Technology

Catherine Mohr: Medical Research, Technology and Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niaz: What does actually make Silicon Valley very special?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niaz: Any last comment?

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

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

Catherine: Thank you for putting this program together

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Further Reading:

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

2. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

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

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

5. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

9. Brian Keegan on Big Data

10. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niaz: What does excite you most now?

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

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

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

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

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

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Further Reading:

1. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

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

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

4. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

6. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

7. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

8. Brian Keegan on Big Data

9. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

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.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

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

Aubrey de Grey: Aging and Overcoming Death

Editor’s Note: Dr. Aubrey de Grey is a true maverick. He challenges the most basic assumption underlying the human condition – that aging is inevitable. He argues instead that aging is a disease – one that can be cured if it’s approached as “an engineering problem.”

He is a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, UK, and is the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a non-profit charity dedicated to combating the aging process. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, the world’s only peer-reviewed journal focused on intervention in aging. His research interest encompass the causes of all cellular side-effects of metabolism (“damage”) that constitute mammalian aging and the design of interventions to repair and /or obviate that damage. You can read his full bio from here here here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Aubrey de Grey recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of aging which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Aubrey, I know you are a very busy man and I really appreciate you for taking time out of your schedule to join me. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Aubrey: My pleasure.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, could you please say a few words about your background and the positions that you hold today?

Aubrey: I was initially trained as a computer scientist, but I switched to the biology of aging at around 30 when I discovered, to my astonishment, that very few researchers were really working on doing anything about aging. Currently I’m the Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation, a California-based biomedical research charity focused on developing the strategy for defeating aging that I proposed back in 2000.

Niaz: That’s really interesting. What did first attract you to the idea of physical immortality?

Aubrey: First, let’s be totally clear that I don’t work on “immortality”, or any variations on that theme. I work on health: I want to let people stay fully healthy, i.e. functioning both physically and mentally as well as a young adult, at any age. Once this is achieved, it is very likely that there will be a dramatic side-benefit in terms of how long people live – but that’s what it is, a side-benefit. I do not work on longevity for longevity’s sake. So, to answer what your question should have been: what attracted me to the crusade to bring aging under medical control was simply that it was obviously humanity’s worst problem but hardly anyone was working on it.

Niaz: What’s so wrong with getting old? Is getting old the biggest health crisis facing the world?

Aubrey: The way you phrase the question incorporates most of the answer. Most people have a totally distorted idea of what aging is: they think of it as distinct from the diseases of old age, and as something natural and inevitable, like the passage of time. So “getting old” is used pretty much interchangeably as either getting chronologically old or getting frail. WTF?! We don’t ask what’s so wrong with getting Alzheimer’s, so it makes no sense to ask what’s so wrong with going downhill in all ways.

Niaz: You’re a true maverick and you challenge the most basic assumption underlying the human condition — that aging is inevitable. You argue instead that aging is a disease – one that can be cured if it’s approached as “an engineering problem.” Before we focus on your efforts to understand the aging process, perhaps we should first say a few words about aging itself. Why do organisms age, and die?

Aubrey: Aging is far less mysterious than most people assume. In its essence, aging of a living organism is no different than aging of a simple, man-made machine – which should be no surprise, since after all the body is a machine (whatever one’s view may be as regards any non-physical elements that combine with the body to form the human being). Thus, it’s totally reasonable – I would say obvious, but apparently it isn’t obvious to everyone – to look at how we already succeed in extending the healthy longevity of cars or aeroplanes waaay beyond how long they were designed to last, and apply the same principles to human aging. And those principles come down, in a nutshell to just one idea: preventative maintenance, i.e. repairing pre-symptomatic damage before symptoms emerge.

Niaz: So does the process of aging serve some evolutionary purpose — and if it does, will we run into trouble if we attempt to counteract it?

Aubrey: It does not. From the 1880s or so until the 1950s it was thought that aging helped species to be more nimble in responding evolutionarily to changing environments, but then Medawar pointed out that mortality from causes that aren’t related to age is so high in the wild that there are too few frail individuals to drive natural selection for aging even if in principle it would be a good thing for the species. Medawar’s observation was somewhat over simplistic, but today almost all gerontologists agree that his basic idea was correct and that there are no “genes for aging”.

Niaz: You are the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Foundation. What that acronym stands for and what the organization does? 

Aubrey: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, but I know that’s a bit of a mouthful. We do biomedical research to develop regenerative medicine against aging, i.e rejuvenation biotechnology that will restore people’s physical and mental function (and appearance, yes!) to that of a young adult.

Niaz: What’s been the most striking piece of data to support your hypotheses?

Aubrey: That’s not really the right question: I don’t have a “hypothesis”. What I have is a technological plan – a proposal for how to manipulate an aspect of nature – whereas hypotheses are conjectures about how nature works in the absence of manipulation. The reason I need to make this ostensibly nit-picking distinction is that pioneering technology does not proceed by the accumulation of data: rather, it consists of a leap of faith that putting established technologies together will deliver more than the sum of the parts. So we (and others) have certainly been making great progress in developing the component technologies that will in due course combine to defeat aging, but calling those advances “support for a hypothesis” is a misuse of terms.

Niaz: As you know, now we are living in an exciting era of bioinformatics and big data. What do you think about the role of bioinformatics and big data in this field?

Aubrey: The relevance of big data to biomedical gerontology is pretty much the same as throughout biology. It speeds up a huge variety of bench experiments, but it doesn’t derive many big ideas itself.

Niaz: Some people regard aging research, and efforts to extend lifespan, with suspicion. Why do you think that is? What is your response to those concerns?

Aubrey: It’s embodied in your question: people who recoil at this work do so because they regard “aging research” and “efforts to extend lifespan” as synonymous, when in fact “aging research” and “efforts to eliminate age-related disease and disability” are synonymous. The tragedy is that this misconception is so entrenched: even though gerontoogists have been correcting this error since decades before I came along, but no one wants to hear it, probably mainly because they don’t want to get their hopes up. I think this is finally changing now, but I’m not slowin down my advocacy efforts.

Niaz: You regard cancer as the greatest potential threat to your longevity program, but couldn’t mutant viruses represent an even greater threat?

Aubrey: Viruses are a huge issue, but they are small (they don’t have many genes), whereas cancer has the entire human genome at its mutational disposal. Pandemics are a problem mainly because we aren’t putting enough money into vaccine development: if we can just get our priorities right, the chances of any pandemic really taking off are infinitesimal.

Niaz: What are the other key problems in aging research?

Aubrey: Well, basically most non-SENS research revolves around identifying simple interventions (drugs, genes, diet) that can in some harmonious unitary way slow aging down. I support such research, because it may in many cases make a dent in aging far sooner than SENS will – but its impact will be far less than what SENS will do once it exists. As such, the way to save the most lives and alleviate the most suffering is to pursue both approaches.

Niaz: One of the important consequences of successful SENS research is that we will no longer lose creative, inventive individuals and their priceless gifts to humanity. It will really be exciting. You have assigned $13 million dollars out if $16.5 million dollars that you inherited from your mom to SENS. In addition, you have dedicated your life, all your time and money to this mission. Do you think you’re going to be successful as well as going to find out the ways to overcome death? What is the timeframe?

Aubrey: As a researcher, I intrinsically accept that I don’t know whether my work will succeed, but I am sufficiently motivated by the knowledge that it MAY succeed. I don’t think of myself as a betting man, but in that sense I suppose I am. As for timeframes, I think there is a 50% (at least) chance that this research will get us to what I’ve called “longevity escape velocity” within 20-25 years.

Niaz: WOW! That’s going to be incredible. Can the planet cope with people living so long?

Aubrey: People are incredibly bad at understanding the influences of the trajrctory of global population and how it would be altered by the defeat of aging, which is why we are funding a very prestigious group in Denver to analyse it authoritatively. The short answer is yes, we believe that the planet can certainly cope, partly because the currently-observed falling fertility rates and rising age at childbirth will continue, but also becaue new technologies such as renewable energy and nuclear fusion will greatly increase the planet’s carrying capacity.

Niaz: Google’s CEO, Larry Page, said: “Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.” And very recently Google has announced a new company called Calico that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.  What do you think about this move by Google?

Aubrey: It’s the single best piece of news in all the time I’ve been working in this field. Even though Calico is taking its time to determine its research priorities, I’m very confident that it will make huge contributions to hastening the defeat of aging.

Niaz: Now, as the editor of the journal of rejuvenation, obviously you have a lot of information coming across your desk all the time. I was wondering is there any particular research that excites you at the moment?

Aubrey: I really don’t want to single anything out. SENS is a divide-and-conquer strategy, and all its strands are moving forward very promisingly.

Niaz: You are exceptionally well connected with other scientists. I have seen you at TEDMED 2012 Conference. About how many scientific conferences do you attend each year? What is your main means of becoming acquainted with other scientists?

Aubrey: I give about 50 talks a year, at conferences, universities and elsewhere. I meet scientists there, of course, but also by contacts based on reading publications. In that regard I’m no different than any other scientist.

Niaz: What are your goals for the next decade?

Aubrey: To become obsolete. My goal is that by 2020 or so there will be people involved in this mission who are much better than me at all the tasks I’m good at and that currently the mission relies on me to perform.

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

Aubrey: The main thing I want to communicate is that shortage of funding is delaying the defeat of aging by many years. My current estimate is that we could be going about three times faster if funding were not limiting – and the tragedy is that even a ten-fold increase, to something like $100m per year (way under 1% of the NIH’s butget), would pretty much eliminate that slowdown. We have a solid plan, and we have the world’s best researchers waiting and eager to get on and implement. All we need is the resources to let them get on with it.

Niaz: Dear Aubrey, thanks a lot for giving us time and sharing us your invaluable ides. We are wishing you very good luck for your tremendous success. Please take very good care of yourself.

Aubrey: My pleasure. Many thanks for the invitation.

Ending Note: It’s been more than a decade since Dr. Aubrey de Grey has established the principles behind SENS. You can visit sens.org and look at the summary of the principles over there. Also, of course, Dr. Aubrey recommends you his book “Ending Aging” which covers the strategy in lots of detail.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

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

James Kobielus: Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

Editor’s Note: As IBM’s Big Data Evangelist, James Kobielus is IBM Senior Program Director, Product Marketing, Big Data Analytics Solutions. He is an industry veteran, a popular speaker and social media participant, and a thought leader in Big Data, Hadoop, Enterprise Data Warehousing, Advanced Analytics, Business Intelligence, Data Management, and Next Best Action Technologies. He works with IBM’s product management and marketing teams in Big Data. He has spoken at such leading industry events as IBM Information On Demand, IBM Big Data Integration and Governance, Hadoop Summit, Strata, and Forrester Business Process Forum. He has published several business technology books and is a very popular provider of original commentary on blogs and many social media.

To learn more about his research, works, ideas, theories and knowledge, please check this this this this this this and this out.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed James Kobielus recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Big Data which is given below.

Niaz: Dear James, 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.

James: And I’m thrilled and honored that you asked me.

Niaz: You are a leading expert on Big Data, as well as on such enabling technologies as enterprise data warehousing, advanced analytics, Hadoop, cloud services, database management systems, business process management, business intelligence, and complex-event processing. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about Big Data? How does Big Data make sense of the new world?

James: Big Data refers to approaches for extracting deep value from advanced analytics and trustworthy data at all scales. At the heart of advanced analytics is data mining, which is all about using statistical analysis to find non-obvious patterns (segmentations, correlations, trends, propensities, etc.) within historical data sets.

Some might refer to advanced analytics as tools for “making sense” of this data in ways that are beyond the scope of traditional reporting and visualization. As we aggregate and mine a wider variety of data sources, we can find far more “sense”–also known as “insights”–that previously lay under the surface. Likewise, as we accumulate a larger volume of historical data from these sources and incorporate a wider variety of variables from them into our models, we can build more powerful predictive models of what might happen under various future circumstances. And if we can refresh this data rapidly with high-velocity high-quality feeds, while iterating and refining our models more rapidly, we can ensure that our insights reflect the latest, greatest data and analytics available.

That’s the power of Big Data: achieve more data-driven insights (aka “making sense”) by enabling our decision support tools to leverage the “3 Vs”: a growing Volume of stored data, higher Velocity of data feeds, and broader Variety of data sources.

Niaz: As you know, Big Data has already started to redefine search, media, computing, social media, products, services and so on. Availability of Data helping us analyzing trend and doing interesting things in more accurate and efficient ways than before. What are some of the most interesting uses of big data out there today?

James: Where do I start? There are interesting uses of Big Data in most industries and in most business functions.

I think cognitive computing applications of Big Data are among the most transformative tools in modern business.

Cognitive computing is a term that probably goes over the head of most of the general public. IBM defines it as the ability of automated systems to learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either man or machine could do on their own, thereby helping human experts drill through big data rapidly to make better decisions.

One way I like to describe cognitive computing is as the engine behind “conversational optimization.” In this context, the “cognition” that drives the “conversation” is powered by big data, advanced analytics, machine learning and agile systems of engagement. Rather than rely on programs that predetermine every answer or action needed to perform a function or set of tasks, cognitive computing leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that sense, predict, infer and, if they drive machine-to-human dialogues, converse.

Cognitive computing performance improves over time as systems build knowledge and learn a domain’s language and terminology, its processes and its preferred methods of interacting. This is why it’s such a powerful conversation optimizer. The best conversations are deep in give and take, questioning and answering, tackling topics of keenest interest to the conversants. When one or more parties has deep knowledge and can retrieve it instantaneously within the stream of the moment, the conversation quickly blossoms into a more perfect melding of minds. That’s why it has been deployed into applications in healthcare, banking, education and retail that build domain expertise and require human-friendly interaction models.

IBM Watson is one of the most famous exemplars of the power of cognitive computing driving agile human-machine conversations.  In its famous “Jeopardy!” appearance, Watson illustrated how its Deep Question and Answer technology—which is cognitive computing to the core—can revolutionize the sort of highly patterned “conversation” characteristic of a TV quiz show. By having its Deep Q&A results rendered (for the sake of that broadcast) in a synthesized human voice, Watson demonstrated how it could pass (and surpass) any Turing test that tried to tell whether it was a computer rather than, say, Ken Jennings. After all, the Turing test is conversational at its very core.

What’s powering Watson’s Deep Q&A technology is an architecture that supports an intelligent system of engagement. Such an architecture is able to mimic real human conversation, in which the dialogue spans a broad, open domain of subject matter; uses natural human language; is able to process complex language with a high degree of accuracy, precision and nuance; and operates with speed-of-thought fluidity.

Where the “Jeopardy!” conversational test was concerned (and where the other participants were humans literally at the top of that game), Watson was super-optimized. However, in the real-world of natural human conversation, the notion of “conversation optimization” might seem, at first glance, like a pointy-headed pipedream par excellence. However, you don’t have to be an academic sociologist to realize that society, cultures and situational contexts impose many expectations, constraints and other rules to which our conversations and actions must conform (or face disapproval, ostracism, or worse). Optimizing our conversations is critical to surviving and thriving in human society.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a Watson-like Deep Q&A adviser to help us understand the devastating faux pas to avoid and the right bon mot to drop into any conversation while we’re in the thick of it? That’s my personal dream and I’ll bet that before long, with mobile and social coming into everything, it will be quite feasible (no, this is not a product announcement—just the dream of one IBMer). But what excites me even more (and is definitely not a personal pipedream), is IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, which we unveiled earlier this year. It is a cognitive-computing assistant that revolutionizes what’s possible in multichannel B2C conversations. The  solution’s “Ask Watson” feature uses Deep Q&A to greet customers, conduct contextual conversations on diverse topics, and ensure that the overall engagement is rich with answers, guidance and assistance.

Cognitive/conversational computing is also applicable to “next best action,” which is one of today’s hottest new focus areas in intelligent systems. At its heart, next best action refers to an intelligent infrastructure that optimizes agile engagements across many customer-facing channels, including portal, call center, point of sales, e-mail and social. With cognitive-computing infrastructure the silent assistant, customers engage in a never-ending whirligig of conversations with humans and, increasingly, with automated bots, recommendation engines and other non-human components that, to varying degrees, mimic real-human conversation.

Niaz: So do you think machine learning is the right way to analyze Big Data?

James: Machine learning is an important approach for extracting fresh insights from unstructured data in an automated fashion, but it’s not the only approach. For example, machine learning doesn’t eliminate the need for data scientists to build segmentation, regression, propensity, and other models for data mining and predictive analytics.

Fundamentally, machine learning is a productivity tool for data scientists, helping them to get smarter, just as machine learning algorithms can’t get smarter without some ongoing training by data scientists. Machine learning allows data scientists to train a model on an example data set, and then leverage algorithms that automatically generalize and learn both from that example and from fresh feeds of data. To varying degrees, you’ll see the terms “unsupervised learning,” “deep learning,” “computational learning,” “cognitive computing,” “machine perception,” “pattern recognition,” and “artificial intelligence” used in this same general context.

Machine learning doesn’t mean that the resultant learning is always superior to what human analysts might have achieved through more manual knowledge-discovery techniques. But you don’t need to believe that machines can think better than or as well as humans to see the value of machine learning. We gladly offload many cognitive processes to automated systems where there just aren’t enough flesh-and-blood humans to exercise their highly evolved brains on various analytics tasks.

Niaz:What are the available technologies out there those help profoundly to analyze data? Can you please briefly tell us about Big Data technologies and their important uses?

James: Once again, it’s a matter of “where do I start?” The range of Big Data analytics technologies is wide and growing rapidly. We live in the golden age of database and analytics innovation. Their uses are everywhere: in every industry, every business function, and every business process, both back-office and customer-facing.

For starters, Big Data is much more than Hadoop. Another big data “H”—hybrid—is becoming dominant, and Hadoop is an important (but not all-encompassing) component of it. In the larger evolutionary perspective, big data is evolving into a hybridized paradigm under which Hadoop, massively parallel processing enterprise data warehouses, in-memory columnar, stream computing, NoSQL, document databases, and other approaches support extreme analytics in the cloud.

Hybrid architectures address the heterogeneous reality of big data environments and respond to the need to incorporate both established and new analytic database approaches into a common architecture. The fundamental principle of hybrid architectures is that each constituent big data platform is fit-for-purpose to the role for which it’s best suited. These big data deployment roles may include any or all of the following: data acquisition, collection, transformation, movement, cleansing, staging, sandboxing, modeling, governance, access, delivery, archiving, and interactive exploration. In any role, a fit-for-purpose big data platform often supports specific data sources, workloads, applications, and users.

Hybrid is the future of big data because users increasingly realize that no single type of analytic platform is always best for all requirements. Also, platform churn—plus the heterogeneity it usually produces—will make hybrid architectures more common in big data deployments.

Hybrid deployments are already widespread in many real-world big data deployments. The most typical are the three-tier—also called “hub-and-spoke”—architectures. These environments may have, for example, Hadoop (e.g., IBM InfoSphere BigInsights) in the data acquisition, collection, staging, preprocessing, and transformation layer; relational-based MPP EDWs (e.g., IBM PureData System for Analytics) in the hub/governance layer; and in-memory databases (e.g., IBM Cognos TM1) in the access and interaction layer.

The complexity of hybrid architectures depends on range of sources, workloads, and applications you’re trying to support. In the back-end staging tier, you might need different preprocessing clusters for each of the disparate sources: structured, semi-structured, and unstructured.

In the hub tier, you may need disparate clusters configured with different underlying data platforms—RDBMS, stream computing, HDFS, HBase, Cassandra, NoSQL, and so on—-and corresponding metadata, governance, and in-database execution components.

And in the front-end access tier, you might require various combinations of in-memory, columnar, OLAP, dimensionless, and other database technologies to deliver the requisite performance on diverse analytic applications, ranging from operational BI to advanced analytics and complex event processing.

Niaz: That’s really amazing. How to you connect these two dots: Big Data Analytics and Cognitive Computing? How does this connection make sense?

James: The relationship between Cognitive computing and Big Data is simple. Cognitive computing is an advanced analytic approach that helps humans drill through the unstructured data within Big Data repositories more rapidly in order to see correlations, patterns, and insights more rapidly.

Think of cognitive computing as a “speed-of-thought accelerator.” Speed of thought is something we like to imagine operates at a single high-velocity setting. But that’s just not the case. Some modes of cognition are painfully slow, such as pondering the bewildering panoply of investment options available under your company’s retirement plan. But some other modes are instantaneous, such as speaking your native language, recognizing an old friend, or sensing when your life may be in danger.

None of this is news to anybody who studies cognitive psychology has followed advances in artificial intelligence, aka AI, over the past several decades. Different modes of cognition have different styles, speeds, and spheres of application.

When we speak of “cognitive computing,” we’re generally referring to the ability of automated systems to handle the conscious, critical, logical, attentive, reasoning mode of thought that humans engage in when they, say, play “Jeopardy!” or try to master some rigorous academic discipline. This is the “slow” cognition that Nobel-winning psychologist/economist Daniel Kahneman discussed in recent IBM Colloquium speech.

As anybody who has ever watched an expert at work will attest, this “slow” thinking can move at lightning speed when the master is in his or her element. When a subject-domain specialist is expounding on their field of study, they often move rapidly from one brilliant thought to the next. It’s almost as if these thought-gems automatically flash into their mind without conscious effort.

This is the cognitive agility that Kahneman examined in his speech. He described the ability of humans to build skills, which involves mastering “System 2″ cognition (slow, conscious, reasoning-driven) so that it becomes “System 1″ (fast, unconscious, action-driven). Not just that, but an expert is able to switch between both modes of thought within the moment when it becomes necessary to rationally ponder some new circumstance that doesn’t match the automated mental template they’ve developed. Kahneman describes System 2 “slow thinking” as well-suited for probability-savvy correlation thinking, whereas System 1 “fast thinking” is geared to deterministic causal thinking.

Kahneman’s “System 2″ cognition–slow, rule-centric, and attention-dependent–is well-suited for acceleration and automation on big data platforms such as IBM Watson. After all, a machine can process a huge knowledge corpus, myriad fixed rules, and complex statistical models far faster than any mortal. Just as important, a big-data platform doesn’t have the limited attention span of a human; consequently, it can handle many tasks concurrently without losing its train of thought.

Also, Kahneman’s “System 1″ cognition–fast, unconscious, action-driven–is not necessarily something we need to hand to computers alone. We can accelerate it by facilitating data-driven interactive visualization by human beings, at any level of expertise. When a big-data platform drives a self-service business intelligence application such as IBM Cognos, it can help users to accelerate their own “System 1″ thinking by enabling them to visualize meaningful patterns in a flash without having to build statistical models, do fancy programming, or indulge in any other “System 2″ thought.

And finally, based on those two insights, it’s clear to me that cognitive computing is not simply limited to the Watsons and other big-data platforms of the world. Any well-architected big data, advanced analytics, or business intelligence platform is essentially a cognitive-computing platform. To the extent it uses machines to accelerate the slow “System 2″ cognition and/or provides self-service visualization tools to help people speed up their wetware’s “System 1″ thinking, it’s a cognitive-computing platform.

Now I will expand upon the official IBM definition of “cognitive computing” to put it in a larger frame of reference. As far as I’m concerned, the core criterion of cognitive computing is whether the system, however architected, has the net effect of speeding up any form of cognition, executing on hardware and/or wetware.

Niaz: How is Big Data Analytics changing the nature of building great products? What do you think about the future of products?

James: That’s a great question that I haven’t explored too much extent. My sense is that more “products” are in fact “services”–such as online media, entertainment, and gaming–that, as an integral capability, feed on the Big Data generated by its users. Companies tune the designs, interaction models, and user experiences of these productized services through Big Data analytics. To the extent that users respond or don’t respond to particular features of these services, that will be revealed in the data and will trigger continuous adjustments in product/service design. New features might be added on a probationary basis, to see how users respond, and just as quickly withdraw or ramped up in importance.

This new product development/refinement loop is often referred to as “real-world experiments.” The process of continuous, iterative, incremental experimentation both generates and depends on a steady feed of Big Data. It also requires data scientists to play a key role in the product-refinement cycle, in partnership with traditional product designers and engineers.  Leading-edge organizations have begun to emphasize real-world experiments as a fundamental best practice within their data-science, next-best-action, and process-optimization initiatives.

Essentially, real-world experiments put the data-science “laboratory” at the heart of the big data economy.  Under this approach, fine-tuning of everything–business model, processes, products, and experiences–becomes a never-ending series of practical experiments. Data scientists evolve into an operational function, running their experiments–often known as “A/B tests”–24×7 with the full support and encouragement of senior business executives.

The beauty of real-world experiments is that you can continuously and surreptitiously test diverse product models inline to your running business. Your data scientists can compare results across differentially controlled scenarios in a systematic, scientific manner. They can use the results of these in-production experiments – such as improvements in response, acceptance, satisfaction, and defect rates on existing products/services–to determine which work best with various customers under various circumstances.

Niaz: What is a big data product? How can someone make beautiful stuff with data?

James: What is a Big Data product? It’s any product or service that helps people to extract deep value from advanced analytics and trustworthy data at all scales, but especially at the extreme scales of volume (petabytes and beyond), velocity (continuous, streaming, real-time, low-latency), and/or variety (structured, semi-structured, unstructured, streaming, etc.). That definition encompasses products that provide the underlying data storage, database management, algorithms, metadata, modeling, visualization, integration, governance, security, management, and other necessary features to address these use cases. If you track back to my answer above relevant to “hybrid” architectures you’ll see a discussion of some of the core technologies.

Making “beautiful stuff with data”? That suggests advanced visualization to call out the key insights in the data. The best data visualizations provide functional beauty: they make the process of sifting through data easier, more pleasant, and more productive for end users, business analysts, and data scientists.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about building Data Driven culture that posters data driven innovation to build next big product?

James: A key element of any data-driven culture is establishing a data science center of excellence. Data scientists are the core developers in this new era of Big Data, advanced analytics, and cognitive computing.

Game-changing analytics applications don’t spring spontaneously from bare earth. You must plant the seeds through continuing investments in applied data science and, of course, in the big data analytics platforms and tools that bring it all to fruition. But you’ll be tilling infertile soil if you don’t invest in sustaining a data science center of excellence within your company. Applied data science is all about putting the people who drill the data in constant touch with those who understand the applications. In spite of the mythology surrounding geniuses who produce brilliance in splendid isolation, smart people really do need each other. Mutual stimulation and support are critical to the creative process, and science, in any form, is a restlessly creative exercise.

In establishing a center of excellence, you may go the formal or informal route. The formal approach is to institute ongoing process for data-science collaboration, education, and information sharing. As such, the core function of your center of excellence might be to bridge heretofore siloed data-science disciplines that need to engage more effectively. The informal path is to encourage data scientists to engage with each other using whatever established collaboration tools, communities, and confabs your enterprise already has in place. This is the model under which centers of excellence coalesce organically from ongoing conversations.

Creeping polarization, like general apathy, will kill your data science center of excellence if you don’t watch out. Don’t let the center of excellence, formal or informal, degenerate into warring camps of analytics professionals trying to hardsell their pet approaches as the one true religion. Centers of excellence must serve as a bridge, not a barrier, for communication, collegiality, and productivity in applied data science.

Niaz: As you know leaders and managers have always been challenged to get the right information to make good decisions. Now with the digital revolution and technological advancement, they have opportunities to access huge amount of data. How this trend will change management practice? What do you think about the future of decision making, strategy and running organizations?

James: Business agility is paramount in a turbulent world.  Big Data is changing the way that management responds to–and gets ahead–of changes in their markets, competitive landscape, and operational conditions.

Increasingly, I prefer to think of big data in the broader context of business agility. What’s most important is that your data platform has the agility to operate cost-effectively at any scale, speed, and scope of business that your circumstances demand.

In terms of scale of business, organizations operate at every scale from breathtakingly global to intensely personal. You should be able to acquire a low-volume data platform and modularly scale it out to any storage, processing, memory and I/O capacity you may need in the future. Your platform should elastically scale up and down as requirements oscillate. Your end-to-end infrastructure should also be able to incorporate platforms of diverse scales—petabyte, terabyte, gigabyte, etc.—with those platforms specialized to particular functions and all of them interoperating in a common fabric.

Where speed is concerned, businesses often have to keep pace with stop-and-start rhythms that oscillate between lightning fast and painfully slow. You should be able to acquire a low-velocity data platform and modularly accelerate it through incorporation of faster software, faster processors, faster disks, faster cache and more DRAM as your need for speed grows. You should be able to integrate your data platform with a stream computing platform for true real-time ingest, processing and delivery. And your platform should also support concurrent processing of diverse latencies, from batch to streaming, within a common fabric.

And on the matter of scope, businesses manage almost every type of human need, interaction and institution. You should be able to acquire a low-variety data platform—perhaps a RDBMS dedicated to marketing—and be able to evolve it as needs emerge into a multifunctional system of record supporting all business functions. Your data platform should have the agility to enable speedy inclusion of a growing variety of data types from diverse sources. It should have the flexibility to handle structured and unstructured data, as well as events, images, video, audio and streaming media with equal agility. It should be able to process the full range of data management, analytics and content management workloads. It should serve the full scope of users, devices and downstream applications.

Agile Big Data platforms can serve as the common foundation for all of your data requirements. Because, after all, you shouldn’t have to go big, fast, or all-embracing in your data platforms until you’re good and ready.

Niaz: In your opinion, given the current available Big Data technologies, what is the most difficult challenge in filtering big data to find useful information?

James: The most difficult challenge is in figuring out which data to ignore, and which data is trustworthy enough to serve as a basis for downstream decision-support and advanced analytics.

Most important, don’t always trust the “customer sentiment” that you social-media listening tools as if it were gospel. Yes, you care deeply about how your customers regard your company, your products, and your quality of service. You may be listening to social media to track how your customers—collectively and individually—are voicing their feelings. But do you bother to save and scrutinize every last tweet, Facebook status update, and other social utterance from each of your customers? And if you are somehow storing and analyzing that data—which is highly unlikely—are you linking the relevant bits of stored sentiment data to each customer’s official record in your databases?

If you are, you may be the only organization on the face of the earth that makes the effort. Many organizations implement tight governance only on those official systems of record on which business operations critically depend, such as customers, finances, employees, products, and so forth. For those data domains, data management organizations that are optimally run have stewards with operational responsibility for data quality, master data management, and information lifecycle management.

However, for many big data sources that have emerged recently, such stewardship is neither standard practice nor should it be routine for many new subject-matter data domains. These new domains refer to mainly unstructured data that you may be processing in your Hadoop clusters, stream-computing environments, and other big data platforms, such as social, event, sensor, clickstream, geospatial, and so on.

The key difference from system-of-record data is that many of the new domains are disposable to varying degrees and are not regarded as a single version of the truth about some real-world entity. Instead, data scientists and machine learning algorithms typically distill the unstructured feeds for patterns and subsequently discard the acquired source data, which quickly become too voluminous to retain cost-effectively anyway. Consequently, you probably won’t need to apply much, if any, governance and security to many of the recent sources.

Where social data is concerned, there are several reasons for going easy on data quality and governance. First of all, data quality requirements stem from the need for an officially sanctioned single version of the truth. But any individual social media message constituting the truth of how any specific customer or prospect feels about you is highly implausible. After all, people prevaricate, mislead, and exaggerate in every possible social context, and not surprisingly they convey the same equivocation in their tweets and other social media remarks. If you imagine that the social streams you’re filtering are rich founts of only honest sentiment, you’re unfortunately mistaken.

Second, social sentiment data rarely has the definitive, authoritative quality of an attribute—name, address, phone number—that you would include in or link to a customer record. In other words, few customers declare their feelings about brands and products in the form of tweets or Facebook updates that represent their semiofficial opinion on the topic. Even when people are bluntly voicing their opinions, the clarity of their statements is often hedged by the limitations of most natural human language. Every one of us, no matter how well educated, speaks in sentences that are full of ambiguity, vagueness, situational context, sarcasm, elliptical speech, and other linguistic complexities that may obscure the full truth of what we’re trying to say. Even highly powerful computational linguistic algorithms are challenged when wrestling these and other peculiarities down to crisp semantics.

Third, even if every tweet was the gospel truth about how a customer is feeling and all customers were amazingly articulate on all occasions, the quality of social sentiment usually emerges from the aggregate. In other words, the quality of social data lies in the usefulness of the correlations, trends, and other patterns you derive from it. Although individual data points can be of marginal value in isolation, they can be quite useful when pieced into a larger puzzle.

Consequently, there is little incremental business value from scrutinizing, retaining, and otherwise managing every single piece of social media data that you acquire. Typically, data scientists drill into it to distill key patterns, trends, and root causes, and you would probably purge most of it once it has served its core tactical purpose. This process generally takes a fair amount of mining, slicing, and dicing. Many social-listening tools, including the IBM® Cognos® Consumer Insight application, are geared to assessing and visualizing the trends, outliers, and other patterns in social sentiment. You don’t need to retain every single thing that your customers put on social media to extract the core intelligence that you seek, as in the following questions: Do they like us? How intensely? Is their positive sentiment improving over time? In fact, doing so might be regarded as encroaching on privacy, so purging most of that data once you’ve gleaned the broader patterns is advised.

Fourth, even outright customer lies propagated through social media can be valuable intelligence if we vet and analyze each effectively. After all, it’s useful knowing whether people’s words—”we love your product”—match their intentions—”we have absolutely no plans to ever buy your product”—as revealed through their eventual behavior—for example, buying your competitor’s product instead.

If we stay hip to this quirk of human nature, we can apply the appropriate predictive weights to behavioral models that rely heavily on verbal evidence, such as tweets, logs of interactions with call-center agents, and responses to satisfaction surveys. I like to think of these weights as a truthiness metric, courtesy of Stephen Colbert.

What we can learn from social sentiment data of dubious quality is the situational contexts in which some customer segments are likely to be telling the truth about their deep intentions. We can also identify the channels in which they prefer to reveal those truths. This process helps determine which sources of customer sentiment data to prioritize and which to ignore in various application contexts.

Last but not least, apply only strong governance to data that has a material impact on how you engage with customers, remembering that social data rarely meets that criterion. Customer records contain the key that determines how you target pitches to them, how you bill them, where you ship their purchases, and so forth. For these purposes, the accuracy, currency, and completeness of customers’ names, addresses, billing information, and other profile data are far more important than what they tweeted about the salesclerk in your Poughkeepsie branch last Tuesday. If you screw up the customer records, the adverse consequences for all concerned are far worse than if you misconstrue their sentiment about your new product as slightly positive, when in fact it’s deeply negative.

However, if you greatly misinterpret an aggregated pattern of customer sentiment, the business risks can be considerable. Customers’ aggregate social data helps you compile a comprehensive portrait of the behavioral tendencies and predispositions of various population segments. This compilation is essential market research that helps gauge whether many high-stakes business initiatives are likely to succeed. For example, you don’t want to invest in an expensive promotional campaign if your target demographic isn’t likely to back up their half-hearted statement that your new product is “interesting” by whipping out their wallets at the point of sale.

The extent to which you can speak about the quality of social sentiment data all comes down to relevance. Sentiment data is good only if it is relevant to some business initiative, such as marketing campaign planning or brand monitoring. It is also useful only if it gives you an acceptable picture of how customers are feeling and how they might behave under various future scenarios. Relevance means having sufficient customer sentiment intelligence, in spite of underlying data quality issues, to support whatever business challenge confronts you.

Niaz: How do you see data science evolving in the near future?

James: In the near future, many business analysts will enroll in data science training curricula to beef up their statistical analysis and modeling skills in order to stay relevant in this new age.

However, they will confront a formidable learning curve. To be an effective, well-rounded data scientist, you will need a degree, or something substantially like it, to prove you’re committed to this career. You will need to submit yourself to a structured curriculum to certify you’ve spent the time, money and midnight oil necessary for mastering this demanding discipline.

Sure, there are run-of-the-mill degrees in data-science-related fields, and then there are uppercase, boldface, bragging-rights “DEGREES.” To some extent, it matters whether you get that old data-science sheepskin from a traditional university vs. an online school vs. a vendor-sponsored learning program. And it matters whether you only logged a year in the classroom vs. sacrificed a considerable portion of your life reaching for the golden ring of a Ph.D. And it certainly matters whether you simply skimmed the surface of old-school data science vs. pursued a deep specialization in a leading-edge advanced analytic discipline.

But what matters most to modern business isn’t that every data scientist has a big honking doctorate. What matters most is that a substantial body of personnel has a common grounding in core curriculum of skills, tools and approaches. Ideally, you want to build a team where diverse specialists with a shared foundation can collaborate productively.

Big data initiatives thrive if all data scientists have been trained and certified on a curriculum with the following foundation: paradigms and practices, algorithms and modeling, tools and platforms, and applications and outcomes.

Classroom instruction is important, but a data-science curriculum that is 100 percent devoted to reading books, taking tests and sitting through lectures is insufficient. Hands-on laboratory work is paramount for a truly well-rounded data scientist. Make sure that your data scientists acquire certifications and degrees that reflect them actually developing statistical models that use real data and address substantive business issues.

A business-oriented data-science curriculum should produce expert developers of statistical and predictive models. It should not degenerate into a program that produces analytics geeks with heads stuffed with theory but whose diplomas are only fit for hanging on the wall.

Niaz: We have already seen the huge implication and remarkable results of Big Data from tech giants. Do you think Big Data can also have great role in solving social problems? Can we measure and connect all of our big and important social problems and design the sustainable solutions with the help of Big Data?

James: Of course. Big Data is already being used worldwide to address the most pressing problems confronting humanity on this planet. In terms of “measuring and connecting all our big and important social problems and designing sustainable solutions,” that’s a matter for collective human ingenuity. Big Data is a tool, not panacea.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about ‘Open Source Analytics’ for Big Data? What are the initiatives regarding open source that IBM’s Big Data group and others group (startups) have done or are planning?

James: The principal open-source community in the big data analytics industry are Apache Hadoop and R. IBM is an avid participant in both communities, and has incorporated these technologies into our solution portfolio.

Niaz: What are some of the concerns (privacy, security, regulation) that you think can dampen the promise of Big Data?

James: You’ve named three of them. Overall, businesses should embrace the concept of “privacy by design” – a systematic approach that takes privacy into account from the start – instead of trying to add protection after the fact. In addition, the sheer complexity of the technology and the learning curve of the technologies are a barrier to realizing their full promise. All of these factors introduce time, cost, and risk into the Big Data ROI equation.

Niaz: What are the new technologies you are mostly passionate about? What are going to be the next big things?

James: Where to start? I prefer that your readers follow my IBM Big Data Hub blog to see the latest things I’m passionate about.

Niaz: Last but not least, what are you advices for Big Data startups and for the people those who are working with Big Data?

James: Find your niche in the Big Data analytics industry ecosystem, go deep, and deliver innovation. It’s a big, growing, exciting industry. Brace yourself for constant change. Be prepared to learn (and unlearn) something new every day.

Niaz: Dear James, thank you very much for your invaluable time and also for sharing us your incredible ideas, insights, knowledge and experiences. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

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

Peter Klein: Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter: It’s my pleasure to participate!

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

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

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

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

Niaz: Can you please define what an entrepreneur is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niaz: How can they overcome those challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

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

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

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

4. Stephen Walt on Global Development

5. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Diego Comin: Entrepreneurship, Technology and Economic Development

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

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

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

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

Comin: The pleasure is mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niaz: Any last comment?

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

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

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

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Philip Kotler on  Marketing for Better World

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

3. Stephen Walt on Global Development

4. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

Horace Dediu: Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horace: See above, new interaction methods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horace: Thank you for having me.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

2. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

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

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

Gerd Leonhard: Big Data and the Future of Media

Editor’s Note: Gerd Leonhard is a well-known Futurist and Author of 5 books, a highly influential Keynote Speaker, Think-Tank Leader & Adviser, and – since late 2011 – the Founder of GreenFuturists.com. Wall Street Journal called him ‘one of the leading Media Futurists in the World’. He is well-known as the Co-author of the influential book ‘The Future of Music’ (Berklee Press, 2005), and as the author of ‘The End of Control’ (2007), ‘Music 2.0’ (2008), ‘Friction is Fiction’ (2009, Lulu Publishing), and ‘The Future of Content’ (Kindle-only, 2011). His new book is “From Ego to Eco”.

Gerd is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (London), a member of the World Future Society, and a visiting professor at the Fundação Dom Cabral in Brazil. A native German, he now resides in Basel, Switzerland.

You can read his bio and learn more about his works from here, here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Gerd Leonhard recently to gain his ideas and insights about  Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Leonhard thanks for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Gerd: My pleasure.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Big Data? How is Big Data revolutionizing our life and work?

Gerd: I define Big Data as the result of exponentially increasing velocity, variety, volume, virality and value.  All of us are generating increasingly large amounts of data, whether it’s by using Google, or sharing a location, rating a site, tweeting, facebooking, photo uploading etc. – and this is primarily driven by the Social-Local-Mobile SoLoMo revolution on the Internet. Once this data can be harnessed – and safeguarded i.e. refined and permitted – it will allow for substantial cost savings (such as with networked public cars, logistics, p2p energy etc.) as well as for pretty dramatic new values such as prediction and anticipation offerings like Google Now and Siri.

Niaz: Why does Big Data excite you most?

Gerd: The possibility of generating real user value from the raw data, i.e. faster understanding of complex issues, realtime, customized news and content feeds, and an overall dramatically improved digital content experiences.  The downside – as we have just recently discovered see my post on this, that we may all become permanently naked and subject to whatever data obsession governments may follow.

Niaz: What do you think about Big Data Products?

Gerd: They are more like services, platforms and experiences then they are products — but we are still very nascent with this; kind of like the beginning of Search, 10 or so years ago.  Every major technology company, every internet portal and every media company is now diving into Big Data as the next big thing – and this connects to Social Media of course, and to The Internet of Things (IoT)

Niaz: How the futures of products (Big Data Products) are going to be changed?

Gerd:  Big Data, unlike Big Oil, will be all about ecosystems, about creating win-win-win solutions, about interdependence and mutual respect i.e. permission and trust. Unless we have that worked out, it will fail.

Niaz:  As you know, Big Data has started revolutionizing almost everything. Marketing is changing significantly. Can you please tell us about the impact of Big Data in Marketing?

Gerd: Basically, IF users allow marketers to track them i.e. if there is a ‘like’ relationship, than big data feeds are a goldmine for marketers – everything will be 99% track able, customized and personalized.  Again, IF value is there for the users, this is dream come true for marketers. The main focus will be on securing and maintaining TRUST – which is why the PRISM debacle is such an issue

Niaz: What do you think about the future of Marketing?

Gerd: We wont need Marketing as we know it. It will all be about sense-making, curation, experiences, added values, timeliness and conversations (see my HBR piece)

Niaz: If you go for buying foods, soda or any house hold things you will have so many good alternatives. Considering broader area, if you go for buying smart phone, computers or even cars, you will have so many good alternatives too. But living in such an exciting era, we just have only one good search engine, only one good micro blogging site, only one good social network and only one good professional network. Are we going through any crisis?

Gerd: I think we have a multitude of platforms and services – innovation is moving much too fast!

Niaz: How can we recover this crisis? What is the future of this trend?

Gerd: The only way forward is to create some kind of ‘sustainable capitalism’ based on hyper-collaboration and new, interdependent ecosystems of money, media, energy, food and data (See ego to eco).

Niaz: As you know, as long as we are watching adds on social media or web, we are no longer human beings, we become products. Social media companies are making billions of dollars but they are not making their consumers wealthy and not even enriching the life of consumers. What are the core problems of our social media?

Gerd: As the saying goes: if you don’t pay you ARE the product. This is not per se a problem – unless we lose control of our bargains. Too much too fast too deep can become a real problem for the human brain, as well, so… deteching will increase as well.

Niaz: How do you see the world of social media evolving over the next 10 years?

Gerd: All the web is social, mobile, local – there will be no difference in online and offline in less than 7 years, and the same goes for ‘social’.

Niaz: By this time, Google has become very gigantic. It controls almost all information available on the Internet. It shows us that information it wants to. So many people have already started to believe that Google is going to control the whole world. We have also seen Google to use its monopoly power. Google’s search algorithms “decide” what is relevant and valuable. What do you think about Google’s monopoly? What could be better for the whole world?

Gerd: If Google behaves like a monolith and stops earning our trust it will die very quickly as we will feel be betrayed – this is why WE control these big web companies, in the end.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about real-time approach?

Gerd: Everything is going real-time because of mobile internet, cameras, social media, big data — in many ways a torrent of noise, in other ways a treasure trove. We will need better filters and curators.

Niaz: What are the impacts of real-time approach in everything we do now?

Gerd: Basically if it’s not realtime we won’t care.

Niaz: Dear Gerd, we are really grateful for giving us time and sharing us priceless ideas, insights and experience for eTalks community. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Gerd: Thank you Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

F. M. Scherer: Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

Editor’s Note: F. M. Scherer is Aetna Professor Emeritus in the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Born in 1932, he received an A.B. degree with honors and distinction from the University of Michigan in 1954; an M.B.A. with high distinction from Harvard University in 1958; and a Ph.D. in business economics from Harvard University in 1963.

From 1974 to 1976, he was chief economist at the Federal Trade Commission. His research specialties are industrial economics and the economics of technological change, leading inter alia to books on Patents: Economics, Policy and Measurement; Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance (third edition with David Ross); New Perspectives on Economic Growth and Technological Innovation; The Economics of Multi-Plant Operation: An International Comparisons Study(with three coauthors); International High-Technology Competition; Competition Policies for an Integrated World Economy; Mergers, Sell-offs, and Economic Efficiency (with David J. Ravenscraft) and Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives.

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

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed F. M. Scherer recently to gain insights about Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: You are an expert in Industrial Economics.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Industrial Economics?

Scherer: “Industrial economics,” the name commonly applied in Europe, is also called “industrial organization” in the United States.   It is primarily concerned with studying the functioning and malfunctioning of real-world markets, using an array of methods – theory, econometrics, and history.  It also has substantial policy implications, for example, encompassing all varieties of regulatory policy and antitrust policy (called in Europe competition policy).

 Niaz: How is industrial economics different from our traditional economics?

Scherer: The main differences are a strong real-world orientation and a focus on individual industries or markets rather than generalized markets or the overall macro economy.

Niaz: As you know, the economy is transforming to a digital economy.  What revolutionary changes have occurred in this era of digital economy?

Scherer: Virtually every era experiences changes that might at the time be viewed as revolutionary.  The digital economy is not really different.  I suspect most readers know the main elements: the enormously increased capacity and reduced cost of digital devices following Moore’s Law; the evolution of much more capacious means of transmitting information from one place to another – notably, optical fiber cables; and the application of information theory to compress more information into a given transmission medium, either cable or over-the-air.  Building upon these fundamental changes are a host of specific applications, ranging from smaller and more powerful computers to smart phones to the use of computers and robots in automation.

Niaz: What are the impacts of industrial economics in our digital economy?

Scherer: The field of industrial economics has evolved to track and understand the economic implications of the changes mentioned earlier.   We’ve done a lot, for example, to measure the economics of learning curves, which are one facet of Moore’s Law.  Perhaps our most important contribution has been a rethinking of the proper framework for, and means of, regulating specific industries, including telecommunications.  Regulatory reform in telecoms helped open the way for optical fiber cable networks and reassignment of the ether’s frequency space to new modes of information transfer.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the future of the digital economy?

Scherer: Economists don’t have a particularly good reputation for predicting the future, try as we may.  It’s quite clear, e.g. from studies by economists such as Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT, that more powerful computer systems are helping to raise industrial productivity, as non-digital innovations have been doing for at least two centuries.  Among other things, computerized systems have improved inventory control and logistics in industries such as retailing.  Wal-Mart has been a prominent example here.  But the phenomenon is not really new.  In the 1960s, for example, Anheuser-Busch applied computer-based operations research to optimize its plant structure and shipping patterns, becoming in the process the nation’s largest and most efficient brewer.  And my own experience as a scholar using computers for quantitative data analysis suggests that the changes have been less than revolutionary.  I was able to analyze some rather large data sets successfully in the 1960s using computers that were by today’s standards primitive, but the analysis went through nevertheless.  Long processing queues meant foregoing instant gratification, but the gratification was all the greater for the waiting.  True, today one can access richer data bases – e.g., data on millions of health care interventions, complete retail product transaction tape records, and the whole historical set of U.S. patent grants – that would have been impossible in 1965.

The digital revolution affects not only industrial productivity, but also diverse consumer activities, including communication patterns and entertainment methods.  Here I’m much less confident about the consequences.  Surveys show prodigious numbers of hours spent in the average week, especially by younger people, on computer games and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many individuals’ use appears from my observation to border on addiction.  (Disclosure: I seek an e-mail fix several times daily.) I suppose people get a lot of pleasure, some narcissistic, from social networking, but I’m much less sure that we are becoming better or more productive human beings as a result.

Education is likely to be affected with special force through the growth of massive open online courses (MOOC).  I’m personally thankful that I’m exiting from teaching just in time, for I know nothing more alienating than talking to an anonymous video camera.

Niaz: There is a tremendous problem of digital divide in under developed, developing, and poor countries.  What are the core challenges for those countries to embrace the blessings of digital economy?

Scherer: Yes, there is such a digital divide, just as there is a less immense digital divide between the United States and nations such as South Korea, Japan and Belgium with faster and more extensive internet connections.  The good news is that cell phone technology is diffusing rapidly into many relatively poor nations, permitting richer intercommunication generally and better information, e.g., on future weather events and market prices, which farmers can use in their planting, harvesting and crop shipping decisions.  From the base that has been established, there will be growth into more advanced generations of digital phone capabilities.  Important to this future progress is the construction of additional cells and high-capacity optical fiber cables to interlink them.  Cheap computers are also becoming available to students in less-developed nations, giving them richer access to the world’s information resources and enhancing their educational progress and, among other things, introducing them to writing software.  These things take time and money.  Both are in short supply, but progress will occur, perhaps faster than I suppose.

Niaz: So what are the new perspectives on economic growth and technological innovation?

Scherer: I suspect the wording of your question implies the identical wording of a short book I published in 1999.  My answer incorporates some of the pessimism I expressed in that book.  The world’s most advanced nations have experienced truly extraordinary technological progress and productivity growth during the past two centuries.  Some nations once viewed as less developed, such as China, are joining in, taking advantage of what has been learned elsewhere to advance at even more rapid rates.  But in the most advanced nations, growth rates have been ebbing, and nations like China and other later developers will experience diminished growth rates once they have extensively installed imitative  capital goods and must then innovate to advance further – a phenomenon called convergence.   The key question is, what can we sustain?  My own view is that environmental constraints, even if not raw resource constraints, will make future growth more difficult than it has been in the past.  But I confess I could be wrong, as other skeptics have been in the past, and indeed, I hope I am wrong.  I also worry about the increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth that has occurred over the past four decades as skill requirements, patterns of international trade, and modes of competition have changed.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book, ‘Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives’?

Scherer: That was a collection of articles, mostly previously published, issued by the MIT Press in 1984.  It pretty well reflected what I had accomplished during the first two decades of my professional career, at least in the field of technological innovation.  Its main emphases were identifying salient characteristics of how innovation occurs and works its magic on the economy, how market structures affect incentives for investing in innovation, and  how innovation shortfalls contributed to the productivity growth rate slump experienced by the United States beginning in the early 1970s and continuing up to the time the book was published.  (Growth did pick up, at least temporarily, in the 1990s.)  These were, I believe, some of my best contributions.

Niaz: What are the new scopes and opportunities of innovation and growth?

Scherer: As I said before, predicting what will happen is difficult.  In the 1984 Innovation and Growth book, I included one 1978 article with my characterization of technologies that were still evolving rapidly.  My list of potential breakthrough areas included molecularly engineered pharmaceuticals, hormonal insecticides, asexual plant reproduction, optical fiber message transmission, and energy from thermonuclear fusion.  Making allowance for developments that emerged in somewhat different forms than I visualized, I was pretty much right on the first four.  I missed badly on the nuclear fusion score, which people had been cultivating intensively beginning in the 1960s and are still pushing without evident success.   Earlier in the list, I also erred seriously in classifying digital computers as “approaching maturity.”  I completely missed the PC revolution!  The big continuing breakthrough areas, as I look to the future, are further developments in human and plant gene sequencing and splicing, among other things revolutionizing some aspects of health care, and of course, continuation of the information revolution.

Niaz: Do you think we have already solved all of our interesting problems with technology and innovation?  If not, what are your suggestions to come up with big ideas and solve big problems?

Scherer: Clearly, we have not solved all the interesting problems.  The previous answer listed two of my breakthrough candidates.  The biggest yet-unsolved problem in my view is learning how to use energy in ways that will allow the world’s huge and increasing population to prosper without precipitating disastrous climate change.   Seeding the atmosphere with sunlight-deflecting substances is one possible solution, but it is unproven and poses significant risks of getting the balance wrong.  How do we come up with the big ideas?   The essential facet in my view is continuing support of first-rate basic scientific research across a wide diversity of fields.  Chairman Mao was right in urging that we allow 100 flowers to bloom, because we can’t accurately pre-select which ones will thrive best.

Niaz: What is the economics of technological change?

Scherer: It’s a sub-specialty in several fields of economics concerned with the issues I have alluded to earlier.  I’ve been working in the area for more than five decades.  In the 1950s and 1960s, there were only a handful of us.  We were the “happy few … the band of brothers” in Henry V’s soliloquy.   Now there are hundreds of us working in the vineyards.

Niaz: My readers will love to know about your new book, ‘Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the 18th and 19th Centuries’.  Can you briefly tell us about it?

Scherer: It unites two dominant interests in my life: classical music and the study of innovation.  It uses among other things a statistical sample to reveal how 646 composers kept body and soul together in pursuing their chosen profession or avocation.  Among other things, it investigates composers’ education, their motives, their employment modes and entrepreneurship, their remarkable geographic mobility, and how they were affected by the spread of music publication and the emergence of copyright law.

Niaz: Last but not least, can you please leave us some points, ideas and advice to build a strong economy in this era of digitalization?

Scherer: You left the hardest question until last.  Education is of course critical.  We’ve come a long way, but there is very much more to be done, especially in the less affluent nations.  And even in the United States, our results leave lots of room for improvement. Among things, we need to provide higher status and pay for primary and secondary school teachers.  For economic strength, we also must reverse the increasing inequality of income distribution.  If the majority of our citizens don’t share the gains from our economic growth, it will be difficult to sustain continuing advances in broad-based consumption technologies.  And discontent is likely to manifest itself politically in ways that could destabilize the economy.   And finally, we need to avert disasters such as rising sea levels and adverse crop-growing conditions likely to be associated with global warming and to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle.  I grew up under the ominous shadow of nuclear disaster.  We had some frightfully close calls.  We’ve been fortunate thus far to avoid that fate, but the danger continues, and we need to keep it in check.

Niaz: Dear Scherer, I am thanking so much for finding time, sharing invaluable ideas and educating us with impressive thoughts in the midst of your busy schedule. I am wishing you very good luck for your good health as well as for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Scherer: I am happy to contribute.

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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. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

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

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

danah boyd: Future of Technology and Social Media

Editor’s Note: danah boyd is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School, a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales.

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

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed danah boyd recently to gain her ideas and insights on Future of Technology and Social Media which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Danah, thank you so much for giving us some time in the midst of your busy schedule.

Danah: You’re welcome Niaz.

Niaz: As you know, we have already passed two decades of Internet bubble burst. By this time, we have got Google, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and some other great companies. At the same time, our economy is transforming into digital economy. What are the revolutionary changes going to be occurred in the upcoming decades?

Danah: Decades? I think that the most interesting technological transformations are going to come from bioinformatics and the health sector.  I think that we’re at the earliest stage of this process, but I’m looking forward to see where it goes.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of Internet and social media?

Danah: In terms of social media, I think we’re in a lull of innovation.  This always happens when too many people are focused on a particular arena.  The focus is on perfecting, consolidating, and small iterations. I don’t think it’s possible to say what’s coming around the corner that’s a true breakthrough.  If I knew, I’d be helping build it. <grin>

Niaz: How do you define ‘Big Data’? What does excite you most about ‘Big Data’?

Danah: If you haven’t read this, you should  read ‘Critical Questions for Big Data‘.

Kate and I define “Big Data” as a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon that rests on the interplay of technology, analysis, and mythology.  The latter is the most important here.  As a phenomenon, “Big Data” has nothing to do with bigness, but everything to do with the belief that lots of data and math can solve all of the world’s problems.

I’m excited to see more people engaging with math and data, but I think it’s critical that folks never forget that interpretation requires more than math.  It’s in the interpretation that knowledge – and biases – lie.

Niaz: Thanks again for joining us. We hope to get you again for a detailed interview.

Danah: You are welcome. Sure, we will sit another time.

Ending Note: danah boyd is currently very busy with her on going projects and research works. She got a little time to talk to us.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

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

Joseph P. Newhouse: Health Economics

Editor’s Note: Dr. Joseph P. Newhouse is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, Director of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education, Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Health Policy, and Director of the Interfaculty Initiative in Health Policy.  He is a member of the faculties of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as a Faculty Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Joseph P. Newhouse recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of health economics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Joseph, thank you so much for joining us. We are very honored and delighted to have you at eTalks.

Joseph: It’s my pleasure to join with you.

Niaz: You received B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Economics from Harvard University. Following your Bachelors degree, you were a Fulbright Scholar in Germany.  You are John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, Director of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education, Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Health Policy and Director of the Inter-faculty Initiative in Health Policy.  At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about your educational journey and the transformation of your career from Economics to Healthcare?

Joseph: I have always thought of myself as an economist who worked in the applied area of health and medical care.  After I finished graduate school I joined the RAND Economics Department, intending to spend about half my time working on projects related to health and the other half of my time in other applied areas of economics.  In the domain of health I was interested in the demand for medical care and early on designed what became known as the RAND Health Insurance Experiment.  That projected required my full time – really more than full time – attention for 15 years, by which time I had given up any notion that I would work on topics not related to health and medical care.

Niaz: You are one of the nation’s top health economists. What do you think about health economics?

Joseph: I think health economics has two main streams of work.  One relates to medical care, with the seminal paper being Kenneth Arrow’s 1963 American Economic Review paper, Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care.”  This stream focuses on issues that arise because the market for medical goods and services differs in so many ways from the model of a perfectly competitive market in introductory economics textbooks.  The second relates to health as opposed to medical care, with the seminal work being Michael Grossman’s 1972 Journal of Political Economy paper, On the Concept of Health Capital and the Demand for Health” and his earlier National Bureau of Economic Research Monograph, “The Demand for Health.”  This line of work focuses on the actions of individuals that affect their health, and sometimes the health of others as well, including not only seeking medical care but also investing in education and engaging in various behaviors that are either beneficial or detrimental to health.

Niaz: What are the nucleus aspects of health economics that every policy maker should keep in mind?

Joseph: In answering this I take the perspective of a middle or high income country; the issues in low income countries differ somewhat.  The issue at the front of mind of most policy makers I interact with, as well as most citizens, is the cost of medical care.  In almost every country spending on medical care has risen faster than income, meaning it takes an ever larger share of tax revenue and often of households’ after tax income as well.  There are, of course, a huge number of suggestions and approaches coming from health economics to address the cost of care, but in the interest of being succinct, I will just mention two, both of which relate to the distinction between a high level of cost and a high growth rate of cost.

Every health care system has its share of inefficiencies; not surprisingly, most solutions proposed for dealing with health costs are directed at these inefficiencies.  One example is reducing paper work.  Although it is laudable to reduce inefficiency, success means one will have achieved a once-and-for-all reduction in cost, which will not necessarily reduce the steady state growth rate of cost.  In other words, once the inefficiency is eliminated, those savings have been achieved and costs will start to rise again unless a new action is taken.  Yet in the long run it is the steady state rate of growth that is the larger problem.  In other words, by all means minimize inefficiencies, but ultimately policy makers need a strategy for dealing with the growth rate.  Peter Orszag, when he was the director of the US Congressional Budget Office, called such a strategy this bending the curve.

The second observation relates to policies that address cost.  The growth in health care cost stems partly from the growth in income and partly from new and improved methods for treating patients of all sorts such as new drugs, new medical procedures, new medical devices, new imaging, and new diagnostic tests.  Growth in income and growth in knowledge interact; the developers of the new therapies expected to find a market for them, or they would not have proceeded to develop them.  Efforts to reduce the growth rate of cost will almost certainly slow development, but need to be done in a way that considers the benefits that may be foregone by adopting the new policy.  There are many diseases for which current therapy is not very effective, for example, many cancers as well as Alzheimers and other neurodegenerative diseases.  It would be worth giving up quite a lot to have effective cures for these diseases.  I hear too many discussions where it sounds as if the only objective is to reduce cost or the growth rate of cost rather than reduce or eliminate those activities that do not provide sufficient benefit.

Niaz: As you know, millions of people are now living under poverty line. They can’t afford to have food every day. Health care is mostly a day dream for them. After living hand to mouth they depart. And it has been happening decades after decades. What are your suggestions to save those people to live a healthy life and to contribute for this mother earth?

Joseph: My expertise pertains to higher income countries, but economic growth has pulled tens of millions out of poverty in China and India, and many low income countries have started to grow at good rates.  Such growth not only means higher household incomes but also enables public investment in infrastructure that can improve health.  That plus good governance are undoubtedly important in helping these people.

Niaz: Why private Medicare plans don’t cost less?

Joseph: Private Medicare plans are called Medicare Advantage plans.  They generally provide those who join them rather than joining traditional Medicare lower premiums, lower cost sharing, and/or additional covered services, but this is in part because of higher reimbursement.  My own view is that the larger benefit of well run plans, however, is better medical management of many chronic diseases such as diabetes. (I should note that I am a director of, and own equity in, Aetna, which sells Medicare Advantage plans.)

Niaz: We are living in the age of superb technological innovation. Most developed countries are taking optimum advantage of technological innovation for better health care. What are your ideas for under developed, developing and poor countries to take the advantage of technological innovation to build a better health care?

Joseph: Again, my expertise is around higher income countries, but I think an innovation with large promise for low income countries is mobile telephony because medical advice can be given over the phone to lower level personnel when transportation to physicians with more training is not feasible.

Niaz: Different countries have different health care policies. According to you, what should be the most priority for a country in setting health care policy?

Joseph: Each country has its own values, traditions, and health care institutions which quite properly shape its policy. For that reason I doubt that there is a general answer to this question.  But aspects of life styles in many countries are inimical to health.  For example, obesity rates have increased rapidly in many countries, so much so that some demographers predict life expectancy will fall.  Any use of tobacco is damaging to health, and its use varies substantially among countries.  Trying to promote a healthy life style plus insurance coverage to protect households from being devastated financially by illness are priorities that seem applicable to a wide range of countries.

Niaz: What will be the potential challenges/roadblocks in the way of implementing those top priorities? How can countries achieve those priorities?

Joseph: Lifestyles are difficult to change, but we know that taxes can change use of goods such as tobacco.  Changing social norms also help; restricting the use of tobacco in public places, for example, has contributed to an overall fall in use.    Achieving universal coverage is largely a political issue, although there are certainly technical issues.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your book ‘Free for All: Lessons from the RAND Health Insurance Experiment’? 

Joseph: The booksummarized the results of perhaps the largest health services research project ever done.  The Experiment was a randomized trial that varied the level of initial cost sharing for medical services; some families received all care at no cost to them, others had (approximately) a large deductible, and still others were intermediate.  The cost sharing was scaled down for lower income households.

The use of services clearly responded to what patients had to pay out of pocket; use was roughly 30 percent higher if patients didn’t have to pay that if they faced a large deductible.   For the average person we found minimal deleterious effects of cost sharing on health outcomes, but low income hypertensives had their blood pressure better controlled if care was free.  In addition, some families were randomized to a Health Maintenance Organization, where care was free if it was sought at the Organization.  Those families made markedly less use of the hospital than families in the fee-for-service system and we detected no adverse effects on their health.

Niaz: Our readers will also love to know about ‘Pricing the Priceless: A Health Care Conundrum’. Can you also please tell us about it?

Joseph: This book is an elaboration of the Walras-Pareto Lectures given in Lausanne in 1997.  I tried to summarize the many years I had spent on Commissions that advised the American Congress on setting reimbursement in Medicare.  I went through several examples of how easy it is to misprice in administered price systems and then went on to consider mixed systems of reimbursement, part fee-for-service and part capitation.

Niaz: You have been doing all exciting works in your whole career. You have achieved a wide variety of prestigious awards. You have been leading great organizations. What does excite you always to do the next big thing?

Joseph: To learn what is not known, to teach the next generation, and to learn from my colleagues.

Niaz: I have learned that you love to spend your spare time with your grandchildren and playing golf? Do you actually get spare time? 

Joseph: Most definitely.

Niaz: Can you please share us about the secrets of your sustainable remarkable career? 

Joseph: Thank you for the compliment.  I have tried to work on problems that I felt were important, and I have been blessed to have many wonderful colleagues who have helped me enormously.

Niaz: What is your advice to people who want to follow your footsteps?

Joseph: Choose important problems to work on that motivate you and are tractable, and surround yourself with persons whose skills complement yours.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Joseph: Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Niaz: Finally, we are grateful to you to have your precious time. Thanks again to share us your invaluable ideas, knowledge and experience. We wish you luck for your good health and impressive works.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

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

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

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

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

Ryan Holladay: Technology and Music

Editor’s Note: Ryan Holladay is an American artist and co-founder (along with his brother Hays Holladay) of BLUEBRAIN, a music and technology duo creating site-specific sound installations, interactive concerts and GPS-based compositions for sites across the country.  He is a TED 2013 Fellow. WIRED dubbed Ryan and Hays as “pioneers” of location-based music composition.

Bluebrain has been featured in The New York Times, BBC World Service, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Engadget and Fast Company among others. Additionally, Ryan serves as the new media curator at Artisphere.  You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ryan Holladay recently to gain his ideas and insights about Technology and Music which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Ryan, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Ryan: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are a self taught musician.  Can you please tell us about your background and the evolution of your musical journey?

Ryan: Well self-taught isn’t quite accurate. I would say I’m just under-trained. I took piano lessons as a child and then learned other instruments along the way. But neither my brother and I (with whom I collaborate on everything) would consider ourselves masters of any instrument. I think the studio has always been our instrument. And with that, we are self-taught.

Niaz: You are the co-founder of ‘BLUEBRAIN’, a music and technology duo creating site-specific sound installations, interactive concerts and GPS-based compositions for sites across the country. Can you please briefly tell us about ‘BLUEBRAIN’?

Ryan: So Bluebrain stemmed from my brother and I dreaming up ideas that didn’t fit in the category of a normal band. We love performing music and releasing records, but we also have always talked about ideas of ours that didn’t really make sense within your touring band scenario. We were taking inspiration from conceptual art, landscape architecture and emerging technologies. So eventually in our mid-twenties, when our last more or less typical band ended, we formed Bluebrain with the idea that no ideas were really off the table. So yes, sound installation, interactive performances, even iPhone app development became central to what we were doing. So much so that the typical “band” label didn’t seem to fit us at all after a while.

Hays Holladay and Ryan Holladay

BLUEBRAIN: Ryan Holladay and Hays Holladay

Niaz: How many instruments you do play?

Ryan: I’ve always been better at piano and Hays is really an incredible guitarist. But really, neither of us are virtuosic. We use the studio and get by with the musical skills we have.

Niaz: What are your current projects?

Ryan: We have a number of things in the works right now, but primarily we’ve been spending time as visiting artists at Stanford University’s Experimental Media Arts Department working on a location-aware composition for Highway 1. It’s been a fun project and one that allows us to get to spend time on one of the most beautiful stretches of road anywhere in North America.

Niaz: WIRED dubbed you and Hays as “pioneers” of location-based music composition. What is location based music composition?

Ryan: Location-based music is the somewhat clumsy term we’ve used to describe a type of composition that uses GPS to sonically map a landscape. We have released 3 albums, each for a different location (The National Mall in Washington DC, Central Park in New York and Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive), released exclusively as mobile apps. These aren’t albums you can download or purchase on a CD. That’s because the music and the landscape are intrinsically linked and they only work within the confines of the designated space. Musical nodes and pockets are geotagged throughout a park so that as the listener traverses the physical space, a musical score is unfolding around him or her. Think of it as a chose-your-own-adventure of an album.

Niaz: That’s really awesome. You serve as the new media curator at ‘Artisphere’. Can you please tell us about ‘Artisphere’ and your involvement with it?

Ryan: Artisphere is 3-year old arts space in Rosslyn, Virginia — just over Key Bridge outside of Washington DC. I am one of two curators and I deal with all of the new media work — so video art, film, sound art, anything that plugs in or is interactive. It’s a wonderfully symbiotic job that compliments my work as an artist very well — they’ve been really supportive of all of the work I do with my brother and I think our experiences with Bluebrain have introduced me to artists that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and have brought into Artisphere. I’m really fortunate to have such an amazing job.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of music?

Ryan: I don’t know how well I can answer that question, but I can tell you that my desire is to see artists and music companies start to innovate more than they have. I think music lends itself to disruption so much — not just in how we consume and share it but in how it’s created and enjoyed. As artists begin to explore more how to use these technologies, not simply to add bells and whistles to the old model, but to dream up new ways to experience music in our everyday lives, I think things will get more and more exciting.

Niaz: By the way, my heartiest congratulation for you on being selected as TED Fellow 2013. What are your favorite TED Talks?

Ryan: There are so many! I’ve always had a fondness for talks about architecture. Having lived in Seattle for a while, I really loved ‘Joshua Prince-Ramus‘ talk on creating the breathtaking Seattle Public Library.

Niaz: When are we going to see your TED Talk? 

Ryan: Hopefully sometime soon! They don’t tell me when the talk will hit the web but I’ll be sure to let you know when it goes live.

Niaz: Ryan, thanks so much for your time and ideas. All the best wishes for your all upcoming projects.

Ryan: You’re welcome and good luck to you too.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

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.

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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. Philip Delves Broughton on What they teach you at Harvard?

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

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

Peter Weijmarshausen: 3D Printing

Editor’s Note: Peter Weijmarshausen is a pioneer of 3D Printing. He is passionate to make new and exciting technology accessible for everyone. He is Co-Founder and CEO of Shapeways, the leading 3D printing marketplace and community that helps people make, buy and sell anything they want. Shapeways started in the Philips Lifestyle Incubator in the Netherlands in 2007, and spun off as an independent company in 2010. The company is headquartered in New York, with offices in Eindhoven and Seattle. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Peter Weijmarshausen recently to gain his ideas and insights on 3D Printing which is given below.

Niaz: Peter, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Peter: It’s my pleasure to be here Niaz.

Niaz: You have been working with 3D printing for long time. You have co-founded ‘Shapeways’, the leading 3D printing marketplace and community. And now working as the CEO of ‘Shapeways’. Can you please give us a brief of the evolution of 3D printing?

Peter: I’ve been working with 3D Printing for quite some time now. Prior to Shapeways, I worked for a company that published the first free 3D software, called Blender.

3D Printing has been around for awhile. At the time when Shapeways was founded (in 2007), 3D Printing was still very expensive and used primarily on rapid prototyping. People were using 3D software but thought it was impossible to hold their designs in their hands.  By 2008, we launched Shapeways.com and started 3D Printing the impossible. In 2010, we spun out of Philips and moved headquarters to New York.

Niaz: Do you think the average person should care about 3D printing and why?

Peter: Definitely. 3D Printing is revolutionizing the way consumers think about products. Currently, we settle for store bought products. With 3D Printing you can customize products to your exact need.

Niaz: What are some of the current applications of 3D Printing?

Peter: There are a ton of applications for 3D Printing. At Shapeways, we have a very diverse community: we see a lot of hobbyists using Shapeways to create custom products to fit their various hobbies, as well as jewelry designers using Shapeways to create beautiful pieces. There are also a host of companies using 3D Printing to fuel innovation in various fields, such as the medical industry.

Niaz: What are the primary issues 3D Printers still need to overcome?

Peter: Learning how to 3D Model is still quite hard. This being said, we’re working to lower the barrier to entry so that anyone can create real-life products from digital 3D files. We just launched a new API that allows developers to easily create applications that make printable objects!

Niaz: Do you think we can literally make everything with 3D printing?

Peter: Currently, we can’t make everything using 3D Printing. For example, we still can’t 3D Print Electronics.

Niaz: Will we be able make everything with 3D printing in near future?

Peter: I don’t see why not.

Niaz: Those who don’t know about ‘Shapeways’, can you please give a brief of your company?

Peter: On Shapeways, individuals can make, buy and sell their own products. We 3D print everything on- demand, which means that every order is customized and personalized. By providing a platform for our community members to share ideas and gain access to cutting edge technology, we’re bringing personalized production to everyone.

Niaz: Do you have any estimation of the numbers of products that you have already made at ‘Shapeways’?

Peter: We currently have over 250,000+ community members in over 130 countries and have printed well over 1,000,000 products to date. These numbers continue to grow at a faster rate.

Niaz: What are the most exciting products that ‘Shapeways’ community has created?

Peter: We see so many exciting, amazing products created daily. One of my favorites is the Strandbeest, it has over 90 moving parts and requires no assembly!

Niaz: What are the responses from customers?

Peter: Our community is incredibly grateful for the service we provide. We often receive emails and blog posts thanking us!

Niaz: Any negative feedback?

Peter: As with any company that supplies physical products, we see some customer complaints but our customer service team is well equipped to handle .

Niaz: What does Shapeways have planned for 2013?

Peter: We’re currently building out our factory in Long Island City! Once fully built out we’ll have 30-50 3D printers in LIC capable of printing 3-5 million parts a year. It’s ambitious but it’s possible and we can’t wait to see the factory come to life.

Niaz: Wow! That’s really impressive. Where do you see the 3D Printing industry going over the next 5 years?

Peter: We will see products emerge that we’ve never imagined before – mind blowing shapes and solutions. I envision Shapeways continuing to grow in both employee number and locations. I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next five years.

Niaz: Peter, thank you so much for giving us time in the midst of your busy schedule. I am wishing you good luck for the New Factory as well as for all exciting things that you are doing in 3D Printing Industry.

Peter: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Big Data Revolution

Editor’s Note: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He has published nine books (most recently Big Data: A Revolution That Transforms How we Work, Live, and Think with Kenneth Cukier) and is the author of over a hundred articles and book chapters on the governance of information. He is a frequent public speaker, and sought expert for print and broadcast media worldwide. He and his work have been featured in (among others) New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Nature, Science, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Tribune, WIRED, Ars Technica, Daily Kos. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Viktor Mayer-Schönberger recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Big Data which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Viktor, thank you so much for joining us. We are very delighted to have you at eTalks

Viktor: My pleasure.

Niaz: Big Data has become a talked topic in these days. A very tight hype about Big Data is going on over tech industry. Big Data means ‘Making sense of the New World’ to many people.  Can you please tell us about this ‘New World’? What has actually changed? And what does ‘Making Sense of New World’ mean?

Viktor: What’s changed is that in the past, we weren’t able to apply to data to help our decision-making since the cost of collection, storage and analysis was so high. But as those barriers have fallen, we are not able to harness lots of data — and when we do, we can unlock new insights from it.  Take predictive maintenance. We didn’t know when an engine part would break before it did in the past. Now, looking at lots of sensor data like sound, heat and vibrations – from tens of thousands of vehicles, through big data analysis companies can spot that a part is likely going to break in the near future, and change it before it actually breaks. That’s new. It’s a new way of interacting with the world in a more empirical, quantified way. And it’s because of the data.

Niaz: How do you define the term Big Data?

Viktor: We resist giving a concrete definition since that would limit it. But basically, it refers to the idea that we have so much more information these days that we can apply new techniques to it, to spot useful insights or unlock new forms of economic value. There are things we can do with a large body of data that we simply couldn’t when it was in smaller amounts. In our book, we identify three features: more, messy and correlations.

Niaz: What is Data Science?

Viktor: The idea is that a new profession that has emerged in recent years, that combines the skills of the statistician, software developer, infographics designer and storyteller. Instead of peering into a microscope to discover the mysteries of the world, the data scientist looks into massive databases to uncover a finding. That said, since it’s a new job title, what it means will surely change over time.

Niaz: What is more important: Big Data vs. Data Science?

Viktor: The two are not at all at odds with each other. Big data is when there is vastly more data available relative to the phenomenon or question to be investigated than before; when we are accepting of some level of messiness of the data; and when we are using big data correlations to tease out the “what” rather than aiming to understand the “why”. The data scientists work with data, sometimes but not necessarily always “big data,” to analyze the information and extract meaning from it.

Niaz: Who is a Data Scientist?

Viktor: These are people who serve a useful interface between the hard-to-understand data, and the people who need to understand and make decisions from it.

Niaz: Do you think Data Scientists Job is the sexiest job in 21st Century?

Viktor: There are lots of sexy jobs in the 21st century. A data scientist is just one. Statisticians, machine-learning expert are others.

Niaz: What are the educational backgrounds, trainings, skills and expertise that someone needs to become a Data Scientist?

Viktor: The data scientist will need a multidisciplinary background that spans math and statistics, to computer science, design and the humanities. This is because one needs to be fluent in the language of data — how to run regression models and double-tailed T tests. But also possess coding skills to write programs to scrap data, clean data, or simply collect data. Then, one needs to eye of a designer to present the data visually. And storytelling skills to have the data reveal a narrative. Finally, one needs a deep sense of humanity — to ensure we are not beguiled by data’s false charms, and we keep our common sense amid the spreadsheets.

Niaz: You along with Kenneth Cukier have published a book ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think’ which has already become a best seller. Can you please give us a brief on your impressive book?

Viktor: In “Big Data” we aim to go beyond the big data hype, and explain why big data represents a paradigmatic shift in how we understand and make sense of the world. We suggest that three qualities characterize big data: more, messy and correlations (see above), and that big data analysis is founded on our ability to datafy the world – that is to render more and more aspects of the world into data format that then can be calculated and analyzed. We look at the value of data – and the importance of secondary uses, as well as the emerging big data value chain. We explain who will be winning and who will be losing in the big data era. But not everything is rosy. We talk in detail about big data’s dark sides – from its challenge to privacy to the threat of punishment by propensity. We suggest concrete safeguards to ensure that the dark sides of big data remain contained, including suggesting the need for a new cadre of professionals – the “algorithmists” – that will help protect us against big data abuse. We end with a cautionary chapter about the importance of the human element in a world of big data.

Niaz: After publishing the book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, you have been speaking, engaging with readers and getting feedback. Now what are your new findings?

Viktor: It’s still the first inning — it’s still round one for big data. So before we think about what’s next, we need to get the word out about how transformational this will be. That said, every day brings new case studies of how companies and organizations are unlocking new value by harnessing information in new ways.

Niaz: Now Big Data is becoming an integral part of the organizations. Organization has started to hire Data Scientists having a strong belief that Big Data means Big Opportunity. Do you think Big Data means Big Opportunity?

Viktor: Absolutely. For those with the right mindset, data offers huge opportunities. There is a gold rush under way – as people, companies and society realize that most of data’s value remains to be uncovered.

Niaz: What is the dark side of Big Data?

Viktor: In the book we look multiple dark sides. In addition to privacy, we are particularly concerned about propensity – the use of big data analysis to hold individuals responsible for acts they are only predicted to commit. That we fear negates human volition – our ability to decide freely whether and when to act. Punishing people for predicted rather than actual behavior is undoing the notion of justice in our society.

Niaz: How to overcome this dark side?

Viktor: On privacy we suggest we need a significant adjustment in the way we protect it from big data surveillance, so that big data benefits can be reaped without making a mockery of individuals’ justified privacy concerns. But we also suggest that in the era of big data we need to broaden our understanding of justice – and what it entails.

Niaz: As you know Poverty has been ruling the world for centuries. Billions of people have been living hand to mouth and suffering from lack of nutrition, lack of education, lack of sanitation, lack of food etc.. There are hundreds of social organizations those who have been working with poverty and social problems. At the end of the day, these social organizations are unable to measure the changes they have made. Or we could say, they might fail to bring sustainable changes though billions of dollars have been invested by donors and other sources. But these poor people have been suffering and living almost the same life for decades after decades. Now can you please tell us how Big Data can be a help to analyze, map, measure and formulate the problems of poor people?

Viktor: Yes. There are two problems with measuring the plight of the poor in a small data age: it costs a lot of time and money to collect data about them, and it is hard and costly to analyze that data. In the big data age, we can use data that is collected for other purposes – say micropayments through mobile phones – and reuse it to better understand the economy of poverty. And because big data analysis is relatively cheap, and no longer requires huge upfront investments in processing and storage infrastructure, sophisticated big data analysis can be undertaken by a handful of people working for instance for a civil society organization.

Niaz: Do you think we can design and program solutions of our social problems with the help of Big Data analysis?

Viktor: Big data can provide us with a much better sense of what policy areas need to be addressed first, and what results our policy decisions might produce. But at the end of the day, machines cannot take decisions, humans do. And so whether or not we find solutions to our social problems depends not on big data, but on human empathy and resolve.

Niaz: Please tell us about how Big Data can be a great help to measure the changes that social organizations bring?

Viktor: Social organizations often do good things, but their impact is hard to measure – in part because in a small data world collecting such information was very costly. In the age of big data that may change, and thus give social organizations perhaps for the first time a chance to analyze and see how well they are doing, and where. That helps these organizations to learn and evolve, and to improve their impact.

Niaz: Can you please suggest us ways of changing this world with the rigorous use of technology and innovation to solve our social problems to make this mother earth a better place to live in?

Viktor: Take medicine: Today we are using medication developed for the average person, rather than customized for a particular individual. This means that today we over- and under-medicate. As a result billions are wasted, and people are suffering. Big data provides us with the ability to change this – so that we can treat illnesses on an individual level, and learn. It increases effectiveness, but more importantly it improves lives. But for that to happen we need to be able to collect and use the data.

Niaz: Viktor, thank you so much for your time and for all of these impressive ideas.

Viktor: You’re most welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

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

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Juliana Rotich: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Editor’s Note: Juliana Rotich is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc, a non-profit tech company. She has worked in the telecommunications and data warehousing industry for over ten years. She is a Technologist, African Futurist and TED Senior Fellow. She was named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, andSocial Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum. Currently she has selected as a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. You can read her full bio from here, hereand here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Juliana Rotich recently to gain her ideas and insights on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: Juliana, we are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Juliana: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are a Social Entrepreneurial Innovator. Can you please tell us about ‘Social Entrepreneurial Innovation? How can social entrepreneurial innovation change the world?

Juliana: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation refers to entrepreneurs that create and establish resourceful and inspired ways of dealing with social problems. The core of this kind of entrepreneurship is skillfully and systematically acting, doing things in new ways to solve increasingly persistent modern challenges like poverty, health or education to have the greatest social impact. “Innovation is itself invariably a cumulative collaborative activity in which ideas are shared, tested refined, developed and applied.”  Bill gates called this creative capitalism – our ability to stretch market forces and make them work better for the poor and reduce the great inequalities that exist in modern society. For the world, it is practically the emergence of a social conscious geared both at turning profits but improving lives, incomes and turning all people in to productive beings where their inert behavior includes building their community to be a better place.

Niaz: You are the co-founder and executive director of ‘Ushahidi’. Those who don’t know about this amazing social revolution, can you briefly tell about ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, began as website set up by a collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists, bloggers and the tech community during the post-election crisis in Kenya at the beginning of 2008. The Site Mapped incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. Its Success which gathered 45,000 users in Kenya – catalyzed the realization amongst its developers that the platform had potential beyond Kenya’s borders and have relevance and use for others around the world. Ushahidi is now a non-profit technology and data company. Ushahidi creates platforms which provide services, tools and strategies for Crowdsourcing and data flow management. We focus on bottom up systems with a vibrant global community of mappers and an ecosystem of open source experts. Ushahidi demonstrates how free and open source software enables organizations and communities to improve collection of data, contextualizing issues they care about and create effective information flow of stories and engagement into localized action and change. We catalyze initiatives and communities like The CrisisMappers group, the iHub in Kenya and support many others who are trying to change the world through technology.

Niaz: What is your vision at ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: At Ushahidi, we want people to truly be able to collaborate and change the status quo of where they are through collaborative problem solving.  With our tools we want, individuals, groups, & organizations to be fully able to participate in their democracy, and to have their voices heard. Empowering citizens to collect and contextualize information and change the way information flows in the world by making easy to use crowdsourcing tools that provide change agents globally. Ushahidi’s mission is to change the way information flows in the world.

Niaz: As a technologist you have been working to bring social revolution in the field of social work with the art of technology. Why do you think technology is a surprising tool to solve our social problems?

Juliana: I actually think technology is a natural tool to solve our social problems. In the book What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, defines The Technium – “We all realize that we’re kind of surrounded with technology: there’s little device here recording us, there’s tables, chairs, spoons, light bulbs. Each of these things seem pretty mechanical, pretty inert in a certain sense, not very interactive, you know, a hammer, roads. But each one of these technologies actually requires many other technologies to make and produce. So your little thing in your pocket that you use for a phone might require thousands of other technologies to create it and support it and keep it going, and each of those technologies may require hundreds of thousands of subtechnologies below it. And that network of different technologies and the co-dependency that each of those technologies have on each other forms a virtual organism, a super organism.  We can keep stepping back and realize that all these technologies are in some ways co-dependent and related and connected to each other in some way and that largest of all the networks of all these technologies together I call the Technium.”  Social problems are often ecosystem problems, and appropriate, creative use of technology is just what may help to accelerate the problem solving that is much needed for the world’s problems. Technology helps to make systems more efficient, helps to close feedback loops and to inform. I think of technology as a catalyst for change and innovation representing immense untapped opportunities just waiting to be built and utilized. What brings it all together is an ecosystem of people and technology. In my generation I have seen how African people have interacted with mobile phones, computers and how increased connectivity to the Internet across the continent has helped spur Trickle Up Innovation to address social problems. Ushahidi is an example of this as is Mpesa, apps like iCow, Mfarm and Tusaidiane are emerging as part of the growth of tech entrepreneurial culture coming out in Africa and its collaborations globally.

Niaz: As you know, we have hundreds of thousands of social organizations those who have been working to bringing sustainable social changes. Most of these organizations have been lacking behind to accept the blessing of technology and innovation. What are the core challenges for them?

Juliana: The origin of not for profit organizations and their leadership at times represent the greatest challenges to technological innovations for social change and by that it takes much longer for them to develop the tools or procure the right personnel to develop the tools in house with a clear vision. We are lucky as Ushahidi that our founding and core is based on a group of developers, tech savvy change makers, bloggers, human rights activist, that bring their A game to the table in the different fields they have mastered. Our organization, leadership, commitment, culture, and mentorship in the cause has enable us to be particularly responsive.  With time and the greater adoption and exposure to technology nonprofits are picking up the pace in this area.

Niaz: How to recover those challenges to bring sustainable changes in the society with technology and innovation?

Juliana: It is not easy but can be achieved by attracting good talent. I would like to add this Harvard Business Review Article here.

Niaz: On the other hand, non profits are highly dependent on donors. Do you think technological innovation can provide them a platform to overcome this dependency and to empower them with financial independence to work to change the world to make it a better place to live in?

Juliana: It is possible. At Ushahidi, we have an external projects team that is ostensibly in charge of completing projects that bring in additional money. With our cloud based Services Crowdmap and SwiftRiver, we are diversifying the revenue base and thus on a sustainability track. It also helps to have impact investors like Omidyar Network who are not just donors, but partners in realizing the greater social and economic impact through not-for-profit technology work.

Niaz: Do you think we can bring technology and innovation rigorously for bringing social change, for removing poverty? How?

Juliana: If you had asked me this question last year, I would not have had an answer for you. This year, I can certainly say it is possible. I met Martin Burt in Davos early this year. I was completely encouraged and inspired by his work in Paraguay, he is doing extensive poverty mapping with the goal of giving the government clear data on where the critical areas are for interventions that can help lift people out of poverty. That his organization is using Ushahidi software is only a small part, the important work of linking on-the-ground data with policy is nothing short of amazing.

Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a TED Senior Fellow. How you’re involved with TED now. What are your plans with TED?

Juliana: In 2007, I was selected as part of the inaugural class of TED Fellows. There I met other technologists, particularly Erik Hersman, whom I had collaborated with online with the AfriGadget website. I also met Ory Okolloh, Dr. Sheila Ochugboju, Mulumba Lwatula and Segeni Ngethe just to name a few.  More on what I wrote then about TED. In 2009 I was named a TED Fellow again because of our work with Ushahidi and the Technology ecosystem in Kenya. This was great, as I was not only able to enjoy the conference (It is an amazing brain spa) but to meet other amazing individuals who would collaborate with Ushahidi and iHub over the years. The network and support from the TED team, from Chris Anderson, June Cohen and Tom Rielly made Ushahidi a household name spoken in tandem with the likes of Wikipedia and Twitter. Moreso the friendships forged as part of the TED community continue to this day and make up a very important part of my life. To meet other technologists who do not fit neatly into one box was completely refreshing. It is like meeting a long lost ‘soul sister’ or rather in this case ‘brain sister’. The community is extraordinary.

Niaz: You were named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, and Social Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum.  What are the set of advice you want to give to young social entrepreneurs? 

Juliana: Find a way to serve people through your work. The rest is hard work and persistence. The core is service and community. Keep the core strong and be flexible enough to handle the flux.

Niaz: How do you inspire women to come forward and lead?

Juliana: Inspiration comes in many ways. For me, it came from my late grandmother and my late father. They lived their lives making things. They taught me to first and foremost be a maker, to fix whatever is broken with whatever resources available. When you are needed, to stand up and do what you can. I hope that women can look around and find inspiration that works for them.

Niaz: Recently you have become ‘MIT Media Lab Directors Fellow’. It’s the finest place of innovation. Now you are bringing social problems and ideas at MIT Media Lab. What are we going to see in recent future with your ideas  for social change and Medial Lab’s innovation?

Juliana: I am so honored and thankful for the MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellowship. It is indeed the finest place for innovation. I often tell people that there are two places I feel most at home. The first is the iHub in Nairobi, a great space started by the Ushahidi team, led and grown by Erik Hersman. The second place is the MIT Media Lab. It is indeed Nerdvana as I like to call it. I am most excited about learning from the different research groups at MIT and linking them back to creative and innovative centers in Africa. There are incredible artists and innovators in Africa who are affiliated with emerging spaces like iHub, BongoHive, CCHub and others who would greatly benefit with that interchange of ideas, solutions, and approaches.  I suggest to read more from here and here. I am yet to fully grasp what I will do with the Media Lab fellowship, but one thing is that it will be in service of the amazing entrepreneurs I have the privilege of interacting with at the iHub in Nairobi and other parts of Africa.

Niaz: Juliana, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas and for your time.

Juliana: You are welcome Niaz.

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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

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

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Evolution of Technology and Innovation

Editor’s Note: Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger retired from IBM on May 31, 2007 after 37 years with the company. As Chairman Emeritus, IBM Academy of Technology, he continues to participate in a number of IBM’s technical strategy and innovation initiatives. He is also Visiting Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT, where he is involved in multi-disciplinary research and teaching activities focused on how information technologies are helping transform business organizations and the institutions of society. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Irving Wladawsky-Berger recently to gain insights about the evolution of Technology and Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Irving, thank you so much for joining us.  We are thrilled and honored to have you for eTalks .

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Niaz, thank you for having me.

Niaz: You began your career in IBM as a researcher in 1970. You have retired from IBM on May 31, 2007 as a Vice President of Technical Strategy and Innovation. From the dawn of Supercomputing to the rise of Linux and Open Source, the Internet, Cloud Computing, Disruptive Innovation, Big Data and Smarter Planet; you have been involved with it all.  You have worked for 37 years for bringing sustainable technological innovations for IBM. Can you please give us a brief of the evolution of technology and innovation? What do you think about the technological trend that has been changing since you have joined in IBM?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Well,It has been changed radically since the time I started in 1970 until now, let say, after 30 years. At the time in 1970, there were no personal computers and needless to say there was no internet. Computers were expensive and people were able to use them in a time sharing mode. Usually you would be needed a contract to be able to operate a computer and it was relatively expensive at that time. So most of the innovation and research had to be done in a kind of big science lab environment, whether it’s at a university like MIT or an R&D lab in IBM. Now all that began to change when personal computers emerged in the 1980s and especially in the next decade in 1990s, because personal computers became much more powerful and much less expensive. And then we had the internet. Remember the internet was only really blocking to the world in the mid 90s. And all of a sudden, it was much easier for lots of people to have access to the proper technologies and to start doing all kind of entrepreneurial innovations. Before that it was very expensive and then with the internet they were able to distribute their offerings online directly to their customers. Previously, they needed distributor channels and it did cost a lot of money. That has changed even more in just the last few years because of the advent of Cloud Computing. People started to do entrepreneurial business. They don’t even need to buy computer equipment anymore. They have a laptop or a smart phone that they use to get access in the cloud. As a result the cost of operating business is getting lower. This is particularly important for emerging economy like India, Africa or Latin America. Because they don’t have that much access to capital as we do here in the United States. So the availability of the internet, cloud computing and mobile devices etc. is going to have a huge impact for entrepreneurialism especially in emerging economy.

Niaz: So what has surprised you most about the rise and spread of the internet over the past 15 years?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Wellyouknowwhen I started, before the mid 90s, I was very involved with the Internet but as part of supercomputing before then the internet was primarily used in research lab and universities. And it all started to change with the advent of World Wide Web as well as Web Browser.  It made everything much more accessible. It was so easier to use. Before browsers, it was primarily interfaced that engineers had to learn to use. It wasn’t really available to the majority of people. The internet probably like other disruptive technologies; we knew it was exciting, we knew some good things could happen. But most of us couldn’t anticipate how transformative it would become. As an example, the fact that it would so much transform the media industry,  the music industry, newspapers, video streaming etc. On the other side, some of distinct people were predicting of the internet in the near term, like ‘it would totally transform the economy. You don’t need revenue and cash anymore’. That was wrong. So some of the predictions were just wrong, just like ‘you don’t need revenue and cash anymore’. Because if you are running a business you need revenue, cash and profit. Some of the predictions have been taking a lot longer than people thought in the early days because you needed broadband and things like that. And then other changes happened faster than any of us anticipated. In just an interesting experience, to watch how unpredictable disruptive technologies are.

Niaz: Now what do you think about the future of internet? What significant changes are going to occur in near future?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: First of all, I think broadband will keep advancing. And that’s being one of the most important changes. When I started using internet in the mid 90s, it was 16kb over a dial modem. Then few years later, it only went to 64kb over dial modem and then broadband came in. And it is getting better and better and better. Now in some countries, as you know, like South Korea, is extremely fast. And I think in US we don’t have that good broadband yet. But it is good to see it continues to be better.  Broadband wireless has come along. And that is very nice. I think the rise of mobile devices like Smart phones in the last few years, has the most important ways of accessing internet. And it has been an absolute phenomenon. And absolute phenomenon.  When the internet first showed off in the mid 90s, we were very worried that the internet was growing you needed to be able to have a PC and in those days time PCs were not that much inexpensive. You needed an internet service provider. That was not inexpensive either. So there was a strong digital divide even with the advanced economy like USA. I remember having a number of important meetings, while I was working in Washington in those days on the digital divide. All that had disappeared as you know mobile devices are so inexpensive. Just about everybody can afford it now.  But not all mobile devices are smart phones yet capable of accessing the internet. And I believe within few years, just about everybody in the world will be able to access the information, resource and application. That is going to be gigantic.  Finally, internet, broadband, cloud computing and disruptive innovations are going to bring changes that will be the most important change over the next few decades.

Niaz: As you know, Big Data has become a hot topic of tech industry. What do you think about Big Data?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Big Data is very interesting. And what it means is that we now have access to huge amount of real time data that can be totally analyzed and interpreted to give deep insight. Now I am involved with a new initiative of New York University called Center for Urban Science and Progress. A lot of the promise is to gather lot of information about transportation, energy uses, health and lots of other real time information in the city and being able to use it effectively to better manage the city and to make it more efficient. So now, we have access to big amount of data. But being able to manage those data, being able to run experiments and being able to make sense of data, you need to model. You need a hypothesis that you embedded in a model. Then you test your model against your data to see your model is true or not. If your model is true then the prediction you are making is correct. And if your model is not true, the predictions you are making is incorrect. Like for an example, you can get lots of health care data. But for finding the meaning, using those data efficiently, you have to have a good model. So in my mind big data is very important but more important which I called Data Science. Data Science is the ability to write model to use the data and get inside from what the data is telling and then put it into practice. And the data science is very new even big data itself is very new.  I think that it shows tremendous promise but we now have to build the next layers of data science in the discipline and that will be done discipline by discipline.

Niaz: Over the past twenty years you have been involved in a number of initiatives dealing with disruptive innovations. What do you think about disruptive innovation?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: I think that the work of Clayton Christensen has been really excellent. People knew that there were disruptive technologies that may change but until Clay wrote his book Innovators Dilemma and I think his next book ‘Innovators Solution’ is even better. I use these books in the graduate course at MIT. These are two excellent books on innovation. People didn’t understand for example why it is so tough to manage disruptive innovation? How is it different from the regular sustaining innovation or incrementing innovation? What do the companies should do with sustaining or incrementing innovation vs. disruptive innovation? And so he framed it in an excellent way to show the differences and to provide the guidelines for companies what they should do and that what they should watch out for. I think he wrote ‘Innovators Dilemma’ around 1990s. Now even today, the reality is, many companies don’t appreciate how difficult it is to truly embrace disruptive innovation. If you go and ask companies about disruptive innovation, they would say they are doing disruptive innovation. But in reality they are just working with incrementing innovation.  But to really be embarrassing disruptive, it’s till culturally very difficult for many companies.

Niaz: What is cloud computing? What are the ideas behind cloud computing?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: There are many definitions of cloud computing. There is no one definition. I think the reason is that cloud computing is not any one thing. I think that it’s really a new model of computing where the internet is the platform for that computing model. If you look at the history of computing, in the first phase, we had the central computing model and the mainframes in the data center were the main platform of that model. That model lasted from the beginning of the computing industry until let say mid 80s. Then the client server model came.  And in the client server model, the PCs were the central platform of that model. Now cloud computing is a model and it’s totally organized around the internet and it’s totally organized to make it possible to access hardware resources, storage resources, middleware resources, application resources and services over the internet . So cloud computing, when you think about it, the actual computer is totally distributed over the internet in the cloud.  Finally cloud computing is the most interesting model of computing built totally around the internet.

Niaz: How much disruption does cloud computing represent when compared with the Internet?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: I think cloud is the evolution of the internet. I think cloud computing is a massive disruption. And it is a very big disruptive part of the internet, because it’s totally changing the way people can get access to application and to information. Instead of having them in your PC or in the computers in your firm, you can now easily get whatever you want from the cloud. And you can get it in much standardize ways. So cloud makes it much easier and much less expensive for everybody whether you are a big company or whether you are a small or medium size company or whether you are an individual to get access to very sophisticated applications. And you don’t have to know everything. Remember in the PC days, if you bought an application, you got a disk, you had to load it, then there were new versions and you had to manage those versions by yourself. It was such an advance way over the previous worlds. Everybody was happy. But it was very difficult to use. Cloud as you know the whole world of apps. If you need apps, you can go to apps store. And an app store is basically a cloud store. So you can easily get whatever you need from the app store. When an app has a new release it will tell you. You don’t have to know everything. You have to do anything. It all being engineered and that is making IT capabilities available to many more companies and people. So it’s very disruptive.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of startups which are competing with giants like IBM, Google, Amazon, Facebook?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: That’s the history of the industry. You know, in the 80s, people said how anybody competes with IBM as IBM is such a big and powerful company. And the few years later, IBM was almost died because client server computing came in and all these companies like Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Compaq; they almost killed IBM. And locally for me who was there it didn’t die. Then in 90s, you could say, how can anybody compete with Microsoft after windows came up, it was so powerful, it was everything. Google was nothing at the beginning. And here we are now. Every few years we ask this question, here is the most powerful company of the world and what can possibly happen to them?  And you know sometimes nothing happens to them. And they continue being more powerful. Sometimes, in the case of IBM, they reinvent themselves. And they stay very relevant. They are just no longer the most advanced company in the world, they are an important company. But In 70s and 80s it was the leader in the computing industry. I think many people wouldn’t say about IBM now. For competing and surviving in any industry you have to have a very good business model. And for entrepreneurial innovation, coming up with a great business model is the hardest and core challenge.

Niaz: Can you please tell us something about the ways of asking BIG questions to challenge the tradition and come up with disruptive innovation?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Niaz, you are asking a very good question because asking big questions, coming with new business idea or business model is very difficult. I would say, in the old days, lot of the ideas came from laboratory if I talk about IT industry. Today, the core of innovation is in the market place. How can you come up with a great new application or a great new solution that will find a market that will find customers who want it. You have to be much focused. You have to have some good ideas. You have to study the market. You have to understand who are likely to be your customers. You have to know who your competitors are going to be. If those competitors are going to be big like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, you have to know, if you are starting a new company, what do you have unique over those companies. But I think that in general the inspiration or new ideas is a combination of creativity and market place. You have to look at the market place and have to be inspired by marketplace. Here are some great ideas you have and bring light. I think I couldn’t able to give good answer. You are asking like ‘Where the great business ideas come from’. It’s like asking movie directors or composers, where do you get your creativity. It’s a similar question. There is no good answer to that.

Niaz: Thank you Irving. I am wishing you very good luck for your good health and all future projects.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: You are welcome. It was very nice talking to you. And good luck to you Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

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

Brian Keegan: Big Data

Editor’s Note: Brian Keegan is a post-doctoral research fellow in Computational Social Science with David Lazer at Northeastern University. He defended his Ph.D. in the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University’s School of Communication.  He also attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Science, Technology, and Society in 2006.

His research employs a variety of large-scale behavioral data sets such as Wikipedia article revision histories, massively-multiplayer online game behavioral logs, and user interactions in a crowd-sourced T-shirt design community. He uses methods in network analysis, multilevel statistics, simulation, and content analysis. To learn more about him, please visit his official website Brianckeegan.com.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Brian Keegan recently to gain his ideas and insights about Big Data, Data Science and Analytics which is given below.

Niaz: Brian we are really excited to have you to talk about Big Data. Let start from the beginning. How do you define Big Data?

Brian: Thank you Niaz for having me. Well, a common joke in the community is that “big data” is anything that makes Excel crash. That’s neither fair to Microsoft because the dirty secret of data science is that you can get pretty far using Excel nor is it fair to researchers whose data could hypothetically fit in Excel, but are so complicated that it would make no sense to try in the first place.

Big data is distinct from traditional industry and academic approaches to data analysis because of what are called the three Vs: volume, variety, velocity.

      • Volume is what we think of immediately – server farms full of terabytes of user data waiting to be analyzed. This data doesn’t fit into a single machine’s memory, hard drive, or even a traditional database. The size of the data makes analyzing with traditional tools really hard which is why new tools are being created.
      • Second, there’s variety that reflects the fact that data aren’t just lists of numbers, but include complex social relationships, collections of text documents, and sensors. The scope of the data means that all these different kinds of data have different structures, granularity, and errors which need to be cleaned and integrated before you can start to look for relationships among them. Cleaning data is fundamentally unsexy and grueling work, but if you put garbage into a model, all you get garbage back out. Making sure all these diverse kinds of data are playing well with each other and the models you run on them is crucial.
      • Finally, there’s velocity that reflects the fact that data are not only being created in real-time, but people want to act on the incoming information in real time as well. This means the analysis also has to happen in real time which is quite different than the old days where a bunch of scientists could sit around for weeks testing different kinds of models on data collected months or years ago before writing a paper or report that takes still more months before its published. APIs, dashboards, and alerts are part of big data because they make data available fast.

Niaz: Can you please provide us some examples?

Brian: Data that is big is definitely not new. The US Census two centuries ago still required collecting and analyzing millions of data points collected by hand. Librarians and archivists have always struggled with how to organize, find, and share information on millions of physical documents like books and journals. Physicists have been grappling with big data for decades where the data is literally astronomical. Biologists sequencing the genome needed ways to manipulate and compare data involving billions of base pairs.

While “data that was big” existed before computers, the availability of cheap computation has accelerated and expanded our ability to collect, process, and analyze data that is big. So while we now think of things like tweets or financial transactions as “big data” because these industries have rushed to adopt or are completely dependent upon computation, it’s important to keep in mind that lots of big data exist outside of social media, finance, and e-commerce and that’s where a lot of opportunities and challenges still exist.

Niaz: What are some of the possible use cases for big data analytic? What are the major companies producing gigantic amount of Data?

Brian: Most people think of internet companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Netflix, Amazon, Yelp, Wikipedia, and OkCupid when they think of big data. These companies are definitely the pioneers of coming up with the algorithms, platforms, and other tools like PageRank, map-reduce, user-generated content, recommender systems that require combining millions of data points to provide fast and relevant content.

    • Companies like Crimson Hexagon mine Twitter and other social media streams for their clients to detect patterns of novel phrases or changes in the the sentiment associated with keywords and products. This can let their clients know if people are having problems with a product or if a new show is generating a lot of buzz despite mediocre ratings.
    • The financial industry uses big data not only for high-frequency trading based on combining signals from across the market, but also evaluating credit risks of customers by combining various data sets. Retailers like Target and WalMart have large analytics teams that examine consumer transactions for behavioral patterns so they know what products to feature. Telecommunications companies like AT&T or Verizon collect call data records produced by every cell phone on their networks that lets them know your location over time so they can improve coverage. Industrial companies like GE and Boeing put more and more sensors into their products so that they can monitor performance and anticipate maintenance.
    • Finally, one of the largest producers and consumers of big data is the government. Law enforcement agencies publish data about crime and intelligence agencies monitor communication data from suspects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve, and World Bank collect and publish extremely rich and useful economic time series data. Meteorologists collect and analyze large amounts of data to make weather forecasts.

Niaz: Why has big data become so important now?

Brian: Whether it was business, politics, or military, decisions were (and continue to be) made under uncertainty about history or context because getting timely and relevant data was basically impossible. Directors didn’t know what customers were saying about their product, politicians didn’t know the issues constituents were talking about, and officers faced a fog of war. Ways of getting data were often slow and/or suspect: for example, broadcast stations used to price advertising time by paying a few dozen people in a city to keep journals of what stations they remember hearing every day. Looking back now, this seems like an insane way not only collect data but also make decisions based on obviously unreliable data, but it’s how things were done for decades because there was no better way of measuring what people were doing. The behavioral traces we leave in tweets and receipts are not only much finer-grained and reliable, but also encompass a much larger and more representative sample of people and their behaviors.

Data lets decision makers know and respond to what the world really looks like instead of going on their gut. More data usually gives a more accurate view, but too much data can also overwhelm and wash out the signal with noise. The job of data scientists less trying to find a single needle in a haystack and more like collecting as much hay as possible to be sure there’s a few needles in there before sorting through the much bigger haystack. In other words, data might be collected for one goal, but it can also be repurposed for other goals and follow-on questions that come along to provide new insights. More powerful computers, algorithms, and platforms make assembling and sorting through these big haystacks much easier than before.

Niaz: Recently I have seen IBM has started to work with Big Data. What roles do companies like IBM play in this area?

Brian: IBM is just one of many companies that are racing “upstream” to analyze data on larger and more complex systems like an entire city by aggregating tweets, traffic, surveillance cameras, electricity consumption, emergency services which feed into each other. IBM is an example of an organization that has shifted from providing value from transforming raw materials into products like computers to transforming raw data into unexpected insights about how a system works — or doesn’t. The secret sauce is collecting existing data, building new data collection systems, and developing statistical models and platforms that are able to work in the big data domain of volume, variety, and velocity that traditional academic training doesn’t equip people.

Niaz: What are the benefits of Big Data to Business? How it is influencing innovation and business?

Brian: Consider the market capitalization of three major tech companies on a per capita basis: Microsoft makes software and hardware as well as running web services like Bing based on big data and is worth about $2.5 million per employee, Google mostly makes software and runs web services and is worth about $4.6 million per employee, and Facebook effectively just runs a web service of its social network site and is worth about $19 million per employee. These numbers may outliers or unreliable for a variety of reasons, but the trend suggests that organizations like Facebook focused solely on data produce more value per employee.

This obviously isn’t a prescription for every company — ExxonMobil, WalMart, GE, and Berkshire produce value in fundamentally different ways. But Facebook did find a way to capture and analyze data about the world — our social relationships and preferences — that was previously hidden. There are other processes happening beyond the world of social media that currently go uncaptured, but the advent of new sensors and opportunities for collecting data that will become ripe for the picking. Mobile phones in developing countries will reveal patterns of human mobility that could transform finance, transportation, and health care. RFIDs on groceries and other products could reveal patterns transportation and consumption that could reduce wasted food while opening new markets. Smart meters and grids could turn the tide against global climate change while lowering energy costs. Politicians could be made more accountable and responsive through crowd sourced fundraising and analysis of regulatory disclosures. The list of data out there waiting to be collected and analyzed boggles the mind.

Niaz: How do you define a Data Scientist? What are your suggestions you have for those who want to become a data scientist?

Brian: A data scientist needs familiarity with a wide set of skills, so much so that it’s impossible for them to be expert in all of them.

      • First, data scientists need the computational skills from learning a programming language like Python or Java so that they can acquire, cleanup, and manipulate data from databases and APIs, hack together different programs developed by people who are far more expert in network analysis or natural language processing, and use difficult tools like MySQL and Hadoop. There’s no point-and-click program out there with polished tutorials that does everything you’ll need from end-to-end. Data scientists spend a lot of time writing code, working at the command line, and reading technical documentation but there are tons of great resources like StackOverflow, GitHub, free online classes, and active and friendly developer communities where people are happy to share code and solutions.
      • Second, data scientists need statistical skills at both a theoretical and methodological level. This is the hardest part and favors people who have backgrounds in math and statistics, computer and information sciences, physical sciences and engineering, or quantitative social sciences. Theoretically, they need to know why some kinds of analyses should be run on some kinds but not other kinds of data and what the limitations of one kind of model are compared to others. Methodologically, data scientists need to actually be able to run these analyses using statistical software like R, interpret the output of the analyses, and do the statistical diagnostics to make sure all the assumptions that are baked into a model are actually behaving properly.
      • Third, data scientists need some information visualization and design skills so they can communicate their findings in an effective way with charts or interactive web pages for exploration. This means learning to use packages like ggplot in R or matplotlib in Python for statistical distributions, d3 in Javascript for interactive web visualizations, or Gephi for network visualizations.

All of the packages I mentioned are open-source which also reflects the culture in the data science community; expensive licenses for software or services are very suspect because others should be able to easily replicate and build upon your analysis and findings.

Niaz: Finally, what do you think about the impact of Big Data in our everyday life?

Brian: Big Data is a dual-use technology that can satisfy multiple goals, some of which may be valuable and others which may be unsavory. On one hand it can help entrepreneurs be more nimble and open new markets or researchers make new insights about how the world works, on the other hand, the Arab Spring suggested it can also reinforce the power of repressive regimes to monitor dissidents or unsavory organizations to do invasive personalized marketing.

Danah Boyd and Kate Crawford have argued persuasively about how the various possibilities of big data to address societal ills or undermine social structure obscure the very real but subtle changes that are happening right now that replace existing theory and knowledge, cloak subjectivity with quantitative objectivity, confuse bigger data with better data, separate data from context and meaning, raise real ethical questions, and create or reinforce inequalities.

Big data also raises complicated questions about who has access to data. On one hand, privacy is a paramount concern as organizations shouldn’t be collecting or sharing data about individuals without their consent. On the other hand, there’s also the expectation that data should be shared with other researchers so they can validate findings. Furthermore, data should be preserved and archived so that it is not lost to future researchers who want to compare or study changes over time.

Niaz: Brian, Thank you so much for giving me time in the midst of your busy schedule. It is really great to know the details of Big Data from you. I am wishing you good luck with your study, research, projects and works.

Brian: You are welcome. Good luck to you too.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

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

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

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

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

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

James Allworth: Disruptive Innovation

Editor’s Note: James Allworth is the director of strategy at Medallia. He is a Harvard Business School graduate. Previously he worked for ‘Apple’, ‘Booz & Company and co-authored New York Times best seller  ‘How will you measure your life. He is a writer at Harvard Business Review and a fellow of Professor Clay Christensens think-tank on Innovation. His work has been featured on bloomberg, business insider and reuters.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed James Allworth recently to gain his ideas and insights about Disruptive Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: James, you have been working with the father of disruptive innovation, Clay Christensen’s, for long time. You have done so many works in the field of Disruptive Innovation. Can you please give us a brief description of disruptive Innovation?

James: Disruptive innovation is the process by which novel technologies or business models — often times, vastly inferior to the existing solution — start at the bottom of the market, and by gradually getting better, move to replace the existing solution. Professor Christensen first identified the phenomenon when studying the disk drive industry; but it applies widely. Generally, the competitors start off being considered little more than “toys”, but by being vastly more accessible (both in terms of price and in terms of necessary expertise) they slowly move upmarket and take over the market. Once you understand how it happens, you’ll see it all over the place.

Niaz: What are the major examples of Disruptive Innovation to you?

James: There are examples everywhere. One of my favorite industries to look at is the computing industry. We started with mainframes, they were displaced by minicomputers, which in turn was displaced by the personal computer, then the laptop, and now the PC and laptop is being threatened by tablets and smartphones. In each case, the disruptive entrant had lower performance than the previous solution; often they were cheaper, too.

What’s really fascinating is that industries that have previously been immune to disruption are staring down the barrel of it right now. The internet is enabling all this to happen — whether it be Netflix threatening cable; or Uber threatening entrenched taxi monopolies; or Airbnb going after the hotels.

Niaz: So now, if we would like to differentiate innovation and disruptive innovation, what will be the core basis?

James: The performance of the solution is generally inferior to what was available previously, but it’s cheaper and more accessible. The array of programming options on cable, for instance, is vastly greater than Netflix. But Netflix is much cheaper. Hotels compete on the quality of the appointments and amenities; Airbnb is unlikely to be able to beat that head on, but by leveraging the internet and utilizing what would otherwise go to waste (people’s rooms) then they’re able to compete on a different axis of performance.

What’s also noticeable about disruptive innovation is that it’s rarely just technical innovation that drives it, but also business model innovation. Professor Christensen and Max Wessel wrote touched on this in their recent HBR article, on surviving disruption. There’s an “extendable core” in disruptors that enable them to topple the incumbents.

Niaz: Is it possible to disrupt Google? How?

James: Well, those are very big questions.

Google is interesting because it’s made its fortune disrupting others. But in becoming a big organization, it has created an Achilles heel just like any other big organization has — in its case; it has a very big addiction to advertising revenue. A French ISP just built ad blocking into its service by default — now, it looks like they have subsequently backed down (example here), but something like that becoming commonplace would make life very difficult for Google.

Niaz: As you know YouTube has been a great revolution. It has been changing the way we create and share art. Do you see any disruption in the way we create art? Will it be a concept like ‘Disruptive Art’

James: The wonderful thing about YouTube is that it’s created a publishing platform that anyone can gain access to, and you don’t need a lot of resources to do so. It’s enabled people to reach an audience they otherwise could not. You don’t need to have a deal with a big media company to create a movie or even a TV series now and get it published; artists and regular folks are now able to create a relationship directly with their fans. It’s this ability for the creator to get directly in touch with the fan/consumer that is what is so cool about YouTube and its ilk.

You’re already starting to see artists experiment with new business models that leverage this.

Niaz: Till today, technology and innovation mostly belong to Silicon Valley? What do you think about the core challenges for developing countries and their organizations to be innovative? How can they come up with disruptive innovative ideas, make things happen and sustain in the long run?

James: Disruption often starts out where there is non-consumption — where people can’t afford the existing solution. That means that emerging markets are going to be hotbeds of activity for disruptive innovation. You’re already starting to see this happen, with the $20 tablet from India for example: (click)

Niaz: Finally, our readers will love to know about your amazing book ‘How will you measure your life’. Can you please give us a brief of this life changing book?

James: The book is based on Professor Christensen’s class at Harvard Business School, using the theory to answer the big questions you really need to be asking about your life and your career. At no point do we claim to have the answers; it’s going to be different for everyone, so instead, we use the business theory to help equip readers with the tools required to find the answers for themselves.

We managed to make the New York Times best seller list, which we’ve just been humbled by. If your readers are interested in finding out more, details are up on the website (here), including a free excerpt.

Niaz: James, thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you very good luck for everything you do.

James: Thanks Niaz, and all the best!

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Further Reading:

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

2. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

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

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

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

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media