The Business SIngularity

Extrapolating from the phenomenal growth of computer networks and their power to transmit information, Jacques Vallée noted that at some point all existing information would become available instantaneously everywhere. This is the “information singularity”.

The point to remember, however, is that abstract, non-material variables, such as intelligence, information, or innovation, aren’t subjected to the same “limits to growth” which characterize the exhaustion of finite resources. Such variables could conceivably reach values which for all practical purposes may be called “infinite”.

The Socio-technological Singularity, Principia Cybernetica Web

Increasing Returns. As the number of connections between people and things add up, the consequences of those connections multiply out even faster, so that initial successes aren’t self-limiting, but self-feeding.

Feed the Web First. As networks entangle all commerce, a firm’s primary focus shifts from maximizing the firm’s value to maximizing the network’s value. Unless the net survives, the firm perishes.

No Harmony, All Flux. As turbulence and instability become the norm in business, the most effective survival stance is a constant but highly selective disruption that we call innovation.

Relationship Tech. As the soft trumps the hard, the most powerful technologies are those that enhance, amplify, extend, augment, distill, recall, expand, and develop soft relationships of all types.

Come Together

Business is morphing into flexible, self-organizing components that operate in real time. Software is becoming interoperable, open, ubiquitous, and transparent. Workers are learning in small chunks delivered to individualized screens presented at the time of need. Learning is being transformed into a core business process measured by Key Performance Indicators. Taken together, these changes create a new kind of business environment, a Business Singularity.

Business organizations are evolving into networks. What happens inside the corporate walls is nowhere near as important as the overall flow of value from raw material to customer. Internal boundaries are obstacles to be overcome. Networks shared among suppliers, partners, and customers integrate the business into a commercial ecosystem that is, no surprise, a larger network. The real-time enterprise is being born.

Business software is evolving from client/server to networks. The network really is the computer. The internet is the new model of IT architecture. Open networks that can talk with one another are far more valuable than yesterday’s proprietary, isolated fortresses. As on the net, enterprise software evolves with changing conditions, routes around damage, and reaches out to form new connections. Software is beginning to serve business instead of demanding that business contort itself to software’s demands.

People are networks enmeshed in networks with one another. Our bodies are networks. Our minds are neural networks with built-in firewalls and filters. We network with one another. Outboard memory in the form of PDAs and personal data stores supplement human wetware. The biggest factor in individual success is the quality our social networks. You’re as effective as your connections.

In any thriving network, tentacles reach out to snare new members like ivy climbing a wall, because the more active members, the greater the value of the network. Growth begets growth until a tipping point is reached. Then expansion becomes explosive. The rewards of membership become so high that connecting becomes irresistable. In 1930, your business could live without a telephone; in 2004, it can not.

We are about to witness a spectacular convergence of people and businesses. Networks are connecting to networks.

Workers and their work are becoming synchronous and inseparable. Colleagues and customers collaborate seamlessly. Transparent software obliterates the business/IT divide. Organizations focus on what they do best, outsourcing everything else to the greater commercial ecosystem, sort of a global eBay for business activities. Network efficiencies eradicate the largest drag on corporate performance: slack. The pace of business trends toward instantaneity.

The way people improve their performance in this Business Singularity is called Workflow Learning. It is what corporate learning will become three to five years hence. It takes place in a virtual workplace where workers interact, learn, and control the process of creating value in real time.

More to come

Au revoir Abu Dhabi

I just arrived back in Berkeley after a 17 hour flight. Pleasant reflections of Abu Dhabi appear and fade. My body has no idea what time it is.

One mega-memory is the magnificent food I’ve eaten this week. Not just the banquets, either. The Rotana Beach Hotel puts out a buffet to die for.

Fresh fruit at breakfast

Arab appetizers (click for larger photo)

Salad bar

Salmon, sushi, calamari, mussels

Air-dried beef, calamari, octopus salad, tabouleh, mini-pitas

Le dessert

The locals say Abu Dhabi is where the money is.
Buildings like these are everywhere.
Out on the end of the corniche, a
mind-bogglingly large new complex is
going up. The price-tag: $1 billion.
(By contrast, Dubai is where people make money.)

Here’s the Abu Dhabi Mall, Beach Rotana Hotel,
Coop, and office tower. The hotels
here can break even at 20% occupancy.
That’s what happens when you buy a
place in an all-cash deal.

The centers of some of the glitzy blocks
house stores and quarters for Southeast Asians.

The Emiratis often live in tasteful
modern houses surrounded by high walls.

More eMerging eLearning

After lunch, John Hedberg and I took our hour and twenty minutes on the main stage. John’s message of matching engaging pedagogy with appropriate technology dovetailed with my theme of informal learning.

I contend that the measure of quality education is not so much what happens at school but rather the success of the graduate in life after school. In today’s turbulent environment, that means recognizing informal learning and tools such as blogs and wikis, and learning how to use them.

The next morning, Intel’s Martin Curley gave a great presentation on state-of-eLearning before joining Drs. Hedberg, Bonk, and myself for a ninety-minute panel session (left) on “Global Approaches to Blended Learning” which covered not only blending but also change management, the need for connections with the world outside of school, and follow-up to all of our prior presentations.

In answer to a question about wikis, I called up Wikipedia and found no entry for “Blended Learning.” As our panel explained what Blended Learning meant to them, I created a page on the topic in Wikipedia. (As if to demonstrate wiki behavior, two days later my post was trivialized into nonsense.)

Following lunch, I led a workshop on blogs and wikis. In the panel session, a teacher had come up with a laundry list of why blended learning wouldn’t work. There wasn’t time and the administration didn’t trust online work. In the workshop, doers replaced naysayers; several participants intend to put blogging to use immediately to teach writing English at both the elementary and undergraduate levels.

Cross, Bonk & Hedberg

The beautiful facilities of the Higher College of Technology

Dr. Tayeb Kamali, head of HCT, calm while others race about

Yours truly, holding court

QuickTime video of speakers chatting at the Rotana Beach. 6 MB. Probably not worth it unless you’re in the picture.

eMerging eLearning in Abu Dhabi

The next morning, we took the bus to the Men’s Higher College of Technology. When his Excellency and his entourage strode into the auditorium, everyone rose. Miss World reappeared, as did the Bollywood movie star. Twelve cameramen captured every move with Nikons and videocams. Fresh flowers abounded. (Forgive my changing verb tense here; I wrote most of this as it happened, as I would for a live blog.)

His Excellency gave the opening keynote to several hundred of us in the auditorium of the Men’s Higher College of Technology. “A good online education must be a good education.” Some believe that the greatest contribution of eLearning is the improvements that carry over to F2F instruction. The sheikh is reciting the best practices of eLearning – interactivity, great faculty, combining F2F and distance ed, support services.

Next came a ceremonial contract signing on the main stage with ICL and Tata. The photographers swarmed. His Excellency departed immediately thereafter to go falcon hunting with the leader of Pakistan.

The shape of accreditation today

Dr. Mary Peace Lynn, The Center for Quality Assurance in International Education, on quality and assessment. Growth is the catalyst for external quality assurance agencies. Accreditation is her focus. I appreciate that accreditation is important, but it’s not a thrilling story. After all, higher education is borderless. Professions are globalizing. Countries need to keep pace. Dr Lynn was clearly upset that His Excellency put a higher priority on his hunting trip than on staying for her message.

IBM’s Richard Straub is up next. He is director Learning Solutions, IBM EMEA, and Chairman of the eLearning Industry Group. The definition of eLearning is expanding. Now we are doing new things rather than automating the old ones. Informal learning is becoming more important. Simultaneously, the technology is evolving. There are many moving targets. Tech is the smarter challenge; the real challenge is change management and breaking free of our old habits.

A Digital Literacy Standard is required today, says David Carpenter, inventor of the Internet Driving License. Digital literacy is today’s 3 R’s. ECDL has proposed a digital literacy standard. The skills include word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, database – essentially the Microsoft Office Suite.

The official conference sugar cubes

On the way back from the Gala Dinner last night, John Hedburg and I had grabbed the front row on the bus. On the 90-minute ride from Dubai back to Abu Dhabi, John told me about his work with fifth- and seventh-grade math teachers. So many math examples have no relationships to students’ lives. “If 12 boys make up 32% of the class and 4 more join, making them 40% of the class, how many students are in the class?” No one ever encounters a question like that in the real world. Better to teach from an example of figuring out which cell phone plan to choose.

John’s message is about mixing marketing and learning. Keep the audience in mind. I wish the next speaker had factored this into his presentation which was all me-me-me how-cool-we-are, with little empathy for the listeners.

Bernie Luskin says the Internet, population demographics, bandwidth, etc… everything changes everything. Convergence happening everywhere. The issue is What needs to change? And What needs to remain the same? Most things last. 70% – 90% of what we deal with is the old stuff. Given his topic of learning psychology, it was ironic to have Bernie fell into the me-me-me trap, listing the names of what topics we need to know but don’t have time to talk about today.

Curt Bonk takes the stage in a Dr. Evil costume. Then Mini-Me appears. Dr Evil explodes ten myths:

  1. We can wait it out. 83% of higher-ed institutions use some eLearning. eLearning is hot. It’s exploding. U. Illinois is putting every course online. By the end of the decade a billion people will be online. It’s the second and third billion that will be the challenge of the next decade.
  2. College instructors can just teach the same way they always have. No…. Socratic questioning doesn’t work online. The tools online are coaching, guided learning, mentoring, collaboration…. Korea embracing eLearning.
  3. I must have a technology background… Course developers, facilitators, and SMEs are what’s required.
  4. Can’t afford it. NiceNet. Moodle. Sakai. ( These are free tools.
  5. Learning is not improved by technology. Slight favour of e in the latest research. Tech support improved learning in 25 or 30 examples. Less failure; fewer dropouts.
  6. Online is easy. Online instructors require before and after as well as doing. Becoming an Online Teacher.
  7. More females teaching online than males.
  8. No models for teaching. Actually, there are nots of books and guides.
  9. Everyone is making money in eLearning. Or everyone is losing money.
  10. College instructors and trainers are loyal. Actually, most instructors would prefer to be freelance.

The Emirati seated next to me pointed out that the speakers all point to great content, great faculty, and great tech as the golden path. However, he thinks these are non-issues: money can fix them. The problem is the people. They are not motivated, in large measure because the online institutions of higher learning are not accredited. It’s ironic to discover that at a conference on eLearning, degrees issued by online institutions here are not seen as legitimate credentials when it comes to qualifying for jobs.

Bonk appears as Merlin. His surveys of corp and higher ed finds both sectors in favor of eLearning. Sometimes it’s supplemental. Certificate programs are going up. Short degrees are popular.

to be continued

Abu Dhabi — the Gala Dinner

Early the following evening, the speakers boarded a bus for the 90-minute trip to Dubai for the Gala Dinner hosted by Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Chancellor, Higher Colleges of Technology.

His Excellency

Toni Lufkin and the Sheikh

A student film awards ceremony including Diana Hayden (former Miss World) and Mahima Chowdhury (Indian movie star) was part of the evening’s entertainment. This all took place at the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel, an awe-inspiring, mammoth hotel complex that includes a towering building in the shape of a dhow’s sail. Several hundred representatives of academic institutions and tech corporations shuffled into the lobby, some lamenting that the immense bar served no alcohol, this being a State-funded affair.

Diana, a former Miss World

Building in shape of dhow sail. Those are heliports a dozen floors up.

The evening included a stunning, over-the-top laser show, a fellow who artfully scaled linen streamers to the ceiling, and the film awards. We all rose as the Sheikh and his entourage departed after the entertainment, and soon heaping platters of food appeared on our tables. Sad to say, no camel or goat.

Jay of Arabia

Knock your eyes out.

Arriving home after midnight, we agreed that this had been a unique opener for the next day’s sessions.

eMerging eLearning blog has moved

The eMerging eLearning blog has moved here.


Yesterday the URL abu_dhabi began generating an error message that says the _ character is no longer allowed in URLs. It turns out this is a problem at the Rotana Beach Hotel server level but for all I know, it’s a wider protocol within the UAE.


The blog we created in yesterday’s workshop is here. The template is now functioning properly. Feel free to add a comment. Email me if you would like author privileges.

Abu Dhabi

This morning I wandereded through the Abi Dhabi Mall, mostly closed since this is Friday, and Friday is the Muslim Sunday. The Rotana Beach Hotel is luxuriously appointed but the beach is a tiny strip of sand, overlooking an island that appears to be made of salt. The lobby (left in the photo) is domed.

This bulls-eye is an immense work under the dome, about 50′ over the center of the lobby.

Everything here is new. In fact, twenty-year old buildings are sometimes torn down to make way for new buildings. The present Abu Dhabi and the UAE were formed in 1971.

It is hot here. HOT. Travel books warn you not to come here in this season. Many Emiratis flee the city for homes in the hills during the hot, high-humidity months. On the flight in, I read in the International Herald-Trib that the temperature in Abu Dhabi was 115°, the hottest city listed. The rare times I go outside, I walk very slowly. My pal Curt Bonk is out running for an hour at this moment; I would die first.

42° = 108° 31° = 88°

Lunch with the Sheikh

Every Friday, his Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan invites a group to lunch at his place. Around noon today, a dozen of us presenters for the upcoming conference piled into a bus to the palace, where we joined several dozen others in the majlis, the ceremonial meeting space. The Sheikh arrived and shook hands with everyone in turn. I gave him a copy of Implementing eLearning and my forthcoming Informal History of eLearning. Shortly thereafter we filed into a banquet hall where tables were set with dozens of giant platters and a hundred smaller dishes containing tabouleh, fresh dates, hummos, sweet cakes, and more. The tradition is to set the table with more food than one can imaginably eat and give the leftovers to the poor.

My young friend here helpled me undertand what I was putting into my mouth. That’s camel with rice in front of us. Following the example of the gentlemen across the table, I tore off some meat with my right hand, keeping my left under the table.

The sheikh provided silverware, but most of us preferred to follow local custom. You grab a piece of meat and some rice, smoosh it together with your fingers, and pop it into your mouth. This complicates taking photographs, for you don’t wash off your hand until the conclusion of the meal.

Unlike the Moroccans, who wear a variety of styles and colors, the Emiratis stick to one sort of outfit.

Men wear an elegant, ankle-length white shirt called a dishdasha. (I want one of these!) Women wear a black, long-sleeved gown called a kandura; all cover their heads, most cover part of their faces, and a goodly number cover everything but their eyes.

This is a platter of goat. It was tender and falling off the bone. I had several helpings. Goat is a little gamier tasting than camel.

Waiters took our plates and returned with a portion of camel hump from the dish in front of His Excellency. The hump is the choicest part of the camel; it is tender and without fat.

This is another photo of the platter of goat, this time from directly overhead. Look about 3/4 of the way down, just right of center. Those are teeth. The white item below is the goat’s jaw. If you’re good at anatomy, you can probably pick out the outline of the entire head.

You may wonder why there are no women in these photos. It’s because none were invited. Lunch with the sheikh, like most social activities here, is a guy thing. At the Women’s College, I understand that distance-ed technology is often used by male instructors to teach a group of women in the next room.

I can’t say that I understand the sexual segregation here (not that I understand American Christianity either). Abu Dhabi is not a primitive place. Television, magazines, advertisements, and movies are jam-packed with scantily-clad, beautiful females. The women tourists are more discrete than in Southern France, but provocative none the less. How can this not overturn the fiction that socializing with the opposite sex is too tempting to handle?

Let’s go to Indiana

After supper and a pleasant rendezvous with friends at the Meridien, just down the street, four of us trundled over to the Abu Dhabi Men’s College for Curt Bonk’s class with his grad students in Bloomington, Indiana. Since Indiana’s about eleven hours ahead of Abu Dhabi on the clock, our session went from 11:00 pm to 2:15 am our time. Paul Mace, Tayeb Kamali (director of the Men’s College), Vance Stevens, Stan Knight, Curt, and I conversed with the students over an ISDN line and PictureTel set-up. I’ll be back with photos and anecdotes but now I’m off to a late breakfast.

Capt. Bonk and sailor during The Perfect Storm

Bloomington on the left, Abh Dhabi on the right

Stan Knight and Paul Mace

Jay and Vance Stevens

Halfway around the world

I arrived in Abu Dhabi this evening. I left Berkeley at 8:00 am Wednesday, fly from SFO to Philly at 10:00 am, flew from Philly to London-Gatwick, and from London to Dubai. A private car took me and another speaker at e-Merging e-Learning on a 90-minute freeway ride past an incredible number of mosques and skycrapers. Thursday just became Friday here; back in Berkeley it’s still early Thursday afternoon.

The United Arab Emirates is the size of Austria. It’s on the Persian Gulf, above the straight of Hormuz, between Oman on the south and Qatar on the north. I think we flew over both Iran and Iraq to get here; I may be wrong about that. The indigenous Emiratis number less than a million, about the population of San Francisco. Expatriates from the UK, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, and a number of other countries make up the bulk of the population.

I vaguely remember when a group of small Arab states came together to form the U.A.E. about thirty years ago. Since then, this country (that sits atop 9.4% of the world’s proven oil reserves) has built an awe-inspiring collection of highways, highrise buildings, beautiful houses, irrigation systems, and more. The enlightened Sheikh Zayed constructed a gigantic port and oil accounts for less than half of the GNP. You simply have to see this place to believe it.


Wow! Access to our deepest capacity to sense and shape the future. Right up my alley. By inspiring authors, too.

Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers

    How would the world change if we learned to access, individually and collectively, our deepest capacity to sense and shape the future? This is just one of the questions posed by the authors of a book that combines unusual personal honesty with rigorous critical thinking.

Unfortunately, I’ll probably never find out how Peter and Joe predict the world may change, for they are asking $40 for the book, and that’s outside my price range for unknowns. I may still be smarting from giving up trying to get through The Fifth Discipline despite several attempts. Guess I’ll have to wait for the Presence Fieldbook.