Entrepreneurship

Catherine Mohr: Medical Research, Technology and Innovation

She calls herself “a tinkerer at heart.” And ever since Catherine Mohr walked into a Boston-area bike shop looking for a high school job repairing drive trains and spokes, the New Zealand-born surgeon and inventor has taken tinkering to a mind-boggling high art here in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Catherine Mohr is the Director of Medical Research at Intuitive Surgical, the global technology leader in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. In this role, she evaluates new technologies for incorporation into the next generation of surgical robots. In addition, she is a Consulting Assistant Professor in the department of Surgery at Stanford School of Medicine where she works in the development of simulation-based curriculum for teaching clinical skills. She is also a Medicine Faculty at Singularity University and an Advisor in the Future of Health Systems Working Group of the World Economic Forum.

Dr. Mohr received her BS and MS in mechanical engineering from MIT, and her MD from Stanford University School of Medicine. During her initial training as a mechanical engineer at MIT’s AI Laboratory, Mohr developed compliant robotic hands designed to work in unstructured and dynamic environments. Later, while pursuing an MD degree at Stanford, she identified needs for new laparoscopic surgical instruments and collaborated to develop the first totally robotic roux-en-Y gastric bypass, and invented and then started a company to commercialize the “LapCap” device for safely establishing pneumoperitoneum.

She has been involved with numerous startup companies in the areas of alternative energy transportation, and worked for many years developing high altitude aircraft and high efficiency fuel cell power systems, computer aided design software, and medical devices.  She spoke twice at TED Conference. At her TED2009 Talk, she tours the history of surgery, then demos some of the newest tools for surgery through tiny incisions, performed using nimble robot hands. At her TED2010 Talk, she walks through all the geeky decisions she made when building a green new house — looking at real energy numbers, not hype.

To learn more about her works, please visit her official website.

The following is an interview with Dr. Catherine Mohr about Medical Technology, Innovation and Creating a Better World. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Catherine, I really appreciate you taking time to join us at eTalks. I am thrilled to have you.

Catherine: Thank you for the invitation, it is great to be here.

Niaz: You are the Vice President of Medical Research at Intuitive Surgical, where you develop new surgical procedures and evaluate new technologies for improving surgical outcomes. You have profound experience and a body of great works in the field of Medical and Disruptive technology. In addition to that you’re very passionate about the futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At the beginning of our interview, please tell us a little about your background and how did you get started?

Catherine: I am originally from New Zealand and grew up in Boston. Although, you can’t infer either of those facts from my accent. I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist, but my path to medicine wasn’t typical. As an undergraduate, I majored in Mechanical Engineering and built and raced solar cars as part of MIT’s team. That led me to working in alternative energy with Paul MacCready at AeroVironment working on hybrid electric cars and fuel cells. It was a wonderful time, and I remain very committed to sustainable technologies – encouraging kids at every opportunity to consider careers in science and engineering.

Niaz: Tell us about the road that led you to the world of robotic surgery. It was not a straight path, it seems.

Catherine: It wasn’t until after many years of working as an engineer that I went to medical school. I was in my 30s, and hardly the typical medical student. In many ways, I ended up in medicine because I was very interested in getting back onto the steep part of the learning curve. I loved engineering, but I had become an engineering manager, and I was looking for a new challenge.

In medical school, I was doing a lot of research in surgery and surgical technologies as part of my schooling. I encountered the da Vinci Surgical System and I started doing procedure development with one of my attending surgeons. We both work for Intuitive Surgical now – she as the Chief Medical Officer, and I am the VP of Medical Research.

Niaz: Intuitive Surgical is a high technology surgical robotics company that makes a robotic surgical system. Today, Intuitive Surgical is the global leader in the rapidly emerging field of robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. We would like to learn more about Intuitive Surgical. Can you please tell us about Intuitive Surgical, its current projects and also how it has been innovating our future?

Catherine: The flagship product at Intuitive Surgical is the da Vinci Surgical System. It allows a surgeon to operate with full dexterity and capability, but through tiny incisions. The da Vinci System has been a major part of the increase in the rates of minimally invasive surgery in many types of procedures where surgeries were too complex, intricate or just too fatiguing. As of early this year, we estimate that there have been two million procedures done worldwide with the da Vinci System.

Current research and development projects at Intuitive Surgical are aimed at increasing the capabilities and decision making resources of the surgeon while continuing to decrease the invasiveness of surgical therapies. The goal is always working toward better surgeries that are less invasive.

Niaz: The da Vinci Surgical System is a sophisticated robotic platform designed to expand the surgeon’s capabilities and offer a state-of-the-art minimally invasive option for major surgery. It has been using all disruptive technologies like robotics, high- definition 3D camera and so on. Please tell us what is the da Vinci Surgical System and how does it work?Catherine: Although it is often referred to as a “robot”, a more appropriate description would really be “telemanipulator,” as it doesn’t make any autonomous decisions of its own. To operate the da Vinci System, the surgeon sits at a console which has both a 3D display and a pair of input devices, which capture the motions of the surgeon’s hands and the da Vinci System moves the surgical instruments in a precise, scaled replica of the motions that the surgeon is making. This is coupled with a 3D camera so that the surgeon sees the instruments in the display superimposed over where they feel their hands to be.

Sitting down at the console, moving these input devices, and seeing the instruments move exactly the same way is the “intuitive” part of the process.

Niaz: How is robotic surgery, using something like the da Vinci system, better than the old-fashioned way with human hands?

Catherine: The human hand is rather large – at least when you are thinking about making an incision in the body large enough to fit that hand through. The da Vinci instruments are only 8mm in diameter, so they allow you to bring all the capability of that human hand into the body, but through a small incision. This is much better for the patients, as they get the same operation inside, but they heal more quickly with less pain.

Niaz: If we look at the evolution of surgery, we can see really huge changes have happened since last the two decades. With the rapid acceleration in human-machine interaction, the potentiality of robotics in surgery is going to be very vast. How can innovations like robotic-assisted surgery change the world of surgery?

Catherine: The changes haven’t only been happening on the surgical side. The improvements in surgery will come partly from synergies with advances in other parts of medicine. Some of the most exciting things that I have seen have been improvements in diagnostics and screening. As we find cancer earlier and earlier when it is easily cured surgically, we won’t have to do huge reconstructive operations to restore the function that would have been lost by cutting out the larger tumor. This gives us the opportunity to further reduce the invasiveness of our surgical therapies by moving to even smaller incisions, or going in through the mouth and avoiding external incisions entirely.

Niaz: What do you see as the future of robotic surgery? What are our core challenges to reach to that future?

Catherine: As we look at reducing invasiveness, we always want to be able to build things smaller while maintaining strength and precision. Interestingly enough, some of the biggest advances in robotics may come from new material science and machine tools.

Niaz: As an expert in the fields of robotic surgery and sustainable technologies, you’re passionate about realizing the potential benefit that appropriately applied technologies can have in our society, and inspiring the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s important problems. Can you please tell us about some interesting and tough technological problems that you want next generation of entrepreneurs to solve?

Catherine: Apart from the new materials, many of the opportunities to do extremely small interventions will rely upon being able to navigate within the body – like having a GPS for the body. Today, we can map the body with things like CT or MRI imaging, however, the body does not stay static. Organs move constantly, which makes navigating with a preoperative image like trying to follow a GPS map while the roads are constantly changing and moving, but your map never updates. Solving these problems would make it easier to make surgery even less invasive.

Niaz: As you know, it’s really hard to do scientific breakthroughs, to build companies like Apple, Google, Space X, and Tesla, to do something in massive levels with truly disruptive technology. I would like to hear your ideas on doing breakthroughs, coming up with authentic disruptive innovation and on building next big organization?

Catherine: It is solving problems that matter that is the key to these disruptive companies. The problems that matter also tend to be hard, so you need to be patient, and dig deep into the technology to get to solutions. None of the companies you mention are short on ambition, they all started fairly small, and they are deep experts in their technologies.

Niaz: Do you believe Silicon Valley is still the best place to build next big technology company?

Catherine: It is the best place because its historical success has led to the intense concentration of tech talent. However, the shortage of housing and the resultant astronomical housing prices make attracting people to come to Silicon Valley who aren’t already here rather difficult.

Niaz: What does actually make Silicon Valley very special?

Catherine: Critical mass. The concentration of talent, and the expectation that you will fail a bit before you succeed continues to attract the ambitious with big ideas. People cycle through startups gaining experience, and they keep going until they do succeed.

Niaz: You’re a medical technology pioneer, a mechanical engineer, and an expert in robotic surgery. Prior to going to medical school, you worked in the field of alternative energy transportation and sustainable technologies, working for many years with Dr. Paul MacCready at AeroVironment developing alternate energy vehicles, high-altitude aircraft, and high-efficiency fuel cell power systems aimed at reducing our world’s energy consumption and emissions. Can you tell us about how do you connect all of your skills, expertise, ideas and knowledge to break through the threshold in any specific field to get the best out of it or build the big things?

Catherine: Much of what I do involves understanding how the problems we are trying to solve are part of large interconnected systems, and thinking about optimization across the entire system. Optimizing only one part of the solution at the expense of the other important parts is counter-productive. For example, maximizing energy storage without considering weight for an airplane, or improving surgical capability without making it easy enough to operate safely. The big interconnected problems I like to tackle involve many of the same skill sets, even if they are in far flung areas like sustainable energy and surgery.

Niaz: How beneficial is it to have a multi-dimensional background and expertise?

Catherine: Attempting to solve all of these big programs are always team efforts. The myth of the lone inventor is just that – a myth. You need huge diversity of skills on a team, but that very strength means that teams often have difficulty communicating, if the background and experiences of the team members are too different. The people who have experience, background and training in several fields act as the linkers and translators within teams. I like to joke that I am “trilingual” – I speak Geek Speak, Medical Jargon and English – three mutually unintelligible languages. Being able to explain the clinical to the technical and the technical to the clinical is a valuable role.

Niaz: As far as I know you hold several patents. Please tell us about your patents?

Catherine: Most of these are in the area of manipulation or vision on the da Vinci System. You’ll notice that few, if any, of those patents list me as the sole inventor. Invention tends to come when you are solving a new problem with a team, and have the opportunity to try novel solutions. The best ideas are also often hybrids of many people building upon and improving each other’s ideas as you solve a problem together. Patents certainly serve a purpose in that they give you a period of time in which to use an idea before a competitor can legally copy it, but it is the teamwork and problem solving aspect of it that I enjoy the most.

Niaz: What is your favorite part about working at Intuitive Surgical?

Catherine: Getting to remain on the steep part of the learning curve – medicine and technology are changing so rapidly, that keeping up with what is going on is a constant process – one that I enjoy very much.

Niaz: As Vice President of Medical Research, what do you do on a daily basis? What is a normal day like for you?

Catherine: I’m not sure if I really have a normal day. Some days are lab days when we are in the research operating room developing new procedures or testing out prototypes of new instruments. Other days involve traveling around and both speaking about our technology and learning about new technologies from their inventors. And, some days involve trying to look out into the future to see what changes are happening in medicine so that our next products fit the new needs that are arising.

Niaz: What other kinds of projects or initiatives have you been involved in?

Catherine: I started playing the cello recently, and through building our house and blogging about it, I have been active in the conversation about green building and native plant gardening. Recently, I have also started working with GAVI, the vaccine alliance, on technologies for tracking vaccines in developing countries.

Niaz: You wanted to save the world, or at least a piece of it. But you just weren’t sure how to go about it. And now in 2014, we can see your profound body of works that have helped to change the world of robotic surgery and sustainable technologies. I know there are still a lot more to come. What would be your advice for the ones who want to follow your footsteps and change the world to make it a better place to live in?

Catherine: Focus on the problems that matter to you, if it matters to you, it probably matters to other people too. People make the mistake of focusing on what they think other people want, and then their hearts are never really in it. Without passion you won’t have the drive to do all the really hard work that comes with trying to make a difference. People are very impatient for success now, but it will never come unless they take the time to become deeply educated and skilled in the areas needed to be able to make a contribution.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Catherine: The technologies that will probably shape our future careers are in labs somewhere. I expect I will reinvent myself several more times as those technologies come out of the lab and start changing our world.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Catherine: Thank you for putting this program together

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Further Reading:

1. Andrew Hessel on Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Future of Life Science

2. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

3. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

4. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

5. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

6. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

9. Brian Keegan on Big Data

10. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

Daria Khoroshavina is portrait & fashion photographer based in Moscow, Russia. AdobeMax Creative Conference has featured her photography works on October 2014 and she has become a part of Adobe Creative Cloud Mosaic Collaborative project. Her works have been recognized and featured by online magazines and blogs such as Cat In Water, Practical Photography, Mehron blog, Designskilz, FGIdeas, NaldzGraphics, PHlearn, The Magnified Life, Total Photoshop and others.

To learn more about her works, visit her Official Website. You can also find her on Behance, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Instagram.

The following is an interview with Daria Khoroshavina where she discusses about her art, creation and photography works. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Daria, I really appreciate you taking time to join us at eTalks. It’s going to be an exciting interview.

Daria: I’m glad to be doing this. Ask anything you wish, I’ve got no secrets!

04We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: I would like to congratulate you on being a part of Adobe Creative Cloud Mosaic collaborative project. It’s also great seeing your photograph getting presented by AdobeMax creative conference on October 2014. Please tell us more about yourself and your background.

Daria: Thank you! It’s been a great experience, I really enjoyed working for the mosaic. I’m actually a portrait and fashion photographer based in Moscow/Ryazan, I’ve been doing it for a couple years now. I had a major career switch from an English teacher to photographer!

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Daria: I followed my passion as simple as it sounds. Just one day I quit my day job and focused on photography to make a living from what I truly enjoy. I did not go to any photography school but I did study a lot of internet resources, watched workshops and tutorials.

Niaz: How long have you been taking photos?

Daria: It became my hobby for about 5 years ago, and for about last 2 years it has been my job

03We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: You have cited, “I want my style to be subtle and metaphoric, a mesh from the simplest preciousness of human body and infinite universe of mind.” What do you mean by that? Why do you want your style to be subtle and metaphoric? Please tell us more about your style.

Daria: It’s about seeing a world in a grain of sand, telling much in one word, one image, expression or color. It’s fascinating how you can tell different stories by slightly repositioning a model’s shoulder or hand for example, that’s what I love about photography.

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, tripod ….. ) do you use?

Daria: I shoot with a canon 6d, with a 50 prime lens, right now consider getting an 85. I don’t ever use flash outside the studio.

Niaz: I think you are very skilled in terms of using post-processing softwares. Your final output is very impressive. What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing?

Daria: I’m not any different from any other photographer out there, I use Lightroom and Photoshop and retouch with a Wacom tablet.

Niaz: How long did it take you to become a master of using these softwares? Are you self-taught?

Daria: I’m definitely not a master yet! I’m self-taught and I’m still learning

Niaz: What are the best practices of learning new post processing techniques? What are your sources of inspiration and knowledge for post processing works? Please list some of your favorite online sources.

Daria: I’m more about creating something with your hands and taking picture of it than painting it on afterwards. If I’m having trouble with post-processing I search YouTube, it really has it all.

Niaz: What are your advices for the beginners at mastering Photoshop and some other post processing softwares?

Daria: Never stop learning and searching. If you feel that you know enough – watch some professional work and that feeling will go away. Don’t overdo the retouching! and don’t blindly follow the post-processing trends, we all know them, not cool.

06We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs and creating art?

Daria: If any time something went wrong I jumped out of the window – I’d spent my life flying. So I try to not give up when I’m not pleased with the result and just start all over. It’s the hardest, but it’s all worth it.

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Daria: AdobeMAX and CreativeLive are the best places to learn.

Niaz: How do you get inspiration to keep doing all these great works?

Daria: I personally get inspired by art in any form, when I need to find an idea – I explore art, lots of it in different styles, so I don’t accidentally steal.

Niaz: Can you please tell us how do you stay creative?

Daria: I don’t! I can’t be creative all the time, there are days when I feel like dishwashing is the dream job for me. But then I look at the most boring thing in the world and think “I want to take a picture of that!” and it sort of unfolds.

02We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: Please tell us about five of your favorite photographers?

Daria: Mario Sorrenti – for his body language, Tim walker – for the wonderland on Earth, Jake Garn taught me to see beautiful textures in everyday objects. There’s also a girl named Ezgi Polat – I love her film, it even ceases to inspire. Oh and Neil Craver’s underwater magic!

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography and post processing books?

Daria: I read everything online, can’t name any books, sorry!

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Daria: Keep yourself inspired and create as much as you can!

01We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: Daria, thank you so much for sharing us your incredible ideas. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Daria: Thank you, Niaz! It’s been a pleasure.

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Further Reading:

01. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

02. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

03. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

10. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

Cole Thompson: The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

Cole Thompson is an award-winning black and white photographer who has been creating some of the most amazing and brilliant BW images that I know over the years. His art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous leading publications and has received many international awards.

To learn more about his works, visit his Official Website and read his blog Black and White Photography. You can also purchase his Prints, Posters, Booklets and Folios (click to purchase).

The following is an interview with Cole Thompson where he shares the journey of a photographer who became an artist by gaining his own internal success, which inspires me most.

Niaz: Dear Cole, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

Cole: I am more thrilled than you Niaz, and honored that you would invite me!

Niaz: You are a “Fine Art: photographer. Year after year, you have been creating amazing art with the integration of photography, creativity, concept and authentic attitude. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about “Fine Art” photography?

Cole: Well this will be a funny and ironic discussion Niaz, because I really don’t really know what “fine art” photography means! And is there a difference between “art” and “fine art” photography?

Honestly, I only ask myself two questions:

  1. Do I like the image?
  2. Would I hang it in my home?

So why do I call myself a “fine art” photographer? Because people generally know what I’m talking about when I use that title and the term also tells people what type of photographer I am not:

  • I am not a documentary photographer
  • I am not a portrait photographer
  • I am not a wedding photographer

The term “fine art photographer” implies that I am creating something that I consider art and it’s something they may want to hang in their home.

What is fine art? Who cares!

Niaz: You’ve once stated that there’s a difference between a photographer and an artist and you strive to be an artist. I think you’re absolutely right but I would like to hear your explanation of that statement.

Cole: I do think there is a difference and it’s a huge one.

I think of a photographer as someone who documents or “takes pictures” and an artist is one who “creates images” according to their Vision.

For many years I thought of myself as a photographer and felt it was wrong to manipulate an image or to change it in any way.

I grew up believing that I lacked creative skills, and so as a photographer I tried to make up for that by excelling in my technical skills. It seems preposterous now to think that technical skills could compensate for creative skills, but that’s what I thought.

But as I matured with the help of an artist mentor, I started seeing images in my head and found myself wanting to manipulate my photographs to bring them into conformance with that Vision.

“The Angel Gabriel” is the first time that I purposefully “created an image.”

The Angel GabrielThe Angel Gabriel by Cole Thompson

I’d like to tell the story of this image, because I cannot separate the story from the Vision I had of it:

This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. 

He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph, and in return I would buy him lunch.

The pier was very crowded and used a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. 

We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those who lingered long enough for the camera to record their “ghosts.” 

Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands.

I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.

I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; for he had everything that he needed. 

Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.

“Creating” this image was a breakthrough for me and marked the beginning of my transition from photographer to artist. No longer would I document and record, but rather create.

I don’t think it’s wrong to be a photographer, but there were images in my head that wanted to get out!

Niaz: So how and when did you get started in photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Cole: I discovered photography as a 14 year old boy living in Rochester, NY and I’ve never taken a photography class in my life.

I was out hiking one day when I stumbled upon the ruins of a home that was once owned by George Eastman. That piqued my interest and so I read the biography of George Eastman.

Before I had finished that book and before I had ever taken a picture or seen a print come up in the darkroom, I knew I was destined to be a photographer. I know how silly and pretentious that might sound, but that is how I felt then, and it’s how I still feel to this day.

I am self taught, from the age of 14 and until I was 20, I lived and breathed photography. Photography was my entire life and I spent every waking moment photographing, working in the darkroom, reading how-to books or studying the works of the great masters. Photography so dominated my life that I rarely attended classes and almost didn’t graduate High School.

Gull and MoonGull and Moon by Cole Thompson (created when he was 16 years old)

Learning on my own was good for me, it reinforced a life view that I could do anything I set my mind to and was willing to work hard for. I believe it also helped me avoid “group think” and thankfully I avoided learning the “rules of photography.”

At age 17 I briefly considered going to school for photography, it seemed the natural course for me, but then had this premonition that earning a living through photography would eventually dilute my passion for it.

Instead I earned a business degree and that’s how I’ve earned my living for all of these years. I’ve never regretted that decision, for I still love photography as much today as I did when I was 14 years old.

Niaz: As a photographer what is the most complicated issue you experienced & how have you overcome?

Cole: Overcoming the desire to please others and to receive external validation.

For most of my photographic career I created to please others, to earn accolades and to become famous. As I started achieving some success, I noticed that it felt great for 15 minutes, but the next day I was left feeling hollow and empty.

I realized that no matter the accolades, in the morning it was still just me, my work and what I thought of it. If I was not creating for myself and did not love my images, then no external praise could make me feel good about my work or myself.

And so I began to question my motives and asked myself some hard questions:

  • Why am I creating?
  • Who am I trying to please?
  • What do I want from my photography?
  • How do I define success?

I found it curious that it was very difficult to be completely honest with myself. But it was only by answering these questions with brutal honestly, that I was able to stop chasing transitory praise and focus on the things that would result in personal satisfaction.

From these answers I was able to define what success meant to me and that’s what I now pursue.

In the past I considered those accolades as the evidence of my success, but I now think differently. My success is no longer measured by what others think about my work, but rather by how I feel about it.

While I do enjoy exhibiting, seeing my work published and meeting people who appreciate my art…this is an extra benefit of creating but not success itself.

I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally.

Niaz: You’ve citedMy art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous publications and has received many awards. And yet my resume does not list those accomplishments.” Why? Can you expand on coming to these perspectives?

Cole: It all goes back to my motivations for creating. For too long I found myself working to create a long resume just to impress: look at all the wonderful places I have exhibited and the awards I’ve won! I must be a good photographer.

But when I found my Vision and defined success for myself, I saw how silly all of that was. My goal is not to impress others, but to please myself by creating images that I love and am proud of.

I’m also against judging a person’s art by their resume. I feel that my images are my resume and that’s all anyone needs to decide if they like my work or not. It should not matter where it has exhibited or what awards it has won.

All I want a viewer to ask themselves is: do I like it? The resume should be irrelevant.

I recently had an experience where a venue wanted to exhibit my work but first wanted to see my resume. I told them that I didn’t keep one and they made it clear that they needed the resume before they could make a final decision.

I think it’s sad that someone cannot judge art unless they know who else has exhibited it, what awards it has won or what critics think of it.

Niaz: What is “Photographic Celibacy”? How has it become your good practice?

Cole: Photographic Celibacy means that I do not look at or study other photographers work.

Why? Simply to keep my focus on my Vision and to not be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to copy others.

I’ve spent much of my life copying others; their look, their style and sometimes I’d even try to recreate a specific image by going to exactly where they created it! (Sorry Ansel)

Here’s the story on how I came to practice Photographic Celibacy: Several years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field.

Review-Santa-Fe

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like your trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better. What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but over the next two years the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

It was then that I committed to find my Vision and one of the first steps that I took, was to stop looking at other photographer’s work. I figured that if I immersed myself in the Vision of others, I was likely to copy their work, either consciously or subconsciously.

I’ve been practicing Photographic Celibacy for about 6 years now and I’m often asked how long I’ll continue it. The truth is, I still find the practice useful and needed.

Let me give an example of why I still practice it: I had an image published in the book “Why Photographs Work” by George Barr. The publisher sent me a copy and I eagerly flipped through the book looking for my image. Along the way, I saw an image by Brian Kosoff that I just fell in love with:

kosoffThreeCrossesThree Crosses by Brian Kosoff

I contacted Brian, purchased the print and would look at it enviously. And for the next several weeks I found myself driving around looking for telephone poles that I could arrange like Brian’s Three Crosses! I’d stop and chastise myself, but then later I’d find myself doing it again subconsciously.

I’m clearly still prone to be influenced by the Vision of others and so Photographic Celibacy is something I continue practice. Most people who read about it disagree with the practice and its usefulness and recently I had someone write to me to boast that they practiced Photographic Promiscuity!

Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not for everyone, or perhaps it’s a practice that should only be considered at a certain point in ones creative development. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it has helped me a great deal to both find and follow my Vision, and to feel good about the work that I create, knowing that it was created honestly and not copied.

Niaz: You’ve formulated your rule of thirds and I have to fully agree with you. Can you tell us more about your rule of thirds?

Cole: I am self taught and was fortunate to have never learned the “rules of photography.”

Just a few years ago someone came up to me during an exhibition and criticized one of my images for not following the rule of thirds. I was amazed that instead of seeing the beauty of the composition, she could see only rules.

If she would have said to me: I don’t think this composition works or I don’t like this image, I would have respected her opinion even if I disagreed with her. But when someone ignores the image and focuses on some imaginary rule, I have no respect for that opinion.

I think it is foolhardy to think that you can distill great composition down into to a few rules, that if followed, will create great images. It reminds me of the “Paint by Numbers” kits that I loved as a kid.

Paint by NumbersPaint by Numbers – Follow the rules and create a masterpiece!

We were promised that if we followed the rules, we would produce a masterpiece.

Mona-Lisa-Paint-by-Numbers-ComparisonCompetent…maybe…but no masterpiece!

Well, as children we were proud of what we created, but it was certainly no masterpiece!

I have no doubt that if you follow these supposed rules of photography, that you will create “competent” images. But they will be just like thousands of other competent images created by thousands of other photographers who are all following the same silly rules.

If you want to create great images, then forget the rules and create according to your Vision.

So in response to this experience, I created my own rule of thirds:

Cole’s Rule of Thirds

A great image is comprised of 1/3 vision, 1/3 the shot and 1/3 processing

A great image begins and ends with your vision. Vision is a tough concept to describe, but I think each of us instinctively know how we want our image to look and our job as an artist is to bring that image into compliance with our Vision.

When we pursue an image with Vision, then equipment and process becomes the servant and the creative process the master. It’s only then that great images can occur.

Vision is everything.

Niaz: I think the shot – basically technical skills – can be taught and learned, the same applies to the editing. But what about vision? Can you learn vision? Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Cole: I don’t believe Vision is learned, but rather discovered.

I grew up in a modest home where there was no money for art, music or creative pursuits. Perhaps because of this, I grew up believing that I lacked creative abilities. I came to believe that you were either born with it or you were not…and I was not.

But several years ago I was challenged to find out if I had a Vision. Part of me was very afraid to go down this path: what would happen if I discovered that I didn’t have “it?” Perhaps I would be better off never knowing?

No, I had to let the genie out of the bottle, even thought I knew that I could never put him back in. I decided that I must know the truth and off I went. I was unable to find a “how to guide” on finding your Vision and so I just made things up as I went along, creating a 10 step plan that I followed. (You can read about it here: finding vision)

It took two years of hard work and honest soul searching, but I did find my Vision and learned a lot more in the process. Here is what I learned:

  1.  Vision is simply the sum total of our life experiences that make us see the world in our own unique way.
  2.  Everyone has a Vision.
  3.  Vision is not developed, but rather discovered.
  4.  Finding your Vision is hard, following your Vision is even be harder.
  5.  Vision is what makes great images, not equipment, techniques, styles or gimmicks.
  6.  Finding and following your Vision gives you and your work strength, confidence and independence.
  7.  Vision has less to do with photography or art and has more to do with being a well-adjusted, confident and independent person.

Why do I say that Vision needs to be discovered or found? Because I believe we all have a Vision, but many like myself have buried it under so much “stuff” that we forget that we ever had one.

What is this “stuff” that we bury our Vision under? It’s things like caring what others think, fearing that our work will not be liked, wanting to fit in, trying to please, creating for attention, fearing failure and a whole host of other insecurities.

Once I started to address these issues, I was able to uncover my creativity and find my Vision.

The second part of your questions was: Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Yes, basically they are doomed. If a person relies on technical skills alone, then they are doomed to create technically perfect but soulless images, with the exception of the occasional accidental great image.

I really believe that Vision is everything!

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, and tripod, cleaning equipment other) do you use? Do you use any special equipment for long exposure?

Cole: For the past several years I have been on a mission to simplify everything that I do, which includes my equipment.

I have a very small and simple kit: my camera (Canon), three lenses that cover from 24 to 400, a tripod and an assortment of neutral density filters including my important tool, the Singh-Ray Vari ND filter.

I find that more equipment does not mean a better image, and in fact I could argue that it gets in the way more often than it helps. I say master the basics and only add equipment when there is a specific need to fulfill your Vision.

Keeping it simple also helps me stay focused on what’s really important: the image.

Niaz: What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing, if any?

Cole: As with my camera equipment, I try to use the simplest equipment, processes and software that will get the job done. These things are merely tools and while I want the best tools for the job, I also want the simplest.

I use a PC, Photoshop, a pen and tablet and an Epson printer. That’s it.

I think it’s important to mention what I don’t use: I don’t use special b&w conversion programs, plug-ins, curves, layers, RIPs, monitor calibrators, special paper profiles or inksets.

My workflow is so simple and unsophisticated, that for years I would not let anyone watch me work because I was afraid that they would lose all respect for me. Now I realize that it’s not about the equipment or process, but about the image. Nothing else matters.

I like to show people my before and after images and emphasize that I create them with only six tools in Photoshop. I like to expose the myth that great images require extensive and complex procedures or special plug-ins and programs.

Here is my image Iceland No. 4, before and after:

Before  After

I am not suggesting that others need to process their images using the six tools that I use. But I do want people to know that you can create great images using only simple equipment and processes.

Before AfterThis is “Skelton” and the image on the left is how my eyes saw the scene, and on the right how I envisioned it.

When I show people my before-and-after images, sometimes they come away with the impression that they must improve their Photoshop skills. Unfortunately that is the exact opposite message that I want to convey!

My Vision is what created this image. My equipment and technical skills are mere tools and I use the simplest tools that will get the job done.

There is a great little story told by Sam Haskins that illustrates the role of equipment in the creative process:

“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’

Camera

He said nothing until dinner was finished, then:

“That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific Stove.”

StoveSam Haskins

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Cole: I don’t read any photo magazines, subscribe to newsletters or visit photo websites.

I am self taught and I learn by trying things, experimenting, sometimes failing and many times succeeding.

Instead of mastering a wide range of technical skills that I might someday need, I have approached learning in the opposite way. First I gain a Vision of the image and then I learn the skills necessary to express that Vision.

For example, when I created the series “The Fountainhead” I first envisioned the images in my head, and then learned the skills and techniques to put that Vision on paper.

Cole Thompson 01 Cole Thompson 02 Cole Thompson 03 Cole Thompson 04
The Fountainhead Series by Cole Thompson

I knew that I wanted to portray skyscrapers in a distorted and futuristic way, but didn’t know how to do that. With time and determination, I finally came upon the idea of photographing the buildings reflection off of a bent ferrotype plate (think funhouse mirror).

Cole ThompsonCole photographing the reflection of skyscrapers from a bent ferrotype plate

I do believe that “necessity is the mother of invention.” When I have a need, I will find the technical solution.

Many believe the opposite, that you must have a myriad of skills before Vision can be expressed. I disagree and believe that this puts the emphasis on processes as being the key to the image.

Anyone can be a great technician but it’s hard to be creative.

Niaz: Do you have any photographers/ artists who inspire you consistently? Please share few of your favorite artist/photographer whose work could encourage for creating an art.

Cole: I do not follow any other photographers or artists.

Being celibate, I do not look at others work. The heroes I did follow (Adams, Weston, Caponigro, Cunningham, Strand, Bullock) are all gone now, but they are still influential on my work because those images are forever burned into my memory.

The photographer who has been most influential on my work is Edward Weston, I love his philosophies and the way he lived. In Ansel Adam’s biography he recounts the first time he met Weston and it illustrates one of the qualities I love about him:

“After dinner, Albert (Bender) asked Edward to show his prints. They were the first work of such serious quality I had ever seen, but surprisingly I did not immediately understand or even like them; I thought them hard and mannered.

Edward never gave the impression that he expected anyone to like his work. His prints were what they were. He gave no explanations; in creating them his obligation to the viewer was completed.”

I love Weston’s images, but I love his attitudes even more; he created for himself and he did not care what others thought.

Another artist that has similarly influenced me is the author Ayn Rand. I first read her novel The Fountainhead at age 17 and like Weston, she taught creative independence. These ideas were mere seeds for much of my life, until several years ago when they germinated and have grown into my current philosophy.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Cole: These are books from my past that I still treasure:

  •  Edward Weston’s Day Books
  • Ansel Adams’ Biography
  • The Family of Man

And while it is not a book, I am very inspired by the movie “Finding Vivian Maier.” Her work is amazing but even more inspiring to me is the mystery of why she never showed her work to others. I’d like to think it was because she created for herself and did not need external approval.

Niaz: What is your inspiration to do what you do? How do you stay focused and keep making impressive art?

Cole: I can’t explain why I’m compelled to create, I just am. It brings me pleasure and so I do it.

How to I inspire myself? Well, first of all, there are times I feel inspired and there are times I don’t! Those “down times” used to trouble me, but not anymore. I have come to appreciate the down times as much as my up times. Like a farmer who leaves a field fallow for a season to rejuvenate it, so those down times serve a purpose.

In the past I would fret over those dry periods and try to hasten them along, but now I just enjoy them knowing that a creative season will return as certainly as the winter gives way to the spring. And with each returning creative season, a renewed enthusiasm will result.

So, what do I do to find inspiration? First, I have to get away by myself and create alone. I cannot create with others around, even other photographers.

I’ll spend 2-3 days just looking until my eyes start to see, as I call it. I think it takes me a couple of days just to clear the mundane routines and worries of life out of my consciousness.

I’ll read the Weston’s Day Books and for whatever reason, those really make me want to get out and create.

I’ll listen to the Beatles. Why the Beatles? Because they remind me to keep growing and evolving, even at the risk of offending current fans or upsetting a winning formula.

Many people ask how I go about choosing the subject for a new portfolio. I tell them that whenever I get an idea I write it down, and right now that list is about 50 ideas long. Then I tell them that I’ve never yet used one of these ideas.

The truth is that every idea for one of my portfolios has come spontaneously, in a moment of inspiration. The best example is “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau” which was conceived and executed in under two hours. Here is the story behind the images:

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 14 - Final 2-1-2009 500The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

My wife and I were visiting my son who was serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and while there we decided to visit Poland and took a train to Krakow. Upon arriving discussions began on what to see and of course Auschwitz-Birkenau was high on everyone’s list, but secretly I hoped we wouldn’t visit the camps because I did not want visit a place of such sadness.

However the family voted to go and so I agreed.

We took a bus tour that would spend about 1 hour at Auschwitz and 45 minutes at Birkenau. Even though I had my equipment with me, I had not planned on photographing the camps because it seemed that this might be disrespectful.

The tour began indoors and we saw the meticulous records the German’s kept of their victims and then the iconic piles of personal effects: glasses, shoes and hair.

This was just all too overwhelming and I felt like I was suffocating, so I signaled to my family that I was going outdoors. Breathing in the open air I began to feel a bit better and I began to slowly walk, looking down at my feet.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 1 - Final 2-1-2009 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Then I began to wonder: how many had walked in these exact footsteps and now were dead? How many had taken this same path and then had been murdered? And I began to wonder if the spirits of those who were murdered still lingered?

And then it suddenly struck me that I must photograph the spirits of those who had died here. I instinctively knew how I would do that, I would use long exposures of the other visitors at the camps, who would stand in proxy for the dead.

The enormity of this task hit me as I realized that the bus was leaving in 45 minutes and so I ran from location to location, working incredibly fast. Each location had its own challenges, I had to photograph people without their knowing it, because if they thought I was photographing they would politely move out of my way.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 3 - Final 8-11-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

I quickly developed a technique to fool people into thinking I was not photographing, I would set up my equipment and then talk on the phone or look in my camera bag, and then trigger the camera with a remote shutter release.

I do feel that I was inspired, both in concept and execution. As I looked at each scene I knew in my mind exactly how the finished image would look. However if you were to see the original shots and compare them to the final images, you would be surprised to see the extensive Photoshop work it took to bring the “shot” into compliance with my vision.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a depressing place, but I am glad that I went. I hope my images have portrayed the camps not just as a historical location, but as a place where real people lived and died.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 8 - Final 6-24-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Niaz: There are so many photographers working with long exposure photography techniques in black and white that sometimes it is hard to be original. Yet your work is very original. Can you give our readers any tips for finding an original approach to long exposure photography?

Cole: My suggestion will be predictable: find and follow your Vision.

Do not set out to pursue long exposures or any other style or technique, but rather set about to follow your Vision and go wherever that takes you. I honestly don’t know if my long exposure work is unique or not, I only know that it is original and honest for me.

Sometimes my Vision takes me somewhere that is not so original. For example I created a series called “Grain Silos” several years ago and submitted them to LensWork.

2007-5-25 Silos - Final 6-11-2007 750Grain Silos by Cole Thompson

The editor Brooks Jensen replied that he’d love to publish the work but that they were featuring almost identical images in the current issue by a photographer named Larry Blackwood.

Larry and I are friends and we created an almost identical series without each other knowing it! My point is that my work was unique to me, but not necessarily unique in the world of photography.

I’m okay with that as long as my work came about honestly.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Cole: Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about being a fine art photographer:

Carefully decide if you want to try to earn your living from your art (please note the emphasis). Will you enjoy it if it is your job? From my experience, you will need to focus on what sells and what the market demands, not on what you truly love. Some people can live with that, and for others this takes the joy out of the work.

Early on you should define success for yourself and not just pursue the standard definition that society sells: limited editions and high prices, big name gallery representation, long resumes and book publishing. Perhaps you do want some of that, but be sure to examine that question carefully before you go down that path.

Focus more on finding and following your vision and less on technical skills.

Only create images that you love, not those images that bring praise or sales. You may think you’re winning in the short term, but that that type of success will sour with time.

Be a good person. Success in any field is affected by the kind of person you are. Be sincere, honest, helpful and just plain nice. Those qualities will help you no matter what you do in life.

Niaz: I can see from your portfolio that you are widely traveled, especially within the United States. How important is the contribution of travel to developing your portfolio from an artistic point of view? How has travel helped you develop as a person?

Cole: Travel is not as important as I thought it would be when I was starting off. I initially thought a great location would produce a great image. I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

I have been to unique locations and have not created anything unique and I have been to mundane and pedestrian locations and have created something wonderful. Much more important than location is your ability to see and imagine.

I once wrote an article about this, how with the right eye your backyard is enough. I assembled all of the images I had created within a few miles of my home and to illustrate the point.

Best of Cole ThompsonCole Thompson Photography

But yes, I am well traveled. I’m fortunate that my full time job took me all over the US and my children have lived all over the world, so I’m often able to combine work and family with my photography.

Niaz: What defines a good photograph in your view and what prevails: aesthetics or mood/a deeper message? What will last longer or is the phrase ‘mood’ just overrated?

Cole: What defines a good photograph, in my opinion, is simply how I feel about it. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s as deep as my thinking goes.

I am terrible when it comes to using words to describe images and the feelings they evoke. I think that’s why I became a photographer, so I wouldn’t have to use words.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so I say let it speak for itself!

Everyone’s definition of “good” will be different and that’s why I don’t believe I can define a good or bad image, I can only say which ones I like and don’t like.

Niaz: And what defines a good photographer in your view? Does s/he have to be a celibate, just like you are or does s/he need to absorb all art, all influences and then try to pick out the best of all these influences and combine and integrate it into his then newly created art?

Cole: In my view, a good photographer is one that creates images true to their Vision and which they love. Achieving that does not guarantee commercial or critical success and it doesn’t mean that others will love your work as much as you do. But I do think that it guarantees personal satisfaction, which I think is worth more than money or fame.

As strongly as I feel about the principles and ideas that I espouse, I am not so naive to think that my way is the only or best way. People learn differently and have different experiences, so I have to believe there are many paths that work.

Niaz: With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, sites like Flickr, apps like Instagram and other social media, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, the way we post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world. We’re flooded with photos on the Internet by people who are self proclaimed photographers and artists, and not only are we now confronted with a lot of bad work that I wouldn’t call art but at the same time I see so many artists who are just fantastic and who would never be discovered if they would’ve lived 30 years earlier. How do you look at this and how do you personally see the future of photography? Is this digital era a curse or a blessing for photographic art?

Cole: I think these new digital tools are wonderful for many reasons.

First, more great artists are being revealed. The technical threshold of digital is much lower so that more people can express themselves more easily. This is a good thing, even though at times it seems that there are so many new and great photographers in the digital world that there is no room left for me!

I also think that digital helps people stay more focused on the image and less on the technical process. In the film world, a photographer had to invest such an enormous amount of time, money and knowledge before they could produce a decent print. Back then photographers became such technicians that many neglected the creative element of photography.

And for me personally, digital allows me to do so much more with my images. My work has never looked so good since I switched to digital. It’s so much easier to manipulate my images to match my Vision. I have many, many fond memories of working in the darkroom, but I’d never want to go back!

And then there is the issue of exposure, in the old days my work would be seen by the few who entered the galleries who carried my work, or those who saw my work in a photography magazine. This meant a relative few people in the world ever would see my work.

Now, I have people contacting me from almost every country in the world. I am now more in control of my destiny, not having to rely on the gallery system. There are of course some downsides and challenges, but all in all, I love the opportunities made available in this new world.

Niaz: How can an artist remain fresh, unique, and on the cutting edge (whatever that actually even means)?

Cole: I never seek to be different, but to simply illustrate what I see through my mind’s eye. Sometimes that means my work will not be very different as in the case of my Grain Silo portfolio resembling my friends work. And sometimes it will be very different as in my Auschwitz images.

But I never worry about that, I simply follow my Vision and create for myself. That’s the best way to stay fresh, unique and most importantly: satisfied.

Niaz: How do you define the term success? What and who comes first when you hear the term success? And why?

Cole: One large mistake I made in my photographic career was to not stop and question what success meant to me. I wasted so much time chasing things that didn’t bring about personal satisfaction.

It was late in life that I defined success for myself, and it’s a very simple definition:

To do what I want.

To create what I love.

For me success has nothing to do with sales, resumes, exhibitions, how popular my images are or any other external measure.

Niaz: I believe you earn a living, or at least a part-time living, as a fine art photographer. Do you have any advice for our readers on how they can work towards achieving the same goal? What can they do from an artistic viewpoint to improve their work and a practical viewpoint to selling their work?

Cole: I do not earn my living from my art, but rather support myself through a full time job in business.

You cannot imagine the freedom that gives me, I am free to pursue any idea, any project and to take as long I need to produce my work. I do not depend on sales and so I don’t care if my work sells or not. I am completely free, aside from my vanities of course!

I am glad that I never chose to earn my living from my “fine art” photography and would advise your readers to seriously consider the impact of that decision on their freedom and independence as an artist. I personally think money and art do not mix well.

If you choose to earn your living by selling your work, then be prepared to create images that the market demands, which is rarely the type of work that you love. Selling to earn your living always means compromising and I have chosen not to make that tradeoff.

Now that doesn’t mean that you cannot do both, create one type of image to sell and then also create your personal work on the side. But I have to be honest, many people write me who have tried to do that and complain that they don’t have the time and energy to do both.

And in that situation, guess which one languishes? Maslow taught us that eating always comes before art.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Cole: Niaz, I consider myself to be the luckiest person in the world. I have a job that pays the bills and I create art that I love. How could life be any better?

I have my honest views based on my experiences, but I do not suggest that they are right for everyone. Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not the best for you, perhaps earning your living from photography is something you really want and your definition of success is different than mine!

But if any of my ideas resonate with you, then maybe there is something to consider. If anyone would like to ask me further questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Cole: Thank you Niaz, I appreciated your questions, they cause me to think and to analyze my beliefs. Thank you for your website and this opportunity!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Andrew Hessel: Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Future of Life Science

Andrew Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the changes ahead in life science. He is a Distinguished Researcher with Autodesk Inc.’s Bio/Nano Programmable Matter group, based out of San Francisco.  He is also the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer.

As the co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at the Singularity University, he addresses the disruptive shifts underway in life. He speaks widely on topics that include cells as living computers, life science as an emerging IT industry, and biological safety and security. He is active in the iGEM and DIYbio (do-it-yourself) communities and frequently works with students and young entrepreneurs.

To learn more about his works, visit his Official Website and follow him on Twitter.

The following is an interview with Andrew Hessel about Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Future of Life Science. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: You are a genomic scientist and consultant in DNA technologies. Working with leading academic and commercial groups, you have traveled the globe for more than 15 years in the exploration of digital biology, the successor to recombinant DNA technology that is transforming DNA into an easy-to-use programming language for biological systems. Your work is empowering a new generation of young researchers to tackle big biology related problems like sustainable fuel production, environmental cleanup, superbugs and cancer. At the beginning of our interview, please tell us a little about your background and how did you get started?

Andrew: I really love technology, particularly computers, but saw living things as special. I wanted to understand how they worked, so majored in cell biology, microbiology, and genetics.

Niaz: What first got you interested in biotechnology? Tell us about the road that led you to the world of biotechnology, synthetic biology, and genomics?

Andrew: I was interested in DNA code and realized that using computer programs to organize and analyze it would be very powerful. I started to write software and databases. Combined with lab bench skills, this gave me some unique abilities at the time. I was hired by Amgen, Inc. in 1995. It was an exciting time, with the Human Genome Project ramping up and Internet and biotechnologies booming. I learned a lot, fast. One of these lessons was how valuable a small genetic program could be. Amgen’s phenomenal success could be traced back to just a few hundred bases of genetic code.

Eventually, the draft of the human genome was published and the economic bubble burst. Things slowed down. I took some time off to reflect. I realized that it had only taken 10 years for scientists and industry to build the technologies needed to read large amounts of DNA. It seemed reasonable that DNA writing technologies would also evolve quickly. I started tracking improvements in DNA synthesis, the core technology that makes synthetic biology possible. The field was still very small. I was lucky to meet many of the pioneers of synthetic biology early on. It was like Silicon Valley in the early days, only this time around it was all based on carbon.

Niaz: Now we are learning how to make a living world which was not possible before. We can engineer our nature to sustain our need. What is the interface between programming and biology? How does computer science relate to the genetic code?

Andrew: Computer programming is relatively easy. Engineers made the processors. Engineers created the languages and compilers. Because we’ve made everything, we know everything about how these things work. The specifications are known.

Cells are essentially living computers. Genetic engineering is software engineering. The challenge is that we didn’t create the cell or the programming language. We don’t understand fully how everything works yet. This limits the sophistication of the programs we can write. But we’re learning more every day. As our knowledge grows, so do our capabilities.

Synthetic biology is still very young compared to electronic computing. Human-readable programming languages are just starting to appear. DNA synthesis, which compiles this code into an executable form, is still expensive. But as the computer design tools improve and DNA synthesis costs fall, programming living cells and organisms gets easier to do, faster to do, and a lot cheaper. This opens up biotechnology for more people, just as the PC brought computing to the masses so will computing transform healthcare.

Niaz: Tell us about programming our genes? Would it be possible for our genetic codes to be published on the web and open sourced by ‘gene programmers’ for example?

Andrew: Absolutely. A lot of genetic code is already published openly – and more of it is flooding into databases daily. This includes data on individuals. For example, I’m part of a project called the PGP – Personal Genome Project, where participants willingly publish their genomes for open research.

We’re already seeing dozens of small biotech companies using next-generation DNA technologies – companies like Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston, which engineers custom microbes, or San Francisco’s Glowing Plant, Inc. I expect many more companies to appear. Bioengineering and biological programming are already hot jobs – and I believe there will be a lot more positions to fill in the future.

Niaz: What are the possibilities of biotechnology? How it will change the world and how it affects to find the new ways to achieve success?

Andrew: The possibilities are staggering. Consider the range of existing organisms. Every environmental niche is populated. There are millions of large species on our planet, and possibly billions of microbial and viral species. This is just what’s here today, now, or at least what we know about.

Biotechnology greatly expands the range of possibilities. There’s no species barrier at the code level, so we can mix and match traits from species that otherwise could not share genetic code easily. We can also create new environments and direct evolutionary processes to produce novel traits. We can print cells using 3D printers. We can connect cells or cell components to electrical devices, creating bridges that never existed before – possibly leading to new sensors or electronically-controlled metabolic processes.

These approaches are unfamiliar to people today. But fifty years ago, so were computers and robotics. Over the coming decades, the fundamental processes of living systems will be better understood, and biology will become more accepted as an everyday technology. I think this is a positive thing for humanity and for our planet.

Niaz: How long until genome sequencing becomes available on an iPhone?

Andrew: Prototype devices are already about the size of an iPhone. But having this feature on a phone isn’t what people are asking for today. When there’s enough demand and the technology is cheap enough, it will happen.

Niaz: As you know, Robots are starting to emerge in sequencing labs. To what extent can this field be roboticized?

Andrew: DNA sequencing has been increasingly automated since the late 1990’s. The robots are already doing much of the work, even the sample preparation.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about synthetic biology?

Andrew: It’s computer-aided genetic engineering –programming living things using software and hardware tools. I like to think of it as the next IT industry. It’s already beginning to happen. For example, the iGEM Synthetic Biology program (http://igem.org) has already trained tens of thousands of students. Kids today grow up digital. Increasingly, they’ll grow up biotechnological, comfortable and adept with the tools to engineer biological systems.

Niaz: What will be the first mainstream application to be introduced that is dependent on synthetic biology?

Andrew: By mainstream, I take it you mean some form of branded consumer application, since some engineered products are already incorporated into many common products. An example is modified enzymes or oils in laundry detergents and soaps, and also biofuels.

For people to actively seek out a synthetic biology product in large numbers, it will need to be something fun and/or useful, affordable, and above all safe. I think there’s a good chance it will be a food or drink – probably one based on yeast, since post-processing can eliminate any genetically modified yeast from the product. I’m tracking projects in beer and milk that have a high potential to go mainstream.

Niaz: When will the first human organs be created using synthetic biology?

Andrew: This is more a challenge for the cell biologists. 3D bio-printing technologies are very exciting right now. Prototype tissues and organs are starting to appear, but the capabilities are still very limited. These will improve but the rate of improvement is at present hard to estimate – there are too few data points. That said, I think the first bio-printed human heart will be transplanted in less than a decade.

Another approach is to engineer humanized animals. There are almost a billion pigs in the world. If their organs were engineered to be immune-compatible with humans, almost overnight there would be no shortage of organs for transplant.

Given enough research and development, I expect we might learn how to activate self-repair or self-replacement of our organs so transplants won’t be necessary. But this is still in the realm of science fiction for now.

Niaz: How much progress can be expected in the field of synthetic biology by 2025?

Andrew: It will grow exponentially or super-exponentially as DNA synthesis and other biotechnologies advance. You can bank on it, like Moore’s law.

Niaz: You are the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer. Can you tell us more about Pink Army Cooperative, its initiatives and upcoming activities?

 Andrew: I started Pink Army in 2009 to make people aware that the rapid advances in biotechnology are allowing smaller innovators to compete effectively with big pharmaceutical companies. As a cooperative, it’s an open source company owned by the members and capitalized by the membership fees. After getting about 600 members, I stopped focusing on awareness and started working to create the digital tools for making synthetic cancer-fighting viruses very inexpensively. Meanwhile, viral therapies are beginning to have success in treating some cancers, in some cases completely eliminating them with a single treatment. I expect to do much more with the cooperative in the next year or so.

Niaz: You are a Distinguished Researcher at Autodesk and the former co-chair of bioinformatics and biotechnology at Singularity University. How has your experience with Autodesk and Singularity University affected your vision for biotech and Pink Army?

Andrew: Definitively. Singularity University allowed me to connect with other innovators around the world, including Autodesk. Since 2012, the team at Autodesk has been working to create innovative design tools and industry partnerships that will make biotechnology easier and yet more powerful. In short, Autodesk is building the tools that make Pink Army and other advanced biotechnology companies possible. And just a few months ago, we made our first synthetic virus, a bacteriophage called PhiX174. This was a first step toward one day producing cancer-fighting viruses.

Niaz: More people are now getting into biotech, nanotech, genetic engineering and genomics. What do you think about the important factors of the success in these industries?

Andrew: I think they are similar to other industries. If these technologies are used to create useful products and services that people are willing to pay for, the companies will be successful. Improvements in these technologies are reducing costs and risks of development, but these industries still face a more complicated path to the marketplace with their products than, say, the computer industry, at least in the US and UK. This could be a big opportunity for emerging markets in the short term. Eventually, I believe efforts the regulatory and approval processes must be streamlined.

Niaz: Why do we need to think really big as well as to be high ambitious in the filed of biotech, nanotech, genetic engineering and genomics? How to stay motivated to build the next big things from these domains?

Andrew: These are powerful technologies that can address global challenges but there is always the risk of accident or abuse. We must be open and transparent about what we are doing with these technologies and we must pursue positive applications. We need to train people to be responsible and safe in their practices. We must also update and empower the regulatory organizations to do their jobs properly.

Niaz: How big is life science industry? How is life science going to be evolving in near future? Do you think we are about to live like science fiction?

Andrew: I don’t have an exact figure dollar-wise, but collectively, including medicine, it’s in the trillions of dollars. Life science will only become more robust. I don’t think we’re going to live like in science fiction, just better because of what these technologies can deliver to people.

Niaz: What does excite you most now?

Andrew: How quickly things are changing. Opportunities abound for anyone that is interested in these areas.

Niaz: Is there anything else you would like for readers of eTalks to know about your work?

Andrew: I would just like people to explore this space for themselves. If my work gets them curious or inspired, that’s great.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Andrew: Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

2. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

3. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

4. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

5. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

6. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

7. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

8. Brian Keegan on Big Data

9. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Debra Harder: The Art of Photography

Debra Harder is a Portrait and Landscape photographer. She is well respected in photography community for her wonderful works.

As an art student in college, she developed an interest in photography. Originally, inspired by the works of Ansel Adams, she focused entirely on black and white images.

In December of 2006, she was in a position to return to serious photography. She became forever inspired when she purchased her first digital SLR. Her passion for the Photographic Arts has been very steadfast and serious since that time.

You can learn more about her works from 500px and her Official Website.

The following is an interview with Debra Harder about photography, camera, lighting, art and creativity. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Debra, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Debra: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. I married in 1986 and we moved to Medford, Oregon in 1992 to open up a Veterinary hospital (my husband is veterinarian). We sold the business in 2006, which has allowed my husband and me the opportunity to travel more, and for me to pursue photography fulltime. As you can imagine, we love animals. My “children” consist of two Boston Terriers, one American Pit bull, and three cats.

Niaz: How did you get started? Did you go to school to study photography?

Debra: In the late 1980’s, I decided to take a black and white film photography class at Solano Community College in Fairfield, CA. I was inspired by Ansel Adams’ landscapes and focused solely on black and white film photography. I experimented with exposures and the zone system, and the art of printing in the dark room using old-fashioned dodge and burn tools, e.g., a piece of cardboard attached to a wire hanger. Since that class, photography became my passion.

Niaz: How would you describe your style?

Debra: I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to landscape photography, so I don’t go overboard on effects. For example, I have a problem with over-saturation in landscapes. There are a lot of images on-line that really push color for the “wow” factor with some to the point of being garish and losing the rich, realistic tonalities of the scene. Years ago, I took an on-line class from the great landscape photographer, William Neill, and our assignment was to hand in a portfolio of 5-6 landscapes. His honest and valuable criticism of over-saturation has always stuck with me and I do my best to stay within the guidelines he espoused. I’d rather have an image that conveys a mysterious mood than a candy store.

With respect to portraits, I do gravitate towards a ‘Hollywood’ style. I also love Rembrandt lighting to convey an “Old Masters” feel.

Debra Harder - 05Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Debra: I currently shoot with a Nikon D4 for portraits and a Nikon D800E for landscapes. I just purchased the Nikon D810, and am ready to try it out!

Niaz: What is your favorite lens set-up?

Debra: For landscapes, there is no doubt my favorite is my Nikon 14-24mm. I’m always looking to shoot wide before anything else. I’m not suggesting this is always a good thing. I would suggest, however, considering other lenses for a closer perspective. For portraits, I most often use my Nikon 85mm, and with my current studio project, I’ve been using the Nikon 24-70mm so I have the ability to zoom in and out.

Niaz: What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?

Debra: It really depends on where I am. With respect to landscapes, I rely on natural light, and depending on the contrast, I bracket my exposures to cover the entire dynamic range. With respect to studio portraits, I use Elinchrom strobes and Westcott Spiderlite Td6s (continuous lighting).

Niaz: What are your favorite editing software and application? How important are they for the final works?

Debra: My favorite is Adobe Photoshop CS6. The processing is very critical in my final works. As Ansel Adams once said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.” The negative being the digital RAW file, and the performance being the digital processing of the print.

Debra Harder - 02Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Debra: There are so many great on-line photography sites (e.g., 1x, 500px, Photo.net, BetterPhoto) that I constantly refer to for inspiration. I continue to take on-line classes and refer to other instructional media to improve my photographic techniques. Most importantly, I’m out there doing it. I learn more from my failures than my successes. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something. It’s what makes the photographic journey so interesting and exciting to me!

Niaz: What is your greatest fear? What do you do to overcome your fear?

Debra: I hate heights…lol. I wish I could overcome this fear, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better…lol. I had previously hiked the Eagle Creek trail to photograph Punchbowl Falls in Oregon. I became panicked on a precarious stretch of the trail. There was a cable to hold onto, but I had a 25 pound backpack, a tripod in one hand, and rain falling from above…not to mention the 100 foot drop just inches away! Someday I would like to photograph this waterfall in the dead of winter, but only if I can muster the courage…lol.

Debra Harder - 03Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: How do you get inspiration to keep doing all these great works?

Debra: Thank you for the generous compliment! As to what inspires me? I would have to say my passion for photography and the desire to excel at it. Honestly, I never feel that I’m “there,” i.e., peaked, and I never will. I work very hard to learn as much as I can so that I can produce my best work.

Niaz: Can you please tell us how do you stay creative?

Debra: Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” As much as one would like to think he or she has an original idea, it is difficult to fathom that outside sources have no influence. My creativity is a byproduct of my life experiences. I’d be disingenuous to say that other photographers’ work doesn’t inspire me to go in a certain direction. For example, I was intrigued by photographer Mark Seliger’s recent Academy Award images for Vanity Fair magazine. His concept was to take a platform and capture the stars’ personalities in portraits utilizing just that small space. I decided to use this inspiration for my own portrait series. I similarly created a small two-walled platform structure in my garage and am currently photographing a wide diversity of portrait subjects highlighted by a splash of their own individuality. Not only has it been a great learning experience, but I am able to inject my own style and creativity from both sides of the camera.

Niaz: Please tell us five of your favorite photographers?

Debra: That’s a tough one. There are so many great photographers. It’s hard to nail it down to five, but if I had to say off the top of my head: 1) Ansel Adams; 2) Nick Brandt; 3) Annie Leibovitz; 4) Art Wolfe; and 5) Joel Grimes.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Debra: I don’t have many “coffee table” books. Most of my photography books are instructional. I’m a big fan of Scott Kelby’s books. When I began my photographic journey, his books and video tutorials were instrumental and still are today. I also subscribe to most photography magazines in order to keep up with the latest, e.g., up and coming photographers, products, etc.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Debra: I would advise a young photographer that if he or she chooses to display their work on an online community photography site, they should take the feedback with a grain of salt, whether it positive or negative. Stay true to your aesthetic regardless of the pressures driven by a selected few in photographic circles. I have personally got caught up in this trying to mimic other landscaper’s work in hopes of receiving the same amount of praise. Receiving the accolades is intoxicating, but in the end it doesn’t distinguish you from the rest of the sheep.

Debra Harder - 04Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: Any last comment?

Debra: Thank you very much Niaz for giving me this opportunity. Happy Shooting!

Niaz:  You’re welcome.  We really appreciate your time. Keep up doing great works and all the best wishes for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

02. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

Jon Nathanson: Apple, Disruption, Fire Phone and Content Business

Jon nathanson is a technology and business columnist for Slate. He is also an angel investor and a strategy consultant in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The following is an interview with Jon Nathanson about Disruptive Innovation, Apple, Amazon’s Fire Phone, Disrupting Hollywood and Future of Content Business. The interview has been edited for brevity:

Niaz: Dear Jon, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Jon: Thanks for having me! It’s a pleasure and an honor.

Niaz: You are a technology columnist, startup investor, and strategy consultant in San Francisco and Los Angeles. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about yourself, your works, and current involvements?

Jon: It sounds so corny, right? “Technology columnist, startup investor, and strategy consultant.” Those are some of the things I do every week—but put them together like that, and they don’t amount to a coherent job description. Unfortunately, I’m the one who put them together that way, when I was asked by Slate to give a tagline for my column, “The Bet.”

But let’s unpack the list. I’m a columnist for Slate, and that’s a fairly recent turn of events. I’ve been writing my whole life. I doubt anyone will give me credit for it, but I was the editor-in-chief of my high school paper, which won numerous national awards and was consistently ranked at the top of the nation…for a high-school paper. For whatever that’s worth. (Probably not much.) That was, sadly, the beginning and the pinnacle of my un-storied career in journalism. After graduation, I packed up my proverbial press pass and moved on with my life. But it still called to me. I successfully ignored that call for the first decade of my professional life.

That was up until early last year, when I realized I’d been wasting an unseemly amount of time commenting on Hacker News every day, and I came across a listing on HN for Priceonomics. Priceonomics is a Y Combinator company that started a blog initially as a content marketing effort, but who came to specialize in writing top-quality blog posts. They became so good at it, in fact, that they were regularly charting to the front page of HN, and I was regularly reading their stuff. I saw they were looking for writers, and I applied that instant. Through my work with Priceonomics, I started getting attention from other journalists and media outlets, and I was invited onto NPR a few times. It was very quick and very surreal. Next thing I knew, I had an agent, and soon after that, the gig with Slate. It was one of those cases, as they say, where my “overnight” success was the result of 20 years of preparation. When I was invited up to the big leagues, I’d been practicing my swing for decades. (So you’d think I’d be better at writing job descriptions for myself…)

As for the investing and consulting—those, too, are fairly recent ventures a long time in the making. I’ve been informally advising friends’ startups for years now. And in 2013 I started putting my money where my mouth is, investing at the seed stage in several companies I knew well and believed had a serious shot at success. It’s funny how the angel community works. You invest in a few companies, and next thing you know, more companies and more opportunities are coming your way, all because the founders and co-investors you’ve gone in with are friendly with others. And platforms like AngelList have made the process even more social. Next thing I knew, I was investing or advising enough startups—and devoting a scary amount of my workweek to doing so—that I felt justified in taking a step back, evaluating it, and calling it a significant part-time job. Investing and consulting had earned their fair place on my motley tagline.

Niaz: I would like to start our interview discussing about disruptive innovation. The last few weeks were pretty interesting and there was much discussion for and against disruptive innovation. Jill Lepore, a Harvard professor, has written an extraordinary piece on The New Yorker where she cited disruptive innovation as a myth. Even the father of disruptive innovation, Professor Clayton Christensen, now thinks disruption has become a cliché. You have seen how disrupt, disruptive, disruption and some other buzzword around disruptive innovation have become a common phenomenon in the tech industry. Can you please tell us what do you think about disruptive innovation? How a buzzword or myth or cliché like disruptive innovation is changing the world revolutionary? Or there is something else [like mindset] behind the scene, which is the original reinforcement of these revolutionary changes?

Jon: First of all, I think it’s intellectually—and, dare I say, emotionally—consistent to appreciate Jill Lepore’s article and to maintain a healthy respect for Christensen’s thesis. People will say that Lepore has chipped away at the very foundations of Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation. I don’t necessarily agree. The analogy I’d use is that she’s shone a very bright light on it. She’s walked down into the basement of the building, and she’s lit a floodlight on everything there, exposing the cracks, the structural weaknesses, and the clutter. But the building itself is still (mostly) sound.

It helps to frame Christensen’s original thesis in context of the intellectual climate of his day. “Disruptive innovation,” as Christensen originally charted it out, was a theory of market competition that sought to expand upon the work of Michael Porter and his “Five Forces” framework. Porter argued that there are five major forces in play in any given market: competitive intensity between existing players; suppliers’ bargaining power; buyers’ bargaining power; the threat of substitute products or services; and the threat of new entrants into the marketplace. Christensen, to put it in physics-geek terms, sought to unify two of the five forces: the threat of new entrants, and the threat of substitution.

“Disruptive innovation” occurs, in Christense’s framework, when less-than-perfect substitutes arise for existing products, capitalizing on benefits (in solution, in cost, or in feature set) that the current players in the market either don’t think are important, or think are inferior. Christensen argued that new entrants—startups, as we now call them—are usually the bearers of the substitute products, because they have no legacy supply chains, cost structures, or customer requirements to satisfy. And he argued, in a Schumpeterian sense, that these new entrants would usually, or even inevitably, “disrupt” the existing market and unseat the established players.

Lepore’s research disputes the second of those premises, but not the first. She showed that new entrants tend not to survive the shakeup. Their function is usually catalytic. They enter a market, stir the pot, and get acquired or driven out by the legacy players once the legacy players catch up. But shakeups can and do happen, and they often play out in the dynamic that Christensen outlined in The Innovator’s Dilemma.

So it appears that Christensen was largely right about the dynamics of disruption, but less right about the outcome of disruption, or about the inevitability of its winners and losers. He raised valid and provocative ideas. But his project for the unification of two forces—new entrants and substitution—was not entirely successful.

That said, I’d still recommend The Innovator’s Dilemma as mandatory reading in any core business school curriculum or strategy class. Readers should simply place it in context. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was foundational in outlining the theory of evolution by natural selection—but it’s a very old text these days, and it got some things wrong, and others have come along and corrected or expanded upon them. Those corrections, and those amendments, do not invalidate the importance of Charles Darwin to the field of evolutionary biology. Similarly, modern challenges and updates to Christensen’s work don’t necessarily invalidate the significance of his work.

This isn’t a baby we should throw out with the bathwater. As for the cult of “disruption” that has sprung up around Christensen’s work over the last few decades: that’s a different story. Disruption, in and of itself, shouldn’t be the driving goal of any given startup. Innovation is the goal. Disruption is the means to the end. And not all kinds of innovation are necessarily “disruptive.” Even the big kinds.

If founders and thinkers take away one thing from Lepore’s challenge to Christensen’s work, it should be that disruptive innovation is a theory. It is not the only theory people need to know, and it is neither universally applicable nor wholly actionable. The innovator’s Dilemma deserves a place on you bookshelf, but it shouldn’t be the only book there.

Niaz: Folks have long been waiting for the disruption of Hollywood. But Hollywood has been out of touch from the massive disruption for years. You have an interesting column on Slate, Why Hollywood Resists Disruption, where you compare the likeness of Hollywood to the Roman Empire, particularly that the Roman Empire did not actually fall but instead divided and dispersed. Can you please briefly tell us about Why Hollywood Resists Disruption? Do you feel your opinion is influenced by your experience at NBC and 20th Century Fox? What will be the outcome of massive disruption of Hollywood?

Jon: The analogy to the Roman Empire was a colorful and nerdy one, no doubt spurred by my inability, after all these years, to stop playing Rome: Total War or watching movies like Gladiator. But the analogy is this: Rome was a remarkably adaptable political organism. It was constantly shifting its boundaries, incorporating its former enemies, and bringing them into the fold. By the end of the Empire, Rome was so thoroughly, demographically changed that a “barbarian” of Germanic bloodline was leading its army against Germanic barbarians at its gates. Hollywood is similar in that respect: companies like Netflix have disrupted and shifted the borderlands, so to speak. Distribution of movies and TV shows and music is wildly different now, and none of it to Hollywood’s real benefit. But Hollywood has maintained control over talent, over means of production, over storymaking-to-filmmaking process—and has maintained an indispensable role in the process of creating and distributing entertainment to the masses. More and more people get their shows through Netflix, but Netflix’s shows are still made by Hollywood studios and Hollywood production companies, at Hollywood prices.

Here’s where things will get interesting: Hollywood owns very few of the the “last miles” in any of its consumer pipelines right now. Movie studios don’t own the major theater chains, at least in this country. They don’t own the customer relationships at iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, or XBox Live. TV networks still have a direct pipeline to viewers, but that pipeline is eroding or obscuring—fewer and fewer people watch their network programming on the networks themselves, at the appointed days, dates, and times.

And so Hollywood is at a crossroads. Should it abandon the fight for last-mile distribution, and focus entirely on creating and licensing content? If so, a lot of very big, very consolidated media companies are going to need to do some major restructuring. Should it keep up the fight for relevance in distribution? If so, studios or production companies will need to build a credible alternative to Netflix, iTunes, etc. HBO Go is a very interesting example, and I think its success will be a bellwether for the next few years. Already we’re seeing just about every network under the sun releasing its own “HBO Go” app. And consumers seem to be fine with that—an app for every network. But they’ll be fine with it up to a point. A future in which every network has its own app necessarily means that every consumer needs to keep track of which shows belong to which networks, and can be found on which apps. That’s a high cognitive load to bear, and it’s a consumer-unfriendly burden to impose. Consumers love convenience, and Netflix is very convenient. I don’t think an ecosystem of 20 different HBO Go-alikes is a viable, consumer-preferred alternative to Netflix. But maybe a handful of apps are. Apps differentiated by genre. Or subscription streams based on dynamics the major players aren’t thinking about today, like group subscriptions, or customizable subscriptions for only the shows you want, and not the stuff you don’t want.

I spent many years in Hollywood, working on primetime shows at NBC, Fox, and elsewhere. I think my time there gave me a deep appreciation for just how hard it will be to disrupt Hollywood, and at the same time, just how much disruption probably should take place. It’s a paradox, and to circle back to your earlier question, I wonder whether Christensen’s framework gives us any guidance as to how this will play out. Christensen’s work might argue that YouTube and Vine are changing the nature of entertainment content, and that inevitably, full-length, TV-style shows will fall to the wayside. And yet that’s not entirely true. Teenagers are probably watching YouTube and Vine to the exclusion of more and more TV-style programming. And yet, uber-premium TV programming like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are more relevant than ever before. Perhaps the middle is falling out this time, and we’ll live in a world with supergood content and superdisposable content. Nothing in between.

Niaz: You’ve spent a lot of time in the content business. We are now living in an exciting era of content creation, curation and distribution, where there is a popular belief that ‘content is king’. From hardcore tech companies to venture capital firms to social media companies to marketing companies to media companies …. everyone is actually into content business. Does that mean if you not doing content, you’re missing something really big?

Jon: “Content marketing” is having a moment right now. Everyone feels that adding something substantial to the conversation is necessary to winning business and maintaining credibility in whatever industry they happen to play in. Witness companies like Google Ventures, who are creating libraries of advice, content, etc., to their arsenals in an attempt to become better full-service providers to portfolio companies. Or companies like Priceonomics, whom I mentioned earlier—research companies that regularly publish accessible, in-depth, top-quality articles for anyone to read, regardless of whether they’ll be users of Priceonomics’s core services.

Some companies will get content marketing right, and many will embarrass themselves. The ones who’ll get it right will realize it’s a full-time task. It’s more than a full-time task. It’s a way of thinking. It’s an editorial sensibility. The folks at Priceonomics spend as much time writing, editing, and investing in their blog as they do their data-analytics services. If Google Ventures is going to fulfill its very exciting ambitions in the content space, it’s going to need to elevate content to the forefront of what it does, right alongside investing.

Content can be king, but if it’s going to be king for you, then you need to treat it like royalty. Take it as seriously as anything else. Don’t half-ass it. Bad content marketing is blatantly obvious to all who come across it, and it’ll actually hurt your company. Great content will do wonders for your company. But you’re going to need to commit to it and commit fully. If your company wants to do content marketing, then everyone at your company should be prepared to chip in every week. Including your CEO. Making world-class content takes a ridiculous amount of time and effort, and the bar for world-class will be raised in the years to come.

Niaz: You’re the co-author of a Harvard Business School case study on Netflix and its use of collaborative filtering technology to disrupt traditional models of consumer discovery and consumption of entertainment.With the massive entrance and existence of Google, Apple, and Amazon into content business, how do you think that will affect the future of Netflix?

Jon: To understand Netflix’s situation right now, it helps to understand HBO’s situation 15-20 years ago. HBO—the acronym stands for “Home Box Office”—started out licensing and replaying movies. That’s it. It was a distributor of movies shortly after their theatrical release, and before their home video release. And that was a brilliant business model in the days when windowing mattered a great deal, and there were few other ways to see movies after they’d left theaters. But HBO had to adapt as the years went by. Other networks popped up with similar business models. The DVD player came along and revitalized the home video market. The internet was starting to provide rough, but credible means for getting one’s hands on movies. Local TV stations were getting more aggressive about licensing first-run movies. And so HBO needed to create original content. It started with documentaries, then moved up the value chain to original, scripted series. And it focused a hell of a lot of money, time, and effort to ensure that it’s series were great. HBO’s executives in the early 1990s would hardly recognize the HBO of today, and vice versa. Today’s HBO is best described as a premium TV-show network, and not a premium movie-licensing network.

Netflix is in a similar situation. It got to where it is today by being the most convenient, optimized, consumer-friendly way to watch movies and TV shows. But networks and studios realized that Netflix was a threat to their business model, and they started threatening Netflix with higher licensing fees. Some pulled their content altogether. And so Netflix faced a choice: fight tooth and nail to be a commodity provider of everyone else’s content, or start developing exclusive, original content of its own. And it’s started to diversify its mix with the latter. The problem is, now Netflix is in the hit-driven business of TV development. It might spend $100 million on a show that flops. Or it might spend $100 million on a show that temporarily drives subscriptions and maintains customer loyalty, but whose run expires in a few years. Meanwhile, it’s still spending close to a billion dollars a year licensing everyone else’s content. Netflix’s operating costs are going to skyrocket in the years to come. At the same time, Netflix is still the most convenient and ubiquitous way for many, many people to get the shows they want to see.

Apple doesn’t seem to have the taste for developing original shows, nor do most analysts think it should. I’d probably agree (for now). Amazon has the muscle and the clout to compete with Netflix, but its efforts in the originals-development space have been lackluster to date. Friends within and without the company tell me it’s not taking development as seriously as it could. But that doesn’t mean it can’t, or that it won’t. Google is a very interesting dark horse. It owns the “low end” with YouTube, and that low-end will be very lucrative. Meanwhile, it’s building out its own infrastructure with Fiber, and its own platforms with Chrome and Android. All it needs to do now is shell out the cash on originals and on premium licenses—but we’d be talking hundreds of millions, and possibly even billions, to outcompete Netflix with Hollywood-quality programming. To date, Google hasn’t really shown the desire or the capacity to do that. It’s had a lot of false starts inking expensive deals with celebrities, writers, and producers—but very little has come of that. As I mentioned earlier, content is an all-or-nothing proposition. You’re going big or you’re going home. Google can go big, but it needs to go quite big, and I think it’s been a little scared of just how big “big” really is.

Niaz: I believe Apple’s purchase of Beats is a pretty big deal when we consider the integration of culture and creativity. We have seen both culture and creativity are at the heart of Apple’s whole ecosystem. At the same time, Beats will give Apple access to a different customer segment that is pretty huge not only for music but also for healthcare. I am excited to see some integration of Beats Headphone with Apple’s healthcare in near future. On the other hand, executives like Jimmy Lovine and Dr. Dre, will make Apple’s path a lot easier to play big game in content business. Can you please tell us about your ideas and takes on Apple’s purchase of Beats? What new innovations do you expect to see from the integration of both Beat and Apple’s ecosystem?

Jon: I wrote a bit about Apple and Beats in Slate recently, and the long and short of it is this: I think it was a smart buy. Apple needed a streaming service; it needed to diversify its customer base; it needed to establish credibility in the creative community and in Hollywood to place itself on competitive footing with Amazon and its other competitors, real or putative. And it gets some high-margin, bestselling hardware as part of the package. The icing on the cake is that Apple was sitting on a literal mountain of cash, partly because there are almost no great ways to get a respectable return on cash right now in any market. So this was a good, productive use of free cash.

How will Iovine and Dre get involved? A lot of people are speculating that they’ll start a sort of mini-studio within Apple, commissioning original content. That has never really been a focus of Apple’s, but it would be very interesting to see. The thing is, everyone needs originals right now. Everyone needs exclusives. Apple’s strategy, to date, has been to let its platform (iOS) be the soil in which developers plant and nurture the seeds. And I believe Apple will still operate a content business from that worldview. You won’t see Apple producing its own shows, but you may well see Apple shelling out serious money for exclusive distribution windows, or for first-look deals, or maybe even for first-run programming. But other people will make those shows for Apple. Apple won’t make them itself.

Niaz: Let’s talk about WWDC. Apple has announced iOS8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite in WWDC 2014 in addition to some other major updates. With all these great new updates, it seems inevitable that they will be accompanied by larger screens on the iPhone, iWatch, and probably Apple TV later this year. What has fascinated me most is that Tim Cook has been able to transform Apple and make it his own in such a short amount of time. It seems like Apple is ready to kick start again with remarkable products and services. I have seen some hints of new product from Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, at Code conference. What are you takes on WWDC? What do you think about all these new updates?

Jon: I was very excited by WWDC, and I would echo a lot of the sentiments coming out of the Apple blogosphere. I am very excited by the expansive platform potential of iOS. It could well become Apple’s Windows, ironically enough: a ubiquitous operating system that is embedded into, plays with, or powers everyone else’s hardware. The difference between the Windows era and the iOS era, of course, is that Apple is a hardware company—so any distributed ecosystem involving iOS would, by necessity, mean every other device merely uses iOS, but you’ll need Apple devices to control them all. Apple devices will be the hub, and everyone else will be a spoke.

Niaz: With the release of latest iPhone 5C, entrance in a new market, new openings of Apple stores globally, and overall performance in China and Japan, it seems like Apple is going truly global with massive scale. What do you think the future holds for Apple, a company with $600 billion market cap, $45.6 billion in quarterly revenue, and a 39.3 percent gross margin? Should they focus on becoming dominant in entertainment and communication or expand their products and services to other things?  And how will Apple’s competitors compete with this massive scale of product, service, content, and global distribution?

Jon: I mentioned how Apple envisions a future in which it’s the hub, and everyone else is a spoke. Well, that future is by no means assured. Google is putting up very credible competition. Apple is selling a remarkable number of devices in markets like China, and nominally speaking, it’s growing. But worldwide, its rate of growth might be slowing. So the question will soon become: how does Apple transition from its current growth model—putting an iDevice into everyone’s hands—toward a more mature growth model, capturing the value from all those iDevices in all those hands? Sooner or later, there will be a limit to how many device refreshes consumers will tolerate at Apple’s margins. That’s why Apple is getting increasingly serious about iOS as a platform, to ensure the continued necessity of iDevice refreshes.

It’s somewhat fashionable, once again, to look toward a future of slowed, or at least less explosive iDevice sales growth, and predict doom and gloom for Apple. I think that’s a simplistic view. Apple isn’t going anywhere. But it’s in transition. Apple is maturing as a company, and its mature business model is going to look more steady, more stable, and less notionally explosive than its model has over the last decade. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; it’s the aftereffect of so much success for so long. Apple has planted the world’s lushest orchard; now it’s got to make something of the fruit.

Niaz: As you know, the smartphone industry has been facing fierce head to head competition, and now Amazon is entering the ring with the release of Fire Phone. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Chief Executive, asserts, ‘I think in the whole evolution of this [smartphone], we’re still pretty early’. Do you agree that Amazon’s arrival in the smartphone industry is pretty early when we have started imaging a world without any device like a smartphone? What is your overall evaluation on Amazon’s Fire Phone? How do you feel about its exclusivity with AT&T? Is it going to be huge? What further steps should Amazon take to compete with other smartphones?

 Jon: It’s important to place the Fire Phone not just in the context of the smartphone market, but also in the context of Amazon’s corporate strategy.

Let’s think back to the tail end of the last decade and the beginning of this one. Amazon is the king of ecommerce. It’s the world’s largest bookseller, and it’s a credible force—if not necessarily an undisputed leader—in movies, video games, music, and other entertainment categories. Along comes Apple with iOS, and eventually the iPad. Suddenly, Amazon is facing a serious threat to its book and entertainment businesses. So it releases the Kindle, a purpose-built book reader. It turns out that no one’s satisfied with a purpose-built book reader. A book reader is insufficient to compete with more feature-complete hardware like the iPad (and the emerging Android device ecosystem). So Amazon releases the Kindle Fire, a full-featured device. But that’s not enough. Amazon feels it needs a full mobile hardware platform. Hence, the Fire Phone.

There are some problems here, not the least of which is that nobody has been able to crack the Apple/Google stranglehold on the mobile device market in a serious way. Fire Phone, like the Fire tablet, might wind up a day late and a dollar short. At the same time, Amazon needs to do something. The future of books, games, movies, TV, and music is probably streaming or subscription services, and that’s all going to happen outside of Amazon—on other people’s apps and on other people’s devices—unless Amazon figures out a way to own the point-of-purchase customer relationship. So it’s trying to do that with hardware. I’m not sure that’s necessary; I think Amazon could do just as well positioning itself as the premiere shopping, streaming, and media consumption app on everyone else’s devices. But the present-day competitive landscape makes that very hard to do. Every hardware platform wants to own the point-of-purchase for content, too.

Jeff Bezos is probably the smartest CEO in the entire country, and high in the running for smartest in the world. He’s the most brilliant retail mind since Sam Walton. He may be the best pure businessperson of our generation. If anyone can figure out a way to crack this space, he can. But if he’s serious about hardware, he’ll need to figure out how to add something new and exciting to his hardware. Something exclusive. Retail is all about price, selection, and convenience. Hardware is still very much about razzle-dazzle. Amazon has never been a razzle-dazzle company. Amazon released the Kindle because it needed a reader. Amazon released the Fire because it needed a full-featured tablet. It can’t just release a phone because it needs a phone. Consumers need more than that.

But I agree with Bezos’s assertion that the smartphone market is still in its infancy. The best is yet to come. But Amazon will need to deliver the best—stuff we’ve not even thought of yet—if it’s going to make a serious bid for a place at the table.

Niaz: What do you think about the Future of Social Media? How things are going to evolve with Facebook and Twitter? We have text (Twitter), photos (Instagram), videos (Vine), and the combination (Facebook); what’s the next platform for social media? Should we expect additions to social media or the simplification/streamlining of it?

 Jon: Two major, semi-competing forces are going to shape social media in the next few years. The first is unbundling. Facebook, Twitter, and other players are going to put out, or buy, dozens of single-purpose apps and networks in an attempt to occupy as much real estate on your home screen as they can. Because they know your attention span is limited, and that the home screen is all-important. The second force is what I’ll call app fatigue, or perhaps more accurately, marginal app utility. There comes a point where people have more apps than they know what to do with, and hence, apps that get relegated outside the home screen are going to fall by the wayside. This creates a countervailing pressure to make your core app as relevant as possible, so that it maintains its place in the user’s daily mindset, and occupies the Fifth Avenue real estate that is the home screen, or better yet, the dock.

A lot of people mocked Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, but Facebook is keenly aware that Instagram and WhatsApp are home screen apps for hundreds of millions of people. That’s why it hasn’t shut those apps down and integrated them into the Facebook app. Instagram is probably the single most important app to most young people’s lives, and Facebook would have been crazy to kill it or marginalize it. It will go down in recent history as the smartest acquisition Facebook has ever made, and the decision to keep it quasi-independent was a very smart move.

Niaz: As you have seen there are hundreds of sites, apps and platforms dedicate to content curation. What do you think about content curation? Are we going to have some kind of social media that’s exclusively dedicated to curation?

 Jon: Curation is increasingly necessary in a world with more content than we know what to do with. How do I sort through the pile? How do I find things I’ll like? As an app developer, how in the heck do I get my app in front of the people who’ll like it? Let me tell you: we haven’t even begun to see the future of curation. It’s an important one. Apps, content, and entertainment will be curated through all manner of interesting means: tailored or self-tailored subscriptions, influencers, collaborative filtering methods and other algorithms, tastemakers, lists, and category-centric curation apps.

If someone can become the Google search of the app world, or the Netflix of the app world, or even the New York Times book review of the app world, these are very valuable and very lucrative things to become.

Niaz: What do you think about Silicon Valley? Is it a mindset or something very special? Do you foresee Silicon Valley expanding or rather replicating in other areas around the world/country?

 Jon: Silicon Valley has succeeded because it’s Silicon Valley. That sounds tautological and circular. But it’s important to understand what makes Silicon Valley work if we’re to understand how other locations—or, as I think is more likely, how a more global, distributed system—can replicate it. Silicon Valley has several of the world’s leading technical universities situated in its back yard. It has received decades of investment and government support. It has an unprecedented concentration of risk-seeking capital. It has a feedback loop of successful founders and funders, each of whom plows money, connections, and expertise back into the system. And it has a big tolerance for exploration, for failure, and for dangerously innovative thinking.

Now, none of those things in isolation is sufficient to replicate the whole. But some of those things came from the others. A playbook for replicating Silicon Valley should start with capital, government support (but not government prescription), and top-tier university research and cooperation. In fact, I think it’s virtually impossible to recreate Silicon Valley in a single location in the absence of a world-class technical university. This is why you see the new Silicon Valleys—the ones that actually have a shot at replicating the entire SV ecosystem—springing up in fertile soil that has all the right characteristics, including strong academic systems. Places like Israel, for instance.

But in some cases, I think the race to rebuild, replace, or create anew Silicon Valley is a half-step. The new Silicon Valley will be a distributed ecosystem, powered by services like AngelList and FundersClub, in cooperation with universities and institutions, with distributed access to talent, capital, and mentors. Conventional wisdom holds that you need to concentrate all of these things in one place. I’d say that’s still nominally true, but it can be done virtually. What Amazon Web Services was to the server, so will distributed access be to geographic and physical concentration of the necessary resources.

Niaz: Any last comment?

 Jon: As a content person, and as an entertainment person, I’m always on the lookout for people trying new and exciting things in these spaces. I have no desire to “disrupt” Hollywood, but I have a strong desire to shake it up a little, and to direct its energies toward more forward-thinking and customer-centric means of creation and distribution. I’m always happy to chat with entrepreneurs in any space, but in particular, I’d love to talk to anyone and everyone thinking about this space. Feel free to hit me up anytime on Twitter (@jonnathanson) or via email (jonfnathanson @ gmail.com)

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing with us your great ideas, insights, and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

 Jon: Thanks so much for having me! I am a big fan of your interviews, and I am honored to have talked with you.

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Further Reading:

1. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

2. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

3. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

4. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

5. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

6. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

7. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

8. Brian Keegan on Big Data

9. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

David Heinemeier Hansson: Basecamp, Remote and Next Big Thing

Do you know what Twitter, Groupon, and Shopify have in common – Ruby on Rails. It’s a game changer in the way web-base applications are made for developers. It’s also happens to be a by-product when David Heinemeier Hansson was building Basecamp (which is also a by-product). He is a founding partner at 37signals (now Basecamp), a NYT best-selling author, a race car driver (more here), coder, hacker, photographer (more here) and a big advocate on working lean, efficient, and remotely.

David is one of the most influential voices on the Internet. He is the author of the immensely popular Ruby on Rails programming framework, is a noted blogger and media figure and is elegantly opinionated when it comes to the best ways to make great software. People follow David’s lead in droves, and for good reason: as a partner in the multi-million dollar company 37signals, David is one of the most successful young entrepreneurs in today’s Web economy. Creators of Basecamp®, Campfire™, Highrise® and Backpack®, and authors of the widely read ‘Signal vs. Noise‘ blog, 37signals is an advocate for all things simple and beautiful.

In 2005 he was recognized by Google and O’Reilly with the Hacker of the Year award for his creation of Ruby on Rails. After graduating from the Copenhagen Business School and receiving his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Business Administration, he moved from Denmark to Chicago, Illinois, U. S. in November 2005. David appeared on the cover of the July 2006 issue of Linux Journal which included an interview with him in the feature story ‘Opinions on Opinionated Software’. The same month Business 2.0 ranked him 34th among ’50 people who matter now’.

The following is an interview with David Heinemeier Hansson about Basecamp, Remote and the Next Big Thing. The interview has been edited for brevity:

Niaz: Dear David, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

First of all, I congratulate you and whole 37Signals team on redefining, rebuilding and rebirthing 37Signals to Basecamp. It is really a fascinating move. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us the story of transforming 37Signals to Basecamp? How is Basecamp going to evolve in the coming years?

DHH: Basecamp just celebrated its 10th year. It was the application that turned 37signals-the-web-design-firm into 37signals-the-application-maker. But up until its 10th birthday, it shared its attention with a suite of other products at 37signals. What we came to realize was that Basecamp was our best idea. It always was, but it’s just become clearer and clearer over the past decade, until we couldn’t ignore the truth any more. So instead of spreading ourselves too thin, or growing into a much larger company, we decided to double down and go all Basecamp, all the time.  That means Basecamp now has our undivided attention. Everyone at the company is working on making Basecamp better all the time. It’s liberating and it’s exciting. We’ve been on a quest to conquer mobile, and we already have great apps out for the iPhone and Android, so that’s been part of it. Basecamp should be with you wherever you are and whatever device you’re using.  We’re also working on a lot of fundamental improvements. We don’t just want Basecamp to get more and more features, but we want it to execute on the fundamentals even more beautifully. So that’s the mission: Help people make progress on projects together.

Niaz: Now we are living in an exciting era of superb technologies. All these cutting edge technologies are accelerating the overall productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. Now it doesn’t matter where is someone working from. A great company can have total 15 employees from 15 different countries and can make great things happen working remote. Some companies like Aetna, 37Signals and so on allow their employees to work from home. But some companies like Yahoo! and Best Buy are forcing their employees to work at the office. What are ideas on working remote?

DHH: We’ve been a remote-working company since I started working with Jason some 13 years ago from Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s in our DNA. Today almost 3/4s of the company is based outside of Chicago, where we do have an office (which comes in handy when we twice a year all meet up). It’s been a wonderful experience.   It’s allowed us to attract the best talent wherever it lives, and usually that place isn’t in Chicago (why would it be, just 5M people in the metro area vs 300M in all of the US, and hundreds of millions more in time zones overlapping enough to make it work). And it’s allowed that talent to design the best lifestyle for them, so we have happier people who stay with the company for much longer than most tech companies can say is the average.  We’re so committed to remote work that we wrote a whole book about it. It’s called REMOTE: Office Not Required, and it gives you all the arguments to make it happen at your own company. After you’ve sold the idea, it then gives you all the tips to make it a success. Along with the launch of the book, we also launched weworkremotely.com as a job board exclusively focused on remote positions.

Niaz: In several interviews and articles, you have cited that a small team can do remarkable things. Even 37Signals has a very small team having being created Backpack, Basecamp, Campfire, Highrise, Ta-da List, Writeboard and published Getting Real, Remote and Rework. In general sense, if you have small team, you actually have limited skills, few ideas and limited human resource. But I agree with you in building small team and doing big things. Can you please tell us how do you guys work at 37Signals with a small team to do all great things?

DHH: Small teams are usually always the ones making big things happen. That’s true whether they’re operating within a small company or not. Even big companies will pick a small team when they really need to have a breakthrough. So we decided to focus the whole company around that idea, which means that there are tons of things we just do not do. We don’t have a dedicated marketing department. We don’t have a big sales force. We make simple software that’s easy to support, so we need a small support team, even though we’ve had millions of people use the software.  Simplicity is a choice, and it’s one we’re proud to make. Most people I talk to who work at a large company reminisce about the “good old days when we were just a few people”. We choose to make that the permanent arrangement, and it’s worked out really well.

Niaz: As you know the success rate of StartUps is pretty low.  We see very few StartUps eventually sustain in the long run where most of the StartUps fail so badly. There are so many problems behind the failure of StartUps. On the other hand, the problem with those successful StartUps is that they are not actually sustaining for long time. After several years of running the companies, they are getting sold or getting acquired. This is actually a complex cycle of VCs, Founders and whole StartUp ecosystem. But the end result is, we don’t see sustainable companies to form. What do you think about the core problems of this strong cycle? How can we overcome this for building next big sustainable companies like Apple, Google….?

DHH: The best way to build more sustainable businesses is to forget about Google, Apple, and others. If you only focus on creating billion-dollar businesses, you’re going to drown the many, many more good ideas that could be excellent million-dollar businesses. That’s where the real growth of the economy is going to come from, and is coming from. It’s not from a small handful of slam-dunk success stories, but from the vast ocean of small to medium size businesses.  That’s who we are and we’re happy in our own skin. Many SMBs have inferiority complexes, thinking that they’re a failure because they didn’t get to a billion dollars, because of this incessant focus on that as the only success criteria by many in the business and in journalism. It’s a disease.

Niaz: What does excite you most now?

DHH: I’m excited by the compound success of gradual change and improvement. Rails and Basecamp have both become so much better over the last decade by taking one step at the time. There are few revolutions in this world, and by definition you can’t predict those. But you can predict and extrapolate from consistent, persistent improvement. That’s what excites me.

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Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

4. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

5. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

6. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

7. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

8. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

Philip Delves Broughton: What they teach you at Harvard?

Editor’s Note: Philip Delves Broughton is the author of The Art of the Sale, published in the UK as Life’s a Pitch, and Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, published outside the US as What They Teach You at Harvard Business School. His first book, Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School was a New York Times bestseller and a Financial Times and USA Today business book of the year.

He spent ten years as a reporter and foreign correspondent with The Daily Telegraph newspaper, serving as its New York and Paris bureau chief. He then left journalism to obtain his MBA at Harvard Business School. He has since worked as a writer at Apple Inc. and the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education and as a contributing columnist at The Financial Times. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and The Atlantic.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Philip Delves Broughton recently to gain insights about The Art of the Sale, The Greatest Salespeople in the World, The Soul of the Salesman, What They Teach You at Harvard and The Point of a Business Education which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Philip, thank you so much for managing time to join us amidst your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks.

Philip: My pleasure.

Niaz: You are the New York Times best selling author, blogger, business philosopher, speaker and an inspiring mind. Your books ‘The Art of the Sale‘ and ‘What they teach you at Harvard Business School‘ are truly instrumental for self-help, self-growth and for the success in 21st century. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about you, your work and your current involvements?

Philip: I grew up in England, was a newspaper journalist and foreign correspondent for the first ten years of my career, then decided to go to business school at Harvard. Since then, I’ve written and published three books, the memoir of going to HBS, The Art of the Sale, and a book called Management Matters, which is basically a collection of the pieces on management I’ve written for the Financial Times. I write regularly for the FT, the Wall Street Journal and am affiliated with the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education, a wonderful institution based in Kansas City which funds a wide array of programs designed to stimulate entrepreneurship.

Niaz: Why are you very passionate about ‘Sale’? Can you please tell us what exactly is Sale?

Philip: Sales is very simply the process of turning a product or service into revenue. I’m fascinated by it, because as one great salesman told me, it’s the greatest laboratory there is for understanding human behavior. In sales, we see business at its most raw. We see the truth, lies, greed, decency, ambition and value of any business and business person exposed at the moment of the sale.

Niaz: As you know social media revolution, cutting edge technology, disruptive innovation, widespread uses of smartphone and a whole new digital world have been changing everything. This trend is bringing revolutionary change in the way we do business. Living in such an exciting era, what’s new about sale now in comparison to sale 15-20 years back?

Philip: There’s evidently much more transparency. It’s much harder to deceive customers in a world where so much information about products and pricing is available at a keystroke. Reputation has become far more important as it can so easily be damaged in a world of viral reviews. Transactions have also changed. We can buy and sell in so many different ways these days. Social networks have certainly made prospecting for customers and checking on people’s reputation easier. But I still believe real, lasting relationships require in-person contact over time. Technology hasn’t changed that.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the art and science of selling?

Philip: The science is in creating value around your product and service and then finding ways to convey that value to the right customers. It’s about mapping your product and sales process to their needs and schedules, not your own. The art is in having a supple, imaginative grasp of human behavior. It’s about finding the right balance between science and intuition, because it’s still the case that humans make decisions, and technology, though vastly improved, is still far from being a complete substitute for human intelligence in sales.

Niaz: You have cited, ‘Without a sale, there is no business’. We have seen, most companies fail only because they can’t make enough sale even though some of them are using state of the art technologies, are embracing science and disruptive innovation and despite they have great products. Sometimes customers don’t want the products and most of the time they fail to make sale. As a result the success rate is very little and almost 90% Start Ups fail. Why art and science of selling remain necessary to succeed in most of the human business disciplines? Why is sale the core part of any business?

Philip: Sales is often the last thing many people like to do, because it’s the final judgment on their product or service. It’s a moment of truth. At the moment you sell, you’re risking rejection, which can be painful. Smart, highly educated people in particular aren’t used to rejection, and so try to minimize the risk of it. Sales isn’t forgiving. But if you don’t sell and earn a profit, you’re pursuing a hobby not a business. I often hear people try to make a virtue of their reluctance to sell. They say they’re not aggressive or bullying enough. Or that they don’t like asking people for money. But really, all they are is bad at sales. If you can’t sell yourself, or hire or partner with someone who can, you have no business being in business. It’s not a very complicated concept. The flip side is that people who do push through the rejections and difficulties which precede almost any sale, find their eventual success a great rush which they want to repeat as often as possible. Those people tend to be the ones who succeed in business.

Niaz: Do you think sale is the advanced human game? What are your suggestions on mastering this advanced game?

Philip: I’m not sure how advanced it is, but it can certainly be viewed as a game between consenting adults. There’s an old Quaker tradesman’s saying I cite in the book ‘I shall not cheat thee, but I shall outwit thee.’ I think this is a useful moral code for any salesperson. Ideally, your product, service and price perfectly match a customer’s need and willingness to pay and the sale is easy. But most of the time you’ll need to do some modifying, persuading and course correcting to close a deal. If you lie, you’ll likely end up being exposed. But you can certainly out-think and out-strategize to win, while balancing the short and long-term consequences of your actions. People have very different comfort levels about what they’re willing to do to sell. But good salespeople, however they choose to do it, have thought the compromises and risks and have set firm boundaries on their behavior.

Niaz: What do you think about the salesmanship of Steve Jobs? How has he become one of the greatest salespeople in the world? What are the characteristics, views, ideas, skills and insights of Salesmanship of Steve Jobs that fascinate you?

Philip: Jobs was indistinguishable from his products. He never ceded the role of Apple’s chief salesman to anyone else. That’s a very powerful model and the way he did it inspired enormous belief in his company and products. He used the language of religious evangelism, such as “transformation” and “magic”. He also made brilliant use of persuasive techniques such as “social proof”. All those glass windows in Apple stores allow passers by to see people like themselves using Apple products. The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads similarly made the case that buying Apple products wasn’t just above buying software or hardware. It cut to the very heart of your social identity. It’s rather creepy, actually, but Jobs was brilliant at it. It’s easy to forget what a marginal company Apple was in 1997, when Jobs returned as CEO. His salesmanship helped turn the company around internally by restoring belief among employees, and then got customers to try the products at at time when Wintel was still dominant.

Niaz: Were there some universal qualities you found in great sales people?

Philip: An optimistic frame of mind, enthusiasm, self-discipline, the ability to tell a story and to be energized rather than crushed by rejection. They are terrific listeners, but also ruthless closers. They also tend to be very good company, which made writing about them such fun.

Niaz: Despite the new opportunities in social media, marketing and measurement, selling still frequently comes down to two people looking each other in the eye and deciding how to sell and whether to buy. Business continues to need great salespeople along with all the creativity, tenacity and optimism they bring. Great salespeople come in very different packages. Some are the best at high volume transactional selling and others thrive at building long-term relationships. At this point can you please tell us about the great skills of 21st century salespeople?

Philip: They’re the same as they’ve always been. You need to keep abreast of the prospecting and pitching tools, such as LinkedIn and Salesforce, but ultimately the edge still belongs to those able to build trust, inspire repeat customers and develop healthy books of business. Maybe there’ll be fewer steak and cigar dinners in the 21st century, but you still have to find ways to develop meaningful relationships and that doesn’t happen virtually. Personal networks and interpersonal skills will count as much as ever.

Niaz: What happens when the business and non-business worlds no longer understand each other?

Philip: Revolution.

Niaz: You have had said ‘The cleverest invention or product will disappear — creating no income, no employment — unless someone can sell it.’ Is sale resided in the core of capitalism? How does sales drive economy?

Philip: If all an economy consisted of was things we needed simply to survive, it would look very primitive. No one needs a BMW or a Jamba Juice, or a Macbook or a work of art. But such things make life more appealing. Profit incentives are also essential to the creation of more important things such as new medical treatments or healthier cities. It’s by selling each other new, interesting and life-enhancing, rather than just life-sustaining, that economies grow. Sales leads to revenue leads to profit leads to investment leads to growth.

Niaz: Do you think by creating better understanding of selling, and the many challenges it involves, we can build better world? How can that become possible if I want you to discuss from removing poverty to solving international fights, solving environment problems to stop international war?

Philip: This a long way above my pay grade! All that counts here is that we continue to search for the healthiest balance between market forces and social justice. It’s a constant adjustment for all of us. As individuals, we struggle with our material, emotional and spiritual desires. Companies must balance shareholder with employee interests. Governments seek a way to grow national economies while protecting the weakest in their societies. Sales matters in all this because, as I said, it cuts right to the heart of these discussions. How we choose to sell says everything about how we’re balancing the good and bad in our selves.

Niaz: In 2004, you gave up a career in journalism to attend Harvard Business School. Three years later, you published the New York Times bestseller ‘Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School’, in which you described and questioned the value of a business education. You have cited ‘Most top business schools don’t teach selling’. And you believe ‘Selling should be the first thing to teach, as everything in business flows from the sale’. Can you please tell us about the point of a business education? What’s going wrong with our business education?

Philip: A business education should enable someone to pursue their interests in a way that makes good financial sense. A lot of MBA programs charge a lot of money while under-delivering on this basic purpose. I also think the top business programs need to do a better job educating students on the social purpose of business. Better basics, more humility and lower fees would go a long way to fixing this.

Niaz: Still folks from different countries, states and cities across the world hope that teaching business and entrepreneurship will lead to initiate more start-ups and better businesses. Is their hope justified?

Philip: Education is always a good thing. But I think the teaching of business and entrepreneurship can be pretty crude and ineffective and there’s a lot of work to do in improving it. Also, it’s not just about educating individual entrepreneurs. The social and political context also has to favor them.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the aspects of business which can and cannot be taught, those which must be taught better, and those are not worth teaching at all?

Philip: Sales, evidently, should be more a part of MBA curricula. I’m intrigued by new just-in-time business education programs, which deliver teaching at the moment a businessperson needs it. That seems to make a lot of sense. The issue here isn’t what should or should not be taught at a high level. It’s about delivering value to the person who needs it. Business isn’t law or medicine, with a body of knowledge which has to be learned before you can practice. It’s much more fluid than that, and business education needs to reflect this fact.

Niaz: How educators and policy-makers should teach business as a means to improving the rate and quality of economic growth?

Philip: Focus on developing communities of businesspeople. Help facilitate connections. Listen to what these people ask for. Then get out of the way.

Niaz: What are you doing now at The Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education?

Philip: Writing about entrepreneurship programs, what works, what doesn’t.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors. Happy New Year Philip.

Philip: Thanks Niaz.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Naeem Zafar: Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Editor’s Note: Naeem Zafar is the president and CEO of Bitzer Mobile, a company that simplifies enterprise mobility. On November 15, 2013 Oracle announced it has acquired Bitzer Mobile. As a member of the faculty of the Haas Business School at the University of California Berkeley, he teaches Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the MBA program. He is the founder of Startup-Advisor, which focuses on educating and advising entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting and running a company. His entrepreneurial experience includes working directly with six startups, and he has extensive experience in mentoring and coaching founders and CEOs.

Mr. Zafar holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Brown University (magna cum laude), Rhode Island, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He is a charter member of TiE .He is also a charter member of OPEN where he serves as the Board member.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Naeem Zafar recently to gain his ideas and insights about StartUp, social business and entrepreneurship for better world which is given below.

Q: You’re a successful entrepreneur. As a member of faculty of the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, you teach entrepreneurship and innovation in the MBA program. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us what exactly is entrepreneurship?

A: Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It is a way to look at a situation and see how could you make a profitable venture out of it. It is very innate. People, educated or not in urban or rural setting, are just as likely to spot an opportunity and drive it to commercialization.  The likelihood is there just as it is for a Silicon Valley hotshot startup guy. So it transcends all boundaries of education, race and gender. It is a state of mind.

Q: You believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful tool to alleviate poverty and extremism of the world and social businesses can fill the gap where public institutions often fall short. Can you please tell us more about that?

A: If you think about the definition of a business….its objective is to maximize shareholder return. So the shareholder who invests in the company has an expectation that the management should do whatever it can to maximize return; that is perfectly fine. We have seen tremendous companies and innovation come out of that model. But if there were a concept of setting up a company with the sole purpose of not  maximizing shareholders return but to address its social ill….. that can work for alleviating poverty.

It can be something as simple as the city doing lousy job of collecting garbage. Let’s say the garbage is not being collected on time which is very unpleasant as we know. We can set up a company so that there speedy pick up and disposal of garbage. The purpose of that company is to address this social ill. It is not to maximize shareholder profit. Imagine setting up the company with that objective and shareholders putting in money. This company’s objective is for this social ill to be addressed and not to maximize profit. Now, it is still a for profit company. It still pays market wages and hires the best people to address the issue but it is not trying to maximize profit.

This model which can be very rewarding for the shareholders as it is a new way of looking at solving many of the problems which governments are not well suited to solve. That’s called social business. I think the concept is a powerful one. It’s put forward by the Nobel laureate, Muhammad Yunus, in his 3rd book and I think it is a tremendous way for communities to organize and address issues which plagued them without having to wait for government to show up.

Q: How do you connect these three dots: social entrepreneurship, alleviating poverty and making a better world?

A: If you look at my previous answer I just connected the three dots for you.  Making a better world is about alleviating poverty and giving people a chance to participate in economic growth and well-being. Social businesses and entrepreneurship is a way for them to have that opportunity.

In the country that I grew up in you look for government to give you a good job. However, the government is not well equipped to provide a job for everybody. On the other hand, the private sector is well positioned. As we have seen in US, the private sector produced even submarines, bombs and fighter jets. This was quite shocking to me when I came to this country.

The government’s job is not to produce goods. Its job is to set policies and systems so that companies and entrepreneurs can thrive.

Q: How did you find the idea for Bitzer Mobile? Can you please briefly tell us about Bitzer Mobile?

A: Bitzer Mobile’s technical founder, Ali Ahmed, was working as a software architect for large companies in insurance and oil verticals for many years. He continued to recognize that people were struggling to allow employees mobile access to data.

Ali was having to solve the problem for every company in a unique way. So the idea was, why not come up with the way so that the employees can easily and securely access corporate data and be productive from wherever they happen to be. And that gave birth to Bitzer.

Q: As far as I believe for changing the world, we need to find complex, interesting  and  big problems of the world and then have to build great organizations that will sustain in the long run to keep solving those problems as well as to keep contributing for the betterment of the mother earth. Can you please tell us how can we find interesting, complex and big problems of this world?

A: First of all, I don’t agree with your definition. It is not about solving big problems. It is about solving problems. Problems of all sizes. Sometimes all you have to do is look around you. There are problems in your community, where you live, where you work. Solve those problems. Big ideas come from people trying to solve small problems which turn into great movements. So looking for the great problems to solve is not the only way and may not be most efficient way to do it either.

Q: What are your suggestions on finding interesting ideas and bringing the ideas to life to solve?

A: Interesting ideas to solve come from deep domain knowledge. It’s very difficult for entrepreneurs when they are young to come up with ideas as they can be light weight. The average age of an entrepreneur in America is 37. This means that many people are older than 37 when they start their company. So only if you worked in the industry for 5-10 years you really understand what issues are, what the problems are, and then you can see how you can solve them. So my advice is:  look around you, work in some industry, learn the hard skills. Then you will see the problem and you will be well equipped to solve them. This is how you address this issue.

Q: What are your takes on finding the right business model and identifying early customers?

A: To find the right business model and early customers is simple. You should be able to answer these two fundamental questions: what problem are you solving and who has this problem.  If you cannot concisely answer these two questions you don’t have clarity in your head. I insist that people should talk to 5 to 10 actual users and buyers of whatever product they’re planning to buy and try to understand what their pain is. If you cannot clearly articulate what pain your customers have do not start the company. Then discuss with customers what you are planning to do and if this would be interested in it. If you cannot generate this early customer interest, do not start the company.

And stop worrying about confidentiality. People have other problems to solve in their lives. They are not running to copy your idea. It is the execution of your idea that is the hard part. By bouncing these ideas off suitable customers and users and consistently getting positive feedback, you may be in a position to start the company and then they likely will buy it. Everything else will clarify itself during the course of this process.

Q: Can you please tell us about the legal process of starting a company?

A: Legal process depends on in which country you are starting the company in, what the local regulations are.  My book which is a legal guide for entrepreneurs goes into fair amount of details: What is the process, what options you have in the United States. So read the book. It’s available at naeemzafar.com.

Q: As you’ve seen during Internet bubble, there were so many companies founded and were committed to change the world. But with the changes of time around 90% of them got obsolete. And we ended up having some great companies. Now, there are also so many startups working with cloud computing, big data, wearable technologies, space, robotics and so on. The data shows most of them will also get obsolete as the success rate of startups is very low. But there are always some common characteristics, values,  philosophies and ideas that  keep some startups alive and helps to sustain in the long run. You have profound experience of seeing all the trends as you have been advising companies and working with great entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. What are your suggestions on building the next big organization?

A: Aspect of building the next big organization is about solving a big problem. It is easy to spot what are the problems that need to be solved. All the trends you mention have tremendous potential.

Big data and business analytics can pinpoint precisely if you put a restaurant in the corner of this street and that street. They tell you what will be your monthly sales when you put it in the corner of that street and that street. So, the way businesses will be making decision could be based on not intuition but actual data.

If you read the book or watch the movie called Moneyball, it is about applying statistics to baseball. It is about how a mediocre team became the number one team by using big data. And that is applicable to every single business. So look for a big idea around you and build a great team with high caliber people. If you can put together a right market with the right team, you can build a lasting company too.

Q: How do you think about hiring remarkable people and let them scope to work on achieving vision that will change our world for good?

A: I think it’s good idea to hire remarkable people. You should do that. It’s not easy to do that. Remember the good people  will follow somebody which they can respect and whose vision they share. If you don’t have the passion and vision yourself why would A people, A players, best players follow you. Best players want to follow someone that they believe in. If you have that you shall attract the right team. And yes, you will be able to do great things. So step up to the stage and stage could be yours.

Q:  Whenever we talk about changing the world, thing that always comes first is changing ourselves. After changing our own life, we can go and change our family, then our society and then our country and then we can have a mission of changing the world to make it a better place to live in. But changing the world is hard, complex, challenging and hurting. You have come a long way and have already left a body of works to make this  world a bit more special. Can you please tell us about what your life has thought you in this amazing journey?

A: What my life has taught me is that it’s not a sprint. It is a marathon. So you have to create your own brand. You have to be genuine and honest and people will follow you . If you have  a vision that attracts people, you will have easy time attracting them.

So my advice to myself and other people around me is that if you’re a genuine person and a truthful person and you have a strong vision and can articulate it, you will have people willing to follow you. Once you have people willing to follow you then there is no challenge you cannot take tackle, no matter how big it is.

You will be able to overcome it over time and there are plenty of problems to follow around the world. But be true to yourself and always look for the team who is willing to follow you.

Q:  Last but not least, can you please give some advice to entrepreneurs who are on the mission of changing the world?

A: Changing the world is important and changing the world sometimes happens. But that is not the goal to start with. It is too big goal. It is too audacious and maybe even too arrogant to have this goal.

Martin Luther King did not have the goal of changing the world. He was just trying to change some laws so that black people could have equal rights. When Steve Jobs was starting Apple he wanted to do a music iPod. He was not trying to change the world. So I’m a little bit suspicious of your question because changing the world has come up multiple times.  Forget about changing the world. Do something meaningful for the people around you and your community. If you’re lucky enough it will have a big impact.  So think more practical and try to make local change. Stop worrying about changing the world – that will come later if you’re so lucky.

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Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Jillian C. York: Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

Editor’s Note: Jillian C. York is Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Before joining the EFF, York worked at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where she contributed to the OpenNet Initiative. Her work is at the intersection of technology and policy, with a focus on the Arab world. She is a frequent public speaker and has written for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Atlantic, the Guardian, Global Voice, Foreign PolicySlate and CNN.  With Katherine Maher, she has a regular web show, Interrobang, hosted on Bloggingheads.tv.

Jillian contributed chapters to the upcoming volumes Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communication, Journalism and Society (Palgrave Macmillan) and State Power 2.0: Authoritarian Entrenchment and Political Engagement Worldwide (Ashgate Publishing).  She serves on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and on the Advisory Boards of R-Shief, Radio Free Asia’s Open Technology Fund, and Internews’ Global Internet Policy Project.

She says “I talk a lot around the Internets, and in real life–about free expression, privacy, anonymity, culture, and MENA.  I also talk about travel and post pictures of food.” You can get her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +.

To read her full bio please click here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Jillian C. York recently to gain her ideas and insights on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Jillian, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Jillian:  Thank you for having me.

Niaz: As an activist, you have been working with all great organizations and setting a trend of doing great works. You’re also a writer and a speaker. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about yourself, current works, projects and involvements?

Jillian: Certainly.  Right now, I’m working on some really interesting projects.  One is an effort to create a set of educational resources to teach people how to be more safe online…there are a lot of great guides and tools out there, but many of them are difficult to understand, or the resources are scattered all over the web.  We want to create a definitive set of resources that are easy to access and comprehend.

Another thing I’m working on with my colleagues is pushing governments to commit to a set of 13 principles for the application of human rights to communications surveillance (they’re at necessaryandproportionate.net).  We’ve gotten more than 300 organizations all over the world to sign on, and dozens of academics and experts, too.  Now we’re taking these principles to governments.

Niaz: You’re the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Can you please briefly tell us about EFF, it’s activities and vision?

Jillian:  EFF was born in 1990 in response to a basic threat to speech.  Since then, the organization has grown to encompass a variety of issues—free speech, privacy, intellectual property, open access—that face us in the digital realm.

In the United States, much of our work is done in the courtroom, but we also have a strong team of activists who raise our issues in Washington, DC and get support from all over the country and the world.  Our technology team builds tools and advises people and organizations on security.  And our international team, the team that I work with, works with organizations all over the world to create good policy, fight online threats, and help build a movement in favor of online free speech and privacy.

Niaz: What are the other organizations out there working for freedom of expressions?  Do you think we should have more organization in this area?

Jillian: There are so many!  There are global organizations like Access and Global Voices Advocacy and US-focused organizations like Free Press and Fight for the Future.  There are organizations all over the globe that I love and support, too…just to name a few, there’s Bolo Bhi in Pakistan, La Quadrature du Net in France, Derechos Digitales in Chile, 7iber in Jordan, MADA in Palestine, Digitale Gesellschaft in Germany, and so many more!

Niaz: How building similar organizations from different parts of world can help EFF to achieve its amazing vision? What are your messages for the youngsters working in nonprofits?

Jillian: Fundamentally, we believe in certain ideals, but we also believe that those battles are best won by local organizations, rather than by a US organization like ours coming in and trying to fix problems.  And so our strategy is to work in partnerships with organizations in other countries to help them build capacity or support them in their fight against a particular threat.  Of course, in this process, we also learn so much from our colleagues everywhere.

My message to youngsters would be that it’s worthwhile to do what you’re passionate about.  I’ve spent my entire career working in the nonprofit sector, and have found it incredibly rewarding.  It helps too that, through my job, I’ve developed friendships all over the world, which means I always have a place to sleep wherever I am!

Niaz: You also serve on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online. It has already become a true Global Media where people from all over the world doing citizen journalism and sharing amazing stories in different languages. At this point, can you please tell us about citizen journalism? How has citizen journalism been changing our traditional media?

Jillian: The problem that I have with traditional media is that it’s limited.  In the US, it’s limited by the (false) idea of “objectivity”, but also by the experience of its journalists.  I don’t think mainstream media is or should be dead, far from it, rather, I think that citizen journalism provides a supplement to more traditional media.  It helps us gain the human perspective of a story.

Niaz: How is Global Voices different from other traditional media? Why is it important to be different?

Jillian: Global Voices began as an attempt to cover what people were saying in the blogospheres of places where the mainstream media didn’t always reach.  Since that time, a lot has changed: we can now access more mainstream publications from different places in the world, giving us an insight into the perspectives of journalists there.  There is also a lot more content from certain places in English than there was a decade ago, which is helpful.

Today, Global Voices still seeks to accomplish that goal, but it’s also now available in dozens of languages, which I often think is even more valuable – it allows people in Madagascar, for example, to read content in their own language by and about people in say, Venezuela or Japan.  It’s that cross-cultural pollination that I find fascinating.

Global Voices is also unique in that it’s almost entirely run by volunteers.  There are fewer than 10 paid full-time employees, and more than 300 people working on the project at any time.

Niaz: Your work focuses on freedom of expression.  And you’ve a profound body of works on freedom of expression. Now can you please tell us about Internet Censorship? How does Internet Censorship affect freedom of expression as well as democracy?

Jillian: Censorship happens all over the world.  We often hear about China and Iran, which are by far two of the worst offenders, but we hear much less about the Internet censorship that happens in Vietnam, Jordan, and many other places.  In Vietnam, political content is censored and bloggers that challenge the state can be arrested for unrelated crimes.  In Jordan, more than 300 news websites were recently blocked after they refused to obtain licenses.  Censorship can be used for all sorts of purposes, but governments that censor the Internet tend to have one thing in common: they fear their citizens.

Niaz: Social media coverage is becoming increasingly common across media; do you see a fundamental shift happening in the way news is covered, particularly internationally?

Jillian: I do – I’m seeing a lot more agency given to the subjects of news articles.  It used to be that an American journalist could parachute in, write a story about a place, and have that story become the definitive narrative of a given situation.  Today, the Internet allows the “subjects” of that narrative to challenge it.  So when, for example, Tom Friedman writes a story about Egypt, you will often see Egyptians on Twitter challenging him about it.

Unfortunately, this is happening on the fringe of the media.  The Atlantic, for example, is doing a pretty good job of it, but the New York Times by and large still seems fairly oblivious.

Niaz: What do you think about social media revolution in terms of freedom of expression?

Jillian: I think that we’re looking at a net positive for freedom of expression, but with a serious caveat: the social media companies that host our speech can also exercise control over it.  This can be insidious, such as Facebook banning entire categories of expression (such as nudity or its ill-defined “hate speech”), but it can also be subtler.  We should be cautious and aware of the fact that the spaces we think of as the online public sphere are not public at all, but privately-owned companies.

Niaz: Do you think social media revolution is also the revolution of free speech? What do you think about the future of Citizen Media that will be able to scale freedom of expression?

Jillian: Yes and no.  I think that the social media revolution is about broadening the set of voices we can hear and that we listen to, but I don’t think we’re nearly there in terms of access to call this a speech revolution.  There are places in the world, like Yemen, where Internet penetration still rests below 5% of a country’s population, and there are other places, like Nigeria, where women report not feeling safe accessing public Internet spaces.  We need to solve the access gap before we can really proclaim social media as a revolution of free speech.

Niaz: What’s new about democracy in this digital era? How do you connect democracy, freedom of expression and social media revolution?

Jillian: I’m not sure we’re even close to solving the problems of democracy, but I do believe that social media opens up space for citizens to make their voices heard in an unprecedented way.  Take, for example, the recent nuclear deal between the US and Iran.  I watched while right-wing journalists decried the deal on Twitter, but their voices were drowned out by those of the people, the citizens, all over the world.  Before social media, those “expert” voices would’ve carried far more weight than they do now.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book chapter in the volume ‘State Power 2.0’?

Jillian: Sure – I wrote this chapter with Katherine Maher.  It covers the history of the Tunisian Internet—its infrastructure, censorship, surveillance—as well as the forces that led to a change in policies after the fall of Ben Ali.

Niaz: What are your suggestions to make our non-profit sector much more productive, scalable, efficient and effective?

Jillian: I think one of the key challenges is for non-profit organizations to think more like businesses, particularly when it comes to finding sustainable funding models.  Non-profits are all too often tied to foundations, which means they risk losing their funding at any moment.  We’re lucky in the United States, in that donations are tax-deductible, which means that organizations have a much easier time at getting individual support.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your new book ‘Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism & Society?

Jillian: Sure – this is a fantastic book put together by a group of academics. My chapter looks at the history and effects of leaking in the Arab world, starting with the Iran-Contra Affair and moving toward the future.

Niaz: Dear Jillian, thank you very much for your invaluable time and also for sharing us your amazing life story, great ideas, insights, experience and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for your good health and safe living along with for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Jillian:  Thank you so much, Niaz, this has been great.

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Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

3. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Peter Klein: Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

Editor’s Note: Peter Klein, is Executive Director and Carl Menger Research Fellow of the Mises Institute and Associate Professor in the Division of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Missouri. At Missouri he also directs the McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and he holds adjunct faculty positions with the Truman School of Public Affairs and the Norwegian School of Economics. His research focuses on the economics of organization, entrepreneurship, and corporate strategy, with applications to diversification, innovation, food and agriculture, economic growth, and vertical coordination. Klein has authored or edited five books and has published over 70 academic articles, chapters, and reviews.

He taught previously at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Georgia, and the Copenhagen Business School, and served as a Senior Economist with the Council of Economic Advisers. He is also a former Associate Editor of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. He lectures regularly at the Mises University and other Mises Institute events.

Klein received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He co-founded the popular management blog Organizations and Markets.

To learn more about him, check out this this this this and this.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Peter Klein recently to gain insights about entrepreneurship, economics and education which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Peter, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Peter: It’s my pleasure to participate!

Niaz: You are the prominent researcher, speaker, author, analyst and think tank in the field of entrepreneurship, innovation, economics, and education. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us about Entrepreneurship? What is entrepreneurship to you? What are the different contexts of entrepreneurship?

Peter: The terms “entrepreneur,” “entrepreneurship,” and “entrepreneurial” are used in many ways, not always consistently! On the one hand, entrepreneurship is often used to mean self-employment: an entrepreneur is a person who starts or operates a small business. On the other hand, we also use the term “entrepreneurial” to refer to something broader, a mindset or way of thinking that emphasizes novelty, creativity, and initiative. Obviously one can be entrepreneurial in this sense without being a small-business owner.

In the academic literature, things get even more confusing. Originally the word entrepreneur was identified with decision-making, risk-bearing, and responsibility: entrepreneurs were the business people who organized production, transforming resources into valuable products and services for consumers. That usage goes back to the 18th century. More recently, scholars have identified entrepreneurship with narrower activities or functions such as alertness to profit opportunities or the introduction of new goods and services or new ways to make existing products. In my academic writing I adopt the concept developed by the American economist Frank Knight and the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises which emphasizes judgmental decision-making under uncertainty.

This variety of concepts and definitions causes problems, both in academic and in popular discussions. I sometimes think it would be better if we avoided the language of entrepreneurship altogether! As an exercise, I require my PhD students writing about entrepreneurship to describe their dissertation topics without using the word entrepreneurship or any of its cognates. If a student is writing about venture capital and IPOs, then call it “new-venture funding,” not entrepreneurship. If she is studying how people evaluate and compare new business models, then call it “business-model evaluation,” not entrepreneurship. I typically find that if people struggle to explain a particular phenomenon or research question without using the language or entrepreneurship, they probably don’t really understand what they’re doing!

Niaz: Can you please define what an entrepreneur is?

Peter: As discussed above, there are many definitions floating around in the academic and practitioner literature. I prefer to define entrepreneurship as judgment, the act of combining and recombining heterogeneous resources under conditions of uncertainty. But arguing about definitions is often counterproductive. I prefer to think in terms of the research question to be answered, or the practical problem to be solved. Defining entrepreneurship as self-employment or technological innovation or opportunity recognition may be useful in some contexts, but not others. Let’s focus on the phenomena and relationships of interest, even if we disagree about the labels!

Niaz: Why do you think entrepreneurship is the fundamental stand of understanding economics? And how?

Peter: Unfortunately, most people see economics as a dry, technical subject that involves poring over charts and graphs and writing equations to describe the “equilibrium” behavior of hypothetical actors. But economics is a logical, deductive, human science about real people acting in the real world, with all the dynamism, unpredictability, and creativity that entails. Markets aren’t static, lifeless mathematical constructs but lively, vigorous spaces where people interact and coordinate. Firms, markets, and industries don’t just come into existence by themselves, they have to be created and operated by real people with real responsibility. These people are entrepreneurs, what Mises called the “driving force” of the market economy. That’s one reason I’m attracted to the “Austrian” approach to economics, which has always placed the entrepreneur at the front and center of production and exchange—not an incidental actor who steps in to introduce novelty then fades into the background as the “normal” market process resumes. Entrepreneurship, as decisive action under uncertain conditions, is at the very heart of a market economy.

Niaz: At eTalks, we believe entrepreneurship is a great tool that helps building sustainable economy. We also believe entrepreneurs are the rock starts those who work to keep economy growing. Both entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs are the driving forces and instrumentals to build strong economy. Now, how do you connect these three dots: entrepreneurship, economic growth, and development of a country?

Peter: If we think of entrepreneurship is the broad sense of judgment under uncertainty, then economic development and growth can not exist without entrepreneurship! It is the entrepreneurs who invest the capital necessary for productivity growth, who organize production into firms and industries, who compete and cooperate to create and distribute goods and services to consumers in the most efficient and profitable manner. If we think of entrepreneurship more narrowly, as small business or startups or venture funding, then the story is more complex. To be sure, smaller and newer firms are often disproportionately responsible for employment growth and, in some contexts, the introduction of new products and new technologies. At the same time, large enterprises can also be innovative, and capital accumulation is often critical to achieving economies of scale and scope, even in today’s “knowledge economy.” And not every individual wants to be responsible for owning and operating a small business. Unfortunately, large firms are typically more adept at securing for themselves special political privileges and protection against competitors, though small firms play this game as well. Ultimately, I am agnostic about what mix of small and large, new and mature, and high-tech and low-tech firms is best for economic growth; I prefer to let competition in free markets sort it out.

Niaz: As you know, America is a great country having being built all big and great corporations. In the last two decades we have seen the structural and revolutionary contribution of the most exciting companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon in American economy. But things are not happening in the same ways throughout the world. In some points, things are happening more devastatingly. Some countries are taking optimum advantages of cutting age technologies, disruptive innovation, and digital economy. On the other hand, most countries are lacking behind and economic condition is becoming worse. According to you what drives entrepreneurs to build great organizations? And what are the role of culture and entrepreneurial environments in that endeavors?

Peter: Clearly culture and environment are critical for the success of entrepreneurs, however defined. Unfortunately, there is little consensus in the research literature about the precise mechanisms by which culture, including social norms and beliefs, affects economic behavior. We have a general sense that cultures in which experimentation and creativity are rewarded, and failure is tolerated, are more conducive to the kind of risk-taking that entrepreneurship requires. At the same time, there are plenty of counterexamples—the Nordic countries, for example, are relatively egalitarian and homogeneous, while still being highly entrepreneurial.

When it comes to the legal and political environment, the evidence is clearer. Countries with strong property-rights protection, a well-functioning monetary system, and minimal government intervention in the economy provide the best environment for entrepreneurship and economic growth. There is a strong temptation among many government planners to try to micro-manage entrepreneurial activity through targeted subsidies, infrastructure spending, tax and regulatory codes that favor one type of firm or location over another, and other attempts to create geographic or industrial clusters of innovation. Everyone wants the next Silicon Valley in his country or region. But entrepreneurial clusters like Silicon Valley emerge, endogenously, from the bottom up; they cannot be established from the top down. To be sure, strong “anchor” entities like research universities and established companies are important for kick-starting local entrepreneurial activity. But most attempts by government planners to target particular areas or activities for an entrepreneurial boost have fallen flat. The policy environment should also allow the “freedom to fail”—no bailouts and subsidies for unsuccessful ventures! Monetary and fiscal policies designed to “stimulate” the economy are also harmful, as they tend to generate asset bubbles and other forms of price inflation that make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to plan and invest.

Niaz: Why don’t we see big organizations getting formed in other countries? What are their core challenges?

Peter: Well, we do see large-scale enterprise around the world, but it often takes different forms such as diversified business groups, keiretsu, chaebols, and the like. Often these large groups are nominally private, but closely connected to the state, which tends to extend them special privileges that make it more difficult for them to innovate and compete internationally. Size is great when it results from superior performance on the market, but not so good when it comes from subsidies and political connections.

Niaz: How can they overcome those challenges?

Peter: Newer and smaller organizations looking for sustained growth have to find a balance between doing the things that made them successful in the first place—acting with boldness and imagination, being willing to experiment, finding the right niche—and developing routines and capabilities that keep it going. Often there is a change in mindset; in the early stages, founders feel like outsiders, Young Turks shaking up the establishment with little to lose.  Over time, the competitive landscape changes, and the outsider becomes the incumbent. This creates two problems: the team may still be in startup mode, still fighting the old battles, or it may become complacent, unaware of the potential competitor around the corner.

Complacency is a common problem for any successful organization. Clay Christensen has shown how large companies—and, I’d add, other large organizations like universities—struggle to adapt the newest and latest technologies. They are often too successful at what they already do, too effective at serving their existing customers using existing methods, too reluctant to disrupt their existing revenue streams. Of course, large and successful companies can also be innovative, typically by delegating decision authority to subunits, providing strong incentives for performance-enhancing innovations, setting up “skunk works” and internal corporate ventures, and other strategies. But it is not easy, and many large firms fail to adapt to changing circumstances.

Niaz: What other countries can learn from Silicon Valley and from its culture, environment, attitude, and innovativeness?

Peter: As noted above, Silicon Valley is a unique case and difficult to duplicate. What we see there, as in other successful innovative clusters, is strong anchor entities (e.g., Stanford University, Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1950s and 1960s, Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s and 1980s), a concentration of highly skilled and highly mobile workers, local venture funding, and a dose of serendipity. Economists have been studying agglomeration—the benefits of locating similar or complementary activities in geographic proximity—since Alfred Marshall’s work in the 1890s. Paul Krugman’s academic reputation rests partly on his elaboration of Marshall’s insights (not, incidentally, for anything Krugman wrote on macroeconomics!). Once a cluster emerges, it can exploit economies of scale: skilled workers, attractive firms, and aggressive funders want to be located close to each other. The trick is to get the cluster started in the first place. Nobody knows exactly how—otherwise we’d have Silicon Valleys all over the place.

However, it’s also important to recognize another force, what we might call economies of diversity. The late Jane Jacobs masterfully demonstrated that the growth and vitality of cities stems not from the way they cluster similar or complementary people and activities, but how they bring together a wide variety of dissimilar, and seemingly unrelated ones. Exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking is more likely in a diverse, heterogeneous environment. So maybe we should care less about same-industry clusters, and think more about how to encourage interactions among firms and industries doing radically different things.

Niaz: In this information age, now we seriously need to redefine, rebuild, and redesign our Higher Education to help us in pursuing entrepreneurial, actionable, and effective knowledge to learn, grow, and work to contribute in global economy. What are your suggestions to change and build an effective education system?

Peter: That’s a huge question. I can’t speak authoritatively on primary and secondary education but I have strong opinions on the structure of the higher-education industry in the US and Europe. Basically, the established universities are the privileged incumbents who tend to be swept away by the disruptive innovation Christensen talks about. Most are highly inefficient, slow to embrace new technology, and highly dependent on public subsidy. Technology has encouraged many new entrants, mostly at the low-quality end of the market. The incumbent universities have responded by discouraging people from consuming these entry-level products—“Those online, for-profit universities are fly-by-night organizations, they don’t offer real degrees like we do!”—but I do not think this strategy can succeed in the long run. At present the established universities are coasting on their reputation for quality. Reputation lags are long, so it may take time for consumers to begin voting with their dollars and feet for more innovative, lower-cost competitors.

In short, the higher-education industry is poised for a new generation of entrepreneurs, in both the for-profit and non-profit spaces, to experiment with new forms of educational content, new production and delivery methods, new ways to package information, and a range of further innovations we cannot yet foresee. MOOCs are but one highly visible manifestation of this. I find it ironic that the established universities are struggling to embrace the MOOC, seeing it as a way for them to leverage their brands and extend their market shares. They assume that, in the future, students in the developing world will be taking online courses from Yale or Illinois. I think it’s more likely that students in New Haven or Urbana-Champaign will take courses from some brilliant and articulate lecturer in Bangalore.

Niaz: To me a great entrepreneur is someone who understands economics, can see the big picture, and analyzes the things globally. He is also an economist, a research scientist, and a remarkable doer. What are the core things of economics and globalization should entrepreneurs be master at?

Peter: I think everyone should understand basic economics—say, by reading Henry Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson. Most of economic principles are common sense: there’s no such thing as a free lunch, benefits and costs should be compared at the margin, voluntary exchange is mutually beneficial, actions often have unintended consequences, and so on. Basic knowledge about globalization—the radical drop in communication and transportation costs, the often-surprising differences in legal, political, and social rules and customs around the world—is important too. But I don’t think a deep theoretical knowledge of economics or international trade is a prerequisite to successful entrepreneurship. Intuition and experience are typically more here valuable than “book learning.” (And I say that as a university professor!)

Niaz: What are your advices and suggestions to entrepreneurs to find big and complex problems, to build actionable business model to work to solve those problems, and to make this world a better place to live in?

Peter: The most important advice is not to listen to people like me. Seriously, one can fill a large library with books about entrepreneurship, innovation, competition, and business success, most written by scholars or journalists or policymakers without any experience or expertise with actual entrepreneurship. Thinking conceptually about entrepreneurship, and studying the great entrepreneurs of the past, can be useful and informative. Knowing basic accounting, finance, and marketing is important. But these things are neither necessary nor sufficient for entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurial judgment, as Mises put it, “defies any rules and systematization. It can be neither taught nor learned.”

From a social or policy point of view, I think we need an environment in which those who wish to experiment with entrepreneurship can do so. Many people are attracted to “wicked problems,” for the intrinsic satisfaction of solving them as well as for financial gain, and we should allow people young and old, novice and experienced, to try their hands, knowing that they can reap the rewards if they succeed, but will have to bear the costs if they fail.

Niaz: Last but not least, if you could send a message about the benefits of entrepreneurship, what would it be?

Peter: As educators, I think it’s critical to remind people who are not entrepreneurs—I’m looking at you, politicians and journalists—that entrepreneurship is the driving force of a market economy, and that entrepreneurs need property rights, the rule of law, sound money, and free and open competition to be successful.

Niaz: Dear Peter, thank you so much for your valuable time and sharing us your invaluable idea, experience, and knowledge which will help us to pursue entrepreneurial excellence.  We are wishing you very good luck for your good health and for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Peter: Thanks for the great questions, and I look forward to reading future entries in your series!

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Further Reading:

1. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Stephen Walt on Global Development

5. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Diego Comin: Entrepreneurship, Technology and Economic Development

Editor’s Note: Diego Comin is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS since 2007. He received his B.A. in Economics in 1995 from the University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain and his PhD in Economics from Harvard University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, Comin has been Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University. He is also Research Fellow at the Center for Economic policy Research and Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program. Comin has also been fellow for the INET and Gates foundations and consultant for the World Bank, IMF, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Citibank, and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) of the government of Japan.

You can read his full bio from here. To learn more about his research, ideas and knowledge, check out this this this and this.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Diego Comin recently to gain insights about entrepreneurship, technology and economic development which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Diego, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Comin: The pleasure is mine.

Niaz: You’ve received your bachelor degree in Economics in 1995 from Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain and PhD degree also in Economics from Harvard University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, you were the Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University. And you have been Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS since 2007. You’re also an honorable Research Fellow at the Center for Economic policy Research and Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us something about ‘Entrepreneurial Economics’?

Comin: Entrepreneurial economics is the area of economics that studies the causes and consequences of entrepreneurship.

Niaz: How would you define the connection and contribution of economists and entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial economics to accelerate economic growth?

Comin: Often, when entrepreneurs found new companies they tend to utilize new technologies in production accelerating their diffusion. In other instances, new technologies are created to develop and commercialize new technologies. Hence, entrepreneurship may foster economic growth both by contributing to the creation and to the diffusion of new technologies.

Niaz: You’ve been working for so long with primitive technology dataset. What does actually the primitive technology dataset measures?

Comin: I should refer the reader to my paper with Erik Gong and Will Easterly “Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000BC?” at the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics (July, 2010). Basically, it measures whether certain significant technologies were present in the geographic areas that correspond to modern-day countries long time ago. For example, printing presses in 1500 AD.

Niaz: Can you please share your knowledge with us about Primitive Technology?

Comin: There are basically three key findings. First, cross-country differences in technology adoption were very large in the distant past (i.e., 1500 AD, 0 and 1000BC). Second, past levels of technology are highly correlated to current levels of technology. In particular, the levels of technology of our ancestors in 1500AD predict 50% of current cross-country differences in productivity or technology. Finally, the reason for this humongous persistence is that some technological knowledge associated with the adoption of historical technologies helps adopt current technologies.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the diffusion of technology?

Comin: The moment technologies are invented, in principle they are ready for people around the world to use. However, most people and companies do not use them right away. Technology diffusion is the field that studies how and why technologies are adopted the way they are.

Niaz: What are the factors that affect the shape of the diffusion of technology?

Comin: There are several factors that may affect the shape of diffusion curves. How long ago a technology first arrived to a country, the level of income and its evolution, how intensively the technology is eventually used in the country, the rate of improvement of the technology and the productivity gains associated to these improvements, the potential complementarities of one technology with others, and the diffusion of technology in neighboring countries.

Niaz: Your research consists on studying the process of technological change and technology diffusion both across countries and over time. As you know, cutting edge technology, super innovation and evaluation of social media have been changing everything. We are in the golden era of Digitalization. Economy is also transforming to Digital Economy. Can you please tell us about Digital Economy? What has changed and what’s new in this digital economy?

Comin: The digital economy lowers the costs of transferring information. And by making information cheap it reduces the costs of bringing new technologies to all the corners of the world. However, it is important to be aware that the reduction in the costs of transferring information precedes (by a lot) the digital economy. One advantage of having direct measures of technology that span 200 years is that one can uncover long-term trends that are not obvious to the naked eye. When looking at my data, I observe that the acceleration in the speed of diffusion of technologies started with the industrial revolution and it has been unraveling smoothly since then.

Niaz: Things are not happening in the same ways all over the world. Digital Divide, Broadband Connection, Availability of Technology, Lacking of Knowledge and some other constraints have been putting under developed, developing and poor countries behind. How large is cross-country differences in technology adoption? How can underdeveloped, developing and poor countries take optimum advantage of digitalization?

Comin: That question raises an interesting point. Though technologies are more readily available in all countries than 100 or 200 years ago, the gap in the intensity or use (or penetration rates) that we observe between rich and poor countries has widened. (Marti Mestieri and I document that in a recent paper “If Technology Has Arrived Everywhere, Why has Income Diverged?” NBER wp#19010.) It is not easy to explain why this has been the case but it seems that the super low cost of transmitting information are not sufficient for a large number of potential users to know how to apply new technologies (in developing countries). Information is not the same as Knowledge.

Niaz: In near future, I hope we won’t have that much difference in our online and offline life. At the same time, we have started to live a life that is more likely science fiction. Living such an exciting era what do you think about the future of digital economy?

Comin: It seems safe to conjecture that in the future (and probably in the present too) the constraint will not be information but our ability to do something with it. I guess that the challenge for the digital economy will be to help on that front.

Niaz: What are you economic advice to young entrepreneurs, startups founders and CEOs? What are the things they should always keep in mind to grow and excel with their startups?

Comin: I think it is important to be always aware of what’s the core of the company; the area/activity where the company is really great. And always evaluate how actions or strategies affect/complement the core.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Comin: Both as a fundamental driver as well as a manifestation of other drivers, technology is key for the economy and society.

Niaz: Dear Diego, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas knowledge and insights. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your future endeavors.

Comin: Thanks very much. I also wish you good luck with eTalks.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Philip Kotler on  Marketing for Better World

2. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

3. Stephen Walt on Global Development

4. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

Horace Dediu: Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

Editor’s Note: Horace Dediu, one of the most well respected watchers of the mobile industry, and Apple in particular, is the founder and author of the market intelligence site Asymco.com. He is also an independent analyst and adviser to telecom incumbents and entrants on mobile platform strategy. Fortune Magazine declared him as the “King of Apple Analysts“.

Horace has eight years of experience as an industry analyst and business development manager at Nokia, preceded by six years of software development and management in a startup environment, two years of IT management and five years of computer science research in an industrial laboratory. As a business analyst he has a proven track record of achieving/exceeding predictive goals and objectives. He has been a resource for Bloomberg, The Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes and has been cited over 350,000 times.

Dediu also writes for the Harvard Business Review Blog. Recently he was interviewed by Forbes. He is often interviewed by other news sources as an Apple expert.

Horace has an MBA from Harvard Business School and MS Engineering from Tufts University. To learn more about his work please visit Asymco.com. You can also find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Wikipedia.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Horace Dediu recently to gain insights about Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Horace, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us more about Asymco?

Horace: Asymco is a web site where I write what I think and where people respond through comments. The idea is very simple and I find it useful because I received over 40,000 comments, something which would be hard to obtain through any other way of writing. Of course what matters is to have good comments, but good comments come if you have interesting things to say and you say them in a way that encourage discussion.  The other aspect of Asymco is that the audience is mostly self-selected. They have not been enticed to visit via any incentives other than their interest in the material. That makes the audience more valuable to me than one which comes by way of being herded from another place.

Niaz: What do you do as an independent consultant and analyst? What is your future plan? And where will be position of Asymco after 10 years?

Horace: I read a lot and write a little. I have no future plans and could not presume to guess what Asymco will be in 10 years. I could not have predicted where it is now so my ability to make predictions on this topic is zero.

Niaz: You’ve declared as the “King of Apple Analysts” by Fortune Magazine.  What does make you very passionate about Apple?

Horace: Apple is an interesting company to study because its success comes from being a serial disruptor. This is a very rare type of success formula. I am trying to “reverse engineer” its operating model and I hope that such a model is one which others might learn from if they were to emulate it. The trouble is that very few others seem to want to emulate Apple. Why that is also an interesting question.

Niaz:  You’ve been resource for Bloomberg, The Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes and have been cited over 350,000 times. You’ve been analyzing Apple’s business strategy and predicting their financials for long time.   So many people in the industry now believe that Apple has lost its image. Fundamentally, Apple is a company that was built to innovate and to make great products. What do you think about the current performance of the company? Do you think apple has lost its image that it has created over the years as a center of innovation and building excellent products?

Horace: I cannot comment on how Apple’s image is measured by people in the industry. I have been listening to commentary on Apple for about a decade and I have never seen any change in pattern. The company has always been perceived as a failure by a majority of observers. With respect to its products, I also do not see a change in the pattern established over the last decade.

Niaz: What’s your evaluation on the performance of Apple CEO Tim Cook? Do you think he is a visionary leader? Will he be able to keep running Apple as the way it should be run?

Horace: I think Tim Cook is the best CEO Apple ever had. During the period of Steve Jobs as CEO, Tim Cook was doing the work which might be considered CEO and Jobs was head of product, culture and many other details. The Jobsian approach of micromanagement is the antithesis of sustainable organizational management. The only reason Apple survived was that Jobs outsourced operations to Cook. Regarding Vision: Vision is not a function that needs to reside in one person and it depends greatly on the process for decision making and the organizational structure. Apple’s functional structure means that vision is developed through a coordinated weekly process. It’s a constant refinement of many ideas rather than a single target that’s set once.

Niaz: As you know, the biggest change in the history of iOS is iOS7. Apple has also launched iPhone 5C and 5S on Sept 10th event. As far as I believe iPhone 5S is the next big thing that will be the door of opportunities for the future of mobile computing, gaming, personal cloud and so on and on. What is your take on iOS 7, iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S?

Horace: The iPhone is maturing nicely and it seems to be entering a new phase of later adoption. It’s now clear to me that after 7 iterations, the iPhone business model is a part of a larger transition in how Apple is building a multi-modal platform with iOS. iOS has turned out to be a very flexible idea which is being adapted to many usage contexts. It is however only one piece of a far larger puzzle where services, devices, and ecosystems are inter-dependent.

Niaz: Over the last 12 months, Google Android devices have outsold iOS by about 3 to 1. There are now perhaps 775m-800m ‘official’ Android devices in use, versus perhaps 415m iOS devices. This is without counting sales of the Amazon Kindle Fire or the (very) many Android devices sold in China that are not connected to Google services – these may be a further 150-200m active devices now (or more). So, the Android install base is more than double the size of iOS. If you look just at phones, there are may be 250m iPhones in use and perhaps 700m ‘official’ Android phones alone.  How do you see iOS vs. Android war? Is android is a threat for iOS (directly or indirectly)? Who is actually winning?

Horace: Those numbers are not exact. The numbers I use are: Google has reported 1 billion activations and Apple cited 700 million iOS devices will be sold by October with iTunes accounts (as a proxy of usage) totaling about 650 million. I consider both of these to be great performances especially since they happened in less than 7 years–a type of growth that is unprecedented even when considering many products which were free to use like Facebook. 700 million unit volume of sales, often under supply constraints, with an exceptionally high margins of near 40% is nothing short of amazing.  That does not detract from Android however. Android has turned out to be a force which destroyed many businesses: Nokia, RIM, HTC, Microsoft. However, iOS has been contributing to this disruption as well. Android is a low-end approach and iOS is a high-end/new market approach. Both have squeezed almost all other platforms out of the industry. Android is a threat to iOS but it’s one of many. A few years ago the threat to Apple was Windows, or some iPod killer or many others long forgotten. Apple does not win by eliminating competition. It wins by creating new markets or re-defining the basis of competition where, at least initially, there is no competition.

Niaz: Are you optimist about the future success of Apple? Like after 10 years and then 20 years?

Horace: Let me put it this way: if there were no Apple then somebody will have to invent an Apple to do the same thing Apple does. In that sense I’m optimistic that there will be an Apple in some way in perpetuity.

Niaz: This is an interesting month. We have already seen so many things and we are also going to see so many things in this month. The company valuation from 2007 to today: Microsoft is down -1.5%; Nokia is down -82%; RIMM is down -78%; Apple is up +507%. In this situation what do you think about Microsoft-Nokia deal? And how should tech industry look at this deal?

Horace: The deal says more about Microsoft than about Nokia. Microsoft decided that they need to become an integrated hardware/software/services company and to organize itself functionally. This is an abdication of its role as the supplier of software modules to a complex value chain. To make such a huge concession says that we are really far into a new era. The problem for Microsoft is that it’s not clear that it can function as a completely new organism, especially one without any leader on the horizon.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about wearable technologies? How big is the market of wearable technology? What are the challenges for Apple to be the best player in the field of wearable technology?

Horace: The market for wearable technologies is very small, almost immeasurably small which is why it’s such an exciting area. It’s like a vast new continent with nobody living on it. There are challenges but they can be solved by having a development process that is guided by an understanding of what users need and how to deliver a workable solution. These were the same challenges in developing smartphones which were easy to use and making them affordable to many people. The answer is in an integrated approach to development.

Niaz: What will be the next big innovation from Apple?

Horace: I have no idea but it’s likely to involve refining new user interaction methods. Similar to the breakthroughs that came from the use of a mouse, a scroll wheel and a touch screen. It means making computers better at gleaning our intentions without our getting involved in explaining them.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of computing? What will be the most exciting and big thing in tech?

Horace: See above, new interaction methods.

Niaz: Will Apple, Google and Samsung be the major player for the future of computing? Or we can hope to see some new faces?

Horace: I am fairly sure Samsung will not be because they have not yet grafted software and services to their operating structure. I would give Amazon a higher probability in being a successful platform alternative.

Niaz: In 2011 you’ve written a blog post ‘Steve Jobs’ Ultimate Lesson for Companies’ on Harvard Business Review Blog and you have cited ‘A leader should aspire to do more. A leader should claim to have left a legacy not just on their company but on all companies.’ As you know Google, Amazon, Samsung, Facebook … all have learnt lifetime lessons from Steve Jobs. What do you think about the impact that Steve Jobs have created?

Horace: He led by example and like all great leaders sacrificed much as a way to inspire others to follow him. He also spent time in the wilderness and chose asceticism. This gave him authority. Many historical figures had the same quality. The problem is that few business leaders have it but I don’t see why they shouldn’t.

Niaz: Do you think it is possible to disrupt Google? How?

Horace: That’s easy. Google relies on keeping too many secrets. Giving away all that it holds dear will cause its business model to change. Let me put it this way: Google beat Microsoft because it developed and gave away that which Microsoft kept dear: source code to operating systems. (Microsoft finds it impossible to react unless it sells hardware–not easily done in volume and at a high premium.) Now turn the discussion around and ask what Google holds dear. The answer is the data which every consumer has to give. It’s now given freely in exchange for a service. But if that data were brokered by the user directly to the advertiser then Google has nothing to sell. For this to happen there must be a revolution in both the perception of what users give up when they use online services and in the ability of advertisers to act on their own to understand the mind of the consumer. If a consumer can become a free agent and an advertiser can do analytics then the economics of the internet (i.e. global information systems) will pivot yet again. Maybe Google will be flexible enough to pivot along but it will be a different company.

Niaz: Dear Horace, thank you once again for giving us time and sharing us your invaluable ideas, insights as well as knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Horace: Thank you for having me.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

2. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

3. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

Derek Sivers: Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

Editor’s Note: After making a living as a professional musician, Derek Sivers went looking for ways to sell his own CD online and ended up creating CD Baby, once the largest seller of independent music on the web with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients. In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education. Since 2008, Derek has traveled the world and stayed busy creating and nurturing creative endeavors, like Muckwork, where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their “uncreative dirty work.” He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 6 million views of his talks.

Sivers is also the author of ‘Anything You Want, which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories. His new company, Wood Egg, is publishing annual startup guides to 16 countries in Asia.

Derek writes regularly on creativity, entrepreneurship, and music on his blog: Sivers.org

To learn more about him, please read his amazing book ‘Anything you want, visit his official blog, read his Wikipedia Bio, watch his amazing TED Talks Weird, or just different?, How to start a movement, and Keep your goals to yourself.

You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Derek Sivers recently to gain insights about Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Derek, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Derek: Thank you Niaz.

Niaz: You are a musician, programmer, writer and entrepreneur. You have founded CD Baby and MuckWork. You are also the author of an amazing book ‘Anything You Want’ which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories. In 2011, you have moved to Singapore and started your new company Wood Egg. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Wood Egg?

Derek: Starting five years ago, I got deeply curious about the differences between countries and cultures, fascinated with understanding the different perspectives. Two years ago, I moved to Singapore, and started visiting all the countries in Asia, asking dumb questions, making good friends.  But my learning felt too unstructured. So while walking around Yogyakarta, Indonesia, remembering “the best way to learn something is to teach it”, I came up with an ambitious plan. I decided to produce and publish 16 books per year on 16 countries in Asia: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Knowing they wouldn’t be great at first, I committed to improving them every year for many years. After a few years of doing this, they should be pretty awesome.

Niaz: Can you please tell us why have you moved to Singapore? 

Derek: Really it’s just understanding a different point of view.  And not just visiting, but really living somewhere long enough so that it really feels like home.  We’re so surrounded by people who think like us that it’s impossible to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture.  We can’t see it until we get outside of it.

Niaz: What have you learned about the entrepreneurial environment of Asia? How is it different from other cultures?

Derek: I was born in California and grew up with what I felt was a normal upbringing with normal values.  I was speaking to a business school class here in Singapore. I asked, “How many people would like to start their own company some day?” In a room of 50 people, only one hand (reluctantly) went up. If I would have asked this question to a room of 50 business school students in California, 51 hands would have gone up!  Thinking maybe they were just shy, I asked, “Really!? Why not?” – and asked individuals. Their answers:  1. “Why take the risk? I just want security.” 2. “I spent all this money on school, and need to make it back.” 3. “If I fail, it would be a huge embarrassment to my family.”  Then I realized my local American culture. The land of entrepreneurs and over-confidence. I had heard this before, but I hadn’t really felt it until I could see it from a distance.

Niaz: What are the cultural challenges to build, operate and sustain next big organization like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook or Twitter from Asia?

Derek: The sense of possibility.  When you live in New York City or Los Angeles, you see famous people around you all the time.  If you want to be famous, seeing those people next to you gives you the feeling that you’re very close to your dreams – you’re in the place where it can happen.  But if you’re living in Urugay or Estonia, you feel that you’re a world away from that kind of fame.  So once a few super-ambitious people have a big international success with a company out of Indonesia, for example, it will give huge encouragement to other people from Indonesia – to give them the feeling that they are so close – that they can do it.

Niaz: What are the necessary steps should be taken to overcome those challenges for making a welcoming, sustainable and supportive environment for entrepreneurs?

Derek: Just do what Singapore and Hong Kong are doing.  They’re doing everything right.  Mix in a little of India’s “jugaad” rule-breaking culture, for a real winning combination.

Niaz: We love to say about breaking the rules though it happens in reality very rarely. You are one of those few remarkable people who have broken so many rules for making things happen, specifically while working with CD Baby. You had a moment you describe in the book when all the MBAs and VCs were asking you “What’s your plan, what’s your growth rate, what are your projections?” And you basically said, “My focus is on helping the customers, and as long as we’re doing that, I don’t care about the projections.” Business Students invest Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Top Business School to learn planning, strategy, growth, leadership and setting goals. And you have build CD Baby and sold it for $22 Million where you have not literally cared about planning, forecasting, strategy, and even growth. Can you please tell us about the evolution and success story of CD Baby?

Derek: Ah, it would take about 88 pages to properly tell that story, but that’s why I wrote “Anything You Want”.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about ‘Anything You Want’?

Derek: It’s only 88 pages, a $4 purchase on Amazon, can be read in under an hour, and really tells the tale from beginning to end of starting CD Baby, growing it beyond my wildest dreams, the mistakes I made along the way, then selling it for $22 million, as you said.  It’s distilled down to “40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur”, as the publisher put it.  I’m not just telling my story, but looking back, found some important and usable lessons that you can apply to your own business.

Niaz: Now StartUp means finding an idea, taking seed funding, inviting angel investors and ending up taking fund from Venture Capital. It’s really a very complex cycle. I know it has two sides like a coin. In one side it’s tough to get funding. In other side, it’s tough to get right funding and advisers. Vinod Khosla, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems who later went on to create Khosla Ventures, cited in Techcrunch Disrupt SF 2013, ‘95 percent of VCs add zero value. 70-80 percent add negative value to a startup in their advising’. As it’s the scenario, you have had a great and different story. You have done great job with CD Baby and made it a multi million dollars company without taking help from VC. How can an entrepreneur build multi million Dollars Company without taking help of VCs? Is it possible now? Can you please explain it for us?

Derek: I know less-than-nothing about investors, VCs, or any of that.  Never dealt with them.  Asking me how to make a company without them is like asking an Argentinian farmer how he grows his crops without the Empire State Building.  It’s just not a part of my world, so I don’t even know how to compare my approach to another.

Niaz: What are your secrets of taking initiatives and how do you stay confident on taking those risky and challenging initiatives?

Derek: I’ve never done anything that felt risky or even challenging.  When you’re on to something good, and you’re the right person to do it, it just feels like common sense, and quite obvious.  If it feels too risky, too challenging, maybe it’s an unwise venture or maybe you’re the wrong person to do it.

Niaz: Many people now believe that we have already solved all of our interesting problems. New StartUps and companies are also working on almost similar basis. By any chance, if someone is coming with a great idea, rest of the others are getting into it and ending up creating mess. Can you please tell us about how to find really big and interesting problems, working on it in the long run to solve those problems and ending up building next big organization?

Derek: You don’t need big problems or big organizations like you don’t need big passion.  A few times, I’ve been asked a question like, “But what if I haven’t found my true passion?” It’s dangerous to think in terms of “passion” and “purpose” because they sound like such huge overwhelming things.  If you think love needs to look like “Romeo and Juliet”, you’ll overlook a great relationship that grows slowly.  If you think you haven’t found your passion yet, you’re probably expecting it to be overwhelming.  Instead, just notice what excites you on a small moment-to-moment level.  If you find yourself diving into a book about Photoshop and playing around with the program for hours, go for it! Dive in deeper. Maybe that’s your new calling.  For me, CD Baby was just a curiosity: that little hobby that kept me up until 2am every night, programming and experimenting. It just grew from there.

Niaz: Based on your exciting entrepreneurial career and the lessons you have learned over the years, can you please list 10 advices for Startup Company to survive, to grow and to go global?

Derek: I can’t, because it’s different for everyone.  When someone shows me their business plan and asks what they should do, I say, “Well – who are you? What kind of life do you want? Easy? Challenging? Why are you doing this? Money? Impact? Love? To prove something to the high school bully?”  Businesses are not the same.  Business paths are not the same.  Motivations are not the same.  No list of 10 advices apply to everyone.  And I can’t separate business and people.  What you should be doing with your business depends on who you are as a person, not on the business itself.

Niaz: What excites me mostly about you is your Humanistic Perspective of Entrepreneurship. Can you please tell us about the humanistic perspective of entrepreneurship?

Derek: I don’t understand how the two are different or separated in any way.  It’s like asking about the humanistic perspective on marriage.  It’s 100% completely and thoroughly human.  What’s good for business?  What’s good for people!  What’s good for each customer?  What’s good for each person working there?  What’s good for the owner?  These are inseparable questions.

Niaz: Do you think humanistic perspective of entrepreneurship is seriously big thing that will help entrepreneurs to be more human to solve real big problems of this mother earth to make it a better place to live in?

Derek: No.  I don’t think that big.  But I’m glad you do.

Niaz: What’s the one last thing you want to tell us?

Derek: Don’t make your business like someone else’s business.  Don’t make your life like someone else’s life.  Ignore people who tell you what you should be doing because someone else did.  Your life, joys, and motivations are different than theirs.

Derek: Thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas, knowledge and experience. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Derek: Thanks Niaz.  I really appreciate it.  Sorry I don’t have very many answers.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Five Inspiring Quotes By Derek Sivers:

#1

You grow (and thrive!) by doing what excites you and what scares you everyday, not by trying to find your passion.”

#2

Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently pushing what’s not working”

#3

You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people”

#4

Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let him do it”

#5

If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in”

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

3. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

4. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

5. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Ely Kahn: Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Editor’s Note: Ely Kahn is the Co-founder and VP of Business Development for Sqrrl, a Big Data Startup. Previously, Ely served in a variety of positions in the Federal Government, including Director of Cybersecurity at the National Security Staff in White House, Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Protection Programs Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security, and Director of Risk Management and Strategic Innovation in the Transportation Security Administration. Before his service in the Federal Government, Ely was a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. Ely has a BA from Harvard University and a MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more about his Big Data Startup Sqrrl [here]

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ely Kahn recently to gain insights about Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Ely, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Ely: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Niaz: You’re a former management consultant and senior government official who turned Big Data Entrepreneur. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us something about entrepreneurship? What is entrepreneurship? Why are you an entrepreneur?

Ely: While in government, I viewed myself as an “intrapreneur”, and I focused on developing new public sector programs that could disrupt traditional ways of doing business.  Moving to private sector entrepreneurship was a natural evolution for me.  Entrepreneurship takes all different forms, but the type of entrepreneurship that is most interesting to me is modeled around Clayton Christensen’s theory of “Disruptive Innovation.”

Niaz: You have a BA from Harvard University and a MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. You’ve served in a variety of positions in the Federal Government and before your service in the Federal Government; you were a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. How have you transformed your career into entrepreneurship and why? What’s the most exciting thing about entrepreneurship to you?

Ely: Innovation has been a key theme in all my jobs so far and cuts across consulting, government, and startups.  However, business school was actually an incredibly valuable tool for making the transition from government to a technology startup.  More than anything, it was two years that allowed me to explore different startup ideas in a very low risk environment.

The most exciting thing about entrepreneurship for me is the continuous learning environment.  Every week it seems I am picking up something new across a wide variety of functional areas, including sales, marketing, business development, product management, and finance.

Niaz: You’re the Co-founder and VP of Business Development of Sqrrl, a Big Data company. How did the idea Sqrrl come up and how have you started?

Ely: Sqrrl’s technology has its roots in the National Security Agency (NSA) and that technology is called Accumulo.  Accumulo powers many of NSA’s analytic programs.  I was introduced to the NSA engineers that helped create Accumulo while I was in business school, and from there I started to put together the business plan and investor pitch to commercialize Accumulo.

Niaz: At this point, can you please kindly tell us a bit of funding? Who are the core investors at Sqrrl?

Ely: We have two world-class investors:  Atlas Venture and Matrix Partners.  We closed a $2M seed round with them in August 2012.

Niaz: So everything you are doing at Sqrrl is all about Big Data and Big Data Products. Can you please tell us what is Big Data?

Ely: Big Data is generally referred to as data that cannot be processed using traditional database technologies because of the volume, velocity, and variety of data.  Big Data typically includes tera- and petabytes of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, and examples are sensor data, social media, clickstreams, and log files.

Niaz: Why do you think Big Data is the next big opportunity for all of us?

Ely: Big Data technologies like Hadoop and Accumulo enable companies to analyze datasets that were previously too expensive or burdensome to process.  This analysis can become new forms of competitive advantage or can open up completely new lines of business.

Niaz: How do you define Big Data Product? Can you please give us some examples of Big Data products?

Ely: Big Data products span a wide range of technologies, including storage, databases, analytical tools, and visualization platforms.  Two classes of Big Data technologies that are of particular importance are Hadoop vendors and NoSQL database vendors.  Hadoop + NoSQL enable organizations to process petabytes of multi-structured data in real-time.

Niaz: How will Big Data products change the perception of building products?

Ely: Many Big Data products are still “crossing the chasm” from early adopters to mainstream users.  However, these products have the potential to bring the power of massive parallel computing to many companies.  Historically, these types of capabilities have been the domain of massive web companies like Google and Facebook or large government agencies like the NSA.

Niaz: Now can you please briefly tell us about Sqrrl?

Ely: Sqrrl is the provider of a Big Data platform that powers secure, real-time applications.  Our technology leverages both Apache Hadoop and Apache Accumulo, which are open source software technologies.

Niaz: What are your core products and who are the main customers of Sqrrl?

Ely: Our technology offering is called Sqrrl Enterprise and it enables organizations to securely bring their data together on a single platform and easily build real-time applications that leverage this data.  Some of the use cases for Sqrrl Enterprise include serving as the platform for applications that detect insider threats in financial services companies or serving as the platform for predictive medicine in healthcare companies.

Niaz: You’ve started at August 2012. How’s company doing now?

Ely: The company is doing great.  We now have about 20 employees and a number of customers in a variety of industries.

Niaz: What is your vision at Sqrrl?

Ely: Our vision is to enable organizations to “securely analyze everything.”  Our Big Data platform helps organizations perform analytics on massive amounts of data and often times this data has very strict privacy or security requirements on it.

Niaz: How big is Big Data industry?

Ely: According to the analyst firm Wikibon “the Big Data market is projected to reach $18.1 billion in 2013… [and] on pace to exceed $47 billion by 2017.”

Niaz: What do you think about the other Big Data startups? How’s Big Data community doing?

Ely: There is an amazing ecosystem of Big Data startups that are doing some amazingly innovative things.  I am paying particular close attention to startups focused on machine learning and data visualization, as these are complementary areas to our product.

Niaz: Well, we all know that starting a company is not an easy task for us. So, can you please put in the picture what are the difficulties of starting a company we may face?

Ely: The thing that is fascinating about doing a startup is that there is a never ending series of challenges:  raising funding, hiring, finding product-market fit, customer acquisition and retention, and the list goes on.  The key is to be continuously prioritizing where to spend your time.

Niaz: What have you learned by starting a company?

Ely: I have learned many things, but the lesson that I am continuously learning is to be resilient.  Startups are inevitably filled with small failures, but the key is to quickly learn from them to avoid any large failures.

Niaz: What are the mistakes an entrepreneur can make in the early stage?

Ely: I think the biggest mistake that an entrepreneur can make is being afraid to make mistakes.  Early stage entrepreneurs need to be continuously running experiments to find product-market fit.

Niaz: Can you please share some of your life lessons for our readers?

Ely: Stay humble.  Entrepreneurship requires both luck and skill, and I think people sometime mistake luck for skill.

Niaz: Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your invaluable ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for the greater success of Sqrrl.

Ely: Many thanks.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

2. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

3. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

Jeff Haden: Pursuing Excellence

Editor’s Note: Jeff Haden is a great business think tank, entrepreneur, speakers, ghostwriter and LinkedIn influencer.  He is a a true talent in the world of Ghostwriting. He is the founder of Blackbird Media. He has ghostwritten nearly forty non-fiction books (four Amazon Business & Investing #1s). He is a featured columnist for Inc.com and CBS MoneyWatch and a great speaker on subjects like: leadership, management, and small business for industry conferences, company meetings, civic groups, and the occasional workshop. In a nutshell, he is revolutionizing the Business Industry with his impressive ideas, thoughts, insights, experience and writings.

He didn’t have things the easy or the fast way, but he is certainly making some of the best written articles for self improvement and business. He’d tell you which ones, but then he’d have to kill you.

As he says:

‘Bottom line? I’m versatile, easy to work with, and I really like what I do. If we work together, you will too.’

You can read his full bio from here and get connected on Twitter and LinkedIn.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Jeff Haden recently to gain insights about pursuing excellence in career and life which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Jeff, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Jeff: I am happy to join.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us a bit about your background? How have you become a ghostwriter from being a forklift driver?

Jeff: I worked my way through college by working full-time at a manufacturing plant. I liked being on the shop floor, liked being a part of making things… just really liked the production environment. When I graduated from college I interviewed for several jobs, but they were all “40 year-old men working in cubicles” type jobs, and I couldn’t see myself enjoying that. So I took an entry-level job at another manufacturing facility in town.

When I say entry-level, I mean entry-level. I started as a material handler, which literally meant lifting and carrying heavy boxes and bundles at a fast pace. Fortunately I worked my way up into other jobs: Forklift driver, crew leader, machine operator, supervisor, manager, etc.

But I’m really glad that’s how I started. I literally learned the business from the ground up, and I think it helps you be a better leader when you truly understand what the people you do go through on a daily basis.

Niaz: What is your motivation to motivate others?

Jeff: I worked for other people for twenty years (more if you count jobs in high school and college.) I worked my way up from the absolute bottom of the totem pole to running manufacturing operations for a book plant… and along the way made every mistake possible (I even ate my lunch during one inter-departmental job interview… but I swear there was a good reason!)

I know a ton about what not to do. I’m like the ultimate career cautionary tale. All I have to do is think back on one of many career-limiting moves… and an article writes itself. And hopefully other people can learn from my mistakes instead of having to go through the pain of making the same mistakes themselves.

Niaz: Career is probably most important thing of an individual’s life.  I have seen that you tend to do a lot of article on Inc. concerning career advice. What do you think about career? How significant is career for a person’s life?

Jeff: I know it’s a cliché, but most of us spend more time working than we do on any other single pursuit. While I don’t think what you do define you, it does define much of what you do, if that makes sense. So why spend your life doing something you don’t enjoy or that doesn’t fulfill you? I know we don’t always have choices and we can’t all love our work… but we should either try to find work we love, or find ways to love certain aspects of the work we do.

Niaz: In this knowledge economy, what’s new about career? How is career path is changing and what should one keep in mind while setting career plans in this knowledge economy?

Jeff: At one time I think you could get by with simply having experience. If you checked all the boxes and had the right qualifications, you were fine. Now I think it’s much more about what you do and what you do with what you know. (That’s how I define the knowledge economy.) Accomplishments are everything – and accomplishments are based on having and applying knowledge that others do not have.

One way is to specialize. You may not be given the latitude to focus on one tiny aspect of a job or an industry, but you should pick one thing that you can know and do better than anyone around you – that way you’re always valuable and you’re as close to being indispensable as possible.

Of course the key is to pick one thing that truly adds value. Don’t just pick what you like – pick what truly makes a difference and creates real value.

Niaz: As you know, everything has been changing with the changes of time. Our past generations used to have only one career for their whole life. Now we have so many career paths as well as have so many opportunities. We are doing multiple things at a time. What do you think about the best ways of choosing multiple careers?

Jeff: I like to think in terms of layers: What am I doing today, how can I leverage that tomorrow, and how does that extend to other possibilities? For example, I write. Writing is based on knowledge and expertise about a subject, so that can easily extend to speaking. Or consulting, or meeting people you can partner with to take on new challenges.

Think about what you do today and then think about how you can leverage it. If you’re a technician, think about ways you can add leadership skills to your toolbox. Or think about how you can work with other departments on projects that are worthwhile for both functional areas. Or think about how you can learn new skills at a part-time job. As long as you’re constantly seeking opportunities and staying open to opportunities that are presented to you, your career path will almost discover itself.

Niaz: How to grab the best opportunities among so many good opportunities? And how can one integrate multiple careers to keep smooth sustainability and growth in career?

Jeff: The key is to always, always, always excel in your current job. Everything follows from that. Growth is based on accomplishment. If you’ve held three jobs in a relatively short period of time and have excelled at all of them, a hiring manager will see that as a great sign. Talent often gets to set its own rules. When you excel, the sky is the limit.

When you’re mediocre, limits are everywhere.

As for best opportunities: Sometimes the best opportunities only reveal themselves later. Make an informed choice and then decide that if the job doesn’t turn out like you hoped that you will do everything possible to make it work. Don’t expect the company or the boss to change – take responsibility for doing your best regardless of the circumstances. Your performance is the only thing you can truly control.

Niaz:  Where and how can one get continuous motivation to do things to reach to the mission of life?

Jeff: Success in business and in life means different things to different people. Success should mean different things. Whether or not you are successful depends on how you define success, and on the tradeoffs you are willing to not just accept but embrace as you pursue that definition of success.

The answer lies in answering one question: How happy am I? That’s it. How successful you are is based solely on the answer to that question.

Tradeoffs are unavoidable. If you’re making tons of money but are still unhappy, you haven’t embraced the fact that incredible business success often carries a heavy personal price. Other things are clearly more important than making money, and that’s okay. If on the other hand you leave every day at 4 o’clock and pursue a rich and varied personal life and you’re still unhappy, you haven’t embraced the fact–and it is a fact–that what you chose to do will not make you wealthy. Personal satisfaction is nice but it’s not enough for you… and that’s okay too.

What motivates you? What do you want to achieve for yourself and your family? What do you value most, spiritually, emotionally, and materially? That’s what will make you happy–and if you aren’t doing it, you won’t be happy.

Defining success is important, but taking a clear-eyed look at the impact of your definition matters even more. As in most things, your intention is important, but the results provide the real answer.

Ask yourself if you’re happy. If you are, you’re successful. The happier you are, the more successful you are.

And if you aren’t happy, it’s time to make some changes.

Niaz:  After interviewing thousands of people for a wide range of positions, what do you think are the most practical ways to pursue excellence in career?

Jeff: Experience is irrelevant. Accomplishments are everything.

You have “10 years in the Web design business.” Whoopee. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing what you do. Years of service indicate nothing; you could be the worst 10-year programmer in the world.

I care about what you’ve done: how many sites you’ve created, how many back-end systems you’ve installed, how many customer-specific applications you’ve developed (and what kind)… all that matters is what you’ve done.

Successful people don’t need to describe themselves using hyperbolic adjectives like passionate, innovative, driven, etc. They can just describe what they’ve done.

Niaz:  ‘Self-branding’ seems to be the buzzword with career coaches today. How do you define ‘Self-branding’?

Jeff: A great personal brand isn’t artificial. It’s authentic. A great personal brand is analogous to a great reputation, which is based on providing exceptional service or doing an exceptional job.

Obviously, that’s often not manifested in popular culture; if you hear “personal brand” and Paris Hilton is the first thing that comes to mind, you might see “personal brand” as a pejorative. But personal branding doesn’t mean duping someone. It doesn’t mean you’re manipulative or self-aggrandizing.

What it means is you are incredibly efficient at getting across to you people who you are and what you stand for.

Niaz:  LinkedIn continues to be a powerhouse in terms of networking professionally, yet many people are using it wrong way. What mistakes are you seeing professionals and job seekers are making?

Jeff: The worst thing you can do is put off making solid connections until the day you need something–customers, employees, a job, or just a better network. If you do, then you’ve waited too long.

Think about where you someday want to be and start now to build the connections, the network, and the following that will support those goals. Building great connections is a parallel, not a serial, task. Later is always too late.

Niaz:  With the evolution of social media and incredibly easy access to web, most of us have multiple social media account. Being present on social media means investing time. And we are investing significant amount of time over social media. What are your ideas to set our social media plans to get best out of it?

Jeff: Don’t just be on social media because you think you should. Social media is just a tool. First figure out what you want to accomplish, then pick the right tools to get you there. If you want to make professional connections, LinkedIn can be a great tool. If you want to find old girlfriends, Facebook is the place. Have a clear idea of what you want to do, then use the right tool… and constantly measure what you’re doing to make sure it’s working – or worth the investment in time.

Niaz:  What are your secrets of your success?

Jeff: I’m not that smart, not that talented, not that gifted… but I can do what other people are not willing to do.

Everyone says they go the extra mile. Almost no one actually does. Most people who go a little farther or longer think, “Wait… no one else is here… why am I doing this?”

That’s why the extra mile is such a lonely place. That’s also why the extra mile is a place filled with opportunities.

Be early. Stay late. Make the extra phone call. Send the extra email. Do the extra research. Help a customer unload or unpack a shipment. Don’t wait to be asked; offer. Don’t just tell employees what to do–show them what to do and work beside them.

Every time you do something, think of one extra thing you can do–especially if other people aren’t doing that one thing.

Sure, it’s hard.

But that’s what will make you different.

And over time, that’s what will make you incredibly successful.

Niaz:  Jeff thank you once again for sharing us your invaluable ideas, knowledge, insights and experiences. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Jeff: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

F. M. Scherer: Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

Editor’s Note: F. M. Scherer is Aetna Professor Emeritus in the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Born in 1932, he received an A.B. degree with honors and distinction from the University of Michigan in 1954; an M.B.A. with high distinction from Harvard University in 1958; and a Ph.D. in business economics from Harvard University in 1963.

From 1974 to 1976, he was chief economist at the Federal Trade Commission. His research specialties are industrial economics and the economics of technological change, leading inter alia to books on Patents: Economics, Policy and Measurement; Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance (third edition with David Ross); New Perspectives on Economic Growth and Technological Innovation; The Economics of Multi-Plant Operation: An International Comparisons Study(with three coauthors); International High-Technology Competition; Competition Policies for an Integrated World Economy; Mergers, Sell-offs, and Economic Efficiency (with David J. Ravenscraft) and Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed F. M. Scherer recently to gain insights about Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: You are an expert in Industrial Economics.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Industrial Economics?

Scherer: “Industrial economics,” the name commonly applied in Europe, is also called “industrial organization” in the United States.   It is primarily concerned with studying the functioning and malfunctioning of real-world markets, using an array of methods – theory, econometrics, and history.  It also has substantial policy implications, for example, encompassing all varieties of regulatory policy and antitrust policy (called in Europe competition policy).

 Niaz: How is industrial economics different from our traditional economics?

Scherer: The main differences are a strong real-world orientation and a focus on individual industries or markets rather than generalized markets or the overall macro economy.

Niaz: As you know, the economy is transforming to a digital economy.  What revolutionary changes have occurred in this era of digital economy?

Scherer: Virtually every era experiences changes that might at the time be viewed as revolutionary.  The digital economy is not really different.  I suspect most readers know the main elements: the enormously increased capacity and reduced cost of digital devices following Moore’s Law; the evolution of much more capacious means of transmitting information from one place to another – notably, optical fiber cables; and the application of information theory to compress more information into a given transmission medium, either cable or over-the-air.  Building upon these fundamental changes are a host of specific applications, ranging from smaller and more powerful computers to smart phones to the use of computers and robots in automation.

Niaz: What are the impacts of industrial economics in our digital economy?

Scherer: The field of industrial economics has evolved to track and understand the economic implications of the changes mentioned earlier.   We’ve done a lot, for example, to measure the economics of learning curves, which are one facet of Moore’s Law.  Perhaps our most important contribution has been a rethinking of the proper framework for, and means of, regulating specific industries, including telecommunications.  Regulatory reform in telecoms helped open the way for optical fiber cable networks and reassignment of the ether’s frequency space to new modes of information transfer.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the future of the digital economy?

Scherer: Economists don’t have a particularly good reputation for predicting the future, try as we may.  It’s quite clear, e.g. from studies by economists such as Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT, that more powerful computer systems are helping to raise industrial productivity, as non-digital innovations have been doing for at least two centuries.  Among other things, computerized systems have improved inventory control and logistics in industries such as retailing.  Wal-Mart has been a prominent example here.  But the phenomenon is not really new.  In the 1960s, for example, Anheuser-Busch applied computer-based operations research to optimize its plant structure and shipping patterns, becoming in the process the nation’s largest and most efficient brewer.  And my own experience as a scholar using computers for quantitative data analysis suggests that the changes have been less than revolutionary.  I was able to analyze some rather large data sets successfully in the 1960s using computers that were by today’s standards primitive, but the analysis went through nevertheless.  Long processing queues meant foregoing instant gratification, but the gratification was all the greater for the waiting.  True, today one can access richer data bases – e.g., data on millions of health care interventions, complete retail product transaction tape records, and the whole historical set of U.S. patent grants – that would have been impossible in 1965.

The digital revolution affects not only industrial productivity, but also diverse consumer activities, including communication patterns and entertainment methods.  Here I’m much less confident about the consequences.  Surveys show prodigious numbers of hours spent in the average week, especially by younger people, on computer games and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many individuals’ use appears from my observation to border on addiction.  (Disclosure: I seek an e-mail fix several times daily.) I suppose people get a lot of pleasure, some narcissistic, from social networking, but I’m much less sure that we are becoming better or more productive human beings as a result.

Education is likely to be affected with special force through the growth of massive open online courses (MOOC).  I’m personally thankful that I’m exiting from teaching just in time, for I know nothing more alienating than talking to an anonymous video camera.

Niaz: There is a tremendous problem of digital divide in under developed, developing, and poor countries.  What are the core challenges for those countries to embrace the blessings of digital economy?

Scherer: Yes, there is such a digital divide, just as there is a less immense digital divide between the United States and nations such as South Korea, Japan and Belgium with faster and more extensive internet connections.  The good news is that cell phone technology is diffusing rapidly into many relatively poor nations, permitting richer intercommunication generally and better information, e.g., on future weather events and market prices, which farmers can use in their planting, harvesting and crop shipping decisions.  From the base that has been established, there will be growth into more advanced generations of digital phone capabilities.  Important to this future progress is the construction of additional cells and high-capacity optical fiber cables to interlink them.  Cheap computers are also becoming available to students in less-developed nations, giving them richer access to the world’s information resources and enhancing their educational progress and, among other things, introducing them to writing software.  These things take time and money.  Both are in short supply, but progress will occur, perhaps faster than I suppose.

Niaz: So what are the new perspectives on economic growth and technological innovation?

Scherer: I suspect the wording of your question implies the identical wording of a short book I published in 1999.  My answer incorporates some of the pessimism I expressed in that book.  The world’s most advanced nations have experienced truly extraordinary technological progress and productivity growth during the past two centuries.  Some nations once viewed as less developed, such as China, are joining in, taking advantage of what has been learned elsewhere to advance at even more rapid rates.  But in the most advanced nations, growth rates have been ebbing, and nations like China and other later developers will experience diminished growth rates once they have extensively installed imitative  capital goods and must then innovate to advance further – a phenomenon called convergence.   The key question is, what can we sustain?  My own view is that environmental constraints, even if not raw resource constraints, will make future growth more difficult than it has been in the past.  But I confess I could be wrong, as other skeptics have been in the past, and indeed, I hope I am wrong.  I also worry about the increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth that has occurred over the past four decades as skill requirements, patterns of international trade, and modes of competition have changed.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book, ‘Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives’?

Scherer: That was a collection of articles, mostly previously published, issued by the MIT Press in 1984.  It pretty well reflected what I had accomplished during the first two decades of my professional career, at least in the field of technological innovation.  Its main emphases were identifying salient characteristics of how innovation occurs and works its magic on the economy, how market structures affect incentives for investing in innovation, and  how innovation shortfalls contributed to the productivity growth rate slump experienced by the United States beginning in the early 1970s and continuing up to the time the book was published.  (Growth did pick up, at least temporarily, in the 1990s.)  These were, I believe, some of my best contributions.

Niaz: What are the new scopes and opportunities of innovation and growth?

Scherer: As I said before, predicting what will happen is difficult.  In the 1984 Innovation and Growth book, I included one 1978 article with my characterization of technologies that were still evolving rapidly.  My list of potential breakthrough areas included molecularly engineered pharmaceuticals, hormonal insecticides, asexual plant reproduction, optical fiber message transmission, and energy from thermonuclear fusion.  Making allowance for developments that emerged in somewhat different forms than I visualized, I was pretty much right on the first four.  I missed badly on the nuclear fusion score, which people had been cultivating intensively beginning in the 1960s and are still pushing without evident success.   Earlier in the list, I also erred seriously in classifying digital computers as “approaching maturity.”  I completely missed the PC revolution!  The big continuing breakthrough areas, as I look to the future, are further developments in human and plant gene sequencing and splicing, among other things revolutionizing some aspects of health care, and of course, continuation of the information revolution.

Niaz: Do you think we have already solved all of our interesting problems with technology and innovation?  If not, what are your suggestions to come up with big ideas and solve big problems?

Scherer: Clearly, we have not solved all the interesting problems.  The previous answer listed two of my breakthrough candidates.  The biggest yet-unsolved problem in my view is learning how to use energy in ways that will allow the world’s huge and increasing population to prosper without precipitating disastrous climate change.   Seeding the atmosphere with sunlight-deflecting substances is one possible solution, but it is unproven and poses significant risks of getting the balance wrong.  How do we come up with the big ideas?   The essential facet in my view is continuing support of first-rate basic scientific research across a wide diversity of fields.  Chairman Mao was right in urging that we allow 100 flowers to bloom, because we can’t accurately pre-select which ones will thrive best.

Niaz: What is the economics of technological change?

Scherer: It’s a sub-specialty in several fields of economics concerned with the issues I have alluded to earlier.  I’ve been working in the area for more than five decades.  In the 1950s and 1960s, there were only a handful of us.  We were the “happy few … the band of brothers” in Henry V’s soliloquy.   Now there are hundreds of us working in the vineyards.

Niaz: My readers will love to know about your new book, ‘Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the 18th and 19th Centuries’.  Can you briefly tell us about it?

Scherer: It unites two dominant interests in my life: classical music and the study of innovation.  It uses among other things a statistical sample to reveal how 646 composers kept body and soul together in pursuing their chosen profession or avocation.  Among other things, it investigates composers’ education, their motives, their employment modes and entrepreneurship, their remarkable geographic mobility, and how they were affected by the spread of music publication and the emergence of copyright law.

Niaz: Last but not least, can you please leave us some points, ideas and advice to build a strong economy in this era of digitalization?

Scherer: You left the hardest question until last.  Education is of course critical.  We’ve come a long way, but there is very much more to be done, especially in the less affluent nations.  And even in the United States, our results leave lots of room for improvement. Among things, we need to provide higher status and pay for primary and secondary school teachers.  For economic strength, we also must reverse the increasing inequality of income distribution.  If the majority of our citizens don’t share the gains from our economic growth, it will be difficult to sustain continuing advances in broad-based consumption technologies.  And discontent is likely to manifest itself politically in ways that could destabilize the economy.   And finally, we need to avert disasters such as rising sea levels and adverse crop-growing conditions likely to be associated with global warming and to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle.  I grew up under the ominous shadow of nuclear disaster.  We had some frightfully close calls.  We’ve been fortunate thus far to avoid that fate, but the danger continues, and we need to keep it in check.

Niaz: Dear Scherer, I am thanking so much for finding time, sharing invaluable ideas and educating us with impressive thoughts in the midst of your busy schedule. I am wishing you very good luck for your good health as well as for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Scherer: I am happy to contribute.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Robert Stavins: Environmental Economics

Editor’s Note: Robert Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Program in Public Policy and the Doctoral Program in Political Economy and Government, and Co-Chair of the  Harvard Business School-Kennedy School Joint Degree Programs, and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

To read his full bio, please visit here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Robert Stavins recently to gain insights about Environmental Economics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Robert, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are so honored to have you at eTalks.

R. Stavins: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are one of the most influential voices in environmental economics and the field of environmental economics is more important than ever.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about environmental economics?

R. Stavins: In a market economy – the form of economic system that is now found in nearly all countries of the world – the cause of environmental problems are fundamentally economic, namely the fact that environmental pollution is an externality, a negative, unintended consequence of economic activity, whether carried out by individuals or firms.  In addition, the consequences of environmental problems have important economic dimensions.  For these two reasons, economics and economic analysis provide an exceptionally useful lens through which to examine environmental problems, so that they are fully understood, and so that as a result public policies can be designed which are environmentally effective, economically sensible, and therefore more likely to be politically pragmatic.

Over the past two decades, environmental economics has evolved from what was once a relatively obscure application of welfare economics to a prominent field of economics in its own right.  The number of articles on the natural environment appearing in mainstream economics periodicals has continued to increase, as has the number of economics journals dedicated exclusively to environmental and resource topics.  Likewise, the influence of environmental economics on public policy has increased significantly, particularly as greater use has been made of market-based instruments for environmental protection.

Niaz: Do you think environmental economics is conflicting with capitalism or market economy? Why or why not?

R. Stavins: At first blush, many people think of the phrase “environmental economics” as oxymoronic – an internal contradiction – since it’s either the economy or the environment.  Although there are typically trade-offs between environmental protection and narrowly-defined economic well-being (i.e., financial well-being), for the reasons I stated above, environmental economics is not an internal contradiction, but rather an effective discipline with which to study the performance of proposed and implemented environmental policies.

Niaz: What are the distinctive perspectives of environmental economics that make it the next big thing for entrepreneurs, innovators, economists as well as researchers?

R. Stavins: Given the threat of global climate change, which will bring seriously economic damages when it occurs and which will require significant economic sacrifices to mitigate, an environmental economic perspective is increasingly important for a broad range of sectors in private industry.

Niaz: Dear Robert thanks again for finding time in the midst of your busy schedule.

R. Stavins: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Daniel Pink: To Sell is Human

Editor’s Note: Daniel Pink is the author of five provocative books– including the long-running New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mindand Drive.His latest book, To Sell is Human, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller, a #1 Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and a #1 Washington Post nonfiction bestseller. Dan’s books have been translated into 34 languages. His articles on business and technology appear in many publications, including the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired, and The Sunday Telegraph (See a sample of articles here).

His TED Talk ‘The puzzle of motivation‘ has almost 6 millions views and RSA Animate Talk ‘The surprising truth about what motivates us‘ has more than 10 millions views. Dan has provided analysis of business trends on CNN, CNBC, ABC, NPR, and other networks in the U.S. and abroad. And he lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the new workplace.

In 2011, Thinkers50 ranked him one of the 50 most influential business thinkers in the world. To read his full bio, please click here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Daniel Pink recently to gain insights about Conceptual Age, To Sell is Human, Art and Design which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Dan, thank you so much for joining us. We are very honored to have you at eTalks.

Dan Pink: My pleasure.

Niaz: As you know, we have been living through the agricultural, industrial, and information ages. According to you, we are now living in a conceptual age. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about ‘Conceptual Age’?

Dan Pink: We are leaving the Information Age — an economy and a society built on logical, linear, computer-like capabilities — and entering an economy and a society build on inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities — the Conceptual Age. The defining skills of the Information Age — what I call “left brain” capabilities — are still necessary, but to them we need to add “right brain” aptitudes and qualities. In A WHOLE NEW MIND, I identify six essential aptitudes for the new age: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.

Niaz: You say, in today’s world, we are all sales people. Your most recent book ‘To Sell is Human’ has become New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s and Washington Posts’ Best Seller. We must comprehend now, whoever we are, whatever we do and wherever we belong, we do sell. Why do you believe ‘To sell is Human’?

To Sell Is Humna

Dan Pink: Like it or not, we’re all in sales now — whether we have sales in our job title or not. But sales isn’t what it used to be. We’ve moved from a world of information asymmetry (sellers have lots more information than buyers) to one of information parity (sellers and buyers are more evenly matched). And that has nudged us from a world of “buyer beware” to one of “seller beware.” Selling effectively — whether it’s your idea or your product or yourself– in a world of seller beware depends on three key qualities: Attunement (taking another’s perspective); Buoyancy (staying afloat in an ocean of rejection); and Clarity (moving from accessing information to curating it and from solving existing problems to identifying new problems.) I talk about these qualities keeping in mind the skills you need to become more effective at selling, but in the end I hope that what this book shows is that selling is more important, more urgent, and more beautiful than we realize. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are.

Niaz: You’ve said that abundance changes the way we see material goods. We no longer just want to have things; we want cool things. We want well-designed things. We want things with a meaning. On the other hand, you’ve also said that the new master of business administration is the master of fine arts. Why do you think art and design are the next big things?

Dan Pink: We live in a world of such abundance and prosperity that, for businesses, it’s no longer enough to make a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful. Design – the marriage of utility and significance – has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success in the Conceptual Age.

Niaz: As you know, so many of us now want to contribute amazing things to make this world a better place. We also see people want to change the world to make it a bit more special. In reality, it is so tough to change the world. But having a wish to change the world is really appreciating and great. Can you please tell us about the top most problems of this planet which has to be considered greatly to make this world a better place?

Dan Pink: The general story of humankind is a slow (and often unsteady) march toward progress. If you look back from today, things are much better for most people than they were 100 years ago, let alone 500 years ago. That’s not to say we don’t have contemporary challenges. Here in the U.S., I’d put two issues at the top:

1. Our economy is increasingly leaving a slice of our population behind, marooning them without meaningful work or a sense of hope;

2. Our government, particularly at the federal level, is close to dysfunctional.

On a world level, I’d put at the top of the list two more issues:

1. Global warming and the fact that we’re not fully ready for its consequences;

2. The fact that while you and I are conversing via email, more than a billion people still live in poverty.

In general, though, I’m optimistic that we’ll slowly resolve these challenges — because, as I said earlier, that’s been the trajectory over time.

Niaz: Dan, thanks again for giving us time in the midst of your busy schedule and sharing us your invaluable ideas.

Dan Pink: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Philip Delves Broughton on What they teach you at Harvard?

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

danah boyd: Future of Technology and Social Media

Editor’s Note: danah boyd is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School, a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales.

To read her full bio, please click here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed danah boyd recently to gain her ideas and insights on Future of Technology and Social Media which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Danah, thank you so much for giving us some time in the midst of your busy schedule.

Danah: You’re welcome Niaz.

Niaz: As you know, we have already passed two decades of Internet bubble burst. By this time, we have got Google, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and some other great companies. At the same time, our economy is transforming into digital economy. What are the revolutionary changes going to be occurred in the upcoming decades?

Danah: Decades? I think that the most interesting technological transformations are going to come from bioinformatics and the health sector.  I think that we’re at the earliest stage of this process, but I’m looking forward to see where it goes.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of Internet and social media?

Danah: In terms of social media, I think we’re in a lull of innovation.  This always happens when too many people are focused on a particular arena.  The focus is on perfecting, consolidating, and small iterations. I don’t think it’s possible to say what’s coming around the corner that’s a true breakthrough.  If I knew, I’d be helping build it. <grin>

Niaz: How do you define ‘Big Data’? What does excite you most about ‘Big Data’?

Danah: If you haven’t read this, you should  read ‘Critical Questions for Big Data‘.

Kate and I define “Big Data” as a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon that rests on the interplay of technology, analysis, and mythology.  The latter is the most important here.  As a phenomenon, “Big Data” has nothing to do with bigness, but everything to do with the belief that lots of data and math can solve all of the world’s problems.

I’m excited to see more people engaging with math and data, but I think it’s critical that folks never forget that interpretation requires more than math.  It’s in the interpretation that knowledge – and biases – lie.

Niaz: Thanks again for joining us. We hope to get you again for a detailed interview.

Danah: You are welcome. Sure, we will sit another time.

Ending Note: danah boyd is currently very busy with her on going projects and research works. She got a little time to talk to us.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

9. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

Stephen Walt: Global Development

Editor’s Note: Stephen Walt is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. He has been a Resident Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution, and he has also served as a consultant for the Institute of Defense Analyses, the Center for Naval Analyses, and the National Defense University.

Professor Walt is the author of The Origins of Alliances (1987), which received the 1988 Edgar S. Furniss National Security Book Award. He is also the author of Revolution and War (1996), Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (2005), and, with co-author J.J. Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby (2007).

You can read his full bio from herehere and here. For reading his blog on international relation, foreign policy and global affairs please click here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Stephen Walt recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Global Development which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Stephen, thank you so much for joining us. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Stephen: My pleasure.

Niaz: You are a realist in an ideological age. You have been a leader in the field of International Affairs. You have done a significant amount of research and added gigantic amount of knowledge in this field.

As you know, by this time, we have developed superb technologies, published millions of great books and developed a lot as human beings. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us, how far have we progressed?

Stephen: From one perspective, human progress is remarkable. In the past 500 years, we have identified many of the basic laws of the physical universe, discovered the principles of evolution and genetic inheritance, eliminated many diseases, and lifted millions of people out of poverty.  And along the way humans have created a vast and diverse array of music, literature, and art. Yet these same creative impulses have also been used to create powerful technologies of destruction and various harmful ideologies. Human progress remains a decidedly uneven phenomenon.

Niaz: What are the lacking, scope and opportunity to progress?

Stephen: By developing language, humans became able to record and communicate their discoveries and to work together to create new realities and possibilities. That capacity remains the greatest source of human potential: our collective ability to work together to achieve common ends.

Niaz: Despite all of the progresses we have, why countries keep fighting each other?

Stephen: At the most basic level, conflict between nations arises from a combination of fear, greed, and stupidity. Humans are social beings, and we are hard-wired to establish group identities and loyalties. Once formed, social groups tend to worry about what other groups may do to them, and this basic insecurity drives competition that sometimes leads to war. That’s fear.  States also fight because individual leaders have dreams of glory, or because they seek wealth through conquest and plunder. That’s greed. And finally, wars occur because leaders are fallible; they often misperceive or miscalculate. In particular, they convince themselves that victory will be swift and easy and then discover too late they were mistaken. That’s stupidity. Unfortunately, humankind remains all too prone to all three tendencies.

Niaz: Why do countries fail to build and sustain international relations? Can you please explain us the reasons? 

Stephen: In fact, countries form all sorts of valuable international connections. Global trade and investment has grown steadily, allowing millions to live more comfortably. Previously war-torn regions such as Europe have now known decades of peace. Information now flows all around the world at very low cost. Global institutions like the World Trade Organization or the United Nations have not eliminated global conflict, but they have helped keep international rivalries within bounds.

Yet there are still limits to what global institutions can accomplish. In particular, they cannot keep the most powerful countries from acting as they wish and from competing with each other for advantage. Nor can prevent some individuals and groups from using violence to advance their own political agendas.

Niaz: What do you think about the core problems of building sustainable international relations?

Stephen: I believe the core problem for the next century will be managing the development and rising power of Asia, and grappling with the political and social effects of environmental change. These two challenges will make many of our current concerns seem trivial by comparison.

Niaz: How can countries overcome those challenges?

Stephen: I believe the key to more effective global cooperation lies primarily in encouraging more honest and open global discourse. When countries are guided by myths, self-serving national narratives, and inaccurate information about political and natural phenomena, then clashes and errors are inevitable. By contrast, when humans are able to confront shared problems honestly and openly, they can identify where they disagree and are more likely to develop solutions that work. But it is still a fragile process.

Niaz: Is there any net gain from wars?

Stephen: In some cases, yes. States are sometimes able to improve their position via warfare, or at least can prevent others from gaining an advantage. But “rolling the iron dice of war” is always risky, because no one can be 100 percent sure how things will turn out. For example, it was clear in 2002 that the United States would not have much trouble defeating Saddam Hussein’s army, but the occupation of Iraq quickly turned into a costly quagmire and the final result is far from what the Bush administration intended. Because warfare is always an uncertain enterprise, wise leaders will go to war only when forced to fight.

Niaz: Can you imagine a world without any war? If yes! How can we build that world?

Stephen: I can. For one thing, as my Harvard colleague Steven Pinker has recently shown, the overall level of human violence has been declining fairly steadily for quite some time. Furthermore, I believe nuclear weapons are a powerful deterrent to great power wars, and it is these sorts of wars that cause the greatest human suffering. Lastly, I believe that our species has the capacity to learn, and this capacity can help us avoid some of the circumstances that have fueled war in the past. But none of these measures makes war impossible, which is why we need to remain vigilant against its occurrence.

Niaz: What are the responsibilities of developed countries to restrain them from war?  

Stephen: Because developed countries have the most military capability, they have the responsibility of not using it to oppress others. Sometimes developed countries can use force to deter or halt aggression, which is a good thing. But other times they use their superior power to coerce others, or they wage low-level conflicts that kill innocent people to no good purpose.

Niaz: As a global citizen what are our responsibilities for stop killing each others?

Stephen: I think the first step is for global citizens to try to inform themselves about events, and not to trust just what their own governments and media are telling them. A second step is to develop empathy, by trying to imagine how international problems look to others. We don’t have to agree with those whose interests may be different, but we should try to figure out how they see things, and why.  

Niaz: As you know, there are millions of NGOs and social organizations who work for removing poverty, protecting our environment and so on. But what happens in reality? Business Organizations do the harm. Chinese version of capitalism doesn’t work. Governments are corrupted. And NGOs form for doing good. NGOs keep taking donations from business organizations to survive. Overall, this is a strong circle which continues for hundreds of years. Where do our core problems reside actually?

Stephen: I think we need to be very careful here. There are many NGOs and business organizations who do wonderful work in a number of areas. At the same time, there are other organizations whose activities are actively harmful. What we need most is greater transparency: the more we know about what different organizations are actually doing, and the more we know about who is paying for these activities, the easier it is to judge whether they are a positive or negative force.

Niaz: Do you think we can remover poverty by these poverty removal activities?  Why or Why not?

Stephen: Yes, but the record here is mixed. On the plus side, economic development in countries like China and India have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and similar miracles have occurred in a few other places. But on the negative side, the gap between the richest countries and the poorest has actually grown over the past 100 years. When you combine this level of inequality with global communications you have a recipe for trouble, because people in the poorest countries or the poorest sectors can see how the wealthy people are living.

Niaz: What are your ideas to remove poverty and to make life better to contribute in this mother earth for making it a better place?

Stephen: I’m not an expert on economic development, but I think there are several obvious answers here. First, the only way to eliminate poverty is to increase productivity. Second, increasing productivity requires increasing educational levels, and bringing women into the work force in large numbers. It also rests on eliminating barriers to investment and trade, while at the same time creating a legal and regulatory environment that discourages corruption and prevents excessive concentrations of political power in the hands of the wealthy. But none of this is easy or automatic, and when you add it all up, you can see why sustained economic growth is so difficult to achieve.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Stephen: Only this: it is tempting to look for radical solutions, in the belief that some bold stroke will suddenly solve all our problems.   But I think history shows that grand schemes that are supposed to produce some magical solution rarely work, and often cause great misery. Human progress is due to more to patient, steady, trial-and-error efforts, and not from idealistic visions.

Niaz: Dear Stephen thanks again for your invaluable time. We are really enlightened with your ideas, knowledge and experience. We wish you good luck for all of our endeavors. Take very good care of yourself.

Stephen: You are welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Philip Kotler: Marketing for Better World

Editor’s Note: Professor Dr. Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He has been honored as one of the world’s Leading Marketing Thinkers. He received his Master’s Degree at the University of Chicago and his PhD Degree at MIT, both in Economics. He did post-doctoral work in Mathematics at Harvard University and in Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago.

Professor Kotler is the author of several bestselling books including Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control. It is the most widely used marketing book in graduate business schools worldwide. He has published over one hundred articles in leading journals, several of which have received best-article awards.

He has been a consultant to IBM, General Electric, Sony, AT&T, Bank of America, Merck, Motorola, Ford, and others. The Financial Times included him in its list of the top 10 Business Thinkers.

You can read his full bio from here, here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Philip Kotler recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of marketing and creating better world.

Niaz: Dear Kotler, thank you so much for joining us. We are delighted and honored to have you at eTalks.

Philip Kotler:  Niaz, thank you for having me.

Niaz: You are an economist trained at the University of Chicago (M.A.) and MIT (Ph.D.). Three of your Professors were Nobel Prize Economists – Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, and Robert Solow. But you have been cited as the world’s foremost expert on the Strategic Practice of Marketing. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and why marketing became such a big factor in your life?

Philip Kotler:  Throughout my study of economic theory, I was bothered by the absence of discussions of distribution institutions (wholesalers, retailers, agents, jobbers, etc.) and promotional tools (advertising, sales promotion, and salesforce).  It seemed to me that the level of market demand and individual company demand are heavily influenced by these institutions and activities as well as price (which absorbed the most attention of economists).  When I was offered a position to teach either economics or marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, I chose to teach marketing so that I could show that it was a branch of economic science.

I moved into the question of what influences the level, composition and timing of customer demand and what are the determinants of individual demand.  Classic economics assumes a world of rational buyers and rational producers.  I always felt that this grossly oversimplified the understanding of customer behavior and producer behavior.  The recent growth of interest in behavioral economics in contrast to classical economics is bringing many missing institutions and activities into economic focus.

Niaz: So how do you define Marketing?

Philip Kotler: The shortest definition of marketing is “Finding needs and filling them profitably.”  However, I would rather cite the American Marketing Association’s definition that says “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for consumers, clients, partners, and society at large.”  (American Marketing Association, 2008)

Niaz: In this hyper competitive era, what do you think about the Position of Marketing in Total Business Operation? How can marketing change the entire game plan?

Philip Kotler:  In spite of the fact that marketing is now headed by a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) who presumably participates in the company’s strategy development, I find in many companies that the CMO is not invited or expected to be an active participant in strategy development.  It’s as if senior management wants the CMO to continue managing the marketing work without interfering with long range strategic planning.

The irony is that the CMO is the person in the company who is closest to the changing marketplace and is in the best position to spot new opportunities for the company.  Because the CMO is probably going to have a left brand (analytical) and a right brain (creative), CMOs are more likely to work as game changers during the planning process.  We expect CMOs to have a very deep understanding of customers, competitors, distributors, and suppliers.

If I ran a company, I would want my Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to be modeled on Steve Jobs and come up with big, new ideas and also be modeled on Bill Gates with a deep grasp of business analytics.

Niaz: Your Marketing Management book is in its 14th edition and is used in most MBA Marketing courses worldwide. A certified classic, the book has ranked among the Top 200 Titles on Amazon.com and been named among the 50 Best Business Books of All Time by Financial Times. You published the first edition of this book around 46 years ago. So what are the revolutionary changes has occurred by this time in our society?

Philip Kotler: During this period, I have witnessed a lot of changes in the marketplace and I have managed to portray them in each new edition of Marketing Management, now in the 14th edition.  My editions helped emphasize the need to adopt a customer orientation; to precede the 4Ps with segmentation, targeting and positioning (STP); to move into higher mathematics and better marketing metrics to show accountability; to emphasize the social responsibilities of marketing; to broaden marketing to cover the marketing of places, people, and ideas; to recognize the importance of relationship marketing over transaction marketing; and to recognize the revolutionary power of digital and social marketing.  My next edition will enlarge on some new trends such as co-creation, crowdsourcing, sustainability, dynamic pricing, digital marketing, marketing automation, and growth strategies.

Niaz: What are the biggest shifts you see happening among consumer attitudes and behaviors right now and how is technology influencing this?

Philip Kotler:  Consumers are worried about the future and their ability to keep their job and hopefully earn a good and growing income.  They see the high level of unemployment in the U.S. and Europe and see a growing number of industries – music, publishing, movies, retail book stores – being disrupted by online and digital marketing.  This leads consumers to save more and spend less which only increases the loss of jobs.  And companies see only two ways to compete, either by presenting a lower price to reach the mass market (Wal-Mart) or by presenting a higher price to reach the affluent (Gucci).  The middle is gone.

Niaz: How are those shifts affecting Marketing?

Philip Kotler:  The big problem facing companies today is how to grow in a low growth market. My answer is that marketers face more opportunities and hidden pockets of growth than they normally recognize.  I just published Market Your Way to Growth: Eight Ways to Win. There are eight chapters and each examines a specific pathway to growth.  I worry that companies get stuck in one strategy that is now showing diminishing returns and fail to shift in time to any of the other seven pathways to growth.

Niaz: What kind of impact are the Internet, Social Media and other Advances in Communications Technology having on marketing?

Philip Kotler:  The Internet is having an impact today that is comparable to what the world felt when Gutenberg introduced the idea of printing.  The Internet, social media and new communication technologies are major game changers in marketing.  No longer does the company own its brand by having a monopoly on communications about their brands.  It is the consumers and their peer-to-peer talk that is shaping our images of brands and what to buy and how much to pay.  Furthermore, no company can afford to deceive customers without being quickly exposed on the Internet.

Niaz: Are the ‘four Ps’ still a useful framework?

Philip Kotler:  Yes.  Please appreciate that the 4Ps are the basis of a marketing plan.  Any respectable marketing plan must discuss the company’s decisions on Product, Price, Place and Promotion. If the company wants to add some other things, they are either already implied in the four Ps or could be added.  For example, services are part of the product, and sales force is part of promotion.  Packaging is part of the product.  Recently Professor Jagdish Sheth introduced the four A’s – Availability, Affordability, Acceptability, and Awareness – but I see the 4As not as a competitor but a useful complement that precedes the setting of the 4Ps. The 4As identify the consumer conditions that should be satisfied and it is the job of the 4Ps to follow upon the 4As.

Niaz: What do you see the role of technology being in the new marketing mix?

Philip Kotler:  New technologies affect all of the 4Ps. The advent of 3D Printing will help entrepreneurs design new products cheaper and faster.  The development of software to do dynamic pricing will allow airlines to change the price of seats depending on the number of seats already sold. The development of new distribution channels such as online selling and eBay are increasing the ease of transacting.  The development of social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are changing our tools for promotion.

Niaz: Well known marketers like Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, believe that “traditional advertising is dead.” Is he correct or misled, and why?

Philip Kotler:  This statement makes a good headline but it is inaccurate.  Traditional advertising will continue in its role as brand builder but it will have to do it with a lower budget.  Some percentage of every advertising budget will have to move into digital and social media marketing.  Right now this may be 5 percent, then 10 percent, and conceivably in five or more years 50 percent.  The more correct statement of Yvon Chouinard would be that traditional advertising will increasingly partner with digital marketing, one supporting the other in a synergistic way.

I will add one more thought about advertising.  What is most important in advertising is copy, not media.  The best media won’t make up for poor copy.  I don’t think advertising agencies come up with exceptional campaigns.  Of the last 10 campaigns that you saw, you are unlikely to be impressed with more than one.  Most campaigns simply lack originality and punch.  I prefer to hire three advertising agencies and pay them for three campaign ideas for the same product and then choose the best campaign idea and hire a separate media agency to develop the best media mix to carry the best of the three campaign ideas to the target audience.

Niaz: Let’s look at marketing in the future. What changes are going to occur within in next couple of decades?

Philip Kotler:  Here are four changes out of many:

1. Companies will increasingly invite customers to co-create products with the company.

2. Companies will increasingly resort to crowdsourcing to get ideas for new products, new advertising campaigns, and new sales promotion ideas.

3. Companies will increasingly move to marketing automation where they use artificial intelligence to carry out marketing activities that were formerly done by skilled marketers.

4. Companies will increasingly learn how to produce “lovemarks” with their customers and employees.

Niaz: What are the points that a CMO must remember now before setting marketing plan?

Philip Kotler:  The first need is to get each marketing planner to carefully define the target audience and deeply understand their needs and desires and the main triggers to purchase.  The aim should be to discover something new about that target audience, some new insight into their psyche that will cause them to want to take the offer.

Niaz: As you know Disruptive Innovation sometimes makes Customer Driven Company obsolete. In addition to giving most priority to customers, companies now need to focus on some other important factors like changing technological trend, innovation, market shifts and so on. Now, what are your suggestions for companies to set marketing plans in order to save their companies from getting obsolete for Disruptive Innovation?

Philip Kotler:  Every company and industry is in danger of disruption.  The choice facing a company is whether to be disrupted or be the disrupter.  I would advise a company to run a meeting ever so often to consider everything that might disrupt the company, whether it is a new technology, a shift in consumer tastes or their pocketbook, etc.

Each possible disruption needs to be assessed for its severity and its probability of happening.  A serious probable disruption poses the following choice.  Either sell the business now before it loses its value due to the imminent disruption, or invest in the disruption to replace your business and become the disrupter.

Niaz: How can marketing help Startups to survive in front of giant competitors like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple?

Philip Kotler:  Many entrepreneurs precisely try to take a bite out of a giant competitor.  Right now, several companies are trying to hit Google by setting up a more focused search system.   Their aim is not to slay Google so much as ironically to sell out to Google.  Giant companies are well prepared to buy up any company that carries a disruptive potential and either bury it on the shelf or expand it into another business opportunity.

Niaz: What are the secrets of revolutionary marketing?

Philip Kotler:  I don’t use the term revolutionary marketing.  You might mean Guerrilla Marketing whereby a small company attacks a giant firm on a hit and miss basis.  Or do you mean a company that will create a paradigm change?  For example, Tom’s shoes has proven that online selling of shoes works.  Tom’s offers to send three different sizes of the same shoe, expecting the customer to buy the best fit and return the other two pairs.  In addition, Tom says that it will give a free pair of shoes to a poor person for every pair sold to a customer.  This principle is now adopted by a new eye glass company that will send several glass frames by mail from which the customer makes a choice, and in addition the company will supply a free pair of glasses to a poor person who can’t afford to pay.

Niaz: One of your recent books is Chaotics. Can you please give us a brief of ‘Chaotics’?

Philip Kotler:  John Caslione and I wrote Chaotics right after the financial crash that took place in 2007 to caution companies against making the wrong responses to the crisis.  Most companies wanted to cut their costs and lower their prices.  This is not always the most appropriate response in chaotic, turbulent times.  Some companies should actually increase their marketing spend and take advantage of the crisis.  Consider that some competitors are weakened more than your company and this is the time to attack, not withdraw.  This is the time to build your market share which in normal times cannot be moved a few points.  We discuss the appropriate decisions that companies in different situations need to make in their marketing, production, finance and other functions to take advantage of the turbulence.

Niaz: You have published the seminal article in 1971 coining the term “Social Marketing” in its original use. Can you please tell us about ‘Social Marketing’?

Philip Kotler:  Forty two years ago, Gerald Zaltman and I published “Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change” in the Journal of Marketing.  We felt that marketing science can apply to more than the marketing of goods and services.  Marketing can help in designing and promoting solutions to social problems, such as smoking, hard drugs, poverty, hunger, and others.  Marketing always starts with a customer analysis of the barriers and benefits that influence customer behavior. In the case of tobacco use, we need to distinguish the different segments of smokers and prepare a different 4P marketing campaign to help facilitate the decision to stop smoking.  We could have named this “cause marketing” but we chose to name it “social marketing” to imply that marketing has a social side, not just a commercial side.  Today there are thousands of social marketers trained in the basics of marketing and applying marketing to alleviate problems of poverty, hunger, poor nutrition, education, and health.  Recently the third World Social Marketing conference was held in Toronto, Canada with 600 attendees.

Niaz: You are the first recipient of the American Marketing Association Foundation’s “Marketing for a Better World” Award. Can you please tell us how can marketing be used to make this world a better place?

Philip Kotler:  We can create a better world through marketing in several ways.  Commercially, we can improve our products and services and find ways to lower their prices and costs.  Socially, we can work on specific social problems and reduce their severity through the application of social marketing.  Societally, we can assist companies in defining the areas where they can make charitable contributions and work with others to improve the quality of life.

Niaz: Is there a personal influence or anecdote from your own life that you can share regarding the attention you’ve given to solving social problems?

Philip Kotler:  When HIV/AIDs broke out as a major disease and took the lives of so many young adults, I developed a strategy for influencing young adults to avoid situations where they could contract AIDS.  It was important to avoid these situations and also get early testing if they might have contracted the disease.  I worked with the YMCA and other organizations to help them develop campaigns.  I didn’t think that straight education campaigns on the dangers of AIDS would be enough to demotivate certain behaviors.  Happily, modern medicines began to appear to help AIDS victims lead a longer life.

Niaz: Why do you think marketing is a great tool to change the world?

Philip Kotler:  Marketing’s starting point is with consumer well-being. Marketing is about the maximization of consumer well-being.  It also takes into account the well-being of employees, distributors,   suppliers, investors and other stakeholders. 

Niaz: How does Marketing can help us profoundly to change the world to make it a better place to live?

Philip Kotler:  There are at least three types of marketing that will contribute greatly to making the world a better place to live. 

1. Commercial marketing, in assisting companies to make better products and services for the poor, the middle class, and the affluent.

2. Social marketing, in assisting governments, nonprofit organizations and “caring” companies to influence more salutary behaviors such as better nutrition, regular exercise, desisting from smoking or using hard drugs, being environmental, etc.

3. Place marketing, in assisting cities, regions and nations to attract tourists and visitors and new residents and factories and retail chains so that life can be improved for all in those places.

Niaz: Thanks you so much for your invaluable time. All the best wishes for your good health and impressive works. We are grateful to have you at eTalks. Your ideas, knowledge and expertise are worth spreading. Thank you once again.

Philip Kotler:  You are welcome Niaz. I must compliment you on raising very good questions.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

2. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

3. Stephen Walt on Global Development

4. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

5. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

6. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Rita McGrath: Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

Editor’s Note: Rita Gunther McGrath, a Professor at Columbia Business School, is a globally recognized expert on strategy in uncertain and volatile environments. She is an author of three books: The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Marketbusters and Discovery-Driven Growth. She is about to publish her new book: The End of Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Review Press). In addition, she has been a regular contributor at Harvard Business Review. Her thinking is highly regarded by readers and clients who include Pearson, Coca-Cola Enterprises, General Electric, Alliance Boots, and the World Economic Forum. She is a popular instructor, a sought-after speaker, and a consultant to senior leadership teams. She was recognized as one of the top 20 management thinkers by global management award Thinkers50 in 2011.

She’s also been recognized as one of the top ten business school professors to follow on Twitter. In 2009, she was inducted as a Fellow of the Strategic Management Society; an honor accorded those who have had a significant impact on the field. In 2013 she will serve as Dean of the Fellows.  You can read her full bio from here. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Read her regular write ups at Harvard Business Review Posts.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Rita McGrath recently to gain her ideas and insights on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Rita, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Rita McGrath: It’s a pleasure.

Niaz: You are globally recognized expert on Strategy in uncertain and volatile environment.  Can you please tell us about the term ‘Strategy’? Why is strategy so much important?

Rita McGrath: Strategy is fundamentally about making choices.  Choices, of course, about what to do but equally importantly about what not to do.  I think of strategy as a central, integrated concept of how we’re going to achieve our objectives.  In a business sense, it’s what customers we seek to serve, what we’re going to do for them that is better than other options they have, and how we differentiate our offerings.

Niaz: How to differentiate between ‘Personal Strategy to live everyday life’ and ‘Business Strategy to Run Google’?

Rita McGrath: Personal strategy obviously involves your own choices about how you are going to spend your time, invest your resources and plan for your future.  A business strategy is different in that it involves persuading many more people to support you and take actions that are consistent with your vision for the future.

Niaz: How can we integrate personal and business strategy to ensure that both personal life and professional life are going smooth and exciting?

Rita McGrath: I think you need to allocate personal time to different activities and then let the best uses of your time in each case “win”.  I don’t think you always have personal and professional life in perfect balance – but you can try to get them to work together.  I like to use the metaphor of a gyroscope – never falls over but adjusts to its environment.

Niaz: You have written an article at Harvard Business Review Blog ‘The world is more complex than it used to be’. How the world is more complex than it used to be? And why?

Rita McGrath: As I say in the article, it’s because things are more connected and interdependent than they have historically been.  That means that you can have interactions that are unpredictable, so that you can’t predict the outcome by knowing the initial conditions.  The net and advanced communications technologies have made many more connections than used to be possible.

Niaz: In your book ‘The Entrepreneurial Mindset’, you have said, ‘We have to have Entrepreneurial Mindset to succeed in unpredictable world’. Why do you think entrepreneurial mindset can help us to succeed in unpredictable world?

Rita McGrath: Because in a world of temporary advantage, you need to innovate to create a pipeline of new advantages even as old ones fades away.  That requires thinking like an entrepreneur at all times.

Niaz: How can we stop acting by the old rules and start thinking with the discipline of habitual entrepreneurs?

Rita McGrath: Adopt what I call the “new playbook” for strategy – stop thinking in terms of sustainable advantage and start considering what strategy looks like when advantages are temporary.  For instance, get away from industry analysis and realize that you are competing in arenas.  And that your most significant competition may come from other industries, not within your own.

Niaz: As you know we love to talk about ideas, spreading ideas and getting inspired by ideas. But at the end of the day, Business Models are very important to implement and survive with those ideas. Can you please tell us about Business Model and its importance?

Rita McGrath: Well, an idea without a business model behind it is simply entertainment, in my view.  A business model describes what you are going to sell, to whom you are going to sell it and how you are going to get paid for it.  If you don’t have that, you don’t really have a business.

Niaz: In this world of full of uncertainties how to make great and sustainable Business Model?

Rita McGrath: I think it’s going to have more to do with networks and longstanding ties than with product or service innovation.  It will also have to do with the customer experience – that’s much harder to copy than a technical innovation.

Niaz: What should be the strategy of startup companies those who are getting all giant companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon as competitors?

Rita McGrath: Find a customer niche that really wants what only you can provide and service them with well designed offerings that create a complete experience.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your best selling HBR article ‘Discovery Driving Planning’?

Rita McGrath: Discovery Driven Planning was developed to create a disciplined way of planning for new ventures, when you don’t have a lot of information.  It emphasizes learning and incorporating new information into your plan when you hit key checkpoints in the development of your venture.  It provides a discipline, but one that is suitable for uncertain environments.

Niaz: Why do we need ‘Discovery Driving Planning’?

Rita McGrath: Because conventional plans don’t work without a great deal of information that you simply don’t have with a new venture.  It’s a recipe for developing big, expensive  flops, like the Iridium project or the recent bankrupt casino in Atlantic City.

Niaz: In your books ‘Market Busters’, you cited, ‘Companies must grow to survive’. Can you please tell us how to identify specific types of growth opportunities?

Rita McGrath: In marketbusters, we look at 5 lenses to find new growth opportunities.  First is the lens of the customer experience – how can you make that better.  Then, are there ways to reconfigure products and services to better match customers’ desires. Next, could you develop a new business model?  Or anticipate and take advantage of shifts in your entire industry?  Or finally discover entirely new market spaces where you could compete.  We find that any one or more of these can help to identify opportunities.

Niaz: You have said, ‘For Growth, New Ideas Aren’t Enough’. So what do we need in addition to ideas for growth? 

Rita McGrath: A systematic innovation process, with a governance process, a funding process and concrete ways for ideas to get transformed into businesses.

Niaz: By this time we have created much knowledge, generated many ideas, innovated important tools and gained efficient and effective productivity. In such an exciting time, we see companies to fail to grow. Why so many good companies fail at growth?

Rita McGrath: Because they are trapped in old ways of thinking.  Many try to exploit old businesses, even though that isn’t where their future lies.

Niaz: Could you explain the principal steps that a company needs to go through to create a growth framework?

Rita McGrath: Sure. These are the steps-

  1. Identify the growth gap
  2. Obtain senior level support and resource commitment
  3. Set up an innovation governance process
  4. Build a system to deliver the key steps – ideation, incubation, launch, acceleration – of a successful  venturing program
  5. Create the supporting processes for innovation

I go into this in more detail in my new book – I can send you a copy if you’d like.

Niaz: I would really love to get a copy. Rita, Thank you so much for giving us your invaluable time, sharing us you impressive ideas and illuminating us with your great experience. All the best wishes for your upcoming book ‘The End of Competitive Advantage’.

Rita McGrath: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Philip Delves Broughton on What they teach you at Harvard?

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Peter Weijmarshausen: 3D Printing

Editor’s Note: Peter Weijmarshausen is a pioneer of 3D Printing. He is passionate to make new and exciting technology accessible for everyone. He is Co-Founder and CEO of Shapeways, the leading 3D printing marketplace and community that helps people make, buy and sell anything they want. Shapeways started in the Philips Lifestyle Incubator in the Netherlands in 2007, and spun off as an independent company in 2010. The company is headquartered in New York, with offices in Eindhoven and Seattle. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Peter Weijmarshausen recently to gain his ideas and insights on 3D Printing which is given below.

Niaz: Peter, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Peter: It’s my pleasure to be here Niaz.

Niaz: You have been working with 3D printing for long time. You have co-founded ‘Shapeways’, the leading 3D printing marketplace and community. And now working as the CEO of ‘Shapeways’. Can you please give us a brief of the evolution of 3D printing?

Peter: I’ve been working with 3D Printing for quite some time now. Prior to Shapeways, I worked for a company that published the first free 3D software, called Blender.

3D Printing has been around for awhile. At the time when Shapeways was founded (in 2007), 3D Printing was still very expensive and used primarily on rapid prototyping. People were using 3D software but thought it was impossible to hold their designs in their hands.  By 2008, we launched Shapeways.com and started 3D Printing the impossible. In 2010, we spun out of Philips and moved headquarters to New York.

Niaz: Do you think the average person should care about 3D printing and why?

Peter: Definitely. 3D Printing is revolutionizing the way consumers think about products. Currently, we settle for store bought products. With 3D Printing you can customize products to your exact need.

Niaz: What are some of the current applications of 3D Printing?

Peter: There are a ton of applications for 3D Printing. At Shapeways, we have a very diverse community: we see a lot of hobbyists using Shapeways to create custom products to fit their various hobbies, as well as jewelry designers using Shapeways to create beautiful pieces. There are also a host of companies using 3D Printing to fuel innovation in various fields, such as the medical industry.

Niaz: What are the primary issues 3D Printers still need to overcome?

Peter: Learning how to 3D Model is still quite hard. This being said, we’re working to lower the barrier to entry so that anyone can create real-life products from digital 3D files. We just launched a new API that allows developers to easily create applications that make printable objects!

Niaz: Do you think we can literally make everything with 3D printing?

Peter: Currently, we can’t make everything using 3D Printing. For example, we still can’t 3D Print Electronics.

Niaz: Will we be able make everything with 3D printing in near future?

Peter: I don’t see why not.

Niaz: Those who don’t know about ‘Shapeways’, can you please give a brief of your company?

Peter: On Shapeways, individuals can make, buy and sell their own products. We 3D print everything on- demand, which means that every order is customized and personalized. By providing a platform for our community members to share ideas and gain access to cutting edge technology, we’re bringing personalized production to everyone.

Niaz: Do you have any estimation of the numbers of products that you have already made at ‘Shapeways’?

Peter: We currently have over 250,000+ community members in over 130 countries and have printed well over 1,000,000 products to date. These numbers continue to grow at a faster rate.

Niaz: What are the most exciting products that ‘Shapeways’ community has created?

Peter: We see so many exciting, amazing products created daily. One of my favorites is the Strandbeest, it has over 90 moving parts and requires no assembly!

Niaz: What are the responses from customers?

Peter: Our community is incredibly grateful for the service we provide. We often receive emails and blog posts thanking us!

Niaz: Any negative feedback?

Peter: As with any company that supplies physical products, we see some customer complaints but our customer service team is well equipped to handle .

Niaz: What does Shapeways have planned for 2013?

Peter: We’re currently building out our factory in Long Island City! Once fully built out we’ll have 30-50 3D printers in LIC capable of printing 3-5 million parts a year. It’s ambitious but it’s possible and we can’t wait to see the factory come to life.

Niaz: Wow! That’s really impressive. Where do you see the 3D Printing industry going over the next 5 years?

Peter: We will see products emerge that we’ve never imagined before – mind blowing shapes and solutions. I envision Shapeways continuing to grow in both employee number and locations. I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next five years.

Niaz: Peter, thank you so much for giving us time in the midst of your busy schedule. I am wishing you good luck for the New Factory as well as for all exciting things that you are doing in 3D Printing Industry.

Peter: You’re welcome Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Big Data Revolution

Editor’s Note: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He has published nine books (most recently Big Data: A Revolution That Transforms How we Work, Live, and Think with Kenneth Cukier) and is the author of over a hundred articles and book chapters on the governance of information. He is a frequent public speaker, and sought expert for print and broadcast media worldwide. He and his work have been featured in (among others) New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Nature, Science, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Tribune, WIRED, Ars Technica, Daily Kos. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Viktor Mayer-Schönberger recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Big Data which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Viktor, thank you so much for joining us. We are very delighted to have you at eTalks

Viktor: My pleasure.

Niaz: Big Data has become a talked topic in these days. A very tight hype about Big Data is going on over tech industry. Big Data means ‘Making sense of the New World’ to many people.  Can you please tell us about this ‘New World’? What has actually changed? And what does ‘Making Sense of New World’ mean?

Viktor: What’s changed is that in the past, we weren’t able to apply to data to help our decision-making since the cost of collection, storage and analysis was so high. But as those barriers have fallen, we are not able to harness lots of data — and when we do, we can unlock new insights from it.  Take predictive maintenance. We didn’t know when an engine part would break before it did in the past. Now, looking at lots of sensor data like sound, heat and vibrations – from tens of thousands of vehicles, through big data analysis companies can spot that a part is likely going to break in the near future, and change it before it actually breaks. That’s new. It’s a new way of interacting with the world in a more empirical, quantified way. And it’s because of the data.

Niaz: How do you define the term Big Data?

Viktor: We resist giving a concrete definition since that would limit it. But basically, it refers to the idea that we have so much more information these days that we can apply new techniques to it, to spot useful insights or unlock new forms of economic value. There are things we can do with a large body of data that we simply couldn’t when it was in smaller amounts. In our book, we identify three features: more, messy and correlations.

Niaz: What is Data Science?

Viktor: The idea is that a new profession that has emerged in recent years, that combines the skills of the statistician, software developer, infographics designer and storyteller. Instead of peering into a microscope to discover the mysteries of the world, the data scientist looks into massive databases to uncover a finding. That said, since it’s a new job title, what it means will surely change over time.

Niaz: What is more important: Big Data vs. Data Science?

Viktor: The two are not at all at odds with each other. Big data is when there is vastly more data available relative to the phenomenon or question to be investigated than before; when we are accepting of some level of messiness of the data; and when we are using big data correlations to tease out the “what” rather than aiming to understand the “why”. The data scientists work with data, sometimes but not necessarily always “big data,” to analyze the information and extract meaning from it.

Niaz: Who is a Data Scientist?

Viktor: These are people who serve a useful interface between the hard-to-understand data, and the people who need to understand and make decisions from it.

Niaz: Do you think Data Scientists Job is the sexiest job in 21st Century?

Viktor: There are lots of sexy jobs in the 21st century. A data scientist is just one. Statisticians, machine-learning expert are others.

Niaz: What are the educational backgrounds, trainings, skills and expertise that someone needs to become a Data Scientist?

Viktor: The data scientist will need a multidisciplinary background that spans math and statistics, to computer science, design and the humanities. This is because one needs to be fluent in the language of data — how to run regression models and double-tailed T tests. But also possess coding skills to write programs to scrap data, clean data, or simply collect data. Then, one needs to eye of a designer to present the data visually. And storytelling skills to have the data reveal a narrative. Finally, one needs a deep sense of humanity — to ensure we are not beguiled by data’s false charms, and we keep our common sense amid the spreadsheets.

Niaz: You along with Kenneth Cukier have published a book ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think’ which has already become a best seller. Can you please give us a brief on your impressive book?

Viktor: In “Big Data” we aim to go beyond the big data hype, and explain why big data represents a paradigmatic shift in how we understand and make sense of the world. We suggest that three qualities characterize big data: more, messy and correlations (see above), and that big data analysis is founded on our ability to datafy the world – that is to render more and more aspects of the world into data format that then can be calculated and analyzed. We look at the value of data – and the importance of secondary uses, as well as the emerging big data value chain. We explain who will be winning and who will be losing in the big data era. But not everything is rosy. We talk in detail about big data’s dark sides – from its challenge to privacy to the threat of punishment by propensity. We suggest concrete safeguards to ensure that the dark sides of big data remain contained, including suggesting the need for a new cadre of professionals – the “algorithmists” – that will help protect us against big data abuse. We end with a cautionary chapter about the importance of the human element in a world of big data.

Niaz: After publishing the book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, you have been speaking, engaging with readers and getting feedback. Now what are your new findings?

Viktor: It’s still the first inning — it’s still round one for big data. So before we think about what’s next, we need to get the word out about how transformational this will be. That said, every day brings new case studies of how companies and organizations are unlocking new value by harnessing information in new ways.

Niaz: Now Big Data is becoming an integral part of the organizations. Organization has started to hire Data Scientists having a strong belief that Big Data means Big Opportunity. Do you think Big Data means Big Opportunity?

Viktor: Absolutely. For those with the right mindset, data offers huge opportunities. There is a gold rush under way – as people, companies and society realize that most of data’s value remains to be uncovered.

Niaz: What is the dark side of Big Data?

Viktor: In the book we look multiple dark sides. In addition to privacy, we are particularly concerned about propensity – the use of big data analysis to hold individuals responsible for acts they are only predicted to commit. That we fear negates human volition – our ability to decide freely whether and when to act. Punishing people for predicted rather than actual behavior is undoing the notion of justice in our society.

Niaz: How to overcome this dark side?

Viktor: On privacy we suggest we need a significant adjustment in the way we protect it from big data surveillance, so that big data benefits can be reaped without making a mockery of individuals’ justified privacy concerns. But we also suggest that in the era of big data we need to broaden our understanding of justice – and what it entails.

Niaz: As you know Poverty has been ruling the world for centuries. Billions of people have been living hand to mouth and suffering from lack of nutrition, lack of education, lack of sanitation, lack of food etc.. There are hundreds of social organizations those who have been working with poverty and social problems. At the end of the day, these social organizations are unable to measure the changes they have made. Or we could say, they might fail to bring sustainable changes though billions of dollars have been invested by donors and other sources. But these poor people have been suffering and living almost the same life for decades after decades. Now can you please tell us how Big Data can be a help to analyze, map, measure and formulate the problems of poor people?

Viktor: Yes. There are two problems with measuring the plight of the poor in a small data age: it costs a lot of time and money to collect data about them, and it is hard and costly to analyze that data. In the big data age, we can use data that is collected for other purposes – say micropayments through mobile phones – and reuse it to better understand the economy of poverty. And because big data analysis is relatively cheap, and no longer requires huge upfront investments in processing and storage infrastructure, sophisticated big data analysis can be undertaken by a handful of people working for instance for a civil society organization.

Niaz: Do you think we can design and program solutions of our social problems with the help of Big Data analysis?

Viktor: Big data can provide us with a much better sense of what policy areas need to be addressed first, and what results our policy decisions might produce. But at the end of the day, machines cannot take decisions, humans do. And so whether or not we find solutions to our social problems depends not on big data, but on human empathy and resolve.

Niaz: Please tell us about how Big Data can be a great help to measure the changes that social organizations bring?

Viktor: Social organizations often do good things, but their impact is hard to measure – in part because in a small data world collecting such information was very costly. In the age of big data that may change, and thus give social organizations perhaps for the first time a chance to analyze and see how well they are doing, and where. That helps these organizations to learn and evolve, and to improve their impact.

Niaz: Can you please suggest us ways of changing this world with the rigorous use of technology and innovation to solve our social problems to make this mother earth a better place to live in?

Viktor: Take medicine: Today we are using medication developed for the average person, rather than customized for a particular individual. This means that today we over- and under-medicate. As a result billions are wasted, and people are suffering. Big data provides us with the ability to change this – so that we can treat illnesses on an individual level, and learn. It increases effectiveness, but more importantly it improves lives. But for that to happen we need to be able to collect and use the data.

Niaz: Viktor, thank you so much for your time and for all of these impressive ideas.

Viktor: You’re most welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Juliana Rotich: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Editor’s Note: Juliana Rotich is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc, a non-profit tech company. She has worked in the telecommunications and data warehousing industry for over ten years. She is a Technologist, African Futurist and TED Senior Fellow. She was named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, andSocial Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum. Currently she has selected as a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. You can read her full bio from here, hereand here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Juliana Rotich recently to gain her ideas and insights on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: Juliana, we are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Juliana: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are a Social Entrepreneurial Innovator. Can you please tell us about ‘Social Entrepreneurial Innovation? How can social entrepreneurial innovation change the world?

Juliana: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation refers to entrepreneurs that create and establish resourceful and inspired ways of dealing with social problems. The core of this kind of entrepreneurship is skillfully and systematically acting, doing things in new ways to solve increasingly persistent modern challenges like poverty, health or education to have the greatest social impact. “Innovation is itself invariably a cumulative collaborative activity in which ideas are shared, tested refined, developed and applied.”  Bill gates called this creative capitalism – our ability to stretch market forces and make them work better for the poor and reduce the great inequalities that exist in modern society. For the world, it is practically the emergence of a social conscious geared both at turning profits but improving lives, incomes and turning all people in to productive beings where their inert behavior includes building their community to be a better place.

Niaz: You are the co-founder and executive director of ‘Ushahidi’. Those who don’t know about this amazing social revolution, can you briefly tell about ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, began as website set up by a collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists, bloggers and the tech community during the post-election crisis in Kenya at the beginning of 2008. The Site Mapped incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. Its Success which gathered 45,000 users in Kenya – catalyzed the realization amongst its developers that the platform had potential beyond Kenya’s borders and have relevance and use for others around the world. Ushahidi is now a non-profit technology and data company. Ushahidi creates platforms which provide services, tools and strategies for Crowdsourcing and data flow management. We focus on bottom up systems with a vibrant global community of mappers and an ecosystem of open source experts. Ushahidi demonstrates how free and open source software enables organizations and communities to improve collection of data, contextualizing issues they care about and create effective information flow of stories and engagement into localized action and change. We catalyze initiatives and communities like The CrisisMappers group, the iHub in Kenya and support many others who are trying to change the world through technology.

Niaz: What is your vision at ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: At Ushahidi, we want people to truly be able to collaborate and change the status quo of where they are through collaborative problem solving.  With our tools we want, individuals, groups, & organizations to be fully able to participate in their democracy, and to have their voices heard. Empowering citizens to collect and contextualize information and change the way information flows in the world by making easy to use crowdsourcing tools that provide change agents globally. Ushahidi’s mission is to change the way information flows in the world.

Niaz: As a technologist you have been working to bring social revolution in the field of social work with the art of technology. Why do you think technology is a surprising tool to solve our social problems?

Juliana: I actually think technology is a natural tool to solve our social problems. In the book What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, defines The Technium – “We all realize that we’re kind of surrounded with technology: there’s little device here recording us, there’s tables, chairs, spoons, light bulbs. Each of these things seem pretty mechanical, pretty inert in a certain sense, not very interactive, you know, a hammer, roads. But each one of these technologies actually requires many other technologies to make and produce. So your little thing in your pocket that you use for a phone might require thousands of other technologies to create it and support it and keep it going, and each of those technologies may require hundreds of thousands of subtechnologies below it. And that network of different technologies and the co-dependency that each of those technologies have on each other forms a virtual organism, a super organism.  We can keep stepping back and realize that all these technologies are in some ways co-dependent and related and connected to each other in some way and that largest of all the networks of all these technologies together I call the Technium.”  Social problems are often ecosystem problems, and appropriate, creative use of technology is just what may help to accelerate the problem solving that is much needed for the world’s problems. Technology helps to make systems more efficient, helps to close feedback loops and to inform. I think of technology as a catalyst for change and innovation representing immense untapped opportunities just waiting to be built and utilized. What brings it all together is an ecosystem of people and technology. In my generation I have seen how African people have interacted with mobile phones, computers and how increased connectivity to the Internet across the continent has helped spur Trickle Up Innovation to address social problems. Ushahidi is an example of this as is Mpesa, apps like iCow, Mfarm and Tusaidiane are emerging as part of the growth of tech entrepreneurial culture coming out in Africa and its collaborations globally.

Niaz: As you know, we have hundreds of thousands of social organizations those who have been working to bringing sustainable social changes. Most of these organizations have been lacking behind to accept the blessing of technology and innovation. What are the core challenges for them?

Juliana: The origin of not for profit organizations and their leadership at times represent the greatest challenges to technological innovations for social change and by that it takes much longer for them to develop the tools or procure the right personnel to develop the tools in house with a clear vision. We are lucky as Ushahidi that our founding and core is based on a group of developers, tech savvy change makers, bloggers, human rights activist, that bring their A game to the table in the different fields they have mastered. Our organization, leadership, commitment, culture, and mentorship in the cause has enable us to be particularly responsive.  With time and the greater adoption and exposure to technology nonprofits are picking up the pace in this area.

Niaz: How to recover those challenges to bring sustainable changes in the society with technology and innovation?

Juliana: It is not easy but can be achieved by attracting good talent. I would like to add this Harvard Business Review Article here.

Niaz: On the other hand, non profits are highly dependent on donors. Do you think technological innovation can provide them a platform to overcome this dependency and to empower them with financial independence to work to change the world to make it a better place to live in?

Juliana: It is possible. At Ushahidi, we have an external projects team that is ostensibly in charge of completing projects that bring in additional money. With our cloud based Services Crowdmap and SwiftRiver, we are diversifying the revenue base and thus on a sustainability track. It also helps to have impact investors like Omidyar Network who are not just donors, but partners in realizing the greater social and economic impact through not-for-profit technology work.

Niaz: Do you think we can bring technology and innovation rigorously for bringing social change, for removing poverty? How?

Juliana: If you had asked me this question last year, I would not have had an answer for you. This year, I can certainly say it is possible. I met Martin Burt in Davos early this year. I was completely encouraged and inspired by his work in Paraguay, he is doing extensive poverty mapping with the goal of giving the government clear data on where the critical areas are for interventions that can help lift people out of poverty. That his organization is using Ushahidi software is only a small part, the important work of linking on-the-ground data with policy is nothing short of amazing.

Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a TED Senior Fellow. How you’re involved with TED now. What are your plans with TED?

Juliana: In 2007, I was selected as part of the inaugural class of TED Fellows. There I met other technologists, particularly Erik Hersman, whom I had collaborated with online with the AfriGadget website. I also met Ory Okolloh, Dr. Sheila Ochugboju, Mulumba Lwatula and Segeni Ngethe just to name a few.  More on what I wrote then about TED. In 2009 I was named a TED Fellow again because of our work with Ushahidi and the Technology ecosystem in Kenya. This was great, as I was not only able to enjoy the conference (It is an amazing brain spa) but to meet other amazing individuals who would collaborate with Ushahidi and iHub over the years. The network and support from the TED team, from Chris Anderson, June Cohen and Tom Rielly made Ushahidi a household name spoken in tandem with the likes of Wikipedia and Twitter. Moreso the friendships forged as part of the TED community continue to this day and make up a very important part of my life. To meet other technologists who do not fit neatly into one box was completely refreshing. It is like meeting a long lost ‘soul sister’ or rather in this case ‘brain sister’. The community is extraordinary.

Niaz: You were named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, and Social Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum.  What are the set of advice you want to give to young social entrepreneurs? 

Juliana: Find a way to serve people through your work. The rest is hard work and persistence. The core is service and community. Keep the core strong and be flexible enough to handle the flux.

Niaz: How do you inspire women to come forward and lead?

Juliana: Inspiration comes in many ways. For me, it came from my late grandmother and my late father. They lived their lives making things. They taught me to first and foremost be a maker, to fix whatever is broken with whatever resources available. When you are needed, to stand up and do what you can. I hope that women can look around and find inspiration that works for them.

Niaz: Recently you have become ‘MIT Media Lab Directors Fellow’. It’s the finest place of innovation. Now you are bringing social problems and ideas at MIT Media Lab. What are we going to see in recent future with your ideas  for social change and Medial Lab’s innovation?

Juliana: I am so honored and thankful for the MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellowship. It is indeed the finest place for innovation. I often tell people that there are two places I feel most at home. The first is the iHub in Nairobi, a great space started by the Ushahidi team, led and grown by Erik Hersman. The second place is the MIT Media Lab. It is indeed Nerdvana as I like to call it. I am most excited about learning from the different research groups at MIT and linking them back to creative and innovative centers in Africa. There are incredible artists and innovators in Africa who are affiliated with emerging spaces like iHub, BongoHive, CCHub and others who would greatly benefit with that interchange of ideas, solutions, and approaches.  I suggest to read more from here and here. I am yet to fully grasp what I will do with the Media Lab fellowship, but one thing is that it will be in service of the amazing entrepreneurs I have the privilege of interacting with at the iHub in Nairobi and other parts of Africa.

Niaz: Juliana, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas and for your time.

Juliana: You are welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

3. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Hugh Mac­Leod: Creativity and Art

Editor’s Note: Hugh Mac­Leod is one of the leading authorities on the creative process. He is the author of  ‘Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity’, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination’ and Freedom Is Blogging in Your Underwear.  He is about to publish his new book ‘The Art Of Not Sucking’. He is a cartoonist, entrepreneur, technologist, speaker and professional blogger, known for his ideas about how ‘Web 2.0′ affects advertising and marketing. After a decade of working as an advertising copywriter, Hugh started blogging at gapingvoid.com in 2001. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Hugh Mac­Leod recently to gain his ideas and insights about creativity and art which is given below.

Niaz: Hugh, I know you as a Cartoonist, Best Selling Author, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Blogger, Marketer and this list goes on and on and on. What do you think about your best identity?

Hugh: Cartoonist! I am a Cartoonist.

Niaz: But you are doing a vast array of activities. Why do you think being Cartoonist is your best identity?

Hugh: Well there is no point of being a billionaire if you don’t feel it. Being cartoonist is the thing I can be from my inner soul and cartoon is the thing I can do my own where everything else is just the tools that you need to interface with the world. They come like the delivery mechanism.

Niaz: As a cartoonist what is your vision?

Hugh: My world vision is to make people think differently about office art. I want to transform the world of business art. From my personal view, I want to make better and faster cartoons.

Niaz: So you are creating art. Changing minds. Telling a long story with impressive creative art by using only few words. Integrating complexity and problems to provide easy solution via your cartoon, sometimes via your art and sometimes via telling an excellent story. So what do you think about the significance of creating art now?

Hugh: I don’t think that there is any difference of creating art now then which was thousands years ago. Art is the reflection of our inner soul, our beliefs and the fact that we love from our heart. I think creating art means showing the world that we are not alone. I don’t know what Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang. I don’t understand whatever language he did speak. But you know there is a spiritual dynamic to his work that connects you somehow. You go and look Ancient Art, Native American Art, Chinese Art, Hindu Art or whatever; you will find the spiritual dynamics that connect you genuinely. So when you ask, why should we make art, you should have asked ‘why should we pray’ and then you should have asked ‘why should you believe in god’.  Creating art is always significant. It doesn’t belong to any time dimension. It’s innocent. It’s the true connection.

Niaz: You are a great marketer. You have been working with all big corporations and helping them for getting things done. Now, what does the term marketing mean to you?

Hugh: Well marketing to me, is the art, science and everything. Marketing is associated with all of the things that you need to get your idea spread.

Niaz: What do you think about the core problems of marketing?

Hugh: I think the core problems are marketing is very selfish, marketing is very loud, marketing is ill-mannered, marketing is wasteful and marketing is all kind of horrible things.

Niaz: So what are your ideas about how ‘Web 2.0’ affects advertising and marketing in this connected digital economy?

Hugh: Well from my perspective, it takes a way to need to scale. For example when I was a kid, when I was in your age, self publishing was so hard and expensive as there was no internet. So the way to be successful was hardest. Your cartoon had to be discovered by the Magazine, Newspaper, TV Shows or something like that. You had to get the approval of the record company. What I figured out a while ago, how much I need for living? I just need paying my bills. I have figured out, if I have 10,000 people who will give me money whether to buy t-shirt, cartoon, book, print or painting, I can make a living. And so to me, finding these 10,000 people using the Blog, Twitter or Facebook is cheaper, faster and easier that we couldn’t do before that. For example, in the old days, you ran a cartoon in the magazine. Then you had to wait until a person saw your cartoon in the book shop or saw your add that you pay at the back of the magazine and tell someone. It would also need a lot of peers. You had to wait for other people to tell your stories. So you had some other things beyond your own control. Now internet has made this business model for a cartoonist that is cheaper, better and faster. As a result our advertising and marketing has been changing revolutionary.

Niaz: You have been creating Social Objects. Can you please tell me about ‘Social Objects’?

Hugh:  The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that ‘node’ in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.

Niaz: Can you please give an example of ‘Social Object’?

Hugh: Oh there are so many. Social object is something that is cool. When people mean cool, they mean it only because it is social object. Cool doesn’t reside in products. It resides in the interactions. Once Nokia Phone was cool. Now the social dynamics has changed. So it’s no longer social objects. I would say, it’s not social object because it is cool. It is cool because it’s social object. I love Bangladeshi Cooking. I love Seth Godin. I love Beatles. All of these are social objects.

Niaz: I first came to know about your impressive creative arts at the beginning of 2006 via your most popular manifesto ‘How to be creative’.  Till now, it’s the most popular manifesto of ChangeThis.com. Why do you think creativity is so much important of doing and making things happen?

Hugh: Well that’s how we are designed to survive. You know we aren’t cockroaches, tigers, or elephant. We have our brains. And our brain is genetically designed to figure out how to hack the world. If you look at our species, our ability to evolve, survive and dominant the world is all about creativity. It’s a biological spiritual necessarily. God made us creative. And it’s our nature.

Niaz: Can you please explain the title of your book ‘Ignore Everybody’?

Hugh: Well this isn’t saying to ignore everybody from the day you born to the day you die. I think there is a trouble to ignore everybody. What I mean is that nobody can tell you whether you’re idea is any good or not, especially in the beginning. All you can do is soldier on alone…. ignoring everybody.

Niaz: What are the secrets of being creative? Can you please tell us some points on being creative and asking interesting questions?

Hugh: You already are. You already born that way. Keep it simple. Keep it cheap. Keep it consistent. Practice. I think you could be loaded up with complexity and problems. But keep patience. Keep trying. Grow up your stamina.

Niaz: Hugh, Thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you very good luck for all of your impressive works.

Hugh: You are welcome Niaz. Thanks for having. Good luck to all of your ideas and endeavors.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

Trond A. Undheim: Entrepreneurship and Social Change

Editor’s Note: Trond A. Undheim, Ph.D.,  has over fifteen years of multi sector experience in strategy, policy, communications, academia, and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. Formerly, he was a Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at Oracle Corporation, with wide responsibilities in long-term business development, strategy, public policy and standardization globally and in Europe. Trond is an executive, speaker, entrepreneur, author, traveler and blogger. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Trond A. Undheim recently to gain insights about Entrepreneurship and Social Change which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Trond, thank you so much for your time in the midst of your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks. You teach Global Economics and Management as a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. You are a leading expert on strategy, technology policy, entrepreneurship and the role of technology in society. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about entrepreneurship?

Trond: Entrepreneurship is to see, seize and share an opportunity to change something for the better in a lasting, institutional way, by creating a company, entity, program or initiative which provides services, generates products or makes concepts that can be traded or enjoyed by many. That was a mouthful, I guess: entrepreneurship is about embracing risk, change, and convincing people—this is sometimes hard.

Niaz: What is the significance of entrepreneurship in global economy?

Trond: As the trading of physical commodities gradually shrinks, entrepreneurship is about to become the only valuable commodity in the global economy. The reason is—it is all about flexibility. All sources of comparative advantage are temporary. The time window for innovation is arguably getting somewhat shorter every minute. This being said, entrepreneurship takes many forms. It is not just about startups, and the culture of entrepreneurship is different in each country. In my work with Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), at MIT Sloan School of Management, I have found that even as emerging markets are at different stages of development and each have their own culture, the desire to innovate is the same among young entrepreneurs everywhere. All they want and need is to see good examples in front of them. Our student teams help out with getting quicker through the process, escalating change throughout society. But it starts one-on-one. It must build up. So, as significant as entrepreneurship might be, it is a slow force.

Niaz: How are technology, innovation and entrepreneurship integrated with each other? How can this integration be a help for the global economy?

Trond: There is entrepreneurship without technology but it is less effective. There is technology without entrepreneurship but it is futile and short lived. There is innovation wherever there are people connecting the dots between entrepreneurship and technology.  Without integrating the three, there will be no global economy, only elite pockets of internationalization.

Niaz: Do you think technology, innovation and entrepreneurship could be the solution to Poverty? How?

Trond: Despite new solar cooking devices, peer lending schemes, or cell phone empowered social movements, there is no single solution to poverty. For too long, technology has been thought of as a panacea that solves all problems, but we are far from it. Technology opens certain opportunities and forecloses others. Moreover, even though it initially may seem technology transforms opportunities for everyone, it usually, in the end favors the established elite or those who have resources to take the most advantage of it. This is the reason there are still problems everywhere we look around us, despite what many call ‘technological progress’, ‘information age’ or ‘globalization’.

We have increased the differences between people, and hence the opportunity both to succeed and to fail, spectacularly. Herein lies the challenge of integration; the globally economy theoretically connects things, but someone needs to establish those connections and re-establish connections when broken. Innovative initiatives that mobilize people, share information, gather knowledge, discuss best practices, or create marketplaces of ideas, products and services across boundaries of time, place, resources, and ability, will definitely contribute to the poverty issue in various ways. However, the issue is too complex for one strain of innovation to transform it all. Change needs to trickle down. Change needs to spread out. Change needs to bubble up. Poverty is clearly a multi-faceted problem that will fascinate, frustrate and motivate smart people, organizations and institutions to act for decades to come.

Niaz: Throughout history, high tech industries mostly belong to developed countries. As a result, under developed and developing countries alike have lagged behind. Can you please suggest us some ways to help those countries to come up with proper strategies to get involved with high tech industry to contribute to the global economy?

Trond: High tech industries are fostered by individual initiative, investors who are willing to take risks, and by a willingness to go to or even create markets where there yet are none. However, as small ecosystems of high tech entrepreneurship start forming even in countries that are not yet on the radar as emerging economies, each time, it gets easier. The challenge is to get enough launch momentum. Typically, what we see is that entrepreneurs, given such challenges, either are funded from outside the country by particularly risk prone or long perspective persons or institutions, or are a result of family money. Only in a few cases will angel investors emerge on their own, since they typically are former high tech entrepreneurs themselves. One strategy is for government incentives to stabilize and attract expats back to contribute. Another is to focus attention on particular locations around a strong university. A third is to build the products at home but use the born global concept to immediately try to act on the global market, or more realistically, one selected foreign market.

Niaz: You worked at Oracle Corporation as the director of standards strategy and policy, where you lead global business development, drove standardization, and influenced government policy in the EU. What do you think about the core challenges of entrepreneurs of third world countries have in order to come up with great ideas to build global technological business as well as to contribute in global economy?

Trond: The core challenge is to acquire the right set of skills and grasp the attention of funders and potential customers early enough, and before your money (and motivation) run out.  Moreover, another tough challenge is to convince the establishment that ideas matter, which means people around the entrepreneur—the first clients and investors must not just nod to existing power structures. They may need to be prepared to accept causing a bit of a stir. Entrepreneurship is a dangerous force to those not prepared to change or to those with vested interests to defend, such as established ways of doing things, monopoly markets, successful products, or healthy revenue streams that may be threatened by a new entrant, however small.

In terms of standardization, entrepreneurs should keep in mind that one thing is to have a novel idea, but a whole other thing is to be able to enact infrastructure change across a whole new market. To do that, you need to think in terms of standards, following standards, shaping standards, creating new standards that people will go along with. It is a negotiation game. You either join or try to create an ecosystem and then try to make it surround you and your customers. You cannot go it alone. Even Oracle learned that, early on, as that company was a startup facing the giant IBM. Oracle picked up the importance of having a database standard and built a great product around it. Look at where it is today. Larry Ellison can create a Japanese lake in California, own luxurious boats, and buy a Hawaiian island. Not a bad life to some. But, frankly, I think entrepreneurship is about much more than the money you create. It is about the relationships you build and the pride you get out of creating something new and at the same time something lasting.

Niaz: How to overcome those challenges?

Trond: I think the best way to overcome such challenges is to enlist team members who have experience from abroad. That way, you can bring change along with you. The other thing is to align with the forces for change within the country. You cannot turn everyone, but you actually only need to turn one-by-one. Every entrepreneur has heard this, and everyone knows what it means: be prepared not to take no for an answer. Beyond that, you need to find something that is actually doable. There are many good ideas out there but not all are doable. Doable for you, that is, in your situation. Make sure you have a good story. Storytelling can overcome most challenges. Even dictators, monopolists, and old money love a good story.

Niaz: You have also served as the national expert of e-government in the European Commission, where you created ePractice.eu, the world’s most successful best practice initiative in e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion. Can you please give as a brief of these terms: e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion?

Trond: E-government is when public services are reorganized and ideally improved or made cheaper or more convenient using ICT, although that is a tall order. E-health applies ICT to citizen/patient interaction, health-service providers, institution-to-institution transmission of data, or all of the above. E-inclusion aims at reducing gaps in ICT usage in order to improve economic performance, employment opportunities, quality of life, social participation, and cohesion.

Niaz: What is the response to the ePractice.eu initiative? What are the significant changes that have occurred because ePractice.eu?

Trond: ePractice.eu blends online and offline interaction on good practices in using ICT for services of public interest. It brings a varied set of around 100,000 stakeholders together, government policy makers, consultants, the ICT industry, NGOs etc. So far, it contains 1626 self –submitted cases from 35 countries around the world, For the EU, it has radically improved information and knowledge sharing. It has achieved significant momentum. Joining the community has tangible value, people attend workshops, contribute views, share, and learn. It is a true knowledge community, virtual and physical.

Niaz: What are the steps could be taken by the policy makers of third world country to get the maximum benefits of e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion?

Trond: As the UN e-government survey reveals each year, there are indeed gaps between nations’ internet readiness. This is unfortunate but something we all need to take into account. The issue is not just access to the internet, but what content is accessible once you are on the internet and which skills you have to make sure you can benefit and contribute. The challenge is multifaceted: education, training, specific skills, infrastructure, and content. Even the countries who have invested a lot of resources occasionally, some would say too often, get it wrong. This stuff is not simple. You need awareness across the supply and delivery chains.

Niaz: You have published your book ‘Leadership From Below’. Can you please give us a brief of ‘Leadership From Below’?

Trond: Leadership From Below, for me, is two things. A perspective on leadership: No need for a position in a hierarchy to have influence. A perspective on life: lead when you need.  There are many books out there right now tapping into the fact that the web seemingly has lowered barriers to lead. However, what I am saying is not that. There are still barriers. Technology is not really the point here, although it can help (and hurt). The point is to reconfigure the notion of what it actually means to lead. It simply has nothing to do with somebody giving you power from above (despite what those who elect the pope might think). True power can only emerge from below, from trusted relationships. Even God Almighty in Christendom was of the opinion that it was wiser to send his son Jesus to earth to convince people of the state of things than to simply tell them with a roar from above.  Even smart CEOs realize this. They know they are accountable to the Board, to shareholders, and to society at large (well, at least some CEOs think this way).

Leaders at all levels need to reflect upon what it takes to achieve real, lasting influence. Using force always has a cost. In fact, getting your way always has a cost, especially if it is recognized that you benefit from it. Instead, leaders need to embrace the somewhat slower, but surer process of involving peers in small-scale change efforts that have ripple effects across teams, organizations, and societies.

So, leadership from below is not simply a message to a new generation of leaders, or to small-scale leaders. It is the essence of true leadership. Leadership from below is not just a trend. In fact it is a stable feature of any society but it has recently become trendy. Oh, and one more thing, I did not write the book to say we should not accept any authority. My view is not anti-hierarchy, but a-hierarchical, or beyond hierarchies. I say: Follow when you can. Lead when you need.  Finally, since I wrote the book back in 2002, I have reflected a bit more and taken in some criticism, too. As it turns out, hierarchy remains systemic part of society. The reason is complexity. Things are getting complicated out there. The other is delegation. People love to delegate. Once you delegate, you give up power.

Niaz: What is the set of advice you would like to leave behind for technology geeks, innovators and entrepreneurs?

Trond: I wanted to leave a little piece of advice from my research on strategy failures in high tech entrepreneurship. First of all, it seems too few of us are willing to take a serious look at negative outcomes. This is unfortunate because there is a lot of learning to be had. But since those stories are often buried (although I am about to uncover some), every time you hear of a success story, try to find out what challenges have been overcome to get there. You will soon find that it is often those who have overcome the greatest challenges who succeed in the long term. Why, well, because they have also learned resilience.

If you want to learn more about this, follow my research on strategic outcomes in Cleantech firms. Essentially, we know that a lot of cleantech companies have failed over the last decade. There are many reasons why, but for the benefit of humanity, we need to ensure that some succeed and clean up our planet before it is too late. This is my agenda. It turns out both governments, multinationals, VCs, and entrepreneurs are interested in my work. We should indeed learn more from failure and we should talk about it. There is no shame in failing as long as you can reflect around how to do things different next time, or tell others about the perils of the unforeseeable unforeseen.

Niaz: Thank you so much for sharing us your ideas. I am wishing you good luck for all of your endeavors.

Trond: You are very welcome. It was a pleasure to speak with you, Niaz, and best of luck in your exciting entrepreneurial endeavor, eTalks. What a great concept: asking a set of great questions to people and change agents across the globe over email and letting them answer these questions on their own time without the pressure of a word limit or timeline. This is perhaps one of the keys to the future of communication: letting people speak. Sounds simple but it rarely happens.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Shaka Senghor: Writing My Wrongs

Editor’s Note: Shaka Senghor is a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. He is also a recipient of Knight Foundation’s BME Leadership Award. He is a writer, mentor, and motivational speaker whose story of redemption has inspired young adults at high schools and universities across the nation. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Shaka Senghor recently to gain insights about his ideas, books and works which is given below.

Niaz: Shaka, Thank you so much for joining us.

Shaka: My pleasure.

Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a Director’s Fellow of MIT Media Lab.

Shaka: Thanks so much Niaz.

Niaz: You are a writer, mentor, motivational speaker and role model of hundreds of youngsters.  Your fearless life has inspired so many minds. You have been a dedicated social activist. Now what are you doing at MIT Media Lab?

Shaka: As a Directors Fellow, I am currently working on the Atonement Project. It’s a collaboration between the Civic Media Lab, PCAP Prison Creative Arts Project and Mothers of Murdered Children. The project promotes healing between victims of violent crime, and bullying and those who perpetrate those offenses.

Niaz: Great. So what is your plan with MIT Media Lab?

Shaka: My plan with the MIT Media Lab is to expand the work I do as a mentor and a writer. I am looking forward to working with the Lab on a variety of projects that connect the resources and innovation of MIT Media Lab to people in communities who normally wouldn’t have access to the Lab.

Niaz: As far as I know you have an astonishing story. It is a story of redemption which has inspired young adults at high schools and universities across the nation. Can you please tell us about your story of redemption?

Shaka: My story of redemption grew in stages during my 19 years of incarceration. Early into my sentence, I was introduced to literature through an author name Donald Goines who was from my hometown in Detroit. After reading his work I began to read everyday and it was during this time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm-X which made me think about my life as being one worthy of redeeming. I did a lot of soul searching and journaling and worked through the baggage of my past. With each book I read, I learned something about my own humanity and felt like it was important for me to share what I was learning with young men and women in my community.

Niaz: You have published your new book ‘Writing My Wrongs’. What were the reasons behind writing ‘Writing My Wrongs’?

Shaka: The reason I decided to write ‘Writing My Wrongs is because I wanted to help young people who come from hard scrabble backgrounds. I also wanted to show people what causes young men and women to go from wanting to be doctors and lawyers to ending up in prison serving lengthy sentences. I take readers deep inside the violent filled Detroit streets through the eyes of a teenager who was abused as a child, taken advantage of by older hustlers and ultimately made the worst decision in the world-pulling the trigger. I also wanted people to understand the far-reaching implications of gun violence and post traumatic stress disorder, both of which are causing devastation in cities across the world.

Niaz: That’s really impressive. My readers will love to know about your book ‘Live in Peace: A Youth Guide to Turning Hurt into Hope’. Can you please give a brief summary of it?

Shaka: Live In Peace is a companion piece to a project I started called Live In Peace Digital and Literary Arts Project. After winning the Black Male Engagement leadership Award for work I do in my community I launched the project in two local high schools. The book is comprised of essays, short stories, chapters from my memoir and my poetry. Each chapter deals with some of the major problems we are dealing with in our community from gun violence and sexual abuse to teenage drug abuse and teen suicide.

Niaz: What is your motivation to motivate others?

Shaka: The students, my son and the youth I work with motivate me to work as hard as I can to make a difference. As a man and a father I want our youth to inherit a better world then the one we inherited and so I will continue to do my part as best I can.

Niaz: What have you learned from your fearless life?

Shaka: The thing I learned from my life is that no matter how hard or far you fall, you can always get up if you have the will and desire.

Niaz: As you know, the baby boomers generation is going to retire within couple of decades. Today’s youths are going to take the positions to lead the world. What are the set of advices you want to give to youths so that they can lead the world to make it a better place to live in?

Shaka:  The thing I share with the most with youth about the future is that there is nothing more important than the decisions they make in this moment in our time. They are the decision makers of tomorrow and they have to start working now to make life better for them and those coming behind them in the future. I also advice them to be conscious of the information they take in on a daily basis. When they have healthy thoughts they will make healthy life choices.

Niaz: Thanks so much for your valuable time.

Shaka: Thank you so much for having me.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

3. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Evolution of Technology and Innovation

Editor’s Note: Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger retired from IBM on May 31, 2007 after 37 years with the company. As Chairman Emeritus, IBM Academy of Technology, he continues to participate in a number of IBM’s technical strategy and innovation initiatives. He is also Visiting Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT, where he is involved in multi-disciplinary research and teaching activities focused on how information technologies are helping transform business organizations and the institutions of society. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Irving Wladawsky-Berger recently to gain insights about the evolution of Technology and Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Irving, thank you so much for joining us.  We are thrilled and honored to have you for eTalks .

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Niaz, thank you for having me.

Niaz: You began your career in IBM as a researcher in 1970. You have retired from IBM on May 31, 2007 as a Vice President of Technical Strategy and Innovation. From the dawn of Supercomputing to the rise of Linux and Open Source, the Internet, Cloud Computing, Disruptive Innovation, Big Data and Smarter Planet; you have been involved with it all.  You have worked for 37 years for bringing sustainable technological innovations for IBM. Can you please give us a brief of the evolution of technology and innovation? What do you think about the technological trend that has been changing since you have joined in IBM?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Well,It has been changed radically since the time I started in 1970 until now, let say, after 30 years. At the time in 1970, there were no personal computers and needless to say there was no internet. Computers were expensive and people were able to use them in a time sharing mode. Usually you would be needed a contract to be able to operate a computer and it was relatively expensive at that time. So most of the innovation and research had to be done in a kind of big science lab environment, whether it’s at a university like MIT or an R&D lab in IBM. Now all that began to change when personal computers emerged in the 1980s and especially in the next decade in 1990s, because personal computers became much more powerful and much less expensive. And then we had the internet. Remember the internet was only really blocking to the world in the mid 90s. And all of a sudden, it was much easier for lots of people to have access to the proper technologies and to start doing all kind of entrepreneurial innovations. Before that it was very expensive and then with the internet they were able to distribute their offerings online directly to their customers. Previously, they needed distributor channels and it did cost a lot of money. That has changed even more in just the last few years because of the advent of Cloud Computing. People started to do entrepreneurial business. They don’t even need to buy computer equipment anymore. They have a laptop or a smart phone that they use to get access in the cloud. As a result the cost of operating business is getting lower. This is particularly important for emerging economy like India, Africa or Latin America. Because they don’t have that much access to capital as we do here in the United States. So the availability of the internet, cloud computing and mobile devices etc. is going to have a huge impact for entrepreneurialism especially in emerging economy.

Niaz: So what has surprised you most about the rise and spread of the internet over the past 15 years?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Wellyouknowwhen I started, before the mid 90s, I was very involved with the Internet but as part of supercomputing before then the internet was primarily used in research lab and universities. And it all started to change with the advent of World Wide Web as well as Web Browser.  It made everything much more accessible. It was so easier to use. Before browsers, it was primarily interfaced that engineers had to learn to use. It wasn’t really available to the majority of people. The internet probably like other disruptive technologies; we knew it was exciting, we knew some good things could happen. But most of us couldn’t anticipate how transformative it would become. As an example, the fact that it would so much transform the media industry,  the music industry, newspapers, video streaming etc. On the other side, some of distinct people were predicting of the internet in the near term, like ‘it would totally transform the economy. You don’t need revenue and cash anymore’. That was wrong. So some of the predictions were just wrong, just like ‘you don’t need revenue and cash anymore’. Because if you are running a business you need revenue, cash and profit. Some of the predictions have been taking a lot longer than people thought in the early days because you needed broadband and things like that. And then other changes happened faster than any of us anticipated. In just an interesting experience, to watch how unpredictable disruptive technologies are.

Niaz: Now what do you think about the future of internet? What significant changes are going to occur in near future?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: First of all, I think broadband will keep advancing. And that’s being one of the most important changes. When I started using internet in the mid 90s, it was 16kb over a dial modem. Then few years later, it only went to 64kb over dial modem and then broadband came in. And it is getting better and better and better. Now in some countries, as you know, like South Korea, is extremely fast. And I think in US we don’t have that good broadband yet. But it is good to see it continues to be better.  Broadband wireless has come along. And that is very nice. I think the rise of mobile devices like Smart phones in the last few years, has the most important ways of accessing internet. And it has been an absolute phenomenon. And absolute phenomenon.  When the internet first showed off in the mid 90s, we were very worried that the internet was growing you needed to be able to have a PC and in those days time PCs were not that much inexpensive. You needed an internet service provider. That was not inexpensive either. So there was a strong digital divide even with the advanced economy like USA. I remember having a number of important meetings, while I was working in Washington in those days on the digital divide. All that had disappeared as you know mobile devices are so inexpensive. Just about everybody can afford it now.  But not all mobile devices are smart phones yet capable of accessing the internet. And I believe within few years, just about everybody in the world will be able to access the information, resource and application. That is going to be gigantic.  Finally, internet, broadband, cloud computing and disruptive innovations are going to bring changes that will be the most important change over the next few decades.

Niaz: As you know, Big Data has become a hot topic of tech industry. What do you think about Big Data?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Big Data is very interesting. And what it means is that we now have access to huge amount of real time data that can be totally analyzed and interpreted to give deep insight. Now I am involved with a new initiative of New York University called Center for Urban Science and Progress. A lot of the promise is to gather lot of information about transportation, energy uses, health and lots of other real time information in the city and being able to use it effectively to better manage the city and to make it more efficient. So now, we have access to big amount of data. But being able to manage those data, being able to run experiments and being able to make sense of data, you need to model. You need a hypothesis that you embedded in a model. Then you test your model against your data to see your model is true or not. If your model is true then the prediction you are making is correct. And if your model is not true, the predictions you are making is incorrect. Like for an example, you can get lots of health care data. But for finding the meaning, using those data efficiently, you have to have a good model. So in my mind big data is very important but more important which I called Data Science. Data Science is the ability to write model to use the data and get inside from what the data is telling and then put it into practice. And the data science is very new even big data itself is very new.  I think that it shows tremendous promise but we now have to build the next layers of data science in the discipline and that will be done discipline by discipline.

Niaz: Over the past twenty years you have been involved in a number of initiatives dealing with disruptive innovations. What do you think about disruptive innovation?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: I think that the work of Clayton Christensen has been really excellent. People knew that there were disruptive technologies that may change but until Clay wrote his book Innovators Dilemma and I think his next book ‘Innovators Solution’ is even better. I use these books in the graduate course at MIT. These are two excellent books on innovation. People didn’t understand for example why it is so tough to manage disruptive innovation? How is it different from the regular sustaining innovation or incrementing innovation? What do the companies should do with sustaining or incrementing innovation vs. disruptive innovation? And so he framed it in an excellent way to show the differences and to provide the guidelines for companies what they should do and that what they should watch out for. I think he wrote ‘Innovators Dilemma’ around 1990s. Now even today, the reality is, many companies don’t appreciate how difficult it is to truly embrace disruptive innovation. If you go and ask companies about disruptive innovation, they would say they are doing disruptive innovation. But in reality they are just working with incrementing innovation.  But to really be embarrassing disruptive, it’s till culturally very difficult for many companies.

Niaz: What is cloud computing? What are the ideas behind cloud computing?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: There are many definitions of cloud computing. There is no one definition. I think the reason is that cloud computing is not any one thing. I think that it’s really a new model of computing where the internet is the platform for that computing model. If you look at the history of computing, in the first phase, we had the central computing model and the mainframes in the data center were the main platform of that model. That model lasted from the beginning of the computing industry until let say mid 80s. Then the client server model came.  And in the client server model, the PCs were the central platform of that model. Now cloud computing is a model and it’s totally organized around the internet and it’s totally organized to make it possible to access hardware resources, storage resources, middleware resources, application resources and services over the internet . So cloud computing, when you think about it, the actual computer is totally distributed over the internet in the cloud.  Finally cloud computing is the most interesting model of computing built totally around the internet.

Niaz: How much disruption does cloud computing represent when compared with the Internet?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: I think cloud is the evolution of the internet. I think cloud computing is a massive disruption. And it is a very big disruptive part of the internet, because it’s totally changing the way people can get access to application and to information. Instead of having them in your PC or in the computers in your firm, you can now easily get whatever you want from the cloud. And you can get it in much standardize ways. So cloud makes it much easier and much less expensive for everybody whether you are a big company or whether you are a small or medium size company or whether you are an individual to get access to very sophisticated applications. And you don’t have to know everything. Remember in the PC days, if you bought an application, you got a disk, you had to load it, then there were new versions and you had to manage those versions by yourself. It was such an advance way over the previous worlds. Everybody was happy. But it was very difficult to use. Cloud as you know the whole world of apps. If you need apps, you can go to apps store. And an app store is basically a cloud store. So you can easily get whatever you need from the app store. When an app has a new release it will tell you. You don’t have to know everything. You have to do anything. It all being engineered and that is making IT capabilities available to many more companies and people. So it’s very disruptive.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of startups which are competing with giants like IBM, Google, Amazon, Facebook?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: That’s the history of the industry. You know, in the 80s, people said how anybody competes with IBM as IBM is such a big and powerful company. And the few years later, IBM was almost died because client server computing came in and all these companies like Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Compaq; they almost killed IBM. And locally for me who was there it didn’t die. Then in 90s, you could say, how can anybody compete with Microsoft after windows came up, it was so powerful, it was everything. Google was nothing at the beginning. And here we are now. Every few years we ask this question, here is the most powerful company of the world and what can possibly happen to them?  And you know sometimes nothing happens to them. And they continue being more powerful. Sometimes, in the case of IBM, they reinvent themselves. And they stay very relevant. They are just no longer the most advanced company in the world, they are an important company. But In 70s and 80s it was the leader in the computing industry. I think many people wouldn’t say about IBM now. For competing and surviving in any industry you have to have a very good business model. And for entrepreneurial innovation, coming up with a great business model is the hardest and core challenge.

Niaz: Can you please tell us something about the ways of asking BIG questions to challenge the tradition and come up with disruptive innovation?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Niaz, you are asking a very good question because asking big questions, coming with new business idea or business model is very difficult. I would say, in the old days, lot of the ideas came from laboratory if I talk about IT industry. Today, the core of innovation is in the market place. How can you come up with a great new application or a great new solution that will find a market that will find customers who want it. You have to be much focused. You have to have some good ideas. You have to study the market. You have to understand who are likely to be your customers. You have to know who your competitors are going to be. If those competitors are going to be big like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, you have to know, if you are starting a new company, what do you have unique over those companies. But I think that in general the inspiration or new ideas is a combination of creativity and market place. You have to look at the market place and have to be inspired by marketplace. Here are some great ideas you have and bring light. I think I couldn’t able to give good answer. You are asking like ‘Where the great business ideas come from’. It’s like asking movie directors or composers, where do you get your creativity. It’s a similar question. There is no good answer to that.

Niaz: Thank you Irving. I am wishing you very good luck for your good health and all future projects.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: You are welcome. It was very nice talking to you. And good luck to you Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

Gautam Mukunda: Leadership

Editor’s Note: Gautam Mukunda is an Assistant Professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit of Harvard Business School.  He was the National Science Foundation Synthetic Biology ERC Postdoctoral Fellow resident at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies.  He received his PhD from MIT in Political Science and an A.B. in Government from Harvard, magna cum laude.  His research focuses on leadership, international relations, and the social and political implications of technological change.  His first book, “Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter,” was published in September 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Gautam Mukunda recently to gain his ideas and insights about Leadership which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Gautam, thank you so much for giving me time in the midst of your busy schedule. I believe we will be able to find some interesting facts about leadership today. You studied at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  At the same time, you have been working with giant companies as well as advising nonprofit organizations. As an assistant professor, you have been teaching ‘Leadership’ at Harvard Business School. Recently you’ve published your book ‘Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter’. At the very beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about how do you see ‘leaders’?

Gautam: You’re welcome. And I am happy to be here. So when I study leader, I study basically anyone with the possession of power in an organization. I would say about the people particularly at the top of the organization. By having their office and by being at the top of the organization, they are the leaders. So when I look at in my book and in my other research  about the question ‘When does it really matter who the person at the top of the organization is’ or ‘What is the circumstances when it’s important that it was this person and not one of the other people who might possibly have the job’.

Niaz: That’s really impressive. So how do you define leadership?

Gautam: I would say, in an essence, leadership is what leaders do. It could be anything. For my work, in some sense it doesn’t matter. So leadership is just anything leaders do as part of their job descriptions. More broadly in other people research, there is a distinction between leadership and management. Management is kind of the process of the organization and taking care of the certain things and leadership is more of the emotional side of the organization like inspiration, culture and that kind of things.

Niaz: I have read your book ‘Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter’. But those who are not familiar with your book, can you please tell us briefly about your book?

Gautam: Sure. So my book proposes an explanation as to when the individual leaders really make a big difference in the behavior or performance of an organization. The book is essentially a way to answer this question ‘When an individual leader matters’ or more broadly to answer sort of traditional debating question ‘Individual leaders make history or it really about larger social forces or individual leaders don’t matter’.

Niaz: What are your new findings in your book?

Gautam: So my book says, in most of the time, leadership is all about larger social forces. Most of the time individual leaders don’t matters.  But sometimes under very clearly identifiable circumstances, individual leaders can matter a great deal.

Niaz: What is most significant: Nurturing Leadership for Years or  Hiring Rock Stars.

Gautam: So in general it is almost always better to nurture leadership for long term within the organization. The people who work within the organization are the people are well known to you. You understand them and know their performance. Organization that are successful for long periods of time, are successful in part because they consistently able to develop and nurture leadership within the organization. They don’t need outsider. The companies that are successful for long time always tend to bring insider. Even though they don’t get Steve Jobs but they never just get a complete failure.

Niaz: Suppose you have been in business for 20 years, how will you hire a CEO for your billion dollars company?

Gautam: So the first question I would want to ask is whether I want someone from inside of the company or from outside of the company. Because it’s very different such of things. If you want someone from inside of the company there is relatively low risk choice because s/he is someone you know very well. So if your company is doing well and it’s in pretty good shape, you probably want someone from inside of the company. But if your company struggling or there is a major change in the market or something happening that cause you to think about trouble and you don’t have any one inside of the company with right approach then you have to start looking outside of the company. And when you are doing that then there are a variety of things you have to think that I have described in my book. May be the most important thing is that you have to realize that in general there is little chance of getting someone who is good at all of the skills sets needed to lead the organization. People have different skills sets at the same time organizations need different skills sets. So, Instead of looking for the best leader, what you really need to look for the right leaders.

Niaz: What sort of advices do you have for youth in becoming successful leaders?

Gautam: I would say that the most consistently successful leaders are people who do have many qualities. May be the one hardest and you need to work deliberately to cultivate is they are intellectually open. They draw on resources, concepts and ideas from a wide variety of areas. And they are not only open to other sorts of ideas but also the possibilities  they might be wrong, and they think very seriously and very constructively about how to recognize when they are wrong and how to learn from their mistakes and what to do about it. If I were giving sort of advice to people who are trying to develop leadership skills and to become a leader I would say read broadly, think broadly, engage in a wide variety of activity and do it with a learning orientation.Do it as someone who is consciously thinking about what am I am learning here that tells me that these are the things I knew I believed, isn’t true.

Niaz: Finally, are leaders made by history, or do they make it?

Gautam: Yah!That’s of course the topic of my book. And the answer is most of the time leaders are made by history. But sometimes, when a leader gets power, who hasn’t been thoroughly evaluated by the system, before they get power, is a little bit of unknown or a little bit of a surprise that person has the potential to do things radically different that no one else would do. And those people can really make history.

Niaz: Thank you so much for your time. And all the best wishes for your all upcoming projects.

Gautam: You are welcome. Good luck to you Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

3. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

4. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

5. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

6. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Brian Keegan: Big Data

Editor’s Note: Brian Keegan is a post-doctoral research fellow in Computational Social Science with David Lazer at Northeastern University. He defended his Ph.D. in the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University’s School of Communication.  He also attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Science, Technology, and Society in 2006.

His research employs a variety of large-scale behavioral data sets such as Wikipedia article revision histories, massively-multiplayer online game behavioral logs, and user interactions in a crowd-sourced T-shirt design community. He uses methods in network analysis, multilevel statistics, simulation, and content analysis. To learn more about him, please visit his official website Brianckeegan.com.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Brian Keegan recently to gain his ideas and insights about Big Data, Data Science and Analytics which is given below.

Niaz: Brian we are really excited to have you to talk about Big Data. Let start from the beginning. How do you define Big Data?

Brian: Thank you Niaz for having me. Well, a common joke in the community is that “big data” is anything that makes Excel crash. That’s neither fair to Microsoft because the dirty secret of data science is that you can get pretty far using Excel nor is it fair to researchers whose data could hypothetically fit in Excel, but are so complicated that it would make no sense to try in the first place.

Big data is distinct from traditional industry and academic approaches to data analysis because of what are called the three Vs: volume, variety, velocity.

      • Volume is what we think of immediately – server farms full of terabytes of user data waiting to be analyzed. This data doesn’t fit into a single machine’s memory, hard drive, or even a traditional database. The size of the data makes analyzing with traditional tools really hard which is why new tools are being created.
      • Second, there’s variety that reflects the fact that data aren’t just lists of numbers, but include complex social relationships, collections of text documents, and sensors. The scope of the data means that all these different kinds of data have different structures, granularity, and errors which need to be cleaned and integrated before you can start to look for relationships among them. Cleaning data is fundamentally unsexy and grueling work, but if you put garbage into a model, all you get garbage back out. Making sure all these diverse kinds of data are playing well with each other and the models you run on them is crucial.
      • Finally, there’s velocity that reflects the fact that data are not only being created in real-time, but people want to act on the incoming information in real time as well. This means the analysis also has to happen in real time which is quite different than the old days where a bunch of scientists could sit around for weeks testing different kinds of models on data collected months or years ago before writing a paper or report that takes still more months before its published. APIs, dashboards, and alerts are part of big data because they make data available fast.

Niaz: Can you please provide us some examples?

Brian: Data that is big is definitely not new. The US Census two centuries ago still required collecting and analyzing millions of data points collected by hand. Librarians and archivists have always struggled with how to organize, find, and share information on millions of physical documents like books and journals. Physicists have been grappling with big data for decades where the data is literally astronomical. Biologists sequencing the genome needed ways to manipulate and compare data involving billions of base pairs.

While “data that was big” existed before computers, the availability of cheap computation has accelerated and expanded our ability to collect, process, and analyze data that is big. So while we now think of things like tweets or financial transactions as “big data” because these industries have rushed to adopt or are completely dependent upon computation, it’s important to keep in mind that lots of big data exist outside of social media, finance, and e-commerce and that’s where a lot of opportunities and challenges still exist.

Niaz: What are some of the possible use cases for big data analytic? What are the major companies producing gigantic amount of Data?

Brian: Most people think of internet companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Netflix, Amazon, Yelp, Wikipedia, and OkCupid when they think of big data. These companies are definitely the pioneers of coming up with the algorithms, platforms, and other tools like PageRank, map-reduce, user-generated content, recommender systems that require combining millions of data points to provide fast and relevant content.

    • Companies like Crimson Hexagon mine Twitter and other social media streams for their clients to detect patterns of novel phrases or changes in the the sentiment associated with keywords and products. This can let their clients know if people are having problems with a product or if a new show is generating a lot of buzz despite mediocre ratings.
    • The financial industry uses big data not only for high-frequency trading based on combining signals from across the market, but also evaluating credit risks of customers by combining various data sets. Retailers like Target and WalMart have large analytics teams that examine consumer transactions for behavioral patterns so they know what products to feature. Telecommunications companies like AT&T or Verizon collect call data records produced by every cell phone on their networks that lets them know your location over time so they can improve coverage. Industrial companies like GE and Boeing put more and more sensors into their products so that they can monitor performance and anticipate maintenance.
    • Finally, one of the largest producers and consumers of big data is the government. Law enforcement agencies publish data about crime and intelligence agencies monitor communication data from suspects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve, and World Bank collect and publish extremely rich and useful economic time series data. Meteorologists collect and analyze large amounts of data to make weather forecasts.

Niaz: Why has big data become so important now?

Brian: Whether it was business, politics, or military, decisions were (and continue to be) made under uncertainty about history or context because getting timely and relevant data was basically impossible. Directors didn’t know what customers were saying about their product, politicians didn’t know the issues constituents were talking about, and officers faced a fog of war. Ways of getting data were often slow and/or suspect: for example, broadcast stations used to price advertising time by paying a few dozen people in a city to keep journals of what stations they remember hearing every day. Looking back now, this seems like an insane way not only collect data but also make decisions based on obviously unreliable data, but it’s how things were done for decades because there was no better way of measuring what people were doing. The behavioral traces we leave in tweets and receipts are not only much finer-grained and reliable, but also encompass a much larger and more representative sample of people and their behaviors.

Data lets decision makers know and respond to what the world really looks like instead of going on their gut. More data usually gives a more accurate view, but too much data can also overwhelm and wash out the signal with noise. The job of data scientists less trying to find a single needle in a haystack and more like collecting as much hay as possible to be sure there’s a few needles in there before sorting through the much bigger haystack. In other words, data might be collected for one goal, but it can also be repurposed for other goals and follow-on questions that come along to provide new insights. More powerful computers, algorithms, and platforms make assembling and sorting through these big haystacks much easier than before.

Niaz: Recently I have seen IBM has started to work with Big Data. What roles do companies like IBM play in this area?

Brian: IBM is just one of many companies that are racing “upstream” to analyze data on larger and more complex systems like an entire city by aggregating tweets, traffic, surveillance cameras, electricity consumption, emergency services which feed into each other. IBM is an example of an organization that has shifted from providing value from transforming raw materials into products like computers to transforming raw data into unexpected insights about how a system works — or doesn’t. The secret sauce is collecting existing data, building new data collection systems, and developing statistical models and platforms that are able to work in the big data domain of volume, variety, and velocity that traditional academic training doesn’t equip people.

Niaz: What are the benefits of Big Data to Business? How it is influencing innovation and business?

Brian: Consider the market capitalization of three major tech companies on a per capita basis: Microsoft makes software and hardware as well as running web services like Bing based on big data and is worth about $2.5 million per employee, Google mostly makes software and runs web services and is worth about $4.6 million per employee, and Facebook effectively just runs a web service of its social network site and is worth about $19 million per employee. These numbers may outliers or unreliable for a variety of reasons, but the trend suggests that organizations like Facebook focused solely on data produce more value per employee.

This obviously isn’t a prescription for every company — ExxonMobil, WalMart, GE, and Berkshire produce value in fundamentally different ways. But Facebook did find a way to capture and analyze data about the world — our social relationships and preferences — that was previously hidden. There are other processes happening beyond the world of social media that currently go uncaptured, but the advent of new sensors and opportunities for collecting data that will become ripe for the picking. Mobile phones in developing countries will reveal patterns of human mobility that could transform finance, transportation, and health care. RFIDs on groceries and other products could reveal patterns transportation and consumption that could reduce wasted food while opening new markets. Smart meters and grids could turn the tide against global climate change while lowering energy costs. Politicians could be made more accountable and responsive through crowd sourced fundraising and analysis of regulatory disclosures. The list of data out there waiting to be collected and analyzed boggles the mind.

Niaz: How do you define a Data Scientist? What are your suggestions you have for those who want to become a data scientist?

Brian: A data scientist needs familiarity with a wide set of skills, so much so that it’s impossible for them to be expert in all of them.

      • First, data scientists need the computational skills from learning a programming language like Python or Java so that they can acquire, cleanup, and manipulate data from databases and APIs, hack together different programs developed by people who are far more expert in network analysis or natural language processing, and use difficult tools like MySQL and Hadoop. There’s no point-and-click program out there with polished tutorials that does everything you’ll need from end-to-end. Data scientists spend a lot of time writing code, working at the command line, and reading technical documentation but there are tons of great resources like StackOverflow, GitHub, free online classes, and active and friendly developer communities where people are happy to share code and solutions.
      • Second, data scientists need statistical skills at both a theoretical and methodological level. This is the hardest part and favors people who have backgrounds in math and statistics, computer and information sciences, physical sciences and engineering, or quantitative social sciences. Theoretically, they need to know why some kinds of analyses should be run on some kinds but not other kinds of data and what the limitations of one kind of model are compared to others. Methodologically, data scientists need to actually be able to run these analyses using statistical software like R, interpret the output of the analyses, and do the statistical diagnostics to make sure all the assumptions that are baked into a model are actually behaving properly.
      • Third, data scientists need some information visualization and design skills so they can communicate their findings in an effective way with charts or interactive web pages for exploration. This means learning to use packages like ggplot in R or matplotlib in Python for statistical distributions, d3 in Javascript for interactive web visualizations, or Gephi for network visualizations.

All of the packages I mentioned are open-source which also reflects the culture in the data science community; expensive licenses for software or services are very suspect because others should be able to easily replicate and build upon your analysis and findings.

Niaz: Finally, what do you think about the impact of Big Data in our everyday life?

Brian: Big Data is a dual-use technology that can satisfy multiple goals, some of which may be valuable and others which may be unsavory. On one hand it can help entrepreneurs be more nimble and open new markets or researchers make new insights about how the world works, on the other hand, the Arab Spring suggested it can also reinforce the power of repressive regimes to monitor dissidents or unsavory organizations to do invasive personalized marketing.

Danah Boyd and Kate Crawford have argued persuasively about how the various possibilities of big data to address societal ills or undermine social structure obscure the very real but subtle changes that are happening right now that replace existing theory and knowledge, cloak subjectivity with quantitative objectivity, confuse bigger data with better data, separate data from context and meaning, raise real ethical questions, and create or reinforce inequalities.

Big data also raises complicated questions about who has access to data. On one hand, privacy is a paramount concern as organizations shouldn’t be collecting or sharing data about individuals without their consent. On the other hand, there’s also the expectation that data should be shared with other researchers so they can validate findings. Furthermore, data should be preserved and archived so that it is not lost to future researchers who want to compare or study changes over time.

Niaz: Brian, Thank you so much for giving me time in the midst of your busy schedule. It is really great to know the details of Big Data from you. I am wishing you good luck with your study, research, projects and works.

Brian: You are welcome. Good luck to you too.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

James Allworth: Disruptive Innovation

Editor’s Note: James Allworth is the director of strategy at Medallia. He is a Harvard Business School graduate. Previously he worked for ‘Apple’, ‘Booz & Company and co-authored New York Times best seller  ‘How will you measure your life. He is a writer at Harvard Business Review and a fellow of Professor Clay Christensens think-tank on Innovation. His work has been featured on bloomberg, business insider and reuters.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed James Allworth recently to gain his ideas and insights about Disruptive Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: James, you have been working with the father of disruptive innovation, Clay Christensen’s, for long time. You have done so many works in the field of Disruptive Innovation. Can you please give us a brief description of disruptive Innovation?

James: Disruptive innovation is the process by which novel technologies or business models — often times, vastly inferior to the existing solution — start at the bottom of the market, and by gradually getting better, move to replace the existing solution. Professor Christensen first identified the phenomenon when studying the disk drive industry; but it applies widely. Generally, the competitors start off being considered little more than “toys”, but by being vastly more accessible (both in terms of price and in terms of necessary expertise) they slowly move upmarket and take over the market. Once you understand how it happens, you’ll see it all over the place.

Niaz: What are the major examples of Disruptive Innovation to you?

James: There are examples everywhere. One of my favorite industries to look at is the computing industry. We started with mainframes, they were displaced by minicomputers, which in turn was displaced by the personal computer, then the laptop, and now the PC and laptop is being threatened by tablets and smartphones. In each case, the disruptive entrant had lower performance than the previous solution; often they were cheaper, too.

What’s really fascinating is that industries that have previously been immune to disruption are staring down the barrel of it right now. The internet is enabling all this to happen — whether it be Netflix threatening cable; or Uber threatening entrenched taxi monopolies; or Airbnb going after the hotels.

Niaz: So now, if we would like to differentiate innovation and disruptive innovation, what will be the core basis?

James: The performance of the solution is generally inferior to what was available previously, but it’s cheaper and more accessible. The array of programming options on cable, for instance, is vastly greater than Netflix. But Netflix is much cheaper. Hotels compete on the quality of the appointments and amenities; Airbnb is unlikely to be able to beat that head on, but by leveraging the internet and utilizing what would otherwise go to waste (people’s rooms) then they’re able to compete on a different axis of performance.

What’s also noticeable about disruptive innovation is that it’s rarely just technical innovation that drives it, but also business model innovation. Professor Christensen and Max Wessel wrote touched on this in their recent HBR article, on surviving disruption. There’s an “extendable core” in disruptors that enable them to topple the incumbents.

Niaz: Is it possible to disrupt Google? How?

James: Well, those are very big questions.

Google is interesting because it’s made its fortune disrupting others. But in becoming a big organization, it has created an Achilles heel just like any other big organization has — in its case; it has a very big addiction to advertising revenue. A French ISP just built ad blocking into its service by default — now, it looks like they have subsequently backed down (example here), but something like that becoming commonplace would make life very difficult for Google.

Niaz: As you know YouTube has been a great revolution. It has been changing the way we create and share art. Do you see any disruption in the way we create art? Will it be a concept like ‘Disruptive Art’

James: The wonderful thing about YouTube is that it’s created a publishing platform that anyone can gain access to, and you don’t need a lot of resources to do so. It’s enabled people to reach an audience they otherwise could not. You don’t need to have a deal with a big media company to create a movie or even a TV series now and get it published; artists and regular folks are now able to create a relationship directly with their fans. It’s this ability for the creator to get directly in touch with the fan/consumer that is what is so cool about YouTube and its ilk.

You’re already starting to see artists experiment with new business models that leverage this.

Niaz: Till today, technology and innovation mostly belong to Silicon Valley? What do you think about the core challenges for developing countries and their organizations to be innovative? How can they come up with disruptive innovative ideas, make things happen and sustain in the long run?

James: Disruption often starts out where there is non-consumption — where people can’t afford the existing solution. That means that emerging markets are going to be hotbeds of activity for disruptive innovation. You’re already starting to see this happen, with the $20 tablet from India for example: (click)

Niaz: Finally, our readers will love to know about your amazing book ‘How will you measure your life’. Can you please give us a brief of this life changing book?

James: The book is based on Professor Christensen’s class at Harvard Business School, using the theory to answer the big questions you really need to be asking about your life and your career. At no point do we claim to have the answers; it’s going to be different for everyone, so instead, we use the business theory to help equip readers with the tools required to find the answers for themselves.

We managed to make the New York Times best seller list, which we’ve just been humbled by. If your readers are interested in finding out more, details are up on the website (here), including a free excerpt.

Niaz: James, thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you very good luck for everything you do.

James: Thanks Niaz, and all the best!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

2. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

3. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media