Subba’s Serendipitous moments

July 19, 2010

Google’s App Inventor – philosophically different, pragmatically questionable

Filed under: Business,Competition,Innovation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 5:37 pm
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Like many things that come out of Google’s stable, the Android App Inventor is a radical departure from the conventional. It is philosophically aligned to the Google philosophy of open innovation, crowdsourcing and empowering the user. It is a new SDK for the Android platform where there is no programming involved. It is entirely visual in approach and any user can build any application that he wants. The intent is for the user to write an application without being a software developer of sorts.

Google has perhaps decided that it cannot compete with the iPhone’s App store which currently has over 200,000 applications and a complete new ecosystem. Hence it has taken a radically different approach.

One more step in the paradigm shifts between Google and Apple. The earlier ones are written about here.

Apple has created the perfect user experience and the walled garden approach which has it’s detractors. Google has conceded that it can’t create a better user experience. Hence rather than struggle, it has taken the diametrically opposite approach. Any user who creates his own experience by writing his own application is likely to love his own experience, rather than settle for the user experience created by a software developer seems to be the underlying premise. It is thus enabling people to be creative and hence promises to be a platform for the millions, rather than just a platform for the few software developers. Google this enables creativity at an individual level.

Hence it is a philosophically a compelling value proposition. Will it be pragmatic?

All of us know that while we would like to be creative and eat our own dog food, we are also consumers and want the right application with the best user experience. As a consumer it will be more easy to buy and use and not to create and use. The process of creation also involves a lot of trial and error and more importantly failures. How long would someone persevere with the creation process when they see their friend find the right and cool application and using it is also another big issue.

My current conclusion is that while I am all for Google enabling creativity, it may not be a successful strategy.

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July 16, 2010

It’s not what you think, but how you think that matters!

 

Clayton Christensen the celebrated Harvard Professor and the guru on innovation speaks to the HBS graduating class of 2010 on how to apply management lessons to personal lives. It is not just an inspiring read, but an instructive read for everyone.

After a preliminary introduction where he establishes with amazing conviction the 30 minute conversation that he had with Andy Grove which led to the development of Celeron, he gives 6 key lessons which should be applicable to all of us.

Create a strategy for your life:

“I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces”. In my view, the pursuit of purpose surpasses all other pursuits. I learnt this quite late in life.

Allocate your resources:

“People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to under invest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most”.

Create a culture:

Knowing what tools to wield to elicit the needed cooperation is a critical managerial skill.

Families have cultures, just as companies do. Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.

Avoid the “marginal costs mistake:

It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

Remember the importance of humility:

If your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.

Choose the right yardstick:

Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

My own mid life realizations and some of the life lessons have been written here.

Well, I would strongly recommend that you read his entire lecture as he backs up the brilliant instructions with observations and decisions that he made in his personal life. The entire lecture can be found here.

July 15, 2010

Facebook addiction

Filed under: Blogroll,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:20 pm
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The 76-year-old woman walked down the hallway of Clearview Addictions
Clinic, searching for the right department. She passed signs for the
"Heroin Addiction Department (HAD)," the "Smoking Addiction Department
(SAD)" and the "Bingo Addiction Department (BAD)." Then she spotted
the department she was looking for: "Facebook Addiction Department
(FAD)."

It was the busiest department in the clinic, with about three dozen
people filling the waiting room, most of them staring blankly into
their Blackberries and iPhones. A middle-aged man with unkempt hair
was pacing the room, muttering, "I need to milk my cows. I need to
milk my cows."

A twenty-something man was prone on the floor, his face buried in his
hands, while a curly-haired woman comforted him.
"Don’t worry. It’ll be all right."
"I just don’t understand it. I thought my update was LOL-worthy, but
none of my friends even clicked the ‘like’
button."
"How long has it been?"
"Almost five minutes. That’s like five months in the real world."

The 76-year-old woman waited until her name was called, then followed
the receptionist into the office of Alfred Zulu, Facebook Addiction
Counselor.

"Please have a seat, Edna," he said with a warm smile. "And tell me
how it all started."
"Well, it’s all my grandson’s fault. He sent me an invitation to join
Facebook. I had never heard of Facebook before, but I thought it was
something for me, because I usually have my face in a book."
"How soon were you hooked?"
"Faster than you can say ‘create a profile.’ I found myself on
Facebook at least eight times each day — and more times at night.
Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night to check it, just in
case there was an update from one of my new friends in India. My
husband didn’t like that. He said that friendship is a precious thing
and should never be outsourced."

"What do you like most about Facebook?"
"It makes me feel like I have a life. In the real world, I have only
five or six friends, but on Facebook, I have 674.
I’m even friends with Juan Carlos Montoya."
"Who’s he?"
"I don’t know, but he’s got 4,000 friends, so he must be famous."
"Facebook has helped you make some connections, I see."
"Oh yes. I’ve even connected with some of the gals from high school —
I still call them ‘gals.’ I hadn’t heard from some of them in ages, so
it was exciting to look at their profiles and figure out who’s
retired, who’s still working, and who’s had some work done. I love
browsing their photos and reading their updates. I know where they’ve
been on vacation, which movies they’ve watched, and whether they hang
their toilet paper over or under. I’ve also been playing a game with
some of them."
"Let me guess. Farmville?"
"No, Mafia Wars. I’m a Hitman. No one messes with Edna."
"Wouldn’t you rather meet some of your friends in person?"
"No, not really. It’s so much easier on Facebook. We don’t need to
gussy ourselves up. We don’t need to take baths or wear perfume or use
mouthwash. That’s the best thing about Facebook — you can’t smell
anyone. Everyone is attractive, because everyone has picked a good
profile pic. One of the gals is using a profile pic that was taken,
I’m pretty certain, during the Eisenhower Administration. "

"What pic are you using?"
"Well, I spent five hours searching for a profile pic, but couldn’t
find one I really liked. So I decided to visit the local beauty
salon."
"To make yourself look prettier?"
"No, to take a pic of one of the young ladies there. That’s what I’m using."
"Didn’t your friends notice that you look different?"
"Some of them did, but I just told them I’ve been doing lots of yoga."
"When did you realize that your Facebooking might be a problem?"
"I realized it last Sunday night, when I was on Facebook and saw a
message on my wall from my husband: ‘I moved out of the house five
days ago. Just thought you should know.’"
"What did you do?"
"What else? I unfriended him of course!"

We are a product of our choices!

Filed under: Business,Inspiration,Learning,Perspective,Winning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:13 pm
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Jeff Bezos of Amazon (someone whom I have admired deeply) puts this simple truth amazingly well in his 2010 Baccalaureate remarks at Princeton University. The complete address can be read here.

Jeff brings out the distinction between gifts and choices. He says: “Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.” How true!

The tragedy for most people in the world is that they are blissfully unaware of the choices that they have! It becomes far more tragic when they ignore or dismiss the choices presented to them. Clearly the choose to wallow in their misery. The defining argument they give is what if the choice was wrong! Jeff handles this possible question again very well.

To me, maturity is not a function of age or even intelligence. It is the element when they become aware of their choices and making the right choice.

July 6, 2010

Google goes vertical to thwart Bing

 

In a very typical low key move Google acquired ITA Software, a 14-year-old company that makes software that organizes flight and pricing information, for $700 million in cash.

The significance of this acquisition is far reaching. With this, Google now becomes the critical intermediary between the provider of flight and pricing information and all their users including all the travel websites, airline websites and travel search engines. With this acquisition, Google now does not want to just send the search to another website, but also want to process the information for you in a meaningful and relevant way by organizing results (by giving flight options, price options etc.) As it goes into the “deeper search” and organizing information, it inevitably marginalizes the value being created by other travel web sites and travel search engines.

From here, Google could pursue 2 clear directions:

  1. It could become a travel portal itself, which is unlikely since it could attract regulatory action because ITA Software is being used by airlines and travel portals. It may not want to be seen as a “Big Bully”.
  2. It could add a new revenue stream to its well known advertising business – moving from cost per click (CPC) to cost per action (CPA) which definitely will be premium priced.

One thing is certain though: Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) which was headed in the area of vertical search will face more competition.

I believe that this acquisition is merely the beginning. Google can easily replicate the vertical search model in many areas including real estate, automobiles and other areas where the current Google search doesn’t give relevant results and where the potential for CPA exists.

Heard of Kin? Microsoft’s phone launch and quick withdrawal

Filed under: Business,Competition,Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 9:48 am
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Has anyone heard about Kin? Microsoft launched 2 mobile phones Kin One and Kin Two in an uncharacteristic low key manner and before even the word got out, it quickly withdrew the product barely 6 weeks after launch.

In the 6 weeks that the product existed, it sold 500 phones. Has anyone seen Microsoft do this with any of their products? Never !

The Kin failure is yet again one additional piece of evidence that Microsoft just doesn’t get it when it comes to consumer products other than the XBox. At least with Vista and Zune, Microsoft made some marketing efforts, but Kin got a quick burial.The courier PC which has been in development didn’t even make it to the store stupefied by iPad’s success.

Kin has an interesting past: In 2008, Microsoft had acquired a startup Danger  who has built a mobile phone software business. Around the same time, Google also acquired another mobile phone startup called Android. Incidentally both Danger and Android was founded by the same founder – Andy Rubin. While Microsoft floundered, Google’s Android sells more than 130,000 units per day.

This should lead Microsoft to make do some deep soul searching.

It is time that Microsoft wakes up to a new era. It continues to comfortably extract rent from the Windows/office franchise. I think the successes of the past is proving to be the brimstone around its neck. It also seems to have lost the war for talent and developers.