Wally Bock’s review of Humans are Underrated by Groff Colvin.


There is a great deal of talk these days about AI and the future of humans.

A lot of it seems to focus on how AI and robots will replace humans and, eventually, make humans obsolete.

That is why I was so interested in Wally Bock’s review of Humans are Underrated by Groff Colvin.

We’ve shared other posts from Wally (here and here) and I have a lot of respect for his thinking.

BTW, I’m Lena Nimchenko and will be writing more in the future, because, since her promotion, Yana is really overloaded. I’ll tell you more about me and why the AI discussion resonates so much next week.

Right now, here’s Wally.

Book Review: Humans are Underrated by Geoff Colvin

Geoff Colvin is onto something and it makes Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will an important book that you should read.

There are a host of books out there that look at advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the like. Most of them made predictions about what the future will be like for humans. On one side are the folks who say “It won’t be bad, machines will never be able to do some of the things that humans do.” They usually light on things like intelligence and creativity and judgement and suggest that not much will change. On the other side are the folks who say “Beware! The robots are coming!” Those folks usually point to how fast things are changing and make predictions about how humans are doomed and probably sooner than we think.

What Geoff Colvin has done is astonishingly simple and astonishingly helpful. Instead of diving deeply into technology and futuristics and trying to make predictions, he points out that the thing that makes us human is not our creativity or anything like that, instead, it’s the fact that we are social beings. Here’s the core of the book, in Colvin’s own words.

“The new high-value skills are instead part of our deepest nature, the abilities that literally define us as humans: sensing the thoughts and feelings of others, working productively in groups, building relationships, solving problems together, expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve.”

Here’s a quick overview of the table of contents.

Chapter one is about how rapidly technology is improving. It’s a good pair for chapter two, which is about gauging the challenge of advancing technology.

Chapter three is the hinge of the book. The key point is “Social interaction is what our brains are for.” Colvin ties his analysis to the work of anthropologist Donald Brown, about the features of culture that are universal and define what humanity is. Toward the end of the chapter, Colvin comes to this conclusion.

“As a result, the meaning of great performance has changed. It used to be that you had to be good at being machinelike. Now, increasingly, you have to be good at being a person. Great performance requires us to be intensely human beings.”

Just when you thought it was going to be easy, chapter four describes why the skills we need to be intensely human are withering. This is not the common refrain that “the internet is making us stupid.” It’s much more important and much more relevant. Colvin uses research and examples to illustrate his conclusion that the increasingly virtual nature of our lives makes us less human. This is based in part on the research that shows online social networks affect us and our behavior very differently than in-person social networks.

Chapter five defines empathy as the critical 21st century skill. Chapter six elaborates on that insight with “Empathy Lessons from Combat.” Colvin quotes Air Force Colonel John Boyd: “Machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds.” Just substitute “do business” for “fight wars.”

Chapter seven is an excellent overview of what makes teams work. If you’ve read the Google research into effective teams, you’ll be very comfortable reading this chapter.

Chapter eight is the extraordinary power of story. This is the first of three chapters that investigate specific issues. Chapter nine looks at the human essence of innovation and creativity. This is about the particularly human way of solving problems, particularly in group settings. Chapter ten looks at what we know about the differences between men and women and asks, “Is it a woman’s world?”

In chapter eleven, Colvin sums up the book. He suggests that there are certain things which it makes sense to do online or virtually, like learning mental skills, but that you learn to be a human being only when you hang out with other human beings. If you want to do the best in the future, you need to be able to do both. You need to spend time alone doing things that are best done that way and spend time with people to keep and enhance your humanity.

I give special praise to Colvin for the way he handled the notes section. I love the notes in a good business book because they point me to sources for further learning. Geoff Colvin has made that easier and more effective by the way he adds comments to specific source notes.

Bottom Line

This is an insightful and helpful book that will help you live the rest of your life more productively. Instead of specific predictions, either about what will happen and how you should react, Colvin has given us a framework within which we can adapt to whatever happens next. That’s not giving you a fish, it’s teaching you how to fish and it’s the reason to read Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will


What’s the fastest way to learn the big ideas from a great business book? Book summaries. Check out summaries from The Business Source, where you can watch, read, or listen to the big ideas from a great book in under 20 minutes.


NTR Lab Gives Back To The Startup Community

Recently we started an amazing campaign called Give Back To The Startup Community.

The idea is to “give away” two of our development teams as our way of saying thanks to the community that drives our growth.

Each team consists of 2 skilled developers for up to 2 months.

  • Javascript team (node.js + AngularJS or React); and
  • neural networks/Machine Learning team (we are AI experts)

I also want to tell you a bit about why and how this happened.

The motivation is pretty simple — we grew 51% Y2Y in 2016 helping startups scale their software development.

We had an opportunity to work on great products with entrepreneurs from San Francisco, Austin, Boston, London, Amsterdam and many other amazing places around the world.

We worked with a lot of talented founders and the learning was definitely reciprocal. Although NTR Lab, at 16, is no longer a startup, our development centers feel like startups, with that special atmosphere of new ideas and pure enthusiasm.

The startup community has given a lot to us, so we wanted to give a lot back to it. And what better way than to help two of them succeed?

We are looking for two startups — at any stage — with one of three situations:

  • building their MVP to secure funding;
  • urgently needing to complete something to meet a critical deadline; or
  • needing to implement an important new feature.  

Our plan is to cooperate with accelerators and venture capitalists, as well as founders, to choose the two most innovative ideas that are likely to succeed.

There is absolutely no charge to the chosen startups.

If you are interested send our founder an email describing the project (it should be interesting/fun for the developers, too). Please include your pitch deck with your message.

Note: If you want the AI team, you must have a dataset to train the neural network.

There are two caveats.

  1. We reserve the right to choose the applicant we believe is the best fit.
  2. We have the right to document and write about how and what is happening. This is the first time we have given back and want to describe the process and publicize the story. (Be sure to follow us on twitter and don’t forget to check for new posts here).

Be sure to share this post with your network.

How to de-stress in 7 minutes the scientific way


source: https://www.verywell.com/exercise-at-work-1229761

I still remember mom’s constant refrain, “go outside and play,” but, somehow, I always went “later” — often several days later. Change ‘play’ to ‘exercise’ and I still follow that template.

We hear constantly from early childhood that exercise is a major part of staying healthy and nothing deserves more attention than our health, but this simple truth is easy to forget when work/family/social media call.

Several days ago I ran across a Forbes article about Sam Hodges’ research on “time-starved” entrepreneurs who regularly workout. However, I had to laugh at his examples.

Hodges, co-founder of Funding Circle, held up Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Cinnabon’s Kat Cole, Jack Dorsey; GoPro’s Nick Woodman, Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey.

Duh. Sure, they are incredibly busy, but not in the same way as your average startup founder/worker. The difference is resources — money and people — in other words, the greater the need the less available the solution..

Anyone who reads knows the exercise lowers stress and increases serotonin production. Just what startup people (and that includes me) need most.

So I went looking for a solution. I wanted something that took very little time, was free (or close) and that I could do anywhere with, or without, company.

And I found it at the NY Times, of all places.

It’s a 7 minute workout that is scientifically vetted.

In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

Plus, there is an advanced version and an app to make it even easier to do it where you are.

There is one other bonus — 7 whole minutes every day without thinking about problems, FOMO or anything else that is stressing our brains.

What more can anyone ask?

Authenticity instead of “reasons”


A couple of weeks ago I shared an amazingly honest post from founder Anand Sanwal detailing the “screwups” he’s made as he built CB Insights.

I found it unusual because of his blunt honesty; so many founders offer reasons and try to spread the responsibility for errors — or so it seems to me.

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image source: here

Then last week I read Slava Akhmechet’s post-mortem after shutting down RethinkDB. In which he took full responsibility.

In hindsight, two things went wrong – we picked a terrible market and optimized the product for the wrong metrics of goodness. Each mistake likely cut RethinkDB’s valuation by one to two orders of magnitude. So if we got either of these right, RethinkDB would have been the size of MongoDB, and if we got both of them right, we eventually could have been the size of Red Hat[1].

Obviously, you can learn a lot from his analysis.

But that isn’t my point today.

I’ve always wondered how founders can claim stellar success is the direct result of their efforts, but anything less is not.

Now I’m wondering if a shift is happening; a shift from founders having reasons and blaming external elements to honest analysis and taking responsibility.

I understand that it takes a giant ego to start a company and believe in one’s vision in spite of the naysayers.

However, I think it takes an even bigger ego, and, more importantly, a secure ego, to admit one’s errors, to say “I screwed up,” to take responsibility, to be authentic.

I salute those founders with the courage to be truly authentic.

And I hope the rest will follow in the footsteps of these outliers.

Amazing Innovator: Massoud Hassani and the Mine Kafon

As you all know, I work in the tech industry and while my company’s primary work is software development we also have an IoT department that’s just amazing. I love to watch the drones flying and other stuff I can’t discuss.

It’s not that software isn’t real, but it’s different than something you can touch.

I especially love learning about products that embody Richard Branson’s “doing good by doing well” ethos.

The one I want to share with you today is a brilliant innovation that solves a somber purpose. We all know how terrible war is; we see the images on social media, TV and newspapers. But the long-term aftermath is, in some ways, even more horrible. Imagine your child is playing soccer with friends and as they chase the ball the ground blows up. No warning, no nothing and years after the battles were fought.

All this went through my mind the first time I saw this video. It gave me hope and I want to share that with you today.

Video credit: Business Insider

Avoiding Founder Errors

This is a short post, because I want you to have time to read the link.

At the start of a new year most of us look for ways to improve. We make resolutions that occasionally even last past January.

We study what others have done and in order not to make the same mistakes. This process is even more important for founders, because their errors have a greater impact.

These days more founders are willing to share their mistakes, but it’s often after the fact and sometimes dressed up to minimize their own responsibility. (Just saying.)

A few days ago I read a truly unvarnished description of 54 errors made by a founder I have enormous respect for, Anand Sanwal (@asanwal), CEO/Co-founder/Customer Service at CB Insights.

Anand Sanwal (@asanwal)1

“Here’s a running list of my screwups at CB Insights. They span all facets of building a company – everything from HR to culture to product to sales to operations to admin. I am what you might call “multi-talented.””

CB Insights is incredibly successful. And if you don’t subscribe to his newsletter you are missing out on terrific data presented by someone who is also an excellent writer.

It is rare to find such a complete and candid list. I guarantee that if you take the time to read it, it will save you from at least three disasters this year (and beyond) if not more.

Wally Bock’s post to help you to start 2017

  1. It’s a new year, which means a blank canvas that you can fill however you choose.

Last year Miki shared two end-of-year posts that I think will be useful to you, especially when combined with this guest post from Wally Bock.

The first is 56 Words That Will Change Your Life and the other is 22 Real-Life Ways Not To Succeed.

clipart of a super power boy with red cape

Put all three of them together and you’ll have a pretty good blueprint on being a founder or any kind of a boss. Plus, it doesn’t take much tweaking to apply them to other roles, both professional and personal.

Wally is on Inc’s list of one hundred top leadership and management experts. Here is the post.

Do you make these common leadership mistakes?

When you start out, you have no idea what you don’t know. Even worse, there’s a lot of things that you think are true that turn out to be wrong. Here are a few of the things I thought were true before life taught me otherwise.

I Thought My Job as A Boss Was to Be in Charge, But…

I learned that my real job was helping the team and team members succeed. Today I might call that “servant leadership.” The truth is, that I thought bosses told people what to do instead of helping them do a good job.

I Thought That the Best Way to Assign Work Was to Give People the Goal and Turn Them Loose, But…

I learned that only works if the person who gets the assignment has the ability and willingness to do the work promptly and well. Ability is fairly easy to fix. Willingness is not.

I Thought I Would Be Judged on My Performance, But…

I learned that I was judged based on my team’s performance. That can be an awful shock, but it’s also very freeing. When you learn that you don’t have to do everything, you can do a better job and sleep better at night.

I Thought “Incentives” Meant Financial Incentives, But…

I learned that the most powerful incentives come from inside. People want to have as much control as possible over their work. They want to work with people they like and respect and where trust and help flow back and forth. And they want to do good work today and a little better work tomorrow.

I Thought I Could Solve Any Problem with Enough Equations, But…

I learned that people and relationships are the most important things in business. The equations can help you understand business models and competitive dynamics. Only people can help you succeed.

I Thought the Way to Succeed Was to Plan My Work and Work My Plan, But…

I learned that plans are only a starting point. Plans come apart when reality comes to play. I also learned that we make our plans when we know the least about what we have to do and accomplish. And I learned that no one is smart enough to plan for every contingency. Better to sketch out a plan, swing into action, and then modify your plan accordingly.

I Thought I Needed to Get All the Information Before Making a Decision, But…

I learned that’s a recipe for “paralysis by analysis.” Usually, the best course is to gather as much information as you can quickly and then act. You can modify your plans as you go. A pretty good solution implemented aggressively today usually beats a perfect solution executed next week.

I Thought That People’s Primary Loyalty Was to Their Company, But…

I learned the company comes way down on the list of priorities. People are rarely loyal to their company, per se. They may be loyal to their profession. They are occasionally loyal to a good boss. But the most powerful loyalty around is the loyalty to the other members of the team.

I Thought That I’d Learn How to Be a Great Boss Once and for All, But …

I’m still learning, after 50 years. That’s part of the fun.

My new book can help you become a better leader one tip at a time. Click here for more information.


I hope you find the info in these three posts as useful as I am in my new role of CMO.


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Happy New Year from Yana and the NTR Lab Crew


A new year is upon us, and you know what that means: you have only a few hours left to accomplish all that you planned to do in 2016.

Assuming you are still sane and didn’t use up all those hours, then you should spend the rest of your time before midnight creating your shiny new lists for 2017.

This may also be the year you decide that taking the “someday/somehow” approach — what I call the Linda effect — isn’t the best approach.

FYI, Linda is the Coen Brothers movie character in Burn After Reading who wanted to have plastic surgery. She didn’t think much about how she would get it or even why she wanted it. As it turned out, it involved blackmail, betrayal and murder.

Not what Linda was expecting, but she did get her surgery. (It’s typical Coen black humor and I love their movies.)

Here’s how I avoid being Linda:

  • I write down each goal in detail;
  • that includes some abstract (fantasy?) wishes, such as, “I want to meet a unicorn” or achieving world peace.
  • Next, I write down the concrete steps I need to take to accomplish the goals or help realize the dreams.
  • I do a timeline for each goal; and
  • even try to come up with ideas on exactly how I will do it, knowing that the much will change in the process.

I believe it is important to be very clear when wording my wishes and goals. I know they may morph or change over the year, but I need to start with a very clear understanding of what they are now.

Finally, I read things such as, how to become mentally stronger or make it like a boss and take the parts that apply to what I want to do, tweaking them as necessary.   

I hope this helps you in crafting your own lists! I also hope you take time to know exactly what you really do want (which may not be the same as your friends and followers), knowing that it will be your own hard work that accomplishes them.

For myself and NTRLab, I wish you a healthy, happy, prosperous and successful 2017. Know that we will work hard to turn your ideas into software every day, except for these days

Holiday Date 2017
New Year January 1-8
Defender of the Fatherland Day February 23-26
Women’s Day March 8
Labor Day April 29-May 1
Victory Day May 6-9
Russia Day June 10-12
Unity Day November 4-6

Meanwhile, we start New Year celebration in our Tomsk and Moscow offices. Here’re some pictures.




Happy New Year!

Happy holidays, everyone!

Holiday Wishes from Yana


I hope 2016 was as good to you as it was to me!

I’d like to share some of my wins, both personal and professional, with you.

I succeeded in both: my job at NTR Lab and my second job as an artist. I became the CMO of NTR Lab (BIG promotion!) and am enjoying my new position. It’s very challenging, but I’m inspired by the fact that I learn more and more everyday.

My company is growing, too. We are now 120 people strong and celebrated our 16 year birthday this year. ( I attached short video from the celebration) Now we are looking forward to serving our clients even better next year.

On the personal side, my band released an album,  a single and a music video, which became very popular among our fans. Plus, we played about 25 concerts all over the Russia. It’s been so much fun and I am really thrilled.

I also took two wonderful trips this year. The first was deep in the Altay Mountains to for a vacation last summer and this month to London with my boss to work at the Tech Crunch Disrupt conference (great fun).
I hope you will find time to share your successes this year and your plans for next year with me in comments.
Finally, our entire team and I wish you a great holidays and a happy, healthy, prosperous and successful New Year!

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My trip to Disrupt London and 46 facts for every entrepreneur


I don’t know about you, but last week was crazy for me.

I attended Disrupt London; it was my first trade show with NTR and my first as CMO and the days after meeting with potential clients. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that busy!

My return trip took a full 24 hours! I don’t sleep well on planes or during layovers and on top of that I get terrible jet lag.

But I’m not really complaining; it was so worth it. The conference was fabulous; I met many interesting entrepreneurs and we developed many sales leads. Of course, London was fabulous, as always.

Because I’m so short of time this week, I thought I’d share a very interesting infographic about the global startup ecosystem.

For more about Disrupt, visit me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter; I’m writing as fast as I can.

In the meantime, here is the promised Infographic.


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