Sunday, September 29, 2013

Remote: Office Not Required

“One day offices will be a thing of the past” ~ Richard Branson

I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced not for sale copy of REMOTE: Office Not Required. The book does not go on sale until next month. Co-authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are the founders of 37signals, a trailblazing software company, and the makers of the world-famous project management tool Basecamp, along with Backpack, Highrise, and Campfire. Their first book, Rework, was a New York Times bestseller.

Millions of workers and thousands of companies have already discovered the joys and benefits of working remotely. In companies of all sizes, representing almost every industry, remote work has steadily grown year after year. Unlike the rush to embrace the fax machine, adoption of remote work has not been as universally accepted as one might have thought.

The technology is here; its never been easier to communicate and collaborate with people anywhere, at any time. But it still leaves a fundamental people problem. The missing upgrade is for the human mind.

Just like we could not imagine a cell phone smaller than a toaster in the 80’s, some companies still believe that you cannot get great performance from employees unless they show up at an office. Just like it was once thought that distance learning or “online classrooms” were a passing fad, that an online education or college degree from an online university was somehow not the real thing: 

Welcome to the new world of Smartphones, iPads, University of Phoenix and Khan Academy.

In the future, everyone will work and learn remotely, including the people sitting across from you. Leave your office at the office. Lose the soul sapping commutes to the corporate office or to the local college campus. Virtual is the new reality.

Remote work allows you to remove the final barriers to do the work that you were meant to do, with the people you were meant to do it with, in the most rewarding and profitable ways possible. The decentralization of work (and of education) is no longer fodder for futurists, it’s an everyday reality.

I have asked Jason and David to co-keynote our annual membership meeting of the If one or both of them can make it to New York City that will be wonderful. Who does not welcome a reason to visit Times Square? But if a trip to the Big Apple is not in the cards, a live interactive webinar with HD video that can be recorded and archived on the NYDLA website will be just fine.

“The future is already here, its just not evenly distributed” ~ William Gibson

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Wizard of Cupertino

I live around 15 miles from the Thomas Edison Museum and National Park in New Jersey. Yesterday my son Bobby and I visited the museum for the first time. It was on my “things to do” list and for some reason after all these years, yesterday was the day. I think that the ongoing comparisons of Steve Jobs to Thomas Edison finally got me to go. I will keep today’s blog brief, to compare and contrast Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison:

Both men changed the world.
Both men treated their people like crap.
Both men would refuse to accept no for an answer.
Both men could get others to do things that were previously thought impossible.

There are some cool connections between Edison and Jobs: they both changed and/or created the worlds of music, telecommunications, and business.

Already by the time he moved to Menlo Park in 1876, Thomas Edison had gathered many of the men who would work with him for the rest of their lives. By the time Edison built his West Orange, New Jersey lab complex, men came from all over the US and Europe to work with the famous inventor. Often these young "muckers," as Edison called them, were fresh out of college or technical training.

Unlike most inventors, Edison depended upon dozens of "muckers" to build and test his ideas. In return, they received "only basic wages." However, the inventor said, it was "not the money they want, but the chance for their ambition to work." The average workweek was six days for a total of 55 hours. Nevertheless, if Edison had a bright idea, days at work would extend far into the night.

By having several mucker teams going at once, Edison could invent several products at the same time. Still, each project took hundreds of hours of hard work. Inventions could always be improved; so several projects took years of effort. The alkaline storage battery, for example, kept muckers busy for almost a decade. As Edison himself said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

What was it like to work for Edison? One mucker said that he "could wither one with his biting sarcasm or ridicule one into extinction." On the other hand, as electrician Arthur Kennelly stated, "The privilege which I had being with this great man for six years was the greatest inspiration of my life."

Historians have called the research and development laboratory Edison's greatest invention. In time, other companies such as General Electric built their own laboratories inspired by the West Orange, New Jersey lab.

Edison's "Muckers"

Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park" Edison was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that, he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory. Edison is the fourth most prolific inventor in history, holding 1,093 US patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. He is credited with numerous inventions that contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications. These included a stock ticker, a mechanical vote recorder, a battery for an electric car, electrical power, recorded music and motion pictures.

I think the comparisons of Steve Jobs to Thomas Edison are valid, and that they will continue to grow over time. Both were visionaries, both created magic, and both changed the worlds of music, communications, education and business on a global basis.

One of the facts that I learned yesterday was that Edison delegated the task of inventing the phonograph to one of his “muckers”. In a very short period of time, the first sound was recorded and reproduced. Prior to that invention, there was no recorded sound. Edison did not invent the phonograph, his “mucker” did. But Edison figured out how to sell it to the world, and sell it he did.

I could not help but think of the comparisons between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, as in who did the real inventing and who got the credit. Over the years, I wonder how many “muckers” worked for the Wizard of Cupertino?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Darwin loved a Liar

Survival can become a challenging task in the wild – especially if you’re smaller or slower than your predators. This is why many animal species have developed different ways to camouflage themselves throughout the course of evolution. Ways to camouflage differ, but blending in with the environment is the most common approach.
Natural selection plays its part here as well: as the way in which an animal camouflages itself is determined genetically, every new generation adapts to its surroundings better. The most common example is a chameleon, although some furry animals and birds may lose their feathers and fur completely and replace it with a new one for a new season.
Liars survive.
Surprisingly, sometimes the best way to camouflage oneself is to stick with the herd: for example, when a lion walks by a bunch of zebras, it only sees a big striped mass. Some fish that are covered in bright vertical stripes might also be clearly visible when alone, but if a large group of them swims by, a predator will see an unidentified colored blob. 

Liars working in teams tend to survive even better.
The term stalking horse originally derived from the practice of hunting, particularly of wildfowl. Hunters noticed that many birds would flee immediately on the approach of humans, but would tolerate the close presence of animals such as horses and cattle.
Hunters would therefore slowly approach their quarry by walking alongside their horses, keeping their upper bodies out of sight until the prey was within firing range. Animals trained for this purpose were called stalking horses. An example of the practice figures in the 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson, when Johnson and Chris Lapp ("Bear Claw") are hunting elk in the Rockies:
Jeremiah: Wind's right, but he'll just run soon as we step out of these trees.
Bear Claw: Trick to it. Walk out on this side of your horse.
Jeremiah: What if he sees our feet?
Bear Claw: Elk don't know how many feet a horse has!

History proves that liars (people pretending to be what they are not) tend to be successful and are survivors.

The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the subterfuge that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war. Today, "Trojan Horse" has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space. It is also associated with "malware" computer programs presented as useful or harmless to induce the user to install and run them.

History proves that deception and subterfuge works great in times of war (or peace)

Duck Dynasty is an American reality television series on A&E. It shows the lives of the Robertson family, who became wealthy from their family-operated business, Duck Commander, operated in West Monroe, Louisiana, which makes products for duck hunters, primarily the duck call named Duck Commander. The business began in a family shed, where Phil Robertson spent 25 years making duck calls from Louisiana cedar trees. His son Willie is now the CEO of the company. Think about it: their entire business model is a product that helps duck hunters to fool unsuspecting ducks.
What would Daffy Duck say to Elmer Fudd using a Duck Commander to get him to come in closer? Liar! You're not a female duck - you’re a hunter! Liar!

Lies. Deceit. Trickery. Subterfuge. Camouflage. These are the things that allow a species to survive, these are the things that cause armies to win battles, and these are the things that allow businesses to thrive and produce profits.
Why are we so surprised when we catch people in business being less than honest with the public? Why are we so surprised when athletes use banned substances (technology) to get a competitive edge? Cheaters never prosper - unless of course you believe in evolution. Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of modern biology, and it is based on rewarding the best tricksters.

Success through deception is not a human invention, we just got really good at it. 
The technology of today now makes telling whoppers easy as using photoshop. Facebook may have a billion users, and Twitter may be raking in the revenue. If you were to ask the next young, hip person you saw which social network they love most, odds are they’ll name Instagram.
Instagram is a free photo sharing application that allows users to take photos, apply a filter, and share it on the service or a variety of other social networking services, including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, Flickr, and Posterous. In homage to both the Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid cameras, Instagram confines photos into a square.
Did you catch that? The “hook” of Instagram is that it applies a filter. And what do filters do? Filters modify the appearance of something, in this case, modifying the original photo. Filters make fakes out of originals.
So, we should not be so surprised when we find out that things are not what they appear to be, especially in the world of business and technology. 

Deception and trickery has been going on all around us since the beginning of time. Both "Mother Nature" as well as society seem to openly reward the best liars.

And so does Wall Street.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I want to be a Spaceman!

5 minute clip of his 40 minute speech

Double Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey has challenged TV channels to give "control" to their audiences or risk losing them.

The Hollywood star, whose recent foray into television -- House Of Cards -- has been a commercial and critical hit after it was released on streaming service Netflix, said there was a danger of "thinking that something which is working now will necessarily work a year from now".

Spacey said: "Clearly the success of the Netflix model -- releasing the entire season of House Of Cards at once -- has proved one thing: the audience wants control. They want freedom. If they want to binge -- as they've been doing on House Of Cards -- then we should let them binge."

The actor said that way of working "demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn't learn -- give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they'll more likely pay for it rather than steal it."

Read that again. Sound like anyone we know?

Spacey, who starred in and was also executive producer on the show which was nominated for nine Emmy Awards, warned the audience of media executives that "labels" were becoming meaningless and they risked being "left behind".

He said: "If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant ... For kids growing up now there's no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game Of Thrones on their computer. It's all content. It's all story."

Apple did it with iTunes (A thousand songs in your pocket). BlackBerry had it locked up for years (email in your pocket) but then they lost their way. Sony had the Walkman long before the iPod. ABC, CBS and NBC - none of them could do what Netflix is doing? Really? Not even HBO?

Have you ever used “a mouse” with a computer?

Geek version: In computing, graphical user interface (GUI, sometimes pronounced 'gooey') is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices through graphical icons and visual indicators. A precursor to GUIs was invented by researchers at the Stanford Research Institute, led by Douglas Engelbart. They developed the use of text-based hyperlinks manipulated with a mouse for the On-Line System (NLS). The concept of hyperlinks was further refined and extended to graphics by researchers at Xerox PARC‍ and specifically Alan Kay, who went beyond text-based hyperlinks and used a GUI as the primary interface for the Xerox Alto computer. Most modern general-purpose GUIs are derived from this system.

Non-Geek version: Stanford invented the mouse, Xerox owned the mouse, but when Steve Jobs saw it demonstrated at Xerox he said “Guys, if you are not using this, can I have it?” He did ask permission, right?.

“We have learned the lesson that the music industry didn't learn -- give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they'll more likely pay for it rather than steal it."

I say that Kevin Spacey was channeling Steve Jobs here, what say you?  

To be continued...