Our Berlin Wall

It seems the consumerization of the enterprise is over. In this article Owen Thomas, reporting that oil giant Shell is to allow its 135,000 employees to bring their own devices, declares the debate over. For him, at least, it’s no longer an interesting debate, “what’s next?” he calls.

Well let’s just hold on a second. This is, after all, a momentous occasion. Traditional beliefs and customs are tumbling down. I for one would like to stop, contemplate and enjoy this revolutionary milestone.

Approaches such as agile development and the growth of cloud based products created a two tier system. Those businesses that embraced cloud technologies got to experience freedom and a superior experience to those that were stuck using the old enterprise applications. Like East and West Germany the advancements in mobile and improved user experience became the illegal tv sets picking up western TV shows. Where those without watched enviously as those with gorged themselves on the spoils of a decadent capitalist lifestyle.

We sat at our desks looking at the depressing blue/grey of a SAP transaction while we dreamt of cute kittens on Youtube or poking long forgotten friends on Facebook. Allowing employees to bring their own mobile devices to the office seemed like a small concession to keep the masses happy. But then they began to take photos of their colleagues over lunch and published amusing edits on Flickr. Before long they were spending more and more time updating statuses (or is that statii?) and tending to their virtual farm animals.

Some even learnt how to connect these devices, against IT policy, to collect work email. They no longer needed to hide the device when the boss walked in, they could now claim to be checking the latest sales figures or sending out a contract. Like the East German police, there were pockets of resistance, some tried to stop this from happening but they soon realised the cost of doing so was unacceptable. Powerless to stop the crowd they just stepped aside and let the wall come down.

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why do we lie to our kids?

I recently saw this video by TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadivé about why lying to our kids is bad. The underlying argument is that in doing so you are eroding America’s ability to compete against countries such as India and China in the future as this behavior destroys competitive nature in children. Ranadive tells us about ‘little Johnny’ the hapless softball player that, despite repeatedly missing the ball, is congratulated for a great swing. It clearly wasn’t a great swing but everyone cheers regardless. This story of a group of parents apparently lying to Johnny sets up the argument.

OK I agree we shouldn’t lie to our kids but I want to challenge the premise of the argument used in the video. Maybe this does happen all the time just not anywhere I go, nor with any of the family activities my family and I get involved in. In fact this recent report from the BBC suggests our children are under pressure to be competitive, maybe it’s just in the UK.

I write about this now after seeing this discussion on LinkedIn in the same week and made a connection. Here the thread starter uses a story, that turns out to be an urban myth, in order to make a point. For me, the fact that the story is not even true puts the whole argument in question. The discussion that took place followed two threads, one about whether the story was indeed true and one about how simple solutions are better than complex solutions, which in turn spawned a series of further anecdotes of dubious origin. I found the former thread much more interesting.

In the case of whether simple or complex solutions to business problems are better, I find it hard to understand how so many contributors could claim one side, or the other, based on the limited amount of information available. In fact everyone blindly, in my view, agreed that simple trumps complex every time. The argument that people can, and frequently do, overcomplicate things may well be true but to be discussing it without even a real story to analyze seems like a complete waste of time.

Why do so many well educated, and clearly bright people, waste their time taking part in  pointless discussions based on myth?

I’ve referenced Daniel Kahneman before and will here again, the problem is that it’s easier for us to accept a story that sounds probable, and we like a good story, than to question its validity. What Kahneman calls “the illusion of validity”. We come up with interesting hypothesis but instead of ‘really’ testing them it’s easier to make up a good story that apparently confirms your argument. When written in a blog or other article it takes a certain type of reader to challenge these assumptions and those people don’t turn up as often as you might think. That is of course if your readers are even allowed to comment, and if this is published in a trusted news source there’s even less chance anyone will question it.

Facebook IS infrastructure

Have you seen this article on Cnet about Facebook becoming more ‘meh’ for teenagers? Shock horror, apparently Facebook’s popularity, as teenagers’ number one social network, has slipped. I mean, according to the survey, it’s still number one but it’s losing ground to other ‘cooler’ social apps.

I this the beginning of the end for Facebook?

Er I doubt it. In the conclusion the author states:

But there must be so many budding — and perhaps teenage — entrepreneurs who know that they need to find just one small emotional hook that will pull vast numbers of teens away from Facebook very, very quickly.

Sure there will be other cool things for teenagers to look at, and sure they don’t like their parents hanging around but Facebook is hardly the street corner your kids hangout on. Besides how many teenagers use only one social network exclusively? Many teenagers, especially those that have become teenagers in the last few years don’t see Facebook as the ‘cool new thing’. It’s just there, in the same way computers are, in the same way telephones and cars and all the other things we can’t imagine living without are just there.

Facebook, and to a large extent social networking in general, has become part of the everyday infrastructure of life. Is making a phone call cool? The fact that you can pickup a handset and dial a short set of digits and speak to someone no matter where they are in the World. I mean that’s awesome but how often do you hear teenagers calling it cool?

Will we ever learn…

…to recognize the signs of change early enough to respond adequately? Probably not…

In a recent post Ian Gotts highlighted again the now well understood changes, to traditional business models, in publishing from print media to music and films. As everyone in the tech industry knows everything is different, the pace of change is so rapid that your business model can disappear virtually overnight without any apparent warning. We’ve seen it happen so often now we’re sure to see it coming when it affects us.

Is that really the case? Are we kidding ourselves while we choose to ignore the warning signs and desperately hang on to the past?

The dark economy

This year the value of Bitcoins spiked at an all time high against the US Dollar. The virtual currency is used to trade goods and services over the internet with a growing number of well known organizations adopting it as a payment method.

But Bitcoins are unlike traditional currencies, they are not centrally managed by national banks, they are untracable (making them popular for trading illegal goods and services) and they are finite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin). The structure of the system is fundamentally different from the currency systems that dominate trade today. In other words it has good disruption credentials and the evidence shows that it is being adopted.

And this is where we seem to be making the same mistakes. Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington was quoted in The Guardian

It [Bitcoins] just isn’t very fun. We’ve learned from game currencies that people like a little inflation in their economies. But Bitcoin is built to deflate. And we’ve just seen, culturally, people don’t like deflation.

That may be true but it would be easy for those reliant on the status quo to take this as evidence that they can safely ignore it. When the internet began to change the way we consumed music some people noted that Vinyl, cassete tapes or CDs hadn’t destroyed the radio.

The warning signs are there, Bitcoins already fuel a thriving underground economy and as usual governments, and other large organizations, are late to the party. Already on the back foot these organizations will once again be playing catchup on a rapidly changing business model. It seems we never learn to heed the signs of change until it’s too late for those most affected.