Episode 94 – Mediaocre

On this week’s show, Matt & Chris discuss the fascinating article Survival of the Mediocre Mediocre by Venkatesh Rao.

We also have the second edition of I Must Read It Again, this week with Tom Geraghty talking about The Phoenix Project. You can find out more about Tom at http://www.tomgeraghty.co.uk/

****Transcript created by http://otter.ai – included for searching purposes. May not represent reality :-D*************

Matt Ballantine 0:20
Hello and welcome to Episode 94 of WB40, the weekly podcast with me Matt Ballantine and Chris Weston.

Chris Weston 0:28
Well, welcome to the latest episode of WB40. We’re recording this towards the end of January. It’s Episode 94. We have had a cracking start the year with various interviews. But this week, we are back to just you and me. Just like the old days.

Matt Ballantine 0:44
Yes, this is uncut,

quite actually, actually, because I can never be bothered to edit it.

Chris Weston 0:53
So yeah, there’s no point there’s no point in tampering with perfection. What’s the point

Matt Ballantine 1:01
Yeah, standards generating this country basically are falling through the floor. Now. Have a nice oh, well, there you go.

Yeah, how has your week of July it’s been

Chris Weston 1:13
it’s been extremely busy. And it’s been really busy start the So

today, I’ve been catching up on some work that I’ve been doing with a company down in the southwest in the in the world of mango Wurzels and cider and all that sort of business. And not that’s what they do, they don’t, but I’m sure that’s what they enjoy in the evenings. And of this week, I also went and was inculcated into the worshipful Company of Information technologists, the August institution, which is the livery company, which was a splendid evening, and quite good fun, as you as you probably know, on fairly intolerant of ceremony and formality,

Matt Ballantine 2:06
this would be fair,

Chris Weston 2:10
but they’re, they’re not, they’re not po faced bunch. And it’s, it’s actually quite is quite good, fun. And some really interesting people as well. So I had a good evening, and I was down in London a couple of days, and also had some meetings with other people as well, which was, which was great. So yeah, really busy and, and fun. What about yourself?

Matt Ballantine 2:31
Yes, I have been off building airplanes. So again, I had a lovely day on Friday working with the digital team of a big magazine company and getting them building said like aeroplanes, any problem was, it was a residential so kind of off site thing. And they’ve been there the day before. So they had been there that night. So there were a few times and emotional heads in the room if you put it that way. And so that added a certain facilitators challenge to the day but that was good fun. Been working on some proposals today, for some work coming up over the over the next couple of months. And,

oh, there’s a new communication workshop that I’m doing, which I’ve been pulling the materials for, together for, which is this can be quite good fun as well. And generally just them they’re getting into the, into the swing is still not quite as busy for me. But it’s getting there, which is good,

Chris Weston 3:41
you know, all of these seed planting exercises, they, they lead to a lot more stuff happening, and then you end up with more than you can deal with, and then it looks a bit crazy. And then then it all goes quiet. It’s the way of things

Matt Ballantine 3:57
Yes, I think

Chris Weston 3:59
it’s

Matt Ballantine 4:01
the feast or famine thing. It’s just on kind of just getting used to it now. But I’ve lived a bit of a charmed life. The last four and a half years were actually it’s it’s mostly been fairly level of the case, no exceptions, but that will sort of an interesting new challenge as well. from one of my clients with

and new set of challenges. We should just come up today, we should be quite interesting, and quite a Trump potentially as well. So yeah, all in it’s, um, it’s been a good week, obviously, we’ve got no clothes. I mean, the other thing that has been distracting me terribly has been the entire car crash British politics and finding it very difficult when I’m working at home to not keep getting dragged into watching Parliament TV.

Which is is I mean, there’s no reward from it really is there is like crack cocaine in politics is terrible. This

Chris Weston 4:53
is a reward from it. But there was a there was a very brief respite wasn’t there was a splendid moment when they didn’t renew the domain on parliament. tv.com or parliament.tv, or whatever it’s called, it’s

Matt Ballantine 5:06
all the time. So your domain registration to run out the time, which is the height of the highest demand for your service ever? And oh, yeah, we didn’t do the URL to the

Chris Weston 5:19
Whoops, I never, I never understand that. I don’t understand how, when you register a domain, it’s a bit like getting your car mot doesn’t it? Surely some sort of calendar would be an order.

Matt Ballantine 5:30
Well, automatic renewal is what’s generally I would do, but you know,

and you can imagine the bureaucratic nightmare, it would be better to get a 10 pound payment signed off a last minute, because you know that that is going to be trivial amount of money. This is interesting threshold. I’ve been talking with a few people about this in the last few months. If you’re organizing things you want people to buy stuff, then there’s a threshold below which people will pay for out of their own pocket and not worry about it being too expensive, and which is it’s relatively easy to get through sign off processes. But there’s a middle ground that is different different organizations were actually to get a payment for a relatively trivial amount of money. But too much for an individual to justify paying themselves is a complete nightmare. And the URL renewal I recommend for civil service people is probably at that threshold where nobody will put it, nobody put the hand into own pocket. But it isn’t enough for it to be easy to get to get signed off. And it probably was like three days of just trying to get the right authorities better spent

Chris Weston 6:34
12 pounds to know what else fits into that category is something that we’ve talked about on the I think we’ve talked about it on the whatsapp group recently. And that’s why mod markers

so that’s maybe a LinkedIn thing. But anyway, yeah, the whole point is that if you I have this rule, if I’m in a room and I pick up a whiteboard market, it doesn’t work, I’m going to throw it away because there’s no there’s a number of meetings you go into, and you pick up a whiteboard marker, and it’s essentially it’s either doesn’t work or it works so feebly that it’s hardly worth using, but people don’t like to throw them away. They think, well, have I got the right to throw this away? Do I have the authority to make a decision to dispose of this thing? Yeah, are there any others and if you don’t throw them away, nobody ever buying a new ones. And if you can imagine the amount of time it’s wasted in people fighting about looking for whiteboard markers, it’s it’s a small book, personal crusade.

Matt Ballantine 7:35
Now, it’s fair, because the other thing you find is that the green and the red ones are always working. But the problem green and red is nobody can read them. This is something I learned when I was doing facilitation kind of every day and

Chris Weston 7:49
dogs or something.

Matt Ballantine 7:50
Now, if you if you look at distance, if you’re not bright next to the whiteboard or the flip chart, if you get written stuff written in green or red, it’s basically unreadable from the back of a room isn’t just about the color and the way in which people’s eyes received from the actually green and red they’re fine for put in little dots and things. But if you try to write in, it’s completely useless.

Chris Weston 8:11
I want everybody kept getting run over on the roads in the 70s, the green Costco was completely useless.

Matt Ballantine 8:16
Yeah, I think it’d be facetious now. But the existing law of the commons, one of the things that a couple of projects recently, I’ve said to people is, if you want to have effective meeting rooms, one of the things that you need to do is have a concierge service and goes around and reset the end of each day. Because if you leave it up to two users, to be able to make sure that meeting room spaces fit for purpose, each and every meeting, it will never happen. And it’s the same a hot desk space as well. So all these companies that are putting an organization so putting in hot desk and thinking it’s going to save cost, and then don’t spend any money, getting people to be able to go around and make sure at the end of each day, the hot desk in space is back to where it should be from the beginning of the next within days, the whole thing falls into artistic order. And chaos has cables going missing, and things were in the wrong place. And this paper builds up everywhere. And it’s all tidy up after themselves. But people won’t if they don’t have their own space. It’s part and parcel of the same thing if you asked me sort of broken windows theory ish, but with Martha pen anyway. So what we’ve got coming up in the show this week is based on a suggestion from listener Roy Brooks. Thank you, Roy, for writing in there will be a web 40 job or compare on its way to do you know, it’s 40 years since blankety blank started that terrified

Chris Weston 9:34
about so young number I didn’t expect to hear tonight the number of years since blankety blank because we lost a dear old winter Davis this week and it’s probably even longer since the start of if I don’t have I remember hearing them doing whispering grass on top of the pops up and I was just a tiny nipper human. Donna still. Yep.

Matt Ballantine 9:58
Graham any anyway. So anyway, thank you. For

Chris Weston 10:02
this

Unknown 10:03
we go.

Matt Ballantine 10:05
Thank you for ROI for bringing attention to a fantastic article, which is all about how to humans can try and over artificial intelligence by being the most mediocre or being mediocre. It’s a fabulous article and we’re going to talk about it and take it to bits, and then I’ll see how we can apply it in the real world.

And then to start off, we’re joined this week on the new and only second episode of I must read it again feature and this week’s guest is from extremely chopper who climbs Tom Garrity. So let’s join time in the jungle.

Tom Geraghty 10:45
Who are you? I’m Tom geraghty, what do you do? I’m currently CTO of identity. And I’m a technology consultant specializing in cloud technology, DevOps, process improvement and learning and safety cultures and organization.

WB 11:01
What is the name of the book? The book is called the Phoenix project

Chris Weston 11:05
who is the author uses a gene Kim George Spafford. And Kevin. When did you first read the book I first read the Phoenix project in around 2014. While I was head of technology for the National ice center and capital FM arena in Nottingham. Tell us briefly, the main theme of the book. The Phoenix project is a novel about an organization struggling to meet the demands of modern technological complexity and competition in the industry. The main character bill is suddenly thrust into bringing a critical project back from the brink. And it describes with eerie familiarity, what it’s like to work in a technology organization that has poor change control a programmatic ops versus dev culture, and inadequate visibility and monitoring of work or performance.

The Phoenix project who is inspired by a book called The goal by like older and it demonstrates a number of actionable ways to improve the performance of your IT organization such as effective but lean change control can ban boards, effective testing, reducing work in progress, and unplanned work, and avoiding letting anyone or anything become the bottleneck for processes. The bottleneck person in the book is a guy called Brent, a character who knows everything but hasn’t documented anything, everything flows to Brent and nothing happens without his involvement. I’ve definitely worked with a few brands and I suspect I may have been Brent at some time. A key message of the book is, don’t be Brent. And don’t let anyone become grant

gene. And the growth is also introduce in this book. One of the first efforts to codify DevOps using gene Kim’s three ways which are flow or systems thinking, feedback loops and continuous improvement. What impact has the book had on you other time it completely changed how I thought about it. And it helped me to focus more on process improvement culture people and applying Lean and Agile thinking to IT operations when at the time part of me, I think, maybe consider those to be aspects of software delivery teams only rather than it operations so began to use the lessons learned from the book to improve the way I my teams and my business worked using things like more effective measuring and visualization of different kinds of work and measuring things like unplanned work. When did you last read it? I’ve probably only read the book and for the ones but I dip in and out of it quite often. Every now and then if I want to remind myself of something, I want to explain DevOps to someone if you could describe the book as an animal, what animal would it be, it would be some sort of animal rather more intelligent than I am like a dolphin or modern clever monkey.

Matt Ballantine 14:08
Well, thank you, Tom, for taking some time out to be a record. If you want to do it yourself. Go to the website, web 40. podcast.com goes the menu and then choose I must read it again. And there’s all the instructions for what you need to do to be able to give us your own book that you really must get round to reading again,

it’s not one I’ve read mythical man, sorry, I’m the Phoenix project. I was gonna say it reminds me in its kind of its symbolism in an era of technology project management of the mythical man month, which is a seminal text from the the 80s, I guess, in the 70s. But

is it a book you’re familiar with,

Chris Weston 14:52
it’s only because I was I was actually

taught about this book by some somebody else who’s a

dev ops and it’s obviously a bit of a Bible or now holy text for those those other guys. And it’s, it’s one of those books I think, that people can take up because it’s kind of true to life story. I think it’s one of those books that people can take a bit of inspiration from, I can try and find parallels in what they’re doing, or in the, in the way that people saw problems in in in that story. So yeah, I am aware of it certainly been floating around my consciousness, but I’m not ready.

Matt Ballantine 15:35
So anyway, we’ll put a link to the book on the website. And we’ll put a link to Tom’s new pages as well. He’s just set up a new

website for himself. So if you want to find out more about Tom, you’ll be able to. So there you can find it all a web 40 podcast.com.

Chris Weston 15:58
So we’re going to look at this article about mediocrity matter, when you first sent it through to me and said, We ought to have a read of it, I clicked on it, and I started to skim down it. And then after about

two minutes of skim reading, and are still are still flicking through, I thought, this is quite deep. And it’s going to take some time and expense from actual real time reading this rather than just being at the salient points

because it’s almost it’s almost a justification of the, the guy who wrote it, he’s trying to justify his his thoughts around what what’s important, I think, and why it’s not necessarily or even desirable to be excellent, or outstanding, or world class, or whatever you want to call it in a particular area, or a number of areas. And, and it makes a very good job of it. But he goes into a lot of detail. And it brings in quite some quite interesting metaphors. me

Matt Ballantine 17:02
he does, I think, I mean, the starting metaphor for it is actually the starting metaphor has been comparing it to would see 3pm and I’m not a Star Wars fan enough to be able to get that one. But the the first big metaphor, I think this sort of framed it reasonably well is about the dinosaurs. And and his argument and that this the whole framing of this is about how humans have the ability to be able to retain

advantage over

machine intelligence foreseeable future because not because we are brilliant and stuff because there are many things that you can get a computer through either just programming it or by using things like machine learning and other AI techniques,

you can get machines to be very, very good indeed, either dumb tasks, and repeated forever because computers greater than don’t get bored, or through being able to do massive statistical type analysis and machine learning stuff so they can play go better than any human being can. And at first that looks like it’s something that should be a very hard thing to do. Because humans are not very good at that kind of mental processing. And computers are very good at it. So we look at the computer in order and go wow, they must be super intelligent. But actually they’re not. They’re just very, very good at being able to deal with the two ends the bit where humans Excel is in the middle, which is where we are not excellent, he uses the term mediocre, mediocre is quite a lot a loaded term and I think that maybe actually detracts a bit away from the argument to some extent but that by being mediocre we are multi purpose enables be able to adapt way better than any any sort of machine learning thing can already sort of hard coded traditional software code and the example the metaphor he uses is off the dinosaurs and the peak of the dinosaurs when dinosaurs ruled the world and dinosaurs are super you know super controlling in terms of their ability to be able to just be the thing that was doing the entire planet

the best dinosaurs the most excellent dinosaurs with a massive gray

carnivorous bastard things like dinosaurs Rex and when you then look to other stuff there was there were these weird kind of flying flappy things Tara Don’s and

I can’t remember the names that I haven’t obviously spent enough time with my kids are here dinosaurs is my bad parenting. But the flappy things with the wings weren’t particularly great dinosaurs because they weren’t big and meat eating and gradually and they certainly weren’t very good birds because they hadn’t evolved feathers. As far as we know there’s some discussion about whether there was fetid dinosaurs.

But when you got to the point at which the massive very Meteor I hit the planet and Ice Age ensued and death destruction to the big excellent dinosaurs, the things that survived alongside tiny little mammals that became bigger mammals that became bigger mouse became us

were the things that are the closest

kind of mass resemblance of dinosaurs today, which is birds. And so by not being very good dinosaurs, the flying dinosaurs were able to survive the complete cataclysmic meltdown of most dinosaur kind and that they weren’t activity good birds either. And what’s happened since is this thing called birds have evolved and now we have birds very good birds wouldn’t be very good dinosaurs

Chris Weston 20:55
but

Matt Ballantine 20:56
Teradata now Tara Don’s and whatever would probably be not very good. But today either

point of all of that is by being a bit crap but adaptable you have the ability to survive chaos far better than something that’s extremely accident excellent. But not that adaptable like dinosaurs was that makes sense starting point

Chris Weston 21:16
it kind of does. Yeah I am. I’m reminded when you talk about the big fluffy things with wings and the massive asteroids and things that you did the sociology degree or someone didn’t hear that makes that makes all sorts of sense.

Matt Ballantine 21:30
I did this I show the one thing I never did any detail. I didn’t do biology after level but I did a physics and stuff so you know, I’m not sure but in a big flappy physics definition. So

Chris Weston 21:43
going back to something else that you said about artificial intelligence and go and things like that

I was reminded of something I was reading about, about chess and go so I don’t know much about go with. And I know that it’s a progenitor of chess. And I know that it’s very complex in or in in terms of its the number of permutations of of move some things and of course, we’ve had a recent

win for for AI machine against the world’s best player. And all of those systems, all of the the original sort of deep blue chest computer that beat Casper off and that go computer, they were built on the on top of human understanding. Okay, so they were built on Deep Blue, for example, that beat Garry Kasparov, it had a team of coaches who would look at Kasparov’s game, look at the way he plays and they would prepare opening maneuvers, opening opening strategies, different kind of seeds for it to carry on from in order to optimize it’s, it’s it’s processing

center. Since then, the the previous successes rather have fd, blue, don’t do that. They just play chess games against its themselves until they figure out how chest works. They stopped using otter this human some of human knowledge. And the same with go. So the the community called AlphaGo, or whatever it was called, yeah, Africa, they the next iteration of that didn’t use the go knowledge that had been built up, it just went from first principles, apply it against itself, they figured out how to win, then it kept playing and playing and playing until it until that one, and it be when they then played, played the new one, it’s the old one, it beat it hands down. And then they build another one recently, which is now so good at beat the one the beat the one if, you know, that mean hands down the hundred games to now and that sort of thing. So there are certainly advantage in computational power and working these things out from first principles, rather than using our ingenuity. And there was a quote from one chess one of the grandmasters in chess who talking about the latest iteration of this because it’s got no it’s got no precedent in terms of human interaction with it. It’s like we I always wonder what happened if aliens who are really good at chess what put London teachers out to play because it’s playing different. Jessica’s paying completely

on inspired by human chess. And that’s important because when you when you look at chess, as a game, that once you get beyond the kind of fairly boring, you know, night to King for and all that sort of thing, right, it’s basically just a series of opening moves some pretty much pretty well established opening

exchanges, and then enter the middle game. And then into the end game. Once you get once you get to the point where you’ve gone past that bit it then it’s, it’s, it’s person versus person, it’s kind of brutal classes, very brutal game of chess is a brutal game, because it’s, it’s a battle of egos. So just like every kind of sport, or

even even a soap opera is, is less on, you understand it less if you if you if you just drop it on it, when you go, when you see two people playing chess, often it’s about how what’s happened before in in between those two players. Or sometimes it’s about what types of what types of variants of the game is one person strong in or one person weekend, and players will try and move the game into those sort of areas. So it really is about preying on weakness rather than necessarily just relying on your own strength, yes, you have to have the strength, you have to be able to play chess, well, you have to be able to understand

lots of different variants, and where the where the strong positions are from those variants. Or you’re just going to get dragged into a place where that you don’t know and you’re going to get beaten to a pulp

once you get past that it is about it’s about the other person versus weakness. And that’s where when you look into artificial intelligence, and the way it plays, games like that, it just doesn’t have those weaknesses. Because it doesn’t have those that ego it doesn’t have that

that those histories of but what it also has, as always, always a case with things like chess and, and go and even drafts. And backgammon and Ludo as you can see the whole board, you don’t just see your MPs. As you can see the other opponents pieces and you can extrapolate their options in life. That’s not the case, we just don’t have all the information available to us at all times. So that ability to you whether it’s being mediocre, or being having the power to have insight into very many different dynamics and

and cultural aspects and financial aspects, all of these things can play into way the way decisions are made. And the way that the future might unfold. And therefore being kind of comb shaped as, as you’ve described it before, or being mediocre across a whole bunch of things is important because being being excellent at anything, there are trade offs to be made on in in order to be excellent to anything, you have to meet other things.

Matt Ballantine 27:18
So on the chest thing particularly. And now I have to say up front I’m rubbish and chest, my, my eldest son can beat me easily. I’ve never had the brain to build tied together. But every time I move in night, in my head, there’s a little winning noise, right? artificial intelligence computer cannot make any sense, you know, the best IBM can throw it, it cannot make any sense of the fact that I’m making a little winning noise in my head whenever I’m moving night. Now you’re looking at me as if you’re saying is that an icon either. But the point is, this is that lateral cultural reference. And there’s there’s all sorts of things. The fact it is a battle the computer has no concept of water battle is it has no concept about the fact that chess is a very stylized set of metaphors around war, it has no concept about what any of that means. So it doesn’t get distracted by and it can become and she say, with these, these now generation versions of machine learning intelligence in things like go, they have none of the preconceptions because they’ve been completely unshackled from what goes on around. But in the same way that you know, that means they’re extremely now good at these fans, and far better than any human player could ever be. And humans are now starting to realize that it’s not because they’re fantastically intelligent, it’s just because they are very, very, very good at chess. And in no way could an artificially intelligent

chess playing machine come up with the idea for chest, the musical

Chris Weston 28:57
one many, many, we’re so thankful for that. But

I think that’s it’s kind of the point isn’t it, the

computer will win it just because there it is program to do. So it’s programmed to reach the point where it is victorious. Okay, a person playing chess wants to win, because they want to be the person opposite, they might be playing against a computer, and they want to be the computer. But again, that’s my most players sit most serious players and they play against the computer, they don’t play for fun, they pay for practice, they play to play in scenarios that there they don’t know though there may be there, they’re weaker, and they want to learn. So

a computer just gets noticed satisfaction out of winning, there’s no such thing as satisfaction for a computer, a person, a person when it play when it when a person plays chess against a person they’re playing, to leave that person in no doubt that they are superior. And there’s a massive amount of ego involved. So it’s almost pointless, almost irrelevant that she that computers got to the point where now they can be all humans at chess because there’s no point in a computer playing chess there’s no end to it there’s no there’s no validation of victory to the great thing of course it does is it provides human plays with whole bunch of strategies and and and games and middle games that it would they might never have seen. And it gives them ways to then learn other ways to play chess in order to drag their opponents interfaces they don’t understand and beat them to a bloody pulp because that’s what Jesse’s for chess is about people it’s not about computers

Matt Ballantine 30:38
and but there’s another interesting paradox after that and about the you know the

the concept of excellence is that often breakthrough approaches to changing how things are done to be able to make a significant step change in any particular field come from people who are outsiders so the moment and people can’t spot in the way so actually things are AlphaGo and all the latest iterations of Africa and whatever has been Deep Blue and all the rest they are now providing the inspiration for being able to think totally differently in the same way that you know dick Fosbury from Salt completely differently about how to be able to get your body over and bar a meter something

or that you know

Copernicus or you know any of these people you’ve actually had major significant This is a totally different way of thinking about the world they’re outside is by their nature because they’re buying into what is the expert model about how things how things work mediocrity in the sense that

bank the bank bank, Hitesh Rao in the article, talks about is also where inspiration, new idea often comes from.

Chris Weston 31:50
Well, that’s right. And

so for example, the whole business of building bridges out of iron, new ways for building joints and things had to be had to be made for on bridges didn’t. And it was that was the that was the kind of leap of intuition that was made that allow people to make useful structures out of line. And it as you say, it often takes somebody from a different discipline or using ideas that haven’t necessarily been, then they’re not part of the the standard operating method for that for that industry, or that or that, or that,

that profession to change things around. Because let’s face it, nobody would have no shops would be on the internet. Now, if somebody from an IT background and said, we use this internet thing, and I said, Sure, our products on that, you know, it doesn’t need these flashes of inspiration. And you only get that through having multi level skill sets.

Matt Ballantine 32:56
So then the final bit of the article, we skipped like the bulk of it, but you know, really put a link on the website. But the final pass the article then talks about the mediocre the most mediocre of mediocre now this is a little bit challenging to get one’s head around. But once you do, I think it’s become really interesting. So he imagines a game that can be played where the winner of each round of the game is the person who gets closest to the average score of everybody competing. So the winner is in the person with the most of the least the person is the person who gets closest to the average for that round. And it’s sort of fairly simple matter at that actually, the person who wins the most games by getting the most average score in the most occurrences doesn’t win the match over all because that doesn’t lead to them getting the most mediocre result overall, to be able to be winning in that game. You need to be able to, to not win all the time. Because if you have made yourself so good at being mediocre, by definition, you’re not mediocre being mediocre bit of a head twist that but there’s this sort of, you need to be really great sometimes at it and then not so great. And basically be all over the place to be to be truly media without any sort of,

I guess

going back to the main type behavior of just being average all the time is that if I explain that,

Chris Weston 34:34
I think so. I don’t, I don’t, I do not remember reading that. And I don’t quite understand where he’s heading with it really, in terms of its it fairly, it’s pretty concise. And as much as I understand why you’d have a game where you have to be the most media credit to win.

I don’t understand that what what you’re trying to prove, or what are the attributes you’re trying to weed out in that sense,

Matt Ballantine 35:01
because the point is that if you become the best at being mediocre, then you have missed the point of this being an average player throughout. Because what his point is, is that there’s no actually the the full part of that is that there is a game with an end. And actually, and this is again, something I kind of always running against people using things are sporting metaphors within business. And actually, to an extent of this has always been a bit of a bit I’ve been uncomfortable about with

the use of things like chess, or go as being this intelligence test for computers is because they’re not like the real world because they’re incredibly boundaries because they’ve got these nice strict rules associated with them. I think his point about the mediocre, mediocre stuff is that actually there is no insight. So actually, if you start to refine yourself to be always middling when when when the scenario changes, when the meteorite hits and you suddenly competing nothing against the big dinosaurs anymore, you won’t be able to adapt if you’ve got really good at being mediocre within certain set boundaries.

Chris Weston 36:09
I think I do understand why. Yeah, I understand your point about that, about how you become my WHY, WHY be more mediocre. And I think that that goes back to the whole chess point. The reason that people make computers play chess was not so that they could build the ultimate chess machine. It was because it’s quite hard thing to make computers play chess, it’s a it’s one of the, it’s one of those, I wonder if we can do it kind of things. So to make Up To Play Chess is wanting to making, you know, if you even if you sit at your computer and try to write a draughts playing program, you know, there’s that’s not that difficult. It’s not It’s not easy. But it’s, it’s, it’s something a novice programmer can do. getting something to play chess is orders of magnitude harder, getting some place so well, it can be proper players. That’s a again, it’s a really difficult task. And it’s it’s trying to achieve that task, which is driving the chess playing

efforts. And because it some point it gets to like playing a quiz against Wikipedia or IMDb, or something going and going like doing a movie quiz and playing against the intelligent version of IMDb, you’re going to lose, there isn’t any point in playing, it breaks the whole game, because you are you are now playing against something which knows all the answers, and

that’s fine. But you’re never going to do that again. Are you never going to play it something is always going to win all the time. So it’s a it’s an interesting puzzle. And it’s an it’s a intellectual challenge to make the computer do it. But the fact that it can play chess Well, it’s kind of neither here nor there because it can’t do anything else. And, and never will, you can no doubt learn now that you’ve paid till till the computer to play chess, you can learn some of the the techniques that you use to do that, that you can then apply them to other problems. But it doesn’t, it’s not the same as as, as you say, being deliberately wide ranging. And if you like, mediocre.

Matt Ballantine 38:12
So that’s the gist of the article.

As I say, we’ll put a link on the web page for the show to be able to get you to be able to get to the article was just have to think about next is actually is there a practical application of this in an era when organizations businesses are complaining about how much uncertainty there is.

So something I keep hearing, particularly from the CBI, the Confederation brushes industry is that business can’t deal with uncertainty. And they’re talking about this particular in the context of what’s going on with braced at the moment. Now, this annoys me when it annoys me, because first of all, the CBI tends to talk on behalf of all business when it actually represents the tiny minority of the number of employers and also a minority of the size of organization overall by the number of people employed, most people are employed by the small to medium sized businesses or public sector organizations. And the CBI represents sort of work fact, ironically, the mediocre bit in the middle of large employers.

But the other reason it is not annoys me is because if organizations can’t cope with uncertainty, they are not good organizations to my mind. But it got me thinking about what’s the reaction to that and it it does feel that we have a

world today where the industrialized world was all about excellent it was all about specialization it was all about getting very refined processes it was about either doing the you know very simple code that does this the task repeatedly forever or the AlphaGo type thing which is incredibly smart but very specialized and maybe that’s the problem that maybe there’s something we can learn from this concept of mediocrity that is the gap for organizations to be able to deal with uncertainty in what are undoubtedly uncertain times and what undoubtedly are not going to get any more certain anytime soon Buster

it seemed to ties in and actually within the article is what he does talk about the the the anti fragile concept that Talib introduced a few years back

now, you think is slightly different to that,

Chris Weston 40:40
I think, I think a lot of what you’re saying absolutely makes sense, I think that the whole uncertainty thing, in an ideal world, everything would be certainly wouldn’t. And that’s part of why we do the whole it thing that’s, that’s my one of mine drivers for it is that it is about getting better information to people quicker, so they can make better decisions with better inflammation.

And if you always knew what was going to happen, you’d make a perfect decision. And therefore, you’d know exactly how much this thing was going to cost you, you know what the customer wanted to get it right all the time. So the more uncertainty that’s introduced, the more you have to show your ability to think around it. And, and manage risk appropriately, appropriately. And also your abilities rather few. Six is when you need to,

which is not an ability at all is it of course, but it’s a it’s just one of those things that happens if you if you’re looking.

So I understand what you’re saying about the whole thing. I do think that when you introduce uncertainty, deliberately, you kind of, you know, you’re, you’re liable to get a bit of a complaining. But I do think this plays into this whole mediocrity piece, because

as we said, we kind of touched on it earlier to become excellent anything, if you look at Andy Murray or anybody who’s reached that sort of level of tennis, for example, in order to become that good at tennis, you have to set a lot of other stuff and put it put it away, then you’re not going to be good at lots of other things. Because you’re certainly not going to be if you look at most highly talented athletes, they’re not brilliant compensation lists, they’re not sparkling dinner companions, because they all they talk about is what they do, they are obsessed with getting better. And, you know, in order to become that world class so far into the bulk of you kind of have to be obsessed with it. And that’s fine. But it does mean a trade off in the rest of your life. And it might be that you’re, you know, you’re not really you don’t not successful with your family, or you’re not successful in other ways. But so that’s the kind of trade offs that you’d have to make in order to be excellent in certain areas mean that you might leave yourself dangerously on equipped in that world where you have to be able to manage and understand a whole range of things that makes sense,

Matt Ballantine 43:01
you know, does and I think the thing

if we take particularly the Brexit stuff in the moment, that the challenges to be able to get the world that we have today, you have to have lots of extremely specialized things that you know, every level and if you look at any object that is surrounding you at the moment, and, and think about what is needed to be able to create that object to manufacture that object, and to be able to do it at scale and the cost, it’s affordable, not rest. This specialism all the way through those supply chains, value chains, and that’s how the modern world is made. But those incredibly tightly specialized ways of working are incredibly fragile. And the three four things that have been sort of going through my mind, especially last week, as we start to hear that there is news that there is possibly stockpiling starting to happen around things are pharmaceuticals. In the UK, if you think about 2000, and the your protests, which were, you know, a few hundred, if not most, a few thousand lorry drivers taking a bit of action. And basically, it was crazy time, if you think about what happened when the Icelandic volcano went off, and grounded air traffic for what three or four weeks if you think, you know, where the the Channel Tunnel fire a few years back, and the impact of that had, I think about how these tiny little things can have a massive knock on effect. And then you think if you were to have, I don’t know, 40 or 50 of those kinds of tiny little things were happening at the same time. And that’s probably under estimating it. That’s the fragility that underpins this. And how do you get a balance between having organizations that can deliver what it is that the modern world determines we must deliver with supply chains, and all the rest that they have set against having a suit just even a basic level of resilience to be able to deal with where things don’t pan out?

Chris Weston 45:06
That’s a really good point. And we saw this, didn’t we recently with the outage, something’s just not working. And they weren’t necessarily critical things that were sort of the bus stops in London, stop working because they’ve got no to SIM cards in them, which isn’t the end of the world. But it certainly if you’re starting to rely on that as your your source of information, absolutely, it’s a problem. Some people said they couldn’t pay for their lunch or whatever, because their phone couldn’t connect to the bank. And they use their phone as a Apple Pay or whatever. And, again, not the end of the world. And if anybody’s building a system that relies absolutely on mobile data, that sort and it’s critical system, then that person, it shouldn’t be in that job. But it’s about how we do how we build our lives. Now businesses and processes on these things which are in different ways fragile, and your Let’s face it, we are 21st of December 5 know, January today, when we’re recording this. So sometime in the next month, there’s going to be a light dusting of snow, and another number of things are going to come grind to a halt. So yeah, absolutely makes sense. So maybe

Matt Ballantine 46:15
this is that there’s something in this I think this for me is

I don’t know the language is probably not right as well, because as I mentioned earlier, I think that the term mediocre so culturally loaded, it’s a bit like my my rallying against the term failure because it just has too much meaning to it for it to be able to be taken on board without judgment, in the same way that I make winning noises in my head every time I move at night. But there is something about this idea about going for the middle rather than going for the extremes going for mediocre over excellence and going for the ability that adaptability and lots of threads and being able to change and being a bit like a pterodactyl, rather than being like a T Rex, my offer to us so anyway, there we go. A little exploration into what I think was a fascinating article. It’s well worth the read. Is it good half hour of concentrating? I reckon,

Chris Weston 47:17
definitely, definitely. But But yeah, worth a read because their challenges and makes you wonder about what you’re trying to do,

Matt Ballantine 47:25
and thanks again to Roy for the tip, off of Venkatesh Raul’s fantastic article

Chris Weston 47:34
Well, that was an interesting conversation and certainly makes the old gray matter strain a bit much but we have to do every now and again.

Matt Ballantine 47:42
Yeah absolutely absolutely but if you please

Unknown 47:46
say

Matt Ballantine 47:48
that I’m going to go into an interview on Thursday

Unknown 47:54
so

Matt Ballantine 47:55
I’m going to interview somebody who has created an art project which is a podcast involving

going to interview people and recording silence

Chris Weston 48:10
right okay

Matt Ballantine 48:12
master members delete that pause in rather than

Chris Weston 48:17
not interviewing exactly like we will be talking I’m not going to be able to recreate it sounds good

Matt Ballantine 48:24
yeah i know but yeah so that should be interesting fascinating project I’m I’m I’m trying to be able to hit

I’ve been asked to be interviewed as part of this project was you have a great honor and also probably the most coherent into I will ever do in my life. But it’s also going to be interesting because what we’re trying to do is to have the interview take place at one of the Anika chambers at the National Physical authority, which is just down the road from where I live,

I think so there’s

any changes so one of these places were basically they’re designed to have absolutely no noise in them at all. No echo whatsoever. I’ve been in one once before, and it is they’re actually quite disturbing places to be. I find them quite claustrophobic and then usually get claustrophobia. But having no reverb, reverberation around your tool is quite an odd feeling.

Chris Weston 49:23
That happens quite a lot. I’ve given several talks and at the end, so exactly like that.

Matt Ballantine 49:30
No, there is echo it’s also the same a tumbleweed

Unknown 49:37
and we’re not doing that this week. But that’s

Unknown 49:39
that’s that’s the plan for that.

Matt Ballantine 49:42
How have you got exciting things in the in the week ahead?

Chris Weston 49:46
Yeah, busy all week. And then I think, yes, I’m in London later this week doing those things. And yet, you’re just just cracking on with various exciting bits of work. Hopefully I can share some of it with you in the next few weeks.

Matt Ballantine 49:59
There. Good, happy good to hear super well. Have a good week, and we will be back next week, with more fun and frolics, probably an internet Yin and Yang. And we’ll see where we get to

Chris Weston 50:24
thank you for listening. We can be found as always at web 40 podcast.com

and web 40 podcast on Twitter. You can find us on all good podcasting platforms. And if you do subscribe via those things. Please leave us a review. It makes us very happy.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

One thought on “Episode 94 – Mediaocre

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