First AI Summit in Sri Lanka

My life has changed 180 degrees, when I did the data science coursera course from Johns Hopkins University, . That new learning cannot be undone. My understanding of the new world has changed. I started conversations with few of my colleagues and mentors on how Data Science, Machine Learning and AI can make a real change for a country like Sri Lanka. How can it help the common man, Siripala and Sumanawathi who are left behind. It was a very limited niche conversation for me, until yesterday. There were 350 people packed in to a hall in Kingsbury: developers, junior and senior Managers, CEOs, academics, and of course a fantastic lineup of speakers from across the world Although it was a full day event, which most of us find impossible to commit in this age, I was glad to see most of the audience staying until 6 pm. Kudos to Jeevan and SLASSCOM team for making this happen. I had

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Doing the impossible

In a brainstorming session at a recent workshop, I listened to a banter between two participants. It made me laugh. It was also profound. A: “It’s a dream you are proposing. It’s impossible. How can we make impossible happen?” B: ” You mean, you don’t know how to do the impossible?” A: ” yes, that is why it is called impossible” B: “well the way to do the impossible is to do it. “ Later in that day I watched “First Man”, the movie about Neil Armstrong. As a kid, when I learnt about Neil, it was just a fact. Neil was the first man on moon. On that day in 1969, 530 million people watched him take the ‘giant leap for mankind.’ The movie shredded my perceptions about landing on moon. I never knew the hardships in many fronts. How Neil struggled at home with sick kids. His daughter died at age two suffering from a malignant brain tumor. Never

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A rant: Grit of street entrepreneurs.

I met this entrepreneur at Ambalangoda railway station on the morning that dawned with a curfew imposed in Gintota for a clash that had potential to brew in to an ethnic tension. I asked him questions about his life and his work. ” I have been selling water and soft drinks in trains for 20 years now. Now Fort railway station officials have barred us from getting in to trains. Our seller union is in talks with the officials. We do not have the approval yet, so I am hopping to trains from Aluthgama to Hikkaduwa. I do not go to Galle, because I may get arrested. I had been arrested 5 times, for selling water.” With a deep sigh, he continued. “Now our people have started fighting among ourselves ( he was referring to Gintota clash) . Media would project as many other things they want. what happens ? Tourists will stop coming to our area. ” I saw him

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How to be a good technician. ( A different perspective)

I meet some remarkable young people in Sri Lanka at the most unlikeliest of places. I found one last week, in front of a hardware store in my neighbourhood. It was 730 in the morning. I was there to rent a water motor, he was there to rent a heavy duty drill. He’s a mechanic, an expert on tractors. We started chatting. He mentioned about a good mechanic he knows who’s work is like a super charm. I said, there are many good craftsmen in Sri Lanka, under the radar, not getting the recognition and respect. Then he said something amazing, that prompted me to write this post. Sri lankans:'can'ts find a good plumber or Mason bas'Also Sri Lankans: " he's a son of a plumber. How dare he approach my daughter" — isura.biz (@isura) September 23, 2017 “Yes we have great technicians, but they don’t thrive to be what they truly can be. They don’t work hard as much

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When to startup

pic credit: Dialog After the #ngage session, after the food ran out, few young people (age 20-30) asked me questions. I could distill them to this question. ” I want to do a startup on something I love, but cannot find time with my current job. Should I quit? “ My answer is A BIG NO. I’m 37.  If you have asked me the same question when I was 30, I’d have said yes. I remember, back then, when a uni undergrad pitched his prototype during a hackathon, I asked him, “are you gonna do a job, or continue this prototype after graduation?” He said he’d do a job, but would improve prototype as a side kick. I laughed saying “you are not serious. Hence you will not make it.’ I don’t know what happened to him or his side kick. But I do know, what I said to him was wrong. I am sorry. I have seen more of

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Outsourcing everything

There are things you cannot outsource. There are things that cannot be ‘Uber of this’ or ‘AirBnB of that’. As much as there are trends, we should not be enslaved to think that everything can be outsourced to cut cost or look sexy launching an app. There are many failure stories, that does not get your attention. There’s so much of human touch needed in serving the customer now. Never been a time like this where products and services are sold in abundance, but customers want personal attention. This is a conundrum. Growth does not mean just achieving new numbers. Growth requires the expansion of your existing relationships with customers. When organizations outsource their core value areas for the sake of sanity and cost, brutal outcomes may happen. For example: I was rudely surprised when I was treated badly by an insurance agent, when I needed their service the most. After 2 and half years of paying monthly premiums, here

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How to innovate over and over.

Most of us, when we hear about “innovation” tend to visualise staff retreats, having fun and been creative by expressing ideas. Then come up with that ‘aha’ moment, and go and work on it. Once in a year routine, may be twice a year. Far from it. Innovation in reality is loads of hard work, an emotional drainage, and a creator of many awkward and uncomfortable moments. If not driven well, it can derail even the most honest intentions. Right now, in this age, if the head of organization is not leading innovation process, nothing will happen differently. Discussions may happen, but changes won’t be there. From next week, it will be back to old stuff. So, then what is the role of the leader? Instead of thinking I have to give the grand vision and inspire people to follow, a leader must co-create space that people on their own generate new ideas, test, get it right, fail, generate ideas

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How can I help you ?

At events, especially after completing a talk, number of people who network with me is high. It’s all good. But time is limited. At one instance there were 3 persons from different organisations around me. All want to talk about their work, but all want to leave soon as well, because it was already past 530 pm. Traffic is insane in Colombo. So this is what I did. ” How can I help you?” The conversation moved from what we do to why we should connect. We all were questioning each other with specific questions and sooner we understood each other. It took 10 minutes and we knew how we can help each other. Wonderful thing was with one person I  found he could help me more than I could help him. So, ” How can I help you?”

Focus on customer behaviour

Arguments about technology changing needs of the customer is exciting, winding and depressing, because our assumptions are based on popular all or nothing trends. No, people don’t queue up for change in straight lines. It’s messy. So instead of zooming in on trends, try to zoom out and watch behaviour changes of people. You don’t need to be a tech wizard to observe people’s behaviours. If tech changes everything, why there is still demand for printed books? printed news papers ? If tech makes old structures go down, why Uber struggles in China, Taiwan and many East Asian countries ? If digital music is the bomb, why still people call radio stations and request songs? Seriously? While tech changes behaviour, it is vital to understand it doesn’t completely change the world as found in excited speeches of futurists. Strike a balance when you do your business planning.

On those new year resolutions.

I had a peak in to my last year’s resolutions. It’s like a rude joke on my self by me. 🙂 Through painful analysis, I found out where I had gone wrong. It’s a trend, and it sounds good. Everybody’s doing it. I should catch up. 8 resolutions. Really ? Why I could not scheduled time for these goals ? Why I could not track progress ? Did I actually want these goals ? Or was I influenced by someone else ? Resolutions are good. But if it is not clearly written down with timelines and resources needed, and did not find its way in to my digital calendar, you know what happened to my resolution. For 2017:  Be audacious, be hopeful, but be realistic. Breakdown the goal in to weekly goals. Work from first week. Track weekly. There are 52 of them. It gives honest feedback. A new goal needs new behaviours. Focus your energy on that behaviour change. Easier

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