The Idea Dude


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

When we forget the reason for our journey

John went on a Sunday ride on his bicycle. Like most weekends, he cherished this time, to smell the flowers, to listen to the birds and stopping at the top of each hill to look at the view.

On this Sunday, a cyclist swept by John at great speed. John admired his strength, his wonderful physique and the shiny bike as the cyclist passed him. John decided he was just as fit. Did he not travel this path every week? He decided to pedal faster. A little while later, John reached the end of his journey. Drenched in sweat, his chest heaving, he was disappointed that he could not keep up with the cyclist even though he covered the distance in half the usual time.

But John felt empty on the way home. Uncomfortable and tired, he couldn't smell the delicate freshness of the flowers because he was gulping all the air that he could. He couldn't hear the birds because his heart thumped loudly in his ears. He didn't notice the magnificent view because he just wanted to get back home.

John forgot the reason for his journey that week. He forgot it was a time to rejuvenate, to reflect and to be inspired by all around him. John wasn't John... he was someone else.

We're all like John sometimes. We feel we have to blog every day because the best bloggers do. We have to say something smart so people will link to us. We crave for comments because they validate our words.

Perhaps we should remember to blog like no-one's reading... to keep very sacred our own reasons for why we blog at all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Natural born connectors

I was brought up in a culture that defined my road to success before I was even born. It simply said, go to a good school, get good grades, go to university, get a degree, find a job, work your way up to the top and then retire and enjoy the fruits of your labour. The thinking behind that was brainpower was the secret success juice. As long as you were smarter than anyone else, you would be rich.

Forty+ years later. My perspective has changed. As parents, we always stress the importance of the academic, often at the expense of other skill sets. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. How true that rings now.

Looking around me at successful people over the years, many were Nobel Prize winners, not even close. Yet they were immeasurably successful. One of the keys was they knew they weren't the sharpest knife in the kitchen. But they knew who was and they knew where their strength lay. In connecting people and selling ideas.

In retrospect, it makes sense that these people, I call them natural born connectors, would ultimately be more successful. If you believe in the concept of evolution, these folks succeed because their promiscuity allows them to cast a wide net and sooner or later, they will land a whale or at least be on the right boat when the whale is caught.

For the academic, his choices are limited by his own abilities and mental prejudices. He will fish in the same stream year after year in the hope of the whale because he feels he designed the best fishing rod and has the best fish detector.

Thanks to the Internet, knowledge today is a commodity. Your maven is Google. The value is not in the neuron but the connections between them. Funnily enough, nature got that right, each neuron in our brains is pretty simple and not exactly interesting. But wire a billion of them together and we have something pretty awesome!

Today, I spend as much time figuring out how to help my children be better connectors as opposed to be better thinkers. Both are equally important!

Monday, January 21, 2008

What type of blogger are you?

Haydn Shaughnessy blogged recently about social media here and here. He talked about the different types of bloggers and how it important to it was to understand what constituency you were serving. It inspired me to copy and augment his list:

  • Reporters. My friend, Mark Evans would fall in this category. If you wanted the lowdown on what's hot in tech, his blog does exactly what Haydn says viz, picking up on interesting bits of news and trends and spinning out a good story, responding to people‚Äôs need for novelty.
  • Influencers. Folks like Guy Kawasaki or Robert Scoble would fall into this category. It is their opinion more than their knowledge that holds sway. (they are pretty smart people but it is their brand that makes them special) They can effectively make your product simply by saying, I have one and I love it
  • Mavens. These blogs will tell you how to cook, where to find the latest software fixes, how to replace the battery in your iPod. Simply great resources to search for when you're looking to fix and make something. This is where you learn to smack your Wii controller on the palm of your hand if it stops working because there is a small accelerometer that is stuck inside.
  • Inquirers, philosophers and mentors. They don't necessarily have the answers but they are preoccupied in exploring events around us, helping us make ourselves better while they do the same for themselves. Some of these are purely social commentators, while others take the form of leadership and inspirational tracks.
  • Lifestyle bloggers. They do it just because it's fun. Often it's about their travels, their home. It's off the wall commentary. Reality blogs. It's about being able to express themselves in another medium other than voice and touch.
  • Consumer bloggers. These blogs are about the latest gadgets and gizmos. It's about the latest games, toys, handbags, celebrities, sport cars.
  • Business. A great example would be the Lenovo blogs. They educate their customers and potential customers. They describe their designs, products and issues. They create dialog between business and consumer.
  • Fanatics. Gossip blogs, sports blogs would probably fall into this category. These people love talking about their passion or perhaps better put, their obsession.

Often these categories overlap, because the blog offers a broad canvas of opportunity. But Haydn's point is that we need to understand what your constituent is and remain true to that. If you have diverse interests, multiple blogs are better at making sure no-one gets lost along the way.

At Successful-Blog you'll find blogs that talk about business, changing the world etc. If you're looking at the more personal side to Liz, you'll find her at Letting me be, where her thoughts, poetry and heart is a perfect destination for the restless or weary soul.

Understanding yourself (heart), your canvas (blog), your paint (words) and your audience (readers) is key to a successful blog.

The Power of Many

Reading a newspaper article on environmental issues reminded me of what my daughter said a few months ago when the very same topic was part of her school assignment. After going through the work, she simply said in a matter-of-fact kind of way, You know, Dad, if only a few people did it, it would make absolutely no difference. You need everyone to do it to make it work.

I have often wondered about that. We are encouraged to take the bus instead of driving, or turn the heat down by a few degrees. Every week, our family religiously sorts out all the recycling material and compost. But at the end of the day, unless we ALL do it, the impact may be all for naught beyond making our consciences feel a little better.

The metaphor is this. You can be pushing a huge boulder up a hill your entire life and bask in the knowledge that your bit of energy is contributing to getting the boulder over the hill. But unless there is critical mass, i.e. enough people pushing, all your efforts are for naught.

Unfortunately, our culture of excess and self-indulgence makes it tough for our generation to make significant changes that will impact the environment. It is not part of our DNA, our education never taught us that. To do it requires effort and we know the law of entropy. Very few continue down a path that requires continual effort over a lifetime.

What we can do, is educate the next generation so that it hopefully becomes their culture. Hopefully it is the least we can do.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Predicting disruptions is an oxymoron

As an entrepreneur, you're always hoping your current gig will be the next disruption. It could be the next Facebook, Google or Microsoft. With it comes a huge following and great wealth. It's a great dream and one worth pursuing. Ask the 30,000 hopefuls that waited to audition for The American Idol in Dallas.

Blueprint for success... or not
So we create business plans that show the growing market, the low hanging fruit, the coming tsunami and how if you invest your dollar, we can give you 1000 back or perhaps more. We all play the game... given a great dream or possibility of wealth, we find all the necessary facts to collaborate our assumptions. Seldom do we sit down and think about all the reasons why it wouldn't turn out the way we hoped. That is not in our DNA.

Make no mistake, it is part of our DNA to be better, to innovate, to disrupt. It is the only reason why our species have become so dominant on this planet. But seeking and predicting disruptions are two different things. Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan tells us that great disruptions like Google have three things in common.

The Black Swan
Firstly, they are extremely rare.

Secondly, their impact and ROI is massive.

Thirdly, perhaps most important, it always seems easy to explain why it happen AFTER the fact. It's like people who win the lottery and go on to explain how they chose their numbers or how their circumstances made them by that ticket at that particular time in a particular store.

But the rub here is that it is a non-linearity, or perhaps better termed, a singularity and no historical trend can ever predict something that is discontinuous. We try nevertheless. Today there are thousands of social networks trying to emulate MySpace and Facebook and thousands of Facebook apps that hope to be the next big success story. There is no harm in trying, believing and dreaming. But it is foolish to think that disruptions are predictable, simply because there are many paths to each possible disruption and as many paths that bypass one. It is simply not predictable.

The reality is, life isn't fair
In the land of extremes, as Taleb will tell you, there are many dwarfs and very few giants, disproportionately so.

It is an incredibly sobering thought. I'm glad most entrepreneurs do not think that way, even though it is true. They may decide not to get up in the morning and possibility miss the next disruption.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What have you changed your mind about?

Came across an interesting website this week, called Edge. Established in 1988, it is a gathering of thinkers who ponder on things philosophical, scientific and literary. The question they asked for 2008 was the following?

When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that's faith.
When facts change your mind, that's science.


Every day we make decisions based on knowledge we have in our heads. That knowledge is a combination of data we have gathered and the rules we created around them. Too often, we continue making decisions (some very important) without really questioning whether the basis for those decisions are still valid. It's like driving along an old road because you did it yesterday and the day before, even though there is a new freeway beside it. While this may seem absurd, it is often the way we think.

Are the assumptions you made yesterday still valid today? if not, on what basis are you making your decisions today?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A new year, a new day

Can't believe it is the 8th and it is only my first blog post of the year. A ski trip and dead notebook put my blogging on hold for a week. But I'm back and as I type, it feels good to be back.

Setting up a new machine is like moving into a new home, you have to figure where to put the old stuff and then learn about all the new stuff. The jury is still out on whether I stay with Vista or go back to XP Pro. I know this much, make sure you have the largest disk possible.

My new Thinkpad had 100GB but one day later, I'm down to around 30GB! After diving in and investigating, the Thinkpad has a backup directory for emergencies called RRBackup which has devoured 10GB of my disk. Throw in another 3GB for the pagefile, 2GB for the hibernation files and 8GB (and growing - Vista will take by default 15% of your diskspace) for the system restore files. Preinstalled software weighs in at another 16GB. Doing the math, that's a whopping 39GB of space that strictly speaking doesn't belong to me. Then there is the 5GB partition, the preinstallers have taken, I'm down to half my drive.

BTW, a small factoid: I really only have a 93GB harddrive not 100GB as advertised. 93GBytes which is equivalent roughly to 100GBits (you have to multiply by 1024x1024x1024). All part of marketing and to make it look like you have a bigger drive than you really do.

But life is returning to normal.

Have an awesome year everybody!