Monthly Archives: February 2008

Wisfulness in portions

Neil Gaiman: Smoke and Mirrors

I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, but one of my daughters has a copy of Coraline in her bookshelf. Nevertheless, he comes highly recommended from people I respect, so when I was picking over the airport bookstore in Orlando (admittedly not the most fertile of cultural hunting grounds) before an 18-hour flight to China, Smoke and Mirrors was a natural choice (actually, the only one).

The book is a collection of Gaiman’s early short stories, most of them realistically written with a slight twist of the supernatural. Each story at some point crosses into fairy-tale territory, but does it so discreetly that it seems natural and to be expected. I particularly liked Troll Bridge – about a young boy who meets a troll under a disused railway bridge – and Gold Fish Pond and other stories, which isn’t magical at all (it is a partly fictional reminiscence about a movie writer’s visit to Hollywood.) Gaiman’s stories have a certain wistfulness about them, they are stories about people who want, somehow, to escape their surroundings and eventually do.

John Hagel on the user revolution

(Third installment in a series of Notes from FastForward 2008

John Hagel: The User Revolution

(John spoke without slides – what a relief)

The user revolution is about power. Good news, bad news: Most of us are users, so that is good. But most of us are employees of companies, and they are being squeezed. Average lifetime as humans going up, average lifetime of firms is going down (average time in Fortune 500 is now 15 years.) Companies have not yet figured out how to thrive in this environment.

A key limiter has always been shelf space – either in a store or as share of attention of a sales person. This is no longer a scarce resource. The scarce resource now is is customer attention. Second part of the story is the increasing power of talent. Talent is in short supply and increasingly important to company performance – and there are more options for talent to leave. Companies will increasingly differentiate themselves on their ability to develop talent.

Movement from push programs to pull platforms – from tightly scripted activities to flexible frameworks for orchestrating resources. How do we create decentralized resource networks that are highly scalable? The “pull platforms” are about connecting people to resources and to each other. Bill Joy: There are always a lot more smart people outside your organization than inside. Example: Lee & Fong, tailored supply chains for apparel designers.  Cisco Connection Online with 40K “partners” around support of products. Facebooks mobilizing application developers.

Push models allowed companies to start and to create effective processes. Manufacturing, education etc. has primarily been in push mode. Push programs treat people as passive consumers, pull platforms treat people as network creators. Search is a critical tool here.

One problem: For any revolution, we need a pragmatic transition path. This requires a new set of performance measures (in addition to traditional measures, not as substitutes):

  • ROA: Return on attention. From participant and organizer perspectives. Key question for participants: What is the productivity of the attention I give to one resource? For organizers: How much resources necessary to gain attention, and what is it worth.
  • ROI: Return on Intention: For participant: How much information about myself and my needs have I provided relative to what I have receive. From organizer: How much effort invested, how much value in return. Need to watch what people are doing and generate insight from that, as opposed to having people fill out lengthy registration forms. How can we shorten the time from information collection to delivery of value? Are we fully utilizing the data that we have – many companies brag about all the data they have about customers, but the tangible value is often negligible.
  • ROS: Return on skills. Given the amount of effort I spend, to what extent can I develop my skills. Can I use my skill on other platforms. For organizers: What kind of contributors can I attract to my pull platform?

As customers become more powerful, they want influence over the design of the platform. Allow that to gain loyalty. Customers are looking for partners that can help them become better faster, collaborate more effectively with others.

Don Tapscott on Wikinomics

(Second installment in a series of Notes from FastForward 2008)

Don Tapscott: Wikinomics – setting the stage

Don started by saying that this is not new: Time’s Person of The Year was you, and that is soooo 2006. Mass collaboration changes everything. Buy my book! Now, seriously… 

Companies are becoming more professional and peer-oriented, less hierarchical, more meritocratic. This is not new either – Paradigm Shift said this in 1991, and Peter Drucker has said it for a long time before that. Why is it taking so long? The drivers have been missing, but are here now: 

Four drivers of change:

1: Technology, particularly 2.0 technologies: Things talking to each other – one friend has his sprinkler system couple to his intrusion system, in case a burglar jumps over the fence. In the new world, you browse the physical world. GPS allows not just positioning, but movement. True multimedia changes what a film is. New web based on XML, the web is becoming a global computational platform. In some ways, search becomes the new operating system, But legacy systems exist and the integration problem will not go away quickly.

2: The net generation: We have this generation that are not afraid of technology because for them, it has always been ubiquitous. We have had boom, bust and echo in demographics, but the echo is larger than the boom – in Asia and South America have tsunami coming along. These kids multitask, don’t use the TV, they are very active with collaborative technology, games and search. Their synaptic connections are actually different, since they have had this during their formative years. They use email technology to send a formal letter of thanks to a friend’s parents.

3: A social revolution: The rise of collaborate communities. XML has overtaken HTML: Flickr beats Kodak, YouTube beats MTV. MySpace has 15,000 bands….. His son created a Facebook group on Wikinomics that exploded and is now placing demands on him….

4: An economic revolution: You are getting new companies: Digital conglomerates. Google is the fourth largest broker of hardware in the United States. Microsoft, Yahoo, Google,, ebay – these are not some blips. Coase: Transaction costs is really cost of coordination and contracting. From industrial companies to extended enterprises to business webs, and now we will have mass collaboration. Example: Goldcorp, a mining company ready to be shut down, because the geologists cannot find gold. So they put their geological data on the Internet, hold a competition on the internet, $500,000 prize money, 75 submissions find $3.6b worth of gold. Many of the best submissions came from people who where not geologists.

How do you harness mass collaboration? 7 things:

  1. Peer pioneers: We are smarter than me, a book written by 1500 people. Spikesource: Tests open source software, certifies it, support it. investment fund, peer lending.
  2. Ideagoras:  Creating an eBay for innovation. P&G looking for a molecule that will take red wine off a shirt, Crowdsourcing.
  3. Prosumers. Turning your consumers into producers. 99% of Linden Labs product (Second Life) is done by its users. The record industry is the poster child for not understanding this. The final chapter of Wikinomics is a wiki…want to be the context provider for the definitive guide to the next century business.
  4. The new Alexandrians. The sharing of science. The Human Genome has transformed bioscience. Tracking Avian flu through mashups. The alliance for climate protection. Killer app of wikinomics may be saving the planet.
  5. Open platforms. – open platform from innovation. 1/3 of revenues from API.
  6. The global plant floor. 787 is a peer produced airplane, with their suppliers. Suppliers co-design airplanes scratch and deliver compelte subassemblies. The Chinese motorcycle industry is run by small companies that meet in tea houses, collaborate, now has 1/3 of all motorcycle production. Next year: 1500 dollar car from China.
  7. The Wiki workplace: Geek squad (20,000) design products for geek squad. 

“New paradigms cause dislocation, conflict, confusion, uncertainty. New paradigms are nearly always received with coolness, even mockery or hostility. Those with vested interests fight the change. The shift demands such a different view of things that established leaders are often last to be won over, if at all.” (Marilyn Ferguson).

Saint-Exupery: We should welcome the future because it will soon be the past.

We should respect the past because it was once all that was humanly possible.

Andy MacAfee on Enterprise 2.0 success factors

(First installment in a series of Notes from FastForward 2008)

Andy MacAfee: Enterprise 2.0: What will it take to bring about a world of change

MacAfee talked about what it takes to bring about change – Enterprise 2.0 (corporate use of Web 2.0, as I see it) has moved from the what through the why to the how. He looked into some of the factors that seem to be connected with success, grouped into technology, initiatives and culture.

Technology must have intuitive and easy tools (meaning that it needs to work with email, for one thing), the tools must be egalitarian and freeform, the borders must seem appropriate to users (meaning that you need some borders and confined spaces), at least some of the tools must be explicitly social, and the toolset must be quickly standardized.

The most difficult part lies in the intuitiveness – avoid feature creep! The egalitarianism and the freeform part has more to do with bosses than with technology. Bosses are not comfortable with letting loose the process definition part – they need to work hard to get out of the way, at least initially.

Initiatives usually involves incentives – they exist, and they should be soft. Not just T-shirts and nerf toys, but not much more, and not monetary. Goals need to be clear and explained – being interested in Enterprise 2.0 is not good in itself. Many companies don’t have a goal – the US Intelligence community is an example of an organization that has one. Most important: You need incentives; having evangelists, and having official and unofficial support from the top. You also need excellent gardeners, bottom-up energy and activity, and clear and explained goals. The CEO Blog is a good thing – Marriott has one, dictates it and it is not created by the PR team.

Most difficult: Getting the incentives right, and getting the excellent gardeners – people that accelerate the emergence of structure in wiki environments. In any population there are not enough of them.

Culture: Some important issues are that people should be trusted, there should be slack in the workweek, helpfulness has been a norm, top management accepts lateralization (turns out it is very hard for companies to accept even light user commentary, for fear that it might be negative, even though all statistics show that it it is very powerful – most of it is going to be positive, and the negative comments make the positive ones more valid), there are lots of young people, and there is pent-up demand for better sharing. Most important: trust, lateralization, and pent-up demand for sharing.

Most difficult: Trust, slack in workweek, and top management accepting lateralization. You need spare cycles!

Conclusion: enterprise 2.0 is going to increase differences among companies – technology accentuates differences, and this one will. The data is accumulating. The reason lies in willingness to embark, sincerity of effort, and ability to execute. These differences will matter – it will not be the end of the hierarchy, but it will help companies become more responsive, help capturing and sharing knowledge (particularly as the demographic bulge is leaving the workforce) and then there is this vague notion of collective intelligence. Groups and committees, geographically dispersed, can do spectacularly valuable things with this technology.

Clunky does it

Seth Godin gives examples of how winning web sites often are not those that win design awards, unless you define ”bad design” as ”does not work”.

VG Nett logoI am not sure this is a real trend, but here is another example:  This Norwegian newspaper has a website that breaks all possible criteria for good design: It is seemingly disorganized (there is not thematic order to the articles), has colorful images and distracting images all over, is very long, and is manually put together. And it is wildly successful: VG is Norway’s largest newspaper*, and has more readers than the paper paper. is also different in that only 5% of the material at the web site comes from the paper version. The managing editor of, Torry Pedersen, has so far resisted any integration with the paper version tooth and nail – something the very successful media house Schibsted gives him, not least because his profitability levels have consistently been over 40% and he has taken more than a quarter of all news and entertainment traffic in Norway.

I used to think that search would take over newspapers, but Torry begs to differ: Only 10% of his readers come through search engines – the rest arrive in the front doors, looking at the lively, entertaining and rather chaotic front page as a gateway to something interesting, something newsworthy, a break in a hectic or slow day.

In other words, there are more than one way to skin a cat, or, in this case, to bring newspapers to the web. Torry’s way should be something to ponder for traditional papers such as the New York Times, with their rather austere and self-important designs. The Atlantic has an interesting front page, but the content does not change often enough to make it a frequent stopping place. As for the rest – look out for Google News…

*On a personal note: I never read it myself, since it is decidedly tabloid in nature. The Internet version, though, is subtly different. 

Scalzi on writing as a living

John Scalzi, successful sci-fi writer, gives his perspective on how to think about writing and money. Strike “writing” and replace it with any other kind of independent work, such as speaking, consulting or development, and it is still excellent advice.

Come to think of it, most academics I know fall firmly in the “dont’ quit your day job” category – with the exception that most of them do the extra bit in order to afford being an academic…..

Oh well, perhaps it is time to write that book. On salaried time, mind you.