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Today I was fortunate enough to be invited by a good friend and associate at Cube Capital Hani Iskander to attend a quick briefing by the owner of Williams Inference, John Trudgian. Williams Inference, a business intelligence service, was started 1965 in the USA by James Williams and is based around the idea that by observing human behaviour, looking for anomalies, one could spot trends early and take advantage of them to build into your investment strategies. The service is subscribed to mainly by major fund managers, and they get a quarterly presentation from John or one of the team, which distils collates and interprets information from over 200 publications, financial markets, books film TV and the web.
John took us on a ample ride through his most recent quarterly report. We only had an hour… (it normally takes two or three) The theme of this report, which was written before Trumps upset victory is summarised in the following quote…:
“We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis and elimination of uncertainty, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense making and engagement with uncertainty” – living in a VUCA world
We started with…. Noise and a story about how naturalist are observing how birds are beginning their dawn chorus some two hours before sunrise. The reason given is that we humans are making so much noise, that the birds have to start earlier and earlier, in order to be heard… this story lead onto developments in technology designed to bring back some peace and quiet. Noise cancelling head phones, especially amongst professionals such as pilots is a big and developing market…
the noise theme then morphed into new ways to interface between our ever-present device, and the problems of using Siri, Cortana and other voice user interfaces in our devices. It turns out that the main reason that these devices don’t work as well as they should is due to background noise. Aftercall we can speak on average 150 words a minute but type at less than 40 wpm. This lead to an article about a firm called Kopin that has a completely new approach and can achieve accuracies over 90% in standard environments… Kopin predicts that this breakthrough will mean that by 2020 50% of queries will be voice generated.
From Voice and smartphones, we made a small leap to augmented reality and its use, not in gaming but in industry, healthcare, training for high risk jobs, and inevitably … to how the porn industry is adopting to this new technology….
From there we were lead across the se to Japan where changes in demography and family structure such that 70% of Japanese under 34 are single and 40% are still virgins, and just across from Japan, China is experiencing significant declines in marriage rates and increasing divorce rates. India the same. So what, you might say; these things have been happening in the west for decades, but that’s the point, what has taken two or three generations to happen in the west, is happening in these counties within one generation. What concerns, opportunities can be inferred by these trends….
And now our next stop on this whirlwind tour was around the theme of device people… our addiction to phones and online communication and how it is changing how humans interact. I commented to the group on how some people check the current weather on their phone, while sitting next to a window. People sit at the same table, texting each other…
this led to dating sites, the gig economy, the lack of security, permanence, planning for the future, even how the use of cosmetics has spiked as people (men and women) put on makeup, not to look better in person, but to make them look better in photos, selfies. Did you know that campus bookstores in the USA now have large cosmetic sections., which then led to a story on how Deutsche Bank is now using technology for matching people on dating sites to match new recruits. our hour was almost up… and we looked at the gender gap in the work force particularly in the upper echelons, and why it is so persistent… but no time to pause and we had to move on… we touched on money, dynamic pricing, such as Ubers surge, Amazons variable pricing, and the feedback loop to earlier mentioned trends of piece meal work,, the zero hour on-call work contract, instant and serial dating…
and finally at the 55th minute… we arrive at the VUCA world. VUCA.. purportedly a US military acronym… coined at the end of the cold war, standing for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
Thus our journey ended, but it was an amazing trip that generated so many ideas m of how things connect, or not. The skill in investment management is to try to take a view of what all these things going on around us might mean. We are often so busy, just doing our daily routines, living in our bubble, we can’t get out. We should do it more. You can get more info on John @ http://competitiveintelligence.ning.com/profile/JohnTrudgian. The web site http://www.williamsinference.com/ is undergoing a re-vamp but there is some great archival material there