Of Obama and Operating Excellently

//Time capsule post… it was sitting in my drafts for sometime. Finally managed to publish it.

The other day I was engaged in a conversation with a friend who believes that Obama’s decision to evolve towards a leaner military is a wrong one. He, much like the Republican Presidential candidates, spoke in vague and abstract terms of why the decision is bad – it will weaken America… we need to support our military… military spending is a sign of strength…

In all fairness, the only specific point that was mentioned: China is rising. Okay, I will concede that point. But there are other types of spending like infrastructure, research and education that China seems to be managing better than us. Why not talk about that as well…?

I am no military expert… the closest I have gotten to being in a military is being in a school bus that used to drop a colonel’s daughter at her home in a military cantonment (yeah!). Having said that, using context and relativity as my guide -here’s why I think the idea is a brilliant and a necessary one:

I work for a large public university that is current undergoing a system-wide exercise called: operational excellence… (I have also heard it being called “about time”). The impetus and the goal is similar to what the reduced military spending debate is about: less money, hence more efficiency. There is well placed criticism from those who are opposed it, skepticism from those who say they’ve seen this in the past, and premature exuberance from those who think this is the greatest thing since the Stanford band celebrated a little too early… =)

It is too early to call OE a success, and then there are days the process comes across as counter-intuitive… but, I’m supportive of the goal: making college education affordable for all. And this can only happen if the university is able to reduce its operating costs.

Similarly, (I was going to bring it back) security at home requires us to divert more capital towards domestic needs and for this we will need to reduce our military expenditure. It is simply a matter of priorities… if we had unlimited resources, then by all means spend on everything and anything that will give us the perception of being safe and prosperous. But the hard truth is, just like my employer, America will need to prioritize.

And investing towards a future that we will all share has to be that priority.

Start with why

(First up: WordPress: Real snazzy interface; would’ve been more functional if I could stack the live preview horizontally… don’t make me scroll).

Good book this: Start with Why? There is this video for those that prefer the Macbook Air version. My version: makes a case that the success Apple, the Wright brothers and other inspirational leaders have enjoyed because they think different (pun intended).

These people play the game because they believe in why playing the game is important… they are able to communicate the why they exist and do what they effectively. This helps them connect and attract those that believe in same “whys”. This initial momentum helps the idea, product, service “tip the tipping point” by validating the product for the majority. Basically, it is way to lower the barriers to adoption.

Makes sense – a good example is the President. When he was able to effectively communicate the reasons to why he is running (campaign rhetoric by how he has governed), he was able to inspire and lead… even that small period of time where he spoke eloquently to why health care is a moral cause and also makes sense financially the idea was able to gain traction. 

So why PromisePoints?




Siri and Steve

A quick note on Steve’s passing… I cannot add to all that has been written, but the greatest thing about Jobs is that not only he understood technology but he also understood products. He understood that a consumer makes a choice on a product or service by what he sees, experiences, touches and most importantly by what he feels… Based on that understanding of the consumer, he was able to reinvent decadent value chains into profitable ones – product manager in God Mode.

Siri will be yet another feather in the man’s cap. I have not used Siri much, but have seen it used extensively by my wife. What is so interesting about it is that it is not a search app, it is an artificially intelligent interface to a bunch of apps including search. That distinction is important in understanding how Apple has positioned Siri – as an interface. It is almost like voice is the new touch…. And to ease the pain of adoption (in a way that only Apple can) it has made Siri fun and funny; compare those responses by Siri to the training passages of Dragon Naturally Speaking. With an incremental (some say disappointing) update to the iPhone Apple has made voice recognition and artificial intelligence mainstream.

Siri comes with a very rare (for Apple) beta label… Maybe the only way Apple can perfect this one is by putting it out there… and as it improves and hopefully has an API for, we will see the “insanely great” happen all over again.

Please do not pay any attention to this

These are the ramblings of a social network enthusiast on vacation; please do not pay any attention to this. Speaking of attention (like the late great George Carlin I don’t do transitions well)…

Nina Khosla’s post on the paradoxical nature of wider/larger/broader (read: shallower) social networks was on point. Must admire her articulation (the voice in Rick Perry’s head and the CEO of Marcellus knows that I have been trying to say this for years); as the size of the network increases our ability to be social decreases.

Let that marinate for a little bit… Size of social network is inversely proportional to the value that a social network provides…

As Johnny two-time would say: I couldn’t agree agree more.

I have always said and believed that the evolution of social avatars will be very similar to the evolution of the social being… From the real will come the virtual,and from the virtual (ironically) will come the real. The articulate Tom Friedman says it best: we shape our buildings and then they shape us. Point being: Facebook is life with the ability to pause, rewind and play.

However, if not filtered that Facebook will lose its value… I see my 18 year old cousin just add “friends” to his network to boost his “klout”…. in all honesty , I find myself wanting those retweets on Twitter and likes on Facebook…. See what I mean…. These are not value driven associations…

That is where Nina’s call for an evolution of networks to communities made sense to me… although, she failed at articulating a objective basis for this evolution.

Here is where I think I can help…meaning will come from associations that are based on social objects (defined as interests, culminated as: streams/tags/people(profiles)/relationships in the real world (family over friends))

I apologize for the abstract nature of the post… I did say these were ramblings and I do not quite have the gift of articulation… But do I see social networks that use Facebook’s open graph to create more meaningful (engaging) associations..? Yes I do.

Please do not pay any attention to this.

Now that we’re all here…

The last decade was all about getting to an awesome party – the social network party. Everyone was invited (eventually) – if you knew someone that knew someone that knew someone, then there was a reason for you to open a Facebook account and update the world (your version of it) with “what’s on your mind?” And we got there pretty fast… and the whole time it felt organic. We (some of us) all wondered why it didn’t happen earlier – a sign of great innovation.

I first heard about Facebook in 2006… admittedly the idea of another Myspace did not appeal to me. I thought Myspace was a juvenile remix of AOL Homepages (digital real estate to express yourself) and AOL Instant Messenger (connect with people you know, may want to know and Tom). But after spending a week on Facebook – I was hooked… Facebook was enabling, valuable and transparent. It connected me with people I cared about, enabled that connectedness with easy interactions (wall, status updates, poke) and the platform was invisible throughout this experience. It was elegant, simple and powerful – the makings of a revolutionary product. A revolution that addressed a basic human need – feeling connected.

Sure – life is great without Facebook… I mean life is great in Sweden… but very few of us will actually pack our bags and move to Sweden, because there is value in staying. That is why we stay – there is value in being on Facebook.

But now what..? There are 500+ million users updating statuses, posting on walls, sharing content, spawning revolutions, running political campaigns… it is a marketplace of ideas, feelings, intentions and expressions… It is life as it happens with the ability to rewind, pause and play.

Now that the social animal has found his tools that allow him to be ubiquitously social.. and the network has been created – where do we go from here? The next decade will be about understanding, mastering and creating influence in social networks… the need to influence is derived from man’s inherent need to be political. Cities, towns and villages were formed because we are social animals. Social arrangements – governance, hierarchy, rules, norms – happen because we are inherently political…

There are lot of questions in the influence space that will be really interesting to answer:

– who owns the digital you?

– how do you measure influence?

– what does credibility mean in this space? Is it about badges and achievements? Or activity streams?

– attenti0n is the currency in the digital value chain – how will we engage users?

The next Facebook will be not the next Facebook, just like Facebook wasn’t the next Google, and Google wasn’t the next Microsoft, and Microsoft wasn’t the next IBM. Great companies don’t try to incrementally add value to the marketplace, they completely redefine value by creating a market that no one thought existed…

And that is why this period is so f*cking exciting..!

(I did not use the term gamification even once in this post…


Social – The New Personal

Here is the thing about social – it is inherently personal…

The connections we choose to make define us… adage as it maybe – a man is known by the connections he makes. We can assume in 2011 that it is true for women as well. So, our social circle or our web is created mostly by the personal choices that we make. It is a sort of a “friendrank” – where the friends we make on Facebook and the content we choose to like on the Facebook platform give the platform provider very good data about us. Visually it represents a globe with connected dots forming it’s own unique patterns that help us see the the world differently…

John Bettelle talks of Google as a database of intentions… I think of Facebook as a database of choices (we choose to share). The social data generated as a result is being made available to advertisers, service providers and content publishers, creating a more connected and personalized web.

Combining these two approaches (Google’s passive learning and Facebook’s active learning) will give the same advertisers, service providers and content publishers an even more complete picture for personalization… That is why the Bing/Facebook partnership is exciting… Ironically, it helps Google with it’s own BHAG – organizing the world’s information (value)… in a more personalized way (value-add). That is why Google feels  threatened by Facebook… and it should – Google’s attempt at socializing search with +1 is relatively weak to the Facebook/Bing alliance

The rivalry is exciting…makes for good news… But the consequences are more meaningful for the rest of us. We are going to be a more connected and open world. We are going to see better products, services and ads for those services and products. Some of these products and services will be launched by new startups that will build on the social platform (try and think of a Zynga without a Facebook). We will see new applications that use personalized datasets to helps us recognize patterns and analyze trends.

It is necessary for some of us to remain cynical because data security, identity management and personal security are going to be important. As we share more and more, there are going to be those that want to abuse this connectedness… So while we need to acknowledge and guard ourselves against those threats, it should not stop us from participating and contributing in these exciting times.

I envy the new generation… For me school was about cramming myself with knowledge in order to be connected to it; all the young ones need to feel connected is their iPhone (okay, or the much less secure Android phone). For research on school work I used to go to the library, look up volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica and then write the article devoid of any richness from understanding the perspective of others. For my little niece, it is going to be about googling it, reading all kinds of articles about it (Wikipedia, Quora, Blogs), while she also has the richness of the perspectives gained from Facebook comments of friends and connected strangers.

Yep… It is going to be a very different world.

It is about social data, not social media

Maybe a little on the copious amounts of social data that I wrote about in the last post: the quality of that data will be of a lot more significance than the quantity. The public sector, more specifically the government, will have an important role to play as the data provider… but what are standards for accessibility of the data and for the data itself? How is this data being created and stored?

Working for a large public university I see these challenges at work daily – too often data is created in silos to be access at the unit level… creating standards for new data and converting existing data to those new standards will be crucial to making it feasible for the private sector to jump in and create end user apps that take the data and convert it into user-centric information.

Web X.0

To say social media is in a state of ascendancy is to say man continues to evolve… I mean it’s quite obvious isn’t it? Two companies that occupy the most mindshare when we look to the silicon valley to make ourselves feel better abut the economy are primarily social media platforms – Google and Facebook. The third company (or the first) on that list has been a critical driver in that growth – Apple continues to, more than any other company, provide the most intuitive ecosystem (device, platform, distribution channel) that enables a group of content consumers to become a community of content producers. And that is the story of web 2.0… And that is becoming the story of man.

Take the revolutions (and you hope it is a good one) in the Middle East for instance – social media has played a huge role in creating the awareness of the status quo, providing the moral impetus for change and then providing the tools for organizing towards that change. The dictators of yesterday had prepared themselves for the push communication technologies of yesterday and had no answer for the pull communication that Twitters, Facebooks and the Googles of today have enabled. This revolution brought to you by the good people that bring you: search, social networks, real-time trends, blogs n micro-blogs and mentos-bursting-in-coke videos… Maybe we don’t need the State Department anymore? I think I just heard Sarah Palin say: I wanna blog that on my Facebook page… I was kidding.

So as I start of this year’s expo… I am expecting to hear a lot on best practices, the meeting of here and now mobile applications with the presence of copious amounts of social data and maybe a little of where do we go from here?

More later.

The Daily

A few quick notes on News Corp.’s “The Daily”. Hard to say if I like it yet, but I can certainly see the value-add (to the plethora of iPad reading choices) in it. This is a decent attempt to combine traditionally delivered pushed-media (loud voices like news headlines, opinions from opinion-makers) with new pulled-media (the noise from twitter feeds, blogosphere – coalesced as trends/citizen journalism) on a multimedia rich interface (btw, 2 of the more relevant 360 viewpoints i have seen – cowboys stadium and Egypt today from a street-level).

I also like the attempt at personalization/localization. The app is slow to load the current edition, but i appreciate not having to pick the subscriptions that fall out of the magazines and the joy of having to fold a newspaper when done reading.

The one thing that still bothers me is subscribing to a News. Corp. editor… A Roger Ailes view of the world as it is and as it should be doesn’t hit as you start reading… But then, Mr. Murdoch is a business man and maybe a right-wing approach to journalism (contradictory) isn’t good business on the iPad.

So yeah don’t know if i will buy the subscription at this point and am thankful to Verizon (did you hear they are finally getting the Jesus phone?) for the free trial.


Fareed Zakaria mentioned the White House Innovation White Paper on his show today… and I was surprised: the white house has a white paper on innovation?! Maybe, that is the Republican/libertarian in me. I expect such white papers to come out of the “Jobs, Gates and Alliances Inc.” industry. I do not expect the government to play a significant role in innovation…

Zakaria went on to elaborate areas of innovation that the government has spurned:

– without the Department of Defense there would be no semi-conductor industry

– NASA was a key buyer of the nascent computer industry

– DARPA invented the internet (sorry Al Gore fans, but that is one of those inconvenient truths)

– it was the military that spawned the use of GPS, way before there was an “app for that”

and that got me thinking, the government does have a role, and a specific role to play in the innovation economy – it is supposed to and should provide a climate for innovation. Not innovation itself, but the climate for innovation:

-a tax structure that facilitates business spending

-investment/spending (depending on if you are a democrat/republican) on research and education (and yes making sure that research is happening on an “operationally excellent” basis)

Singapore spends 6.9% of its budget on innovation – matching that would mean we will have to spend close to $700 billion on innovation climate. We can borrow that from the Chinese, right?! They love giving us money..! Well borrowing $700 billion for innovation climate spending is better than borrowing money from China to fund tax rebates that give $600 to most people (sorry Warren Buffet – you missed out) to spend on Walmart items made in China!

So I guess, by now, I have ideologically left the Republican camp and am on the other side… but practical solutions calls for pragmatism, that does not believe in ideology whose time has come and gone, but in solutions that work. Treating political parties as sports teams is silly… The times are changing and we are still having debates that are based in ideology and are conducted by mostly loud fundamentalist leaders, who are able to get away with euphemisms and political commentators, that take refuge in esoteric concepts…

So, just like Zakaria and other don’t-have-a-team people,  I am hoping that President will outline an agenda, that focusses on long term sustainable growth and how we can keep continue to file the most number of patents than any other country out there.

(btw – “China accounted for more than two-thirds of all cleantech IPOs in 2010 – 63 out of 93 launches globally, including 8 of the 10 biggest IPOs.”)