Saturday, November 27, 2004

It's a Wonderful Life

I watched the end of It's a Wonderful Life on TV tonight, under a moon just-past-full, with blustery winds. It's a beautiful night, and seems portentous somehow. I had to go outside to keep a few things from blowing away and I looked up at the moon, and thought a bit...

We are an incredibly fortunate lot, all of us. Anyone able to read this blog post is amazingly lucky. You have a computer, internet access, and the luxury of "reading blogs" while much of the world is not so well off. It's a wonderful life after all, not a bit like Potterville.

I am the CEO of a startup company in Silicon Valley, an amazing opportunity and responsibility at the same time. I won't say "I don't know how I got here" because I do know how I got here, and it was a lot of hard work and risk and not a few mistakes along the way. It's funny to watch a schmaltzy old black-and-white movie and get sentimental, but the truth of many things doesn't age, or change. I was strangely inspired by watching Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed...

When I was at Apple, during part of the bubble burst time, I remember Steve Jobs saying that it was a time that many companies would be regrouping, saving, being conservative and careful, and it was a perfect time for Apple to "step on the gas" and accelerate, hire more people, innovate more, and come out the back side of the downturn at full speed, hitting on all cylinders. You need only look at Apple's stock price today to see the wisdom in that, and the phenomenal success that Apple has shown in the past 5 years.

As we head into the holiday season, often considered a miniature downturn in our industry, I am highly motivated to do the same, to invest some idea capital and hard work and come out in the new year with some bold new product direction, renewed momentum, and start an incredible year for Five Across. We were in Atlanta last week and had a few true brainstorms and I had a breakthrough or two on the laptop on the Delta flight headed home.

Can't wait to polish up some of these great new ideas and unleash them in the new year. It's a wonderful life!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Flashes of Brilliance

I never thought I'd be one of those people sitting in a conference and actually blogging about it, but here I am. I'm listening to Doug Englebart talking at the Accelerating Change conference at Stanford.

I've met a lot of "smart people" in my career. Silicon Valley is full of them. Few are truly brilliant. Most are, well, full of themselves in one way or another.

Doug Englebart is, I'm convinced, truly brilliant. He is talking in dated generalities like paradigms and human capability, but they transcend the existing computer industry and looks at the whole thing afresh. I'm boggled.

I can't sum up what he is saying, but at the heart of it is communal intelligence. Like parallel processing, it requires the collective intelligence of communities to process information. "It needs to be open source, in the same way that natural language evolved in an open way."

My favorite bit: someone told Doug Englebart a long time ago that things needed to be "easy to use" and "easy to figure out". He said, "oh, right, that's why everybody is riding tricycles." His point was that nobody really understands how they ride bicycles; it is a very complex activity, yet people figure it out and it becomes natural.

I have a lot of new things to think about.

Gaming Open Market

I'm participating in a conference this weekend. Two conferences, actually. I was at BloggerCon most of yesterday, though I've bounced back and forth to this other conference, Accelerating Change 2004, which just happens to be two buildings away from BloggerCon on the Stanford campus. I'm lucky to live near Stanford.

Anyway, I'm sitting in a session entitled Real Money in Virtual Economies: The Future of User-Created Content. They're talking about gaming, and they're also taking about trading in the sense of eBay and stock markets and such. Gaming Open Markets. Right.

I guess my head has been in the sand or something, but I have no idea what they're talking about. That doesn't happen to me all that often at conferences. I'm able to figure things out on the fly, able to grok complicated things. I went to college at an excellent university. But what the heck is this about?.

The guy who's talking right now is saying, and I quote: "...spawn camping. There's a particular dragon in the game who has a particularly high quotient of some kind of treasure ... and that sort of supports these high-margin dealers, and it incents them to these anti-social behaviors ...." I guess collaborative games have some kind of secrets or commerce or something that people are willing to spend actual money on.

I'm sitting in this particular chair at this time because, according to the schedule, the next session at 10:30 is Large-Scale Collective IQ: Facilitating its Evolution which also sounds kind of high-minded, but the speaker is Doug Englebart, the guy who's credited with inventing the computer mouse, among other things. I expect it to be quite interesting. I'm not yet ready to run out and do some real-time trading in the gaming market, but there's still a half hour for me to become a convert. What, if anything, this has to do with Accelerating Change, I'm still waiting to discover.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Ask anyone you know: corporate meetings are one of the biggest wastes of time and money known to humankind, yet they persist as one of the primary mechanisms for "getting things done." Why is that?

There are many reasons. One of the more prevalent sources of meetings is self-aggrandizement. By calling a meeting, particularly one with lots of important people in it, you, too, look important! Another big contributor is the standing meeting, in which the same people meet week after week, Mondays at 11:00, and try to think of things to talk about. These are also known (to me) as lint trap meetings: they work like lint traps in dryers, catching random bits and issues that have no other forum for discussion.

Yet standing meetings are usually the only time that a team actually all sits in the same room and therefore it's hard to justify cancelling them altogether. But what to talk about?! I wrestle with this each week at our own standing staff meeting, trying to come up with meaningful agenda items. I think my team would tell you that the effort is not always successful :-)

Check out this typical corporate meeting (you really have to watch the short movie); lots of people pedaling in different directions.

Rethinking meetings requires restating their purpose. There are a handful of genuinely useful reasons to have a meeting: achieving consensus, making a decision, disseminating information in a context where a dialog or questions is important. In short, where there needs to be a conversation. If a conversation isn't taking place, the meeting is probably useless.