To Exist Digitally

Lonely Tree

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sant.o via Compfight

If you cannot point to something digitally, does it really exist? Craig Mod asks this somewhat rhetorical but pertinent question. The specific context was an interview with Haruki Murakami and the desire to point to interesting quotes therein.

Craig goes on to answer the question, saying:

To not exist means in part to be offline…To not exist digitally means to be walled off. Silo’d. Unpointable…Unnetworked (even if it’s on the network). It’s means to not be part of that growing corpus.

What I find interesting is the notion of Unpointable and Unnetworked, the former easy to understand and the latter difficult to follow through properly.

Unnetworked is the baby step taken by the real-world towards a digital world, where the information is present online but not part of a corpus.

Unnetworked is Unfindable, which effectively renders the artifact invisible.

Unnetworked is Unpointable, not amenable to be linked to.

For example every digital document produced by tools of the PC world, like Word/Excel/PDF is unlinkable. Or take proprietary professional content sets sold with a sprinkling of metadata thrown in. All unlinkable.

Am willing to bet that an ecosystem that survives on being unlinkable will slowly diminish in relevance and business value. Whether it is a corporate strategy that relies on exclusive access to proprietary information, or document formats of the PC world engineered for being printed on paper, or any tool that produces information that cannot be linked to will and should go away.

What is your take, is Unlinkable as big a deal as I think it is?

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Redefiners – For Media Firms Who Wish To Disrupt Markets, Relevant For All Content Players

Redefiners is a presentation by Activate that provides a ‘lay of the land’ view of how media firms can capture growth dollars. It is a stunning presentation and very relevant for any content player who uses technology to deliver content and related experiences to their users.

Just read through the deck, it is time well spent. I will summarize this later for my own understanding and share it here.

via Anil Dash.

Competing With Free

Time has an article on how four hackers almost caused the collapse of the entertainment industry. Many gems of insight in there, particularly how iTunes managed to succeed despite the availability of free music/movies on Napster, Bittorrent etc.

It turns out that there is something that can compete with free: easy.

Free is not an automatic choice if there is a cognitive cost or inconvenience attached to it. And easy by contrast is difficult to design and engineer.

The route to be taken will depend on the market you are in and the environment that you are trying to operate within.

In hindsight its interesting to note that all of them have gained immensely from the experience of executing their idea, though not necessarily on the monetary front. And they did not set off thinking to disrupt anything, they just wanted to have some fun and try out things. The tectonic effects within the entertainment industry was just a by-product.

Lessons for entrepreneurs who will end up disrupting an incumbent’s lunch.

Via John Gruber.

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.

The Bogeyman Called Corporate Standards

A corporation exists by virtue of being a logical unit of functioning. However diverse its operations, they all serve a single purpose. The individual and group relegates their distinct ideas to the background to ensure the main purpose is served.

But behind this idea lies a great evil. It is often deemed right to sacrifice the smaller aspirations for the larger good. This instinct to merge and blend in with the overall trend often kills what might turn out to be beneficial to the larger good.

Standards do serve to forge a single identity, a single theme to present a unified face to the external world. But in a time of change the tendency to merge is stifling to perspectives that are different.

Standards of behavior and ethics, equal opportunity, standards of conduct should be adhered to and I have no doubt on that.

But I see standards as a marker for how low a certain function can go. They are not the yardstick with which every superior effort is beaten down lower. Standards for productivity, usability and technological progress exist to be broken by better and superior functions.

The way I have dealt with resistance to what is new, different and unfamiliar to the larger organization is by relentlessly selling the benefits, overlooking the resistances and steam rolling my way through. Until something or someone really high up the chain stops the effort.

Remember that standards are tombstones for dead ideas. That which is living and evolving will have no such markers.

[Note: All mentions of the word standard in this post refer to corporate standard.]

Every Problem Has a Solution, If You Want It Solved

A characteristic trait of dysfunctional organizations is that of problems that are allowed to exist tacitly. As counterintuitive as it sounds it is the norm in most large organizations where competing perspectives collide.

Couple of high-level reasons seem to contribute to the state of messed up affairs : Business Reasons, Political Alignments, Incompetence. Allow me to profile these three villains.

  • Business Reasons : This comes in a couple of flavors. Existing customers make it impossible to change implementations. Or the cost of change exceeds the revenue or business value delivered.
  • Political Alignments: I use this bucket to group the following traits. One group does not want a competing perspective to see the light of day. Or wants the existing process/system to fail. Or just plain self-interest dictates they obey the law of self-sustenance above that of the organization.
  • Incompetence: This one must be obvious. Like a Deer in headlights, these types stand dazed at the oncoming situation. Instead of trying to understand the problem, they take up stock measures that have worked in the past and add another half-dozen nails to their coffins. Or drown themselves in inconsequential tasks, which make them look busy but adds nothing to the bottom line.

It is said that identifying the problem is half solving it. But these sorts of issues, especially the political alignment and power-plays is something that does not obey any logic beyond that of self-interest, so the means to solve these seem fairly limited.

But with the right amount of transparency and some creative noise-making it should be possible to get sensible messages to the right ears.

The current economic climate could be an added incentive for stakeholders to be open to unconventional approaches for long-standing problems.

In that spirit, my message to the people perched on top- The larger interests of the organization’s survival should take priority over concerns on whose perspective wins out.

Drive uncomfortable changes proactively. It is difficult to expose yourself as not being up to the task. But trust me, people will appreciate your willingness to learn and adapt.

The other option is for the markets to highlight your shortcomings in the most unflattering light. And that can never be pretty.

Indian IT Services Provider, Campus Recruits..Follow Up

A large Indian IT services provider changed offers made to campus recruits by downgrading their salary and the role. I have covered this in a previous post here.

In thinking about this, few more thoughts occurred to me on what else the service could have done.

 

The Contracting Model, With a Twist

Hire the recruits for reduced pay. Or put them on a profit share for work delivered. Provide them tools and resources, much of them readily available on the net for free, to be independent contractors. Let them work from home. The cost of a computer and connectivity are negligible. The recruit gains valuable work experience and has your brand name in addition. And you get work done for a much lower cost.

For a little risk, you put them on a pay for performance, without the usual overheads of a full-time employee.

High Risk, High Reward Ventures

Be an innovation hub. You have the customers, market visibility and global presence. Choose areas that are a little ahead into the future for exploration by these resources. Tie them up with NDAs etc., pick an area for them to attack.

Become a incubator for new products and services, decentralize and encourage the hacker ethic.

Indigenous Markets

Build the next market. The bottom end of the pyramid has need of your intellectual power. Use it to provide solutions to the rural market. Let the resources think out how they could use IT to better the lives of the people in the villages and towns.

Invent your own markets and name your profits.

That is it from me, what would you propose?

A Large Indian IT Services Provider, Campus Recruits and Revised Offer Letters

The two of you who follow this blog know that am no friend of large IT service providers.

It came as no surprise to me, to see in the Indian papers today, on how a large IT service provider had changed its earlier offer letters to campus recruits by asking them to join a BPO division for reduced pay. And am sure they were on perfectly legal grounds in doing this move to brace themselves for the downturn.

However a few thoughts do occur on what could have been done to avoid the bad press and rattling freshly minted graduates.

Transparency is not optional

In this case the provider seem to have made the reason adequately clear on why they took this step. However it reveals no insight into what other options existed. Were there other hidden costs associated? What else could have been done to ease the pain for the new recruits? Transparency is not optional anymore.

In opening up a little, the service provider could have set the trend on how well such downsizing moves could be handled by the industry.

This was a perfect opportunity to transform a challenging business situation as a means for re-inventing the organization’s operating practices.

Tough times call for collaboration

The management should have taken steps to engage the recruits instead of throwing a seemingly arbitrary fiat and expect to be obeyed.

Given that we are talking to rational people, to the extent they have been ‘trained’ by the system, the provider could have at least attempted to work out a middle ground by talking to recruits.

The cold realities of the business place need not blunt our humanness in dealing with difficult situations.

The job offer addendum, which is typically not read by fresh recruits, is not the final word between two parties. Remember these recruits would carry the bitterness of this interaction forever. 

Re-think your operating models

Organizations need to improvise in these times. If you are looking at your traditional cost structures to assess possibilities then many opportunities are being missed. All along you have learned to scale up your business, now get used to scaling down, only do it strategically.

Reducing headcount is a short term measure to control costs, your competitiveness still remains questionable.

Let go of your cost arbitrage

Your low cost approach is what landed you here, with absolutely no buffer to cushion bad times.

Stop using the same cheap cast to mint your future.

To call for innovation, creativity etc now will be a crude cliche! Deep down you know this low cost model cannot be sustained and know the solution well enough.

Create new businesses and products, be the product provider and not just a service provider. Bigger risks but the rewards too are enormous. It requires long term vision and ability to weather the market expectations in the short term.

Expect your leadership to rise up to the challenge, demand action. Or get yourself a new leader!

Those were my thoughts anyway, what do you think? Could this have been done better?

The 7 Signs of Organizational Inertia

There is plenty of action in the economy to keep even the most disinterested engaged with the fireworks and the scuttling.

While organizations and individuals tighten their cost belts and strengthen the execution of their strategy, one factor can escape even the most keen observer. And that is the current state of affairs within the organization.

This internal state is an amalgam of the hard and soft factors that make up the existence and functioning of an organization. The greatest strategy and analysis can all be sucked into the quicksand of ‘Organizational inertia’.

Hence leaders who are keen to get things done would do well to check if their organizations are afflicted with this inertia factor.

Organizational Inertia, revealed by the following 7 signs-

1) The product ‘strategy’ consists of PR statements only

After a whole load of analysis, the decision is an incremental juggling of feature sets and reprioritization. All this delivered with a significant PR buzz. Speak to a cross section of people on the ground to see if they are enthused by the direction the products are to take. If all this sounds luke warm or downright cold you know something is not right or has been lost while making the distance between strategy and execution.

2) The Grand Technology Platform will solve all problems

Watch out for the grand daddy technology platform syndrome. And steer clear away from it. Unless you want to while away your time and not actually work on anything. Every time I have heard about such all encompassing platforms I cringe at the train wreck that is coming close. Every time such projects have failed to accomplish their original goals.

3) Teams spend their lives propping up the old systems, processes

What proportion of effort does the team spend in activities that would prop up the organization’s future? If the answer is none to minimal, then be assured you are looking at a unmotivated, or at least soon to be unmotivated, workforce. It is not enough if the board room thinks about the future of the organization, you need the rank and file to dream up ideas deal with challenges. Need to have systems and processes in place to harness these ideas.

4) Each organizational unit views the strategy elephant in its own way.

It is not enough to have a strategy and send mails and print posters about it. Once its propagated to the entire org, follow up to see if all the details have been understood and perceived in the same way the strategists had seen it. Of course not every function should understand the idea in all its complexity, in some cases it might not even be feasible. But there should be no discordant perception. Ensure this is not the case by talking to a cross section of people and having middle management do the same.

5) Your teams talk and gossip about internal factors more than about the competition and the marketplace.

This is tricky to verify. But the surest way to ruin is this. With the pace of technology and lowering of threshold for established organizations to be questioned, it would be fatal for people to indulge in this mind set. If you see this behaviour, then switch on your warning signs and begin engaging your teams to understand causes and work upon addressing those

6) Skill in execution is to undergo another re-organization.

Some organizations do re-orgs as a spectator sport. Every change in leadership goes about performing this circus. The endless mails about faith in team, amount of skill available, phenomenal opportunities must be a common occurrence in most organizations. Instead of focusing on getting things right or even understanding what is there already, its perhaps a ritual for leaders to go about shuffling things. I understand this is an oversimplification but wanted raise this point as it can easily seem indispensable. 

7) Plenty of naked emperors ambling around.

These are the white elephants in the room. Sucking out precious resources and sapping out the enthusiasm. No one dare touch them. They are just there, until forced out. Frankly, I have no clue how to handle these. It amazing how people above them can tolerate these even for a second.

Now, a question. Do you think these signs are enough to recognize inertia? What other factors would you add to it?

[update: @polycontextual adds “discordance between organizational identity (internal) and organizational image (external)”. Once I have more feedback shall update this post with the ideas that have come up.]

Mediocrity As Career Strategy

“What should I do to not grow beyond a manager grade until I am 45?”

The polite silence of the men’s rest room was disturbed by the question that followed the greeting the other day.

It was a colleague in the late 20s asking me. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I looked at the person and asked him to clarify and he said, “I am 29 now and a senior QA. To become a manager takes 3 hops. From SQA to Lead to Associate Manager to Manager. If I spend 5 years at each stage would I not become 45 by they time I get to Manager?” Now this was as clear as day light. The guy was messed up!

His reasoning was that the cause for most work pressures, according to him, was due to ambition and the desire to move ahead in ones career. And to avoid all that he wished to choose a sedentary pace of life. To not do anything that would make his supervisors give him more responsibility, and god forbid, promote him!

It is in moments like these that one knows God has a sense of humor!

On one side it seemed to uphold a stoic perception about sufficiency, a certain aloofness in participating in the proceedings of the world.

The stance seemed to ring with a very Sannyasi like sensibility- the kind that sat bare, cross-legged and chasing a nameless abstraction beyond the senses. Which by the way is a perfectly valid attitude if ones goal is to chase the nameless abstraction.

But within the material world? To live as a parasite for the subsistence of ones own being and not contribute to adding more value than what one has consumed is to be ignorant of ones role in this world.

To live a little, love a little, earn a little, to breed, to groom the brood and while away a spot of eternity with barely anything to show has been the common way, especially in this nation of ours.

This cobweb of mediocrity has to go. In a weakening economy, these deadwood only serve to slow down the organizations ability to chase and outrun the competition.

Generally it is not fashionable in captive and outsourced IT shops to innovate and execute beyond the brief set by the masters onsite. However the current economic climate might provide just the incentive required to leverage intellectual capability wherever it is domiciled. Even if it speaks with a funny accent. Even when changes would have to be made to how everything has functioned until now.

Perhaps the gust of economic downturn will blow these impediments away.

This strategy is not uncommon. I came across another acquaintance who remarked, when discussing the economic conditions locally, that it would be better to be employed in a public sector organization where no layoffs ever happen! I feel sort of lonely here 🙁

What do you think? How would you respond to a person who wishes to be a baggage of sorts without lifting more than they are required to.

[Update: I read this couple of days back, after writing this post. Survival is definitely not a strategy!]