Copyright Castles and Creative Tactics

Last week, there was a Forbes article that cropped up on Techmeme with what is likely to become a prophetic title: If Content Is King, Then Copyright Is Its Castle. The article centred on the argument that copyright is essential for creativity and included the following gem:

“Copyright compels creativity, it furnishes the incentive to innovate. If you limit the protection of copyright, you stifle the expression of self.” – Sumner Redstone, Chairman, Viacom and CBS

The thing with castles is that they were great in their day – walled fortresses that proved quite difficult to break into without dying in the process. But then, one day (well, it probably took quite a few), the tactics and technology changed. Invaders came up with 3 options: 1. Ignore the castle and just go around it; 2. Camp outside with a picnic and wait for everyone inside to start getting very very hungry; or 3. (unsurprisingly, most popular) purchase the latest gadget – canons – and blast the walls to smithereens. And so castles were doomed to decline and become tourist attractions (I live near a couple of them), and more than a few of their inhabitants died in the process.

The comparison with traditional media channels seems quite reasonable.

Lawrence Lessig has promoted an alternative viewpoint for quite some time now. He delivered a fabulous speech at TED – How Creativity Is Being Strangled By The Law. Anyone who has seen the short video clip of an alien being squashed by a glitter ball whilst singing Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ will love the Jesus version included in the talk…

Related links:

Filed under: Trends – Digital R? Management

Web Wisdom

A follow on to the Web Naivety post…

Not everyone is panicking and padlocking the computers to prevent people ‘wasting’ time on social networking sites. Found over on the blog of Shel Holtz, a comment from the CEO of Serena Software who has introduced ‘Facebook Fridays¨

“Each Friday, employees are granted one hour of personal time to spend on their Facebook profiles and connect with co-workers, customers, family and friends.”

Even better is the title of the press release: Serena Software Adopts Facebook As Corporate Intranet. If that doesn’t get the vendors of web content management tools panicking… 😉

The CEO – Jeremy Burton – has a more grounded approach towards Web 2.0 tools than most. He wrote an article for ZDNet Asia – Bringing Social Media To Work – describing why social activities are inevitable within the workplace. And he includes the best analogy yet for why and how to embrace social computing in a positive way. IT departments should take note:

¨For most people, the human drive to connect and share is stronger than the duty to spend every possible moment “being productive”. No matter what, people will find ways to socialize and share during work hours. It might be best to treat this like sex education: If your employees are going to “do it” anyway, why not encourage them to channel their social-media impulses in smart, safe ways that can potentially help your business?¨

Genius! 🙂

Related post: Web Naivety

Filed under: Changing Systems – Work; Systems Design – Social Networks

Technorati tags: Social Computing; Web 2.0

Changing Management

The Internet has changed how people interact with organisations yet, for too many organisations, internally they look the same as they did a decade or three ago. The result – a disconnect between what could be achieved and what actually happens. And the finger of blame usually points in the same direction -> middle management.

McKinsey has a stomper of an article – Innovative Management – A conversation with Gary Hamel and Lowell Bryan (free registration required to read) – discussing the challenges facing organisations. Traditional production line management in a world of change creates an inverse relationship with performance and profits.

Gary Hamel identifies the fundamental challenge:

¨When you read the history of management…, you realize that management was designed to solve a very specific problem—how to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.¨

This should sound familiar to a lot of people, right back to the Pyramid builders. Do you have a standard job title and description shared with peers throughout the organisation? Are a set of standard objectives used to measure performance? That’s traditional management. Define a role and reproduce it to scale outputs. For those in the role – your job is to ‘do’ not ‘think’. What does the future look like? More of the same…

The challenge facing organisations is that more of the same no longer works. In the current environment, the winners are those who can adapt and change, quickly. But there is a hidden opportunity lurking inside all organisations. It turns out, who would have thought, thinking is not confined to managers. Lots of people do it. It’s actually quite normal, a common human trait. Redundant in a production line that wants replicability. Invaluable when value comes from connecting ideas and expertise.

Back to Mr Hamel:

¨The winners will be those that enable their thinking-intensive employees to create more profits by putting their collective mind power to better use

…You cannot command those human capabilities. Imagination and commitment are things that people choose to bring to work every day—or not.¨

So what’s stopping organisations from doing this? There are two issues that I think are common place.

The first is the outdated assumption about plebs* and managers: Plebs do the work, managers think and plan it. Plebs aren’t concerned with strategy or the future, that’s what managers worry about. Doing is replicable therefore plebs are easy to replace. None of this philosophy sticks when the ‘doing’ involves ‘thinking’. But managers are still running the show and therein lies the problem…

The step from pleb to manager usually results in the heady combination of more money, more power and less work (‘doing’ is often measured in time-based outputs such as utilisation targets, management is about results). You might as well dish out free drugs while you’re at it. Once addicted, few want to go back to doing and, somewhat ironically, the management club also looks like a production line:

Once you are in The Club, it can be all too easy to forget the messy life of doing. Names representing individual strengths become replaced with job titles in plans – this role will be doing that. (See also: Distracting Data) As job roles change, it is increasingly likely that managers make decisions about roles they have never actually done and therefore have little idea of what is or isn’t achievable. Non-management opinions struggle to be heard, particularly when they challenge the plan. Reports (and rewards) focus on what the plan has achieved that it set out to do, not the missed opportunities and costly mistakes that result from refusing to change it. ‘The benefit of hindsight’ is used to justify inaction.

There is an added challenge if you live in a country with legislation protecting employee rights. Replicatable work is the easy option for management to help justify that everyone is being treated equally (that doesn’t equate to fairly or correctly). It’s lazy management. You can ensure equal opportunities and still embrace individual talents to increase performance. But more effort is placed on management to keep track of what’s going on. That kills off the ‘less work’ part of the deal.

So what should management look like in the 21st Century? Yet again, Gary Hamel comes up trumps:

The management challenge is akin to urban planning. The art of it is that you must enable people to make thousands and thousands of individual decisions about how to live and work, but you have to create the infrastructure to make it easy for them to do so.

Management is becoming a more essential and skilled role than ever – coming up with, and executing, new ideas is much harder than repeating an established process. But so are the thinking-doing roles. Becoming a manager should not guarantee a move three rungs up the ladder of respect from non-managers. Organisations who insist on the pleb-management divide risk letting their best assets walk out of the door to become their next competitor (See also: The Digital Natives Are Leaving).

Related blog posts:

Filed Under: Changing Systems – Work

*I use ‘pleb’ in its original context – the plebeians. It seems ironic these days that ‘pleb’ is often used as an insult. Open and global access to information has shown how level the playing field is when it comes to acting with wisdom or stupidity…

The Digital Natives are leaving

Back in 2004, I read an article in Strategy+Business: The Wisdom and Worth of Generation Tech. Combined with listening to a talk by Tim O’Reilly, held at Microsoft in 2003 – The Internet Paradigm – it became evident that we were going to start seeing some disruption in the workplace as technology enabled new ways of working that disrupted established methods. It’s not the technology itself causing the disruption. Rather, it’s the people who have grown up with that technology in their everyday lives who enter the workplace and challenge the status quo… or not. Musing over these thoughts, as Tim O’Reilly started talking about Web 2.0, spawned a couple of blog posts over the past 2 years:

Web 2.0-style technologies are beginning to enter the workplace, as organisations explore the use of wikis, blogs and social networking tools. But working habits are still proving too slow to change. A blog post over on Reflections of a Newsosaur – Brain Drain – describes the challenge facing media companies, that could easily be applied to many industries: an inability make use of their talent

He summed up the frustration of the twenty- and thirty-something professionals who grew up with a keyboard at their fingertips and an iPod, or at least a Walkman, plugged in their ears. They use modern media the way their generation does, not the way their fifty-something bosses wish they would.

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.“In most organizations, the people with the most online experience have the least political capital,”

It always amazes me when I hear managers talk about ways to prevent their employees from thinking. In too many cases, there is still a strongly held belief that implementing standards and rational systems that ensure consistency is the right strategy – enables you to grow and scale, minimises the possibility for human error, makes it easy to measure what you are doing, provides consistent customer service/product quality etc. (somewhere along the line, someone has confused the word ‘consistent’ with ‘good’). It completely misses the point that such systems are designed for zombies without brains. And last time I checked, having a brain and aspirations is quite a common trait within humans… Those pesky humans with ideas might hold the secrets for the next killer product or service, and want to share them given half the opportunity. But you can’t standardise that process, it doesn’t fit with ‘how things work around here’. So what happens? The talented people give up and leave. Organisations who let this happen should worry about where those people go…

Selling music in a web2.0 world

Interesting article in the New York Times – The Once and Future Prince – describing how pop star Prince has adapted his methods for distributing music (and making plenty of money from the process). One simple quote summarises the article nicely (using a word normally used by wannabe-software-giants):

“He doesn’t have to go multiplatinum – he’s multiplatform”

A good read and demonstration that, as has been proven countless times before, new technology rarely kills an industry, it just changes the dynamics. To survive and thrive means observing the laws of evolution – be responsive to change.

How Prince changed:

Old ways of making money from music:

  • Record sales (retail purchases)
  • Performance fees (ticket sales)

New ways of making money from music:

  • Lump sum record sales (magazine purchases rights to distribute CDs for free within the magazine, mobile phone operator purchases rights to distribute song as a free ring tone download for its customers…)
  • Lots more performance fees (and give out the record for free as part of the ticket price)

Change is coming

There’s an interesting article in The Economist – Work-life balance: Consumer technologies are invading corporate computing.

The sub-title is eerily reminiscent of the early 1990s when PCs, initially considered a consumer technology, invaded business life and the domain of mainframe computing. The early (successful) adopters were those who embraced a new approach to IT, the same is happening again… The article describes how Arizona State University is using Google services to provide email, instant messaging and calendaring services for its students. Some snippets:

…students, many of whom were already using Gmail for their private email, have been voluntarily migrating to the new service at a rate of 300 an hour.

…a bigger reason than money for switching from traditional software to web-based alternatives has to do with the pace and trajectory of technological change… Mr Sanner says it is “absolutely inconceivable” that he and his staff could roll out improvements at this speed in the traditional way – by buying software and installing it on the university’s own computers.

…Compared with staid corporate software, using these services is like “receiving technology from an advanced civilisation” (ouch)

…most IT bosses, especially at large organisations, tend to be sceptical of consumer technologies and often ban them outright. Employees, in return, tend to ignore their IT departments.

…The old IT bosses “can’t possibly embrace this idea unless they’re getting ready to retire”

Food for thought if you are sitting (too) comfortably in the traditional world of IT…

How buildings learn

I had come across several recommendations to read ‘How Buildings Learn‘, by Stewart Brand, during the past year and finally picked up a copy of the book. Here are some snippets to (hopefully) help explain the valuable lessons this book can teach the IT industry, particularly the newer architect-style roles that are cropping up (enterprise-, solution-, software-, system-, information- etc.):

“…Almost no buildings adapt well. They’re designed not to adapt… But all buildings (except monuments) adapt anyway, however poorly, because the usages in and around them are changing constantly… Architecture, we imagine, is permanent. And so our buildings thwart us.”

The book describes the concept of time layering and its relevance to buildings. The six layers (simplified here): SITE (geographical setting, duration: eternal); STRUCTURE (foundations and load-bearing elements, duration: 30 – 300 years); SKIN (exterior surfaces, duration: 2o years); SERVICES (inner workings of the building – wiring, elevators, etc., duration: 7 – 15 years); SPACE PLAN (interior layout, duration: 3+ years); STUFF (furniture and movable items, duration: mobile).

“…Ecosystems could be better understood by observing the rate of change of different components. Hummingbirds and flowers are quick, redwood trees are slow and whole redwood forests even slower. Most interaction is within the same pace level. The dynamics of the system will be dominated by the slow components… The same goes with buildings. Site dominates structure (location determines foundations), which dominates skin, which dominates services etc.”

Interestingly, the reverse becomes true in extreme situations.

“Ecologist Buzz Holling points out that it is at times of major change in a system that the quick processes can most influence the slow.”

New ‘stuff’ (e.g. replacing desktop computers with laptops, wireless technologies, switching from individual working in cubicles to group collaboration in open plan environments) may demand adjustments to space plans and services. And the need to change services can even result in the premature demolition of buildings. This issue leads on to some interesting comments that IT solution architects should consider:

“An adaptive building has to allow slippage between the differently-paced systems of site, structure, skin, services, space plan and stuff. Otherwise the slow systems block the flow of the quick ones, and the quick ones tear up the slow ones with their constant change. Embedding the systems together may look efficient at first, but over time it is the opposite… and destructive as well.”

The book recommends an alternate approach to traditional building methods: the use of scenarios:

The benefits of scenario-planning are simple – design a building/system to accomodate multiple different possible outcomes. This can help avoid the problems that occur when the designers idea of expected use does not match the actual use.

There is another book that follows this theme, applying it to the design of everyday things and how we conform to, or adapt, their purpose: ‘Thoughtless Acts?‘ by Jane Fulton Suri + IDEO

Finding solutions

It’s a funny old world.

On Monday this week, I had to travel to meet a client – I know, life is full of surprises. I’d spent the previous evening trying to decide whether to use the car or the train. The travel distance was just over 100 miles. In theory, the train should take 3 hours door to door and the car should take 2 1/4 hours door to door. The train route is notorious for delays and cancellations (it’s got Birmingham in the way) and the car route is also notorious for long delays (it’s got everyone avoiding Birmingham on it). In the end, the car won. Sure enough, no sooner had I set out than along comes a traffic alert on the radio – a car fire on the M1 (that’d be my road) was causing major tailbacks.

Hmpffing and sighing away as I beavered along towards the beloved M1, I flicked on Radio 4 to check if there was anything worth listening too…. and there was! And now we’ll get to the point of this blog post 🙂

Dr James Martin was a guest on the show. I’ve been a big fan since I heard him present at Microsoft a few years ago. One of the topics of discussion was the debate about climate change, in particular carbon emissions. The focus fell on the challenges presented by growing nations with their growing demand for cars, in particular China.

The natural conclusion to draw is that China experiencing exponential demand for cars would be an exceptionally bad thing for the climate, with visions of exhaust fumes enveloping the planet. And then Dr Martin dropped in an alternative viewpoint:

“…suppose that the president of China said that everybody should be able to have the good things in life, just like America, and everybody who wants a car should have one, but it cannot be a petroleum car. Now that would have an enormous effect on the world.”

Wow! Just imagine it. If China banned all petroleum cars whilst still encouraging car ownership, how long would it take car manufacturers in the world to start massive investment in research and development to design cars that do not emit carbon? Like it or not, the potential to make money, and lots of it, has a habit of incentivising commercial organisations to act far quicker than when forced by government policy and regulation to do something (unless that something has a whiff of 5+ years in prison about it – anybody need more sox?). Imagine what this outcome would do for China politically? To take the lead in managing to grow economically whilst sustaining the environment…

I don’t doubt that I’m over simplifying the situation and people will point out all sorts of problems and reasons why it could never happen. But alternatve view points can provide a new perspective and highlight that nobody knows for certain how the future will play out. (Cue tie-in for what this post has in common with information systems, in particular business intelligence and why using foresight to make decisions is so hard no matter how compelling the evidence.)

Historically, we have been notoriously bad at predicting our demise (fortunately!) I still remember reports issued during my school years. First it was that we would starve due to population growth outstripping food supplies. Then we would freeze to death because we were entering an ice age. Then it was that we would fight over, and run out of, oil before the end of the 20th Century (well they got half of that prediction right), but only if we made it through the inevitable nuclear winter that would likely happen by the end of the 1980s. And when the Cold War failed to ignite and a wall fell down instead, well then it was that we were going to fry due to global warming. And if climate change doesn’t get us, well no worries ‘cos the world is ending on 21st December 2012. (Well, ending for humans at least. I’m not sure there is any suggestion that the planet itself will cease to exist)

The debate between predicting the future and learning from history cropped up throughout the recent technology management conference I attended at Cambridge University. Scenarios can provide a valuable tool to highlight the possible effects different routes could lead to and avoid focusing on only one possible outcome. But learning from history remains a crucial art that should not be forgotten. As the old quote goes – “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana)

If you are interested in the full broadcast, the Radio 4 show is currently available for download – Start the week


Final note: joy of joys, I’m back off to see the client again on Friday. Now Friday and M1 are two words that should never share a sentence (same goes for Friday and M6, Friday and M25, in fact Friday and any blinkin’ road in the UK), so I’ll be risking the train this time.

[Update:] And would you believe it, the trains all ran on time. Not only the trains I travelled on, but every single train on the display at the various stations was listed as running on time… Thank goodness the weather continues to be miserable – I would think I accidentally got on the Eurostar and left the country if there wasn’t something to moan about 😉

Cambridge Technology Management Symposium

From September 21st – 22nd, I spent two days at Cambridge University attending a Technology Management symposium organised by the Institute for Manufacturing. The theme of the symposium was Creativity, Design and Innovation and the conference included an impressive line up of speakers. Here are the highlights

Keynote: Sir George Cox, Chairman of the UK Design Council – Getting greater creativity into UK business

Words such as creativity and innovation generate different visions to words such as compliance and governance

Growing economics such as China and India will create massive opportunities and wealth… somewhere else!

In conversation with James Dyson, mentioned a quote from a Chinese minister attending a European trade show:

I don’t want to see ‘Made in China’ on products, I want to see ‘Designed and made in China’

This is a telling comment for the UK, where design is a major industry in its own right following the decline of manufacturing.

Framing your product is absolutely crucial. The example given was a project to redesign hospital beds to reduce patient recovery time. All sorts of innovations were tested and proven but, when it came to dealing with hospitals, the team positioned the product as a ‘bed’. The purchasing manager for beds took one look at the cost of the new bed design and rejected it based on price. They were talking to the wrong person. They weren’t selling just a bed. This issue of designing the whole product (i.e. include the surrounding ecosystem) as opposed to individual function also came up in one of the conference workshops… it also fits with Geoffrey Moore’s observations in Crossing the Chasm.

Final, telling, comment from Sir George:

I could talk as much about poor service design as I could about poor product design.

Keynote: Professor John Bessant, Chair in Innovation Management, Imperial College – Dealing with discontinuity

The challenge with the innovation dilemma is that it (re)creates a fluid/fermenting state. The business requirements during disruption are poles apart to the business requirements during times of stability. It is like converting water into ice, your boat is no longer useful and you need a different form of transport. Hence disruptive innovation will always favour new entrants over incumbents. Unlearning is always the biggest challenge.

Disruption is not just about new technology. It can occur through: new markets; political regime change; running out of road; changes in social behaviour (organic food); regulation change (Enron); new business models; and unthinkable events (9/11)

After dinner speaker: Arnoud de Meyer, Director, Judge Business School – Globalising your innovation

Used mobile phones as an example of disruptive innovation initially appearing in diverse places that can spread and challenge established industries.

In Thailand, >80% of people do not own a bank account. They are beginning to use mobile phones as money, able to convert unused minutes into credits that can be exchanged for products and services. The mobile phone company is replacing the need for a bank…

Keynote: Clive Grinyear, Director of Design, France Telecom – Lipstick on a pig

After leaving university, set up a company with Jonathan ‘iPod’ Ives.

Why lipstick on a pig? No matter how much lipstick you apply, it is still a pig. Design only matters when the product function is also great. There are plenty of great designs that have failed to reach a market because the product simply isn’t good enough. Examples given included the Sinclair C5 and the Segway.

Clive went on to talk about the need for user studies, and delving beyond initial user wants. Someone might look at a Ferrari and say they love it, but the purchasing decision is more complex – the kids won’t fit inside and the bank says no.

When it comes to design, there is never an optimal solution. Lots of individual optimal solutions but no one optimal solution.

Keynote: Joe Ferry, Head of Design, Virgin Atlantic Airways – The value of design

Virgin Atlantic is still a very small company compared to other airlines, but size doesn’t have to matter – what matters is the ability to stand out from the crowd. When they launch a new product, they do a lot of PR and focus it on context (for example, launching in Cuba they dressed up a plane to look like a cigar). It helps that the top boss – Sir Richard Branson – personifies publicity. Picking on a very public competitor (i.e. British Airways) guarantees publicity – lots of news coverage, meaning everyone gets to hear about what you are doing.

Virgin Atlantic mission: To grow a profitable airline that people love to fly with and where people want to work.

I loved this mission statement – it is refreshingly honest compared to so many other companies I could name… (gimme an M… gimme an I… gimme a C… ) 🙂

Virgin has quite a flat hierarchy and people are actively involved in the decisions being made. Joe used a great quote “Anything is possible to the man who doesn’t have to achieve it himself.” That is the number one reason why so many business plans fail, they are written by one set of people to be executed by a different set of people.

Joe went on to step through how Virgin has used seat design as competitive advantage, how early designs were not sufficiently protected by patents leading to copying by competitors, how BA caught on and beat them by inventing the flat-bed seat for Business Class, and what Virgin have since done to rise to the top again (and this time have full patent protection – if people want to copy this time, they are going to have to pay).

And the mission statement flowed through the whole process – ideas were evaluated against their potential to generate profit. And whilst Virgin may be heading back to the top again, British Airways are releasing their new seat designs next year and so the cycle continues. You can not stand still if you want to maintain success, you have to keep changing and innovating.

Closing quote: The Virgin brand

“Some say why? Others say why not?”

Keynote: Gert Hildebrand, Mini Design Team, BMW – Buzzword innovation: myths, truth and pain

“Innovation can only be successful if you define the problem.”

And that quote pretty much separates the winners from the losers in any industry…

“You always have to have a story for your product – people connect through stories.” 80% of perception is visual and purchasing decisions are made based on what you see. In other words, design is important!

Gert went on to talk through the story of developing the new Mini being launched this year. This included encompassing profiling. Gert described the three human archetypes:

  • Baby – big head compared to body, needs protecting
  • Man – broad shoulders, muscles
  • Woman – sleek, beauty

Most cars design to target one, maybe two archetypes. The mini was designed to incorporate all three… and it always has been. Most long-lasting designs do.

Gert was very passionate in highlighting the importance and individuality of talent. “The individual creates, the team designs, the company innovates.” He also stressed the importance of observing history – “You always learn more from history than from the future.” This was an interesting comment as we had both just been in a session about ‘Scanning the future’ where Alexander Van de Putte of the World Economic Forum talked about the use of scenarios for predicting future requirements.

And his final quote was a corker: “If you choose a profession that you love, you will never have to go to work.” How true!

Keynote: Andrew Till, Director of Strategy and Portfolio, Motorola Inc

Interestingly, Andrew re-iterated Gert’s perspective – Motorola have learnt more by l
ooking back over history, especially what went wrong, than by looking forward…

In terms of looking forward, one of the most successful approaches has been to look forward by observing someone else’s history, i.e. learn from other industries. For example, Motorola looked at a Korean watch maker’s methods in order to determine what they could achieve to flatten the depth of the keyboard (leading to the successful Razor design).

Even more interestingly, Motorola don’t want their engineers using the product because they end up building what they want rather than focusing on market demands. This is pretty much opposite to the approach I experienced inside Microsoft, where the phrase ‘eating your own dog food’ is repeated regularly – Microsoft requires everyone use the next versions of products once they are in beta to fine tune development. But Andrew made a great comment – the importance of context is crucial or you risk building a technology that nobody uses… and Motorola learnt this lesson the hard way, losing 40 points of market share.

Motorola’s current focus is on disruptive innovation straight into mass markets as opposed to the traditional approach of targeting an initial elite niche.

Finally, Andrew reiterated the obvious that too often is forgotten – ideas must have a purpose to have value. They must result in making something easier to use, cheaper or solve a problem.

Closing thoughts

This is very much a brain dump of useful snippets from each presentation and I might flesh out some more detail in later posts. Some interesting patterns emerged during the conference:

  • Successful companies all share a common element – people have fun, including the CEO
  • Mediocre companies come up with reasons why you shouldn’t be having fun
  • Successful companies never stand still – quick to acknowledge their failures so that they can correct them and change
  • Mediocre companies seek stability – they excuse their failures and don’t change

And finally, without a doubt I have just seen some of the best uses of PowerPoint ever – the slides used in the keynotes were simply beautiful (as you would expect from various heads of design…) and barely a bullet point in sight.

Surprisingly, Apples didn’t outnumber Windows laptops (although very few laptops were visible, even my own didn’t come out of its case). Unsurprisingly, ‘that’ video of what Microsoft might do if they were in charge of packaging the iPod put in an appearance 🙂

It was a great conference and I have plenty of tips to incorporate in information systems design.


This post will filed in the library here.