Archives for category: ramblings 2016 – 2017

Futures Rambling #101

In the book, The Enigma of Reason cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber help us understand the concept of bias using the analogy of a mouse who is bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats in the world. One can quickly see the inherent danger when the mouse becomes a kitty snack. On the world stage examples abound from the silly, e.g. Trump’s ‘birther debate’ to those with broader implications, such as denying climate change.

Sadly, to add to the list, we humans have another fault referred to as ‘myside bias’ clouding our reason. People are amazingly efficient at spotting weaknesses in another’s approach, but can be completely blind to their own. Sperber and Mercier suggests this occurs when the pace of change in the environment is too fast for natural selection to catch up. There are many examples, one is the dizzying speed that technology and digital interfaces have entering our environments, and the impact they have.

Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, also cognitive scientists, put it another way. They say people are simply dumb and believe they know more than they actually do. Ignorance fuels bias. To make the point they suggest thinking about a toilet. It’s of course one thing to flush one and another to know how it actually operates.

As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding. This is particularly worrisome when people who think alike collect together and form dangerous communities of stupidity. One excellent example would be the Trump’s cabinet and their highly inexperienced advisors. Really, who knew selling handbags and shoes was transferable to running a nation, but has it kept Ivanka from the West Wing?

Humans are so flawed, even our own physiology sets us up for failure. We experience a rush of dopamine when our beliefs are reinforced by others. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that control the brain’s reward and pleasure center; consequently, thinking you’re right and sticking to your guns, even when you’re wrong, produces a rush of dopamine. We actually get high. It’s sick and warped in the same cruel way a dopamine rush from checking email is.

A final addition to the list of flaws is implicit bias. They are learned bias associated with various qualities or social categories such as race or gender. These are currently playing a critical role in America right now, think about the Black Lives Matter debate. Implicit bias are hard to correct because they’re based on rehearsed, or learned, neural connections in the brain. Unfortunately, our brains are very good at leaning, they are not very good at unlearning.

If we can’t rely on data, because no one believes in it anymore and logic and reason are prone to bias, might we perhaps we turn to intraception? This is the term psychologist use to describe those who process the world primarily through their feelings or emotions.

Lisa Feldman Barret, professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, discusses this approach in her book How Emotions are Made. The long held belief that emotions are hard-wired in neurons in the brain is one she challenges, the status quo thinking is these neurons are automatically triggered when something happens to produce a specific emotional response.

Instead, she suggests emotions are more complex. For example a smile cannot provide clues to appreciate the nuances of a given emotion because there is more than one type of sadness, happiness or awe and emotions vary from culture to culture. She’s coined ‘the theory of constructed emotion’ which posits the brain relies on the past to construct the present. It predicts what to expect, and what actions to take, from sensory input based on experiences rather than hard wiring.

Thinking about this from your brains point of view it makes sense, it’s in your skull with no access to what causes the sensations it receives; it only has the effects. Given the plethora of human flaws outlined above what’s great about this is that Barret believes it is entirely possible to invest energy into cultivating new experiences that in time, if practiced, will become automated emotional responses.

Architects and designers can learn from this. If we know people’s immediate emotional response to change is ‘no way, no how, not doing that’ and we also know banging our heads against the wall trying to change beliefs hurts, we should stop talking and start creating experiences. It’s not complex, in fact the benefits of exposure to new things was introduced by the famous Dr. Suess in the legendary tome Green Eggs and Ham.

If all else fails there is always professional help to be sought. Extreme lost causes can be sent away for neuroscience-based coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy. Yes it’s a real thing. There are even programs to overcome implicit bias called Raciest Anonymous, naturally this concept was conceived of and is held in California (there’s an example of implicit bias in action). Finally, if the people you deal with are just plain stupid, perhaps suggest they immigrate to America. I hear there are still spots in the Trump administration up for grabs.

 

 

Advertisements

Bias and  the Complex Task of Changing Minds. (first in a two part series)

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of entering into a political debate with a person of the opposite party in today’s politically polarised world will appreciate the challenges of attempting to change a person’s beliefs, particularly when their mind is set. It is a conundrum so many of us are all too familiar with: whether we’re trying to nudge a crazy relative’s position at a holiday dinner or shifting mindsets in a professional setting. That the beliefs you’re hoping to alter are based on flawed logic, or even complete rubbish, rarely plays into the debate.

This is by no means a new phenomenon; man has contemplated epistemology: the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge, justification and the rationality of belief for a very long time. In 210a Plato defined knowledge as a ‘justified true belief’, in other words: if one’s belief is their knowledge, and they believe it to be true, it is justified.

In this discussion it’s important to appreciate knowledge and belief are two separate things. It’s easy to distinguish the difference; you can believe things that aren’t true, but you can’t know things that aren’t true. What causes us trouble is when reason enters the mix because reason is not always related to reality, and it has the power to override evidence. Imperfect reason is what causes the daft person to think their beliefs are actually the truth.

The fire is bellowed when beliefs becomes stronger than evidence, motivating a person to shut down and refuse to enter into debate. The implications are both significant and dangerous. In order for any of us to interpret reality correctly, we absolutely must be prepared to question our thoughts.

Designers face similar obstacles every day in discussions related to workplace transformation. Inevitably these lead down a path of exploring worker mobility and the need, or want to own space. The exchanges can become quite tiresome when they’re had with ‘know it all’ workplace deniers who reject the impact of change: new technologies, social expectations, economic pressures, evolved attitudes and ideas.

For deniers workplace design is simple. Provide a space for 200 people like the one they currently have, but instead of a blue carpet, bust out and innovative, go with orange. A more evolved, but equally shallow approach, comes from those willing to enter into debate only because they are itching to get into an ‘to ABW or not to ABW, that is the question’ skirmish.

During these exchanges it never seems to fail that an article proclaiming Activity Based Work as a colossal failure gets produced and waved in your face while the person spits and sputters anecdotes about living and working and how they’ve done both and know all there is to know. Even when presented with vast amounts of evidence to the contrary, data that tangibly demonstrates spaces are underutilised today and therefore a waste of money and energy, they adopt the disbelieving stare of a five year old who’s been told the tooth fairy isn’t real.

Such attitudes have an uncomfortable parallel with what is happening in politics, we’ve entered an unsettling time when facts no longer have authority and people believe what they want to believe. For some, their only motivation for conversing is to let you know you’re wrong. In the case of workplace, their message is unequivocal: take your activity based, well-being, brand communicating, and talent attracting workplaces and put them where the sun doesn’t shine.

Rather than debating ABW, or any other workplace, the focus of this conversation is impressions and how remarkably perseverant they are. It’s a phenomena that’s so rampant today that it’s been given a name, confirmation bias, which describes why people hang on to persistent beliefs that are not only false, but sometimes dangerous. The tendency for businesses to cling to information that supports their belief, while rejecting anything that doesn’t, is especially troublesome because it blinds organisations to new or underappreciated threats and halts innovation.

Futures Rambling # 100

By Laurie Aznavoorian

This is the third and final post on the Digital Revolution

Most of us are aware of the wide range of opportunities we have to capture data in the modern workplace using heat maps, sensors and the endless range of analytic tools now available. In addition companies like Johnson Controls, Siemens and Schneider Electric, to name a few, offer smart building technology and monitoring that help tenants get a clearer picture of potential energy savings and efficiency improvements. We’re spoiled with data; consequently, the larger issue today is in ensuring that what we have isn’t just data – but meaningful information that leads to greater knowledge.

The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that smart systems don’t talk to one another. The day when all the smart technologies speak the same language will be the day those interested in real time dynamic measurement and analysis can celebrate. In the meantime, keep the cork in the champagne and relish the advancements we have made. Without meaning to disparage the value these technologies bring in obtaining a snapshot of workplace efficiency, this third and final post on the impact of digital on physical office design will follow the lead of the others and focus on people, their efficiency and experience in the workplace, rather than the physical environment itself.

While smart building systems do smart things around us, most of us carry a secret digital weapon in the palm of our hand, our mobile phone, when properly outfitted it has the potential to radically increase our personal efficiency. The possibilities are even greater with new chips that enable instantaneous artificial intelligence. Combined with a digital personal assistant and an army of ‘bots’ to do our bargaining for us, our mobile can be transformed into a performance tool that has the potential to do more for an organisation than any space analytics tool. This is critical, because at the end of the day, improving personal efficiency and supporting people is why we have a workplace.

Consequently, developers like Apple, Google and Facebook have shifted their focus from personal computers to mobile devices and messaging and they’re hard at work improving the effectiveness of messaging with the goal of making it a portal for all things we do on mobile. The tech giants are no dummies, they recognise messaging is the prime means of business communication in parts of the world like India and Indonesia and in the West, there’s deep market penetration with various messaging apps like: Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp, Kik, Line, Viber, Telegram, Slack and Hangout.

Given its breath and the amount of time we spend on our mobile, there’s a priority to humanise messaging, as well as study how digital technology affects the way we experience and convey emotion. Machine learning has the ability to ratchet up messaging with smart replies that are calibrated to the content and context of a conversation, causing them to be more natural over time. As we experience better face to face and voice to voice interactions we’ll see text based communications replaced with multimedia offerings. Emojis, GIFs and short videos have great potential to augment text and assist in expression.

A persistent issue with emails and written communications is misconstrued messages due to the limitations of typing in expressing ourselves. Following the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, recently launched apps like VidiiChat illustrate how AI can be engaged to improve our ability to get our point across. Vidii provides the option of adding high definition, full audio video to ordinary text messages and then uses the phone’s camera to scan facial expressions to analyse the recipient’s emotional response. The app issues the sender an emoji receipt to confirm the recipient enjoyed the message.

Many of these offers are larks at the moment, intended to be used to communicate with friends and family. Never the less, it isn’t hard to imagine how improving written communication and offering immediate feedback could help with common problems many organisations face today with low employee engagement scores and widespread lack of emotional intelligence among people.

Another area with the ability to improve workplace performance comes from the many voice activated personal assistants on the market today: Siri, Cortana, Alexi or Google. Now that they’re using Artificial Intelligence algorithms they’ve moved from being cute developer parlour tricks to useful tools thanks to machine learning and its ability to recognise and process speech and connect to The Internet of Things or an army of bots.

Bots are rapidly taking over for Apps as the go to method for communication on mobile devices, they’re software applications that perform repetitive tasks and their advantage is they perform them faster than you or I and they don’t complain. A common bot task is chat. Some times when you think you’re chatting with a person, you may be actually chatting with a bot, because they mimic human interaction and conversation and have a high level of intelligence with, theoretically, some capacity to learn.

There are E-commerce bots that assist us in buying goods and services. Food bots to order dinner. Content bots, Watcher bots, Workflow bots, Concierge Bots and Banking and Trading bots that provide financial services. These new business bots have crossed the divide to make our worklife more productive, particularly when working in tandem with a personal assistants like Google’s assistant Allo. Imagine messaging a colleague about a meeting and simply typing “@google” to instruct the assistant to organise inviting attendees, reserving the video conference room and ordering lunch for your meeting.

As we begin to experience the workplace differently the Digital Revolution will have an impact on the physical environment no doubt, but right now it’s busy improving the EX – employee experience. As has been mentioned in past posts, this places the onus on designers to broaden their horizons and move beyond form and function toward end to end employee experiences. And in the meantime it would serve us well to not only understand, but make interfaces and software our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Futures Rambling # 99

By Laurie Aznavoorian

This second of three posts written for the Worktech Academy

There are many reasons it is a challenge to describe the impact of digital on physical workplace design, one is that digital is manifested more through the experiences we have in spaces than in their outward physical appearance. Another is workplace has been very slow in coming to the digital party. Other types of environments, such as retail and entertainment, were early adopters and have now advanced to a point where a seamless digital experience is all but expected.

Contributing to the sluggish uptake in workplace is our propensity to want to measure and relate what we do in the environment back to return on investment before we will commit to major works. Clearly this is easier when repeating a design that is tried and tested, not so much when we hope to implement new ideas. This highlights the critical role of belief in promoting innovative workplace design, because when it comes to challenging the status quo, clients must believe in ideas before they are willing to take a leap of faith. Of course at some point they will have no choice but to go out on a limb. It is our job to build the belief that will help them overcome fear.

Belief trumps truth every time. As designers we should never underestimate its power, for evidence of this one need not look any further than the vast amounts of workplace data that unequivocally proves the typical desk is frequently unoccupied, yet users swear hand on heart that they’re in their seat for a majority of the day. Even though the data says the opposite they believe what they believe – and that is why it’s important for us to acknowledge that beliefs do not need to be ‘true beliefs’ for people to wholeheartedly buy into them. As we’ve seen with the US election and the Brexit vote, facts are often optional in the decision making process.

Another pitfall to be avoided is short changing the critical role design plays in building belief. This begins with the development of a robust workplace strategy linking the organisation’s sustainability to the physical solutions we create. The relationship is the foundation for a rich narrative both designer and organisation can use to build broader buy in across an organisation. Finally, once a design is created it must put EX, employee experience, first surpassing pragmatic form and function to create a space that focuses on people’s experience. This is the blueprint for building belief.

Wonderfully conceived and designed spaces supported by convincing stories are an excellent start, but it still may not be enough. Fortunately we can now call on digital tools to help our clients overcome their natural aversion to taking risks. In the last post we talked about chip maker Qualcomm, one of the many working with Virtual Reality and instantaneous Artificial Intelligence. These new chips present audio and video, track eye, head and gestures and also track audio, all of this paves the way for virtual experiences that are more realistic than anything we’ve seen to date. Once relegated to the realm of video games, they’re now frequently used to enhance the design process.

Tech enthusiasts have been talking about Virtual Reality headsets since 2012, in March of 2016 the long awaited ship date of the high end consumer virtual reality headset Oculus Rift arrived and that is significant because to date there were none on the market that offered the quality an architect would require to use it as an effective design communication tools, not to mention their ability to afford it. At $1,500 USD for the headset and computer that it operates on, Rift is affordable and sophisticated and is rapidly making its way into design practices.

A second digital tool the Holograms has also moved beyond the lark stage to play a role in supporting designers. Today in Lowes, a home improvement retailer in the United States, which is neither high end nor exclusive, offers their customers the opportunity to cruse the store and use Pinterest to drop pins on products they’re interested in. Then donning a pair of Microsoft’ HoloLens goggles they can view a high definition hologram of their kitchen remodel. It would be hard to find a more powerful tool in the today’s market to help workplace designers build belief.

These technologies are quickly evolving from being follies and fads to tools of the mainstream and with their rapid development we’re quickly moving to a place where we’ll have real time dynamic immersive 3-D experiences. Products like Magic Leap, currently in development, but on the horizon, employ ‘augmented reality’ by creating realistic holograms superimposed on the field of vision. It is predicted such headsets will eventually scan our brains and transmit our thoughts, the technology will communicate a full sensory experience with emotions through thought.

When that day comes it will be much easier for us to build belief, in turn we will have greater license to explore the boundaries of innovative workplace design.

 

Futures Rambling # 98 by Laurie Aznavoorian

This is the first of three posts written for the Worktech Academy

We are on the precipice of a major turning point in human history and similar to past periods of rapid change: the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions, today’s era is driven by new technologies and processes that are forcing us to radically reorient the way we think, behave, communicate and work. Coined the ‘Digital Revolution’, the catalyst for this turning point is a combination of new technologies: robotics, advanced mobile, life sciences and artificial intelligence that are emerging onto the scene.

The intention of this series of posts is to explore what impact digital will have on physical workspace design. It is a task fraught with challenges, because while digital is all around us and impossible to ignore, it hasn’t yet made its mark on workplace. Consequently, the assignment will be approached by looking at new technologies, considering their applications in other industries and projecting possible roles they will play in workplace once they are adopted. This post will provide context, the next looks at the impact on design process and the role digital plays in building belief and the third will explore digital’s role in increasing workplace efficiency.

Sources vary, but most suggest this evolution began in the 1980’s when advancements in technology led a shift from analogue electronic and mechanical devices to technologies that enabled the consumption of media and use of business applications on mobile devices. Advancements currently in development will make the integration into workplace much more likely. While it’s still early days, the annoying creases that made digital clunky and only attractive to nerds and developers are rapidly being ironed out and it’s clearing the way for general acceptance in the population. Digital is poised to make significant changes in how we experience space and this is where it will have the greatest impact in workspace.

There are two dimensions of the current chapter in the digital revolution that are significant and underpin everything that is now possible, without them we would not see the progress we’re seeing today. Each dimension represents a part, either the quantitative or qualitative halves, of the digital equation. These dimensions are chips and burgers.

No joke, chips are critical, not those made from potatoes, but from silicon. Manufacturers like Qualcomm are currently producing versions that push mobile Graphic Processing Units, or GPU. GPU is related to the CPU we’ve all heard of, the Central Processing Unit or brains in your computer. But the important distinction is that a CPU primarily works sequentially, while a GPU is able to perform multiple straight forward duties in tandem and is therefore able to do an amazing number of computations very quickly, in fact GPU can perform 11 billion calculations in a tenth of a second.

GPU does this by employing a deep learning technique called Convolutional Neural Networking, modelled on the way the brain’s visual cortex works. CNN is a staple for all modern image recognition, we have video games to thank for it because it was gamers demanding more realistic mobile applications that accelerated its growth. The critical point to take away is that these chips not only work incredibly fast, but they do it in a mobile device which opens the door for an exciting and growing movement toward handheld artificial intelligence.

Burgers will be used to introduce the second critical dimension of the digital revolution, the concept of disintermediation; this is an economic term that simply means cutting out the middle man. Imagine a hamburger with nine beef patties and one bun. You’re probably not aware that you’re envisioning a Monster Mac, one of the many items on McDonalds’ secret menu. Frequent diners at the restaurant, who connect with other fast food aficionados using sites like #HackTheMenu, could tell you all about the Monster Mac, The McGangBang, the McKinley Mac and the Air Sea and Land Burger. The point to take away here is that McDonalds has absolutely nothing to do with the secret menu. It is the result of customers wanting an experience and a burger that is unique to them.

Now consider the impact of this line of thinking on the workplace. What if employees decided to #HackTheWorkplace by effectively cutting out facilities managers and designers from the process? It’s an idea that incites gag responses for some, but never the less something we should consider. We have all heard the term UX, user experience, which has been superseded by CX, customer experience, and as creators of workplaces it would serve us well to turn our attention to EX – the employee experience.

Fast chips embedded in every object from your fitness bracelet to your desk chair and a mobile phone powering new interfaces that bring the power of artificial intelligence to your hand held device combined with employee’s attitudes of empowerment will be the foundation for what’s to come. As designers this will mean we need to reinvent our design process and begin to consider space beyond its immediate function or physical appearance and embrace the concept of designing end-to-end experiences that merge the physical and digital worlds.