Friday, August 05, 2005

Paul Graham Essay Alert: What Business Can Learn From Open Source

Paul Graham Essay Alert: What Business Can Learn From Open Source

Paul Graham has a new essay out, which means that you need to click on this link, stop reading my blog, and start reading his thoughts.

For those who want a little more background first, Paul's latest essay discusses what business can learn from open source. Specifically, why is it that Microsoft, the world's richest corporation, can't make a browser that's as good as Firefox?

Paul carefully examines just how unproductive the average business environment is, and sums it up nicely with three points:

(1) that people work harder on stuff they like
(2) that the standard office environment is very unproductive
(3) that bottom-up often works better than top-down

The irony is, as Paul points out, open source and blogs are more like free markets, while the standard corporation is more like a Communist state.

I've noticed this myself, in the sense that the bigger the organization I've worked with, the farther its employees seem to be removed from the realities of the product and factor markets. The smart people of Pfizer spend more time worrying about internal politics and regulations than about how to make good drugs.

I'm not sure how a regular business can benefit from Paul's insights, but they go a long way towards explaining why I always work in startups, and refuse to even contemplate the corporate life.

The Forgotten Half Of Changing My Mind

The Forgotten Half Of Changing My Mind
Seth Godin writes about the peculiar process of changing one's mind. Seth points out that changing one's mind (what Seth calls "the flip") is a discontinuous process, and that unless you are open to the change, will rarely happen.

"Being right isn't the point. Being right and being persuasive don't seem to matter much either. Being right, being persuasive and being with the right person when that person is pre-disposed to change their mind... that's when things happen."

Interestingly enough, this ties in perfectly with one of the books I'm reading, The Forgotten Half of Change. In it, Luc de Brabandere writes about how changing reality is only one half of change. The other half is changing the perception of reality.

The Internet putters along, with mainstream media calling it, "the CB radio of the 90s." Almost overnight, it becomes the Next Big Thing. Was there a massive jump in Internet usage from one day to the next? No, but there was a sudden change in perception.

To change reality, you have to change minds.

Reality is the new black

Reality is the new black

And not just because our television sets have been taken over by psychopathic narcissists.

This post makes the point that the old ways of marketing, based on unrealistic fantasies, are being supplanted by a focus on realism, as the huge wave of baby boomers tries to come to terms with aging by seeking greater meaning in their lives.

The example given is the success of Dove's "real beauty" campaign, which features pictures of real women, not models, in all their imperfect glory.

I'm not sure that I buy a sea change in marketing--sexual fantasy still seems to be a mainstay--but I do think that people are starting to seek meaning rather than simple consumerism.

If the ride is more fly, then you must buy

If the ride is more fly, then you must buy

You know that rap is truly mainstream when Lee Iacocca and Snoop Dogg are co-starring in Chrysler commercials.

Fo shizzle, I-ka-zizzle!

There Are Teams, And Then There Are Teams

There Are Teams, And Then There Are Teams

An interesting article on how most of the "teams" we talk about in the business world aren't all that passionate or committed.

The author, a military veteran, writes about the shock he felt when he transitioned into civillian life and experienced the general lack of commitment.

As he points out, "Effective military units are comprised of people fully committed to their purpose. Their commitment levels include the knowledge that they may die trying to accomplish their tasks."

And while our daily business lives generally aren't life and death, it is interesting to think about how we could be as committed to our teams as the military is to theirs.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Taglines Ate My Brain

Taglines Ate My Brain
Ever wonder about the impact of the advertising industry on your brain? Just peruse this list of the top 100 taglines since 1948, and see how many of them seem familiar.

I think I recognized over 90% of them, and that's despite the fact that I was born in 1974, long after many of these campaigns had run their course.

Viva Le Sweatshop

Viva Le Sweatshop

There are clearly cases in which multinational corporations go into developing countries and cause havoc. Nestle's infamous campaign to convince African mothers to use formula instead of breast milk comes to mind. However, it is important to note that sometimes working in a sweatshop beats the alternative, and that just because something makes money doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, usually it's good.

Creativity Resources

Creativity Resources

This fascinating link from Ben Casnocha offers 163 techniques and 30 tips on how to access your creativity.

It's going to take me a while to go through it, but I'm looking forward to trying them out!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I can't wait to try this the next time I ride an elevator

I can't wait to try this the next time I ride an elevator
Apparently, you can put most elevators into "express mode" simply by pressing the "Door Close" and "Floor" buttons simulataneously.

This would have come in very handy in June, when I was staying on the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Boston!

Can some loyal reader try this out and report back?

My thanks to BoingBoing and Kottke.org for originally picking up this item.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

China Bets $1 Billion On Online Games

China Bets $1 Billion On Online Games
Still don't think that online videogames are big business? The Chinese government announced that it will invest $1.8 billion to expedite building game development centers in major cities.

I'd hate to see the eventual IRR on that investment, which just goes to show that Commies don't have to worry about limited partners.

The Gaming Paradigm For Education

The Gaming Paradigm For Education
If you want to get people to do something, make it fun.

This researcher has used online games to rope people into providing free labor; why not do the same for education?

Economic Freedom As A Bulwark Against Extremism

Economic Freedom As A Bulwark Against Extremism
A fascinating post by Richard Posner on how the European model for capitalism actually encourages more Islamic extremism than the American model. Essentially, because the European model acts to preserve the status quo, it inhibits assimilation by new immigrants. In contrast, the more "heartless" model of American capitalism encourages assimilation rather than ghettoization:

"Krugman's failure to relate the European model to Europe's Muslim problem is telling. To point to the upside of Europe's social model without mentioning the most serious downside is to provide bad advice to our own policymakers. The assimilation of immigrants by the United States, compared to the inability of the European nations to assimilate them--with potentially catastrophic results for those nations--is not unrelated to the differences between economic regulation in the United States and Europe. Because the U.S. does not have a generous safety net--because it is still a nation in which the risk of economic failure is significant--it tends to attract immigrants who have values conducive to upward economic mobility, including a willingness to conform to the customs and attitudes of their new country. And because the U.S. does not have employment laws that discourage new hiring or restrict labor mobility (geographical or occupational), immigrants can compete for jobs on terms of substantial equality with the existing population. Given the highly competitive character of the U.S. economy, in contrast to the economies of Europe, employers cannot afford to discriminate against able workers merely because they are foreign and perhaps do not yet have a good command of English. By the second generation, most immigrant families are fully assimilated, whatever their religious beliefs or ethnic origins.

In contrast, even in a country such as France that has a declared policy of requiring all immigrants to assimilate, immigrants from alien cultures, such as that of the Islamic world, tend to be marginalized and isolated, even in the second and later generations. European unfriendliness to immigrants might be thought a cultural rather than an economic phenomenon, but the paper by Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote on which Krugman relies argues that the European preference for leisure, also supposedly cultural, rests on policy, specifically the employment laws. So too in all likelihood is the difficulty European nations have in assimilating immigrants. The less fluid, less competitive, less market-oriented, and indeed less materialistic (the only color important to businessmen is green) a national economy is, the less opportunity it will provide to alien entrants.

Advocates of the European model point to the pockets of poverty in the United States, but may not realize that poverty cannot be abolished without recourse to measures that produce the social pathologies that we observe in Europe. Social mobility implies the opportunity to fail. If society protects jobs, the employment opportunities of ambitious newcomers are reduced and they may end up at the embittered margin of society. Thus, it is not poverty that breeds extremism; it is social policies intended in part to eradicate poverty that do so, by obstructing exit from minority subcultures. If Muslims in European societies do not feel a part of those societies because public policy does not enable them to compete for the jobs held by non-Muslims--if instead, excluded from identifying with the culture of the nation in which they reside they perforce identify with the worldwide Muslim culture--some of them are bound to adopt the extremist views that are common in that culture. The resulting danger to Europe and to the world is not offset by long vacations."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Political Roundup: Framing, Schools, and Free Trade

Political Roundup: Framing, Schools, and Free Trade
Framing:
Remember our previous discussion of framing? Here's a great example of Kiwis who understand the importance of sticking to a message of differentiation.

Some of the contrasts as simply perfect, like "Which School?" which contrasts "We decide" with "You decide."

As usual, this effective framing is being done by the conservative party. Maybe we can call this pattern, "Democratic Party Disease."

Schools:
Another perennial, which we covered back during the McClintock Modest Proposal debate. Here, Ben Chavis, the principle of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, writes about how he has been able turn around this small school for low-income students and make it one of the top performers in the state.

Chavis has many things to say which certainly attract attention. He lambasts his fellow Democrats for putting their emphasis on culture and self-esteem rather than simply teaching the basics. He blasts his fellow school administrators for spending all their time at conferences rather than running their schools. But most importantly, he points out that he has achieved better results than other public schools while spending almost 20% less money.

"It's ludicrous to ask parents for money when I believe schools get more than enough money. Oakland spends about $8,500 per child. I spend about $6,000 per child and I outperform them.

You can never give public school administrators enough money. We don't need more money. We need public school administrators who can manage money."

This is certainly the sort of thing that I like to hear. Now can somebody tell me if there's any catch to what he's done or been able to accomplish?

Free Trade:
Will wonders never cease--celebrities in favor of free trade? Good lord, what's next, people speaking out in favor of globalization? We can dare to dream....