Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Patent Is a Virtue

The large Finnish communications company, Nokia, filed a massive legal action against Apple today. The complaint alleges that Apple has infringed on numerous Nokia patents throughout nearly all of Apple's current product portfolio. If proven to be true, this complaint could have major ramifications for Apple - something that was evident in Apple's declining stock price following the announcement of the legal action.

In a world where "free" seems to be the hip new business model, this event shows the relative dominance of old capitalistic principles. The international protection of innovation and the investments required to create such innovation will be clearly tested. The sales of expensive hardware are still so significant so as to foster this continuous innovation - and the consequent struggles over fundamental intellectual property.

So we end a decade in which the proliferation of digital distribution of information goods has made charging for something into nearly a sin, with the ultimate battle over the most basic business model - over who has the right to charge a fair price for the mobile phone.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why the Top?

It seems that the media loves to reminisce. Over the past few weeks I've read, heard, and saw hundreds of top-10/top-100 lists depicting the best/worst of 2009 and of the past decade. Everything from iPhone apps to music to sociological phenomenons to scientific breakthroughs has been scrutinized and ranked.

Now a little bit of nostalgia is always fun but never have I seen such a heightened sense of past-awareness. Is the future so uncertain that all we can do is wrap ourselves in the safety of previous events? This is probably a big part of the answer for mediums such as newspapers and magazines - which might not even exist by the time 2019 rolls around.

But why are so many bloggers so obsessed with cataloguing the past 1-10 years? Probably because it's such an easy concept to turn into quasi-meaningful content. A ten minute search can revive my memory of nearly any concept. The 2000-2009 decade is the first to have broadband documentation of every significant moment. So top-10/top-100 lists are the perfect mix of convenience and nostalgia.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Home Alone - Part 2

Home Alone was released in November 1990, almost exactly a year following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unofficial conclusion of the Cold War. Although it would be absurd to claim there is any sort of direct link between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the theatrical release of Home Alone, the two do have an interesting symbolic symmetry.

The fall of the Berlin Wall represented the culmination of ultimate distraction. The Soviet Union was no longer able to keep a close watch over its large collection of children. All hell broke loose when some of the children were left to fend for themselves. But in the end, the innocent nature of new-found freedom prevailed (at least in the short-term).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home Alone Time - Part 1

With the Holiday Season in full swing, Home Alone is now a frequent visitor to my television screen. This ageless comedy depicts the struggles of a clever 8-year-old boy as he attempts to fend off a pair of bumbling home robbers. The boy has been left alone due to the distracted nature of his extended family which has departed for a vacation to Paris.

Although the movie has numerous unbelievable moments, it clearly depicts the instinctive intelligence, perseverance, and nimble nature of a modern child. This child is able to quickly learn the basics of survival. He successfully communicates with all the adults he encounters and is able to defeat the two evildoers which attempt to plunder his kingdom (the family house).

Although this film is superficially simple entertainment, it is also full of quite timely and extremely relevant lessons. Tomorrow I will analyze Home Alone through the historical context of the Cold War.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Safe Cells?

Mobile telephony has been plagued by the rumors of negative side-effects since the beginning of widespread adoption. Scientists have issued countless studies that have yielded in contradictory evidence concerning the safety of cell phones. The public perception of physical dangers has fluctuated but has never seemed to slow the proliferation of ever-more sophisticated mobile handsets and ever-more ubiquitous mobile usage.

Today, it was announced that the Maine legislature is considering requiring mobile phones to carry warnings about potential negative effects - such as cancer. This would be the first time that such a public and reputable warning would be attached to mobile phones in the United States. It would conceptually make mobile phones similar to cigarettes and alcohol.

Would such a warning have any influence on mobile usage? Potentially - especially if steps to minimize risk were clearly outlined - e.g. using the speakerphone option, etc. But unless these warnings are based on new, more conclusive studies, the massive expansion of mobile will not be slowed. Unless more short-term negative effects become clear, the positive efficiency impact of mobile services will continue to push further adoption.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Apple's Safe Society

Apple has received a lot of criticism for making the iPhone application universe a closed system. Every single application must be vetted by Apple's mysterious approval process before it makes it to the iTunes app store. This system is quite different from how Internet-enabled and PC-based applications function - where free-for-all rules rules govern how applications are created and distributed.

Although I agree that a closed system is highly flawed in many ways, it is also an extremely comforting mechanism. In a world where any web pop-up, email attachment, or even Twitter/Facebook link could lead to virus hell, it's very pleasant to not worry about whether an application will disrupt my iPhone.

No matter how controlling, limiting, and ultimately closed the iPhone ecosystem remains, it sure is very user-friendly - down to the inherent peace-of-mind concerning every single application download.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Twitter Decline?

I've found myself not utilizing Twitter's services very frequently over the past few weeks. Although my schedule has been disrupted by travel and odd work-hours, the most telling sign for Twitter's potential decline is my lack of caring. No longer do I feel the urgency to view the constant glow of the Twitter stream - stemming either directly from Twitter.com or from any of the Twitter-enabled applications.

Although I am just one person - whose personal habits probably have nothing to do with larger trends - it has been documented that Twitter's traffic over the past few months is stagnating. I have encountered a good deal of anecdotal evidence of similar usage trends amongst friends and family.

It would be a revolutionary leap in Internet-enabled trend cycles if Twitter has indeed already crested. Only a few months after culturally peaking as the darling of Oprah, Twitter now faces a potential ceiling. Although this slowdown may be quite temporary - as was the case for other hits such as Facebook - it may also signal a deeper and more fundamental lacking of the Twitter value-proposition.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Magic of the Holidays

The holiday season is well under way. As much of the world celebrates some sort of festivity over the next month, the themes of happiness, friendliness, and overall support are in the air. Another prominent concept permeating our psyche is the concept of giving.

Although giving usually refers to material-item gifting, the most effective giving is intangible. It involves emotional and intellectual gifts. I suspect that this is the season where giving or receiving the benefit of the doubt is a bit more likely. This is the right time to throw up the Hail Mary, to take that leap of faith.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Deconstructing Fear

I've been doing a lot of traveling lately - hence the erratic blog-posting schedule. This experience has allowed me to re-discover my general loathing of air travel. Now this is an old and worn-out topic, so let my try to take a slightly different approach.

Some things surrounding air travel are annoying - e.g. the strange flight-times, the humiliating security checks, the waiting game, delays, cancellations, etc. A smaller set of air travel characteristics is frightening - e.g. the takeoff, turbulence, seeing the world from 30,000 feet, and the landing. I don't mind the annoying parts - that's the cost of productive live meetings. It's the frightening stuff that makes me question the need to fly.

Although the fear-induced stress is ever-present throughout a flight, it particularly peaks during takeoff and during the landing. Clearly, the landing is the last hurdle prior to both physical and emotional relaxation. So the landing is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the culmination of a somewhat risky relocation process. It is where the real work begins.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Close to the Future

How difficult would it be to describe flying in an airplane to someone from 1850? Pretty difficult. For someone from that era there is no relative comparison - nothing even comes close to that which can be used as an analogous description of today's air travel.

How difficult would it be to describe the Internet to someone from 1900? Somewhat difficult. In the era where labor (both physical and machine-based) was king, a worldwide information network would mean very little to the common man. Yet the value of information, particularly that of the newspaper, was quickly expanding.

How difficult is it to accurately imagine what radical innovation the near-future will bring? Not easy, but not impossible. We are more connected to the future than any generation before us. It is exactly the radical innovations of air travel and the Internet that make tomorrow more tangible. It's now nearly impossible for the future to hide and grow in a little, hidden cave.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Facebook Birthday

Since an ever-increasing portion of the wired world is on Facebook, we are quickly getting closer to having a truly universal directory of mainly real people. This directory stores quite a bit of data - in particular, nearly every member's birthday.

With this broad knowledge of birthdays comes a broad stream of birthday reminders. Never will anyone forget a friend's birthday - as long as that friend is a friend via Facebook. This comes quite in handy as positive reinforcement for celebration and recognition. But it also poses some interesting conundrums. What if a good real-life/Facebook friend doesn't send even the smallest acknowledgment on your birthday? Facebook diminishes the forgetfulness excuse. So what we end up with is an even more complicated social norm with an even greater number of potentially real or illusory implications. So much for making life simpler...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Click Here for Fame

A lot of time has been spent on the topic of fame recently. Fame is the new currency of success. Tiger Woods' life has been turned into a shamble due to fame. The White House security infrastructure was overcome by one couple's obsessive urge for fame. Two parents faked the disappearance of their son - via a seemingly dangerous balloon ride - for the sake of obtaining fame.

For some, it seems that fame is now really worth more than dignity, kindness, honesty, or even sanity. Because fame has become more accessible and ubiquitous, it is no longer untouchable or unreachable. Ironically, because of cable, reality television, YouTube sensations, etc. fame is now just one (potentially absurd) step away - where some are willing to do anything to touch it, to reach it, to capture it.

This increased value of fame makes digital social-media even more valuable. Beyond allowing us to connect with friends and family, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow us to simulate fame. These channels give everyone the ability to innocently, easily, and quickly gain a following. Facebook puts a face to this simulation. Twitter puts a number to it. When combined, we all now have the tools required to feel famous.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Maps are nothing new. They've been crafted for thousands of years by men trying to make sense of the world we live in. Maps have been perfected for extreme accuracy, augmented to provide multi-dimensional perspectives, and have even been stylized into genuine works of art. Yet this age-old domain has resurfaced as a major battleground for such technology giants as Google, Microsoft, and Nokia.

Why have maps become so important again? Maps were never unimportant, just little innovation in this space had made maps non-glamorous. It is innovation that has given maps new life, that has made them the darling of the next frontier.

Since maps are models of the world we live in, they are the most fundamental method for tracking spacial changes - e.g. movement, construction, weather, etc. The proliferation of the mobile Internet, location-aware mobile devices (powered by GPS technology, etc.), and powerful pocket-sized computers - i.e. smartphones - has given maps a new level of importance. When combined, the old technology of traditional maps and the new technology of completely ubiquitous real-time communication creates a powerful informational force.

These new super-maps have the ability to give a rich, real-time image of the world around us. These new super-maps let us instantly find our friends, our food, our shelter. These new super-maps move humans one step closer to omnipresence.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Shopping Ripple

The time of gift-giving is upon us. This year's holiday season is especially prominent in mass media coverage because of the economic signals that consumer spending sends. Much will be known based on the purchasing results of this month.

This time-period is also vital on a microeconomic level. Within this holiday period new products will be heavily discussed, analyzed, and rated. It will be the make-or-break time for things such as the new Amazon Kindle.

So when you're standing in that long line at Macy's waiting to pay for a sweater, take comfort in knowing how powerful this potential purchase really is. This one month of magnified consumer whims will create ripple effects that will impact specific individuals, companies, industries, and even whole economies for years to come.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Travel Time

Occasionally my job requires that I travel. This week is one of those weeks.

Although traveling is often annoying and can be quite draining - it also creates an interesting dynamic for enhanced productivity. Being away from home removes all distractions. It removes all the usual habits of leisure, comfort, and fun.

Traveling to a foreign city thus creates a short-term boost of productivity. It creates an environment designed for focused work. Over the long-term, travel would have major morale implications - but during the timeframe of a few weeks it can be quite beneficial. Travel time is an output-oriented effect created by the disruption of the norm.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Belated Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2009 is now long gone. It was a glorious holiday filled with family, friends, good food, bad sports results (for Giants and Knicks fans), and strange Tiger Woods headlines.

Although Thanksgiving is a relatively new holiday it seems to be widely accepted as one of the best American days of celebration. There is no pressure associated with gift-giving or religious ritualism. Most people receive two days of rest. And borderline gluttony is widely celebrated.

I am most thankful for the fundamental joys of my life: my health, my family, my friends. I am also thankful for my voice, my perspective, and my zeal.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Lifestyle of Things

No longer are things just things. All sorts of objects are now marketed as an integral component of a wider, complementary lifestyle. The type of refrigerator you buy, the type of car you drive, and especially the type of home you live in signal, both to yourself and to the world, exactly what type of person you are. All of these purely inanimate things are now both the cause for and the result of a particular life path.

Although advertisers have leveraged this reality for some time now, the standard approach has been to link particular products to one's level of wealth, to one's material status. Today, a car can signal wealth - but it can also signal an outgoing lifestyle, a conservative lifestyle, an urban lifestyle, a rural/rugged lifestyle, etc. The same goes for nearly all widely advertised objects - from toilet paper to personal jets.

Source: Jeep.com

This is neither good nor bad. It is part of the materialistic culture which still dominates our society. But it does present both a challenge and an opportunity to those looking to produce and market virtual goods - the backbone of new economic models developing on the web.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Momentum in Basketball

Basketball is a sport of momentum. This momentum can carry a coach, it can carry a player, it can carry a team, or it can even carry the whole league. This momentum can last a few seconds, a few minutes, a few quarters, a few games, or even a few seasons. But the problem with basketball momentum is its transient nature.

Momentum is a wave of power, a flow of force, and a state of superiority that can make champions. But it doesn't last forever, it can disappear, it can also come back. Some argue that Jordan never lost his momentum - but that is far from the truth - even Jordan couldn't create momentum with the Washington Wizards.

The lesson of momentum in basketball is a common one - cherish the momentum, make the best of momentum, and never assume that it will last forever.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Terms of Service

Most websites have a terms of service - also known as a user agreement. The terms of service represent what the user of a particular website accepts in regards to the reality of that website - restrictions, ownership, liability, etc. Terms of service are the law of the land for any particular online destination.

Terms of service are often quite long and quite boring. They are full of legalese and are rarely thoroughly read by anyone. They often require explicit agreement by the users and have very interesting guidelines. Because few actually read the terms, few actually care. But as the Internet continues to grow into the only important global communication and commerce infrastructure, we're all going to start caring a lot more about the terms of service.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Warm Up

Writing in general and writing a blog in particular is like physical training. It takes practice to get better. It takes time and effort. It is both challenging and extremely rewarding. And missing a day or two of training can really make a difference in one's abilities and motivation.

That's why whenever I write on Sunday nights I feel that the quality of my writing is not at the level of the typical mid-week post. Even though I've had two days of rest and free intellectual-wandering, it's still tough to get back into the groove. So consider this my warm up post for this week.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Risky Real-Time

The real-time web refers a broad set of Internet-based services that enable instant digital communication. Some elements of the real time web have existed for a while now - e.g. real-time one-to-one and few-to-few forms of communication such as Instant Messaging and Chat. But over the past couple of years the Internet has experienced the quick proliferation of one-to-many real-time communication - i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Along with digital communication, digital goods have also enabled real-time transactions. iTunes is the prime example of a real-time commerce application where a quick transaction brings upon instant gratification. Anyone can purchase a song, movie, or software within seconds.

The real-time web has significantly improved the Internet - it has fostered many new forms of communication and transaction. But the real-time web also introduces new risks that the old, more static web didn't suffer. Since data can spread instantly, misinformation can reach many people before it is proven to be false. Rumors are thus experiencing a Renaissance within this new reality. In the financial realm, the real-time web gives bad guys the ability to quickly perform hit-and-run scams. Money laundering and other transnational schemes can flourish before anyone realizes what's going on.

So what we have is typical to most human innovation and evolution - the new technology that is quickly misused. But this time things may be different. The real-time web is quickly becoming the foundation of the new Internet. It is here to stay and so are those who attempt to misuse it. We must realize that real-time is both a gift and a huge challenge. The real-time web is the battlefield of the future.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Holiday Party

Holiday parties are a tradition for North American firms. Every year, all employees and their "+1" enjoy eating bad food and consuming free alcohol. The setting is usually tacky but the mood is always cheerful.

These parties are sometimes extravagant but have recently taken a humbling hit during these recessionary times. I believe that it is a mistake to cancel the annual holiday party. These events are more than just a reward for a year of success - the parties serve to humanize all layers of an organization. There is something both empowering and communal about seeing one's boss drink a beer or dance with his wife. The holiday party gives new perspective to those who attend - usually this is quite good for any company.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bow of The Future

I was struck by the image of our President, Barack Obama, bowing to the Japanese Emperor during a recent visit to Japan. It was strange to see the most powerful man in the world show such an extreme gesture.

President Barack Obama bows while being greeted by Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Source: AP via Politico.com

At first, I wasn't happy about this prominent sign of potential weakness. Should our President ever bow to anyone? Does this weaken America's position in the world in some way? But as I kept looking at the exquisitely expressive image I realized that weakness was nowhere to be seen. Quite the opposite - Obama's sign of deference gives him instant credibility. It shows careful planning, a deep understanding of Japanese culture, and a knowledge of history. Most importantly, this humbling act clearly won the respect of both the Emperor and Empress.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Don't Unfriend Me

"Unfriend" was declared to be the word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. The word means to disconnect a link to someone within a social networking setting.

Most discussion on this matter has focused on the merit of the word - i.e. if it is valuable enough to be added to a serious dictionary and thus near-permanently inserted into the English language. But I take this debate to be moot. The word exists and it is widely used. It's hard to predict the future, but for now it is an important concept.

What intrigues me is the underlying reality that unfriend establishes. It depicts a world where friendship can seemingly be turned on and off with the click of a button. Although this might just be the digital method of a symbolic process which humans have utilized for decades, it connects a chillingly simple word to the deconstruction of a relationship.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Car Shopping

I had the "pleasure" of shopping for a car this weekend. Although the stereotype of dealing with the (used) car salesman is somewhat overblown, it is still a pretty accurate depiction of what to expect.

Car dealership ads are still very much misleading and are meant to purely bring the buyer through the front door. Financial "details" in these ads can be molded to fit most desired realities. When dealing with the salesman, actual lying never takes place. Important facts that could diminish the value of a particular car are not mentioned, skimmed over, or left to be interpreted by the buyer.

Overall the experience was a mixed bag of useful hands-on shopping and bitter aftertaste of shady salesmanship. It's hard to believe that some organization hasn't completely put the old system to rest by offering a completely transparent car-buying experience.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fresh Ads

I love examples of creativity and innovation making old forms of media new and exciting. This recent showcase of outdoor advertising depicts just that. It is an obvious example of ingenuity making an old medium fresh, fun, and a bit surprising.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soccer Moves Up

In preparation of the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa, ESPN today released its Soccer Power Index. The index ranks the relative level of capability of national soccer teams. It was developed with the help of Nate Silver and is equipped to have predictive power - i.e. a higher rank indicates a greater chance of success during future matches.

What does this mean? It means that soccer is finally hitting the tipping point of popularity in the United States. Football, baseball, and basketball have had similar ranking systems for years. It means that there is significant interest in this fun method for expressing athletic pride. It also means that ESPN views soccer as a lucrative investment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Space Elevator

The concept of the space elevator has been around for quite a few years now. After initial consideration the thought seems quite absurd, but apparently there are quite a few benefits to such an approach. Once built, it would provide a cheaper and more energy-efficient method for reaching orbit.


This idea won't die because there is some merit to it. There have even been recent developments which have moved us one step closer to actual implementation.

The space elevator is like so many other wild ideas - like the telephone, the airplane, the personal computer, and many others. We are lucky to be living through a process that might bring upon the next travel revolution. Yet human nature makes us skeptical and dismissive.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I'm fascinated by the power of nostalgia. This omnipresent emotion can distort and even reshape the past, present, and future. It is a comforting blanket that can be explicit or subtle.

Almost as interesting is a concept much more unusual but maybe comparably prevalent: fake nostalgia or fauxstalgia. Fauxstalgia is similar to regular nostalgia in that it fosters a sense of comfort and happiness. But what makes fauxstalgia so unusual is that it creates a strong feeling for a time or place that we never actually encountered. For example, I occasionally feel nostalgic (fauxstalgic) for the Roaring Twenties or the Atomic Age of the 1950s. I was born well after these eras.

Fauxstalgia is what turns Mad Men, Indiana Jones, and Gone With the Wind into hits. While nostalgia is a reflex, fauxstalgia comes from training - through pop culture and mass media. It is a projection of emotional perfection. Triggers of fauxstalgia are very powerful.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend Inspiration

It's refreshing to see our elected officials work over the weekend. Regardless of political beliefs, we should be encouraged by the fact that our government is willing to work through traditional days of rest in order to solve complex issues.

When the most powerful organization in the nation is willing to push through, its citizens will follow suit. In this case, the extra-effort is a component that symbolizes the importance of the overall process.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

One Piece at a Time

I had the privilege of going to WD-50 tonight. It is an extremely wonderful restaurant in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The whole concept behind the menu focuses on the deconstruction of popular meals - like scrambled eggs - and using the basic ingredients to create brand new adventures. We could all use this approach from time to time.

The scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, and hamachi.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Blue Shirt Problem

I went to Macy's today with the goal of purchasing a blue dress shirt. Blue is a standard, widely accepted color for young professionals such as myself. Because of this fact, there were at least 30 different types of purely blue shirts. They were all quite similar but also somewhat different - with slightly different patterns, textures, shades, shapes, etc.

By now, most marketers know that too much choice can be counterproductive - that the customer gets overwhelmed and may choose nothing. I definitely felt this phenomenon begin to affect my decision-making process - since the energy needed to make a selection was nearly greater than the immediate benefit of getting a new shirt.

I finally ended up selecting one shirt. But the choice was based on nearly pure luck and a conscious decision to not waste any more time comparing the different choices. In a world where time is more important than a physical good, how can digital goods even compare?

[To Be Continued]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Late Night Letdown

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, late night television was exciting. It was unpredictable, innovative, and buzz-worthy. Today, late night TV (Leno, Conan, Fallon, Letterman, etc.) has lost its charm. I'm not sure when it happened, but I am sure that this form of entertainment has lost most of its significance as an important cultural movement.

The expanded variety of entertainment that comes from cable television and the Internet has probably diluted the reach of late night. But I believe the main cause for the decline in relevance stems from a decline in the taboo-factor. No longer is network television-based late night comedy the most exciting form of nearly free entertainment. No longer is any unpredictability associated with the corporate machine that drives the typical plug-the-movie/album format of these stale shows.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Facebook Generation

I have an awesome one-year-old cousin. He is a very cool child that already knows how to hold a mobile phone, look into a web cam, and speak into a microphone. He is also part of a generation that will never know a world without Internet-enabled social networking - e.g. Facebook, Skype, Twitter, etc.

What does this mean for the little guy?
  • He will have every important moment of his life permanently documented
  • He will have the concepts of networking and social portfolios ingrained in his psyche from his earliest points of consciousness
  • He will expect a high level of openness and sharing from most
  • Geographic distance will no longer be a barrier
  • Diversity will be based more on personality than ethnicity
  • Reading and writing will be his primary means of communication.

Those are just a few potential repercussions for The Facebook Generation. I'm not sure what this will mean for the world in twenty years - but I am sure that it will be different from today's reality.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Glimpse is Worth a Thousand Words

When it comes to visual design, no amount of planning, discussing, estimating, describing, segmenting, tracking, assuming, or conceptualizing can replace seeing. It doesn't matter what is viewed - it could be a rough doodle on a napkin - but that first glimpse of something tangible will anchor all future visual development.

Much like in a negotiation, the first real image is like the the first offer. It is the launch pad for future discussion and redirectioning. The earlier that first visual is shared, the earlier that a real negotiation can begin.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Right Mix of Fun and Fear

A holiday that lets us become someone else for a few hours seems like an obviously popular concept. Who wouldn't want to be Batman or Hillary Clinton for the night?

A holiday popularized by ghouls, ghosts, witches, goblins and other evil-doers is a less likely success. In real life, most of us don't want to be haunted, taunted, or scared.

So how does Halloween find the right mix of fun and fear? Candy. Whether young or old, candy is sweetness - both literally and symbolically. Candy puts us at ease and solidifies Halloween as a lighthearted event. Symbols such as candy are very powerful - that's one of the reasons why sweets are a part of nearly every popular holiday.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Value of Time

Most of us realize that the perception of time is a relative and ever-changing thing. Sometimes a year feels like a minute and sometimes a minute feels like a lifetime - especially in those early morning attempts at more sleep.

Time is also the most fundamental currency, the most innate way to measure value. It's difficult to accept the fact that something as elemental as time can have a value that fluctuates so wildly. Potent personal power comes from recognizing what type of time we're expending at any particular moment - half of the battle is recognizing that a minute with a loved one is the most valuable form of time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No Answer

I realized today that I'm a phone number screener. If someone calls my mobile or home phone, I make sure that I recognize the phone number prior to answering. I'll think twice about answering if a number looks familiar but doesn't necessarily trigger recognition. I won't even think about answering a "Private Caller" or "Unknown." I suspect that I'm part of the majority when it comes to filtering calls.

What's most interesting about this now-dominant phenomenon is the speed at which it's become a nearly ubiquitous human habit. Thirty years ago, every call was a "Private Caller." Twenty years ago, few home phones had Caller ID and mobile phones weren't even in the picture. Ten years ago, the habits had sprouted with built-in Caller ID and some mobile phones. Today, my friends don't answer my calls unless my number is in their phone.

Many claim that the digital-communication revolution (both Internet and mobile) has fostered only open and free communication. Here is a prime example of an opposite trend primarily driven by the same technology.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Short-Lived Internet Communication Paradox

In an interconnected, omnipresent, real-time world it's easy to forget about language barriers. But we still live in a very fragmented time - where only a few miles could mean a completely different culture that has opposite social norms.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the Internet often magnifies the effects of these communicational human differences - because the Internet makes us forget about distance and difference. Someone might be a click away, but in reality lives in a completely different culture. Because the Internet makes connecting seamlessly simple, we often forget that one word can be understood in hundreds of different ways.

What we get is a mini-paradox. The technology that has brought the whole world together may force moments of extreme pain (misunderstanding) - stemming from extreme miscommunication. But this pain is well worth it - since what we're moving towards is a global creative community.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Lost Episodes

As most of my dedicated readers know, I'm a big Lost fan. It's one of my favorite shows. Although I'm a big follower of the show, I missed most of Season 5. Being that I live in the 21st Century, I figured that I could watch all the Season 5 episodes on either Hulu.com or ABC.com...I was wrong.

Apparently ABC is witholding from officially putting all the episodes online for a few reasons. I suspect that the top reason is that they fear that DVD sales would be somehow hurt if all the Season 5 episodes were easily available on the Web.

This small example clearly illustrates the remaining friction between a short-term, profit-oriented perspective and the inevitable future of a purely digital medium. These last gasps by the likes of the old guard, e.g. ABC, are both annoying and harmful. Once this reality fully seeps into the mainstream media moguls there will be no more DVDs or CDs. Only once this reality is fully accepted will the likes of ABC be able to innovate adequately profitable business models that make Web TV infinitely more powerful than physical formats such as DVDs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cyber Sports

I'm a big fan of international sports such as soccer and European league basketball. Living in the United States meant that I couldn't have timely updates on the results of my teams. Following events in real-time wasn't even an option. That was ten years ago.

Five years ago, I could follow any major global sporting event in near-real-time via textual, Internet-based updates. Today, I can watch any major sporting event live, via some form of Web TV. In a few years, the Internet will enable me to watch any sporting event.

If ESPN and the likes are even considering capturing the long tail of sports fans, they'll need to significantly increase the number of television channels they offer. Otherwise, fans will increasingly turn to the Internet for all their sports needs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apple > Google = Absurd

While conducting my nightly scan of the news, I was drawn to the unbelievable fact that, at this point in time, Apple is considered to be more valuable than Google. This is based on the current share prices of each company and is thus likely to quickly change.

I find this quite unreasonable for two important reasons:
  • Apple's revenue is based on a portfolio of products that become obsolete after two years (at most). Because of this, Apple is dependent on constantly rolling out new products - and thus on the hit-or-miss nature of consumer tastes. Google serves as the gatekeeper to the Internet. Although their market share can be chipped away, Google could never lose 10 to 20% of its revenue over a few months - something that could easily happen to Apple if the next iPhone is a flop.
  • Google's revenue comes from a more diversified source of business customers. Google still earns the majority of its income from the advertising-network associated with its main search engine. The customers that pay to display these ads come from nearly all corners of the economy - thus likely mimic the overall economy. Apple targets a fickle, high-end customer-base that is rarely predictable.

Google is the cruise ship while Apple is the speed boat. Google is strong and large. Apple is fast and unstable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Controlled Competitiveness

I have a very competitive spirit. Sometimes I'm able to hide it and sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I'm able to control it and sometimes I'm not.

In particular, my competitive urges peak when I see a competitor making substantial progress. This competitiveness usually stirs up many different emotions - including rage, excitement, fear, jealousy, sadness, and anxiety. Without the right control, most of those emotions can be quite detrimental to my own progress and well being.

So how do I harness these powerful feelings? Usually I am able to convert my zeal into channeled ambition by taking a step back via some sort of grounding moment, through a rational approach that focuses on lessons (facts) instead of distractions (wild emotions), and by gaining perspective through direct communication with my allies. Without this control-process, I would have the fuel but not the vehicle to move forward.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Web Design Can Be Fun

I stumbled upon a great website recently: The CSS Awards. This site highlights and awards other websites that utilize the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) technology. It serves as a wonderful hub for discovering some beautiful designs.

Although most of the featured websites are quite different, a few underlying themes are apparent:
  • Photographs and cartoons are seamlessly combined.
  • No longer are white and black the only backgrounds of choice.
  • Huge font-sizes are in.
  • Humor can serve a serious purpose.
  • Straight lines no longer dominate - but neither do soft curves.
  • Rich and often natural textures give new depths to a fundamentally 2-Dimensional canvas.

None of the recent design trends are revolutionary, but they are fun, imaginative, and usually quirky. They do show a new sense of excitement and an ever-growing visual freedom.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Virtual Travel is Next

Lately I've been thinking about the travel industry and where new disruptive innovation will come from in this field - over the next five to ten years. Recent developments such as the electrification of automobiles is important but far from revolutionary. We haven't really seen a true change in the way humans travel across the globe since the proliferation and commercialization of air travel.

So what's next? What will shake the way we directly get from one place to another? It probably won't be a new car, a faster train, or a better airplane. It might stem from our ability to communicate in real time via the Internet - through the form of video conferences. But that feels rather cold and still far from equalling the communicational and emotional fulfillment seen in live face-to-face contact.

Teleportation always comes up as an extreme next step - but the best we've done so far is move some photons around. So I believe that the real future of travel (or lack thereof) will be somewhere in between the remoteness of current Internet-based communication and the closeness that teleportation will enable. It will come from the proliferation and continuing evolution of virtual reality and its ever-expanding supporting infrastructure.

Soon we will be able to mimic the senses of sight, sound, and in part - touch. This will be done seamlessly, in real time, and across the whole world. Most importantly - in terms of global adoption - virtual reality will no longer be perceived as a geeky niche-technology by large corporations - the same corporations which are the source of much of the world's travel troops.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Map Love

I love antique maps. If I had the space in my home, I would have a room dedicated to old maps.

I love these relics of human progress for their aesthetic value - i.e. they look very cool - and I love them for what they represent. Maps are symbolic of the uniquely human need to create abstract models of the world we live in. Maps are our attempt to simplify a complex environment.

I also love how clearly maps show the progress of human evolution and understanding. A map of the U.S. in 1776 is significantly different from a map of the U.S. in 1820. These visual models offer a sobering reminder of the fact that "facts" change, that very few things are set in stone, and that being wrong is a prerequisite for progress.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Augmented Reality in Aisle 3

Augmented reality is one of the leading technological trends in the mobile communications space. This concept brings together a few different mobile-centric features - including the handset camera, the location-sensing features, and a mobile connection to the Internet - in order to deliver quite a compelling mobile service. Essentially, augmented reality allows the owner of a mobile handset (usually a smartphone such as an iPhone) to point their camera at the world around them and see an overlay of useful information through the phone's display.

This information can be purely factual - e.g. the name of the architect who designed the building in front of you. Or the information can be based on a collection of opinions, reviews, and other subjective matters - i.e. the ability to see a restaurant review by purely pointing the mobile device to the front door of the restaurant.

Where I see this technology potentially revolutionizing the we live is within the confines of shopping. For instance, the mobile phone's augmented reality features can fulfill the role of a personal shopping consultant - providing nutritional information and advice for food purchases, matching and pairing advice for clothing selection, or giving utilitarian advice when shopping for tools or construction materials. The possibilities are quite interesting and could be very innovative.

Although startups and software developers seem like the obvious catalysts for this innovation, old brick-and-mortar retailers might find that taking the early lead on this development might provide that additional spark in consumption needed to get us out of this recession.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Twitter Bots Kill Reputation

Twitter is clearly a fascinating phenomenon. It allows for evolutionary human traits, idiosyncrasies, absurdities, etc. to be clearly and easily displayed in 140 characters or less.

In fact, it's much more than just those 140 characters that make up a Twitter persona. The other main qualities any Twitter user has are the number of people that user follows and the number of people that follow the user. The prior describes overall engagement; the latter signifies overall popularity.

Companies have grasped these concepts rather quickly and now strive to make their Twitter personas followed by thousands of adoring fans. But what many of these fair-minded companies have realized is that it's usually pretty difficult to quickly manufacture followers. So various Twitter-"marketing" companies have sprouted touting the ability to miraculously provide thousands of fans in only a few days - for a small fee of course.

As we all know, when something valuable comes for only a small fee then things are usually not as they appear. These thousands of new fans are often bots - fake Twitter personalities created for the sole purpose of boosting the follower equation, for making it seem, at first glance, that someone or something is very popular.

(Un)fortunately, these types of shenanigans are usually quite transparent. The bots are not very good about posting realistic pictures in their profiles or communicating in natural ways - i.e. they can be spotted from a mile away. This doesn't really hurt the "marketing" companies that provide these fake masses, but instead damages the reputation of those seemingly honest companies that have these strange supporters.

So today, when I realized that a company that I've been following for months and that I felt was quite honest had gained over 35,000 fans in a week, something smelled fishy. And when I dug a little deeper I found a lot of fish - in the form of a reputation-killing digital mob. How sad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Birthday Dip

Birthdays are a funny thing. They are one of the few recurring events in life that experience a complete reversal of meaning during a long period of time.

Between the age of 0 and 22, birthdays are celebrated through sweets, drinks, and presents - these special days are seen as purely joyful. During the period of 22 to about 65, birthdays are implicitly positive but always come with a strong sense of bitterness, nostalgia, and the brute awareness of the unstoppable force of time - these special days are usually celebrated in a more subdued fashion with a strong tinge of melancholy. Finally, all birthdays after the 65th are once again purely positive - they celebrate the will to live and each represent a new era of human accomplishment.

The few truly happy people that I've met throughout my life are somehow able to avoid that middle dip and are able to enjoy each passing year as if it were their first. Although this consistency isn't a prerequisite for happiness, it sure does help.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Three-Hour Formula

Last night I had the relaxing pleasure of watching a three-hour-long movie: The Great Escape. This 1960's classic depicts the intricate escape plan hatched and implemented by a group of Allied officers trapped in a Nazi POW prison. Although the film is based on a true story, the plot was significantly augmented in order to create a compelling film.

Even though the movie itself is quite good, what particularly interested me was the actual length and how a film this long could hold my attention. I live in a world where entertainment can be captured and consumed in milliseconds. In addition, most modern films are around two hours or less in length - often filled with action and/or intricate plot twists. So the habit of sitting down in front of a television set - which is endowed with over 500 channels - without changing the channel for three hours is not very ingrained in my being.

So what made The Great Escape good enough to hold me, a very selective attention-giver, for three hours? It was a surprisingly simple balance of good acting - quality of delivery, a sufficiently novel and captivating plot - intellectually stimulating experience, and fun - emotionally stimulating experience.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

We Can Learn from NASA's Resourcefulness

NASA is planning to test whether there is water on the moon through a very creative method - by crashing a set of spacecraft and evaluating the dust that is created. Leave it to NASA to conduct a complicated analysis on the composition of the moon's soil based on a violent pounding of its surface.

Although unconventional, NASA is definitely resourceful. I strongly suspect that NASA considered and disqualified numerous other, more expensive methods, for testing the moon's surface, and that their brilliant minds came up with the "crashing" method because it is both accurate and efficient. The organization has a mandate to move mankind forward, beyond the reaches of our planet - yet NASA has a very limited budget which makes tough decision-making a necessary skill.

If other companies (e.g. the automakers) were nearly as imaginative, we'd see some very creative innovations during the hard-times of this recession. If we can learn from NASA's approach, then the constraints of time and money can be turned on their heads and converted into an interestingly unpredictable opportunity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Barcode

When I was in high school I worked as a picker-and-packer in the warehouse for a small online retailer. I would receive print-outs representing each of the orders that came in for that day; I would pick the items for each order from the warehouse; finally, I would pack the items and prepare the boxes for UPS pick-up. It wasn't a glamorous job, but it did help me pay for college.

During this job I was first introduced to the wonder that is the barcode - which is today celebrating 57 years since its original patent. The barcode allowed me to verify that I had correctly picked each order and ensured that nearly no box would be packed with the wrong items. The barcode enabled a teenage kid, like myself, to pack thousands of dollars worth of goods per day with nearly zero error.

The barcode is a silent innovation that has increased efficiency and decreased the number of overall mistakes made in not just shipping, but in many other industries. It is one of the unrecognized requirements for hugely successful ecommerce websites (such as Amazon.com). It is still extensively used but often forgotten - at least for one day, the barcode was finally appreciated.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Criticism vs. Feedback

Criticism is destructive. It breeds antagonism because it stems from the wrong approach - from the focus on mistakes. Criticism could be a short-term band aid but is almost always a long-term parasite. It undercuts the future.

Feedback is constructive. It stems from the partnership perspective- from the focus on expanding the pie without sugar-coating the shit. Feedback can be painful in the short-term because it is sometimes indirect and subtle. But it is almost always a long-term seed for success. It feeds the future.

Monday, October 5, 2009

College Camp

As I've spoken about in the past, nostalgia is an extremely powerful emotion. It can make us make questionable purchasing decisions but it can also make for some very interesting innovations. One of these innovations is the summer camp for adults.

Just like during those wonderful years of adolescence, adults can now sign up for summer camp. These camps can be based on various themes (e.g. singles-only, celebration-oriented, etc.) or can just be an alternative form of vacationing. Either way, adult summer camps are driven by nostalgia. The social dynamics developed during such adventures mimic those of our childhood and thus add a new layer of satisfcation - in addition to being away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

I say that this concept should be expanded. If we can revisit the years of early adolescence then why not the teenage years or the early 20's? Both High School Camp and College Camp seem like the obvious extensions of this service. Who wouldn't want to go back to High School or College for a week, but this time, without the need to pass tests?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Local Should Be Everywhere

When I was a child growing up in New York City I loved to go to the movies on a regular basis. At that time, the most convenient way to find movie listings was to go to the street corner and pick up a copy of the Village Voice (a local newspaper), quickly flip to the back while trying to avoid the many ads, and manually find the movie theatres of interest.

Although the ads in the Village Voice were frequently annoying, they were usually geographically relevant. The local restaurants, nail salons, and dry cleaners would all advertise their establishments.

Today, movie listings are only a click away. But finding a relevant theatre via Fandango still involves putting in a local identifier - the zip code. Although I receive a list of local theatres, I don't see any ads for local establishments - instead I see ads for big, national brands. This means that the most current technology for finding movie information doesn't leverage the powerful knowledge that newspapers have been able to leverage for decades - the ability to geographically place the audience.

Clearly the Internet is still an evolving medium, but geo-location and related targeted advertising seems like an easy win. The long tail of small and medium local-establishments might provide that marketing boost that many websites are in dire need of.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Invite

Since Internet-based products and services are much more scalable than actual real-world products and services there is usually very little natural scarcity on the supply-side of these digital goods - i.e. a website can be read almost infinitely while nearly no additional resource is consumed.

Although this makes sharing wonderfully simple, it also prevents brands from creating the "long-line effect" - i.e. from showing how wonderful their product is through the long lines of people waiting to buy. So to overcome this temporary side-effect, many companies are now utilizing the invite. After initially launching an Internet-based product or service, these companies distribute only a select number of invites.

This creates both an artificial scarcity and a collective buzz. The most important characteristic of the invite is timing - using it for too short and there is no "long-line effect"; using it for too long and potential consumers will become frustrated and might never come back. Although the usage of the invite can potentially reap benefits, it is still more of an artform than a science.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Web TV is Confusing

I now regularly rely on the Internet to catch up on television shows and movies. Technology has finally caught up so as to provide a sufficiently pleasant experience - e.g. high resolution, quick download time, etc.

But the decentralized nature of the Internet is far from conducive to easily finding shows. There are the official websites such as NBC.com and ABC.com, the officially endorsed aggregators such as Hulu, the pay-for-subscription services such as Netflix, the user-generated hubs such as YouTube, and then there are the bootleg sites that offer lower quality but greater diversity. The complexity is further complicated by the fact that there seems to be very little logic behind which shows end up where and for how long.

Clearly there is a need for some central, interactive, and highly comprehensive Internet-based TV Guide - and there are a few in development/early-stage rollout. But what's even more important is the need for some form of collective, marketplace understanding - potentially driven by consumers - as to what, when, where, and which content is expected.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Barriers to Touching

Many prominent technologists and industry watchers are predicting the death of the keyboard and other button-based input methods. The argument is based on the initial success of the iPhone (the first mass-market touch-based product), the declining prices of supporting technologies, and the possibility that such forms of input are in some way simpler and offer greater space-saving opportunity.

I generally agree with this opinion but also think there are a few fundamental hurdles left before touch-based tools become more widespread:
  • Tactile Feedback. The beauty of the keyboard and the mouse is the feedback that the keys and buttons inherently provide - enabling us to feel the right key as it is pressed. A flat surface will need to mimic such feedback for typing to be possible - something that RIM has begun to do with the Blackberry Storm.
  • Ergonomic Shape. The flat surface - typically used for current touch-based inputs - isn't conducive to comfort as it doesn't conform with human anatomy. Even the typical QWERTY keyboard seems more comfortable. The shape of touch-based tools will need to be redesigned, especially for repetitive usage that takes place in the corporate environment.
  • Flexibility. I've intentionally used a vague term to describe the final barrier because it encompasses a few different concepts such as the speed of response, the accuracy, and the durability of this type of input. Generally, touch-based tools still feel fragile and not battle-tested for those 2 AM presentation-development binges.

Although not insignificant, these barriers will be overcome in the next few years, ushering in the age of touch-based input.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Smell of Paint

Today, the building that I live in did a seemingly good deed. They re-painted the hallway outside my apartment - including the door through which I enter. Although this is generally a good event, it does create some temporary pain.

Firstly, the building failed to publicly notify the tenants prior to the painting. So my relatively clumsy nature caused me to press my arm against the wet door. Secondly, the strong stench of paint has permeated into my apartment causing unpleasant side-effects. So although the hallways and doorways do look better, there will be a few days of minor suffering.

So why do I bring this up? Because it shows that the old cliche - "no good deed goes unpunished" - is still very much alive and well. It also reminds me that good intentions are usually much more complex and will have more consequences than we initially foresee. Most importantly, this little event reminds me that seemingly obvious actions require the same amount of planning as more complicated, potentially negative deeds.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is A DJ An Artist?

After being thoroughly entertained by a skilled disk jockey (DJ) at a party on Saturday night, I was asked by a fellow party-goer whether I consider a DJ to be a true artist. A DJ usually does very little but select the music that is played and determine when it's played - there are of course some exceptions. Occasionally the DJ modifies some of the sounds that are created but rarely goes beyond, so as to dramatically alter the aural output.

An artist is usually defined as someone who produces works of art. So the logical step in figuring out whether a DJ is an artist is to look at his output - a finely tuned collage of musical choice. In that sense a DJ is more like a museum curator than a true artist - since the DJ purely arranges the true works of art.

But in the end, I concluded that a DJ is a true artist. This is so because a DJ's true job is to create a mood, an emotional state for a collection of individuals. In the end, that is exactly what most other artists strive to do - including architects and other non-traditional creatives. The DJ paints the portrait of the night by using less-basic components - i.e. songs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

100th Post - What I've Learned

This is my one-hundredth post. Although this isn't very much for some that have blogged for years, it's still a meaningful milestone for myself. So in no particular order, here are a few things I've learned from blogging over the past few months:
  • It's difficult to write on a consistent basis
  • It's difficult to write meaningful thoughts nearly every night
  • Quality and quantity are two extremely different and usually unrelated concepts
  • Blogging is a combination of sharing, exhibitionism, bragging, begging, helping, supporting, teaching, and learning
  • To blog is to shed fear, one post at a time
  • To blog, one must be ready for Internet-wide criticism - sometimes legitimate and sometimes absurd
  • The line between modesty and apprehension is very thin
  • Blogging isn't purely a science or an art form
  • Spellcheck can't replace a good proof-read
  • Giving up isn't necessarily bad and I see why some choose to stop blogging
  • But for me, there is something inherently rewarding about thinking out loud.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

80-20 Gives You Wings

I recently discovered the very useful Aviary.com. This website offers a basic suite of free and low-priced image editing tools. The tools offer a web-based way to touch-up pictures and create other basic modifications to images. It is very simple to learn and to effectively use.

This site represents a prime example of the 80-20 rule in action - that 80% of the user requirements can be fulfilled through only 20% of standard features. Because it's cheap to develop and maintain only 20% of standard editing features, Aviary can charge very little to no fees - especially compared to software such as Adobe Photoshop.

The Internet allows for companies to take advantage of the 80-20 rule both for development and distribution - a combination that wasn't possible in the past. This should make traditional software development companies such as Adobe and Microsoft very fearful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why We Suffer for the U.N.

New York has been besieged by United Nations Security Council madness. Not only is traffic at an unbelievable level of congestion but every wacko in the world is targeting one or more of the many prominent figures that come along with this U.N. gathering.

So why does New York do it? Why do we accept this suffering?
  • Pride. This concept is intangible and difficult to define. But the people of New York suffer in order to show the world the sense of control and overall organizational brilliance that we possess.
  • Fame. With the global news coverage comes global awareness. Hopefully the logic is to utilize this awareness to further boost tourism and tourist-related activities, and the overall global prominence of New York.

There are elements of direct monetary compensation (either by the U.N. itself or spending related to the influx of visitors) - but this is probably negated by the additional security costs accepted by the City. Overall, it seems that we embrace the U.N. and its shenanigans to prove that we can.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Strategic Fumble

Last night I wrote about how the concept of the interception translates symbolically into strategic business decisions. Throughout the day, a few of my colleagues and friends have inquired whether the fumble represents the same concept.

I believe that the fumble would symbolize a fundamentally different business mistake. Within football, fumbles usually occur when a player holding the ball is hit in a particular way, causing him to drop the ball onto the ground. Within business, this would translate to competitive pressure forcing a company to make a strategic misstep. The interception usually stems from a self-made mistake, whereas the fumble comes from external actions.

An example that comes to my mind is the recent mistakes made by the U.S. automakers. In particular, during the late 1990s and early 2000s the Detroit-based automakers blindly imitated both their domestic and international competitors by dedicating the majority of their production capacity and marketing funds to over-sized Sports Utility Vehicles. Although Japanese companies sold similarly large automobiles, they also continued to focus design, research, and development on smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

Like in football, it's usually easier to recover from a fumble than an interception because the offense has a fair chance of picking up the ball.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Strategic Interception

The interception is one of the most painful events in the game of football. It often represents a change of momentum and instantaneously ends a potentially fruitful string of offensive plays. The interception can be the most important event of a game.

Interceptions usually occur when the quarterback reaches a little too far, attempts a little too much, or takes an unnecessary gamble. The quarterback throws the ball away to the opposing team and gives his opponents a potentially deadly opening.

The concept of the interception translates pretty well into the world of business. The strategic interception occurs when a company takes an extra step and unintentionally weakens its core capabilities - particularly when a successfully growing company over-reaches and stumbles by purchasing another firm. Two recent, technology-oriented examples come to mind:
  • eBay's purchase of Skype. eBay purchased Skype, the company which enables Internet-based phone calls, in 2005. Because Skype's offering had very little to do with eBay's core auction service, the acquisition was a major reach for eBay. After sinking Billions into the purchase, development, integration, and promotion, eBay has failed to successfully incorporate Skype - recently selling off 65% of the company at a significant loss.
  • Google's purchase of YouTube. By purchasing YouTube, Google entered a new market within the Internet universe. This move has been an intellectual and financial drain to Google and has weakened both Google's search dominance and YouTube's online video dominance - giving Bing the opportunity to slowly gain momentum and Vimeo to gain a foothold with its video offerings.

Although both Ebay and Google are large enough to fully recover from their missteps, their stumbles have given their opponents an opportunity to gain traction and score a few points. It's clear that the strategic interception can be equally as painful in the world of business as it is in football and that even the slightest loss of focus can lead to change of momentum.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Costly Construction

Occasionally, when I'm running late to work in the morning, I take a taxi. The most efficient path for the taxi runs along the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Drive along the east side of Manhattan Island. But recently the Drive suffered a minor structural collapse that shut down the northbound lanes of this important New York City pathway for 24 hours.

Although partially repaired, the Drive will have one of the three northbound lanes closed indefinitely until the structure is repaired. This disruption slows traffic significantly for a portion of the way. From my recent taxi-travels, I've realized that this change adds about 5 to 10 minutes to my normally 15-minute journey.

Even though this might be short amount of time, it does keep me from working for 5 to 10 minutes. If taken in aggregate, this one-lane closure affects quite a few people in New York. How does this translate into an actual monetary estimate?

  • The Drive carries around 300,000 vehicles per day
  • Since about a third of the drive is affected by the traffic, only 100,000 of those vehicles are slowed by 5 to 10 minutes
  • This must be halved once again since it's only northbound traffic that is slowed - giving us 50,000 vehicles
  • It's hard to to estimate how many passengers per car there are - but it's probably safe to say there are between 1 and 2 passengers on average - so we'll say 1.5
  • This gives us a total of 75,000 people affected by the delay daily
  • Let's say that half of these people are going to work and thus would be working if they weren't stuck in traffic - thus 37,500 are losing productive time in traffic
  • The average hourly wage for New York City is around $25 - so that 10 minutes would equate to approximately $4 per person for lost time
  • If we multiply 37,500 by $4 we get a productivity cost of $150,000 per day
  • This means that the one closed lane would cost New York City $54,750,000 in lost productivity per year.

It seems that the indirect cost of keeping one lane closed may hurt the NYC economy by $55 Million per year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chocolate-Covered Rice Cakes

In terms of taste, rice cakes offer the least amount of excitement among any snack. Usually rice cakes taste very much like a combination of bland white rice and cardboard. Their nutritional impact is minimal as rice cakes serve a purely utilitarian purpose, to satiate without fattening.

But today, for the first time, I tried chocolate covered rice cakes: Quaker Rice Cakes Chocolate Crunch. I was very pleasantly surprised. Although the amount of added chocolate is quite small, the overall experience is many times better. The improved taste combined with the traditional fulfillment turned rice cakes into a pretty good product.

Since rice cakes have been around for years, it's amazing that I haven't seen this variety in the past - although apparently the added flavors have been around for awhile as well. This little treat points out that a slight change can have a disproportionate impact on an old product or service - in the case of rice cakes, it has prolonged and enhanced the existence of a food-type that would have probably been extinct by now. This is what Twitter might do to SMS. This is what Gmail might do to email. This is something that offers countless opportunities for those willing to recognize and improve products that most overlook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Exponential Trust

I've written about trust quite a bit in the past. I even touched upon it last night in my thoughts on Mint's dilemma. But it's such an important and recurring topic that it deserves another small mention tonight.

Trust for a five-year-old is lending a toy to a friend and expecting to get it back. Trust for a fifteen-year-old is telling a secret and expecting it to be kept. Trust for a twenty-five-year-old is investing in a passion - individually, within a small team, and/or within a large organization - and expecting real fulfillment.

From these three points of experience, I can imagine that the meaning and value of trust continues to grow exponentially until the end of one's life. This also means that building trust becomes exponentially more difficult as the stakes increase.