How Spotify Balances Employee Autonomy and Accountability

Posted on by Brandon Klein

The squad structure achieves autonomy without sacrificing accountability. Every squad owns its features throughout the product’s life cycle, and the squads have full visibility into their features’ successes and failures. There is no single appointed leader of a squad; any such leadership role is emergent and informal. Results are visible both through internal reviews and through customer feedback, and squads are expected to fully understand successes and failures. Squads go through postmortem analyses of failures to ensure learning, and some squad rooms have “fail walls.” Every few weeks, squads conduct retrospectives to evaluate what is going well and what needs to improve.

To ensure that the feedback process is effective for individuals as well as for the squads, Spotify redesigned its performance management system to separate salary discussion and performance evaluations from coaching and feedback. Before, peer feedback was incorporated into salary reviews; in Spotify’s words, that “incentivized people to gather as many favorable reviews as possible rather than getting feedback around their biggest areas of potential improvement.” Now, colleagues use an internal tool to invite anyone — including managers, peers, and direct reports — to provide feedback on results and on what an individual can do to improve. Employees may solicit feedback as often as they choose. Spotify employee Jonas Aman told us, “The result is a process that everyone needs to own and drive themselves — it is about development and personal growth.”

Learning social network embeddings for predicting information diffusion

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Analyzing and modeling the temporal diffusion of information on social media has mainly been treated as a diffusion process on known graphs or proximity structures. The underlying phenomenon results however from the interactions of several actors and media and is more complex than what these models can account for and cannot be explained using such limiting assumptions. We introduce here a new approach to this problem whose goal is to learn a mapping of the observed temporal dynamic onto a continuous space. Nodes participating to diffusion cascades are projected in a latent representation space in such a way that information diffusion can be modeled efficiently using a heat diffusion process. This amounts to learning a diffusion kernel for which the proximity of nodes in the projection space reflects the proximity of their infection time in cascades. The proposed approach possesses several unique characteristics compared to existing ones. Since its parameters are directly learned from cascade samples without requiring any additional information, it does not rely on any pre-existing diffusion structure. Because the solution to the diffusion equation can be expressed in a closed form in the projection space, the inference time for predicting the diffusion of a new piece of information is greatly reduced compared to discrete models. Experiments and comparisons with baselines and alternative models have been performed on both synthetic networks and real datasets. They show the effectiveness of the proposed method both in terms of prediction quality and of inference speed.

Teams vs. Crowds: A Field Test of the Relative Contribution of Incentives, Member Ability, and Collaboration to Crowd-Based Problem Solving Performance

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Organizations are increasingly turning to crowdsourcing to solve difficult problems. This is often driven by the desire to find the best subject matter experts, strongly incentivize them, and engage them, with as little coordination cost as possible, to pool their knowledge. A growing number of authors, however, are calling for increased collaboration in crowdsourcing settings, hoping to draw upon the advantages of teamwork observed in traditional settings. The question is how to effectively incorporate team-based collaboration in a setting that has traditionally been individual-based. We report on a large field experiment of team collaboration on an online platform, in which incentives and team membership were randomly assigned, to evaluate the influence of exogenous inputs (member skills and incentives) and emergent collaboration processes on performance of crowd-based teams. Building on advances in machine learning and complex systems, we leverage new measurement techniques to examine the content and timing of team collaboration. We find that temporal "burstiness" of team activity and the diversity of information exchanged among team members are strong predictors of performance, even when inputs such as incentives and member skills are controlled. We discuss implications for research on crowdsourcing and team collaboration

The Secret of Buckminister Fuller’s World-Changing Ideas Was Serendipity

Posted on by Brandon Klein

In his 2016 book, You Belong to the Universe, Jonathon Keats sets out to release Buckminister Fuller from “the zany sci-fi designs that made him notorious, and rescue him from the groupies who have impounded him as a cultish prophet.”

Keats, a writer and artist who whips up his own world-changing ideas through trickster gallery and museum exhibitions, comes to Fuller’s rescue by venturing beneath the veneer of his infamous inventions—the geodesic dome, flying car, world peace games, and dome over Manhattan—to expose their broader significance. 

That significance can be summed up in the unwieldy title that Fuller gave himself: “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist.” The most succinct definition of the title is Fuller’s determination, he said, “to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

The reason he wanted to make a flying car was because his first daughter died of meningitis.

As Keats points out, Fuller’s 100 percent ethos was prophetic “and only becomes more resonant in a society where half the world’s wealth is held by the wealthiest 1 percent.”

One of the qualities Keats most admires in Fuller, who was born in Massachusetts in 1895, is the inventor’s conviction that people learn through serendipity. His bewitching inventions, books, and lectures were designed to spur serendipitous thinking in others. Fuller knew, Keats writes, that “new ideas might emerge from the chance meeting of disparate information in a curious mind.” 

In his own life Fuller courted the lucky discovery. “He was an autodidact and a generalist, meaning that ideas from many realms could intermix freely in his mind,” Keats says. “Society needs generalists, who can bring essential creativity to the world’s problems.”

Fuller’s vision of an interactive world, and antipathy toward specialization, was a theme that ran through an interview I did with Keats before an audience at the AC Institute, an “art think tank” and exhibition space in New York City. Keats and I adapted our talk for the interview below.

In person, Keats is as provocative as he is in print—a quality Nautilus readers know from his essay, “Famous for Being Indianapolis: How Cities Are Like Kim Kardashian.” He is constitutionally incapable of swimming in the mainstream.

Self-segregation: how a personalized world is dividing Americans

Posted on by Brandon Klein

It’s a fact: while Americans have countless tools with which to connect with one another, we are also watching fragmentation, polarization, and de-diversification happen en masse. The American public is self-segregating, tearing at the social fabric of the country.

Many in the tech world imagined that the internet would connect people in unprecedented ways, allow for divisions to be bridged and wounds to heal – a Kumbaya dream of sorts. Today, those same dreamers find it quite unsettling to watch as the tools that were designed to bring people together are used by people to magnify divisions and undermine social solidarity.

These tools were built in a bubble, and that bubble has burst.


If you ask a college admissions officer at an elite institution to describe how they build a class of incoming freshmen, you will quickly realize that the American college system is a diversification project.

Unlike colleges in most parts of the world, the vast majority of freshmen at top-tier universities in the US live on campus with roommates who are assigned to them. Colleges approach housing assignments as an opportunity to pair diverse strangers with one another to build social ties. This makes sense given how many friendships emerge out of freshman dorms. By pairing middle-class kids with students from wealthier families, elite institutions help diversify the elites of the future.

This diversification project produces a tremendous amount of conflict. Although plenty of people adore their college roommates and relish the opportunity to get to know people from different walks of life as part of their college experience, there is an amazing amount of angst about dorm assignments and the troubles that brew once folks try to live together in close quarters. At many universities, residential life is often in the business of student therapy as students complain about their roommates and dorm-mates.

Yet just like in the military, learning how to negotiate conflict and diversity in close quarters can be tremendously effective in weaving the social fabric.

Mathematical Model Reveals the Patterns of How Innovations Arise

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Innovation is one of the driving forces in our world. The constant creation of new ideas and their transformation into technologies and products forms a powerful cornerstone for 21st century society. Indeed, many universities and institutes, along with regions such as Silicon Valley, cultivate this process.

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And yet the process of innovation is something of a mystery. A wide range of researchers have studied it, ranging from economists and anthropologists to evolutionary biologists and engineers. Their goal is to understand how innovation happens and the factors that drive it so that they can optimize conditions for future innovation.

This approach has had limited success, however. The rate at which innovations appear and disappear has been carefully measured. It follows a set of well-characterized patterns that scientists observe in many different circumstances. And yet, nobody has been able to explain how this pattern arises or why it governs innovation.

Data Approach the Helped Trump Win

Posted on by Brandon Klein

The strength of their modeling was illustrated by how well it could predict a subject's answers. Kosinski continued to work on the models incessantly: before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook "likes." Seventy "likes" were enough to outdo what a person's friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 "likes" what their partner knew. More "likes" could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves. On the day that Kosinski published these findings, he received two phone calls. The threat of a lawsuit and a job offer. Both from Facebook.

The Three Frameworks You Need to Create Powerful Presentations and Tell Compelling Stories

Posted on by Brandon Klein


I remember many the great TED talks I’ve watched. Sir Ken Robinson’s ,“How Schools Kill Creativity” and the story of a little girl whose genius was unrecognized in school until she was allow do dance, and ultimately became a prima-ballerina, is simply unforgettable. In most of my meetings, I remember Amy Cuddy’s “Body Language” talk for a split-second. Commanding her body language changed her career. And who can forget Steve Jobs announcement of the iPhone?

Presentations can be incredibly persuasive, and particularly in business, whether for closing candidates, pitching investors to fund raise, interviewing with the press and so on, they can materially impact the course of a startup.

But it’s really hard to tell a good story. Most of us have never studied the craft of constructing a story: how to draw the arc of the storyline, how to elicit emotions with dramatic tension, or how to entice the audience into conspiring with us in the plot.

The best book I’ve found on building compelling presentations is Nancy Duarte’ Resonate. In Resonate, Nancy explains the three different key components of memorable, effective pitches: the journey the speaker would like the audience to traverse, the framework for creating a good story, and the mechanism to bring the two together.

Design thinking origin story plus some of the people who made it all happen

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Recently design thinking has gained momentum in the business world through mentions in the Harvard Business Review and Forbes publications. As a thing, design thinking has been described as anything from “a unified framework for innovation“ to the “essential tool for simplifying and humanizing.”

Being in the news though, doesn’t make design thinking anything new. Unlike the radical outcomes it promises, design thinking as an approach has been slowly evolving since the 1960’s. Over the past fifty plus years, design thinking [or design really; let’s be honest] has appropriated many of the best tools and techniques from creative fields, social and computer sciences.

Networked leadership

Posted on by Brandon Klein

These leadership patterns can be restricting or enabling. Knowing in the brain is a set of neural connections that correspond to our patterns of communication. We don’t only connect with people; we link with topics, with information, with technology, and in the future with machine learning. The challenge is to see all the filters and linkages as communication patterns that are either keeping us stuck, running in circles or opening up new possibilities. We need new skills of dynamically connecting to new people and enriching information. This is a growing challenge for our tools. Social tools have developed tremendously on the publishing and social sharing side. The next developments need to take place on the social sense-making side.

Uzzi and Spiro 2005 - AJS - Collaboration and Creativity - The Small World Problem

Posted on by Brandon Klein

success of new musical productions in the twentieth century relies upon two key parameters: the ratio of new blood versus industry veterans, and the degree to which incumbents involve their former collaborators and serve as brokers for new combinations of production teams

Big data sets available for free

Posted on by Brandon Klein

    Source code and data for our Big Data keyword correlation API (see also section in separate chapter, in our book)
    Great statistical analysis: forecasting meteorite hits (see also section in separate chapter, in our book)
    Fast clustering algorithms for massive datasets (see also section in separate chapter, in our book)
    53.5 billion clicks dataset available for benchmarking and testing
    Over 5,000,000 financial, economic and social datasets
    New pattern to predict stock prices, multiplies return by factor 5 (stock market data, S&P 500; see also section in separate chapter, in our book)
    3.5 billion web pages: The graph has been extracted from the Common Crawl 2012 web corpus and covers 3.5 billion web pages and 128 billion hyperlinks between these pages
    Another large data set - 250 million data points: This is the full resolution GDELT event dataset running January 1, 1979 through March 31, 2013 and containing all data fields for each event record.
    125 Years of Public Health Data Available for Download


Five Strategies for Leading a High-Impact Team

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Nobody sets out to lead an ineffective team. In fact, leaders agonize over fostering teams that work well together and deliver smart solutions time and time again—the kind of teams that, in Leigh Thompson’s words, “go through the various storms, the successes, the failures, and keep coming out alive.”

The only problem? Many of the strategies leaders have adopted to improve teamwork, while well-intentioned, are not all that effective. Thompson, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg and an expert on teamwork, clears up five popular misconceptions. In the process, she offers a roadmap for building and maintaining teams that are creative, efficient, and high-impact.

If everything is a network, nothing is a network

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Only some of our proposed solutions for visualising the Waze traffic flows were ever put to the test. There’s only so much you can visualise when you want the driver’s eyes on the road rather than on the screen, interpreting nuanced network visualisations. But the trend towards self-driving cars, led by Waze’s new owner, aims to take the human factor out of the equation completely.

While the question of whether humans should drive their own cars is up for debate, I would strongly argue against the wider trend driving us away from our agency in relation to technology at large. It is quite mind-boggling to think that network algorithms do not see points connected by lines, while we cannot even imagine networks without them. As abstract, rudimentary and confusing as they may be, networks are an essential construct of our 21st century lives and we need the conceptual and technological tools to be able to analyse them.

Once we acknowledge the anatomy of the network as more than the formation of nodes and edges and their layout, we can use them carefully, bearing in mind that:

    Not emphasising the visualisation of the flow implies that only the layout of nodes and edges is enough to tell the whole story.
    By presenting a finite inventory of nodes and edges, we might be implying that what’s presented in front of us is the full network and no other nodes or links are involved.
    A network is an extremely flexible and abstract model, and wandering through its nodes and edges might quickly lead you in circles, following dead-ends or developing dubious conspiracy theories. Handle with care.
    Networks need narrative, both as a layer of annotation and as a way to present exemplary network flow.
    Directionality is important and can be a useful way to lay out the flow and even the protocol of some networks.
    Time is an organising principle in our lives and could sometimes serve a similar role in the visual representation of a network.
    Algorithm visualisation is the next frontier in network diagrams and for data visualisation at large. This is a call for humanistic agency in complex systems.


Finally, before we rush to join the dots and think of everything in terms of networks, we should really ask what makes a network model necessary in this case? Do we want to examine the relationships of the nodes? To compare the capacity of the edges? Can we really analyse the intricacies of the flows? And are we able to analyse the network’s protocols? And if we can, can we affect them?

If everything is a network, nothing is a network. But if this thing is a network, this is why you should care.

This pioneering tech company figured how to make work-from-home work

Posted on by Brandon Klein

A decade-plus of experimentation has led Automattic to its current set of tools:

    Slack, a business chat app used for day-to-day communication
    P2, a WordPress theme modeled after Twitter’s stream with in-line replies for more in-depth discussions
    Wikis, field guides with content that rarely changes
    Zoom video conferencing

But there were many pain points before it arrived at this arrangement. Originally, Automattic used Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a text chat protocol that predates AOL Instant Messenger, for instant messaging. But with the proliferation of mobile devices, employees sought an easier way to chat from their phones. Skype was far from a perfect solution, but it had a mobile app, making it one of the better offerings in 2008. The main drawback was that conversations were siloed into individual groups, which “is terrible for distributed companies,” says Schneider.

There was an awkward transition period where employees were expected to be on both IRC and Skype. Eventually, the company migrated to Slack en masse, but even that came with its false starts, as various teams had used and abandoned the chat app before it finally stuck for good in 2014. “Our lifeblood today is Slack and [a WordPress theme] we created called P2,” says Mullenweg.

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

Posted on by Brandon Klein

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?