Archive for July, 2008

“Prof.Randy Pausch, R.I.P”

July 26, 2008

 

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who became a YouTube phenomenon with his “Last Lecture”’  died Friday of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 47. He died at his home in southern Virginia. 

Pausch told USA TODAY during an interview at his home in March that the now-famous lecture was never meant for public consumption, nor was it for his colleagues or students. It was for his two sons and daughter: Dylan, 6, Logan, 3, and Chloe, 2. “If people are finding inspiration, OK, but the book is for my kids,” Pausch said.

“I knew what I was doing that day,” he wrote in the introduction of his best-selling book, also titled The Last Lecture. “Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.”

Quoting Steve Seabolt, V.P –strategic marketing and friend and colleague of Randy Pausch at EA giving the intro –

“….it really pisses me off that Randy’s so smart—actually I called him, we decided about, what, four weeks, ago and we heard the news (of his fewer days ahead) went from bad to horrific. It was on a Wednesday night and I said look – we have two choices. We can play this really straight and very emotional , or we can go to dark humor. And for those of you who know Randy well, he was like oh, dark humor! So I called him the next day and I was like, dude you can’t die. And he’s like, what do you mean? And I said, well, when you die, the average of IQ of Seabolt’s friends is going to like drop 50 points. [laughter] To which he responded, we need to find you some smarter friends. [laughter] So you’re all smart because you’re here, so if you want to be my friend, I’ll be over in a corner of the reception room.”

 

Excerpts from the inspirational lecture –

 

“We can’t change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand. If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

 

…..Alright, so what we’re not talking about today, we are not talking about cancer, because I spent a lot of time talking about that and I’m really not interested. If you have any herbal supplements or remedies, please stay away from me. [laughter] And we’re not going to talk about things that are even more important than achieving your childhood dreams. We’re not going to talk about my wife, we’re not talking about my kids. Because I’m good, but I’m not good enough to talk about that without tearing up. So, we’re just going to take that off the table. That’s much more important. And we’re not going to talk about spirituality and religion, although I will tell you that I have achieved a deathbed conversion. [dramatic pause] … I just bought a Macintosh. [laughter and clapping] Now I knew I’d get 9% of the audience with that …

 

 

OK, let’s talk about football. My dream was to play in the National Football League. And most of you don’t know that I actually – no. [laughter] No, I did not make it to the National Football League, but I probably got more from that dream and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish. I had a coach, I signed up when I was nine years old. I was the smallest kid in the league, by far. And I had a coach, Jim Graham, who was six-foot-four, he had played linebacker at Penn State. He was just this hulk of a guy and he was old school. And I mean really old school. Like he thought the forward pass was a trick play. [laughter] And he showed up for practice the first day, and you know, there’s big hulking guy, we were all scared to death of him. And he hadn’t brought any footballs. How are we going to have practice without any footballs? And one of the other kids said, excuse me coach, but there’s no football. And Coach Graham said, right, how many men are on a football field at a time? Eleven on a team, twenty-two. Coach Graham said, all right, and how many people are touching the football at any given time? One of them. And he said, right, so we’re going to work on what those other twenty-one guys are doing. And that’s a really good story because it’s all about fundamentals. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.

 

And the other Jim Graham story I have is there was one practice where he just rode me all practice. You’re doing this wrong, you’re doing this wrong, go back and do it again, you owe me, you’re doing push-ups after practice. And when it was all over, one of the other assistant coaches came over and said, yeah, Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he? I said, yeah. He said, that’s a good thing. He said, when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up. And that’s a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. Is that when you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.

 

After Coach Graham, I had another coach, Coach Setliff, and he taught me a lot about the power of enthusiasm. He did this one thing where only for one play at a time he would put people in at like the most horrifically wrong position for them. Like all the short guys would become receivers, right? It was just laughable. But we only went in for one play, right? And boy, the other team just never knew what hit  them. Because when you’re only doing it for one play and you’re just not where you’re supposed to be, and freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, boy are you going to clean somebody’s clock for that one play.”

 

To Prof.Pausch, I bow in reverence and bid him farewell – “Randy Pausch, R.I.P”

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Vuja De

July 24, 2008

 

Dump Déjà vu; Switch to Vuja De !

 

Well, well, well – before you rummage the lexicon or wreck your brains.  `Vuja De’ is an expression coined by comedian George Carlin to the language—believe it or not, of business and innovation.  Carlin meant just the opposite of Déjà vu – looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you’ve been there before.  But before you brush it aside as another piece of slapstick opinion, I must tell you that Carlin just hauled in a serious insight that all of us could use.

 

Let’s face it: Most companies in most industries have a kind of tunnel vision. They chase the same opportunities that everyone else is chasing; they miss the same opportunities that everyone else is missing. It’s the companies that see a different game that win big. The most important question for innovators today is: What do you see that the competition doesn’t see?

Embrace Vuja De.  Do things differently, get unique perspectives that are significantly more relevant.  You need new ways to beat the looming recession or even the oil price surge because not many of us have been thro that before.  Don’t waste time griping about it; do something about it, anything – trade in your SUV, take public transport, start a home business; just don’t go to the gas station to fill up.

Why did I bother to blog about it?  It resonates very well with what I had already said in a more professional context.  But I never expected this quick an endorsement from a multi-award-winning comedian who, for more than five decades, used his razor sharp humor to point out hypocrisy in people’s actions and words.

“May your soul rest in peace.  We love you, George!”

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A Media reverie

July 22, 2008

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I am beginning to notice perceptible shift in enterprise marketing initiatives.  While attending a product launch event of Schneider Electric last week, the CMO introduced me to his new media coordinator, a young man possibly in his late thirties – plucked recently from his media service provider.  The fact that his position was newly created underscores the significance attached to bringing media services back in-house by large enterprises.

Ahead lay a long drive back from the event. I’d better use the time to reflect on the changing dynamics in media business – or is it business media?

To stay ahead of the constant innovation in advertising, the best marketers invest in having their media capability in-house. They’re bringing in people who come either from the media business or from the agency world to advise their brands and marketing departments. They’re also creating new relationships with their media partners to get earlier and better access to innovation and knowledge. Together they push their agencies much harder than they ever have to ensure that they’re getting the best access to talent and know-how.

What else do I notice? The best marketers are developing planning and learning processes that are much more dynamic and flexible than they ever have been before. They’re moving away from traditional planning cycles, which typically were anywhere between six and 18 months for media strategy, planning, buying, and collapsing them into much shorter increments with much more flexible budgeting. This is happening in part because the current media environment enables immediate feedback from the consumer and there’s much more opportunity to innovate, refine, and create better campaigns than was previously.

Is it because of the impact of digital media that is more interactive while being less intrusive?  In a way, yes –  as it puts the consumer in much better control. If remote helped him zap commercials by a button click, today digital media gives him greater power.  I think that there are going to be some environments in which the consumer is going to be able to tune out advertising entirely. But that’s a business model that’s based on the consumer’s commitment to a subscription.  Well but most consumers aren’t willing to make that full commitment, to provide enough revenue through subscriptions to entirely fund the creation of content. They’re willing to consume content and programming that are ad-supported. The catch is that they must deem it relevant; for instance, if it allows consumers to ‘opt in’ based on their interests, and if it is appropriate to the media platform, rather than, say, a huge video clip that overwhelms the consumer’s mobile phone. Advertising today has to either be part of the consumer’s entertainment experience or sit alongside it in a way that’s meaningful to the consumer.

So how do you `engage’ them? The trick is in finding the right balance between traditional and digital media. They have to understand how the brand is relevant to consumers in those media environments and then find the best channels for the brand and the message so that they can drive engagement, not just awareness. And marketers and advertisers need to understand engagement as meaningful time spent with the brand and its messaging in a way that’s more measurable and, ideally, more interactive with the consumer. Those are behaviors that broadcast media, even if they can deliver reach, typically can’t leverage.

My driver tells me we’re home.  I will try and enlarge its scope after my next reverie.

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And now, the rubber hits the road

July 18, 2008

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Over the last three years, I’ve had opportunities to meet several young startup entrepreneurs – on professional lines as well as friendly.  Most of them were young and ambitious.  They bootstrapped their way to start their businesses mostly around internet and mobile applications.  The common thread I had noticed in all their businesses was low entry barriers, least requirement of startup capital.  A few college friends or past colleagues could pool in their savings and get going in a hurry.

But now they are facing some real tests. Rising inflation, slowing demand, liquidity crisis and business cycles are roughing them up.  Even getting to office has become expensive owing to surging oil prices.  Suddenly they need more working capital as suppliers no longer give them credit as they used to; and customers take time to pay up.  Double whammy!

I suspect they have little fat to cut and are operationally geared up to the max.  Stretch any further and they will break.  They need more gas to run and capital is fast drying up.  Debt is ruled out since they have no collateral to offer and interest rates are no longer benign on personal loans. There is no certainty in advance to say who has the constitution to survive the drawn-out agony of a serious slump. It takes both resilience and cash to withstand two or three years of grim business. Maintaining morale while carrying out redundancies and wholesale restructuring can defeat even the finest manager.

So now they seek external funding by way of capital support shedding their obsession with controlling stakes.  But VCs are strapped for liquidity as well since their previous investments haven’t yet matured. Likely that it will take longer to exit those since there is little or no appetite for public investors for IPO – the primary exit route preferred by VCs.  Secondary exit routes like M&A, buyouts happen during low interest regimes but inflation at 12% (in India) makes sure that interest rates keep inching their way up.

They have to stick around and survive.  I think this is one of their hardest test. Soon they will also witness political hurdles as well if the UPA govt fails the trust vote and reforms take longer to descend that will suck every last wind, not just of liquidity, out of the system.  In surviving those hardships and sticking out till the very end, they will earn their spurs and rites of passage.

But of course things could always be worse and exactly where their rubber hits the road. The only way for them to get around is to get all the more innovative, try even the most weird way to get everything past the gate. It’s your money in customer’s pocket and there are far more claimants to that ever shrinking pie.  Go grab it, fast !

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Ok founder, now get the hell outta’ here!

July 11, 2008

Remember VMware, the company as recently as January, had appeared to be rocketing into Silicon Valley stardom?

The company was founded in 1998 by Ms. Diane Greene and her husband, Stanford University computer-science professor Mendel Rosenblum, to develop software that allowed a single computer to run as multiple “virtual” servers simultaneously, with several different operating systems and numerous applications such as databases going at the same time. Mr. Rosenblum remains an adviser to VMware. The company was later bought by EMC, the Massachusetts data storage giant. EMC acquired VMware in 2003 for $635 million and retained 86% of its stock.

On Aug. 13 last year, EMC spun VMware out as a distinct stock offering and the company was an instant hit, recording the biggest technology initial public offering since Google’s in 2004. Its stock shot up from a $29 offer price to $51 at the first day’s close of trading. Within a few weeks, VMware’s market capitalization placed it as the world’s fourth most valuable software company. But VMware’s stock price, which peaked at nearly $125 on Oct. 31, has been in a tailspin in recent months and the company faces increasing competition from Microsoft, Oracle and Sun.  Going by the recent downward revision of its earnings guidance, VMware’s stock fell $13, or a little more than 24 percent, to $40.19 at the close of trading.

And then? Instant justice. Reacting to the decline in its fortunes, the Board of Directors fired co-founder and Chief Executive Diane Greene, replacing her with a former Microsoft executive Paul Maritz apparently to help the company combat its growing competition and take it to the next level.

Often founders find themselves in the crosshairs when performance suffers or a founder’s style clashes with that of a new boss. Shares of Sun Microsystems climbed immediately after founder Scott McNealy announced he was leaving the CEO post. Jones Soda founder Peter van Stolk left amid languishing profits saying, “I didn’t want to be one of these guys who hang on too long. As the company grows, different skills and requirements are needed to move the thing forward, and they aren’t necessarily entrepreneurial skills.”

This Harvard Business School case study concluded that “An inherent paradox in succession is that a founder who has been doing a good job actually increases the chance he or she will be fired.”

But there can be such a thing as showing a founder the door too soon. Often, a clear transition hasn’t been mapped out. Other times, the founder has specific relationships with vendors that are vital to the company’s operations. Sometimes, the Street just likes the person.

There are of course conflicting reports of EMC’s high handed interference that Ms.Greene detested.  But I find the inherent flexibilities (or are they liberties) remarkable.  If Board finds the CEO can’t take the company to the next level, be she a co-founder – she can still get canned.

I think here is a lesson for many smug founder entrepreneurs that stay anchored as CEOs refusing to acknowledge their role has become less relevant.  So is here some learning for Boards to play a proactive role – that of an activist – in ejecting those CEOs to save the day for customers and shareholders.  I am not saying that is the case at VMware, a truth that will be revealed only in the days ahead.

But I certainly like the spunk.  And the insecurity that comes with it spurring many a CEO to deliver or else.  Steve Jobs was fired by the Board of Apple and we all know how he got back and delivered.  Hope Ms.Greene shall have her go too.

 

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing

July 6, 2008

 

Winning as a commodity is in desperate short supply in our lives.  It isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.  That’s the reason why I liked the U-boat metaphor in the expression “if you sink, sink like a submarine”.  It exhorts us to triumph against all odds and resurface.  While winning is important, we should build resilience to face defeat.

Winning is important because it validates excellence.  It blunts the naysayers. The winner displays an energy that only he knew existed.  While in the trenches, skeptics stare him down with the spiteful expression – “what makes you think you are unlike the rest of us, you idiot”.  The mainstream majority is so awash with egomania that doesn’t easily recognize the winner’s right to be different. All is fine if he joins them, loses all exclusivity, never rises above mediocrity.  Trudge along – is the norm.   

Achievers don’t really conquer anything more than their own worst fears and self-doubts. Winning needs a good combination of gut instinct as well as strategy with dollops of positive outlook and self-estimation. They start on some impulse that gets iterated gradually.  The scathing derision from all around can hurt while starting out. Face up to it and it fades away.  Then you are on your own, on the path to victory leaving all else behind, way behind.

That scares them.  Know why? Short-term thinking and risk aversion dominate this planet.  A person like me who embraces intelligent risk and thinks decades ahead doesn’t fit in very well here.  That was a bit of a problem for me when I was younger, but now I just embrace it.  It’s simply who I am.  I get all the support I need from my connection to my purpose and from feeling a sense that I’m working to serve all that I believe in.  The whole world could turn against me, and it wouldn’t make me want to give up.  It would probably just inflame me more.  I never get discouraged because I believe my approach to life will produce some amazing results in the long run.  It’s only a matter of time. I overcome fear of risk by tapping ever more deeply into what I love most.  The thought of taking a risk produces excitement instead of anxiety.

Go find an intelligent risk you can take today.  Most likely it won’t pan out.  But what if it does?  Celebrate either way because no matter what the outcome, you’ll gain courage just by making the attempt.  Recognize that there is no safety in passivity either.