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