Clockspeed and Business Genetics Reconsidered

Nearly 10 years ago, in Clockspeed, Charles Fine of MIT revived a metaphor for the economy that goes back to at least Herbert Spencer’s essay, On The Social Organism (1860). A colleague recommended the book because I’ve lately been obsessed with issues of speed in innovation. Read as an anecdote-rich exposition of concurrent engineering, it is pretty good. As a justification of its title, it is badly derailed, since the limited discussion of time scales in the business world goes nowhere, least of all towards justification of the subtitle “winning industry control in the age of temporary advantage.” But the book, despite its value, mainly struck me as a massive missed opportunity to explore the metaphor of business genetics. In this piece, I attempt to remedy this gap with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight.

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How to be an Idea Person

A private sense of humor has been key to my sanity for several years now. It has helped me deal with the label Idea Guy that I acquired as a kid, and have never since shaken off. Once I realized that it was a (very) mixed blessing, I went from downplaying it, to being alternately defensive or assertive about it, to resisting it, to trying hopelessly to “fix” it, to finally finding a way to accept and manage it. Acceptance, for me, has involved a private joke of a self-image that is a mix of Camus’ Sisyphus and the Max Fischer character in Rushmore, coupled with a model of the ‘Idea Guy’ mental style as a chronic medical condition. I don’t know if you’ll find the medical metaphor in this piece funny, but you might find it useful. This is not a piece about becoming an idea person. That is not something you choose. It is a condition you have to manage, like diabetes, once you recognize  it. [Read more…]

The Age of Speed by Vince Poscente

I was all set to be annoyed by this short book, but ended up being charmed by its cheery good-nature and earnest focus on its theme. The Age of Speed by Vince Poscente is a self-conscious little business book that is a little too aware of itself, and by no means an intellectual heavy-hitter.

Yet, perhaps because of that, it gets the job done. It drives home the message that irrespective of what you are doing (at least in the world of private enterprise), you should probably be learning how to do it faster. The message that the pace of change is important is not new — it goes back at least to Alvin Toffler and Future Shock (1970). What Poscente does is make a neat little case for adopting a certain philosophical attitude towards speed (namely “addiction” — pun not intended).

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An MBA in Gordon’s Restaurant

Today, on October 25th, 2007, I make a prediction. There will be a bestselling business management book written in the next two years with the kitchen or restaurant as its primary metaphor, and it will prominently feature Chef Gordon Ramsey. Not primarily because he is an amazing model of a philosopher-warrior-businessman-artist, but because the kitchen, not the battlefield, is the metaphor for business in the 21st century. I might even write the book myself. Here is my first stake in the ground. You’ve probably seen books like the The 10-day MBA and the The 12-Hour MBA Program. Here I channel Ramsey and offer you the 60-minute MBA.

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Is Jeff Bezos the New Jack Welch?

I don’t usually read the Harvard Business Review because it is inconvenient to read for free, and expensive to pay for, but I happened to dip into the latest issue and was really impressed with the Jeff Bezos interview. Every generation in business is defined by one or two CEOs who manifest and model the defining qualities of the age. With this interview, I think Bezos is in contention for the 2000s.

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Strategy, Tactics, Operations and Doctrine: A decision-language tutorial

Note: the ideas in this post have been significantly refined and turned into a book. The treatment here is somewhat obsolete as a result, but the spirit of my revised arguments remain the same.

Suppose a job candidate walks into your office and hands you a resume. It proclaims, “strategic, systems thinker.” You wince, and almost throw her out right there, but since other parts of her resume look promising, you decide to give her a chance and proceed with the interview. Now ask yourself, how would you actually probe if there is any substance behind the candidate’s claim to strategic abilities? Here is a very good answer: ask the candidate to tell a story. Not any old story, but a relevant one, like how she views the history of development of her field. Or how she views her own personal trajectory. If you can’t figure out why this is an excellent question, read on.

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Work-Life Balance: Juggling, Spinning or Surfing?

I have encountered three metaphors for what most people call the ‘work-life balance’ issue. These are: juggling, keeping multiple plates spinning on sticks, and surfing. Each has its strengths and flaws. All share in common the problems that arise from calling the whole thing a ‘balance’ problem in the first place, but the ‘balance’ point of view has some merits. Here is a straight-faced analysis. I conclude that ‘surfing’ is the best-of-breed within the whole ‘balance’ category or metaphors. Here is why.
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Seth Godin’s Dip and Multi-armed Bandits

Seth Godin, who I first discovered through his bestselling Permission Marketing has made something of a specialty of writing compact and focused books around single clear ideas. His latest, a tiny little book called The Dip, is his most abstract yet, but still fits the mold and develops a single punchy idea. The idea is this: there is a transient dip in the effort-to-returns graph of any project, and deciding what project to quit, and when, in terms of this graph, is a critical skill. It is almost too much of a complex idea for him to handle, but he just makes it. It is interesting to see him arrive at a fresh insight into a problem that has nearly a half-century long history in the context of an academic model of decision making called the multi-armed bandit. His fresh and original take provides some insight the bandit mathematicians never stumbled upon, but at the same time, he seriously underestimates the complexity of the idea, and the difficulty of operationalizing it.

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The Twitter Zone and Virtual Geography

My previous post on the 50-foot-rule led to an interesting exchange with reader tubelite, which led me to a more sophisticated appreciation of the idea behind, and introduced me to the interesting ideas of Dunbar’s number and the Monkeysphere. After mulling the straggling exchange, and starting with tubelite’s insight that the 50-foot zone is really a zone of random background social noise, I came up with a map of modern virtualized society. At the heart of it is the new form of the 50-foot-zone, the twitter zone. Here’s the map.

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Open Innovation, or is Business War?

The catchphrase of Henry Chesbrough’s work on innovation (a doctrine called “open innovation” and described in Open Innovation, 2003, and Open Business Models, 2006), is “not all the smart people work for you.” The key operational message that corporations seem to take away from it though, is “buy and sell intellectual property vigorously and throw some money at universities.” Somewhere along the way unfortunately, a sophisticated reconstruction of the logic of innovation becomes reduced to quick-money recipes. Part of the blame rests with Chesbrough himself, for raising and framing a very important subject, but then being somewhat timid about running with the idea to some daring conclusions. In this article, I am going to rush in foolishly where, apparently, Henry Chesbrough fears to tread. I’ll interpret the idea of open innovation as business is not war, and you’ll see where that line of reasoning takes us. [Read more…]