Saturday, May 08, 2021

Are you a Bee, an Ant, or ............. a Leech?

In my previous post I introduced human bees, ants and leeches. Swarms of bees are motivated by creating something radically new, to draw satisfaction from inventing something that has not been there before, pollinating others and creating honey in the process. Ants are social insects too, who show loyalty to their swarm, but are obsessively competitive, motivated primarily by trying to win at all costs, be it in sports or in professional life. Leeches are more solitary insects, living off the blood they suck from others, motivated by money, and by trying to get rich as quickly as possible through whatever means available.

I created the three tribes in tribecreator, training the machine learning system with the Twitter feeds of Tim Berners-Lee, Jimmy Wales, JK Rowlings, and the profiles of 150+ other creatives such as designers, musicians and artists. The ant tribe was trained with the Twitter feeds of 150+ athletes such as Rafael Nadal, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, plus Nascar racers, boxers and wrestlers, football coaches, and professional computer gamers. The leech tribe was trained with the tweets of activist investors such as Bill Ackmann and Steven A. Cohen, hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, and peddlers of “get rich quick” schemes.

The picture above shows the alternative reality tribal affiliations for the bee, ant, and leech tribes. We find that none of the three tribes are big fatherlanders, they all have other priorities. Leech tribe members are the biggest nerds, most likely because venture capitalists and hedge fund managers talk about the startups they are investing in. Surprisingly, ants are the bigger spiritualists than the bees, while leeches don’t care much about spiritualism.

The picture above illustrates the personalities of the three tribes, ants are the biggest risk-takers, followed by the bees which also take risks, leeches, as expected, are huge stock-traders, i.e., predominantly interested in money. On the other hand, bees talk mostly like journalists, i.e., using honest, matter-of-fact language.

The picture above shows the ideological tribal affiliations, leeches are the biggest capitalists, while the bees are more inclined towards liberalism. Ants are complainers.

The picture above shows the lifestyle tribes of bees, ants, and leeches. Not surprisingly, the ants are huge fitness buffs, while the leeches are the most sedentary, followed by the bees. The bee tribe has the largest proportion of vegan tribe members.

The picture above shows the recreation tribes, not surprisingly ants dominate in sport, while bees and leeches are prevalent in art, with the bees producing it, and the leeches trading it as an investment or as part of their philanthropic activities.

The picture above shows the emotions of bees, ants, and leeches. Bees are the happiest tribe, followed by the ants, leeches are the least happy! Leeches are angry, while ants are fearful! It seems there is an intrinsic reward in being a bee!

The picture above illustrates the clustering by tribe of the hundreds of tribe leaders who have been used to train the machine learning system to create the word embeddings for the three tribes. Each dot is representing a person. Dots representing people who use similar language are shown together using a layout algorithm called tSNE, that reduces the multidimensional word vector to two dimensions which can thus be plotted in a two-dimensional space. As the picture illustrates, members of the same tribe are close together, illustrating that each tribe forms a cohesive community based on common word usage.

This word embedding can now be used to identify the tribal affiliation of any person based on their word usage. The picture below shows six months of my mailbox computed and drawn with our new Griffin/Phoenix tool, with the people colored by flow-tribe.

As the picture illustrates there are many bees in my community, with smaller groups of ants and leeches. The red dots show the people who did not have enough words in their e-mail for the machine learning to make a tribal assignment with sufficiently high confidence. I am happy (!) to be a bee!

The figure above shows what percentage of the messages in my mailbox included content related to beeflow, antflow, and leechflow over time. Most of the time, beeflow is dominant, as we are mostly discussing new features for our software and other creative endeavors. Occasionally, for instance on February 11 and March 4, leechflow takes over, meaning that we talk about money, most likely negotiating about the price of our software and services with customers. This chart illustrates that reality is not white or black, but always grey, including all facets of daily life. What we can do, however, is decide where we want to put the emphasis in our daily lives.

Beeflow, Antflow and Leechflow ...... is all TribeFlow

In an earlier post I have spoken about human bees, sheep and leeches. This post extends this concept to the flow experience of groups of humans collaborating in groupflow

The flow experience per se can be reached in many areas, from sports, art, and music, to professional teamwork. Csikszentmihalyi even describes criminals enjoying their burglaries, and the extreme example of the Marquis de Sade enjoying his sadistic behavior. On the flip side, perfectly legal flow activities might cause pain to some of the involved parties, for instance the dog and cock fights in some parts of the World, the bull fighting in Spain, or the boxing matches in the US and elsewhere. It is therefore worthwhile dividing flow experiences in three different categories sorted by positivity for the involved parties: first, the enjoyable experience of creating something radically new that has never been there before, second the gratification derived from competing against others or oneself in sports ranging from mountain climbing to computer games, and third the pleasure one gets from ripping off others, leading to pain for the losers and delight for the winners.







to self + to others

Create painting, play Jazz in a band, designing new product



to self

Play online game, play soccer match



to self (from others)

Devise pyramid scheme, engage in mobbing

Bee hives are entangled organizations with the bees being masters of entanglement. Bees communicate through the waggle dance, by touching each other’s bodies rhythmically, similarly to jazz musicians swinging their bodies to the tune of their music. Bees are also good for everyone. Not only are they producing honey which is widely loved and was the main sweetener for millennia, honey also has valuable medical properties. But most importantly, bees are absolutely essential as pollinators, pollinating up to 80% of all cultivated crop plants. Without bees there would be no apples, no cherries, no peaches, no nuts, and no herbs. Without bees, life as we know it would be impossible.  

Ant hives are similarly entangled organizations capable of amazing feats, self-organizing to solve complex tasks, for instance creating pheromone trails to food sources and herding larvae of other insects to drink the fluid that these larvae secrete. However, if two ants from two different ant hives meet, a fight to death will arise. This means that ants are immensely competitive. While they collaborate inside their hive, they conduct epic battles between different hives. For instance, the invasive Argentine ant forms super colonies with up to one trillion individuals in Southern Europe and the US. At the border between the super colonies there is constant warfare, for example at the border between two super colonies in Southern California researchers estimate that up to thirty million ants per year die in monumental battles. 

Leeches are unentangled, each fighting for their blood meal on their own. Leeches are parasites, that attach their suckers to their prey animal, and feed on the blood of their host. In the front of their mouth, they have three teeth, which they slice through the skin of the host. Once attached, they use a combination of mucus and suction to stay attached to the skin of their host, while consuming their blood meal.  While leeches have been used for medical bloodletting at least for 2500 years, they carry parasites in their digestive system, and bacteria, viruses and other parasites from previous blood meals can survive within a leech for months and infect the next host. Although leeches have limited medical use, life without leeches, without having to worry about a leech bite in leech infested water would be a better life. If bloodletting really is necessary – most of the time it is not, more people have been killed through excessive bloodletting than have been saved – this can also easily be done by the doctor in other ways.

There are also human bees, ants, and leeches that offer valuable lessons about flow and entanglement. Human bees are people who derive their joy and meaning in life from creating new things. It seems there is a subgroup of the overall population that draws particular pleasure from creating new things and gaining new insights. Researchers have found that for some people, creative insights, the “eureka moment” triggers the same neural reward as when we eat food we like, have an orgasm, or consume addictive substances . In other words, some people experience creative insights as intrinsically rewarding. This explains the puzzle solvers, starving artists, underpaid researchers, and innovators tinkering with new ideas in their garages. Human bees are creators. Creating new things creates joy for the creator. While the creation process might include painful moments along the way, the joy at the end of the process, when the final product is there, more than pays for it. One of the main reasons for experiencing the joy of creation is the flow experience. For instance flow is prominent when making music. This starts with little children who experience flow in music learning and making .  Flow is experienced when composing music, and the flow experience is the main motivation  for musicians playing together in bands and orchestras. Other typical human bees might be inventors, authors, painters, sculptors, researchers, and engineers. They pollinate society with new ideas, ensuring innovation and progress. Bees create positive entanglement among themselves by creating human creative swarms.

However not everybody draws intrinsic satisfaction from gaining creative insights. There is a large(r) part of the population that does not like change, but likes to follow the example of others, and would like to keep everything as safe and solid as it “has always been in the good old times”. Those are the ants. Ants are (most of the time) not hurting anybody, but they are not creating anything new. Ants are followers. Their happiness comes from being in company with others like them. Human ants like to aggregate in large crowds and occasionally demonstrate the madness of crowds. A prominent example of human ants following each other were the nearly 500,000 participants of the Sturgis Harvey Davidson motorcycle festival in August 2020, flouting Covid19 distancing rules, and leading according to one study  to an additional 260,000 Covid19 infections, 19 percent of the US total of that month, and resulting in 12,2 billion dollars of additional public health costs. People investing in bitcoin and other pyramid schemes for speculative purposes are today’s successors of the Dutch investors creating the black tulip craze in the 17th century in Holland, where prizes of black tulip bulbs spiked to astronomical heights before crashing and losing any value. When buying a highly prized unique black tulip bulb, the Dutch investor probably reached the flow state. Ants can also reach the flow state just being on their own. For instance, playing computer games provide a pleasurable flow experience.  Researchers investigating flow of computer gamers found  that indeed the feeling of flow was a key reason for online gaming addiction. 

Human leeches are different from bees and ants by being obsessed about getting as much money and power as possible, and do whatever it takes to grab it. Leeches are bloodsuckers. Their happiness comes from winning the competition, and getting everything for themselves. Human leeches are the people that are trying to profit from others, by bending the rules to their own advantage. Their goal in life is to amass as much wealth and money as they possibly can. They consume the honey of the bees and profit from their pollination and also milk the ants. Hedge fund managers, M&A bankers, and “activist investors” would be archetypical professions preferred by human leeches, for instance the investors of drug price gouging companies Valeant and Turing Pharmaceuticals. While a leech might get into flow, leeches destroy the entanglement of others. Leeches might reach groupflow for example by becoming the head of a mafia family.

Obviously, the world is neither black nor white, and we all possess attributes of all categories, and are sometimes bees, frequently ants, and if we get the opportunity, we might even behave like leeches. In every society there are taking leeches and giving bees. An entangled organization would like its members to be givers, not takers. A single selfish leech has the potential to destroy the entanglement of the swarm of bees. The goal is to make sure that in the end there are only bees in the group, and prospective leeches are turned into bees by making their parasitic behavior obvious to them. While it is up to each individual to decide their behavior, choosing to be a bee, an ant or a leech, their honest signals and virtual tribe memberships will give them away. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi does not distinguish if flow is reached as an individual, for instance as a lonely rock climber, or as a group, for instance being a member in a Jazz band.  In my work I focus on reaching the flow state as a group. For instance, a great exemplar of group beeflow has been described by Dietmar Sachser in his book on theater flow. A theater ensemble reaches groupflow through many rehearsals, developing collective awareness and feeling as one unified whole. As German actor Fritzi Haberlandt says “It’s a form of intoxication that makes you happy.”

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Too many Covid Experts - Whom should we trust?

 The answer seems to be: nobody!

With Covid raging on, we are all living under fear and stress. Countries such as China, New Zealand, or Japan that succeeded in keeping it contained, are hunkering down behind Chinese Walls, while the rest of the World is desperately searching for miracle cures. Our daily life is heavily influenced by coping and surviving under Covid19. Self-proclaimed Covid19 experts are inundating us with a never-ending stream of news and insights. These experts come from two opposing sides: mainstream science and government experts on the one side, and conspiracy theorists on the other side.  Figuring out whom to believe, with so many “experts” contradicting each other can become a real headache. Politicians, regulators, and scientists in different countries, and even within the same country, are fundamentally disagreeing and fighting with each other about the best strategies for coping with the disease. 

To shed some light, we did a coolhunting using Galaxyscope, creating two digital tribes, “Covid-Experts”, and “Alt-health” (spiritual healing believers, Covid deniers, and fringe conspiracy theorists). The picture below shows the two networks. 

While the Covid-Experts form a solid cluster, Alt-health has some separate clusters, connected by a few gatekeepers. However, the most shocking insight is that DrTedros the director of the WHO, the World Health Organization, who should take the lead in the fight against Covid19, appears in both networks – at the periphery. This means that mainstream science and spiritual healers are both desperately looking for leadership – and not finding it.
In the Covid Experts community, people like Eric Topol, Director of the Scripps translational institute, Helen Branswell, a Canadian global health reporter, and Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist, occupy the central positions. In the Alt-Health cluster, activists like FLAutismMom, Brett Weinstein and Spiro Skouras are in the center.
The picture below shows the two Twitter word clouds of the two tribes, with the central term “Covid19” removed, because it would overly dominate the word cloud.  While the experts talk about approaches for fighting Covid such as contact tracing and NIH, the alt health members talked about the Fox TV show “the masked singer” which became highly popular as a way of coping with Covid-related stress, but almost went under in the summer when its host Nick Cannon made anti-Semitic remarks.

The picture below shows the main words used by experts and alt-health members as word networks, where a connecting line between two words means that the two words appear in the same tweet. Experts recommend wearing a mask as the key Covid-prevention measure. Alt-health members lead a far more wide-ranging discussion with different word clusters, the Bill Gates conspiracy is in the center, and attacking Dr Fauci, the main US government Covid expert. Trump, Maga, and the “proud boys”, appear in the periphery.

Looking at the tweeting activity on the charts below, the experts are far more active tweeting about Covid than are the alt-health members. Alt-health members tweet more about non-Covid topics related to conservative politics, such as bikingthebattleground of conservative commentator Cheryl Chumley. 

Looking at the emotions associated with Covid, there is no noticeable difference between Covid experts and alt health. Fear and sadness dominate for both experts and alt health members in the emotion charts below. Happiness is low for experts and even lower for alt health members, and fear is high for experts and alt health members alike. 

In the comparison charts of the two tribes below, we see that while experts tweet much more, the two tribes have little overlap in membership, although some Covid experts are positioned right among the alt health tribe members by our positioning algorithm. The dark blue dots at the bottom of the scatter plot below at right stand for Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley and Seema Yasmin, an epidemiologist, who use language in their tweets more typical of alt health.

Looking at the membership in predefined virtual tribes below, we find that the experts are more treehuggers, while the alt health members are also fatherlanders (ultrapatriots), while there are none among the experts. Some alt health members not surprisingly have been categorized as spiritualists.

Personality-wise, the experts use a lot of political and journalist language, while the alt health members are more categorized as risk-takers and stock traders.

Covid experts are more capitalist than alt health members, which is not surprising as they work for the US government, pharmaceuticals, and academia, while some alt health members are seen as socialist in the way they speak.

In conclusion, we see that fear and sadness dominate the Covid19 discourse, with experts recommending handwashing and mask wearing, while the alt health members see conspiracies everywhere, and recommend miracle cures against Covid such as Melatonin and Vitamin C instead of having to wear masks. Both groups place strong emphasis on maintaining mental health among all the chaos. The main insight is that there are no accepted leaders, and very little trust in science. Everybody seems to hunker down and hope for better times – which undoubtedly will come, as they always have, we just don’t know when!

Many thanks again to Karin Frick from GDI for doing the coolhunting.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Using People Analytics for Analyzing “People Analytics” Thought Leaders

Increasing workplace satisfaction and recognizing employee burnout before it happens are core issues in today’s Covid-19 home office workplace. People analytics has become a key technology to support these goals, thanks to recent progress in AI, machine learning, and other computer technologies. Using our own people analytics tools we analyzed the virtual tribe of key people working in the area of people analytics. If anything, this analysis shows that people analytics has become even more central in the Covid-world. 

Using our Galaxyscope Tribefinder tool we created a virtual tribe of 57 Thought Leaders in the space of HR analytics, people analytics, and corporate culture. The picture below shows the social network of the people analytics thought leaders based on their Twitter network. Thought leaders are connected through who is retweeting and mentioning whom. It also categorizes each thought leader into an “alternative reality” tribe, identifying if somebody is a fatherlander, nerd, treehugger, or spiritualist (. As we can see in the picture below, the large majority, 38 out of the 57, are nerds, based on the language they use in their tweets. This is not surprising as they tweet about technology.

Among the 57 people who are popular tweeting about people and workplace analytics, we find that the most central people analytics thought leaders are David Green, Wharton professor Adam Grant, ABN Amro HR analytics manager Patrick Coolen,  Andy Spence, and Josh Bersin, to name just a few. A connecting line in the network means that two people are retweeting or forwarding or mentioning each other.

The word cloud below shows the most frequent terms in their tweets of the last two months. “HR”, “HCM” (Human Capital Management), “people analytics”, and “future of work” are most popular.

The next picture drills down into the word cloud by showing the links between two terms, if they are mentioned in the same tweet. The word network nicely illustrates how Covid19 has created a second separate word cluster about the leadership of remote teams, which is a key issue in the home office workplace mandated by the Covid19 lockdown.

When looking at the popularity of hashtags over time, shown below, we find that the importance of “culture” is growing, together with “HR”, “future of work”, and “HCM”.

The last chart shows the characteristics of the tribe. It very well reflects the personalities of the people analytics thought leaders as a group of nerds. They are mostly fitness nuts, like to travel, are ingrained in capitalism (not surprising as people analytics is popular with large multinational corporations), but they are also risk takers, writing about early trends ahead of the mainstream.

For more information about how tribefinder and galaxyscope works, see my earlier blogpost and the papers on, for instance this one. Many thanks to Karin Frick from GDI for doing the coolhunting.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

How to Find Interesting Research Problems?

 This morning I was asked this great question, which I am struggling to answer, as this is a problem with many dimensions. Anyway, here is my try to give a partial answer.

The first answer is “never ending curiosity”. I wake up in the morning just wondering why things are how they are. Why are trees growing towards light, and not towards darkness? Why do we need light to live? Photosynthesis describes a pattern, but does not give the fundamental answer. There is always so many more questions than answers, and every answer brings more questions.

The second answer is “I want to find answers to questions I am passionate about”. So, you need to find your passion. How to find your passion? One answer is looking at other people. Whom do you admire most? What are people whom you find cool doing? For instance, Elon Musk said that he was most inspired by Nikola Tesla, as a consequence he started exploring electricity, ultimately building electric cars and naming his company “Tesla”. The area of research you choose also has to do with your personality. I noticed that an economist, a marketing researcher, a computer scientist, a psychologist, and a zoologist have very different personalities. The personality differences are even larger between soldiers, physicians, professors, entrepreneurs, and managers.

If the most exciting thing for you is being a professor at a top university, then choose your research questions opportunistically. Try to find answers to “hot” research problems in your area. For instance, a hot area right now is fake news detection and prevention, using AI. 

Personally, I am much more interested in “cool” things than in “hot” things. The difference between “hot” and “cool” is that “hot problems” are in everybody’s awareness, which means it will be much easier to get your paper accepted, if you offer an incrementally new solution extending an existing solution. “Cool” problems are ahead of their time. There is a small group of other “crazy researchers” working on them, but it will be much harder to get papers accepted about “cool” topics. Papers addressing “hot problems” will offer incremental innovation, papers addressing “cool problems” will offer radical breakthrough innovation. The problem is that at first people will say it’s crazy, does not work, or is not a problem worth investigating, until it is suddenly “obvious”. I have seen that many times. For instance, in 2003 or 2004 I was in a meeting with VCs who were discussing investing in face recognition startups. They had invited a famous professor from a top university, an expert in image recognition, who told them that computers would never be able to recognize faces as accurately as people could. Well, fast forward a few years, and computers have become much better than humans in this task – isn’t that obvious! 

The pebble rolls down the hill, inspiring the concept of the wheel. Innovation consist of applying existing solutions from other fields to the problem at hand. How to find new ideas? Talk to as many smart people from as many different backgrounds as possible. This is why I like to teach at universities around the world, students in Finland, Chile, the US, China, Italy, Germany, etc. have very different perspectives of the same problem. In my research I am straddling mathematics, computer science, management science, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and biology which I find immensely enriching. As is bringing computers to children in the developing world, working on reducing infant mortality in the US, and trying to understand how plants, horses and dogs communicate. In the end this will even inspire a better understanding of how fake news spread. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

AI-Enhanced Interspecies Communication

 While we humans have a hard time communicating among ourselves, we find it even more difficult to communicate with individuals of other species. The main interaction between species consists of eating members of other species, or being eaten. We humans consume huge amounts of pig, cow, and chicken meat, drink milk, eat eggs, bread, rice, corn and other veggies. However, when we are not eating plants and animals, we also like to talk to them. Some people even talk to their houseplants. And owners of dogs, cats, and horses of course talk to their pets all the time, maybe even considering them their soulmates. But do the plants and animals really understand what we are trying to say to them? And even more important, can we understand what the dog, horse, cat, or a mimosa or basil plant is trying to say to us?

Before we can start talking to others, we need to listen to what they have to say, and try to make sense of their output. Computers and artificial intelligence have made huge progress over the last twenty years helping us both to listen and to talk to each other. Today’s New York Times gives a great overview of using computers to read the brain which explains how computers are capable of knowing what we are thinking by tracking the activation of combinations of brain cells indicative of certain words. In the currently best implementations computers can read up to 250 different words at 90 percent accuracy by looking at our neurons. In genetically engineered mice, computers have also spoken to the mice, telling them when to drink water by turning on their neurons, “playing them like a piano”. Google Translate and Deepl have become language geniuses, dynamically translating from English to Chinese, with me talking to my phone in English in the hotel in Beijing, and the phone repeating my sentence to the hotel receptionist in Chinese.

What if we could do the same when talking to a horse, a dog, or a mimosa, with the computer telling the animal or plant what I would like to say, and then the animal or plant talking back to me.

Our research group has been studying how humans communicate online and face to face for the last two decades. In our work we have been building many tools for happier, more creative, and more productive collaboration among humans, leveraging the computer and AI to read the "honest signals" and emotions of what a human really wants to say beyond the literal meaning of words.

In the last few years we have been applying these algorithms and technologies to interspecies communication. We have used body sensing technology to better understand communication with horses, and facial emotion recognition to understand emotions of dogs and of horses  . 

In our most recent projects we are trying to listen to plants. We have put “brain sensors” on mimosas, as they talk back to the outside world quite visibly: when their leaves are touched, they fold them. We found that they seem to sense the electrostatic discharge of human bodies and the rhythm of body movement near them. When putting our sensors on other plants such as basil they show the same response. We also recorded the leaf movement of the “dancing plant” (Codarialcalyx Motorius) in response to human voice and music. Using automatic image recognition we found that its leaf movement was different in reaction to male and female voices talking nearby.

As this is a brand-new emerging area of research, we are at the very beginning. Imagine how wonderful it will be not just talking to your dog, cat, horse, or houseplant, but being talked back in understandable words, and engaging into a real dialog. 

Much more research is needed, if you are interested in collaborating in our research, we love to hear from you. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Is Covid19 breeding humans for optimal dissemination?

Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens” makes the argument that humans make pigs, chicken, and cows the most successful species by breeding them in immense numbers and thus creating a huge gene pool. Humans are doctoring around in this gene pool, for instance breeding chickens to gain weight rapidly for more meat production. But as these poor chickens can not even walk anymore, this gene doctoring leads to evolutionary dead ends.

Coronavirus seems to be doing the same to humans, it is treating us like we are treating the pigs, breeding us to provide the best possible living environment for Covid19. Towards that goal, it kills the least attractive hosts, old people that will not live much longer to spread the virus, bald men, which have too much testosterone, and overweight people who frequently have preexisting conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung disease.

It seems thus that Covid19 is weeding out the weak to improve the gene pool of the human race for further successful dissemination of the virus.

What does this say about Brazil and the US having huge infection and death numbers, and Germany having comparatively very low numbers?

From an evolutionary perspective, people with poor health such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are also predominantly poor and the least successful economically, and that is why the Coronavirus is attacking them the most.

As empathic and compassionate human beings, what we have to do is to level the playing ground, and give poor people the necessary support to be resilient against failure, then their health will also increase and Coronavirus will not be the killer it is for them right now. It has been shown many times that economic success and good health are strongly correlated. In particular, the theory of ACEs demonstrates that having a supportive childhood is the greatest predictor of adult success. Therefore we should try to give all children the same high level of physical and emotional care right from when they are born. This is for instance the goal of the Healthy Start and Infant Mortality CoIIN projects in the US.