Sunday, November 06, 2011

It's like a Mach piece, really.

It's hard to disagree that This is Spinal Tap is one of the best comedies made (but if you do disagree, I will be too flabbergasted to even argue with you).

What I wonder is, just how many rock 'n roll bands Rob Reiner observed before being inspired to write this opus? So much of this film's beauty is how insanely well it identifies common themes among rock bands.... truly making this phenomenon stranger than fiction [a small sampling; (1) the ridiculous lyrics; (2) the frustrated manager; (3) the absurd outfits; (4) the divisive spouse].

I propose that we are at that point with technology entrepreneurs. This month alone has featured a preponderance of stories on two well-known Silicon Valley founders and it's easy to see some common themes emerge...: a genius since childhood....a few failed projects early in the insane dedication to the incredible vision. When I read the latest in today's New York Times, featuring a photo of the entrepreneur as a 5 year-old, I had two thoughts: (1) Why in the world do I care what this person did at age 5?; and (2) This proves it: the time has come to create a Spinal Tap for Geeks.

I'm not sure we can ever match the brilliance from 1984's epic piece but....kind of curious what Rob would think....

And, if you don't know what this headline means....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Koolaid is Tasty

Last month I had the privilege of joining WebFWD, the new accelerator from Mozilla. When I first learned of the opportunity, Mozilla was to me one thing: "makers of Firefox."

Boy did I have a lot to learn (and still do). At this point, while my brain is still somewhat fresh with the "business" (as in, non-open source) way of thinking, I've identified some key areas that many businesses seek to excel at...and what Mozilla has been building on for years already:

Coming from the non-open source side of business, I've been involved in a lot of efforts focused on both employee and customer engagement. In technology, both are key: creating and transferring knowledge require a high degree of information sharing and engagement, both among the developers and the consumers of the software.

At Schwab, we developed a number of programs to engage our IT employees: contests, rewards, events, newsletters, feedback loops, "fun budgets" - any trick short of bribery our HR was ok with, we did it. We monitored, we measured the results, we reported back to senior management.

Flash to the world of Open Source...where, in shock, I learn things like:
  • More than 1,000 volunteers contribute code to Firefox, accounting for roughly 40% of its code. Yes, volunteers: as in, voluntarily.
  • 400,000 people contribute to Mozilla through its project tracking system Bugzilla
So um yes, these are volunteers, people. Unlike the highly-paid IT professionals we had to cajole with "fun budgets," these people willingly give of their time and their talents. There's no better engagement than that which is not engineered. It's internalized. It sticks.

Social Enterprise
When I was at Haas, the Global Social Venture competition was just starting and the "triple bottom line" was emerging as a paradigm for businesses to deliver value on social as well as commercial fronts. This is becoming pretty pervasive today, thanks in part to social media adding an unprecedented level of transparency to consumer decision making, allowing them to select - and switch - vendors using simple scorecards, and spread the word prolifically. Social good is a huge brand asset

When I encountered this huge phenomenon of Open Source volunteerism, I had to know ...why? Why would these talented professionals give their long-developed skills over for free to an open project? I'm learning that, while there are many reasons, the primary ones are the desire of dedicated people wishing to make things better: for themselves through better tools that solve their problems, and for others through increased competition. This results in a different kind of economy: one predicated less on transacting money for labor, and more on exchanging goodwill and knowledge to improve things. It's allowed social enterprise to extend beyond fair labor practices and health products and into the world of technology. It's very cool.

If you've had even one baby toe dipped in the realm of social media over the past 5ish years (and really, who hasn't?), you'll know that "community" is a huge deal. It's the way brands and firms engage (that word again) with their customers. It's Facebook groups. It's Twitter followers. It's Google+ Circles. It's something else next week. But it's important, because it's a way for organizations to draw in and retain customers and influence.

It's so important that brands paid big bucks to firms like the company I consulted with prior to joining Mozilla to create programs to get people to simply click "Like" on Facebook. 

Then I join Mozilla where I learn things like:
  • SUMO, Mozilla’s community-powered support site, helps an average of 10,000 Firefox users per week.
  • Students from more than 600 institutions in 57 countries spread Firefox as Mozilla Campus Representatives
This is community of the best kind: galvanized around a mission that extends beyond their individual needs, and not dependent on any one person or leader and as such, is highly sustainable and durable.

At Schwab we had another initiative: decentralize its workforce (which at the time was concentrated in San Francisco which was perceived as cost-prohibitive), and develop best practices and infrastructure to support this. Remote working policies and technology had to be developed, deployed and broadly adopted. It posed a fundamental shift in how people worked together. Schwab of course is not alone in this endeavor.

At Mozilla, the organization is already global at its core. A few data points that underscore this nicely:
  • Firefox is available in more than 75 languages (covering more than 97% of the world’s online population)
  • Firefox is used in every country in the world
  • Almost every non-English version of Firefox is localized by community volunteers
  • More than 50% of global Firefox users use non-English versions 
 ...and you can read the Mozilla Manifesto in 33 languages. But what really drove this home for me was the crazy corners of the earth I hear Mozillians operate from (most recent being Hanoi). Often in their own homes, leveraging the video and real-time conferencing technologies used by volunteers, staffers and community members alike. What many corporations are trying to build are merely the stuff daily Mozilla life is made of, as well as that of many other open source projects (check out GitHub, which supports over 1 million people sharing code around the world).
Small wonder, then, that Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker recently encouraged Mozillians confronting an increasingly competitive browser market (thanks largely to Mozilla itself) to "be more Mozilla then ever." Whether they know it or not, it's what most companies want, too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Da Art of Storytellin'

Not many would argue that publicists/PR types/communications professionals are all about storytelling: weaving together the right angles, sound-bites and talking points to advance their agenda in the media and influence spheres of their choosing.

What many people don't realize is that the to be effective, these professionals often have to tell a parallel internal story as a precursor to telling that external story. For example, consider the inside sale that has to happen when a bunch of....
  • Harvard PhDs want to start a dating site and need "a marketing person." That marketing person - likely intrinsically far more fun than the algorithm-coding founders - has to somehow *convey* fun to them in order to bring it to the rest of the world.
  • Enterprise software boys who never use half the social media tools themselves suddenly learn that there's money in "being social" and want to talk that up.
The marketer must translate the levity of dating to geeks....and the organic, peer-to-peer elements of social to hierarchical, conventional thinkers, in order to bring the message back to ROW. This isn't simply telling the external story to them first for approval. It's repackaging it into what matters to them: convincing the geeks that your message leads to quantifiable things like user acquisition, and convincing the enterprise dudes that your messages will lead to cash.

So next time you see a really good message, remember: there were probably some other stories that had to happen first.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Assymetric Information

A fairly prominent blogger just posted this note on a Facebook job group:
"Gentle suggestion to job seekers - if you respond to a job eagerly and then fail to follow-through on simple requests for information, it doesn't reflect well. If you have a change of heart on a position, just be up front about it, don't be passive-aggressive and just go off the radar. Unless of course you've been hit by a truck in which case it's understandable."

Once I got beyond the Jewish mother memories this invoked, I quickly concluded two things:

1) Perhaps more frequently, the word "seekers" can be replaced with "posters"

2) The entire job search process is just so danged assymetric. It's a gentle jig of information-sharing. Does the side of the table with the most uncertainty depend on the state of the market (i.e. supply & demand of labor)? Why does it have to be such a guessing game?

The whole dance of information disclosure and timing is, as I often say, dating on steroids: the ultimate in inference. I'm SO glad I'm not actively 'dating' anymore. But it was a precursor to finding something sustainable. Must the job search process always be the same for a thriving career?

I'm searching for other paradigms.