the business context…

Strategy, Process, Architecture, Analysis, Alignment and Collaboration in the Enterprise

By its nature the Internet undermined anyone whose status depended on a privileged access to information

Michael Lewis, ‘Next: The Future Just Happened’ published in 2001, explains by way of the legal profession:

The Internet had arrived at an embarrassing moment for the law.  The knowledge gap between lawyers and non-lawyers had been shrinking for some time, and the Internet was closing it further.  Legal advice was being supplied over the Internet, often for free – and it wasn’t just by lawyers doing the supplying.  Students, cops, dicks, even ex-cons went onto message boards to help people with their questions and cases.  At the bottom of this phenomenon was a corrosively democratic attitude toward legal knowledge, which the legal profession now simply took for granted. “If you think about the law,” the past chairman of the American Bar Association, Richard S. Granat, told the New York Times, in an attempt to explain the boom in do-it-yourself Internet legal service, “a large component is just information.  Information itself can go a long way to help solve legal problems.”

In that simple sentence you could hear whatever was left of the old professional mystique evaporating.

Once the law became a business it was on its way to becoming a commodity.  Reduce the law to the sum of information and, by implication, anyone can supply it.  That idea had already traveled a long way, and the Internet was helping it travel faster.

From 2001…prescient indeed


Consumers gain at the cost of privacy …

I never really trusted that phrase … it always seemed to me that I was being sold something that I didn’t really want or didn’t understand.

I recently read Michael Lewis’ ‘Next: The Future Just Happened’ which he penned back in 2001.

An exceptional book about the social change brought about by technology – and remarkably insightful and accurate in its bold predictions.

The section on TiVo and Replay (two products that didn’t make it to Australia under those brand names – Foxtel iQ is the equivalent ) is particularly insightful about the  changing relationship between broadcasters and viewers.  As per the Wikipedia summary:

4. TiVo and Replay allow people to watch TV shows when they want and to skip the advertisements. This changes the relationship between the broadcasters and the viewers. It continues the fracturing of the market observed by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave (1980) and many others. The TiVo and Replay black boxes also transmit information back to the companies. The information on consumer preferences and behavior is valuable to advertisers because they can use it to try to target their ads to the people most likely to buy the product. This further segments the markets. Consumers gain convenience at the cost of privacy.

One of the example that Lewis provides is as follows:

The operative unit in TV ratings will no longer be the program but the moment.  Advertisers and networks will know with weird accuracy who and what within each program best holds television viewer’s attention.  The black box can determine which joke in a comedian’s monologue prompted certain viewers to switch channel or which medical emergency inspired viewers to exit ER.

Lewis continues with:

But the sheer financial value of the data that TiVo could collect casts the human desire for privacy in a new light.  Privacy is no longer a right but a wasteful luxury.  The Internet has not merely suggested new weapons for the Invasion of Privacy. It has created terrifying economic incentives for people to abandon their charming old attachment to their privacy.  Privacy is newly inefficient if the larger social goal is to get the most stuff to the most people at the cheapest prices.  And who would deny that the consumer demand for ever more stuff at ever cheaper prices is one of the great deterministic forces in history?  Any technology that gives the consumer what he wants, when he wants it, at a better price, is likely to succeed, in spite of a lot of objections from hoary old privacy nuts.

Confronting and uncomfortable… but logical.  I am able to accept that Foxtel’s monitoring of my recording and playback habits will lead to better programming.

However, although I’m happy to share my professional profile via LinkedIn, I am still not comfortable exposing my private life on Facebook and will probably look to cancel my largely unused account.

Some ‘hoary old privacy’ habits are hard to give up… despite the ‘economic incentives’.

A harsh critic … but some lessons in leadership can’t be ignored

I still haven’t got used to the idea of Mick Malthouse coaching my Blues… I’m struggling with the internal transition from grumpy nemesis to club sage.  I will likely be a harsh critic for sometime to come.

Tonight’s AFL360 panel made me more aware of the success that Malthouse has achieved at the Dogs, Weagles and Pies – highlighting how he was able to bring about sustained and rapid success to 3 different clubs.

Ok, granted. That is impressive…

Mark Maclure then rattled off the following observations in rapid succession:

  1. Malthouse is an authoritative leader – and he is well experienced in this role.
  2. Malthouse simplifies roles for the players – he typically asks them to focus on just 3 things.
  3. Malthouse establishes and maintains a defined offensive structure – allowing multiple players to operate within this structure and perform defined roles.
  4. Malthouse picks the best leader as captain – not the best player.
  5. Malthouse works with players at all levels of experience and talent – often asking the rookie to play on one of the opposing stars of the league.  This gives younger players enormous confidence.
  6. Malthouse handles the ‘bottom 5 or 6’ players well and makes them feel more special than the others / treats the 45th player on the list the same as the 1st.  This builds confidence within the whole playing group – and with confidence comes depth to sustain the team throughout a long season.

That insight has done more to change my opinion of Mick than anything else I have seen, heard or read.

Maybe the transition from nemesis to sage has begun …

Burning Platform – the real cause of Nokia’s Crisis

Further to ‘How quickly it can all change …’, Michael Schrage (of Havard Business Review Blogs) has offered his insight of the current crisis facing Nokia:

Nokia’s technology isn’t a root cause of its current crisis. Don’t blame its engineers and designers either. The company still knows how to innovate. There’s a simpler and more strategic explanation for why this once-perennial market leader became second-rate.

Nokia ignored America. The company simply refused to compete energetically, ingeniously and respectfully in the U.S. America was treated as an innovation afterthought. Nokia tried to get away with preserving its market dominance in Europe and growing its leadership in Asia. The richest country in the world was, literally and figuratively, a third-class priority for the Finnish giant.

Schrage asserts that ‘you can’t be a genuine global innovator if you’re a loser in America’:

Nokia’s unwillingness or inability to bring its best game to America has undermined its brand as both a technical and market leader. Marginalizing America allowed two of Nokia’s most dangerous competitors to swiftly, safely, and smartly out-innovate it.

Schrage observes that Nokia have belatedly realised this error and that it is ‘not an accident that Nokia’s (relatively) new CIO is a North American’.

Real leaders do well wherever there’s real competition. They don’t de facto abandon the world’s wealthiest markets because they think they can do better elsewhere. Most important, they respect the inarguable reality that, while global innovators can emerge from anywhere, they are still most likely to emerge from the place where Google, Apple, and Facebook began. Techno-entrepreneurs who want to win in the world still need to win in America.

… despite the North American hubris, I think he has a point.

Reference Links:

Micheal Schrage – The Cause of Nokia’s Crisis – 15 February 2011

Dilbert’s abridged hype curve

As always, Scott Adams cuts straight to the heart of the current hype …

Harsh, but fair.

How quickly it can all change …

The only constant is change

Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535 BC – 475 BC)

This truth of this insight must be searing through the consciousness of Nokia’s management …

[Courtesy of AFP / SMH:]

The worlds top mobile phone maker Nokia is standing on a burning platform surrounded by a blazing fire of competition, new company head Stephen Elop said in a dramatic call for radical change.

How times have changed for Nokia …

The Finnish company was once the industry’s top dog, with a 40 per cent share of the mobile device market as recently as second quarter of 2008 but it has been on the slide ever since, falling to 31 per cent in fourth quarter 2010.

According to a leaked memo, Nokia is beset with the following woes:

non-competitive operating system Symbian, a lack of accountability and leadership, painfully slow product delivery, a lack of internal collaboration and a general series of misses

What I found quite profound about this rapid turn-around in fortunes for Nokia is that the competition didn’t come from ‘a better phone’ – it came from a different type of consumer device, the ‘smart phone’ (and the associated ecosystem), which many commentators claim is ‘an inferior phone’.

I remember when I bought my first iPhone (after years of using Nokia and Windows phones) – I was blown away by the intuitive, ease-of-use features – and the market place of applications.  It was a completely different device! – one that also happened to make phone calls.

I look forward to seeing how Nokia responds – and other business insights from a company that was once the clear market leader.



Reference links:

Nokia ‘on a burning platform’: new CEO in leaked, 10 February 2011

Why two heads aren’t always better than one

‘Two heads are better than one’ is an accepted truism for many.   So much so that when individuals are faced with an important decision to make, whether it be in the workplace or in private life, they will often seek out and discuss the issue with a group of well-informed, level-headed colleagues.

decision making

Decision Making Approach

This process forms the basis of much of the thinking around collaboration.  But is it really the best approach? Are two heads really better than one?

Professor Richard Wiseman in his highly readable book ‘:59 Seconds – think a little change a lot’ provides some interesting insights into the potential pitfalls of group collaboration.

Professor Wiseman provides examples of research which shows that being in a group exaggerates people’s opinions, causing them to make more extreme decisions than they would on their own.  This ‘polarisation’ effect can, depending on the initial inclinations of the individuals in the group, result in the final decision being either extremely risky or extremely conservative.

What causes this strange, but highly consistent, phenomenon?

Teaming up with people who share your attitudes and opinions reinforces your existing beliefs in several ways:

  • You hear new arguments, and find yourself openly expressing a position that you may have only vaguely considered before.
  • You may have been secretly harbouring thoughts because you believed them to be unusual, extreme or socially unacceptable.
  • Surrounded by other like-minded people, these secret thoughts often find a way of bubbling to the surface, which in turn encourages others to share their extreme feelings with you.

Professor Wiseman points out that polarisation is not the only phenomenon of ‘groupthink’ that can adversely influence individuals when they get together.  Studies have shown that, compared to individuals:

  • Groups tend to be more dogmatic
  • Groups tend to be better able to justify irrational actions
  • Groups are more likely to see their actions as highly moral
  • Groups have a tendency to form stereotypical views of outsiders
  • Strong willed people who lead group discussions can pressure others into conforming, encourage self-censorship and create an illusion of unanimity.

Professor Wiseman cautions that over fifty years of research suggests that irrational thinking can occur when people try to reach decisions in groups, and this can lead to a polarisation of opinions and a highly biased assessment of a situation.

So … are two heads really better than one?  I suspect that, given the above, the answer is ‘not always’.  However, given that group work is unavoidable in modern business, we would all do well to bear in mind the negative groupthink behaviours that may arise during collaboration.

Reference Links:

Amazon: Professor Richard Wiseman’s book ‘:59 Seconds – think a little change a lot’