The Three Universals Coming Your Way

Listen up . . . .

1. A universal device. The 7 inch tablet is a step in that direction. No more schlepping multiple items around the planet. A supercomputer that will do it all.

2. A universal identifier. It may well be your Twitter handle. (It will probably not be your phone number.) So get that handle sorted out if it’s backwards or bizarre.

3. A universal privacy protocol. Easy to set up, controlling how you choose your data and identity and location and everything else to be viewed and by whom, for ever.

Not all tomorrow. Not all at the same time. But they’re coming . . . . 

Next up, The Uber Device; Handy Too

Those of us who are perpetual travelers are less annoyed than we should be by the “need” to port various devices and their support chargers (or even, worst case, that “universal” charger kit that was devised by a lego exec who went crazy). Many professional Blackberry users have kept their phones. Then the “laptop.” Now the tablet, which may or may not supersede the latter. And that mass of charger wiring that makes every single TSA X-ray look like a, well, we aren’t allowed to joke about them so I had better not say what. I met a top global exec who carries 6 phones/Blackberries. Sigh.

I think we all know where we are headed, even though it tends not to be articulated. One device. One genuinely UV charger (unless by then we have osmosis charging as standard). Serious batteries and backup and all-round resilience (as in, as resilient as my old portable typewriter, which will be worth a million dollars when we get hit with a EMP).

Early adopters help fund R and D. Many devices and types of devices have made a surprisingly brief appearance in the anthropocene. The early “mobile phone” with the size of a carton of milk and the charm of an army field telephone has been successively – and surprisingly subtly – succeeded by smaller, neater, more fashionable, until now we go around clutching supercomputers the size of energy bars whose serious powers we rarely engage. But we do clutch them. Except for those guys (sorry) who look like geeks’ dads and plumbers and wear them on tool belts. . . .

Meanwhile, we have parallel tale of the computer proper. Those of us old enough to remember pre-PC when IBM had yet to get its act together and artifacts like the Sirius preceded the early Apples are aware that the first decade or two of that evolution took their time. Remember “luggables”?

Then we speed forward into the standard “laptop” that is almost never actually on a lap and has held court for more than a decade. Suddenly it’s the netbook. Now the tablet. Now the midi-tablet, as 7 inches becomes the magic number. And my sense is we are getting warm. Not that Moore’s Law will ever leave us alone, but there are device plateaus and we are about to hit one.

Point is: Convergence. When those two wondrous 19th Century inventions, the typewriter and the telephone, finally converge. We shall port one device. It will have it all. The question is when, and exactly how will it meet our many needs?

Here’s my prediction.

1. Voice function is exploding in accuracy and appeal, but I expect Qwerty to be there too, very possibly (yes) with a non-touchscreen option. 

2. Use of new materials (there are already flexible, roll-up displays) will go further and give us flex in screen size.

3. The son or granddaughter of Google Glass will give us micro-display options.

4. Cloud-based storage and fast download will be taken as read (though the latter will still be a problem in places long after we arrive at the single device).

What will we call it? The cab firm has seized Uber. But thinking of Germany, perhaps their curious name for the mobile/cellphone will work for the universal device. Using an English word (which the English have never used of their “mobiles”) they call them handies.

So by when?

The Napa Technology Policy Summit, 2012

I’ve just returned from this outstanding annual conference, in which C-PET was privileged once again to be a partner. It brought together leading voices from corporate, entrepreneurial, venture and governance communities.

The panel I moderated illustrates this well. Vivek Wadhwa, Washington Post innovation columnist, biz school prof in five locations, and recently appointed resident guru at the NASA-hosted Singularity University, was joined by Kauffman Senior Fellow Paul Kedrosky, Start-up America leader Kathy Warner, and Chief Strategy Officer of well-known start-up Spokeo Emanuel Pleitez. Like all panels at these events so well curated by Natalie Fonseca, there were no PowerPoints or set-piece speeches. Focus was on lively discussion, and Q and A, in which some of the best minds around were fully engaged. Full video will soon be available (we shall let you know when) and each of the panels will bear careful viewing…

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When and How if you’re Marketing with Twitter


If you missed this report a week or so ago, it’s worth a visit. A Salesforce unit looked at around 300 Twitter accounts managed for major brands. Important to note that, since while many of us use Twitter to promote our businesses, this effort seems to have looked at more overtly promotional tweeting (the kind I never see as I don’t follow brands!).

There are straightforward lessons about keeping under 100 characters, including links, making sure your links work (sigh); and interesting remarks on when best to tweet – at busy times, and especially at weekends (when it seems most major brands don’t bother much).

Grist to the mill of those of us who have been repeating that major companies aren’t serious about social, and the tips on timing and length are helpful even if they are not of universal application (so if you are selling sleeping pills . . .). And the approach some of us taking to mingling professional content with quips, snarks, and general-purpose observations (not to mention cat pics); and who tweet far more than is here recommended; is not really in view.

Back to a point I keep making. This really is early days – in digital in general, in social in particular, and in Twitter especially, which is the key social medium. I suspect I shall return to these points soon . . . .

WHY TWITTER MATTERS: Tomorrow’s Knowledge Network 

Sorry, Marketers, You’re Doing Twitter Wrong [REPORT].

The Two Most Stunning Facts about American Business

Mississippi | Missouri

No hires from west of the Mississippi! (Photo credit: Kevin Saff)

Serious question: Is there anyone out there in the Fortune 500 who actually wants to make money?

Because mainstream American business is deliberately ignoring the two key drivers of value creation – with a remarkable degree of consistency. Companies vary, but not by that much, which is why the competitive advantage implications of both should be causing CEOs (and investors) nights of sweaty, nightmarish sleeplessness or first-mover overtime.

1. As I keep noting, every survey that reports on the number of women in senior positions tells us something ridiculous. Not, primarily, unfair (though of course it is unfair). Ridiculous. Whatever they may say, corporate leaders have taken a decision to ignore 50% of the talent pool.

Think about it. No-one with brown eyes. No-one from west of the Mississippi. Dog-lovers, fine; no-one with a cat. I know, it’s complicated. But when you get paid a whole pile of moolah, you can expect zero sympathy from me if things that are complicated prove to be beyond you. Get it fixed, or get out.

We know the national numbers. Men make up 84% of corporate officers, and 86.5% of executives. To focus more narrowly, look at the latest numbers (referenced below) from the state of MA: 41 out of the 100 largest companies by revenue have no women on their boards; 52 have no women executives. No-one with brown eyes. No-one from west of the Mississippi. No-one with a cat. It is frankly hard to see how in these circumstances officers and board members can claim to be exercising their fiduciary responsibility. At a time when the pressures on U.S. business are as bad as they have ever been, nearly half the talent pool is being ignored. I feel like I should be writing this for The Onion.

I think it’s unfortunate that this has been branded as an issue about fairness, like minority representation. Because it is quite different. It is something investors, were they thinking straight, would understand. Something boards would understand. It’s about value and competitive advantage. Get it?

There’s more to be said. I’ve argued that many women are in general better suited than many men to the flexible thinking, agility, relational management, and personal shape of C21 business. There’s actually a bonus in brown-eyed, western, cat-loving hires.

2. The second stunning fact is recent, obvious, dramatic, and at least as hopelessly out of focus as the first. It’s “social.” We keep talking about it. The posts linked below give some telling numbers that drive home the point. Not one of our major corporations has grasped the strategic significance of social media and social customer engagement. Some have responded more seriously than others. A few CEOs have set a lead. But only a handful of top CIOs are personally engaged in that combo of tech and human interface which will define both the relation of corporation and customer (B2B or B2C) in this generation and the corporation’s own capacity for agile, responsive change. It’s as big as that.

So, were I to be asked, I’d suggest the CEO snap up the top 10 social gurus on the planet and build a unit that engaged equally with CIO, CMO, every customer-facing unit, product development, and strategy. With the authority of his (sigh, yes, likely, his) office. For starters. Then next week, something else.

Now, guess what? Anyone seriously think that with women occupying around half the board and executive positions the revolutionary impact of social would be ignored? Anyone seriously think that if and when social is taken proportionately seriously, and customer values demand alignment with those of the company, the asinine male-dominated corporate culture that is well-nigh universal in U.S. business will survive?

Point is, the misalignment of society and corporate governance culture will find its most ready corrective in the revolutionary impact of social in permeating the organizational boundary and enabling market-driven pressures to reshape the business enterprise. It’s all under way. Who’s interested enough in the bottom line to jump ahead?


Customer Service and those who don’t get it:

The business case for investing in women – Boston Business Journal.

via The Two Most Stunning Facts about American Business.

via The Two Most Stunning Facts about American Business.

via The Two Most Stunning Facts about American Business.

via The Two Most Stunning Facts about American Business.

Reposting this as it is highly relevant to the urgent need to re-orient the federal government westward: to the Silicon Valley tech/creative community, and to China. We need to start with Camp David. Then the rest of federal Washington. Shift them to the Bay Area. The question is when, not if. The longer it takes, the worse U.S. chances in C21. How about it, Obama? Romney?

I first posted the discussion below in January. Couple striking recent developments to add. The Germany Pirate Party is now polling better than the Greens. And the UK’s Daily Mail – very much a mainstream conservative paper – has published a clarion call to support Marine Le Pen for the French presidency. Go figure.

I’m about to discuss this in the context of Gov2.0 at #gov20la

People have pointed out that others use this term to refer to the politics of space exploration involving inhabited planets. I think it has a much more useful meaning. Sorry, ETs.

Oh yes, and @mikenelson picks up the theme in this essay:

On Exopolitics: Tectonic Plates are shifting in America

So far as I can see, no-one else is using exopolitics in the sense I have been this past year on Twitter and in various blog posts to refer to fundamental shifts in American…

View original post 624 more words

Fukushima + Air France 447: Risk and the Deadly Human Factor

Fukushima + Air France 447: Risk and The Deadly Human Factor

Air France A330-200 F-GZCP lands at Paris-Char...

This aircraft was destroyed in Air France Flight 447. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The coincidence of reports assessing these two catastrophes, and the analysis offered, suggests many lessons as we move atMoore’s-Law exponential speed into ever-close relationships between human flourishing and our management of complex technology systems. The immediate lesson fromFukushima and AF447 is that we are in deep trouble.

Humans and technology interface in several distinct ways. We design systems. They shape our experience. We depend on them. We control them, one way and another; and although we are building in ever-more autonomous capacities, the buck still stops with Homo sapiens. In these cases, AF pilots, their trainers, Japanese nuclear engineers, and their government regulators. Fail, fail, fail, fail.

Fukushima suggests a case of the revolving doors. AF447 a case of the unanticipated risk. What’s scary is that we are not dealing with installations and airplanes in resource-poor parts of the planet, though there are plenty there. Japan is one of the most technologically advanced of human societies, and its democracy stable and professional in its institutions. (Ahem, think Wall Street and 2008, if you dare.) And by the same token, Air France. So why did no-one in the relevant roles anticipate the disasters which unfolded? This set of questions should pre-occupy us – us, that is, the species, not just “risk” professionals – as we look ahead up the curve to increasingly autonomous systems with growing risk potentials built-in.

Air France Flight 447: Pilot Errors Mounted in Tragic Crash, Report Finds | NewsFeed |

via Fukushima + Air France 447: Risk and The Deadly Human Factor.

More Risk: Resilience, Amazon’s Snafu, and the Cloud

Clouds over IL-RT50

Clouds (Photo credit: richardcox8592)

It’s good to know that most of Amazon’s backup power generators were working at the end of last week as some seriously bad weather hit the most internet-infested part of the planet, aka the DC area. But it is far from good enough. If we are to succeed in shifting data storage to the Cloud, with the vast benefits that many believe will flow, we need to have security-conscious grown-ups making resilience decisions. Else all we are doing is continuing the trend of porting our most valuable data assets into increasingly insecure locations.

Some months back I was invited to visit the Network Operating Center of one of our major corporations, located in Northern Virginia, and got a taste of what it takes to ensure resiliency. They have two separate power access points; an oil-fired generator that is constantly run in readiness; and a huge battery backup. And aside from redundant server capacity on site, they have two more complete operations in another state. Any one of them can be switched in seconds. They have never been down for more than a few.

Cloud suppliers need as a minimum to offer this kind of redundancy to ensure resilience, and to game “two-war” situations in which a major hack attack comes at the same time as a natural disaster (weather, earthquake) or the outbreak of an infectious disease that takes out many of their personnel. Seems to me that unless standards are that rigorous, neither commercial nor government agencies are going to entrust their data, and the Cloud will continue to be – as it is now – on the fringe of data storage and management.

The experience of the past few days raises other issues of resiliency. It is astonishing that the area where the most powerful people in the world reside can’t get its power utility to bury its cables (Europeans are routinely shocked to discover U.S. practice, which is defensible in scattered rural and semi-rural areas, but reeks of the Third World in suburban centers).

And all that before we start talking about the prospect of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse), which could essentially reproduce the results of the weekend storm right up the East coast and take a year to fix. But I hear a movie is in the works about the Carrington Event, the mid-19th century EMP that melted telegraph wires. Perhaps that will wake up legislators, regulators, and utilities. And consumers.

Amazon Explains Cloud Computing Snafu – Digits – WSJ.

Risk, Risk, Risk: Competitive Advantage, Value, and Knowledge in C21

A recent HBR blog post from Ernst and Young helpfully summarizes research that shows the increased profitability over time of companies with “mature” risk management functions – engaged with strategic risk and integrated with strategic decision-making. It’s a good read with some solid data behind it.

Here’s another slant. Plainly, in times of general stasis, when technologies, markets, other factors, are changing little, risks are comparatively low. The risk function in major companies, and risk itself as a para-profession, developed in such times. The rapid uptick in disruptive change powered chiefly by the digital revolution (aka Moore’s Law) and (directly and indirectly) related factors such as globalization and the furious growth rates of some less-developed economies have changed everything. Risk has moved from the edges of the business (traditional trade-offs between insurance and self-insurance, data backups, leadership transition planning – the many aspects of prudent housekeeping) to the heart of the enterprise – and its competitive advantage.

The sorry tale that came to a head on Wall Street in 2008 has underlined this in rather crass terms. But the tale is being told in many companies, most recently the effective collapse of Kodak and now RIM – companies built largely around a single product and technology (Kodak) or merely product (RIM) that have suddenly gone the way of the dodo and the travel agent. In an oped for the Sydney Morning Post during my visit to Australia’s finance powerhouse AMP last year I described Groupthink as public enemy number 1. Groupthink, from a specifically risk perspective, is of course about the fundamental mis-rating of risk; a consensus lock-step in ignorance that by understating risk balloons it into 2008 proportions. (I shall paste the piece below.)

Point here: The Risk Management team is the C Suite. The Chief Risk officer is the CEO. Together with certain core functions, like hiring top executives and directing corporate strategy, the key risk function is not one that can be delegated. While this may not always have been true, as we climb the curve of disruptive and often destructive innovation in the second decade of C21 it is now not only true but urgent, vital to the flourishing – and survival – of every business. While finance and banking do not deliver all the best bad risk stories (we have noted RIM and Kodak; we could add BP and Susan Komen), the gearing is much higher and the disasters unravel more dramatically and with more strategic impact. So J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon apologized for letting $2bn slip through inadvertence; a week or two later it now looks closer to $9bn. And Barclays, with other banks, have just been revealed fraudulently manipulating the LIBOR rate. On it goes.

The CEO is Chief Risk Officer. And as I have argued elsewhere (summary in the oped below) one essential risk management tool is the assembling and respecting of widely diverse opinions in every strategic conversation. It’s true of the board; of the executive team; of every context in which – essentially – ideas are put into the furnace to create value and competitive advantage. The further we ascend the Moore’s Law slope, the higher the risks, and the more diverse and respected such voices need to be.

How Mature is Your Risk Management? – Michael Herrinton – Harvard Business Review.



Groupthink – public enemy number 1 as we face the future

Posted on June 8, 2012


Groupthink hasn’t worked, it’s time to embrace the maverick

Giving credence to the outlier thinkers in our midst might have avoided things like the Wall Street crash.Giving credence to the outlier thinkers in our midst might have avoided things like the Wall Street crashPhoto: AP 

As the Arab spring continues to unravel into an Arab summer, the most important lesson is that hardly anyone knew it was coming. Much like the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Wall Street could it be that as much as conventional wisdom may be conventional it is not always reliably wise?

I recently hosted a conference in Washington on the future of nanotechnology. All kinds of experts were round the table talking tech and policy and business. Then one of them made a stunning statement. She was there on behalf of a big, mainstream environmentalist group. “I have never,” she stated, “been on such a diverse panel in Washington.”

There was a brief but palpable intake of air around the room. I thanked her for the compliment before adding that I was now more concerned for Washington than I was before.

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Whom do we invite round the table when the questions are big and the stakes high? It tends to be those in the centre; the mainstream thinker whose wisdom is regarded as conventional.

When will we ever learn? We are still paying for the lesson we learned from Wall Street in 2008.

Conventional wisdom can be dead wrong, even in the hands of the smartest people because they tend to agree with each other. People with way-out views are kept at arm’s-length.

Whatever the issue, if your views deviate too far from the mean, however articulate you may be, you are unlikely to get invited, funded or promoted.

We have learned a lot this past generation about the value of diversity in age, gender, and ethnicity but we have learned little about the enormous and growing value of diversity of opinion.

Of course, we do disagree about a lot of things. With friends, and with co-workers. But we live in communities of ideas that set boundaries around acceptable diversity of thinking, and make sure we keep out those who challenge our shared assumptions.

We don’t want to rehash old issues we regard as closed. We don’t want to give room to opinions we find deeply objectionable – or threatening. Most of us find it challenging to take forward our thinking when there is someone in the room always, always asking why?

So our natural tendency is to put unconscious faith in Groupthink, the tendency for everyone’s thinking to move in the same direction to the exclusion of any serious questioning.

People in management know all about this as a problem for work groups and other teams. But it is more insidious and far more dangerous on the grand scale.

What brought Wall Street down, and with it threatened the entire global order? The G-word. And on smaller scales: what led Monsanto into huge losses in the late 1990s and ensured that Europe rejected genetically-modified food? What led Detroit to near-oblivion as they insisted on producing 1950s-style autos into the 21st century? What about the power company TEPCO and the nuclear disaster that the entirely predictable tsunami sparked in Japan?

Knowledge is building very fast, disciplines are converging, globalisation is changing the ground-rules of everything. Change powered by Moore’s Law, the digitisation process and the revolution in communication is driving shifts in the technical, economic and social order that most of us strain to grasp. Yet the faster change takes place and the greater its disruptive, innovative power, the harder it will be to make good choices.

So who should be party to the conversation? This is where the outliers come in; people who are articulate and serious, but outside the mainstream assumptions that generally drive conversations. Experts tend to resist the participation of thosewith unorthodox opinions. It needs to become the norm for them to sit round the table in every discussion. All articulate voices round the table; all the time.

This approach is hardly new. The century before last, US poet, essayist and journalist Walt Whitman asked the question his own way. “Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?” In the 21st century, great value lies at the extremities of opinion; and we need to harvest it as we move through change faster than we have ever known before.

First appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, June 9, 2011.

Read more:

Technology, the Future, and the Great Divide – #TPS2012 in Napa

The Napa Technology Policy Summit, 2012

I’ve just returned from this outstanding annual conference, in which C-PET was privileged once again to be a partner. It brought together leading voices from corporate, entrepreneurial, venture and governance communities.

The panel I moderated illustrates this well. Vivek Wadhwa, Washington Post innovation columnist, biz school prof in five locations, and recently appointed resident guru at the NASA-hosted Singularity University, was joined by Kauffman Senior Fellow Paul Kedrosky, Start-up America leader Kathy Warner, and Chief Strategy Officer of well-known start-up Spokeo Emanuel Pleitez. Like all panels at these events so well curated by Natalie Fonseca, there were no PowerPoints or set-piece speeches. Focus was on lively discussion, and Q and A, in which some of the best minds around were fully engaged. Full video will soon be available (we shall let you know when) and each of the panels will bear careful viewing. For highlights, search Twitter for the hashtag #tps2012. And there is useful review at Huffington Post by Bennet Kelley.

My panel was on competitiveness, and an agenda for the incoming administration. There was no dull unanimity – real divergence over the value of engaging Washington, and whether dollars were required to get anyone’s attention. But there were common themes. Most interesting, perhaps, among them, was that priorities did not require extra spending. Key concerns and proposals:

  • Refocus for the Small Business Administration on young businesses. Most small businesses stay small. The focus should be start-ups – but will require a fresh culture in the renamed Young Business Administration.
  • A much firmer focus on the move from federally-funded university research universities to start-up applications.
  • Visa reform! Vivek Wadhwa proposed an internet-based campaign that would build on the success of the anti-SOPA effort. Others were less sanguine of such an approach. But the whole conference responded vocally to the urgency of visas.
  • More engagement by companies with members in the business agenda, and the businesses in their districts.

And from my intro and wrap-up comments:

  • The core issues at stake are questions of Washington’s “corporate culture” versus that of the entrepreneurial community signified by Silicon Valley; they are not (as the panel agreed) basically funding issues.
  • The major tech companies have not taken responsibility for pressing on Washington a long-term agenda, preferring to play lobbying defense in the context of the electoral cycle of the House.
  • I shared some of my own suggestions of kick-starter shifts, all cost-neutral, which include moving Camp David to Menlo Park (to bring the White House firmly into connection with the entrepreneurial culture of the Valley – and, from my view, as a first step in the relocation of the federal government to the west coast); abolishing academic tenure (a shake-up that will help younger scholars, inter-disciplinary and translational research, and which Congress could effect in an appropriations rider – adding a sentence to funding bills); and shifting some current federal R and D spending to a new agency based in the Valley and run by entrepreneurs.

Broader reflections from three days of conversation.

  • These events are greatly valued by those who participate, and key individuals had taken trouble to take part, many for the whole period of the conference. Aside from those already mentioned, panelists included the president of TechNet; the Deputy Attorney-General for California; writers such as Andrew Keen and Declan McCullagh (who is also, by the way, a terrific panel moderator); lawyer Christina Gagnier; VC and former DARPA and Intel leader David Tennenhouse . . .a considerable list of players in the tech and policy scenes.
  • At the same time, these events have something of the feel of an amalgam rather than a compound; an inter-disciplinary event in which Valley-type people and DC-type people mix on generally friendly terms before returning to their respective habitats. Their fusion into a compound is what is desired.

Last fall, I hosted – again in collaboration with the Tech Policy Summit group – a panel in Menlo Park that brought together VCs and tech thought leaders to discuss the theme that I have called “bridging the Continental Divide.” It’s our C-PET intention to press ahead with this conversation in the months to come. Watch this space for details!