Self Growth

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.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

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

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.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

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

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

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

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

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.

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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