Pitching Disruption: 9 Lessons Learned from 72 Hours in Korea

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

I doubt Shakespeare was referring to traveling 10,000 kilometers to attend 2 meetings when he extoled the virtues of pithiness.Watching the Sun Rise Over Seoul

2013-04-22 21.36.32

Yet, here I am. Watching the sun rise over the Hangang River from the executive lounge at the Conrad Seoul Hotel. It is transformational, humbling… and yes, a bit humiliating if you happen to be a technology evangelist like me. Even the toilet in my hotel room has more technology than the entire state of Mississippi. Why is it so much easier to sell truly disruptive technologies in Korea than the United States?

I knew this would be a different kind of business trip from the moment I got on the airplane. Korean Airlines is a reflection of its homeland: Universally clean, polite and functional. Every employee is young, fit and remarkably educated. This is the diametric opposite to eponymous US carriers like United and American Airlines.

I’m here for less than three days and two meetings. It’s been more than a decade since I traveled to Asia. This is the first time I have ever done business with a South Korean mega-electronics conglomerate. Moreover, this is the first time I have ever traveled to an area threatened with nuclear annihilation.

This is one of the more exciting sets of meetings of my career. The senior management team evaluated more than 80 leading-edge technology companies. They selected only five to visit their headquarters in Seoul. We were chosen to show how to embed artificial intelligence as a way of personalizing consumer electronics. Imagine: Every electronic device doing exactly what you want simply by knowing who you are and how you behave – without any programming or explicit commands. Our technology enables these devices to “just know.”  Even better, they will talk and interact with you in an almost human way. And best of all, our design gives the end-user total control over the artificial brain embedded in each device – eliminating any risks posed by “Big Brother.”2013-04-20 19.14.36-1

The engineering for this is remarkably straightforward – our team has been working on developing the core technology for more than a decade. I’ve spent the past two years bringing it to market.

Most people can’t understand why it is hard to sell a technology that enables machines to learn like humans. At best, our claim raises eyebrows. More often, people just roll their eyes.

So, yes, getting this meeting was difficult. We approached three major consumer electronics manufacturers in the past year. Unlike the other two, our Korean friends moved at lightning speed with open minds. It took less than a week for them to schedule meetings with their senior management in Seoul. And once here, we find ourselves meeting with executives, scientists and engineers who enthusiastically embrace new ideas. They take copious notes, ask the right questions and help each other prepare for the next meeting.  We walk into one meeting without any need to review what we said in the last meeting – a process of unimaginable efficiency, especially considering we are talking about a completely new form of artificial intelligence.Dinner in River North area of Seoul

This is in stark contrast to the “normal” experience of presenting enabling  technologies to large US firms — especially those in the US defense industry. The cult of “not invented here” kills most ideas younger than the matriculation date of the oldest manager. Innovation is rare. It is more common for engineers, scientists and managers to doubt the potential of any new, unfamiliar technology. It’s less scary for them to invest in “what works” rather than risk failure by experimenting to find “what’s next.” As a technology evangelist, I spend a lot of time thinking about this phenomena known as the  “innovator’s dilemma.” And I’m flummoxed by what I’m seeing in Seoul – a culture painted by the American media as hierarchical, conformist and homogeneous. Traits abhorrent to innovation. Yet why is everything in Korea so incredibly advanced?

Business is the best way to learn about a culture.

I tried hard to get out of this trip. It seemed like a really bad idea to travel to an area under threat of nuclear war. CNN and other US news outlets spent two weeks warning of impending doom – only  to be interrupted by the Boston Marathon bombing. Why go to Korea when we could save a massive amount of time, effort and expense with a simple webinar?

Yeouido Festival along the Hangang RiverThe absurdity of North Korea’s war-mongering bloviating was obvious when I called our customer to get out of the meeting. They were offended. “No one takes the North seriously,” I was told. “Just come. All decisions get made in Seoul.”

I arrived on Saturday night with the COO of our company. We worked most of the day on Sunday. Around 4pm, I decided to take a walk outside to see how South Korea would respond to the latest threat from Kim Jong-un: Millions fled to the Cherry Blossom Festivals to celebrate Spring. Not a single gas mask, solider or worried face in sight. Only an abundance of more young, fit and highly educated people.

Our meetings went remarkably well – or so we think. The proof will be learned in the next few months. It’s not appropriate for me to go into details… but it is interesting for me to document the nine lessons I learned in 72 hours in Korea:

  1. Listen.
  2. Show physical commitment. Be there, don’t phone it in. I bought a cell phone from our customer to use as a prop in the meetings. They loved it when I demo’d the artificial brain working on their own product.
  3. Learn from locals and ignore the news. Everything that CNN reported about Korea turned out to be false, irrelevant or distorted. As always, the best information comes firsthand.
  4. Focus your pitch on the managers and engineers who ask the best (hardest) questions. They tend to fall into two camps: Your best advocates and your worst skeptics. Gaining a trusting, open relationship with both is essential to moving forward.
  5. Keep it short. When people ask for a “technical meeting” they are really asking for a “factual meeting” – not a “long meeting.”
  6. Use a white board, not PowerPoint. Nothing is more boring than “Death by PowerPoint in a Foreign Language.” Using a white board keeps the audience engaged even if they don’t understand every word.
  7. Make it easy on the audience by never using acronyms. They waste valuable cognitive capacity as people try to disambiguate the acronym in English to the terms in Korean.
  8. Assume everyone is a genius. In Korea, they probably are. Google and Apple are the only places where I have seen as many smart people under one roof.
  9. Exercise. It keeps your brain alert while helping your body adjust to time zone changes.

Posted by: Olin Hyde


PBS Series Seeking Christian Pilgrams for ‘Holy Land’ Documentary

Want to be in a WGBH documentary for PBS?

The Site of the Battle of Hattin in 1187 along The Jesus Trail

The Site of the Battle of Hattin in 1187 along The Jesus Trail

I just got back from an amazing vacation to Israel (and Austria and Turkey). My very close friends Maoz Inon co-founded the Jesus Trail™ — a hiking tour that follows a path from Nazareth to Capernaum which connects important sites from the life of Jesus as well as other historical and religious sites. Maoz’s wife Schomit runs amazing hiking tours where guests stay in really nice hotels starting at their family hotel The Fauzi Azar Inn. The best part:  They carry your bags for you from hotel to hotel… all you need to do is walk.

Maoz and I have been friends since 1998 — back in my artistic days (many years before my ventures into artificial intelligence) when I was writing screenplays, acting in commercials and making films. So it was only natural for him to tell me about Leo Eaton‘s documentary that will feature the Jesus Trail. He asked if I wanted to be in it? No. Absolutely not. BUT… I am more than happy to promote the project to my friends.

So if you want to be in this, just follow the links and contact Leo Eaton directly. (Again, please contact Leo directly at leo@eatoncreative.com.

Hope to see you on television!

Map of the Jesus Trail

Seeking Christian Pilgrims for Sacred Journeys – A Documentary Series for PBS (really… I’m not kidding)

SACRED JOURNEYS is a 6-hour documentary series for PBS (Public Broadcasting System of America) that follows pilgrims and travelers of different faiths from the US who are embarking on Journeys of Faith to some of the world’s greatest Sacred Places. We will follow American Hindus to the 2013 Kumbh Mela in India, American Buddhists on the Pilgrim Trail around the island of Shikoku in Japan, wounded US soldiers and their families traveling to the Catholic shrine of Lourdes in France, American Muslims on the Hajj to Mecca, African Americans traveling to Nigeria for the Osun Festival of the Yoruba faith, and Christians coming to the Holy Land of Israel.

For the HOLY LAND episode, we hope to find a *non-Catholic Christian family group (or group of individuals traveling together) from America who want to do more than simply take a bus trip to visit the sacred sites.  They can be Caucasian, African American or any other American ethnic group, and they can be of any age (a mixed generational group is ideal), but they should be making a true Journey of Faith, not just visiting the Holy Land as tourists or hikers.  Because there’s no way of telling in advance how effective particular characters will be on camera, it is always better to have a larger group from which to select our ‘on camera’ pilgrims (a group of 10-15 traveling together is ideal but not essential).  If individual of other faiths (Jewish or Muslim) happen to be part of the group, that is acceptable provided a sufficient majority of the group are Christian to make this primarily a Christian Journey of Faith.

We would like to find pilgrims who are walking all or part or all of the Jesus Trail in September, 2013, as part of a true Journey of Faith, and we will follow them on this 40-mile route to see how they relate to the experience, and the shrines and settlements of the three Abrahamic faiths they visit.  While this group may be hikers, it’s also important that they are devout Christians who appreciate the sacred route they are hiking.  We also need our pilgrims to end up in Jerusalem, visiting the Holy Christian shrines, after they have completed the Jesus Trail.

We are planning to film in September around the time of the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles, so it would be helpful but not essential if they were planning to end up in Jerusalem for this celebration.  However the most important thing is to identify the best candidates.  Once in Jerusalem they will be joined by our on-camera host Bruce Feiler who is anchoring the full SACRED JOURNEYS series.
(*Because the Lourdes pilgrims are Catholic, we don’t want two programs that focus on a similar faith tradition)

Posted by: Olin Hyde


My 2012 Voter Guide: San Diego, California and Federal Elections

Almost Independent Advice from an Entrepreneur and Computer Science Geek

Like many Americans, I am disgusted with our political leadership in California and Washington DC. This election cycle is one of the most important in my lifetime. The United States, California and San Diego all face tremendous fiscal and civil challenges.

I thought it would be useful to share some of my political opinions for my friends, business associates and family. The intent of this posting is to provide food for thought — not definitive advice. I strongly believe in the Wisdom of Crowds. The best choices will be made by an electorate of informed citizens armed with the power of critical thinking. I hope this blog will foster greater civic engagement and more thoughtful votes.

Please consider me an Independent. Unfortunately, I am still a registered Democrat. This is unfortunate because I feel the Democratic party no longer represents my interests — especially in San Diego County. I was registered Republican many years ago. However, I feel the current Republican party also fails to represent my values.

Full Disclosure: My Political Involvement

Earlier this year, I resigned from my board positions at the New Leaders Council and San Diego Leadership Alliance — both are progressive organizations with charters to train leaders to enter local politics and civil service. These organizations have strong ties to organizations that traditionally support Democratic candidates. My resignation had more to do with my time commitments to work and less to do with politics. I remain a firm believer that society most progress — to continue the expansion of civil liberties.

Personally, I am connected to three of the four Presidential ticket candidates. I am acquaintances with Gov. Mitt Romney’s first cousin, several of his business associates and my office is only a few blocks away from his home in La Jolla. I am acquainted with Mr. Paul Ryan through several mutual friends. We both attended Miami University (four years apart) and I know several of his fraternity brothers that graduated a few years after me. President Obama attended Harvard Law School with a close friend of mine and I know several people who have (or are) serving in appointed positions in his administration. I do not have any association with Vice President Biden.

This is the first election where I feel I have equally strong ties to both major party candidates.

More importantly, I feel that all of the presidential candidates are great Americans. Both Gov. Romney and President Obama are very smart men. They both care deeply about the future of our Nation. And yes, they have very different visions for what is best for America.

My Values: Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal

I feel the role of government is to maximize liberty at the minimal cost. There is a “right size” and a “right role” for government. Neither value is zero or infinite.

The political, economic, security and social landscape is far too complex to reduce my voting criteria to a few simple guidelines. Understanding the impact of policies and elected officials requires an appreciation of nuance and a deep commitment to evaluating data over ideological principles.

It would be impossible (and boring) to list all the values I use to evaluate a candidate. So I will only list the most important issues to me at this moment:

  1. National security. Our enemies are real and persistent. Our nation faces threats from non-state Fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, cyber warfare operatives, sovereign and rogue governments. The specifics of these threats are too numerous to list.
  2. Debt. On every level of government (applicable to me) we spend more than we can afford. Fewer and fewer people are paying for the social services that benefit more and more people.
  3. Health. Almost 40% of all disease is preventable and more than 63% of Americans are overweight — causing tremendous burden on our inadequate healthcare system. Spiraling healthcare costs show no sign of abating and pose a threat to bankrupting our nation.
  4. Civil liberty.  The USA has long tradition of steadily increasing freedoms. This trajectory must be maintained.
  5. Social mobility (and bifurcation). The increasing separation between rich and poor threaten the stability of society and undermines the fabric of capitalism.
  6. Fostering innovation (and adaptation to technology). The USA is the most innovative nation in history. Ipso facto: Our technology is ubiquitous and overpowering. Moreover, human knowledge now doubles every 5 years and the pace is increasing — both here and abroad. My work in artificial intelligence exposes me to the tremendous possibilities for improving the human condition through technology and the dystopian risks if technical advances outpace human wisdom.
  7. Sustainability. We must serve the interests of future generations — economically, ecologically, socially and politically.

These principles are my guideposts for the following endorsements.

I will list them as presented on the Registrar of Voters for the County of San Diego. Not all candidates are listed since I do not opinions on all them.

My Endorsements

Federal Offices

President and Vice President

I (very reluctantly) endorse:  Barack Obama and Joe Biden (D)

This is the hardest choice I have had to make for President. I am disappointed with the performance of President Obama. I have sought the advice and opinions of many. To my dismay, my doubts about Obama were largely answered by demagoguery — attacking his character, making false and unsupportable claims about his ineptitude and criticisms about things I find completely irrelevant (like his religion).

The attacks on Obama swayed me to support him. I fear that if Mitt Romney becomes president, the Republicans will perceive the win as a mandate to do everything from ban gay marriage and women’s healthcare choices to expand military spending and abolish healthcare reforms. If Republicans were more reasonable and less angry about Obama, I’d vote for Romney.

I believe Mitt Romney would be a fantastic and moderate president. However, I do not trust the anti-science, Christian fundamentalists within the party that seek to impose their social and religious values on the rest of us. Romney could not win the primary without appeasing them… and I fear he would be unable to control them once in office. His basic premise that lowering taxes increases growth is highly dubious.

We need government to adopt a new philosophy: Do more with less. Unfortunately, this is not a political reality as both parties seek to fund their favorite programs.

United States Senator

I (very reluctantly) endorse:  Diane Feinstein (D).

The other candidate did NOTHING to even get on my radar screen. Too bad… I probably would have voted for Elizabeth Emken if she presented herself as a moderate, reasonable candidate. Instead, she doesn’t even appear to be running for office.

Sen. Feinstein has been office for too long… but at least she says she cares. This mere statement is more than I’ve heard from Emken.

House of Representatives 52nd District

I (reluctantly) endorse:  Brian Bilbray (R).

Neither candidate represents my values. This is more a choice between two bad candidates: Brian voted for Bush’s budget deficits, unfunded wars and “pro-family” legislation that ended critical funding for women’s health. As dumb as some of Brian’s votes have been, at least he is not responsible for the San Diego pension crisis like his opponent Scott Peters. I had the occasion to ask Scott how he would restore fiscal responsibility — and he completely ignored my question.

Both candidates are part of their respective political machines. The biggest reason to vote for Brian is that I think he listens better than Scott.

San Diego Offices

County Board of Supervisors

I (strongly) endorse:  Dave Roberts

Great guy who understands how to attract businesses, spend wisely and protect our environment.

Mayor of San Diego

I (very strongly) endorse:  Carl DeMaio

OK… My first choice was Nathan Fletcher but he lost in the primary. Carl won my vote when he personally called me on the phone — not his assistant, not because I asked… he called because he genuinely wants to be mayor. Unlike Bob Filner, DeMaio sees himself as as a servant. He’s forgone pension participation, cut his own budget and reduced his own pay. DeMaio wants to restore city streets (we some of the worst in the nation), reduce spending and reform our very broken, bureaucratic local government. No he is not perfect: I am concerned about his ties to the extreme right wing of the Republican party. But let’s be clear: Filner is the worst possible candidate. He is an old-school Democrat that believes in giving unions anything they want, spending money without any respect for those that pay taxes and he’s not had a new idea in 30 years. I encourage you to look at the video that the highly partisan Nick Popaditch sent to me when I challenged his claims about Filner’s dishonesty. I checked out Popaditch’s claims and he was right: Filner has a history of lying, not showing up for votes in Congress and staging political theater  Also, look at Voice of San Diego Fact Checks on both candidates.

The next mayor will have big shoes to fill. Mayor Jerry Sanders (R) has been fantastic — fostering innovation and restoring fiscal discipline to City Hall.

San Diego City Council District 1

I endorse:  Ray Ellis

Ray has one position: Reform pensions. He is a friend of a friend. He’s independently minded and the best candidate to help clean up the incompetence and excessive pay in city government that the unions so fight so desperately to protect. I met Ray through his involvement with the San Diego Social Ventures Partners — a great organization that he was instrumental in leading.

His opponent, Councilmember Sherri Lightner is also a great woman. She’s done a fine job — I just don’t think she will be willing to take a hard stand against the unions that are holding the city budget hostage.

Ballot Propositions

Generally speaking, voting NO is the right answer to most ballot propositions. California’s budget crisis is largely due to previous ballot initiatives that mandate over 60% of state spending. Although the intentions of these measures are well-intentioned, such as Prop. 13’s restriction on property tax increases, there are FAR TOO MANY unintended consequences.

That said, our state legislature is so broken that they are no longer functional.

So here are my YES votes:

Yes on Prop 34 — End of Death Penalty

Too many innocent people have been executed, the cost of death penalty appeals exceeds the cost lifetime incarceration and I believe that all humans have the potential for enlightenment. Killing is wrong. Killing killers is only justified to keep them from killing again. Once incarcerated they are no longer a threat to society.

Yes on Prop 36 — Reform Three Strikes Law

It was a stupid idea to begin with… so anything that reduces the cost of imprisoning petty criminals for life sentences is a good idea. We spend more money on prisons than schools. Time to cut the number of prisoners and start the process of using new discoveries in cognitive science to reform criminals into productive citizens.

Yes on Prop 37 — Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods

In short, we have a right to know what we are eating. Big Agricultural interests have financial incentives to sell GMO as if it were exactly the same as non-GMO foods. Bottom line: We don’t know what impact GMO has on long-term health. My fiancee changed my mind on this one. I was convinced when I looked at who was supporting and opposing it.

Yes on Prop 38 — Tax to Fund Early Education

Democracy and innovation depend on a well educated public. We’ve gutted education budgets and risk losing our edge in having the best labor force in the world. This measure provides funding for schools so we can restore the great educational system that helped build Silicon Valley and California’s economy.

Here’s why I vote NO on the rest:

Prop 30 – (Sales Tax to Fund Public Safety, Education). Sales taxes are already too high. Does nothing to reform the way services are delivered. Spending more only reinforces inefficiencies rather than using the budget crisis as an opportunity to force the system to evolve a lower cost, better way of operating.

Prop 31 – (Establishes 2 Year State Budget) Not sure… too many risks of unintended consequences.

Prop 32 – (Payroll Contribution Restrictions) HELL NO!  This is a twisted bill that has so many loopholes and exceptions that it reads like a joke.

Prop 33 – (Auto Insurance Pricing) Stupid idea. Sponsored by insurance companies to serve the interests of insurance companies.

Prop 35 – (Human Trafficking Penalties) Unnecessary. This should be handled by the legislature. Also, it conflates the definition of different crimes.

Prop 39 – (Taxing Multi-State Businesses) The most stupid idea. Chases businesses away with more taxes. California needs to attract business — not scare it away.


Building the Next Silicon Valley Takes More Than Ideas

I just finished reading “The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley” by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt. I met Greg through a mutual friend and was very impressed with his candor and interest in viewing innovation as a biological system.

Hwang and Horowitt are right: innovation is a combinatorial process. However, it is important to note that Hwang and Horrowitt are venture capitalists — NOT an innovators or an entrepreneurs. Rather, they are a source of capital for entrepreneurs SEEKING capital. Their world view is about finding the idea that offers the greatest ROI in the least amount of time. This is where the metaphors of the “rainforest” and biological systems fall apart.

Thriving start-up communities, such as Silicon Valley, require huge amounts of capital that are committed to long-term results in an environment where there is ample human capital with the right emotional dispositions and intellectual skills. This was what built Intel, Hewlett-Packard and other icons of the early days of Silicon Valley.

Recent history for VCs is much different: They under-perform the Dow Jones. ROI on VC investments was a paltry 2.66% compared to the Dow Jones 2.7% during the past decade. If VCs are so smart, why can’t they outperform a far less risky Dow Jones index? Because they focus on short-term results.

Even worse: VCs rarely invest in San Diego. In fact, San Diego got only 4.1% of all VC invested in the Q4 2011 — with only 23 deals. Pathetic compared to the 46% of all VC money that went into 273 Bay Area start-ups.

We would all be well served by confronting the hyperbole of venture capitalists with facts.

It would be far more interesting for Hwang and  Horowitt to provide insights into why they think San Diego is such a great “rainforest” when his VC brethren invest 10x more into the Bay Area.

Moreover, we would all benefit from more detailed analysis of the educational pipeline that creates entrepreneurs and how to foster a younger generation to take the risks to create something new. Possibly we need more non-profits like Raspberry Pi that saw the need to create $25 computers to inspire a new generation of engineers as described in Eben Upton’s brilliant TEDx speech.


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