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Design Thinking at Work

Design Thinking at Work

How Innovative Organizations are Embracing Design
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Blockchain Revolution

Blockchain Revolution

How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World
also available: Hardcover
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It appears that once again, the technological genie has been unleashed from its bottle. Summoned by an unknown person or persons with unclear motives, at an uncertain time in history, the genie is now at our service for another kick at the can—to transform the economic power grid and the old order of human affairs for the better. If we will it.
Let us explain.
The “rst four decades of the Internet brought us e-mail, the World Wide Web, dot-coms, social media, the mobile Web, big data, cloud computing, and the early days of the Internet of Things. It has been great for reducing the costs of searching, collaborating, and exchanging information. It has lowered the barriers to entry for new media and entertainment, new forms of retailing and organizing work, and unprecedented digital ventures. Through sensor technology, it has infused intelligence into our wallets, our clothing, our automobiles, our buildings, our cities, and even our biology. It is saturating our environment so completely that soon we will no longer “log on” but rather go about our business and our lives immersed in pervasive technology.
Overall, the Internet has enabled many positive changes—for those with access to it—but it has serious limitations for business and economic activity. The New Yorker could rerun Peter Steiner’s 1993 cartoon of one dog talking to another without revision: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Online, we still can’t reliably establish one another’s identities or trust one another to transact and exchange money without validation from a third party like a bank or a government. These same intermediaries collect our data and invade our privacy for commercial gain and national security. Even with the Internet, their cost structure excludes some 2.5 billion people from the global “nancial system. Despite the promise of a peer-to-peer empowered world, the economic and political bene?ts have proven to be asymmetrical—with power and prosperity channeled to those who already have it, even if they’re no longer earning it. Money is making more money than many people do.
Technology doesn’t create prosperity any more than it destroys privacy. However, in this digital age, technology is at the heart of just about everything—good and bad. It enables humans to value and to violate one another’s rights in profound new ways. The explosion in online communication and commerce is creating more opportunities for cybercrime. Moore’s law of the annual doubling of processing power doubles the power of fraudsters and thieves—“Moore’s Outlaws”1—not to mention spammers, identity thieves, phishers, spies, zombie farmers, hackers, cyberbullies, and datanappers—criminals who unleash ransomware to hold data hostage— the list goes on.

As early as 1981, inventors were attempting to solve the Internet’s problems of privacy, security, and inclusion with cryptography. No matter how they reengineered the process, there were always leaks because third parties were involved. Paying with credit cards over the Internet was insecure because users had to divulge too much personal data, and the transaction fees were too high for small payments.
In 1993, a brilliant mathematician named David Chaum came up with eCash, a digital payment system that was “a technically perfect product which made it possible to safely and anonymously pay over the Internet. . . . It was perfectly suited to sending electronic pennies, nickels, and dimes over the Internet.”2 It was so perfect that Microsoft and others were interested in including eCash as a feature in their software.3 The trouble was, online shoppers didn’t care about privacy and security online then. Chaum’s Dutch company DigiCash went bankrupt in 1998.
Around that time, one of Chaum’s associates, Nick Szabo, wrote a short paper entitled “The God Protocol,” a twist on Nobel laureate Leon Lederman’s phrase “the God particle,” referring to the importance of the Higgs boson to modern physics. In his paper, Szabo mused about the creation of a be-all end-all technology protocol, one that designated God the trusted third party in the middle of all transactions: “All the parties would send their inputs to God. God would reliably determine the results and return the outputs. God being the ultimate in confessional discretion, no party would learn anything more about the other parties’ inputs than they could learn from their own inputs and the output.”4 His point was powerful: Doing business on the Internet requires a leap of faith. Because the infrastructure lacks the much-needed security, we often have little choice but to treat the middlemen as if they were deities.
A decade later in 2008, the global “nancial industry crashed. Perhaps propitiously, a pseudonymous person or persons named Satoshi Nakamoto outlined a new protocol for a peer-to-peer electronic cash system using a cryptocurrency called bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies (digital currencies) are different from traditional “at currencies because they are not created or controlled by countries. This protocol established a set of rules—in the form of distributed computations—that ensured the integrity of the data exchanged among these billions of devices without going through a trusted third party. This seemingly subtle act set off a spark that has excited, terri?ed, or otherwise captured the imagination of the computing world and has spread like wild?re to businesses, governments, privacy advocates, social development activists, media theorists, and journalists, to name a few, everywhere.

“They’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is it. This is the big breakthrough. This is the thing we’ve been waiting for,’” said Marc Andreessen, the cocreator of the “rst commercial Web browser, Netscape, and a big investor in technology ventures. “‘He solved all the problems. Whoever he is should get the Nobel Prize—he’s a genius.’ This is the thing! This is the distributed trust network that the Internet always needed and never had.”5
Today thoughtful people everywhere are trying to understand the implications of a protocol that enables mere mortals to manufacture trust through clever code. This has never happened before—trusted transactions directly between two or more parties, authenticated by mass collaboration and powered by collective self-interests, rather than by large corporations motivated by pro?t. 
It may not be the Almighty, but a trustworthy global platform for our transactions is something very big. We’re calling it the Trust Protocol.

This protocol is the foundation of a growing number of global distributed ledgers called blockchains—of which the bitcoin blockchain is the largest. While the technology is complicated and the word blockchain isn’t exactly sonorous, the main idea is simple. Blockchains enable us to send money directly and safely from me to you, without going through a bank, a credit card company, or PayPal.
Rather than the Internet of Information, it’s the Internet of Value or of Money. It’s also a platform for everyone to know what is true—at least with regard to structured recorded information. At its most basic, it is an open source code: anyone can download it for free, run it, and use it to develop new tools for managing transactions online. As such, it holds the potential for unleashing countless new applications and as yet unrealized capabilities that have the potential to transform many things.

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Throw Your Stuff Off the Plane

Throw Your Stuff Off the Plane

Achieving Accountability in Business and Life
also available: Paperback
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Thirty-five years ago I made a decision to take a whole new direction in my life. Two weeks later I changed my mind. I was neither accountable to anyone for the decision nor, apparently, even remotely committed to it. A day later I was almost in a plane crash and had to do what the pilot told me to do or we would die. In that case, my accountability wasn’t an issue and I was about as committed as one can get.
After 30 years as a leadership consultant, I still find myself informed by the little snippets of insight embedded in such experiences. Feeble decisions, foggy accountabilities, how fear really cranks up one’s level of commitment, the nature of commitment born of fear, and what it feels like to have a muscle-tightening, eye-squinting level of determination are all fascinating to me.
The big decision I changed my mind about way back then was to join a cult. I had been seriously involved in the world of meditation and became convinced that joining would put me on a fast track to enlightenment. I had just finished my fourth year of university, and rather than go back to my old summer job in a Northern Ontario logging operation with an eye on graduate school in the autumn, I declared my choice to pack it all in to join a community of like-minded followers of a famed guru.
Two weeks passed. It was the night before the logging operation got started, and I had a bad case of cold feet. My father could barely hide his smile when he heard my explanation. It was as if he knew all along that granting me the freedom to commit my soul would open me to the possibility of not committing my soul, if you know what I mean. His advice was that I call long-distance to the home of the logging company’s human resources person to see if I could take the job, even though I had already turned it down.
I made the call. A little boy answered, and he went to get his father on the line. While waiting I told myself that if this guy said it was too late, it would be a message from the universe that I was meant to be a yogi. But he didn’t say that.
“Sure, that would be great, but you’ll have to be here tomorrow. Can you do that?”
I thought, Are you kidding? I would jump out of an airplane if that’s what it would take. What I actually said was, “Why, yes, I’m sure I can get there. Thank you very much. Really. Thank you very much!”
I packed a duffle bag with my clothes and loaded up two boxes with my books about meditation, Eastern philosophy, and all the materials from the meditation community I had just left behind. The next morning my father drove me to the airport so I could catch a flight to Thunder Bay, where I would then somehow travel the additional 300 kilometres to the small town of Marathon. I was both relieved and excited.
The exact answer to the question about how I would get to the small town of Marathon came in the men’s room at the Thunder Bay airport. Normally I’m not inclined to talk to strangers in a men’s room, but I happened to ask the fellow standing next to me if he had any idea how to get to Marathon. “What a coincidence!” he replied. “I’m about to fly right over that area and would be glad to take you there. They have a little landing strip, so it won’t be a problem.”
Bingo! Fate was unfolding.
The fellow had a little two-seater aircraft. I squeezed my two boxes of books and little duffle bag into a small side door of the plane and hopped into the co-pilot seat, and we taxied out to the runway. The pilot said it was too bad the books were so heavy, but “we should be okay.”
During takeoff, he once again mentioned the books. He kept tilting his head and wincing. Over the sound of the engine strain, he raised his voice. “She’s a little heavy, but I think we’ll be fine.”
You think we’ll be fine? Where’s the conviction in that? I had assumed pilots took some sort of chest-thumping responsibility, that there’s a lot of accountability built into the system beyond just giving it their best shot. I mean, I wouldn’t walk a blind person across the street saying, “There sure are plenty of cars out here, but I think we’ll be fine.”
It was just 30 seconds later, when we were in the air and I could see the airport buildings shrinking beneath us, that I heard him say, “Oh-oh.” He was leaning over and tapping hard on a gauge. I could see panic in his face.
Out the window I saw the huge lake over on the right, dense forest on the left, and that we were already out of town.
The next thing I heard was, “No! We’re just too heavy. Throw your stuff off the plane!”
“What?” I asked incredulously over the roar of the engine.
“Throw your stuff off the plane!” He twisted around, quickly pointed at my baggage, and motioned toward the little side door of the plane. “Your stuff — it’s too heavy! Throw it out!”
At that particular moment, none of the possible metaphors that now cross my mind dawned on me. And I wasn’t about to question a panicking pilot giving a do-it-or-we-crash command.
There is still a part of me that superstitiously believes my spurned guru had a little temper tantrum and with a twirl of his magic wand admonished, “You’re either in or you’re out, and if you’re out, be out. Toss all your pretended wisdom and feigned commitment out the window — now!”
I unbuckled my seat belt and wiggled my way behind the seat, where the two boxes that had absolutely no idea what was about to happen to them were sitting innocently, trembling with the shake of the little airplane. I opened the side hatch of the aircraft and looked down to the ground below and the trees whooshing by. I specifically remember thinking, This is just bizarre. I shoved one box out the little door. And then the other.
The sound of the aircraft changed somewhat, and I heard the pilot’s relief: “Ahh, that’s better.” And in seconds it was as if nothing had happened.
I was inclined to answer, Well, how lovely that you’re feeling relieved I pushed my boxes of books off your airplane. How nice I was able to help out like that.
More directly in touch with my anger toward the pilot, I thought, Couldn’t you have warned me? Couldn’t you say, ‘Sorry about that’? Or maybe just offer a little explanation with a couple of tokens of remorse?
I think what I actually said was, “Good.” I pretended it was no big deal.
I did have fear about whether we’d actually make it to Marathon. We were, after all, only about one minute into the flight, and already I had thrown out not just my summer reading but also the only tangible connection I had to my dream of the yogic life. I had just tossed it out the window.
All that summer I thought about my boxes of books lying on the forest floor. Up in that area of the country, who knows — they might still be there after 30 years. I never went back to look.
What I look at nowadays are things like how, even if an organization is beautifully designed around accountability, what really makes it hum is a genuine commitment from the people who are being held accountable. I am particularly intrigued by what it feels like to be wholly committed rather than being just a little committed, and intending to do something without any serious commitment rather than having no commitment at all — even when there is accountability.
I think about how time is an enemy of commitment. At one moment, a determined person might declare, “I will exercise daily,” and a day later, poof, it’s as if that person has been replaced with a whole new being. The new guy remembers the former person’s intentions but doesn’t really share them.
And I think about how mental clutter is another enemy of commitment. Our unresolved feelings, our conflicting obligations, the sheer number of tasks we must juggle — all make for a very heavy load. So some commitments have a better chance of being fulfilled than others.
The amount of determination I brought to shoving my boxes of books off that airplane was way up in the red zone. I could feel that intention in my body; it was an eye-squinting, full-blast, no-matter-what! kind of willpower. If I had, and sustained, that same level of determination in my commitment to the guru, folks would be calling me Uncle Yogi today.
It still feels good to throw my stuff off the plane. I like the feeling of doing something with all my might.

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Working in a Multicultural World

Working in a Multicultural World

A Guide to Developing Intercultural Competence
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