Insights December 3rd, 2019
On the 5th November, 2019 Nikolas Badminton spoke to the 2000+ attendees at Apptio’s Technical Business Management (TBM) Conference in Las Vegas. The TBM Conference – Power of Insights keynote was incredible well-received and set up the 3 day event for success.
Here Nikolas talks about the value of data today and how it underpins our understand the potential of the future.
Full Transcription of The Power of Insights by Nikolas Badminton, Futurist Speaker
Good morning. Wow, you’re all awake. This is great. Caffeinated. Ready to go? Who am I? I’m Nikolas Badminton. You can call me Nik. I’m a futurist, and I’ve been working in technology for most of my life. I picked up a computer when I was 10 years old. Data has been part of what has really shaped who I am. But more importantly, curiosity has really shaped my life from a very, very early age. My father gave me a book called the Usborne Book of the Future when I was eight, and it was like growing things under the sea and lunar mining and all sorts of amazing things.
I forgot about this until about six years ago when people started calling me a futurist, and it was like my father sowed the seed of curiosity. I used to read a lot. Then when I got on a computer, I couldn’t be dragged away from that. It’s a surprise that I don’t wear glasses today. But professionally I did what you do. I spent years and years in server rooms, DBA panels, building spreadsheets full of new ways to manage data, new ways to manage technology. Really, I’ve been working for 25 years in creating and executing data-driven strategies to grow business, reduce costs and inform investments. Today I look forward like five, 10, 20 years, my company Exponential Minds is a group of us futurists and strategists, anthropologists, smart creatives that try and inspire people to think differently.
The POWER of insights
This is the power of insights. My work is based on the power of insights. It still is today and it has been for 25 plus years. But what I do is I gather data from lots of disparate sources. I put together things that I call signals of change. It’s the things that we see happening today that signal a new way forward in the next five, 10, 20 years and sometimes those signals come from analysis and data. Sometimes it comes from research report. Sometimes it comes from interviews that I do with people that work in laboratories with authors of science fiction and also people that try and work out the shape of the world in the next 20 to 50 years.
The one thing that I realize is the insight absolutely and fundamentally drives our world forward. No business is exclusive to that. The jobs that you all do are essential for every modern business and for government and for life as a whole. In fact, data is growing so exponentially at the moment. By 2025 we’re going to have 163 zettabytes of data per year being generated. That’s a billion, billion high definition movies. It’s so much data that we’re only really going to be able to capture and use about 0.5% of that. That 0.5% is going to unlock a huge amount of value.
But for me and my job, it has to come back to who we are. We’re human. I look back as much as I look forward, and really I want to ground us in some history to start things off. It started with storytelling sitting around a campfire 6,000 years ago in these new settlements. The narratives transferred the knowledge of who we were, what we learned, medicines, inventions, building things, fixing things. It’s our history and our knowledge and it was passed down from generation to generation. Rarely humanity’s progression has been defined by great thinkers. The truth has been shown to us by data all the way through thousands of years, and it’s not always been easily or readily accepted.
Al Jazari – ‘the dreamer’
The first person that I want to talk about, and I always go back to about the 12th century, 1206 to be precise, it’s guy called Al-Jazari. He was known as the dreamer. He wrote a book called The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. A hundred machines that inspired and create wonder in people, about what a clock could look like, what a water transference device could look like, what a robot could look like in the 12th century. We often forget that the Arabian Muslim scholars came up with incredible things years and years ago, hundreds of years ago. He viewed the world through data. He applied it in new ways. He broke ground. There are very few copies of his book left. I think the youngest copy of his book that’s in existence is about 500 years old. That’s amazing to me. Actually encoding that data and pages and passing that down through the generations has enabled people to learn his story all the way through and apply some of his lessons.
Galileo, the ‘father of modern science’
The next person I like to refer to as Galileo. He was a man that was dealing in science in the face of disbelief. Einstein called him the father of modern science and really, he applied science and technology. He collected data. He looked to the stars and he tried to really see how the world truly is. He got into a huge amount of problems with this. He was looking at the principle of relativity, velocity, free fall, gravity, inertia. Things that are pretty normal today when we think about physics and when we think about how our world works. Well, he came up with helio-centralism, the idea that we’re actually spherical on this planet. The Roman inquisition threw him in jail for the remainder of his life. Because they said, “Yeah, but if you look far out, the stars don’t seem to be moving like this. We don’t believe you. We don’t believe your data.” He spent his life under house arrest for a belief.
I mean eventually he was forgiven. Eventually we saw people like Stephen Hawking really giving him the recognition that he deserves. But how many times have you been at work and you’ve presented data to someone and they’re like, “I just don’t believe it.” And they walk away. How many people?
The First Flight with the Wright Brothers
Look again. Okay, two days later. Several thousands dollars spent on resources. Here we go. It’s the same answer. I don’t believe it still. I’m just going to do it. You get it, right? But the rigor is coming from people like us. It’s coming from software platforms. It’s coming from the data itself. It’s coming from the wisdom that we push out into the world from the experience that we have. Really some of this data that we present just isn’t good sometimes and we have to fix it. We have to go back. We have to be honest about that.
It reminded me when I was down in Washington DC about six weeks ago, I went to the Air and Space Museum. I saw the Wright flyer, a model of the Wright flyer that flew on December the 17th, 1903 for the first time. Changed everything. How many people flew here to Vegas? Pretty much everyone in the room. Well, what’s interesting about the Wright brothers is that they were data pioneers. When I was there, I was thinking I need to tell this story.
They were taking all these theories and this data about how you can take a heavier than air aircraft, a wing, off the ground. Everyone that had gone before them was wrong. The amount of crashes that they had numbered into the dozens, into the hundreds. Until they went home and they built a homemade wind tunnel. It was quite small, but they collected enough data and they built enough prototypes to work out how they could fly. They knew that data was wrong, but they didn’t question it by saying that’s wrong, we’re going to ignore it, and then we’re going fundamentally go the opposite direction. We’re not ever going to be able to fly. It’s like we’re going to divine what true data in this context is.
1969. Data takes us to the Moon, and back
Data is always changing, and it’s really interesting. Obviously earlier on we saw a lot around space and data and computing and people of great talent have taken us into space. 50 years ago they took us to the moon. Collins and Aldrin and Armstrong headed for the moon. What’s really interesting about this is that a great friend of mine got inspired by NASA and the work they did by the moon landings. On the right hand side here we’ve got a website. This is a Apolloinrealtime.org. He actually called this No Narrative Storytelling. He did this as a hobby. He was at home. He collected all this data. He built it for Apollo 17. After about six years, he got a phone call and it was from NASA and they said, “We really love your website. Can you tell us about it?” He said, “It’s no narrative storytelling. I take all the data that I can get about a moon mission and I present it in a way that lets you look for what you want to find. The idea of show, don’t tell was transferred through this website.”
What’s really interesting about this as well is that it truly empowered the audience to tell their own story as part of the biggest story based on real data. 11,000 hours of audio was encoded for the new version for Apollo 11. When they actually released that to the world, they crashed all the servers and people watched it from end to end. The entire mission as it played out before. But really discovering lots of different parts of the story in the data. That universe of data to them was infinite in a way. They could tell multiple stories. It was fascinating. If you empower the audience and you give them credit to empower, that sort of curiosity, then I think we can find great things in business today.
Acceleration through the Industrial Revolutions
That’s led us to where we are today with we’re moving faster than we have ever done before. We’ve gone through industrial revolutions where energy, transportation, communications, innovations have pushed us forward in the last 250 years. Our mastery of data over that 250 years has created trillion dollar companies today. It’s absolutely amazing. Today the fourth industrial revolution is cyber connected systems. The internet connecting everything. Sensors, cameras, self driving cars in the future, devices. We live in an incredible world that’s accelerating faster every single day. We can look to what we see around us, the signals of change, to show us how that life is changing and how culturally we’re being shaped and how our culture is also shaping the technology.
Mobile. Augmented Reality (AR). Artificial Intelligence. Quantum Computing.
I think that there’s four things that I’m super excited about and I talk about dozens of things in the period of a year to tens of thousands of people, but the four things that I think are really exciting me today and will cause a huge growth in data and provide great tools for what you need to do. The first one is mobile. By next year, there’s going to be six billion smart phones in the world. What’s fascinating about that stat is that there’s more people have access to mobile communications than access to clean running water. What’s more important in life? You can start a business, you can call in a favor, you can transfer money. Revolutions in places like Africa. They were doing mobile banking 16 years ago in Kenya. We’re still struggling a little bit today, right?
Then the second thing is a new mobile reality, augmented reality. The idea that we can wear glasses on our faces and all the big companies that are spending billions of dollars researching this and working out how to make this work. Data delivered by the terabyte in context so you can really create an overlay to the world. Some people calling it the mirror verse. It’s this alternate universe where we’re actually a part of it, very different from virtual reality, which is a completely separate world. Augmented reality, where we see the data is delivered to our eyes immediately when we need it the most, and we’re still working that out. It’s very difficult to work out how far we go with this. Too much data, and it will be rendered useless. Just enough data, and it will power the next thousand years of progress.
Then we’ve heard nothing but thousands of articles and conference presentations and futures running around promising the future delivered by artificial intelligence. In 1993, I sat down at an old Macintosh and I programmed a single layer neural network to try and work out whether grammar truly existed or not. I was that kind of precocious student. I said, “Well, maybe it doesn’t. It just didn’t work very well.” I was like, “Maybe grammar doesn’t exist because it only works 60% of the time and that’s not particularly good with AI.” But like today, some 25, 26 years later, we’re now in a world where artificial intelligence is going to be in every single device in the world. It’s going to fundamentally change things as exponentially as electricity changes things. There’s hidden secrets in our data. Machine learning when applied correctly will divine some of those insights that completely inform whole new ways of working in the world.
Tapping deeply into data is something we always strive to do, and it’s hard work. Even with tools like artificial intelligence doing that. But then there’s also quantum computing as well. I mean Google just the other week said, “We’ve just had quantum supremacy. We solved a hugely difficult problem and in 200 seconds, it would take a traditional computer 10,000 years.” To which the traditional computer scientists were like, “Prove it.” You can’t run a computer for 10,000 years. Anyway, hugely controversial. Quantum physics, everything acts definitely at the quantum level. But it’s a new tool in our arsenal to gather new insights. It’s going to break ground in problem solving and encryption and in chemistry. In fact, I’ve got a lot of people that I know that are working on this to really help secure the new world of banking and other applications as well. I’m so excited. These four pieces of technology, if you look at anything from this point forward, just go and Google and take a look at these four areas. You’ll be fascinated at the experiments that are being undertaken day by day.
But with all this data and with all of these devices and these new ways of working, we’ve really got to come back to who we are as humans. We deserve to have a place in this world. We can’t get replaced by technology, right? We have to recognize that there’s truth. Much like Galileo put out there, and he was ignored. We have to stand by that truth more now than ever before. We have to realize that there’s bias in the data and sometimes that’s because people of minority, different genders and whatever aren’t represented in the way that we train datasets or the way that we build databases or entity relationship models, anything. We have to look at bias. We have to look at fixing some of that.
I actually think the new data cleansing is going to be biased cleansing. Rarely there’s digital rights as well. I support a foundation called the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They truly believe that digital rights or human rights were completely put together, digital and humanity. We are together forever now. We’re symbiotic symbiotic in the way that we operate in the world. There’s lots of people experimenting with new ways to give humanity back what it deserves.
The chief technology information officer down in Microsoft is looking at projects into what they’re calling data dignity. Micro transactions, so if they collect data on you, you give them permission to use it or sell it. Then you get a cut of that money back or you don’t give them permission, and you’re in control. Is that going to be the new model of the world? Well, I certainly hope so. Is it likely to become the new model of the world quickly? No, because we don’t like change. But change is inevitable. We are the change or change happens to us. New companies will surround the old companies and change the business model. It’s very exciting the disruption that we’re going to see.
“A point-of-view can be a dangerous luxury when substitute for insight and understanding.”
But really what we have to do with all the data and devices and different perspectives is understand something that Marshall McLuhan said very eloquently. “A point-of-view can be a dangerous luxury when substitute for insight and understanding.” Do we truly understand what we’re pushing out into the world, what we deliver? Are we making time to understand that? Data alone without understanding is nothing. We’re driven to think, feel, and do by the information presented to us. When it becomes insights, we use that. We mix that with our experience, and that becomes wisdom. I like to say that we live in the wisdom economy. When you see things like artificial intelligence come in, they’re like, “Well, that’s going to replace all these jobs and whatever.” I just say, “No, it allows humanity to level up.” No one needs to be flipping burgers or even driving taxis. It’s like, “Yeah, but we need these people.” “No, we need to elevate these people into new professions.”
There’s an interesting stat. I live up in Canada. I live in Toronto. In Canada, there’s about 200 taxi drivers that are fully qualified medical doctors in other countries and 20 of them are surgeons, and they’re taxi drivers. Where’s the problem in the world? The problem in the world is that we haven’t used data and applied it to platforms and new ways of working to liberate them into something where they can be incredibly powerful citizens of Canada, US and beyond. I mean we are the homo sapiens, we’re the wise people, right? Our ability to reason and speak and to think about wisdom that we gather is incredibly important. It’s what drives all businesses. We’re not here because we just push data from A to B. We’re here because we know exactly what that data’s going to do at the other end.
Transformation and the power of insights
That brings me to think about transformation. Now I’ve run dozens of transformation projects, hundreds of millions of dollars, saving money, making money, empowering executives, confusing a lot of executives as well. In the work, we have to transform our businesses and in turn, we transform the world. I think we often forget that we’re all world leaders. I say that I train world leaders to have impact. We’re all world leaders. It doesn’t just have to be the people in charge of the countries. We’re the people that have the power to make a change every single day. But how fast are we moving?
Now there’s a guy called Roy Amara. He’s a futurist, an amazing thinker. He applied foresight principles and started to help companies look forward. He helped found the Institute for the Future down in California. He came up with Amara’s Law. He said this, “We tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short term and underestimate the effect of technology in the longterm.” When I was talking about the four things, and I’m super excited, there’s probably a bunch of people in the room going, “It’s not going to happen that quickly.” But 30 years ago we said that about mobile phones. We’re saying it today about self driving cars, and we’re saying it today about AI. We think that we’re overestimating everything and then suddenly 10, 15 years’ time, it’s going to be here faster than we’ve ever seen it before.
When I really work with people, I say, “Think big today. Write stories, create incredible worlds.” Not everyone’s going to hit home, but within that, within those signals of change, we’re going to see a complete redefinition of our world. As we gather data and we built huge data infrastructure and it’s difficult to do. The tools like Apptio and other vendors really come together to make our jobs a lot easier than they used to be.
I hate spreadsheets, by the way. I spent a lot, a lot of time in spreadsheets. But I was looking around and it’s like who’s saying something really smart about this? There’s guy called Atul Butte. He’s a professor at University of California. He works with the Chan Zuckerberg foundation as well. He said, “Hiding within these mounds of data is knowledge and that could change a life or change the world.” Do you know what? I think that there’s something very profound in there. Even if you make a decision today that changes a dozen people’s lives, that’s not a failure. We can’t impact a billion people’s lives immediately. It takes time. It takes wisdom. That’s built from everyone in this room speaking to each other here, taking it back to work. Those businesses putting goodness out into the world and the world delivering goodness back into them. People believing that humanity at the center of solutions can deliver huge change, and technology is there and data’s there. Sure. We’re the people to help it deliver.
Power of Insights (redux)
Really when I started to think about this keynote, I was thinking the power of insights, what does that truly mean? We’ve already come back to our true calling. Our true calling is to create insights, to be curious. Together we can do anything with that. I think over the next two days, bear that in mind, because you might make friends with some people, build some relationships, have some arguments that change how you think about the world and how you deliver that idea of that change is the thing that’s going change everything. Part of that is going to be at work and part of that is going to be at home. Mostly it’s going to be because you’re a human and you’re out in the world, and I thank you for doing what you do.
The future is now. It sounds a bit cliche because that’s already in the past. It gets really heavy being a futurist, by the way. I’ve got a friend who’s a professor of time. Don’t ever chat to a professor of time. It gets really, really tough. But the future is now, the future is tomorrow, and the future is in five years and 10 years. Look for the signals of change, but really look within yourselves and think about the impact that you can make and how you can take that out into the world.
Thank you very much.