Sunday, 25 January 2009

Words from the wise

Back in 1992, I worked on a 'futures' project at KPMG - looking at likely changes in a range of industries.  One of these was media, so we gathered input from the great Paul Styles OBE (media guru bar none).  I remember Paul's prediction that we were the last generation who would buy music in physical form - telling us that we would listen to it on demand over networks.  This was, as I said, 1992 - certainly before I was using the Internet (and I suspect you too).
This week, the Guardian's Technology section caught up with Paul.  "Forget your iPod" was the message on the front page, thought not repeated in the article itself.  Basic messages were that
  • only a small percentage of iPod music is purchased downloads, and the the vast majority of downloads are not purchased
  • streaming music (from YouTube, MySpace, Pandora, Last, etc) is already taken hold - used not just on PCs, but also on the iPhone, etc
At one level, of course all this is true, but it makes me think three things:
  • there's a lot of things we learnt 10-15 years ago being presented as new news.  In the rush to understand what's happening now, we'd do well to listen a little more to those who were around before and during the first Internet rush.  They, at least, have been through one crash and burn
  • kind of misses the point about the iPod - as it morphs in any case into the iPhone; as we see WiFi growing across wider areas (so the iPod Touch becomes closer to an 'always-on' wired device) - so the iPod could remain a key device - the issue is surely the iTunes model, not the iPod at all.  In other words we need to think more about the underlying issue and models, looking at how things are developing, rather than drawing the seemingly obvious and (obviously) wrong conclusions
  • how could they fail to mention Wolfgang's Concert Vault? A great iPhone app, as well as browser - check it out.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

'How', not 'what' - and why

Four months into using the iPhone.  I like it a lot.  There's all the obvious stuff that it really ought to do that it doesn't do, sure.  But because it does what it does do so very well I rarely miss what it doesn't do.
I'm struck, though, by the App Store, and what it might be a sign of.  So, what about ...
  1. The importance of an ecosystem, rather than a single instance of core or application functionality in driving usefulness and making the device compelling.  So, the killer app is a meta-app?
  2. How cheap the apps are - I'm almost embarrassed to have paid for any, let alone as much as £11.99 (Omnifocus, and yes, worth it).  How can this not have an impact on applications software pricing first in the consumer space, and then through that spilling over, in the corporate space?
  3. The way it throws out apps that do one thing really well.  Those apps I especially like include Movies by Flixster; TubeStatus; BibleYouVersion; Facebook; AroundMe; and TwitterFon.  They're changing how I expect to access content and functionality away from a browser interface to something that's more akin, dare I say it, to an applicance.  I'm intrigued that widgets on my Mac weren't nearly as compelling, despite working pretty much the same way.  My sense is that we're seeing an early stage of usable, compelling, mult-function information appliances.
  4. I'm wondering about how these applications, their pricing, and the appstore are signs of future shifts in what mainstream corporate IS will look like - just today Mark Raskino posted a tweet (@MarkRaskino) from the Gartner BI Summit in Den Haag where a large corporation were reported to be finding that the iPhone UI was stimulating executive interest in Business Intelligence. 
So, perhaps stating the obvious, I think the 'how' often matters more than the 'what' in content / application / service provision - and that buried in the iPhone and its App Store are some pointers to a wider future.

And, in case you wondered, Cowabunga.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Why, oh why, oh what?

Always struck by how much people talk about what they do at work, not why they do it. Job descriptions typically reinforce this.

Does it matter? I think so. It encourages an internal focus, because the why usually relates to customers and clients. It de-emphasises purpose - leaving work often feeling lacking in purpose. It leads to the wrong discussions about how to make the job better, more efficient, etc.

Here's a business, spotted in Oxford, that gets it right. Wouldn't be as compelling if the van said "I check fire extinguishers", now would it? Wouldn't do much for the driver's sense of job-value either, I expect.

I help technology businesses, investors, and policy makers do the right next thing, and do the next thing right. What do you do at work?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Competitors, compassion, and craziness

Some things I've read in the past few days ...

"Get planning to move ahead of the sheep now" - a Tweet from someone I follow

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because  they were like sheep without a shepherd" - re Jesus in Matthew 9v36

"The prevailing trend that what one achieves - fame, wealth, performance in a turbo-charged career - is vastly more significant than the investment we make in emotional intimacy. ... we now know more clearly than ever - from extensive research - that it is the latter that is far more likely to make us happy" - Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian

Googling "make money" generates about 62m results; "give money" generates about 2m results; "profit" about 194m, "generosity" about 10m and "compassion" about 28m.  And googling "intimacy" - with many results suggesting we miss the point altogether - generates 14m results.  Interesting way of measuring what we prioritise?

I work for myself, so I understand the need to compete and generate revenue - if I don't win work that others want, then I don't pay the mortgage.  I recognise I need to invest in what I do at work, to be serious about it, or I have neither clients, nor expertise on which to trade.  And, of course, I'm not always generous-spirited about those with whom I compete.

But, maybe, just maybe, this is as good a time as any to think about how we bring respect for competitors (and of course others) into our businesses - and how we put those businesses themselves into perspective.  Aren't we capable of so much more?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Strange Land - What's This About?

So, Happy New Year!  About time to introduce this blog, I reckon.

I've started blogging for a couple of reasons.  First, it offers me a chance to figure out what I think about a bunch of issues I encounter in my business life - to reflect on what they mean, why they might matter, etc.  Second, for those with whom I've connected, it's an opportunity, should they want one, to see what I'm thinking - to stay in touch with the issues I'm working through, and perhaps to even engage with me on them.

If these are the 'why', there are some guidelines I have to set myself.  
  • Topics have to be those that could be of interest to more than just me - and, specifically, to the group of people with whom I have worked, am working, or will work.  That means I'm likely to focus on technology, media & broader business related issues - be they industry, market, adoption, management, strategy, leadership or whatever
  • So, no holiday snaps per se, no family histories, no social life - this is not my life-story played out in semi-real time
  • On the other hand, if I'm working through issues for myself, then expect my values, beliefs and context to show through - I don't want to be compartmentalised.
  • And finally, if this is to be of use to me and of potential interest to others, I have to blog on a regular basis - expect at least weekly posts, except during holidays.  
So, why the title and tag line?  They're about me finding these to be strange and unusual times - and my ambivalence about that.  Yes, I work with and am enthusiastic about the changes technology brings - but I'm also wary of some of the impacts of that change.  So, I find myself wondering where I am, what's really going on - and feeling, on occasion, far from home.

And the references - for those who are especially curious -DylanTS Eliot (and through him Shakespeare and Seneca), and the Bible are all in there.  I'm sure there are other echoes too.