The Idea Dude


Friday, June 29, 2007

Finding the shoe that fits

My daughter was in a school play, Cindrella this year. I guess as we get older, we see things differently. For me, it wasn't about a fairy tale coming true anymore, i.e. poor waif makes good with the help of a magical godmother. It was about two things. Finding the shoe that fits and not being something we're not.

A recent event at one our clients started this thought. They had to make a decision regarding a certain individual. It's one of the unenviable tasks as a manager that inevitably we have to let someone go. The toughest ones are not the blatant incompetances that lead to those decisions but the ones that nag at you day in and day out. Something isn't right, you feel it in your gut. You try and coach the individual, and when that fails, we work around him or her. And finally, you realize that both of you spend so much time and anguish making it work that you're forced to end it. Invariably when you do, you wonder why you took so long to do the right thing. I have my theories.

I think we prolong it for a couple of reasons, we feel guilty having to make that cut, we feel responsible for causing harm to someone's life, we dread the idea someone may hate us for it and probably most important is our ego, we feel we have failed, let down ourselves, the other party and the company.

The reality is whether it is a company, an employee or a friend, there is never any guarantee there will be a fit and even if there was it may no longer be true. A shoe that doesn't fit may look terrific on someone else's foot and sometimes shoes stop fitting. Like our garages and basements, we keep so much stuff in our lives that no longer fit and then complain when we keep tripping over them.

I think it is a much healthier and happier outlook to life to treat relationships like shoes, some fit for life, some fit for a while, some were never meant to be worn by you. Some shoes pinch when new and some stop being comfortable after a while. But we never get angry or blame our shoes and we never blame ourselves when the shoe stops fitting. And every now and then we take out an old shoe and remember the good (and bad). We never buy shoes thinking there is one one pair in our cupboard or it is forever. But we never wear them thinking it won't be.

Maybe that should be my life philosophy, find the shoe that fits (at least for a while).

Monday, June 25, 2007

A case of mistaken digital identity

So you visit a website that you have often visited before but all of a sudden you're denied access. You call your ISP and they claim it's the website and the website in question deflects it back. All of a sudden you're part of the game of ping-pong except you're the ball. Yes, it happened just last week to friend. It took several weeks of frustrating back and forth to resolve. What made it even worse, he was a paid up subscriber to the website. So what happened?

It turns out that the ISP received a new bank of IPs that were previously assigned to a spammer. Whether the ISP knew or not, they aren't telling but they started to give out 'tainted' IP addresses to their subscribers. In the meantime, these IPs were previously banned by other ISPs and blocked by their firewalls. It seems some ISPs not only ban IPs individually but also by country. Now you hold an IP that according to the other ISPs says you aren't in North America or you're part of legacy block of IPs that were banned. The websites that are served by these ISPs have no clue why you can't get to their sites and your ISP denies it's their issue because you can reach other websites. Sounds like being trapped in a foreign country without a passport doesn't it? or is it like renting a stolen car? or being made an unwitting accomplice. Now the ISP in question has the onerous task of calling up all other ISPs to make sure they all know that these new IPs are legitimate.

So who said we don't need IPV6?

Friday, June 22, 2007

What does Steve, Michael and Jerry have in common?

They all went back to rescue their ailing giants. Jerry Yang is the newest in the line-up as Yahoo battles against Google. The jury is still out on Michael Dell and we all know the success of Steve Jobs at Apple. It's simply a case of companies growing very large, losing focus, momentum and character. The last one about character is important. Loyal customers buy not only because they like the product, but unknowingly because they liked the company. They understood the brand and more importantly the brand stood out.

When companies grow large and successful, shareholders have higher and higher expectations for revenue, earnings and share value. In response, these companies diversify irresponsibly to generate more revenue which can often, if not always, weaken their core competancy, brand and quality. IBM and Microsoft are good candidates for the titles of struggling behemoths. My prediction will be eBay will join that group one day.

Leaders of companies (and countries) must do more than manage. They must lead and part of leading is building a vision, inspiring your followers (both employees and customers), and become an icon of confidence and hope. Steve had the charisma, culture to do just that.

From The Matrix: "Agent Smith: Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability."

My two word phrase of the day to describe all these commercial train wrecks waiting to happen?

Undeniable inevitability

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Seeing is believing

One of the projects we're doing for a client is close to being finished. At least it is the end of the beginning, but hopefully as a new venture, far from being the beginning of the end. In a couple of weeks, I'll be able to talk more about it. The last couple of days, the user interface is starting to fall into place. Everyone on the team is getting pretty excited now that they can see what the end result will look like. They say that the majority of people are visually biased, i.e. they are emotionally affected by what they see more than what they hear and touch. Eye candy is everything. Around here, we refer to it as making the application 'pop', i.e. it comes right out of the screen and grabs you emotionally.

Today an interesting conversation I overhead was when a team member commented how good it was starting to look. The reply to that was the UI was a very small part and most of the heavy lifting in the last few months was underneath the covers. The reply to that was while that may be true, unfortunately, it is the visual element that gets people excited and that is what matters the most from an adoption point of view. The analogy he made was how patients often equated the success of an operation by how well the scar had healed, and not so much about how well the inner organs had survived the operation because that's not something the patient can see.

I agree with that entirely, the need for great functionality and usefulness of the application is a given but often software developers forget that the ultimate success and mass appeal is basic on a very simple premise. How it looks. Like buying a car, I suspect most of us do our homework to ensure it has all the right bells and whistles but in the end even though we are unlikely to admit it, we buy the car that in our mind looks the best. In the real estate market, you would call it curb appeal. Apple has succeeded in that regarded. They are masters in making sure you connect emotionally with their products. Apple product owners would never say they 'like' their notebook or the iPod. They are more likely to use the word, 'love'. Yes, we do judge books by their covers and clothes do maketh the man. What do you think?

Friday, June 15, 2007

10 things you should know about prototypes

We've been working on a client project recently that involved creating a portal/social network prototype. Here are a couple of learnings I'd like to share.

  • Set expectations upfront, i.e. make sure everyone understands it is a prototype. It is meant to be thrown away. You should keep the ideas and learnings. Any code you save is a bonus.
  • The goal of the prototype is not to create the product, it is to learn what the product should be. It is a 'learning' exercise, not a 'building' one.
  • Expect the client to change his mind every day. If he isn't then maybe he is not as engaged as you thought he was.
  • It's not a software prototype, it is a business prototype. The prototype helps not only to mold the product but the entire team and the business vision.
  • Fail fast. This is the time where forgiveness is easily given.
  • Don't develop prototypes in isolation, work with the client every day. The prototype is a journey, not an end point.
  • If you going to ship your prototype, it is only to a select group of beta testers that will help you define and refine your thinking.
  • Make sure you have beta testers that try the prototype.
  • Play. Take the wackiest ideas and test it. Flex the system to see what it can or cannot do, and should or shouldn't do.
  • Refine the goals often but make sure you have goals, otherwise, life will become one unending prototype.
  • Stay loose.

Love to hear about your learning curve...

BTW: Seems like my assertion that Guy Kawasaki's Truemors wasn't a well-orchestrated marketing campaign to boost his brand after all. (Too bad, I kinda liked that story better, smacked of marketing genius. Guy is a genius, he just doesn't know it or too humble to admit it!) But Guy came by yesterday and put the record straight. Thanks Guy and good luck! You continue to help make the blogosphere interesting.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What should Guy do next?

I watched in amusement the world's reaction to Guy Kawasaki's latest experiment, Trumors. What's remarkable wasn't the experiment itself, it was Guy's flair for the dramatic and his astute understanding of market dynamics. Guy could have picked up the phone and raised $10 million dollars without blinking an eye. He could have created a profitable business in the traditional sense. Instead he broke every rule in his own book. He built a Web 2.0 experiment for $12k. Why, because Guy is more about his building his brand than creating the next Facebook. He points out that it was his years of schmoozing that resulted in Techcrunch breaking his story 3 times and over 200,000 visitors the first day. People who critiqued the experiment missed the mark. I'm sure Guy is grinning all the way to the bank.

Let's see, Guy probably generated more traffic to his own blog than ever before. In addition, I'm pretty sure the whole thing kicked his Technorati ranking up a few notches. How did he do that? He made sure he was as contentious as possible and that started the conversation going. The seeming outrageous legal fees, the cheap cost of start up, the registration of 55 domains, paying so much for a mediocre logo, it was all carefully orchestrated to generate a buzz.

Here's what was missing from the equation:

  • Opportunity cost. I don't know what Guy is worth from a speaking and consulting point of view. Let's say it's $1,000 an hour conservatively. He must have easily put 100 hours into the project. Cost of opportunity to him in reality. $100,000.
  • Latent costs. Being Guy with a great network, he probably got a couple things done, gratis that the rest of us would have to pay for. Probably worth another $10-20k.
  • Running costs. Starting is just beginning, as it gets successful, he'll need more moderators, system administrators, bigger servers, someone to sell his ad space, and the cost of his own time. In 12 months, if he was serious about taking it to the next level, $100,000 - $200,000 if you factor all of the above.

What Guy did in itself wasn't remarkable, there are probably another 1,000 ideas jumpstarted the same way. What is remarkable is that Guy did it and that's why the world cared. If Truemors is around in the next 12 months, it would be a business otherwise it was terrific marketing initiative from one of the best in the business.

The question is, what will Guy do next?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who is the future me...

The best part of blogging for me, is being in the zone. By that, I mean I'm able to take 3 or more thoughts from different blogs or articles and meld them into a single post. That 'aha' moment when it does feel like serendipity, probably, synchronicity is a better word. It started a few days ago when fellow sobcon blogger, Robert Hruzek challenged us with a writing project entitled, "What I learnt from...". (Robert btw, is a real interesting guy having travelled and worked in many parts of the world). It started me thinking about how we should be committed throughout life to learn and from learning, to change. Not necessary major changes (although I'm sure we all have encountered singularities that have profoundly changed our lives), but even minor adjustments to thinking, attitude and relationships that collectively is significant over a long period of time. The Japanese call it Kaizen, to mean continuous improvement.

My good friend, Liz, the Queen SOB had a great post about being true to yourself. But it was one of her reply comments that sparked the 'aha' moment. She talked about the concept of "future me". Yup, Liz, that's the 2 word thing again! So if you took Robert's idea of constantly asking, "what I have learnt" and applying it to the "future me", you end up with someone who will always be better, different and interesting as time goes by.

So the question to ask ourselves is, "who is the future me?" This is less about what I want to achieve but really more about what kind of human being I want to ideally become.

And what better way to document that journey than through your blog...

Sidenote: A wonderful article from Fast Company popped into my inbox today. It was entitled, Could you change when changed really mattered?. In it, Alan Deutschman talks about his book on the three keys to change. relate, repeat and reframe, very powerful notions as to why people don't change even when their lives depended on it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Who recommended you?

The power of mass recommendation couldn't have been more clear this past week. Firstly, the announcement that was bought by CBS for $280 million US dollars. It represents the largest Web 2.0 acquisition in the UK to date. connects listeners with similar tastes and boasts 15 million members since they launched 5 years ago. A hard act to top? iLike did just that. iLike announced the integration of their iTunes recommendation sidebar with Facebook. Within a week, they signed on over 1 million users up from their original 1,200 bringing their servers to their knees. Not bad for a start up that is not even a year old but carries some heavy backing from the likes TickerMaster VC, Vinod Khosler and MTV co-founder Bob Pittman to the tune of $15 million dollars.

The question would be without Facebook, how fast would they have ramped up in the next 12 months. I would guess they would have been extremely happy with 100,000 users. Instead they were making frantic calls all over the Bay area in search of servers. It reminds me of what Andy Sernovitz said at Sobcon07 and analogy of Paul Revere in the Tipping Point. It is about finding the right connector and the right medium to disseminate your message. iLike could have taken a full page post in every local and national newspaper and would not have had the same effect. Instead, they associated themselves with a highly popular site with a demographic that is actively looking for friends and who can be easily identified by the permanent appendages to their ears that is connected on the other end to iPods. Maybe Apple should buy them while they are cheap!

Talk about timing...sweet!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The convergence is coming, chicken little said...

The iPhone is launch is imminent, slated for 29 June this month. It will no doubt be successful although it is not clear whether it could be at the scale that the iPod was. Our love affair with small cool gadgets that do everything goes way back, from the Apple Newton, the Palm Pilot, the Windows CE, PDAs, PDA/phones, blackberries and now the iPhone. Yes, the convergence of phone, camera, internet has been here for quite sometime but it remains pretty much a niche rather than mainstream. Perhaps it's cost, without the business market, the blackberry would have been an orbituary long ago. However, if you ever travelled abroad, especially to Far East and Japan, the adoption of high tech phones is a different story. In particular, a lot has to do with culture and our way of life.

In North America, most households have multimedia computers with large screen displays and high speed internet. There is also liberal policy at most workplaces that allow employees to surf on company time or have access to high-speed networks. To be without the Internet on a daily basis is usually during a commute or a meeting but you can generally assume that you will be connected at least several times a day. Your phone as a data appliance (not voice) is a convenience, not a must have.

Flip to Japan, where in most workplaces, you sit rubbing shoulders with colleagues on either side of you and surfing during office hours is a no-no and probably would grounds for dismissal. External to work hours, most people are socializing as opposed to going home because their apartments are extremely tiny, very little entertainment is done at home. Not to mention commute times that could run to 2 or mores each way. So the average person in Japan, if it were not for their phone would have no access to the Internet at all. The phone is an integral part of their lifestyle, a mandatory item not an optional one.

Ergo, it is not the lack of convergence that is holding back adoption of smartphones in US/Canada, it is probably a combination of cost and culture. As a former user of the Blackberry and mobile professional, it wasn't difficult to wean myself off the "crackberry" as we fondly called it. Yes, it can be inconvenient at times not to have data access when you want it. But I never felt like it was justified to shell out a couple hundred dollars and then the pay a month fee for benefits that weren't really that compelling. At the end of the day, if you really were objective, there are very few things in life that require your immediate and urgent attention, when that happens, please call.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are you a daily hero?

Most of us will never reach what society may regard as "great". Being a famous movie star, CEO or even the president of their country. But I have to believe that in every great man or woman there came a turning point in their lives that was precipated or influenced by someone behind the scenes. The teacher who inspired the student to sing or to write. The parent who sacrificed much to give their children better opportunies than they had. The guides who routinely take the climbers up Mount Everest. The coach who corrected a golf swing which leads to a championship title. The 911 person who saves a desperate voice from self-destruction. Or the friend who simply stood by you and just believed.

In truth, while we all aspire to greatness and be great, we forget that there may be far more opportunities every day to be catalyst and make someone great. That in itself may be the reason why you are great. If we cannot be the one, perhaps our greatest contribution is to be one that inspires one.

We could all be daily heroes.

The theme today? facilitating greatness

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Art meets blog

Haydn Shaughnessy is one of the most interesting people in the blogosphere. As a Irish journalist, he brings a refreshing European flavour to TheGoodBlogs. Combining his journalist endeavours with his past as a technical strategist, he brings to his blog a unique insight into digital world. But at heart I suspect he is also a digital sociologist, someone who thinks and talks about digital culture and the impact of the digital world to society at large.

His latest adventure is creating an art gallery. Wow! That is a deviation from the norm, you would say. But not for Haydn. I asked him what drove him to take a step so bold and unexpected (at least to me).

Haydn: "I wanted to do something to reflect a long held belief that
computing, IT etc has negative effects on culture which will only be put right by
cultural producers,creatives etc augmenting it with objects of beauty
derived from the IT/comms technology. By negative effects I mean like
me, today, spending too much time at a keyboard, the years I've spent
looking at powerpoint presentations, the fact that I utilise my memory so little
nowadays because a machine does memory for me.

The purpose of the gallery is to showcase people who are using IT/the
web etc in ways that have a clear aesthetic value but which also use that
technology to make us look again at the world around us - the gallery
is bringing togther people who are able to say this technology can make
the world more beautiful and satisfying, not just more productive or

Support his passion and visit Haydn's gallery. I suspect while Haydn hopes to make money with his new venture, changing and challenging people like me to think about digital culture differently is probably his much higher goal.

I, for one, can now claim to know a friend how owns an art gallery, how cool is that!

Monday, June 04, 2007

What's the #1 rule of blogging?

It's the most basic rule, and I broke it last week. Never ever assume what you see in one browser is what you get in another. 99% of all blogs use a flexible template that allows sections to float in the space that best fits the current viewport. I had put a picture that was a little too wide and it pushed my sidebar in IE below my posts. Chris Angel or David Blane would have been proud of my unintentional neat trick. It is also the most common problem we write to our bloggers about.

It's known as the bounding box problem, a difference in interpretation of the bounding box around a div or section. IE and Firefox treat padding differently and hence while your content or sidebar may seem to fit in one browser, the lack of space actually pushes the sidebar out of sight below the rest of the page. Even though you planned your blog layout carefully, all of us at one time or another have forgotten this simple rule and added a picture that is a tad too wide causing sidebars to vanish.

It is the #1 rule of blogging. Always check regularly that your blog displays properly in Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Firefox and (Safari, yes Mac users read blogs too!)...

Lest you write to TheGoodBlogs and ask, "Dude, where's my sidebar?"

Friday, June 01, 2007

Are you building cathedrals or bazaars?

I just finished a 48 hour programming stint with about 6 hours sleep in total. It's not the first time nor will it be the last. It is just one of the occupational hazards of software development. We have one happy customer and one exhausted developer... me. You know you're past your physical limits when you go shopping in the local supermarket and you can't name half the fruit you sit. Yeah, it's a little scary.

Earlier, sitting on the subway train, I wondered what I could have done to make this week a smoother path. We had another 2 developers on tap but their contributions, though important, was more peripheral than core, tactical rather than strategic. The time for mass collaboration is not now, it will be soon. The answer is very simple, in the beginning, you want one vision, one system philosophy, one architect. Once you've defined this, you can get in all the craftsmen to do their thing. But in the real world, you seldom have mass collaboration of architects, designers, etc. Why? you need a single consistent vision regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

Nicholas Carr writes about this in his article called "on the ignorance of crowds". He refers to the model Eric Raymond's paper called "The Cathedral and the Bazaar". Eric examined why open source is such a power mass collaboration paradigm. To the cathedral architects, it should not succeed but it does.

But here's the real truth. Most, if not all, open source projects started with one individual or very small group of contributors. Once it is past a certain point, the successful ones are taken to another level by their peers through mass collaboration. The cathedral is designed in relative isolation, the bazaar is built by peers. But you could probably not have switched roles either way, it would have been an utter disaster. Carr says it best, peer production is refining the old, rather than inventing the new, it's an optimization model vs an invention model. If you can give each a place in your business, you have a great recipe for creating something special and yet let your success be defined by the world rather than the limitations of self. Companies struggle to do both, Microsoft builds cathedrals, Red Hat builds bazaars.

The success of a restaurant is usually due to the genius of one chef. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Once that broth is defined, then the conditions for mass collaboration are right. Good menus have a theme, a philosophy, a vision.

BTW: The post with the best blog title of the day goes to Jules, Call me at Low Tide.