Sharing my life story from a virtual perspective


Last week on The Virtual Excellence Show our scheduled guest was not able to make it at short notice, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to share my own life story and how it relates to the virtual.

For those are familiar with some of my work, the broader frame that I share in the show gives perspective on some of the other facets of my work over the years, much of which has related to the virtual, and how these pieces fit together.

To get the fuller picture watch the video, or if you prefer you can read a transcript below. And if being excellent at things virtual is of interest, please do subscribe to The Virtual Excellence Show on YouTube. 🙂

Rough video transcript

Hi, welcome to The Virtual Excellence Show. I’m Ross Dawson, your host, a futurist, keynote speaker and strategy facilitator, and a lover of all things virtual. As I always say, this is a community. Please check out our website, where we have all of our resources, engage with the hashtag, certainly live during the show, but also during the week, where we have content going up at #VXShow. We have a Facebook group, building conversation there. And if you are not watching this live, please do watch live each week, when we have a guest come on and we engage in an extended conversation, which you can also engage in. And please do subscribe to us on YouTube. We’re just growing and building the show, so your support would be greatly appreciated.

This is usually the moment where I introduce our guest for the show. And today, the guest is myself. I will interview myself. Just things fell between the cracks, we weren’t able to get somebody, or somebody had to drop out. So I thought it’d be worth sharing my story of the virtual. I’ve always believed in the power of technologies. Technologies are what humans are born to create. We create tools. We invent. We discover things that improve our lives. And particularly the technologies of communication and connections, the ones that have fascinated me through my life.

Let’s start the story when I began working at my first proper job, for NCR, at the time one of the world’s largest computer companies. Selling computers: Graduate Sales Trainee was the title. I was allocated to the major accounts group. We didn’t sell big, massive mainframes, or my group didn’t. What we sold was distributed systems. At the time, we had what was called the NCR Tower, running Unix, one of the first times a major computer manufacturer used open source software on their computers.

The idea was that we sold lots of the computers together to companies, so it could be retailers or wholesalers or distributors or others which had many different offices, using what was at the time IBM SNA, the default communications protocol for distributed systems. It was really interesting at the time, just seeing the beginning of distributed computing, all of these issues around distributed databases and synchronization and so on, and I suppose the initial protocols of how it is you can have a system for distributed computing.

From there, I started to work for Merrill Lynch in stockbroking, then had enough of that, went to Japan, where I started working for Thompson Financial as a financial journalist. One of the things that happened there, that was just the time when the internet was being born. There was a group called TWICS, which was originally a BBS, a bulletin board system, for pre internet, just on dial up. This was the portal where I first was able to get onto the internet. This was pre Mosaic, before we had graphic web browsers. I started to explore, and this was just seeing the incredible potential of this standard, this platform of the web. I created my first HTML pages, just being able to play around with what that was at the time.

I then worked in London, ran the capital markets group globally for Thompson Financial. I said okay, time to move on, came back to Sydney, Australia, where I was based. One of the things I started doing was running parties. I’ve always been a social animal, and initially I invited people over. I’d send out invites to parties, and at some point, I’d say, “Okay, if you’ve got an email, give me your email.” And two things happened. One, I said, all right, at a certain point, if you haven’t got an email, I can’t be bothered to send you an invite anymore. But if you want to give me your email, I’ll put you on the list. So I started to build this whole network. It was called Party Alert Network. We just set up things. It was all usually just free things, turn up and spread words, come along, have a good time. And I just got a portion of the take on the bar at times. So a bit of a business model there, but it was just this beginning of the shift of social life.

At the time, a lot of people thought technology was anti-social, it was for geeks and Dungeons and Dragons fiends. For me, it was always this idea of, well, no, this is a way to be able to connect people. At the same time, I started to get into knowledge management, in the very early days. One of the ideas was then between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Synchronous is when you’re communicating at the same time. Asynchronous is when you have a document and you’re working on that collaboratively, for example. And there was a whole array of books that I was buying. One of them was Amy Jo Kim’s Community Building on the Internet. There was a whole array of others. We’ll be interviewing the authors of some of these wonderful books in coming episodes of The Virtual Excellence Show, because I think there’s a whole wealth of experience from these people.

There was always this idea of how it is that we can use these for virtual communities, we’ve heard from, already on the show, Howard Rheingold, John Hagel. And we’ll hear from others who in the nineties had been able to see the potential of this area for connectivity. This paved the way for my first book, Developing Knowledge Based Client Relationships, a bit of a wordy title, but was in fact a very successful book. I suppose it was rooted, for me, in this idea of knowledge is not information, knowledge and information are very different. Knowledge is the capacity to act effectively, and technology doesn’t give us that.

So this was the time when I was very human focused, I’d studied neuro-linguistic programming, the idea of what is the nature of how we think, how we interact, who we are as people. And I’d gone back. I started to realize that these technologies of communication were in fact an extraordinary enabler, and I started describing myself, somewhat jocularly, as a born again technologist, in rediscovering my roots in technology and saying, well, in fact, to communicate more, to be more human, we need to use these technologies of connection.

The book was around client relationships. I’d worked with a lot of law firms, audit firms, and also a lot of the investment banks, which was at the time a lot of my background. There were platforms such as FXAll, actually founded in 2000. a lot of bond platforms. So what had been trading financial instruments in financial markets used to be a whole bunch of people on telephones. That’s the way you bought and sold things. And there was open outcry, of course, in the pits of the options and the futures markets, a lot of phone exchanges for some more classic bond and foreign exchange.

And so there was a shift to platforms. I helped a number of investment banks through that process of shifting their salespeople from, this is all telephone, to where there’s a significant digital component. We can start to build and explore strategies for how it is that we build a way of being able to profit from market movements, or hedge against risk and so on. So this was the shift where we started to see now all of these forms of communications are additional. I suppose that’s always been my mantra. There’s all of the new technologies. All of the new communication does never takes away what we already have. It just adds these new possibilities, and so it gives us this portfolio of management channels, of communication channels, which I again wrote about in my book, Developing Knowledge Based Client Relationships.

So working with these firms, working with these people, and these million dollar or multimillion dollar relationships, saying, well, how is it that we manage our array of communication channels to be able to be effective in this well? I was able to sell my second book, Living Networks. Living Networks had this theme of we are connected and we become a network, all of us together, and that becomes alive, this idea of the global brain, where we are collectively, the people on the planet, or as in you on the brain, now we are connected and the possibilities from that.

It was really very broad based exploration of this possibilities of connection. And really, that’s still often associated with that. And that’s still in my underlying theme, networks, networks of people, networks of minds, of ideas, and all where the underpinning of the communication channels allows us these possibilities. So this started to pull me into new territory beyond the banking style things and professional services, and all of the real kind of relationships into far more broad wells. And so building that for a number of years, to eventually in 2006, launch Future Exploration Network and be able to explore the future, and finally, I suppose, expressing what I’d already been practicing for a number of years, using scenario planning and other toosl as a futurist, and launched the Future of Media Summit.

This was, at the time, the first time in the world that a conference was held simultaneously in two continents. We had a conference which was held in the morning in Sydney and in the late afternoon, evening in San Francisco. We had panels across the two locations. We had extraordinary people speaking, Chris Anderson, at the time the editor of Wired Magazine, John Hagel, Craig Newmark of Craigslist, and equivalent leaders in the media industry in Australia. And it was a fascinating experiment, how what happens when you’ve got a video across two locations, and how do you manage that? I suppose one of the things which I learned was moderating these panels is very challenging. You’ve got time lags, you’ve got delays, you have to have dynamics.

So I ended up doing another four events across Sydney and San Francisco, and I went to San Francisco for each one, because I wanted to manage what was happening there. I moderated all the panels myself. That was kind of a specialist skill I had discovered. So that was again exploring the space, how it is we can be connected across locations and see what happens from that. So, building on that, the world of social media, I’ve been involved in. I’ve been blogging since 2002, was early on all of the social networks. And so what has been interesting to me was then the application of social networks inside organizations, and this was now a world of, and so this was implementing enterprise 2.0. It was the idea of the next phase of the enterprise, or what was at the time Web 2.0, applied inside the enterprise.

That became really central to my work, this idea of how do you take, what is the future of organizations, and particularly underpinned by communications technologies, and that’s essentially what we’ve all seen play out, that shifted hierarchical structures to now these ones where peer communication across organizations, the birth of what we called micro blogging at the time. We had a Yammer, of course, which has evolved into now Slack is a staple across these communication channels. This all is now the nature of how we understand the organization to be. But back in 2007, 2008, 2009, when I was running some of my conferences, as well, where Euan Semple, who we had on our previous show, spoke at one of those conferences in exploring this world.

So this was this world of what does a connected enterprise look like? So from there, I was looking at the future of work. What is the nature of the future of work? For me, it was around it is distributed. It’s not just inside an organization. It’s beyond organizations, and always as a futurist, I think, well, what does the future look like? What is the things that we need to be working on today in order to be able to create value?

From that came my fourth book, Getting Results from Crowds, which is about crowdsourcing, this idea of many people together creating value. The core theme, of course, from an organization, is you have people inside organizations and people outside organizations. We looked a lot at service marketplaces, the Elance and oDesk, which become the Upworks and freelancers and so on of today, but also around the competition platforms, and of course, the core theme there being open innovation.

Yes, all the talent in the world is not inside your organizations. If you want to have the best talent, you will always have to go outside. So this was, again, this framing of the future of work, and distributed work, connected work is a core theme in a lot of my work, as anybody that’s following what I’m doing is just seeing that. So as I came out of that, I said, all right, well, I want to build my own platform. And so what had become Advanced Human Technologies Group, we had a gruop of companies, Advanced Human Technologies, Future Exploration Network, the Insight Exchange, an events company, quite well, actually. And a couple of other companies, which didn’t survive to tell the tale.

Rhe idea was that Advanced Human Technologies Group was a group of companies, brands supporting each other, a lot of content projects and spinning off projects, but in keeping with talent, and this idea that the key principle is part time talent is part time work. We give flexibility to people. We have profit share. We’re able to have both core teams based close to me in Sydney or wherever I happen to be, and also around the world, and actually practicing all the things which I looked at at the global talent team.

So it was a challenging journey, and to cut a long story short, I consolidated some of those companies at the time. I became co-founder of a future-focused agency, which amongst other things did virtual reality. So just to show you a quick segment of some of the work which we did, using virtual reality, being showcased on national TV at the time, looking at the shopping experience and how that could be done in virtual reality.

Virtual reality shopping, where with a headset, you can enter a virtual surf store, pick out a board, choose the design, and buy it, all from the comfort of your own home.

So from there, I have come back. And so amongst other things, rebuilding the Advanced Human Technologies Group, keep posted on that, with again a core team, where I am in Bondi Beach, and distributed team around the world. There are a number of other ventures which I’m looking to build, which essentially tap this idea of how do you create value from many minds together? And talk about that in terms of crowdsourcing. I think a critical dimension is also in terms of organizations. How do you build collective strategy? Do a lot of work with boards, which are often in the same room, but sometimes not. Again, management teams are increasingly distributed for global enterprises, and that strategic thinking, being able to do that across domains, be able to create value collectively in a way that couldn’t be done before.

So Ithought it would be worth sharing my story, this idea of the what is the world of virtual within that? Of course, from that has stemmed in the times of coronavirus, saying I’m going to be sharing ideas and thoughts and speaking with wonderful people. The theme should be around the virtual, around connectivity, around the potential of that, which is now far more pertinent to people, many more people, than ever before. And I think the excellence is a bit of a dangerous phrase, because as you’ve seen, I’ve made some little mistake during the show and pressing the wrong buttons, you know, given my very limited resources on the show.

But this enables me, it makes me freer to be able to connect, to be able to share some things quickly on my own, to be able to do this. This is just all just a straight take. And so this is now the foundations, where this will be a core part of my life, where more and more, yes, I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes until very recently, traveling around the world, speaking in over 30 countries. A lot of that physical interaction, physical space, and I’m sure that I will resume travel. You won’t be able to keep me away from it forever. But this connectivity is the foundation of the future of all of us, the future of humanity. And I suppose that’s why I wanted to share my journey today.

So in future episodes, it won’t be just me. There’ll always be someone I’m interviewing and speaking to. We’ll set it up so that we have a consistent guide. So thanks so much for being with us. Please do like the video and subscribe. If you want more of this kind of thing, we’re going to have a lot more in depth in the world of virtual. Have a wonderful day. Thanks.