All posts by Jeff Larche

The Ethics of Autonomous Vehicles

This Friday my colleagues at the Accenture Digital Hub in downtown Chicago will be participating in a lunchtime consortium. It’s a debate of sorts. The topic is autonomous vehicles and ethics.

I can’t make it, so volunteered to compose a little “thought-starter.” Here it is:

Dear Fellow “Digital Hubsians,”

Since I can’t be present, I asked if I could kick off proceedings with an introduction to the topic. A wedding out of town has taken me away but I am present in spirit, (obviously) excited about this topic, and eager to learn how the discussion went.

First of all, what is ethics? I’d say it starts with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would like done to you.

There’s an upgrade of sorts that fits even better with autonomous vehicles. It’s been called the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would like done to them.

Obviously the Platinum Rule is trickier, because you have to be empathetic enough not to automatically project your preferences onto the other person. But it applies pretty uniformly to autonomous vehicles debates, since just about all of us do not want these things to happen:

  1. Being struck and killed by a vehicle, driverless or not
  2. Ditto being killed or injured while riding in a driverless vehicle
  3. Being put out of a job because of driverless vehicles

These are the three major risks to individuals with the advent of better GPS, car sensors and AI.

To get your brains engaged, what follows are some considerations for each.

1. Pedestrian Deaths and Injuries

How does our society deal with the loss of life when someone is struck by a car driven without a driver? We were suddenly forced to confront that when, on March 18, an Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. Although she was not walking inside a crosswalk, and was likely not paying attention as she crossed, this is nonetheless tragic and raises ethical questions such as this one: Should we be climbing into an Uber sometime in the future that is priced below the current cost of even an Uber Pool, because this savings could be correlated with an elevated risk of taking a pedestrian life?

There are few defenders of Uber in terms of ethics, but when Uber begins its defense for killing that woman with one of their vehicles, they will undoubtedly say the pedestrian was carelessly jaywalking. When they do, it’s significant that they’ll be using a framework that is approaching its hundredth birthday. In a Vox.com piece from 2015, entitled “The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of ‘jaywalking’“, it was pointed out that things changed when more and more pedestrians were dying. And the change was due to an “aggressive effort in the 1920’s” led by “auto groups and manufacturers”…

“In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers’ job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. “But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it’s your fault if you get hit.”

With AI and sensors getting progressively better at sensing things like crosswalks, a new shift in perception may be fostered that carves out the safe zone as anything within those painted lines. Pedestrians may actually come to feel safer when crossing a street that’s busy with passing autonomous vehicles. Why safer? They would know that as long as they are within the lines of a crosswalk, they are shielded from harm to a degree that arguably doesn’t exist today, due to the fallibility of human operators.

A New Yorker article from 20-plus years ago (the January 22, 1996 issue), written by a much younger Malcolm Gladwell, stuck with me then so vividly that when I found it just now in the website’s archives I was able to zero in on exactly the term — and the concept — it had taught me then: Risk homeostasis.

Risk homeostasis, Gladwell explained, was first described by a Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde, in his book Target Risk. The idea is simple: “Under certain circumstances, changes that appear to make a system or organization safer in fact don’t. Why? Because human beings have a seemingly fundamental tendency to compensate for lower risks in one area by taking greater risks in another.”

And an example there of “one area” versus “another” is the very type of crosswalk the pedestrian was not using that day in Tempe. Risk homeostasis is illustrated beautifully by Gladwell inside and outside those lines in the road. He writes:

Why are more pedestrians killed crossing the street at marked crosswalks than [elsewhere]? Because they compensate for the “safe” environment of a marked crosswalk by being less [vigilant] about oncoming traffic.

It could be argued that risks will rise in some parts of the streets, but they may fall in others, causing an autonomous-vehicle-induced homeostasis.

2. The risk of riding in a driverless vehicle

Once all of the kinks are worked out, you’d think you couldn’t possibly be safer than riding in a vehicle that obeys all traffic rules and slows to safe traveling speeds when weather or reduced visibility dictates. But the AI spiriting you along would learn to make snap decisions that minimize fatalities based on values well beyond who is making the car payments. Your “passenger life” would possibly not be as valuable compared to multiple lives also at stake.

A decade ago I saw what I considered a truly cringe-worthy Will Smith movie. Some people adored it, raved about it. I found it ethically bonkers. It’s called Seven Pounds, and it’s about a jerky, Type A executive type who, while driving too fast with his wife as a passenger, reads a text message that distracts him long enough to cause a collision which kills seven people, including his wife. Over the next couple of years, while in the throes of depression, he contrives a way to redeem himself. Spoiler: He plans to donate parts of his body to seven other people.

For the sake of this discussion, I will restrain myself and not go off on the filmmaker’s willingness to portray an ultimately fatal illness – depression – as heroism and selflessness. Instead, let’s talk about the accident. What if those six passengers in the other vehicle could have been saved if the car driving him and his wife simply veered off the road and into a tree? How safe would you feel traveling in such a vehicle?

This is part of an emerging field called “machine ethics.” They go well beyond your autonomous Uber ride, as this article in The Economist,Morals and the Machine,” points out:

As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming – or at least appearing to assume – moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously.

So what is the correct answer to the “Seven Pounds accident?” It’s actually addressed in a thought experiment, created by Philippa Foot in 1967. It’s called The Trolley Dilemma. The latest version goes like this:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person tied up on the side track.

You have two options:

  1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the most ethical choice?

When professional philosophers were polled, the results were:

  • 68% would switch (sacrifice the one individual to save five lives)
  • 8% would not switch
  • The remaining 24% had another view or could not answer

So if Will Smith’s character was being driven by an autonomous Uber and a judgement call similar to the Trolley Dilemma was presented, he and his lovely wife (played by MaShae Alderman) would be toast. Six is three times greater – and more worthy of saving by dint of simple math – than two.

3. Autonomous Vehicle Job Displacement

As though driven by an AI-powered car, our society is barreling toward what could be perceived as an abyss. Millions of professional drivers could be put out of work. True, many of these jobs are extremely difficult and can even shorten lifespans. Automation in the past has saved several generations of workers from back-breaking, life-shortening jobs.

But where will these displaced workers go? With little promise of training into better-paying jobs, there is the very real risk of a social upheaval. Innovative countries and states are looking into a solution, that itself presents ethical challenges. The solution is state-funded universal guaranteed income, also known as UBI (Universal Basic Income).

The ethical quandary is this: Assuming UBI works to quell revolt and ensure public health and modest comfort, should the relatively few “haves” fund the lives of the many more “have-nots” — even if it is for the good of the state?

Ethics questions aside, UBI is being taken seriously. It is being tried in a couple Scandinavian countries, and seriously debated by voters in Switzerland. Closer to home, it’s actually being attempted today, in Stockton, CA.

Like autonomous vehicles and AI transformations in other industries, UBI seems to be something that cannot be ignored. How will it be framed in the U.S.? And what would happen to the American standard of living if it was embraced in other parts of the world but not here? The U.S. was founded and built upon Puritan ideals of hard work and self-sufficiency (reliance on legalized slavery for part of that “hard work” notwithstanding). Can we as a society agree to revise our thoughts about work in time to save our rapidly transforming economy?

Talk amongst yourselves.

This year’s NPR Austin 100 includes impeccable break-up advice

NPR’s Austin 100 is a curated collection of new music from SXSW. I’ve never been to this Austin-based music festival, but I look forward to the annual playlist as eagerly as many await March Madness. And contrary to what’s supposed to happen with age, my tastes aren’t narrowing. I’m actually finding more to love in the collections every year. In 2015, the first year I started downloading the 100 songs, I kept only 27 — An hour and 42 minutes of listening.

This year, the hit-rate for me is up to 85 percent: A little over five hours of diverse new music. I’m sure there will be other songs from the 2018 collection that will go into heavy rotation, but here’s my initial song crush: Lucy Dacus delivering a small masterpiece on coping with a broken heart.

Arresting Lyrics In An Addictive Melodic Package

Two things will strike you about Night Shift. First, the lyrics. There isn’t an unnecessary word or phrase, and not a single cliche. Instead, you feel the hurt, as she recounts a meeting with a recently lost love in a coffee shop. You imagine this meeting was suggested by her ex to assuage guilt over cheating that led to the break-up. Or maybe it was just love that faded. When you’re still in its throes, even just the other person falling out of love can feel like an unthinkable betrayal.

Don’t hold your breath, forget you ever saw me at my best
You don’t deserve what you don’t respect
Don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect

Regarding the second striking aspect of the song, I can be far less articulate. I’m a word guy, not a trained musicologist. But the structure is stunningly crafted, and makes the impact of her lyrics all the greater.

Yes, it builds, as a lot of modern pop songs do. Dacus starts with a simple, quiet folk melody and proceeds to a crashing, crunchy guitar crescendo. That’s nothing new. But this song does things differently. Since it caught my attention I’ve listened to it perhaps two dozen times — first for pure enjoyment, but then to try to grasp its magic. I needed to crack the code!

Which brings me to today. During a long, chilly walk, I was determined to listen to as much of my edited playlist as I could. But that damn song. I kept hitting replay on it. I finally surrendered and just tapped the Repeat Single button.

What followed was perhaps a dozen more listens. And possibly some hearing loss.

The melody appears to my untrained ear to change at three points, not counting a bridge just before what I guess you’d call the refrain. But this stunning refrain caps the end of the song instead of connecting separate verses. Dacus’ booming finale is a top-of-her-lungs declaration of Screw it! I’ll get over this — and you. Eventually.

You may disagree, but I find it to be a perfect song.

This isn’t the first time I’ve admired Lucy Dacus’ music. She was featured in the 2016 Austin 100. Here is that song. I’d like to believe it’s a new genre of anthem, dedicated to chubby girls or bookish girls, who are clever, smart … yet always overlooked:

My Own 2018 Austin 100 Curation

If you’re interested in what else is turning my crank from SXSW this year, here is my 79-song playlist in no particular order. It’s six songs short of my full list because, I’m guessing, a handful of artists did not agree to be on Spotify.

Enjoy.

Photo credit: Style Weekly piece on her. You should read the article.

A Business Communication Reading List

A month ago to the day, I provided a crowd-sourced list of recommended readings for the career-minded. I didn’t have room in that post to talk about all the excellent suggestions from one extraordinary friend. Jill Stewart is a professional lecturer at DePaul University’s College of Communication. I’ve never told her this, but hand’s down my favorite business class in college was Business Communication. I thought I’d ace it without breaking a sweat. Boy, did I have a rude awakening!

My professor, lo those many years ago, showed me that communicating in business is hard. It’s also vital to career success.

I was reminded of all of this when I read Jill’s reading list, provided here verbatim. If you can find a smart, dedicated professor like Ms. Stewart, take her class and heed her words. Next best thing: Dip into this list. You can let her know what you think here.

Books on how to improve your writing

Clark, How to Write Short (2014) and Writing Tools (2008)
Danziger, Get to the Point (2001)
Gray-Grant, 8 ½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better (2008)
Fiske, The Dictionary of Concise Writing, (2006)
Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (2008)
Kallan, Renovating Your Writing, (2013)
King, On Writing, (2000)
Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing (2012)
McCormack, Brief (2014)
Norris, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2016)
O’Connor, Woe is I (2012)
O’Connor, Words Fail Me (1999)
Rubin, Hey Wait How Do I Write This Email? (2015)
Strunk & White, Elements of Style, (1999)*
Watt & Bradford, An E.B. White Reader (1996)
Yagoda, How to Not Write Bad, (2013)
Zinsser, On Writing Well (1998)

Online resources, tips

American Copyeditors Association
AP Style Guide
AP Style Quizzes
Flesch Readability
Grammar Girl
Grammarly
Harvard’s Shorenstein Center’s Journalist’s Resource (for PR practitioners, too!)
The Publication Coach
Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab
Ragan’s PR Daily
The Writer’s Almanac, American Public Media
Writer’s Circle

Articles on writing tips

BrainPickings Blog (link is to a sample post)
Writer’s Digest (link is to a sample post)

* I do have to add that if you are new to Strunk and White’s legendary The Elements of Style, be aware that much has changed in language since E.B. White updated the work of his beloved teacher, William Strunk, Jr. Mind you, I used to consider this my bible, carrying a ragged, coffee-stained copy with me from apartment to apartment. But I now realize most of the rules have become quaint. This was a recent shock to me. I recommended the book last year to a dear friend, and then revisited it with her. It was sort of like visiting the house you grew up in, realizing it wasn’t an extravagant, magical palace as you remembered it. I still adore White’s short fiction and essays, his The Second Tree from the Corner — both the short story and the collection named after it — will blow the top of your head off. His mastery of language is that impressive. Likewise the book Jill listed as well, An E.B. White Reader. But if you buy The Elements of Style, listen to this podcast by the delightful John McWhorter for a strong dose of context.

For more career advice, these are two posts I reprinted on my blog from an Accenture Career site:

Tips for career-building reading in 2018

Note: This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

Building your career in 2018? Or perhaps you’re looking to make a change in your current situation. Either way, you may be surprised to learn how educational and inspirational your reading list can be.

Here’s a recommended reading list to get you started. The list is curated by me and a few of my friends and colleagues.

Let’s get started

To begin, I’ve put together tips on how to get the most value from your reading time. Let’s call it a Reading List User’s Guide.

  1. Choose books as wisely as you choose friends. Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once wrote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The same can be said for the authors you welcome onto your bookshelf or into your Kindle. In many ways, I consider authors I respect actual friends. For instance, early in my career, when I had my own direct-response consultancy, I would silently thank Peter Senge for what he had taught me. I would walk into a potential client’s business for the first time and apply the knowledge I gleaned from reading his book The Fifth Discipline, which focuses on how organizations “learn to learn.” I would look around at office dynamics and know with surprising accuracy just how much of a “learning organization” I was observing. No company is perfect, but Senge had trained me to see the extent of each organization’s “learning disabilities”—and by extension, whether they would be good customers for what I was selling. Now, that’s a valuable friend!
  2. Ask if popular books have truly earned their status. Good business books, like good speeches, should provide a strong mix of inspiration and education. Ask friends who have read a particular book what specifically they learned, or how they were moved. Listen closely to their answers. Much of the business world is ruled by groupthink, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and trying to impress. Those impulses aren’t good enough reasons to read a book, even if it’s the one “everyone is reading.” It’s a surprisingly rare business book that deserves its popularity. I’m thinking of books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which rode best-seller lists for literally years, and remains one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time.Don’t be put off if your friends talk more to inspiration than education. The same year I first read (and learned a ton from) “7 Habits,” I was also deeply inspired by a different book, called The One-to-One Future. It was in the very early days of CRM (customer relationship management). And boy, did it inspire! It literally caused me to change my career path, a decision that is one of the best of my life. Last year, I derived similar inspiration from another book, The Business Blockchain. I haven’t changed my career yet, but you never know! (And thanks to Accenture’s deep involvement in blockchain, a lateral move within our organization isn’t out of the question for me.)
  3. Vary your reading diet widely. Non-fiction books don’t have to be formally about business to help you with your career. When I read Dr. Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, I realized that I wasn’t communicating clearly with roughly half the professional workforce (i.e., women!). By an embarrassing coincidence—and as though the world had a painful lesson to teach me—just as I was about to start the book, I nearly lost a client because she gave her instructions in something Tannen calls “rapport speak,” while I was hearing her through the filter of “report speak.” I screwed up an assignment and only realized how it happened after reading and internalizing the book. How’s that for valuable career advice!
  4. Read the way you learn. Educational research teaches us that humans have preferred ways of learning. You may not take to the written word. Today, that shouldn’t hinder you. Don’t pay attention to those who stigmatize “hearing” a book instead of reading it. If audiobooks work for your style and your schedule, go for it. I’m currently “reading” a book in three different formats at once. I have a hardback copy of Ron Chernow’s dense Alexander Hamilton for the tactile pleasure of its pages, and its many illustrations, paintings and drawings. I also have an e-book copy to read when I’m traveling, since the hardcover takes up a lot of luggage space. And finally, I have an audible copy, for when I’m working out or taking long walks. I did something similar, and for similar reasons, when reading the outstanding Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnemann. Remember what I said about authors being like friends? Just like real friends, sometimes, once you deem them worthy, you invest the time and money needed to spend time with them. Good books, like good friends, are worth it.
  5. Use books to focus your thinking. To paraphrase the late David Foster Wallace in his famous “This Is Water” college commencement address (Google it; you’ll thank me), the worst cliché of such speeches is, “An education isn’t about filling us with knowledge but about teaching us how to think.” It’s easy to find that insulting. It’s not. He points out that “how to think” is not so much about the capacity to think, but the choice of what to think about (getting us back to point 1, above). Books that help us build our careers direct our thinking in important directions. This is crucial, because there is a lot of other stuff that really doesn’t matter. They’re distractions preventing us from doing great things.

More Reading Recommendations

So, in crowdsourcing my network, I’ve compiled a list of reading material that will both educate and inspire. Mine are sprinkled throughout the five points above. Happy reading.

    • Ben Kaczmarski, Accenture Federal Services, offers a book “very much in the realm of design thinking, written by two brothers from IDEO and Stanford’s d.school.”

 

“Call Me By Your Name, Tonya”: A movie review mashup

Everyone knows about mashups: Two unlikely songs or other media, seemingly unrelated, are shuffled together. On their surface, you couldn’t find two less similar films than Call Me By Your Name and I, Tanya. I saw them both last week, loved them and wanted to share my thoughts. When I recognized some surprising parallels, the world’s first Movie Review Mashup was born. And here you are reading it, and helping me make history. To discern which film is which, Call Me By Your Name aspects are in blue text, and I, Tanya in red. Here we go! …

When you walk out of the theater, having seen this [coming of age drama / mockumentary based on real events] [Call Me By Your Name / I, Tanya], you’ll realize that at its core it’s about [supportive / abusive] parenting. A key character is the chain smoking mother, played by [Amira Casar / Allison Janney]. Without giving anything away (this entire post is spoiler-free), you’ll wince more than once at the mother’s serious [boundary / hitting] issues. Of course these are in relation to her talented [musician son / skating prodigy], [Elio ([Timothée Chalamet) / Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie)].

Let me say right now, if [Chalamet / Robbie] doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this performance there is no justice in the world. I was blown away by [his / her] extremely convincing embodiment of a [17-year-old boy grappling with an attraction to an older man / young woman attempting to win an Olympic medal in figure skating while dealing with the baggage of an abusive mother and husband].

A backdrop for all this is the family’s [surreally beautiful summer estate somewhere in Northern Italy, near the Italian Alps / hyperreal, nicotine-tinged circa 1980s home somewhere in Oregon, in a really bad part of town].

This admittedly is a tough movie to watch. We witness many extended scenes of [emotional / physical and psychic] pain, inflicted on the protagonist by dint of being [a teenager with new and confusing feelings / considered nothing more than a meal ticket by her horrible family].

If you don’t have problems with the film’s frank, unflinching portrayal of [homosexuality / domestic abuse], you should definitely check it out. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a well-earned score of [97% / 90%].

The allure of libraries, magic and rare books

My hometown’s Carnegie Public Library saved my young life. Mid-century Escanaba, Michigan was pretty — yes — but also remote, and inhospitable to a shy kid like me. I wasn’t into hunting, fishing or sports. During my grade school years, I probably spent way too many recess periods inside, alone with a book. I couldn’t help it.

I wanted to learn stuff.

As soon as I’d exhausted the Children’s section of the library (and, I suspect, exhausted the children’s librarian, Miss Jensen), I was kicked upstairs to the adult books and media. I spent most of my time in the non-fiction section, settling into Dewey Decimal System’s home for conjuring and its history: 791.

I became one of those boys. I fell in love with doing magic tricks for friends and classmates, and soon graduated to performing shows for strangers. My first was for the Saturday morning story hour, back in the basement of — Where else? — the Carnegie Library. Thank you Miss Jensen!

I was reminded of all this when I saw this post from Chicago’s preeminent reference library:

Burnt pages of the anti-witch-burning book “Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft” gave us quite the #pagefright. This copy from 1651 may have been consigned to the flames, but it survived to call out the “lewde unchristian practices of witchmongers” while labeling witches “imaginary, erronious conceptions.” [Case B 88 .7991] #witches #witchcraft #imaginary #bookguts #librariesofinstagram

A post shared by Newberry Library (@newberrylibrary) on

I recall crouching in the stacks of Carnegie Library, reading excepts of Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. It was written to discourage the persecution of suspected witches by revealing how easy it was to simulate their miracles. It was far from a how-to, yet it earned the title of The World’s First Magic Book.

Here’s one example from its pages. This shows how you could display an apparently beheaded man and hold a conversation with his head while it rests nearby on a platter:

Those who know me well are aware I took to magic in a big way. It taught me some wonderful lessons: Confidence in front of strangers, how to tell a story, and even how to invent my own illusions.

I love the fact that I live within a few miles of a library housing one of the remaining copies of this treasured book. And I am especially grateful that everything else I learned in my “discoveries” in libraries has made me the person I am today.

Recent tour inspires Chicago makers and leads to tips for potential Accenture new hires

Note: This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

A social media profile for me says I’m a “Digital Analytics Leader at Accenture.” More specifically, I’m in our Personalization and Customer Analytics practice. That means I help clients use customer information to provide them with better digital experiences.

It’s literally a dream job.

Once, when I was a kid in a small-town library in an American backwater (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), long before the internet, I read a biography of someone who made his career back in the 1950s. It was just as television was becoming a transformative technology. You’d think I would have been inspired, but I was devastated. I thought, ‘It’s all in the past! I’ll never live through another period where I can get in on ‘the ground floor’ of an emerging technology.” (To be clear, as a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t think in exactly those words, but you get the idea.)

How naïve of me. Now we have this innovation wave under our feet that is ascending at an accelerating pace. It began late in the last century, with the digitization of everything. I’m riding it now, and loving it, but it is nowhere near cresting.

As I discovered on my recent visit to Chicago’s mHUB, an innovation center for product development and manufacturing, it will be rising for quite a while. And everything will be changed in its path. In other words, the best is yet to be, and Accenture is going to be a major player in how this future unfolds. Perhaps you’ll want to join us.

My mHUB Adventure

My profile continues that I’m an “avid reader, a film nut and a music omnivore.” And it’s through my reading [in the Economist Magazine, about urban manufacturing in Brooklyn, NY and elsewhere] that I first learned about the manufacturing incubator that was our “field trip” for a recent Accenture Digovation (digital + innovation) Event, to Chicago’s mHUB. I had to see what it was all about, so I joined the group from our Chicago Digital Hub for their visit in mid-September.

The mHUB is a 63,000-square-foot facility that contains 10 fabrication labs. The mHUB mission is helping Chicago’s “makers” ferry their ideas across “the chasm.” Let me explain. There is a place of maximum mortality in the lifecycle of most inventions. They start with promise, with a prototype, a business plan and some investment dollars. Then the invention advances, and often hits a deadly obstacle. Let’s say a product needs to produce 3,000 units to show market viability. A commercial production source—a traditional manufacturer—usually requires a minimum order of 5,000 pieces to even begin production. So, the challenge is: How to produce the next one thousand, two thousand or four thousand units, in order to reach a critical mass of sales? Before mHUB, this might not be possible, and another potentially brilliant invention will fall into the chasm and oblivion.

mHUB helps scrappy entrepreneurs reach the critical mass necessary to begin production. They do it by providing cool, otherwise inaccessible tools that operators can master quickly. The photo below shows a device that was used by our tour guide’s preschooler to make her own version of fidget spinners.

Our tour guide’s 4 yr old used this machine to make his own Fidget Spinners. #manufacturing #preschoolers

A post shared by Jeff Larche (@jefflarche) on

Lessons Learned at mHUB

What inspired me most was meeting and talking to inventors and entrepreneurs who happened to be there when we toured the facility. They were a diverse group, but what unified them was their vision and determination. I loved their focus. And I have no doubt that many will traverse the chasm and ferry their innovations into our lives.

We’re aligning ourselves with extraordinary innovators at Accenture, always finding exciting ways to turn innovation into solutions for our clients. Interested in a career where you get hands-on with the latest innovation? Here are a few tips to prepare yourself:

  1. Become really good at learning. I’m working with technologies that literally did not exist seven years ago. There is no way that your advanced education can teach you a trade, so don’t expect it to. Whatever your degree is in, continue to learn what interests you. Prepare to follow those interests (and to see them unexpectedly change!) throughout your career.
  2. Learn in the manner that works best for you. For example, I’m a mild dyslexic. That means in addition to reading books and articles the traditional way, I learn a lot through listening. I’m a podcast omnivore, with more than 40 podcast feeds, which in turn, feed me.
  3. Embrace the weird. It’s not an accident that in the last few years, Accenture has acquired two digital agencies based in Austin, Texas, where the motto is, “Keep Austin Weird.” Unconventional thinking leads to new ways of doing things. And only new solutions will bring us to a better future. Be part of that future. Embrace diversity by getting to know people from every culture and background.

Here’s a final bonus tip: If you’re interested in joining us, find a friend who works for Accenture, and have them recommend you. That’s what I did seven years ago. A friend referred me, and I never looked back. I’m loving where that decision has taken me. And if you don’t have such a friend, contact me. I’ll help you learn more about my extraordinary employer.

Take the next step in your career with Accenture and lead clients across the globe into the new.

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Travel hack: Never lose another work transponder!

My fellow road warriors can relate: They rent a car while on a project and don’t want their client to have to pay the insanely high costs of toll surcharges that the rental services charge. They know it well. But if you’re not a frequent traveler, I’ll explain.

Car rental services are similar to hotels. They’re faced with stiff price competition, but still need to meet profitability expectations. The solution for hotels is to mark up the price of all of the extras. Most recently, that means raising their fees for in-room movies. (A $20 price tag for a first-run movie? Wowza!) For the car rental business, their latest go-to is crazy high markups for the road tolls that their in-car transponders transact.

When I first experienced this, my solution was getting a dedicated work transponder, associated with my work credit card. Problem solved!

But when dropping off my car, I have more than once left behind my transponder. What’s more, it’s difficult to get the thing to stay in place at the far end of the dashboard, wedged under the windshield glass. It invariably slides away, or completely onto the floor.

Putting A Free Selfie Stick To Work

Then I came upon this nutty but effective solution:

I took a selfie stick, which I’d gotten for free at a conference and never used, and with a stout rubber band, I affixed my transponder. Now I had a retractable wand that is small enough to fit in a pocket of my suitcase, and can be easily extended and jammed snugly into the crook of my windshield.

The bonus is it’s way too big to leave behind, even when I’m returning my rental car in a hurry.

What travel hacks have you come up with?

 

 

United Airlines has a learning disability

Aug. 11, 12:33 PM ET UPDATE:

My travel colleague reports via email to me just now: “I have great news … United customer service came through!! Complete refund of my ticked and reimbursement of Uber ride. Most importantly they showed empathy for our situation.”

Well done, United!

Peter M. Senge famously said “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” This quote was in the context of his excellent book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Senge would take the experiences of myself and my fellow United customers last night as an example of a severe learning disability — one that I can only expect will continue to erode its competitiveness.

United Airline: Come on! Fix this problem

Disconnect #1: When you’re waiting at a gate, clearly hearing boarding announcements and news of schedule changes is nearly impossible — especially when the gate staff are unmotivated and ready to call it a day. I’m sure you’ve been there: You hear something on the PA system and look to your neighbor and go “Did you get any of that?”

Disconnect #2: Because of the above, executives like me and my fellow traveler, who will remain nameless but who wrote the complaint letter I’ve quoted in its entirety below, rely on United’s UPDATE texts and emails. We discovered last night, after two texts about delays, that United will text a notice of a delay but won’t text a change of conditions leading to a boarding time much earlier than last reported.

My colleague, who also wrote “The gate announcements from that location sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher,” summarized our plight this way: “I was scheduled to depart BDL and fly to ORD this evening on flight 1612. Attached is a screenshot of all the text messages I received stating the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm ET so I sat at an unoccupied gate to finish work/calls. I walked to the departure gate at 6:40pm ET to board only to be (extremely rudely) told ‘flight already departed.'”

She and I were stranded, with zero options out of that airport. We wound up taking an Uber from the Hartford, CT airport to Logan Airport in Boston. The title of her email sums up our travail:

Service Issue that cost me a $330 Uber + $150 American ticket + 2 hours

I’m including her excellent email, sent during our Uber, to unitedglobalservices@united.com.

Dear Global Services,

I have been a loyal United customer for years and fortunate to be a Global Services member in the recent past. This is the first formal complaint that I have filed but believe it’s well worth my time to inform you of the experience not only I had but also many of my fellow fliers experienced.

I was scheduled to depart BDL and fly to ORD this evening on flight 1612. Attached is a screenshot of all the text messages I received stating the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm ET so I sat at an unoccupied gate to finish work/calls. I walked to the departure gate at 6:40pm ET to board only to be (extremely rudely) told “flight already departed.” Picture of time attached as well. And the rude behavior by the gate staff at BDL continued. I was lectured about listening to gate announcements. In reality, the gate area was completely full so I needed to find a place to work during the delay. Note that the gate announcements from that location sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Rather than assist me with rebooking, the gate agent rudely stated: “this was our last flight. We are going home.” And I think that says it all regarding the motivation of the BDL United gate staff. Absolutely THE WORST I’ve ever experienced. And then at least three other passengers had the same experience (I was able to help two of them call customer service and request/receive a refund). I’ve CC’d one of them [that’s me of course] on this note.

I called American right away and they were able to not only book me on a flight but also my fellow passengers who were stranded as well. They stayed in the phone with us to finalize all of the transactions. I then called United Global Services (who are always amazingly helpful) to request a refund. The agent represented United so very well, apologizing for the service, and giving me the max she was allowed: a change fee waiver as well as finding out the best avenue for me to tell the full story. Amen for her.

That said, I’m out 2 hours and a $330 Uber ride from BDL to BOS as well as being soured on the overall United experience. I am saddened to write this note yet as the leader of a business, I feel it is my obligation to ensure the leaders of your company understand the gate experience of your customers…even the most loyal who make a conscious choice to fly United.

I look forward to hearing back from you within the next day and am more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Regards,

[Name Withheld]

Come on, United. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. When I was on the phone, insisting on a refunded ticket price for my missed flight, I reminded both the customer service representative and her manager that United infuriated two of its more frequent flyers, and, since we were both granted the refund for their customer service catastrophe, their flight left with at least two seats they could not fill (there was no standby list) and therefore made far less money on that flight.

United, this is no way to run a business!

Confessions of a Hamilton Fanboy

I was skeptical. The hype surrounding Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation seemed too good to be believed. But once I bought the original cast recording, I was convinced.

And hopelessly obsessed.

This Friday I saw the Chicago production of Hamilton for the second time, and unlike most other entertainments, this one was even better the second time.

So now I’ve predictably been back to bingeing on that original cast recording — specifically, my favorite exercise playlist. You see, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve probably run several hundred miles over the last couple of years to this: Only the fast-paced cuts on the album.

I Call This Playlist “Hamercise”

Selecting the songs wouldn’t be tough for you to do on your own, but why bother? Here you go. If this helps you get fired up for a good workout, it’s my pleasure.

Enjoy.

Oh, and if you’ve reviewed my playlist, you may wonder: Why did I include the very last song, which is decidedly not fast-paced? In fact, its terribly moving and sad.

Well, after a good cardio workout, it’s a well-known fact that shedding a few tears helps complete the healthy draining of toxins that perspiration only partially accomplishes. #JustMadeThatUp #TotalRubbish

Enjoy.