Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Sunday, 17 August 2014
It seems "willful blindless" is a human condition, ie, it is not a function of intelligence, upbringing or culture. Specifically, most people are hard wired to be obedient, and we know from bystander theory that the more people who see something going wrong, the less likely someone is to intervene.
In her research, over 85-percent of people surveyed at companies claim they are either afraid to speak up or believe it is futile. So is the job of the leader to create conditions in which the smart employees are willing and able to speak up if they see something wrong? I think so. If we do this, we have lower the chance of making life threatening business decisions.
Some of her suggested antidotes to willful blindness:
- Hire for real diversity, not just political correctness. Bias has a biological basis. Our brains prefer information and people that are familiar. We are confident in people who are like us; they confirm us and our beliefs, but what we really need is people who are different than us with different thinking styles and backgrounds.
- Humility: Leadership that is humble and confident enough to listen those who speak out intelligentally.
- Curiosity: In execution mode, we develop tunnel vision, especially if we are surrounding by people who think like us. We also need curious people – people whose minds wander and whose brains are supple.
- Nurture safe environments to allow people to ask hard questions and enable structured debate around answering those.
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
Here are some of the insights I found most interesting:
- "When it takes 20 months to build one thing, your skill set becomes less about innovation and more about navigating bureaucracy."
- The value of the homepage is decreasing. “Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time: page views and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages last year.”
- Newsroom needs to get involved in the business side. No longer can journalists not be involved in pushing the product: "at The Times, discovery, promotion and engagement have been pushed to the margins, typically left to our business-side colleagues or handed to small teams... [the] newsroom needs to claim its seat at the table because packaging, promoting and sharing our journalism requires editorial oversight.”
- Need to approach the "new media" as software developers; build tools that scale: “We have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects and work through the one-time fixes needed to create them and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools, templates and permanent fixes that cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists time and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.” They point out that competitors like Vox and BuzzFeed view innovating with their platforms as a key function and allow them to create products like BuzzFeed’s quizzes — incredibly popular, but also easy to create over and over again.
- Need a stronger "big data" approach: “Without better tagging, we are hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.” And, "“Just adding structured data, for example, immediately increased traffic to our recipes from search engines by 52 percent."
- This is just dumb. so easy to fix: "Overall, less than 10 percent of Times traffic comes from social, compared to 60 percent at BuzzFeed."
- Comments sections suck: “Only one percent of readers write comments and only three percent of readers read comments. Our trusted-commenter system, which we hoped would increase engagement, includes just a few hundred readers.”
- Live events for media companies can be big, Atlantic's http://www.aspenideas.org/ was cited: “There is no reason that the space filled by TED Talks, with tickets costing $7,500, could not have been created by the Times. ‘One of our biggest concerns is that someone like The Times will start a real conference program,’ said a TED executive.”
- The age old creative and business dont mix: ‘Everyone is a little paranoid about being seen as too close to the business side.’
- Innovators Dilemma en route. The people with power and vested interests in the past kill innovation: In the triangle of business side, Reader Experience, and newsroom, the newsroom is often seen as defensive or risk averse. “One reason for our caution is that the newsroom tends to view questions through the lens of worst-case scenarios,” the report puts it. “And the newsroom has historically reacted defensively by watering down or blocking changes, prompting a phrase that echoes almost daily around the business side: ‘The newsroom would never allow that.’”
- Trying to find the innovators solution... The big question: How can the Times become more digital while still maintaining a print presence, and what has to change? “That means aggressively questioning many of our print-based traditions and their demands on our time, and determining which can be abandoned to free up resources for digital work.”
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
I read this again the other day on the web and lifted it for reference. As a business guy trying to build business models around creativity, I often hit a dead end just as I think I have cracked it. That's because of the deep paradox that exits in great creative output. Mihaly describes 9 contradictory traits that are frequently present in creative people:
1. Most creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but are often quiet and at rest. They can work long hours at great concentration.
2. Most creative people tend to be smart and naive at the same time. “It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure, and that most creativity workshops try to enhance.”
3. Most creative people combine both playfulness and productivity, which can sometimes mean both responsibility and irresponsibility. “Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.” Usually this perseverance occurs at the expense of other responsibilities, or other people.
4. Most creative people alternate fluently between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. In both art and science, movement forward involves a leap of imagination, a leap into a world that is different from our present. Interestingly, this visionary imagination works in conjunction with a hyperawareness of reality. Attention to real details allows a creative person to imagine ways to improve them.
5. Most creative people tend to be both introverted and extroverted. Many people tend toward one extreme or the other, but highly creative people are a balance of both simultaneously.
6. Most creative people are genuinely humble and display a strong sense of pride at the same time.
7. Most creative people are both rebellious and conservative. “It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.”
8. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, but remain extremely objective about it as well. They are able to admit when something they have made is not very good.
9. Most creative people’s openness and sensitivity exposes them to a large amount of suffering and pain, but joy and life in the midst of that suffering. “Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
The "Think Different" Campaign (1997), marked the return of Steve Jobs to Apple and is my favourite Ad campaign of all time. (Which, interestingly, only received a Silver at the Clios!?)
Fascinating behind the scenes take on this campaign by Rob Stiltanen, part of Lee Clow's creative team who put together this campaign for Apple while at Chiat/Day: http://onforb.es/1hdRgRW. I love how Jobs initially thought the script was "shit". He is descrived as a mix of "Michelangelo, Mies van der Rohe and Henry Ford—with some John McEnroe and Machiavelli thrown in".
"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules.
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
love this. cant remember where I read it unfortunately:
"You can’t have strategy without tactics… if you do it’s called dreaming. You can’t have tactics without strategy… if you do it’s called chaos."
Friday, 16 August 2013
Sunday, 30 June 2013
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Thursday, 21 March 2013
Sunday, 11 November 2012
I agree with Alain.
The concept of work-life balance is a false dichotomy.
First, it presumes that work is in opposition to life. It is assumes that the problem is binary - it's not. The fact is that work is a fundamental part of life; who we are and what we do both define us, sometimes with good and bad results. Work-life balance is not a state. It is a fluid goal and while the pursuit of it is great, it doesn't really exist. Strive to add other parts to your life to "balance" the work part but don't kill yourself when you don't get this ephemeral balance. I worry that people berate themselves for never having balance, which is another kind of stress, guilt, equally bad as high work stress. so my view: pursue it, but don't fixate on the state.
Second, long hours are not necessarily a problem. Some people get enjoyment working long hours: "work is more fun, than fun", said Noel Coward. It all depends on the person's frame of reference too. do you have kids? 50+ hours is likely dumb. but I for one (with no kids - yet) love working long hours in my current job. it is where I get most of my "Flow" (Csikszentmihalyi). and this makes sense, because achievement is high on the list of what makes most people happy. I find mine in the job that I do. so we need to be careful: long hours are not *necessarily* bad.
And Orson sums it up beautifully here:
"The two things arent separated in my mind... Work is an expression of life"
"The heights by great men reached and kept
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night."
And finally, Churchill:
“If you find a job you really love, you’ll never work again"
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Sunday, 4 November 2012
Saturday, 3 November 2012
IBM publishes a celebratory 2,592-word four-page ad. The ad was featured for one day in U.S. issues of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post and now is accessible only online.
add in pdf format here: http://bit.ly/SkC0oH
I particularly love the message: long term business thinking counts. I like the stark contrast to teh increasingly loud Schumpeterian Gale - destruction of large companies, highlighted by the IBM ad.
"Nearly all the companies our grandparents admired have disappeared. Of the top 25 industrial corporations in the United States in 1900, only two remained on that list at the start of the 1960s. And of the top 25 companies on the Fortune 500 in 1961, only six remain there today"
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
- creativity is not an occupation, it is a preoccupation
- ideas are the most egalitarian thing we do. They can be done by anyone at anytime
- advertising: putting one culture against the other, seeing radical, innovative ideas sublimate convention
- on ideas: the more you process it, like food, the blander it gets
Sunday, 28 October 2012
What really seems to have convinced me was this section:
Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability, and raise your performance. If you can resist your urges, you can make better, more thoughtful decisions. You can be more intentional about what you say and how you say it. You can think about the outcome of your actions before following through on them.
Friday, 12 October 2012
So the idea kicked off when Wal-Mart vetoed his original title: ‘Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit’ because it was too contentious.
Tim Ferris took 6 prospective titles for his first book, 3 of which were:
- 'Broadband and White Sand',
- 'Millionaire Chameleon'
- 'The 4-Hour Workweek'
He then setup a Google Adwords account, bidding on "keywords" related to the book's content including '401k' and 'language learning': when those keywords formed part of someone's search on Google the prospective title popped up as a headline and the advertisement text would be the subtitle.
Ferriss was interested to see which of the sponsored links would be clicked on most, knowing that he needed his title to compete with over 200k books published in the US each year. Within one week and for less than $200 he knew that "The 4-Hour Workweek" had the best click-through rate by far and he went with that title.
Lastly, Ferris decided to test various covers by printing them on high quality paper and placing them on existing similar sized books in the new non-fiction rack at Borders, Palo Alto. He sat with a coffee and observed, learning which cover really was most appealing.
Monday, 10 September 2012
What I think was missed (and where twitter fails), was conveying the nuanced and complex. I am a big Apple fan. I love that aesthetic and beauty has become central to technology and Apple deserves kudos for that. But do they deserve a payout based on ideas? I would argue, no.
The reason I dont like the judgement is twofold:
1. Apple "borrowed" much of their early technologies from other inventors. The mouse and the GUI (graphical user interface) were taken from PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre), owned by Xerox. But this was just the start of lengthy borrowing spree. For the iPod, Apple used the mp3 format to deliver its songs. For its operating system OSX, it uses a unix kernel. I could go on.
2. The fact is, the PC and The Internet boom were built on the back of "open source" ideas - programming languages and networking protocols like UNIX, HTML and TCP/IP. Ideas that could have easily been patented but if they had been, I would argue, would have killed Personal Computing and the world wide web before they even got started.
But the best person to unpack this complex and nuanced debate is Russell Lamberti. A young, formidable and increasingly influential South African economist.
(Bold mine, for the "attention challenged".)
IP: Intellectual Property or Insider Privilege?
By Russell Lamberti
Last week a US court ruled that Samsung Electronics had to pay $1 billion to Apple Inc. for patent infringement. Samsung made a cool $6 billion profit in the 2nd quarter of 2012 on revenue of nearly $50 billion, so $1 billion, in the final analysis, is pretty manageable. But that’s not the point. The Apple-Samsung patent war, which – sadly – is probably far from over, raises once again the broader question over the basic efficacy and legitimacy of intellectual property law. Is patent and copyright protection socially beneficial? Is it even legitimate property right? Although this is a divisive issue, most people regard intellectual property rights, specifically patent and copyright, as legitimate property rights. Most people are wrong, and below I’ll show why.
Intellectual property rights are a suite of privileges granted by the state to successful applicants trying to secure patent, copyright, trademark or trade secret protection. In the case of patents and copyright, people are essentially granted property rights over ideas or patterns of ideas. Patents for example grant an inventor a limited monopoly on the manufacture, use and sale of his invention or process. Copyright is granted to creators of “original” works and grants exclusive right to the creator to reproduce, sell, and perform those works publicly.
The supposed legitimacy of patents and copyright in IP policy discourse essentially rests on two core pillars:
- that creation is sufficient basis for property rights, and
- that higher levels of investment (time and resources) in innovative and creative processes can be achieved if innovators/creators are granted the opportunity to earn exclusive monopoly profits for a period of time.
It is relatively easy to demonstrate that proposition 1 is logically false. If I break into my neighbour’s garage, steal some items belonging to him, and fashion a product from those items, is the product I created my property? Of course not – once caught I would immediately have my creation confiscated and the component parts returned to my neighbor. Creation is clearly therefore not a sufficient condition for property ownership. Moreover, creation is also not anecessary condition for property ownership since property – say, land – can come to be owned by acquisition in voluntary exchange (gift or purchase) or by first possession (original homesteading).
‘Property rights’ granted exclusively on the basis of creation are therefore illegitimate.
What then is the correct basis for determining property rights? To get to an answer to this we must ask another question: why do any property rights exist at all? Asked in another way, what purpose do property rights serve for mankind? It is clear that property rights exist first and foremost to eliminate conflict over scarce resources. There is no property right over the air we breathe since practically it is non-scarce. In contrast there are property rights in physical resources since these are scarce. If there was no scarcity, i.e. all the finished consumer goods and services humans could possibly desire were infinitely supplied and appropriated for use at zero marginal cost or effort, there would not only be no need for property rights but no ‘economic problem’ at all.
Therefore, the raison d’etre for any right to property is scarcity.
Without scarcity there is no need for a property right.
Therefore, since the ‘creation’ of an idea is an inadequate basis solely on which to establish property rights in ideas, proponents of intellectual property rights must somehow show that, at the very least, ideas are economically scarce goods. However, ideas are clearly non-scarce. One person’s idea can be adopted by another person without the first person’s use of the idea being affected in any way. While my use of certain physical resources necessarily excludes someone else from using those very same resources, ideas or patterns of ideas are not subject to this same constraint.
If creation is neither a necessary nor sufficient basis for property rights, and if ideas are non-scarce, then intellectual property rights, particularly those embodied in patents and copyright, are nothing more than illegitimate monopoly privileges granted arbitrarily by the state.
Sensing this inherent problem, many IP rights advocates revert to the utilitarian argument of core pillar number 2 which essentially states that: "more innovation is better, and IP rights lead to more innovation". Although this is one of the most popular defenses of a regime of intellectual property rights, it fails miserably on a number of levels.
1. The first is empirical: There is scant evidence to show that rates of innovation are higher under IP regimes. In fact, most studies are either inconclusive or show that IP laws actually hinder innovation. See here, here, here, here, here, and here.
2. Cost-Benefit Analysis: There is also very little understanding of the human and financial capital costs of creating, maintaining, administering and enforcing the patent and copyright system. How much money and man hours is spent on litigation, fines, licensing fees, legal experts and filing patents and copyrights with patent and copyright offices? These ‘direct costs’ are seldom considered by utilitarian IP supporters, let alone measured in a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
3. Progress in Industries without IP Protection: The utilitarian argument also fails to explain how and why innovation took place prior to the advent of modern IP law and how some industries, most notably the fashion industry, remain highly innovative, dynamic and profitable with almost no meaningful IP protection.
4. Non-Protected Rewards from Innovation: The utilitarian viewpoint also grossly underestimates, if not ignores outright, the ability of innovators to reap handsome rewards from their innovations without IP protection by being first to market, using secret, hard to replicate formulas, innovative branding strategies, and the erection of other legitimate barriers to entry such as signing long term service contracts with clients or creating spin-off products that are exclusively compatible or highly complementary (ironically as Apple Inc. has done). Such rewards can be, and have historically been in certain instances, substantial.
5. Giant Leaps vs. Incremental Innovation: In addition, the utilitarian argument ignores the ability of innovative processes to proceed along an incremental path as opposed to a process that proceeds in large leaps forward every few years. The assumption of pro-IP utilitarians is that inventors need to commit enormous resources and effort into research and development and therefore require the potential to earn protected, exclusive monopoly rewards. But in a non-IP world in which information and ideas are replicable and easily assimilated at much lower cost into existing R&D efforts, it is entirely conceivable, indeed likely, that innovation would proceed on a far more incremental, fluid, and, importantly, lower cost basis, requiring lower rewards in the market place to clear investment return hurdles.
6. Malinvestment or Overinvestment: Finally, this line of thinking assumes falsely that more R&D, invention and creation is necessarily better. Austrian business cycle theory has shown that when certain market prices are artificially distorted for any meaningful period of time, serious ‘malinvestments’ can occur, leading to widespread entrepreneurial error that must eventually result in a painful bust and reallocation of productive resources to the production of goods and services most desired by consumers. More R&D, if it is the result of price incentives that would not necessarily have arisen in a free market (i.e. arising from state-granted IP rights), and especially once it finds expression in actual physical capital investment, can be economically harmful and set in motion distortive forces within an economy that ultimately reduces or hampers overall subjective welfare.
Even if we were to concede for the sake of argument that there was merit in the utilitarian view, the IP rights advocate would still have to concede that in order to achieve such utilitarian ends a society would need to abandon the fundamental basis of property rights and require the state to enforce and uphold special privileged monopoly rights. It is strange therefore that many libertarians support the enforcing and protection of intellectual property rights, particularly in respect of patents and copyright, which require strong subversion of legitimate principles of property rights and a high degree of state intervention.
But this is not all. The following are even more reasons why we need to ditch intellectual property rights, especially as they are embodied in patents and copyright:
1. Legally arbitrary: Legal purists should shudder at the thought of IP law regimes. The legislation and regulation governing patents and copyrights is entirely arbitrary. Why is copyright protected for 21 years and not 14 years, or 14 months? Who decides and on what sound juridicial basis? What constitutes something original? Isn’t everything a remix? Is it the first to file a patent or the first to invent? How do you prove the latter beyond reasonable doubt? What is ‘enough’ time to be allowed to profit exclusively from an invention? What if someone else independently invents something already patented? The sore truth is that IP advocates cannot answer these questions with any legal rigour. The reason they cannot is that patents and copyright are bogus legal constructs.
2. Diminishes Real Property Rights: It gets worse. By granting illegitimate property rights in non-scarce things (ideas or patterns of ideas), the state grants patent holders, for example, the right to effectively take control over other people’s physical, scarce property. How? By allowing a patent holder the right to prevent others from copying his product ideas by using their own physical property, IP rights create a perverse unnatural extension of coercive property rights over the physical property of others. We can safely say therefore, that IP rights are not only illegitimate property rights in and of themselves, but they actually diminish true property rights within society.
3. Creates New Pseudo-Property Rights: The granting of pseudo-rights in the case of most intellectual property law begets yet more pseudo-rights. Patents and copyright for example imply the right to some future commercial value derived from inventions/creations, but since commercial market value is determined by subjective valuations of customers, this right would have to imply control over other people’s value judgments which is entirely erroneous. Asserting a right to future commercial value purely on the basis of creation runs into the fallacy of the communist labour theory of value by suggesting that the mere act of work or labour establishes value.
4. Retards Economic Progress by Creating Artificial Scarcity: The very essence of economic progress is the elimination of scarcity through an ever greater division of labour. Since human needs and wants are practically unlimited, the elimination (or near-elimination to be precise) of scarcity in some goods allows us to channel time, effort and resources into meeting new, previously unmet needs, allowing us to live a more pleasurable existence. This process entails bringing to bear non-scarce knowledge onto scarce resources in order to arrange those resources in such a way as to achieve the highest valued ends in the most efficient ways. Without non-scarce knowledge resource use would be highly myopic and inefficient and the division of labour would scarcely be possible. The non-scarcity of ideas is the ONLY reason we are able to achieve any degree of prosperity in our natural, causal world of real resource scarcity. IP rights are therefore nothing more than an attempt to artificially establish scarcity where it does not naturally exist. This can only retard economic progress.
Apple Inc.’s ‘victory’ over Samsung Electronics last week is really a victory for illegitimate state-granted monopoly privilege over dynamic competitive enterprise. There is neither a sound ethical, legal, economic, or utilitarian basis for upholding a patent and copyright system.
Copying isn’t theft.
The world is worse off for the system of intellectual privilege that may directly benefit a privileged few in the short run, but unambiguously harms us all in the long run.
Monday, 20 August 2012
Often I torment over whether I should follow someone when they follow me. Sometimes I will err on giving them a temporary follow but reserve the right to unfollow them later if their twitter stream (what they tweet) is noisy or not interesting to me. One often feels compelled to do the decent thing and reciprocate with a follow. In the early days of twitter it used to be good manners to follow back, especially as we felt kindred being early adopters of this strange service. Now, not so much.
The problem is, twitter is only useful if the content is interesting to you. And I personally get diminishing marginal utility on anything past 250 follows (people I follow). Past this number it becomes too noisy.
So this gets me onto the point of this post: Just because I dont follow you, doesnt mean i dont like you. Hell, I may even love and adore you. in person. on twitter, not so much. So please do not take offense.
So what are the reasons I dont follow people on twitter:
- What you have to say on twitter is not of interest to me. This doesnt mean you dont have valuable things to say. Likely you do, just not to me.
- You dont tweet content, only conversation. I'm not into conversing on twitter. it is the wrong medium for this type of communication in my opinion
- You are only a voyeur, not a participant. That is fine, but clearly there is no point following you
- You tweet too much. This would make my twitter stream too noisy if I were to follow you. Very few people get away with this. Kaya Dlanga is the very rare exception. He has taken on the role of a social commentator and seemingly speaks for an important demographic of South Africa. Be warned, you are unlikely to be successful doing this.
- You self promote. This used to work in the early day of twitter. The humblebrag was par for the course back then. Now, not so much.
Thursday, 28 June 2012
This will sound amazing to people outside the digital marketing sector, but for those of us inside, it is obvious. It is what has been pushing revenue growth in the sector for the last 5 years and likely will continue to keep those growth rates double digit for the next 5 years.
- "big data" - as customer interactions increasingly become digitised and accumulate exponentially, companies find themselves sitting on massive, potentially valuable, data mines. the challenge is finding the gold. much easier said than done.
- "cloud computing" (aka ubiquitous computing) - Ostensibly this is about all of our devices (laptops through to TVs) being tethered to a central repository, stored in "The Cloud" (internet), of our information and files. It is really a story about the mobile device, however. The mobile device is radically transforming the way we interact with our customers. the story is far from complete, but for now just think of how many times you interact with your mobile device each day. research varies from almost 40 to over 100 times every day. in marketing, this what is known a "touch point" and in yesteryear it was thought that three touch points lead to sale. now it is likely more with the torrent of information that confronts us but even if it is double that, the potential to reach customers and *engage* them is significantly greater and the potential ROI significantly higher. Certainly much more intimate than the shotgun broadcast messaging of classical advertising. And herein lies the rub of shifting marketing budgets from classical to digital marketing.
- "realtime customer data" - allowing businesses to make revenue and cost decisions today, rather than the traditional quarterly strategic change or monthly operational shifts. interactions now provide deep insights in the digitally savvy organisation. Amazon looks at over 500 customer metrics daily. And Amazon is not alone.
Thursday, 10 May 2012
Sunday, 6 May 2012
"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."
Howard Stevenson, 1975 - HBS professor
source: Breakthrough Entrepreneurship
Monday, 13 February 2012
Saturday, 7 January 2012
Having been involved in the web tech space for some time now (Vottle.com, IS Labs and recently QuirkLabs), I have been lucky enough to have worked with and around some of South Africa's best entrepreneurs. Here are some lessons I have learnt:
1. The Boot: Almost every business can be bootstrapped to start. And should be. Not even Google (server intensive) needed outside financing for its first couple of years. Superstar entrepreneurs have an uncanny knack of making money go extremely far and this in itself forces creative solutions to problems that almost always spawn new opportunities. I strongly encourage entrepreneurs to seek financing later in the development of their business, ideally post prototype, and as close to product launch as possible. Too much capital makes a small businesses lazy. If you use finance as an excuse to start your business, you should be getting a job, not starting a business.
2. Capital Efficiency: I have never found a reason to pay founders what they are “worth” in the market. If you want to start a business and believe that venture finance should be paying you a professional salary, you should be a getting a job. In fact, I have always believed that founders should use venture finance only for stuff that relates directly to a cost of sale. The easiest thing for founders is to beg, borrow and steal (figuratively) from the 3 F’s (friends, family and fools).
3. Cash really is King: “Turnover is Vanity, Profit is Sanity and Cash is Reality”. There is nothing more important to a startup than cash-flow. Nothing. I advise all founders to build a real-time cash-flow model that works for them. There is no need to get caught up in GAAP intricacies either. Put simply, it is your total cash in the bank less bills (“burn-rate”) plus revenue. Income statements are mostly irrelevant for early startups and balance sheets only become useful if you want to sell your business or borrow money (assets as collateral).
4. Two-Minutes Noodles: If the entrepreneur can eat Two-Minutes noodles and still be evangelical about their business, you know your founder has the right value system. The truth is, successful entrepreneurs never do it for the money, they do it to change the world. This is, of course, less about eating the noodles and more about seeing what type of person you are.
5. Product Paradox: The founders need to get a product out as soon as possible and then iterate through a fast customer feedback loop. At the same time, the founders need to operate meticulously. Product development needs to be thoroughly thought-out and planned. And I don’t just mean in the founders heads. I mean detailed planning. Your planning will invariably look far different from actuality, of course, but that is fine. Planning forces you to think of the roadblocks that could derail your business.
6. The Law of Two: Successful startups (measured in terms of longevity) almost always have two co-founders. One is usually more visionary and the stronger communicator, the other, highly technical and strong on the detail. The best startups have founders with all the skills, just in varied strengths. One thing is certain, their skills are invariably complimentary.
7. The Darwin Rule: As Darwin eruditely said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." Having the best product, while extremely powerful, is almost never the deciding factor of success in a startup. Rather it is the business most able to respond to market shifts. Gone are the days when product life cycles lasted decades. People who are unable to adapt quickly and want the next day to resemble the previous should rather get a job.
8. Ideas are like Carbon Monoxide: They are increasingly abundant and of little use. Don’t be married to your idea and don’t think your idea is worth money - it almost never is. Most ideas are worth nothing without execution. Ensure you spend time unpacking your idea and formulating an action plan to assess viability and value. The devil is always in the details. Most great businesses started off with an idea that was, at best, only loosely-related to what made them successful in the end. Such is the evolutionary nature of business.
9. Evangelical Rule: Entrepreneurs need to believe so strongly in what they are doing, they believe they are saving the world through their product. They believe, like Steve Jobs, that they are “putting a dent in the universe”. They have evangelical zeal that on the surface is quite annoying. It is hard to overstate the importance of this frame of mind in your founders. It is the difference between people who do 8 hour and 16 hour days; between two-minute noodles and long lunches; between living your startup and seeing it as a “job”.
10. Ham-and-Egging: Coined by Profs Bhide and Stevenson, it is the challenge entrepreneurs have of getting capital from investors to build product based on "imminent sales" and landing customers with the promise of "imminent delivery". Typical chicken and egg scenario. Start-up salespeople (one founder at least) need to be natural ham-and-eggers. They have to make the case that their company is perfectly capable of providing their service without full knowledge of being able to do so. This is often difficult because of the ethical issues, specifically, where do you draw the line on lying. My take is, as long as you honestly believe you will deliver, do it. Many of the successful startups I know of have had to do this in the early stages, so it is clear to me that this is one of the awkward necessities of a startup.
The ideal founder
So, if we take the above lessons and construct the ideal founder, they would look something like this: A zealot with an almost annoying passion for their business and who could talk about their startup up every day, all day, easily. They are good at selling. They believe living frugally is spiritual and necessary. Understanding highly technical ideas as well as the bigger picture is something they are good at. They are not usually analytical. They don’t mind that each day is continually different, despite the chaotic nature of such. They know that money matters, but don’t spend too much time worrying about their personal bank account – that doesn’t help sell the product. Blind faith is often used to describe them. So is naivetéy. They are comfortable with these personifications, even reveling in them and the fact that it makes them an outsider and “strange”. They deplore rules, even when the rules make sense. Nothing is ever accepted knowledge until they have put it to the test. They are almost impossible to manage and are often deemed self-centered. The latter is just zeal misunderstood. Consideration is for people with jobs and they, after all, are changing the world for the better, so you need to get out the way.
Wednesday, 26 October 2011
I highly recommend watching this video of her discussing her research - while average video quality, the content is extremely insightful.
My notes from the video:
1. Attention is our primary currency
2. Attention, expressed collectively defines a society, community and culture
2. She coined "Continuous Partial Attention" a state where we are continuously doing multiple tasks that require cognition. It creates a heightened state of crisis, similar to that of "fight or flight". She argues that we have become "communications centred" rather than highly productive when working. The implication is that the quality of our work likely suffers and with this modus we struggle to solve deep and difficult problems, that require uninterrupted thinking.
3. She talks of "Email Apnea" which is the temporary cessation of breath or shallow breathing when doing anything in front of a screen.
4. While technology has definitely increased our productivity, it has also compromised the quality of life by being "always on". We use technology to "stay on top of things" but it rarely works out that way and it creates a "artificial sense of constant crisis". in large doses this can have significant health implications, such as, cortisal burnout,
5. breathing is the body's master control for attention and cognition. with email apnea you are in "fight or flight" mode which is not optimal for deep problem solving and creative thinking
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
There is no doubt that digital continues to be a growing part of every marketing budget. Choosing the right partner to assist your digital efforts is a critical decision. As critical, I’d argue, as the choice of agency in any marketing discipline to date. The reason for this lays in the nature of digital itself — uncontrovertibly, digital has technology at its heart.
For a marketer, what does this mean? When I talk technology, I mean hardware and software — always behind the scenes, but as essential as the engine in your car. Like your car’s engine, you leave the design of such technology to experts. And similarly, just like you would never buy a car without knowing you could get spare parts and expertise to fit them, so the choice of digital partner must be considered with the support necessary to maintain the software (and hardware) they use and create. This maintenance issue is a difficult one — without the knowledge of a software expert, how can a marketing professional make the right decisions upfront to avoid expensive rewrites later? The first step lays in choosing the right platform for your needs.
Look for solutions that fit your needs
If you are running a guesthouse, boutique store or similar small to medium business, it is very likely that you will be able to use off-the-shelf software. You will most probably have common requirements that are already addressed with little to no modification — for example, your website could be aWordPress or Magento install. Support for most of these platforms is widespread and reasonably priced.
If, however, you are an enterprise, you should be looking at enterprise software. Your requirements are almost certainly going to be specific, your modifications necessary, plentiful and long running. Your choice of partner… critical.
This is custom-made software — while your software developer will use common components and perhaps even a branded platform, the finished product will be unique to the needs of your organisation.
The first thing to look for is an enterprise level programming language — languages like Java and C# can be heavyweight for simple needs but possess an inherent structure that becomes important as the size of a software project grows. These languages provide good support for important enterprise software features like packaging and multithreading, and benefit from excellent developer tool support. In general, avoid PHP unless you are primarily looking for a CMS platform, and beware Ruby on Rails if you need to integrate with legacy systems.
Don’t let IT define your choices
At many organisations, the IT departments exert an unusual level of control. Partly because they are in charge of aspects of the organisation that are opaque to other departments, they are frequently given the ability to make decisions that affect the business beyond their remit. Let’s look at the company website. The goal of the website must surely be one of marketing, with a sales component ifecommerce is present. Hence, the needs of the marketing department should be paramount.
However, it is frequently IT that makes the software decision — a decision that is often clouded by the needs of IT to serve the company’s staff. A good example of this is Microsoft SharePoint – while SharePoint is a great choice for document sharing within an organisation, it is generally a poor choice to power an ecommerce website. If you are measured on sales and marketing, make sure the software choice is aligned with your goals.
Specialist or full service?
Once you have narrowed down your software choices, you will be looking at two types of partners to fulfil your needs. The first, a specialist software development house and the second, a full service agency. The focus of each differs. The software development house is often concerned with the development of so-called “backend” systems – examples include financial processing software and fulfilment software, largely used by specialist trained staff, or with no user interface at all. Software development houses employ mainly software engineers and often have limited design or usability proficiency.
Full service agencies have both of these skills however, and given their marketing background are accustomed in writing software suitable for a wide audience — the company’s consumers or entire staff complement. Such software has particular constraints in ease of use, look and feel and performance that (with all due respect) require expertise not core to the capabilities of most software developers. Choose correctly depending on your needs.
In particular, beware the lure of two agencies collaborating, one on the backend programming and one on the design.
The complex nature of software development means that such partnerships are prone to a poor end product or even failure. As any software development methodology will instruct, the best possible environment for developing software exists when the entire project team works in one room. By this I mean the software engineers and developers, designers, copywriters, usability practitioners, project managers, system administrators, conversion experts, SEO practitioners, QA staff, and all the other roles that go into the development of a modern digital marketing product.
Choose for the long term
Finally, the consequence of software maintenance is the need for a long term partner. No matter how well documented, any complex custom-made software will take time to transition from one development team to another. Even if your aim is to take the maintenance in-house, a partner chosen for their experience will develop software that avoids gathering “technical debt” and is written in a way that is easier to maintain and adapt to new needs, particularly as your business scales. Look for a partner who can demonstrate that they have maintained software for many years, and have successfully handed large projects over to other teams.
Ultimately, trust is critical. Your risk in digital is growing with your increasing investment, and so is the need for a partner that understands your strategy and can assist you in making the correct choices now for your future needs.
Saturday, 30 July 2011
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Sunday, 27 March 2011
Friday, 4 February 2011
Those who know me, know that I am quite vocal about my belief in this country's future. Put simply, I have invested my future here because South Africa rocks. Two important companies made my belief even stronger last Tuesday, namely: Cell C and Sun International.
Firstly, Cell C sponsored a Silicon Cape event that launched an exciting product called MyTools - in fact, they launched to the Silicon Cape community *first* - clearly a great accolade of the things being done in Silicon Cape. Essentially they launched a "Cloud" (in the web) based product that allows their customers to manage the mobile telephone through a web interface, from address books to different voicemails for different users. The roadmap looks exciting for this service too. Cell C are the first mobile carrier globally to launch such a cloud based management tool, a very bold move if you know the nuances of the Industry. They are also the first mobile carrier to sponsor a Silicon Cape event too. Lars (Cell C CEO), the Cell C team, the fonYou team from Spain and SCI's Roger Norton really did put on a superb event with absolute professionalism. I was impressed.
Prior to the event, the Silicon Cape Board (and for the first part Roger) convened a board meeting to map the future of the Silicon Cape Initiative. In attendance at the SCI board meet: Andrea Bohmert, Matthew Buckland, Justin Hartman, Dave Duarte, Henk Kleynhans, Rob Gilmour, Rob Stokes and myself - absent was Arthur Goldstuck but who had tabelled his item prior.
What was awesome about this was that Sun International (another big South African company) had reached out to provide both a venue and all expenses paid lunch at The Atlantic Grill, The Table Bay hotel. The lunch was prepared by the increasingly famous @ChefDallas and hosted by the gregarious Shaun Wheeler, GM of The Table Bay. The food and the view were impeccable. What I loved most about this lunch is that they thought our Silicon Cape Initiative (SCI) was important enough to offer the lunch without any strings attached. They care.
Are these two companies unique in South Africa? Yes and No. Yes because they have "invested" early in us, when we readily admit we still have a long way to go. The investments were high risk... And possibly they are not unique, because South African companies for the most part understand that investment in the community is required to make the better future. My view is that South African companies do this better than those in Australia and United Kingdom, countries I have lived for long periods.
This is why I love South Africa.
(Disclaimer: Sun International is a Quirk client. This lunch offer was made to the Silicon Cape board directly not through Quirk. I work for Quirk, although not on the Sun International account, and sit on Silicon Cape board)