Subba’s Serendipitous moments

October 28, 2010

Extrapolating the past Vs Inventing the future.

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Leadership,Learning,Perspective,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:41 pm
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Vinod Khosla –a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and its first Chairman is a highly respected Silicon Valley investor as the general partner of Kleiner Perkins. Over the last few years, he has moved away from technology to Energy and Greentech.

Yesterday he delivered an interesting talk at Caltech on Extrapolating the past Vs Inventing the future. The talk was peppered with some brilliant statements, some philosophical musings and scenarios for the future. I found the talk scintillating The entire talk can be viewed here. (The audio quality at the beginning of the session is poor quality, but when Vinod begins his talk, the audio quality is excellent)

Here are some of the excerpts:

Extrapolating the past is ridden with mistakes starting from forecasts:

On why forecasts go wrong (he talks about a number of forecasts that’s gone completely haywire:

Assumptions get embedded in our system. We don’t question our assumptions. Forecasting is about our embedded assumptions not explicitly stated.

On quantitative modeling:

Chasing the false precision, chasing the 3rd order effects

Input the measurable, ignore the immeasurable

Obscured embedded assumptions.

He concludes the section after giving several instances by saying that “The more rapid the change, the less likely are the assumptions to be right”.

On why inventing the future is absolutely critical:

He starts by explaining the Black Swan effect giving several examples and declares that much of what we assume to be true is retrospective predictability. Some great statements that he makes:

Improbable doesn’t equal unimportant and the only thing that’s important is the improbable.

No matter where you look, there’s room for innovation, however unlikely it looks

Bring me the ideas that has a 90% chance of failure!

If you take enough shots at the goal, failure doesn’t matter; it doesn’t exist.

“Imagine the possible”.

His final words in response to a question from the audience sums it all: “The talk is just to give a perspective; but most importantly is to convey an attitude”.

Well said, Sir !

October 11, 2010

If Google’s search speed is not fast enough, try Instant!

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Learning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 4:50 pm
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What does a company that powers 70% of the search market, has over $20 billion in sales relating to search believe the speed of search should be?

Google estimates that a search typically takes the following:

  • 9 seconds to enter
  • 0.8 seconds for data transfers between the data centers
  • 0.3 seconds for processing.
  • The users then spend 15 seconds choosing the link that the search results show up.

If anyone believes that this is a slow performance, Google Instant comes your way. It saves the average user 2-5 seconds per search via instant results, enhanced predictive technology and scroll-to-search functionality.

Google Instant will search at the speed of thought. Or at the speed of serendipity.

If every Google user used Instant, it would save 3.5 billion seconds a day. In other words that is 11 hours saved every second.

Now of all the great engineering prowess that Google deploys to make Google Instant, it is the predictive technology aspect that’s intriguing, deeply unsettling and maybe a big game changer. The search attempts to predict exactly what a user wants, showing the results that it thinks he wants in grey text, allowing him to choose. So, even if a user doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, the top prediction is shown in grey text in the search box and the user can stop typing as soon as he sees what he needs.

So, a search is a real time stream enabling the user to see more search results.

It essentially could mean that different people would see different search results for the same query. This could be just the beginning. The search results could again vary depending on the device from where the search is initiated or even by location.

This  means the world of search is just not getting faster, but incredibly complex.

Well, all the marketers and SEO gurus have to change. Sites will need to be optimized for letter combinations, not just complete keywords. This also implies that advertisers will have to purchase more keywords in order to optimize performance. More importantly, Google will gain another revenue stream through ad impressions as currently advertisers are not paying for impressions.

I reckon the compelling reason for this development is that Google’s mobile search traffic grew over 50% in first half of 2010 and 1 in 3 queries from smartphones are seeking information about nearby places. Now mobile users would just like to enter a few characters and choose the query from an autosuggestion list. Right now it is difficult to figure out what this engineering feat of Google Instant will mean in terms of revenues.

And I am not sure whether fast is better than good.

September 7, 2010

Jugaad – National character, national shame.

Filed under: Business,India,Innovation — Subbaraman Iyer @ 7:59 pm
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Following my post on Juggling Jugaad is a dirty joke on India, I received about 12 comments on the blog and 45 emails. One of my friend Ajith Narayanan sent a response and requested that it be carried as a guest post. Ajith is from IIT Chennai and has one of the best engineering brains that I have come across.

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Jugaad is at work when there is single minded focus on the end goal, disregarding everything else that doesn’t contribute. Jugaad is lean and mean efficiency. So far, so good.

But the essential principle of Jugaad is about taking a short cut, cutting corners, not delivering in full measure, and getting away with it.

Jugaad then, is also about disregarding the impact of your actions on others, on the environment, on the common good, on established principles and structures of society, norms and standards and so forth.
Of course, the Jugaadist reaps a reward. Others begin to envy and emulate the Jugaadist.  Eventually Jugaadist thought and action takes root in every sphere.

Small innovations are to be lauded, and Jugaadism may have a role to play in early stage innovation. But, beyond that, Jugaadism is a mental disease, hard to overcome  when a critical percentage of the population has pledged their allegiance to Jugaadism.

When we rely on Jugaad, there is little need or use for principles, standards, guidelines, or best practices whether these be related to engineering, design, human factors, processes, safety, reliability and such, or to natural and procedural justice, fairness, ethics or dignity of the individual.

Jugaad defines our national character.

When our Election Commission ordered the arrest of the EVM researcher who demonstrated that  Electronic Voting machines can be tampered, (http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/blog/jhalderm/electronic-voting-researcher-arrested-over-anonymous-source  ) wasn’t it taking a short cut ?  The EC found that crying "thief! thief!" and calling in the police was much easier, and rightly Jugaadist, than joining in the debate — on how secure an EVM Indian citizens deserved, and whether the EVM or operational procedures could be improved.  Jugaadism is expedient and has no slack for such diversions. Here you see the EC’s Jugaadism working against innovation. But then, Hari Prasad (the EVM researcher) procured an EVM by "other means" for his research, despite being denied access by the EC, and he did it through Jugaad ! One man’s Jugaad, another’s crime.

When established H1B-dependent body shops (that pay little taxes if at all), faced with visa quotas and resulting curbs on their lucrative slave trade, call protectionists racist ("discriminatory" — which is quite close. Protectionists are protectionists!), and hijack a whole country’s government to fight on its side, it is Jugaadism at work — in a supposedly mature industry.

But when such entities, big and mighty, rely on Jugaadism, something is wrong. Can they be truthful and just ? Can they innovate, in real terms ? Do they have social consciousness ?

Jugaadism also means no rule of law as Anand Giridharadas comes close to observing. The Jugaadist feels no need for any norms.

In my view, Jugaad is functional at primitive stages of development. To celebrate India’s Jugaadism as national character is a shame — but, perhaps we deserve that shame.

August 28, 2010

Another evidence that social phenomenon is growing!

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:26 pm
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I have been saying everywhere that social is driving business and sharing is the new currency. The evidence is daunting and the photo medium is compelling.

Facebook reports that Facebook photos became the harbinger for everything social. The photo product that we have is maybe five or six times more used than every other product on the web — combined,” Mark Zuckerberg stated at a developer garage event. This is despite the fact that they didn’t have all of the features that their competitors did when they launched the photos section. For example, they didn’t have high-resolution photos and you couldn’t print them. But one thing they did have was the social element — and this changed everything.

Because of the social element, every vertical would be transformed. I agree completely and I wrote about it here , here and here.

 

Will the future search be “social” or “action”?

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 12:15 pm
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The world of search is clearly at an inflexion point. Google has dominated search for so long that it has become synonymous with search.

Yet the search world will be transformed in a radical way even before we realize it. Social search powered by Facebook will be a reality because of social plug-ins. I have absolutely no doubts on that account and wrote about its impact in my blog post here.

There is another aspect of vertical search which surprisingly was ushered in by Microsoft’s Bing. However Google seems to be muscling its way here with its recent acquisitions like ITA software. I think this will be a bigger market and it remains to be seen how Google will integrate the vertical search into its current offerings. This will be an interesting development to watch.

“Action” search will perhaps be a new phenomenon. Esther Dyson in a very thought provoking piece describes the need for action search. I was surprised to learn that “action search” was actually an idea that Bill Gates proposed when he said  “The future of search is verbs.” But he said it at a private dinner and it never spread. How did Microsoft miss this profound idea? This as Esther beautifully describes  represents the world more accurately. And that means better, more meaningful responses when we search.

August 17, 2010

Google wants to find the next winner in search – Maybe Search 2.0!

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting interview with Eric Schmidt – CEO of Google and a great tech visionary. Disclosure: I am a great admirer of Eric Schmidt.

The interview comes at an interesting juncture when Android seems to be on a roll powering 200,000 devices a daily and slated to be the dominant operating system on the mobile platform. Yet, of late, the media has been critical of Google, probably taking the cue from a weak stock price. Add to that the mindshare belongs now to Facebook.

Notwithstanding the negative media reports on Google, Eric in this interview shares several new insights about where Google is headed. Some of his insights and quotes are interesting:

Asked to comment on Android being given free as compared to the fat margins made by Apple he says:

"You get a billion people doing something, there’s lots of ways to make money. Absolutely, trust me. We’ll get lots of money for it."

"In general in technology," he says, "if you own a platform that’s valuable, you can monetize it." Example: Google is obliged to share with Apple search revenue generated by iPhone users. On Android, Google gets to keep 100%.”

That difference alone, says Mr. Schmidt, is more than enough to foot the bill for Android’s continued development.

Google’s real challenge though it dominates the search business:

The real challenge is one not yet on most investors’ minds: how to preserve Google’s franchise in Web advertising, the source of almost all its profits, when "search" is outmoded.

The day is coming when the Google search box—and the activity known as Googling—no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what? "We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is."

Now that’s what being visionary is all about – not reacting to Wall Street but figuring out the future before Wall Street has had the chance to position you. Maybe he’s taking the cue from Andy Grove’s philosophy of Only the paranoid survive.

 Google’s intriguing aspect of Search 2.0 can be summed neatly as he says:

"We know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are." Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are.

Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities of this social search and what its implications could be. In fact, Google is acutely aware that we are on the cusp of a new phenomenon called “Social search” which may be powered by the Facebook phenomena.

Google the creator of targeted advertising believes that it will dominate the category raises the bar:

"The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them."

Finally, Eric presents the most intriguing and scary possibility of the future when he says:

"I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time," he says. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.

"I mean we really have to think about these things as a society," he adds. "I’m not even talking about the really terrible stuff, terrorism and access to evil things."

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.

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.

April 26, 2010

The push and pull models – Not business models, but a mindset!

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:08 pm
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A good friend of mine who is a regular reader of my blog and keeps asking me what’s serendipity got to do with what I write sent me the blog post which published extracts of the new book by John Seely Brown and John Hagel III titled The Power of Pull. The extract mentions the role of serendipity in creating new paradigms;which was one of the reasons why the blog post was sent to me.

I have been mulling over the push and pull models for several years. Apart from what is mentioned in the blog post, I reckon the following:

A push based thinking is at best an eclectic  mix of intellectual sloth and arrogance. It starts with the premise that the “pusher” knows what it is in the best interest for the recipient. Push further accentuates the efficiency syndrome and believes that the right mechanisms and triggers will ensure success. It invariably tends to replicate the past, making just minor tweaks to current environment. The more different the reality, the greater is the research and more diligent is the design of the mechanisms and “push” messages. The arrogance of the past success ensures that they remain in continuous denial about the new world and push outmoded things with greater vigor. The perpetuation of the past is sadly created by the elite at the top who often believe that they are the sole owners and arbiters of the reality. The role of conceiving and creating new offerings gets considerably devalued over time. Tactical thinking gains ascendancy often at the cost of strategic thinking and innovative approaches. Such thinking has led to a slow but sure decline and eventual death unless a radical thinking ensues.

A pull based thinking on the other hand forces people to be humble as they necessarily have to be clued to the environment and listen constantly. A pull based thinking essentially harnesses the power of many different entities and creates possibilities and scenarios that were not conceivable in the first place. It does create chaos and confusion, but slowly there’s a defining fluidity which lends itself to constant learning and innovation. Further a force of serendipity acts as a regular glue helping people make connections and improvisation. It is an open mindset that constantly calibrates itself.

Tell me a successful innovation or a major breakthrough and I can demonstrate how pull based thinking contributed to the phenomenon.

Sharing has becoming second nature (thanks to social networking and Facebook) in the world that we live in. Facebook’s open graph in fact is perhaps the biggest opportunity for pull based thinkers and marketers as they can participate in the conversation. It will force people to conceive not just value propositions but every attractive value propositions as they compete for attention in a rapidly attention deficit mental state. The digital native should have had a natural advantage here. Yet most digital natives are content with pulling data and information from the Web and not creating value out of them. Worse still, many impose their own pull based thinking into this push based environment and are none the wiser.

Hence I am tempted to conclude that notwithstanding the environment it is one’s thinking model that needs examination and scrutiny.

While the sort of pull based thinking described above is externally directed, there is an internally directed pull based thinking that is equally potent. It transforms passive observers and learners into performers. I have often noticed that pull based thinkers are natural performers as they constantly attempt to pull new information, concepts and thinking into something meaningful to them. All that is needed is persistence, the willingness to experiment and occasionally fail and constantly call upon themselves to be curious and seek out new things.

April 16, 2010

Android and Nexus One shows momentum

Filed under: Business,Competition,Innovation,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:29 am
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Contrary to perceptions that the Nexus One is a failed product, Google actually announced in its Q1 2010 earnings report that Nexus One is meeting expectations, if not exceeding them.

Google mentioned that “driving the business (the Nexus One)  to be a profitable business from the get go. and is happy with device uptake and impact it has had raising the bar showing what a Smartphone can do.”

Report from Mark Huber SVP of Engineering on Android:

Huber: We believe in open platforms.. Our efforts in mobile are a great example of this at work. Schmidt said Google is taking mobile first approach. Your Smartphone knows where you are, so this location launched near-me-now. Turns your location into the search query. New stars in search feature, you click star next to result to save it. Makes it easier to find later (from mobile device). Android and Chrome gaining lots of momentum.

Android powering 34 devices from 12 OEMs. Over 60,000 Android devices sold/activated a day. Our mantra with Android is “open”. The platform and Market. 38,000 Apps, up 70% quarter over quarter.

Now with such an apps surge, it is no surprise that Apple wants to make it difficult for developers to be in both camps – the Android camp and the iPhone camp. It is trying to rewrite history.

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