Election 2012: A Tale of Two Americas

November 7th, 2012

Like everyone else who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the past decade, I am familiar with the many issues which divide us – gay rights, abortion, taxes, healthcare, etc. etc.

However, while watching the presidential election coverage on CNN last night, I was struck by the more fundamental aspects of division that exist among us.

We are divided by where we live – rural America or urban America. Obama captured the vote in almost all the urban areas across the country (even in the red states) while Romney captured the vote in almost all the rural areas (even in blue states).

We are divided by who we are – white heterosexual males or not. Gay whites, women and non-whites went for Obama big time while white heterosexual males went overwhelmingly for Romney.

We are divided by how we dress – casually or formally. The folks at the Obama campaign headquarters were a colorfully dressed rag tag bunch while the folks at the Romney campaign headquarters were looking prim and proper in their pinstripe suits.

It does seem like some of us are clinging desperately to a past – where many lived off the land, white males were running the show and restrictive dress conventions were the norm.

Until everyone of us catches up and starts to live in the present, we’re going to continue to struggle to build a great future …

Government is tricky business!

October 21st, 2012

Romney makes much of his business credentials when asking for our vote. In doing so, he is following the well established game plan of other business leaders seeking to be elected. This is because of an accepted truth that a successful manager will also govern successfully.

I’d like to double click on that.

A business sells a product or a service. Managing a business involves dealing with three key constituents:
– Customers: buy the product or service
– Employees: build the product or deliver the service
– Investors: fund the business and gain/lose with its fortunes

Managers are appointed by only one of the constituents – investors. Therefore, successfully managing a business only requires managers to make their investors happy. This gives managers a clear mandate and simplifies decision making.

Now let us switch to the government and examine the situation there.

A government offers services. Governing involves dealing with three key constituents:
– Users: use government services
– Employees: deliver government services
– Payers: pay for government services

Governors are appointed by all three constituents. Users, employees and payers are all involved either directly or indirectly. Direct involvement comes through voting and indirect involvement comes through influencing the voting via ads or other means. Therefore, successful governing requires making all three constituents happy. This gives governors a very fuzzy mandate and complicates decision making.

Clearly, managing a business and governing are very different beasts.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that successful managers make lousy governors. Here is why.

Successful managers tend to approach governing with a highly positive bias towards payers and a highly negative bias towards users and employees. Based on their own experience, successful managers feel payers are unfairly overburdened and therefore focus all their attention on minimizing the bill for payers. Also, the typical hubris in successful managers makes them take a dim view of users, creating a consequent focus on minimizing services for users. From the perspective of employees, successful managers tend to push pay-for-performance and outsourcing philosophies that don’t sit well and create new problems.

You can see this in play with Romney’s desire to cut taxes for the wealthy (big payers), his now famous quote on the “47% not paying taxes” (big users), his talk about reducing the influence of unions (pay-for-performance) and his ideas for privatizing services like medicare (outsourcing).

So the next time someone touts their business creds and wants your vote, just remember that government is tricky business!

Mentally ill people + Deadly weapons = Mass murders

August 8th, 2012

This simple equation explains our position with respect to situations like Aurora and Oak Creek.

If we want to do something to change things, there are only three options:

  1. Eradicate mental illness
  2. Eradicate deadly weapons
  3. Ensure mentally ill people don’t have access to deadly weapons

For #1 to work, every type of illness would need to be treatable. Furthermore, everybody would need to be regularly evaluated and treated if necessary to ensure nobody escapes the net. Given we’re still deeply divided on universal health care, universal mental care has a snowball’s chance in hell …

For #2 to work, we’d need to ban deadly weapons and ensure extremely strong enforcement of the ban. Given the strength of the gun lobby and our track record with enforcing drug laws, this one looks like a non-starter as well.

For #3 to work, we’d need to not only give up on our privacy but also hope that all potential threats can be detected/dealt with in time. Also, we cannot underestimate the resources needed to pursue potential threats to determine if they are legitimate or not. So this one too looks pretty bleak.

Folks, our only hope that we may yet solve the problem stems from the fact that I sucked at high school algebra …

From hero to zero

May 14th, 2012

All in the space of ten days. That my friends is the sad story of Scott Thompson.

Here is a guy presumed to be at the pinnacle of his career after having successfully led PayPal for several years. A knight in shining armor who was going to make history by saving Yahoo from the doldrums. There he was confidently slashing, restructuring and strategizing at Yahoo until the past caught up with him.

A seemingly innocuous claim of a CS degree from 30+ years ago was all it took to bring him down.

What a shame! In one fell swoop, everything the man has done for three decades is out the window. All that matters are the headlines screaming everywhere that he lied about his degree. People are cracking jokes at his expense all over the place. Yesterday at Tiecon 2012, I heard resume padding jokes no fewer than half a dozen times.

The higher they are, the harder they fall …

Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs

May 14th, 2012

Thanks to Walter Isaacson relentlessly peddling the Steve Jobs story through any and all means possible, a lot of folks are walking around thinking they too can be Steve. Walter is selling a pipe dream that anyone can be a Steve Jobs by simply following a formula and there are plenty of people buying this pipe dream.

The Steve wannabes go around lecturing others about building the perfect product or throw out pithy statements like “I don’t think Steve would have accepted this”.

I have news for all the Steve Jobs posers out there. Try as hard as they may, they will not even come close to being like Steve.

Steve Jobs did not spend his life trying to be someone else. While I’m sure he learned plenty from others, he achieved his tremendous successes by being himself.

So the next time you’re in a meeting with someone who thinks they’re Steve, be sure to ask if they can get you a discount at the Apple store :-)

Dusting off and taking stock

April 8th, 2012

Finally decided to get off my butt and start writing more regularly. Been giving my high schooler lots of advice lately about pushing herself to do more and the hypocrisy was beginning to grate on my conscience :-)

Been a pretty interesting past few years during my pause. All the exciting stuff at work and home has been dwarfed by what’s happened with the Web. It has continued to steamroll along on its journey to transform the business world. Mobile and handheld devices have added high octane fuel to the fire. Our household now has 3 iPhones and 3 iPads for 4 people.

But, I believe that we’re very very very very far away from reaching full potential. Let me explain.

The promise of the web from a business perspective is extremely simple – efficiency.

Efficiency is gained for businesses through access to:

  1. Information: while the web today delivers a lot of information, we suffer from the needle in the haystack challenge. Getting to relevant information is not just extremely difficult but also near impossible in many cases. Another complication is that several businesses consider information their crown jewels and are very reluctant to share this with other businesses.
  2. Technology: this is probably where the web is farthest along. However, availability and cost across the globe especially in developing countries remains a challenge.
  3. Expertise: the web is least mature from this perspective. While there are things like discussion forums and marketplaces for work like Mechanical Turk or eLance or oDesk, we don’t yet have a widespread and well established notion of virtual workforces that businesses can rely on.

While there is a lot of focus on #1 and #2, there isn’t enough focus on #3.

This is a HUGE problem because #3 is a BLOCKER.

Without widespread and stable access to expertise, no business can do anything useful with all the information and technology thrown at it. I believe we are now at that juncture where #3 is going to rapidly become an issue.

I rest my case.


Vote for me – boo hoo hoo

January 9th, 2008

Hillary, please spare us the theatrics. We don’t buy the crocodile tears and sudden love for young people. And to the people of New Hampshire that actually fell for the theatrics and voted for Hillary – shame on you!

Maureen Dowd‘s excellent piece in today’s NY Times sums Hillary’s little stunt in New Hampshire very nicely.

People, we have a very unique opportunity to make history in America. We have a presidential candidate Barack Obama who truly reflects today’s America – a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic melting pot where everyone is free to pursue their own dreams. By electing Obama to the presidency, we can send a strong message to the world and in one fell swoop regain our rightful standing and respect in the global community.

Obama is intelligent and articulate. He inspires and energizes like a true leader should. I have no doubt he will continue to attract the best minds in our nation to come together and solve the many problems that confront us. Nobody else in the current crop of candidates on either side comes even close to offering the sort of promise Obama does. They are all a bunch of veterans that are entrenched in the status quo.

My vote is definitely for Obama.

Bill, if you’re reading this, you know who you really want to vote for 😉

Singing a new tune

November 7th, 2007

Sometime back, I had written about how Web 2.0 was really about a fundamental shift in business models. It seems like a shift is underway in the Music business. This post on Warner Music’s woes highlights the symptoms of what is really taking place.

Historically, there have been four actors involved in the Music business – the artist, the studio, the distributor and the customer. Clearly, the artist and the customer are indispensable. However, the studio and the distributor are increasingly threatened – the former more than the latter.
Studios used to play an important role in the pre-web/immature web world because their employees actively sought out artists with good talent, cultivated and promoted these artists and ensured the success of these artists. They were really adding value – it was simply not feasible for either the customers or the artists to easily find each other. Of course, over time this gate keeping role translated to a lot of power for the Studios – they were able to promote artists irrespective of the level of talent, leading to poor choices for customers and poor deals for artists.

With the rising maturity of the web, there is really no need for any of the function Studios play. Artists can easily get exposure and the quality of their talent can be vetted by the web community at large. Once established, artists can even directly hawk their wares to their customers (like the Radiohead example in the blog post I cited above). The music industry now operates purely on meritocratic principles.

The mature web also brings a whole new distribution model to music – digital downloads. Outlets like iTunes and Amazon have displaced distributors relying on selling physical media.

Ultimately, I see the emergence of a few large music marketplaces that bring artists (especially those trying to establish themselves) and customers together. These marketplaces would be very efficient in bringing the best music at the best prices to customers and ensuring just rewards for talent.

Over the next few years we should witness a tussle between Studios and Distributors to establish themselves as one of these marketplaces. On the one hand, Studios have relationships with artists (not sure if these are very strong relationships) and on the other Distributors have relationships with customers. I would myself bet good money on the distributors winning this one – they seem to have a much stronger hand …

It’s Windows, Stupid!

October 23rd, 2007

Well, it’s no surprise to those of us that have recently switched to the Mac that Apple blew past its forecasts yesterday. Sales of the Mac have nearly doubled in the last year. Pundits appear mystified by this phenomenon and are trying to come up with all sorts of convoluted explanations like in this post on CNET.

To me, it’s plain and simple – frustration with Windows has reached the proverbial tipping point and the best alternative on the market is the Mac …

Goodbye Windows, hello Mac!

October 16th, 2007

About three months ago, after going through yet another uphill battle with Windows on my laptop – I finally decided to call it quits and switch to a Mac with OS X. Since then, I have been surprised to hear I am not alone. Several people have told me they have switched to the Mac recently because of increasing flakiness with Windows.

It seems like the very reasons which have made Windows and the PC platform such a runaway success are now haunting them. The vast ecosystem that exists around them have clearly led to a lot of innovative stuff being developed, but there is a huge combinatorial explosion that causes pretty much every machine to have its own unique configuration of software and hardware similar to an individual’s fingerprint or DNA. The trouble is that most of these configurations have never been tested and are therefore highly fragile and failure prone.

It seems like Linux on the desktop will likely suffer the same fate.

At least in the short term, the Mac being a somewhat closed system seems to help. In the three months I’ve owned mine, I’ve had to do one update and subsequent reboot which is pretty amazing given I was at about two reboots a day with Windows!

I hope for my own sake that the Mac does not become too successful – shhhh, don’t tell anyone you saw this :-)