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June 21, 2016 / trajsingh

I find your lack of faith disturbing, western civilization


“We don’t want to listen to experts anymore”. “We don’t want to elect elitists”. “Give us someone ‘like us’, an everyman, a commoner, not someone already part of the system”.

A few years ago, I started commenting about how the traditional sources of authority (politicians, doctors, professors etc.) were being less trusted. They were being replaced by friends, celebrities and other people we perceived to be more like us, and more attuned to our point of view. This was interesting to me because I was running a startup (Sooqini) that was a crowd-sourced platform where businesses could get services provided by ‘the crowd’. Having trust reside in ratings and reviews by your peers was a good thing, (possibly selfishly speaking, but I continue to believe that, post the demise of Sooqini).

I see now that this trend continues with the rise of Donald Trump, the anti-vaccination movement led by vacuous celebrities, the UK’s flirtation (I hope) with Brexit, and so on. It also occurs to me that the trend is being enabled by something else, which I’m calling a lack of faith. By this I mean, western civilization is inextricably linked to religion (and also geography, and climate and so on) in that our foundational beliefs (manifest destiny, who is and isn’t human, moral codes, etc.) spring largely from the Judeo-Christian system.

What has happened is that as religion has eroded in influence (almost completely, even in the US, despite the churches on every corner) nothing has taken its place, unless you count consumerism and the Internet. In that moral vacuum, the rise of nihilists like Trump, Farage, Haider, Le Pen etc. can be seen as being enabled by the lack of faith/belief in countries ranging from Austria, the UK, and France, to the US.

As it happens, I’m not in favor of religions and don’t subscribe to the idea of a supernatural being. I believe they were ideally suited to controlling large numbers of people in a time when most people were illiterate and uneducated. Oh, and they enabled abuses of power, too. But, if we are unable to replace the sense of community, morality and sharing that they preached with something else, we’ll be in big trouble. Or, rather, even bigger trouble than we are now.

If we are to salvage the gains of the Enlightenment, we need to a) vote, and b) start teaching civics again and make it a top priority for all students (and perhaps adults too). I know we all hate being told what’s good for us, but if we really believe that tolerance, learning, respect, and equality are the right way to go, we need to draw the line somewhere. Yes, it will be hard, and take a long time, but it is worth it. And, if we have to make it an app with gamification in order for people to pay attention, so be it. After all, the other path is just too horrible a future to actually allow it to become a reality.

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November 3, 2015 / trajsingh

Corporate Venture Capital


Given my interest in the Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) industry, I’ve decided to blog a little about it, here on this site.

I define CVC as investments into technology startups by large companies whose primary business is not investment into technology startups.

Technology here is broad – could be semiconductors, could be social media, biotech, food, environmental tech etc.

Startups means recently established companies focused on changing the market they are trying to serve through a new or repurposed technology.

Large companies means well established companies.

Now that the ground rules are clear, I imagine they will be swiftly broken if I comment about corporate incubators, the innovation pipeline issues in large companies and organizational behavior etc. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.

December 19, 2013 / trajsingh

7 tips to writing the perfect LinkedIn article


I see a huge volume of articles on LinkedIn, and sometimes even read them, and it has occurred to me that there might be a spambot out there coughing up these things to a precise formula. In an attempt to warn everyone (“Soylent – it’s people!”), here is how to spot them (or, alternatively, write the rules for your own spambot).

1. Topic:

Must be relevant to the business goals of your readers (e.g. get ahead!, communicate better!, corner the world’s supply of exclamation marks!!!) or about how business and your personal life are really the same thing (e.g. why you should work with friends, why you should never work with friends, why you should marry/never marry your job/co-worker/laptop, why your children should work for your business on the weekends)

2. Format:

No question – it has to be a list. Five, seven or ten are most popular, but feel free to change it up with a stolid eight or a cheeky nine – you can’t go wrong (as long as the number isn’t 13, or more than 15). Do also throw in a photo of you looking dynamic, possibly speaking to a crowd of rapt onlookers, for good measure

3. Style:

Authoritative, with a hint huge splash of self-referential stuff (check out www.sooqini.com please), and leavened with a bit of humour, and self deprecation (not too much, else it won’t be authoritative). Make sure to not say anything that people don’t already know, and be very black and white – no room for the wishy-washy here

4. Length:

Slightly longer than your average blog post, so 500 words or so, enough to make your presumably avid reader scroll a bit at the end to get to the happy ending, and possibly see that there is a place to comment as well

5. Comments:

Never reply to your readers’ comments – remain above the fray and let the hoi polloi ruminate on the meaning of your pearls of wisdom. (Unless your topic was about engagement, communications or crowd-sourcing ideas, in which case, do the opposite)

6. Frequency:

At least once a month, and possibly twice a month – make sure you are in front of people enough that they start to get the impression that you are everywhere, involved in everything, but not so much that they won’t read the next one

7. Fillers:

Never ever use fillers. Unless you need to get that last list point in somehow, and have run out of ideas.

So that’s it. Be on the lookout for these dastardly ways to waste your time now you know how to spot them (see point 3), and remember folks, just say no…(!)

August 10, 2013 / trajsingh

Personalized education


I’m interested in education, as I believe it to be the only way a country can improve its quality of life and standard of living in a sustainable way. I don’t think this is a particularly controversial view – most people would agree. (A lot of the work I did in Innovation Consulting came down to improving the educational system.) The debate starts around what a ‘good education’ entails.

In Europe and North America, education policy is set and run largely by governments, local and national. There is little or no experimentation beyond the regulations. There are some exceptions (Sweden, but the company in question has recently pulled back due to a lack of profit), and there is government-sponsored change as well (such as charter/magnet schools, and vouchers), but in general it’s pretty monolithic.

So, a ‘good’ education is decided by the state. In these countries, there tend to be parallel state and privately owned systems. Generally you need to be wealthy to go to the private ones, and again generally, your child will get a better education there. (It’s historical – before the industrial revolution, most children didn’t go to school at all, but factories eventually meant that some level of literacy and numeracy was required).

But even in these countries (and other less developed ones, too) is a good education being delivered? Largely speaking, it isn’t, IMHO. This is in part due to the monolithic nature of education (one size doesn’t fit all) and in part due to what teaching methods are used.

The monolithic aspect: the school curriculum is the same for everyone. Makes sense at a lot of levels, but just look at the results – the population as a whole is unprepared for the adult world they have to live in.

The teaching: we’ve seen south-east Asian countries achieve great test results through a regimented, fact-and-test-driven system. Other countries are more focused on a holistic approach, figuring that education isn’t just about turning out savvy employees.

I think both of these systems will continue to fail, because as noted above, one size doesn’t fit all, and because no teaching method will turn out smart informed citizens unless it focuses on teaching people how to think.

And that is my humble definition of a ‘good’ education; one that focuses on critical reasoning, on how to understand the world around you by asking the right questions, analyzing facts and figures, and drawing conclusions. In short creating smart, informed citizens who can participate in a democracy, and who can understand the nature of the world around them. (Of course, there is room for many other topics of study, but this seems to me to be the most important one that is missing). Get this right and you equip people to thrive in any situation, no matter how quickly things change. What better competitive advantage could you imagine? Surely it trumps all others, including geography, natural resources and population size?

It is analogous to the ‘teach a man to fish’ argument. Teach girls and boys to think, and never again will they be led down the garden by politicians and leaders. The apathetic and anemic democracies that we live in will slowly become more lively as informed debate accompanies every decision. Yes, we’ll need technology to enable this. But take a cue from the FMCG and medical industries. The ability to ‘mass personalize’ goods and services down the level of a specific drug for a specific person is now emerging. Why shouldn’t we do the same for education? And indeed we see the first stirrings of this in the MOOC space.

So, the building blocks are now falling into place to allow an individual focus on each pupil or student’s needs. The excuse for monolithic education is being eroded. Combining this with a focus on thinking would allow a country to build for the future.

Of course, what is not in place yet is a system that rewards governments for thinking (and funding) in generations rather than elections. I hope it is not the case that only a smart informed citizenry would vote for a government to create a smart informed citizenry… Not being a nihilist, I’m sure we can work this out, and the place to start is to allow some experimentation. Is anyone out there working on something?

June 27, 2013 / trajsingh

OCD the new black?


According to an enjoyable Grauniad article about OCD, it’s fashionable these days to claim one is anal-retentive, a completer-finisher and obsessed with details. The author makes the case that this is something new, but I’m unconvinced. It reminds me of the old interview response to the question about what are you bad at (oh, I’m a terrible perfectionist, I don’t suffer fools gladly, etc).

I do think however that it is a change for the UK. Many years ago it was about effortless success – let’s not break a sweat as we cruise through life in a crisp shirt and immaculately polished oxfords. Now it is more fashionable to show the effort, but this is most likely imported from the USA, as is so much in popular culture. Can more stories about ritalin and over-caffination be far behind?

Asides from the dubious practice of co-opting an illness as a badge of honor, I welcome this desire to be seen to be detail-oriented. Goodness knows we could do with more people who focus on actually getting things done, having a sense of discipline, and applying some elbow grease to a problem. Better than wanting to be famous by getting on to a reality TV show for your 15 minutes of fame…

January 14, 2013 / trajsingh

Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars coming to Vilnius


The legendary Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars return to Europe this winter for an 11-city tour with their final performance being reserved for Vilnius on 3 February at 7 p.m.. Tickets can be purchased direct from Tamsta Klubas (A. Strazdelio g.1, Vilnius).
The concert is being promoted by Running For Change – a team of six runners from Lithuania who travelled to Sierra Leone last year to run in the country’s first ever marathon. Running For Change supports the charity Street Child which works in Sierra Leone. All profits from this concert will go to supporting the construction of schools in the country (www.runningforchange.lt).
With an inspiring back story and a wildly jubilant live show, the Refugee All Stars concerts are “simply irresistible and infectious and embrace all that is best in the human spirit.” (Pop Matters).
See the band live here or copy and paste the link  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsfkPayKP9Y&feature=player_embedded)
World Music Charts Europe recently selected their latest album, Radio Salone, as one of the Top 10 World Music Releases of 2012. While CBC Radio in Canada chose Radio Salone as the Best World Music Album of 2012.
Download a free track here  or copy and paste the link (http://store.cumbancha.com/track/mother-in-law).
The Refugee All Stars are a great band with an inspiring back story. The band members met in a refugee camp in Guinea having been displaced by the civil war in Sierra Leone.
There they entertained and lifted the spirits of their fellow refugees. An award winning documentary was released in 2006 telling the band’s story, and since then both their music and inspiring story has won international recognition. Here is a clip from the documentary (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA4z2sd3fOI).
So see you at the concert on 3 February for a great evening of entertainment which will raise money for a fantastic cause!
Concert details in Lithuanian.
December 8, 2012 / trajsingh

Wake up and smell the hypocrisy


So Starbucks will be paying a ‘voluntary’ £20 million in tax.

If you haven’t been following this, a huge cry of outrage has arisen in the UK because multinational corporations have only been paying the tax they are supposed to pay. Yes, you read that correctly. How dare these parasites obey the laws of the country and at the same time try to serve their shareholders by minimizing their tax bills?

A-ha, you will say, the cry of outrage is directed against the government, of course, given they are the people that put in place the rules that Starbucks, Google and others must follow. But no, that would be too logical. Instead, a journalistic frenzy has erupted against the companies themselves, resulting in this rather humiliating volte face by Starbucks.

As anyone in business should know, you must constantly attend to many things simultaneously: run your business well, (including legally), provide great products and services profitably, and maximise shareholder value. That is your job. Now, it seems, you have to rectify government policy and atone for government’s shortcomings too.

A real government would stand-up and agree to change the tax code, if that was the fiscally prudent thing to do. Instead, they sigh with relief that they aren’t the ones being bashed, and join in with a few blows of their own. I guess this is what comes of electing politicians in the first place.

For the record, if a company is operating legally, and certainly not immorally, let us leave them alone to get on with it. If you want the law to change, lobby your politicians. Oh, and by the way, the uncertainty that this will cause among all corporations operating in the UK will only be bad for business, the economy and the Chancellor’s tax take. Bad news for everyone.

November 12, 2012 / trajsingh

Has Apple jumped the shark?


Like the rest of you I was very excited about the new iPhone 5 launch. Apple’s superb track record at building innovative new products meant that I ‘expected the unexpected’ – an unfair thing I suppose, but the cruel flip side of excellence – people come to expect it.

Also like many of you, I was nonplussed by the actual phone they delivered. It looks like a good phone, and some of the features may turn out to be ‘killer’, like Passbook. But overall, it felt like more of the same, and I chuckled at the photos of the ‘iPhone 10‘ lampooning the slightly longer screen of the 5 over the 4/4s.

It then occurred to me that perhaps this was the beginning of the end for Apple’s domination of smartphone ‘mindshare’, and that maybe the competition was about to surpass them. The thought came out of an experience I remember well – when the IBM PC was no longer the de facto standard for business PCs.

I was working for IBM at the time, and in the PC Company in fact. I was a specialist on IBM’s new operating system, OS/2, which was meant to replace Windows (first, in collaboration with Microsoft, and later, in competition with them). IBM did something that later turned out to be a huge mistake: they made OS/2 so it would run on an IBM PC/AT, which was powered by an Intel 80286 processor. They did this for the best of reasons, their customers had masses and masses of these devices, and they wanted to protect their customers’ investments in all that hardware. (IBM had made its fortune by inventing the whole concept of general purpose computers that shared a common operating system, back in the 1960s).

The only problem with this approach is that the chip in question had a fault – Intel had built a multitasking mode into the 286, but it didn’t really work. Not an issue when running MS-Dos/Windows, but a huge problem for OS/2, which was built around multi-tasking. So running OS/2 on the AT was a less than enjoyable experience, and this contributed to a) Microsoft going it alone with Windows NT, and b) users not going for OS/2 because it kinda sucked.

Back to the future: will Apple’s decision to make the iPhone 5 screen more or less backward compatible with the previous versions (and therefore helping iOS app developers everywhere) result in other providers leapfrogging them, simply because they are free to be more innovative? Clearly running iOS 6 on an iPhone is far from a miserable experience, but those large screen alternatives sure are seductive, and even now the sum of all Android phones out there is far greater than the number of iPhones.

If I’m right, expect me to refer back to this post a lot. If not, well, it’s just a post 😉

November 8, 2012 / trajsingh

Unexamined


The arc of life is smooth and jagged
We labour along, unseeing, unaware
A moment of reflection amazes and perplexes
Did we really mean to end up here?

November 5, 2012 / trajsingh

US election: more is less


It’s that time again. Hundreds of millions of dollars later, and we finally get some respite from the elections by the fact that they will be over and done with this week. (Of course 2000 was a bit of an exception, all the way to the Supreme Court that time, courtesy of hangin’ Chad). But is it value for money?

Right up front I had better acknowledge that more or less no-one inside the US cares about what people outside the US think of their election. and they’re right to the extent we’ll all have to deal with whoever gets elected anyway. That out of the way, I’m free to  pontificate (s a resident I don’t get to vote).

When Obama was elected, I was a Hilary supporter – I felt her combination of smarts, hard-headedness and experience was what was needed to make change happen within the beltway. I stand by that view but kudos to Obama for co-opting her. Smart move. I then hoped that the wave of optimism that swept Obama to power would at least give him a mandate to push through the most important issues he’d been campaigning on: healthcare, gitmo closure and climate change. But he instead went with building his power base with Pelosi/Reid and the chance was frittered away. True, a healthcare bill made it to the books, but it wasn’t what it could have been.

The context, of course is one of a recession, one of the worst ever, so credit has to be given for things that didn’t happen, although it’s hard to make the case.

Entre Willard (Mitt to his friends). One of my own (PE person, rather than Mormon) and someone who has actually implemented a decent universal healthcare bill. And then effectively disowned it. The problem with Romney (for me) is that he is in thrall to the Tea Party and their ilk. Radicals who would be unacceptable in a European context, they are the tail wagging the Republican Elephant.

Once in office, would the pandering continue? Who knows, but it’s hard to take it at face value – all that dog whistling is making it impossible to believe that his agenda won’t be the same old tired refrain of trickle down Reaganomics.

But in the end, those famous checks and balances probably mean that electing one or the other will only have a marginal impact. This is not to belittle the weirdo stuff around rape, gay marriage and FEMA, but again, in the context of a 310m people strong democracy, the larger picture is largely unchanged, and getting some of that oddball stuff into law will be very tough. (The one area that does freak me out is the vote for Supreme Court justices – that shit has a long-term impact).

If this is due to the fact of a two party system and/or the fact you need to have multimillions behind you to have a shot at getting elected, and/or be a lawyer (Romney has a joint JD/MBA from Harvard Law/HBS), well, I don’t know. But it does seem to be a choice between two almost identical products.

If I had a vote, I would vote for Obama. But, I would do so wondering if it really makes any difference.