Aug 252013

Business Insider’s unathorised biography of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is both enlightening and scary while giving some insight into the psyche of the tech industry.

Nicholas Carlson’s story tells the warts and all tale to date of a gifted, focused and difficult to work with lady who’s been given the opportunity to lead one of the Dot Com era’s great successes back into relevance. It’s a very good read.

Two things jump out in the story; Mayer’s desire to surround herself with talented people and her chronic lateness.

When asked why she decided to work at a scrappy startup called Google, which see saw as only having a two percent chance of success, Mayer tells her ‘Laura Beckman story’ of her school friend who chose to spend a season on the bench of her school varsity volleyball team rather than play in the juniors.

Just as Laura became a better volleyball player by training with the best team, Mayer figured she’d learn so much more from the smart folk at Google. It was a bet that paid off spectacularly.

Chronic lateness is something else Mayer picked up from Google. Anyone whose dealt with the company is used to spending time sitting around their funky reception areas or meeting rooms waiting for a way behind schedule Googler.

To be fair to Google, chronic lateness is a trait common in the tech industry – it’s a sector that struggles with the concept of sticking to a schedule.

One of the worst examples I came across was at IBM where I arrived quarter of an hour before a conference was due to start. There was no-one there.

At the appointed time, a couple of people wandered in. Twenty minutes later I was about to leave when the organiser showed up, “no problem – a few people are running late,” he said.

The conference kicked off 45 minutes late to a full room. As people casually strolled in I realised that starting nearly an hour late was normal.

It would drive me nuts. Which is one reason among many that I’ll never get a job working with Marissa Mayer, Google or IBM.

A few weeks ago, I had to explain the chronic lateness of techies to an event organiser who was planning on using a technical speaker for closing keynote.

“Don’t do it,” I begged and went on to describe how they were likely to take 45 minutes to deliver a twenty minute locknote – assuming they showed up on time.

The event organiser decided to look for a motivational speaker instead.

Recently I had exactly this situation with a telco executive who managed to blow through their alloted twenty minutes, a ten minute Q&A and the closing thanks.

After two days the audience was gasping for a beer and keeping them from the bar for nearly an hour past the scheduled finish time on a Friday afternoon was a cruel and unusual punishment.

This was by no means the first time I’d encountered a telco executive running chronically over time having even seen one dragged from the stage by an MC when it became apparent their 15 minute presentation was going to take at least an hour.

It’s something I personally can’t understand as time is our greatest, and most precious, asset and wasting other people’s is a sign of arrogance and disrespect.

Whether Marissa Mayer can deliver returns to Yahoo!’s long suffering investors and board members remains to be seen, one hopes they haven’t set a timetable for those results.

Feb 182013
Middle class house

Technology has transformed workplaces over the last century, drove huge income growth and moved many into the middle classes. Are we now seeing computers and robots displacing those middle class jobs?

At Tech Crunch Jon Evans warns Get Ready To Lose Your Job  as “this time it’s different” – unlike earlier periods of industrialisation where jobs shifted to the new technologies such coach builders became car makers – robots and computers are making humans redundant.

So I see no mystical Singularity on the horizon. Instead I see decades of drastic nonlinear changes, upheaval, transformation, and mass unemployment. Which, remember, is ultimately a good thing. But not in the short term.

In The Observer John Naughton, professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University, says Digital Capitalism Produces Few Winners.

Professor Naughton’s view is that high volume, low margin businesses like Amazon mean there’s fewer well paid jobs available and many of the lower positions will be soon replaced by robots.

At the other end of the digital marketplace, the high margin businesses like Apple, Google and Salesforce don’t need many staff to generate their profits, so wealth is concentrated among a small group of managers and owners.

While the low paid and manufacturing workers have been squeezed for decades in the West, it’s now the turn of the middle classes to feel the pain of automation, outsourcing and restructuring.

There’s two ways we can look at these changes, the optimistic is that our economy is going through a transition to a different structure; those out of work coachbuilders a hundred years ago didn’t immediately get jobs building cars and the same adjustments are happening again.

A more pessimistic view is that the Twentieth Century was an aberration.

It may be that Western world’s steady climb into middle class prosperity was itself a transition effect and we’re returning to the economic structures of the pre-industrialised age where the vast majority of people have a precarious income and only the fortunate few can afford middle class luxuries.

The next decade will give us some clues, but the portents aren’t good for the optimistic case, the Pew Research Centre shows America’s middle classes has been shrinking for forty years.

For those Americans still in the middle class, the Pew research shows their incomes have been falling for a decade.

Regardless of which scenario is true, the dislocation is with us. As individuals we have to be prepared for changes to our jobs, however safe they look today. As a society we have to accept we are going through a period of economic and social upheaval with uncertain long term consequences.

What’s particularly notable is how today’s political and business leaders seem oblivious to these changes and are locked in the ‘old normal’ of thirty or fifty years ago.

One wonders what it will take to wake them up to the changes happening around them and what will happen when reality does bite them.

Picture of a nice, middle class house by Strev via

Feb 172013
cheap robots cleaning computers

Ahead the Ovations Speaker Showcase on Tuesday, I’ve been looking at robots as one of this decade’s trends.

What’s interesting is how our perception of robots has evolved over the last half century.

The idea of Robots in the 1950s and  60s were ones with human shapes – four legs, a torso, two arms, shoulders and a head – otherwise known as anthropomorphic. Lost in Space and the Day the Earth Stood Still are two good examples of those human like machines.

How robots looked in the 1950s

1950s robot chic – the day the Earth stood still

Today’s robots have much more utilitarian shapes, like the Winbot window cleaner pictured at the beginning of this post.

Many of the robots look like the machines we use today, mainly because they are today’s technology with the driver or operator replaced. A good example being the Google self driving cars.

google self driving car

The idea of a robotic car isn’t completely new though; the 1980s action series Knight Rider featured KITT, a robot car with an almost equally mechanical David Hasslehof as its sidekick.

The Hoff and KITT

More interesting still are the tiny robots who look, and act, like insects. Wait until these guys infest your internet fridge.

All of these technologies had to wait until computers became small and cheap enough to fit into the systems. In the 1980s a computer with the capabilities to run KITT or a Google Car would be the size of a large warehouse, today it can fit inside a cigarette packet.

Of course the real power for robots comes when computers talk to each other and form a collective intelligence. This is the Internet of machines.

The terminator

Skynet has told The Terminator to destroy us all.

Which brings us to Arthur C. Clarke’s and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 1980s vision of Skynet which gave birth to the Terminator.

Hopefully those visions of the future of network connected robot are just as misguided as those of 1950s movies.

If they aren’t, we’re in a lot of trouble.

Feb 132013
Ovations speaker agency for paul wallbank keynotes

I’m speaking at the Ovations Speaker Showcase next week on the Twenty Trends for 2020. A big ask for twenty minutes.

Despite the time limits, it’s doable. Here’s the list of trends I think are going to define the rest of this decade, along with some  related links.

  1. Accelerated rate of business
  2. China moving up the value chain
  3. Dealing with a society at retirement age
  4. Rising incomes in South Asia and Africa
  5. Robotics and Automation
  6. The internet of machines
  7. Reinventing entertainment
  8. The fall and rise of social media
  9. The continued rise of the DIY economy
  10. Newspapers cease to exist
  11. 3D printing
  12. nano-technology
  13. The new education revolution
  14. Reskilling the workforce
  15. Older workers re-entering the workforce
  16. The fight for control of the mobile payments system
  17. Mobile apps redefining service industries
  18. Taming the Big Data tsunami
  19. The fight for data rights
  20. Flatter organisations
  21. The great deleveraging

Apart from the fact there’s 21, the twenty minutes I have allocated isn’t going to be enough to cover these. So which topics do I skate over?

Of course there might be more topics that I’ve missed. I’m open to suggestions.

May 222012

I’m presenting View From The Cloud this afternoon where we look at the results of SmartCompany’s technology in business survey.

The results are interesting, with nearly half the respondents saying they don’t use any cloud services.

Almost certainly, those respondents are wrong – they don’t realise many of the things they do on the web are cloud based. The 9% who nominated “they don’t know” are closer to the truth.

Those “unknown unknowns” are the big challenge for business managers and owners – those who think cloud computing isn’t being used in their organisations don’t know what their staff are up to with their laptops and smartphones.

Of those who are knowingly using cloud computing services, over two-thirds said they did so for the flexibility while just under a half appreciated the cloud services’ ability to grow with their business.

An encouraging aspect of the survey is how only a quarter of the respondents nominated price as being the reason for adopting cloud services.

This is an aspect of selling cloud computing services that has worried me for a while, that companies are commoditising their market by giving away free – or insanely – cheap services.

As always, price doesn’t drive the good customers and this survey illustrates that. Provide a good service at reasonable price points and the customers will come.

Business respondents also illustrated a mature attitude towards risks with cloud service with 61% concerned about data safety and half of that number worried about access issues.

An interesting part of the threat response was that 17% had other concerns about cloud technologies – including being tied to one vendor.

This is an interesting attitude which indicates people don’t understand the degree of vendor lock in that already exists in the computer world and why the majority of businesses are using Windows computers running Microsoft Word. If anything, cloud services are far more open than boxed software.

Vendor lock in though is a real concern and something that all cloud computing users should check before they, or their business, becomes too dependent on any one software package, consultant or online application.

Overall, the SmartCompany business technology survey is an interesting snapshot of where business is today with emerging trends and services. Join us at 12.30 to discuss the results.

Sep 092011
racing car

Flying Solo’s 2011 Independents Day conference featured our Online Tools to Turbocharge your Business.

We looked at some of the most popular cloud computing, social media, productivity and collaboration tools that can help a business make more money and grow faster.

Most importantly, it shows how business owners can free up some of their most valuable asset – their time.

Some of the tools we discussed include the popular social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and how they can be used for customer service and market intelligence on top of being marketing services.

We also looked at how collaborative and cloud computing services can help small businesses work together and improve the ways consultants can work with big business clients. In many ways, collaborative tools like Google Apps, Zoho and Dropbox help build team and deliver projects more effectively.

The Online Tools to Turbocharge Your Business presentation itself is available on Slideshare and if you subscribe to our newsletter, you’ll receive a free copy of the accompanying Online Business Essentials e-book.

Apr 072011

The first of the City Of Sydney’s Let’s Talk Business workshops looked at how business can use cloud computing services to help improve the marketing, operations and profitability.

My presentation, Business In The Cloud covered the definition of cloud computing, the benefits for business, the risks and the case for getting on the cloud.

The text of the presentation, shown here has been broken into four segments each addressing the individual points.

What is the cloud?

The opening section looked at what cloud computing is, the underlying definitions and how it works. We discussed how the underlying concepts of cloud computing are nothing new and how the concepts of shared resources across a reliable and robust network are part of the very reason for the Internet itself.

The benefits of cloud computing

Having defined cloud computing we look at the benefits of these services, focusing on the flexibility online software delivers and how businesses can use these tools to quickly seize opportunities in our fast changing society.

Risky business

Every new technology has its risks and cloud computing is no different. In our third presentation we look at some of the online traps and how to manage them.

The business case for cloud computing

Concluding the presentation is a summary of the business case, balancing the benefits and the risks and concluding with how businesses might use cloud services.

Further information

Illustrating how businesses can use online tools, we have a list of some of popular business cloud services that can help your organisation use the web to be more flexible and innovative.

The presentation was part of the Let’s Talk Business series of workshops run by the City of Sydney and held at the Customs House. There’s three more events in the 2011 series covering the new consumer, mobile internet and business leadership.

If you’ve been along to the Lets Talk Business events, or have some ideas on how business can use cloud services, we’d love to hear your comments.