Competing in Modern Business: Learning from the Hackers and Revolutionaries

Competing in Modern Business: Learning from the Hackers and Revolutionaries

The average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 has declined from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today, and we can assume that a large part of this decline can be attributed to technological innovation outpacing corporate agility. Corporations that are designed for the industrial age, where you can turn a profit doing one (or a few) thing(s) relatively well, are having difficulty adjusting to the rapidly changing technological landscape.

So, how do we promote corporate agility?

Google made waves in the modern world of business by pioneering (or, probably more accurately, perfecting and publicizing) this small-team method of management.  By creating multiple small teams, on which a single person may reside in different capacities, you create a non traditional management hierarchy and a more robust meritocracy.  Plus, you have the added benefit of cutting back on mob mentality and bureaucracy, while also boosting your response time.

In hindsight, this should have been obvious to companies the world over.  Smaller teams means less effort for more coordination, more accountability and transparency, and less mob mentality taking over. The evidence and historic precedence is there to support small team leadership, the only question is, how am I - a middle manager on the Island of Obscure Project Management - going to implement these philosophies into my every day life?  So, I'm going to close with three concrete and actionable steps you can take to start your career, if not your company, down a more productive path:

  1. Break up large groups whenever possible.  If you have a team of fifteen people working on a project, focus on creating smaller group meetings based on specific specialties before holding a larger group meeting.  For example, if you're implementing a new software package, host a small group meeting with the application developers and a separate meeting with the system analysts, before hosting a town hall meeting.
  2. Diversify your (employees') skills.  No one (not you or your employees) are mindless drones capable of only doing one thing repeatedly.  Stretch yourself and your employees by placing them in tangential roles on multiple projects.
  3. Promote employee buy-in. Make sure that your projects are not being dominated by one or two self-assured individuals; ensure that all team members feel comfortable contributing and, most importantly, feel that their contributions are valued by the other members of the team.

The Attention Economy and Marketing Warfare

The Attention Economy and Marketing Warfare

Patent and Trademark Law has been engrossed in the rise of e-commerce over the last several years and through a few recent cases (particularly  Allen v. IM Solutions, Inc.), has finally determined what we netizens have always known:  Websites and pop-up advertisements are a numbers game.

Unfortunately, this "numbers game" approach to advertising isn't isolated to just pop-up advertisements, but also spam e-mail, junk mail, and even the advertisements you see plastered throughout our nation's busiest airports.  In order to sell their products, marketers must determine a cheap way to reach tens of thousands of potential customers to find that 1% who fall for their hook.

Matthew Crawford recently wrote a op-ed on New York Times about the effect that the rise in advertising has on society during what is referred to as the Attention Economy. This faux economy is the attempt to explain the finite ability of modern humanity to focus our attention on specific items.  We can only focus on so many things, and in today's world we are increasingly being confronted with uncomfortable choices on what is and is not important enough to warrant our attention.

Arguing on the Internet

Every now and then, a peer of mine will ask me why I spend so much time "Arguing on the Internet" and they usually follow it up with a quip about how it's futile and how arguing on the Internet has never changed anyone's mind. I've always found this question to be a little misguided, but never quite knew how to articulate my misgivings.

You see, I'm a humanist - meaning that I believe in the inherent worth of every human, regardless of their race, gender, orientation, or religion - and I've been a fairly passionate advocate for it since I was old enough to string two sentences together. Plus, as anyone in my family will be quick to tell you, I like arguing - on the Internet or otherwise.

The Downfall of the American Economic and Authority Model

The Downfall of the American Economic and Authority Model

Economic theory states that effective capitalistic markets exist only when every individual and organization acts in their own best interests and are left unhindered and empowered enough to allow for each market to balance supply and demand.  To translate that into plainer English: Capitalism only works when everyone is able to create enough and purchase enough products to ensure that there is an ideal number of products on the market to avoid a surplus or shortage.

So what happens when the economic model is tampered with in an age where transparency is a by product of the Internet? Apparently, riots across the entire civilized world.

Historical Context: Investing in Education, In Spite of Economic Woes

We have seen the importance of education time and time again: from preventing polarization in politics and combating the over reliance on authority figures whom we deem infallible through the Halo Effect, to improving political engagement and increasing the lifespan of the educated.  However, in today's world with soaring tuition costs it can be difficult for many people to accept the insurmountable burden that obtaining a college degree can place on a family; especially when it's no golden ticket to employment after graduation.

Add to this the fact that we exist, in a world where congressmen believe that wind is a finite resource, homeopathic remedies are touted on a daily basis in lieu of medicine, and junk science has become an international export - can we really afford to have a polarized political environment that's too busy fighting over the existence of evolution (in the House Committee of Science no less) to enact meaningful change? If increasing education reduces the number of believers in an absurd theory (e.g. astrology), even without specifically addressing that theory - then an increased number of educated members in our society leads to a healthier, more engaged, and less susceptible to junk science populace.

So when graduating seniors are faced with the inability to go to college without taking on an unsustainable amount of debt, it affects the country in far more ways than just the job market. In fact, as the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, points out it may start a self-fulfilling prophecy where an underemployed workforce hurts the economy, which affects tax revenue, which drives down government programs.  A lack of government programs drives up tuition in schools and drives down political engagement, polarizes the political spectrum, and causes future generations to be underemployed as well. 

Hang on, I'm Saving the Internet

Hang on, I'm Saving the Internet

By now, it's pretty self-evident that I spend a lot of time blogging about issues that could have a direct, negative, impact on the Internet as we know it: SOPA (et al), PRISM, and the new Net Neutrality issues.  To our credit, the collective will of the Internet has been heard to prevent, reform, or significantly alter all of these issues (PRISM is in progress) and Net Neutrality is no different.

Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies; but all that could change.

Peering and Net Neutrality

There's been a lot discussion over the last few weeks after the Federal Communications Commission's "Net Neutrality" regulations were over turned and allegations of throttling for content heavy providers ensued.  These allegations are a lot more complicated than they would first appear, and it's not as simple as "Verizon is throttling Netflix."  In fact, the way that internet traffic is exchanged between multiple internet service providers (ISP), like Sprint and Verizon, is a bit complicated under a concept known as peering which is explained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation below:


Connections between web service providers, web sites, and ISPs depend on agreements to exchange Internet traffic with each other, or “peering” links. Operators of backbone and web services make peering agreements with ISPs about how to exchange Internet traffic so that data can be carried efficiently from one part of the Internet to another.


Mitch Wagner explains how this works with a little less jargon:


Two networks of comparable size will exchange traffic for free if each is sending roughly the same amount of traffic to the other. However, when the relationship is disproportionate, the network that sends significantly more traffic will often write a check to the receiving network to cover the costs. It's kind of like if everybody is going to a potluck dinner. If everybody brings the same amount of food that they eat, that's OK. But if one person habitually eats more than he brings, everybody else might ask that person to pay some money just to keep everything fair.


Peering agreements were traditionally handled at the ISP level (Comcast and Sprint, for example) where ISPs would agree what, if any, fiscal compensation was required to level the data transfer requirements, and typically these negotiations are transparent to the customer.  However, as Cogent and Sprint users might remember from 2008, they can spiral out of control enough to cause traffic outages.  Furthermore, ISPs have been known to withhold critical infrastructure upgrades to gain leverage in peering negotiations to the detriment of their consumers.


However, for all of the faults that we've seen as a result of peering, it has been overwhelmingly in our benefit.  Take Africa and South America for example; these continents are notorious for ISPs competing with one another and refusing to peer. As a result, the internet connectivity in these regions is astonishingly poor (maps).  So for all of the negative publicity that peering has gotten over the last month, it's worth remembering that it has ushered in a new era of high speed connectivity and globalization.


So what does this have to do with Netflix?  The prolific Comcast and Netflix deal signifies a shift from ISP - ISP peering to ISP - Product peering agreements.  Some pundits stipulate that this could signal a downward spiral of internet innovation as the ISP market increasingly collapses to a smaller number of superpowers where the peering burden is increasingly placed on the product owners.  While this is absolutely a possibility, we still have a few more steps before internet innovation is harmed.


Most notable among these steps is to prevent anti-trust abuses of ISPs and to ensure that while barriers to entry remain high, they are not artificially fabricated by the oligarchy of ISP superpowers. Unfortunately, this can be a little tricky to navigate as ISPs and city governments have a history of shady courtship prior to installing new infrastructure.  Similarly, as we've seen in politics at the federal level, lobbyists of superpowers can be difficult to ignore, making the free market more difficult to maintain.


So where does that leave your average consumer?


Potentially screwed.  The free market only operates at equilibrium if everyone acts in their own self interests.  If you are waiting for legislation to force companies to act in your self interest, you are going to be sorely disappointed. So if you find yourself giving your business to a company that isn't furthering your own interests (be it Wal-Mart, Verizon, or General Motors), change companies!

Generation At War

Generation At War

I am a man of the ripe old age of twenty-three, and while my generation may lack some of the experiences of past generations, we carry an interesting perspective on life that must be acknowledged for its importance.  We have always been a generation at war.

The realization that our generation has always been in war is not a solemn one for me, it's actually quite a trivial matter; statements like:  "We've always been at war," or "My father, brother, husband, or myself may deploy and not return [the same]" have become facts of life.  I say them with the same emotion and conviction that I would tell a child that the Earth revolves around the Moon, or that there aren't monsters under his bed.   There is no trepidation, anxiety, or fear in my affirmation of these simple truths; they merely exist.

They exist in the same purgatory as this perpetually never ending conflict exists.  This purgatory we find ourselves in is one of our own creation and its one that thousands every year seek to escape.  We find ourselves in a limbo that we know nothing outside of, because it's all that we have ever been taught.  We grew up in a post 9/11 world, where terrorism has surpassed communism as the 'big bad boogie man' and regulation for safety at the expense of freedom has become the status-quo.

Oh Look, Another "Cybersecurity" Bill

Oh Look, Another "Cybersecurity" Bill

Back in March, I posted a detailed post about PICP/SOPA and Lamar following a massive outcry of netizens across the world.  At first, it would have appeared that boycott lead by Google, Reddit, and Wikipedia was successful.  However, the ruling party simply does not seem to want to give up.  Don't worry though, we're not alone.  Some other countries have similar laws on the table; among them are the obvious choices (Korea, Iran, etc).  However, what may surprise you  also The United Kingdom

" The British government is about to unveil proposals to block the Internet for copyright enforcement purposes. The confirmation came in a Parliamentary debate yesterday on Intellectual Property, in which pro-copyright MPs had a little ‘chit-chat’ about the allegedly ‘anti-copyright’ government, and indicated their desire for the activation of the Digital Economy Act"