Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On Innovation

Tim and Nick Carr are having a shootout on innovation.

Tim says: fortunes are made, and industry titans are built, where management isn’t really looking, almost always. The big pieces of innovation come out of garages and low-rent offices in lousy locations, and they’re produced by small groups without much management backing. It can be done at big companies (the business personal computer at IBM, Java at Sun) but then it’s always in an off-the-mainstream skunkworks. Nobody—I repeat, nobody—is smart enough to predict where the next big strategic innovation is going to come from...

Wrong. Planners do this sort of stuff every day.

I don't quarrel with Nick's 'merely competent' argument, but

this bit
is off target:

Nick says: companies should narrow their sights when it comes to innovation: "You need to bring the same kind of discipline to deciding where you innovate as you'd bring to any other kind of management question. You want to make sure that you innovate in those few areas where innovation can really pay off and create a competitive advantage and not innovate in other areas where it won't pay off.

They should narrow where they will invest, not what they should be thinking about.

They both miss the target because what they are really arguing about is not the processes of innovation but who should get credit and who should pay. The first is about face management and the second is about resource management. They are both right from those related but distinct points of view.

Anyone who is really involved in advanced research such as DARPA can tell you that you don't invent strategic change, or buy strategic innovation: you breed it.

That takes time, some loose planning and a number of generations. You will get both crops that do what you required and some happy accidents. Readiness is everything and that is absolutely a Zen-like experience because you have to confront your own prejudices about what is successful and what is utilitarian.

DARPA doesn't want the crops. They want the seeds.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's A Dog's Life

I've been asked why I quit my job. It's a reasonable question, so here goes.

It's a dog's life. I stuck my neck out for a fence jumping German Shepherd and a French Poodle. The Shepherd rolled over but the Poodle went for my throat. So even if it is expensive and hard on my family, I went home to hang out with my trustworthy Sheltie because otherwise, the Poodle would have lost her dog house and the Shepherd will still be jumping fences.

Dogs will be dogs.

Why The Top of the Long Tail Fails

Tim Bray opines

linking to Bruce and saying what some way out of the top of the long tail curve have been saying for five years: terrorism is mainly a law enforcement problem. I'm glad to see the top of the tail finally gets it, particularly some that were rooting for the US to go stomping into Iraq, guns blazing, while their citizens sat safely at home blogging.

It really doesn't surprise me that the so called top bloggers tend to be the slowest at actually 'getting it' on almost any topic. That is what a inbound-link based system does: it popularizes an idead the same way a media machine does it and it creates the same fisheye lens effect that distorts even as it appears to cover more information. The long tail is a negative power law when it comes to early detection of important emergent effects. The curve is inverted.

Emergent effect comes from the edges of the network, but that means in the beginning, it is a very weak signal and if the effect of the fisheye is to marginalize and distort, it prevents it from being noticed until it moves to the center, to wit, into a top blogger's blog.

So it keeps us from doing the smart thing early because the center is by effect and definition, slow and often mediocre thinking. After so many years of studying information systems and their en masse effect, I repeat what I've said before: the values of one's values are all that is really important because judgement and justice are individual contributions into a system that by its very nature has neither of these as native qualities.

Take a position, take a chance, pick up the prize or the consolation of knowing you are giving it your personal best, and not just following the herd over the cliff.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Path From 9/11: Respect for the Law

Today we remember the terrible morning of the planes and the towers. We remember where we were and whom we talked with, what was said, what was felt and with wisdom, what has come of all that. Perhaps we watched the misguided "Path to 9/11" last night, or perhaps as I did with my son, we watched the Ted Koppel's Discovery Channel program of a live debate with some of the decision makers and the families of the victims.

At a point in that program, a man who was a co-author of the Patriot Act stepped forward to say that President Bush has wisely used power not granted under US law and when challenged, has demanded that Congress give him such power. The man said that this was right, that the commander-in-chief should always be given such power under such circumstances. The Republicans in the group could be heard saying "Strong! Very strong." I commented to my son that this was the 'Strong Man' argument often heard in such historical crises. I told him that such cries have led to three strong men being granted unprecedented power, in recent memory, Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, but also in historical memory, George Washington.

I asked him what the difference among these men was. He said immediately, the first two wanted the power and Washington didn't because he knew it was wrong. I asked him if there were other differences and we talked about that.

We surmised that Washington not only knew it was wrong, he understood that he had the time to work by other means. While Hitler and Mussolini gained that power citing external existential threats just as we hear from the Republican Party today, Washington knew the external threats were an ocean away and in that time, it may as well have been the Moon because though it was possible to be threatened, that threat took enormous resources to make good. Today, that threat can be within our borders in hours, but that does not change the nature of the difference among these men who were granted great power in a time of crisis. The difference though is still the immediate and strongest threat, as the Republicans say, the existential threat.

Washington saw a different existential threat: the threat from within.

Though the British would come back, Washington, as military leader knew it would take time and if during that time, the young nation destroyed itself from within with bickering and competition between the States and the powers of the central government, if the military did not yield to the Congress and the will of the people, if we became a nation of power but not law out of fear of each other, then everything the Revolutionaries had fought for would be lost, and deservedly lost. So Washington used his power to build the nation, to prepare the nation and when the British did return as he knew they would, the leaders of the nation and the nation itself could withstand the losses and repel the invasion. America became a great nation by working within the law thus enabling the law to be the dissolver of fear from without and more importantly, fear from within.

As we approach the midterms, we will be exercising the right passed down from Washington's generation, the right to choose our leaders and not to inherit them or be inherited by them. As we make that choice, look to the men and women who as Washington did, respect and are bound by the law, and are not proclaiming themselves to be the law. For only as we make that choice wisely will be preserve the good that has made of us a great nation respected throughout the world and feared by the enemies of goodness; a nation of laws and not of men.

As one gentleman quoted during the program from deToqueville, "America is great because America is good. When America is no longer good, it will no longer be great."

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