Saturday, December 31, 2011

The UN Global Pulse Project


Global Pulse is a new initiative by the United Nations to leverage data from the consumer Internet for global development.  So-called sentiment analysis of messages in social networks and phone text messages - - using natural language deciphering software - - can help predict job losses or lower spending in a region, or disease outbreaks.

For example, in parts of Africa, cellphones serve as the ATM, with text messages initiating money transfers.  These messages can also serve as an early warning system.  When savings transfers drop to 50 cents or zero from $10 a month - - the digital world can provide evidence that something is happening in the physical world.

Global Pulse, began in late 2009, is conducting research and trying to forge partnerships with private companies.  To really succeed, the program needs the cooperation of Internet companies and cellphone carries to give it access to social network and text-message communications, which would be stripped of any personally identifying information.



Friday, December 30, 2011

Chance favors the prepared mind

Interesting paragraph in the December 26, 2011 Luke Johnson column of the Financial Times (Big drawbacks can be made into even bigger assets) - -

"Marc Anderson, the co-founder of Netscape, noted in a blog that chance favours those who have a bias for action and a strong sense of curiosity.  You need to be in motion to come across your share of breaks.  And to exploit those openings, you must be ready to pounce.  As Louis Pasteur said: Chance favours the prepared mind."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Management Secrets of Sir Alex Ferguson

A great article in today's Financial Times by Simon Kuper on Manchester United's legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson (Why Ferguson remains at the top of his game).  Kuper writes that Ferguson doesn't have a brilliant understanding nor is he a genius.  What Ferguson excels at is management - - the handling of people.

Kuper identifies some of Sir Alex's management secrets:
  • Identify yourself with your company's brand.  Ferguson is the embodiment of the club's values - - the "keeper of the temple" - - the cause has become almost unthinkable without him.
  • Hone your strongest character trait into a weapon.  Known for his temper and famed "hairdryer" treatment - - he has learned to switch it on and off for maximum effect.
  • Cultivate every interest group inside the company.  Per Ferguson - - "Even if you hate your chairman, you have to find a way of getting on with it" - - board's, players, fans, and sponsors all have to be onside.
  • Gather information everywhere.  Ferguson knows everyone in the context of soccer - - he "hoovers" up information all the time.  Cultivate contacts unto death (a performance metric is the number of funerals you attend!).
  • Seek total control (but recognize when you cannot have it).  Ferguson views leadership as requiring three main qualities - - control, managing change, and observation.  Ferguson has a simple equation for control - - control = fear + information.
  • Do not let other people cause you stress.  Feel pressure?  Ferguson had the following advice - - "You know what I do in those circumstances?  You've got to literally imagine you are putting blinkers on.  People want to get into your space.  Only you decide who gets into your space."
  • Remember that crises blow over.  Tomorrow will be better than today - - Ferguson never adjusts his strategy because he knows crises pass.
  • Always be unsatisfied.  Satisfaction is fatal - - every trophy he wins is just a notch towards a target he never wants to meet.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Internet of Things

Great article in the December 18, 2011 Sunday Review of the New York Times by Steve Lohr - - The Internet Gets Physical.  Highlights the movement and opportunities associated with the Internet of games and social networking - - to a future of the Industrial Internet.  A future of "digital smarts" in everything.  Highlights of the article included:
  • Across many industries, products and practices are being transformed by communicating sensors and computing intelligence - - jet engines, bridges, oil rigs, etc.
  • The future Industrial Internet is real-time and non-virtual.
  • Smart hospital rooms with tiny cameras - - combined with software, they can alert medial staff to wash their hands before touching a patient.
  • Digital water meters that inform and alert - - consume less and alert to possible leaks.  Bits and bytes that inform to allow for behavioral modification.
  • Disaster response has huge potential - - advanced alerts and airborne sensors.
  • Software techniques like pattern recognition and machine learning used in Internet searches, online advertising and smartphone apps are also ingredients in making smart devices to manage energy consumption, health care and traffic.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Everything Is Making Data

Engineering faces a future of ever-increasing digital connectivity - - data from cellphones, computers, sensors, digital cameras, RFID readers, smart meters, and GPS devices.  Not just ant hills of data - - but mountains of data from all over the planet.  You, your car, your house - - we live in a world of data generation.  We make data and it gets connected to someone or something in real time.  Engineering needs to thing of  individuals as personal data factories - - factories rich in economic outputs. 

Our era of "Everything Is Making Data" fits nicely into the evolution of data.  The evolution of data consists of three stages - -
  1. Descriptive - - What just happened?
  2. Predictive - - What might happen?
  3. Prescriptive - - What should happen?
Engineering ought to be going nuts over the opportunities embedded in exponential data generation growth combined with new tools for sorting - - new ways to analyze data in real time.  Look for companies like Splunk to make the tools that address the needs of the big data movement (this marketing slogan - - "Listen to your data" gets at the heart of the issue.

The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated global data generation to increase by 40% per year - - data generation as a grow industry.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sanergy

The World Health Organization estimates that 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to hygienic toilets, causing the spread of disease.  Enter M.I.T. grad David Auerbach and his organization Sanergy and the unique business model of the franchise public toilet.

He sells prefabricated concrete toilets to local entrepreneurs for about $500 - - either cash or from a microlender.  The owner is responsible for supplies and maintenance - - each is stocked with toilet paper, soap, and water.  Operators profit by charging about $0.05 per visit.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How did they come up with the name BlackBerry?

Good question.  What about Intel's Pentium?  Apple's PowerBook is another good one.  They came from a strategic branding company - - Lexicon based in California.

John Colapinto has a fascinating article on Lexicon, their history, and the very creative branding and naming process in Famous Names: Does it matter what a product is called (the October 3, 2011 issue of The New Yorker).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WindGen Power Products

WindGen Power Products serves the East Africa off-grid energy market by manufacturing, installing, and maintaining small wind turbines.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Question for 2012

The question for 2012 (and the rest of the decade) for the developed world is - - "Where will work come from?"  The answer is we don't know and, which is even more troubling, we don't understand enough about the actual process of why jobs are created.

Not an easy question, especially viewed through the lens of a structure shift in power from developed to developing, a shift from the industrialized to the industrializing, an information revolution changing almost every industry, too much debt, too much consumption, too much entitlement, and too little innovation.

The answer to the question fundamentally sets the stage and outlook for the rest of the century.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Knowledge Over Space

The Seven Billion special series has been published throughout the year in National Geographic.  The December 2011 issue has a great observation from Harvard economist Edward Glaeser - -

"The quintessence of the vibrant city for Glaeser is Wall Street, especially the trading floor, where millionaires forsake large offices to work in an open-plan bath of information.  "They value knowledge over space - - that's what the modern city is all about," he said.  Successful cities "increase the returns to being smart" by enabling people to learn from on another.  In cities with higher average education, even the uneducated earn higher wages; that's evidence of "human capital spillover."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Engineering and Ron Paul


Engineering might just play the key role of developing libertarian utopias - - home to maybe Peter Thiel and Ron Paul.  Engineers designing and constructing self-ruling floating cities - - city/states on the ocean.  The term is referred to as "Seasteading" - - think pontoon-type structures or giant barges (or think Waterworld without the gills).  The technical challenges are daunting enough.  Imagine the legal and accounting efforts to create independent, self-ruling tax havens in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Check out the engineering page for ClubStead of The Seasteading Institute.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Cook Doctrine

Tim Cook has the difficult role of replacing Steve Jobs at Apple.  In Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson lays out "The Cook Doctrine" - -

"We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products, and that's not changing.  We are constantly focusing on innovating.  We believe in the simple not the complex.  We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.  We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.  We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.  And frankly, we don't settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit where we're wrong and the courage to change.  And I think, regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Communicate the future to drive the present

Great book by Kevin Murray - - The Language of Leaders: How top CEOs communicate to inspire, influence, and achieve results (2012).  Murray interviews 60 UK business and government leaders regarding the intersection of communications and leadership.  Murray writes the following:

"Inspiring leaders make us want to achieve more.  They persuade us to their cause, win our active support, help us to work better together and make us to work better together and make us feel proud to be part of the communities they create.  They communicate tirelessly, and it is their skill at listening and talking that keeps ups passionately connected to their vision."

Each chapter has a list of key points.  These are the points from the chapter on the need for communicating about the future - -
  • Paint a vivid picture of success.
  • Describe the future both in rational terms (the numbers) and emotional terms (how it will feel for all concerned).
  • This bringing together of the rational and the emotional is key to inspiring people.
  • This future, though, has to be expressed in benefit terms for all the people with a vested interest in the performance of the organization - - customers, shareholders, local communities, suppliers and partners and, most importantly, employees.
  • Leaders make sure their vision presents sustainable success for all. 
  • Leaders must not only explain the future, they must also explain why it is necessary to change, and give a sense of hope and optimism to the businesses they lead, through what they say.
  • Leaders ensure their people understand what quality of relationship will be needed with their key stakeholders.
  • Fusing the future vision (what success will look and feel like) to the mission (what important thing we are here to do) and to the values (how we do it) completes the pictures.

Monday, December 12, 2011

TerraChoice and the Seven Sins of Greenwashing

From TerraChoice and their Seven Sins of Greenwashing - -
  1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-off - - A claim suggesting that a product is "green" based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.  Paper, for example, is not necessarily environmentally-preferable just because it comes from a sustainability-harvested forest.  Other important environmental issues in the paper-making process, such as greenhouse gas emissions, or chlorine use in bleaching may be equally important.
  2. Sin of No Proof - - An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.  Common examples are facial tissues or toilet tissue products that claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing evidence.
  3. Sin of Vagueness - - A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.  "All-natural" is an example.  Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous.  "All natural" isn't necessarily green.
  4. Sin of Worshiping False Labels - - A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists; fake labels, in other words.
  5. Sin of Irrelevance - - An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.  "CFC-free" is a common example, since it is a frequent claim despite the fact that CFCs are banned by law.
  6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils - - A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.  Organic cigarettes could be an example of this Sin, as might the fuel-efficient sports utility vehicle.
  7. Sin of Fibbing - - Environmental claims that are simply false.  The most common examples were products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified or registered.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Greenwashing

I ran across the word "Greenwashing" in an article a couple of weeks ago - - The Drivers of Greenwashing by Magali Delmas and Vanessa Cuerel Burbano in the Fall 2011 issue of California Management Review.  The authors define "Greenwashing" as - -

" . . . the act  of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company (firm-level greenwashing) or the environmental benefits of a product or service (product-level greenwashing)."

The authors note - -

"The consumer and capital markets for green products, services, and firms have been expanding rapidly in the last decade.  The consumer market for green products and services was estimated at $230 billion in 2009 and predicted to grow to $845 billion by 2015.  At the start of 2010, professionally managed assets utilizing socially responsible investing strategies, of which environmental performance is a major component, were valued at $3.07 trillion in the U.S., an increase of more than 380 percent form $639 billion in 1995.  More companies are now communicating about the greenness of their products and practices in order to reap the benefits of these expanding green markets.  Green advertising has increased almost tenfold in the last 20 years and nearly tripled since 2006.  As of 2009, more than 75 percent of S&P 500 companies had website sections dedicated to disclosing their environmental and social policies and performance.  At the same time, more and more firms are engaging in greenwashing, misleading consumers about firm environmental performance or the environmental benefits of a product of service.  Over 95 percent of products surveyed by TerraChoice in 2008/2009 committed at least one of the TerraChoice Seven Sins of Greenwashing."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Miracle on Mockingbird

This is an actual fox that ran across the field at SMU's Ford Stadium during our winning  touchdown - - Southlake Carroll Dragons 28 - Dallas Skyline Raiders 24.

Friday, December 9, 2011

iTwin

This is interesting - - iTwin.  The iTwin is a tiny device like a USB stick with two ends.  It splits in the middle, whereupon you plug one end into your desktop (PC or Mac) and carry the other end around with you.  Wherever you then find yourself in the world, you can plug the portable end of your iTwin into any Internet-connected computer of either type and gain full, secure access to your office machine.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Honest Truth

Interesting observations from Andrew Hill (On Management column for the Financial Times) today - - Honesty in times of crisis is overrated:

"Honesty, trust, communications and shared sacrifice count for little if managers can't then frame a successful strategy."

"Here's the honest truth: when fierce macroeconomic crosswinds are blowing, even good communication, employer-employee trust, shared sacrifice and smart management cannot guarantee a soft landing."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holiday Reading List

My recommendations to read over the holiday season - -
  • Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady
  • Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts
  • Thinking about Leadership by Nannerl Keohane
  • One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com by Richard Brandt
  • The Art of Invention: The Creative Process of Discovery and Design by Steven Paley
  • War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley
  • Ghosts of Daylight: Love, War, and Redemption by Janine Di Glovanni
  • Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie
  • Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afgan Market Town by Noah Coburn
  • Can Intervention Work? by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus

Monday, December 5, 2011

Motivation versus Inspiration

Management tends to confuse these two words (the reality is that we all tend to confuse the two).  Motivation comes from outside, such as the need to earn money.  The management approach to motivation is typically the "carrot or the stick" - - viewing your life and career as a production line.  Inspiration is about finding meaning in your work - - what is your purpose and what really inspires you.  What drives your enthusiasm?  Inspiration involves playing to your strengths and passions.  Motivation is more sprint than marathon - - it may or may not have the earnestness of inspiration.

I would recommend thinking about inspiration in the context of the linkage between what you do and the impact you have. 

How Doctors Die?

It might be useful to design our health care system around the following article - - How Doctors Die?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Permasense

We are a nation of pipelines.  Many of these support our hydrocarbon infrastructure.  Many of these miles of pipelines are also very old - - because of the corrosive natural of most hydrocarbons, damage to the pipework is a constant risk.  Holes in oil pipelines (any pipeline for that matter) can cause not only a shutdown, but also a risk to life and the environment.

Enter Peter Cawley, Imperial College, London and a company called Permasense that has been set up to commercialize a new way to think about corrosion monitoring in the context of many chemical plants and refineries.  Currently, tracking corrosion means inspecting miles pipes using ultrasonic scanners that measure thickness of a pipe wall by timing the reflections of pulses of sound from its internal and external surfaces.  In the case of a refinery, this requires a plant shut down dealing with extremely hot pipe sections.  Typically this type of monitoring is completed every four years - - wide safety margins then have to be imposed to ensure there is no rapid deterioration.

Permasense's secret is the methodology they utilize to attach scanners to pipes - - speciality shaped stainless steel that acts as both a poor conductor of heat and shaped to act as waveguides.  You end up with better signal quality and a platform for continuous monitoring - - this doesn't prevent corrosion, it does let operators and engineers sleep better at night.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Three Degrees of Separation

Marketing attention is switching towards the digital universe.  Some of this is hype surrounding the new genre - - although, the word "hype" needs to be viewed in the context that surveys suggest many consumers now spend more time online than watching broadcast television.

At the same time we are witnessing a technology driven blending of private and professional networking.  The individual brand of "Me" has expanded to three spheres of influence - - (1.) Strategic Networks - - people outside your control who will enable you to reach key organizational objectives, (2.) Operational Networks - - people you need to accomplish your routine tasks, and (3.) Personal Networks - - kindred spirits outside you organization who can help you with personal advancement.

All of this has produced an environment in which the six degrees of separation of 20-years ago is down to three - - the brand of "Me" has a much easier time actually seeing a network and figuring out where the brand of "Me" wants to go with the contacts that you have.

The Financial Times covered this changed in an article on November 29, 2011 - - Expanded Spheres of Influence.  Companies and recruiters see this ability to connect personal and professional networks as a key skill set.  The Times writes the following:

"Big recruiters increasingly see the ability to leverage much networks as an essential skill.  Gemma Lines, head of graduate marketing, recruitment and development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Citigroup, says networking is a competency it expects of its new graduate recruits.  "We receive 50,000 applications each year and those with the ability to establish links have a huge advantage," she says.

Such individuals are seen as being better equipped for dealing with clients, better able to get to grips with an organizational culture, and more likely to thrive in a globally minded organization.

To appraise their networking qualities, candidates who make it to the final rounds of recruitment are tested on their ability to build relationships.  They are put into working groups and observed to see how quickly they can establish a rapport with colleagues.  The groups are then mixed up and the candidates ability to forge links with their new team is assessed.

Once hired, graduates join the company a year after selection.  To facilitate networking beforehand, new recruits are encouraged to connect with each other on Facebook and to form communities.  Once they start at the company, they are not allowed to use sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn on work computers and are instead directed to Citi 2.0, the company's internal networking platform - - although they are allowed to access external networks via smartphones."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Your New Market Segment

Companies need to understand a market to challenge it.  You need to consider three fundamental questions that might lead to an innovative challenge in any established industry:
  1. Who else is a potential customer?
  2. What else can I offer them?
  3. How else might I source, produce, distribute or sell?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

SustainAbility

Interesting consulting firm and think tank that was recently quoted in Bloomberg Businessweek - - SustainAbility.