Productivity Tool, The Eisenhower Box.


Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961.  Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.  Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades.  Here’s how he did it.

Inside Story Behind the Rise of Airbnb.

In 2007 Brian the-airbnb-storyChesky and Joe Gebbia were broke and looking to raise money to make their rent in San Francisco. They decided to rent out air mattresses in their apartment to attendees of a conference because all the hotels were booked. They called their service “Air Bed and Breakfast.” In a few years, this small experiment would create the hotel industry disruptor Airbnb. The privately held company, with third co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk on board, now lists more than three million lodgings in nearly 200 countries. It is worth $31 billion, more than Hilton and Wyndham combined, and closing in on Marriott.


Knowledge@Wharton: What was it specifically about Airbnb that drew you in?

Leigh Gallagher: I tend to go for topics that have what I call a “cocktail party factor” — you bring it up, and everybody has an opinion about it whether it’s good or bad or a personal experience or whatever.

This company first came on my radar in 2008, 2009. I am the editor of Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list. Every year, we get these breathless pitches from these new companies out of Silicon Valley that are “going to change the world.”

When I heard about this one, as I say in the book, I really rolled my eyes, and I said, “You know, this is an old idea. I’ve used VRBO or for years. What is it with these tech companies that think they can gloss something up and re-issue it onto the marketplace?” I just sort of put that away, and then sure enough, a year or two later, they … started to catch fire.  “Everyone thought that they were completely crazy; no one thought this was a good idea.”

I had the chance to interview the CEO, Brian Chesky, at a tech conference Fortune hosts in Aspen every year. … I dug into the [company] numbers, and they just really spoke for themselves. I quickly learned I was wrong to dismiss them, and that’s when I first started looking at the company in closer detail.  Really, what drew me to it is that it’s this incredibly transformative way to travel. This incredibly social, business and cultural disruption story — it just touches so many things.

Knowledge@Wharton: What these guys did — Chesky, along with Joe Gebbia and Nate Blecharczyk starting a company basically by renting out space in their own apartment — was obviously a unique way to launch something.

Gallagher: It is, yes. The whole story around their origin takes a lot more twists and turns than most people who have read about the company know. They’ve oversimplified it to tell the story hundreds of times, but it really was purely accidental — as are many of the most interesting kinds of inventions.

Everyone thought that they were completely crazy; no one thought this was a good idea. People said to them, “I hope you have another idea. I hope this isn’t the only thing you’re working on.” Or, “People actually do this? What’s wrong with them?”  Investors wouldn’t even meet with them, or if they did, they just said, “You guys are crazy. There’s going to be a murder in one of these houses. There’s going to be blood on your hands. I am not touching this with a 10-foot pole.” And no one did. They almost didn’t get off the ground. They almost had to close up shop because people thought it was that crazy

Knowledge@Wharton: What was the turning point?

Gallagher: There were two moments, I would say. One was when they first rented out their apartment when a design conference was coming to town. They needed to make their rent. … This is in San Francisco. Two of the three co-founders — Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, they were Rhode Island School of Design graduates — needed to make money, and they rented out their apartment. They said, “Well, there’s lots of designers coming to town, so let’s offer them a place to stay with an air mattress, and it’ll be a whole [travel] experience. We’ll show them the city, etc.”

“Hotels charge a higher rate when there’s a big event that boosts demand. That’s basic supply-and-demand economics. Now, Airbnb absorbs all that extra demand.”

They thought they were going to get hippie backpackers, and instead, they got lots of people just like them who wanted those air mattresses. They had people sending their resumes and their LinkedIn profiles [to prove they are not security risks], so they thought, “We might be on to something.”

Leigh Gallagher, assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine, chronicles the extraordinary growth of the company in her new book, The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions … and Created Plenty of Controversy.


How to Unlock Your Hidden Creative Genius


Let’s define creativity.  The creative process is the act of making new connections between old ideas or recognizing relationships between concepts. Creative thinking is not about generating something new from a blank slate, but rather about taking what is already present and combining those bits and pieces in a way that has not been done previously.

While being creative isn’t easy, nearly all great ideas follow a similar creative process. In 1940, an advertising executive named James Webb Young published a short guide titled, A Technique for Producing Ideas.  Young believed the process of creative connection always occurred in five steps:

  1. Gather new material. At first, you learn. During this stage you focus on 1) learning specific material directly related to your task and 2) learning general material by becoming fascinated with a wide range of concepts.
  2. Thoroughly work over the materials in your mind. During this stage, you examine what you have learned by looking at the facts from different angles and experimenting with fitting various ideas together.
  3. Step away from the problem. Next, you put the problem completely out of your mind and go do something else that excites you and energizes you.
  4. Let your idea return to you. At some point, but only after you have stopped thinking about it, your idea will come back to you with a flash of insight and renewed energy.
  5. Shape and develop your idea based on feedback. For any idea to succeed, you must release it out into the world, submit it to criticism, and adapt it as needed.

While we often think of creativity as an event or as a natural skill that some people have and some don’t, research actually suggests that both creativity and non-creativity are learned.  According to psychology professor Barbara Kerr, “approximately 22 percent of the variance [in creativity] is due to the influence of genes.” This discovery was made by studying the differences in creative thinking between sets of twins.  All of this to say, claiming that “I’m just not the creative type” is a pretty weak excuse for avoiding creative thinking. Certainly, some people are primed to be more creative than others. However, nearly every person is born with some level of creative skill and the majority of our creative thinking abilities are trainable.

How to Be More Creative

Step 1: Give yourself permission to create junkIn any creative endeavor, you have to give yourself permission to create junk. There is no way around it. Sometimes you have to write 4 terrible pages just to discover that you wrote one good sentence in the second paragraph of the third page.  Creating something useful and compelling is like being a gold miner. You have to sift through pounds of dirt and rock and silt just to find a speck of gold in the middle of it all. Bits and pieces of genius will find their way to you, if you give yourself permission to let the muse flow.

Step 2: Create on a scheduleNo single act will uncover more creative genius than forcing yourself to create consistently. Practicing your craft over and over is the only way to become decent at it. The person who sits around theorizing about what a best-selling book looks like will never write it. Meanwhile, the writer who shows up every day and puts their butt in the chair and their hands on the keyboard — they are learning how to do the work.

If you want to do your best creative work, then don’t leave it up to choice. Don’t wake up in the morning and think, “I hope I feel inspired to create something today.” You need to take the decision-making out of it. Set a schedule for your work. Genius arrives when you show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way.

Step 3: Finish something  –  Finish something. Anything. Stop researching, planning, and preparing to do the work and just do the work. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad it is. You don’t need to set the world on fire with your first try. You just need to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to produce something.   There are no artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, or scientists who became great by half-finishing their work. Stop debating what you should make and just make something.

Step 4: Stop judging your own work  –  Everyone struggles to create great art. Even great artists.  It is natural to judge your work. It is natural to feel disappointed that your creation isn’t as wonderful as you hoped it would be, or that you’re not getting any better at your craft. But the key is to not let your discontent prevent you from continuing to do the work.  You have to practice enough self-compassion to not let self-judgement take over. Sure, you care about your work, but don’t get so serious about it that you can’t laugh off your mistakes and continue to produce the thing you love. Don’t let judgment prevent delivery.

Step 5: Hold yourself accountable  –  Share your work publicly. It will hold you accountable to creating your best work. It will provide feedback for doing better work. And when you see others connect with what you create, it will inspire you and make you care more.  Sometimes sharing your work means you have to deal with haters and critics. But more often than not, the only thing that happens is that you rally the people who believe the same things you believe, are excited about the same things you are excited about, or who support the work that you believe in — who wouldn’t want that?   The world needs people who put creative work out into the world. What seems simple to you is often brilliant to someone else. But you’ll never know that unless you choose to share.


5 Misconceptions About Entrepreneurship.

You may expect that success will come fast (or not at all). You may see entrepreneurship as an easy way to get rich. But these assumptions are false.


Entrepreneurship is romanticized in our culture, and it’s easy to see why: We live in a capitalistic society that values the creation of ideas, the unlimited potential of business and of course the prestige of attaining wealth and power.  On top of that, we have entrepreneurial celebrities like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg inspiring countless waves of new entrepreneurs striving to achieve the same level of success they did.

That is a good thing — mostly: Startups drive economic growth, and the entrepreneurial journey is valuable in almost any future application. However, too many young people (and people new to business ownership) end up being in over their heads because they believed in these common entrepreneurial misconceptions:

1. Entrepreneurs are born to lead.  It may seem that some people were born natural leaders, or were born with better traits to become entrepreneurs, but in reality, entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s possible to acquire the necessary traits to become a successful entrepreneur no matter how you started out. Introverts, extraverts, “idea people” and grunt workers have all had equal stakes in business ownership and development; anyone can be an entrepreneur, given the right mindset and dedication.

2. The idea is everything. It’s true that a sexy idea can give you a head start in the entrepreneurial world. You’ll attract more investors, whether you seek private investing or crowdfunding, and you’ll have a more profitable and/or sustainable foundation on which to build your business.However, even the best ideas can end up failing if they aren’t properly supported. And, by that same token, even mediocre ideas can, with the right team and enough adaptation, end up surviving. Your idea is bound to change, and is tied to many other variables, so don’t get too invested in it.

3. You’ll have unlimited freedom.Many people are drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship because of the potential freedom it brings. It’s true that you’ll be the one setting most of the rules. You can abolish the 9-5 workday if you want, enable remote work options, dress casually and declare your own vacations.  Just don’t forget that you’re also responsible for making this business profitable. Oftentimes, that means making tremendous personal sacrifices, working long hours and getting stuck at the office far longer than you’d like.

4. It’s an easy way to get rich.Entrepreneurship is a path to wealth-building with a strong potential for success; with the right variables lined up, there’s no upper limit to how much you can earn. However, you can’t think of entrepreneurship as a get-rich-quick scheme. You’ll need to invest significant resources into your business, including both time and money. Even with all the right things in place, you’ll have no guarantee you’ll have the timing or the pacing right.

5. Success will come fast or not at all.  The portrait of the successful entrepreneur is usually of someone whose business skyrocketed to success overnight. The reality is, of course, it takes many months —  even years — of hard work and countless struggles before the payoff hits. Because of the looming failure rate of startups, too many entrepreneurs believe it’s an all-or-nothing bid, but success and failure come in much more diverse shades than that.

6. It’s all on your shoulders.  Entrepreneurs often get the most credit for building their businesses because they’re the faces of their respective companies, and the original founders. However, no entrepreneur ever found success completely on his/her own.

There’s always a mentor, an investor, a partner, a team of employees or at least a supportive family member who was/were there to help make the founder’s dreams a reality. Don’t try to do everything yourself; learn to accept and ask for help from others, and your potential will only grow.

7. You know the secret to success.  Most excitable new entrepreneurs believe they have the secret to success — they know their idea can’t be competed with, or they think they have the perfect timing, or they have a “secret weapon” that will make them successful. This is almost always a delusion.  Businesses succeed or fail based on a number of different, interacting variables. To reduce it all down to one variable is arrogant and short-sighted. If there was a straightforward secret to success, we’d all be mega-rich entrepreneurs.

The reality of entrepreneurship is different from the one you see frequently portrayed in biographical articles and economic headlines, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse or not worth pursuing. All that this “reality” means is that you have to be better prepared for the hardships and the side of entrepreneurship that isn’t as openly discussed.

Robots Are Here…Fed-Ex, Kinkos, Hotels & Soon Domino’s.

Fedex is using autonomous robots to essentially replace the mailroom clerk

Over the last year, FedEx has been working with Savioke, a Silicon Valley company that makes autonomous indoor delivery robots, to develop a robot delivery system for its repair facility in Collierville, Tennessee. The bots are used by workers to move items around the office, cutting down on wasted time, and storage space, as workers no longer have to spend time walking around picking up and dropping off items, or need a mailroom clerk to do it for them.

Savioke has spent the last few years building its Relay robot, a stout trashcan-height bot that can autonomously ferry about 10 pounds of goods around. The robot combines a range of technologies to see and navigate the world on its own, including lidar (the laser radar technologies powering the eyes of self-driving cars) and depth-sensing 3D vision cameras (similar to those found in a Microsoft Kinect). The company has been building relationships with hotels to use Relays as replacements for the menial tasks done by concierge and other hotel staff. Instead of a worker delivering room service or a toothbrush, hotels can now press a button on a tablet, have a Relay come to them, load it up, and send it to a guest, freeing up their time to do more important tasks.

Savioke robot
A Relay robot in a hotel, with an affectionate child for scale.(Savioke)

Hotels need to install a wireless system in their elevators so that Relays can open the doors on their own. The bots, which can be rented from Savioke for $2,000 a month, can navigate through areas that have been mapped, even if there are new obstacles, such as chairs that have been moved around, or people. Relays have completed over 100,000 autonomous deliveries at a range of hotels owned by Sheraton, Aloft, Holiday Inn, Westin, and others. The robots make little beeps as they carry out their errands, and the touchscreen on their fronts tell passersby what they’re up to as they’re out. When they show up to a guest’s door, they open their cargo door, say hello on the screen, and let the guests interact by pushing a few buttons to say whether they were happy with their delivery. Savioke’s robots have also started popping up at a few other office facilities.

But Savioke’s partnership with FedEx hints that the company has ambitions beyond the hospitality industry. “Our goal is to change the way we think about moving items from one place to another,” Adrian Canoso, Savioke’s head of product and design, told Quartz. Just about every office, apartment complex, hospital, and warehouse in the world has items that people waste hours moving around each day. Whether it’s packages going from a lobby to an apartment, or medical supplies being transported from one hospital ward to another—there are always little things that waste so much time when added up over the course of the work day. For FedEx, this means repair staff working on complex devices don’t have to worry about remembering where the product they’re working on needs to go next—they can just call the Relay and send it along. “We want Relay to be pretty much everywhere,” Canoso said.

FedEx is currently using seven Relay robots in its Tennessee facility, as well as one at a Kinkos (a copy and a mailing chain it owns) in Manhattan. Canoso said FedEx’s Relays have completed tens of thousands of deliveries, and have traveled over 1,000 miles through its offices. He added that Savioke didn’t work with FedEx to set up the bot in New York—the company just wanted to experiment and see if it was something it could use.

FedEx wasn’t immediately available to comment on whether it plans to add more robots to its offices. In a recent speech, FedEx CEO Fred Smith said the company is exploring a range of robotic offerings to streamline its business, from robots like Relay to ones that could help load packages off of delivery trucks.

In the repair center, the robots work together to complete requests, meaning the Relay that dropped off your item might not be the one that picks it up—through Savioke’s control software, the robots can handle multiple orders at once. At the Kinkos, the robot is being used as a gofer, bringing items from the storage area in the back of the store to the front for customers. Smith recently said that workers named the robot in New York Sam, and one of the bots in Tennessee “Lil’ Rico.” FedEx works with Samsung to repair its broken products, meaning that theoretically, someone in Manhattan could drop off a broken Samsung phone with Sam, have it picked up in Tennessee by Lil’ Rico, who brings it to an engineer to fix, and then it’s shipped back to Sam (presumably using FedEx) to deliver to the customer.

Obviously, a few other humans would need to interact with that broken phone right now (such as the person working with the customer, and those who would carry out the cross-country shipping). But in the future, it’s entirely conceivable that robots like Savioke’s, which are just as easy for customers to use as employees, could be implemented across an entire business operation. At a store, one robot could in theory, take your order, go pick it up from another robot that received the order over wifi and got it ready, load it up, and bring it back to you, all without you having to interact with a single person.

And it’s possible that we’ll see more little robots like the Relay scurrying around as we go about our days. Startups like Starship are already using diminutive robots to deliver take-out and groceries to customers in the UK and the US, and Amazon, Google, and others want to deliver packages to homes with drones. Even Domino’s thinks robotsare an efficient way to deliver pizza. Many of these bots work on subscription model’s like Savioke’s, too. Perhaps someday, we’ll have robot butlers like Relay that we can tell, “I want the usual from China King for dinner,” and it can go fetch our General Tso’s Chicken without us even having to take our eyes off the television.

But building robots that can navigate the world on their own (especially without any preexisting maps) isn’t easy, and most of these robots can’t carry that much at any one time. It does raise the question, though: In the future, with all this unnecessary moving cut out of our lives, what will we do with all this newfound spare time?

From Knowledge @ Wharton 4/13/2017 Weekend E-Edition

Surest Way to Create New Jobs.


Tax breaks? Infrastructure spending? Free college? These are some of the ideas the presidential candidates have for boosting growth and creating jobs. But the best way to do it may be one neither candidate has highlighted: bringing more immigrants to the United States.

Immigration is a contentious issue, especially now, with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump calling for new limits on people entering the United States and a “deportation force” to round up and expel people in the country without documentation. But economists and entrepreneurship experts think of immigrants quite differently—as an economic resource America could get a lot more out of.

“The first thing needed to create new high-growth businesses for jobs is immigrants,” Bill Aulet, managing director of Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, tells Yahoo Finance in the video above. “They come here determined to start a company, we teach them how to do it, then we send them back. That’s crazy.”

Immigrants start businesses at a far higher rate than native-born Americans, as this data from the Kauffman Foundation shows:


A new report on immigration by the National Academy of Sciences found there to be “many important benefits of immigration—including on economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurship—with little to no negative effects on the overall wages or employment of native-born workers in the long term.” While some people think immigrants undercut wages and job opportunities for native-born workers, there’s little evidence that’s true. Immigrants do, however, earn and spend money, work at jobs many Americans don’t want and start many businesses that grow quickly and hire.

New businesses are important because that’s where most new jobs in the economy come from. In 2014, the pace of new-business startups hit the lowest point in 20 years, largely due to the sustained impact of the 2008 financial meltdown and the corresponding recession. Startup activity has bounced back during the last two years, but it still isn’t generating as much growth as it could or should be. “It’s one-for-one,” Aulet says. “One starts, and one goes out of business. That business is kind of being attacked.”

Immigration policy is complex, and many people conflate unauthorized immigration with the rules governing who can come to the United States. There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Many of them work and contribute to the economy, often in low-paying jobs that would be hard to fill with legal workers. If Trump were elected president and managed to deport the majority of those people, there would be labor shortages at many companies and growth could suffer.

Among immigrants who are permanent residents or visa holders, there are some with blue-collar skills and others with college or graduate-level educations. The Obama administration wants to establish a new type of “startup visa” that would allow extended stays for foreigners who commit to starting and running a business likely to have strong job-creation potential. Some critics argue that US policy shouldn’t favor privileged foreigners over others, but the concept does offer a targeted initiative that might not get bogged down in the murkier matter of sweeping immigration reform.

Countries such as Canada and England, meanwhile, seem to be doing a better job of attracting immigrant entrepreneurs. “We seem to be behind the curve,” Aulet says. “Some of the best entrepreneurs are these immigrants, and they’re not feeling welcome in the country? You’ve got to be kidding me.“ Uh, nope.

Interview of Bill Aulet, Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, by Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance.  (more…)

What Would Jesus Disrupt?


Entrepreneurs from Cincinnati’s Crossroads Church try to scale their startups without selling their souls.

For two days, the crowd sits in darkness in plush theater seats, watching the church stage. There are smoke machines and LED screens, harnessed climbers scaling a scaffold “mountain” and raising their arms in symbolic victory over the startup world’s arduous climb. There’s talk of destiny-defining “exits.” Of Jesus and his disciples: “The most successful startup in history!” Of the parable of the talents, in which two servants are lauded by their master for turning a profit with money he staked them: “The first recorded instance of venture capital and investment banking in history!” Of ancient business elites: “A church is the oldest marketplace in the history of the world.” Of the promised land of angel investing, where divinely inspired entrepreneurs dwell: “Because God creates things, too!” Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice and Shark Tank, shows up to remind everyone that “the Bible is full of merchants and people doing work.”

At last, near the end of Unpolished 2015, a faith and entrepreneurship conference hosted by Crossroads, an evangelical church in Cincinnati, the marquee event begins: the final round of a pitch contest. Organizers have selected three prospective company founders out of more than 100 entrants, each of whom submitted a minute-long video pitch deck. One of the finalists, Lyden Foust, a 25-year-old ethnographer, presents his entry on the LED screens flanking the church stage. With his chiseled jawline, tightly trimmed beard, and three-button henley, he looks like an L.L. Bean model, save perhaps for his rectangular glasses. In a voice-over, he describes his vision to divide the world’s cities by “vibe,” calling his idea “Google Maps wearing a mood ring.” The cityscape of Nashville rolls past, overlaid in swaths of color: blue for blue-collar neighborhoods, brown for yuppie ones, green for hipster, purple for commercial, teal for family, yellow for artsy.

Every successful pitch deck, like every successful religion, includes an origin story, and Foust’s is no different. He recounts booking a place in Nashville through Airbnb Inc., only to find the house situated between a strip club and a manufacturing plant. While retrieving something from his car, he turned to see a man pointing a gun at his face. “I just handed him my wallet,” Foust says. The robbery led to an epiphany: Why not mine social data to tell people what a neighborhood is really like?

The idea isn’t entirely new: An app that launched in 2014 with a similar aim (albeit a different crowd-sourcing methodology), SketchFactor, foundered after being widely criticized for appearing to help white people avoid black neighborhoods. But at this point, Foust’s product is pure concept. He has no employees to build it, only a name, Spatial. The other finalists pitch a family-run app-development company and a board-game-rental app; then the judging is turned over to the audience of 1,200 aspiring entrepreneurs. Foust’s idea prevails, and Brian Tome, Crossroads’ senior pastor, hands him an oversize check for $3,000. Soon after, Foust will begin the next stage of the church’s path to entrepreneurial success, applying for a spot in a member-funded, Bible-based accelerator program, beginning in a few months, that’s designed to train startups in how to raise money and grow.

Finally, the house lights come up. At the end of the aisles, attendants await, holding pails overflowing with packets of apple seeds. “God’s placed a seed in you. And he wants to see it come to fruitfulness,” Tome says to the crowd, his spiked and styled dirty-blond hair and untucked plaid shirt lending him the air of an aging film star. Bowing his head, he prays, asking God to lead everyone to “the right seed that will bring forth the right fruit at the right time in every business.”

It’s a remarkable altar call: Those who feel inspired are to take these seeds from the attendants and go forth, claiming their spiritual destinies … as entrepreneurs. At the edge of the waist-high stage, people mingle, hugging and holding hands. Others bow their head or kneel under the outstretched hands of strangers to receive prayer. Foust joins them, walking down the aisle and asking for blessings and prayers at the start of his entrepreneurship journey.

From Bloomberg Businessweek 4/5/2017


Story of WhatsApp, Jan Koum Interview.

WhatsApp Road to 1Billion Users & a $19 Billion Exit                                 Jan Koum at Startup Grind Global (39 minutes You Tube)

Koum, 37, once stood in line to collect food stamps, who Forbes believes owns 45% of WhatsApp and thus is suddenly worth $6.8 billion (net of taxes) — was born and raised in a small village outside of Kiev, Ukraine, the only child of a housewife and a construction manager who built hospitals and schools. His house had no hot water, and his parents rarely talked on the phone in case it was tapped by the state. It sounds bad, but Koum still pines for the rural life he once lived, and it’s one of the main reasons he’s so vehemently against the hurly-burly of advertising.

At 16, Koum and his mother immigrated to Mountain View, a result of the troubling political and anti-Semitic environment, and got a small two-bedroom apartment though government assistance. His dad never made it over. Koum’s mother had stuffed their suitcases with pens and a stack of 20 Soviet-issued notebooks to avoid paying for school supplies in the U.S. She took up babysitting and Koum swept the floor of a grocery store to help make ends meet. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, they lived off her disability allowance. Koum spoke English well enough but disliked the casual, flighty nature of American high-school friendships; in Ukraine you went through ten years with the same, small group of friends at school. “In Russia you really learn about a person.”

Koum was a troublemaker at school but by 18 had also taught himself computer networking by purchasing manuals from a used book store and returning them when he was done. He joined a hacker group called w00w00 on the Efnet internet relay chat network, squirreled into the servers of Silicon Graphics and chatted with Napster co-founder Sean Fanning.

He enrolled at San Jose State University and moonlighted at Ernst & Young as a security tester. In 1997, he found himself sitting across a desk from Acton, Yahoo employee 44, to inspect the company’s advertising system. “You could tell he was a bit different,” recalls Acton. “He was very no-nonsense, like ‘What are your policies here; What are you doing here?’” Other Ernst & Young people were using “touchy-feely” tactics like gifting bottles of wine. “Whatever,” says Acton. “Let’s cut to the chase.”

It turned out Koum liked Acton’s no-nonsense style too: “Neither of us has an ability to bullshit,” says Koum. Six months later Koum interviewed at Yahoo and got a job as an infrastructure engineer. He was still at San Jose State University when two weeks into his job at Yahoo, one of the company’s servers broke. Yahoo cofounder David Filo called his mobile for help. “I’m in class,” Koum answered discreetly. “What the fuck are you doing in class?” Filo said. “Get your ass into the office.” Filo had a small team of server engineers and needed all the help he could get. “I hated school anyway,” Koum says. He dropped out.

When Koum’s mother died of cancer in 2000 the young Ukrainian was suddenly alone; his father had died in 1997. He credits Acton with reaching out and offering support. “He would invite me to his house,” Koum remembers. The two went skiing and played soccer and ultimate Frisbee.

Over the next nine years the pair also watched Yahoo go through multiple ups and downs. Acton invested in the dotcom boom, and lost millions in the 2000 bust. For all of his distaste for advertising now he was also deep in it back then, getting pulled in to help launch Yahoo’s important and much-delayed advertising platform Project Panama in 2006. “Dealing with ads is depressing,” he says now. “You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better.” He was emotionally drained. “I could see it on him in the hallways,” says Koum, who wasn’t enjoying things either. In his LinkedIn profile, Koum unenthusiastically describes his last three years at Yahoo with the words, “Did some work.”

In September 2007 Koum and Acton finally left Yahoo and took a year to decompress, traveling around South America and playing ultimate frisbee. Both applied, and failed, to work at Facebook. “We’re part of the Facebook reject club,” Acton says. Koum was eating into his $400,000 in savings from Yahoo, and drifting. Then in January 2009, he bought an iPhone and realized that the seven-month old App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of apps. He visited the home of Alex Fishman, a Russian friend who would invite the local Russian community to his place in West San Jose for weekly pizza and movie nights. Up to 40 people sometimes showed up. The two of them stood for hours talking about Koum’s idea for an app over tea at Fishman’s kitchen counter.

Jan Koum signs the $19 billion Facebook deal paperwork on the door of his old welfare office in Mountain View, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Jan Koum)

Jan Koum signs the $19 billion Facebook deal paperwork on the door of his old welfare office in Mountain View, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Jan Koum)

Early WhatsApp kept crashing or getting stuck, and when Fishman installed it on his phone, only a handful of the hundreds numbers on his address book – mostly local Russian friends – had also downloaded it. Over ribs at Tony Roma’s in San Jose, Fishman went over the problems and Koum took notes in one of the Soviet-era notebooks he’d brought over years before and saved for important projects.

The following month after a game of ultimate frisbee with Acton, Koum grudgingly admitted he should probably fold up and start looking for a job. Acton balked. “You’d be an idiot to quit now,” he said. “Give it a few more months.”

Help came from Apple when it launched push notifications in June 2009, letting developers ping users when they weren’t using an app. Jan updated WhatsApp so that each time you changed your status — “Can’t talk, I’m at the gym” — it would ping everyone in your network. Fishman’s Russian friends started using it to ping each other with jokey custom statuses like, “I woke up late,” or “I’m on my way.”

“At some point it sort of became instant messaging,” says Fishman. “We started using it as ‘Hey how are you?’ And then someone would reply.” Jan watched the changing statuses on a Mac Mini at his town house in Santa Clara, and realized he’d inadvertently created a messaging service. “Being able to reach somebody half way across the world instantly, on a device that is always with you, was powerful,” says Koum.

The only other free texting service around at the time was BlackBerry’s BBM, but that only worked among BlackBerries. There was Google’s G-Talk and Skype, but WhatsApp was unique in that the login was your own phone number. Koum released WhatsApp 2.0 with a messaging component and watched his active users suddenly swell to 250,000. He went to see Acton, who was still unemployed and dabbling in another startup idea that wasn’t going anywhere.


A. I. and Technology Convergence.

FILE - In this June 6, 2014 file photo, journalists surround humanoid robot Pepper on display at SoftBank Mobile shop in Tokyo. Japanese mobile carrier Softbank said Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 it will incorporate artificial intelligence technology from IBM into its empathetic robot Pepper that goes on sale in Japan this month. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

FILE – In this June 6, 2014 file photo, journalists surround humanoid robot Pepper on display at SoftBank Mobile shop in Tokyo.

Unexpected convergent consequences this is what happens when eight different exponential technologies all explode onto the scene at once.  An expert might be reasonably good at predicting the growth of a single exponential technology (e.g. the Internet of Things), but try to predict the future when A.I., Robotics, VR, Synthetic Biology and Computation are all doubling, morphing and recombining… You have a very exciting (read: unpredictable) future. This year at my Abundance 360 Summit I decided to explore this concept in sessions I called “Convergence Catalyzers.”

For each technology, I brought in an industry expert to identify their Top 5 Recent Breakthroughs (2012-2015) and their Top 5 Anticipated Breakthroughs (2016-2018). Then, we explored the patterns that emerged. Artificial intelligence is the ability of a computer to understand what you’re asking and then infer the best possible answer from all the available evidence. You may think of A.I. as Siri or Google Now on your iPhone, Jarvis from Iron Man or IBM’s Watson. Progress of late is furious — an A.I. R&D arms race is underway among the world’s top technology giants.

Soon A.I. will become the most important human collaboration tool ever created, amplifying our abilities and providing a simple user interface to all exponential technologies. Ultimately, it’s helping us speed toward a world of abundance. The implications of true A.I. are staggering, and I asked Stephen to share his top five breakthroughs from the past three years to illustrate some of them.

Recent Top 5 Breakthroughs in AI: 2011 – 2015
“It’s amazing,” said Gold. “For 50 years, we’ve ideated about this idea of artificial intelligence. But it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve seen a fundamental transformation in this technology.” Here are the breakthroughs Stephen identified in Artificial Intelligence research from 2012-2015:

1. IBM Watson wins Jeopardy demo’s integration of natural language processing, machine learning (ML), and big data. In 2011, IBM’s A.I. system, dubbed “Watson,” won a game of Jeopardy against the top two all-time champions. This was a historic moment, the “Kitty Hawk moment” for artificial intelligence. “It was really the first substantial, commercial demonstration of the power of this technology,” explained Gold. “We wanted to prove a point that you could bring together some very unique technologies: natural language technologies, artificial intelligence, the context, the machine learning and deep learning, analytics and data and do something purposeful that ideally could be commercialized.”

2. Siri/Google Now redefine human-data interaction. In the past few years, systems like Siri and Google Now opened our minds to the idea that we don’t have to be tethered to a laptop to have seamless interaction with information. In this model, AIs will move from speech recognition to natural language interaction, to natural language generation, and eventually to an ability to write as well as receive information.

3. Deep Learning demonstrates how machines learn on their own, advance and adapt. “Machine learning is about man assisting computers. Deep learning is about systems beginning to progress and learn on their own,” says Gold. “Historically, systems have always been trained. They’ve been programmed. And, over time, the programming languages changed. We certainly moved beyond FORTRAN and BASIC, but we’ve always been limited to this idea of conventional rules and logic and structured data.” As we move into the area of A.I. and cognitive computing, we’re exploring the ability of computers to do more unaided/unassisted learning.

4. Image Recognition and interpretation now rivals what humans can do — allowing for imagine interpretation and anomaly detection. Image recognition has exploded over the last few years. Facebook and Google Photos, for example, each have tens of billions of images on their platform. With this dataset, they (and many others) are developing technologies that go beyond facial recognition providing algorithms that can tell you label what is in the image: a boat, plane, car, cat, dog, and so on. The crazy part is that the algorithms are better than humans at recognizing images. The implications are enormous. “Imagine,” says Gold, “an A.I. able to examine an X-ray or CAT scan or MRI to report what looks abnormal.”

5. A.I. Apps Proliferate: Universities scramble to adopt A.I. curriculum As A.I. begins to impact every industry and every profession, there is a response where schools and universities are ramping up their A.I. and Machine Learning curriculum. IBM, for example, is working with over 150 partners to present both business and technology-oriented students with cognitive computing curricula. So what’s in store for the near future?

Anticipated Top A.I. Breakthroughs: 2016 – 2018
Here are Gold’s predictions for the most exciting, disruptive developments coming in A.I. in the next three years. As entrepreneurs and investors, these are the areas you should be focusing on, as the business opportunities are tremendous.

1. Next-gen A.I. systems will beat the Turing Test Alan Turing created the Turing Test half a century ago as a way to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. Loosely, if an artificial system passed the Turing Test, it could be considered “AI.” Gold believes, “that for all practical purposes, these systems will pass the Turing Test” in the next three-year period. Perhaps more importantly, if it does, this event will accelerate the conversation about the proper use of these technologies and their applications.

2. All five human senses (yes, including taste, smell and touch) will become part of the normal computing experience. AIs will begin to sense and use all five senses. “The sense of touch, smell, and hearing will become prominent in the use of AI,” explained Gold. “It will begin to process all that additional incremental information.” When applied to our computing experience, we will engage in a much more intuitive and natural ecosystem that appeals to all of our senses.

3. Solving Big Problems: Detect & Deter Terrorism, Manage Global Climate Change. A.I. will help solve some of society’s most daunting challenges. Gold continues, “We’ve discussed AI’s impact on healthcare. We’re already seeing this technology being deployed in governments to assist in the understanding and preemptive discovery of terrorist activity.” We’ll see revolutions in how we manage climate change, redesign and democratize education, make scientific discoveries, leverage energy resources, and develop solutions to difficult problems.

4. Leverage ALL health data (genomic, phenotypic, social) to redefine the practice of medicine. “I think AI’s effect on healthcare will be far more pervasive and far quicker than anyone anticipates,” says Gold. “Even today, AI/Machine Learning is being used in oncology to identify optimal treatment patterns.” But it goes far beyond this. A.I. is being used to match clinical trials with patients, drive robotic surgeons, read radiological findings and analyze genomic sequences.

5. A.I. will be woven into the very fabric of our lives — physically and virtually. Ultimately, during the A.I. revolution taking place in the next three years, AI’s will be integrated into everything around us, combining sensors and networks and making all systems “smart.” AI’s will push forward the ideas of transparency, of seamless interaction with devices and information, making everything personalized and easy to use. We’ll be able to harness that sensor data and put it into an actionable form, at the moment when we need to make a decision.

By Peter Diamonds in The Huffington Post 2/14/2017

Separate Diagram, Convergent Trends:



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