In case you can’t watch the video, here’s what he did: once every quarter, he sent all his employees a survey – which they could answer anonymously – asking them whether he was doing a good job. Then the day after, he sent everyone the results.
The absolute numbers are not so important, so long as they’re not too low – but the trend line certainly is.
Radical transparency of this kind is only possible with real confidence and real commitment to improving your own performance.
But if you lead a decent number of people and you don’t do this, why not?
Ok, here goes: if I ever have a team of 10 or more, I’m going to do it.
(Ouch – it took ages to write that sentence. What have I done?)
Everyday experiences are shared and aggrandised – on Facebook and Twitter, ‘The best thing ever’ and ‘OMG’ moments abound.
In that context it makes sense to find new ways of representing our personal experiences so that others can share them, and to explore the means by which internal experiences can be externalised.
This video is a single shot, 4-minute video of a walk through the snow in Montreal. The soundtrack – Sufjan Stevens’s All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands – is the song that was running through my mind at the time. Very little happens (though it finishes with a nice shot starting around 03:48), but that’s the point – it’s a way of externalising an internal experience.
It’s also got a pretty neat dreamy style, thanks to slowing down the video to 75% speed (and to YouTube’s stabilisation skills – to some extent it was unintended!).
Over Christmas I watched a lot of episodes of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. It’s a fun rattle through famous earthly and not-so-earthly mysteries.
One of the most surprising things I learnt was that the Ancient Greeks made a computer. Yep, a computer!
In 1901, divers near the Greek island of Antikythera found what turned out to be a complicated mechanism for making astronomical calculations – so complicated, in fact, that nothing like it is known to have existed again until the 14th century.
The thing that interests me most about it is how people of the time might have reacted.
We’re surrounded today by technological wonders – being able to speak to my friends in Rwanda via Skype video always amazes me, never mind being able to go into space or fit millions (billions?) of transistors onto a tiny microchip.
So think how mind-blowing it must have been to see something like the Antikythera machine in action over 2,000 years ago!
Maybe God is great
In 2006 I was living in Germany. In Cologne, where I was based, there is a gigantic cathedral. Construction began in 1248 and although for some reason it wasn’t deemed to have been officially finished until 1840, I expect that it has made quite an impression on everyone who has seen it ever since the very beginning.
It is an imposing, ominous-looking building that towers over everything else in the city. Even today, for someone fairly used to being among skyscrapers, it is remarkable. But imagine seeing this in the Middle Ages when your house and most of the other buildings around were wooden huts, and even the greatest rulers had little more than a castle! Definitely enough to make you believe that there might be something in all this God stuff.
I’m going to keep an eye out for info on how people of the time responded to things like the Antikythera machine and the Cologne Cathedral. There might be an interesting comparison between their reactions and ours.
Recently I was writing up a post on studying the history of our time, and how different it would be to when I studied History at university. It struck me that one of the most interesting changes would be that students will be able to access lots of materials in foreign languages.
Clearly, non-book materials will be much more important, and video especially. Google Translate on the web does a passable (but improving) job of translating text. But the idea of studying using foreign-language video got me thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if you combined Google Translate with Siri to make something that would translate speech on the fly?
Libraries today are full of books. The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford is a fine example – a beautiful library with space for no fewer than 600,000 books.
Books are the main way in which we understand the past five hundred years or so. We supplement them with art, architecture, and other physical relics (bits of things, bits of people) to create an overall picture of the past.
Studying history, though, basically means reading lots of books – certainly when you’re studying History (with a capital ‘H’) at university, like I did – because it’s in books that previous cultures and societies were recorded best.
And the times, they are a-changing
Clearly that’s not going to be true of our culture or society today.
The ability to create artefacts that in some way record aspects of the current age has been democratised. It’s quick, cheap and easy to create and store material in blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, on SoundCloud – and that material is likely to be around a good while since digital items should degrade much more slowly than physical ones.
That will have an impact on how our era is studied by the historians of the future. The Radcliffe Camera won’t be as useful for the early twenty-first century as it is for the eighteenth.
What might the study of History look like in the future?
1. Increased scale: There will be a whole lot more material to get through. In 2010, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003. Even if it’s not quite as much as that, that’s an incredible amount of info and it’s only going to get bigger.
2. Fewer books: As described above, a smaller proportion of the information created about our time will be stored in printed books.
3. Language barriers will get smaller: There are numerous web-based tools and apps that translate foreign languages on the fly. Google Translate is going to get better rather than worse, so written texts in other languages will become increasingly accessible, and combining it with something like Siri will open up spoken texts too. The end game here is that studying becomes language-agnostic, since texts in all languages are accessible.
4. Digitisation: As pretty much everything will be digitised (either its original form will be digital, or a digital copy will be made), it should be much easier to access information that might be of interest. Many books and journals currently exist only in paper form, so you need a physical copy in order to reach the information they contain.
5. The role of the librarian will be reinvented and become much more highly-valued: Students of the history of today will need expert sherpas to guide them through the wealth of information available. There’s an interesting parallel here with some of the suggestions on how high street shops (including bookshops) might survive – as locations in which subject-matter expertise can be delivered in person.
6. Standardisation to assist discovery: We may need international standards for meta-tagging, categorising, or otherwise making information searchable. Otherwise even the experts will find navigating a path through it rather tricky.
Those suggestions will do as a starter, but I think this merits further exploration.
The future of History will be very different to its past.
So he breaks it down – into Vay-ner-chuk – and actually writes his name like that so that people will know how to spell it.
You can see it on his latest book, and here’s a snapshot of the top of his website:
Nice work – it turns a tricky-to-spell name into a name for the internet age.
‘Todd Green’ isn’t bad in Google terms, though most of my links have been knocked of Google’s page 1 by an unfortunate stuntman who tried to jump from one plane to another and missed. RIP that other Todd Green.
P.S. Gary Vaynerchuk also does pretty awesome ads:
This generation’s biggest ‘selling stuff to bad guys’ scandals may well be over surveillance technology.
Companies like McAfee have been accused of selling technology that helps the governments of Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, and others to censor their citizens.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, which brought social-network powered action against repressive regimes to the front pages, and the SOPA/PIPA dispute, that has spread ‘Stop censorship’ badges across the internet in protest against the actions of major corporations, surveillance technology sales seems likely to become a much hotter issue in the next few years.
My boss’s wife posts photos of their (super-cute) son on Facebook almost every day. When he grows up he’s going to be able to look back at pretty detailed record of his childhood.
Google recently released a neat video about a father who emails his daughter every day from the day she was born:
I’ve been thinking about how much of my life is being recorded in one way or another, and how I might be able to look back on it in the future.
The record is comparatively incomplete for the first 15 years or so, but over the past decade and a bit (since I got my first email account aged 15) more and more material is being recorded – mostly, of course, online.
It’s pretty straightforward to look back in time at grand historical events. The BBC’s On This Day has been going for a long while (though it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2005). Wikipedia has a page for each day of the year too – here’s today’s.
Keeping track of what you were doing personally on a particular day in the past is much harder. But it will probably get easier in time, and the results could be rather interesting.
One way of doing it might be to create a personal version of On This Day.
Each day you would receive an email summarising what were doing on that date in previous years.
Information could be drawn from emails, your calendar, Facebook, Twitter, SMS records, photos, Spotify, YouTube, and your browser history. There are a whole bunch of services that store the digital ‘artefacts’ we create (emails, Fb posts, tweets etc) – and of course those artefacts all time-stamped.
The content of the email would be curated according to your recent activity on those services. For example, if on 9 December 2010 you emailed 50 people, but since then you had only emailed five of them on a regular basis, perhaps the content relating to those five people would be of most interest to you in the email you received today, on 9 December 2011.
Obviously there would be privacy issues a-go-go.
But as we create more and more artefacts about ourselves, and since the digital artefacts we create will likely outlast us, there’s going to be a lot of historical information about each and every one of us available to look back on.
I think that the knowledge of the existence of that information will mean that we’ll start to see ourselves as objects of historical interest.
Those digital artefacts are like the fragments of the past that are collected together in museums, illuminating a particular historical period.
Finding a way of accessing, understanding and examining them – the fragments of our own personal history – is definitely a problem worth solving.
Update: this product already exists! Check out timehop.com, who thought this up a year or so before I did!