The Next Big Idea

Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is a painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” – Mandy Hale 

Hi Everyone, 
  
When we started Tahzoo, our tag line was Tahzoo “Driven by big ideas”. It was a way for us to communicate our ambition and the impact we expected to have on behalf of our clients. Aspirational for sure and it’s remained a central theme for Tahzoo ever since. Over the last week, I’ve been clearing my calendar so I can have time to think about the future of our company. When I started Tahzoo in 2010 my central thesis was that personalized experiences would replace the “one size fits all” digital experience. From a marketing perspective, it wasn’t that companies couldn’t figure out who you were or the experience that would be most pleasing to you, the gating factor was that they couldn’t get the right unit of content in front of you quickly enough to make a difference. Turns out that the trend I spotted was and is still true today. While SDL provides Tahzoo a platform to tackle some of these issues, there are still technology, strategy and process gaps that we need to overcome to fulfill our mission. 
  
My brain has been ruminating on this topic and how we need to position Tahzoo for the next decade of work. I thought I’d share a few questions with you that I’ve been exploring and invite you to engage with me if you have an interest in contributing. 
  
Mathematics continues to evolve at an accelerating pace, our ability to write equations that describe our world and our experience is developing rapidly. How should we be applying advancements in mathematics to our business? If I wanted to write an equation that would describe the relative likelihood that I’d visit a Starbucks at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon, what would that look like and what mathematical domains would be necessary to build a reliable model? 
  
What is the relationship between brand affinity and proximity? For example, you might walk two blocks at lunch for your favorite sandwich, but 6 blocks would be too far. Is there a level of discounting or incentivization that would impact your behavior to walk those additional four blocks? There is a comedian who does a routine on Amazon Prime becoming Prime Now, two-hour delivery is no longer sufficient, it needs to be Prime NOW. It’s funny, but there is some truth in our growing expectation that companies anticipate our needs. How do we help our clients write equations that anticipate what someone will want now? 
  
Given the advancements in mathematics, how are we going to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve the customer experience? The wonderful thing about digital experiences is that it’s given us sample sizes that are statistically valid, there are millions and millions of digital interactions to measure. When we move to algorithmically based personalization models from statistically-based models how will that impact personalization? What level of uplift will we get from a marketing and customer service perspective? 
  
What new technologies does Tahzoo need to master in order to lead the market in these categories? How will our engineering rigor need to change when the building of the enterprise marketing platform is only the first step in the experiment? What skill sets do we need? How should we be organized? 
  
We are still in need of a grand unified theory of content. We have good tools for searchability (thank you Google) and findability which is a byproduct of standardizing UX, but that’s not sufficient. In spite of all the improvements, consumers are still left with the task of finding and navigating content. We still aren’t able to describe the content in terms that allow computers and AI to understand the content well enough that we can effectively build algorithms for personalization. We’ve experimented with using the discipline of semiotics to codify content, certainly, DITA, XML, S1000D, and mapping ontologies are all helpful, but we need to bring all of this together into a unified framework for describing the content. I don’t have this all figured out, but I sense that there is a path that will combine all of these standards into a game-changing solution for Tahzoo. 
  
This leads me to the next set of questions that I am focused on, which involve complexity theory. A complex system is a type of system that is composed of many diverse parts that are highly interconnected and capable of adaptation. So, if you think about how a brand interacts with its customers on a global scale you have a complex system. When you think about Tahzoo as a company with many different disciplines all working towards a common goal, you have a complex system. How do we help our clients understand the complexity of their customer engagement? How would we visualize that? How would we understand the interactions well enough to make recommendations that positively impact business outcomes? Being a complex system in and of itself, how should Tahzoo be organized to support our clients? How do we make Tahzoo a learning system and culture?  
  
I recently connected with Kriell Benzi who is creating art by visualizing complex systems and data sets. You can see some of his work here. He is speaking at the Santa Fe Institute this week, unfortunately, I won’t get to see him this trip. I’ve been looking for ways to model complexity for our clients and his artwork might be an interesting approach. The reason I mention this is for those of you who are interested in complexity theory, the Santa Fe Institute is a great resource. One of the most important questions for Tahzoo in the next decade, is how do we build teams that are comprised of diverse skill sets that effectively collaborate to serve our clients? 
  
AI will be a couple of orders of magnitude more impactful than the advent of the Internet. Imagine how much the world has changed because of the Internet, now multiply the amount of change in the last 25 years by 100, that is what AI is going to bring to our world. We won’t experience a linear progression of change, there will be quantum leaps in technology and understanding. The advancements in science, knowledge, and technology will be astounding beyond belief. This will create cultural and economic disruption on a scale not seen before in human history. To put this in perspective, it took the Catholic church about 200 years to come to terms with Galileo’s notion that the earth revolves around the sun. It takes time for us humans to accept change, especially when it challenges long-standing beliefs. We won’t have the luxury of time to reconcile the change or ease into an “understanding”. There are countless examples of advancements in science or knowledge that are initially rejected by the orthodoxy only to become accepted with the passage of time. 
  
Beliefs are our brain’s way of making sense of and navigating our complex world. They are mental representations of the ways our brain expects things in our environment to behave, and how things should be related to each other—the patterns our brain expects the world to conform to. Beliefs are templates for efficient learning and are often essential for survival. What happens when long-standing belief systems are eliminated or proven wrong or different, virtually overnight? We won’t have 200 years to come to terms with the change in knowledge or perspective. How would we need to teach differently if accepted truths and norms are regularly in jeopardy? What long-standing principles are likely to be challenged in the next decade? 
  
For example, if capitalism is based on a risk-reward relationship, what happens when the risk is virtually eliminated by computing power? That’s not to say that randomness goes away, just that the calculation of risk will be almost perfect. How do you invest your money in a world where the rate of return is already a certainty? What does that mean for capitalism and will we need to invent a new economic model? I can tell you that all the people who owned big castles in Europe during the middle ages thought they would be the dominant economic model for the foreseeable future, now they are places to visit on vacations. 
  
Or look at healthcare, what happens when life expectancy skyrockets because we apply virtually unlimited computing power monitoring your health? What would that mean for our economy if that average life expectancy doubles in the next 20 years? What does that mean for managing resources and population? If you think that’s not a possibility, start reading and talking to scientists who are at the forefront of this next revolution in healthcare. What happens when we begin to use our awesome technology to genetically reengineer the human body? 
  
All of us can see how social media is affecting our democracy, do the basic concepts of freedom of speech apply to machines and computers too? It won’t be too long before computers generate more content than human beings. What laws and rules do we need in place to govern that scenario? How should we think about government, the rule of law and self? There is a great quote by the famous astronomer Carl Sagan written in 1995 “Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness”. Eerily familiar quote given the political climate today. That can’t be the end state of our world, so what happens next? 
  
We are seeing the beginning of cultural change at an unprecedented scale. How should Tahzoo position itself to be a force for good in the world? I say all the time “Tahzoo exists to make millions of people a little bit happier every day”. We’ve got the ambition and company of smart and happy people that are and will continue to make a difference. I am working on these questions and I invite your input and perspective. The work we do is important, and we need to make sure that our thesis for the next decade is a guiding light for our company and our clients.  
  
I am certainly not done thinking about what comes next and by no means am I finished with my question or journey. I am focused on considering and contemplating what comes next so we can anchor ourselves and Tahzoo to the prospect of creating a better future. While at times I am daunted by what comes next, I am also an optimist and I have an unshakeable vision for a greater and more fulfilling world. It’s up to each of us to make a difference, Tahzoo is one of the places I hope to be a force for a better world. 
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Customers, Content, and Context

“All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.” – Michael John Bobak 

Customers, Content and Context 

 
If I knew everything you ever posted… if I knew every piece of content you ever consumed… would I know you? 
 
Humans are fascinating creatures; we have belief systems and values that manifest differently in various contexts. When presented with similar problems, how you react and respond on behalf of your family might be very different than with a co-worker. Take that a step further – the context around you plays a role as well, for example; are you alone? Is it late at night? Are you not feeling well? Is this interaction being recorded? 
 
Predicting human behavior or the response to a variety of situations is still exceedingly difficult because of the number of variables that need to be considered. Humans can do this math exceedingly well – I am sure you remember the Sherlock Holmes stories, where he notices the smallest details to help solve crimes. You’ll observe that someone is in a bad mood before you make an ask or start a difficult conversation, and based upon that, you might decide to strike up the conversation at a later date or time. We evaluate and attenuate our interactions with people as a natural part of our humanity.  
 
In the world of digital marketing, we’d like to replicate human-to-human interaction. As I’ve always said, “we want to deliver a Nordstrom-like customer experience, online”. Marketers and Computer Scientists have been overwhelmed by this complexity of managing all the possible variables and contexts. In addition to solving for the behavioral ambiguities, we also must address the format of the device, the context, and the immediacy around the task that needs to be accomplished or the information requested. Taking all this into account, it is no wonder that most companies chose to ignore the complexity of delivering personalized experiences. 
 
Almost all the digital/CX agencies are still pitching A/B Multivariate testing, which is best described as a better strategy for guessing. Not only does it not inform personalization efforts, but it also feeds the tyranny of the majority, because 51% percent of the traffic responded favorably to the blue button, the other 49% are force-fed the blue button, despite a different expectation or preference or additional colors. 
 
At Tahzoo, we’ve figured out how to solve this problem. The work that we’ve performed over the last few years has provided us tools to better understand customers, context, and content – and then leverage Algorithmic-based solutions and Artificial Intelligence to achieve better results. Over the course of the next few months, we will be aggressively investing in our data science capability to bring the Tahzoo approach to the market. We do a lot of things well at Tahzoo, however, this might be a point of leverage that sets us apart from everyone else in the world. Not only can we build sophisticated systems, but we can also provide the data services and methodologies to take advantage of the software we implement.  
 
I am working on a whitepaper that I will publish in the next month on the Tahzoo position on how to best leverage Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Algorithmic-based personalization technologies. The preview is that it takes what we do well; you have to know your customer, your content, and have the context to provide a Nordstrom-like personalized experience in a digital world. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
 
Brad 

Evolutionary Thinking, Revolutionary Results

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Rob Siltanen 

Evolutionary Thinking, Revolutionary Results 

 
I’m a big fan of evolutionary biology. I’m fascinated by the thought of the very first single-celled creature evolving out of the primordial molecular stew and eventually evolving into higher forms of life able to see, smell, hear, touch and taste the world around them and to produce tangential thinking on the order of the Theory of Relativity. As single-cell creatures began to reach a point of perfection or complete competency, the next step was to evolve into multi-celled creatures and begin to divide up the labor of life. Cells began to specialize around specific functions, processing food into energy, or protecting the organism from harmful parasites or viruses. As these specific functions became more sophisticated, they began to evolve into entire systems like the digestive system, the limbic system, and the brain.   The fact that I am able to write this thought and convey this idea is the result of some serendipitous chemical chain reaction that began billions of years ago is just truly mind-boggling to me. It’s all just chemistry! I love it. 
 
In many ways, technology is following a similar path. On an evolutionary scale, however, computers are not even in their infancy. We are still within arm’s reach of the very moment of conception. The first single-celled systems have developed, and the Internet has become a sort of central nervous system connecting all the various subsystems into a sentient being. With the addition of artificial intelligence and machine learning, computers are becoming able to speak, listen, see, and, yes, even to think and to learn on their own. 
 
The practical application of technology to business is modeled out the same way. When you think of the idea of an individual system providing a discrete experience it’s like the first steps in specialization consider an email marketing application as an example. We are now helping our clients evolve their business process and brand into a holistic system that includes all of the discreet systems within the Enterprise. We have been calling this the Enterprise Marketing platform for some time but really, it’s just the next step in the process. At Tahzoo, we stand at the forefront of that evolution. We are among just a handful of companies who are harnessing all the power of that technology and combining it with the very best data science to create or should I say evolve? A digital experience that thinks and behaves more like true human beings to help brands connect with their customers in ways that were not even possible just a decade ago. 
 
Tahzoo is part of the evolutionary continuum and we are leading the way to the future. It’s really exciting to me and it should be to you, too. 
 
Let’s go be great, 
 
Brad 

Software eating the world

I shared this great article about coding with the rest of the leadership team this week and wanted to also share it with you. I liked how this article speaks about how “the systems coders built are used to manage the global economic infrastructure. Not bad for six or seven decades—but keep it in perspective. Software may be eating the world, but the world was previously eaten by other things, too: the rise of the telephone system, the spread of electricity, and the absolute domination of the automobile. It’s miraculous that we have mobile phones, but it’s equally miraculous that we can charge them. If coders don’t run the world, they run the things that run the world.” 

I often speak about the incredible processing speed that surrounds us today and the amount of data we have at our disposal. Those two things colliding create massive disruption in the marketplace. It’s been a constant evolution with technology at the helm – no longer the need for travel agents because consumers have all that data at their fingertips, for example.  This article is not a quick read, but I do encourage you all to check it out…and if you do read all 38,000 words, you will get a certificate at the end! I welcome you to send me your thoughts on this.