Archives for November 2010

Ideation and Execution

Better to execute one idea than to continuously ideate. There is no better litmus test for an idea than bringing it to reality.

Creativity and Collaboration – Kanye West Style

Found this coverage of a Kanye West recording session of his latest album, via Kottke. Not sure if it’s the take of a fan-boy but definitely seems intriguing. A small quote from one of the participants..

My favorite thing about Kanye is he just doesn’t quit. He does not quit on a song. Sometimes in pop music, there’s so much clutter and so many people trying to do something that’s gonna get on the radio or whatever, but he’s truly about approaching the song and finishing it and doing the coolest possible thing that he wants to express. He’s not just a rapper. He’s not just a producer. He’s a musician. He’s a true artist in every sense. Every part of his expression, from his clothes to everything, is a part of how he lives his life, and I think that’s why he’s so successful. I would show him what I did and he would come back and be like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ Or, ‘Oh, that’s not cool.’ And we would just work on it—there was no ego involved, it was just what’s best for the song.

What comes out is the collaborative nature of the creative process, the feedback loop that feeds the next iteration, the perseverance, the openness to critical appraisal, the trust that seems to exist between the team..all of this built upon a foundation of honesty.

As I said at the start, it could be a fan-boy’s view but at that level of public scrutiny every chink in the armor would be a gaping wound attracting unwanted attention.

Also, our blinkered view sets up stereotypes that are hard to look beyond. Perhaps the rapper and his bling bling are more virtuous than the suave banker siphoning off what is not his.

Update: Fixed typo in Kanye West’s name.

Napoleon – Kubrick’s Unfinished Masterpiece

coronation_napoleon

Since coming across the Kubrick interview that I blogged here about earlier, I did some digging around. The result was this screenplay(warning, it’s a PDF file) for Napoleon by Kubrick.

I cannot comment as to its authenticity, but there is sufficient brilliance in there to suggest it could be the work of the master himself.

The whole screenplay makes for excellent weekend reading, which is what I did last weekend by the way.

Some sections that bring out the personality of Napoleon

  • 1789 Revolution on Page 9. Napoleon’s ability to take charge of volatile situations.
  • Toulon Road – Day on Page 13. Ability to think strategically.
  • Paris Street – Day on Page 24. Willingness to use force, morality be damned.
  • Notre Dame – Day on Page 69. Self-coronation..enough said!
  • Bedroom – Day on Page 147. Last moments of the hero and his descent into clouded states of memory.
  • Production Notes on Page 149. Notes of Kubrick on the planning work done until then.

It is amazing to learn about the rigor and planning that supports a creative endeavor like movie making. Coupled with the interview I linked to in my previous blog post on Kubrick, we get a little insight into the mechanics of creativity.

Indirection as the Foundation of the Connected Web

The PC revolution brought many advantages, chief among them is the ubiquity it could achieve due to advantages of scale. The mobile device revolution that is currently underway brings about

However as our utilization of technology as increased there are some fundamental principles the larger user community has overlooked, which could potentially yield us greater benefits. John Udell, a tech guru on Radar, blogs about one of these fundamental principles, Principle of Indirection.

Indirection should be perfectly familiar to programmers who would typically know it in the context of passing around variables for other sub-routines to manipulate.

The Problem..

..is this and I shall use John’s example. Say someone asks what information you have on some topic. You could send them a list of items, this would be pass by copy. Or send a reference, say a link to a page that contains these items.

Pass by Copy..

..mode of data sharing should be perfectly familiar to anyone who grew up using PCs. You need to send a note to someone. So you open Word, create a file, put in contents, attach it into a mail program like Outlook at hit send. This is all good until you consider what could happen next. What if you had forgot to add an item, now you reopen the Word file, add the forgotten item, resave and re-send using Outlook. Now the recipient has two slightly different versions of the same content. Which is not bad except when the user has to figure out what is the latest and most authoritative version of the list of items.

Copy mode of sharing data is like taking a picture of a landscape, it is a snapshot at a point in time. Subsequent changes are not reflected in the original picture.  For more reasons on why pass by copy can be bad, read the benefits of pass by reference below and think of its opposite.

Pass by Reference/Indirection

John explains the benefits of this approach much better

1. I am the authoritative source for the list. It lives at a location in memory (that is, at a URL in the cloud) that’s under my control, and is bound to my identity.

2. The list is always up-to-date. When I add items, you (and everyone else) will see a freshly-updated list when you follow the link I sent you.

3. The list is social. If other people cite my link, I can find their citations and connect with them.

4. The list is collaborative. Suppose you want to extend my list. In a pass-by-value world, the best you can do is add to the copy I sent you. I won’t see what you’ve added, and neither will anybody else. In a pass-by-reference world, though, we can both keep our own lists, publish references to them, and then produce a merged list by combining the referents.

As is evident, for a piece of published information to be live it has to be published using the principle of indirection. And that is the foundation of the connected web.

The next sections list out some obvious implications to the user community.

Relevance to Common Users

If it is still not clear let me reiterate the use case quoted earlier. Every user of Microsoft Office uses pass by copy semantics. Which in turn leads to a completely lame way of sharing data and collaborating around them. Imagine this, every time you have had to get a group together to work on a project, the Microsoft Office way of generating, sharing and collaborating around data will only have been an exercise in masochism.

Unless of course they use a companion application like SharePoint, even then its like collaborating on a crutch due to locked data in proprietary file formats that were not designed for collaboration or being distributed around. But that would be topic for another blog post.

Relevance to Enterprises

Enterprises, especially those in the information business, have the most to lose by being tethered to the PC way of thinking. The untold amount of data locked in the PCs and mail boxes of their employees hampers their own growth. If they have to have any chance of competing in a post-PC world, they will have to consider the best practices that the Web world has made possible.

For now read John’s post on Indirection. And watch this space for more on this topic of information sharing and the unlocking of value in the data we generate.

The Future of Market Intelligence?

Horace Dediu is the founder of Asymco, a purveyor of “Curated Market Intelligence”. He shares his insights on the mobile industry in general and Apple in particular. Started in February 2010, it recently reached a million pageviews and Horace was recently covered on Fortune magazine as the “King of Apple Analysts”.

The above would be a okay news to be aware of, except for the fact that Horace publishes his analysis on a blog and beats every major institutional research firm in the process. Check the ranking here. Also of interest is the fact of how bloggers and their blogs beat a significant percentage of professionals.

I would like to draw your attention to few specifics of Asymco, in no particular order.

Statement of Purpose and the Rules

Horace says its an experiment in collaborative, peer reviewed analysis. Am sure every research analyst would collaborate to arrive at their insights but the scale of collaboration that is possible on the web is just cannot be replicated behind the façade of large institutional research firm’s infrastructure, at least not with this level of transparency and public scrutiny.

Note, this is not the SEC or other compliance rules that require pages of disclosures for a page of research. This is the voice of an individual and the rules by which he wishes to operate. And the clear understanding that it is his personal skin in the game.

The Data Behind the Scenes

Insights do not arrive in isolation. There is always a set of data points behind and the unique interpretation of the analyst. Given the amount of data that is involved, without visual representation it can get rather weary for those consuming this research. Now here is what is unique about Horace. This data, or at least a subset of it, is published via Roambi, a service that allows you to visualize this data on iPhone/iPad..for free.

In the professional equity research space it is still a open question whether an analyst should publish/share their model or not. It is heartening to see a small blogger get on and just do it rather than having endless debates and brainstorming sessions.

Analytics!

And that too made public! Check the widgets revealing metrics and it would be trivial to verify this data using 3rd party analytics firms that help track web traffic. This would be sacrilege in the traditional research space. How would you know how many people consumed a piece of research? Especially when you send it out to via all the 3rd party aggregators. Assuming they can measure it in the first place! Being on the web, without the all the baggage of traditional means of packaging and distributing research allows Asymco to do this naturally.

The Conversations

I could say a lot here but let me limit myself, it is not normal to have these sort of conversations revealed in public by most professional research firms. The collaborative and peer reviewed premise that Horace sets off with drives this feature. And I know that this will be the future of equity research and market intelligence, its just a question of time before the professional firms adopt this model at least in a modified form.

If you are in the equity research/market intelligence space I would ask you to consider this trend carefully. The business model disruption that News firms are going through will hit every vertical industry, nothing will be immune to it. Best to co-opt and learn how the future works than to put regulatory impediments and have a warped  and stunted future staring at you, like the music industry is right now.

Stanley Kubrick – The Mindscape of an Artist

2001 has to be the first movie I had seen that shocked me to the possibilities of narrative grammar and the means of visually articulating imaginary worlds. Until then Stanley Kubrick to me was a master director because critiques said so and not by my own direct experience.

I came across this excerpt of an interview with Kubrick, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the mindscape of this brilliant director. Below are some highlights that should be required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in creativity.

On depicting the battle scenes of Napolean

(the movie that was to be directed by Kubrick but never got done, earning it the sobriquet  “masterpiece that was never made”):

”There’s an aesthetic involved; it’s almost like a great piece of music, or the purity of a mathematical formula. It’s this quality I want to bring across, as well as the sordid reality of battle. You know, there’s a weird disparity between the sheer visual and organizational beauty of the historical battles sufficiently far in the past, and their human consequences. It’s rather like watching two golden eagles soaring through the sky from a distance; they may be tearing a dove to pieces, but if you are far enough away the scene is still beautiful.”

On the ‘purpose’ of a film

“the basic purpose of a film, which I believe is one of illumination, of showing the viewer something he can’t see any other way”

On depicting futuristic or historic themes

“it enables you to make a statement with which you’re not personally blinded; it removes the environmental blinkers, in a sense, and gives you a deeper and more objective perspective”

On whether the ambiguity in 2001 was deliberate

“..it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to "fill in" the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting..”

Read the whole interview. I gained a lot from it.

Why Most Enterprise Collaboration Initiatives Fail

Because tools are not invested with the will to collaborate.

Because before tools can aid collaboration people have to wish to collaborate.

Because some people would not collaborate if anything less than the very success of their endeavor is dependent on it.

Because for every person with an ounce of ego, the perfect solution already exists in their head, if only reality would yield to it.

Because metrics that measure success of their objectives do not account for the pathways taken to accomplish them.

Because every fiefdom has its lord who is reluctant to mingle with the peasants.

Or we collaborate so there are co-conspirators who can stand along side when its all in shambles.

What other reasons do you think make large enterprises have sub-optimal levels of collaboration going on?

Seth Godin On Market’s Taste

On the market’s taste Seth Godin says, “the mass market is a fool..If you wait for the market to tell you that you’re great, you’ll merely end up wasting time.”

I agree with that view and wish to add to it. Leave alone the market, you would find such shortsightedness even within your own firm. Perhaps your stakeholders, your peers or others whose buy-in would be essential to move forward on the vision.

Being clued in is a function of how aware the audience is of the prevailing market realities, the accompanying trends and how the customer preference dynamics could evolve as a result of these interactions.

And being clued in has nothing to do with past experience. In fact extensive experience can, and often does, cloud judgment.

Being clued in requires an open mind, one that is willing to put up every assumption aside in the consideration of possibilities. It requires a keen intelligence and robust imagination to make the rational mental leaps required to walk along the possible pathways of the future.

In their own way, to use the phrase of Gretzky,  a visionary skates to where the puck would be. It requires a perfect understanding of puck-physics, people’s motivations, their possible next moves and where the window of opportunity would materialize within the interplay of these factors.

Scale Amplifies Everything

Every business wishes to scale. More profits, lesser costs, faster time to market etc.

It is achieved by

  • adding more people, perhaps grouped by function
  • specializing the functions of these groups
  • defining rules of interaction between these groups
  • goal setting for the groups
  • tools and processes to facilitate interaction
  • and some means to monitor progress towards goals.

What usually gets ignored or underestimated is that scale has the side effect of amplifying everything. Every weakness, flaw and dysfunction is rendered large too.

Large systems and processes have the unfortunate side-effect of evolving niches where inefficiencies can survive and even thrive. Perhaps the goal is so critical that one grants the leeway for such discrepancies. Or perhaps visibility makes stakeholders vulnerable to increased criticism. And hundred other reasons.

Leave such dysfunctions unattended and scale becomes its own enemy.

I have my views on scaling while minimizing such negative side-effects. But what do you think? Would like to hear your views on the conclusions and what you believe to be solutions to scaling well.