December 26, 2010

Hollywood Sees The Future and It Is Shapeshifting

Ever since watching Star Trek, I’ve been fascinated by shapeshifting’s potential uses for military and law enforcement.

Now, The Economist (11 December 2010) reports that shapeshifting material, or “liquid armor,” is being tested by BAE for high-tech body armor.

Traditional body armor contains about 30 layers of protective Kevlar; however, by using the new material between the protective fibers, BAE is able to reduce the layers of Kevlar to just 10, making for lighter and more comfortable protection.

The secret to the liquid armor is that it is made of “shear-thickening fluids” from nano-engineering particles of silica, which provide the shapeshifting properties: “The molecules in such liquids are closely packed, but loosely arranged. The material behaves like a liquid in normal conditions…[but] if subjected to pressure though [like from a projectile], the molecules lock together and behave like a solid.”

In the body armor, when the fluid sandwiched Kevlar is struck by a bullet, the molecules in fluid lock together and spread the impact, thereby absorbing it more effectively.

This seems like an exciting development applying chemical engineering to protecting the warfighter and law enforcement officers.

What is also so cool is that the concept of shapeshifting being a potent force showed up almost two decades ago in movies and television—and once again we have life imitating art (so to speak)!

Hollywood captured the shapeshifters in both the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series (1993-1999). In Terminator II, a shapeshifting cyborg is sent back in time to try and kill John Connor, the leader of the resistance against the cyborgs. The shapeshifter takes on the form of the various people and things to try and get Connor, but ultimately in thwarted by the original Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). Similarly, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Otto is a shapeshifting constable on the space station that protects the station and the Star Fleet command making frequent use of his abilities to shift forms, but always returning at rest to his liquid state to rejuvenate.

I’ve got to say that I applaud Hollywood and continue to see it as not only a creative core for our entertainment, but also a prescient forbear to technology and events to come.

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December 23, 2010

Anatomy, The Google Way

The new Google Body Browser (released 16 December) provides an incredible view into the human anatomy.

Here is the link to the download.

This is the a long way from the classic Anatomy of the Human Body by Henry Gray (1918).

I'm looking forward to seeing the hologram version some day soon.

All this may just be cool enough to make me want to go back and become a M.D.!

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December 18, 2010

The Triple I Factors



Recently, I was watching the new ABC News broadcast called “Be The Change: Save A Life.” And in this one episode, a group of Stanford University students solved a critical life and death problem afflicting the world in which 4 million premature and malnourished babies die every year due to hypothermia and another 16 million that survive suffer life-long illness such as diabetes and heart disease because their internal organs do not form right.

The challenge in the developing world is access to incubators, which typically cost $20,000 and are not available in rural areas. In turn, some Stanford students formed a team and developed the Embrace infant warmer, a low-cost, local solution. It is a $25 waterproof baby sleeping bag with a pouch for a reheatable wax-like substance that is boiled in water and maintains its temperature for 4 to 6 hours at a time. It is hoped that this product will save 1 million babies within the first five years in India alone!

As I reflected on this amazing feat of technology, I marveled at how this group of young adults was able to overcome such a big world problem and solve it so simply. And while I understand that they focused on the end-users and the root cause of the problems, it is still a remarkable story.

After listening to the team members describe their project and approach, I believe there are three critical factors that show through and that can be the tipping point in not only their, but also our technology projects’ success. These three factors, which I call the Triple I Factors are as follows:

Idealism—the students had a shared idealism for a better world. Seeing people’s pain and suffering drove their vision. And in turn, they committed themselves to finding a cure for it. Embrace is now a non-profit organization seeking to save lives versus just making a profit.

Imagination—the product team was able to imagine an unconventional alternative to the status quo. They were able to project a vision for a low cost and mobile infant warmer into concrete solutions that were user-centric for the people in need.

Innovation—the ultimate product design was truly innovative. It marries a high technology phase-change wax substance for maintaining body temperature with a simple baby sleeping bag. Moreover, the innovation is not just in the materials of the product, but in the usability, so for example, this product requires no electricity, something that is not always available in rural India.

While, there are certainly many factors that go into successful technology product launches, including strong leadership, sound project management, and the technical competence of the team, I think that the Triple I factors—idealism, imagination, and innovation—albeit soft factors are ones that should not be underestimated in their ability to propel meaningful technology solutions.

As IT leaders, we need to create a healthy balance and diverse competencies in the organization between the hard factors and the soft factors, so that we can tackle everything from children dying from malnutrition and hypothermia to cures for cancer, and of course, ongoing IT breakthroughs in knowledge management, social engineering, and human productivity await.

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December 17, 2010

What's Next For Microsoft, Google, And The Rest Of The IT Industry?

Published in Government Technology

By Andy Blumenthal

We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” — Madonna



For some people, like Madonna, the “material world” represents a society where people must pay to get their way. To me it means the mortal world, where we are born, live, try to thrive and ultimately pass the baton to others. 



Mortality isn’t limited to human beings, but is also a property of organizations. Several articles have appeared about it lately in mainstream and IT publications. Industry analysts are looking to Microsoft and Google and wondering how they, like other technology organizations, will master the competency of, as Computerworld puts it, “Getting to next.”



A curious irony runs throughout these conversations. Microsoft and Google are seemingly on top of their respective games, dominating the market and earning tens of billions in revenue per year. Despite being at the pinnacle of the technology industry, various industry watchers have noticed, they appear unable to see what’s the next rung on their ladder. It’s almost like they’re dumbfounded that nobody has placed it in front of them.



Consider, for example, that Microsoft dominates desktop operating systems, with approximately a 90 percent share of the market, business productivity suites at 80 percent and browser software at 60 percent. Google similarly dominates Internet search at about 64 percent. 


Everyone is asking: Why can’t these companies find their next great act? Microsoft launched the Kin and dropped it after less than two months; Bing has a fraction of Google’s market share in search; and Windows Mobile never became a major player as an operating system. Further, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the Xbox video game system, though finally profitable, Microsoft will likely never recoup the initial investment in research and development.



Similarly Google gambled by acquiring the ad network DoubleClick in 2007 for $3.1 billion, YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion and the mobile ad platform AdMob in 2009 for $750 million. But so far, as Fortune noted, Google hasn’t seen significant benefit from these purchases in terms of diversifying its revenue stream. “The day is coming when … the activity known as ‘Googling’ no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what?” said The Wall Street Journal.



From the perspective of organizational behavior, there’s a natural law at work here that explains why these resource-rich companies, which have the brains and brawn to repeatedly reinvent themselves, are in apparent decline. All organizations, like all people and natural organisms, have a natural life cycle — birth, growth, maturity, decline and death. 



To stay competitive and on top of our game, we constantly must plan our strategy and tactics to move into the future. However, organizations, like people, are mortal. Some challenges are part of life’s natural ups and downs. Others tell us we are in a decline that cannot be reversed. At that point, the organization must make decisions that are consonant with the reality of its situation, salvage what it can and return to the shareholders what it can’t. 



In other words, eventually every organism will cease to exist in its current form. During its life cycle, it can reinvent itself like IBM did in the 1990s. And when reinvention is no longer an option, it goes the way of Polaroid. 



This is similar to technology itself. As a new technology emerges, time and effort is spent further developing it to full capacity. We optimize and integrate it into our lives and fix it when it’s broken. But there comes a time when horses and buggies are no longer needed, and it’s time to face the facts and move on to cars — and one day, who knows, space scooters?



Going back full circle to the human analogy: People can reinvent themselves by going back to school, changing careers, perhaps remarrying and so on. But eventually we all go gray. And that’s fine; that’s the way it should be. Let’s reinvent ourselves while we can. And when we can’t, let’s accept our mortality graciously and be joyful for the great things that we have done.


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December 13, 2010

It's About Meaning, Not Money

A colleague shared this with me and now I carry it wherever I go:

"In the quiet hours when we are alone and there is nobody to tell us what fine fellow we are, we come sometimes upon a moment in which we wonder, not how much money we are earning, nor how famous we have become, but what good are we doing." -A.A. Milne

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December 12, 2010

3G, 4G, XG...Huh?

There is a huge need for speed on our networks—as we demand the latest and greatest download streaming of books, movies, games, and more.

The network generation (or mobile telephony) standards have evolved to soon to be 4th generation (or 4G).

While 3G standards require network speeds for voice and data of at least 200 kbit/s, the 4G-performance hurdle jumps (500x) to 100 mbit/s.

The chart from Wikipedia shows the various standards and how they have evolved over time.

What are interesting to me are two things:

1) Network carriers that are competing for your business are already boasting 4G deliveries even though they do not meet the standards set out by The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the U.N. According to Computerworld (22 November 2010), the 100 mbit/s standard is “about 10 times the performance that any carrier…can offer today.” Moreover, technologies such as LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2 that are expected to be 4G complaint aren’t “expected to go live commercially until 2014 or 2015.”

2) While the carriers are touting their various breakthrough standards, most people really have no clue what they are talking about. According to the Wall Street Journal (4 November 2010) on a survey by Yankee Group that “of more than 1,200 consumers found 57% had either never heard of 3G or didn’t understand the term. [And] With 4G, the ranks of the confused jump to 68%.”

Some lessons learned:

In the first case, we need to keep in mind the principle of caveat emptor (or let the buyer beware) when it comes to what the Wall Street Journal is calling the “increased rhetoric underscoring the high-stakes games played by the carriers as they jockey for position.”

In the second, vendors and technologists should understand that they are losing the consumer when they talk “techno-geek.” Instead, all need to use plain language when communicating, and simplify the technical jargon.

The comic in Computerworld (22 November 2010) summarized it well with pictures of all the various GGGG… technologies and the people next it to it saying, “At this point the labels are ahead of the technology.” Of course, I would add that the labels are also ahead of most people’s ability to understand the geek-speak. And we need to fix the communications of both.


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December 10, 2010

Federal IT Management Reform

New IT management reform from the White House.

Very exciting development.

The plan is published at this link.

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December 8, 2010

8 Types of Manager


Here's a funny cartoon by Tom Fishburne on "The 8 Types of Manager"

Which one are you?

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December 4, 2010

The Human Capital Multiplier Effect


We all know that people respond better to some managers than others—for some, people will go “the extra mile.”


University of Virginia professors teaching a leadership class that I was fortunate to participate in shared lessons on this.


Essentially, studies show that leaders that treat their people with trust, caring, and respect—what I would call the basic elements of human dignity—are able to achieve the multiplier effect.


In simple terms, what you give as a leader is what you get back.

Multipliers—leaders that are “multipliers” believe in their peoplethat they are smart and will figure it out. Multipliers guide them, invest in them, give them the freedom to debate the issues and do their jobs, and they challenge them to be their best. Multipliers are "talent magnets"--people want to work for them, and employees that work for multipliers tend to contribute 200%!


In contrast, those managers that are “diminishers” believe that their employees will not figure it out without them. They are empire builders and micromanagers, who typically act like tyrants, displaying a know-it-all attitude, and they have to make all the decisions. In an un-empowered and disrespected role, employees who work for diminishers withdraw and give less than 50%.


When it comes to motivating our workforce and achieving a multiplier effect, while money and recognition are important, providing genuine autonomy and empowerment to “own the job” and get it done has been found to be the #1 impact on their productivity.


Hence there is a big difference between using technology as a tool to perform a task and doing it in a very directed way (by rules, algorithms, assembly lines, etc.) versus working through real people who have important human needs to work with some autonomy to add value and achieve not only the respect of their manager(s), but also self-respect as well.


When we create a multiplier environment for our employees—one where they can flourish as human beings—they give back rather hold back, and in a highly competitive environment that’s exactly what every organization needs to thrive.


There are two major challenges here for leaders.


One is that leaders who have attained power tend to be reluctant to relinquish any of it to their employees. They don’t see the difference between “empowerment” and their own loss of stature.


The other challenge is that there is always the chance that if you give somebody the tools to build the house, that they will either take a nap in the hammock in the backyard or even try to throw you off the roof!


In the first case, the leader has to have enough confidence to make room for others to succeed. I once heard that Jack Welch said of great leaders that they surround themselves with people who are even smarter than they are.


In the second case, I believe that we need to “trust but verify,” meaning that we provide autonomy and tools to people to do the job, but then if they don’t do it appropriately, that is addressed through individual performance management.


Managing people well is not a favor we do them, but is something that is required for the success of enterprise.

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December 3, 2010

A Music Video with a Vision For Peace and Unity

This video was just great!

This is a world target architecture that I can buy into, any day.


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Slow Down And Enjoy The Journey

Someone sent me this beautiful poem; I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

SLOW DANCE

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down.

Don't dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won't last.
Do you run through each day
On the fly?

When you ask How are you?
Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done
Do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores
Running through your head?

You'd better slow down

Don't dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won't last.
Ever told your child,
We'll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste,
Not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time
To call and say,"Hi"

You'd better slow down.
Don't dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won't last.
When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift....
Thrown away.

Life is not a race
Do take it slower
Hear the music

Before the song is over.


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November 27, 2010

Leadership Lessons from 127 Hours


Rarely does a movie get an 8.7 out of 10 in the reviews, so I had to go see the movie 127 Hours about Aron Ralston, the hiker who got trapped under a boulder in 2003 while mountain climbing in Utah, and had to amputate his own arm to free himself.
This was an incredible story of survival.

The guy had to drink his own urine to survive after running out of drinking water and finally had to break his own bones and cut off his own forearm with a dull blade and use a pliers to tear through his tendons in order to finally dislodge himself after 5 days of being trapped.
But what is even more amazing to me than what Aron had to do to survive is what he has chosen to do afterwards with his life.
Aside from the media appearances, motivational speaking, writing a book Between A Rock And A Hard Place, and getting married and having a son, Aron continues to be an ardent mountain climber.
While many people would actually choose to “lick their wounds” and basically find another hobby—a safer one, Aron continues to do what he loves—climbing.
He is not deterred.
To the contrary—he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2009 and still plans to climb Mt. Everest.
Aron inspires me, yet I have conflicting emotions about his choices.
Part of me thinks this guy is off the wall, since he took so many life-threatening chances (for example, climbing without even letting anyone know where he was) and nearly got himself killed, and now he continues to do pursue this dangerous sport with only one arm!
And another part of me is awed by him. He is unstoppable. He knows what he loves and he pursues it, no matter what: Terror, trauma, two arms or one, Aron will be climbing as long as he is able.
It is a great thing to be true to yourself, to have a passion, and to pursue it relentlessly. However, I believe it is a blessing to also have the wisdom to balance even the greatest of pursuits with sound judgement, so excuse the pun, you don’t end up having to cut off your nose (or in this case your arm) in despite of your face.
Aron is an inspiration similar to the movie character Rocky in terms of his determination and perseverance, but even Rocky knew when his health was at risk and it was time to hang his gloves up. Knowing when it’s safe to go and when it’s necessary to pause or even stop is an important part of our survival skills and it doesn’t mean that we are any less passionate about who we are or what we are about or believe in.
Passion should mean we responsibly grow into our pursuits and not unnecessarily die trying. In the movie, I got the impression that Aron was more than a little reckless, and he paid a heavy price for it, but I admire his bravery and that he continues to pursue his dreams.
In our organizations, we should encourage everyone to find their passion in the work they do—because that is a motivator for people that supersedes any paycheck or bonus management can provide.

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November 26, 2010

Raising the Bar By Aligning Expectations and Personality

I always love on the court television show Judge Hatchett, when she tells people: "I expect great things from you!"

The Pygmalion Effect says that when we have high expectations of performance for people, they perform better.

In other words, how you see others is how they perform.

While behavior is driven by a host of motivational factors (recognition, rewards, and so on), behavior and ultimately performance is impacted by genetic and environmental factors—“nature and nurture”—and the nurture aspect includes people’s expectations of us.

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, people live up or down to expectations.

For example, studies by Rosenthal and Jacobson showed that if teachers expected enhanced performance from selected children, those children performed better.

When people have high or low expectations for others, they treat them differently—consciously or unconsciously—they tip off what they believe the others are capable of and will ultimately deliver. In the video, The Pygmalion Effect: Managing the power of Expectation, these show up in the following ways:

  • Climate: The social and emotional mood we create, such as tone, eye contact, facial expression, body language, etc.
  • Inputs: The amount and quality of instruction, assistance, or input we provide.
  • Outputs: The opportunities to do the type of work that best aligns with the employee and produce that we provide.
  • Feedback: The strength and duration of the feedback we provide.

In business, expect great things from people and set them to succeed by providing the following to meet those expectations:

  • Inspiration
  • Teaching
  • Opportunity
  • Encouragement

Additionally, treat others in the style that is consistent with the way that they see themselves, so that there is underlying alignment between the workplace (i.e. how we treat the employee) and who the employee fundamentally is.

Normally people think that setting high expectations means creating a situation where the individual’s high performance will take extra effort – both on their part and on the part of the manager.

However, this is not necessarily the case at all. All we have to do is align organizational expectations with the inherent knowledge, skills, and abilities of the employee, and their individual aspirations for development.

The point is we need to play to people’s strengths and help them work on their weaknesses. This, along with ongoing encouragement, can make our goals a reality, and enable the organization to set the bar meaningfully high for each and every one of us.


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November 20, 2010

Selfishness and The Paradox of Emotional Intelligence



I was fortunate to be in a terrific leadership development class this week held in coordination with University of Virginia, and one of the instructors shared this interesting explanation about the four levels of emotional intelligence (EI), which I have put into the attached graphic (note: there are other variants of this).


Essentially there are three levels of EI that have to do with “me”:

1. Self-Awareness: Being cognizant of one’s own emotions, thinking and behaviors

2. Self-Management: Being able to control negative displays of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

3. Self-Direction: Being able to positively choose emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

These three levels are steps and maturity in the development of a person’s emotional intelligence.

Then, for those that are able to “breakthrough” to the next and forth level having to do with “others” (instead of “me”), there is a fourth level called:

4. Empathy: Being able to understand, share, and identify with the emotions and thoughts of others.

The idea here, as another instructor stated, is that we close the [emotional] gap with others through empathy and disclosure.”
However, in order to get to the stage where we can genuinely connect and empathize with others, we must first work on ourselves.

From a leadership perspective, I think this model of emotional intelligence is very valuable, because it provide us the framework for maturing our emotional self-development starting with basic awareness and advancing toward gaining control over ourselves and ultimately being able to have meaningful understanding for others.

It is only with such understanding of and connection with others that we can create the foundation for successful teamwork, innovation, and improved performance.
Where are we failing on EI?
  • Being so busy with “the daily grind” that we don’t have the time, energy, or capacity to do justice to the relationships in our lives.
  • Lack of mastery of the “me”—we lack self-awareness and are not in control of ourselves.
  • Narcissism that leads us to ignore the others around us and therefore leads us to have difficulty relating to them.

All of these, in a sense, represent a huge life paradox. We are taught that to succeed we must work on ourselves, and in turn we have become a self-focused society.


We have learned that success means being perfectly educated, thin, fit, married, earning a huge salary, and so on. But we are so busy thinking about these goals and looking at them as pure achievements to be marked off on a list that we lose sight of the process. And in doing so we actually become less effective at the things we are trying to do.


The process is about becoming emotionally intelligent—about learning the skills of self-control, self-management, self-direction, and ultimately empathy.


In fact, to succeed—and to find meaning in that success—we must give meaningfully to others in time and energy, rather than just taking for ourselves.


Ultimately, it doesn’t have to be a “breakthrough” event to empathize, give, and build healthy and productive relationships. Regardless of how much money or prestige we achieve in life, I believe that achieving the “us” rather than only focusing on the “me” is truly where the biggest payoff is at in life.

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November 16, 2010

Who Needs Airport Body Scanners? An Alternative Approach

Not sure if this is serious or a joke, but I received an email for an alternative to body scanners at the airports -- may seem a bit crude, but then again we need to look for an effective security solution that is less invasive.

This particular idea, attributed to Israeli security, is for a booth that rather than take potentially invasive body scans, will safely (but not for you, if you are a terrorist) "detonate any explosive device that you may have on you." Poof!

Advantages: deterrence, speed, privacy, justice, and the objective of safe air transport is achieved.

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November 13, 2010

A Spiritual Approach To Material Success

Anyway, I’m reading this book about achieving personal wellbeing and there is a section about a study that was done where people were given two choices:

1) Earn $50,000, while your peers earn $25,000 or

2) Earn $100,000, while your peers earn $200,000

Well, the study found that about half the respondents choose #1—even though they would earn significantly less (i.e. literally half) and be able to afford less in real purchasing power.

In other words, many people choose to be poorer in real terms, in order to be relatively well off compared to their peers.

This is in stark contrast to the notion of collaboration. In leadership classes, books, etc., haven’t we been trained by now to believe that by working together, we can increase “the pie” for everyone? Well, increasing the pie seems appealing to many, only if their slice remains the largest piece!

The question is—why? Is it that people are unabashedly competitive, overwhelming selfish, or endlessly jealous of others? Or is this a survival-based choice, where we are “hardwired” to fight not only to stay alive, but also to achieve status?

Frequently at work—particularly around budget time—we hear people say things like this is “a zero-sum game”—meaning that what goes to one, comes from another. In other words, there is a winner and a loser in every transaction. For example, if I give you the resources, someone else has to give up some resources, so we can achieve our overall budget numbers.

Similarly at performance time, there is typically a “performance pool” with a certain allocation of money available for bonuses. The more that goes to one/some, the less that is available for others.

So despite all the “platitudes” about sharing, in real life a message about competition vs. sharing seems repeated again and again in life, with the doling out of the best education, job opportunities, healthcare, housing, and so on. There are limited/scarce resources and so not everyone is going to get what they want. The message sent to all: you have to compete to get your due—and the more someone else gets, the less that’s available for you.

But is striving for superior status really always desirable?

From a business perspective, there is a compelling case to be made that competition drives performance, and that we need to reward the best performers. At the same time, collaboration and information-sharing can improve our competitive edge. In other words, working with your peers effectively can improve everybody’s chances for success.

However, to many, there is an inherent notion of inequity in promoting competition, because we are all people—all children of G-d—all worthy. Why should some get more than others?

Unfortunately, there is a misperception of what competition is really all about and what it means to succeed.

Many believe or are taught that those that “win the race” are the more deserving—i.e. they are better people, chosen, or selected by fate or DNA; and those that get less are either a lower class or caste, punished or cursed, or that they must simply work less or just don’t try. Many unfair and ridiculous judgments are thus cast on why some have more and less. (Even the people who “lose the race” often feel this way.)

So it is no wonder, when people are asked to choose real or relative wealth, in a way, it is no wonder that so many may choose relative over real wealth—because winning means that they are deserving and therefore better.

If only we could let go of our judgmental attitudes, our superiority complexes, and the notions of entitlements because “we are who we are,” then maybe we could see past the illusion of superiority and move toward a society where we all seek a larger pie for everyone to share and benefit from.

In that world, everyone will chose option #2—to not only do their best, but also to maximize the best for everyone else.

In the end, competition is not with others but with ourselves. And success is helping others succeed, and maybe even being happy for them if they do better than we do.


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November 11, 2010

Microsoft’s Three-headed Play

Computerworld, 8 November 2010, has an article called “Ozzie to Microsoft: Simplify, Simplify.” Unless Microsoft can become nimbler and less bureaucratic, they will not be able to keep pace with technology change in the marketplace.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s departing Chief Software Architect (and Bill Gate’s successor since 2006) has prepared a five-year plan for the company that “exhorts the company to push further into the cloud—or perish.” (Hence, a recent Microsoft stock price that is half of what it was more ten years ago!)

According to Ozzie—and I believe most technology architects today would agree—the future of computing is far less about the PC and Windows and much more about mobile devices and services, which are not traditional core competencies of Microsoft.

The new technology landscape is one that is based on:

  • Mobility—access anywhere (smartphones, tablets, and embedded appliances)
  • Pervasiveness—access anytime (24/7, “always on”)
  • Shared services—access that is hosted and shared, rather than device or enterprise-based.

Despite seeing the future, Microsoft is having trouble changing with the times and many are questioning whether they are in a sense a “one pony show” that can no longer keep up with the other technology innovators such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and others that seem to be riding the mobility and cloud wave.

Wes Miller, a technology analyst, states about Microsoft: “My frustration is that it’s a big ship, and the velocity with which the boat is going will make it hard” for them to move from a PC-centric to a cloud-oriented world. “You’re talking about competing with companies that are, if not out-innovating Microsoft, then outpacing them.”

With the deep bench of intellectual talent and investment dollars that Microsoft has, why are they apparently having difficultly adjusting with the changing technology landscape that their own chief architect is jumping up and down screaming to them to confront head-on?

To me, it certainly isn’t ignorance—they have some of the smartest technologists on the planet.

So what is the problem? Denial, complacency, arrogance, obstinance, accountability, leadership, or is it a combination of these coupled with the sheer size (about 89,000 employees) and organizational complexity of Microsoft—that Ozzie and Miller point out—that is hampering their ability to effectively transform themselves.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the small and nimble have outmaneuvered lumbering giants. That’s why according to Fortune Magazine, of Fortune 500 companies, only 62 have appeared on the list every year since 1955, another 1,952 have come and gone. It’s sort of the David vs. Goliath story again and again.

While Microsoft is struggling to keep pace, they are fortunate to have had people like Ray Ozzie pointing them in the right direction, and they have made major inroads with cloud offering for Office365 (Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync—formerly OCS), Windows Azure (service hosting and management), and Hyper V (for server virtualization).

As I see it, Microsoft has 3 choices:

  1. Change leadership—find someone who can help the company adapt to the changing environment
  2. Break up the company into smaller, more nimble units or “sub-brands,” each with the autonomy to compete aggressively in their sphere
  3. Instead of focusing on (the past)—base product enhancements and the “next version,” they need to be thinking completely outside the box. Simply coming out with “Windows 13” is a bit ridiculous as a long-term strategy, as is mimicking competitors’ products and strategies.

As is often the case, this is really isn’t so much a question of the technology, because Microsoft can certainly do technology, but it is whether Microsoft can overcome their cultural challenges and once again innovate and do it quickly like their smaller and more agile rivals.


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An Always On Technology Society

We are an always on technology society--anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

Check out the new Microsoft commercial with some examples.

(Note: I am not endorsing Microsoft or their products.)


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November 7, 2010

Match Me With You

eHarmony and Match.com and other matchmaking sites are all the rage on the single scene with recommended partners for people being done by computer algorithm.

Now this concept of matching of people is going beyond people’s love lives and into the world of business.

CIO Magazine (1 Nov. 2010) reports in an article called “Call Center Matchmaking: Analytics pair customers with the right agents for better service” that companies are using similar technology to match customers and call centers reps in order to get higher satisfaction ratings and increased retention rates—and it’s working!

Since implementing the IBM system called Real-Time Analytics Matching Platform (RAMP), for example, Assurant has increased customer retention rates by 190 percent.

Other companies have been doing customer matching on a more elementary level for some time—for example, financial service firms route calls from high-net worth or high-balance customers to “premier agents.” Similarly, calls made at certain time are “routed to Boise instead of Bangalore.”

With computer systems like RAMP, there is a recognition that customers can do better by being matched with specific customer service representatives and that we can use business analytics to examine a host of data variables from sex and age to persistence in calling to match a customer to “the right” representative to handle their issues.

Based on success rates, computers have been shown to perform sophisticated business and data analysis, and to successfully match people for more successful business (and life) transactions.

If we can successfully pair people for love and for customer service, it makes me wonder what’s next (maybe happening already)? For example, will we pair people to “the right”:

  • Potential adoptee parents?
  • Neighborhoods?
  • Schools?
  • Jobs?
  • Bosses?
  • Coworkers?

In essence, as the “bar is raised” in a highly global and competitive environment, will we be pushed to seek to maximize our potential for success interaction with others—for developing high-performance and highly profitable interactions—by pairing exclusively with those that “screen” positive for us?

With genetic testing already being used to screen for babies that people want—like an order at Burger King—“hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us…”—we are already well on our way to “special ordering” the people in our lives.

Companies have also started to use intelligence and personality tests to weed out applicants, and the use of personality tests like Myers Briggs is already being employed for better understanding each other and working together.

However crude all this may be, it is essentially a high-tech way of trying to optimize our performance. The question is can we use technology to enhance personal interactions and elevate performance without subjecting people to undue bias, criticism, and violation of their privacy? This is a very slippery slope indeed.

Another potential problem with computer matching is that when we rely on computers to “tell us” when we have a good match, we are potentially missing potential opportunities for matches with others that cannot be easily quantified or summed up by a computer algorithm? As they say, for some “two birds of a feather flock together” and for others “opposite attract”—we shouldn’t limit ourselves to any creative, positive possibilities in relationships.


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November 6, 2010

Podcast and Slideshare by Andy Blumenthal on Mobility Solutions

Assorted smartphones

Click here for the audio of my speech at the Adobe Government Assembly on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Subscribe to all my podcasts on iTunes here.)
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November 5, 2010

Turning Consumerism Into Collaboration

I’m sure you’ve noticed that we are historically and fundamentally a consumerist society.

We spend a lot of time and money shopping and buying things—many of the things that we buy, we acknowledge that we don’t even need—just check your attic lately? :-)

Many compulsive buyers have even self-proclaimed themselves “shopaholics.”

Aside from being somewhat obsessive compulsive in the way we treat buying and owning things, we tend to be pretty wasteful in buying and throwing out things, often from individualized, single use servings—think fast food, as one example.

The result, according the Environmental Protection Agency (per WiseGeek), the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage a day or 1,600 pounds a year (and that doesn’t include industrial waste or commercial trash).

On the flip side of all the tossing out we do, are “hoarders” or those with the tendency to keep lots of things, often piled high in every corner of their homes and offices; there is even a show called by the same on A&E television dedicated to this.

So we shop a lot, spend a lot, buy a lot, and then consume it, hoard it, or toss it. And we do this with enormous volumes of things and in ridiculously rapid cycle times—for example, how many times a week do you find yourself in the stores buying things or then taking out the trash generated from it? (I can practically hear the lyrics of the Hefty commercial playing: ”Hefty, Hefty, Hefty—Stinky, Stinky, Stinky…”)

Overall, it’s a crazy system of conspicuous consumption driven by perceived needs for materialism, highly refined and effective marketing and advertising techniques, and people’s feelings of relative deprivation.

Yet despite these, there is movement underway to change from a society obscured by habits of personal ownership and consumption to a more healthy and balanced approach based on sharing and reuse.

And this is approach for sharing is happening not just in terms of personal consumption, but also in terms of our organizational use of technology, such as in service-oriented architectures, common and enterprise solutions, virtualization, and cloud computing.

We see change happening as a result of the huge financial deficits we have piled on individually, organizationally, and as a nation; the depletion of our vital natural resources (including concerns about our future energy supplies and other limited raw materials like precious metals etc.); and the fear of pollution and the poisoning our planet for future generations.

An interesting article in Wired called “Other Peoples Property” (Sept. 2010) talks about how we are moving finally toward a model of sharing through peer-to-peer renting sites like at www.zilok.com (with 150,000 items listed including cars, vacations, tools, electronics, cloths, and more) and other swapping sites for books, CDs, video games, etc. like www.swaptree.com. Of course, Zipcars and property timeshares are other fashionable examples of this new way of thinking!

Further, the article references a new book by Rachel Botsman called “What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption,” about how we are moving to a new consumption model that emphasizes “usefulness over ownership, community over selfishness, and sustainability over novelty.”

With new technologies and tools there is more opportunity than ever to share and reuse, for example:

  • Online repositories of goods and advanced search capabilities provides the ability to find exactly what we are looking for.
  • Embedding everyday items with microprocessors, networking them, and aiding them with geolocation, enables us to get self-status on their presence, health and availability for use.
  • E-commerce, electronic payment, and overnight shipping, gives us the ability to have the items available when and where we need them, and we can then return them for someone else to take their turn to use them.

If we can get over the stigma of sharing and reuse, perhaps, the day is coming when we can think of many non-personal items more in terms of community use and less in terms of mine and yours, and we’ll all be the richer for it.


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November 3, 2010

5 Lessons For Implementing Mobility Solutions

[Pictured from Left Kevin Brownstein, McAfee; Andy Blumenthal, ATF; John Landwehr, Adobe; Jack Holt, DoD]

Today, I participated on behalf of my agency at the Adobe Government Assembly: Engage America on a panel for mobility solutions.

I shared the lessons learned from our experience and pilot of mobile devices, including:

1) Be prepared to give the end users as many apps as possible—they want it all just like on their desktops.

2) In mobile devices, size and resolution matters. Although people like miniaturized devices, they want the display of the information and graphics to be clear and visible.

3) Users did not like using a stylus for navigation.

4) Users in the field don’t have time or patience to decipher complicated instruction guides—it’s got to be intuitive!

5) While security is critical, usability is key and it’s a balancing act.


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October 30, 2010

The Coloring Book of Leadership


In a leadership course this week, I was introduced to the “Insights Wheel of Color Energies,” a framework for understanding people’s personalities and leadership styles.

In the Color Energies framework, there are four types of personalities/styles:

  • “Fiery Red”—The Director—competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful, and driving— they seek to “do it NOW.”
  • “Cool Blue”—The Observer—cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal, and analytical—they seek to “do it right.”
  • “Sunshine Yellow”—The Inspirer—sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive, and expressive. They seek to “do it together.”
  • “Earth Green”—The Supporter—caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed, and amiable—they seek to “do it in a caring way.”

There is no one best type—each is simply a personal preference. And further, each of us is “incomplete and imperfect”.
  • The one who seeks to “do it right” may miss the point with their “analysis paralysis” when something needs to be done in a time-critical fashion.
  • Similarly, the leader that’s focused on “just getting it done now” may be insensitive to providing adequate support for their people, or collaboration with others in the organization.

We saw this clearly in the class. After each person was asked to self-identify which color they were most closely aligned to, it was clear that people were oriented toward one or maybe two types, and that they did have an individual preference.

While no framework is 100% accurate, I like this one as it seems to capture key distinctions between personalities and also helped to make me more self-aware. (I am Cool Blue and Fiery Red, in case you ever decide to “tangle” with me :-).

Combining Color Energies with other personality assessment frameworks, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), can help us to understand both ourselves and others.

With that knowledge we can work together more productively and more pleasantly, as we empathize with others rather than puzzling about why they act the way they do.

Once we start to identify the “color personalities” of others whom we know and work with, we can better leverage our combined strengths.

To me, therefore, leaders have to surround themselves with other excellent people, who can complement their personality and leadership styles so as to fill in the natural gaps that we each possess.

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