Dr. Chatbot or AI meets the Botniks

I recently read an article about the National Health Service in England beginning a collaboration with a digital media company to build a Chatbot that can interface with patients.

One of the biggest issues in the British Healthcare System is how long a patient waits to see a doctor and in parallel with that wait, how much of their time doctors spend diagnosing and dealing with relatively simple repetitive issues and basic information transfer.

With artificial intelligence and a chat bot that can take care of doing the routine and mundane tasks of a first-line general practitioner, the physician is freed up to concentrate on the more challenging medical issues her patients face.  Welcome Dr. Chatbot.

a version of a Dr. Chatbot circa 2012

a version of a Dr./Chatbot circa 2012.

Here are a few of issues this quasi medical newcomer must address:

  1. Human like – Studies have shown a higher utilization rate of the tools when there is a more human-centric response. Terminals at a human’s height are most effective. Think of the banking industry deployment of digital assistants in branch.
  2. User Experience – combining big data synthesis and human comfort to hone in quickly on the real problem underlying how the patient presents.
  3. Compliance – it is a well known fact that clinical trials have a high, 50% or higher, fail rate because of failure to “follow as directed.”  This leads to the need for human interaction and a true human intervener to ask the questions listen to your concerns and yes, touch your hand to improve compliance.

The Hawthorne effect is a well documented phenomenon of improved results because the subject knows they are being watched. There is a new startup company called Hawthorne Effect looking to do just that. They are providing  human interveners with the hopes of providing better and more accurate results in clinical trials.

The premise is a sound one in that trusted human professionals go out to patients who are in need of real time real personal interaction  and focused follow up. The patient  may need a reason to see the trial through completion or to “take as directed” the actions or medications to improve efficacy as well as accuracy.

The potential for widespread health breakthroughs with the Dr. Chatbot concept comes from the underlying technologies of machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Newer studies are showing that there are predictors of disease that show up statistically before any one human doctor is likely to reach the diagnosis. The ability to provide an alert to a physician and do the high end mathematical permutations that lead to better and earlier interventions holds tremendous potential. But it will be the user/patient experience that determines compliance. I hope the tech people creating these machine driven interfaces pay particular attention to the human experience (or user experience -as the new discipline is called). Jeff Pulver has called for a move away from the term Chatbot to the more hip, creative and human like Botnik.

Indeed, we need to think of them as Jeff does, ““Botniks are creative, artistic, & rebellious just like the Beatniks” The time is right. There is a shift in thinking from what might work to how elegantly we can begin to deploy the tools. We have entered an era of intense focus on AI, machine learning and robotics and the best winners in this emerging category will be those that enhance the human experience.

Full disclosure: I am a cheerleader for and investor in Hawthorne Effect. I am betting that the human creative can direct the machine and not the other way around.

Busting Stereotypes – Bankers & Bikers

B&M monthly column by Keith Spiro

Also known as Being seen, Being heard and Being found – for all the right reasons.

Bankers & bikers bring certain images to mind. Some are not flattering and others are not exciting. What do you think of when you see that leather jacket with colors on the back?

Bikers, or more correctly ‘motorcycle enthusiasts’ come from many walks of life. What members of United Bikers of Maine share is the love of the open road, all drivers educated in safe road etiquette, and the protection of motorcyclists rights. Educate not legislate is one of their themes. They aren’t looking for a lot of attention but they would like to increase their membership among the younger riders who are not affiliated but could benefit from the experience of seasoned riders who care beyond just themselves.

UBM is a motorcyclist rights organization celebrating many years of providing camaraderie, education and events across the State of Maine; a group with whom you can go out and ride while raising funds for community non-profit organizations.  This past month a few folks from UBM’s Sagadahoc County chapter got together and in less than an afternoon raised nearly $1,000 for Maine Children’s Cancer Program. They’ve done similar things for local food banks. They help kids and families and the less abled.  They are not alone. There are chapters across the State of Maine – one for each County. This is home and they aim to make things better for their neighbors as well as their fellow riders.

Down the other end of the rail line, down Boston way, Eastern Bank just celebrated its 200th anniversary with a big kickoff party. Keith Spiro Photo Eastern Bank Join us for GoodThey are the oldest and largest mutual bank in the country. Banking and the movement of money has seen tremendous change. There’s a whole new generation of wage earners that may have never stepped into a bank except perhaps online. Eastern, like UBM would like to draw from that younger more diverse universe of potential customers who could benefit from associating with a group of seasoned bankers who care beyond just themselves.  You see, mutual banks are owned by their depositors.  They don’t have Wall Street shareholders looking over their shoulders for big ROI. They can call their own shots and this bank has been doing that for years through the Eastern Foundation. They take actions that other types of financial institutions might not want to or be encouraged to take.

When the CEO of Eastern bank walked into that kickoff event wearing way cool shades and a leather jacket, he gave off the air of someone you pay attention to and don’t mess around with.  From those two stereotypes of bankers and bikers, he announced “Join us for Good” a program already reflected in their actions as a bank operating within the communities they serve. At a time when community stakes have never been higher, this bank, like those bikers, simply let the world know the actions they were taking and then followed through. Check out just how many groups Eastern Foundation helps with funding. In 2016 they gave $7 million across 1600 non-profits. On average, they donate 10% of net profit annually to community non-profit organizations. Look at the demographics. CEO Bob Rivers noted both in his report. Smart move.  If you want to appeal to younger people, you need to show with actions and not words, where your heart is.  Time, attention and focused actions speak louder than words.

So, about busting those stereotypes! You and your organization can do the following:

Understand how others perceive your organization (rightly or wrongly)

Know that people develop those attitudes based on unchallenged perceptions

Take action that yields visible results – a motivated team can do wonders in short periods of time

Learn what your community cares about and if you are community centric, do those good deeds and make a bit of noise about it. It’s OK. As the motorcycle community says, “loud pipes do indeed save lives (on the road).  There are lots of distractions, alternate facts and shiny objects out there that can put you at risk. Take action and invite others to pay attention for all the right reasons.

Handing off the Torch in Boston

On 1-11 (2017)

At 1:11 (pm)

In 111 Dartmouth Street (Boston)

We empowered our friend and Open Hub Co-founder

To help take Epicenter Community to the next level

Open Hub Boston was formed in April of 2013 to continue the good work of Boston’s longest serving mayor, Mr. Tom Menino. Where Boston World Partnerships ended, our group of engaged active citizens continued. Mayor Menino’s view that “visionaries don’t get things done” propelled us to take the remaining funds of Open Hub and donate them to help Epicenter Community accelerate its growing success under the strong leadership of our fellow member, Malia Lazu.

This is what Joy looks like from that random arrival of a check that helps to make a difference (click on the photo for a brief excerpt of Malia’s remarks):wdsc_0007_keithspirophoto

Open Hub was a grand adventure of working together on community supportive projects and while we have individually moved on to new adventures, many of us continue to stay connected.

Here then is our short history and photo finish:

Open Hub’s launch event took place June 6, 2013 at the offices of Sherin and Lodgen.

Open Hub was formed to “welcome, inform, connect and service our beloved Greater Boston Community and beyond.”

Some 14 of us signed onto that welcome letter including

David Cutler, Debi Kleiman, Mark O’Toole, Danielle Duplin, Mike Lake, Chris Rohland, Bill Ghormley, Malia Lazu, Joshua Hurwitz, Jed Willard, Patty Katsaros and Chad O’Connor. Also joining were Susan Houston, Michael Flint, Lennox Chase, Shannon O’Brien and Phil Budden.

We opened an account at Eastern Bank because of their history as a community focused bank and because Bill and I both respect their now chairman Bob Rivers who turned to disruptors to change bank culture in Eastern’s fight for relevancy and survival. wdsc_0142_keithspirophotoWe liked his spirit then and still do now. The check we handed over transferred from one Eastern Bank account to another. Great leaders think alike.

 

Whatever small steps we took as a group was amplified by our friend and partner Malia Lazu who always said “there is nothing transactional about building social justice.” Epicenter Community is her next step to go bigger and bolder for Boston.

“Give people a different way to create civic space and they will do it. Getting it done, finding each others humanity and telling each others stories” is what makes Malia’s leadership so impactful.

And so, at 1:11pm on 1-11 of 2017 at Brownstone, 111 Dartmouth Street many of us in person, and the rest of Open Hub in spirit, transferred the remaining funds to Epicenter Community to carry the torch forward with the strongest embodiment of the original vision.

Focus Filtered Fluid #my3words

Focus, Filtered & Fluid  (My Three Words for 2017)

Way back in 2006, when I was struggling to hold it all together in a corporate world heading off the rails, a guy by the name of Chris Brogan quit making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, he chose three words he would use as a guiding principle for the year. I didn’t know it back then but within just a couple of years our paths from Maine would begin to cross regularly in Boston. Back in that first year of new actions, the words he chose were: ASK. DO. SHARE.

Like a beacon, they prompted him throughout the year to Ask more questions and ask both to help as well as ask for help. He got good at sharing what he learned and in that sharing our paths crossed and I’ve replaced resolutions with actions ever since.

In 2016, my words were:

  • Community
  • Communications
  • Commerce

And it made a huge difference in what I accomplished. But the real time web cuts no slack. Were you caught off guard by the 2016 political outcomes? Everything and nothing surprised me about the presidential elections. Talking heads got it wrong. Strategists missed the mark. Alliances now shift loosely and widely, driven in large part by spontaneous combustion on social media.  It is just so clear that we now live in a real time world that adjusts and disseminates new information rapidly. “Expecting the unexpected” doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.

So for 2017, as we roll into uncharted territory, don’t agonize over deep analysis. Just “DO IT.” Stay nimble and your business can thrive.  My three words to guide me through 2017 are appropriate for the times and the challenges ahead:

  • FOCUS
  • FILTERED
  • FLUID

Focus – Yes, we each still need a plan of where we are going and what we want to accomplish in a year.  Having a written plan allows you to check in regularly and see if you are on target. And, in today’s world – when your target has moved – you get to readjust how to approach your new day.

Filtered – I have too often gone to the internet to search for something specific and found those shiny objects and distractions that divert my attention and send me down rabbit holes from which I emerge dazed, sometimes hours later. Have you ever gone onto Facebook or searched on Google for one thing and found yourself unexpectedly somewhere else? Fight back by organizing your time. Let the filters of search do their job and just bookmark those other things for later.

Fluid – I am learning to recognize that Google and Facebook are not my friend. They are advertising engines designed to hook me and sell me something. There is no such thing as free. Time is our most valuable possession.  When I come up against a time zapper, I am going to flow around it like water and keep going. This will not be easy. But instead of screaming into the phone “operator, operator, get me a human,” or pounding “0” a few times, I’ve learned to recognize that I am dealing with a computer algorithm not a person. I’ve learned to hang up – call the customer service line and ask- in a calm voice – for help from the human that answers in real time.

wc_my3words-bots-dsc_0003_keithspirophotoWe will hear lots about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chat Bots in the coming months. They are taking over. No – actually – they have taken over. Most of us just haven’t thought about it that way yet. Think speech recognition and that lovely voice that offers to help you with your account; those friendly helpers with names like Siri (Apple), Julie (Amtrak) and Alexa (Amazon) that stand sentinel between you and a real person. Those are the entry points to chat bots. They save time for the business at the other end. They do repetitive tasks and they are going to eliminate millions and I do mean millions of jobs. More than will be created by new technologies. We can’t stop this process change and so, for that reason, I am going to be fluid – and simply work around the obstacles that are thrown at me – in a creative way (because we have that over bots)  and I will keep going.

I hope you do the same. Let’s make 2017 a great year!

(originally published in The CRYER January 1, 2017)

Inspiration – reflections on Inspirefest Dublin Ireland

inspiration for ks wordpress site cover

I had the pleasure of traveling to Ireland and participating in Inspirefest. Held in Dublin, Inspirefest is a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts. Founder Ann O’Dea puts diversity and inclusion at the festival’s heart, and the ratio of women to men is a refreshing change from the still massively male dominated tech world. This is directly in line with Jeanne M. Sullivan and Astia, the group that originally invited me to the Emerald Isle. Sullivan is Chief Inspiration Officer at Sullivan Adventures and a long-time investor in people, while Astia is a 501c3 dedicated to diversity in leadership.

The photo above is Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and HR Officer, Accenture Global professional services company incorporated in Dublin. Accenture is the world’s largest consulting firm with over $31 Billion in revenue and operates in more than 120 countries. Her theme was empowerment and diversity leads to breakthrough results. Similarly, Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Dropbox demonstrated how Dropbox with more than 500 million users is also changing the rules.

Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Dropbox changing the rules with more than 500 million users

While attending Inspirefest, I was part of a strategy panel entitled Thinking Big Enough to Scale Internationally. Our panel consisted of Anne Ravanona (moderator), CEO Global Invest Her, Paris, Eilish McCaffrey, Growth Strategist iOT and Digital, Silicon Valley, Emily Brady, Business Advisor, Growth Strategist & Supply Chain Optimization Expert, Dublin, Corinne Nevinny, Angel Investor, Non Exec Director, Los Angeles and Andrea Clausen, Senior Business Analyst, Google, Dublin. As a business strategist, I drive community success using the power of social media and the real time web, and I was excited to demonstrate that these tools and methods translate easily and globally.

In addition to witnessing the continued power of digital communication, I also had the opportunity to discover new business incubators in person and meet with entrepreneurs in, and just outside of, Dublin and Galway. I met Eoin Costello, co-founder of Startup Ireland, who filled me in on Digital Dun Laoghaire, a small town a half hour out of Dublin with a big project, and saw how the Bank of Ireland has taken a breathtaking leap into the future of banking, transforming old structures and ways into a true leadership engagement.

Surrounded by the drama of Brexit and the increasingly contentious US election process, I found it refreshing to be able to focus on business and only business. Ireland has rolled out the welcome mat, with groups like IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland bursting with excitement at the prospect of expanding business in Ireland. Connecting entrepreneurs to resources is the key to job growth anywhere and is now a global imperative. Do you have an interest in manufacturing? Ireland has some strong connections for you, and good entrepreneurial leaders know to take advantage of gaps and disruptions to drive success.

I’ve talked previously about validation. If Validation is the culmination and recognition of all the work that goes into launching a business, then Inspiration is both the starting point of an enterprise as well as the fuel that keeps you going through the rough spots. There is no better way to be inspired than to surround yourself with cheerleaders, advocates and strategists who can expand your thinking and help turn that business idea into a reality. Pull enough good people together around a great idea, and you can change the world.

Validation

validation post teaserThe Boston and Maine Connection – Validation

Validation, the independent corroboration of your mission by one or more individuals who make you feel like you’re not out there all by your lonely self as you drive toward your business goals.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there in the public eye to expose your business and vision to the harsh realities of finance where revenue meets the road and survival and additional funding is based on how likely others believe you are to succeed.

In the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem – there are some amazing events throughout the year that let you check the pulse and the pace of business against your peers. The other night I attended the New England Venture Capital Association’s (NEVCA) annual award ceremony which recognized many top notch entrepreneurial endeavors at a major kick up your feet and celebrate event hosted at the House of Blues in Boston. wC_DSC9872_©KeithSpiroPhotoWith a standing-room-only crowd cheering and celebrating the startup business life cycle from launch to exit, there was a whole lot of validation taking place.

The NEVCA works to make Massachusetts the best place in the world to start new companies: building relationships among founders and investors; amplifying the voice of Massachusetts’ entrepreneurial community.  With 700+ venture capital professionals from 80+ firms, its members collectively manage more than $50 billion in capital.  With this type of financial and geographic density, even Mainer’s feel the draw of the Boston ecosystem.

wC 20160518_203205_©KeithSpiroPhotoIf Oscar’s so White was the glaring failure of Hollywood to pay attention to diversity and changing interests, The NEVYs awards were the exact and most energetic opposite. The Stars of the startup world and the disruptors of old line business processes run like a posse in a rather exciting ecosystem of mutual support and recognition.  No better validation that you are on the right track than to be in a room filled with like-minded people who take the time to cheer you on. Everyone wins in an environment that builds up their peers and where barriers to entry begin to  appear low because of the sheer magnitude of cheerleaders and available expertise.

The train from Maine runs in both directions  and not surprisingly, I’ve meet several startup leaders traveling southbound.  Maine readers might also recognize former local reporter Dylan Martin who now works in Boston as a media maven for BostInno and who I caught up with after he went riding the mechanical bull.  Boston knows how to party. We even imported our best friends from IDAireland Stephen Mullan & Aimee WilliamswC_DSC9999_©KeithSpiroPhoto

My wife’s favorite shop in Bath Maine is Pitter Patter, children’s clothing.  That owner Colleen is taking a marketing class for the first time, surprised me since she exemplifies the traits of a good marketer which in her case flows from following her business passion for parents and little kids. She does all the right things from accessorizing purchases to deploying video and social media. wC 20160521_100100_©KeithSpiroPhotoShe even created a gift giving task simplifier that appeals to parent and child – books matching stencil art baby T’s. My first mentor, menswear sales innovator, Stuart Shaines, is now retired to Florida but he would be proud. It was through Stuart that I learned the power of upselling by accessorizing. Put a snazzy shirt, tie, belt and socks to go with the suit being sold you could take a one item transaction and move the needle because it all looked so good together and made a complete package outcome an easy sale. Time is as important as ever and every One-Stop shopping experience either “clicks or mortar” becomes a friction free opportunity to sail through a sale process.

When I talk to Colleen about cash vs. credit card tactics and compliment her marketing , I always get a smile. This too is validation.  We all need it because we are all in this together.

Community, Commerce, Collaboration and Communication makes it all work well.

The Platform, she said, was Chocolate

The platform, she said, was chocolate. And much of the marketing centered around  fair trade cocoa and real chocolate chips.

I was sold. I got the whole concept in the first presentation. The hot chocolate mix was OK.cisse hot Cocoa pkg

What chocoholic could find fault with a product that had melting chocolate chips at it’s core? Even better, the founder of  Cissé Trading Co, Diana Lovett, had a passion for sustainable development which came out of her public health work in Africa. “I longed for a way to contribute to what I believed in through a business, so I created a cocoa company committed to responsible sourcing and investing in growers.”

As time went on and the organization grew from 2 to 4 full-time employees.  I became more impressed and engaged with the marketing, and the process, and the plan of this small but smart start up. A very human approach in touch with today’s need for consumers to know more of the story and less of the Madison Avenue product pitch.

Meet her farmers; LA FUNDACIÓN DOMINICANO DE PRODUCTORES ORGÁNICO The FUNDOPO cooperative is a Fair Trade certified organization made up of about 1,500 organic cocoa farmers in Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

Read Cisse’s accolades.  Yes, I am an investor. But now, after watching them move into box stores like BJ’s, family department stores like Target and uniquely fascinating distribution plans that include the likes of Krogers, I found myself becoming a Cisse Chocolate Groupie. The quarterly reports were easily digestible. Indeed, each financial data set, in the early days, came with a sample of a new product. cisseSuperThins pkg In the end, at the last of the samples, it was The Super Thins that pushed me over the line. I could no longer just root for them from the sidelines. I needed to help them get to the next level.

So I went to my local BJ’s, pestered them and became a member entirely because they now stock Super Thins by the truck load. The Whole Foods store in my neighborhood doesn’t carry it and I made a point of telling them that they need to catch up. I want clear and easy access to chocolate, Cisse Chocolate products to be specific.

CisseSuperThins_c ©KeithSpiroPhotoNext came the random public survey. In heading down to a meeting in New York City and purely as a lark, I brought a snack pack case to see what would happen if I carried it with me – most visibly – all the way down to NYC. I chose to never mention unless someone asked. Sure enough, people started asking me “what was it?” Why  was I carrying it and more importantly what did it taste like?

For those brave enough to ask the question – I rewarded them with one of my single serving portions and warned them to be careful as this was an addictive chocolate treat.The comments were all endearing & you can see the video here.c cisse survey says_185000

And so, I’ve come to recognize that I have become a brand ambassador for Cisse pure and simple because I enjoy the process as well as the product.

Please help spread the word. Visit and Share the photos of this journey here and be on the lookout for a guy carrying a case of super thins and sounding the call for eating good chocolate for good reasons.