I recently read a book outlining the impacts of technologies adopted in the early Information Age (now). Now, many books exist on the topic, each with an inspired vision about our future and how technologies are transforming about every area of modern life. This one is particularly powerful, both because of the combination of skills the authors brought together to make it happen and because it provides a good synthesis of phenomena often described without reference to the big picture. The book was written by renowned French scientist and humanist Joël de Rosnay with the help of an intriguing entrepreneur called Carlo Revelli. Worth reading if you speak French. If you don't, an adapted version in the English language is in the works, which I am pleased to work on. The original authors and I expect to have it finalized around September and it will be published under a Creative Commons license.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Business, lies and silos
Some like Seth Godin readily acknowledge that marketers are liars. I agree with him and extend the proposition to all business people, myself included of course, especially if one considers that it is a lie to omit something. On the other hand, I think everything is a matter of what objective one is pursuing.
The "whole truth and nothing but the truth" is not an objective per se in business and I am not sure it is in courts of law either or at least not in all cases. Not even sure it is a good idea in other areas of human life. Else, the fine arts of cinema, science fiction or even painting would not be possible. From partial and questionable definitions of what sex actually is, whether oral or otherwise, given by a President I liked much more than the current, to the "somewhat" biased presentations of marketers or the preposterous communication of political campaigns, spin is something I witnessed many times. It's just part of human life; you see I don't particularly believe the "perfect green apple syndrome" is a particularly functional way of doing things... Imprefection is fine, although I don't particularly enjoy perfect imperfection! Today, I came across a great summary of all the lies, mostly driven by the best of intentions (as ever), that engineers (particularly the software kind) feed us on the market side of the business... Go read it, it is awesome and incredibly true (unless of course it is YAML = yet-another-marketer's-lie).
Thursday, April 27, 2006
A couple of months ago I discovered Participate. Their slogan is "FIlms have the power to inspire. You have the power to act. Participate!" and I think it is a cool idea. These guys are producing movies with a message, movies that support a cause. Yet they are a business that operates for profit. This is another interesting combination of activism and business something some people call "social capitalism". Let me tell you about their latest campaign.
Participate just sent me an email about a movie they are about to release, which deals with climate change and makes the case for each one of us to do something at their own individual scale to help avert a disaster. The movie is called "An inconvenient truth" and here is a link to its website. The deeplink to the page calling us to action is here. Please visit.
To me what Participate does is a creative way to invite citizens to action, while at the same time making required profits to remain in business. They contributed to movies like "Good night and good luck", which was a good reminder of history and a proper analogy to political practice of our times in many countries. In my opinion, the content of the movies produced by Participate is also excellent food for thought for business leaders and perhaps a more effective way to invite us all to take the path of more ethical and responsible acton in everyday life.
The time when blogs went mainstream
I took the train for a trip to Paris just a couple of days ago. A few tie-wearing business persons were traveling to the same destination. Three of them spoke loud enough for me to hear their conversation, which was about the great opportunity blogs represent for business... That's when I thought about my early days of blogging; back then few of my contacts knew what a blog was and those who did thought it was an online personal diary for teenagers. And then I thought about top radio channels making their content available as podcasts. And about recent business contacts I got through this blog... How things are changing!
Blogs are great tools, not only for sharing thoughts as I do, but also for business communications. In fact one of my latest customers is in the field of buzz marketing and they do use blogs heavily. I will tell you more about it in the coming weeks.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
If you don't get it, regulate it! Just in case...
This seems to be the axiom upon which every act of government is based in countries whose political elites don’t have a clue about the real implications of the Internet. In many European countries today, governments swim in self-congratulatory communications, boasting about their “achievements” in e-government. At the same time citizens empowered by the web are taking by storm all areas of public life. The latest example of disconnect between the people and governing elites seems to come from France (again), much to the despair of yours truly.
The French Minister of Culture, not satisfied with the
fiasco of the legislation on authors’ rights - mark my words, it will turn out to be YANAL = yet-another-not-applicable-law -, is now about to take an
initiative to "regulate" citizen-driven journalism on the web. Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres embarks on a crusade to protect citizens from the perils of partisan coverage of news by amateur journalists (i.e. journalists who have not been coopted and do not have the blessing of the establishment). He hinted at the fact that he wants blog articles to involve at least one professional journalist who has a valid license as a member of the press. I don't know about you, but I am personally sick and tired of those guys who create regulations for stuff they don't understand and fear.
You see, Renaud
Donnedieu de Vabres is worried: according to him, blogs are not reliable sources of
information and they are biased and lead to misinformation of citizens… blah,
blah, blah…. Whereas, of course, the conservative mass media TF1 or Public
French TV or partisan newspapers or private radio channels supporting interest groups or indeed SkyTV and
Fox News are officially and automatically labeled as reliable. Perhaps because of the government’s
certainty about their almost complete allegiance to the "official truth".
The fact is that there is a managed coexistence and strong
codependency between the political world and established media. This results in the emergence of a new form of political regime that I call a mediacracy in which power is no longer in the hands of the people but rather in that of a political elite involved in an incestuous relationship with special-interest sponsored media. Actually, that was true until recently, until the web empowered citizens to share opinions and collectively build intelligence on often complex subjects like the proposed European Constitution last year. In that instance the political-media power did not prevail.
relationship goes far beyond public life and right into the privacy of
households of French politicians many of whom are in relationship with stars of
established media, themselves employed by established capitalists who finance
and support said politicians. And perhaps they do so because politicians are
their very best insurance policy against changes and challenges brought about by the adoption of new applications of infotech like blogs, vlogs, podcasts, WiFi networks and mobile devices. Perhaps established players do not really want power to the people.
Perhaps that is why they favor party-driven processes of pre-selection of
candidates to be presented to the people for crucial elections like the French
presidential election. Perhaps that is why they don’t like the idea of citizens
going around and reporting what they see as they understand it: it does drive
information out of control.
Now the good question is this: why in the world should we
consider the established media with their covert submission to or concealed
manipulation of politicians to be more trustworthy than bloggers and freelance
citizens-journalists who openly state that the content they produce is partisan
and do not try to position themselves as holders of the one and unique truth?
Another interesting question is the impact of such attempts to “regulate” the
free expression of individual opinions on one of the foundations of democracy:
free speech with the understanding that freedom works best when there is also
respect for other opinions so long as they don’t invite discrimination or
hatred or ethnic and religious violence.
It seems that regulation of everything they do not France
understand is the illness of outdated elites in government today. And France is a telltale example unfortunately: from a
totally idiotic and non-applicable legislation about ostentatious signs of
religious belief, to the legislation about authors’ rights, to protests against flexible
work contracts, to this new “initiative”, France is crumbling under the weight
of over-regulation and centralization. The imbalance in favor of the Jacobins
centralizers in their two-century old contest with the Girondins who favored
decentralized processes, is now the worst threat to
future in a global connected world.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
just commemorated a sad anniversary: 20 years since Chernobyl exploded. I remember like yesterday those days of anxiety when our media were relaying official
information claiming that the radio-active pollution had stopped right at the
frontiers of [NAME_COUNTRY] (replace with whichever name of European country you want). Of course, for those of us who were following the news in several countries, the inconsistencies were blatant and I remember how they amplified my feeling of insecurity. Remember
how all national governments were trying to sound reassuring to "their" citizens?
Common folk, uneducated people, we all knew that there was no reason in the
world why an ecological disaster would stop at the borders set by humans:
pollution needs no passport to "travel". It knows no frontiers. Yet, the official truth was served by
established media organizations. Precisely those who plot with the political establishment to limit the freedom of speech on the web. I wonder why... don't you?
An article of protest at the cover-up published in 1986 has been reissued just yesterday on Agoravox and if you speak French, it is definitely worth reading. It is an account of the painful personal experience of a French scientist who scrambled to have a coherent picture amid conflicting reports and incompatible units of measure of radiations and their effects on human health. Above all it shows how citizens feel when governments are cheating with the complicity of established media organizations. And its call for open confrontation of facts when such emergencies are involved is an invitation which we citizens can now accept thanks to the power of the web.
Monday, April 24, 2006
WiFi at last
Right now at Gare du Nord in Paris. In a public location. Wirelessly connected to the Internet; more or less easily I must say. France Telecom seems to have trouble supporting Firefox, so I had to use good old IE to buy my credits... Anyway. WiFi is almost pervasive. At last.
Reminds me of a trip to Seattle back in 2001 (before the infamous terrorist attack): sitting in a Starbucks I was able to surf the web and read my emails. Back then I was working on a projet for a WiFi venture launched by a Swedish VC called BrainHeart. These guys were absolutely right about the take-up of WiFi, of which I never doubted. They got it all wrong on the business model though desipte words of caution and clear messages a colleague of mine and myself issued at the time (the reason why we ended-up stopping the project with said VC firm and the CEO of the WiFi clearing company they wanted to set-up "to be at the center of the industry" - how much more vague can an objective be? -, a former colleague of mine called Lodewijk Cornelis who is a fantastic salesperson and a great traveller). A pitty we were not able to turn an important disruptive technology identified in 2001 into a business success. I think what we experienced there was a clash between analytical minds and the enthusiasm of sales profiles who did not believe in analysis and plans... Which speaks volumes about the human dimension of new ventures.
Business models are important. Vital. Period. Now, WiFi is a great piece of technology and an enabler for much more than most people see today. A pervasive access to the Web at an affordable price is going to transform the way we deal with our activities; it is going to transform the relationships of power between citizens and government, customers and suppliers, companies and employees... WiFi is just a piece of the puzzle as shown in a great book written by Joël de Rosnay, which I will comment separately.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
A little over a month ago I read the latest book written by a most interesting Belgian doctor in medicine called Thierry Janssen. The book is called "La solution interieure" and makes the case that a substantial number of factors necessary to human well-being and health are actually to be found within each one of us. I think that has enormous implications for the way we run our businesses, our societies, our planet...
While extremely committed to scientific discipline, the author gives an account of his research in and study of various forms of the art of taking care of human well-being. The book deals with a whole range of disciplines amongst which is our western medical science and convincingly makes the case that it is time to broaden the scope of our thinking when it comes to health and well-being, while it also argues in favour of preserving a scientific approach / discipline to guarantee the quality of "service" to people. Full of common sense and characterized by true scientific curiosity, this book is the kind I really enjoy because it is devoid of "certainties" and "truths", focusing rather on questions that are worth asking and aswering (an you know how much I enjoy questions). Of course, some of the questions may not be comfortable to answer for the pharmaceutical industry at least in the short run...
It is definitely worth reading and I hope translated versions become available soon.
Saturday, April 1, 2006
The art of not deciding
As a professional in the field of management (with a special interest in infotech businesses), I am particularly interested in good practices, tools and methods that make sense. One of the most important things a company can be helped with to enhance its ability to make decisions in an autonomous and responsible manner. This topic alone has huge influence on the way any organisation fares. If you want to learn what NOT to do, look at France these days.
The country's President made a decision to give the executive signature to a legislation he proposes... not to apply! From a psychological standpoint that is the reflection of an unresolved polarity, perhaps even an awkward attempt to escape from a double bind. One the one hand the President does not want to dismiss his Prime Minister and at the same time he does not want to face those who protest against a piece of legislation passed by a democratic government in a way fully compliant with the constitution of the country. Now, let us be clear I don't know whether this legislation is a "good" or a "bad" option for the country; and, because I have seen enough economic theories to know that economics is the art of telling you tomorrow why what was predicted yesterday does not work today, I am a partisan of experimentation. Unless the legislative measure is tried we will not know whether it works or not. Anyhow, my point here is to suggest that what happens to France sometimes happens to us as individuals and can also characterize some of the decisions taken in business. That's when leaders try to please (or rather to be "popular") more than to do their jobs: we live a surrealistic era where elected leaders ask the public where it wants to be led by way of more or less secret opinion polls. That's not listening to and answering the legitimate questions citizens have for the present and for the future; that's not understanding what they need and that's not how we can ward off their worst fears.
So what's needed to make a "good" decision?
- have an objective defined for the organization for which a decision is needed because a decision is a means to an end not an end in itself: what does France want to accomplish in terms of giving better chances to the young generation that faces an unemployment rate of 25% when middle aged people have a 4% unemployment rate? Similarly, what is it that your business, your team, your product, your marketing plan... etc. wants to achieve? The objective is the fundamental point because a decision is good or bad only in relative terms: for an organization, in a given context and in function of an objective. To properly define an objective, there are 9 criteria to meet as discussed in a previous post.
- seek and discuss as many of the possible options as you can imagine. Here the critical point is to be able to identify limiting assumptions and beliefs: for example what is it that the French people and businesses must be assuming to NOT employ young people and to NOT employ people whose names don't sound French "enough"? For example, what is it that we assume about employers to build rigid legislations to "protect" workers? And by the way what do we assume about workers' autonomy and ability to make themselves heard and to be respected? By questioning "truths" we can find more creative avenues. That is true in business as it is in personal or in government matters I believe.
- examine how there options could actually be implemented in field conditions, not simply in the heads of overtrained eggheads from famous schools. How is this actually goign to work is the key question? What would we do immediately were the option to be adopted? For what good is it to have laws that cannot be enforced? Perhaps only to give excuses to politicians who cannot obtain results...
- choose a way and EXECUTE in the best possible manner with what you have NOW, where you are NOW and what you can do NOW... When execution time kicks in, an organization needs all the resources it can muster.
- keep TESTING ALL THE TIME whether you are progressing towards results and adapt quickly: admitting a mistake does not cause people to die, while persevering on the wrong path does create a hell of a lot of trouble.
Decision making is not an easy part of management, but it is vital and the frame of reference is critical as shown very elegantly in Crossing the Chasm, a book that was kindly recommended to me by Philippe Back in one of his previous comments and which I am now reading. Will write a piece on it as soon as I finish it (it's great read anyway and I was wrong to be that skeptical).