Wes Sonnenreich

Co-Founder, Intersective Learning
Bondi Beach, Australia

About Wes

Bio

I'm currently doing a few things at once (ok, I've been doing that for a long time).

A bit more than half of my time I'm in charge of science and technology for Sirius Minerals. It's a fascinating company and I've learned a lot about how potash is essential to feeding the world's growing population. My goal is to find technologies that can help us develop our resources in the most sustainable manner possible. I look at innovations in agricultural science, material science, renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration, mine and processing automation, geoscience, data analytics, transportation and logistics. Some of my challenges are very specific: for example, if anyone can find a safe use for over 100,000 tons per year of hydrochloric acid, I'm all ears!

Most of the rest of my time is spent on Intersective Learning, a company I founded with a friend and colleague, Beau Leese. Intersective creates courses that give students hands-on experience with the companies they want to work for, helping to solve major problems that these companies are facing. It gives the companies that work with us a unique way to build meaningful relationships with potential recruits while getting fresh thinking about their problems from the students. Our flagship course is the FASTRACK Challenge, which is about intrapreneurship and innovation. The corporate sponsor, Deloitte, provides mentors and coaches who bring the students significant problems and challenges for which they, and their clients, need innovative solutions. The University of Sydney and RMIT are current participants and we're looking to bring FASTRACK to universities across Australia in the next few years.

I'm currently working on developing Intersective's next course - Serious Games. This one is going to be a LOT of fun to create, teach and participate in... I'm pretty excited and you can see our progress on the Intersective Learning Blog, as well as thinking around some of the more esoteric issues on my personal blog, The Muskrat Ramble.

Intersective Learning is a spin-off company from Deloitte; much of the groundwork for the company was developed while I was national Director of Deloitte’s Innovation program. I worked at Deloitte for about three years - for the first year in Perth in the consulting group and then for the next two years out of Sydney running the innovation program. It was a great role and I got to work closely with the Deloitte executive. The insights into the strategic decision process of a service firm that earns nearly a billion dollars a year in Australia alone were fascinating.

Areas of Expertise

Intrapreneurship, Innovation Management, Computer Science, Information Security, Problem Solving

An idea worth spreading

What if you could write an app for a city the way you write an app for an iPhone? What if it were possible to use the existing and increasingly prevalent digital displays, cameras and sensors found throughout a city to enable people moving through the city to connect with each other and with the city itself? That's the aim of a new project being done in conjunction with the city of Melbourne, several universities, real estate developers and urban designers to develop a framework and foundation infrastructure for enabling urban digital installations to interconnect, while maintaining privacy, security and the need for editorial control. This project has the potential to radically transform the way a city looks and feels; the way people connect with cities and can create entirely new economic models for urban business.

I'm passionate about

Education: learning and teaching
Playing: games, music, capoeira
Crossbred ideas: serious games, work-integrated learning, digital cities

Comments & conversations

101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted about 3 years ago
Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world
The evidence is that SELLING trading algorithms is profitable; it's not clear how many people actually make money using them. In the same way that writing a "diet" book is profitable but most of the people who purchase it don't actually lose weight. It's hard to tell if an algorithm is "winning" or "losing" unless it wins or loses big. Let's say the market is going up. My system might make 1% less than the S&P; but I'll be happy because my portfolio is going up. I might come up with all forms of justification for why the algorithm is still better than trading without it - it's not prone to errors, better diversification, etc. After all, I've gotta recoup my sunk cost for the system. Perhaps in a down market the algorithm does 2% better than the S&P... I'm still losing money, just not as fast as the index - see, I can be happy about that.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted over 3 years ago
Are Educational Institutions responding to the challenges of teaching and learning in the 21st Century?
It's a good point to differentiate "uninspiring curriculum" and "uninspiring teacher". However I believe the best teachers can not only prepare you to succeed on the exam but also find ways to make the material inspiring. This is very challenging, and not just from a experience design point of view. Teachers are under pressure from many angles to focus on the exam grades as that's what gets measured and compared. Any time spent on "extra" topics is heavily scrutinized. Even if the topics are valuable, parents and other teachers complain that students barely have enough time to do the core work in all of their classes + extracurricular activities needed to get into good schools + social development + jobs etc. Doing anything "extra" comes at the expense of something else... what can be cut? The answer is that you don't need to cut. A great teacher will find a new approach to the learning that gets all the students fluent on the core materials while motivating them with the extra materials. But this new approach will look risky to many supervisors (just because it's different) and so unless the teacher is in an environment where they have free reign to experiment (e.g. the school is so bad that anything is better than what they have or the school is an experimental school where this is part of the expectations) then it probably won't happen. At least, that is my experience.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
What was the most amazing social experience you had and why?
Hard to pick just one... a great one was when I was probably about 17 or 18. At the time I was studying jazz trombone and played in several groups. Periodically I'd go to a jazz club nearby and sit in on the open mike nights. I wasn't very good, but I was learning. Most of the regulars were in their 30's/40's - some pretty talented players. But every once in a while there'd be a big concert in the city and then the band would come out to this club after to jam at the open mike night. On those nights the club was filled the old guard - guys who played with Diz, the Duke, the Count, etc. When I'd get on stage to jam with them, I was beyond nervous - it was like being plucked from a backyard soccer match to play in the World Cup finals. But the moment the music started, it was like I had a magic instrument. I couldn't play a wrong note. In fact, it felt like they knew was I was going to play before I played; that I was playing a piece of pre-composed music and we had been practicing it for weeks. I eventually realized that these musicians possessed a set of skills that transcended musical ability. They understood the music so well that they could focus their entire attention on trying to understand me. They would figure out what I was going to play from the most subtle nuances in my body language. Then they'd create a perfect supporting structure and even put in anticipatory flairs to assist me, just so I didn't accidentally forget where I wanted to go! They were literally playing me as if I were just another instrument. They were also doing this to each other, which is why even the simplest of songs had a vibrancy and resonance beyond what the acoustics of the room could ever hope to provide.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
Are Educational Institutions responding to the challenges of teaching and learning in the 21st Century?
Hi Ashley! You seem to be uninspired by your curriculum, but you're clearly interested in learning or you wouldn't be on the TED website. If one of your classes was based purely on TED videos and the conversations, I'd bet you'd ace it - even if most of the things on this site may never be "useful" in your life. Good teachers can capture your imagination and make you want to engage with the material. You won't want to take the shortcuts. That's why sites like TED are great - you get to see what it's like when someone is truly passionate about a topic and makes it come alive... whenever I watch a TED talk I always want to learn more. The problem is, there aren't enough good teachers to go around. The answer to the problem is to find the best school teachers, the most passionate ones that bring their subjects to life, and make TED-like videos of them. Make enough videos and you'll be able to learn every subject from K-12 from these videos. Now every student can learn from the best teachers. Your "live" teacher then really just becomes a mentor and facilitator - helping you take the lesson to the next level, answering your questions. There are several people and organizations trying to do just that... hopefully one day it will be a reality, probably by the time your kids end up going to school!
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it?
I agree that no amount of applied game design will significantly change how someone feels if they're working for someone/on something they don't love, believe in, care about, etc. I'm not sure that games are about hopes and dreams though. I don't think Spider Solitaire or Freecell taps into any of my hopes and dreams. I get a satisfaction from recognizing a pattern, but it's usually a sign that I need to stop playing when my dreams are of moving cards from stack to stack. But I think you're close. I think it's more like the inverse of hopes and dreams - it's about the lack of external consequence. I can lose at Freecell and it's ok, I can just start again. Or not. Interestingly, when I used to play it a lot and would get massive streaks, it stopped becoming "fun" because losing suddenly meant breaking a 600+ win streak. There was a lot at stake and it was easier not to play than to risk the loss. Suddenly, the game had external consequence because the streak represented a large investment in time. I think the trick to making serious games work in business is finding a way to remove external consequence. This can't be done within the game - it requires a change to the business model upon which the serious game is layered. This is why simulations are easy - they're just a learning tool so if you fail nothing is at risk. But I can't see anyone creating a "bejewelled" like interface to a nuclear power plant.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it?
I believe games are most valuable when they fit within a valuable life context. For example, Dustin's friend and cousin are interested in computers. If you love computers and envision a career in computers, video games can be of great value. I learned the computer skills that ultimately led me to a computer science degree at MIT because of videogames. How's that? Well, getting games to run used to require a lot of hardware and software hacking back in the day... and many games came without instructions and were in other languages (particularly the ones obtained via BBS systems in Europe :) ) so figuring out the game was half the fun. Today's equivalent would be building a custom PC, downloading mods for games like World of Warcraft to optimize the play experience, etc. There are other valuable contexts in which games can fit. The Guitar Hero/Rock Band games can be a great way to get interested in music - and the most recent iterations are potentially a superior way to learn instruments like drums, keyboard, vocals and guitar - particularly for people who live in remote areas where there are no strong music programs. Similarly, the dancing games can be equally great for people who want to learn to dance - especially with the advent of the Kinect device. Of course, it's also possible (and one might even say predominant) to game without a valuable context. There are people who waste time with games the same way they waste time watching TV. It's fine using games or TV to relax, but then there's a point where it's no longer just relaxing and it becomes laziness. It's a choice. You can game valuably, or you can game to waste time. Games are not the issue - a person who chooses to waste time will do so with our without games, as Zdenek says. A person who wants to do valuable things in the world will do so, regardless of how many games they play, and maybe because of it.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it?
Hi Caroline... It sounds like your problem is not with "video games" as a whole, but rather with the lack of relative worth that many games appear to have. There's a lot of low-value games out there, just like there's a lot of junk TV but also some brilliant programming. I would bet that there are many games available today that you'd be fine with your daughter playing periodically, once you saw how worthwhile they were. There are many games that are very much like the TED game you propose. And then there are games that could build on your daughter's strengths and interests to develop other critical thinking skills. For example, have you seen Crayon Physics? It combines artistic expression and problem solving in a brilliant way. Regarding your comments about your parents and Guitar Hero... it's easy to be dismissive of games like Guitar Hero as inferior to learning a proper instrument. However I know many people, particularly those past the "easy learning" years like your parents, who always wanted to play an instrument but never got around to learning. They've tried to learn piano or guitar but found the learning curve to be too steep or simply didn't have the time to put in to practice. Games like Guitar Hero make playing music accessible to a wider group of people. This is great because not only do more people get to share in the joy that is music creation and collaboration, but they also gain a real appreciation for the skills that "real" guitarists and other musicians have developed.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
The failure of multiculturalism. The genius of multiculturalism. Which one is it? And how do we ensure multicultural societies thrive?
The EU has many cultures sharing the same landmass. Australia effectively has an monoculture across its geography that dominates the political, economic and social environment (although good luck convincing anyone from Sydney that they share a culture with West Australians). The EU doesn't have physical boundaries between dramatically different cultures and short of building walls (the bad idea that just won't die) there's no way to selectively control the cultural demographics. Compare this to Australia, where all external cultures must pass through immigration. For long-term immigration, Australia chooses based on skills. In this situation, being able to attract from a global "multicultural" pool of talented people is great. It also gets a flow of short-term multiculturalism from working-holiday backpackers (under 30's) who come for a year or less. There's no serious issue with illegal immigration because there's no land access from other countries - it's pretty easy to control when everyone comes by plane. And sure, every year a bunch of boats show up from Asia carrying an annual total in the hundreds to low thousands of illegal immigrants, many of whom are refugees. While this occupies the media and politicians here disproportionately, it's really a non-issue and nothing like what's happening in the rest of the world. Whenever multiple cultures with incompatible operational parameters are juxtaposed, conflict is inevitable. It's the reason why European history is rife with wars. Too many different viewpoints, not enough space for everyone to to be comfortable and isolated from opposing views (liebenstraum, anyone?). And that's another advantage Australia has - less than 25 million people on a landmass roughly the size of the US - which has over 10x as many people.
101596
Wes Sonnenreich
Posted almost 4 years ago
We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it?
I'm fascinated by what makes games fun. I want to know why it's easy to sit in front of an MMO and undertake repetitive tasks that ultimately involve data analytics or project/team management yet doing the same thing in the work place is tiresome. Why does it have to be this way? I want to create an audit process that feels like playing Diablo - collecting data like it was loot, and "leveling" up by crunching the stats and getting the perfect build. I want to hire the players who analyze games like GuildWars and find the "optimal" character build and playstyles and get them to dig around my ERP system to optimize my business processes. I want them to have the same amount of fun in that ERP system as they have in their game world. I want to run a project team with 20+ people scattered over the country or world who can maintain focus on a collaborative task for 6-9 hours the way guild leaders can coordinate end-game raids in games like World of Warcraft. Better yet, I want to recruit these guild leaders to run these teams for me - after all, they've already been doing it successfully for years. We are seeing new ways of working, new opportunities that require a set of skills that are not taught in school but ARE being taught in today's games. I believe that companies that recognize this and recruit accordingly will have access to a massive disruptive capability.