Mighty Matters - Transcript

April 1st, 2017

  • The following is a reasonable facsimile of the talk delivered at Develop3D Live, March 28, 2017
  • Approx. 20 minute read... for entrée-portion food for thought

All images property of Mighty Dynamo Inc. and MAY be used so long as attributed to Mighty Dynamo and respective artists or hyperlinked wherever possible.

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When I start this kind of thing, I always need some foundational concepts to build on. I liked motion because it is a simple and a real representation of change over time. When you are in motion, there is activity, something is happening. When you're at rest, well, not a whole lot is happening.

MOTION: change in the position of a body with respect to time or another body.

The physics of FORCE is another key aspect. We all exert and are constantly reacting to forces imposed on us (physical and psychological).

Newton’s second law explains how the velocity of an object changes when it is subjected to an external force.

LIFE is meaningful as it pertains to our personal lives, but also in how we personify inanimate and even intangible things. After all, we apply liberally: building lifecycle management, corporate stages, product end-of-life, job life planning...

The condition that distinguishes a person, a career, a legal entity, product or service from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.

Let's begin with an individual.

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We can plot a person's life against time in, say, 20 year increments... They are born and they typically have an operation life of about 80 years. Optimistically, I've presented it here in excess of 90 years. For the purposes of this discussion, let's say that the front-end and the very back-end aren't as "productive", but lots of crazy stuff happens in between.

A career is a subset of a person.

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It deserves to be extracted and presented on its own because we all know a career can take on a life of its own. Of course it overlaps our most productive and functional years and many careers can be so demanding that it actually consumes a personal life by the sheer force it exerts. Careers can have many segments, changing of roles, promotions, moving to a new organization, and gaps in employment.

A business is a legal entity.

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Most businesses have very short lives, but many do stick it out to survive to make a go of it. A very select few scale up to become resilient empires that last decade upon decade.

Products & services are sometimes referred to as 'babies'.

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Similarly, they can be but a blip on the radar suffering poor mortality rates or they too can make a decent run at it, making or breaking the companies that produce them.

Nothing exists in isolation.

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When we swap in vectors along the life cycles, we can start to imagine how the dynamics can play between these 'lives'. Each have their own forward momentum, but the direction and magnitudes are changing due to their own respective circumstances while also influencing each other. When forces line up, the math can result in high-fives all around... But when they aren't, it can mean a ton of resistance, conflict, and just plain piles of shit. It is easy to see how a failure in one will cascade to affect all the others.

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Now, let's jump right into the spaceship metaphor. The gigantic ships represent massive enterprises and this scales all the way down to the tiny crafts that represent the sole proprietors and very small businesses. These big ships have bridges where the Captain and officers command, there are engineering bays, a place for marketing and communications. All those people are, naturally, the crew (or employees) and the torpedoes represent the products or services they offer. Smaller ships are much more streamlined with a proportional complement, but regardless of size, some have lots of ordnance and other just a few or one.

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My background is industrial design, but I transitioned into tech soon after school and have spent the greater portion of my career at mid and large corporations. I've been involved with design, manufacturing, M&E and the Arts and my path evolved to managing products, teams, integrations and eventually the strategic aspects of an organization. These experiences have forged much of my perspective on business, my career, and how I approach my life.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to divert from my previous trajectory and dedicate myself to my own pursuits, so Mighty Dynamo is my little ship.

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So, in the diagram above, I'm that tiny one with the circle drawn around it.

My business is split into two distinct parts. A consulting practice and the development of my own products and intellectual property.

My clients are awesome and they are very diverse, representing different markets, sizes and stages. They all have their own vectors and I come in with a tractor beam to help increase the magnitude of their respective vectors.

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For my own torpedoes, my internal projects, I am working on 3 primary things: 1) a non linear story writing engine 2) a sci-fi-sport entertainment property and 3) a social responsibility design series.

The 1st, is still work-in-progress of the back-end, but to be honest its business model as a standalone product is weak. This is totally okay though because it is intentionally being built by my people as reusable components that ultimately will feed the 2nd, 3rd and potentially other products in the future.

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Even though I'm not particularly a 'sports guy', the 2nd project is super exciting to me. It is an IP mashup of non-deterministic, statistically-driven storytelling via concept art and traditional journalism. It brings to life our near off-planet future, today. If it sounds cool, it is because IT IS, but what makes it actually exciting is its business model doesn't stink.

The 3rd, was inspired by an amazing project that I helped pitch in 2011. Along with my friend Candice Uyloan, we were able to bring together two companies, Autodesk and manga publisher Viz Media to respond to the tsunami disaster in Japan. It was such a rewarding experience to apply our combined resources for a common purpose and common good. Don't get me wrong... I'm not a saint and neither is Mighty Dynamo a non-profit... but, if I cannot inject this type of core value into my own company, then what the fuck is the point, really? So, for this reason, I dedicate a portion of my time to develop design projects that have the intent to inspire solutions for big, nasty world problems.

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So, if i have done this right, all of this stuff should sound pretty awesome... And yet, I am often quite torn and of two minds; tremendously motivated on one-hand yet countered by moderate to overwhelming terror on the other. This got me thinking... I want to be able to share more than my personal testimony, so I created a quick survey to canvas the entrepreneurial 'friends' in my network.

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Of the 33 respondents:

  • 76% were either dedicated to their business or multiple ventures
  • 18% ran a side business parallel to full-time work and
  • the remainder were freelancing types

Key motivators for starting a business:

  • 76% of respondents were self-motivated
  • 24.2% were encouraged by friends, peers or family

I also asked two open questions: 1) what they like about being a business owner and 2) what they didn't like about it. I found a free word cloud generator and dumped in all the comments in to get visualizations of common themes. To extract emotional sentiments, I found Tone Analyzer, a free Watson powered bluemix demo app (if you haven't played with this, you should... try pasting snippets of other people's emails to you or transcripts from political leaders to see if you think it assesses tones accurately).

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Words like FREEDOM, WORK, and FLEXIBILITY had the most frequent use, however, by analyzing the tone of the comments, in addition to tones of JOY, Watson detected traces of ANGER and DISGUST. Isn't that interesting?

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The negative word cloud illustrated concerns around INCOME, that they have to work harder/longer, and UNCERTAINTY is a common theme. Watson's tone analysis picked up FEAR and ANGER.

Okay, after doing this, I became thirsty for more... this was just half the story. I cranked out another survey in Google Forms and fired it off targeting the full-time employed.

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I had a good mix from of respondents coming from small businesses as well as those at mega corporations with tens of thousands of staff.

Their general sentiments towards work was a pretty even blend:

  • 22.6% Happy-face
  • 22.6% Indifferent
  • 16.1% Eager and excited
  • 16.1% Frustrated
  • 16.1% Bipolar
  • and great to report only 6.5% felt sad-face about work.

When asked, what they would do if they got shafted, the majority would look for similar or different full-time opportunities, but a sizeable 37.5% would consider starting their own business.

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I was quite surprised by words like LOVE, WORK, and GOOD overshadowing the frequency of things like BENEFITS, but it was all pretty straightforward and the tone analysis: simply JOY.

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For the negatives comments about full-time employment, no surprises here either... lots of things identified as LACKING (leadership, development, etc.), PEOPLE appeared at equal frequency as a negative as they did as a positive, and I would have been skeptical if SHIT didn't make it in there.

The crazy thing with Watson's tone analysis was the traces of JOY. So even when given the anonymous freedom to vent and say all manner of negative things, a bit of joy made it through.

This exercise was totally for shits-and-giggles, so don't call me on all the methods... but how cool is it to be able to get this type of quick barometer reading. Perhaps your circle of contacts, representing a different demographic, would have different attitudes. In the least, there is a small kind of something in all of this... even if it is just not feeling alone in the mania.

So this is a nice slice of the human condition. How about extrinsic factors?

Well, I picked 3 things that I think are significant trends

  1. Economic & Employment Factors
  2. On-Demand Everything
  3. Cultural and Attitude Shifts

When my dad immigrated to Canada, it was 1968. There he is at the airport and this other shot is him standing in front of the new futuristic City hall that had just been completed 3 years before, designed by Finnish architect, Viljo Revell.

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At this time there were 3,533,966,903 humans on the earth. He came and played the classic immigrant story of working hard to learn a language and find a job. He worked for one job his whole career.

That is less common now... and there are more than double the competition... the population is 7.5 BILLION people, damn it!!!

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Here are some call-outs from the British Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The number of employing businesses in 2016 grew by 14,000 and the number of self-employed increased by 84,000. Small businesses represent the largest of employment population and account for 33% or £1.2 trillion of annual turnover in the private sector. The majority of population growth since 2000 has been due to non-employing businesses, which accounted for 89% of the overall increase.

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Similarly in the U.S., the government reports that 40% of the workforce is made of contingent workers. That's a 36% increase in the last 5 years!

And what is amazing to me is, the majority, 51% of small business owners are between 55-80 years old.

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In my home country, Canada, small businesses account for 87% of net new job creation. In the last 10 years, that is 1.2 million jobs (of which 47,000 jobs in the manufacturing space and 137,000 people like me in professional and technical services).

78% of people leaving full-time are becoming contingent workers. This prompting Intuit to target this rapidly growing market.

Another warning: by 2020, 40% of jobs will be lost to automation!

So, contingent workers, entrepreneurs and small businesses are, by far, generating the bulk of new job creation in the rapidly changing landscape. This combined with the trends of accessibility and democratization is completely levelling the playing field.

On Demand of Everything!

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As a small business owner, I decided to pull together a list of subscription services that I rely on. It was a really, really long list... I have things like GitHub (I'm not even a developer), Amazon Computing Services, Google Apps for my email and collaboration services, MailChimp, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, Invision, Dropbox, LinkedIn, and even stuff like Shopify, Square, PayPal, Jira, and iTunesConnect. This stuff isn't expensive either and it gives me the infrastructure and capabilities to collaborate with cross functional people or teams, make shit, distribute shit, and market the fuck out of it with the same fidelity as I was used to at a fortune 500! How fucking cool is that?

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When you then look at the equivalent of on demand humans, it gets outrageous and the magnitude of it all explodes. All of these individuals have their intrinsic talents and are buffed with countless tools and services that magnify their independent capabilities, but also have the access to interconnect with others to operate in concert. Boom! Mind blown!

We all know people like this. In my last year, I have works with many new and many 'old' people from my past who have become this type of nimble on-demand human or business. Let me share just a few examples...

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This is Clint. He's just incorporated UXpert two months ago, but he's was a seasoned freelancer building his base. He's not just talented in design and UX, he comes from a high calibre stock having developed skills and leadership at start-up and powerhouse corporations, so he knows his shit. His operation is about 5 people with potential to scale to 10+, and he's able to provide not just execution, but the process and business expertise to help a client make smart decisions. He feels he has a modular offering that can adapt with the ramping up and ramping down nature of projects at medium and large corporations and can fill in gaps that would be difficult, if not impossible, to staff up with an experience crew.

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ChiCha is a partnership with Guillermina and Mariana. They are based in Buenos Aires and both came from major agency and corporate backgrounds. They both tried freelance, but found they were working all the time. After forming their business partnership, they were able to take on more clients, create better work, control their hours and scale. They deliver consistent work that exceeds their client expectations and are able to serve a global base. I met them on a project with a common client and love working with them, especially because their cultural background and experiences deliver different and unique outcomes.

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Ryan Schmidt was the co-founder of Meshmixer. After selling that to Autodesk, he was one of their top research scientists. Last year, he decided to found Gradient Space, not to replicate what he had accomplished with Meshmixer, but to take his learnings and expertise in 3D design to create components that can allow himself and others to more easily create complex 3D products. He's been experimenting with native VR CAD that can run on game consoles.

This type of talent is not recruitable... and if you did find such a person, most companies wouldn't be able to afford him... that is, as a full-time resource. Now, he partners with clients to make products that advance his research and proprietary components. So someone like me theoretically has access to this level of brain...

Mind blowing!

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Then there is Leonard. His background is publishing, tech and M&E. 6 years ago he co-founded Ballistiq Digital, a professional services agency with expertise in web experiences and platform building. This business grew because of their ability to work with big brands and deliver bespoke web apps and online solutions. About 2 1/2 years ago, they boot strapped ArtStation, a community for artists in the M&E and creative spaces to showcase their work. This side product exploded and they are now north of 1200 Alexa rating, with an average of 2.8 million monthly uniques.

As a side note, I actually used ArtStation to recruit some of the talent for this article/presentation. One ad for freelance concept artist brought me 1200 applicants in 7 days! It was unbelievable.

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Imagine how ease it is for freelancers, small business, hobbyists or entrepreneurial-tourists like this to line up their resources to get shit done.

When they assemble, they can behave like a mid-sized operation. They can quickly and easily form new business entities, and they don't even have to do it upfront... they can launch products or find funding even before sitting down to have a serious talk about how they want to structure the business.

Large companies can equally benefit from (or be punished by) this wide-scale on-demand trend. There are significant operational efficiencies to be had and the choices of how to augmenting resources via agencies or even smaller specialized consultants opens many new opportunities, so, there are plenty of good reasons to maintain healthy networks and trusted allies.

Different businesses and organizations have their own strengths and weaknesses based on their size, structure, and the stage they are at.

Little guys can be resource strapped... so collaborating with cash-rich organizations is beneficial.

Big-ass flagships can be risk-adverse and unable to navigate changing climates or combat new adversaries, whereas little guys are, by nature, super agile, free of legacy and bureaucracy-lite. They are ideal for suicide missions to test uncharted waters, experimenting and when they fuck up, the casualties can be controlled.

Small and start-up operations are also ripe for acquisition, so another avenue for innovation or talent acquisition. According to Charles Rim (former Google M&A), 90% of Google's transactions were small, less than 20 people and less than $20M.

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In general, I'm not a huge fan of the way the term innovation is often used. For sure, innovation is great, but "wanting innovation" or claiming to be 'innovative' is pretty meaningless.

I believe innovation needs to come from within. Within an individual and woven in the culture of an organization.

For example, it drives me nuts how many offices have adopted a kind of abomination of open concept space where humans are placed in close proximity of each other, particularly when done in the name of 'improved collaboration'. Read the studies... yuck! Old school design studio, on the other hand, were also open concept, but there was buffer and affordance for privacy (big ass drafting tables were awesome proximity shields). Even without bringing into play introversion and extroversion, having someone within earshot (not to mention smell-shot) is completely counter-intuitive, stifling creativity (along with common decency).

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Like our minds and muscles, shit needs to be exercised and practised. Nurturing creativity and fostering innovation is similar. Building muscle involves strain and damage, followed by healing and strengthening. I firmly believe that this is how great ideas and new solutions get born. So you need to come together and slog it out with co-workers, but you also need them to get the fuck out of your face.

Innovation on a personal scale is similar. As individuals, we need the room to explore and experience many different things. Only in this manner do we build the framework from which to connect dots together and draw inspiration from one thing to apply to another.

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For individuals... I think it's really essential to be on top of what's going on... both inside your head and all around you. Keep tabs on what you want because you know it changes all the time. Know what you are capable of to understand your limits and also the aspects you can grow and develop that keep you relevant.

Keep your values as many jobs and situations can have expectations that can conflict with them. When experiencing opposing vectors, you need to consider doing something about it or evaluate your options. The 'be true to yourself' quote, though rudimentary, is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Make sure to have a perspective, and a lot of it. Take the time to observe the world and develop an opinion. When you encounter situations that are alien to you, being able to draw upon your experiences is your first line of defence.

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Do you suffer moderate anxiety about the robots? They are already here in so many ways, but the subsequent generations of AI and robotics will radically impact so many facets of our lives. Professions, en masse, will become obsolete and the landscape will be unrecognizable to what is familiar today, BUT, keeping a bit of perspective, you won't be blindsided by it and, as history serves, new needs WILL arise.... the cycle plays on.

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This makes it all the more necessary for each of us to develop our intrinsic abilities and amass the experiences that prepare us and make us unique compared with our human and machine counterparts.

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Similarly, for small business, be aware and know your risks. On a personal and business level, what can you stomach? What are your measurements? Set them and revisit them. How does your mission and vision drive value and create new opportunities?

Opportunity is like an endless revolving door that is fuelled by change. Niche markets, uninteresting to large public organization at one point, can explode to become a cultural norm. The future can't be what we see today and smaller organizations are prime for experimenting and introducing novel solutions that push the boundaries.

alt text If you work at a large organization that doesn't have one, an Innovation plan can be useful. It doesn't even have to be right, but it forces the dialog of how you can keep ahead of the game. It can happen internally, in collaboration with partners, be a mercenary team, or inform your M&A strategy. Just remember that culture comes from top down, so innovation really needs to be internalized regardless of the approach.

Leverage the new resource dynamics to your favour and get the right players on your agenda. It is low risk to test external talent and experiment without diverting focus from your core teams. When you use external forces, try making part of the mandate the expanding your knowledge-base. Highly skilled consultants are a wealth of knowledge (with more potential impact than you marathoning TED talks over a weekend).

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Change is imminent... Bad shit happens. It's okay that it gets you down, but a pool of misery won't do anyone any good in the long-run. Pick up the pieces, learn from it and get the fuck up!

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If you weren't ahead of it before, embrace the change. Find the flesh-based humans and the machine allies you need to thrive in the world.

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Just remember... The world has no shortage of needs and problems. Come on, you know that even most of the existing solutions out there are total crap in need of a solid kick in the ass.

The future needs to be and IS defined by you, specifically, and especially not that other asshole none of us can stand.

The cycle of life is change, it needs new ideas and new business to be born into the world, so what are you waiting for, get out there and make sweet love.

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P.S. According to Tone Analyzer, this post is equal parts JOY, ANGER, and SADNESS.

P.P.S. Contributing Artists:

  • Tom Lopez
  • Nimit Malavia
  • Skottie Young
  • Jessie Lam
  • Mark Torres
  • Chris Cheung

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