Reading all of these articles about an investment bubble in the Internet industry has me wondering: How many scheming entrepreneurs are out there, thinking, “I’m gonna get me some of that bubble action with my Web 2.0-styled, Facebook-integrated, viral, real-time and location-based Pets.com reboot and iPad app”?
December 14, 2010
December 8, 2010
I just had my first day of improv classes. They are an attempt to push me outside my comfort zone (which they certainly are doing). They are also good for entrepreneurs.
One of the main lessons from this initial class was to be comfortable with mistakes. To celebrate them, even.
Our instructor noticed how some students were flinching when they were doing our exercises, like answering the Name Three Things game.
In this game, we all stand in a circle. The person to your left quickly asks you to name three things that… and the rest of the question is left to the asker’s imagination. Like, “name three things that are blue,” “name three things that taste sweet,” or “name three things that you can do on Fridays.”
Some students would flinch their answers. Meaning they would shrug or answer in a question. “Three things that are blue. The… sky, water, and Smurfs?”
This comes off as a lack of confidence. The instructor asked, “if Obama said, ‘I want to be the president of the United States?’ would you have any confidence in that statement?” Probably not.
So our class was deemed a No Flinching Zone.
The instructor has taught this class all around the world. In every class, she declares the same rule. Interestingly, when she held this class in Japan, the word “finch” was translated to “a facial apology.”
That’s exactly what a flinch is. A facial apology. You are apologizing for your answer as if it’s a mistake. Meanwhile, you could be absolutely correct. But you haven’t given yourself a chance to be correct. You’ve already apologized for being incorrect.
Since we are celebrating our mistakes, there should be no apologies or flinches. Especially not when you’re doing improv or talking about something subjective.
December 7, 2010
I used to tell my team, “If you go to sleep on Sunday, dreading to wake up Monday for work, something is wrong here. As your manager, it’s my job to help either discover what is wrong, or to fix it.”
Sure, everyone loves weekends and has some measure of trepidation upon returning to work. But in the dot-com world, it’s not unusually to find many people loving their jobs. I personally loved my work so much that I looked forward to Mondays, if you can believe that. I’m also a workaholic, so take that as you may.
I’ve hired many workaholics too, I think. Or, at least, people who considered working on technology as a personal interest. If they weren’t in this field, they’d probably be tinkering with this stuff in their free time.
And therein lies the kernel of my Monday statement. This is a field with many employment – or self-employment – possibilities. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you can change it. You can talk to your manager, find another job, or start your own company. Good managers realize this and, if you’re an asset to the team, they will do whatever they can to keep you engaged and looking forward to Mondays.
October 17, 2010
I’m all for Build Fast & Iterate Quickly. Any technology company not moving at lightning speed will stagnant like a still shark. By all means, go fast.
Product development speed isn’t the right trait, however. It’s product development velocity. For the average person, there is a subtle difference between the two terms. But to an engineer, it is an important difference. Here’s a quick recap of the definitions:
- Speed is a scalar quantity. It is the rate of change of an object’s position.
- Velocity is a vector quantity. It is the rate of change of an object’s displacement.
(Confused? That’s okay. Watch the Khan Academy’s Introduction to motion for a quick refresher of high school physics. No one will know you did and you’ll feel all the smarter for it. hehe.)
Or, to put it into plain English: velocity is speed with a direction. If you take two steps forward at 2 mph, then two steps back at 2 mph, your speed is “2 mph.” But since you haven’t changed your location, your velocity is 0 mph. If you took four steps east at the same speed, your velocity would be “2 mph east.”
This is why product development velocity is more important. Your direction matters. You should be moving forward. Or at least away from where you currently are. If you’re moving quickly, but in circles, that’s not progress. That’s a waste of time.
It’s fine to move forward, to the left, or to the right. As a business, the goal is to move somewhere new. Every time you cover new ground, you have an opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before, to capture invaluable data. You need to uncover the Fog of War of your market and understand your landscape. You can only do that by moving in some new direction.
In other words, Build Fast, Iterate Quickly, and Move Forward.
Photo by: Mauropm
October 8, 2010
Almost 45% of the population there have mobile phones, while only 31% have access to improved sanitation. This includes many of the ultra poor in India.
If you haven’t heard the term before, the ultra poor are defined as “receiving less than 80 percent of minimum caloric intake whilst spending more than 80% of income on food” by Michael Lipton (quote from Wikipedia). They are the poorest of the poor.
Funny how they have mobile phones then, huh? This is no accident. There has been a concerted effort to bring mobile technologies to the masses. The result is a dramatic shift in knowledge access. In a world where “you can tell the rich from the poor by their internet connections,” mobile technologies are becoming a great equalizer.
Building upon insights such as this, Kamael Sugrim co-founded the non-profit mPowering. She took her background in finance & marketing, Stanford MBA, experience with Salesforce (CRM) & SAP (SAP), and witty insight, and turned it upside-down, realizing she would rather follow her passions than to remain in corporate America. Thus, mPowering. As they state on their website:
We are a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the world’s poor in their journey out of poverty. Through mobile technology and true out-of-the-box thinking, we give individuals and families the power to change their lives – forever.
Their first step has been to create mobile apps that harness the incentives of location-based gaming.
I know. Definitely out-of-the-box, huh? When I think of helping the ultra poor with mobile technologies, that’s the last thing I think of too. But it sometimes takes a radical new idea to break an established “norm” such as extreme poverty.
Here’s what Sugrim and team have done so far:
They’ve created a mobile app – Android (GOOG) at the moment – that allows children to check-in when they’re at school. Each check-in awards them some points that can be redeemed later at a food & clothing distribution center. The idea is to encourage these children to go to school, get an education, and still “earn” the basic necessities for their family. It’s a step above merely just giving the food & clothing to these families.
With the donations mPowering receives, they also give out free mobile phones to these ultra poor families, ensuring that all of them have access to this program.
Will it work? I don’t know, but this is just the start. They’ve got big plans and a motivated team. I’m sure they’ll experiment with all kinds of interesting, out-of-the-box ideas.
Intrigued? They’re taking donations right now. I’m sure they’ll be open to volunteers and fresh ideas too. Now that they’ve gotten mobile phones into the hands of their initial target group, they’ve got a platform from which to try new things.
They are initially targeting Orissa, the poorest region in India, though they plan on expanding to all countries where there is a need. Sugrim is over in Orissa this very moment, blogging, tweeting, posting, and recording videos of her travels. Follow along to see first-hand how they’re empowering the ultra poor and where they’ll go next. I’m following not just because I support their cause, but because I’m curious about which technologies they’re going to use next. Cloud computing and the ultra poor? Chatroulette for the ultra poor? Oh, the possibilities!
October 6, 2010
Has Wikipedia sucked hours out of your life, as it has mine?
There’s a dangerous new phenomenon out there. Wikipedia surfing. You start with one topic, see an interesting link, click on it, see another interesting link, click on that, and after a few hours, you’re on a completely different topic and full of interesting trivia.
Or, if you’re like me, you’ll open up multiple tabs, one for each new interesting link. And after a few hours, you’re on ten completely different topics and full of even more interesting trivia.
There’s even the Six Degrees of Wikipedia game, where you start with one topic, then find the shortest path to another topic. All you have to do is throw in some badges and you’ve turned a dangerous new phenomenon into a dangerous, yet fun new phenomenon. And that’s “dangerous” in terms of “OMG where did all those hours go?”, not the threat of harm or death, though if you don’t get up to pee and eat every once in a while, that may happen.
Why is it about Wikipedia this enables behavior? This fragmented attention, where curiosity follows a web of tangents just for the sake of curiosity?
I believe it’s because Wikipedia is hypertext at its best. It’s even the realization of Tim Berners-Lee’s origin vision of the World Wide Web – a solution to presenting and sharing massive amounts of inter-related information. Turns out, hyperlinks aren’t only a fantastic way of leading a reader to related information, but also a great enabler of tangential information surfing.
There’s already the phenomenon of web surfing: viewing websites and following interesting links. Wikipedia just offers more educational value.
So perhaps Wikipedia surfing isn’t all that bad. At least I’m filling my head with interesting trivia. And perhaps one day, I’ll get a badge for finding out that in 2005, a gigantic 20-foot pink stuffed rabbit was erected on a 5,000-foot hill in the northern Piedmont region of Italy.