Friday, December 22, 2017

Panel Talk on Resolving Technology Transfer Conflicts

I recently moderated a panel talk at a unique conference with Academia and Industry leaders as a key Unicon. The focus of this conference was enabling collaboration between industry and universities and do justice to the role this partnership has as an imperative for disruptive leadership. This blog is dedicated to give a bit of a glimpse into this panel talk and some thoughts that emerged from speaking with some amazing people in this conference-

Setting the context:
I wanted to start by bringing forward 3 points about this exciting and relevant panel discussion.
Few years back, I used to encourage my team to be well-versed with dealing with change, and staying ahead of it. In today's times, the narrative has evolved from being just change to that of "transformation", which is orders of magnitude higher degree than change. Bringing change is rather easy, but bringing in transformation requires a large scale of innovation. 
Most progressive organizations cannot innovate by being confined to the 4 walls of the organization. They need able partners. Universities are often perceived as major resources in a company's innovation strategy.

Second point is more of a conversation that I having with one of the high profile patent attorney and his views of the university relationships. His view was that it really hasn’t been all that helpful for larger companies in the tech space to partner with universities from an IP development point-of-view as it has been for hiring and the PR development activities. Given that this person had worked with large corporates and with large universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), i couldn't simply ignore the point of view he as bringing forward. One of the data he cited was around a study MIT did with ~25 companies running close to 100 projects with university. The data suggested that though 50% of projects were thought of as having major outcomes but only 20% could really lead to major impacts on the company that participated in collaboration. So there is a certain outcome-impact gap that exists in the way university and industry relations are being executed at the moment.

My third point is around expectations from this panel talk. To keep things simple, as a captain of this ship (panel talk!), I was really targeting 2 outcomes from this panel talk-
1. Acknowledgement of key issues around Technology Transfer Conflicts.
2. Design the way forward

Focus of the talk:

Given the outcomes expected from the 30-40 minutes of conversation with esteemed panellists (which included a Senior Technologist from NetApp, a Senior Patent Engineer from Texas Instruments and a seasoned legal counsel), the talk really focused on these questions-
1)      Why is Technology and IP transfer policy important in today’s context?
2)      What are the key challenges faced by Industry and Universities with respect to Technology Transfer?
3)      What are the reasons for tussle between inventors and universities ?
4)      How do the Technology Transfer policies change between Tier 1 and Tier 2 institutions?
5)      How do you compare these policies to those in developed economies such as US, Europe etc?
6)      How can organizations and academia set up a structured program to handle technology transfer conflicts – what are the best practices?
7)      Can Industry and Universities collectively create a standard policy to handle technology transfer conflicts?

Key takeaways:

1)      University and Industry relationships usually consists of many dimensions. In order of popularity, the most obvious dimension is that of hiring the talent. Next up is Branding. And arguably the most complex dimension is that of building a successful technology oriented relations.

2)      There are real, on-the-ground issues that exists (some of which are covered in below points) that discourages both universities and industry to pursue partnership with each other.

3)      There is a good deal of difference between what motivates universities and industry and this difference plays a huge role in ensuring the eventual success of the relationship. For universities, publishing research papers and producing intellectual property assumes higher purpose. For industries, its largely about business outcomes.

4)      In one of the arguments, universities (not all, but selectively) were equated to be playing the role of patent trolls. For starters, as dictionary defines, a patent troll is “a company that obtains the rights to one or more patents in order to profit by means of licensing or litigation, rather than by producing its own goods or service.
a.       Progressive universities focus a lot on research and one of the common outcomes from research is an intellectual property, which often takes the form or a patent or copyright or a publication right. Universities can then choose to exercise their right on the intellectual property in many different ways. One of the business-oriented ways to find the buyer companies for the generated IP with the sole intention to maximize the profits. There is nothing grossly wrong about universities thinking about profit but this act becomes debatable when larger societal implications takes backseat. One may argue that universities aren’t the sole protector of societal interests but being originator of research comes with a certain responsibility.

5)      Following on from the last point, which ended rather inconclusively, there is an apt discussion around granting exclusive rights to IP or non-exclusive rights.
a.       In an exclusive licence, the parties agree that no other person/legal entity can exploit the relevant IP, except the licensee.
b.      On the other hand, a Non-Exclusive Licence grants to the licensee the right to use the IP, but on a non-exclusive basis. That means that the licensor can still exploit the same IP and he/she can also allow other licensees to exploit the same intellectual property.
c.       Being aware of these licensing types and with the intention of maximizing the overall impact of the invention, universities could choose to grant non-exclusive license that would further allow many parties to gain from the invention.

6)      There was also an interesting view on how companies are choosing to liaison with universities. From the business side, one straight-forward way is to leverage university originated invention. However, there are several other ways to engage. Some of the visionary organizations are leveraging research potential of universities to gain knowhow about the futuristic technologies and help them prepare many years into the future.

7)      Few more ways for industry and academia to engage include (but not limited to)-
a.       Sponsored Infrastructure/lab
b.      Training & Curriculum Design
c.       Consulting
d.      Sponsored Research
e.       Open Research

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Conversational Computing

We (at my organization) recently hosted a technology meet-up at my organization. The meet-up was focused on the topic- "Build Multi-platform Conversational Bots & Using Google API.AI". 

The topic of this meet-up took me back to the memory-lane and here is the synopsis of some points that i shared at the start-

During the early days of my career, I remember one of the conversations I had with an expert of different kind. Those days our perspectives around jobs was not as broad as it is now. We used to think of jobs in major categories- “Dev”, “Test” and “Management”. So when I came across this person who was an expert at “Human Computer Interaction”, I was intrigued. I gathered all the courage to approach him during his India visit and spoke at length about what he did. It was an educational conversation (obvious as I remember it till date) that gave me newer perspective around how (then) offbeat professions add value to the overall process of building software. Human–computer interaction (commonly referred to as HCI) researches the design and use of computer technology, focused on the interfaces between users and computers. At the time of this conversation, the primary interface for users to interact with computers was a screen.

Fast forward this conversation to a couple of  years back wherein I was speaking to a visionary leader of product and engineering. My organization was incubating in technology with a vision of automating some of the complex enterprise scenarios by leveraging IoT. And related technologies. A lot of interesting and futuristic work had gone into building compelling use cases, one of which was smart conference rooms. These meeting rooms were enhanced with iBeacons, smart motion sensors which enabled the channels between the what was happening room with one’s laptops, mobile devices, smart watches etc. This tech, in nutshell, helped to automate various common use cases. What I learned from this gentleman was that there was a fundamental shift that was happening in the way modern user interfaces were perceived and thought about. The Human-Computer Interface paradigm that earlier consisted of designing the interfaces by simply considering interaction elements such as a screen, keyboard and a mouse are now far evolved. We are apparently at fourth generation of the evolution of computer interfaces (summarized below, but explained in more depth here).

The first generation was in 50’s when computing was really considered as playground of a select few. When computers were bulky and the primary mode of interacting them included punch cards and checking outputs via printers.

The second generation, which is still familiar with senior folks in current working generation is the CLI- command line interface. Unix became popular as this stage.

The third generation, in 80’s, really had a far reaching impact. This generation’s user interfaces, pioneered by research done at Xerox and adapted by Apple and Microsoft, really revolutionized the reach of computers. The birth of graphical user interfaces (GUI) enabled an average user to embrace computing by hiding the complexities behind well designed UI. This was an era when computing really caught mainstream attention and people realized the enormity of what was possible with the machine.

The fourth generation really can be split into various forms. I would think it started with Apple’s iPhone launch in 2007 that further simplified the way users integrated with smart phones with swipe of fingers. This ease of use prompted users to offload many tasks they originally needed laptops for to their phones. This generation is further extended with the recent advances around IoT (spaces talking to computers), AR/VR tech (combining physical world with digital). Conversational computing further makes computing even more natural, as simple as talking to a few individual. The advent of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana has clearly demonstrated that the user interfaces of the future are going to be more seamless, making access to computing more effortless.

Computing is well on the path of becoming more ambient and ubiquitous. I will finally leave you with this thought- Artificial intelligence is one of the foundational technologies of the conversational computing but what would make a good conversational computing system great is appropriately mixing Artificial intelligence with Emotional intelligence. For Conversational bots to be successful, they need to be a personality, they need to context aware, they need to be as much empathetic as they can be.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

41 Points on How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

I recently had my Julius Yego moment. In case you aren’t aware Julius Yego is a Kenyan track and field athlete who competes in the javelin throw. At the 2015 World Championships he won the gold medal with a throw of 92.72m, becoming the first Kenyan to win a World Championships gold medal in a field event. He won silver at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a real big deal winning a gold at worlds and silver at Olympics, more so if you are first one from your country (known for champion long-distance running athletes). But Yego’s claim to fame isn’t just that. He is also nick-named as “Mr. YouTube” because he learned how to throw by watching YouTube videos.

Wait, can one really become a world champion by simply self-training using new learning methods? Apparently, yes as is evident from Julius Yego’s success.

Now, why did I start with this story?

In the past, I have been invited as a panellist quite a few times for a panel discussions. Apart from the fun and honour associated with being a part of the panel, what I like about being a part of these events is the act of preparation.

Recently, for an industry conference, (Topic: Resolving Technology Transfer Conflicts, will write more about it in a separate blog) I was asked to moderate the panel. To simplify the terminology in the panel discussion parlance, there are 2 type of players in a panel discussion. One are the panellists who are the experts in the panel discussion topic and brings in skillful point of views. Second player is the moderator whose main role is to lead the conversation. Moderator is the one who asks questions and extracts the best out panellists (of course, there is more to the role as we will see later in this blog).

I thought of it as a great opportunity but there was only one problem- I hadn’t moderated a panel talk ever before.

There wasn’t enough time for me to buy and read books (if at all such books existed) on moderating panel talk so I went ahead to explore other modes of learning and defaulted to searching YouTube.
Searching through the public panel discussions Incidentally, I got some interesting videos to watch. While watching the videos, I sat with pen and paper and started noting the points that I found relevant to my upcoming panel discussion. One of the views that I always kept in my sight while learning was that of visualizing my panel talk and tried to envision the start, how I conduct myself, how I ask a question, how I inject the humor, how is audience reacting, visualizing almost every key thing about the discussion.

As I have experienced from my running exploits, visualization is a key skill to master especially when you are trying to learn something you have never done before. I hold a strong belief that whatever eventually happens, happens 2 times. One in the mind (prior to the event) and one in reality. This holds good for both possible outcomes- successes and failures. What I trying to allude to is that if we create positive images at the outset, it may not guarantee 100% success but it will certainly increase the chances of the endeavor being successful.

So here I am with the list that I came up with and followed while moderating the panel talk.

About Panel talks and the role of the moderator:

1. Fundamentally, Panel talks are a conversation.

2. Like with any conversation, discourse are as necessary as agreements.

3. Role of a moderator is to help audience get their needs met.

4. It's all about the audience.

5. Moderator should be good at multi-taking.

6. Moderator is a champion for audience.

7. If you (moderator) thinks that the audience needs are not being met, step-in.

8. Moderator also plays the role of a facilitator.

9. Moderator's role is not about making one-self look brilliant but to put the entire focus on panelists.

10. Moderator's role is to keep time, to ensure that the talk starts and ends on time.

11. Moderator's role is also that of an Instigator. He/she makes sure that there is a difference in point of view at the beginning.

12. Moderator ensures content curation.

13. Moderator's role is also that of an energizer. He/she should strive to add doses of humour wherever appropriate.

14. Moderator should ensure that there are a lot of takeaways for the audience.

15. Moderator also plays a role of logistician. He/She knows the right contacts who handle the AV and other logistical aspects to ensure comfort and less ambiguity for panellists.

16. Moderator need to be neutral and objective.

17.  Moderator needs to ensure that the panel is active all the time.

18. Moderator, no matter how-so-ever knowledgeable he/she is in the topic under discussion, should not feel obliged to contribute contents.

19. Moderator should ask for audience profile and study the kind of people and align the questions accordingly.

During the panel talk:

20. It ensures for a better connection with the audience to start with a personal story around the topic under discussion. Stories often acts as a hook and gives a feeling that it’s going to be different.

21. Give the instructions to the audience around twitter posting and any instructions around minimizing distractions such as mobile phone usage.

22. Focus intensely on the person you are speaking to.

23. Moderator should maintain a positive body language and should exhibit the sense of being in control of the situation. Choose to smile wisely, appropriately.

24. One way to deal with the conversation during the panel talk is “Ping-pong style”. In Ping pong style, moderator asks a question to first panellist. After the response, in a ping-pong style, the ball (next question) again goes to next panellist and comes back o moderator. This is a good way to initiate the conversation but adopting ping-pong style throughout the session will make it monotonous and boring.

25. Ensure that panellists starts talking to each other as soon as possible. i.e. without moderator necessarily having to ask a question always. Panelists talking to each other makes the conversation sound more natural.

26. Ensure that there is a balance of airtime between panellists and one or two panellists do no dominate the conversation.

27. Be flexible. It is not necessary to follow the pre-planned sequence. Moderator has to be very mindful of conversation happening, should have heightened levels of awareness during the talk. Using these skills, should drive the conversations.

28. In addition to being aware, moderator should be thinking 2-3 steps ahead and drive the discussion towards the knowledge that the audience is seeking.

29. Moderator should ask probing questions.

30. Moderator should acknowledge the type of audience and ask question on their behalf.

31. Moderator should have synthesizing capabilities i.e. he/she should be able to adequately summarize what one panellist says and also build bridges between what one panellist says vs others. The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.

32. Moderator should do prior research about the panellists’ interests and try and talk about a shared passion with the speaker. Personalizing the talk experience helps retain the audience interest.

33. Moderator should ensure that the conversation between the panellists is not very agreeable, some disagreeability/controversial questions should be designed in the talk. The disagreements should be respectful.

34. Moderator should ask the questions that addresses the elephant in the room.

35. Moderator should touch the future while questioning. Ask for views.

36. Moderator should leave enough time for audience Q&A.

37. While handling Q&A, request the people to introduce themselves in a way that’s relevant to discussion.

38. If less questions are coming from the audience, moderator should use the phrases and the body language that encourages people to participate.

39. In interest of time, it’s best to ask people not to give a lengthy context while asking questions and to keep questions crisper.

40. Towards the end, effectively summarize entire discussion for the benefit of the audience.

41. Closing: Thank audience for the participation and attendance. Have the audience applause the panelists.

Hope you found this list useful. If you did, please comment/and or share.

I would like to thank my YouTube teachers, whose names along with the body of work as as below. I learned from them and admire their efforts and skills immensely.

Kirsten Arnold on her 7 vidoes on how to moderate a panel talk