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September 7, 2012

Mitt Romney’s distrust of entrepreneurship

Mitt Romney is taking some flack for using some notoriously flaky science as his example of good science. But in the same passage he betrays a Big Corporate view of how innovation works that should cost him the support of every entrepeneurial startup in the country.

Here’s the passage from his Washington Examiner interview (with a hat tip to BoingBoing):

CARNEY: What role should government have in promoting certain industr

And keep in mind that Romney here is not talking about the auto industry specifically; rather, he is explaining why governments ought not to back entrepreneurial companies. It’s not just that governments are bad at picking winners, it’s that when the winners are startups — even when they’re way out of the prototypical garage — they’re unlikely to get past “delight.” So, wies or economic activities such as homeownership, or manufacturing, renewable energy or fossil fuel energy, eBig Corp xports, or just advanced technology? What sort of subsidies and incentives do you favor? You had some of these in Massachusetts, I know.

ROMNEY: Very limited — my answer Big Corp to your first question. I’m not an advocate of industrial policy being formed by a government. I do believe in the power of free markets, and when the government removes the extraordinary burdens that it puts on markets, why I think markets are more effective at guiding a prosperous economy than is the government.

So for instance, I would not be investing massive dollars in electric car companies in California. I think Tesla and Fisker are delightful-looking ve

And keep in mind that Romney here is nBig Corp ot talking about the auto industry specifically; rather, he is explaining why governments ought not to back entrepreneurial companies. It’s not just that governments are bad at picking winners, it’s that when the winners are startups — even when they’re way out of the prototypical garage — they’re unlikely to get past “delight.” So, whicles, but I somehow imagine that Toyota, Nissan, and even General Motors will produce a more cost-effective electric car than either Tesla or Fisker. I think it is bad policy for us to be investing hundreds of millions of dollars in specific companies and specific technologies, and developing those technologies.

I do believe in basic science. I believe in participating in space. I believe in analysis of new sources of energy. I believe in laboratories, looking at ways to conduct electricity with — with cold fusion, if we can come up with it. It was the University of Utah that solved that. We somehow can’t figure out how to duplicate it.

So, first the problem with his science remark. I understand that he’s boosting Utah. But the 1989 experiment by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann was famous not only because it could not be replicated, but because it was prematurely hyped by Pons and Fleischmann before it had gone through peer review or had been replicated. (As BoingBoing points out, the Wikipedia article is worth reading.) No matter what you think of the experiment, it is a terrible example to use as proof that one appreciates basic science…unless you’re citing the rejection of the Pons-Fleischmann results, which Romney explicitly was not. The issue is not merely that Romney continues to believe in a discredited claim. The real issue is that this suggests that Romney doesn’t understand that science is a methodology, not merely the results of that methodology. That’s scary both for a CEO and for a possible president.

I’m at least as bothered, however, by Romney’s casual dismissal of entrepreneurial startups as a source of innovation: “I think Tesla and Fisker are delightful-looking vehicles, but I somehow imagine that Toyota, Nissan, and even General Motors will produce a more cost-effective electric car than either Tesla or Fisker.” “Delightful” is a dismisive word in this context, as evidenced by the inevitability of the “but” that follows it. Romney, it seems, doesn’t believe that startups can get beyond delight all the way to the manly heavy lifting that makes innovation real. For that you need the established, massive corporations.

Wow. Could there be a more 20th century vision of how a 21st century entrepreneurial economy should work?


August 2, 2012

Three vendors and/or products to love: Computer parts, music, electric toothbrush

I wanted to replace the smashed screen of a white MacBook, and found what seemed like a very good price from Wegener. The new screen arrived very quickly, and was exactly as described. But when I started to strip down the MacBook, I discovered I had ordered the wrong screen. It’s surprisingly easy to do.

So, I sent an email to Wegener and quickly got a reply, followed by a phone call. The support person said they are happy to send me the right screen, for which I have to pay a little more because it’s a more expensive part. They’re sending it even before I return the old one. So far, the experience has been terrific: Quick responses, friendly people, good return policy.

Then they told me that in the carton for the replacement part I’ll find a postage paid mailing label. I reminded them that the problem was entirely my fault, and thus there’s no reason for them to pay for shipping. Yikes, that’s some good customer service! (I went ahead and returned the first screen on my own dime.)

It’s amazing how powerful an experience it is to be treated like a human being by a business.

HumbleBundle is a fantastic way to sell indie games and music. You name your own price, you can divvy it up among the creators and among charities, and today I got a message that they’ve added more songs for free for anyone who purchased the most recent bundle.

Yo, Humbles, I already bought the product. You don’t have to entice me any more. On the other hand: You’ve made me love you even more, and you’ve helped some musicians spread their music just a little wider.

I thought it had been 6 months since my last dental check up. Since I now routinely multiply any past intervals by two, I figured, correctly, that it’s really been a year. Usually, the hygienist has to put on waders and go at me with a pickaxe and a trowel. This was the first time in my life that a dental hygienist has marveled at my teeth. Gums are strong. No tartar, except for a little around a couple of teeth. Some healing of a couple of “pockets.”

There’s been one major variable that I know of: I switched from a Braun electric toothbrush to a Philips SoniCare.Why? Because the Internet told me to. I believe that the correlation is not accidental (see what I did there?), but of course it is just one data point.

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June 29, 2012

[aspen][2b2k] Ideo’s Tim Brown

Tim Brown of Ideo is opening his Aspen Ideas Festival talk with a slide presentation called “From Newton to Design”. He says he’s early in thinking it through.

He points to a problem in how we’ve thought about design, trained designers, and have practiced design. The great thing about designing simple products is that you can know almost everything about them: who made them, who they’re for, how they were produced, etc. But as products get more complicated, it gets harder even for a team of designers to really understand what’s going on. They get so complicated that there are lots of places design can fail.

When we go out to urban planning , that becomes even more obvious, he says. He shows Union Sq. when it was designed and how wildly NYC has grown around it. Or, at the Courtyard Marriott chain, every element of the user’s experience has been thought through. He shows a script that specifies every interaction. But you can’t anticipate everything. E.g., JetBlue is one of the best designed customer experiences and even they got it wrong a couple of winters ago.

What’s going on? It’s all about complexity. Henri Poincaré in the 19th century tried to solve the three body problem that had been set by the French govt as an open source competition. HP couldn’t solve it. It sounds like a simple problem, but it’s very hard. [BTW, there's a fascinating history of three French aristocrats hand-computing the movement of Halley's Comet, which depended on calculating the gravitational influences of multiple bodies. Can't find the ref at the moment]

Our basic ideas about design have been based on Newton, says Tim. Design assumes the ability to predict the future based on the present. We need to think more like Darwin: design as an evolutionary process. Design is more about emergence, never finished.

He presents a few principles of Darwinian design that he’s been exploring.

1. Design behaviors, not objects — the behaviors that come from our interactions with objects. If you’ve traveled on the high speed trains in Europe, there are signs urging men to be more accurate when peeing. But at Schiphol Airport, they print a fly at the right spot in the urinal; men became 80% more accurate. That’s designing behavior; the actual object doesn’t matter.

2. Design for information flow. Nicholas Christakis has looked at how networks affect behavior. Tesco uses its loyalty card — which cost them 20% of their margins — to increase sales.

3. Faster iteration = faster evolution. Viruses evolve faster than we do because they iterate faster than we do. E.g., State Farm tried out a new idea how to build relationships with the new generation. They built one storefront for this, and learned from it. “Launch to learn.”

4. Use selective emergence. This intrigues him, alathough he doesn’t know how useful it will be in design. Rather than random mutations, you choose what might be interesting and design things that get us there through many iterations. I.e., genetic algorithms. E.g., the Strandbeest walks along beaches with a hip joint unlike any in nature because the artist used genetic algorithms.

5. Take an experimental approach. I.e., testing hypotheses. Cf. Eric Ries, the Lean Startup (build, measure, learn). E.g., has been working on sanitation in Ghana. Where you can’t dig septic pits, Ideo has been experimenting with low cost receptacle toilets (with bio-digesters). But people didn’t want to pay for the service. So, they gave some to families and went away for three days. All the families changed their minds and said they are willing to pay for the service (which is provided by a local franchise).

6. Focus on simple rules. This comes from emergence theory. E.g., complex bird flocking patterns are based on simple rules. [Canonical example: Termite mounds.] E.g., Bi-Rite stores in SF uses simple rules: If an employee is within 10′ of a customer, you look the customer in the eye. If within 4′, you talk with them. This creates a wonderful service experience.

7. Design is never done. E.g., World of Warcraft is constantly being designed by its players.

8. The power of purpose. This creates the self-governance these complex environments succeed. Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are examples. Companies are experimenting with new ways of thinking about their business and products. E.g., Patagonia tells you not to buy its products because it also wants to preserve the environment.

The prototypical design artefact is a blue print. Once you created the blue print, the design was done. It was the instruction set for someone to make it. That’s how we think about design: finish and done. What replaces it: Code. It might be DNA (and Tim has people researching this), but more often it’s programming code. It’s an instruction set that can continue to evolve.

Now James Fallows [swoon] interviews him.

JF: You embody your principles. The rules are differen from a prior version. [ACK! Crash. Missed about 2 minutes]

TB: We’ve just finished designing the prototype experience for the new health care exchanges. It will affect how people choose which health care insurance to choose. Today it’s done with paper. Under the new health care laws, lots of people will get to make these choices. We worked with the CA Healthcare Foundation to prototype the user experience. What are the key pieces are parts? How can we keep the choices reasonably simple? Then each state will use this a platform to develop their own.

JF: And the govt had the wit to come to you to do this?

TB: The CA Health Care Foundation…

JF: What are the barriers? Does it cost more to do it your way?

TB: It’s often less costly. Most often they don’t have a good understanding of what their customers go through. When a health care org comes to us, relatively frequently we find out that a senior exec had to go through the health care experience. It’s true of all organizations. We don’t ask the right questions. The urgency to change is not there, and the resistance to change is always huge.

JF: Has the TSA come to you?

TB: Yes, but … well, we learned a lot. In the previous admin, we worked with them to find areas of change. Although going through the scanners has to improve, a lot of it has to do with the behavior of the people. They looked at a training program that was intended to take away some of the rule-based system they used. The more rules you apply, the less sensitive the system is. You need to give the people in that system much more independence to make judgments.

JF: Who do you hire?

TB: We look for a wide range of people. Many disciplines. We look for deep skills, and for empathy. It’s hard to solve problems for others without that. Also, most of what we do is too complex for individuals, so we work in teams, and thus people need an enthusiasm for empathy.

JF: Any unusual interview techniques?

TB: We put people into a situation in which they’re practicing design. E.g., intern program. Also, competitions. And we use Open Ideo as a way of seeing how people work.

JF: Beyond the toilet, what else are you doing for “design for poverty.”

TB: I got excited when I saw the opportunities for design in some social design work. At Open Ideo we’re working on clean water, early ed programs, etc. is a non-profit org. We want it to be sustainable and scalable so we look for external funding for it.

JF: How do you approach environmental sustainability?

TB: We try to build that into every project. Every project affects the environment. We try to bring sustainable thinking around systems, materials, energy flows, etc.

JF: What projects are you proudest of?

TB: The work we do in health care, including with Kaiser Permanente. Also, consumer-facing, post-crash financial services. PNC digital wallet. “Keep the change.” Etc. This is not an area where design has had much to do.


TB: For physical objects, it peaked maybe 20-30 years ago (with Apple as an exception). But we’re in ascendance for behavior-based designed. We get 25,000 apps a year for 100 openings. We’re a 600-person company. Etsy, Kickstarter, sw designed better than ever before…great things are happening. Soon if not already the number of digital designers will be greater than all other designers combined.

Q & A

Q: Your principles are so close to Buckminister Fuller’s [says the guy from the Fuller institute]. But the boundary between social and evolutionary systems is illusory.

TB: Yes, Fuller figured this out a long time ago. We’re perhaps resurrecting ideas, as every generation does. Design has operated as a priesthood for too long. When I started, I was only interested in how beautiful something is. That’s so much simpler. Opening design up to many more will convince us all that we’re all part of this big design ecosystem and have a responsibility to be thoughtful about the contributions we’re making to the world around us. I hope professional designers learn to enable that, more than controlling it. The B School at Stanford is introducing non-designers to design, which is great.

Q: What can we do to simplify the rules?

TB: The unstated bit of my thesis is that you still have to stop and design something. We develop an idea, perhaps more through iteration. That process doesn’t change. For rebuilding a complex system, maybe big data will help us to see patterns that allow us to understand what we’re designing’s complex effects…but I don’t think we’re there yet. We should be thinking about the hooks we’re building in. I’m big into APIs that allow other people to build with what you’ve built.

Q: Is it training or DNA that determines a good employee for you?

TB: Both. We hire people straight out of grad school because they’re moldable. We hire older people, but it’s harder for them to adapt. I don’t have much control as CEO. The future of all businesses is to have cultures that are a s self-governing as possible. That’s much more resilient and agile than cultures built on inflexible rule sets.

Q: I chair a land conservancy. We create parks in urban areas. Does Ideo have much experience in designing to create behaviors that will get people to use parks? What’s your view of the state of park design?

TB: We don’t have a lot of expertise in designing anything because we like designing everything. The High Line and the West Side park in NYC are remarkable examples. Projects like that show that parks can be remarkable assets to the city. We’re working with High Line on the third phase of that project. NYC’s life expectancy has gone up 3 yrs. Two explanations: People are closer to health facilities, and people walk more.

Q: What are the logistics of running a decentralized org? Mentoring? Sharing a vision?

TB: Purpose creates a sense of direction, so we talk about why the heck we’re doing what we’re doing. We think we should measure everything we do based on the impact it has on the word. We’ve done an occasionally decent job of mentoring; that can be a problem with a decentralized org. It’s a tension. Most of our employees probably want more mentoring, but we also want autonomy. We are not big believers in warehousing knowledge. Designers hate reusing other people’s ideas. It’s much better to have knowledge systems that inspire people to think in new ways. So we’re a storytelling culture. It’s a bit of an obsession of ours. If you do a piece of work, your job is to have some stories to tell about it. That’s more effective than big reports that live in a database somewhere.

(JF calls for all remaining questions)

Q: My group works with at-risk youth. Education is increasingly standards based, but your work is collaborative.

Q: How do you look at chaos? People in open markets are open and affectionate. In corporate controlled spaces, people shut down.

Q: Does form drive function or vice versa?

Q: Apple is a closed system. Google wants more control. Open vs. controlled systems?

TB: 1. University ed is not always the best way to teach entrepreneurship. Apprenticeships are interesting. 2. Great markets are vibrant, but not chaotic. I take clients to the Ferry building to point out all the interrelated pieces that make that such a great experience. It’s not top down, but you can see the patterns and use them as inspiration. 3. Form follow function? Hard to kick that notion because I believe in beautiful engineering, but most things we’re designing today have hundreds of functions, so you can’t get a single form for it. 4. I love closed systems but I think they’re inevitably part of an open system. IOS is part of an open system of everything else that I do with it. We need both. [At last! Something I disagree with! Sort of! :)]

[Fantastic. I've been a huge fan of Ideo's work, and Ideo's organizational ethos, and Tim Brown, for a long time. So I felt particularly narcissistic as I heard this talk through Cluetrain and Too Big to Know lenses. Substitute "knowledge" for "design" and you get a lot of the ideas in 2b2k. To hear them coming from Tim Brown, who is a personal idol of mine, was a self-centered thrill.]


June 28, 2012

[aspen] US- Mexico relations

Walter Isaacson is interviewing Ricardo Salinas (Mexicon media billionaire) and Richard Haass (president of the Council on Foreign Relations) about our relationship with Mexico.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Richard H. says that the media only covers drugs and guns when it comes to Mexico, but that’s a very small part of the problem. In fact, Mexico is a major economic success story. Indeed, he says, the Americas are an amazing success story: growing economies, democratic, at peace, overall. Ricardo says that his Mexican company employs 75,000, but they have 15,000 unfilled positions; Americans may emigrate to Mexico to get jobs.

Ricardo says that demand is driving the Mexican drug trade. It has become violent in Mexico, he says, because the president has said, as a policy, “Get them all.” The victims are cartel members — over 50,000 dead. Richard H. says the drug trade is more peaceful in the US because the police aren’t as corrupt. Ricardo says Mexico should adopt the US policy: raise the professionalism of the police, and focus on the violence; let the rest slip for now.

Richard H. asks if MExico will open itself up to foreign oil investors, because Mexico is an under-producer. Ricardo says the national govt gets about 30% of its revenues from oil. There will be foreign investment in extracting the oil, he says, but not in the oil territories themselves. There’s also solar, wind, and geothermal energy in Mexico.

The student movement, inspired by left wing leaders, says the media are closed to them, but that’s untrue, says Ricardo (media mogul). The media are balanced. Calderon’s electoral reform of 2007 gave political parties 3 mins of air time every hour of radio and TV for free. That’s “theft,” Ricardo says.

After the upcoming election, it’s 5 months of waiting. Also, presidents are limited to one 6-year term. Might either of these change? Ricardo says that the five month waiting period should be changed. But there’s no political possibility of changing the one-term rule.

Nicholas Burns: Presidents Bush and Obama have put a lot of their eggs into Brazil as the primary political partner in the Americas. Does that underestimate Mexico? Mexico is a regional power.

Ricardo: Mexico is such a friend that they don’t even take us into consideration. The relationship with Mexico is really good. Huge amounts of investment. The traffic in goods and services is huge. Everything is working fine. Richard H. says US-Mexican trade is 5x US-Brazilian trade. Brazil will probably double its oil output over the next few years, but they have problems with corruption. Ricardo says that Mexico has not been active in external affairs because it’s been distracted by its drug mafia. Richard H.: Our lack of a regional trade policy has been a mistake. We haven’t gone beyond NAFTA the ways that we should. NAFTA is one of the reasons Mexico’s economy survived the meltdown. And the next strategic area of partnership will be energy. Put together Canada, US, and Mexico and you get 18M barrels of oil a day.

Cuba? Ricardo: the poor people there are in a terrible situation. And the American blockade — an absurd thing — is the main reason. Castro would have been out a long time ago.

Q: What was your prior election — so close — like for osmeone in the private sector?

Ricardo: The election was so close because the PRI put forward a terrible candidate. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Democratic REvolution Party candidate, did a good job as mayor of Mexico City, and would do fine as president.

Q: Landscape for emerging entrepreneurs?

Ricardo: A year ago we started a project for women entrepreneurs. In one year, we’re up to 900,000 women. Entrepreneurs tend to go underground because it’s too hard to be legal and pay taxes and social security. It’s complicated to set up a new business. Forms, taxes. We should simplify business for small corporations. Richard H. adds that it’s become simpler over the past few years.

Ricardo: People say we charge too much. But it’s for small amounts. 80% of $100 is only $80.

WI: That’s a lot.

Ricardo: For small loans, the transaction costs are high.

WI: ou need to fix that to get more entrepreneurship.

Ricardo: You fix it by making more credit available.

Ricardo: The govt has not made a level playing field for telecom companies. And how are we going to bridge the digital divide except via mobile?

Q: How’s the tourism business been affected?

Ricardo: You’re missing something good and you should go. Nothing bad will happen to you. They’re not going after tourists. Best golf in the world.

Q: Why is it still under travel advisory from the State Dept?

Haas: Some areas are more dangerous, e.g. Monterey. The State Dept. is conservative.

Ricardo: Mexico is a very large country. It’s totally different in different places.

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[aspen] The new professionalism

I’m at the Aspen Ideas Festival, at a panel on how professionalism has changed.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Reid Hoffman (chair of LinkedIn) says the concept of the professional has changed. It used to be something you got intensive training for, and then moved from apprentice to master within your chosen field. Now it means constantly learning, and adapting to changes in tech and business.

Deirdre Stanley is general counsel at Thomson Reuters (host of this panel). She says that professionalism used to mean meeting peer standards. Now she thinks about professionalism in terms of project ownership, problem solving, a defined end goal, and it’s left to your discretion how to reach that goal.

Susan Peters says GE thinks of professionals as problem solvers. They have 160,000 professionals around the world. It’s about how you do the problem solving. Do leaders create cultures, or do cultures create leaders, she asks.

Mark Penn, the pollster, says that professionals are the new middle class. 85% of Americans say they’re middle class. 54% say they’re professionals. This is the new backbone of the economy. We don’t recognize it enough. There’s not enough talk about making the professional sector as big, vibrate, and cutting edge as possible.

Moderator Heidi Moore says that professionalism is not seen as soulless and oppressed as in Dilbert and Office Space.

Reid: It’s called work because you wouldn’t do it if you weren’t paid for it. The key question: Tech is transforming industry, and tech requires new sets of skills. How do we invest in ourselves and our society? Purpose is an important element, but it’s also how you maintain a competitive edge in the skill set.

Mark: Many professionals don’t want to retire. 25% in an AARP poll said that they don’t want to retire because they like working.

Heidi: Because they feel like they’re working for themselves?

Susan: A cohort is drawn to mission-based work. And it’s the environment in which you’re doing it: the people you work with, the management structure, are you enabled to be a problem solver. At GE last summer we took 21 people from around the globe and had them spend time together, and tell us what you think GE needs to be like: who, where, how. They came up with 250 ideas E.g., a career navigation tool.

Deirdre: Not every company has the luxury to do that. Law students are not getting jobs. And of course not just law students. People have to learn new skills.

Heidi: What does the new professional look like? What should we be doing to manage our careers?

Reid: Think of yourself as the business of yourself. My skillset? How do I invest in myself? What’s your individual product market fit.

Mark: You need education and knowledge. And we need to prepare people for independent problem solving, which is what professionals do.

Deirdre: The proliferation of info affects professionals. 20 yrs ago, your doctor told you what’s wrong with you. Now, you google your symptoms and go to the doctor.

Susan: The organization has to do some forward thinking in helping people become problem solvers. People need to never stop evolving.

Reid: To be a professional, you have to take responsibility for your own evolution. That doesn’t mean the society and business shouldn’t provide the tools and environment to enable that. In Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of discussion about what people seeing about how companies are working; individuals need to do that also

Mark: Prof orgs needs to having training tracks, mentoring. Problem solving is best taught through mentorship. But it’s also about their social environment.

Heidi: Working at home?

Mark: The better the collaborative tools, the better the quality of work.

Reid: Startups are working on this. E.g., LiquidSpace, etc. You do have to have some high bandwidth in-person interactions. It’s going to be ablend.

Deirdre: Tech is accelerating this virtual environment, and also putting increased pressure on the professional. The ability to master the tools may change the profile of the professional. Also, the ability to work with many different sorts of people matters. And, yes, you need some in-person team-building.

Susan: It’s not the old demographic. It’s about the work space, about tech, and about connectedness. The old corporate structure, patterned on the military, is antiquated.

Reid: If you don’t find risk, risk finds you. This is because tech drives globalization. People say they want meaning and stability from their work. Adaptability is the new stability. You accomplish that by being able to take intelligent risks. That’s what entrepreneurs do well, which is why it’s important to become the entrepreneur of your own life. You can’t manage risk to zero. By learning how to be adaptive is how you manage risk in a modern professional career.

Deirdre: When you sit in a corporation, you see some areas growing and some not. If you’re an employee, you want to be in the growing part or in the group figuring out the strategy for the other areas.

Mark: 75% of voters have some college. 26% of two-income households make over $100K. The new prof class is much more pro-environment, much more socially tolerant. We currently have two professionals running for president.

Heidi: Yet all they talk about manufacturing jobs.

Mark: That’s because Ohio is a swing state. But we don’t have enough people to fill all the professional jobs. So why isn’t that the central focus of our economy?

Susan: We do need manufacturing in this country. The professionals in GE are helping to make those manufacturing jobs as advanced as possible. Our aircraft factories are very flat: an hourly worker can stop an assembly line. No foremen. The professional work class comes up with the ideas that brings the next product to be manufactured. GE is big enough that we can experiment. Eg., we’ve given some of our most senior people by giving them events outside of GE for 2-3 days. We send them to Silicon Valley, etc., to be out of their own context. Our research into 21st leaders shows that the people who make the best decisions are the ones with the best context — not just knowledge, but contacts wide in the world.

Heidi: I wake up early every morning and check Spanish bond deals. You have to be thinking about what’s happening around the world.

Reid: Use your network. In Silicon Valley we are constantly talking about “Have you seen…?”

Deirdre: There’s so much info that there may not always be the opportunity to step back and make informed decisions.

Reid: The books I read are the ones strongly recommended by my network.

Susan: Think about reflection. It’s an under leveraged aspect of what has to happen.

Q: You’ve been talking about changes individuals needs to make as professionals. I just spoke with student journalists all of whom are being taught very traditional ways of building a career. How do our higher ed institutions have to change.

Reid: Massively. Ivory towers worked better when there was less change in the world. Also, the dividing line between education and work is going the way of the dodo. You’re in permanent beta.

Mark: American professionals are pretty successful. We’re doing something right. Our system produces people who are the leading edge of change. I think we need more cultural change. Is it education or values that matters?

Heidi: Can we get a work ethic in a free-er culture?

Susan: The community does a great job with that. We’re getting peer evaluations: Who added the most value.

Heidi: Reverse mentoring?

Reid: For me the network is the mentor

Deirdre: At Thomson Reuters especially in diversity training we use reverse mentoring.

Susan: We do reverse mentoring, typically in the tech space.

Q: Many people are unprepared to be entrepreneurs. Shouldn’t public ed teach the basics of entrepreneurship?

Reid: Can it be taught? You can at least give people a grasp of the concepts.

Mark: It’s an important point. In the polls, American youth are becoming less entrepreneurial. They’re more interested in becoming professionals. Arab youth and Vietnamese are hotbeds of entrepreneurship.

Q: The future seems to take more time than we think. In the lifetimes of people here, what will professionalism look like?

Reid: The future is sooner and stranger than you think. I do think we’ll see more free agency; more network thinking, but orgs thinking about networks across boundaries; employment contracts will maintain relationships.

Susan: Some people will get very far very fast. It depends on the person and the product. You don’t want your aircraft engine to be totally freewheeling. Orgs will get more horizontal. People will have to become better all the time or they won’t make it; otherwise they’ll be selected out by their peers or mgt structure. You can’t be what you were.

Mark: We’re bad at predicting the future because we don’t understand the present. But AI will be important.

Heidi: Wall Street’s inability to adapt these days is like Mad Men: People who have an ideal of life they don’t want to change.

[me] Reid’s answers have generally been about being a good professional by using the Net. We have an idea of what a professional looks like in the real world. What does a professional look like on the Net?

Reid: There won’t really be a distinction between professionalism on the net and in life. About ten yrs ago, people said everyone would be blogging, but not everyone has those skills. Having a presence and an identity, being able to find info, to operate through these networks (public and private) will be an essential tool set to be able to operate effectively as a professional. E.g., search cna find all sorts of things, e.g., who ar the right people to talk to to figure things out, what should I be reading to figure out what’s going, etc.

Deirdre: Yes. E.g., knowing how to do Big Data.

[One of the unsaid things: To be professional used to imply a down-to-work, efficient attitude. Now we expect and encourage professionals to have the social skills — including a sense of humor — that enables them to succeed in social nets of all sorts.]

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June 2, 2012

Distribution models that work. Are we finally getting it (them) right?

Is it just me, or are we in a period when new distribution models are burgeoning? For example:

1. Kickstarter, of course, but not just for startups trying to kickstart their business. For example, Amanda Palmer joined the Louis CK club a couple of days ago by raising more than a million bucks there for her new album. (She got my $5 :) As AFP has explained, she is able to get this type of support from her fans because she treats her fans honestly, frankly, with respect, and most of all, with trust.

2. At VODO, you can get your indie movie distributed via bittorrent. If it starts taking off, VODO may feature it. VODO also works with sponsors to support you. From my point of view as a user, I torrented “E11,” a movie about rock climbing, for free, or I could have paid $5 to stream it for 10 days with the ability to share the deal with two other people. VODO may be thinking that bittorrenting is scary enough to many people that they’ll prefer to get it the easy way by paying $5. VODO tells you where your money is going (70% goes to the artist), and treats us with respect and trust.

3. I love Humble Bundle as a way of distributing indie games. Periodically the site offers a bundled set of five games for as much as you want to pay. When you check out, you’re given sliders so you can divvy up the amount as you want among the game developers, including sending some or all to two designated charities. If you pay more than the average (currently $7.82), you get a sixth game. Each Bundle is available for two weeks. They’ve sold 331,000 bundles in the past three days, which Mr. Calculator says comes to $2,588,420. All the games are all un-copy-protected and run on PCs and Macs. Buying a Humble Bundle is a great experience. You’re treated with respect. You are trusted. You have an opportunity to do some good by buying these games. And that’s very cool, since usually sites trying to sell you stuff act as if buying that stuff is the most important thing in the world.

4. I’m hardly the first to notice that Steam has what may be the best distribution system around for mass market entertainment. They’re getting users to pay for $60 games that they otherwise might have pirated by making it so easy to buy them, and by seeming to be on the customer’s side. You buy your PC game at their site, download it from them, and start it up from there. They frequently run crazy sales on popular games for a couple of days, and the game makers report that there is enough price elasticity that they make out well. If I were Valve (the owners of Steam), I’d be branching out into the delivery of mainstream movies.

There’s of course much much more going on. But that’s my point: We seem to be figuring out how to manage digital distribution in new and successful ways. The common threads seem to be: Treat your customers with respect. Trust them. Make it easy for them to do what they want to do with the content. Have a sense of perspective about what you’re doing. Let the artists and the fans communicate. Be on your customers’ side.

Put them all together and what do you have? Treat us like people who care about the works we’re buying, the artists who made them, about one another, and about the world beyond the sale.


May 25, 2012

Marketing music: Amanda Palmer shows you how it’s done.

A few days ago I pointed to Elizabeth ‘s thread at Reddit where she engaged with the public in a way that everyone who manages customer support, PR, or marketing ought to learn from.

Today, Amanda Palmer posted about her current Kickstarter project, which has raised $855,000 with eight days yet to run. Her goal was $100,000…except in her post she responds with complete frankness (she’s AFP, after all) about what her real expectations were. The post is both an explanation and a demonstration of how musicians and theandir audiences can love and support each other.


May 23, 2012

Customer support (and collateral PR) at Reddit: How it’s done

A user who goes by the name Loyal2nes (NES = Nintendo gaming platform) had a problem: the game Civilization 4 kept crashing. So s/he posted about it on the game maker’s customer support site. Two days later, a customer support agent, Alexis L, replied that the problem is that Loyal2nes’s device only has 4096mb of RAM, whereas it needs at least 2 gigabytes. Unfortunately, Alexis did not understand that 4096 megabytes is the same as 4 gigabytes. Ooops.

Loyal2nes posted a screencapture of the exchange under a sarcastic headline, and opened up a thread about it at Reddit, where it climbed to the front page.

And the top-voted comment among the 460+ comments is from the Reddit user dahanese. Here’s her response:

Hey Loyal -

I’m Elizabeth Tobey and I’m the head of customer service – first off, I want to apologize because that’s a pretty embarrassing mistake. Secondly, I want to let you know I’m reopening your ticket and escalating it up. Chances are, I won’t get a response from the team who can help test out tonight and we’ll have a bit more back and forth in the coming days to try and troubleshoot the issue, but I promise I won’t tell you 4096MB is under spec and close your ticket.

Let me know if you have more questions now (although we can use the Support system and not reddit if you want!)


It doesn’t end there, though. Elizabeth stays with the thread as it expands and diverges. She’s frank, funny, and, as the thread continues, makes it clear that she’s not an interloper at Reddit. In fact, she’s been a Redditor (participant) for a while, participating in the threads that interest her. Often those threads are about gaming, but she also comments on ther serendipitous topics that make Reddit so much fun.

So, what’s so right about how Elizabeth handled this?

  • Her reply was frank, helpful, non-defensive, and understood the customer’s point of view

  • She identified herself by name and position

  • She exhibited a genuine interest in the overall thread, not simply in patching up a problem

  • She was speaking for 2K but very clearly also as herself and in her own voice

  • She spoke in a way that did not just serve her employer but, more importantly, served the conversation

  • She was already a member of the community — an enabler for the rest of this list

The only thing that could have made this a better example of how customer support and public relations is changing would be if Elizabeth were not the head of Customer Support but was an empowered customer support rep. But all the other main themes are there. Clear as day.


May 22, 2012

Documents: Dead or grizzled survivors?

My friend Frank Gilbane has unearthed anissue of my old e-zine from 1998 in which I proposed that documents are dead, and in which he counter-proposed that they are not. This morning Frank writes: “I was gratified to find that I still agree with my 1998-self, and will check with David to see whether he is the same self he was.”

I will acknowledge that there is one itsy-bitsy way in which Frank was right and I was wrong: Documents are not dead. And it’s also undeniably the case that Web sites have not taken over from them. But I do think I was sort of right about some points in that post.

So, we still write and read documents. Just today, for example, I was at a contentious meeting of a task force at which we debated what the structure of our final report should be. The finality of the document is serving as a forcing function for getting us literally on the same page. It’s not a very elegant mechanism, but neither is a 15-pound sledge hammer, yet it’s sometimes the tool for the job.

But, we write and read old-style documents in a context saturated with documents that are more like the Web sites my old post describes. Indeed, the document the task force is working on is a Google Doc where we are tussling by writing (and over-writing) collaboratively, using the built-in, minimal chatting function. Not a lot like an old document…until the moment we have to declare it done and settled. It lives once we pronounce it dead, so to speak.

And the task force is pulling into our report material posted on the Web site we created for the project. The one with drafts and plenty of places for people to comment.

In 1998 blogging wasn’t yet a thing, and a whole bunch of old style document work has moved onto the Web — and has taken up webby characteristics — in that form. The task force’s web site uses blogging software. (Actually, I think it may not. But it could have.)

Then there are the streams of tweets that match some of the characteristics my old post describes as the future of documents. And the rise of wikis that are never fully done. And the wild aggregation and re-aggregation of content. And RSS feeds. Etc. etc.

So, no, documents live. But they are surrounded be an ecosystem that is overflowing with variants on documents that have the characteristics my old post pointed to. I was wrong about the death of documents, but not so wrong about the direction we were headed in.

Still, let me be clear: I was wrong.

Happy, Frank? :)

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April 13, 2012

[2b2k] The power of extreme diversity

Brian Millar has a brief article in FastCompany about his company’s strategy of consulting “extreme customers” to get insight into existing products and ideas for new ones. He writes, “You can learn a lot about mobile phones by talking to a power user. You can learn even more by talking to somebody who’s deliberately never bought one.” And

We recently worked with some Brazilian transsexuals on hair-removal products, looking at ways of making the process less painful. I can assure you, we had their full attention. Some are still sending us ideas.

It’s a great illustration of the fact that innovation tends to come from the intersection of orthogonal streets.

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