It’s Friday Faves on Thursday! Thanks to Easter we’re coming to you early this week with your long weekend reading list.

Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Systems thinking: why it is important

Nat says: This week I lectured business Masters students on the topic of ‘Systems Thinking’. I find it somewhat alarming that the exploration of systems is seldom explored in business school contexts, and rarely embodied by organisational employees. In an educational context, if I were to venture into the natural sciences, architectural, health sciences or the engineering faculties, I can guarantee you they already think in terms of systems; of seeing the interconnected and holistic relationship things have with other thingsIn fact, it seems somewhat ludicrous for business professionals not to think in terms of systems given that our own bodies comprise of respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, endocrine, nervous and musculoskeletal systems — to name a few. Our body has its systems and our lives unfold in transport, educational, legal, societal, political and economic systems; not to mention environmental and natural systems. 

In a digital age, and for businesses today, the thinking we need to employ is not just an understanding of what a system is, but to recognise that we ourselves are part of systems which unfold in a dynamic world. Given that our existence is fundamentally systemic, it is seems strange to ask why businesses — especially on the inside of business — continue to operate in silos and think in duality; in the cause-and-effect style of managerial thinking that fails to acknowledge the inherent and irrevocable interconnectedness of various parts. Not only do businesses seldom think in terms of systems, but even in managerial literature it was only around the year 2010 that scholars began to pay attention to the role technology played in organisational life; technology being an infused component of our social and workplace systems.

The shared article refers to Donella Meadows’ book Thinking in Systems, which “Offers a different way of thinking about everyday problems”, as we are “Moving from a data-scarce world into a data-driven artificial intelligence era”. What then becomes important for business is an understanding of what goals can be achieved by thinking in terms of systems; of solving ‘good’ and practical problems. For example, the goal of landing man on the moon could not have been achieved without systems thinking, and its success spawned hundreds of technologies that we take for granted today. Businesses can learn from this example by seeing ‘the bigger picture’ and realizing that achieving practical goals requires a systems thinking mentality in understanding the role of time, feedback and holistic contexts. 


The Ultimate Sing Along

Helen says: Confucius said “music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without” and Pub Choir seems testament to that. If you are a closet performer this might just be the event for you! The concept is simple but takes a lot of energy and skill from the organisers to pull off. It operates on the premise that anyone can sing and on the night, people grab a drink, are divided into harmonies and within two hours, a huge group of strangers learn to sing a popular song together in harmony.

Pub Choir started a year ago in Brisbane where 80 friends of three organisers gathered to learn to sing a song together. Since then, numerous Pub Choirs have performed in gatherings of up to 800 people. The success of this community event has led to numerous invitations for this to be taken nationally, even globally. Check out the Pub Choir singing Zombie; within a month, this Facebook footage attracted 4.5 million viewers.

With the fast paced development of entertainment technology, this low tech event appeals to me. To be part of a large, fully present and engaged crowd, singing without inhibition, connecting through music to create a collective happiness, I think would be a great experience. If you agree, keep an eye out, there might be a Pub Choir coming your way.


Police Improve Social Media Skills, Raising Worries by Media

“There’s nothing wrong with police communicating through social media… but (open government advocates) worry it allows law enforcement to bypass questions from traditional media and warn that taking advantage of the tools requires agencies to be completely transparent…”

Emilio says: In this age of digital, every one is their own media. Digital technology has given rise to an unprecedented democratisation of information, and social media allows just about anyone to disseminate information – oftentimes to the chagrin of traditional media.

It is in this vein that we find law enforcement agencies today not only keeping up with the times, but more importantly creating a voice and using social media to communicate directly with the community on matters that they need to know. And they’re becoming really clever and smart and good at it – but traditional media don’t seem to approve.

The New York Times, in this article, cites the case study of Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (Denver, Colorado) who boldly told the story on social media of how one of their own, Deputy Zack Parrish, was killed in an operation in late December. The post was a ‘carefully edited’ footage of police body cameras recorded during that operation. 

Said footage debuted on Denver Police’s social media channels – but did not break on any other media outlet, despite requests from journalists to access the footage. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock revealingly said: 

“I knew that if I went to the press, radio and television, I’m going to get 60 seconds, and the rest was going to hit the editor’s floor. I’m not going to be able to tell the story in such a fashion that I thought was appropriate for the dignity of Zack Parrish and the other four officers that were shot — and what I believe the citizens of Douglas County deserve.”

That the Douglas County Sheriff, in this instance, chose to lead the narrative and tell their version of that tragic operation on social media due to their strong convictions is quite fascinating.

Closer to home, Australian law enforcement agencies are not lagging behind in the use of social media as a communications platform. I follow the NSW Police Force on Facebook who has amassed a following of 1.074 million. On their page, they communicate alerts, news and updates to the community with fervour. But what I am continually amused at is their clever use of humour to convey public service announcements and reminders – such as this pinned post about double demerit points and licence suspensions in place for failure to wear seatbelts, speeding and DUI offences this Easter long weekend. Other states and even our federal police organisations are engaging the public in a similar fashion on social media. 

When trust is earned, where there is transparency, and when done responsibly, social media use by law enforcement agencies is proving to benefit the community. And it is enlightening to see police and law enforcers telling stories from their own perspectives – their yarns are often more real, raw and richer.


April Fools’ Day 2018: Web pranks already off and running

Ah, that great time of year is fast approaching again and the April Fools’ product pranks have already started making their rounds for the year. It’s at this time every year that many big companies, especially those in the tech space come up with new product advertisements that ride that fine line between humorous and quite innovative. Almost to the point where if it wasn’t April 1st you’d likely believe it for more than 30 seconds. But let’s be honest, a lot of the time we wish many of these were real.

In the linked article CNET have compiled some of the 2018 web pranks already making the rounds, and if these are anything to go by there could be some great things still to come on April 1st. Below are 2 of my personal faves from the article, but check it out for plenty more and keep an eye out on April 1st as there’s bound to be even more floating around.

“Fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. probably takes the prize for earliest joke this year for its March 25 Twitter announcement that it would rename its charbroiled slider sandwiches “SpielBurgers” in honour of director Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” opening this weekend.”

“Sparkling-water machine-maker SodaStream applied its carbonation technology to a fake product called SodaSoak that adds bubbles to your bath water. It even recruited “Game of Thrones” actor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who plays The Mountain, for the faux commercial.”


What happens when an algorithm cuts your health care

Jakkii says: Thanks to both Facebook and the Australian cricket team, ethics are at the forefront of many conversation at the moment, much to my delight. We’re long overdue for some hard conversations about ethics, particularly where technology and people intersect.

Enter this fascinating piece in The Verge that looks at algorithms in health care, specifically in allocating resources for in-home care. 

Algorithmic tools like the one Arkansas instituted in 2016 are everywhere from health care to law enforcement, altering lives in ways the people affected can usually only glimpse, if they know they’re being used at all. Even if the details of the algorithms are accessible, which isn’t always the case, they’re often beyond the understanding even of the people using them, raising questions about what transparency means in an automated age, and concerns about people’s ability to contest decisions made by machines. (emphasis mine)

The idea that we may not know algorithms are being used to make determinations that can alter our lives should not be surprising, but it should be concerning – particularly in health care (and law enforcement). And the question posed in this quote is a big one – what does transparency mean in the age of automation? What does it mean now, and what should it mean as we move forward? How can we be certain an algorithm fits our ethical frameworks if we don’t even know the algorithm exists – or what it’s doing?

As for the transparency of the system, he agrees that the algorithm is impossible for most to easily understand, but says that it’s not a problem. “It’s not simple,” he says. “My washing machine isn’t simple.” But if you can capture complexity in more detail, Fries argues, this will ultimately serve the public better, and at some point, “you’re going to have to trust me that a bunch of smart people determined this is the smart way to do it.”

For me this sums up a tremendously problematic view – that “smart people” should be implicitly trusted to get it right, to do it the “smart way.” Smart people make fantastically stupid decisions all the time. On top of that, smart people are still people, with all the biases and specific points of view they bring to their view of a problem to reach a solution. How much diversity of thought was in the room when these “smart people” created the algorithm? How many of the affected people did they include? How much research with real people, real ‘users’ of the system for which they were designing, did they conduct? Exactly how much humanity was invested in a human problem for which they designed a technological solution? What is the oversight process? How can we understand when, where and how to step in if no one understands how the decisions are being made?

Technology is just technology; it doesn’t emote, it doesn’t think, it doesn’t feel. When humans stop seeing the humanness in problems and start seeing people as data points and outcomes, we get algorithms that make what could be “smart” decisions, but aren’t necessarily the right ones – the human ones.

People first, then technology.


Sydney Business Insights at Vivid

Our friends and colleagues from the University of Sydney Business School Digital Disruption Research Group are putting on a fantastic event at Vivid Sydney this year.

Titled MUMMY, CAN I MARRY MY AVATAR? THE ETHICAL AND SOCIETAL IMPLICATIONS OF LIVING WITH DIGITAL ARTIFICIAL HUMANS, the event promises to “explore how far we let the replicants in” with a digital avatar panel member, along with renowned author and speaker Rachel Botsman

Because we are hard-wired to respond to faces in uniquely positive ways, artificial realistic faces hold great promise for advancing human interaction with machines. Will it be long before we have conversational agents, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, with new believable “human” faces and expressions?


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