*This is a guest story from Austin author, Will Ruff*
This is a purely speculative article coming from a liberal arts major, and I do have a dog in this fight. That is: I have a liberal arts background, and I want to tell you how we’re about to drive the next wave of tech entrepreneurship based on my own experience.
Engineers have driven us forward at an incredible pace in the past few years, now it’s time for liberal arts majors to pick up the slack and tell everyone how incredible their work is. And that’s exactly what you can expect us to do: tell an incredible story.
Life comes at you fast
Let’s take a look at the past few years. Tech has moved fast. Unbelievably fast. Look at the smartphone’s evolution over the last ten years. Can you remember what kind of phone you had when an iPhone came out? I had a blackberry, and was doing door-to-door sales in college. I pine for that phone now, but they’re not really practical given how much screen I need.
In many cases, tech has moved so fast that the general population who buys a smartphone doesn’t really know what they’re getting out of a new upgrade and while they might adopt whatever new features are out there, their purchase is not driven by need.
Does a fingerprint scanner, or force touch really advance my productivity, or my security? No.
Whatever feature they’re selling you on this year will be equally underwhelming. And I would argue at best, because phones are all 99% the same, whether or not you want to admit this, that the companies behind them are struggling to differentiate themselves to their customer base, and they use features to do it. Features tell the story. The tech hasn’t really been revolutionary for years.
The big why
Think about the last time you had to buy a phone. We’ll assume that now you use one so much, you actually couldn’t imagine living without one. That’s me anyway. And we’ve all been there—the phone is locked up, or the screen’s cracked, the software upgrade shut it down, permanently, and now you have to get something new. But they should just replace it for free, I’ve been a customer for so long. Nice try. Maybe this time I’ll try an iPhone, or an Android. I’ve heard cool things about Pixel.
For whatever reason, we’ve decided to choose an operating system based on features we haven’t used yet, and this is driving up the cost of cell phones to be as expensive as a nice laptop. Well maybe they’re willing to spring an extra $200 for this new feature finally. Why wouldn’t I want this beautiful curved screen that has no edge?
For the record I’m an android user, but I could use any phone and be happy.
Now, I have nothing against advancing technology, despite my snarky tone, but the above illustrates a point of mine that is going to become more evident in the future.
Technology is only successful when you can tell its story to the audience who’s meant to use it.
It has to be clear, and it has to be on their terms. Engineers, and STEM workers absolutely drive all of the innovation, and it’s not a battle between the two, but we live in a world where billions of people have access to the Internet, and that means you have a lot more opportunity to build a business from anywhere. Not everyone is going to speak the language of engineers who build these incredible tools, and not every engineer is going to know their product can solve problems they didn’t even think of, because they can’t and shouldn’t spend most of their time talking to potential customers.
This is another area where liberal arts majors can excel.
They can look at these two groups: the engineers they work with, and the prospective customers who might use it, and they can figure out how the two are best introduced. What context they should meet under. This should always be how it works. Now, there is the rare breed of people who can be an engineer and a great sales rep, but the vast majority of people have to focus on one thing to do it well.
So, how do liberal arts majors climb into the driver’s seat in the future? I see two fundamental pieces that have to be in place.
First, the ability to learn about technology and code is relatively cheap, and you can do it after school, and on the weekends. I did this myself after starting my career as a content strategist for a literary PR company who built sites in WordPress, and it led to designing/building/selling a website to a local business. I decided that wasn’t for me, but there’s probably some liberal arts majors out there who can do it much more efficiently than I did.
The more you know about how these things work, the more opportunity you’ll have to work for these growing companies.
The next piece is helping the next great tech company pitch their product to customers. It’s knowing how to find a potential market for something, and not being afraid to go up to anyone anywhere just to say hi, and to find out what they do. You can’t always be selling, but you can always ask questions, and maybe down the road you can help someone solve a problem because you connected with someone else who does that exact thing they need. Guess what, you’re their hero now.
The shift between tech and humanities is cyclical and we absolutely will always need each other. That’s the point of this article. We’re not constantly aware of how to work with the other, but we’re getting to a point where it’s absolutely true that non-tech people have a role in spreading the reach of useful technology to people who didn’t have access a decade ago.
Things like WordPress, social media, and smartphones have made it easy to tell people how you’re about to change the world. And the next phase of this cycle is mass adoption, education, and communication among the crowds who haven’t quite figured out how to use all these cool tools yet. Strap yourself in, and hug a tech person, or a liberal arts major.
Will Ruff is the author of “The Tomb of the Primal Dragon: A Novel” which is available for Preorder on Amazon now. You can follow him on @twitter for crass and meaningless commentary, or sign up for his email newsletter and he might spam you with free books occasionally.
Serial procrastinator? Check your mental energy, not time management
(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your mental energy management.
Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”
I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.
Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.
So, why doesn’t time management work?
For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!
Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.
It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”
It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.
Now, how do you manage your energy?
First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.
You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.
Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.
Moral of the story?
Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.
Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.
The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.
Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.
In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.
6 skills humans have that AI doesn’t… yet
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the growing power and skill of AI, but here are a few skills where we have the upper hand.
AI is taking over the workforce as we know it. Burgers are already being flipped by robotic arms (and being flipped better), and it’s only a matter of time before commercial trucks and cars will be driven by robots (and, probably, be driven better).
It may feel unnerving to think about the shrinking number of job possibilities for future humans – what jobs will be around for humans when AI can do almost everything better than we can?
To our relief (exhale!), there are a few select skills that humans will (hopefully) always be better at than AI. The strengths that we have over AI fall into 3 general categories: Ability to convey emotion, management over others, and creativity.
Let’s break it down: Here are 6 skills that we as humans should be focusing on right now.
Our ability to undertake non-verbal communication
What does this mean for humans? We need to develop our ability to understand and communicate body language, knowing looks, and other non-verbal cues. Additionally, we need to refine our ability to make others feel warm and heard – if you work in the hospitality industry, mastering these abilities will give you an edge over the AI technologies that might replace you.
Our ability to show deep empathy to customers
Unlike AI, we share experiences with other humans and can therefore show empathy to customers. Never underestimate how powerful your deep understanding of being human will be when you’re pitted against a robot for a job. It might just be the thing that gives you a cutting edge.
Our ability to undertake growth management
As of this moment, humans are superior to AI when it comes to managing others. We are able to support organization members in developing their skillsets and, due to our coaching ability, we are able to help others to grow professionally. Take that, AI!
Our ability to employ mind management
What this essentially means is that we can support others. Humans have counseling skills, which means we are able to help someone in distress, whether that stems from interpersonal relationships or professional problems. Can you imagine an AI therapist?
Our ability to perform collective intelligence management
Human creativity, especially as it relates to putting individual ideas together to form an innovative new one, gives us a leg up when competing against AI. Humans are able to foster group thought, to manage and channel it, to create something bigger and better than what existed before. Like, when we created AI in the first place.
Our ability to realize new ideas in an organization
Think: Elevator pitch. Humans are masters of marketing new ideas and are completely in-tune with how to propose new concepts to an organization because, you guessed it, we too are human. If the manager remains human in the future (fingers crossed!), then we know what to say to them to best sell our point of view.
Using what we know, it’s essential for almost all of us to retrain for an AI-driven economy that is most likely just a few years away. My advice for my fellow humans? Develop the parts of you that make you human. Practice eye contact and listening. Think about big pictures and the best way to manage others. Sharpen your mind with practicing creative processes. And do stay up to date with current trends in AI tech. Sooner or later, these babies are bound to be your co-workers.
Your business model doesn’t have to be a unicorn or a camel to succeed
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unusual for people to suggest a new business model analogy, but this latest “camel” suggestion isn’t new or helpful.
This year in 2020 I’ve seen a great deal of unique takes on how our system works. From 45 all the way down to children instructing adults on how to wear masks properly. However, after reading this new article published by the Harvard Business Review, I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so out of touch with the rest of the business world. Here’s a brief synopsis on this article on business model.
The author has decided that now of all times it’s drastically important for startups and entrepreneurs to switch their business tactics. Changing from a heavy front-end investment or “startups worth over a billion dollars” colloquially called “Unicorns” to a more financially reserved business model. One he has tried to coin as the “Camel”, using references to the animal’s ability to survive “long periods of time without sustenance, withstand the scorching desert heat, and adapt to extreme variations in climate.”
The author then goes on to outline best practices for this new business plan: “Balance instead of burn”, “Camels are built for the long haul”, “Breadth and depth for resilience”.
Now I will admit that he’s not wrong on his take. It’s a well thought-out adjustment to a very short-term solution. You want to know why I’m sure of that? Because people figured this out decades ago.
The only place that a “Unicorn” system worked was in something like the Silicon Valley software companies. Where people can start with their billions of dollars and expect “blitzscaling” (a rapid building-up tactic) to actually succeed. The rest of the world knows that a slow and resilient pace is better suited for long term investments and growth. This ‘new’ business realization is almost as outdated as the 2000 Olympics.
The other reason I’m not thrilled with this analogy is that they’ve chosen an animal that doesn’t really work well. Camels are temperamental creatures that actually need a great deal of sustenance to survive those conditions they’ve mentioned. It’s water that they don’t need for long periods, once they stock up. They have to have many other resources up front to survive those harsh conditions the article writer mentioned. So by this analogy, it’s not that different than Silicon Valley’s strongly backed “startups.”
If he wanted to actually use the correct animal for this analogy, then he should call it a tortoise business plan. Actually, any type of reptile or shark would work. It would probably be a better comparison in temperament as well, if we’re talking ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ Whatever you do, consider your angle, and settle in for the long haul.
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