Archive for October, 2012

Quotes for Entrepreneurs–October 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

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“Routine is an early stage of decay.”
Hans Kudszus

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“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
Karen Lamb

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“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.”
Robert Ingersoll

Used as closing quote for “Julian Fellowes on Persistence, Logical Consequences, and Getting Started

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“Before you’ll change, something important must be at risk.”
Richard Bach

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“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically.”
Marcus Aurelius

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“Effective innovations start small. They are not grandiose. They try to do one specific thing.”
Peter Drucker “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”

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“Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.”
Thomas Szasz

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“The bulk of innovation is low-amplitude and takes place over a long period. Companies should focus on refining existing technologies as much as on creation”
Bill Buxton “The Long Nose of Innovation

Referenced in Startups Should Focus on Innovation and Impact Before Growth

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“I want the definition of startup back. To be used by anybody who is willing to take the risk to quit their corporate job and go out and try and build an innovative, disruptive, tech-enabled business that tries to change the way things work in the world.”
Mark Suster in “Is Going For Rapid Growth Always Good? Aren’t Startups So Much More?

quoted in Startups Should Focus on Innovation and Impact Before Growth

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“Success generally depends upon knowing how long it takes to succeed.”
Charles de Montesquieu

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“Don’t wait to reconnect with folks who have made a difference in your life.”
Sean Murphy

Used as closing line on “Uncle’s Day” and “Your Startup Is Only One of Many Obligations

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“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.”
John Ciardi

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“The challenge for a mature company is channeling the energy of internal competition into constructive external activity, which is not easy. ”
Larry Lang quoted in “Managing Incentives

More context

Fundamentally, a company consists of people, and their aggregate behaviors determine its direction. That behavior inevitably changes as the company matures. During hyper-growth, spending time on internal politics is generally irrational. Why waste time picking pockets when it’s raining money? But as growth slows, the rewards grow sparser, so spending time on internal competition makes more rational sense. At Cisco’s size, how much can any one employee make the stock price go up (assuming they hold enough stock to care)? Instead, they invest more time ensuring the reward-dispensing leadership, up to the CEO, holds them in greater esteem than their peers. You can wish this behavior weren’t true, you can decry it as evil, but objectively it becomes rational strategy for the individual employee.

If you accept this inversion in the “motivational magnetic field,” then the main failing of John Chambers and the senior leadership team is not adjusting their compass to navigate by it. The challenge for a mature company is channeling the energy of internal competition into constructive external activity, which is not easy.

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“In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it.”
John Archibald Wheeler

h/t Gerald Weinberg (@JerryWeinberg)

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“If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”
Michelangelo

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“While the voice of an idea may appear to be individual, in fact the emergence of new ideas is a collective effort.”
Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA

h/t Evelyn Rodriguez, quoted in Evelyn Rodriguez Envisions a Silicon Valley Renaissance of Art & Culture

Evelyn Rodriguez Envisions a Silicon Valley Renaissance of Art & Culture

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Among my other pursuits, I envision a Silicon Valley renaissance that brings a love of art, culture, place, and the divine spark alive and innate within our humanness out into the open.

To that end, I’m working on some ideas that revive Parisien style salons. Imagine curated one-of-a-kind intimate living art experiences. Seasonal dishes. Cross-fertilization of folks from the agriculture/foodie arena, the arts, and the techie financiers of the region.

Inspiration and pushing our edges is not a solitary act.

The Italian Renaissance wasn’t about one artist, one patron. It was a movement. A concerto with many players in the orchestra. I concur with this statement from the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA:

“While the voice of an idea may appear to be individual, in fact the emergence of new ideas is a collective effort.”

Evelyn Rodriguez “About Page

It’s a compelling vision. To the extent that we can create opportunities for collaboration and shared improvisation that infuse art with our strengths in science and technology I think it would be possible to spark a new Renaissance. In Finding Silicon Valley in Two Passages from E. B. White’s “Here Is New York” I observed

What the Silicon Valley settlers lack in comparison to those who aim for New York–probably less interest in the arts or finance–they compensate for in their commitment to innovation, science, and technology.

I wonder if we have neglected the arts to our detriment.

Evelyn Rodriguez elaborates on models for collective efforts in  “The Myth of the One-Woman Inspirational Whirlwind” and references a great quote by Michael Schrage:

“If we really want to understand innovation and collaboration, we have to explore shared space. Consider Watson & Crick: How many experiments did they do to confirm DNA’s double helix? Zero. Not one. They built models based on other people’s data. These models were their shared space. Their collaboration in that shared space powered their Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough. If you don’t have a shared space, you’re not collaborating.”
Michael  Schrage, MIT design researcher and author of “Serious Play

In “$650,000 grant drops in your lap, and you’d…” Rodriguez outlines an approach very similar to the Art Prize model developed by Rick De Vos that has helped to transform Grand Rapids, MI.

The Best Bad Plan

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Tony Mendez: “There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.”
Warren Christopher: “You don’t have a better bad idea than this?”
Jack O’Donnell: “This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.”
from ARGO

Technical entrepreneurs are often faced with two challenges that they find take them out of their comfort zone:

  • Negotiating with people: people are unpredictable in ways that hardware/software systems and natural phenomena are not. While systems may have hidden properties, people often have complex motives and needs that can make their behavior hard to predict.
  • Selecting the least unsatisfactory option when events dictate a choice  be made: this is not triage, this is making the best of a bad situation (making lemonade when life has handed you lemons). Very little in formal technical education addresses this challenge and the temptation is to defer making a decision until a better option can be developed.

I addressed this for software roadmaps in “Making The Trains Run On Time

A software roadmap is a complex multi-party treaty, negotiated not only internally between sales, marketing, support, development but externally with customers  and other interested parties. It’s not a real plan until everyone is somewhat dissatisfied.

The challenges of managing a roadmap are exacerbated by politics in a large organization,  while startups often wrestle with the significant uncertainties of if and when prospects–each with their own  needs–are going to close.


Here is a YouTube clip of opening quote:

Great Demo! Workshop on May 22-23, 2013

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Demos, Events, Sales

Create and Deliver Surprisingly Compelling Software Demonstrations
“Do The Last Thing First” — the recipe for a Great Demo!

This is an interactive workshop with Peter Cohan geared especially for you who demonstrate B-to-B software to your customer and channels. Bring a copy of your demo and be prepared to present it — we’ll help you turn it into a surprisingly compelling demo. More information

Core Seminar & Advanced Topics
May 22 & 23, 2013
Cost: $930 (Before April-20: $895)
Register Great Demo

Where: Moorpark Hotel, 4241 Moorpark Ave, San Jose CA 95129
For out of town attendees: The Moorpark is located 400 feet from the Saratoga Ave exit on Hwy 280, about 7 miles from San Jose Airport and 35 miles from San Francisco Airport Hotels Near Great Demo! Workshop

“I am confident that with the insights gained from your workshop we will land more customers in fewer iterations.”
Lav Pachuri, CEO, Xleron Inc.

“Peter Cohan’s Great Demo method really works. It helped us win DEMOgod, and it has allowed us to explain our offering much more clearly to prospects.”
Chaim Indig, CEO, Phreesia
(See “DEMOgod Winner Phreesia Praises Peter Cohan Training“)

More information on the workshop

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Peter Cohan, Principal at The Second Derivative
Community Web Site:  http://greatdemo.blogspot.com/

Peter Cohan is the founder and principal of The Second Derivative, focused on helping software organizations improve their sales and marketing results – primarily through improving organizations’ demonstrations.

The bulk of his experience is with complex, enterprise software and strategic systems sold to varied audiences in a range of vertical markets.  He has enjoyed roles in technical and product marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, and senior management.

In 2003, he authored Great Demo!, a book that provides methods to create and execute compelling demonstrations.  The 2nd edition of Great Demo! was published March, 2005.

In July 2004, he enabled and began moderating DemoGurus®, a community web exchange dedicated to helping sales and marketing teams improve their software demonstrations, which was subsequently transitioned to the Great Demo! LinkedIn Group in 2010-2011.

Before The Second Derivative, Peter founded the Discovery Tools® business unit at Symyx Technologies, Inc., where he grew the business from an empty spreadsheet into a $30 million per year operation.  Prior to Symyx, Peter served in marketing, sales, and management positions at MDL Information Systems, a leading provider of scientific information management software.  Peter currently serves on the Board of Directors for Collaborative Drug Discovery, Inc., is an advisor to NewallStreet, Inc. and a mentor to StartX, the Stanford University start-up accelerator.  He holds a degree in chemistry.

Peter has experience as an individual contributor, manager and senior management in marketing, sales, and business development.  He has also been, and continues to be, a customer.

Day 1 Agenda:

  • 8:15 AM Breakfast & Registration
  • 8:30 AM Workshop begins
  • Noon Lunch
  • 1 PM Workshop Continues
  • 5 PM Wrap up

Day 2 Agenda:

  • 8:15 AM Breakfast & Registration
  • 8:30 AM Workshop begins on Advanced Topics
  • 12:30pm Wrap up

Seating is Limited

For more information: Theresa 408-252-9676 events@skmurphy.com

Great Demo! Workshop on Oct 9 &10, 2013

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Demos, Events, Sales

Create and Deliver Surprisingly Compelling Software Demonstrations
“Do The Last Thing First” — the recipe for a Great Demo!

This is an interactive workshop with Peter Cohan geared especially for you who demonstrate B-to-B software to your customer and channels. Bring a copy of your demo and be prepared to present it — we’ll help you turn it into a surprisingly compelling demo. More information

Core Seminar & Advanced Topics
October 9 & 10, 2013
Cost: $930 (Before Sep-8: $895)
Eventbrite - Great Demo! Workshop on Oct 9 & 10, 2013

Where: Moorpark Hotel, 4241 Moorpark Ave, San Jose CA 95129
For out of town attendees: The Moorpark is located 400 feet from the Saratoga Ave exit on Hwy 280, about 7 miles from San Jose Airport and 35 miles from San Francisco Airport Hotels Near Great Demo! Workshop

“I am confident that with the insights gained from your workshop we will land more customers in fewer iterations.”
Lav Pachuri, CEO, Xleron Inc.

“Peter Cohan’s Great Demo method really works. It helped us win DEMOgod, and it has allowed us to explain our offering much more clearly to prospects.”
Chaim Indig, CEO, Phreesia
(See “DEMOgod Winner Phreesia Praises Peter Cohan Training“)

More information on the workshop

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Peter Cohan, Principal at The Second Derivative
Community Web Site:  http://greatdemo.blogspot.com/

Peter Cohan is the founder and principal of The Second Derivative, focused on helping software organizations improve their sales and marketing results–primarily by improving organizations’ demonstrations.

The bulk of his experience is with complex, enterprise software and strategic systems sold to varied audiences in a range of vertical markets.  He has enjoyed roles in technical and product marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, and senior management.

In 2003, he authored Great Demo!, a book that provides methods to create and execute compelling demonstrations.  The 2nd edition of Great Demo! was published March, 2005.

In July 2004, he enabled and began moderating DemoGurus®, a community web exchange dedicated to helping sales and marketing teams improve their software demonstrations, which was subsequently transitioned to the Great Demo! LinkedIn Group in 2010-2011.

Before The Second Derivative, Peter founded the Discovery Tools® business unit at Symyx Technologies, Inc., where he grew the business from an empty spreadsheet into a $30 million per year operation.  Prior to Symyx, Peter served in marketing, sales, and management positions at MDL Information Systems, a leading provider of scientific information management software.  Peter currently serves on the Board of Directors for Collaborative Drug Discovery, Inc., is an advisor to NewallStreet, Inc. and a mentor to StartX, the Stanford University start-up accelerator.  He holds a degree in chemistry.

Peter has experience as an individual contributor, manager and senior management in marketing, sales, and business development.  He has also been, and continues to be, a customer.

Day 1 Agenda:

  • 8:15 AM Breakfast & Registration
  • 8:30 AM Workshop begins
  • Noon Lunch
  • 1 PM Workshop Continues
  • 5 PM Wrap up

Day 2 Agenda:

  • 8:15 AM Breakfast & Registration
  • 8:30 AM Workshop begins on Advanced Topics
  • 12:30pm Wrap up

Seating is Limited

For more information: Theresa 408-252-9676 events@skmurphy.com

Your Startup Is Only One of Many Obligations

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb

“Fifty years of experience have taught me that admission to an academic hospital is not restful.  I have stopped counting the patients who want to be discharged to get some rest.”
Dr. Michael Levitt “When a Daughter Dies

Steven Levitt turned his blog over to a moving essay by his father, Dr. Michael Levitt on the last days of Linda Levitt Jines, sister to Steven and daughter to Michael.  The account is detailed and well worth reading, it concludes:

The purpose of this brief chronicle is not to criticize the practice of medicine. While I had several  disagreements with non-physicians, the physicians who cared for my daughter, without exception, were very understanding and gave freely of their time.  Each did everything possible  to deal with her  enormously  aggressive malignancy.   Rather, I have attempted to relate  the experiences of  a father/physician as he watches his daughter die of cancer.   Her course was a testament to the limitations of medical care.  In this era of molecular biology, the most valuable medication was morphine, a drug that has been available for almost 200 years.

Although painful, I am capable of describing the events of my daughter’s illness.  When I try to describe my despair and grief, words fail.

Linda Levitt Jines died on August 29, 2012: it was less than a month from her first symptoms of an unsteady gait and 20 days from her initial diagnosis based on an MRI.  Her family was able to spend time with her and to provide what comfort and companionship that they could during that time.

Startup entrepreneurs can get caught up in their obligations of getting a new business moving and a new product successfully established in the marketplace. Meeting family obligations and keeping up with old friends can get postponed in the tyranny of the urgent, especially if you are bootstrapping. Whether it’s an accident, a stroke, a heart attack, etc…death can arrive without warning.

Don’t wait to reconnect with folks who have made a difference in your life.

Related:

GroundFloorSV Leaving 2030 Duane Location Nov-30-2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in First Office

Following closely on the heels of Monday’s announcement of Hacker Dojo relocating we received the following notice this afternoon from Ground Floor Silicon Valley

Special Announcement
We are writing to members of the Ground Floor community to let everyone know that the building at 2030 Duane Avenue has been sold. The last day that Ground Floor will occupy the building is November 30, 2012. All events and meetups listed on the events calendar and planned for the rest of October and the month of November will take place as scheduled.

Members of the Ground Floor community are welcome to continue their memberships through November 30. If any member wishes to discontinue membership at the end of this month, please notify us and return your RFID fob by October 31 and you will not be charged for the month of November.

We are still in the process of deciding whether or not to continue Ground Floor at another location. The process of selling the building has taken place very quickly, and we are giving everyone as much advance notice as possible. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause.

Please contact Peter (650-291-6707; peter@groundfloorsv.com) or Max (408-466-4310; max@groundfloorsv.com) if you have questions.

Thank you for your understanding.

Peter and Max

As I mentioned in the Monday post, we have been very happy with GroundFloorSV and the Pacific Business Centers in Cupertino and Sunnyvale for the majority of our meetings. The Silicon Valley startup ecosystem will definitely benefit from Hacker Dojo’s continued operation and even from a few more co-working facilities in the South Bay. My sincere hope is that GroundFloorSV finds a new location in the South Bay.

Having spaces that can foster technical entrepreneurial communities with flexible short term commitments for co-working, meeting room, and classrooms seems to me to be one of the elements necessary for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s the equivalent to cloud computing as a computing infrastructure for early stage startups.

Related: Feb-08-2012 “New Co-Working Space in Santa Clara: Ground Floor Silicon Valley

Updated Jan-30 to remove links to www.groundfloorsv.com as the domain has gone dark.

Dr. Atul Gawande on Managing Complexity and Uncertainty

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, skmurphy

Excerpts from his commencement address at Williams College on Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 (Reprinted in New Yorker as “Failure and Rescue“). The entire talk is worth reading and offers a medical case history as a compelling context for his points.

“…the critical skills of the best surgeons I saw involved the ability to handle complexity and uncertainty. They had developed judgment, mastery of teamwork, and willingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of their choices. [...] We all face complexity and uncertainty no matter where our path takes us. That means we all face the risk of failure. So along the way, we all are forced to develop these critical capacities—of judgment, teamwork, and acceptance of responsibility.”

I think that the three skills Dr. Gawande mentions are also crucial for entrepreneurs to cultivate:

  • Judgment: the ability to develop a point of view and to use it to make decisions in a timely fashion as dictated by the implications of unfolding events. This may require making decisions with incomplete information, and that’s a useful distinction  to remember: if you have enough information it’s a choice based on your values, if you don’t, if there are uncertainties or ambiguities, it’s a decision.
  • Mastery of Teamwork: this requires effective two way communication, timely coordination, and establishing a level of trust that enables effective collaboration. It also requires alignment on goals, agreement on roles, negotiation of a common process, and a commitment to effective business relationships.
  • Accepting Responsibility for Consequence Of Your Choices: you can make a good decision based on all of the information you have in hand and still have a poor outcome. Sometimes a poor outcome is a possibility that can be anticipated and mitigated and sometimes it’s part of the “unknown unknowns” of a situation.

The last point, about the limits of risk mitigation, is a point of departure for Dr. Gawande’s core point: even with good judgment and teamwork, to truly accept the consequences of your decisions is to commit to resilient improvisation and rescue. It’s not enough to prepare for failures and take steps to limit their damage, you have to persevere and attempt to “retrieve success from failure.”

I thought that the best places simply did a better job at controlling and minimizing risks—that they did a better job of preventing things from going wrong. But, to my surprise, they didn’t. Their complication rates after surgery were almost the same as others. Instead, what they proved to be really great at was rescuing people when they had a complication, preventing failures from becoming a catastrophe.

Scientists have given a new name to the deaths that occur in surgery after something goes wrong—whether it is an infection or some bizarre twist of the stomach. They call them a “failure to rescue.” More than anything, this is what distinguished the great from the mediocre. They didn’t fail less. They rescued more.

He cites a study in the New England Journal of Medicine from October 2009 “Variation in Hospital Mortality Associated with Inpatient Surgery” which concludes:

In addition to efforts aimed at avoiding complications in the first place, reducing mortality associated with inpatient surgery will require greater attention to the timely recognition and management of complications once they occur.

This excerpt from “Variation in Hospital Mortality Associated with Inpatient Surgery“ provides some statistics on Gawande’s observation that the better hospitals had similar complication rates but lower mortality from major complications:

Rates of death varied widely across hospital quintiles, from 3.5% in very-low-mortality hospitals to 6.9% in very-high-mortality hospitals. Hospitals with either very high mortality or very low mortality had similar rates of overall complications (24.6% and 26.9%, respectively) and of major complications (18.2% and 16.2%, respectively). Rates of individual complications did not vary significantly across hospital mortality quintiles. In contrast, mortality in patients with major complications was almost twice as high in hospitals with very high overall mortality as in those with very low overall mortality (21.4% vs. 12.5%, P<0.001). Differences in rates of death among patients with major complications were also the primary determinant of variation in overall mortality with individual operations.

Subsidizing Startups Does Not Produce Entrepreneurs

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

“Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.”
Reynold’s Law

In the same way that free range animals are healthier than those that are caged, people learn how to become effective entrepreneurs when the have the freedom to experiment and they are focused on pleasing customers(as measured by revenue) instead of pleasing grant agencies (as measured by a plan crafted when they had the least amount of information).

There is a role for grants from both government and private agencies but there is a real risk is that the startup team loses focus on revenue from paying customers and instead invests in getter better at competing for grants.

“The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But home ownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits—self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.”
Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit Sep-23-2010

Hacker Dojo Relocates To 599 Fairchild in Mountain View

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in First Office

Hacker Dojo announced today that they are moving to a new home at 599 Fairchild Drive in Mountain View from their problematic location at 140A South Whisman Road in Mountain View.

Hacker Dojo has found a new home, just 5 minutes away from our current location. The new building is bigger, better, and we’re excited to open this new chapter of Dojo history. We are making our existing spaces available for lease.

We signed a lease on Monday, October 15, 2012, but there is a 10-day window whereby the master landlord must approve the deal. It may take until October 25th to know if the deal is guaranteed.

If the master landlord approves them as a tenant it will open a new chapter for the co-working and hacker community. center. We have been very happy with GroundFloorSV and the Pacific Business Centers in Cupertino and Sunnyvale for the majority of our meetings, but the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem will definitely benefit from Hacker Dojo’s continued operation and new startups would benefit from a few more co-working facilities in the South Bay.

Coverage

Recap of “Work For Equity” A Startup CEO Panel at SVCC 2012

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Founder Story, Startups

If you missed our “Working for Equity” panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2012, Theresa Shafer and the four CEO’s on the panel had a lively conversation about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners.

Quick Summary

Panel discussion with four software startup CEOs offering their perspective on the practical realities of starting and growing a company. This session is for both aspiring and active entrepreneurs, it will outline important tips and issues to consider if you are investing your time in a startup. Each panelist gave a 5 minute lightning talk on background and lessons learned, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Panel of startup founders:


Here are slides in PDF format
WorkEquity121007

Changing Management’s View of an Innovation From “Probably Not a Good Idea” to “We’re Late”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Community of Practice, Demos

In May of this year I was invited to take part in a month long group discussion on CPSquare where my consulting practice was the topic. This is the third question I answered, it was a follow up to the second question.

Q: I work in prevention and community change.  We have a lot of established staff who do not see the utility or possibility of most of what social media communications technologies have to offer.  We have new staff who tell me they hate going to work because there are no interesting tools to connect them to their contacts and communities. They are continually frustrated by lack of access to even simple social media tools.  Almost no social media is allowed. No facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. While the state agency has a form to submit to file for an exception, they are rarely granted and if staff attempt to access a site that is not allowed – they get a Big Red Hand on the screen. Every site they visit is tracked … they can be written up if they spend too much time online or visit sites that are not on ‘the list’.  All of this insanity as the world is moving to the cloud!

So, in the end they have no access during work hours to the very customers (community members) they are aiming to engage or serve or collaborate with other than through — you guessed it — email. Sigh.

I dream of the days when we reach “shared experimentation” between provider and community in order to achieve a real learning ecosystem of “shared learning”. Until then they are somewhat bound and gagged. I am curious about the ways you’ve employed to open eyes to the possibilities and to creating that dissonance between what is and what could be with a new tool set and way of thinking?

A:  I share your dream.

I think this situation goes back to task/job definition. If the management team views work as the production of paper or database entries or Microsoft Word documents then alerting them to the power of fostering relationships outside of the organization is going to take some careful preparation and extended engagement.  My first set of hypotheses would be that they are concerned with

  • How can I measure this activity?
  • How can I distinguish between this activity and goofing off?
  • What is a clear deliverable outcome I can expect after a reasonable period of time?
  • What opportunities are we missing by not taking part?
  • What will we give up to give people the time to engage in this activity?

Pretend for a moment you had been tapped to lead a small team or group that would spend one hour a day on social engagement what would you do to foster shared learning and expertise within the group. What promises would you make for deliverables within two week, four weeks, eight weeks, thirteen weeks? Can you point to other groups/organizations that are similar to yours (in function, mission, …) that are doing a better job of fostering shared learning through social media engagement?

Normally in the private sector new ideas exist in one of two states in a senior manager’s mind:

  • probably not a good idea / waste of time and resources
  • late / need to catch up to competition or customer need or request

It’s not a recipe for leadership and normally requires a crisis or near death experience at an organizational level to trigger change, but it’s not uncommon.

I don’t know if this helps but gathering some objective info about other organizations and anticipating likely questions about measurement and outcomes would be two places I would start. Also you can plan for “exponential ramping.” Figure out what you can accomplish and point to on your own, then bring another person, then two…

Two Excerpts from Walter Bagehot’s “Physics and Politics”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, skmurphy

From the opening paragraph of the first chapter “The Preliminary Age” of Walter Bagehot‘s “Physics and Politics

One peculiarity of this age is the sudden acquisition of much physical knowledge. There is scarcely a department of science or art which is the same, or at all the same, as it was fifty years ago. A new world of inventions—of railways and of telegraphs—has grown up around us which we cannot help seeing; a new world of ideas is in the air and affects us, though we do not see it.

Writing in 1872 Bagehot sees a rapid transformation of the arts and sciences by new transport and communications technologies. I think too often we think of the Internet, or the integrated circuit as the kickoff for accelerating progress. But writing 140 years ago Bagehot witnessed the changes that the telegraph (e.g. first telegram had sent by transatlantic cable in 1858)  and the steam engine had wrought.

From the last paragraph of the second chapter “The Use of Conflict”

The military habit makes man think far too much of definite action, and far too little of brooding meditation. Life is not a set campaign, but an irregular work, and the main forces in it are not overt resolutions, but latent and half-involuntary promptings. The mistake of military ethics is to exaggerate the conception of discipline, and so to present the moral force of the will in a barer form than it ever ought to take. Military morals can direct the axe to cut down the tree, but it knows nothing of the quiet force by which the forest grows.

As entrepreneurs we value self-discipline (if only in the ability to chart our own course), fast decision making, and bold action. But, as Bagehot argues, there is also value in thoughtful reflection, quiet exploration and experimentation, and slower but more deliberate decision making.

It’s an interesting book that traces the need for a robust military to enable any society–especially an early or primitive society–to survive against the depredations of neighboring societies. But Bagehot is clear on the need for cooperation and collaboration for any one individual to survive much less thrive. An excerpt from the final chapter “Verifiable Progress Politically Considered”

The progress of MAN requires the co—operation of MEN for its development. That which any one man or any one family could invent for themselves is obviously exceedingly limited. And even if this were not true, isolated progress could never be traced. The rudest sort of cooperative society, the lowest tribe and the feeblest government, is so much stronger than isolated man, that isolated man (if he ever existed in any shape which could be called man), might very easily have ceased to exist. The first principle of the subject is that man can only progress in ‘co-operative groups;’ I might say tribes and nations, but I use the less common word because few people would at once see that tribes and nations ARE co-operative groups, and that it is their being so which makes their value; that unless you can make a strong co-operative bond, your society will be conquered and killed out by some other society which has such a bond; and the second principle is that the members of such a group should be similar enough to one another to co-operate easily and readily together.

Innovation Often Obsoletes Assumptions, Political Boundaries, and Work Process

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

In May of this year I was invited to take part in a month long group discussion on CPSquare where my consulting practice was the topic. This is the second question I answered, it was prompted by a sentence  my opening statement.

Q: Can you please elaborate on your statement “The incorporation of a new technology into a business process often changes existing political boundaries, frequently obsoletes old assumptions, establishes new processes and ways of working together, and requires shared experimentation between the customer and startup for shared learning.” It resonates with my work.

The lesson I took from the fighter aircraft story was the risks related to becoming prisoners of our expertise. If you have been promoted several times based on mastery of an area it’s a personal challenge to start over and a political/organizational challenge to re-orient around new skill requirements.

This is happening in chip design today, most of the real constraints are driven by heat dissipation and the design of a thermal network at a package, enclosure, rack, and datacenter level. We are headed back to water cooled data centers within five years because the amount of heat that needs to be dissipated will require fans driving gale force plenums. This is a complete re-orientation of a lot of design constraints.

Second big challenge is power consumption / battery life. It turns out lowering power consumption also lower heat dissipation requirements but we are now living in a world where we don’t know how to design faster circuits because all of our tricks and trade-offs are breaking down in some fundamental ways. Here we have to be able to abandon current architectural approaches which means junking a tremendous amount of accumulated experience and expertise.

“The incorporation of a new technology into a business process often changes existing political boundaries, frequently obsoletes old assumptions,  establishes new process and ways of working together, and requires shared experimentation between the customer and startup for shared learning.”

Technically this is only true for discontinuous innovations. For what are called sustaining innovations, those that work with the grain of the wood in an organization so to speak, assumptions and work flows are preserved. Here are a couple of tests:

  • Someone already has a job or role related to using the innovation. For example secretaries used typewriters, then word processors, then word processing software.
  • The new tool can use all of the existing inputs, or at least does not require new inputs, and provides the same or higher quality outputs. Using a cordless screwdriver is pretty straightforward, it does require that you keep it charged but it’s otherwise form fit and function compatible.
  • Changing a task is easier than changing a job, changing a job is easier than changing a work relationship between two or three people (up and/or down stream), changing a work relationship is easier than forming a new business unit, and forming a new business unit is easier than getting out of an existing business.

There is a lot more to this, but I find that introducing a new technology often requires that you identify and work with bona fide organizational change agents and visionary managers and leaders who can help you navigate the political and organizational change issues. I have blogged about this

Finding Silicon Valley in Two Passages from E. B. White’s “Here Is New York”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Two excerpts from E. B. White‘s 1949 essay,  “Here Is New York,” that I thought were also applicable to life in Silicon Valley

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

I think it’s also true, at least in technology, that the residents of SiliconValley “are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.” Silicon Valley is actually a very small place: whether you find yourself here as a visitor or a new settler you should open yourself to serendipity. Stop by a Bootstrapper Breakfast if you find yourself at loose ends early some morning.

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last-the City of final destination, the city that is a goal. lt is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidìty and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

This division into three parts–natives, commuters, and settlers–is also true in Silicon Valley. Many now commute from bedroom communities in the East Bay and points farther East and South. What the Silicon Valley settlers lack in comparison to those who aim for New York–probably less interest in the arts or finance–they compensate for in their commitment to innovation, science, and technology.

I still worry that Silicon Valley is a nicely furnished room in a house that’s burning down (the State of California). I found  White’s essay worth reading 70 years after he wrote it, with these two passages in particular offering insights applicable to Silicon Valley.


Some related posts on Silicon Valley:

The Benefits of Collaborative Writing, Interviewing, and Improvisation

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

Two question from a 2003 interview with Andrew Hargadon “The Trouble With Out-Of-The-Box Thinking

UBIQUITY: Speaking of industries, are there important, or maybe obvious, differences between different industries and professions? For instance, you are a mechanical engineer. Do you notice different styles of creativity between, say, engineers and computer scientists and management people?

HARGADON: Yes. It’s tough to tease out the reasons why. Part of it has to do with the maturity of the industry. There was an enormous amount of innovation in programming and software, for example, because there were no entrenched models. That’s starting to diminish as more and more people look back on what their organizations have done or what code they’ve written before and use it again. They’re more efficient but less innovative because they are searching less broadly to find solutions. Another part of it comes down to the structure of work. For example, teachers or doctors tend to work alone. They work with patients or students most of the day. As a result, they don’t innovate in the practices of teaching or patient care because they get few chances to see what others are doing. We teachers rarely sit in on other teacher’s classes. After their training, doctors rarely sit in on other doctor’s patient care.

UBIQUITY: They’d be overcome by the horror.

HARGADON: Exactly. And it’d be difficult to bill their time. How do you justify having a doctor spend a quarter of the day watching other doctors? It seems redundant. In many ways that’s where the ideas move across boundaries. Somebody might come up with a wonderful way to teach a particular subject, and chances are good that nobody else will know about it. It’s the same with doctors. It’s only in those settings where they are brought together that the real answers come out. In programming it only happens when other people go in and read your code, for example. Mechanical engineering is wonderful in that way because you can see easily what other people have done. But in a lot of industries it’s very difficult to see what other people have done.

Re-reading this made me realize the different ways that we put “two-in-a-box” or act transparently with clients on projects:

  • Shared note taking
    • In a teleconference we will keep a running log of notes, URLs, key comments in either a skype text chat or a PrimaryPad and then transfer them to a wiki page that everyone has access to for further refinement.
    • We put two on an interview and take notes concurrently in a text chat window or  PrimaryPad. Two people are less likely to overlook a remark, can more effectively de-brief, and can ask different questions to explore an issue.
    • In a face to face meeting a whiteboard and some blank graph paper always comes in handy to collaborate on a sketch of the situation. We will also often take live notes in a wiki page or PrimaryPad.
  • Shared Presentation Delivery
    • Our workshops always involve multiple presenters trading off every 15-20 minutes or so, alternating with individual writing by attendees, attendee de-briefing paired off, and group discussion. By working with other experts we refine our approach and have more productive debrief sessions.
  • Shared document drafting
    • If we are working on a document for a client–a press release, a data sheet, a negotiating position, an important e-mail, etc..–we will normally dedicate a wiki page to it so that multiple can comment and revise. You don’t need to worry who has the latest copy and you can always see the older revisions.
  • Shared Rehearsal and Recap
    • Where practical we will always rehearse a presentation to allow for feedback and critique in advance of a workshop, demo, or negotiation session.
    • With the client’s permission and subject to an NDA we will often record a working session so that anyone who participated and replay it to hear things they may have overlooked. We also listen to improve our methods.

I welcome suggestions or insights on areas where two or more members of your team have found ways to collaborate effectively, especially in improvisation and creating content. Here are some areas that remain a challenge for us:

  • Presentations / Powerpoint. No easy way to do shared edit or revision control.
  • Whiteboard or paper sketches JPEGs via a cellphone camera and are hard to manage/edit
  • Recordings are hard to index and manage (although we have some hope that Recordbox may help with this.
  • Multiple voice speech to text transcription. Still expensive.
  • Easy to use shared whiteboard / sketchpad for teleconferences
  • Most of these are essentially collaborative editing of text, very interested in tools that enable collaborative approaches to audio and video editing.

Startups Should Focus on Impact and Innovation Before Growth

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, skmurphy

“I want the definition of startup back. To be used by anybody who is willing to take the risk to quit their corporate job and go out and try and build an innovative, disruptive, tech-enabled business that tries to change the way things work in the world.

It’s OK to build a company that stays small, has a few million dollars in revenue and builds careers, bank accounts and enriches client experiences.

It’s also OK to raise venture capital and try to build a monster business. But know that if you don’t go “up and to the right” you might find yourself abandoned (unable to raise more VC) or even ousted (to bring in a CEO who can show rapid growth or die trying) in the name of growth and returns. It happens more than is reported.

It’s also OK not to raise venture capital. To aim at changing a small corner of your world or industry. Or your life.

And I applaud all of you who try.”

Mark Suster in “Is Going For Rapid Growth Always Good? Aren’t Startups So Much More?

I agree with Suster on this for several reasons:

  • Small wins can snowball into larger ones. If you can get started at the intersection of two or three new technology trends you can make a small difference initially and continue to explore.
  • Nature does not make leaps. Andrew Hargadon quotes this axiom repeatedly in his book “How Breakthroughs Happen” to explain how successful innovators really work.  In a blog post “7 Things Every Environmental Entrepreneur Should Know” he summarizes why this is important:

    4. Don’t make leaps.
    Most environmental entrepreneurs have visions of fixing entire systems–after all, that’s what’s broken–and design solutions that promise wholly new technologies enabling (and requiring) wholly new behaviors. Think hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which require innovations in fuel cells, fuel, fueling stations, fuel companies, and fuel distributors, to mention just a few. But that’s where most promising ideas fail. Innovations succeed when they offer evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes in behavior. Create a design that provides small steps, easy changes, for your customers. Edison designed his electric light to look and act just like the gas lighting existing customers were used to. Only later did people start using electricity for other uses. Natura non facit saltum: Nature does not make leaps. Neither will customers.

  • It takes a long time to appreciate how a technology will mature. To do foundational work and move down the learn curve faster than your competitors in the early going requires patience. Bill Buxton offers several examples of this in “The Long Nose of Innovation” concluding

    “The bulk of innovation is low-amplitude and takes place over a long period. Companies should focus on refining existing technologies as much as on creation.”

  • Startups must pursue ambiguous opportunities to avoid competing with larger well-established firms. These of necessity require starting small.

Suster’s blog post is  a rebuttal to Paul Graham’s “Startup=Growth” which opens with

A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.

Two of the examples Graham points to are Apple and Google. Both of these had a long period of exploration early in the life of  a new technology (microprocessors and Internet Search) before they really started to grow. He also neglects the franchise model as a way for a brick and mortar or geographically limited startup like a restaurant or a barbershop to become a McDonald‘s or a Supercuts.

I agree with Suster that “Startup = Taking Risks & Creating Value.” Growth is an outcome of impact. Bootstrappers raise capital for a startup that both merits it based on demonstrated traction and requires it because of the growth opportunity that has now been identified.

But it was a startup when they took a risk to create new value for their customers.


See also

Update Oct-31-2012 George Grellas posted some great insights on a Hacker News thread on the original “Startup=Growth” essay by Paul Graham (referred to as “pg” his Hacker News account name in the post).

  • This is a superb essay delineating the attributes of a fast-growth, all-or-nothing type of startup. No surprise here. Who besides pg has had the depth and breadth of quality first-hand experience with such ventures over such a sustained period and in such an explosive context as that of recent years? He has here given us a classic analysis of the prototypical, Google-style startup.
  • I think the idea of a startup should not be so narrowly defined, however, and the big reason is this: many founders set out to build ventures that are tech-based, innovative, aimed at winning key niches via hoped-for rapid growth and scaling, positioned for outside funding as suited to their needs, and aimed at liquidity via capital gains as the primary ROI for their efforts . . . but who also place a huge premium on minimizing dilution and maximizing founder control. These are the independents. The ones who, by design, want to defer or even avoid VC funding so as to build their ventures on their own timing and on their own terms. Now this is not the Google startup model. It is, in a sense, its opposite. But it is not the model of a small business either. It is just a different type of startup.
  • The trend over this past decade has moved decidedly toward greater founder independence in the startup world. Back in the bubble days, as a founder, you had very little information available to learn how startups worked, you often had heavy capital needs (e.g., $2M to $4M) right up front to do such things as build your own server banks, and you would almost certainly have little leverage by which to minimize dilution or loss of control at the time of first funding. Today, this has completely flipped. Vast resources are extant teaching founders how startups work. Initial capital needs are often minimal. And it is relatively easy to get reasonable funding on founder-friendly terms. What this means is that, today more than ever, the independent-style startup is more open to founders than ever before.
  • Given the above, it seems to me that this is not the time to say that the only style of startup worthy of the name is that of the super-rapid-growth type. The rapid-growth type may be more glamorous by far but it really defines only the tip of the startup world. Beneath it is a vast world offering incredible opportunities to founders who want more control over the timing, scale, and management of their ventures and who seek to realize gains and manage risks accordingly.

Amar Bhide: Start With Affordable Bets in Markets Too Small to Interest Large Players

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, skmurphy

Four quotes from Amar Bhide‘s “Origin and Evolution of New Business.

“Entrepreneurs who undertake uncertain initiatives face a wide spread between desirable and undesirable outcomes, but they cannot quantify the odds they face or even fully anticipate the possible results. The uncertainty is irreducible to the degree it cannot be resolved without actually undertaking the initiative by prior testing and research.”

Testing and research can reduce the ambiguity  and uncertainty associated with the entering new markets but they cannot eliminate it. A few hours on Google can save you a few months pursuing an opportunity that a little more research might have indicated was a non-starter but even there I think you are still well served by a dozen conversations with people who have direct knowledge of the problem: there is an important category of information that has not been written down (yet) and cannot be found in Mr. Google’s basement.

If you attack a large and well established market there is much less uncertainty but there will be established competitors.

“Serving niche markets not only allows entrepreneurs to start a business with limited funds, it also limits the competition they face from well capitalized entities. Established corporations and professional venture capital funds expend considerable resources on evaluating and monitoring their investments. They tend to avoid investments in niche opportunities whose profit potential isn’t large enough to cover their fixed evaluation and monitoring costs. Therefore, the  bootstrapped entrepreneur in a niche market faces direct competition mainly from other undercapitalized businesses.”

But larger well capitalized firms normally avoid ambiguous markets because they can earn more certain returns in established markets and they are less deterred by the idea of competing with other large firms.

Ambiguity is known to be missing information or not knowing relevant information that could be known.

The key ambiguity to resolve is to develop a model for the impact of your product on your prospect’s business–the costs you are imposing and the value of the benefits that you are delivering–as a way of fine tuning your feature set, messaging, and business model. You may need a slightly different one for each niche or customer segment you are considering. This gets updated the more you learn in exploring the market. This approach is “outside in” where customer reality drives your decisions.

One way to choose a new market is to pick a space that has not changed in a while. It’s more likely that you can learn something that the incumbents have either ignored or decided not to pursue because it would conflict with a currently successful business model.

Promising startups cluster in market niches characterized by high uncertainty generated by technological, regulatory, or other such exogenous changes or by the amorphous nature of customer wants. High uncertainty and low capital and opportunity costs create a “heads-I-win-tails-I-don’t-lost-much” proposition for entrepreneurs.

This is a second approach, to look for markets likely to be impacted by new technology, new regulation, or changes in the zeitgeist.  By making small bets you can risk little but potentially find a significant opportunity.

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