Braintrust Network: When the disruptor is disrupted

I'm fascinated when a recently disrupted segment suddenly faces its own disruption. It wasn't that long ago when a number of freelance gig platforms hit the scene (think eLance, which is now Upwork), connecting jobs with workers.

Those earlier disruptors didn't offer the most financially attractive solution for freelancers though so Braintrust Network solves that problem by allowing workers to keep 100% of their earnings. Very cool. I wonder who will eventually disrupt Braintrust (and how).


Are we on the verge of a learning system breakthrough?

I've been experimenting with a popular video-based training platform as I continue my journey as a lifelong learner. The platform is excellent and offers a variety of resources; in fact, there are so many options to choose from it's sometimes hard deciding where to go next.

And that's the problem. The platform doesn't really know me. It's designed as a one-to-many approach where the content is extremely broad and it's up to the user to figure out where to invest their time.

There's nothing wrong with that approach but it doesn't take advantage of today's technology capabilities.

If we could combine three distinct technologies I think we could take a huge leap forward in learning systems. I'm talking about (1) voice UI's (think Alexa), (2) modern text-to-speech services and, (3) artificial intelligence (AI) where the platform learns about me and therefore delivers a custom, one-to-one, solution.

Voice UI's are all around us but they're still in the new, experimental stages. Early TV is sometimes referred to as "radio in front of a camera" and before too long we'll describe today's voice UI's in a similar fashion.

One way voice UI's will move forward is by having access to enormous libraries of richly tagged content. I say "richly tagged" because the content will need to be granularized so that it can be searched and reconstituted in an infinite number of ways depending on each user's needs. Also, we shouldn't rely exclusively on Amazon and their capabilities, hence the need for one of the more modern text-to-speech solutions which are often indistinguishable from an actual person.

The third leg of the stool is the AI to power the conversation, learn about me personally, understand how to answer and where to take me next.

It all adds up to a user experience that feels like I'm receiving one-on-one training from an expert on the topic. Over time the system learns about me and my strengths and weaknesses, just like any good teacher. It also builds successful learning paths based on different user skill and learning preferences thereby making the system even more useful for future users.

I'm curious if something like this already exists, even if it's on a small scale or in the early stages. The pieces of the puzzle are already available so it's just a question of pulling them together, managing the IP rights/income streams and offering it at a compelling price.


Returning to the office

Countless organizations are emerging from the pandemic and looking to resume something close to a normal, in-person office environment as possible. The reality of course is that almost everything has changed these since early 2020 and the new normal is still being defined.

One of the biggest casualties I've seen in the past year-plus is the hit to corporate culture. Some organizations were already largely virtual so they didn't pay a price but the rest of the world operated face-to-face and limped along with endless Zoom meetings. If we've learned anything in the past year it's that technology simply cannot solve every problem. Serendipity is a terrific example; there's something special about that unexpected hallway conversation which sometimes leads to a new idea or solution. If anyone has found an amazing virtual serendipity platform please let me know.

As the great office return continues it's tempting to think that old floor plans should be completely discarded and layouts should be reimagined with the pandemic in mind. I'm very supportive of creating hotel space for hybrid employees but I'm not convinced anyone can accurately predict the percentage of onsite employees we'll see 12 or 24 months from now. Every month is an opportunity to learn something new so it's wise to avoid prematurely declaring a long-term solution.

Another part of this that bothers me has to do with how employees are encouraged to return. I'll admit I don't have a solution for this but it's something we all need to think about. I'm referring specifically to the fact that employers need to create an environment employees crave and are looking forward to re-entering. (Yes, I said an environment employees actually crave.) This isn't about free food or ping-pong tables; it's about the broader organizational culture and how employees feel when they walk in the door. I have no doubt some organizations figured this out long ago but I'm also certain they're in the minority.

This isn't the solution to the problem I just mentioned but I do think FOMO will eventually create a gravitational pull for the return of some fence-sitting employees. Again, that's not the solution but it will be a factor in the return process. I say this because it's one thing when everyone is out of the office and nobody's missing out but it's a totally different situation when some are in while others choose to remain remote. There will definitely be more times where remote employees aren't fully in the loop or simply miss out on too many of those in-person serendipity moments. I believe this will require many months though, or possibly more than a year, to surface.

Lastly, flexibility is key for both employers and employees. As I mentioned earlier, there's still way too much we need to learn about the new normal and it's critical for everyone to remain open-minded and make all the required course corrections along the way.


Think Again, by Adam Grant

I typically determine the value of a business or self-help book by the number of times I stopped to highlight portions of it along the reading journey. After recently finishing Think Again, by Adam Grant, I can say it's easily the most highlighted and thought-provoking book I've read in quite some time.

In fact, there are too many highlights to squeeze into this article so I recommend you buy a copy of your own. In the meantime, here are just a few of the best excerpts I'm still thinking about...

The curse of knowledge is that it closes our mind to what we don't know.

The single most important driver of a forecasters' success was how often they updated their beliefs. The best forecasters went through more rethinking cycles.

As a general rule, it's those with greater power who need to do more of the rethinking, both because they're more likely to privilege their own perspectives and because their perspectives are more likely to go unquestioned.

When we try to convince people to think again, our first instinct is usually to start talking. Yet the most effective way to help others open their minds is often to listen.

Resisting the impulse to simplify is a step toward becoming more argument literate.

When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.

Rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die.

In the face of any number of unknown and evolving threats, humility, doubt, and curiosity are vital to discovery. Bold, persistent experimentation might be our best tool for rethinking.


Reinventing pen on paper

I'm a borderline obsessive note-taker and I've wrestled for years with bringing notes on paper into the digital world. The hack I've used for the past few years is to simply take a picture of my written note pages and then move them into Evernote. That works, for the most part, but I also end up with a stack of notebooks to toss at the end of the year...if only I could bring myself to actually toss them. OK, I'm a borderline hoarder too.

I've also never gotten comfortable using a stylus on a tablet. For whatever reason I insist on writing on paper with a pen.

A few months ago I was ready to take another shot at stylus-on-tablet and splurge on the reMarkable 2. In fact, I was days away from clicking "buy" when a colleague sent me an email from one of his friends who had an awful customer service experience with the device. That saved me $400 but left me with my old solution...until I discovered the Rocketbook.

Rocketbook is an erasable notebook with pages designed to upload directly to Evernote and pretty much every other digital note platform. They have a number of notebook formats and I opted for the Fusion. It's super thin and simply requires the use of erasable pens. There are probably other pen options out there but I went with the friXion clicker. In fact, I bought a bunch of them in different colors at Walmart.

I've been using my Fusion for several weeks now and I love it. The first page shows all my tasks for the week and notes associated with them. At the end of the week I use the Rocketbook app to take a picture and have them automatically loaded into Evernote. I then wipe the page clean with a damp cloth and I'm ready for the week ahead. The notebook is filled with other pages for drawings, notes and pretty much any other use you can think of.

Adding up the notebook and the pens I'm all in for about $45, or about 10% of the reMarkable investment.

Not only is the Rocketbook Fusion a great solution for my needs, it's also a regular reminder that pretty much anything can be reinvented and disrupted, even pen on paper.