Wednesday Apr 16, 2008

Congrats, Linda Skrocki

I know Melanie and Mary already bogged about this, but I couldn't resist. I'm a fan. Check out Linda Skrocki being profiled as a leader in corporate social media -- The New Robert Scobles: Seven Leading Corporate Social Media Evangelists Today. Very cool.

Sunday Apr 06, 2008

Chris Anderson Explains TED

Chris Anderson talks to Charlie Rose about TED. If you haven't been to the TED site yet, go there. Don't even bother searching for a speaker or subject you may know or be interested in. Just randomly click on  anyone or any subject. They are all outstanding.

One of the things I love about these talks is that they transcend all the rules of presenting. You can't possibly deliver enough information -- especially technical information -- in only 18 minutes. Wrong. You need slides. Wrong. Those slides are too busy. Wrong. You shouldn't read. Wrong. You shouldn't stand behind a podium. Wrong. You shouldn't move around too much. Wrong. You shouldn't turn your back to the audience. Wrong. You should hold your hands this way or that way. Wrong. You need voice lessons. Wrong. Don't say, "Ah." Wrong. Don't talk too fast. Wrong.

It's all wrong. All of it. There should be one rule to presenting. BE YOURSELF. Period. That's the only way you have a shot in hell of connecting with another human being. Until that happens, there can be no transmission of information, and so there is no reason to ever stand up in front of a room full of people and talk. Connect first. Be yourself. Go to ted.com.

Friday Apr 04, 2008

Weekly Reports

It's late Friday afternoon here in Japan. That's weekly report time for me. I never miss it. Not that I like it, per say, but it's critical to document what you do. That function usually takes me a couple of hours on a Friday night or a Saturday morning, but today it's just a bit of editing since I now do my weekly report a little bit each day. What a relief. It's amazing how much easier this is. It's also amazing how much work you do every day that you forget when Friday rolls around. Much better this way.

Thursday Mar 27, 2008

We Don't Have Any Committees

"We don't have any committees." That's a quote from Warren Buffett talking to Charlie Rose a while back. There are many fine bits in this interview, but that gem Buffett blurts out toward the end of the conversation -- right after he talks about how he has no human resources department or investor relations department or public relations department. Pretty remarkable, don't you think? Probably even more remarkable is that there are only 19 people at corporate headquarters at Berkshire Hathaway, which has 73 businesses and a U.S. federal tax return running more than 10,000 pages on top of all the state returns and foreign returns. But the "no committees" comment got my attention because he so casually dismissed committees as things that degenerate into "make work" with people acting as "liaisons" between committees reporting to each other and around you go wasting time and money.

A lesson for all projects. Do you really need that committee? Or can you simply do your job and trust others to do theirs? The very best project managers I know all feel the same way about committees. And they'd agree with Buffett.

Wednesday Mar 26, 2008

News in the Swamp?

"If you say something provocatively, in a new way, or with an unexpected spin, you will succeed online. If you play it safe, you will not." -- Michael Scherer, The Internet Effect on News

I think this is true online, but I think it's just as true in print and not only in the news business. I think it's true of all forms of communication, but it doesn't necessarily have to be considered pejorative -- as it's implied in this article. The "unexpected" can bring huge value and have nothing to do with spin. Communication has to grab and hold attention. How could it be any other way?

Friday Mar 21, 2008

Email from Vacation

I started the week on Tuesday with over 2,000 messages in my inbox from vacation. I'm ending the week with 35. Damn. I wanted to get to zero. I'm out of time, though. Must go swimming.

Tuesday Sep 18, 2007

NYT

New York Times to end paid Internet service: "We now believe by opening up all our content and unleashing what will be millions and millions of new documents, combined with phenomenal growth, that that will create a revenue stream that will more than exceed the subscription revenue." -- Vivian Schiller, VP, NYT

The New York Times goes free.

Friday Sep 14, 2007

To Diversify or Not

Seems multiculturalism isn't what it's all cracked up to be. Or is the science on it faulty? Probably a bit of both. This is an interesting article below based on some research that hasn't been released yet, which is part of the problem. My comments spread throughout:

Diversity's Dark Side
By John Luik, 11 Sep 2007

For at least the last twenty years the cultural and political elites of the United States have championed the cause of multiculturalism by claiming that diversity was something that made all of us better.

Well, I can think if many ways diversity has made me better, and I don't need any "political elite" telling me either. It's a challenging, though, for sure. It requires work and flexibility and a hugely open mind, but I think it's worth it in the long run. We need to understand how others think and communicate and make decisions, so we are less inclined to drop so many bombs on people. History demonstrates that humans really don't have a good record in this respect over the past 10,000 years or so. We over react a bit too much. I had hoped that diversity would teach us to not overreact so much. Perhaps I'm wrong as this article certainly suggests. I have my doubts, though.

Little effort was ever made to define precisely just what was meant by diversity, difference or most crucially "better." Nor was there any significant research that provided empirical support for the claim that multiculturalism and diversity translated into better people, better communities, better organizations and businesses or a better country.

I'm not sure about the hard core science involved, but I suspect that there is more of it than this article suggests. Also, just based on personal experience I'd have to say that diversity is better. It's certainly more interesting! :)

But now a considerable amount of solid evidence about multiculturalism is in, and it suggests that far from something positive, it is a corroding and corrupting influence on just about everything that it comes in contact with, from social capital, trust, and community spirit to altruism, volunteering, friendship and even happiness.

Wow. That's overkill to say the very least, eh? It's difficult for me to take that paragraph seriously. "A corroding and corrupting influence on just about everything ..." I doubt it. I grew up in New York and lived in Boston and San Francisco. All three of those regions of the US are quite diverse, and there's no way I'd describe those areas using the above paragraph to the exclusion of all else. It's just too extreme. There are big problems, sure, but how about balancing at least some of this out?

That's the startling conclusion from Harvard's Robert Putnam best known as the author of Bowling Alone. According to Putnam a variety of research from the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe

I have no clue who this guy is and I've never read Bowling Alone. Haven't bowled in years. Also, this "variety of research" he talks about ... nothing about India? China? Korea? Japan? And is he saying that Australia represents Asia? And does "Europe" represent Western Europe or both East and West? How about South America? Africa? It's a big world out there.

shows that ethnic diversity is associated with lower social trust, lower "investment in public goods," less reciprocity, and less willingness to contribute to the community. In workplace situations diversity is associated with "lower group cohesion, lower satisfaction and higher turnover."

I wonder if he studied more monolithic societies to juxtapose the two?

Putnam's own research in the United States, confirms this international picture.

How could research in the United States confirm an international picture and leave out most of the world? That makes no sense.

In the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey carried out in 41 US communities ranging from Bismarck, North Dakota to Boston and involving 30,000 individuals, Putnam found that the "more ethnically diverse the people we live around, the less we trust them." This translates into nine particularly troubling behaviors, including reduced confidence in government and in one's ability to influence politics, reduced voter registration and interest in social change, lowered expectations about the willingness of others to work together cooperatively, less charitable giving and volunteering, fewer close friends, a reduced quality of life and more time spent watching television. Indeed, one could hardly come up with a list of behaviors more likely to undermine democratic society.

Sure, I see some of these things in the US, no question, but I wouldn't describe the US (or any other relatively diverse society) that way. It's just part of the picture. And, by the way, I see many of these very same problems right here in good ol' monolithic Japan. And it's very obvious, too.

But the consequences of the multicultural diversity extend beyond its effect on social and community engagement. For instance,  criminologists have found that effective community policing is much more difficult in areas with increased ethnic diversity.

[Of course it is open to defenders of multiculturalism to argue that Putnam's findings are skewed by the fact that poverty, crime and diversity are themselves interconnected, making causal conclusions difficult. But Putnam's research show that even in comparing equally poor and equally crime-infested neighbourhoods the outcome is the same "greater ethnic diversity is associated with less trust in neighbours."]

This is one area that I'd love to explore more. There's far less violent crime here in Japan than there was when I lived in the US. And I feel safer, too. But there is plenty of other types of crime, though..

Putnam's findings should not come as a surprise. For instance, studies from business, which has been one of diversity's greatest champions, have shown that diversity produced few if any positive effects on business performance. One major study even concluded
that industry should move beyond trying to build a business case for the benefits of diversity and multiculturalism, since there was no empirical evidence to support such a case.

In part this is due to the fact that homogeneous teams tend to outperform diverse groups because diverse groups often suffer from communication and process problems. As psychologists Katherine Williams and Charles O'Reilly have noted "The preponderance of empirical evidence suggests that diversity is most likely to impede group functioning."

I experience this here in Japan all the time. However, I'd rather we mix in teams and reduce our productivity a bit than have monolithic teams separated by a total ignorance of other cultures and ways of doing business. We have to work together eventually, right? I mean, sooner or later, teams will butt heads and cross paths, right? Also, after an initial period of confusion, I can point to a growing number of instances where productivity has increased as a result of the diversity I'm experiencing. Also, when you talk about teams, you have to separate "culture" from "language" issues. They are related, sure, but if there is a unifying language then the culture differences are much more easily overcome. Working across language barriers are gigantic, though, and that only serves to exacerbate any cultural differences.

As a champion of multicultural diversity, Putnam finds his results disturbing and he has been reluctant to publish them. The only place to find them is in a speech reprinted in the academic journal Scandinavian Political Studies. And even there the data is not provided, only summarized. Putnam told the Financial Times that he "had delayed publishing his results until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity."

He needs to publish his data and study so it can all be critically analyzed. And I think he needs to publish his stuff before going to the press, too. Very interesting issue, though. I can go back and forth on some of it.

More here: New Scientist Mistrust rises with social diversity and Times Online People in ethnically diverse area ‘less trusting of others’



Update: It seems this article I'm commenting on is wrong on multiple levels, especially the assertion that the study hadn't been published. That's unfortunate and does a disservice to Robert Putnam's work, as have my comments. It's amazing how easily you can be led the wrong way when you have little context, my goodness. Putnam's study can be found here. If you are interested in this subject, give it a read. It's long and detailed and utterly fascinating. I love the distinction Putnam draws between the diversity challenges experienced in the short to mid term and the mid to long term. I'll have to read this thing a few more times and then blog about it again.

Putnam concludes: "[M]y hunch is that at the end we shall see that the challenge is best met not by making 'them' like 'us', but rather by creating a new, more capacious sense of 'we', a reconstruction of diversity that does not bleach out ethnic specificities, but creates overarching identities that ensure that those specificities do not trigger the allergic, 'hunker down' reaction." -- Robert Putnam

Thursday Aug 30, 2007

Communicator

A blog into Schwartz's mind: "The number one role of a leader is to communicate. And the number one role of a CEO is to be the chief communicator." -- JIS

Monday Jul 09, 2007

China: The Future of Innovation?

The United States of Technology?: "My own best guess is that the next great hotbed for tech innovation will be China. It is steadily tightening the rules for software intellectual property protection. And a raft of amazingly fast-growing Internet businesses have already arisen, including portals Sina.net and Sohu, search engine Baidu, game company Shanda, auctioneer Alibaba, and communications and gaming pioneer Tencent. Some number their customers in the hundreds of millions." -- David Kirkpatrick, Fortune

In terms of scale, I find that last sentence almost incomprehensible. And it will be pretty wild watching the Chinese tech industry deal with numbers like that.

Sunday Jul 08, 2007

Employee Performance

The Work Force of One: "The growing recognition that business results are largely attributable to employee performance is leading many executives to seek creative ways of significantly improving that performance." -- Susan Cantrell, Wall Street Journal.

This is so true. And refreshing to hear, too. The article outlines some ways that companies are re-thinking how they manage human talent. Hint: flexibility and customization provide the basis of the most effective techniques.

Supercomputing

Sun Gets Serious, Finally, About Supercomputing: "When Sun's top brass brought Andy Bechtolsheim, its former chief technology officer and the first employee hired by the company's founders, back to the company in February 2004, they got a lot more than a techie who knows about chips, servers, and operating systems. They also got one of the smartest people in the world when it comes to networking technology...." -- Timothy Prickett Morgan, Computer Business Review Online.

Sunday May 27, 2007

Toyota & UAW

It will be fascinating to see how Toyota deals with the United Auto Workers union now that the company is taking out GM and Ford and all eyes are on the Japanese automaker. Publically, Toyota seems to be positioning itself quite differently from its American competitors -- In Kentucky, Toyota Faces Union Rumblings: "We think the historic American approach to things is to run full blast, pay out as high as you can in the short term while times are good, and then when times go bust, you lay people off, you shut plants and you destroy communities," said Pete Gritton, a Toyota vice president who oversees human resources at the company's plant. "Toyota does not want to do that."

Friday Apr 27, 2007

Happy Birthday BSC!

We're three. My goodness. I can't believe it's been three years.

A few months before BSC opened, I knew some people had been working on a blogging platform for Sun. But I wasn't involved so I didn't pay much attention. Then I found myself in a blogging meeting with Tim Bray, Simon Phipps, Danese Cooper, Will Snow, and a few other people (sorry, I can't remember who else was there but there were a few more). That was the first time I met Tim, by the way, and it was a great thrill. Great hat, too. Now, I have no clue why I was actually in this meeting. I think I was walking with Danese as she walked into the meeting and I just followed and sat down. I pretty much knew everyone, so it seemed ok. I don't think I said anything in the meeting, but that's when I learned that BSC was already open and very few people even knew. There was no press release, as I recall, and I don't remember any internal announcement, either. It was just, well, there. Will was sitting on my left in the meeting, and he showed me the site on his laptop. I think I said, "That's outside?" He had flipped the switch a day or so earlier I think. That's when I told myself that I had to do something with this thing and I had to do it right away.

Simon and Danese had been on me for about a year previously to start blogging, but I wasn't ready. I was too distracted at the time and didn't really get the significance of the tool. I didn't get that this one tool could change absolutely everything. My first post was only a few sentences but it took hours to write (and re-write). What the heck do you say on this thing? Who wants to hear what I have to say? And around I went. Well, I tend to blog a lot these days, so I got pretty quick along the way and finding things to say isn't hard anymore, either. And I blog for an audience of one -- me -- so I don't worry that much about what I say most of the time. I try not to think too much about the fact that it's all on the Internet, though. That helps.

BSC is a remarkably empowering tool for communications and community building, and it offers opportunities for everyone involved.

Congratulations BSC!

Friday Apr 20, 2007

Language and Globalization

Interesting. In a world of billions of people, companies are still having a hard time hiring -- Where Are All The Workers? Companies worldwide are suddenly scrambling to manage a labor crunch. It seems as we globalize, technical skills are critical to remain competitive. But just as important are those skills involving language and communication. Don't you agree? The issue comes up in this article but only way at the end.

Tuesday Sep 19, 2006

Being Open Actually Protects IP

John Clingan asks a fascinating series of questions in How should a corporation deal with leakers?

Well, I think that companies need realize a few things right at the top:
  1. most leaks are pretty meaningless, but the over-reaction to leaks can be a bigger problem;
  2. many reporters have sources in most organizations, and there's no way to stop this;
  3. all organizations leak because all organizations are made up of people and people talk.
In other words, get used to it. I find that very few companies accept these three items as reality, though. So, leaks will happen, no question. But there are some very practical steps to reduce the number of leaks and decrease the influence of what's leaked:
  1. open up as much as possible so that leaks become even more meaningless than they already are;
  2. stop over-reacting to those leaks because it only creates an internal environment of fear;
  3. seriously limit the number of people who have access to business-critical information, so dangerous leaks are less likely to occur; 
  4. reduce the amount of confidential information so what is confidential is easier to manage and better respected.
In other words, break the monopoly and exclusivity over substantially more of the information in the company. That will help for sure. For truly business-critical information, though, that's a serious matter and that information is best kept confidential. I have no problem recommending a totally closed approach to that part. For example, although I work pretty much in the open these days, there's no need for me to see the financial of the company until the announcement. An extreme example, I realize, but I'm simply arguing that companies keep a much smaller amount of truly sensitive information bouncing around their networks, so that classified information is easier to manage and less likely to leak.

John mentions launches, too. I believe "launches" are hopelessly broken in the technology business. I've done many, and I can't think of a way to fix them, so I try to avoid them if possible. I also don't do them very well, so maybe that's my problem. :) But fortunately, launches don't have the power they once had. I view them as parties, basically. They can be great fun if you don't have to plan them, but they have little significance in the long run. Are customers really making multi-million dollar buying decisions based on a company's well synchronized product launch that didn't leak? I've never seen any data suggesting that's the case. Are launches the only way to bring new products to market? I doubt it. Not anymore, anyway. However, launches are a great source for leaks because literally hundreds of people work on them for months, and the level of activity reaches insane craziness just before launch day. That's right around the time when many companies go out and brief press and analysts under non-disclosure, so now there is information inside and outside the firewall all timed to go off the minute you "launch" whatever it is you are launching. This make no sense to me. And it's a very leaky process, too. So, John asks, when something does leak, what does the company do? Well, if the leaker was obvious and the intent was malicious, sure, punish the employee. I don't have a problem with that. But internal investigations worry me because many times leaks are inadvertent, and it's easy for well-meaning and talented people can get caught up in something unfortunate. Mistakes do happen in this game. So, in that case, I don't think a company should go after the employee. In that case, it's just a part of doing business. It has to be an obvious case, and the leak has to be at the level of affecting the entire business. That's the key. Product launches are simply not big enough in my opinion. I've never seen a product launch that was harmed by a leak, and I can assure you many, many, many of the products I worked on have been leaked.

Again, the concept here is to reduce the classified information -- substantially -- and isolate it from the majority of the company. At the same time, open as much of the operations as possible so the majority of your people are working in the open with information distributed pervasively across the organization so everything doesn't have to squeeze through one tiny little funnel at one end of some process somewhere. Now, many levels of corporations will hate this opening suggestion because many people trade in the business of gatekeeping what they think is super-secret information. And some in the press may also not like this because much of their business is based on gaining access to the highest value information possible -- which is classified, of course, and which has to come from leakers. What I'm suggesting undermines the leaking process on both sides.

John also asks, "If a reporter knows the information is being unethically disclosed, is it ethical for the reporter to print it?" Well, I'm not a reporter, but I doubt that this is something for the reporter to judge. I don't see ethics as being a consideration in this case. If reporters get information and it's good information, the vast majority of them will go with it. Ethics are not involved, other then to keep the source confidential, of course, and most reporters are well-meaning people and honor this and they need to cultivate sources. But in many cases, you can tell where the leaks come from based on the information being leaked.

There are no easy answers to this. But an open, community-based approach to your operations is the best solution I can think of. Also, I think Sun could be a pretty good model in all this. I think we are doing an interesting job in this area. Many parts of the company are very open these days, and other parts are in the process of opening. Actually, I can't think of a company that has as many people working in the open as Sun. Can you? And have we had any serious "leaks" around here lately? Not really. And if so, what has the harm been? There's so much information about Sun and it's products and strategies out there that it's hard to tell if a leak has occured because the level of conversation around the company is pretty massive at this point. Back to my point that most leaks are meaningless.

So, it may be anti-intuitive, but I think a culture of openness may be a good way to transcend leaks, while at the same time respecting and protecting the company's true intellectual property: it's classified information.

Sunday Sep 03, 2006

The Biology of Marketing

In Free Market Economy? John Dodds comments on an article talking about the new viral marketing -- Beyond Viral: Using The Web To Nurture 'Contagious Behavior' Among Customers. It's a fascinating little article with a few words that just jump off the page and gag me.

I like John's position that too often people think of "marketing" as simply "promotion" when in reality the field is far more strategic than that. I've been guilty of this incorrect perception on occasion as well. But I think that all too often marketing deserves this mischaracterization, and in high tech Silicon Valley this is so easy to substantiate. So, it goes both ways. However, I've always said that really talented marketers are worth their weight in gold because they are strategic and bridge disparate groups. And because of that unique position they can many times spot new possibilities for connections that others simply miss. It's wonderful to observe this. Great marketers don't get lost in message making, too. They are strategic by nature, and they see marketing as the thread that ties together the entire business.

I see the intent of the article that John is pointing to, and I support the direction that those marketers are moving. On some levels they are improving and that's good. But what's up with all of these biological references? When marketers use terms like "contagiousness" or "infection" or "viral" or "seed" to describe any marketing activity, they are doing two things: (1) talking to themselves and (2) insulting everyone else. Yes, I know, some really famous marketers use these terms and get lots of attention in the process, but this is exactly why marketing gets bad publicity from those outside the field. Many people feel those terms articulate an attempt to manipulate customers, or in this case to manipulate the powerful dynamics of emerging communities of customers. A good example of this from software marketing is the term "developer capture" that I hear from time to time. It's insulting. Developers don't want to be captured. Do they? I don't think so.

I much prefer terms like community building or facilitation or engagement. Ok, they are somewhat more boring than infecting someone with a virus so they are highly contagious, but what can I say. I'm a boring guy and I don't like being sick. Regardless of the terms used, though, what's most important is that the language reflect the concept of participation, not manipulation. And that's what I'm not getting from this article. The issue is inches away, though. I can feel it. But the comments in the piece still represent marketing as being on the outside of the community, not right in the middle if it all. At least community dynamics are recognized, though, so that's a great improvement over a few years ago.

Web 2.0: Just Jargon or Great Marketing?

Tim Berners-Lee clarified the term "Web 2.0" recently. Very nice. Dan Farber and Gavin Clark cover his comments in depth. Basically, Berners-Lee said that Web 2.0 is "a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means" ... among other things. I agree the term is jargon, and I agree with Tim's supporting explanation as well (I'm just pulling the headline here). Web 2.0 as a term never made much sense to me. The examples used to substantiate the term always seemed weak and obvious since I've been working with and benefiting from these tools for quite some time. So, I just never got what the big deal was all about. I had the same feeling when I heard "Web services" used to explain whatever people were talking about a few years ago, too. But as a rhetorical phenomenon, I think Web 2.0 is much more interesting than Web services.

Anyway ... here are some other Web 2.0 opinions around the Berners-Lee comments ...

From Dan Farber: The 2.0 proliferation is simply a natural effect of human intelligence at work – marketers, conference creators, journalists, pundits and lexicographers all trying to capture  themes, the essense of movements in time and give them names that have iconic, instant recognition, although the deeper meaning will be in the eye of the beholder.

From Gavin Clarke: You should thank Tim Berners-Lee. Not just for giving us the web, but for articulating what's gone wrong in the lexicon and thinking of Silicon Valley. Hopefully, his standing in the web community will serve as a rallying cry for right-thinking individuals and true visionaries, and mean Web 2.0 is put in its proper context.

I basically agree with both of those guys. And I'm no longer shy about asking the jargon pushers to please stop and re-explain what they are talking about in plain language. People who care about being understood will generally -- and happily -- explain something in a different way when asked nicely. They realize that being understood is (mostly) the responsibility of the speaker or writer, not the listener or the reader.

So, is Web 2.0 jargon? To a point, yes I think it is. But I also think it's a pretty good marketing communications campaign because you have to admit that it has attracted a significant amount of attention in some markets. It's also taken on a life of its own, and that's what's so interesting about this. Will it last? Who knows. Did it need to exist? Probably not. Sometimes us little people out here don't need all those experts to complicate the obvious. The Web is evolving and getting better and you can do more with it. Ok. Thank you. Back to Tim Berners-Lee. Or maybe I just don't get it.

Thursday Aug 31, 2006

Missing Memes

I listened to this talk by Susan Blackmore on memes several times, and I still don't get it. I keep bouncing back and forth between understanding some of her points and thinking its a pile of nonsense. I know that's not a nice thing to say in a world of Web 2.0 and memes are cool, but what can I say. It's an excellent speech, don't get me wrong, but I've never really studied memes so perhaps I'm just missing it. Or perhaps all this is just the over intellectualization of something really very simple.

According to Blackmore, a meme is basically anything that gets copied (ideas, stories, etc), and the things doing the copying are the replicators (humans). Replicators are also called meme machines. That's us.

Ok, that's all pretty clear to me. But in this presentation, Blackmore is trying to get us to look at all this from the point of view of the memes -- which could be pretty cool, I suppose. The memes will do anything necessary to get copied no matter the consequences, she argues. Really? That's interesting. But what purpose does this perspective really serve? If we look at this from the perspective of the memes themselves, aren't we giving memes just a touch of conscious awareness? Aren't we giving them a bit too much of the credit here, while at the same time letting humans off the hook for doing the propagating of bad or dangerous memes? Blackmore doesn't really say that directly, but I'm asking because that's the impression I get from her explanation and her stated desire to "turn our minds inside out" with this lecture.

But that would be inconsistent with Blackmore's world view because she argues -- strongly -- against any kind of awareness or consciousness or intelligence in evolution generally, and all that the memes are doing is using the same mechanism as organisms use in plain old biological evolution. In fact, Blackmore bases much of her work on Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, where I guess he puts forth the idea that we need to look at evolutionary biology from the point of view of the genes, not the point of view of the species or even ourselves. Also, Dawkins started this meme theory as well. I haven't read his book, though. Sorry. I'm going by what Blackmore says, and she's read the book.

Ok, so I'm back to where I started -- confused. I get what a meme is. I'm cool with that. I get what a replicator is. That's us. I get that we are supposed to believe that biological evolution occurs with no mind or awareness or consciousness at all. Ok. I can go there to a point. But then I'm supposed to believe that memes evolve using the same non-intelligent process as genes use (natural selection and all that) but that they are somehow using us humans to get themselves replicated? To my little brain, if the memes are using us to get themselves replicated, they are intelligent and thinking creatures. And if the memes are using the same process as genes, then genes are thinking and intelligent creatures, too. But if that's true than evolution is at least based in part on intelligence design, which Blackmore attacks rather harshly.

So, I don't get it. Perhaps I've read too much into this, but I think I'm missing my memes. I'm much more inclined to believe (most of) the scientific theory of biological evolution, but reject that memes use the same process. I just don't see a meme as analogous to a gene. It seems like a forced and artificial argument. That doesn't mean I don't believe in memes, though. I'm ok with memes living right along side us happily evolving humans, but it's the humans that are manipulators of the memes, not the other way around. It's the humans who have intelligence and make decisions that have consequences. Why can't we just look at this issue from the perspective of the humans exploiting the use of memes to get what we want? Isn't it simpler that way? It's it more consistent with human behavior? And doesn't that perspective put all the responsibility for the consequences of meme manipulation right on the humans where it belongs?

I encourage you to listen to Blackmore's talk. She's an interesting character. So are her memes. And if you get what she's talking about and can explain all this from the perspective of the memes themselves, please let me know.

Saturday May 27, 2006

Hype

Nicholas Carr pounds on Steve Rubel for his assertion that it's a good thing for companies to admit when their stuff isn't up to snuff. Rubel may go a bit far rhetorically when he says, "I like companies that say 'we suck'" but he does point to specific examples. It's the "sucks" part that jars. But Rubel is largely correct when he says, "Now that conversation is king it's critical that companies begin to have these honest discussions with their customers and do it out in the open." I can't argue with that. Carr does, though, and says:

Do companies actually pay for this kind of knuckleheaded advice? Who exactly crowned "conversation" king? A handful of self-absorbed bloggers banging away at their little keyboards? Conversation isn't king. Good products and services at fair prices are king - always were, always will be. Which would you rather do business with - a company that delivers great goods but has no interest in buttonholing you into some pathetic excuse for "a conversation," or a company that sells you crap but is great at conversing? Well, duh.

The last we thing we need is companies getting in touch publicly with their inner suckiness. Just give me something I want to buy and shut the hell up. I have enough friends.

So, whereas Rubel goes a bit far rhetorically, Carr goes even further but in the opposite direction. Both are wrong and both are right. If I strip out the hype in both blogs, there are plenty of elements I can agree with. I agree with Rubel that companies should have open conversations with customers. For instance, on the OpenSolaris project, we have 120 discussion forums where massive open conversations are taking place. All sides are benefiting from those discussions, and the product and process is improving as a result. But I also agree with Carr that conversations are not king and can not replace good products or services (though Rubel didn't say that they can). Now, Carr goes too far in seeing these as separate and conflicting issues, though. They can be directly related with good open conversations growing out of good products and services. The product/service is at the center (in our case it's source code), and people gather around in a community environment and collaborate primarily using tools that facilitate open conversations. No product is perfect, so open conversations help reveal weaknesses and areas for people to contribute and around you go.

What's so difficult to understand about all this? Nothing, really. Especially if you leave out the hype, which clouds good points made by both of these guys.

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