Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Doing Business With The Swarm

While it is certainly true the old networks tend toward dead speech patterns, and that swarm behavior typifies the open network model of communications and transactions, have you ever actually tried to buy honey from the swarm?

You can't. You have to follow them back to the hive, smoke 'em out, and steal it.

The superior bee keeper does not negotiate with the bees; he harvests their production and sells it. As much as one resists the deadening of language and behavior based on businessSpeak, it is useful to know when to use a protocol and when to dump it just as a jazz musician knows when to comp, when to improvise and when to play the head note for note. Emergence is not chaos: it is order modulating out of chaos and back to the edge for more honey.

The competitors believe business is a chess game and they have to beat the other players. The innovators believe business is a means to get the bees to dance together, so they cooperate with them. Command and control is replaced by converse and learn. "Readiness is all."

Drinking From The Well of Our Incompetence

There was a discussion in my cube yesterday with an engineer that I thought interesting in the context of attempts to get better growth and performance from our company. The position of the engineer was lack of communication between development and management is a problem for many companies, but this is really the fault of management because they cannot understand engineering. If the manager takes the time to explain his or her techniques, tools and terminology, a programmer with their assumed mathematical skills will likely understand what the manager knows, but the reverse cannot be assumed. Programming is innately complex and mysterious and no matter how long and how well the programmer explains their techniques, tool, and terminology, the manager will never catch on. For this reason, the arguer went on, development decisions and design decisions must be left strictly to the engineering staff. Interference by product planners, line managers, upper management, and for God's sake, anyone from the sales staff is just interference and time wasted plus exposure to risk that the product will not perform.

Do you believe this?

My position is this: programming is not that complex although some applications are. Any discipline practiced widely enough suffers from from terminology legacy, that is, the language used is likely a polyglot with layers of overlapping terms accrued from many years of practice and reinvention. That which is assumed to be science by some is just common practice. Further, any terms acquired in a discussion or description that are not applied with some regularity become meatware clutter, that is, they can be pronounced but applying them well without experience is dubious. It becomes a case of "A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not of the Pierian spring" as Willy the Shake wrote.

Truthfully, of those of you who sling code for a living, how many of you know how discounted cash flow (DCF) and earnings-based valuations work and can be reconciled? Do you know what the key performance variables are for forecasts (sales growth, profit margins, working capital turnover and long-term asset turnover) as well as financial leverage and cost of capital? Do you know how to get those values (from whom, who is credible, how do you vette the data, etc.)?

You might be able to write the code to calculate the values, but I suspect that given some reasonable practice, so can your manager. I also suspect your manager has a better grasp of when to use that software and when to trust their gut. All the counter examples exist on the other side of the knowledge chasm, of course, but I think the point is made.

Too often, we don't trust each other and that is really why so many of our businesses fail or have mediocre growth. We do have to trust each other to do their job. Otherwise, we are drinking from the well of our incompetence.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Will Work For Food

Having just read some blogs extolling the need for free music for podcasting, I feel the "Will Work for Food" blues coming on. The web equivalent of food is fan mail coming in our email boxes. MP3.Com promised us incremental payments if the downloads of our songs rose above a certain rate within a certain time. None of it materialized except for those sharp enough to game the system, and that made it exactly the same deal we got from the major labels if we were sharp enough to get a deal.

On the web, musicians are required to acknowledge that the reward for spending years to learn, the money to get the gear, the thousands of hours of experimentation and revision, and the time away from good things like sex and beer is a bit of fan mail and some snarky ignorant kids sending critiques. Money? No one pays for anything do they?

No, if you really want the money, you have to do what your favorite girls who hang out late night at IHOP do after their gigs: no free samples, no free services, cash or an approved credit card, and "give them what they want" ethics; that is, if you were starving as a street musician playing your original songs, you'll probably starve as a podcaster for the same reasons. At the end of the day, popular tastes are the ultimate example of emergent effects and unless you've mastered the art of the network effect, you are just one more isolated node in a sea of digital clutter.

Hookers and professional musicians know they have one thing in common with the Real Estate witches:

Location. Location. Location.

Unless you are on a street known for the kind of service you are selling, your customers won't be there and you won't be shreddin' the 'natch. If you want to sell your music, find an ipodcaster who needs what the RIAA (Real International Access to Action) pimps won't give them: music tailored to the location. Work out a one time charge or services in kind, then move on.

"Connectivity: the relation of an agent to its neighbors, it can be sparsely connected (only affected by a few neighbors), fully connected (interfacing with every other agent in the system), or some intermediate arrangement. This parameter critically affects the dynamics of the system."

So, pick a place that has lots of traffic looking for the kind of thing you have to offer, but specifically, of the kind you can make. No Bach at the BoogiePalace.

Amazon.com has a new deal for independent labels and others with the ability to make an mp3: a free downloads section. Read the contract. It is about what MP3.COM offered but it doesn't pretend you will make money and you do give them a lot of rights to use your music to make money. It is 'exposure', same as that street corner. Heck, at least they could provide you the equivalent of an 'open axe case' into which people can toss spare change while paying for something else in a neighboring site. Perhaps that is what these sites really need. When someone pays for a book or a used Masserati, they round up their purchase price and name a starving artist to send the spare change to, who of course, must be on the Amazon.com site to be eligible.

At least that's something. Keep in mind: music is not software. Free software gets reused a lot. Free music gets one or two listenings then becomes bit bucket filler. Today I get free email from betwitched.net. At least on that corner of the street, they do appreciate the effort it took to record the song and give it away.

At Amazon.com, I'll be 'exposed'. Brrrr.

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