Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gaming and Data Mining - Peter Sheahan At UAA Econ Club

I was at UAA yesterday when I saw this poster.  4pm wasn't far off and I had things to do there until that time.  Note, I'm pretty skeptical about management gurus in general - mostly it's pretty superficial stuff well packaged and presented, but with little new content.  Especially when they get into leadership - a concept I have serious reservations about.  But I was there, I might as well go hear what he has to say. 

I sat down and out walked this young man with a thick Australian accent.  He'd quit his first job out of high school when he was told to do a completely meaningless job (number the 350 pages of computer printout, which was already numbered by the computer, but not in the format they wanted).

Much to my delight, I found him very engaging and the things he said matched my views on how the world works and doesn't. 

He did a brief intro about himself - getting into the hospitality industry where he said it was easy to move up quickly, selling his ideas about teaching high school students how to transition into the work world, and most importantly, writing a book called Generation Y that got him lots of attention and invitations.

I was adding up the dates and ages he mentioned and figured he was about 30.

What I liked:
  • He's an independent thinker, meaning he believes in what makes sense to him and doesn't put up with bullshit.  Now, that works if you're smart and have a good connection to the world, which I think he is and has.  But Alaskans have seen a recent US Senate candidate who also believed in himself but was totally disconnected from reality.
  • He's an fluid speaker - words come out quickly and fluently and with passion.
  • He thinks about doing good things - helping students, putting communication technology to work to make the world a better place.  I'm not sure how much of that he actually does, but at least he talks about it.
  • He's open.  He said risk-taking was really important to his success and more people had to have confidence in what they know.  I asked what in his life made him a risk taker, and he told us about growing up with six sisters and a father who believed in democracy.  But with six sisters voting against him, he never got to choose what was on tv or where they would go on their occasional outings.  How he convinced his father to send him to an agricultural boarding school where he lived in close proximity with his good friends AND his worst enemies and how this taught him not to be deterred by criticism.  It sounded genuine.  I believed him.  

Like Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker - as portrayed in The Social Network - he has an innate understanding of the possibilities of the new technologies.  While those two used that understanding to create technologies - Facebook and Napster - that changed the reality of social relationships and business, I'm not sure that is true of Sheahan.  His gift - aided greatly he suggested by persistence - is the ability to communicate those possibilities to others.  And surely to transform his gift into a good living.

But management gurus come and go.  Giving advice, especially when you have interesting ideas and can talk circles around others, is relatively easy if you have access and their belief in your ability.  But it only 'works' if your audience can understand and then practice your insights.  Other management gurus tend to have academic jobs or corporate positions to fall back on when their guru voodoo is replaced by the next new big thing.

I have no doubt Sheahan is gifted, and I have no illusions about the need for academic degrees to make it in the world. Technical ability and insight - especially in a world that is rapidly changing - can be mastered by the very young.  But a good education and life experience help one with the less tangible issues - just because you CAN do, is it a good idea to do it?  What are the ethical implications?  How do you balance 150 consulting gigs a year with a family life?

You don't need to go back to school to get these things.  Peter said he hopes to eventually go back to university.  It won't be easy.  Most degree granting universities aren't geared to someone coming back with his experience and skills and impatience.  He'll need a very special learning environment with fellow students as smart and experienced as he is and a faculty willing and able to handle someone who has been giving advice to the heads of large companies.

But I suspect there is enough of a market and students like Peter are so attractive to really good professors, that some top universities or think tanks will develop programs for getting an education in those topics - politics, philosophy, art, literature - that  study the inner aspects of the human condition which haven't changed along with the technological environment.   And why Confucius, Buddha, Aristotle, and Shakespeare are all still relevant today. 

Here's a bit of video to get a sense of why he is in demand.


  1. Steve, sorry to have missed you on my recent touch-back to Alaska. Messages didn't get through, I guess.

    Your discussion reminds me of small frustrations in university classes, when I can (and don't) bring experience into the classroom that counters or questions a lecturer's presentation.

    How much livier ideas would become if time would allow experience to blend with the academy -- not to trot out war stories -- rather, to cross-examine teaching and theory and support rigorous argument.

    My Alaska return surprisingly strengthened a conviction that my life-learning must include transnationalism. It's something best done without batteries. Exciting stuff.

  2. If the prof is good, she'll be able to handle an experience that seems to counter the theory or model. Either noting it as an apparent anomaly or explaining additional aspects of the theory that do, in fact, explain the experience.

    Sorry to have missed you. Didn't know you were here til I heard from a friend.


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