making toast

If I could be like that
I would give anything
Just to live one day
In those shoes
If I could be like that
What would I do?
What would I do?

From the time programmers first tried to interact with the CPU, we have had several paradigms for human computer interaction. From switches, through paper tape to cards to CRTS to field verification to form based transactions to GUIs and even styluses (or should that be styli?). Through this evolution, two fundamental approaches to human-machine interaction have emerged. I’m sure the Interface Engineers out there will offer the appropriate terminology, but the two approaches are characterized by being ‘application-centric’ and ‘object-centric.’

Application-centric, really focuses on ‘loading the application, to access or create the data from within the application environment’, whereas object-centric is more in line with GUI approach of ‘activating the document/object and having the operating system instantiate the application and the environment to use the data.’ The latter is a very content-centric approach, one that I subscribed to until quite recently. Let me explain my change in thinking…

It all comes back to toast.

In the days before toasters, people put bread near a source of heat to make toast. It didn’t matter whether it was a wood fire, electric elements, gas burner etc. Take bread, add high heat, bread gets toasted. Toasting was a technique. A verb that subsequently became a noun, the inverse of nouns becoming verbs like Fax, Fedex, Google.

One day, as energy was channeled via a mass market utility called electricity, the ‘toaster’ was invented. It was a good appliance. It got better over time with more features to prevent burning, to defrost frozen bread, to understand different thicknesses etc.

But for all of it’s newly inherited capabilities, the toaster transformed bread into toast. And the consumer liked the toaster.

People like appliances. They are easy to use because their role is well defined. Just think of the plethora of successful inventions – invariably they have resulted in appliances or devices that are ostensibly single purpose. Cars, refrigerators, phones, ovens, lamps, cameras etc. In fact, if you have seen those combination appliances such as the coffee-maker/breakfast cooker, or the hot-dog maker (cooks franks and toasts buns), you’ll find that they are not best sellers. Why?

I think that the consumer is prepared to pay for specific functionality, not for stuff that they don’t need or understand. Also, they generally use more complicated (or potentially dangerous) appliances in a single threaded manner. Drive car (doing other things at the same time is dangerous). Microwave food (not metal, careful on timing). Saute food (make sure gas is lit, not too high, watch contents or it’ll all burn). Speak on phone (rude to not give the other end focused attention, otherwise why call?). Twitter (and listen to music, or just hear ear candy?).

It’s about focus.

Contrary to contemporary thinking, for effective, focused deep communication, the human brain is generally single threaded. Engaging in effective communication and processing deep concepts requires focused cerebral compute power. Yes, you can multi-task and time-slice your way through many things at once, but at what price comprehension?

Back to application-centric machines.

The iPhone is a perfect example. It is what you need it to be at that point in time, phone, browser, diary, etc… you don’t care where the data is stored – as long as it is! So you don’t need a file manager. Same for the newly released iPad. I believe we are seeing a new era of interfaces – more than just ‘app’ centric, it is really appliance or function-centric. Dare I say ‘wrkflow-centric’? Keep the tasks very focused, do a really good job for the consumer, then enable them to change appliances effortlessly. We’ll see some appliances running in the background, like music players, communications, content downloads etc. just like the refrigerator keeps things cool, and the bread maker makes my next loaf for more toast, while the coffee maker makes the coffee. I’ll still need a toaster, and then I have to pour the coffee and add milk from the fridge. Multi-tasking will not go away, but how we focus on our tasks will need to become more efficient and less disruptive than clicking all over a desktop, or rummaging through unruly digital filing cabinets…

The appliance-centric model provides us a clue to the future. A future that is focused on using information, rather than ‘managing information’. This needs to be the goal of computing for the mass consumer marketplace.

Now, we just need a standardized information utility grid to plug into the information… or is that the ‘cloud’?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

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February 4, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

changing business systems

There’s something about the way that
You say the words that you’ve rehearsed, now
I think I should explain
Things aren’t going to change

At some point in your professional career, whether you are on the business or operational side of a media company, you will face a system changeover. It’s a tough process.

Media organizations, like any business, change their business systems for many reasons. However, the fundamental reason really is to provide a framework for either reducing costs or enhancing revenues. Given that the cost of introducing a new system is itself quite significant, let’s explore revenue enhancement.

After going ‘live’, systems & organizations progress through several stages. The course taken reflects:

  • Properties and operations of the old system
  • Expectations of new system deliverables
  • Dynamics associated with moving the organization through the conversion project
  • Ongoing developments

In my experience, three broad transition phases exist. The degree of overlap and time spent in each phase is also a function of the above factors. Each phase is discussed separately along with its attributes, implications and suggested organizational actions.

Phase 1 – Revenue Protection

This is typically called “Fine Tuning”, “Shakedown”, “Bedding In” etc.

It typically lasts for 2-4 weeks immediately after the live date. It may span across the live-date therefore last longer, depending upon the state of the old system, and if the client has desired a parallel run or pilot etc.

In this phase you need to pay particular attention to:

  • Refine processes & procedures
  • Ensure consistent message within company and with clients
  • Firm up Business Rules
  • Establish baseline measurements

Phase 2 – Inventory Control

This should really be considered as ”Taking Control of the Business” with the new system and it lasts for about 6-9 months after the system has settled down. This is a learning stage, one of the organization becoming ‘familiar’ with the new system and its operations. It can start during the regime of the old system but typically users will not accept the new workflow and operations until the comfort zone of the old system has disappeared.

To transition through this phase as quickly as possible, focus upon:

  • Education & PR campaign
  • Planning/budgeting – strategy for next sales/marketing period
  • Develop products, rates, packages etc.
  • Communicate the business rules, set client expectations, regain control of inventory

Phase 3 – Revenue Enhancement

The whole point of changing systems is to “Get Value from the System” you have just installed. This is an ongoing process, typically starting after about 6-9 months of operations. By this stage, the new system has become the ‘modus operandi’ of the organization and there is enough data to provide comparisons and historical perspectives. Users look for new ways to solve business problems and consult the system as a primary point of reference.

At this stage the business should be able to leverage the new system for:

  • Planning/budgeting – strategy for next sales/marketing period
  • Develop products, rates, packages etc.
  • Adjust rates, look to demand/yield management
  • Utilize information to create selling opportunities, tie to programming
  • Build ‘value’ for the customer

It is critical that clients pass through Phase –1 Revenue Protection as quickly as possible. Being stuck in this phase will impact client confidence and hence their willingness to realize the promise of the newly implemented system.

It is important to realize that these broad phases cannot be skipped. Whilst their distinction and characteristics will vary by site and business model, and transition from one phase to the next may not be concise, it is essential to recognize the actions required to make sure that the organization evolves to the last phase.

Ultimately, the business controls the length of  each phase. Some organizations never evolve into the final stage and may be quite content with ‘Inventory Control’. In all cases, it is the implementation team’s responsibility to recognize what is occurring and to evolve the organization’s operations to ensure the maximum return on investment.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

January 28, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

leadership qualities for innovation

How many questions did you ask today?
Do you believe what the media has to say?
Did your neighbor lose his job or home?
If the leaders tell him to do it alone…
do you believe he should rebuild on his own?
There’s no money left, sorry it’s gone
Where has all the money flown?

I just completed an innovation workshop for a management team in a large media company. One of the most important items in any innovative environment is communication and leadership at all levels. I thought these following leadership qualities were worthwhile sharing with you, for your day-to-day business activities.

  • Persuasion making a strong, valid argument for your various stances and freely sharing your reasons is crucial in gaining respect for them, instead of just compliance. That also implies taking in and valuing the views of others.
  • Patience don’t let your eagerness for achieving your goals translate into impatience at obstacles – whether human or process. Retaining a long-term view of your objectives will help enormously in keep small frustrations in perspective.
  • Gentleness wins hands down over toughness, especially when handling the finer feelings of followers.
  • Mentoring never assume, or appear to assume, that you know all of the answers. Always make it clear you are there to learn as well as to show how. Work to create a culture where diversity and different perspectives are valued above all else.
  • Acceptance be slow to judge. Give people every chance to prove themselves and give them the benefit of any doubt.
  • Kindness practice thoughtfulness in all of your dealings, especially with subordinates. Remember that the small details are often seen as the really important things.
  • Openness be open to all ideas and true information about the people with who you deal. Consider their own wishes, values and aspirations rather than only their apparent behavior.
  • Compassionate confrontation to create an environment where you can draw attention to mistakes and changes in direction without crushing people or discouraging risk-taking.
  • Consistency your style of leadership should not be seen as something that you ‘bring out’ when challenged or to deal with crisis. If you strive for consistency, it will be a reflection of your principles and an expression of your character.
  • Integrity let your words, true sentiments, thoughts and deeds line up with one another for all to see.

Innovation is a way of life. It allows you to cope with change and to develop new strategies for personal growth.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

Innovate something today.

January 21, 2010 at 10:41 am Leave a comment

what’s in a meme?

I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned
But that won’t happen to us
‘Cause it’s always been a matter of trust

Those of you trend-watchers that have been following CES and the tech landscape will have undoubtedly encountered 2010 as year of the e-reader. Equally, many of you will no doubt have stumbled across the many rumors swirling around the January 26th date – widely believed to be the launch date of the currently non-existent Apple tablet, or what has been dubbed the iSlate.

At CES we saw a wide range of electronic readers, from the palm sized Dell, to the Document sized Que, or the in between HP Slate as demoed by Steve Ballmer at the keynote.

Everybody is ‘slating’.

What I find most incredible about this, is that the rumors of the Apple Tablet have found substance in a diverse group of companies endorsing the ‘slate’ meme and investing R&D in delivering a tablet. Stumbling over themselves in order to beat Apple to the punch, assuming that Apple is indeed going to release a ‘slate’.

Are we seeing a whole segment being born out of a previously failed vision and accelerated into existence by an Apple dream?  I submit that, of all the major technology companies, Apple has earned the trust of consumers, investors and pundits alike. They are associated with disruptive innovation, and they are associated with game changing devices as exemplified by the iPod and iPhone. They were not the first MP3 player, and they were not the first smartphone, but they disrupted both segments. It is only reasonable to expect that a tablet launched by Apple will have the same, or similar, degree of success. Even if it doesn’t, Apple  will be forgiven, as any attempt will still likely be better than the unimaginative devices already shown (and largely forgotten) at CES.

If imitation be the most sincere form of flattery, then imitation of a mirage in advance of a possible product launch is indeed the greatest tribute the industry can pay to Apple. We are trusting this company to manifest our expectations and to surprise us.

Therefore, Apple’s greatest asset is it’s trust.

So, if we get an Apple tablet on the 26th, its success will be in no small part due to the low bar that has been set by Apple’s peers. Innovation and imagination is hard in itself – making it mainstream is extremely difficult. I hope Apple hits this out of the park – this is a form-factor that I’d appreciate, and I know that they’ll get the UI done right.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

BTW I am a proud owner of a still working, and oft used Newton MP2000 and I have forgiven Jobs for killing the Newton.

January 14, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

tomorrowland welcomes the curious traveler

Tomorrow’s just another day, another way to spend my day
All by myself
Staring at the TV screen, flipping through my magazine
Everything is unclear
I need you here, doodoodoo
And I wake up, put on my makeup
Pick up the phone, nobody’s home
I need to break out, get me some takeout
Stand inside a crowd, I want to scream out loud
That I’ll be okay
I’ll be okay

Every year I review my clutter of saved articles, and inevitably encounter a really interesting piece that resonates with the current times. So it was at the end of this decade. Here is a piece from Richard Neville, a radical luminary from Australia. He wrote this before the turn of the century, about the mid-late 90’s. So, ten years on, let’s see how this reads today:

“Tomorrowland Welcomes the Curious Traveller – Richard Neville

Ideas on the Rise – Community, everything is connected, a corporate conscience, the worth of the wild, work as a spiritual journey.

Ideas in Decline – Nation states, treating the world as a quarry, technology is neutral, growth is good, work as a commodity to be traded.

  • The growth of genetics will lead to programs that enhance the physical and mental abilities of … the rich.
  • It is predicted that some people alive today will still be alive in 400 years; that’s a lot of shopping.
  • Breakthroughs in genetics mean we are starting to redesign our own species, blurring the ancient boundaries of our coming to life and the leaving of it. More and more of us could become composite beings – part biological, part mechanical, part electronic.  We will adjust our own brains to boost IQ, filter pain and intensify pleasure.  As a super-elite of cyborgs, some of us could end up ruling the world, or be rounded up and dismantled.
  • The fastest growing branch of medicine is plastic surgery.
  • digitized voice replication will convey a faultless reproduction of how we sound.  It will shatter our sense of identity and further disrupt the meaning of “authentic”.  Elvis sightings are a portent.  The King will return to the charts with new material, appear on MTV and promote whisky.

Now that history and fantasy can be blended with seamless conviction, where does it leave the concept of reality?”

Our lusty fling with social media, crowdsourcing and the wisdom of the masses appears to be still ascendant. As for the decline, technology is far from neutral, it is still delivering magical gadgetry and work has become an even more outsourced and traded commodity, partly thanks to technology and communications.

Reality is indeed becoming more virtual. So much so, that meeting someone for coffee, or calling them has been all but replaced with video-conferencing, Facebook, twitter and maybe soon ‘Wave’ing. Ad-dollars are following audiences online and chilling the spines of traditional, more tangible news sources. The noisy, slow, erratic, and wired dial-up internet has all but disappeared. Our Britannica, Compton’s, Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias have been shelved for Wikipedia. CDs, DVDs (and probably soon Blue-rays) are being replaced by digital downloads, one title at a time. Phone land-lines are being unplugged along with the modem as family plans give household members their own mobility. Film and film cameras have all but disappeared as digital SLRs, pocket-sized digital cameras and even phones are capturing memories instantly and cheaply. Yellow Pages and address books are being recycled while technology ”lets your fingers do the walking” from the printed page to the keyboard. Printed store catalogs morph to the spam of the past, as they move from your mailbox to your inbox. Fax machines are now a feature on multi-function printers and who’s business card still sports a fax number?  Cabling and wires fade from the edge of the network as wireless internet, wireless downloads, wireless charging, wireless headphones become the norm. Writing on paper has been replaced with e-messaging of all types – including this blog.

Perhaps Richard saw something we have missed in this last decade?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

January 7, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

happy new year

A Very Happy and Prosperous 2010 to all of my readers and friends.

Here is the English minimalist version of ‘auld lang syne’ for use in your celebrations tonight!

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should
old acquaintance be forgot,
and
old lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll
buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes,
and
picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered
many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us
broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And
give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll
take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

December 31, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

merry christmas

Happy Holiday
Happy Holiday
While the merry bells keep ringing
May your every wish come true

Happy Holiday
Happy Holiday
May the calendar keep bringing
Happy Holidays to you

This year, my blog schedule lands on Christmas Eve (and of course New Years Eve). I’m not sure how many people will really be interested in a reading about media and technology over the Holiday Season. Consequently, I would like to extend a very Happy and Festive Holiday Season to all of my readers and friends along with their families and loved ones.

All the Best, and see you again in 2010!

December 24, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

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