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 !

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.

 

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."

October 16, 2009

Will India ever emulate Finland?

I moaned about the state of broadband in India here. Based on some more research I found that the performance of broadband even in metros are poor. Reliability is an issue, committed performance are not delivered, and getting premium performance to test high bandwidth applications is impossible.

Let’s see Finland which has a small population, but has always had a strong, liberal telecom sector.

Finland introduced laws which guarantee broadband to every resident living in the country. This is the first such guarantee anywhere in the world. Starting July 2010, every person in Finland will have the right to a one-megabit broadband connection as an intermediate step, says the Ministry of Transport and Communications. By the end of 2015, the legal right will be extended to an impressive 100 Mb broadband connection for everyone.

Will India ever introduce such a guarantee? It would be mind boggling to see what the innovative entrepreneurial Indians will do with powerful broadband access!

We could just catapult to world stage as Korea did in this decade and the way China is poised to do in the next decade. And honestly, I don’t understand what’s holding them back!

October 2, 2009

Cisco’s brilliant acquisition of Tandberg

Recent acquisitions by Dell and Xerox have something in common. Both acquired companies which are far away from their core competencies in an effort to find stable growth. They acquired predominantly U.S. centric IT services firms. I explained my disappointment with Dell’s acquisition of Perot Systems here. Xerox recent acquisition of ACS also evoked a similar thinking in me. It is very difficult for a pure play product / technology organization to blend well with a pure play services organization. The organizational DNA are too different, growth trajectories are quite different, organizational processes lend itself to little synergy. In short, I am not very high on such acquisition moves.

Cisco is different.

Cisco announced an all- cash offer to acquire Tandberg for $ 3 billion. Tandberg — a Norwegian company sells smaller and less priced video conferencing systems. This is a perfect fit for Cisco’s more expensive TelePresence systems which has been a great success. I think this is a brilliant acquisition since Tandberg’s gross margins is 66% and has clients in US and Europe. This acquisition would enable Cisco to sell the Tandberg products to companies which cannot afford the TelePresence. With this acquisition, Cisco would dominate the video conferencing systems for some time. More importantly the acquisition came in quite cheap since Cisco just paid 11% premium over Tandberg’s closing price.

Cisco has always acquired companies that in some way or the other generated more Internet traffic creating in turn demand for its core business — the networking hardware business. The way it is going to unleash its Unified Computing strategy will of course be interesting and one has to wait and see how it provides the synergy to the networking hardware business. Cisco’s ability to shake off entrenched players in fairly established market segments will also be evident in a couple of years.

Over the last 5 years Cisco has acquired 40 companies — both big and small and they have helped Cisco plug the gaps in the technology and product roadmaps admirably well. They also have had little problems integrating them into the Cisco model.

Cisco has $35 billion in cash which means further acquisitions are on the way. I only hope they don’t go with the flavor of the month and acquire another U.S. based IT services firms !

September 30, 2009

Nokia’s decline — indicative of a bigger upheaval?

Just as Apple announced stellar results, Nokia the leading player is showing signs of decline. It has the company of another marquee player in Sony Ericcson. I already described the impact that Apple and RIM are having on other players here. The latest market data just reinforces the view.

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The Western Europe market in Nokia’s backyard and hence the trends here are important. The reason for the significant drop is Nokia doesn’t have the zing of the iPhone or the Blackberry and doesn’t have a great smartphone yet.

Now while the overall market has declined by 6% the smartphone sales were up 25% and about 1.7 millions were shipped. Of the 1.7 million, Apple sold 1.4 million and RIM sold 1.3. phones.

Now to add to Nokia’s troubles, it doesn’t have a significant presence in the U.S. though it has a strong presence in Asia , especially in the large markets like China and India. But with iPhone’s imminent launch in China and RIM’s increased efforts, Nokia has some tough challenges ahead.

The mobile device market is clearly headed for a major upheaval. With Andriod based phones to hit the market (18 models) and several service providers launching their own App Store, we will see interesting things happen.

Disclosure: I am a Nokia user and have admired their management style. One of my early blog posts was about Nokia’s amazing success in India here.

Apple’s App Store reinvents the mobile phone

Here are the impressive statistics on the Apple’s App Store based on Apple’s recent announcement:

Number of applications available: 85,000

Number of countries from where App Store is accessible : 77

Number of participants on the App Store : 125,000

Number of downloads : 2 billion.

“App Store has reinvented what you can do with a mobile handheld device, and our users are clearly loving it.” says Steve Jobs.

I talked about the game changing nature of the iPhone and the App Store here.

What is incredible is the rate of growth. From just 500 applications in July 2008, it surged to 15,000 apps downloaded half a million times in 6 months. 3 months later it had its billionth download and 35,000 apps. A further 5 months later both the downloads and the apps have doubled.

Well, I wonder what would be the growth trajectory of the App Store once iPhone is launched in China?

Now that every cell phone vendor has his own App Store the mobile operator is just left to be a dumb pipe.

September 23, 2009

Netflix’s “crowdsourcing” approach is a success

I have been following Netflix unique experiment to improve its Web site’s movie recommendation system. This week Netflix announced the winner of a three year contest with the winner BellKore comprising of statisticians, computer scientists, data mining experts netting a cool million dollars.

The rules of the competition was fairly straightforward. The qualification for the prize was that the winning team has to improve by at least 10% the prediction of what movies customers would like as measured against the actual ratings. The teams were grappling with a huge data set of more than 100 million movie ratings.

Over the past three years there have been 44,014 entries from 5,169 teams in 186 countries vying for the top prize

I think with this experiment and with Google’s experiment with crowdsourcing described here, there will be a significant shift towards innovation management. The fact that there exists more intelligence and wisdom and the collective effort outside the company’s eco-system has gained credibility. I expect many such organizations embarking on the contest mode to solve intractable problems.

There are a number of lessons that this contest brings about.

First, it indicates that there can be a marketplace for innovation where companies could post their product development challenges and for an interesting contest, the best brains are willing to compete. It sharpens their own abilities.

Second as the BellKore team and other teams demonstrated there is a willingness for disparate people to actively collaborate. While cooperation and collaboration within many organizations has been challenging, I wonder how such disparate people could come together and collaborate easily for a bigger goal.

Third, for people who believed in having an inhouse R&D and saw that as a competitive advantage, this experiment seeks to blow that myth away.

Note: Netflix Prize 2 would challenge competitors to recommend movies based on demographic and behavioral data.

September 20, 2009

U.S. Federal government to use the cloud and the App Store

Vivek Kundra — the Federal CIO and who is actively promoting the innovation agenda announced Apps.Gov. It includes a variety of business applications, hosting and social applications all housed in a cloud.

All the federal agencies will be able to buy the cloud computing applications and services and this will surely bring the cost of IT services in the federal budget. It is also a very innovative way of standardizing applications.

What Apps.Gov also ensures is that the government enjoys the same benefits that technology changes and pricing models have to offer to the consumer. The government also can reduce the cost of IT infrastructure like building data centers a, servers, storage. Some applications may even be free.

I do not know how he is going to handle the privacy and security issues, but I guess given the size of the federal IT budget, many vendors will come forward to build the standards needed for the Government to be their customer. Google has already responded by announcing that it would dedicate a part of its computing infrastructure to serve the federal government.

Sure, other vendors will follow.

All in all, this is a great initiative and something that other Governments should also consider.

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