Friday, February 15, 2008

Misunderstood Web 2.0

It’s a common occurrence for people to get annoyed with overused, rarely-understood and highly overrated buzz words. The Trouble With Web 2.0 - Alexander Wilms - Boxes and Arrows
But to know what’s really entertaining, you should try taking a look at large “formal and hierarchical culture” corporations who desperately try to look hip and cool because they adopt “web 2.0” technologies in their existing web applications.

This very interesting article on “The Trouble With Web 2.0” elaborates on what seems to have become a strangely fascinating trend in enterprises. CIOs are talking about it, Senior management in a bunch of companies are trying to show small software services shops are touting it to every prospective client and even PR firms are trying to sell it as an “additional service”. The trouble is: most of these folks think that adding some audio clips, social bookmarks “Digg This! Add to! etc” to their boring, corporate, centralized content generated websites makes them Web 2.0.

The most important and most simple is that corporate behaviours and processes are not changed just by implementing a new IT service. Installing a blog in a formal and hierarchical corporate culture will not change the company in an open and informal community. Web 2.0 patterns will only work if the corporate and even national culture is already responsive to more collaboration and participation or if the implementation is accompanied by other measures to support cultural change.

The entire “collaborative content”, “decentralized knowledge creation” thing seems to be a little lost on monolithic corporations who’ve lived and thrived on an environment of “protect and hide all knowledge until absolutely necessary”. As for the ones that have evolved, they wonder why their brand spanking new Web 2.0 intranet just isn’t being used as much as the old intranet.

What attracts users to donate their time and energy to contribute to Web services like Wikipedia or Flickr while not doing so to corporate services? Psychology and economics teach us that there is no such thing as altruism – whatever people do will create a personal return of value for them. This personal value is measured by individual criteria.

Respect and prestige, personal reputation, political beliefs or desires, and of course monetary incentives influence the decision as to whether their contribution creates this value. People create an article in Wikipedia because they believe that the topic is interesting or important or because they want to see their name in print, and put pictures on Flickr because they want to share them with others, thereby influencing how they are perceived by others.

I agree, the answers on how to solve these issues aren’t here yet - Mindset changes along with the new technology is what’s needed, not just shiny new technology.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Leadership: Creating and leaving a Legacy

This quote from a recent article on Harvard Business Review pretty much sums up emotions that our entire team is feeling right now:

Great leaders -- whether they lead entire organizations or groups within them -- leave a legacy that transcends them and cements their contribution to the growth and transformation of their organization.

I’m not talking about being a mere manager here, but a leader. One your team looks up to for all kinds of advice, personal as well as professional. A leader who gently guides you, encourages you, corrects you, doesn’t force ideology on you, doesn’t coerce you to do your job to the best of your ability, but asks nicely. A leader sticks up for and takes responsibility for his/her team members in times of adversity, but passes on the compliments and gives credit where it is due as well. I read this on another blog: Leadership stems from self-knowledge and integrity.

Several friends I know are not very happy with their jobs - not because of the kind of work they’re doing, but because of the lack of leaders managing their teams. And there’s an interesting observation I made here: When non-ethical or petty behavior is displayed by the leaders of teams/organizations, that behavioral attitude is automatically adopted by team members as well. For example: one person I know got a new boss after being in an organization for a few months, and the boss happens to be a petty, finger-pointing slimeball. So suddenly, after months of relative calm and ease, others in the team become petty and indulged in finger-pointing as well! The same people who were happy, accountable professionals before the leadership change. Needless to say, this has destroyed any semblance of morale and made everyone in the team disgruntled cribbers.

From another HBR article:
As the Gallup Organizations says, people join organizations but leave their boss. In other words, a manager's key responsibility is to create mutual respect and trust with the people who report to them.

When managers lead and manage their people effectively, their people are much more likely to be engaged – and to achieve results for the organization.

In practice this involves walking the talk, being transparent, communicating effectively, treating people equally, teaching, leading subordinates to increasingly excellent performance – and responding to subordinates as mature individuals who are owed fairness, the truth and recognition of their achievements.

These are signs of a great leader. And yes, contrary to most people’s opinions, there are such leaders around in the corporate world. I’ve personally known and worked with only 2 in my life so far (out of 5 previous direct bosses), and regret not spending a lot more time absorbing gyaan on the art of leadership from them.

Having a good leader manage your team makes working a lot more fun – you look forward to your work day and you want to deliver and achieve more because of a sense of commitment. And that’s the legacy that’s left behind when he or she moves on – a strong sense of values, commitment to doing your best at your job and managing (leading) your team to the best of your abilities.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

So true.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Can we eliminate “Compromised Design” in this world?

I was forwarded this (old) stirring article by Andy Rutledge, titled “Compromised Design” recently. I’ve heard this before – from an agency head, from stubborn designers/visualizers, from client servicing people and even from some “clients”. This is a topic that is close to everyone’s heart, particularly people who are in design agencies or people who are churning out the “creative” work.

From the article: “Compromise is the refuge of the inept and weak–minded. It can be described in sugarcoated terms and even associated with lofty ideals for the purpose of misdirection, but compromise is nothing less than failure.”

This I agree with – compromises, or reaching middle ground on design or copy is a failure. It’s either a failure of the person giving the brief to articulate his/her needs, or the failure of the designer in understanding the brief, or a failure of the designer to execute his or her idea well.

But, isn’t this an intrinsic part of people working together? Isn’t this conflict bound to happen because of people’s differences in exposure, education, backgrounds and work experience? So then why do designers/visualizers/client servicing people moan and groan when their work is not immediately liked, approved and shot off to production? Why do clients insist on unfathomable, sometimes even idiotic changes and then go and ruin everything?

Visit Andy's site - He's got a lot of very interesting articles!

Sure, there are times when no compromise is needed at all – when it all clicks into place instantly. No, this isn’t an unachievable utopia - it has happened to me a few times. I either delivered something that was approved and shot off to production with zero modifications, or I received something from an agency that worked so well that I didn’t want to change a thing.

“Compromised Design” happens to us. Everyday, if you’re involved in communication. How do you try and avoid it? Get or give a detailed, articulate brief. Understand the unwritten/unspoken brief as well – the true purpose of creating what you’ve been assigned. Calibrate the client’s expectations with your own delivery capability. Follow a bunch of best practices.

Sure, there are all these ways to avoid design compromise all the time, and be like Howard Roark and “stay true” to your creation. In a perfect world, maybe doing all that for every single assignment would be possible. But its not a perfect world, it happens to the best of us, and it can be frustrating. Just keep reminding yourself: Conflict is good, and a lot of times the result of compromised design is actually pretty good.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The “Profound Truth” about the Global Information Revolution – Part 2

I think the answer to "why can’t businesses understand that the world has changed so much in the past decade (regarding the freedom of information) that they need to evolve drastically to survive?" is simple – with the advent of this new scale of information sharing on the internet, these “information-age” corporations are simply confused. They’re still hung up on lost opportunities. They don’t have the time to wonder about how they can survive in a world that doesn’t want to pay as much as before (or anything at all!) for information/media/ideas/content. And they don’t seem to realize they’re facing a losing battle.

Everybody wants to Change: Yahoo, Sony, Apple, Universal... Is it too late?

So what are the answers? If a company’s copyrighted content is being “pirated” on the internet, what can it do? Should it just turn around and give it away? Should it consider reducing the amount that’s charged for the content in the hope that people will buy it? Should it take a cynical view and get out of business while it’s still profitable? How does one monetize “free”?

The answers are difficult and complex – and haven’t been figured out yet. Human greed is just as powerful an emotion for us as the need to share and communicate. Everybody wants to be rich and have a comfortable life, and will take a beating to protect anything they create. So the disadvantages seem to overrule the advantages of “free” to a content creator. Take the open source movement as an example – we don’t hear of any billionaires who made their fortunes writing open source software.

Examples of leaked software source code, stolen databases of people’s personal information, and IP violations happen all over the world, everyday. If we make laws to prevent this, are these laws enforceable? Should we even bother? Should society take a VERY serious look at copyright law and discuss a more modern framework to protect authors? The world doesn't seem to want to care about this right now.

But, have you noticed? The information revolution is already taking place. Individuals and their small businesses have already figured out ways to get noticed, give away content for free AND earn money on related products and services. To me, online comics are the best example of this, with certain open source software coming in a close second. The biggest names in the media industry have announced that they’re dropping DRM too. Where will this go? How will the information economy evolve? I’m still searching for answers.

The “Profound Truth” about the Global Information Revolution – Part 1

The problem with “profound truths” in this world that is that very few people really know about them. As technology and human desires move along the circumference of the wheel of time, some people understand these “profound truths” - about their existence, their business, their quality of life or even daily habits and then adapt and evolve accordingly to ensure longevity.

So why, then, does it take so long for corporations in the digital age who rely on business from information or content to understand these profound truths about their business?

  • The age of “closely guarded” information/media/ideas is slowly dying out – as with the printing of books, the internet has changed forever the way society creates and consumes content

  • One cannot rely on a sole business model of content creation and distribution any longer – your “proprietary and copyrighted” content will get distributed to millions on the internet sooner or later

  • It is impossible to “guard” information completely – whether it’s DRM or Encryption or Anti-piracy measures – these get cracked within a few hours, if not days

If you haven’t seen “Steal this Film”, Part 1 and Part 2 yet, I highly recommend you download it and watch it ASAP. It basically encapsulates the thoughts of millions of people in the world today, who have been brought up and are living in the Internet era, where boundaries don’t exist and freedom is mandatory. The films might be Europe-centric, but they reflect the sentiments of people around the world. There are a lot of “profound truths” in those two films – I can’t recommend them highly enough.

So why can’t businesses understand that the world has changed so much in the past decade (regarding the freedom of information) that they need to evolve drastically to survive? How come millions of people in the world agree that “pirating” content is alright? Why are so many businesses still in denial mode, whining to the world’s legal systems and trying to enforce profit-making copyrights and trying to control the distribution of content?