Saturday, March 26, 2005

Identity Theft

Last year, I was the victim of identity theft. Someone used my name to open a Sprint PCS cell phone account and run up $500 worth of charges. Fortunately, I didn't have to pay a dime, but the perps were never caught.

That's why I found this story so amusing. This is the first person account of an identity theft victim who turned the tables and actually nabbed the criminals red-handed.
Free Lunch, Part II

The founders of Become.com told job applicants to spend 40 hours trying to come up with a better search engine than Google. 100 applicants took up the challenge.

The interesting thing is that in the original article, the CEO commented that "Many of the concepts that came out of that process ended up in the Become.com algorithm."

After an instant firestorm of blogger criticism from notables such as Om Malik, who decried this as exploitation, the founders of Become.com quickly claimed that none of the code went into the Become.com codebase.

As far as I'm concerned, that's not exploitation, that's entrepreneurship. No one put a gun to the job applicants' heads and forced them to invest their time. Why not get something useful out of the job interview process, rather than having them work on meaningless problems?
Is There A Free Lunch?

An increasing number of offline institutions are realizing that online worlds can help them with training including the U.S. Army and now, currency traders in London.

Just as in The Last Starfighter, where an alien race used video games to identify top gun pilots, the companies of the future will use games to identify top candidates.

John Robb takes this principle one step further, by speculating, "Could online game story telling be adapted to generate a real-world economic activity (other than the sale of the game)? Imagine a corporate story, written into immersive software, that generated real-world economic results. If it was fun, people would play it 15 hours a day with a level of engagement you don't see in the workplace. Players from all over the world would join."

I think it's quite possible. It brings to mind an old cartoon from the original Dungeons and Dragons manuals. It shows a knight and wizard rolling dice while a priest looks on. "It's a new game called papers and paychecks. We role-play students and workers in a technologically advanced society without magic!"

Friday, March 25, 2005

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

In response to my Bobby Knight posting, Ben sent me a pointer to this terrific post with links to a genuine Bobby Knight tirade, among other things.

I don't think I've ever heard so many curse words in my life!
The Virtual Economy

The blurring of lines between real and virtual continue. To add some star quality to the new Matrix Online MMOG, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment has hired 20 actors to portray the movie's main characters online. Can an Online Actor's Guild be far behind?
The Sound of Silence

My friend Ben Casnocha recently posted about how talking slow generates credibility when making a sales presentation. He's absolutely right, but not talking at all is even more important.

Silence is one of the most powerful tools in a salesman or negotiator's arsenal. It is very human to fill dead air. Silence is uncomfortable, even embarassing. But that's what makes it so powerful.

You can use silence to your advantage by getting the other party to say things that they hadn't planned or wanted to reveal.

Moreover, if you are making a sales call, silence is the most likely way to find out what the customer's real needs and issues are.

Of course, like any powerful tool, silence needs to be used carefully. I deploy silence judiciously. Usually, I'll ask a question that I want answered. If the answer is cursory or evasive, I'll simply sit there silently. Often, the other party will eventually crumble and say something just to make the silence go away--that's when I move in and try to probe deeper.

In some cases, however, the other party may have the same strategy. Ultimately, a 1 minute silence is embarrassing and counterproductive. If the silence doesn't produce the desired response within 15 seconds, I advise moving on and trying again later. Silently humming a bar of the Jeopardy theme usually works for me!

As always, use your judgment. If you overuse the silence gambit, the conversation will have no flow. But used properly, it can help you gain much greater insights into what the other party in a conversation is thinking.

Can you think of an occasion when silence would have helped you get more out of a sales call or negotiation?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Power of Hatred

Texas Tech men's basketball coach Bobby Knight is a jerk. His failings are well documented. He kicked his players, verbally abused those around him, thrown chairs during a game, and on many occasions demonstrated that he is one of the biggest assholes to ever walk the face of the Earth.

He is also one of the greatest coaches of all time, a three-time national champion who won despite have inferior athletic talent.

I had never really thought about the causal relationship between those two facts. In general, I just thought, "It's a shame that such a great coach is such an insufferable ass."

Then today, I read this article by Jason Whitlock.

In it, he argues (quite persuasively to my ear) that Knight's failings as a person give him the drive to be a great coach.

"Bobby Knight is so ... real. He's petty. He's insecure. He's vindictive. He's bitter. He's a bully. He's paranoid. He's out of control.

Insecurity, pettiness, vindictiveness and paranoia – things that can destroy a man's personal life – are the fuel that drive a man in his professional life. Most men just don't have the courage to embrace these negative characteristics.

No one speaks out on behalf of hatred. But it's driving Knight. For five years Bobby Knight has been trying to embarrass Indiana. That drive is so strong that I'm not sure Knight gives a damn about Texas Tech or Lubbock – except for the Red Raiders' usefulness as lucky, winning pawns in the game Knight is playing with Indiana administrators and Davis.

And, man, wouldn't it be great to watch Knight act like a complete @$% at the Final Four? Wouldn't that be fun? With the whole world watching, Knight would give Indiana the finger one last time. He could become the spokesman for bitterness.
Hatred, paranoia, vindictiveness, pettiness and insecurity – the emotional energy that created the greatest coach the sports world has ever seen."

While I never want to be a jerk like Bobby Knight, it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of genius and leadership.

I know that I have certain "dark" emotions that drive me. I find that envy, greed, and pride are pretty powerful forces. I covet the success that other have. I want to succeed and do better than my peers.

What dark emotions help drive your success? Are the any ways in which hate or being a jerk have helped you?
HBS + NFL

My alma mater is going to be working with the NFL to start an educational program for NFL players who are interested in making the transition to the business world.

While many people might think that Harvard and the NFL wouldn't mix well, the B-school actually is home to a lot of former athletes. For example, Olympic Silver medalist Paul Wylie was in my class. Our class also had a fair number of former Division 1 college athletes. One of my fondest memories is when I and a number of normal pickup ball players actually managed to win a game against a team of former D1 players. It was definitely a fluke.

It turns out that many of the characteristics that help people excel at sports--dedication, focus, coachability, teamwork--translate to the business world. Athletes just need the right toolkit and education to direct those talents.

On a wider note, I think that many people would benefit from a brief business school education. So many people (especially politicians) seem to have no concept of basic business concepts like supply and demand. Does anyone know of any e-learning initiatives that can provide a basic business education in the course of, say, 8 hours?

Monday, March 21, 2005

"Podcasting is so 2004"

This just in from Om...

PSP Video 9 can convert any video (including BitTorrents) into a PSP-readable format. PSP Video 9 will seek out your favorite shows and movies (either from your actual TV, or from the P2P networks) and load them onto your PSP for your viewing enjoyment.

This is the next logical step in the conversion of life from a broadcast paradigm to a feed subscription paradigm. First RSS converted reading into a feed. Flickr converted photos into a feed. Podcasting converted radio and music into a feed. Now PSP Video 9 converts televistion and movies into a feed. By my count, all that's left are taste, smell, and touch.

Will we all someday subscribe to sensory feeds? Will adult entertainment go interactive and open source? Will people be able to make money by including product placement in virtual vacation experiences? Will I ever get tired of asking these questions?

The answer, of course, is yes.