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Showing posts from 2010

MBA Rankings, a pinch of salt and a tomato

Any reasonable person knows to be weary of any ranking, after all there is usually some subjective criteria by which the position in the ranking in judged. For example, how does one determine wealth ? Is it cash in the bank, assets, potential assets etc. The same care should be taken with MBA rankings, which often have a very strong weighting towards salary increase. You should be aware that this might be the reason many MBA schools are keen to recruit young students (their potential earnings can only go up !). Also watch out for fluctuations in exchange which may cause disproportionate salary increases when adjusted to the US dollar (or British Pound). Another often considered factor is the International flavor of the course, but many of us have dual nationalities and this figure can easily be fudged. Faculty members qualifications and academic contribution is also often weighted, again there are various ways in which this figure can be fudged. All in all, you should not choose an

Misusing models

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Interestingly, having in my last post posted a model, the issue I want to address in this post is the misuse of models. Firstly, let's consider what a model is and what it is not. A model is really an abstraction of reality, in most real-life situations it is impossible to capture all the parameters that influence any social phenomena. So for example, in economic growth there are far to many variables that impact economic growth. We can create some simplified model, which helps us attempt to capture at least the most important variables and suggest a way in which the economic growth mechanism works. Note, this is not a theory, a theory is an attempt to explain the workings of a mechanism whereas a model is only a simplification of a mechanism (see Mario Bunge for more discussion on this). When one person or organization create a model, it is with a particular context and set of assumptions in mind. If they create a model which is valid for all contexts and situations and does not

Towards a theory of economic growth

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A couple of years ago, whilst attempting to complete a masters degree in Business Administration  I somewhat naively attempted to create a model linking entrepreneurship to economic growth. I began a 3 year quest to read all I could about entrepreneurship and economics. It become apparent early on, that academics simply do not agree on what entrepreneurship is. Furthermore modern economic theory has very little to say about the entrepreneur. I found this to be somewhat confusing, being a simple engineer, I expected there to be at least some basis on which to build an economic theory based on entrepreneurship. Afterall, it would seem evident from our current and historic experience that entrepreneurship (if we agree on what it is) generates economic growth. Almost every nation has a host of policies trying to stimulate entrepreneurship, however, academics did not seem to have a very good idea of how this growth worked. I presented my model for my dissertation, however, it w

Can over-tweeting be bad for your Health ?

I have been following quite a few very good Tweeters, some provide me with a daily digest of really interesting information. Then there are the ones that provide me with nothing at all and yet others that are amusing. Irrespective even the good ones can get to a point where they are over-tweeting. What is most relevant, what is the optimum number of tweets to keep peoples interest and when have you gone too far ? I think there is a fine line between interesting and annoying and getting it right in terms of both content and volume could be the key to generating happy tweet-fans .... Would it be sensible to set yourself tweet quotas, e.g 1 tweet per hour or 50 tweets a day ?

Why Nokia and Blackberry should be scared ?

I recall working at Motorola at a time when we were gaining significant market share in the mobile handset market. Yet the gains were precarious, we produced some very attractive phones (the Razor was a first of a kind) and although the user interface and software reliability was not 100% there, the phones looked the part. Looking back, I was always concerned about the software reliability (since it was part of my job) but in fact we should have much more concerned about the usability and the Interface. Something the Microsoft has always been aware of. When I look at the Nokia and Blackberry offerings currently on the market, the phones look ok, they work ok, but somehow there is something unfamiliar about the user Interface. It is almost as if the User Interface Fashion (UI-Fashion maybe) has swung - very much in favour of the Android and iPhone. Even though the target markets for the Nokia and Blackberry phones may be slightly different than that of the iPhone or Android, this doe

Socio-mapping

In the very influential book " Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development by James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison, they discuss the use of socio-gram which map the communication relationships between people within an organization. This, they use to determine the health of a project, i.e the socio-gram should not indicate that there are silo's in communication. The same principles may be applied to Enterprise Architecture, and the socio-gram becomes a useful tool to analyze not only communication between individuals but also potentially between systems. The concept may also be used to establish a companies or individuals social networking "effectiveness" if we could create a tool to import all ones social networking contacts and map out the interactions with these over a period of time, we would certainly gain some insights into the effective network that we have built up.  I am interested in pursuing this idea, and starting to develop software to do jus

Android - Has apple missed a trick ?

I remember getting my first Android which I got shipped from Google via the UK to Brazil. I was amazed by this device until it's amazing demise in a tropical rainstorm. I walked around the streets of Rio showing anyone who would look ... I continue to be amazed at the applications of this OS and the OS business model. Everyday there are announcements of new Android Phones, tablets and now playstations, TV's and e-readers which are going to be using the Android operating system. It is a compelling proposition for hardware manufacturers who now don't have to bother with the very complex task of writing software. They have to simply build a computational device and get Android to run on it. Software, particularly writing an OS is notoriously difficult and requires significant skill for complex devices. I remember arguing with Professor Nogueira and Coppead Business School who was very pro-Apple and thought they would grow beyond imagination at the time (2007). Although, as

Outsourcing has its place, but not everywhere

Outsourcing and offshoring are two very fashionable approaches to reducing cost and ramping up resources. Whilst logically it would seem to make sense to hire skilled workers at a fraction of the price somewhere else in the world - in practice great care should be taken before embarking on such an endeavor. Firstly, numbers mean very little without a quality outcome. Many projects have positive outcomes, however, they are not the best of quality - just because something works, does not mean that it was designed well (with e.g. the customer, values and future in mind).You must know not only how to judge success, but also the quality of the artifacts that are created. As I have written before, communication is one of corner-stones of any organization. When projects are outsourced or offshored the first thing to suffer is communication - although it is often the most ignored. Time and time again, the value and importance of face to face and non-verbal communication has been written about

Cloud Computing - is it Just a buzz word

Wherever I go lately, I hear the term "cloud computing" or "hey, I am involved in cloud". One would think that this is revolutionary technology a far cry from the way we work today. The reality is that it might be a buzz word. Firstly visualized environments have been around for some time and many of us have been using them for some time now. Smaller companies have been using 3rd party hosts to host their websites etc for years too, almost since the beginning of the Internet. Really there is nothing so amazing about "cloud computing" , except that as a system the Internet along with the providers of hosted services are now advanced enough to offer commercially reliable and stable offerings. I guess a major change is the fact that big corporations are starting to use these services, this creates a number of issues for them - mostly in terms of process and security. I would like to see the term used less for "buzz" and more for what it really is ..

It's all in the naming (language)

"It's harmful ... when naming leads the mind to think that names alone bring meaning close" - Marvin Minsky, Society of mind If one breaks down the nature of organization into it's component parts, what comes out is communication. Communication drives standardization, co-operation and co-ordination amongst other things - which are all needed for an organization to function effectively and grow.  There are oral and written artifacts. Direct , real-time and delayed communications. In-direct communications and those that are current and others that are historic. Furthermore there are bi-directional multi-directional communications. All of these happening at the same time, and depending on the parties involved and the culture of the organization they have varying degrees of impact and credibility. Starting with clear definitions is essential for any form of communication to convey the intended meaning in a reliable manner. Very often as a consultant I find that the

Organizational excellence and learning : lessons from Brazil

Anyone who has visited Brazil and moreover done business in Brazil would probably not associate Brazil with organizational excellence. While in general this may be true, I would like to share my exposure to an element of Brazilian culture which I believe exhibits many of the elements of organizational excellence that major organizations would wish to emulate. This unique cultural gem, resides in the unlikely domain of music. To many, this would not be that surprising considering the high standard of musicality in Brazil. In particular, the style of music I address initially is known as "chorinho" and might be considered to be a pre-cursor to modern day Samba. The interesting aspects of this music for organizations is the way in which "chorinho" groups are structured and the way in which learning occurs within the wider "chorinho" community. I will be writing a series of articles relating my first hand observations of the mechanisms within the "chorin

Communication in the enterprise

Many of the issues we face in our day-to-day lives center around our inability to communicate effectively. This is especially true within the organization. The way in which we organize ourselves in the modern world is in organizational theory termed the "bureaucracy" (not to be confused with the use of the term associated with government red-tape). It is the nature of this form of organization - hierarchies of authority, separation of the office from the person and creation of common organizational goals (to name a few) - that inherently cause communication to be paradoxical. Many paradoxes are discussed in the literature: Merton, for example highlights the fact that organizations need to produce a high degree of reliability of  behavior. Devotion to behavior leads to them becoming absolute; they are no longer conceived as relative to a set of purposes, this interferes with adaptation, thus the very conditions that conduce efficiency produce inefficiency in certain instance

Archetypes of bureaucracy

In recent research I wrote about 3 archetypes of bureaucracy, based on research on entrepreneurship in Brazil. Brazil provided an interesting context for this research as the business environment exhibits some extreme cases of bureaucracy. The 3 archetypes I arrived at, based on previous work by organizational theorists were: productive, unproductive and destructive. Productive bureaucracy is generally well designed and serves to benefit all parties in the bureaucratic process. It exhibits, the correct balance of incentives, co-operation, trust and co-ordination. Unproductive bureaucracy is generally that which is ill-designed and simply put, creates unnecessary problems for one of the parties in the bureaucratic process. This might be a government agency which becomes swamped with paperwork or an individual who cannot easily adhere to the process due to lack of information or lack of available documentation. The third archetype is destructive bureaucracy, which is ironically usual

Visually Designed Software

As I continue to look around, work and consult for various companies, I have begun to realize that the visual element of software design in perhaps more important than functionality. Humans are visual beings, we like nice furniture, nice buildings and beautiful people. The same is true of software. The recent success of the iPhone is an example, Apple makes attractive devices that have attractive user interfaces. This I believe is the key to their success. Years ago, we all put up with Microsoft, not because their software was robust, efficient or reliable but because they had the best user interface by far. As mentioned in a previous article, Linux is now maturing into a desktop operating system that can finally compete with Microsoft, this is mainly because the user interface is attractive. The new Gnome and KDE windowing user interfaces are easy to use and attractive. The same can also be said for web development. I believe it is more important to have the user interface looking e

Digital Footprint

So, you're sitting at your computer oneday, you've got 10min free and you think "hey let me google myself." You open a your favorite browser and type your name as a search term, your name is either common in which case the chance of finding somthing that is relevant to you is not that likely, or worse your name is very unique and a wealth of information pops up in the search results. You find blog posts, forum posts, book reviews, entries in public records, maybe home adress and phone numbers, details of direcotrships and legal proceedures, maybe 5 years ago you posted a sexy picture of yourself. You are shocked at the volume and depth of information out there on you ! You ideally would like this information to be private. "Hmm", you think, I wonder if I can write an email to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft asking them to remove me from thier search database. Think again, you are online, you have a digital footprint whether you like it or not. If you lucky y

What Digital Convergence means for Enterprise Software

The digital world, which now is all around us, is converging. This means that television, Internet, telephony and a host of other services are starting to use the same mechanisms for delivering the service or delivering customer management. I have written about smart metering, how using some form of the Internet - our energy usage will be made more efficient and tailored to our specific usage patterns. Television is being delivered over the Internet, Internet televisions, iPlayers and the like are becoming the norm (creating huge demands on bandwidth). I would like to address the question of enterprise software. More and more in my day-to-day consulting I encounter companies who are diversifying their businesses to provide a wide variety of services over the Internet. After-all, if you can provide television over the internet, why not sell music, why not offer broadband and maybe even throw in a mobile phone or fixed line phone contract. If you have the systems to do all of that you m

Smart Metering, where are we going ?

If you are reading this, it's probably because you have heard of smart metering, you may even have one - or at least one that had the phrase "smart meter" somewhere in it's description. But, for those of you who have never heard the term or are unsure of what it is, here is a brief explanation, followed by some thoughts on where we are going with this concept. I am sure most of us have at some point had to find the flash-light (or touch) and climb under the staircase or under the sink to find the gas or electric meter to take a reading. Many have probably had a visit from a meter reader who came into the home to take readings. Smart meters don't need humans to read them, they automatically send their readings to a central computer. They may do this at varying frequencies - more advanced meters (although, they may cease to be called meters) may conceptually have the ability to control household appliances. Why is this a good idea ? Firstly, and unfortunately fo

Towards a collaborative society

The media, of late, is filled with acclamations and superlative references to Social Media and the Internet. Naturally there is human interest in the way that people are interacting, the rate at which these Social Media sites and tools are growing. There is also commercial interest in the advertising potential, or some as yet undiscovered business model - lurking, magically, below the surface. I admit that I share the enthusiasm, but I have a what is perhaps a slightly different view on the process that society is going through. I view the current development of Social Media and more recently mobile Social Media as progression towards a "collaborative society". This is a movement which started with the telegraph and perhaps before - with the desire to communicate, to know in advance, to transverse the limitations of human travel and communication. Later our parents and grandparents used the telephone and the radio to communicate and gather news. Then came the TV which add

Adopting that which does not work

Ever sat eating a sandwich on the banks of the Rhine - in the freezing cold - wondering why organizations are structured in the way they are ? Why for example do organizations continue to believe that adding head-count increases productivity ? When the team gets too big, simply split it into two or three and add more staff (which, supposedly does not violate any rules - The Mythical Man Month). This thinking is quite obviously wrong, yet it prevails in most large organizations. Why are organizations (for the most part) structured in some sort of arcane hierarchy, is this due to functional or productive necessity or just pure laziness - not exploring more innovative ways to organize. Of course there are considerations, labour laws, social order and the pecking order necessitate the gradual progression through an organization. It is easy to see how and why the hierarchy is needed and created, but, how do we rid ourselves of it ? Maybe it is just because it is what we are all used too,