Sunday, March 5, 2017

Robots, work and the U.S. Presidential Election - Part 2

I admit to being a little taken aback when given credit for the election of US President Donald Trump, but, as one of my friends explained, it was all because of the robots. The loss of millions of manufacturing jobs in the US to offshoring was clearly a source of the discontent that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency, but the link to robots is less clear.

Manufacturing was offshored to countries with lower labour costs, but not, initially, because of robots. Indeed robots have been developed as a specific onshoring strategy to bring manufacturing back to the US. Australian Rodney Brooks, the inventor of the Roomba vacuum cleaning robot, founded Rethink Robotics with the aim of making American manufacturing more competitive. Rethink produces the Baxter robot, a cheap, flexible, human-safe collaborative robot.

Baxter is made in the US to convince companies that they can be competitive via onshoring 

Ironically, Bill Gates has recently called for robots who replace human workers to be taxed at the same rate that human workers are taxed. This seems fair, but how exactly will we know when robots have taken our jobs? While the US installed about 135,000 new industrial robots between 2010 and 2015, the number of employees in the automotive sector increased by 230,000 during the same period (IFR International Federation of Robotics) and there is a complex relationship between automation, employment growth and productivity (A3 White Paper).

Indeed it is automation rather than robots per se that are the biggest threat to human jobs, it's just that robots are the obvious, physical manifestation of artificial intelligence.

Source: "Uses of AI and Machine Learning", Gartner (October 2016)

Gartner recognises many other manifestations of AI and machine learning in their analysis of top strategic technology trends for 2017 - virtual assistants (chatbots) and operational applications (robotic process automation). Threats to job security may be invisible, as virtual and inconspicuous intelligent apps take over white collar work.

"Taking the robot out of the human," is how Leslie Wilcocks, London School of Economics, describes robotic process automation. Repetitive tasks are not a strong point for humans so why not let robots do that work? Unlike the job losses of the past, concentrated amongst blue collar workers, labour disruption caused by AI and machine learning will impact the invisible jobs of white collar workers and some commentators are predicting a future without work.

So how does this tie in to the US election result? When offshoring began in the US in the 1980s it mainly impacted blue collar workers. An interesting analysis, by Joan Williams (UC Hastings), of the US working class responsible for the political success of Donald Trump, suggests that it is the removal of jobs in certain regions that causes social upheaval. She observes that many of the people displaced by offshoring were never able to gain employment again, despite being willing to work. Many US working class families have admirably deep, strong ties to their local community, hence moving away from those networks to find employment is not an option.

In contrast, white collar or "professional" workers tend to have more broad but shallow networks, making them more mobile and resilient to job loss. Arguably it is easier for white collar workers to move and retrain for different jobs if displaced by "robots". Does this mean we shouldn't be worried about robots taking our jobs?

Although the effect of automation on the workplace may be overstated (see Jeff Borland's sensible study "Are our jobs being taken by robots") the discontent in the UK and US over job security and wealth distribution means that we should be worried, we should be very worried indeed.

In a recent opinion piece, the New York Times argued that robots aren't killing the American Dream - public policy is. We are living in an era where earnings inequality continues to grow. Over the past 40 years in Australia, wages have risen by 59% for the top 10th of the population and by only 15% for the bottom 10th. According to labour economist John Mangan, "the pay gap is now so vast that while people may be sharing the same geographical area, they may as well be living in a different society".

I'm an optimist, I believe that we will all benefit from the many amazing technologies currently being developed in robotics, computer vision, and AI, but these technologies will be disruptive. How will we deal with the disruption? Well, I also believe that humans are endlessly inventive and can adapt to any situation, but only if we maintain social cohesion. For us to enjoy the promise of Ray Kurzweil's Singularity we must all be able to share in the benefits wrought by new technologies. Unfortunately this is not a problem that we can program robots to solve for us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

CrikeyCon, cloud adoption and cloud security in the Asia Pacific region

It wasn't how I imagined my Saturday morning. Usually when I think of Saturdays I'm hoping for a 30 minute sleep in and enough time to read a few pages of the morning newspaper. Instead I found myself at CrikeyCon a community-led conference on information security held in SE Queensland.
What was I doing at CrikeyCon? Attempting the impossible, trying to get information out of information security professionals armed only with my clipboard and without an ISO 27001 certification. I was a little intimidated. I had heard the conference was very popular with an elite type of people known as "penetration testers". These are your "white hats" or ethical computer hackers, who can figure out your password, and the pin on your credit card, just by looking at you. I left my wallet and internet-enabled mobile device in the car, just in case.
I found myself at CrikeyCon as part of my Executive MBA with The University of Queensland. At the moment I'm like two people - robotic vision evangelist by day, cyber security enthusiast at night and on weekends.
UQ Business School has a partnership with the top ranking Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, called the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum (GCP). The GCP brings together selected UQ Business School and Wharton MBA students in international consulting teams to complete a “real life” market entry or expansion project for a company. In our case we are developing a growth strategy for a US cybersecurity firm looking to take advantage of the rapid adoption of public cloud in the Asia Pacific region.
Which brings me to CrikeyCon. I was hoping to survey a range of information security people about what was going on with the cloud, why were companies moving there and was it a good idea?
In our research so far it is clear that regulations in Australia play an important role in dictating the security measures taken by companies moving workloads to the cloud. The recent introduction of mandatory data breach notification laws in Australia will only accelerate this trend. Yet, strangely it is the most regulated industries that seem the keenest to adopt public cloud, suggesting that security shouldn't necessarily be seen as a weakness of cloud deployment.
The sun and coffee at the conference were both hot but CrikeyCon attendees were generous with their time and my clipboard and pen were put to good use - thanks to Sabina Janstrom for making it happen!
It was a good start, but to really get a handle on cloud adoption and cloud security in the Asia Pacific my team needs the help of all the wonderful IT professionals out there who intersect with cloud to participate in a short survey. It only takes about 10 minutes to complete and in return you can request a summary of the findings (after 12th March). We are keen to hear from people in India, Singapore, Japan, China and Australia
In case you missed it - a link to the survey is HERE.
CrikeyCon was a great way to spend a Saturday morning, indeed a whole Saturday, as well as Saturday night and the night before. You could even buy CrikeyCon lock picks! I would have purchased a set but missed the tutorial on how to use them, and I figured it wasn't a good idea to have such things lying around when you never know when a penetration tester might be nearby...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Robots, work and the U.S. Presidential Election - Part 1

"Will robots take our jobs?" is one of the first questions I'm asked when I talk about my Centre's work in robotic vision (the application of computer vision to robotics). More recently the question has slightly changed to, "When will robots take our jobs?"

As someone who works in a lab full of robots, and sees the many limitations of robots every day, for example, our drinks-carrying robot - trained to avoid obstacles (including people who want a drink), it is easy to dismiss these concerns. I used to joke that if the job involved opening doors or going up or down stairs, humans were in no danger any time soon. One of my favourite videos is a compilation of robots failing to complete simple tasks while competing in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge.

But while robots are a long way from having the balance and dexterity of humans, people do have cause for concern. The pace of technological change is overwhelming. Only 10 years ago the iPhone did not exist and the first autonomous vehicles bristled with so many sensors, and so much onboard computing hardware, they would have struggled to carry a passenger.

CMU's Tartan Racing Team won the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007 with an extensively modified Chevrolet Tahoe. The first autonomous vehicle to navigate a 96 km course in less than 6 hours
Today your smart phone is orders of magnitude more powerful than the mainframe computers that put man on the moon, and autonomous vehicles are sleek and ready for passengers.

Google's Waymo in 2016 - no longer bristling with sensors and with more than 3 million km self-driven

While it takes human's 3-4 years to gain enough mastery of a subject to earn a university degree, IBM Watson can process 500Gb of data, the equivalent of reading a million books, per second. And while we humans can gain competence through our years of work experience, deep learning enables intelligent machines to also learn from their experiences, or indeed from ours (see robots learning to cook by watching YouTube videos). The only difference is that once one machine learns, that knowledge can be transferred to all networked machines, in much the same way that the IoT allows electric cars like Tesla to receive updates over the internet.

Imagine being able to share all the information you have gained from your life experiences with every other human on the planet. We can hope we are nearing Ray Kurzweil's Singularity, where we humans will transcend our biological limitations. In the meantime the transition to a time when there is no clear distinction between human and machine is likely to be tumultuous as robots do take some jobs and people struggle to redefine work and their place in the world.

For more on robots, work and what this has to do with the US presidential election see Part 2, coming soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Where is Robotic Vision on the Hype Cycle?

I was reading Steve Blank's blog on machine learning start-ups yesterday, where he described how technical infrastructure innovations follow a Hype Cycle with characteristics defined by the Gartner Group.

The Hype Cycle follows the life cycle of emerging technologies and will be applicable to the new generation of robotic vision technologies currently being developed by the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. Robotic vision, as the name suggests, encompasses both robotics and computer vision, which have each been moving through new hype cycles, despite such technologies first appearing more than 50 years ago. 

As described by Gartner Group, hype cycles progress as follows:

Phase 1 - Technology Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.

Phase 2 - Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.

Phase 3 - Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.

Phase 4 - Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallise and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.

Phase 5 - Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology's broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

The new wave of robotic and computer vision technologies are in Phase 2 of the hype cycle, the peak of inflated expectations. Each year scores of robotics and computer vision start-ups are acquired, often for huge amounts of money. My sister, Andra Keay, is the managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics, which supports innovation and commercialisation of robotic technologies. At one stage it was common for new robotics start-ups to exit the start-up scene before even finding their feet, acquired by larger players. See this great timeline of robotics acquisitions put together by CB Insights:

The story is similar for computer vision start-ups. Index lists just some of the recently acquired CV companies.Some are acquired with little fanfare, such as the speculated acquisition of ZurichEye by Facebook. Computer vision sometimes applies artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the subject of Steve Blank's blog, and all technologies seem to be hitting the peak of inflated expectations. Phase 2 is a great place to be if you're a start-up but not necessarily a great place to be for the acquirer, who gains technology, teams and tools but not necessarily much additional revenue and profit.

Robotic vision is the gateway to a whole new set of technologies, developed by bringing robotics and computer vision together. While robotics is about machines that perceive and interact with the physical work, computer vision involves methods for acquiring, processing, analysing and understanding images using a computer. Combining the two produces the key technologies that will allow robotics to transform the way we live and work by giving robots visual perception. So where is robotic vision on the hype cycle?

Robotic Vision is in Phase 1, just kicking off, with research groups like the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision developing a few proof-of-concepts like the crown-of-thorns starfish robot, COTSbot and the agricultural robots AgBotII and Harvey. It will soon be heading into Phase 2, which is a great time for new start-ups looking for a big early exit — but will the window of opportunity for robotic vision companies be narrow?

Given the high level of current interest in fields related to robotic vision, start-ups developed around these new technologies will need to enter the market soon. Companies based on the interlinked fields of robotics, machine learning, AI and computer vision have been acquired by corporate giants such as Google, IBM, Yahoo, Intel, Apple and Salesforce, at increasing rates since 2011 (see CB Insights). How long can the hype continue before we enter into Phase 3, the trough of disillusionment?

The risk for robotic vision is that by the time start-ups have formed around newly created technologies, the hype cycle for related technologies will change. If robotic vision doesn't get a foot in the door, RV technologies will skip the peak of inflated expectations altogether. On the plus side, robotic vision technologies will also enjoy an accelerated path towards the slope of enlightenment on the heels of related technologies. Good news for the application of robotic vision to solve real world challenges but bad news for robotic vision start-ups - unless they form soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Dad

Colin Stewart Lindsay Keay
02/02/1930 to 25/08/2015

Dad died peacefully on Tuesday morning (25th August) with my sister Andra holding his hand and mum and I nearby at St Andrews War Memorial hospital in Brisbane. When he died he was listening to Vivaldi and Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Dad had been on palliative care since the previous Friday and had been calm and comfortable. His last few days were spent with family around him, listening to his favourite composers, and blissfully free of most of the Parkinsons' tremors.

Colin was born on 2nd February, 1930, in Timaru, South Island, New Zealand, the elder of two sons to William and Ruby Keay. His brother Alister was born three years later.  Dad was dux of Papanui High School in 1947 and a founding member of the Canterbury Astronomical Society. He received his BSc and MSc from the University of New Zealand (Canterbury) and joined Clifton Ellyett's Radar Meteor Astronomy group.

His mettle was sorely tested as a young child, spending time in an orphanage and boarding away from home due to his mother's poor health and then fighting off tuberculosis during his undergraduate studies. He spent almost two years in Cashmere Sanitorium and endured two major operations in 1956-57 to remove part of both lungs.  The scars on his back looked like a singlet, but it was hard to notice any reduction in his lung capacity for the energy and drive he brought to his life and work.

Dad married Mum in 1958 in Christchurch. He was awarded his PhD in Physics in Meteor Astronomy at the University of Canterbury in 1964 and was also awarded the Michaelis Gold Medal in Astronomy from the University of Otago.  He also received an MA in Astronomy from University of Toronto in 1965 and near the end of his career was distinguished with a DSc from University of Canterbury in 1997.

Mum and Dad moved to Australia in 1965 for Colin to take up a senior lecturer position in Physics at The University of Newcastle, NSW, where he worked until his "retirement" in 1993.  Both Mum and Dad kept so busy in retirement some of us wondered how they ever found time to work!

There were a number of firsts in Dad's long career. He created a new branch of science called geophysical electrophonics, "the production of audible noises of various kinds through direct conversion by transduction of very low frequency electromagnetic energy generated by a number of geophysical phenomena". Within 24 hours of the launching of the first satellite (the Russian Sputnik in 1957) Dad was the first to calculate that it would be visible over NZ. This led to Dad and Dick Anderson publishing the first two papers on observing a satellite. He also published the first papers on high resolution infra-red maps of Jupiter and was President of Commission 22 of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and inaugural chairman of the IAU working group on the prevention of interplanetary pollution (space junk). In 1997 Minor Planet 5007 was named after Dad in recognition of his services to astronomy.

As a pioneering science communicator, as well as numerous public talks, Dad wrote monthly newspaper columns, first for the Christchurch Press and then for The Newcastle Morning Herald where his Sky and Space notes were regularly published for more than 30 years. As a press correspondent he covered some of the launches of NASA's space missions.

Away from science Dad was active in the community being the founding president of the Hunter Skeptics (1987), President of the Newcastle Cycleways Movement (always lobbying for more bikeways), founding president of the Newcastle Astronomical Society (1993) and a member of University of Newcastle council representing staff, amongst many other notable activities.

But what did Dad mean to me? A friend of mine decribed losing a parent as like a ship losing its anchor.  Even in your 40s you can fall back on the knowledge that if all fails you can always move back in with your parents and then, one day, that's not true. Certainly, as someone resistant to growing up as I am, this is very confronting.

Dad loved seeing and understanding the world. As he got older he took pleasure in simple things, a walk around the block with the dog, watching a sunset, identifying the planes passing overhead. 

When I was young Mum tells me that I woke up needing a bottle at least once a night until I was two years old. Apparently Dad used to get up and give me a bottle and then go back to bed and wake up the next morning having no recollection of ever having gotten up. At night Dad would often read me books (his favourite was Richard Scary) and give me back rubs so I could go to sleep. He would reassure me that there were no spiders in my bed while also refusing to remove the huntsman spiders that frequented our house on the basis that they were not harmful. He was less tolerant with the funnel web spiders that visited and would kill them with scientific precision (and a brick).

He would take me to the baths - the Lambton swimming pool, where he taught me how to dive. He would jump off the towers and was happy to be ignored while I played with friends, which was just as well because he insisted on wearing leopard print swim trunks, foam thongs, a towelling bucket cap and an orange and brown animal print towelling robe.

His crimes against fashion were many and varied and he pursued those crimes with relentless determination, every day matching a Singaporean dragon shirt with a Maori tiki bolo tie, long shorts in various shades of brown or khaki and teamed off with cream socks and brown leather sandals. His eyebrows were long, white and shaggy.  As my best friend Vicki used to remark, "he looks like Julius Sumner Miller” (the scientist on the cadbury ads - "a glass a half of full cream milk in every block"). I think he enjoyed looking like a scientist, the group he most identified with.

Dad got out his telescope to show all my school friends the Halley’s comet when it went past. He was always pointing out the constellations in the night sky and we would often have satellite spotting competitions (my record - 9 in one night). Dad had a knack of appearing at the same time as a satellite, claiming first sighting and then disappearing back inside before reappearing to claim another sighting. It took us a while to discern that he was calculating the time and position of each satellite pass over. I had my revenge however. Dad enjoyed the odd glass of wine and considered himself a reasonable connoisseur. He was quite proud when I would join him with observations about the wine paired for dinner, without realising I was acquiring all my information from the description on the back label of each bottle. I could have kept that harmless deception going for years.

Dad loved travel and visited many cities while mum always made an effort to make sure we kids got there too. As well as travel Dad loved hosting visitors from other countries, assuring mum that "it was no extra work". It was not uncommon for us to have someone from Russia living with us for 6 months at a time, the house always seemed full and was seldom dull as I was growing up and I learned to appreciate other cultures.

One of my favourite memories of dad was our time visiting his parents at Sumner in New Zealand. We would walk together in the early evening after dinner along the shore at Sumner, climbing Cave Rock, walking through the cave at Cave Rock, in the years that the cave was accessible, and walking down to the red cliffs of Scarborough.  As anyone who knows Dad can attest this was never a relaxing evening stroll though, more of a power walk. Visits to New Zealand were always a special time I remember driving to Akaroa - ancestoral home to the Curry family, special lunches at The Sign of the Takahe on Cashmere Hill and visiting Vern Shadbolt’s deer farm at French Farm on Banks peninsula.

For much of his life Dad was a creature of habit. While his schedule may have changed in later years I can recite what it was in the mornings when I lived at home:

6:30am out of bed
7:00am listen to news on radio while reading the newspaper and enjoying a cup of white tea (no sugar). For breakfast he would eat two weetbix topped with hot water and full cream milk and with a sprinkling of brown sugar (pre-mixed with raw sugar), then finishing off with two pieces of wholemeal toast spread with margarine, one slice topped with creamed honey and the other slice with red jam.

He would always read the Newcastle Morning Herald where for more than 30 years he published a monthly column on astronomy describing what people could see in the night sky until the 1990s when a new editor of the Newcastle Morning Herald decided to ditch Dad’s astronomy column for an astrology column. He never read that paper again.

Dad loved science and never lost his inquistive mind. He could be irascible and hard to live with but he was my dad and I believe his greatest achievement was instilling a sense of questioning in all those he influenced paired with wonder for the world around us and all the beauty it holds.

Colin Keay DSc FRASNZ FAAAS FInstP FASA, Husband to Myra, Brother to Alister, Father to Andra, Lindsay and Sue, Father-in-law to Michael and Mark, Grandfather to Ilyan, Rob, Miranda, Zoe, Sarah and Sammy. He will be greatly missed but what an amazing 85 years it was.

A slide show of Dad's life can be seen here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A tribute to George Collins, a humble man with a powerful impact

Professor George Collins (1955-2014)

A tribute to George based on recollections of his time in Brisbane with CAST (2008-2012).

George wrote a beautiful farewell speech when I left CAST in mid-2011.  In the speech he looked at how my personal brand compared to the Good Brand Report.  I’d like to return the compliment. George had a unique brand and I like to think he would have enjoyed the comparison. Some of these words are adapted from George’s own words.

According to the annual Good Brand Report, there are a number of common traits shared by good brands, characteristics that make these brands special.

Utility – Aim to enhance your usefulness for the consumer. In doing so, look not only at your product or service, but the eco‐system that surrounds it.

George had a quiet, unassuming but impactful way of influencing those around him. Before providing input to any situation he would seek to understand it. He was very sensitive to the eco‐systems that surrounded him and quickly determined how he could contribute most usefully to them. This seemed to be a trait that George applied in all aspects of his life but at CAST it was evidenced by the thoughtful but determined way he set about getting to know everyone in the office, from their coffee preference to their hopes and aspirations.  Only when he felt that he well-understood those around him did he then look at how to best work in with them to address the challenges particular to being CAST’s CEO. George applied the same principles to the people in CAST’s partner organisations, always seeking to understand how he could add the most value to the many eco-systems in which he operated.

Experimentation – Constant innovation is the essential element of growth. Continually push the boundaries of your offering and create ancillary products.

Innovation was one of George’s passions. He was always open to new ideas and inventive in thinking of ways to best support those ideas and the people driving them. In this way George created many ancillary products, in the form of the people he has supported to take on new and different challenges. George always shepherded his colleagues, being available to advise, guide and support. While it has been more than three and half years since George and I worked together at CAST he would stay in touch and was always available to support and encourage.

His bravery and willingness to try new things, led him to star in a video for one of CAST’s award winning technologies that had everyone talking.  It was overwritten with the caption, ‘George Collins – CEO, CAST – the most boring CRC (according to some),’ an in-joke amongst colleagues. George never took himself too seriously and we all loved him for it.

George was constantly pushing his own boundaries, trying to find new and better ways of doing things.  While there are many examples of this, one of CAST’s younger staff members, Gastronomy Gal, fondly recalls George’s mission to cook the perfect poached egg.

“Every Friday (because it was getting too frequent so we had to pick a day) George and I would share cinnamon toast and discuss culinary issues. One of the issues was George’s scientific method to cooking a poached egg exactly to his liking. He would often report back on his experiments including the ratio of vinegar to water, the stirring method - all these variables that were affecting the possibility of the perfect poached egg. As one of the only non-scientists in a whole company full of them, I explained to him that it was more about feel, than exact ratios, and he was mortified by my casual attitude towards it. I know he involved his family in this extended experiment because one day, months and months after the egg experiment first began, he came to work really excited that he had managed to cook what he thought was the ultimate egg, but was crestfallen because no one had been there to experience it. Troubling him even more was the fact that he wasn't sure he would be able to replicate it because he wasn't sure of his method! I said 'what happened to the science of making the perfect egg?' He said he'd been in a rush and taken my approach and just 'chucked it in'. I obviously had an incredulous 'I told you so' look written across my face because George smiled and replied, 'of course I'm going to have to adjust a few things here and there and do an experiment to see if not having a method actually works'. I just laughed! - Forever a scientist, although one with very humanist tendencies.”

Design – Premium aesthetics coupled with consistent delivery wins every time. Make your audience feel valued, encouraging them to include you as part of their identity.

George had excellent aesthetics and saw beauty in the creation of ideas and in the shared responsibility of bringing ideas to reality.  George also took the time to appreciate the beauty all around him. While George clearly didn’t like spending time away from his family, he would often reflect on the small joys associated with living in his apartment in the heart of Brisbane. George’s time with his family seemed to revitalize him. Through George we came to know his family and bask in the glow as he would proudly reflect on their achievements and his gratitude for the time they shared together.

I’ll never forget George’s contagious excitement at the prospect of a lift to a meeting in my husband’s fire engine red Holden Crewman muscle car.  We giggled like children at the prospect of being spotted by someone associated with our industry partner – Ford Motor Car Company of Australia. George reminded us to be grateful for the little moments.

Consistent and reliable delivery of excellence was a hallmark of George’s personal brand.  George made every moment count, and while this often meant that it appeared that he would leave things to the last minute, in reality he was extracting every last piece of value out of the time he had available. Last minute or not, George could always be relied on to get things done and to make things happen.

George cared passionately about the people in his life and made all of us feel valued. We each hold a small part of George as part of our shared identities. In this way George’s brand will continue to live on.

Community and listening – Create a sense of community for your customers. Actively engage them and listen to what they have to say. They are the best source of guidance for improved service.

George was a great listener.  He combined this with the patience to listen to a lot of people on a range of different subjects. George was an excellent facilitator and had a talent in engaging people and building what they had to say into a collective vision.  He was always careful to ensure that his decisions as CAST’s CEO were being guided by the CAST community and were made in consultation, never in isolation.

Not only a good listener, George fostered trust and cooperation by providing a safe environment for people to work.  Simon Sinek speculates on why good leaders make you feel safe, “When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.” Certainly this was the sense of community that George excelled in building, and it did lead to remarkable things.

Change the model – Look at your consumers’ eco‐system of needs and change your business model to suit them.

We all find it challenging to cope with change and sometimes our situation changes before we realise it. George always sought to be informed and, where possible, understand the changes around him. George saw change as a driver to adjust his own way of working to meet the demands of the future. The variety of leadership roles that George filled showed how he was able to adapt his own business model to meet new challenges.

We saw George’s attempts to adapt to change in a funny way at CAST as he struggled to better understand Generations X and Y and their differences to his own Baby Boomer generation.  Again Gastronomy Gal, CAST’s Gen Y representative, recalls some of the frequent robust discussions that she would have with George on this topic, “George was incredibly embarrassed that someone on Brisbane River’s CityCat had offered him their seat. He thought that the Gen Y person involved was just being cheeky because he couldn't possibly be 'that old' but I explained to him that you didn't have to be elderly for a Gen Y to offer a seat, the rule is that if a person is older than you, you should offer your seat.  George was mildly placated but not really satisfied, so then went about offering his seat to every elderly person, or pregnant woman he could find to assert the point that he did not need a seat and was perfectly capable of standing. This went on for a few months until he saw another young person offer a lady who was younger than him a seat, and then he relaxed and finally believed me!”

Beyond the 30-second ad – Instead of spending money on advertising, leverage the existing community that’s involved with your brand to promote your products and services.

George was incredibly generous with his time and gave himself to people in his workplace, his family and his community. Interactions with him were always meaningful and often significant. George’s brand was unique and impossible to encompass in only a few words. A humble man with a powerful impact on all around him, his generous and gentle soul will be sadly missed.

It was a privilege to work with George and the lessons from his life and the influence of his personal brand will continue to live on through all of those who knew and loved him.

Links to more tributes to George:

Natalie Chapman, GEmaker
CRC for Low Carbon Living
Swinburne University of Technology

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Reflections on Changing Jobs

Eleven Lessons in Leadership

I'm changing jobs this week.  Tomorrow is my last day at my current job and next week I take on a new challenge.  As part of my MBA with UQ Business School I've learnt to appreciate the opportunity to be a "reflective practitioner", taking the time to learn from one experience before embarking on another.  My current workplace strives to provide an environment where our team can be high performing.  We have had help in achieving this goal from TMS Consulting,  and it would be fair to say that no personal stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of high performance.  I've learned a lot from this experience, especially from my work colleagues.  When one of my MBA tasks was to describe an example of leadership that I have personally witnessed I found I had plenty of material to work with from observing my colleagues.

I have been at my current work for eleven months and found, coincidentally, that I have identified eleven lessons in leadership, as displayed by my work colleagues.  These lessons are probably no different than any list of leadership lessons you could find on the blogosphere but they are the ones that resonate with me. I thank my colleagues for exhibiting them. Here they are:
  1. Never shy away from making hard decisions, or having difficult (but necessary) conversations with people.
  2. Be an active listener, able to draw out people's opinions and make everyone feel included
  3. Be a consensus builder, able to persuade people to support a common goal and to own group decisions.
  4. Be trustworthy. Don't let people down. Be someone that other people rely on.
  5. Be respectful, even when others are disrespectful. Earn the respect of others.
  6. Be energetic and driven. Your positive energy will be contagious.
  7. Be insightful, about yourself and others, a reflective practitioner who reviews the effectiveness of past decisions and learns from mistakes.
  8. Be tactical, a strategist who thinks long term but is also pragmatic and can identify and implement the short term steps needed to achieve long range plans
  9. Be motivational, find ways to rally troops behind a cause
  10. Be a visionary, able to paint a picture of the future that people can share and work towards achieving
  11. Lead by example and never expect more from other people than you are prepared to give yourself

Leaping into the moment - Dustin Eli Brunson Photography