September 2, 2000
Number Mysticism: If the number is precise,
it must be right!
Extra Short for Your Reading Pleasure!
To help you manage your busy schedule, we've made this issue of JOHO extra short by removing the best part, your emails. They'll be back in all their glory in the next issue. Keep 'em coming!
It's a JOHO World After All
I'm keeping to the pledge I made lo these many months ago not to lard up issues with references to who's published what of mine with the exception of commentaries on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Why the exception? Because I'm so damn proud, sniff sniff. NPR ran two of 'em in the past week or so. You can hear them here:
Why predictions are a form of denial:
Feeling at home in Beijing ... on the Web:
By the way, I keep an updated list of publications and presentations at:
I was, through a marketing selection process gone haywire, among the 100 or so people deemed schmooze-worthy enough to be invited to an Executive Dinner recently. After the absolutely scrumptious dessert (a self-healing slab of cheese cake) was cleared, we turned our chairs toward the dais where the VP of Something told us this month's official opening joke and began a 45-slide snore-a-thon, detailing the latest market survey by a well-known, highly-respected firm, flaying away at the obvious until there wasn't a shred of flesh left on the bone. Pie charts followed bar charts with the inevitability of sucking sounds following a diner's discovery of a remnant of rhubarb stuck between his teeth. Minuscule, statistically irrelevant distinctions were trumpeted as revelations, and ambiguous polling questions were answered with outstanding certitude.
Maybe it's a left-brain/right-brain sort of thing, but as soon as the tiny-print bar charts come out, my cortex shuts down and I only want to escape to a flat rock where I can sun myself and listen for flies.
Let's randomly take just one number among the hundreds they presented, this one from a Gartner Group report: $2.7 trillion will move through the Web in 2004. Here's a nice precise number ... so precise it just has to be right!
We could, presumably, get the assumptions it's based on, run our own spreadsheet, crunch our abdominal muscles into tight little buns, and dispute what The Gartners say. In fact, after much analysis (well, I was going to do much analysis, but "Whose Line Is It?" was on TV), I am 0.9 certain that the number really should be $2.55 trillion.
Now, a $150,000,000,000 overdraft is no laughing matter. Why, I could put my children through college with that type of money (assuming they also get athletic scholarships). But we all know that it's not worth even writing to The Gartners to inform them of their error ... because the $2.7 trillion figure means just about nothing anyway. Or, to be more precise, it means: A huge amount of money will move through the Web in a few years. Huge! Really really big!!!
In other words, all the pretense of precision is really nothing more than a series of exclamation marks: ecommerce is going to be big!!! The rest is just mathematical self-hypnosis.
1. A recent issue of InformationWeek attributes this statistic to Forrester, not Gartner. And so another datum approaches the status of urban myth.
2. I made up the 2.55 trillion number. If it starts showing up in Powerpoints, I'm going to have to sue you.
3. Can it be merely coincidence that in JOHO January 20, 1998, we wrote:
There were 812 billion [email] messages in 1994, 2.7 trillion in 97...
Random chance? Not hardly! Why, the odds of these two numbers being the same are .... hmmm, let me do the math ... 1 in 2.7 trillion! Omigod, there's that number a third time! I'm getting seriously spooked here, people!
(Welcome to the most off-putting opening paragraph since Joe Lieberman said that his being chosen as the VP candidate was a miracle yes, God had personally intervened in history so that Joe could be Al Gore's lackey.) Philosophers argue whether if you know something, you also know that you know it. If knowledge has something to do with having good reasons for believing something, then it seems to me that if you know something but don't know that you know it, then knowing it as opposed to thinking it may be right doesn't do anyone much good. So, for purposes of this article, let's assume that if you know something, you know that you know it.
In which case...
What's the difference between someone who knows a lot and someone with a narrow, stubborn view of the world? After all, both don't budge from their positions, and both are convinced that everyone else's view is wrong. In a word, you don't want to sit next to either one on a plane ride.
Imagine that you actually knew that opening a branch in Hong Kong would cost twice what the estimates are or that using the tag line "Better than eating worms" would double your market share I mean, it's so obviously right to you that you can't understand why everyone doesn't see it. In fact, the only reason to talk about it is to convince others, which explains why no one talks to you any more.
Oh, but you would never be that way! Oh, no, you remain humble and thoroughly delightful despite the fact that you know so much. Oh yeah? Ask your kids. You're so budge-lessly certain that going to see "The Cell" would be a bad thing for your ten year old, that goldfish will die if their water isn't changed more than once a year and that New York City is not the capital of New York that you brook no discussion. Yet if you took that attitude at work, your colleagues would hate you within thirty seconds (whereas it takes your children 15 years to figure it out).
The fact is that many social organizations, including businesses, are built around the notion that we can't know what to do, so we need techniques for making good guesses; we need debate, consensus building, risk analysis, a decision process and because none of the preceding really work all that well a willingness to take chances. In this mix, the only thing it's useful to know is some set of information that serves as a baseline and can be taken for granted (and that eventually clouds everyone's vision). Beyond that, knowledge just gets in the way.
For the Hyperlinked Organization
We have a new search service at work at JOHO's home page. Like our previous one (www.picosearch.com), Atomz indexes your site and gives you a form to paste into your page. It lets you search in a variety of useful ways (including within a date range or HTML element) and presents a ranked list of hits with a snippet from each. And it's free (for up to 500 pages). I still like PicoSearch, but Atomz probably has the lead now. You can decide for yourself by trying both at my search page:
A source that has asked to remain anonymous tells a story that makes The Blair Witch Project seem like a work of fiction:
The organization for which I worked (until 10 days ago) issued a new vision statement. It was printed on the back of the new id card to be worn around the neck. 2200 employees were given one week to memorize the vision statement and be able to recite it verbatim. Testers were dispatched to call upon all 2200 and have them recite the damn thing (not one mistake allowed). Success was rewarded with a gold star to stick on the id card. Assurances were made that this was a necessary step toward becoming a "high performance workplace." I swear this is true.
When asked to elaborate and provide the name of the company, our informant continued her tale:
This may be hard to believe, but it isn't a company, it's government. And not just any government... state government. And not just any state..... Ohio. This is the largest agency in the state which just became larger by merger/swallowing another agency. The week before I tendered my resignation, the director held a meeting with the top 100 managers (me included) and said that we really needed to get onboard with her philosophy and if we didn't, well... she didn't WANT to resort to "disciplinary action" but..... She went on to say that the way to get everyone thinking alike (she actually said that..thinking alike) was for each of us to persuade three others then have them persuade three others and so on. Hmmm..... A neofascist MLM.
From Slashdot, there's this:
Posted by CmdrTaco from the never-thought-about-this-one-before dept.
Ever use an address like [email protected] when filling out a form on the web or registering software? Think thats safe? Somebody is surely receiving messages destined for these fake nospam emails... and for curiosity or boredom, I checked it out. Nospam.com is owned by Anything.com, which is apparently, as it says on their web page, based in the Cayman Islands. Their page gives a short bizspeak blurb about what the company does (provide strategic advice to internet companies and vc-types). Offshore corporations can be as legitimate as any other, so why does this suggest concern? Could it be that the owners or managers of nospam.com want to avoid US laws for some reason?
This bit of paranoia is followed by a discussion of the best bogus email address to fill in on Web sites that demand one against your will. E.g., tell 'em you're [email protected] This digresses, of course, into a thread about what Bill Gates' likely address is for your bogus form-filling needs.
Brian Millar of Myrtle has started what he calls "yet another completely self-indulgent mailing list." I certainly hope he's not including JOHO in that category. Why, it's a little known fact that before starting JOHO, I was a simple peasant girl from a tiny town in France who knew only that she must restore the Dauphin to the throne. Anyway, here's how one of Brian's issues begins:
I didn't know whether it was day or night outside. There were no windows in the cells of the 13th Precinct. Me and Hawking had been working the Zeno brothers over for maybe six hours, playing good mathematician/bad mathematician...
Continued at: http://www.topica.com/lists/myrtletips/
Australian Ron writes:
Subject: The revolution will not be televised..
..it will be webcast. apparently.
If you've been looking for a station that will provide endless audio coverage of fruitless attempts by marginalized political groups to topple the corporate pillars of the global economy, this is for you. My favorite: "Casey Kasem's Weekly Top 100 Incessant Rants by Protesters Who Have Gone Limp," followed by 6 hour roundelays of "Hey hey, what do we demand? Environmentally sound, progressive workplaces in western China and no more whaling by Japan!"
ZDNet News has shown that the line between toeing the line and cowardice is a fine one indeed. Here's the opening of an article by Ben Charny:
A Japanese site bows to lawyers' demand to pull ad, but not before a 19-year-old American downloaded it and posted it on his Web site. The goofy DirecTV ad starring Arnold Schwarzenegger has found a new home in a burning orphanage. Up until 7 p.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, the 30-second spot that aired on Japanese TV was on a Web site called Gaijin a Go Go Café, along with other advertisements that American stars filmed in the Far East.
The article doesn't tell us the URL, presumably so they won't impinge on Ahnuld's intellectual property (talk about your oxymorons we've got ourselves a triple!). If you search for the "Gaijin a Go Go" you'll find its URL is http://www.zeroonedesign.com/gogo/main.html. The site begins:
Welcome to the Gaijin a go-go cafe. Your servers as always are David, Mike and Jon with chef in the kitchen holding back Arnold's lawyers. Read the whole story here.
Here you'll find ads by Western celebrities who have too much pride to do commercials in the West but don't mind making a few grand by selling out in the East. So, if you need to complete your collection of the Works of Keanu by seeing him dummy his way through an encounter with a beautiful dame and a bottle of Suntory liquor, this is your spot. As for ZDNet News, you know what they say about people who cover their ass: if you've got one hand covering your tush, you can't applaud the genuinely good work of others. Ok, so it's not so catchy. Go ahead and do better, then. Jeez!
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