Life in the Digital Diaspora

Posted April 6, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

Let us set aside, for the moment, the comforting belief that current technologies and “new” business models are dramatically different than they were in 1995 when the Internet revolutionized our access to (and capacity to disseminate) information.

Instead, for the moment, consider a broader history within which these innovations exist:  marked by a true conclusion of the Industrial Age (itself heralded by the electrification of industry, fueled by steam and internal combustion engines and enabling mass production of things that could be bought and sold) and the beginning of the Information Age, when “knowledge workers” became the primary source of value production.  In this context, the past twenty years should only be viewed as the first phase of the Information Age – one that continues to unfold, transform, and facilitate every part of our daily lives – and let us assume, as a consequence, that this Age (like its industrial predecessor) will remain for the next 100 years.

From this vantage-point, we might understand that this isn’t the end of a 20-year cycle of innovation but rather the very early stages of a much longer and more dramatic shift – economically, socially, historically.  From this vantage-point, we realize that our current fascinations (the best Cloud, the newest Messaging Service, the soon-to-be-released device that combines everything we might ever want in every color and shape) are not end-points but merely the next in a series of tool-and-service waves that alter, professionally and personally, the means to enhance our lives and entertain ourselves.

What changes are visible on the near horizon?

Twenty years from now, we will not need to carry those “everything” devices – we will wear them and drive them.  Twenty years from now, what will be valuable will be the data we own (who we are and what we do and where it was done) and the data we aggregate for others.  (Note: Whomever invents the method for establishing the actual value of our personal information and presents a mechanism for monetizing that value will lay true claim to the next Big Thing.)

We’ll no longer need to send our teen-aged sons and daughters to the grocery store when we need more milk and eggs.  Our refrigerators and pantries will monitor our household supplies, relay needs to central distributors who store, provision, and deliver the “stuff” of our lives in the manner that utilities (natural gas and electricity) is provided today.  And we’ll no longer need to send our college-bound children across the country at great expense for graduate educations, because Princeton will be in the cloud.  Dartmouth, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa?  In the cloud – No need to physically go to where knowledge is resides, because knowledge will be usefully distributed (selected, paid for, updated, improved upon) and consumed as popular music is now i-delivered.

My grandfather made the desk that I now use to support the television/game-station/routers needed in this generation.  He made things and sold them.  My father changed the family business to focus upon the sale of things made by others.  What do I make?  Essays like this one, composed only of words, responding to the words of others, adding my teacup of water into the relentless and burgeoning information stream.

What will my son make? Surely his contribution will be as different from mine as mine was from my father, and his father – because our “work product” changes as the world changes.  And his son will wonder what he does for a living, just as my son wonders about me, just as those who were born at the end of the Industrial Age could not imagine automobiles that talk or television with more than three channels.

As the Information Age continues, should we construct more office buildings?

That’s the old way of doing things.  Like the huge factories of the previous age that now sit, empty, in blighted neighborhoods no longer filled with bustling communities, the way we work will surely be transformed in much the same manner.   If I had been asked to provide advice (they didn’t ask) I would have discouraged Apple’s executives from the immense expenditure for their new (“spaceship-style”) headquarters, because it is the Old Way of Doing Things.  If I had been asked (they didn’t ask) I would have applauded Adobe’s decision to transform itself from selling “stuff” (delivered via CD or downloaded onto last year’s device) to leasing a constant flow of tools that function “in the ether”  – because that is what corporations will provide when my son becomes a primary wage earner and needs the next productivity innovation allowing him to gather-improve-disseminate his specialized contribution, whatever it may be.

Of course, there are constants.  Some things will remain the same.

We will always need shelter.  We will continue to rely upon networks and communities and the occasional helping hand of a neighbor.  We will still value fine things, the excellence of heroes and artists, and the efficient gathering of goods that nourish our activities.  We will still depend upon the selfless protection of those who battle fires, and diseases, and the unfortunate things humans sometimes do to other humans.  These constants will be interwoven with unimaginable technologies to fill such needs, and equally unimaginable ways to circumvent them, deplete what is scarce, and hoard what should be shared.

We’re not finished, now that the Cloud has been adopted and mobile devices are ubiquitous.  These are only pre-cursors to what comes next, and what comes after that.

This is an Age, not a trend, and it is just now unfolding.

Beware, there is another Chasm…

Posted March 15, 2014 by Stuart
Categories: Management Issues, Metacloud as Metaphor

In recognition of the Ides of March, and in honor of Geoffrey Moore’s re-released and newly-revised Crossing the Chasm, I’m driven to the soothsayer’s role, for there is another Chasm to be crossed.

Beware, the (Other) Chasm, for it is hidden from the innovator’s view.

The other Chasm is deeper and more ominous than the first (the one that devours unsuspecting start-ups), and more dangerous, too, for it consumes unsuspecting institutions of any size, and its canyon floor is cluttered with the wreckage of the once-profitable, the blindly passionate, and the silicon proud:  it is more dangerous because it is taboo.  It has many names yet none, and it can suddenly appear beneath one’s feet on the very edge of success.  Indeed, many have prevailed in the crossing of Mr. Moore’s Chasm, only to teeter and fall into this second, the Other – the one they never saw coming.  Early symptoms are easily dismissed – an unhappy customer here, a missed deadline there – rationalized as the unfortunate side-effects of a necessary velocity.

velocity

velocity

Too many ignore the stop sign at the intersection of Velocity Way and Velocity Way (which is an actual location), falling into the second Chasm.  As we descend, accelerating in proportion to the gravity of our business, more symptoms appear:

  • Communication becomes increasingly difficult.
  • Team conflicts go unresolved.
  • Organizational architectures buckle under the weight of too many mergers & acquisitions, or the heightened expectations of second-wave executives.
  • Things go awry in the field, and revenue targets are missed.
  • Management consultants are hired to identify root causes.
  • Company culture begins to unravel, until it is reduced to mere motto.
  • Finally, the “best and brightest” begin to quietly look for their next professional opportunities.

I once surveyed an audience of 100+ CIOs on the primary reasons for failed initiatives and their resounding answer: 95% of project failures were caused by “people problems,” not by insurmountable technical or business issues. As one colleague remarked at the time, “Technology problems are easy – just a matter of time or money. People issues? We don’t have a clue.”  And yet, we strive for the latest technologies, and delegate organizational development responsibilities to HR.  We’re much more comfortable rebooting servers, configuring databases, and searching for memory leaks than confronting our dysfunctional teams, our feuding layers of middle management, and our fraying organizational culture.

“The level of contempt in meetings is startling,” another colleague recently confided, “it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about…”  His situation is emblematic of a disturbing trend in our industry, the widening tension between the hubris in Silicon Valley and the Occupy-style resentment it engenders.  It is the tension between those who invest millions of dollars in a quest for disruptive inventions and those for whom disruption is a bad thing, something to be avoided whenever possible.

Some of you may argue that there has always been a gap.  Visionaries pull society forward.  Economics (have’s and have not’s) become political and polarized.  Why, you might ask, is this particular Ides of March different than 2004 or 1994?

Geoff Moore’s revised work offers an answer.

In the new Chasm commentaries, Geoffrey notes something very different about the current business environment:  barriers to adoption have been lessened, and it is now much simpler (and far less expensive) for a small group of engineers to have an immediate impact – no longer constrained by the cost of infrastructure (now we can rent what we need), coupled with the ubiquity of social media that allows for blazingly fast adoption by an engaged audience.  In this new world, the Chasm of his original book “…is much shallower than it used to be.”  A shallower chasm and wider availability of bridges toward adoption, in turn, has a concurrent and dramatic impact on the Enterprise, and we are now in the middle of a period of transformation (think: Enterprise 2.0) that is challenging us to re-define the borders of an institution to include the broader and more diverse world of social technologies.

There’s the rub, like the physics of displaced liquids: as one Chasm shallows, the other Chasm deepens.

Organizational mechanics has always suffered from friction, turbulence, and inattention.  Readers of this occasional blog well know that I’ve been singing this song since “The System is a Mirror” was first published in 2007.   The reason for my renewed concern is the phenomenon of shallowing-deepening, and a worrisome side-effect – teams are now moving at such velocity that they do not have Time to learn the more mundane basics of management.  Exacerbated by the equally-dangerous fad to “fail fast and often,” even less attention is being paid to core management and team skills.

In order to benefit (rather than suffer from) the transformation currently underway, greater attention must be paid to the basics, to the core skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and effective communication (which includes listening).  To reach the potential of Enterprise 2.0, we need Governance 2.0.

Without it, beware of the other Chasm.  It’s a long fall, and a hard landing.

As my friend, Geoffrey, so generously concludes his various blogs: That’s what I think.  What do you think?

In response to Geoffrey Moore’s response to Randy Bias…

Posted November 15, 2013 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

For those who are interested in the exchange that led me to my current conundrum, see:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121023202801-110300724-in-response-to-randy-bias

http://www.cloudscaling.com/blog/cloud-computing/a-response-to-geoffrey-moore-manifest-disruption/

I’ve been troubled by this exchange for some time, and am tardy in my response, for its taken several days (and some soul-searching) to get beyond my own personal perspective (I’m predisposed to Geoff’s statesman-like, “listen/learn” approach rather than the Randy’s always smart but sometimes condescending “lecture/scold” stance).

Perhaps it has helped to have recently visited the Midwest (for last week’s Tech Innovations conference in Chicago and the Indianapolis “Spirit in Place” events).  I’m both intrigued and humbled by the business culture in other parts of the country, rather than the rarified air in Silicon Valley where Ptolemy rules much of our thinking.  Yes, I’ve lived in the Cloud for more than a decade and will probably be buried there, but I’m not convinced we are in the midst of a massive or manifest disruption caused by an architecture that has been in place for many years.  No tidal wave, to be sure, though yes, a shifting of the ground beneath us.  As I’ve documented elsewhere, Enterprise IT is certainly undergoing an evolutionary change (i.e., transformative over time), but I think there’s more to our world than the Enterprise (howsoever one may define it).

As skilled professionals and practitioners, we still focus too much upon the technology, as if tools are an end rather than means toward an end.

Disruptive or not disruptive, point vs. counter-point, both Geoffrey and Randy have smart things to say.  Both of them are skilled with the written word, and sure, swordplay is fun, but isn’t there something better we could be doing with our time and attention?

Perhaps I look for more from an informed conversation between two smart guys (and yes, I confess, more from myself as I enter this discussion). Perhaps we should all keep in mind the larger challenges we face (typhoons, poverty, hunger, conflict) and spend a little bit more time/attention on ways in which our technologies (disruptive or not, transformative or not, innovative or not) might address and even benefit those greater issues rather than focusing solely upon the relatively minor issues of industry semantics.

Should the Enterprise CIO community care about the “bigger issues”?  Listen to Russell Sarder’s interview with the current CTO and Under-secretary General of the United Nations, Atti Riazi.  Here’s a role model for us all, an IT executive with a remarkable background and broad experience, with the courage to say, “A lot of what we believe isn’t correct…” Atti offers a grander view of what IT leaders could be doing:

http://www.russellsarder.com/which-technology-is-high-in-demand-by-atti-riazi-cio-of-united-nations/

Breaking my silence…

Posted March 7, 2013 by Stuart
Categories: Management Issues

I have to say this, despite the many good reasons to avoid the fray.

I have to say this, despite my belief that uninformed criticisms from the “outside” (defined for these purposes as non-employee, non-customer, non stockholder) border on the very edge of irresponsible citizenship.

I have to say this, despite the fact that too many people have jumped into the fray with myriad opinions and this entry (howsoever well-intentioned) will have as much impact as a whisper in gale force winds.

  1. Melissa Meyer is doing her job.
  2. Every mature company struggles with the notion of the extended enterprise.
  3. Transformation is neither easy, nor can it be judged “in progress.”
  4. Working from home isn’t an entitlement.
  5. This has nothing to do with technology: it is a management issue.

See: http://share.es/js1j7  (Yahoo’s Telecommuting Problem Is Management, Not Collaboration ) from CIO Magazine.  There are many examples of true collaboration with participants around the world, and there are just as many examples of poor teamwork among employees under the same roof.  For any CEO to announce such a dramatic reversal of policy, one must assume that other (smaller, internal) efforts have not yielded results.  However, most “outsider” have missed an essential element of Yahoo’s current dilemma (which, actually, is a polylemma because of multiple root causes): the core foundation of success with any distributed workforce begins with a management team that understands how to supervise, monitor, and communicate with their employees.  The ability of one’s supervisor to manage across time and geographic distance is critical to anyone who wants to work from home, or from any work location other than corporate headquarters.

In between the lines of the leaked Yahoo email, there are important issues about the Middle Management layer at Yahoo.  Anyone considering a similar reversal of telecommuting policy should first examine their management team, for it is unfair (and counter-productive) to force individual employees (and their families) into weeks/months of upheaval when, in the end, the root cause of your problem lies, instead, with managers and directors.

Can you imagine…?

Posted December 12, 2012 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

For those of us who count the days until Spring Training, who love the sound of a bat when it squarely hits the round ball, and who also happen to work in the field of information technology, today’s announcement should have special meaning (http://tinyurl.com/cio4giants).

I met Bill years ago, in a luxury box sponsored by Macromedia’s Robert Urwiler (yet another hero of mine) and in the ensuing years, I have often recalled his comments about baseball and technology – he and his dedicated team have the best jobs in IT, each one (as fans of the game) who truly understand “the business” and can, therefore, build systems that a) increase revenue by improving the customer experience, b) increase engagement for real-time interactions, and c) provide innovative improvements for the ballplayers and coaches…

I’ve been a baseball fan since the days of Clemente and Koufax, and have been an IT guy for 25 years, and yes, I still dream of being able to oneday say, “Sorry, honey, I have to work late tonight, the Dodgers are in town.”

Bravo to Bill Schlough and his entire team for the long-deserved recognition, and to InformationWeek for (at long last) discovering this perfect example of IT <-> Business alignment.

Why Don’t We Train Our Managers (Part 5)

Posted July 28, 2012 by Stuart
Categories: Management Issues

This week marks the 125th anniversary of Esperanto, the “universal” language comprised of unique combinations of world vocabularies and dialects.  We should applaud the vision, and lament its poor adoption, for we continue to struggle with communication – in personal relationships, within teams, between supervisors and worker bees.  I’ve often thought that any executive seeking a solution to the poor communication in her company ought to hire an Esperanto linguist and insist that everyone learn the new language and use it exclusively in meetings.

Apparently, many prefer the post-Babel confusion in their organizations because of a cynical or fearful belief that poor communication between and within working groups is a universal rule, like gravity or the inexorable physics of plant life.

And yet…

When a recent client (COO, great person, well-respected, sincere) complained about the communication within his organization (“…a perennial problem here…”) I asked him the following questions:

  • Do you have regular one-on-one’s with your staff?
  • Do you hold weekly meetings with the entire team?
  • When was the last time you convened an All-Hands meeting?
  • Do you travel to the company’s remote offices?
  • How often do you speak with customers (internal/external)?
  • How current is your departmental information on the company’s intranet?
  • How often do you simply “walk the halls” for casual (drive-by) conversations?
  • Is there a practice of cross-attendance between teams?

He sighed, and admitted that he was so busy, these things rarely happened – so many fire drills, so many unexpected demands, a relentless stream of urgencies that began Monday morning as soon as he walked in the door and continued until late in the evening on Friday.  He skipped lunches, answered email until midnight every night, often worked on the weekend simply to catch up.  He was exhausted and overwhelmed, and couldn’t imagine finding the time to try one of those suggestions.

One? 

The secret to solving organizational communication issues is not by trying one or another of the practices listed above, but all of them.  Consistently, so that everyone can begin to depend upon the (eventually) steady flow of information.  As for finding the time to do these things atop an already burdensome workload?  The truth (so plainly obvious, yet so easily ignored) is that 90% of the fire drills and unexpected requests (et. al.) are symptoms of poor communication practices – improving the bi-directional information flow within a system (engineers know this as a set of communications protocols between functional modules) improves the performance of the overall system.  In other words, he needed to solve the root cause of his organizational chaos rather than remaining preoccupied with the symptoms that seemed to require so much of his time.

Ultimately, communication is a participatory challenge, not the obligation of one individual.  By assigning one solution to each of his team, the entire group became responsible for communication, not just “the boss” although that was a good place to start.

I can see what the future holds…

Posted June 2, 2012 by Stuart
Categories: Uncategorized

By the time my son has tech-savvier children of his own, in the natural (singular) progression of things more eloquently explained by Ray Kurzweil and others – iPhone800c, slimmer than those end-of-the-world celophane emergency blankets, will unfold to become a car that gets 1000 miles per gallon.

The only drawback, the single remaining challenge facing any phone company that tries to compete with the iPhone800s, is a minor matter, really, hardly worth mentionning except when dining with potential investors – – when you are driving the fully-unfolded iPhone, you won’t be able to take pictures of the car (apparently, self referential innovation remains a keen literary device but one not embraced by the ever-shrinking workforce.  In fact, by the time of the iPhone825csxz beta release, due in part to a series of mergers that were the equivalent of species cross-mating, everyone under the age of 55 who had a job was working for AppleAT&T, or they were using the 800s to drive to job interviews many miles away.

There will be no evidence of those long journeys, or course, due to the previously mentionned limitation of the phone’s camera aperture when in “car mode.” 

These remarkable devices – solar powered, eco-factured, and soon-to-be voted THE most user-friendly creation in the history of humankind – will be augmented by uncountable (literally) millions of software applications built within hours to expand its basic set of features, so many apps with so many (some say unlimited) possibilities that state governments (led by California’s new rainbow coalition) have been forced to pass legislation requiring that all teen-agers be offered Driver’s Education in the public schools, as educators and health administrators decried the young people who seemed entirely comfortable facing backwards and lying down while driving, in their relentless efforts to take a picture of themselves doing so while they were driving.