Welcomed back to the Quantified Self

Quantified Self 2017

Everytime I go to the Quantified Self conference (2013 & 2014), I walk away with something more than I was expecting. Its been 3 years since I was last at the conference and a lot has happened in that tme. The Quantified Self has shifted from the heydays of super stardom on the front of wired magazine; to everywhere and nowhere. By nowhere, I mean its not really talked about because its actually everywhere. The amount of people with some kind of app or device which they are actively tracking something is so huge. This also raises the question of Self-Tracking vs. Self-Surveillance (which Jana Beck actually covered in her breakout session); are most people self-tracking or is some other entity surveying them? There’s also a debate about how enabling they really are for most people who received a Fitbit for a present.

Garry Wolf raised the topic of what is the quantified self at the start of the first day in the opening talk. Lots of people answered the question from their point of view and it was good to hear the diversity of answers and people building on the previous one.

When back with Gary, he concluded the conversation with a final thought on the subject…

“Everyday science through examination of yourself”

Gary also noted it’s been 10 years since the first conference and threw out 10 interesting points over the last 10 years, plenty to think about; including a Michael Polanyi quote and a request for people to take part in a live experiment around smartphone use. The results were revealed at the end of the day and were quite a shock. I personally only looked at my phone twice over the first day. But as I explained I have my tablet and laptop. It was interesting to hear I wasn’t the only one to have different apps on their different devices. This lead nicely into a group discussion about smartphone use.

Its so easy to feel the fear of missing out (FOMO) at the Quantified Self conference, as there is on average 8-9 things happening in parallel. You really have to pick and if its not for you, move on. Its very much the BarCamp rule of two feet.

Like the rule of two feet, here’s my highlights of the conference.

Session 1: Show & Tells

Quantified Self 2017

I missed the first one by Jana Beck on tracking crying but I got in to see Aaron Parecki kicked off the ignite talks; he later did a session which I’ll dig into the details of with data portability and data ethics in mind. The big things for me was the micropub plugs. I’m going to simplify micropub by saying its like ifttt but open, decentralised and a W3C standard supported by the indieweb community. That was the point when I thought I need to check this out in detail because it reminded me of the media pipeline thoughts I had a long long time ago.

Ahnjili ZhuParris gave a ignite talk which was all about her quantifying her psychedelic experiences. Yes you heard right…She quantified her drugs use to improve her trips! Truly shows how diverse the things track can be. It was captivating to say the least.

Session 2: Self-Tracking vs. Self-Surveillance

This breakout session run by Jana Beck and was full of interesting points. Of course Hasan Elahi was brought up and the group tried to understand the difference between tracking & surveillance. It seemed to boil down to judgment from which entity? Both have issues including the illusion of perfection which can drive self-tracking; and of course the issues of external surveillance are very well know.

This is where I first met the open university who are working on a project called monetize.me. I also bumped into Kley Reynolds who I’ve been thinking about since 2013, when I heard him talk about using QS data to create a fingerprint for data & identity.

Session 3: Connecting Self-Tracking Data to Home Assistants

In this session I helped a out with another person as the speaker couldn’t make it due to flight problems. Myself and Jacqueline took over the session hoping someone would come with some more experience in using home assistants to track something. I had some experience with Amazon Alexia & Google Home but not for quantified/tracking. I could see how it might be possible with something like ifttt but not directly.

We didn’t have to wait long till some knowledgeable people stepped in and a discussion kicked off. I kept going back to the fact these devices are in group/family spaces. Somewhere along the line, Jacqueline & me started thinking about how you could use these devices to bring together a family and nudge them to eat more healthy through dinner time checkins. I feel theres a unpolished gem somewhere there.

Session 4: Using Your Data to Influence Your Environment

Quantified Self 2017

I ran this session and I knew with a brief skim through object media and perceptive media, Questions and thoughts would come from a very data literate crowd. I wasn’t wrong.

Lost of thoughts about the role of public in a media landscape which can be changed and modified. There was a lot of discussion about why and the true benefits of using personal data in storytelling. In retrospect I should have shown parts of my interview back in 2013: We research how personal data and storytelling can be combined.

Points were made about customization vs personalization; people felt that was a big difference and could be the cause for some backlash. There was also a feeling that they would want to know how much things are customized and why if interested. Also there was a sense negotiation was a key aspect in this all, something we are exploring with the Databox project. There was a sense you could try it with little data shared then decide to ramp it up later to see what difference it made to what you saw first time.

A interesting fact was mentioned that fruit machines can be skinned in as quick as 20seconds. This was mentioned when talking about customization of the reality around you. Which led to Minority Report discussions.

It was a positive discussion but lots of worries about how to tell stories with enough richness/depth to work with the diversity of personal data that may be shared or used.

End of the first day

There was lots of discussions following the smartphone experiment at the start of the day. A small list of good ways to stop being distracted by your smartphone started to emerge.

I used Quality Time and as said previously clocked up 2 checks and only 20secs of actual screen time. Some people ran into multiple hours.

Quantified Self 2017

This crossed with Aaron’s list deserves a blog of its own really… (coming soon – honestly!)

More than optimization (day 2)

Quantified Self 2017

The over optimization intrigued me on paper as there is always a dark sense of over quantification in the hope of perfection? I hadn’t really thought how it could be used in team sports to create personalize routines for each rugby team member instead of applying a routine to the team broad brush; it makes perfect sense right?

Session 5: Making money from your own data with Monetize.me

After meeting Monetize.me in the second session, I went along to a dedicated session. I think the plan for the session went slightly out the window but it was fruitful and it all came down to data negotiation. I did talk about the databox project and wondered how they hadn’t come across each other?

There was a lot of questions about how much is data actually worth? I pointed at Jennifer Moore and her position as the first personal limited company. I also mentioned how fresh/realtime is the data.

Of course this all lead to questions asking if you could treat all data the same? What about data discrimination and finally what are the business models which can emerge and what needs to change for it to be?

I also learned about Bitwalking which generates a crypto-currancy from the amount you walk.

Session 6: How to plan for data access with choosing a QS tool

Quantified Self 2017

I mentioned Aaron Parecki’s ignite talk earlier, and there was plenty more depth in his workshop. Aaron started out explaining the process he’s gone through with quantifying himself. He talked about the pain of data portability through broken devices and closed services. This all lead him to a checklist he uses.

  • How much effort is required?
  • How does it Sync?
  • What is the sustainability of the service/product?
  • What is the data portability options?
  • Whats the competition like?

Each point had a bunch of issues under them for example in how does it sync; breaks down to questions about centralized servers vs direct sync to a local computer/device. Sustainability was focused on business models of the likes of Apple, Google, Fitbit, Jawbone, etc. All very different and it all depends on the user which once they are comfortable they are with it (if everything is made transparent, and the user can make a real informed choice!). I talked about Gadgetbridge in connection with effort and syncing.

Hopefully Aaron will make his slides public (but this needs some more thought!)

Session 7: Self-Tracking for the Good of the World

With my public service hat on, I went along to Justin’s session. We explored some of the issues with the internet and I did say, we should be looking at the work Mozilla are doing around the internet health report, but we focused on other things.

One of those things was the packages; packages being things which are a mix of hardware, software and service. This was intriguing to me and got me thinking about opinionated software.

We talked about the public benefit of quantified health but there was a large conversation about how you compare data when the different black box devices can’t agree on a step actually is. This was when someone suggested some governance and that the Quantified Self site has a large number of devices/services/packages reviewed. Maybe there should be some kind of ranking system and clear indicator of different aspects of that thing (you could use Aaron Parecki’s indicators) . You can imagine the QS community making it clear what devices are to be avoided and best practices.

I tweeted Gary to say its time the Quantified Self got political.

Session 8: Quantified Self meetups

I drifted around a few sessions but settled on a session about the meetups, as the Manchester Quantified Self meetup stalled a little while ago. Last time I was at the conference I was inspired to setup a QS meetup. I’m still inspired to run the meetup but it was great to hear from those new and old to the meetups.

Sharing stories and hearing from Steven who is well known in Quantified Self circles was very useful. There was lots of questions about the choice of the format, use of meetup, etc. Steven pretty much said the Quantified Self will support any changes the organizers make. That would include format, event, description, etc changes.

Like Gary said at the start of the first day, things are always changing and they are flexible to these.

With this in mind, I have kicked off another Manchester Quantified Self with a different format.

The wrap ups

Quantified Self 2017

The last keynote talks were fascinating and centered around circular/cyclical time. The picture of the complexity of patterns summed up so much of it.

The people

The best thing about Quantified Self conference is the people, they are so amazing. No edge, just open and all so geeky. No matter where we were it was great conversations which spilled out from the many sessions I didn’t get a chance to attend.

Quantified Self 2017

On the first evening we started at the Casa balcony bar then had dinner at the Café-restaurant De Ysbreeker and ended up Canvas again. Love that place and its so weird seeing it become this incredible place now from the squat it use to be.

On the second night, we headed out in search of cocktails (theres a story behind this, which I never actually posted till now). We almost ended up at Prik and Blue boy which will make 3 people laugh. This time we ended up in a Amsterdam festival and then a speakeasy place called Door 74. Being a geeky quantifiers, we decided to hack friendship by trying the 36 questions in a group.

We didn’t get far, but I actually think it worked…

Quantified Self 2017

Another great time at the Quantified Self… So much learned so much to think and act on. If I have anything to do with it, I’ll be back next year for sure. Massive thanks to everyone who I bumped into over the 2 full days. It was emotional, fun and exciting all at the same time. Special thanks to the newbies who I spent a lot of time with.

Quantified Self 2017

The inner child in us all

The inner child in us all

Everytime I go to the Quantified Self Conference, I take away so much more than just knowledge. I will write up what I saw later

But we were in a bar after the conference and people got talking. The conversation turned to the 36 questions (yes those ones) and the answers were open, frank & refreshingly honest (what else would you expect from quantified selfers?). Later in the night, we all started digging into relationships at a much deeper level and the question was asked how people deal with arguements in relationships?

I mentioned the fact I like to buy hour glasses for wedding gifts, because from previous relationships; sometimes you just need a time out for a short while. Maybe enough to stop think, drop the ego, etc.

That was when someone (can’t rememeber her name) pointed me at the Burning Man exhibit above. My mind was blown. Its breathtaking and sums up so much about life and relationships. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, to be honest.

Alexander Milov's Burning Man 2015 scupture

I can’t quite explain the connection but when I saw it, it made me think about the Watchmen scene with the Nuclear Kiss. I’d say something about revealing the true self in a moment of intimacy or something?

Atomic Kiss from Watchmen movie

Decentralization, the people, power, money and the future of the internet

Mozfest 2016

I made reference to the decentralised web multiples times in the past but recently I posted a blog about it. I didnt want to say too much because I knew the Mozilla Festival was due to announce the call for participation.

This year things have changed quite a bit; this year its based around the Mozilla Internet health report.

I’m co-wrangling the decentralization space (note the Z not S, I tried but failed…), and of course I urge you all to check out the space narrative below.

the future is here
The year is 2027: Who owns the Internet?

In the dystopian version of 2027, the Internet is owned by a powerful few. Big tech corporations, select media companies and closed governments control the content on the Internet, the data that flows across the Internet and how people connect to the Internet. This dystopian future is closer than you may think.

On the flip side, what is the utopian version of the Internet in 2027? What future do we want to build? Where do emerging technologies like AI, mesh networking and Blockchain fit in? How do we ensure people are the most important part of the Internet?

Join us at Mozfest as we look into the future. Dystopian, utopian or somewhere in between—let’s explore the Internet of 2027.

Exciting eh? but you maybe thinking, well this doesn’t sound like something I’d be interested in applying for?

Think again… its likely that there is something you haven’t considered which is perfectly fitting for example…

  • Power (political or system) distribution
  • Devolution
  • P2P technology like WebRTC, Torrent, etc
  • IndieWeb
  • Sharing economics
  • Crowd funding
  • Democratizing power
  • Open data and apis
  • Robustness & Sustainability
  • Net neutrality
  • Emergence
  • Open alternatives
  • Networks of trust
  • Mesh networking
  • The co-operative movement
  • Networked intelligence
  • Federated systems

So what you waiting for?

Add your proposal to the already growing list of proposals.

See you Mozilla Festival 2017

Tristan Harris essay on attention hijacking and ever so dark patterns

Human attention is a scarce commodity

I heard about Tristan Harris through Time well spent which some people have been sharing a while ago. Kept meaning to read more about him and the essay he wrote. Its a excellent read and well worth reading. A few times while reading it, I wanted to annotate it some how. I know the w3C have finally sorted out the spec and I could do it via Diigo or even Wallabag if I wanted to; but sharing it seems to need more research on my part.

So instead I thought I’d half blog about it while copying the main points (once again you should read the whole thing yourself). Tristan has sectioned the points so I’ll copy that.

But I did want to say I find it interesting that Adrian Westaway from Special Projects and Tristan Harris are both magicians. The link between magic and design is a interesting one.

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices

Western Culture is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom. Millions of us fiercely defend our right to make “free” choices, while we ignore how we’re manipulated upstream by limited menus we didn’t choose.

This is exactly what magicians do. They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can’t emphasize how deep this insight is.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:

  • “what’s not on the menu?”
  • “why am I being given these options and not others?”
  • “do I know the menu provider’s goals?”
  • “is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelmingly array of toothpastes)

Absolutely, I do this a lot because I’m wondering how to break the system or hijack for my own needs. Usually when going to restaurants I need to hack it because I have so many allergies. If I didn’t hack it then I’d be pretty much dead.

I also find patterns quite interesting and can identify them quickly, so my tesco monthly shop will have every 2-3 months a deal on toilet rolls because I assume thats when they get the new stock in and need to shift some of the older ones. This funny example of understanding allows me to hack the system for my own needs.

I also tend to ignore all the recommendation stuff including the instant reply stuff I seen google has added to gmail. I also start to wonder more and more how this data is being mined to generate these results. Of course I got a big interest in big/linked data, data ethics and opinionated software.

Hijack #2: Put a Slot Machine In a Billion Pockets

One of the most tricky things I’ve seen many people try and deal with is not checking their phones and when they do, they do for what reason? To check out someone has liked something they have done. This comes straight out of the Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together.

If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine.

But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machineto see what notifications we got.

  • When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.
  • When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’replaying a slot machine to see what photo comes next.
  • When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.
  • When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

It takes some serious will to break away from the slot machines, especially when every once in a while it actually pays out (as such).

bThis is very much a dark pattern or dark art which drives a huge economy. Notifications like the breaking news banner on news sites tap right into the dopamine sender and the only way to break this is being more conscious. The truth is unsettling and we may not be able to easily change this without both sides being more aware/conscious of this all. Tristan points the finger at Google and Apple and yes they have responsibility but it can’t come from them alone.

Hijack #3: Fear of Missing Something Important (FOMSI)

Creating, inducing or manufacturing FOMO (fear of missing out) is pretty dark stuff.

Another way apps and websites hijack people’s minds is by inducing a “1% chance you could be missing something important.”

If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important:

  • This keeps us subscribed to newsletters even after they haven’t delivered recent benefits (“what if I miss a future announcement?”)
  • This keeps us “friended” to people with whom we haven’t spoke in ages (“what if I miss something important from them?”)
  • This keeps us swiping faces on dating apps, even when we haven’t even met up with anyone in a while (“what if I miss that one hot match who likes me?”
  • This keeps us using social media (“what if I miss that important news story or fall behind what my friends are talking about?”)

I personally don’t subscribe to a lot of things because I’m wary of the effect of FOMO. I also don’t follow a lot people on Twitter because I don’t use twitter in that way much to the annoyance of some of my friends and followers. I do have a lot of friend connections on Facebook but also don’t read the timeline (its not a timeline, rather a curated feed for you based on algorithms and what FB thinks you want, remember point 1 about what the provider wants out of the deal?)

My friend Jon Rogers left twitter saying I was right about twitter (I can’t find any trace of him on twitter too). I wish I could find the conversation/blog (which seems to be down), but I partly blamed the fact he was using the official twitter client which would do things which were not to the benefit of him in anyway. Similarly Oli who left FB and then joined again after feeling FOMO.

Final example is why I left Bumble; I recognised the pattern of FOMSI being manufactured by Bumble and decided I wasn’t interested in being involved. Its a shame because I liked the concept but it was ruined for me by this forced FOSMI.

Hijack #4: Social Approval

We’re all vulnerable to social approval. The need to belong, to be approved or appreciated by our peers is among the highest human motivations. But now our social approval is in the hands of tech companies (like when we’re tagged in a photo).

Social approval is massive and drives us to do things which we wouldn’t normally do if we stopped and thought. I’d add this mixed with FOMO are a pretty lethal combination.

I wish I could filter out the likes on FB which clutter up my notifications, the little hit of dopamine just isn’t worth it. But then again I also like to click like to almost give my approval. Maybe I should stop doing this? This would also stop helping out the FB algorithm with positive reactions, now that can’t be a bad thing?

Of course social approval goes way beyond the likes and into the scoring stuff which I have talked about before.

Hijack #5: Social Reciprocity (Tit-for-tat)

Now this one really bugs me… I understand reciprocity theory and how it can be hijacked to con/cheat people out of something they wouldn’t normally give. Influence is a great book which I’d highly recommend to everyone.

We are vulnerableto needing to reciprocate others’ gestures. But as with Social Approval, tech companies now manipulate how often we experience it.

In some cases, it’s by accident. Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories. But in other cases, companies exploit this vulnerability on purpose.

There was a period of time when the laws of social reciprocity seemed to dictate if you follow someone, you need to follow you back. This was rubbish of course, but pushed by twitters own system which encouraged you to follow back with one click. Twitter was a async follow but the service was changed to encourage something similar to a friend request later – most likely once the money became more important.

Of course Tristan is dead right about linkedin being a shocking example of this. I almost have to give them a award for their use of dark patterns to get you to do more within Linkedin.

orginal LinkedIn wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill) they have to come back through linkedin.com where they can get people to spend more time.

Like Facebook, LinkedIn exploits an asymmetry in perception. When you receive an invitation from someone to connect, you imagine that person making a conscious choice to invite you, when in reality, they likely unconsciously responded to LinkedIn’s list of suggested contacts. In other words, LinkedIn turns your unconscious impulses (to “add” a person) into new social obligations that millions of people feel obligated to repay. All while they profit from the time people spend doing it.

Hijack #6: Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay

Oh boy this winds me up big time, endless feeds. Its very similar to the all you can eat buffets. The quality of the things you are consuming are dubious at best and although you started out with something decent it suddenly drops in quality or go so far off the original purpose or reason.

Another way to hijack people is to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore.

How? Easy. Take an experience that was bounded and finite, and turn it into a bottomless flowthat keeps going.

Cornell professor Brian Wansink demonstrated this in his study showing you can trick people into keep eating soup by giving them a bottomless bowl that automatically refills as they eat. With bottomless bowls, people eat 73% more calories than those with normal bowls and underestimate how many calories they ate by 140 calories.

Tech companies exploit the same principle. News feeds are purposely designed to auto-refill with reasons to keep you scrolling, and purposely eliminate any reason for you to pause, reconsider or leave.

This is partly why I prefer to read RSS than get the endless supply of stuff from Google, etc. At least there is a bottom and you can see a number of unread items. With these news feeds, its endless and the quality or value of the content is dependent on the agenda or services current goals (that can be as simple as this advertiser wants to pay us lots of money).

Endless also sucks you into the world that its only available now/its temporary and next time you look it will be gone or different. This is why I use services like wallabag, pocket or even youtube watch it later. If its worth saving its worth spending some time on and not being rushed to the next thing. Yes its hard and there is a social pressure to have watched or read it quickly (skimmed) to keep up with the conversation. In fact coming back to something in twitter usually causes confusion if you come back to a post a few days later. This is why I tend to just blog it to give it context and the effort once I read it fully.

Endless scroll is becoming a bit of thing now too, similar to the swipe forever stuff. Don’t get me started about auto play video, which I have seen cause much problems with presentations in conferences; as you can imagine

Hijack #7: Instant Interruption vs. “Respectful” Delivery

Companies know that messages that interrupt people immediately are more persuasive at getting people to respond than messages delivered asynchronously (like email or any deferred inbox).

Given the choice, Facebook Messenger (or WhatsApp, WeChat or SnapChat for that matter) would prefer to design their messaging system tointerrupt recipients immediately (and show a chat box) instead of helping users respect each other’s attention.

In other words, interruption is good for business.

It’s also in their interest to heighten the feeling of urgency and social reciprocity. For example, Facebook automatically tells the sender when you “saw” their message, instead of letting you avoid disclosing whether you read it(“now that you know I’ve seen the message, I feel even more obligated to respond.”) By contrast, Apple more respectfully lets users toggle “Read Receipts” on or off.

I do generally avoid a lot of these instant messaging systems but even those I use have included this way (Gtalk, Wire and even Signal). If I can turn it off I do but I have observed how Facebook now throws up notification as a window above other stuff like a instant message. Lets not forget those horrible chat heads too.

Respectful delivery is getting rare and even when they are, you need to work at it. I feel quite lucky that I’m running Ubuntu as my host operating system which gives me complete control over the notifications but this doesn’t help when looking at a browser tab like Facebook, which wants to dominate (trust me this is the right word) the view. This is also another reason why I don’t have Facebook on my phones/tablets and why I limit messengers permissions.

Hijack #8: Bundling Your Reasons with Their Reasons

In the physical world of grocery stories, the #1 and #2 most popular reasons to visit are pharmacy refills and buying milk. But grocery stores want to maximize how much people buy, so they put the pharmacy and the milk at the back of the store.

In other words, they make the thing customers want (milk, pharmacy) inseparable from what the business wants. If stores were truly organized to support people, they would put the most popular items in the front.

This is bloody annoying and one of the reasons why a lot of apps dont really care or advertise direct links into parts of there systems. This is why I have to keep FB in a tab otherwise everytime I login, I would need to go via the news feed each time, a total waste of my time.

The whole point of the web is not having to go on a journey each time. Remember when you saw VR shopping malls and thought wtf? Well thats pretty much the same coming back to haunt us all, for whose benefit? Certainly not yours!

Hijack #9: Inconvenient Choices

This is a recurring dark pattern, the roach motel.

We’re told that it’s enough for businesses to “make choices available.”

“If you don’t like it you can always use a different product.”
“If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.”
“If you’re addicted to our app, you can always uninstall it from your phone.”

Businesses naturally want to make the choices they want you to make easier, and the choices they don’t want you to make harder. Magicians do the same thing. You make it easier for a spectator to pick the thing you want them to pick, and harder to pick the thing you don’t.

For example, NYTimes.com let’s you “make a free choice” to cancel your digital subscription. But instead of just doing it when you hit “Cancel Subscription,” they force you to call a phone number that’s only open at certain times.

Hijack #10: Forecasting Errors, “Foot in the Door” strategies

People don’t intuitively forecast the true cost of a click when it’s presented to them. Sales people use “foot in the door” techniques by asking for a small innocuous request to begin with (“just one click”), and escalating from there (“why don’t you stay awhile?”). Virtually all engagement websites use this trick. Imagine if web browsers and smartphones, the gateways through which people make these choices, were truly watching out for people and helped them forecast the consequences of clicks (based on real data about what it actually costs most people?). That’s why I add “Estimated reading time” to the top of my posts. When you put the “true cost” of a choice in front of people, you’re treating your users or audience with dignity and respect.
This is tied to so many of the things said previously. One of the useful things I found is the putting things into wallabag and pocket is I can manager my own time; and not be forced into making a poor decision under time pressure
The Hurrah – A sudden crisis or change of events forces the victim to act immediately.
Its clear most humans do not make good decisions under pressure and scammers, con-artists, the systems we use know this too well.

There is so much more to discuss including the how to fix this all… but thats for another blog post…

Someday all content will be made this way…

Lego Bricks

This is adapted from the BBC R&D blog post, but I felt it was important enough to repost on my own blog.

Object-based media (OBM) is something that BBC R&D has been working on for quite some-time. OBM underpins many media experiences including the one I keep banging on about, perceptive media.

I’ve spoken to thousands of producers, creators and developers across Europe about object-based work and the experiences. Through those discussions it’s become clear that people have many questions, there has been confusion about what OBM is, and other people would like to know how to get involved themselves.

So because of this… BBC R&D started a community of practice because we really do believe “Someday all content will be made this way.”

A community of practice brings together people and companies who are already working in the adaptive narrative field. BBC R&D do believe that the object-based approach is the key to content creation of the future, one which uses the attributes of the internet to let us all make more personal, interactive, responsive content and by learning together we can turn it into something which powers media beyond the scope of the BBC.

There are three big aims for the community of practice…

  • Awareness: Seek out people and organisations already interested in or working on adaptive narratives through talks, workshops and conferences
  • Advocacy: demonstrating best practice in our work and methods as we explore object-based media and connecting people through networks like the Storytellers United slack channel and helping share perspectives and knowledge..
  • Access: Early access to emerging software tools, to trial and shape the new technology together.

These aims are hugely important for the success and progress of object-based media.

As a start, we’re running a few events around the UK, because conferences are great but sometimes you just want to ask questions to someone and get a better sense of what and why. Our current plan is linked on the BBC R&D post which is being update by myself everytime a new event is made live.

10 years of Thinking Digital, still going strong

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017

Its kind of crazy that Thinking Digital is 10 years old now. I still remember meeting Herb Kim for the first time at a BBC Innovation labs event. He convinced Adrian to take 5mins and talk about coming back from TED global and wanting to create a conference with similar outlook in Newcastle. Yes! yes, I laughed at him but later did say if he gets it off the ground I will support him in anyway I can. That was over 10 years ago and the first Thinking Digital happened in 2007 and was amazing (such a shame I didn’t write about it).

10 Years later, its still an amazing conference, attracting more and more new people all the way to Gateshead/Newcastle. Every year people ask what am I looking forward to? and every year I pretty much say I haven’t even looked at the schedule, as I just know Herb has created a exciting and diverse line-up. My trust in the conference and Herb is super high and he never lets me down.

As per the last 8 years, heres my personal highlights of the conference, but honestly every speaker was great including Tom Scott, Dan Biddle, Darren Jobling and Adrian Westaway.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Simon Singh

I was aware of Simon previously but I found his geeky interest in mathematics pretty exciting and intriguing. I’m much more likely to keep an eye out for those cryptic mathematical equations now more than ever.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Richard Wiseman

Richard is another one of those figures I’ve heard of but never really checked out. He was also a great follow after Adrian Westaway’s magic + design (which only missed out from my favorites because I heard Clara talk in Manchester and spent some time getting to know the amazing Special Projects, still love to work with them on Perceptive Media). Richard broke down magic tricks and focused on our (lack) attention.

Really nicely done and ever so funny too! Certainly someone to watch out for in the future.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Mike Mullen

Fintech is something i’m less interested in but since using Monzo, started to get more interested in. Mike is the CEO of Atombank and his talk was actually really engaging. The story of how he moved from CEO of First Direct wasn’t fully explained but how he got started again and facing new challenges was fascinating. He described banking as a Rules based industry and talked about how the pace of change is based on who’s got the money; which currently is older people but thats changing which changes the dynamic of banking. Also found his idea of killing customers to see how much they are willing to put up with (think RyanAir) interesting. Such a good talk to kick start the conference too!

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017John Kershaw

What can I say about John, which I haven’t already said?

He finally revealed the full story of what happened with Dragons Den as he did in this blog post. He also revealed quite a bit about TV production generally. To be fair most of it was, “yeah and…?” to me but for most people the shine of TV production is a bubble they haven’t ever seen inside of. As Debra said, John is a highly invest-able guy with plenty of good ideas and I’m expecting some great things in the near future.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Dr Justin Sanchez

Justin works for DARPA and is focused on Human brain interfaces. Something which gets talked about quite a bit especially since the debate around machine learning has matured quite a bit. Justin talked a lot about Direct brain interfaces and the benefits to restore memories and provide benefits beyond imagination.

All I kept thinking was about the ethicals of all this stuff, surely DARPA are somewhere along the line interested in using this as a weapon or defense? Justin did well to positioned DARPA as doing impactful things like kick starting the ARPnet which the internet was built on.

Although I wasn’t totally convinced, its hard to think about tapping into the CNS and PNS without thinking about films like the Matrix, Existenz and the Black Mirror S3ep2 Playtest. While Justin talked people on twitter mentioned Inception, especially when he talked about architecting spaces. Funny because the pasivdevice in inception is military (think Department of Defense? not DARPA?).

That’s why the military developed dream sharing-a training program where soldiers could strangle, stab and shoot each other, then wake up.

Plenty to think about!

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Dr Anita Sengupta

There little I can say about this talk except wow!

I knew landing on Mars and exploring it was extremely difficult but Anita explained the whole life-cycle of the work and basically there wasn’t single persons mind which wasn’t blown at the end.

Simply incredible and great to hear the facts behind the headlines…

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Sophie Bostock

Very fitting talk as it was recently mental health awareness week. Sophie talked about mental health through the lens of sleeping and pretty much the quantified self, although she never actually said those words. She talked about sleeping apps and CBT – Cognitive behavioral therapy as a service you can access anywhere from your phone via a app. Which brought up the credibility question.

Don’t worry she said, these apps are about to be rated/checked in the same way medicine is. So hopefully removing the crap from the good. She did mention other metrics such as cost and accessibility but never the data ethics worry I have with all these things.

Good talk which raises plenty more questions… Unfortunately I never quite got time to grab Sophie or get her details.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Chris Turner

Chris a goofy white guy who raps about anything and everything was amazing. He came out rapping after Imogen and instantly got the audience going. After rapping and talking about the key rules for rapping, he then asked the audience to pull things out their bag and rap about them in one continuous stream. The rules Chris talked about were the same for improvisation really.

Stay in the moment, don’t over think things and don’t worry about it.

It also reminded me of my new years resolution to take a improvisation class. Forge about rapping in the shower, which Chris recommended; I need to make this happen for sure!

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017Imogen Heap

Up till the conference I had no idea who Imogen Heap was. I gather she was involved in the music business but her interests in digital technology were pretty deep.

Imogen has a big interest in changing the business of music by taking advantage of decentralised systems like blockchain and the concept of smart contracts. She talked bout how everybody talks about this being a golden age for music listening, but is the true of music creation?

I instantly started thinking there are so many connections with the work I’m doing around decentralisation (blockchain for music use/rent/buying), object based media (huge amounts of metadata which isn’t included in music) and dj hackday (music metadata affecting the world around you/quantifed club style). This was further confirmed when I bought a ticket to her cellia event after the conference.

Although there was lots of technical problems, the points were made and the 42 city tour of the world next year sounds very interesting. Plus her performance was actually musically good. While Adam Stark & Imogen talked about the glove technology, I looked it up hoping it would be a open source project. Although it isn’t, its funded by UWE, Innovate UK and others; putting it in the field of academia. I wouldn’t be surprised if theres a push to open source a part of it alongside selling the actual gloves in the future?

Once again if it wasn’t for Thinking Digital, I likely would never known about Imogen and some of the cross over in thoughts and ideas.

Sarah Raad – The Gratitude Habit workshop

Sarah Raad

Sometimes you meet someone and the connection around ideas and view on life are perfectly matched. This was Sarah.

Sarah who is an amazing woman runs a marketing company called Tent has a side hustle called Simple happy life

The idea is simple (pun-intended). Learn to have a gratitude habit by being grateful for the things you have right now. Ideally you would write these down or share them in some way.

Of course it sounds too simple (pun again) but Sarah pulled up many scientific research leading to the same conclusion that a gratitude habit can really be the building block for a more fore-filling life.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017

The first exercise was to get to know each other by saying who you were, why you were there and say why you were grateful for the picked topic out of gratitude jar. I picked by random friendship which I had plenty to say. Interestingly as I heard other people talk, it was fascinating to hear how open or closed they were with their thoughts.

Of course I’m quite open with most of my thoughts. Without really thinking about it, I was practicing some of the gratitude habit already. I also remember a thinking digital workshop I went to the year after leaving hospital from Bobby at the now gone Happiest. Of course one of the happiest items for a happy life was Gratitude.

During the workshop, it was clear to me that some of the exercises although very/quite private needed that wider interaction to make them really sink in (in my honest opinion); but its very hard to do this unless its a safe & comfortable environment. Very hard to do during a workshop in a office. This is something me and Sarah discussed after the workshop in a cafe afterwards and during the TDC dinner later. I remember also trying to recite bobby’s quote about negative thoughts.

We have roughly 60,000 thoughts a day and 95% of them are the same as yesterday and 80% of those are negative in nature.

We talked a lot and it was refreshing to have quite deep and I guess some would say intimate conversation about life, politics, happiness and the world. Lots was shared and I feel extremely gratitude to have met Sarah.

Thinking Digital Newcastle 2017

Thinking Digital once again is such an incredible conference and I’m very grateful to be there and gained so much out of a conference which I originally scoffed at… Here’s the next 10 years!? Herb?

Decentralise or Decentralize this and everything?

Silicon Valley season 4

Decentralise or Decentralize that is always a question I have… Of course being British, the first one is correct (I joke!)

Its fair to say I have been thinking about decentralisation quite a lot recently, but its not the first time. Conversations with Adewale has always got me thinking about this all.

Partly due to Mozfest/Mozretreat this year and thinking about it in terms of power structures; which I’ll explain more in another blog post soon. But I found a number of interesting points about decentralisation which I thought I’d share….

I’ve been thinking about the differences between Centralised, Decentralisation, Distributed and Federated; as I joined Mastodon and thought a lot about Jabber, Status.net and Laconica. Can the user the experience be better than the centralised services? Theres potential but is the will there?

Kevin Marks shared a link to a piece about Silicon Valley series 4 and how the main character Richard is interested in building a more decentralised internet.

In the first episode of the new season (Season 4) of HBO’s Silicon Valley, beleaguered entrepreneur Richard Hendricks, asked by eccentric venture capitalist Russ Hanneman, what, given unlimited time and resources, he would want to build.

“A new Internet,” says Hendricks.

“Why?” asks Hanneman.

Hendricks babbles about telescopes and the moon landing and calculators and the massive computing power in phones today, and says: “What if we used all those phones to build a massive network?… We use my compression algorithm to make everything small and efficient, to move things around…. If we could do it, we could build a completely decentralized version of our current Internet with no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word.”

Hel-lo! Decentralized Internet? That’s a concept I’ve heard bubbling around the tech world for a while now, but not so much in the consciousness of the general public. Is HBO’s Silicon Valley about to take the push for a Decentralized Web mainstream?

Of course decentralisation isn’t a panacea and shifting the power from a centralised power comes with roles and lots more responsibility. It also relies on correctly informed citizens. This is why the distributed and federated models are much more interesting in my mind…

A couple people mentioned Brexit is a type of decentraisation, and I guess it is but further encourages thoughts about distributed and federated. Manchester recently got its first Mayor because of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 which is a type of decentralisation I guess.

Its clear the internet could do with less centralisation but unless its as good or better a experience for people; why would they switch? That warm fuzzy feeling is powerful but not strong enough, you only have to look at the wake of decentralised social networks to see evidence of this.

People’s enthusiasm for federated decentralised $WHATEVER seems inversely proportional to the practicality of their plan for achieving it

And thats just the developers, goodness knows what the users enthusiasm levels are like? Surely one day it will just work and users won’t even know its been built that way.

Dare I mention my thoughts about distributed online dating? Imagine that!

Paul Revere Williams architect to many

Some of Paul Williams architecture in LA

I was listening to 99 percent invisible’s latest podcast episode about Paul Williams, the famous architect who was never really mentioned or credited in history. His story is quite incredible to hear from many different points of view.

It’s hard to say exactly what motivated Williams to pursue architecture. He didn’t know of any other architects as he was growing up, and didn’t really know that architecture was a profession. He did have a natural talent for drawing, and then somehow decided that this was the job for him.

Hudson says that her grandfather’s high school guidance counselor advised him not to pursue architecture, telling him “he should not try to be an architect. He should be a doctor or a lawyer because black people would always need doctors and lawyers. And white people would not hire him as an architect and black people couldn’t afford him.” Still Williams refused to let go of this ambition.

I always wondered what would have happened if I pursued architecture too, I was put off by 7 years of college, although 6 years of design focused education wasn’t far off.

…some clients were taken aback when they first met Williams — people who “came because they may have read about him,” Karen Hudson explains, “but didn’t realize he was black.” They weren’t sure whether to sit next to him or even whether to shake his hand. To put them at ease, Williams would keep his distance, sitting across the table from them, and as he asked them what they wanted in their home,  he would draw preliminary sketches upside down, so they could see their vision evolve as he drew. This helped put them at ease but was also just impressive in itself.

I have gotten this a few times in the past, mainly before you could look me up online. The name Paul Williams and even Ian Forrester could be anyone but I guess unconscious bias makes people think white males?

The distance thing is also something I’m very aware of… as a black man. Being able to draw upside down is super impressive and I imagine he had a lot of practice.

Williams wasn’t the first or only architect to draw upside down, but his consistent use of this skill illustrates the lengths he went to accommodate his white clients. He dressed impeccably, worked tirelessly, and tried to excel in all respects, simply to be accepted.

Enough said, but sadly…

Despite his vast volume of work (and being the first black member of the American Institute of Architects) Williams has remained relatively unknown, at least until recently. “Every black architect I know is familiar with Williams,” say Phil Freelon. “And I haven’t met a white architect yet who knew who I was talking about if I were to mention that name. And we need to change that.” This is why Freelon nominated Williams for the AIA’s highest individual award: the Gold Medal.

This is basically the award that welcomes an architect into the cannon of all-time greats. Past winners include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Thomas Jefferson. Now, 37 years after his death, Paul Williams will officially join their ranks.

This award means a lot to Freelon and other African American architects in terms of general visibility. “There are very few African American architects working in this country, relatively speaking,” says Freelon. Just “2% of licensed architects in this country are black. And one of the ways you would want to combat that is to raise the visibility. [You] make sure people know this is a great profession and that young people see it as a possibility and as an option for them.”

Hopefully blogging this will encourage people to listen or read the transcript. Its a short story with lots of interesting links and discussion.


Barbican’s black mirror exhibit

Black Mirror s1 ep 2: 15 million Merits

Interesting news recently, that London Barbican will be opening a exhibit around Black mirror episode S1 ep2: 15 million merits

I’ll be personally interested to see how far down the perceptive media (or as I use to call it intrusive TV) route they go? Also be interested to see if they use the chance to educate the public about data ethics and the value of data like the science museum have done.

How does look Ubuntu without convergence unity?

Ubuntu Convergence

Mark Shutterworth announced today that Unity the default desktop enviornment which comes with Ubuntu will no longer be developed. It was based on the concept of convergence which to be fair was a good idea.

I personally didn’t really like Unity for desktops and never really got to play with Unity on a smartphone or tablet. I needed to make a lot of changes to make it more useable although I did find it slightly quicker than Gnome Shell under Ubuntu. But Gnome shell is just great to use for many reasons including its many extensions and lack of clutter is just right.

The bigger news is the concept of convergence seems to be under some doubt too, which I assume puts Ubuntu phone, tablet and tv at some risk? Weirdly enough just like the Boot2Geko/Firefox phone project?

In the meanwhile, for those thinking this is the end of Ubuntu… they are very wrong.

GnomeShell is one of many including KDE and more…

My highlights of TedxManchester 2017

TedXManchester 2017

I had the joy of being one of many in the main theatre in Home for TedXManchester 2017 (number 5 I believe?). Once again arranged and produced by the incredible serial successful event organiser Herb Kim and the thinking digital team, with a varied range of people plucked for their interesting stories, projects or surrounding concepts. I got my ticket late because the first lot sold out in under an hour! But I was very lucky and looked forward to the line up without really looking into each speaker.

Of course last year was special to me, as I took to the stage to tell the tales of dating in the new millenium with dating against humanity. But it’s always interesting to sit in the crowd and experience the whole thing as an audience member.

The whole event was good but here are the talks which really stood out for me.

Mr Bingo

TedXManchester 2017

I had no idea who Mr Bingo was or what he had done, till he took the stage. He is just a funny guy who does funny things with analogue media; like drawing extremely rude things on cards and posting it to people who request them. I mean he’s trolling them but only because they requested to be trolled. Sounds like self abuse almost?

Its weird but I thought the whole thing was hysterical. I took a shot of one of his cards and been getting a little attention for it, can’t think why? (pleads innocence but of course I know why!)

Sophie Scott

TedXManchester 2017

There was a host of things Sophie said which was fascinating, but the bit which stuck for me was the detail about our attention and our voice. She told us when we talk our brain turns off the listening part. I’m sure this isn’t strictly true but an interesting thought, specially when thinking about how we hate hearing our own voices and why certainly people tend not to realise others are making points too.

She then went on to suggest our voices are wired for much more than just communication, using beatboxing as the ideal example of our voices as instruments.

Lots to take away and well delivered…

Jennifer Arcuri

TedXManchester 2017

There is little I can say about Jennifer which I haven’t already said about her at the last Thinking Digital Manchester. She talked passionately about hacker culture and how important knowledge was in the internet connected world we inhabit. Always a pleasure and wish I could make it to the first HackerHouse/Madlab course in March.

Jonathan Kay

TedXManchester 2017

Jonathan was a weird one and divided people from what I heard in the break later. He started his talk/act at the back of the stalls by heckling Herb as he gave his introduction. Then moved forward to the stage followed by a remote camera person, so people in the upper levels could see what on earth was going on.

His aim of the act was to get the audience to speak to each other and heck even touch each other (I know shock horror!). Ok at one point he did suggest kissing the person next to us but that didn’t go down so well. It was entertaining and the bigger point of actually talking to the people around us, wasn’t lost on myself and others.

What really brough the whole thing home to me, was the fact a friend sat in the seat next to me was feeling extremely uncomfortable about the act and wondered if someone would be picked out of the audience; because that would be terrifying. Thinking back to Carrie Green in TedxManchester3 and I said would it be so bad?

I think the point was made…

Helen Czerski

TedXManchester 2017

I have heard Helen a few times at previous Thinking Digital’s and honestly every time I hear her talk, she just oozes wonder and excitement for science and the universe. You can’t help but feel excited when she talks. Always enlightening and always reignited my interest in sciences.

Michelle McGagh

TedXManchester 2017

I don’t know what to say about Michelle, except wow and wtf! basically Michelle decided not to buy anything for a year. She did point out buy nothing day which is the same day as black friday; but one day is easy right? Why not spend nothing year?

This really got me going because she made very good points about our quick fix consumer culture and the logical conclusion of this all. But unlike the a preachy lecture about how bad we all were, she put herself through a year of trying to live it.

The results were funny and sometimes tragic. I’m not very frugal at all but I typically don’t spend much money on buying stuff. Tend to spend more on experiences and doing things. But recently I made the decision that if was getting old or causing too much effort to keep it going, I should trade it in earlier than later. I’ve spent too much time, fighting to keep things going when I should have just got rid of it and moved on.

So to hear someone actively trying to not to spend anything, and not because she couldn’t afford it – was a little shocking. The full extend of her frugaleness was quite something and reminded me of when I left the hospital almost 7 years ago and seeing my bank balance, because I simply had not spent a single penny except paid my usual bills etc; It was amazing… Maybe there was something to it, I thought as she left the stage.

Andy Burnham

TedXManchester 2017

It was a surprise to see Andy Burnham on the TEDx line up, knowing how TED doesn’t like politic talks, but I have to say although he spoke with passion and made some good points. I couldn’t help but feel the us and them argument a little too simplistic. Centralised power does have a tendencancy to turn corrupt but there is also some good things about it too. If I was talking to Andy directly, I would point to examples like the states, where each state can pretty much set their own rules but the united states system can over rule them; and in some cases thank goodness otherwise slavery, marital rape, etc would still be enforced (although then you get crap like the bathroom nonsense, with the centralised power making backwards decisions).

I also think Andy a few times pointed the finger at the south vs the north, when what he really meant is the country vs westminster. Anyway it was interesting and good to hear, even if I’m not certain on everything said.

Dan Machen

TedXManchester 2017

I liked Dan’s talk, it was a number of things I’ve been thinking a lot about. Attention and Intimacy. I was surprised he never mentioned Sherry Turkle but the quote from William Bernbach was a good place to hand a lot of thoughts. I had never actually checked out Tristan harris, but after Dan’s talk I had a deeper look at him.

Very interesting stuff which I agree about quite a bit (expect a longer blog about him soon). I’ve also been thinking about people not platforms, putting more emphasis on human time and less on productivity. It’s all very interesting in the face of machine learning and AI; I can feel the quantified self/movement (they are quite different) right in the middle of all this, along with data ethics.

Back back to Dan’s talk, I did find the point about the smartphone being a hammer and would we take our hammer out in a meeting? Put it on the table? Interesting… To be fair when he talked about it, I did picture the business card scene from American Psycho, when he mentioned the hammer on the table.

Lots to take away and think about…

TedXManchester 2017

Of course there was plenty more good talks including Isaiah HullVolker HirschSquirrel NationTash Willcocks and Ukebox; which made the ukulele actually interesting. The only one I didn’t enjoy was Nic Cary from Blockchain, which actually has made me want to move my bitcoins from my blockchain wallet to somewhere else. I was actually thinking maybe its time to have my own personal offline wallet?

Another TEDxManchester with plenty to think about and another high bar for TEDx’s to try to achieve, well done to everyone involved.

The dyslexic success which is IKEA


It was Zoe who pointed me at the secret taxonomy behind IKEA’s product names. I always knew there was something behind the product names but had no idea it was all the idea of a dyslexic man thinking about the world and where things fit within it.

Bookcases are named after professional occupations (Expedit means shop keeper) or boys’ names (The bestselling Billy bookcase is named after IKEA employee Billy Likjedhal). Outdoor furniture is named after Scandinavian islands (Äpplarö an island in the Stockholm archipelago and Västerön is in Aaland). Rugs are named after cities and towns in Denmark or Sweden (Ådum, Stockholm, Silkeborg), while bed sheets, comforters and pillowcases are named after flowers and plants. (Häxört or circaea lutetian is an herb in the primrose family).

The rules for naming were devised by IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad, who struggled with dyslexia and had trouble remembering the order of numbers in item codes.

This lead me to find out more about Ingvar who I knew had a checkered background, especially with the Nazis.

I didn’t know he was dyslexic but this strikes such a cord.

One day, it is reported that Ingvar Kamprad overheard one his draughtsman (a kind of designer or engineer) named Gillis Lundgren. The man had difficulties fitting a table into a transport. After many unsuccessful trials he shouted out loud: “Oh God! Let’s pull off the legs and put them underneath!” Ingvar Kamprad understood that his employee was correct in his assessment of the situation. Moreover Kamprad understood the potential of this remark.

Soon afterwards IKEA introduced new product lines of furniture which were designed to be sold unassembled. In this way the cost for manufacturing (no more assembly) and logistics (standard transport costs due to optimized measures) could be reduced significantly.

Great insight, which started a great business… Should have known


Dyslexics thriving in the workplace

Reading the Dyslexic Advantage
Quite a few people have said good things to me since I posted about reading the dyslexic advantage. On Saturday I finished the whole book and although there are so many great sections the last one had so much to talk/blog about

The last section which is all about work, and so very fitting…

For individuals with dyslexia, good-fitting jobs have several common features. First, they engage strengths and avoid weaknesses. As we’ve discussed, many individuals with dyslexia excel in big-picture reasoning, or the ability to see the overall features, “contours,” or implications of objects or ideas. The occupation or position in which they best display this ability depends upon which MIND strengths they possess, but as a general rule, jobs that fit individuals with dyslexia well stress problem solving, troubleshooting, fixing things, coming up with new ideas, thinking about what’s missing or not being addressed, or telling stories (e.g., sales, counseling, coaching, advertising, entrepreneurship).
In contrast, individuals with dyslexia often struggle with fine-detail processing, mastering routine procedures to the point of automaticity, or rote memory. As a result, they often find that jobs that stress repetition, efficiency, consistency, attention to details, use of procedures, application of fixed rules, or routine processing tasks (especially clerical tasks that involve the manipulation and use of written symbols) are a poor fit.

I can’t tell you the cognitive pain of repetition, I find it super uncomfortable and far prefer the new and unknown. My mind wonders and before long I’m innovating my way out of doing the task as is. Better way to spend my cognitive surplus?

After choosing a job that seems to be a good fit, individuals with dyslexia should work hard to optimize that job environment by being proactive in pursuing opportunities, self-advocating with supervisors and co-workers, building partnerships, pursuing leadership opportunities, and using technologies to maximize their productivity.
Many individuals with dyslexia are especially good at spotting opportunities that others have missed and then aggressively and proactively taking advantage of those opportunities. Professor Julie Logan cited this ability as one of the most common characteristics she’s observed in the dyslexic entrepreneurs she’s studied.
We’ve also observed this ability in many of the individuals with dyslexia we’ve interviewed—and not just in business. Astrophysicist Matt Schneps told us, “One thing I’m very proud of is that I’m very good at taking advantage of opportunities. If I see something I think is useful for me, I think about how I can make the most of it and take advantage of that.” Because of this ability (and strong self-advocacy skills like those we’ll discuss later), Matt has been able to enjoy four entirely different careers over the past thirty years, all with the same employer.

Making and taking those opportunities is a big thing, which I’m certainly hard-wired for. Most people take and give out business cards as a brush off but I take them seriously. I do like to meet or follow up, see if theres a chance for collaboration. I’m also generally interested in the person and if I can connect them with someone else I might know.

A second key feature of jobs that fit individuals with dyslexia well is that they engage interests. While everyone works better on tasks they find interesting and enjoyable, individuals with dyslexia are often especially dependent upon interest to produce their best efforts. In contrast, when tasks fail to engage their interest, they often struggle to perform well and remain focused. This is largely because many of the rote or automatic skills needed to perform routine tasks require more focused attention for individuals with dyslexia. This need for heightened attention can be difficult to sustain unless there are things about the job that are especially interesting. When work heightens interest and mood, dyslexics typically respond with greater creativity and performance.

Absolutely, like most people I assume but I guess I actively find my mind drifting away to more interesting things. Focus is difficult when not in my wider area of interest. I mean I’m curious about lots of things, so its really got to be something poor/bad for me.

A third key feature of jobs that fit individuals with dyslexia well is that they focus on results rather than on methods. Many of our interviewees mentioned that they often perform tasks in unconventional ways—frequently of their own devising. For example, more than half told us that they solved math problems differently from how they were taught by using unconventional methods that made more sense to them.

This is something I’ve known for a long while, I can’t help but find alternative ways to do things. This is why if you tell me a task without the bigger context/picture I find it frustrating as hell. I’m always thinking about the final impact not the individual steps to get there. Those are just details to me. Reminds me of Do you have humility, a sense of craft and can you hustle?

Jobs that allow flexibility can open the door to success for dyslexics. It’s often while devising new methods for routine tasks that dyslexics come up with innovative approaches that save time, effort, and expense and improve outcomes for everyone.
There is evidence that this kind of flexibility is often more easily found in positions very near the top or the bottom of the structures of large organizations but in shorter supply in the middle. Professor Julie Logan has found that although many large corporations have CEOs with dyslexia, fewer than 1 percent of middle managers in such firms are dyslexic.

Now this is very interesting detail… Be interesting to look into the stats for the BBC via the BBC’s Neurodiversity project.

Some large companies, like his former employer Intel, manage to maintain their flexible attitudes despite their size. Douglas Merrill also told us that supporting this diversity in thinking styles was one of his primary goals as chief information officer at Google. Douglas worked hard to give employees the greatest possible flexibility in choosing the work habits and technologies that allowed them to be their most productive. When a company shows this kind of flexibility, it’s likely to be a good fit for individuals with dyslexia. Of course, there’s no employer that can provide more flexibility than oneself, which is one reason why so many dyslexics start their own businesses.

And theres a long long list of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs. Interestingly the guardian piece pretty much says the same thing as I read in the dyslexic advantage.

Its a great book, I do wish it was more dyslexic friendly to read but the content is certainly incredible.

Reading the dyslexic advantage at last

The Dyslexic Advantage
At long last I started reading or rather listening to The dyslexic advantage. I’m totally blown away by what I’ve been reading. I mean I knew most of this but the science behind it and how it can be a super power; has literally shocked and moved me. I have written about my own dyslexic a few times including in everyday life, in the media and my thoughts about how it may affects relationships.

From the very start the book sets its agenda, to look at dyslexia strengths and less about its weaknesses…

Most books on dyslexia focus on problems with reading and spelling. While these problems are extremely important, they’re not the only—or even the most important—things that individuals with dyslexia find critical for their growth, learning, and success.
As experts in neuroscience and learning disabilities, we’ve worked with hundreds of individuals with dyslexia and their families. In the process we’ve found that individuals with dyslexia often share a broad range of important cognitive features. Some of these features are learning or processing challenges—like difficulties with reading and spelling, rote math, working memory, or visual and auditory function. But others are important strengths, abilities, and talents; gifts we call the dyslexic advantage. While these features differ somewhat from person to person, they also form recognizable patterns—just as the different musical works of Mozart are distinguishable yet recognizably the work of the same composer.

Theres many paragraphs but I wanted to share some of the key ones I’ve read so far. The whole book focuses on M.I.N.D strengths, which are the 4 key strengths dyslexics share or in parts.

I personally have a strong amount of all 4. They are not saying its only dyslexics which have them but much more likely and much more strongly. Think of them like the Big 5 personality traits rather than Myers-Briggs types.

  • M-Strength for Material Reasoning, which is primarily reasoning about the position, form, and movement of objects 3D space
  • I-Strengths for Interconnected Reasoning, which is primarily the ability to spot, understand, and reason about connections and relationships (e.g., analogies, metaphors, systems, patterns)
  • N-Strengths for Narrative Reasoning, which is primarily the ability to reason using fragments of memory formed from past personal experience (i.e., using cases, examples, and simulations rather than abstract reasoning from principles)
  • D-Strengths for Dynamic Reasoning, which is the ability to accurately predict using patterns derived through experience the future or the unwitnessed past

The I, N & D Strengths are very much a key part of me (M too, but maybe a little less so). I always seen the world in one massively connected ecosystem. Everything is connected and its hard trying to explain to others how it all meshes together.

Patterns are observed and seem to stick in my mind. They seem to exist as a narrative or at least are stronger as narrative. This is extremely useful when finding my way places again unfolds as a narrative rather than a map or directions.

For dyslexic brains, excellent function typically means traits like the ability to see the gist or essence of things or to spot the larger context behind a given situation or idea; multidimensionality of perspective; the ability to see new, unusual, or distant connections; inferential reasoning and ambiguity detection; the ability to recombine things in novel ways and a general inventiveness; and greater mindfulness and intentionality during tasks that others take for granted.
Nondyslexic brains often excel at applying rules and procedures in an expert and efficient manner. Dyslexic brains often excel at finding “best fits” or at ad hoc problem solving.

I hadn’t really thought about it this way but makes so much sense. Maybe this is why Art just makes sense for me. Its also clear a gist, conversation, sentence or just a word can spring tons of connected thoughts. For example the idea of “local evil” which was a title for a event had my mind cycling for weeks.

The cluetrain manifesto is another example, from the 95 rules I could almost tell the thesis as a complete narrative without reading any of them. My favourite being #7 Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

The power of Interconnected reasoning lies in its ability to link all of an individual’s knowledge, ideas, and mental approaches into an integrated conceptual matrix. This integrated matrix is incredibly powerful because it allows objects of thought to be approached from many different angles, levels, and perspectives, so they can be seen in new ways, related to other phenomena, and understood in a larger context. The three core skills, or I-strengths, that help form this conceptual matrix are the abilities to detect relationships between different objects of thought, the ability to shift perspectives or approaches, and the ability to reason using a global or top-down perspective.

Can’t tell you how useful this is, its sometimes hard when explaining to others different angles or the bigger picture. Maybe this is why the end of interstellar just made such sense and I actually use it in a few presentations.

Variations not versions
While talking about D-strengths and the incredible power of insight, this point was made.

“Given a problem and an hour to solve it, we typically spend the first three minutes intuiting the answer, then spend the other fifty-seven backtracking . . . to check our results through data collection and deductive logic.” According to Sarah, this intuitive approach “functions in leaps rather than by neatly ratcheting intervals” and is “less lineal than iterative or circular.”
This intuitive approach—used very heavily by individuals with dyslexia who excel in Dynamic and Narrative reasoning—can be very powerful, but it does present a problem: when viewed from the outside it can look an awful lot like goofing off.

Absolutely… Its always painful to backtrack and explain the leaps in thinking. I know its a important part of the scientific process but it doesn’t stop it being not the way our minds are wired.

To be honest, I felt like its not just the education system which is trying to kick this out of us but also society. Partly if you look at the systems which surround us and who is writing them.

One day at work she was standing by her office window staring serenely out at the mountains while trying to let her mind “ease itself around a problem.” Her CFO walked by her door, looked in, and saw one of “his people” staring out the window, so he snapped at her to get back to work. Sarah calmly replied, “You work in your way, I’ll work in mine. Now stop interrupting me.” Sarah later wrote of this episode, “What this CFO didn’t know was that staring into space is precisely how we work. It is our capacity to throw our brains into neutral and let connections assemble . . . that makes it possible for us to see connections that others can’t. We relax into the work.”

I can’t tell you the disbelieve some people have around me working in the northern quarter. The different buzzy environment completely changes the way I think, like staring out the window or being less focused.

This need for patient reflection can also create enormous problems at school, where time for reflection is in critically short supply. Try convincing a teacher that staring out the window is how you work best or that “getting busy” means you’ll get less done. Yet this passive and reflective approach really is a valid problem-solving method, and there’s plenty of scientific evidence to support its validity and effectiveness. In the research literature, this method of problem solving is referred to as insight.

Absolutely… Says it all! Always said hours does not equal effort. I’m personally more effective late at night, when I’m in a more relaxed state and have room/space to think wider and larger. There was a period when I found it hard to sleep because my mind just buzzed away.

Although insight-based problem solving is very powerful, because much of its connection-making process takes place outside the person’s conscious awareness, it can often seem second-rate, mystical, shoddy, or even slightly disreputable. But there’s an observable neurological mechanism underlying insight that’s been well worked out over the last decade by researchers.

Yes insight is always seen as hooky, non-scientific or a joke. There is a large section debunking insight as this but its well worth a blog post on its own. But I think this is a fitting end to insight discussion.

…As teachers, parents, co-workers, and bosses, we need to be watchful for individuals who frequently reach the right results through insight, and when we find them we need to treat their different reasoning style with the seriousness it deserves. Not all staring out the window is productive reasoning, but quite a lot is; and it’s important to understand that some people—including many of the most creative—really do need to “relax into their work.”

I haven’t even finished the Dyslexic advantage but I’m already raving about the book. Its clarified many things and given much more fuel for the things I kind of knew was true but found hard to explain. Gaining deductive logic or insight about my insight (ha!)

This is the kind of book with some tweaking could be a very powerful book for young dyslexic children growing up. Its a little inaccessible but the audio book is great and having both really works.