“Together with his identical twin brother, Scott, he has laid the groundwork for the future of space exploration as the subjects of an unprecedented NASA study on how space affects the human body, which is featured in Scott’s New York Times best-selling memoir, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.”
“Currently, Mark is on the Commercial Crew Safety Board at Space X […] and is the co-founder of World View, a full-service commercial space launch provider.”
Endeavour to Succeed. College of DuPage, Department of Physics. February 14 2019.
I managed to attend Captain Mark Kelly’s talk in Chicago just the day before I was leaving for Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. M. Kelly’s presence and insightful remarks commanded both admiration and utmost respect.
Among many other fascinating topics, he discussed NASA’s “None of US is as Dumb as All of Us“ as a reminder of the negative impact of ‘groupthink‘ in the context of faulty decision making. Most specifically, he referred to dramatic mistakes leading to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003.
“Large-scale engineered systems are more than just a collection of technological artifacts. They are a reflection of the structure, management, procedures, and culture of the engineering organization that created them.”
“They are also, usually, a reflection of the society in which they were created. The causes of accidents are frequently, if not always, rooted in the organization—its culture, management, and structure.”
“Blame for accidents is often placed on equipment failure or operator error without recognizing the social, organizational, and managerial factors that made such errors and defects inevitable.”
Nancy G. Leveson, MIT. Technical and Managerial Factors in the NASA Challenger and Columbia Losses: Looking Forward to the Future. Controversies in Science and Technology Volume 2, Mary Ann Liebert Press, 2008.
Groupthink is part of the taxonomy of well-known cognitive biases and takes hold when divergent thinking and disagreement are discouraged (and even repressed) as part of group dynamics.
Hindsight is 20/20 and, statistically speaking, ‘black swan’ events are characterized by seemingly random surprise factors. Groupthink can obfuscate the early detection of predictors such as leading outliers and anomalies, which left unattended can overwhelm a given system over time… and be the source of cascading effects and critical failure.
Groupthink’s negative impact compromises any best intentions such as organizational cohesiveness in the spirit of consensus, agility, productivity, timely project progress and de-escalation management.
Often times, there might be neither adequate situational and risk awareness nor a basis for sense making drawing from the comparative analysis that comes with diligent scenario planning.
Individuals and organizational cultures with a succesful track record can also experience complacency. Over-confidence fosters the sort of behaviors and decisioning that served the group well in the past.
Though, when in the mix of a changing environment defined by new parameters under the radar, only operating within the perimeter of a given set of core competences and comfort zones, makes those specific behaviors blindsight and betray the team’s mission and purpose.
Many plans do not survive first contact (or a subsequent phase for that matter) as their implementation creates ‘ripple effects’ of various shapes and propagating speeds. Some of that can be experienced as ‘sudden risk exposure.’ Once passed the ‘point-of-no-return,’ if that challenge is met with neither contingency planning nor the ability to timely course correct, pivot or even deploy a basic safety-net offsetting the impact, the project fails to ‘cross the chasm’ and is headed for what’s technically known as the ‘valley of death.’
This was one of the key issues discussed by Clyton M. Christiansen when I took his Harvard class on the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma,’ and is also a key point behind Risto Siilasmaa’s ‘Paranoid Optimism’ as well Paul Romer’s ‘Conditional Optimism,’ all of which advocate for scenario planning and sensing optimization to be able to calibrate or re-assess the path forward.
“Michael Shermer stated in the September 2002 issue of Scientific American, ‘smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.”
Groupthink can also manifest itself by means of ‘eco chamber’ effects’ as misguided consensus amplifies what becomes a “self-serving” bias. That is, in effect, a closed feedback loop process that magnifies logical fallacies. These can come across as reasonable enough postulates, though if based on rushed judgement and selective focus they can also suffer from ‘confirmation bias.’ This is the case when new evidence is only used to back-up the existing belief system rather than share new light.
In the context of Decision Support Systems and Cognitive Analytics, the above reasoning deficits become root causes of errors impacting operations. That can involve both (a) Human-Human and (b) Human-Machine interactions, as well as impacting programming work resulting in (c) biased algorithms and automation pitfalls when left unsupervised.
Carisa Callini. Human Systems Engineering. NASA, August 7 2017. https://www.nasa.gov/content/human-systems-engineering
Carisa Callini. Spaceflight Human Factors. NASA, December 19 2018. https://www.nasa.gov/content/spaceflight-human-factors
Clayton M. Christensen. The Innovator’s Dilemma. Harvard Business Review Press, 1997.
COD Welecomes Astronaut Mark Kelly. Daily Herald, February 13 2019. https://www.dailyherald.com/submitted/20190201/cod-welcomes-astronaut-mark-kelly-feb-17
Geoffrey Moore. Crossing the Chasm. Haper Collins, 1991.
MIT Experts Reflect on Shuttle Tragedy. MIT News, February 3 2003. http://news.mit.edu/2003/shuttle2
Tim Peake. The Astronaut Selection Test Book. Century. London, 2018.
Scott Kelly. Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery. Knopf. New York, 2017.
Scott Kelly. Infinite Wonder. Knopf. New York, 2018.
Steve Young. Astronaut: ‘None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us.’ USA Today – Argus Leader, May 13, 2014. https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2014/05/13/astronaut-none-us-dumb-us/9068537/
Will Knight. Biased Algorithms are Everywhere, and No One Seems to Care. MIT Technology Review, July 12 2017. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608248/biased-algorithms-are-everywhere-and-no-one-seems-to-care/
“The Contest is a four-stage competition designed to (1) encourage and inspire students to think about creating physical things, applications and applications that control physical things by encouraging them to seek to solve a real-world consumer and/or business need or problem that they have identified, (2) to demonstrate their creativity and inventiveness at solving this problem, (3) to provide an opportunity to earn a monetary prize and, for the noted limited time, free rent at a maker’s co-working space in recognition of their accomplishment.” – Illinois Institute of Technology, Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center’s Chicago Innovation Challenge.
I would first like to thank Donna Rockin, Executive Director at IIT’s Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center, for the opportunity to participate in this year’s Chicago Innovation Challenge as a judge in the Semi Finals.
This happens to be my eight engagement of this kind, having served twice as a judge at MIT Enterprise Forum and the Illinois Math & Science Academy’s Power Pitch, and five times at the Chicago Science Fair for Computer Science and Behavioral Science projects.
Competitions can be designed to deliver a systematic approach to producing high-potential innovations as pointed out by Wharton’s Christian Terwiesch and Karl T. Ulrich in their book on Innovation Tournaments.
I am fortunate to have experienced that outcome from three different perspectives as (a) an award winning contestant, (b) team coach and (c) in a judge capacity once again. My earliest involvement as a contestant started as an Industrial Design student competing at two EPSON’s research paper tournaments in Spain, and then General Electric Plastics’ product design competition and Honeywell’s Be Brilliant Scholar in Europe, which provided the scholarships funding my undergrad, post-grad and graduate degrees. Career wise, I am also proud of my three Bell Labs Entrepreneurial Boot Camps in the United States.
Innovation tournaments usually take several rounds of screening. The filtering process leverages check-lists structured under a well understood criteria. Some competitions are centered on identifying and developing talent, though most are looking for specific projects worthy of investment. The Chicago Innovation Challenge serves both objectives and leverages Startup Compete’s platform as an online process tool.
When judging, my most immediate task is identifying whether I am reviewing an invention or an innovation. Projects focusing on technical matters are typically discussing inventions. Those going further to address what it takes to put things in the hands of users, to seek to understand human factors and to look at what it takes to foster adoption become far more likely to qualify as innovations.
So, my probing questions are what is the project’s “signature experience;” why would that and any implied changes mean anything to stakeholders? moreover, what’s the expected impact for end users? and what specific paths lead to early adoption and customer engagements?
Beyond that point, I look for what’s clearly new and differentiated so that we can properly assess degrees of innovativeness and game changing capabilities ranging from incremental innovation to disruptive innovation. And while looking at the reasoning and working assumptions behind use and business cases is of the essence, it turns out that “human factors” such as individual talent, decision making style and the collective quality of the team are typically decisive when pondering success chances, which drives my rankings and prioritization.
I firmly believe that individuals should feel and be empowered to make a decisive difference, but it is teams, partners and collaborative workstyles what make things happen. So, it makes sense to ask if them all understand and agree on the project’s “soul.” Let me be precise, can the startup’s founders and any team members clearly articulate and passionately embrace the project’s essence and guiding spirit? Can they succinctly outline credible grounds to convincingly rally resources and make things happen… or are they just lost in space or drinking doomed Kool-Aid.
By the way, judges should understand that iterative advancements and even pivoting are common innovation management practices. Think Lean’s Kaizen, also known as Continuous Improvement . Therefore, providing balanced feedback on pros-and-cons matters most because going through several screening rounds means that most projects don’t obviously bubble up to the top, and yet, they should not be denied the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that doesn’t take a “no” or a “defeat” for an answer.
So, there is no room for putting down any project unless human rights and anyone’s quality of life were purposely compromised, e.g. don’t be evil. Regarding the winners, congratulations are in order, jointly with expectations on making the best use of any recognition, visibility and awards. No pressure there : )
”Ultimately, there’s only one way to learn to swim, you have to get wet. No amount of poolside calisthenics or video study can substitute for plunging in.” – Innovation Tournaments.
This year’s Chicago Innovation Challenge is my last activity as a Member of the Advisory Board at the Entrepreneurship Center, which I joined in 2014.
It’s been a pleasure to experience the dedication and commitment of everyone involved, and the positive and growing impact in our community.
I have also been lucky enough to be involved in IIT’s Real Time Communications Conference as a Chair of the Cloud Computing track in 2014 and 2015, which I have Professor Carol Davids of the School of Applied Technology and Conference Chair to thank for.
Last but not least, I need to express my gratitude to Dr. Moises Goldman, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor, and Nik Rokop, Coleman Foundation Clinical Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Stuart School of Business.
Hope to cross paths with IIT’s community again I take this chance to convey my best.
I’m now gearing up for Informa’s Innovation Conference in New Orleans where I will be speaking on Thursday, November 15. See you there.
“The ultimate test of a practical theory, of course, is whether or not it can be used to build working systems. It is good enough to use in the real world? […] Almost uniquely among the social sciences, this new social physics framework provides quantitative results at scales ranging from small groups, to companies, to cities, and even to entire societies […] it provides people –e.g., government and industry leaders, academics, and average citizens- a language that is better than the old vocabulary of markets and classes, capital and production […] the engine that drives social physics is big data: the newly ubiquitous digital data now available about all aspects of human life. Social physics functions by analyzing patterns of human experience and idea exchange.” – Social Physics by Alex Pentland.
Back in 2010 I worked on the Amazing Learning Unit, a research project leading to a proof of concept demonstration. The anecdote behind it’s name was that by calling it A.L.U. we played with the fact that those same three letters formed Alcatel-Lucent’s stock ticker. On a more serious note, we partnered with Lego and the Illinois Math & Science Academy (IMSA) to unveil a simulation at Mobile World Congress in 2011, which was very well received.
The Amazing Learning Unit’s concept entailed “Lego robotics” equipped with Touchatag’s RFID readers and Android phones and tablets. As you can see in the above picture, these “mobile units” were designed to look, behave and roam around like autonomous screens, cameras and sensors with wheels.
Driven by human factors engineering principles, the thinking behind the project was centered not on technology, but on taking down the classroom’s physical walls, which can make today’s schools and school districts behave like “geofenced silos”. This is an environment that can constrain kids’ exposure to an outside world that’s growing more connected and diverse. The project’s main goal was to enable boundariless collaborative learning, our technologies being the means to that end.
The concept called for the robots to roam around the classroom and sense what a kid was playing with, or what book she/he was reading. Classroom’s objects and books would feature the Touchatag’s stickers to that end. The result is a mobile sensing network that falls in the IoT, Internet of Things, category.
Leveraging social analytics, we thought of a “serendipity engine” which would then connect the kid with another child from any other school who would be engaged in a similar activity, and whose skill and learning behaviors happened to be a good match for them to play together. The smartphone screens would prompt interactive online activities jointly with video calls engaging them in context-aware and “peer-to-peer collaborative learning”.
We discussed what’s now known as collaborative filtering and matchmaking options to promote role model behaviors and how to adequately display them to help realize everyone’s potential, and to do so in everyone’s best interest. We also looked into sensitive matters centered on behavioral analytics, privacy and the pros and cons of emotional and persuasive design features.
As part of the project’s research, gamification techniques were thought out to incentivize players, such as competitive challenges, progressive skill levels, in-game rewards and scoreboards. Circling back with a recent post on working with personas, the ones created for this project were modeled after our own children and my kid inspired and enjoyed participating in the project’s living lab.
The prototype unveiled at Mobile World Congress showcased some of the above concepts. It is worth sharing that the business goal was to help experience some as complex as the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) in a new and radically light back in 2010. I strived to humanize what can otherwise come across as overlay technical and rather obscure sets of technologies behind network infrastructure, platforms and telecommunication services, the essence of our company’s product portfolio. Therefore, we purposely placed the emphasis on creating new experiences such as the one delivered by the Amazing Learning Unit. Our inventiveness and technologies became transparent and were in place to deliver the magic.
Interestingly enough, this research project led to discussions with MIT and a leading global network operator. That time around, we looked at how this kind of experiences can be applied in enterprise environments to raise productivity and foster collaborative and multi-disciplinary workstyles. Enabling new organizational and decision making cultures in other words. The following phase of the research was titled Immersive Mobile Systems, IMS in short : )