“Mathematics is a way to break the barriers of the conventional, an expression of unbounded imagination in the search for truth. Georg Cantor, creator of the theory of infinity, wrote: “The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.” Mathematics teaches us to rigorously analyze reality, study the facts, follow them wherever they lead. It liberates us from dogmas and prejudice, nurtures the capacity for innovation.”—Love and Math, The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel
In startups, as in chess, the unexciting moves often make the difference
Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand have been battling it out in Chennai the last week for the 2013 FIDE World Chess Championship. After 4 straight draws, Carlsen’s opened it up with two straight decisive wins.
If you follow the games, particularly yesterday’s Game 6 (and you canhere and here), you can’t attribute Carlsen’s wins to any individual move or set of moves. At least I can’t, but I’m no grandmaster, so who knows. But it sure seems like there haven’t been any bold exchanges, daring sacrifices or cunning gambits that have carried the day for him. He’s played sound, methodical chess, building solid positions that slowly press his opponent. He’s won the last two games largely on the back of quiet moves.
Quiet moves are those that neither capture nor threaten a piece. In a sense, they’re boring. They don’t attract a lot of attention and they don’t demand a direct response. But they’re critical as they create strong positional value by deploying pieces to important squares where they can best exert influence over the course of the game.
Startups often think they need loud moves to succeed. They feel they need to make a splash, generate buzz, command attention, crush a demo day presentation, make a noise in the market, etc. That stuff does help in some cases, but it hurts in others, particularly when those companies aren’t in a position to capitalize on the attention. This is why Ken Lerer feels that most startups should just “shut up.”… I bet that in most cases it’s the quiet moves that really led to success.
Quiet startup moves are that can’t be written about in breathless headlines, blog posts or press releases. Things like building and reinforcing an internal culture that enables you to hire and retain a high-performing team. Deep and critical thinking about customer pain. Generating insightful hypotheses then creating relevant market experiments and meaningful KPIs to test those hypotheses. Success is built on these important and quiet foundations.
Like how Carlsen’s quiet moves build successful chess positions, these quiet startup moves help founders build successful companies best positioned to capture market opportunities. Ultimately, startups need to deliver products that delight users, and it’s often the quiet moves that best help them to do this.
I heard a professor once say of all the young, highly-credentialed students that cycled through the top MBA program where he taught that they have “tremendous CPUs but such little RAM.”
While the analogy doesn’t exactly hold, what he meant is that these folks could process huge amounts of information in short order but didn’t have any experience to put it into context. Basically, they were super smart but knew nothing. At least nothing as to how actual businesses were run, how ideas were conceived and turned into viable products, hows deals get done — basically how the real business world works. So much intellectual horsepower, he called it, but so little wisdom.
Related to intellectual horsepower is its sometimes misunderstood cousin, intellectual curiosity. Most folks equate curiosity with having broad interests or eclectic pursuits, as though the defining aspect of curiosity lies in diversity. Others view curiosity as always asking what-if questions and exploring the boundaries of what is possible. Both those are true to an extent, but for me it’s something deeper.
At the core, I believe intellectual curiosity is a heady mix of tenacity and lateral thinking. It’s the indomitable drive to understand why things are the way they are and not accepting them at face value. Mixed with this is the inclination to combine existing systems of thought in novel and unexpected ways to probe what’s possible, learn new things and create new ideas.
First principles type thinking (like that attributed to Elon Musk) tends to be a trait of the intellectually curious. Once you have reduced something to its most elemental conceptual building blocks, it’s so much easier then to discover new angles for attacking seemingly intractable problems or to find application in new domains. First principles thinking is a powerful intellectual design pattern and a hallmark of the curious.
Those with high horsepower, like the ones our professor was referring to, will ace their exams, get good grades and easily deliver on assignments — basically excel at whatever you ask them to do. Where the high horsepower crowd excels at answering questions, the intellectually curious excel at asking penetrating and important questions. Questions that, if answered, open up all sorts of new possibilities. Folks with high horsepower tend to exceed expectations. But the intellectually curious can truly surprise you.
The world needs more curious people. Being classically “smart” is no longer enough to meet the innovation challenges most companies now face. Horsepower alone isn’t going to identify that next category defining product. Superior analysis skills shine a light a bit further down the track, but they don’t disrupt existing markets or create new ones unless they are combined with the tenacity and lateral thinking of intellectual curiosity.
Now’s a great time for the truly curious. Never have so many powerful tools and so much information been so readily available. The curious have never been more empowered than they are today. Given a minimum threshold of capability, I will always value curiosity over horsepower. These are the folks I want to work with and invest in.
“Overall, I think it’s a good time to have a girl in the 21st century because things are changing, with more opportunities for women. But girls are still the underdog, which means they’ll work harder, and everybody loves an underdog. The next Steve Jobs will totally be a chick, because girls are No. 2—and No. 2 always wins in America.”—Louis C.K. from this piece in Fast Company
“Technology is a continuum — it is constantly getting lower-cost and easier to use. The role of the C.E.O. is to ride that continuum. The trick is to always respond to the better and cheaper thing that is coming along.”—Marc Benioff in NYT’s Young Tech Sees Itself in Microsoft’s Ballmer
…it is exactly at the edge that the need to get better faster has the most urgency. Incumbents at the core - which is the place where most of the resources, especially people and money, are concentrated, and where old ways of thinking and acting still hold sway - have many fewer incentives to figure out the world, or to discover new ways of doing things, or to find new information. They’re on top, and they’re ready to keep doing what got them there. But simply accessing or attracting static resources no longer cuts it. Accessing and attracting have little value unless they are coupled with a third set of practices that focus on driving participation in, and sometimes orchestration of, someone we call “creation spaces” - environments that effectively integrate teams within a broader learning ecology so that performance improvement accelerates as more participants join.
Like crazy football moms who bring the drinks and snacks, do chain duty, act as spotters for the coach and scout the competition, venture capitalists are crazy fans on the sideline who hopefully contribute a lot more than money. But at the end of the day, we don’t run the companies. We are active board members who provide guidance and add value through our networks, but the team has to walk through every door we open, and execute on the plan. We do yell and scream loudly from the sidelines though.
This rant on the future of interaction was excellent. Lamented the sense that most “future visions” being touted in concept videos today are neither very futuristic nor visionary. Instead, they just expand on the current ‘pictures under glass’ metaphor for interaction.
Senseq offers a new technology to bring tactile feel front and center, and by doing so breaks through the dominant pictures under glass concept. Check it out. Fascinating with tons of applications.
Creates another dimension of interaction and experience.
A ‘Cambrian Explosion’ needs more than just sheer numbers - it needs tremendous diversity and variety. While there are certainly signs of diversification, the more remarkable aspect of today’s environment seems to have more to do with how many startups there are and not how many different startups there are.
The sheer number of new startups forming and getting funded these days is dizzying. It’s never been easier to start a company to harness new technologies and turn them into products. Traditional venture capital may not even be able to keep up with it. We are at the beginnings of what may very well become a Cambrian Explosion of startups, which will have implications well beyond the technology industry to the entire economy.
Tuned into a cyber security discussion today with Richard Clarke who shared insights into what he calls the CHEW (Crime Hacktivisim Espionage and War) of cyber security. The talk was hosted by Veracode where Mr. Clarke is a recent addition to their Board. Some highlights below:
Someone needs to declare war on latency. Latency of all kinds, not just network delays but app switching, page rendering, UI element activation, etc. Both Fire and iPad2 have 1GHz dual-core processors and ample RAM. They should be able to achieve a much higher level of responsiveness. I had high hopes for Silk and thought a browser with optimized server-side elements could lead to a lightening fast user experience. Such a shame to match advanced network-side tech with crummy device/software performance. Defeats the purpose.
“Most problematic, though, the Fire does not have anything like the polish or speed of an iPad. You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger. Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. There are no progress or “wait” indicators, so you frequently don’t know if the machine has even registered your touch commands. The momentum of the animations hasn’t been calculated right, so the whole thing feels ornery”
As usual, the Defrag Conference has brought together a disparate group of amazing people to discuss innovation, technology, community - and data. I was flattered to ask to deliver a keynote this year, and the topic I chose was near and dear to my heart: using data to create competitive advantage. As I lay out in my slides, building a successful - and sustainable - data-driven enterprise is so much more than simply having better algorithms or a more performant box: It takes great people with data DNA and a model that creates competitive moats around the business. It is so seductive to focus on “the algorithms” as being the “there there” in creating competitive advantage. In my experience, they are a necessary but insufficient criterion for success.
In any event, take a read and share your thoughts. This is merely the beginning of a conversation that we’ll be having for a long, long time.
"The most important thing to realize about the future is that it’s a choice. People choose which visions to pursue, people choose which research gets funded, people choose how they will spend their careers.
Despite how it appears to the culture at large, technology doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t emerge spontaneously, like mold on cheese. Revolutionary technology comes out of long research, and research is performed and funded by inspired people.
And this is my plea — be inspired by the untapped potential of human capabilities. Don’t just extrapolate yesterday’s technology and then cram people into it.”
—From an excellent post on the future of interaction (and the limitations of the current ‘Picture Under Glass’ visions) by Bret Victor. The future is tactile. The future is hands…
“It is about discerning meaning and information from millions—billions—of data points…And when it comes to our security, this is one of our nation’s most pressing science and engineering challenges.”—Janet Napolitano, DHS Secretary
Banjo superstar Kendl Winter has been a part of Olympia’s folk scene for years, playing in The Pasties, The Blackberry Bushes, and Southern Skies. Kendl released a solo record, Apple Core (KLP224), in October 2010, and has been touring incessantly since then. During the rare times when she’s not on the road, Kendl been hard at work on a followup in Dub Narcotic Studio (assisted by knob-twiddler Calvin Johnson) working on her next record, The Mechanics of Hovering Flight (KLP238).
Hovering Flight will be released on January 24, 2012. Here’s the album’s second track, “Shades of Green”!
“Though it is called the ‘Defense’ Department, if called on to defend the U.S. homeland from a cyber attack carried out by a foreign power, your half-trillion-dollar-a-year Defense Department would be useless.”—General Ken Minihan, Managing Director, Paladin Capital Group and former Director of the NSA.
Been thinking of teaching tools lately and how mobile can be used to improve learning. Codify looks really cool and could be an important step to making development more engaging, tactile and intuitive. And, in the process, open it up to a much larger audience.
Despite advances in languages, IDEs and other tools, coding a mobile app is tough. It requires a good deal of specialized coding skills, knowledge of languages and interfaces, special dev tools and simulators, etc. It scares normals. Codify isn’t the panaeca that’s going to instantly make app development truly intuitive, (you still need to specialized knowledge), but it seems like an excellent start to making the process more accessible.
It’s incredibly empowering to code something and immediately see the result running on a mobile device. Combine that with touch and the experience is all the more impactful. Combine that with games and it’s all the more engaging. By making it super easy for them to customize and create their own games, Codify could get kids excited about development and help them understand how complex systems get created. More importantly, it could demystify technology and encourage kids to see themselves as creators able to make their own ideas come to life.
Extrapolate this way out (way out…) and I could see a huge benefit for a super intuitive development environment to service the bottom of the pyramid. ($35 Aakash tablet, OLPC, etc.) Imagine not only making mobile computing but also mobile development accessible to the bottom of the pyramid. It’s great to get these devices into populations that couldn’t previously afford them. It’s even better to give these populations the ability to experiment, tinker and transform their devices into tools that meet their own unique needs.
I’ve often argued that the data inside the carriers’ networks could become as valuable as the data they carry over their networks. To date, carriers have been less aggressive/creative about analyzing and making this data available, mostly, and appropriately, due to privacy concerns. Meanwhile, 3rd parties like Sense Networks, and to a certain extent startups like foursquare, twitter, whrrl, brightkite, loopt, geodelic and geoapi, etc., find ways to go over the top to collect and profit from this data.
I expect to see more movement on the part of carriers to open up their data stores in secure fashions that ensure privacy (Vodaphone and VZW providing developer access to “network enablers” is a start). Whether it’s advertising, traffic planning, social networking or any application that benefits from real-time and non real-time aggregated location information, the opportunity for carriers to be the authoritative, low-cost, secure and trusted provider of such information is too great.
“The problem is that the social networks we’re creating online don’t match the social networks we already have offline. This creates many problems, and a few opportunities.”
Excellent talk by Paul Adams of the UX team at Google about designing for relationships. You can just see the next wave of social networking sites incorporating these multi-identity, multi-group and multi-relationship themes. There’s also some good stuff around traditional notions of influence and influencers incorporating social network shape, message persistence, flow dynamics, and a heightened focus on influenceability. A few tidbits about Amazon ratings that I though were interesting:
Ratings that are linked to people’s real names are 20% higher than those that aren’t.
Half of the top 1000 reviewers on Amazon don’t use their real name.
Booz-Allen is going public, and since they are in some sense an ATS writ large (very large), their S-1 (BoozAllen-S1) is instructive as a template for an imaginary ATS IPO (I know, I know – ATS is an “important part” of Telcordia…).
In July 2008, BAH was acquired for roughly $2.2 billion by Carlyle who shed the commercial and international businesses and retained the government consulting operation.
So what has BAH been able to do in the short period of time under their private equity owners? Follow the jump for more nuggets from the S-1
Foursquare raises $20 million led by Andreessen Horowitz
Foursquare finally closes on a funding round after considerable flirting with the likes of Yahoo! and Facebook. Ben Horowitz explains the reasoning here. Foursquare is adding 15,000 users every day and is growing at a faster clip than Twitter did at this stage. I’ve written about the commercial potential of foursquare to add value not only to its users but also to merchants, venue owners and others through advertising, rewards and loyalty programs (here, here and here). Clearly, this ability drove the thinking behind the Andreessen Horowitz investment. Ben puts it this way
As importantly, we are very excited about Foursquare’s ability to make money in a way where all parties win: users, merchants, venue owners, brand advertisers, and more. In fact, users have been so excited about the product that they’ve actually been signing up local businesses to run promotions for Foursquare’s mayors and active users. This natural enthusiasm is happening even before Foursquare has added specific product features to help businesses run campaigns. As a result, major brands such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Zagat, Bravo TV, Starbucks, C-SPAN, Marc Jacobs and over 10,000 businesses are currently working with Foursquare to build customer loyalty and drive traffic. Not many companies have their users turn into their sales force, and it’s definitely a good sign that this is happening around Foursquare.
The Bilski ruling (08-964) came out yesterday in what was a busy morning for the Supreme Court. In addition to Bilksi, they also ruled to strengthen gun rights and that parts of Sarbanes-Oaxely are unconstitutional.
Bilski was meant to address the issue of business method, or software, patents such as those typified by Amazon’s one-click and others. The patent under issue in Bilski was a method for hedging energy trades, but the industry looked to the Bilski ruling to provide greater clarity around general process and software patents that describe methods to achieve some end rather than a machine or apparatus.
In ruling that the “machine-or-transformation” test should not be the sole test of eligibility, the Court on Monday left the door open for software and business method patents. Justice Kennedy writes
“The machine-or-transformation test may well provide a sufficient basis for evaluating processes similar to those in the Industrial Age——for example, inventions grounded in a physical or other tangible form. But there are reasons to doubt whether the test should be the sole criterion for determining the patentability of inventions in the Information Age.”
What does this mean for ATS? Well, the ruling could have had a chilling effect on the prospects of our patent business since many of our patents are software or algorithms implemented in software. Had Bilsky been ruled to make such inventions ineligible for patent protection, it would have been a big setback for ATS by inviting challenges to our issued IP as well as providing hurdles for our outstanding applications. The prospective value of our IP and pending IP would have dropped significantly. Further it would have been a blow to our major IP partner Intellectual Ventures.
Stronger patent rights favor ATS. We create IP and, since nearly all our business is consulting, we have almost zero exposure to litigation. So rulings that increase the strength of patents and broaden the scope of what is patentable are positives for ATS.
But Bilski was not a ringing endorsement for software patents either, leaving considerable ambiguity and the possibility of future challenges. Net-net, ATS didn’t lose with Bilski.
They are a few lessons ATS can take away from SRI’s approach to commercializing their government-funded technology. Most notably, is that they actually have a process to identify, vet and launch compelling commercial businesses. A few other things are worth noting:
1) They proactively test for market acceptance. “Each year, SRI tests the marketability of roughly 2,000 technology ventures, but typically only three or four are ever established as independent businesses.” The numbers aren’t nearly as important as the fact that SRI believes in finding commercial outlets and they have established processes and dedicated resources as testament to that believe.
2) They actively engage entrepreneurs, investors, outside industry leaders and customers. See the Commercialization Board shown on the blackboard in the picture. While ATS has been successful at establishing productive relationships with academics, and to a certain extent industry leaders in the form of consultants, as an organization, we don’t have meaningful connections to the investment community, we do not engage startups as purposefully as we should, and we make very little effort to really understand commercial customers.
3) They work in areas with tremendous commercial crossover appeal. AI, machine learning, data mining, translation, etc. all have obvious government and military appeal – this is why they’re funded so readily. However, they also have tremendous commercial appeal across several application domains. While we certainly do information services and data analysis type work for the government, a large chunk of our focus is on networks and networking. And right now, the commercialization market favors services over networks. This might shift in years to come, but there’s more commercial need and dollars available for things like complex event processing than for things like secure mobile ad hoc networks.
Palantir - Organizing unstructured data into a billion dollar cyber business
Palantir gets the Techcrunch treatment. They’re developing data collection and deep analysis tools to help the government ward off cyber threats, track epidemics and identify fraud — all through “human-driven synergies between humans and computers”…. Worth a read.
Fascinating look at the making of Siri, the contextually-aware personalized assistant acquired by Apple a few months ago, with several good takeaways for how ATS can successfully commercialize our government developed technologies. Siri was created at SRI as part of DARPA-funded research into machine learning and AI. SRI took a deliberate approach to evaluating the commercial potential for the government technology it was creating. They had institutionalized processes for identifying commercial potential. They conducted external reviews with and collected feedback from the investor community. And they were adept at partnering with outside experts who could “bring to life” – achieve meaningful commercial traction – the early-stage technology being developed on DARPA’s dime.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”—Theodore Roosevelt
I came across this today and found it timely given that the AIP structure was released today. So how do you motivate creative, conceptual thinkers? The answer is, differently than you would those whose jobs are more physical and/or algorithmic. According to Dan Pink, the science says that knowledge workers, i.e., those in ATS, want Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If you’re familiar with the theories behind behavioral economics or organizational behavior, these conclusions won’t be too surprising. The sketching is super cool, though.
Had to chuckle at the bit around the 6:30 mark on conventional if-then schemes. “Give’em a fricken innovation bonus. If you do something cool, I’ll give you $2,500.”
The team at Hebrew University first scanned through 66,000 product reviews at Amazon and developed a classifier to group patterns of text into different sarcastic classes. They then seeded their machine-learning algorithm with subset of these samples. Apparently, the algorithm is in on the joke 77% of the time.
This is similar to what I’m hoping to do for disagreements. Amazon reviews, contentious blog posts and, even mailing lists for technology standards, provide a rich textual corpus to play with.