‘Womenomics’, AI, and high performers

Appearing In The Black magazine, December 2017

Blind Spots

By Bec Brideson

Wiley, $28, 256 pages, ISBN 9780730345404

BridesonCompetitive advantage is where you find it, and according to Brideson the best place to locate it is in the burgeoning female market. As a specialist in the field she has advised a host of companies, and draws on her experience for illustrative case studies. Research from McKinsey and Ernst & Young shows that companies that employ more women across the business do better but Brideson argues that this is not sufficient for sustained growth. The key is to understand the female market through detailed research and modelling, preferably designed and interpreted by women.

The women’s market is no longer about traditional female-specific products but extends from travel to houses to investments. In families, the woman is usually the critical influencer. The market segment requires clearly differentiated products – not just a smaller-size shoe, as Nike found – and different advertising strategies. With high and increasing standards of education, women have a huge pool of discretionary money to spend.

Once engaged, they are more likely to stay with a company, although they expect an ongoing connection through social media. It can take time for a company to build a relationship but the returns can be good, whether it is a product line extension or something altogether new. Brideson clearly has strong views on gender equality but the point, she says, is that “womenomics” is simply good business.

 

 

It’s Alive!

By Toby Walsh

La Trobe University Press, $35, 320 pages. ISBN 9781863959438Its Alive

Walsh is professor of artificial intelligence at the University of NSW, so when it comes to a discussion of where technology is heading he is worth listening to. He can also tell a good story, and the occasional joke, as well.

Alan Turing laid the groundwork for artificial intelligence in the 1940s and many others pushed it along. Advances in maths in the 1960s were crucial, and soon various forms of AI were able to play games against human opponents. Then came the PC, and the mobile phone, and Google, and suddenly information technology was the driving force of society. AI was the hidden machinery that kept it all humming.

Walsh makes a distinction between machines that can learn (the current situation) and machines that can truly think (some distance away). Within this framework, autonomous cars are not far off, and there are AI machines that can do household tasks. The automation of basic management has already begun. Walsh also examines the development of AI-based military weapons, something he has lobbied against.

One of the next big steps will, he believes, be machines that can properly interact with users through speech. Siri and Alexa are merely primitive harbingers to what will be possible.

This is fascinating stuff, and a bit scary. But It’s Alive! is an enjoyable read. One way or another, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

 

High Performance Habits

By Brendon Burchard

Hay House, $35, 400 pages, ISBN 9781401952853

Burchard is apparently the highest-paid motivational speaker in the world, and has a legion of fans of his high-energy presentations. His past books have been written in just-do-it mode, although High-Performance Habits finds him in a more contemplative mood. He wants to establish why certain people, regardless of culture, age, gender or background, perform better than the norm, and he compiled a solid body of research on the question.

He and his team distilled the practices of high-performers into six habits. These are: clarity – definite goals and plans on how to get there; energy – regular physical exercise as well as planned mental refreshment; necessity – understanding the importance of a task; productivity – knowing what to focus on; influence – investing in relationships and communications skills; and courage – being willing to speak up for one’s ideas.

Burchard believes that these habits work for CEOs as well as they do for star athletes. He emphasises that this is not just about doing a particular job well but also about leading a life that is satisfying. This is where Burchard’s breathless brand of salesmanship comes in, and his waxing lyrical about contentment can become a bit grating. But fortunately it does not overpower his key messages about personal organisation and attitude.  True, he is not saying anything outstandingly new, but he ties it into a package that is clear, interesting and useful.

 

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