Achieving Flow In The Face of Near Death: My Recent Experience


I had one of those major mind focusing events over the past three weeks.

I collapsed on the evening of Sunday, 16th February for 15 seconds and then went into an extraordinary conscious ventricular tachycardia at 200 bpm. The ambulance crew were astounded that I was conscious. The trick was flow – I’ve been a proponent since my youth when I was an elite athlete and serious surfer. I managed to pull myself into the zone and maintained this on the journey to the hospital. En route a code 3 had been called and I was greeted at Royal North Shore Emergency by a crack team of 15 doctors. I was still at 170 bpm and they were literally just about to stop my heart and try to shock me out of the tachycardia, when to their amazement I self reverted down to 70 bpm. I’d like to say it was flow again, but my humility refuses and I dare not say I purposefully did that all myself.

I was very lucky. This conscious VT event took place at home and my quick thinking family called 000 immediately. That morning I’d done a stand up paddling training session alone and in the dark, with no safety devices. And the next morning I was scheduled to fly to New Zealand on business. If this event had happened in the air or out on the water I’d very likely not be having this dialogue.

After a series of extensive tests, the specialists determined the best course of action for me would be the insertion of an implantable cardioverter defribrillator. The plumbing of my heart reflected my super fit status, but for some reason the electrics were out of whack.

I had the device installed on Thursday, and on Friday afternoon I walked out of intensive care for the first time in a week and into a private room for recuperation. I felt like a new man, but this feeling was shortlived. Unfortunately a clot had developed and within fifteen minutes my speech slurred and I lost all feeling on my right hand side. Again I was very lucky, as my wife noticed the signs of a stroke immediately and called the medical staff who jumped into action. It was a very scary feeling and not one I’d like to repeat. Within about 20 minutes I began to get feeling back, again to the amazement and relief of the medical staff and my family. I’d had a mini stroke or transient ischemic attack and the clot had moved through my brain.

I again found myself in Emergency and it was established that while I had about 85% recovered from the stroke there was still a strong possibility of further clots. I was given a thrombolysis – a very powerful procedure that reversed all effects of the stroke and broke up any other clots. This was a very intense six hours as there was the possibility of a haematoma developing on the brain.

I made it through that phase, but a haematoma did develop around my defib wound site. I spent another week in intensive care and returned home on Saturday 1st March. The haematoma developed some complications and a week later I was operated on to drain the site – the fear being infection. I remained in hospital on intravenous antibiotics and was discharged on Monday, 10th March.

All through this experience I was thinking about flow, performance and optimizing human development, aided in part by reading Steven Kotler’s book, The Rise of the SuperMan.

Commenting on my experience, Steve says, “It  did seem like you’ve moved through fight or flight and into flow – a very difficult thing to do, so you have some mad skills!”

This whole episode has got me really thinking hard about what I do with my life once I’ve recuperated. I know I have been given a gift, a second chance, and I also know that I’ve adopted a new mantra, GO BIG.

I’m still working this all through, processing and thinking about what I do next. I’m going to have some interesting conversations over the coming weeks.


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Big Data: Have You Carved Your Dugout Canoe?

Technology pioneer George Dyson spoke to the Long Now Foundation this week in San Francisco about “The Digital Universe And Why Things Appear To Be Speeding Up”.

His first nugget was that at the dawn of the digital universe over 60 years ago it was all of 5 kilobytes in size. In todayspeak that’s about half a second of MP3 audio! It’s purpose was as far away from making music as you could imagine. It was set up to design hydrogen bombs.

Fast forward and as the digital footprint expanded exponentially, its acceleration became reflected in the self replication of computers: the pace today is 5-6 trillion connected resistors being added per second.

George used a brilliant analogy, that as a long time waterman resonates with me – as a kayak builder, he initially emulated the wood-scarce Arctic natives to work with minimum frame inside a skin craft. But (today, we are) in the tropics, where there is a surplus of wood, natives make dugout canoes, formed by removing wood.

According to George, “We’re now surrounded by so much information we have to become dugout canoe builders. The buzzword of last year was ‘big data.’

Stewart Brand, from the Long Now Foundation, defines the situation today as: Big data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of throwing it away.

Have you started carving your canoe yet?

FounderTalk: Pic-See’s Yen Lim discusses apps with a purpose


Sydney-based Yen Lim has developed Pic-See, an incentive-driven visual communication system for children with early learning needs. She was inspired to embark on this journey by her experience working with a 3 year old boy with autism while she was completing her Honours Degree in Psychology at The University of Sydney.

As a passionate psychologist she believes that research and technology can, and should, be integrated into widely accessible solutions that improve quality of life. Through this filter she observed how special needs teachers were taking many hours to source and create libraries of visuals to use in day-to-day therapy. It struck her that there must be thousands of parents, carers, teachers and therapists around the world laminating paper-based visuals and she thought, “Surely, there has to be an easier way!”

This is so often the catalytic event that launches entrepreneurs into action!

The original concept behind Pic-See was to make it easier to construct and implement visuals, so valuable time and energy would not be wasted. Yen felt that time should rather be invested in what matters most to dedicated parents, teachers and therapists, namely engaging and connecting with those they care for.

In developing Pic-See Yen wanted to utilise touch-screen technology to reduce the long-term labour-intensive, environmental and monetary costs associated with producing visual communications systems.

Pic-See not only replaces outdated paper-based systems, but also captures the imagination of users to make visually-based learning fun. The app is packed with images and animations designed by graphic artists, purposely created sound effects to enthral users, an drag-drop interface to build visual sequences, the ability to customise visuals with imported images, the ability record audio to promote verbal communication skills, an emotions centre, a choice board, and a data centre to capture the achievements of users and areas in need of further development.


Yen’s key lessons learned in embarking on this adventure are:

  •  It’s a full time job. Surround yourself with people who can help.

What she thought would be a straightforward app to develop, soon turned out to be a highly complicated technical project. Being new to the world of entrepreneurship she had a steep learning curve. She says, “Be prepared to dedicate yourself as it’s a full time job. Surround yourself  with people who can make the journey easier. If I could go back in time, I would definitely seek out a mentor who can guide me through the app space and the broader ecosystem, not just to survive but to thrive.”

  • Once the app is developed it’s just the beginning

The market moves quickly. App-spaces are dynamic environments. You have less than 18 months to take your product to launch, listen and respond to the ecosystem, keep your ideas fresh and turn your brand into a household name. This is a process that requires time, perseverance, a lot of hard work and a willingness to venture into the unknown.

  • Marketing is everything

A strategic marketing plan is essential. It’s one thing to have a great product, but if no-one is benefiting from it your app can get swept away by a flooded market.

  • You need  a strong business model

Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” Having a great idea for an app is definitely the first step, but deciding to take the plunge, backing yourself and growing a startup, is arguably the most difficult. A strong financial and business plan is needed for your idea to realise its true potential.

  • Secure funding

Passion has driven the development of this app. Yen invested her personal funds into Pic-See. She strongly suggests seeking government grants (if available) and skilling up on how to approach investors.


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Predictive Analytics: A Discussion With IBM’s Ginni Rometty

IBM’s Chairman, President and CEO Virginia Rometty has given a very interesting talk about predictive analytics and the nexus of forces, to use a term coined by Gartner (the convergence of social, mobile, information and the cloud).

The talk took place in New York last week at the Council of Foreign Relations 2013 Corporate Conference.

The key take out for me was Ginni’s reference to “data as the next natural resource” and that the winners in utilising this resource base – think of them as the modern (data) miners – will be those companies who embrace three driving principles the best.

The three principles are that data will:-

1. change how you make decisions;

2. change how you in fact create value; and

3. change how you deliver value.

With that teaser I now strongly recommend you watch the video:

And here is a transcript of the discussion.

Three Perspectives on Crowdfunding Science

AAAS - The World_s Largest General Scientific SocietyThis morning I took part in a call by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Crowdfunding Science: Appealing to the online community for research money

The Panelists:
Jarret Byrnes
Co-founder of Scifund Challenge
Assistant Prof, Dept of Biology
Uni of Massachusetts

Erica Hermsen
Project Leader of Here Kitty Kitty …Luring Cheetahs for Conservation Research

Ethan O. Perlsein
Project Leader of Crowdsourcing Discovery

Adam Ruben

Adam did an introduction in which he noted that on the most popular crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, in 2012 the public pledged $320m and there were 18,000 successful projects.

From a macro-perspective, both federal and state funding for science is at best flat, if not in a downward trend. Against this backdrop crowdfunding holds huge potential for getting scientists directly engaged with the public.
Jarrett spoke about the Scifund Challenge. Under this initiative scientists come together twice a year to collectively raise funding through crowdfunding. In the lead up they go through a month of training and are provided with a variety of tools and platforms. The training includes how to write a good blog, video creation, how to create a compelling application. The Scifund community also helps in shaping up proposals.

From his perspective engagement leads to crowdfunded science. As such they focus heavily on online engagement and community building. Scifund has a twitter hash tag, a Facebook page and a presence on Google. They also have an existing relationship with Rockethub, a crowdfunding platform.

To date, there have been three Scifund rounds. In total 252,000 has been raised for 159 projects, of which 59 received 100% of the funding they requested. They found that small donations drive Scifund, mainly in the $1,500 to $2,000 range.

Jarret believes that the secret to engagement is to have a strong online presence and create and tap into a scientific fan base. Audience engagement is key. They have found that as more donations roll in, donations grow in size – people like a success story.

Key success factors from his viewpoint:
* Build an audience
* Get trained in outreach
* Work to change academic culture and policy – collaboration with media and arts departments, hiring and promotion practices

The benefits of crowdfunding:
* Build bridges between science and society
* Enhanced science literacy
* Science incubator for new projects
* Key metric to assess scientists ability to connect
* Look at it as funded outreach training

Erica used to raise funds for her masters project which aimed to use camera traps to determine effectiveness of bait types at luring cheetahs in Kenya. Her total project budget was $38,000. On petridish she sought to raise $2,500. In 65 days she raised $3,212 from nine backers – 128% of her goal.

Petridish is focused on science-based projects, backers receive rewards from researchers in return, it’s an all or nothing system.

To apply you must be affiliated with a university and must create an Amazon account to receive your funding.

She made a three minute video, posted photos, a project description, put up a budget, and suggested rewards for potential backers. Her rewards included a souvenir from Kenya for a $150 donation, photo prints for $450, and $1,000 naming rights to a photographed cheetah. This last reward was not picked up by backers and in retrospect was not doable.

She found that the more interesting your rewards, the more response you will get.

She promoted her campaign through social media – Twitter and Facebook, and sent out emails to her and her Professor’s network. She also kept a running blog during her time in Kenya.

The majority of her contributors were petridish members. She sent immediate follow ups thanking people for their pledge as she wanted to retain contacts for future projects.

Her lessons learned:
* Do a cost benefit analysis of rewards you promise. The cost of purchasing, labor and international shipping can quickly add up.
* It’s key to maintain communication with backers throughout the project.
* Keep your budget to a minimum.
Ethan Perlstein used to have a lab at Princeton. Today he regards himself as an open scientist and his lab exists in the cloud. He spoke about his 52 day campaign to raise $25,000. He pointed to the lifecycle of a crowdfunding application: the campaign starts with novelty buzz and then fluctuates and you need to maintain sustained growth to reach your goal in time. It is essential to do a countdown in the last 24 hours to maintain buzz.

Essentially he feels crowdfunding is running a marketing campaign utilising social media and general media. For example his campaign was covered by a number of publications including, Scientific American, Wired, The Economist, Forbes and Mashable.

He hussled to get 2-3 donors a day through email and says it is key to activate your following through social media.

A supporter posted a link to Hacker News. This resulted in a spike of a thousand page views and led to $1,000 in donations.

In total his campaign had 390 donors, with a small number giving between $200-$1,000, and most giving between $50-$199.

One of the key benefits he sees to crowdfunding is that it is leading to an unpacking of the blackbox of science. Scientists know it is a choppy process, not always leading to positive results in projects. The added transparency of crowdfunding is educating the public on how science works.

A follow up question was on how does crowdfunding work in terms of taxes?
If funds go to you as an individual you can get taxed, so it is better to have the funds go your university or a non profit entity.


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Intelligent Agents: Coaching For Health & Wellness

I was recently featured in the following video about the use of intelligent agents as coaches for health and wellness. It’s an area of much interest to me as I firmly believe that such technologies can assist with reversing the current obesity pandemic:



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