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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, body art, dancing, self-empowerment, coaching, effective communication and, last but not least, vegan gluten-free food and good movies.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

The questions every (good) consultant should ask her clients, Feat. Berlin's coolest product management Meetup group & Albert Einstein

Do you know the difference between "Narrow A.I." and "General A.I." already?
And why it could be important to distinguish between puppy dogs and muffins?
And what's the biggest problem for A.I. and M.L. gurus willing to pitch their products to possible clients?

[Here you have a thorny A.I. image recognition problem.
Are they puppy dogs or muffins?
None of the above, ladies and gentlemen...
They are puppy dogs cupcakes!]

If you are a product manager or a project manager and you are living in Berlin or visiting one of the most interesting European capitals of the start-up scene, there is one great Meetup group you should definitely check out.

Founded by Project A's product team in May 2016 and curated by Benjamin Bolland and Tamer El-Hawari, On Product takes place every two to three months and offers designers, product managers, developers, and like-minded people that are curious and passionate about everything related to product management, a very precious occasion to "exchange ideas, best practices and know how".

The latest one, hosted by greatcontent, was all about A.I. (as artificial intelligence defined in the broad sense, not as Steven Spielberg's science-fiction movie of 2001) and M.L. (machine learning), with two interesting talks by Rasmus Rothe (Merantix) and Alexander Schäfer (Project A).

[Stunning conceptual art illustration of the Rouge City
created by Warren Manser for Steven Spielberg's movie adaptation 
of Brian Aldiss' short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long"
This is not Berlin, but the place where Gigolo Joe is from]

Rasmus Rothe's talk was particularly useful and entertaining, in my opinion, and if you would have joined the event, you would now be able to reply to the opening questions of this blog post without blinking an eye.
Yes, exactly like Sir Michael Caine in his legendary "Art of Not Blinking". (If you don't know what I am talking about, you should google it, trust me)

Before we proceed, a full disclosure statement between you and me is mandatory:

As a localization manager that works for an Internet company, spends lots of time with IT people and is used to hear on a regular basis that machine translation will outsmart human translation in a couple of years or so, getting further insight about A.I. and M.L. is at the same time absolutely delightful and kind of my constant nemesis.
And also between you and me: Even if the Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) system introduced in 2016 is showing some improvement, in comparison to its ancestors, there is still a long way to go, before machine translation will be able to outsmart human translation. (but I digress)

Rasmus Rothe, in his role as co-founder of Merantix, an AI-venture studio that uses deep learning for designing AI-based products in health, automotive, finance, and other sectors, has been able to explain complex and technical concepts in an easy and not technical way that also not geeky people would understand. And he managed to be fun, down-to-earth and entertaining, while doing so.

As a speaker and as a consultant, this is a huge asset and a valuable talent that not everybody has, like lots on funny and not so funny Internet memes and that well-known sheep story show:


So I really appreciated his talk, and I considered it another example of the outstanding quality of On Product as a Meetup group dedicated to product lovers.

However, at one point I was stuck with something Rasmus shared with the audience while talking about the struggles of explaining to potential customers how they could profit from AI-based products:

"If you ask people which problems they have, most of the time they are not able to reply".

He was right. And I agree. 
Most people are either not fully self-aware of which problems they could have and should focus on, or they are very aware of them and yet not able to solve them and move on. 

After the talk, I had a chance to talk to him and, after the valuable input he gave me, I have been able to pay it back a little, while suggesting him to ask his clients questions like:
- "If you could choose, what would you like to get?"
- "If it would be totally up to you, where would you like to go with your service/product?"
- "Where would you love to be, as XY?"

After discovering that Henry Ford never said "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses" and that way too many Internet users think that Rihanna coined some of the most badass motivational quotes actually said by Zig Ziglar or Jim Rohn, I am not sure any longer that Albert Einstein ever said "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them".

[Albert Einstein's quotes are often pure genius.
It doesn't matter that much if he actually said them or not.
Well, in some cases...]

Whoever said it, either the good old mad scientist per excellence or someone else, they got it perfectly.
While asking someone about the problem, we stay in the same mindset and thinking frame that "created" the problem and, while doing so, it is often impossible (or at least incredibly hard) to think outside the box and to find a suitable solution. 
In most cases, if people, while being aware of the problem, would be able to tell you what they need for solving it, they would not have the problem in the first place.

Adopting a solution-oriented mindset, and asking people what they would like to get, to do, to obtain, to achieve, focuses instead on a positive scenario, something pleasant and desirable to aspire to and to work for, and while thinking about where we would like to be, it becomes easier to perceive the gap between the present situation and the hoped-for situation and to metaphorically fill the blank with the needed steps, tools, features, creative solutions and so on.

It seems like a small difference, and yet it is a very powerful shift.
In one case, we are stuck and helpless. In the other one, we have places to go.

[Spectacular tiny wooden bridge in Iceland
The right questions can create a bridge
between a previous situation and the desired one]

The vast majority of people are able to tell you what they want, what they desire, what they dream about, and it doesn't matter if they consider it possible to get there (like for a goal) or not (like for an unreachable dream). 
In both cases, there is plenty of room for a consultant and his clients for exploring all the options and the possibilities that can get someone "there" while using the right tools of the trade.

Like every good and well-prepared consultant, Rasmus was thankful for the input and accepted it graciously. If people like him are the ones taking care of A.I. next steps, I guess that I can make peace with the concept, even while working as a localization manager. ;)

That said, I am already looking forward to the next Meetup.

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