Monthly Archives: February 2009

Conversations about bit torrent

I have a mate called Marts who I’ve known for 25 years.  Marts is always completely bloody minded and the stories about him are legend.

  • He was fired from his first job two weeks in because he altered the artwork on his business cards to get a job title he felt amusing.
  • His ex wife was driven mad by his values including the “Sorry I’m two hours late to take you to the ball, but it was my shout and I couldn’t let the boys down”
  • His position in negotiations “Decide, don’t decide; I don’t give a shit as I’m paid to be here regardless”.

Anyway Marts emailed me last week with “How do I get movies off the internet?”.

He was referring to what’s called bit torrent sites, which I have been thinking about a bit lately.  Bit Torrent is a clever protocol that allows people to download large amounts of data, but shares the load over lots of computers, rather than just one server having to bear the brunt (and cost).  This is especially useful when dealing with large files such as a  movie, where a compressed file could be the size of a full CD.

The way bit torrents work is that one person makes a file available for download (known as the seed) and then others start to download bits of it (known as peers).  The trick is that each of these peers also allow other peers to download the part of the file they have already got.  All this is coordinated by one of more tracker files.

The tracker files normally sit on a website where they are searchable, allowing for new users (soon to be peers) to find and download content.  To access the torrents you normally need to use a client such as uTorrent and go to a torrent search website such as ISOHunt.

The technology is great for downloading popular large files as its efficiency increases exponentially with the number of “peers in the cloud”. Providers of content that don’t use this technology such as Librivox can be really slow to download from (Note Libirvox has a couple of thousand audion books which are in the public domain and are free and legal to download – my wife loves them).

The problem with bit torrent is that people have a tendency of sharing copyrighted music, movie and tv files which tends to piss of greatly the  production houses that make a buck from the content.  (And they haven’t figured out that consumers want this service).

Anyway the reason I have been thinking about bit torrent is that I thought the model was fascinating and I wanted to find a real life use for it.  Eventually I realised that a real life version of it had existed basically forever.  Its called conversation.

One person has some information (the seed) and he shares it with others (the peers).  Each person (peer) then shares the pieces they know with others until eventually everyone has all the information.

Disappointingly I had things back to front.  Bit Torrent wasn’t an elegant model that I could apply in real life, it was a real life learning model that had been applied to the internet.

Marts of course didn’t care.

5 Innovation Lessons

A book title that really appealed to me was “Why things Fail” by British Economist Paul Ormerod, so I picked up a copy last year.  The book is a study into similar patterns of failure that appear in a variety of  different environments (biology, geology, economics etc).  The guts of the book (warning spoiler ahead) is that all environments change so if you don’t change what you are doing you are most likely doomed to failure.  The only strategy against this is to innovate.

Now having spent most of my life working in small businesses, I like to think that I have masses of experience with Innovation, and consequently lots of experience with failure (I mean lots!).  Unsurprisingly, I tend to find the study of innovation and failure quite interesting.  So much so that I ended up having an event at the Churchill Club around Innovation to see what lessons I could glean from the experts.

So last week I ran a panel on how to make innovation a sustainable activity inside your organisation.  The panel consisted of:

Wes Sonnenreich – Director of Innovation at Deloitte
Roger La Salle – Chair of Innovation, Queens University in Belfast
Crispin Blackall – Director, Business Operations at Telstra

Learning Number 1 – How do you define Innovation?
Plenty of consultants want to own the definition, but I thought Roger LaSalle’s was pretty reasonable. – Innovation is change that adds value.

Learning Number 2 – How to come up with an innovation?
Roger felt quite strongly that you didn’t have to create a disruptive innovation or the next big thing.  In fact he had plenty of examples of success through minor changes.  His take on being innovative was very simple:

  • Find something that’s already working and do it better.
  • Look at your Products, Processes and Services
  • Finish the sentence – I wish this product would……………..

Learing Number 3 – How do you successfully deliver innovation
Crispin Blackall had lots of experience delivering innovation inside Telstra.  His thoughts included:

  • Have a clear, well defined strategy.
  • Use small teams with the right people and enable them to make decisions.
  • Clearly identify what success looks like at each stage (gates for continuing the project).
  • Use only the processes needed for that innovation (don’t stifle people).
  • Don’t stop before the innovation is delivered as you will destroy the team.

Lesson Number 4 – How do you get Innovation DNA in your organisation?
Wes Sonnenreich had a huge amount of experience in running an innovation program within Deloitte and with their clients.  My understand was that he felt there was 5 steps to making innovation part of your organisation.


Step 1 – Build a culture that understands what innovation is and values it.
Step 2 – Enable your your team to come up with ideas.
Step 3 – Build a pipeline of Ideas and processes to manage it.
Step 4 – Build processes to deliver the innovations.
Step 5 – Provide feedback and ongoing guidance.

Lesson 5 – Selecting Innovation Metrics
An old friend of mine Bill Lang has always said to me, if you can’t measure it, then don’t waste time on it (in regards to business activities only!), so I had to ask the question, “How do you measure Innovation?”.  There wasn’t one specific answer though as every situation is different.  There did however seem to be a bit of a theme that innovation was not about the processes, but about the outcomes.  Which is why I liked the statement “In 12 months time, 20% of our revenue will come from products and services that don’t currently exist”.

Innovation – Easy peasy

consumer innovation

One of the things that I love about my iPhone is that is a fully fledged 16gb iPod as well as a multimedia device and phone.  Every time I go for a drive (or catch a tram) I am now entertained and or challenged by podcasts that I subscribe to (they automatically get downloaded to my phone).  My current passion is TED .  I have about 100 x  20 min lectures sitting on my phone waiting to be watched.  (When I drive I don’t watch, just attach my phone to my seatbelt near my ear and listen).

TED is the baby of Chris Anderson who launched magazines such as Business 2.0, and websites such as the games portal IGN.com. He is not the Chris Anderson who is the Editor of Wired Magazine and author of the Long Tail.  Which is just as well because if there was that much talent in one person its likely that they would be driven mad by their genius or at least have a serious drinking tab.  TED is about ideas that need to be shared in technology, entertainment and design.  for those without multimedia players or ipods, you can watch their videos on their website as well.

So this Thursday at the Churchill Club we are running a conversation on sustainable innovation inside SME’s so I went to TED to look for inspiration on questions and came across a fascinating piece by Charles Leadbeater Charles is a British Writer and Journalist who has some interesting things to say about user generated content and innovation.  Incidentally, Charles also helped Helen Fieldinwrite the columns that she turned into the book then film known as Bridget Jones Diary .

Anyway, Charles was banging on about the rise of the Amateur Professional  – which is how technology has allowed amateurs to produce content similar to what professionals were producing a decade before.  Think Blogs and Youtube.  But also think Robotics, Amateur Rocketry, Astronomy and variety of other areas.

The thrust of Charles speech that caught my attention was this was consumer generated innovation not supplier innovation.  The assertion is that innovation controlled by organisations will always be incremental and low risk.  The premise is that the company innovates and the passive consumers then consume.  Which leads to products such as this from Sony.  However when consumers are allowed to innovate, they can create breakthrough solutions which generate brand new businesses (eg the rise of MP3 as a format) or major new categories (60% of music sold in the USA is apparently RAP music, which couldn’t get backing by a label when it started).  This is because consumers aren’t locked into making profits, and don’t risk their career if solutions don’t work.

So how do you work with consumers to tap into innovations?  Google, Flickr and Youtube found a solution – create a platform for user generated content.  Lego found a solution, create a community that can use your products in ways you never considered then share the results .

Anyone can create the framework for a social network almost intangibly for free.  Recently I have been looking at Ning as a tool.  Ning is a platform for creating social networks.  They make their money by placing google ads on free sites, or charging you for value add services such as using your own domain name.  Ning offers the following features.  You can  :

* pick your own configurable design
* have an infinite number of members
* have a member activity news feed  (eg Brendan   posted a new picture)
* have members post interesting comments or web links.
* display RSS (news) feeds from other websites.
* have photo galleries
* have discussion forums
* upload videos
* have realtime chat
* integrate your Ning Social network with other websites such as
Facebook.
* have subgroups within your group
* have member Blogs
* create events and publish them to your network.

If this isn’t useful to someone wanting to experiement with social networking, then in the words of my father “I’ll go heave”.  Tapping into consumer generated innovation will create a really interesting aspect to Thursday’s Conversation at the Club.

Ambassadors of Hate

I was reading Michel’s piece from last week “Let Culture be your Guide” and it occurred to me that Michel didn’t talk much about the people that were let go.  Other than “we let them know why they were going and we worked with many of them again in the future”.  Her article focussed on those who stayed.

Now I’m not an HR specialist or even truly a people person, but have been hired and fired plenty of times, and in turn have hired and fired a couple of hundred people.  I reckon I have some insight which I thought I might share.

The truth is that most people in their lifetime will be “let go”.   You can kid your self that the ex employee was a great person who took it on the chin, but its not actually what happened.  Its always personal.  Everyone goes home shell shocked no matter whether they were expecting it or not.

So I reckon you have two choices.  When letting staff go you can either create a free sales force, or like Dr Frankenstein breathe life into a new creature which I like to call “the Ambassador of Hate”.  More on this later, but first:

I have fired people in lots of different ways, three stand outs are.

1.  The 30 year old programmer who was given a garbage bag for his belongings and escorted off the premises in tears  I said “Now F*K off”.  Not only was he surprised by what happened but humiliated in front of his peers.

2.  The 45 year old Sales Manager who was given a months notice and was allowed to work the time out.  It appears that over the month he emailed home copies of our documents, processes and customer lists.

3.  The 20 year old accounts clerk that was terminated then given a 6 month contract so that she would end up with more in her pocket and more flexibility whilst she looked for role and industry that suited her interests more.

Why they stand out for me is:

1.    The 30yr old programmer will hate me for the the rest of his life and always shit cans me or my companies when given the chance (yep, I get told).

2.    The 45yr old Sales Manager  didn’t use any of my intellectual property or customer lists (unsurprising since I fired him for incompetence in the first place), but had nothing  to say about us afterwards (nothing good or bad).
3.    The 20yr old accounts clerk still refers business my way 10 years later (even to my new businesses!).

Firing well can even be part of your business model.  Consider this; virtually every exMcKinsey consultant you meet, was let go by the firm (I believe every two years its either up or out).  However their ex-employee’s are known as Alumni and get access to firm resources and networks for the rest of their life.  Surprise, surprise; a major source of new business for McKinsey & Co. is ex employees calling in their “Alma Mater”.

Since we are heading towards an almost recession, many Australian’s will have the experience of being let go for the first time – and its always personal for the person getting the bullet.  So you have a choice.  Either act with integrity and think creatively when you terminate which can lead to a free sales force, or expect the worst in others and generate “Ambassadors of Hate” when you fire them.

To be honest I’m happy if you treat people like shit when you terminate them.  Because If I ever end up employing them they are guaranteed to spill their guts about the weaknesses of your business and your plans.
Have a think about that.

the other networking

This morning I got a message from my niece on Facebook, two messages from colleagues on Linkedin , 1 SMS messages and a couple of dozen emails.  Which got me thinking about networking.  I use social networking tools LinkedIn and Facebook regularly (not heavily) but probably not the way most people think.  I tend to feel that social networking via computer isn’t the be all and end all, in fact quite the reverse.

There is an expression in the Army,
A smart soldier …
doesn’t stand when he can sit,
doesn’t sit when he can lie down,
doesn’t lie down when he can sleep.
(This makes lots of sense when you are finishing up a 22 hour day).

My approach to networking is similar.  In fact I might say:

“Brendan …
Doesn’t broadcast when he can send a personalised message
Doesn’t send a personalised message when he can call
Doesn’t call when he can catch up for coffee”

A major objective of business networking is to generate opportunities.  And opportunities are much more likely to come from a personal relationship.  Because if they’re not thinking of you, they’re not thinking of you.  Therefore I would much rather meet face to face with people over coffee than try to connect online.  Emoticons aren’t the same as body language :)

Gen Y may love tools like MySpace, Facebook and SMS but it appears that most still only have a relationship with an inner circle of friends (those they meet offline), despite the fact that they may be connected to thousands.   I feel that if they think Social networking is the only way to network, that’s great for me.  I have much less competition when I want to meet somebody new :)

So why do I use LinkedIn and Facebook?  A couple of reasons.
1.    Linkedin is a good networking metric – If my connections or friends hasn’t increased in the last fortnight it means I am not putting any effort into networking and I should pull my finger out.  This is also the reason why I don’t say yes to every friend request or engage in harvest networking (eg Toplinked) collecting 1,000’s of connections that I don’t know.

2.    It keeps  me up to date  – Its so much easier to connect with people over coffee when you know what they have been up to.

3.    On rare occasions I use social networking tools to make announcements.

4.    I don’t have all the answers so I like to be involved with trends to see where they go.  I have yet to use my LinkedIn connections to solve a problem, and am looking forward to see how that will turn out.

So I’d have to say that Social Networking tools are great, but shouldn’t be confused with actual networking.  Its hard to enjoy coffee over the internet.

The Boogey Man

One of my relatives occasionally drives me mad with his worrying: How would it look if he failed? What would his wife say? What if he didn’t like it?

His worrying almost always to takes the same form.

1.    Identify the worst case outcome (eg usually a combination of bankruptcy/divorce courts/public ridicule).
2.    Don’t explore it any further (eg eek, ears closed, ears closed).
3.    Plot any course that avoids this scenario (and I mean any course).

I call it “The Boogeyman”.  Its the scary thing in the corner until you turn the light on.

And you can turn the light on by saying “so what” .  But I have looked at that before, the Military thinking technique of asking “so what” and following the chain of inference until you come across the facts that matter.

Since every day we have doom and gloom in the newspapers, I thought it was timely to remind you of another technique that can be used in conjunctions with my “so what” technique.  DeBono’s Six Thinking hats In my words:

White – The facts, what we know and what we don’t.
Red – The feelings, recognising how we feel about the situation.
Black – What bad things can happen?
Yellow – What good things can arise from this?
Green – What creative thoughts can we have about this?
Blue – Is our thinking robust about this?

So some Yellow Hat thinking about the current doom and gloom. Yesterday’s Smartcompany says:
One third of SMEs will cut jobs in 2009 – cool, plenty of good people spilling into the marketplace.

Gold Coast developer Raptis Group finally collapses – good news if your a liquidator, good news if you want to pick up a property cheap.

Economists mixed on outlook for house prices – cool uncertainty in the market place leads to opportunity.  Maybe time to launch a newsletter on property opportunities?

Be prepared for four months of pain: Gottliebsen – Cool, Low staff morale in the big stores makes it easier for small boutiques.

The Boogey Monster?  A land of opportunity!