there are still sufficient numbers of consumers employed elsewhere to provide a market for their goods. In the mid-term, entire industries will automate and terminate large numbers of jobs, but hope other, slower-to-automate industries will employ their consumer base. In the long-term, however, when digital transformation has swept through all industries, who is left to employ the consumers and provide them living wages, and who is left with capital to buy goods?

As jobs that require little training or education diminish in numbers, we have important choices to make, 1) Increase education levels to equip our population for the digital future, or 2) subsidize the unemployed and underemployed with a sufficient income to survive and maintain their dignity. 3) Fund infrastructure development in areas that employ people and benefit the common good.  If there are still not enough jobs for those that work hard to increase their level of education, then we are reduced to only two choices.

There are plenty of problems left on this planet to be solved. Solving these problems could employ many. Today, however, not all of these problems have economic values assigned to them. Fresh water sources, clean air, forestation, peace, better health, better education, etc., all of these have the potential to generate enormous economic benefits, but they need society to place a value on them and reward innovations and employment in these areas.

A vibrant economy, and a safe and secure society depend on healthy employment numbers, adequate wages, property ownership and rights, hope, peace and purpose. Digital transformation must foster these goals or risks accelerating a break down in our society and economy – two things that can diminish our future.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Convergence, Combinations and Challenges in the Future

I first read about futurist Frank Diana's concept of combinatorial technologies several years ago. He wrote, "We are seeing exponential convergence across the areas of science, technology, economics, society, ethics, and politics. The combinatorial nature of an overwhelming number of building blocks drives an accelerating intersection across these areas.  As an expert Lego player, I can appreciate the concept of building blocks, and the near infinite number of combinations these blocks can be used to form.  The idea that we have now reached a critical mass of digital building blocks, and that we are now experiencing exponential growth through the combinatorial nature of them is compelling.

The World Economic Forum described the future in similar ways, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before... Billions of people are now connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge.  And these possibilities are being multiplied by breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing."

Both of these quotes, and the idea that we have reached a new era as a result of the combinatorial nature of digital building blocks, begs the question of what does this mean for our organizations today?  The answers can be found in the simple Lego block.

Legos come in standardized shapes, sizes and integration points that allow for us to rapidly build billions of different combinations.  The standardization of Lego blocks doesn't restrict our ability to create new and unique combinations, rather it enhances it. 

We must all recognize that the winners of today and tomorrow are not organizations that create their own bespoke building blocks, but rather the ones that have a vision to use standardized digital building blocks to offer unique combinations faster than their opponents.  That is where ecosystems play a role.

Ecosystems often form around a digital platform.  Think about the Amazon ecosystem.  Hundreds of different kinds of businesses and services have formed to take advantage of the building blocks Amazon has already developed and made available.

The future is impossible to predict, but as mentioned earlier we do know that it will consist of the convergence of science, economics, society, ethics, and politics and a whole lot of different combinations of existing and new technologies.  Our challenge is to watch for the signals that will help us recognize which possible future scenarios are developing and which are fading.  

As we watch these possible future scenarios, it is helpful to practice a sense and respond approach.  Sense how possible future scenarios are evolving and respond and plan accordingly.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Will Over Weapons, Again

The final price tag for the 20-year war in Afghanistan seems to be around $2 trillion.  The $2 trillion did not buy a victory, freedom, human rights or a democracy, rather it bought a lesson.  A lesson that we have unfortunately already purchased several times in the past, but failed to learn.  What is this multi-trillion dollar lesson?  Will wins over weapons.

The renowned military strategist John Boyd taught that the ultimate objective of a warrior is not to kill more enemy on the battlefield, but rather to create mental chaos, disorder, ambiguity, confusion, distrust and morale collapse in the mind of an enemy.  If an organization suffers from these it cannot stand or resist.

Boyd emphasized that warfare is won or lost in the mind.  The victor will be the one with a stronger will and moral position.  The weight of mental will and moral fortitude shifted to the Taliban when the US supported Afghan government failed its people and purpose by engaging in corruption and collusion.  Several decades ago Boyd prophetically wrote, "Failing to achieve moral victory may result in strategic defeat even if an army is victorious in all of their tactical, physical battles."

Many believe there are commonalities between why we failed in Vietnam, and why the nation-building mission failed in Afghanistan.  Kevin Boylan, in an article in the New York Times wrote,  "The corrupt, undemocratic and faction-riven South Vietnamese government...proved incapable of providing its people and armed forces a cause worth fighting for."  Resistance from Afghan military forces melted away just weeks after the US forces began their final draw down.  It is obvious now that despite sophisticated equipment and training the Afghan forces had little will, and found little cause (either mental or moral), worth fighting for.

Each of us are also experiencing attacks on our minds daily in our own communities.  Daily, political opponents and pundits produce outrageous conspiracies, claims, falsehoods and headlines for the purpose of creating pandemonium, chaos and disorder, while social media sites amplify confusion, distrust and mental turmoil.  We must understand what these attacks do to our collective minds, and then try to learn the multi-trillion dollar lesson this time.

I have a soft spot in my heart for those struggling mentally in these painful, lonely and challenging times.  Life is hard enough without our own communities purposely attacking our minds.


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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Transparency and Swarming are Both Good and Bad for Businesses

Sleepy communities are suddenly overrun with people moving in from out of town.  Roads and traffic signals designed to accommodate low volumes of traffic are suddenly insufficient.  Hidden fishing holes are now surrounded by cars, families, dogs and campers.  Trail systems are overrun.  Birders swarm a quiet neighborhood causing traffic congestion and concern.  All of these swarming scenarios unfold so quickly they surprise us.  

What has caused these "sudden" swarms.  I am sure there are many different possibilities, but instant communication, search engines, social media, online and real-time data analytics and market transparency, plus our increasing desire for new and better experiences, wealth, and our ability to work from home anywhere all play a role.  Because of all these reasons and more we all are swarming more often.  

We swarm to new TV shows.  We swarm to new music.  We swarm to picturesque mountain villages.  We swarm to newly Instagram "discovered" trails, rivers, beaches, restaurants, mountains, neighborhoods and resorts.   Swarming can cause chaos.  It can upend communities overnight.  Housing prices can skyrocket.  Labor, materials and other resources can all suddenly become more expensive as a result of unexpectedly swarming-caused high demand.

Swarming seems to be a byproduct of the internet and social media platforms.  We are all connected on platforms that aggregate and centralize information, both true or false, at speeds never before imagined.  We swarm to grab toilet paper, some swarm to march on the capital, others swarm to a Frye Festival.

Swarming can have both good and bad effects on businesses.   If your organization represents something inspiring and positive, consumers may swarm to purchase your products leaving you without enough product.  If your company or leaders gain a reputation for mistreating humans, animals or for destructive environmental practices then customers may suddenly disappear leaving warehouses full of unsold products.

Swarming happens because of visibility to information, and in today's world nothing remains hidden for long.  We live in a transparent world where information, the internet, smartphone photos, social media and search engines, and data breaches all guarantee the "transparency effect" will also impact our world and our businesses.  Even the most secretive organizations like the NSA experience data breaches.

Transparency and swarming can cause chaos in a business.  The most well thought out plans and strategies can be turned upside down by one Twitter post showing how your supply chain includes a third tier supplier using child labor in a remote factory.  Transparency can be a very good motivator to not only promote your purpose-driven ambitions, but to actually become a practitioning purpose-driven organization.

In this article, I argue that as a result of both the "transparency effect" and the "swarming effect," companies today require a Chief Values Officer to ensure that the business and the leaders of the business follow admirable practices that align with their public statements, and that the "transparency effect" and the "swarm effects" will benefit the business, not destroy it. 


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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Speed and a Doctrine for the Future

Throughout my career in the high tech industry I have often heard the business maxim, “First, develop a business strategy and then find the technology to support it.” My experience over the years, however, has led me to believe this maxim is misguided.   Let me explain by asking several questions.

What came first digital commerce or the Internet?  Mobile payments or wireless networks?  Commercial airline travel or the airplane, knights in shiny armour being used as shock troops, or stirrups?  Trivia answer: Stirrups!  Technology has a long history of appearing first, and then strategies are formed later.

What we are learning is if our outdated business strategies are dictating the speed of our technology adoptions, then we are in big trouble! The world is moving much too fast and we must align the tempo of our business strategy evolution with the pace of technology innovations and our customer adoptions of those technologies.  We need to invest in future oriented thinking and the exploration of how new technologies and trends will alter the manner in which we interact with customers and operate our businesses.
"Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Must We be Good to Have a Good Future?

The renowned Futurist Gerd Leonhard, in this short and impactful video, says in order to create a good future - we must be good.  He suggests four focus areas for the future: people, prosperity, purpose and planet.  If you agree with Gerd, then the first question is "What is good?  Secondly, "How do we become good?"  And, thirdly, "How do we use that good to create the future we all want?"

A satisfying definition of "good" for me is something that promotes happiness, community well-being, is loving, pleasing, admirable, kind, desirable and virtuous.  Once we figure out how to become these things ourselves, we must embed them in our technology in the form of AI, to help us shape a "good" future.

As more of our daily activities and interactions involve artificial intelligence, we will want our interfaces and communications with AI (digital assistants, chatbots and robots) to feel and be "good."  We will want AI to make accurate, consistent and "good" decisions, and then to execute "good" actions.  Training AI to be good and act good is a real challenge.  These kinds of philosophical, moral and inspired traits and actions are not AI's strong suite.  Now that I am writing this I realize they aren't particularly the strong suite of humans either.

I can imagine a scenario where an algorithm processes data that suggests three equally logical actions.  The final choice, however, is determined by which option is most heavily weighted to the "good."  Which one of us is going to determine the "good" weight?

The obvious problem with this scenario is us humans can't agree on what is good, or to what degree it is good.  Feeding and sheltering homeless families and giving them medical assistance is considered good by some, and bad by others.  Saving millions of lives by vaccinating people is considered good by some and bad by others.

Our artificial intelligence powered digital assistants, chatbot and robots are all awaiting their instructions about how they can help create a "good" future.  What should I tell them?  

Watch the latest on Oracle's digital assistants, chatbots and artificial intelligence here in my interview with Oracle expert Suhas Uliyar.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Will You Trust a Robot?

Jeff Bezos and team launched 66.5 miles into suborbital space on a rocket ship with no pilot this week.  The rocket ship operated autonomously using sensors and artificial intelligence.  That takes trust. They had to believe in the science and that the AI system would get them safely there and back.  They had to have trust in the scientists, programmers, engineers, physicists and chemists.  They had to have trust in the math and physics.  They had to trust the coding and formulas used in the algorithms.  They had to trust in the data coming from the sensors.  Although there were likely many failures along the way, they trusted the process - the scientific method.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Latest Developments in Artificial Intelligence and Digital Assistants at Oracle

My brilliant friend Suhas Uliyar is Oracle's VP of Digital Assistants, AI & Integration.  We connected on Zoom last week where he shared the latest developments in AI, and the progress his team is making in creating digital assistants that understand sentiment, swear words and soon have reasoning powers.  




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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Speed and Transformational Leadership


It took Magellan’s crew three years sailing ships to circumnavigate the earth.  Today, at hypersonic speeds of 7,680 MPH, it takes just over three hours to circumnavigate the earth.  Data on the Internet, however, travels at 670 million mph, which means it only takes milliseconds to circumnavigate the earth.  In this age of digital businesses and digital interactions, companies must digitally transform to work effectively in a world where global business and information moves at these mind-blowing speeds.

It's not just IT systems that are impacted by the volume and speed of information.  The creators of business processes that were designed and developed in an analog area, simply never envisioned a business environment that would require these operational tempos.  Analog business processes were designed to have humans involved.  These dependencies were designed to slow down the process to ensure accuracy, compliance and accountability.  Today, however, operating at the slow speeds of an analog, human dependent business process, will doom your company.  Analog business processes must be quickly automated via robotic process automation using artificial intelligence and machine learning to effectively interact with impatient digital customers and B2B partners.