Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Personal Metrics leading to Self-Aware Improvement - the Next Big Thing?

When I ventured into blogging back in Jan 2011, one of my motivations was to take a chance, a leap-of-faith and just get-myself-out there (thanks to Seth Godin & Jeff Jarvis for the inspiration). I wanted to test the waters with writing about my work & professional experiences, as well as experiment with the thought of sharing some ideas of mine, openly and publicly - to gather feedback (at the risk of someone stealing the idea), maybe build up a follower-base, or have people share and link to the post, thus getting some traction....so far though, the going has been really quite slow! But I'm not going to give up - so here's an idea I've been brewing for the last few months, and haven't had much of a chance to do anything about it, until today - first step: put thoughts on paper, and gather feedback, so here goes:

Idea In Brief

I believe that as human beings, we have an innate desire to grow and improve ourselves, to become a better society, aspiring to heights of the kind of social evolution as portrayed by Star Trek, utopia. In order to get there, we are constantly assessing our way of life, the impact we have on ourselves, our fellow family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, community and society in general. We don't wake up each day wishing to cause trouble and make the next guy's life miserable.

So my underlying assumption is that: People want to improve themselves through becoming self-aware. In order to do this, we need some form of monitoring and measurement, data about ourselves, that we can use to piece together a story that shows where we're lacking, areas for improvement, etc.

It has been quite difficult to have scientific data, that can be quantified, abstracted and relationships drawn that map back to our psychological state-of-mind. Seeking professional help and counsel may help (but it is costly), reading self-improvement books and other emotional intelligence / psychometrics material is also useful - but this knowledge tends to get forgotten pretty quickly. 

The challenge is in remembering and detecting emotional scenarios, and having the sense of mind to pick up on your emotional triggers, consciously and in-the-moment. I found these kind of personal interventions difficult to achieve in practice, we are human after-all, and natural survival instincts are likely to kick-in the moment there is situation that involves confrontation, be it physical or mental scenario.

Imagine though, that it was possible to be collecting information about your own personal state-of-mind, by measuring physical stimuli, like your heart rate, blood pressure, pupil/retina dilation, shift-in-body language, tone of voice, sweaty palms, etc. Imagine these signals are being captured, processed in the background, and relationships being made by some intelligent algorithm, that summarises and draws relationships about your whole self (mind, body & soul). We have a plethora of devices collecting metrics about our physical activities (running, cycling, walking, heart rate monitors, etc.) but very little in the form of taking some these physical metrics and translating into your mental / psychological profile.

Imagine that each day, you are able to review your state-of-being. It tells you the events during the day that led to spikes in heart rate, nervous tensions or uncomfortable experiences. It could also tell you when you likely experienced situations of happiness, joy and tension, etc. You then use this information to consciously make changes in your life, adapt to scenarios, possibly seeking out the situations that promote a positive sentiment, and embark on plan of action to deal with negative situations...

This is what I call the dawn of Personal Metrics leading to Self-Awareness Improvements.

I believe with the variety of smart-monitoring devices out there, from your smartphones, smart cameras and smart-watches - there is an opportunity to make sense of this data focusing on personal data metrics. Big Data is going to enter the personal space, seriously, big time! 

Privacy issues aside, my assumption is that people want to improve, and wouldn't mind using real data-about-themselves to do so.

In the next section, I share some of the core scenarios where this technology can be used:

Core Scenarios & Stories

Scenario 1: Parenting - keeping an eye on your child's stress patterns

Alice and Bob are new to the parenting scene, their child, Sam is about to enter a new school. As parents, Alice & Bob are concerned about Sam's well-being throughout the day. They are are able to monitor Sam throughout (almost in real-time if they need to). At the end of every day, both parents review Sam's stress levels - from this they can tell whether Sam is having a good time, or is experiencing some challenges & stress points. They use this information as an opportunity to find out more from Sam, get to better at understanding the situations (maybe it's only during break time, or there is one particular class that stresses Sam out)....

Scenario 2: Education - Are the students OK?

People often say that society is a result of background, up-bringing and education. Imagine if, as educators, it was possible to monitor your students, to genuinely find out how your students are doing, possibly find out before it's too late, of students that need additional help, coaching and mentoring. 
Imagine that in a group situation, the educator can assess in real-time, whether students are comfortable with the topic or not, maybe there's tension in the room that needs the teacher to change tact (call a break, or address the elephant in the room?)

Scenario 3: Adult - Workplace - Seeking Happiness at work

Bob is employed as a professional in a multinational corporate. He feels like he is just a cog-in-this-big-machine, often facing issues of corporate politics and uncomfortable confrontational situations.  Alice is a self-made, serial entrepreneur, always looking out for the next big thing, networking and improving on her successes.  Joe, like Bob, is also a corporate-member, but he is an agitator, always questioning the status quo, passionate about innovating within the big corporate.
Bob, Alice & Joe have one thing in common - the quest for self-improvement, leading to better, fruitful outcomes in the workplace. 
At the end of every day, the trio reviews their personal metrics. Bob realises that there's certain points in the week that his stress/tension levels are exceeding his normal thresholds. He then correlates that to specific times in his calendar where he has meetings with his manager. Bob takes note and sets a personal reminder on his phone to monitor his situation at the next convention.
Alice finds her heart rate & voice-tone changing whenever she's involved in a pitch to a prospective client, she also finds that she gets really nervous (her personal monitor is able to measure sweaty palms) as she drives in for the meetings.
Joe finds he gets real excited in brainstorming and strategic sessions, and gets really annoyed in a certain meeting with a certain colleague, so much so, that if Joe continues on this trend he may end up destroying the relationship with this colleague, or possibly, harm his health. Joe finds that he generally smokes a cigarette or two after an encounter with this colleague. Joe desperately needs to monitor this over time, and seek out ways to change for the better.

Scenario 4: Coaching, Facilitating & Mentoring Workshops

Alice is a professional coach, facilitator and leadership guide to C-level and senior-management professionals in corporates. Often, Alice starts her workshops by doing Psychometrics 101, getting people to understand themselves, what triggers / motivates / drives individuals in both personal and group encounters. Alice often finds herself facilitating group workshops, in strategic brainstorming sessions, such C-level people are indeed opinionated and not the easiest bunch of people to work with.
Alice, being a qualified psychologist, keeping up-to-date with mental and emotional research, has often relied on her own wit, intuition, gut and finesse in facilitating these workshops - one thing is clear though, she's not a mind reader and has often in the past misread a few situations. Alice could really do with some scientific data to help her improve her workshops, leading to win-win outcomes.
Alice has just the solution. In the workshops she now runs, she has a central console that shows vital information about all the participants in the room. Using this console, Alice can pick up on subtle discomforts, get a sense for the feeling around the room, detecting stressful patterns or spikes - that alerts Alice to change the tact, tone, direction of the workshop.  It wasn't easy getting buy-in from participants, but in the end, in the interests of productivity and successful outcome of the event, people actually look forward to having positive confrontational issues surface quickly, and nip them in the bud.
Corporate C-level managers welcome decisive action, and this technique now has helped Alice lead and transform many a management team. 

Scenario 5: HR Practitioner & People Transformation

Alice is an HR professional tasked with helping her company deal with risks of employee psychological issues, state-of-mind, happiness and well-being in the workplace. Recently, in the last five years alone, a handful of employees had committed suicide much to the surprise of colleagues - if only they had picked up on some subtle cues or changes in behaviour, these deaths could have been avoided.
At first, Alice and the rest of HR team dismissed these events as facts-of-life, part of living in South Africa, one of the most depressing and stressful countries in the world. Life is tough in South Africa, people come to work with their personal issues and challenges, it's very difficult to keep work and personal life separate.  Clearly the line managers are not qualified to detect personal, deep rooted problems, and some people are really good at wearing masks masquerading, pretending on the surface that things are good, when in fact, dig deeper and the story gets concerning.
Alice has decided to experiment with a new technology that promises to make sense of people's emotional & mental state of mind, sense of nervousness and overall well-being, by using scientific principles based on measuring physical cues like heart rate (faster heart rates indicate increasing stress levels), body-language, facial cues and other physical measurements that can be used to show patterns in a person's overall mental wellness.
Alice is aware of the data sensitivity issues, protection of personal information & big-brother like challenges, to get employees to consent to a level of monitoring. Alice believes that it is not only in the best interest of the company to ensure a harmonious workplace environment, but also in the best interest of the individual, to raise above the personal challenges - and together, seek comfort there is counsel available to people to take them through a personal transformational journey.  Alice believes in the end, this will add value to society overall, in time.
Alice also sees opportunity for line managers to make positive use of the personal data analytics & metrics. Managers can gain insights into team & individual performance, assess the team's maturity level with real data, taking actions to help foster a more balanced and positive working environment. An added bonus is that with near real-time insights, managers can pick up on potential serious issues before there's an outbreak, diffusing potentially explosive scenarios before they even happen!

What's in a Name?

I strongly feel that personal development is important and having a way to measure one's progress on the path to self improvement will be very useful. Personally, I have been monitoring my own self, by seeking out a more healthier work-life balance. Recently I made an intention to work a four-day week. I've also started measuring my happiness-at-work throughout the day, I've got a personal Trello board setup where I track my day's experiences as Good, Bad or Indifferent. I use this data to plot on a chart my happiness levels, and if the chart radiates more to bad experiences, then I take action to change. I am also trying to development a personal happiness matrix...so for me, having complementary technology that supports my personal development plans, will be quite beneficial indeed!

So I am thinking of a pushing this idea out as a product - I have an idea of what needs to happen, I just need to make a start. Hence this blog post, and taking a chance to first get feedback from the public, state my assumptions and aspirations, and get people to comment either validating I'm onto something that could be great, or affirming that I'm nuts and should just stop now!!

Anyway, here's some names I've been thinking about for this technology firm:
  • personametrics.com (is taken, I registered personametry.com instead)
  • mybigdata or mbd (taken)
  • eqlytics (.com available)
  • psychelytics (.com available) 
  • psychometrica (taken, so I registered personametrica.com instead)
  • dataself (taken)
  • medata (taken)
  • mydatalytics (taken)
  • mindfulytics (.com available)
  • dataspirations (.com available)
  • mevolution (taken)

Feedback Please

I have taken a chance by exposing, what could be an incredibly great, or incredibly stupid idea - but that's the chance I'm willing to take. I am experimenting with the connection-economy, the wisdom-of-the-crowds...please share your thoughts. Do you think I could turn this idea into a start-up?? Would people be interested?? Any angel investors out there?? Please leave comments on the blog, or drop me an email....


  1. Great idea Mo. I can see value in this tool from a personal perspective as well as an academic view. This tool would need to be flexible to provide customization as everyone would probably be looking to achieve different outcomes in terms of self-awareness. I have few additional add on 'so which I would like to discuss with you over coffee. I also know of a couple of people that I think would be interested in this tool to supplement their coaching programs. How can I get involved in this startup with you?
    Kind regards

  2. I like the PersonaMetrica name!
    I think you should build a roadmap and a customer proposition and put this one on kickstarter.

  3. This is a fantastic idea however the issue with privacy can be tricky. limiting the monitoring to some set sessions might work.
    something similar but not exactly same is done on athletes during a game/event etc. please take a look at

  4. Stress and anxiety is a performance inhibitor in the work place,
    This ecosystem has the potential to optimise individuals well-being allowing them to perform better.
    but whats great about this is its ability to measure the individual as well as identify the source of the stress / anxiety.
    The applications are extensive, in the work place, schools, universities, etc.
    Great Idea!!

  5. Great idea Mo. This requires a lot of discipline from individuals though. Especially when introspecting. Maybe some tips on how you have been able to do that...?

  6. This is a fantastic idea Mo. Personally, it's a product I would use if it were simple enough to gather the metrics and present analyses and suggestions in line with my goals so I can take corrective actions.

    Best advice I can give you is to jump in and get started using lean startup principles to shape the product's direction.

    One concern is that this idea can be easily assimilated by bigger players in the wearables space. Perhaps look at patenting your idea to protect it?

    1. Thanks Vaugan, appreciate the words of encouragement. I am actually doing this in my spare time, have completed the research, looked at products already in the market, and am currently working on the business model canvas. I plan to share this via a Trello board, let me know if you interested to help be on the review team ;-)
      About patenting the idea, I did think about it - but having gone the open route by publishing this blog post, the idea is already there ("prior art"), so isn't patentable. What would be patentable though is the algorithms used to make sense of the data, the metrics and overall presentation. I see this extending to being your own personal concierge (example, it warns you before your next encounter with a difficult person, possibly recommending exercises before the encounter, etc.)

      Based on my research, I see Personametry as being entirely a software play. There are a number of devices on the market that I could partner and integrate with, providing value added services. I also foresee standardisation of metadata / schemas in the personal data space - seeing that it would need to be regulated soon - there is no standard for this kind of metadata yet (at least nothing I've seen, but I need to look at Apple's Health/Care kit APIs to verify)...

      Will definitely use the Lean Start-Up approach, I need to find some technical people to help ;-)