Saturday, August 20, 2005

If The World Is Flat, Don't Build Fences

If The World Is Flat, Don't Build Fences

You should take the time to read this important editorial from the San Jose Mercury News.

William Archey, the CEO of the American Electronics Association, points out that in its (understandable) haste to control the comings and goings of foreigners, the U.S. Government is starting to choke off one of the most important imports this country needs: Brains.

Here are the grim statistics:

"One of every five U.S. scientists and engineers is foreign-born. Over half of all doctoral engineering and math degrees awarded in the United States go to foreign nationals whose financial support helps make these programs economically viable. Yet for two consecutive years, foreign applications to American graduate engineering programs have declined, by 36 percent in 2004 and an additional 7 percent in 2005, according to the Council of Graduate Schools."

This country has always depended in its ability to attract the best and the brightest. While some decry the winner-take-all nature of our capitalist society, it tends to attract winners to America, people who aggressively take advantage of the freedom to create wealth, both for themselves, and for this country.

As long as all we had to do was compete with Europe and Japan, with their more rigid societies and suspicion of the ultra-successful, we could be pretty much guaranteed of cherry-picking the world's biggest brains.

Now, however, in a flat world where huge fortunes are being made in China, India, and Eastern Europe, there is far less incentive for people to make their way to America. In fact, one could argue that there is greater opportunity in those emerging markets.

I'm a firm believer in the American model, and in American cultural and innovation hegemony. But to fuel that model, we need to welcome highly skilled immigrants, not put barriers in their way. This does not mean that we have to completely open our borders; all we have to do is stop thinking of immigration as a monolithic issue and start dealing with skilled and unskilled immigration and travel differently.

To top it all off, it's unclear that rigidity and repression are effective counters to terrorism. My favorite magazine, The Economist, provides a great bit of historical perspective by comparing today's troubles with terrorism with the wave of anarchism that swept through the West at the end of the 19th century.

While today's terrorists have certainly had a huge impact, one should remember that the anarchists of the gilded age managed to assassinate six world leaders, including a popular American president:

"In deadly sequence, anarchists claimed the lives of President Sadi Carnot of France (1894), Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, the prime minister of Spain (1897), Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1898), King Umberto of Italy (1900), President William McKinley of the United States (1901) and José Canalejas y Méndez, another Spanish prime minister (1912)."

To deal with the fear, governments resorted to repression and harsh tactics, including torture, military courts, and restricting freedom of speech (sound familiar)?

For example, take France:

"France, too, resorted to unusual measures. After the bombing of the French Chamber of Deputies, 2,000 warrants were issued, anarchist clubs and cafés were raided, papers were closed down and August Vaillant, the bomber, was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death in a day. An apologist who declared that not a single man in France would grieve for the president if he confirmed the sentence (as he did), and then was assassinated (as he was), was jailed for two years for incitement to murder. The French parliament made it a crime not just to incite sedition but also to justify it. Criminal “associations of malefactors” were defined by intent rather than by action, and all acts of anarchist propaganda were banned."

In the end, all of the repression failed to kill the movement. As The Economist points out, there will always be evil men and women who use fanatical devotion to a cause to justify committing atrocities.

This Sentence Is False

This Sentence Is False

This week's New Yorker presents a lengthy discussion of bullshit.

The gist of the article, conveyed with ample quotations from books and various moral philosophers, is that the concept of an objective truth is under siege, not the least from a proliferation of bullshit, which is described as follows:

"The essence of bullshit, Frankfurt decides, is that it is produced without any concern for the truth."

I have been accused, from time to time, of being a practitioner of the fine art of BS. I can recall on one occasion one of my co-workers saying during the course of a debate, "Don't let him talk. Once he starts spinning things, it will all sound so reasonable that we'll have no choice but to agree with him."

I prefer to think of my approach as seeking a "higher truth." In his book, All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin argues that the essence of marketing is telling compelling stories that ring true and are supported by your product or service--even if they aren't the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I'm reminded of the DeWalt story, which I studied in business school. The Black & Decker company couldn't break into the professional power tools market because their potential customers saw them as a manufacturer of consumer products, not serious professional tools.

Even though Black & Deckers tools were better than their competitors, they didn't have a compelling story that their customers could believe in. So they created one. They built a new line of tools under the DeWalt brand name. DeWalt, which Black & Decker owned lock stock and barrel, had a good reputation as a maker of woodworking tools for professionals.

The same exact tools, under the DeWalt brand name, and using a tough-looking yellow and black color scheme, soon became the runaway market leaders.

Today, if you go to the DeWalt Web site, you can read about the company history, about the DeWalt family, and about all the product innovations. What you won't find anywhere is the fact that DeWalt is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Black & Decker.

Bullshit? You be the judge.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Link-O-Rama

Link-O-Rama

So many things to say, so little time....

I think it's a hoax, but here's a News.com article on a Web site that claims to provide outsourced blogging services via Chinese freelancers. Alternately, you could just let a robot blog for you.

In yet another sign of how the virtual world is spilling into the real one, Sony has named a winner in its EverQuest lookalike contest: Anna Wainscoat, a model from Sacramento, CA. I'd make some sort of insulting joke about Anna being the only babe in Sacto, but then they might ring their cowbells outside my bedroom window.

Of course, if you're looking for real-world babes, you might try using HotMaps, a mashup of HotOrNot and Google Maps.

If that fails, just create an entire Web site asking your favorite celebrity out on a date. Sadly for this fellow, he selected the lovely and presumably selective Natalie Portman. I think you'd have better luck with "DateMeCourtney.com." Is anyone else frightened that Tommy Lee is Courtney Love's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor? Talk about the blind leading the blind...

If virtual babes aren't your speed, how about a virtual talk show? This talk show, which takes place inside XBox Live's Halo 2 servers, combines talking heads with computerized carnage.

Just remember, where there's virtual adultery, there are virtual private eyes. Apparently, Second Life "widows" and "widowers" have paid money to online detectives to determine if their mates were committing virtual adultery. Sounds like a growth business to me!

Ever wonder if you or your boss is a psychopath? Take this quiz, and find out. I scored disturbingly high...but that might not be a surprise to the folks who work with me!

Now this is consumer generated media I can use. The Grocery Game taps into the army of couponers out on the Internet to find the best specials. It would be cool to come up with other possible CGM moneysavers.

Tired of the Foo Bar controversy? (And if you don't know what that is, I guess you can't sit at the cool kids table...) Take Bill Grosso's advice and actually get something out of it.

He's not ambiguously gay...he's totally gay. This exhibit of watercolors shows Batman getting in touch with his latent homosexuality. All nude, tastefully done.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Apple ][

Apple ][

I think I've died and gone to heaven. Here is a Web site where you can play old Apple 2 games using just your Web browser.

Here are my personal favorites:
AutoDuel
Choplifter
Joust
Lemonade Stand
Ultima III

Enjoy!

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

The Deal has an interesting article on Tim Draper of DFJ, and how he uses his outrageousness and risk-taking to help his firm achieve success.

Tim and his firm are like Dominican hitters in baseball. Dominicans have a saying--nobody walks off the island. Dominican hitters focus on swinging at the first pitch that looks good, rather than playing it cool and waiting for the perfect pitch.

Tim and DFJ are similar. They swing for the fences, and they swing constantly. They may strike out a lot, but they connect often enough to be successful.

Different people have different personalities. If you don't like risks or self-promotion, Tim's strategy isn't going to work for you. Personally, I like taking swings, and I admire Tim's willingness to look ridiculous in pursuit of the big win.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Happy Customers = More Money

Happy Customers = More Money

There seems to be a trend this week for self-evident headlines.

I'm reminded of the UK headline and subhead: "Young Men Like Video Games. In other news, sky blue, ocean wet."

Nonetheless, the importance of the fact that companies with greater customer satisfaction notch better financial results cannot be understated.

Companies make money by making customers happy. Unless you live in a Communist state, have an unbreakable monopoly, or put guns to their heads, customers don't have to give you their money.

I strongly recommend that folks pick up a copy of "Return on Customer" by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers of "One to One Marketing" fame. In it, Peppers and Rogers talk about how the best way to make money is to figure out how to maximize the lifetime value of your customer base, on a customer-by-customer basis.

The Power of Pee

The Power of Pee
"Researchers in Singapore have developed a paper battery that is powered by urine."

Some stories require no further commentary.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Stop The Presses: Rich People Happier

Stop The Presses: Rich People Happier

Researchers from Penn State and Harvard found that money can buy happiness--but only if you have more of it than your peers.

"According to the findings, an individual who earns $20,000 more than the peer group average is 10% more likely to be very happy than someone who earns $20,000 less than the average. The absolute size of an individual's income had only a small effect on happiness."

It turns out though, that money is only one of the factors that affect happiness. Physical health is the best single predictor of happiness, followed by income, education, and marital status.

This is the sort of study that is absolutely fascinating to me, because I believe that there are few things more important than being happy.

Now I know that the secret to being happy is to work out, eat right, keep learning, stay happily married, and recruit poor friends who will make me feel better about my income!

Mr. Mom

Mr. Mom

I would totally be a stay-at-home husband if it made economic sense. Alas, my expensive education and earning potential dictate that I slave away, albeit in the relative comfort of the startup millieu.

Marketing With A Sense Of Humor

Marketing With A Sense Of Humor
I really think more companies should take themselves less seriously and use humor in their marketing.

Computer Games Are The New Educational System

Computer Games Are The New Educational System
Schools in Europe are researching whether or not using games in the classroom can help the learning process.

Maybe I'm dating myself here, but I can remember my elementary school using text-based games like Oregon Trail to help teach history, and Carmen Sandiego taught geography and other facts.

Games work. And the sooner we embrace them instead of fearing them, the better.