Monday, December 7, 2009

Cathy says, “Technology’s great, when it works…”

Help me polish this article before it gets published: I've been asked for a 'feature' article on technology and spirituality, a maximum of 750 words. Here are 675 words as my first draft. How can I make it better?

Cathy says, “Technology’s great, when it works…”

Sometimes I find it hard to argue my wife’s point! In the house we have computers, phones, DVDs and a DVR that’s almost as hard to program as the VHS used to be… And I sometimes think that the greatest contribution of technology to my spiritual life is to give me practice at considering it pure joy when I face trials of many kinds in getting it all to work! (James 1:2)

However, those of us, of all ages, who are part of the Facebook generation, can see the potential of technology to break down barriers: across geography, time zone, class, and all the other artificial divisions between people.

Some fear that technology could become a modern-day Tower of Babel, inviting God’s wrath. But surely the problem in Genesis 11 was that the Tower was built to bring glory to mankind and not to God. There’s nothing wrong with people working together, especially if it’s to love God and to love other people.

We’re living in a technology revolution, letting people connect together around the world; we can communicate more easily with each other and collaborate together on new projects, across time and space.

I’m an optimist where all this is concerned. When I left IBM to study theology it was to try to encourage the equipping of those around me to “do the work of ministry,” as it says in Ephesians 4:12, and it seems to me that some of the technology tools we’re building really make that possible on a huge scale.

The phone company doesn’t tell you what to talk about; you just use the phone and the line and get on with what you want. We’ve begun to see what text messages, emails and social networks can accomplish in the cause of freedom of speech and human rights in countries and elections around the world.

Of course, the dictators don’t like this, whether they’re a totalitarian government or a church hierarchy! Technology can be used to oppress as well as to free, and there’s an argument that George Orwell’s Big Brother is not the ‘telescreen’ fixed to the wall but the laptop or smartphone we carry round and which captures the words we think out loud and the photos we broadcast for the search engines. Mobile phones can be used to plot our location; and the social networks record the links we make with our online friends so a threat to our liberty can come from those we know, not just what we say or do.

But, as I said, I’m an optimist. In the conflict between light and dark, good and evil, it’s the light that wins! If one part of a vine gets chopped back and pruned, other branches can still flourish and grow, provided they remain connected to the vine.

I believe that technology tools will continue to grow up and, ironically, it was in 1984 that Stewart Brand coined the phrase that “information wants to be free.” If one set of tools gets closed down, another will rise in its place. In The Starfish and the Spider authors Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom argued that ‘leaderless’ starfish organizations are taking society and the business world by storm.

It seems to me that the church of Jesus Christ is the original and most successful starfish, based on shared vision and values under the pervasive leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit. At each stage of church history the church has grown with the use of the available technology, whether street preaching, small group leaders, pulpits and Bibles, radio and television.

Now, though, mobile phones, email and Internet software equip grass roots publishers with the tools for making disciples and we’re poised to see the spread of the good news of the gospel into the farthest reaches of the world. Technology not only tells people about Jesus Christ, but can equip them with tools to live out a faith in relationship with Jesus Christ, finding practical ways to love God and each other.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Helmsman's view

The helmsman doesn't necessarily own the ship.
The helmsman might not choose the destination.
The helmsman wouldn't select the cargo.
The helmsman won't hire the crew on his own.

The helmsman's job is to get the ship to the destination on behalf of the owner, with the cargo and using the crew, even though the wind and the waves will be trying to blow the ship off course. And all while avoiding the rocks that lie under the surface of the water.

My job is a bit like that of the helmsman of a ship. I've started giving the helmsman's view of where we're going, navigating around the rocks and shallows.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Censorship by UN at UN forum on ... censorship!

What's the probability that sales of the book being advertised at the "Internet Governance Forum" in Egypt will rocket after UN security officials removed a poster giving details of the book? Part of the banner read: "internet censorship and surveillance are increasing in democratic countries as well as authoritarian states. The first generation of controls, typified by China's 'Great Firewall', are being replaced by more sophisticated techniques that go beyond mere denial of information."

This could easily be a repeat of the 'Streisand effect' where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Brussels criticizes UK on privacy

"I therefore call on the UK authorities to change their national laws to ensure that British citizens fully benefit from the safeguards set out in EU law concerning confidentiality of electronic communications," said the EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding according to a BBC report.

This follows a European Commission report concluding that the British government should have done more to guarantee online privacy when trials of the controversial ad-serving system Phorm were carried out in 2006.

Brussels said this showed that UK laws, particularly The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, did not do enough to protect data about the e-mails and web browsing habits of citizens. More...

This story reminded me: we had someone take a look at our software and want to 'mine' the content so that if people wrote about 'divorce' they'd be served an ad for divorce-help products. We feel that's an invasion of privacy and won't do it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hot tub trauma in Misery!

This is a completely TRUE story that occurred just last Friday night as my family and I were preparing a luxurious log cabin in Missouri for the arrival of guests on Saturday.

We were at a borrowed three-storey log cabin set in 160 acres of private land in Missouri: it was amazing - surround sound in every room and lots of comfort. Friday night, after doing our chores to get the place ready, we went outside to enjoy the owner's hot tub on the edge of the woods.

It was only when it was too late that we discovered that the cabin has doors that lock themselves after you go through - and we'd gone out with nothing but swim suits, VERY small towels, and only Cathy, my wife, had shoes!

Use a little bit of imagination, but not TOO much, at the picture of 17-year old Chris and me, wearing Cathy's shoes, swim shorts and hand-sized towels making our way along a half-mile path through woods, under star light, with temperatures hovering around freezing at 10pm at night accompanied by the noise of a pack of coyotes who, fortunately, had just made a kill...

The trouble is, whenever I tell this story and explain that I'd had to wear Cathy's shoes, most of the guys picture high heels whereas, fortunately, she'd left her hiking boots outside the front door.

Still, we had to walk through 160 acres of private land, past a chapel and graveyard, to knock on the door of the nearest neighbor - and had to stand hammering on his door to wake him from sleep before asking to borrow his phone and phone book to try to get in touch with the cabin owner for rescue.

I had to ask the neighbor, after 5 mins of standing on his doorstep, if we could go inside as it was cold out! After we'd used the phone he then let us walk all the way back when he had five vehicles parked outside his house. Chris and I had to get back into the hot tub to thaw out and to stop our teeth chattering.

Finally the cabin owner and his wife arrived with the spare key to the cabin - and parked with their car lights shining on the four of us in the hot tub. Cathy was so embarrassed, but more so when, unlocking the door, they stood inside talking to us - them wearing four layers of clothing and the family in swim suits. Eventually someone realized this was awkward and went to get Cathy a robe, but that didn't deal with the running mascara that she only discovered when they left after midnight and we crawled in to bed.

Small wonder that other folk in the USA refer to Missouri as the State of Misery!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Email privacy and trust

Email systems are a bit like sending a postcard through the mail, but where everyone handling it takes a photocopy of the message on its way from sender to recipient. Some email systems, like Gmail, go further and index the contents of the email so that they can be searched later, with somewhat relevant advertisements displayed by the side of the message.

By contrast, messages sent within our software are automatically encrypted in the app on the sender's computer desktop. Messages remain secure as they travel across the internet to the app on the computer belonging to the recipient and only then are the contents unscrambled so that they can be read, just by the intended recipient. We use the AES-256 algorithm, certified for use up to "Top Secret" classification!

We're building a system designed to give you both privacy and trust.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Innovations seem inevitable in retrospect, but at the time it's an uphill battle.

"What surprised me most was how unsure the founders seemed to be that they were actually onto something big. Some of these companies got started almost by accident. The world thinks of startup founders as having some kind of superhuman confidence, but a lot of them were uncertain at first about starting a company. What they weren't uncertain about was making something good—or trying to fix something broken.

"They all were determined to build things that worked. In fact I'd say determination is the single most important quality in a startup founder. If the founders I spoke with were superhuman way, it was in their perseverance. ...

"Perseverance is important because, in a startup, nothing goes according to plan. Founders live day to day with a sense of uncertainty, isolation, and sometimes lack of progress. Plus, startups, by their nature, are doing new things—and when you do new things, people often reject you.

"That was the second most surprising thing I learned from these interviews: how often the founders were rejcted early on. By investors, journalists, established companies ... People like the idea of innovation in the abstract, but when you present them with any specific innovation, they tend to reject it because it doesn't fit with what they already know."

"... As Howard Aiken said, "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."

"In addition to perseverance, founders need to be adaptable. Not only because it takes a certain level of mental flexibility to understand what users want, but because the plan will probably change. People think startups grow out of some brilliant initial idea like a plant from a seed. But almost all the founders I interviewed changed their ideas as they developed them. ...

"Starting a startup is a process of trial and error. What guided the founders through this process was their empathy for the users. They never lost sight of making things that people would want.
Successful startup founders typically get rich from the process, but the ones I interviewed weren't in it just for the money. They had a lot of pride in craftsmanship. And they wanted to change the world. That's why most have gone on to new projects that are just as ambitious. Sure, they're pleased to have more financial freedom, but the way they choose to use it is to keep building more things.

"Startups are different from established companies—almost astonishingly so when they are first getting started. It would be good if people paid more attention to this important but often misunderstood niche of the business world, because it's here that you see the essence of productivity. In its plain form, productivity looks so weird that it seems to a lot of people to be "unbusinesslike." But if early-stage startups are unbusinesslike, then the corporate world might be more productive if it were less businesslike."

To read and learn more, get Jessica Livingston's book "Founders at Work"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rollercoaster ride

Praying today we had a sense of being, again, on a rollercoaster ride. This time, it felt as though we had been slowly chugging up the slope and now the train was edging forward, ever so slowly, along the almost-flat top of the ride ... sitting at the front of the train, we can see that there's a steep downward slope coming soon and, as we gain momentum, the ride is going to be both exhilarating and scary!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mike's story

We went along to church and to kids' Sunday school practically every week since I was born. As a result I soon learned a lot of the Bible stories and tried to be a nice person. When I was 17 I decided that I really did believe in God, and in Jesus Christ who'd died for me so I committed my life to him.

But my life didn't change. I didn't change what I did with my time, money or friends. Mid-way through my time at university even I could see that this just wasn't working.

  • I'd had a great girl friend when I was 17, but I hadn't had one since - even though I was chasing every girl within a five mile radius!
  • Previously work had been easy, but that term they cranked it up a notch at university and for the first time I really found myself struggling.
  • My dad had been a great rock of stability in my life, but in the same few weeks his work closed down and he was unemployed. No longer was the future certain, and I needed his money to help me get through college!
It was in the midst of this time that I sensed God speak to me (through dreams, the words of friends and sermons at church, a quiet inner certainty - and the words of Revelation 3:15).

What I sensed was God saying, "You call yourself a Christian, but you want your choice of wife and career. You say Jesus is Lord of your life, but what is he Lord of if you choose your family and career? Either be a Christian and let Jesus be Lord of all your life, or none of it; but quit the pretense and stop sitting on the middle of the fence!"

It was a real struggle, because what would I do if Jesus told me to do something I didn't want to do? The worst combination I could think of was being an unmarried priest! How could I do that?!

What brought me through was all those years of Bible stories as a kid: I realised that God had made me, so he knows me better than I know myself - just like a child making a model out of Lego knows better than the bricks what they're constructed to be. And because God loves me I could trust him to want the best for me as well. I needed to understand both, not just a God who knows me, but also a God who loves me.

So, I gave in. I surrendered. I told Jesus that I'd follow what he wanted and consult him before I took my decisions. I began to learn that apart from him I can produce nothing worthwhile, nothing that will last. That decision has led to a fantastic marriage to Cathy, with Chris and Alice whom I adore, some great job choices, and in 2006 a move from England to Missouri...

Trouble is, I keep getting back in control. I keep trying to do what seems right to me. Now, though, I don't stay there - I've had twenty years of discovering that Jesus who made me and loves me really does know better than I do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to blog

This morning I got asked, "How do I write a blog?" This, culled from various sources, is my answer:
  • Set a schedule, blog often Aim for somewhere between three and six posts a week for the first month. Writing blog posts so often will likely be tough at first: it's something else to do in an already busy schedule, and most people find it hard to write well. But it does get easier with practice.
  • Don't aim for perfection It's generally better to aim for quantity, not quality. Don't try to craft every sentence to perfection, instead get information out to your audience quickly.
  • Write casually but clearly Write quickly, as if you're talking to a friend. Readers want you to get to the point. Ryan Singel, who writes about security and privacy at's Threat Level, offers a great tip: Start every post with a good first sentence that describes the story you are going to tell. Assume your reader won't get past the first paragraph. Never start with anything like "Sometimes when I hear about stupid things in the news, I just want to hit the wall," or "I haven't written about this in a long time, but today there was a story ..."
  • Add something new Readers won't stick with you unless you give them something they can't find elsewhere. Contribute some reporting or focus on an aspect of the story that few others have noticed.
  • Join the conversation. And link! The only way people will find your blog is through other blogs—and you'll get other blogs to notice you by responding to what they're writing about. Do this both in your blog and in the comments sections of other blogs. Take other people's ideas seriously: Don't just say you love or hate a post; say why he's right or wrong. Also, try not to steal other people's scoops. And if you do cite another blog's work, give credit prominently (e.g. These ideas come from Farhad Manjoo writing at Slate).
  • Don't expect instant fame Actually, don't expect any fame. There are better ways than blogging to get rich and famous.
  • Write in short chunks, use Bold to highlight the key words - make your content punchy, easy for the reader to scan for the bits they want to read.

So why should you blog? Because if you do it well for long enough, people—maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, maybe more—will begin to read you. How long will it take to gain that following? You'll probably have to wait a year or more before anyone starts paying attention. If you can't wait that long, stop now. Also keep in mind there are reasons to stick with blogging even if just a handful of people read your work. Writing regularly will boost your ability to express yourself, a boon in any conceivable task, Atwood says.
Read the full article from which I drew this at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

That others may live

I once had a romantic flight, all alone, across the South China Sea gazing in fascination down at green island jewels covered in coconut trees, with an attractive sandy strip marking a boundary with the clear blue water.

It was the stuff of holiday brochures, but as we circled over Cebu, one of the biggest islands in the Philippine set, I caught sight of shanty-style housing and my first glimpse that all is not perfect.

The plane touched down at Mactan airport and I saw the run-down emergency vehicles in their garage. On the roof outside was the motto, “That others may live” and I sensed the Lord saying that that was why I had been sent, even though I myself felt as battered and run down as those pathetic fire engines.

Pastor Joy Bendoy, sender of my invitation, was waiting for the plane. The heat, humidity and mosquitoes hit me as, without signalling, we launched into a chaotic stream of vehicles that would never pass a vehicle inspection. That doesn’t seem to matter in the Philippines: on a two-lane road there might be six vehicles abreast, some travelling south on the northbound carriageway. My prayer life got better in an instant!

That night we sized each other up. We ate (fish head soup, squid, prawns, odd things in shells and lots of rice—all with fingers off banana leaves) and began to get to know each other.

Although Pastor Joy had invited me, he’d refused to let me know what to speak on, wanting the Holy Spirit to guide me. The only thing I had found out about his church was that they expected to see God work in response to their prayers and other ministry. Quite a challenge for me: here in the West our expectations of what God can do are so low that we’re rarely disappointed.

All I sensed was to speak on grace and was amazed when I walked into their church building and found the theme of the weekend marked out in hand-cut coloured paper letters stuck to the wall under my name and the date: Enjoying God’s grace.

Smiles in the “slam” area
The next day Pastor Joy drove me as near as he dared to one of the rougher parts of the city. We walked the rest of the way with his seven year-old son saying, “Dad, I don’t like coming here—it smells”. We were walking through rubbish, past open drains and the abattoir to cement-block and coconut branch shanties baking in the sun under their tin roofs. Pastor Joy merely replied, “Son, these people need Jesus too” as we arrived amidst a bunch of kids just like our own, except for their homes and clothes.

Each week that he has money to buy rice this pastor goes to minister here. He takes a schoolteacher from his congregation and the kids get just half an hour of schooling from her each week. Then Pastor Joy (or me, on this occasion) preaches and offers to pray and minister to people’s needs before the church feeds rice and orange squash—for some, their best meal of the week.

Pastor Joy interpreted as I spoke and I was amazed at the response: kids and adults mobbed me for prayer and blessing.

Fire victims set ablaze
Later that Friday, before the weekly all-night prayer meeting began, I spoke on Jeremiah 2:13. It contains a challenge to accept the grace of God (the “stream of living water” in the passage) rather than attempting to meet our own needs through digging for ourselves a, “broken and leaky”, tank to hold water.

Virtually the entire church responded and we started praying prophetically into individuals’ lives. This was new for me and I badly needed to know that these were the Lord’s thoughts, not mine. We came to one old woman in the line and I turned, puzzled, to Pastor Joy.

All I sensed to pray about was a feeling of hopelessness and resignation, that life would never get better. He smiled and told me that this woman was the one Christian in her family, persecuted by her husband and children for years.

He revealed that I’d just been praying for these people and they’d all given their lives to Jesus in response to what they heard on this, their first visit to the church. Now, in sheer grace, it seemed that the Lord wished to bring healing to this woman, a faithful witness for years and persecuted for it.

The family was transformed and the following day we went to visit. They were one of sixty families burned out of their shanties in a fire accident. They were now re-housed by the city council in a part-finished factory building. Concrete floor, partial roof, only two walls not open to the elements. Unsurprisingly there was no water supply, electricity or sewerage and the families had made shelters in the factory out of tree branches with plastic rice sacks over the top. The heat was stifling and after two hours with them my legs and ankles were swollen with mosquito bites.

The husband and father from the night before is the head man of this suffering community. Again, we offered teaching, ministry, then food.

The Lord had seemed to direct me to Hebrews 1:1-4. It seemed so theological and irrelevant to their life in the factory shell; but as I taught what the scripture says, virtually every adult responded! Some made first-time commitments, for others it was a return to the Lord or a fresh insight gained after years of purely religious upbringing. Some wanted prayers for healing and we saw the Lord making a powerful difference to people’s lives.

Earlier on Saturday morning I’d been speaking in the mid-morning break for workers in a furniture factory. It was only 8:30 a.m., but again we saw many give their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ…

Saving lives, making disciples
This trip increased my faith and aroused my compassion. It’s so much more meaningful to have been there than to skip guiltily through an article published in a ministry magazine.

We should partner with them and not patronise: They are materially poor but spiritually wealthy. For us in the West it’s often the other way round and we must learn from them.

After a brief trip to relax at the beach we stopped by Pastor Joy’s house for us to clean up. He took me to the water pump in the yard and worked the handle as he washed my feet. They have told me how much they gained from my trip, but I wonder who received the greater blessing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spyware on BlackBerry phones

UAE Blackberry update was spyware
By Ben Thompson Middle East business reporter, BBC News, Dubai

An update for Blackberry users in the United Arab Emirates could allow unauthorised access to private information and e-mails. The update was prompted by a text from UAE telecoms firm Etisalat, suggesting it would improve performance. Instead, the update resulted in crashes or drastically reduced battery life.

Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) said in a statement the update was not authorised, developed, or tested by RIM. Etisalat is a major telecommunications firm based in the UAE, with 145,000 Blackberry users on its books.

In the statement, RIM told customers that "Etisalat appears to have distributed a telecommunications surveillance application... independent sources have concluded that it is possible that the installed software could then enable unauthorised access to private or confidential information stored on the user's smartphone".

It adds that "independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry Handheld, but rather to send received messages back to a central server".

The concern over this unauthorised access only came to light when users started reporting problems with their handsets.

After downloading the update, users across the country noticed significantly reduced battery life, poor reception and in some cases, handsets stopped working altogether.
Users have complained that the firm's customer service is unable to provide information on the problem. Initial advice led many users to simply buy new batteries.

'Surveillance solutions'
The update has now been identified as an application developed by American firm SS8. The California-based company describes itself as a provider of "lawful electronic intercept and surveillance solutions." It is not clear why Etisalat wanted to include the software in the download.

The firm issued a brief statement last week, calling the problem a "slight technical fault", saying that the "upgrades were required for service enhancements." Etisalat told BBC News that it stands by last week's statement and has not yet responded to further requests for comment.

"There may be a good reason they wanted to install the software," said one Blackberry user in Dubai who did not want to be named. "But my biggest problem is that my phone won't work. If you call customer service you either can't get through, or they don't know what to tell you. I don't know what to do."

RIM has now issued its own update allowing users to remove the application. Customers of the country's rival service, Du, have not been affected.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Call for limits on web snooping

The BBC News reports a call for governments and companies to limit the snooping they do on web users from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web. He said that growing oversight of browsing could have a pernicious effect. A greater part of the value of the web lay in the lack of constraints on what people could do with it. He also warned that attempts to censor what people could say or what they could do online were ultimately doomed to failure.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Can this be God?

Just heard of joy in the life of an old friend. He's been out of work for some time and for his birthday, his wife could only hire a couple of bikes and take him on a picnic. At the end of the day he said how much he had enjoyed himself and how, if ever they got some money, he would love to buy a couple of bikes.

Later that week this lady was walking near their home and saw a nearly-new bike outside a house with a sign reading, "Free for anyone who wants this!" She walked up to the front door and thanked the owner, telling how much this would bring happiness to husband.

The house-holder paused for a moment and said, "You know, we've got another bike you can have - a woman's!" And he took our friend's wife to see a nearly-new woman's bike that she was able to take away at the same time!

My wife and I were so encouraged to hear this and in it we see the hand of God providing wants, not just needs, for our Christian friends.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Discovering life together

Join us in discovering life together, with the power to make a difference.

  • 'Discovering' is quite a humble word: it recognises that we don't have all the answers, but are trying to find them. And it's an open word, inviting others to join us on our journey.
  • 'Life' expresses the longing deep within each of us for, as Jesus put it, 'life in all its fullness' (John 10:10).
  • 'Together' is a challenge to the isolation and breakdown of our society and a recognition that the Gospel is all about relationships restored - with God and with other people.

We're exploring with others to find and offer a life-giving community, something that's broken in each of our lives.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#really? 30. Importance of morality & honor

"The growing danger of crime, particularly embezzlement and undetectable theft, will make morality and honor among associates more crucial and highly valued than it was during the Industrial Era, particularly in its waning years."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Monday, June 29, 2009

#really? 29. Catering to the rich

"Because incomes for the very rich will rise faster than for others in advanced economies, an area of growing demand will be services and products that cater to the needs of the very rich."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

#really? 28. New thinking and info

"Thinking about the end of the current system is taboo. To understand the great transformation to the Information Age, you must transcend conventional thinking and conventional information sources."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

#really? 27. Thinking clearly

"Cognitive skills will be rewarded as never before. It will be more important to think clearly, as ideas will become a form of wealth."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Friday, June 26, 2009

#really? 26. Introducing innovation

"Technical innovations that displace employment should probably be introduced in jurisdictions that have no tradition of producing whatever product or service is in question."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

#really? 25. Public sector deficits

"Taxing capacity in the leading nation-states will fall away by 50 to 70 percent, while it will prove far more difficult to reduce spending in an orderly way. The result to be expected is a continuation of deficits that plague most OECD countries, accompanied by high real-interest rates."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

#really? 24. Coping with deflation

"While the experience of the nineteenth century proves that long-term growth can proceed apace even while deflation raises the value of money, business and investment strategies must be adjusted to the unfamiliar realities of deflation – that is, debt should be avoided; savings and cost reductions should be pursued with greater urgency; long-term contracts and compensation packages should probably be drawn with flexible nominal terms."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#really? 23. Cyber money

"The death of politics will mean the end of central bank regulation and manipulation of money. Cyber money will become the new money of the Information Age, replacing the money of Industrialism. This means not only a change in the fortunes of banknote printers; it implies the death of inflation as an effective means by which nation-states can commandeer resources. Real interest rates will tend to rise."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Monday, June 22, 2009

#really? 22. Falling asset prices

"Debt deflation may accompany the transition to the new millennium."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

#really? 21. Consumption reduction

"You should expect a slowdown or decline in per capita consumption in countries such as the United States, which have been the leading consumers of the world’s products in the late stages of industrialism."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

#really? 20. Retainers to the rich

"As Professor Guy Bois observed in his history, The Transformation of the Year One Thousand: The Village of Lournand from Antiquity to Feudalism
, “in a period of increasing difficulties, the weaker elements in the social body tend to polarize around a rising star.” In the transformation of the year two thousand, the rising star will be the Sovereign Individual. As the nation-state system breaks down, risk-averse persons who formerly would have sought employment with government may find an alternative in affiliating as retainers to the very rich."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Friday, June 19, 2009

#really? 19. Wealth produced by knowledge

"Control over resources will shift away from the state to persons of superior skills and intelligence, as more wealth will be created by adding knowledge to products."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#really? 18. Digital servants

"Many members of regulated professions will be displaced by digital servants employing interactive information-retrieval systems."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#really? 17. Contract work

"“Jobs” will increasingly become tasks or “piece work” rather than positions within an organization."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#really? 16. Using agents

"As a relative performance becomes more important than absolute output in determining compensation, an ever more important occupation will be that of the agent, not merely for the highly paid performer, like a football star or an opera singer, but also for persons of modest skills, who may welcome help in landing a paying position."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Situational Leadership

Barry is not one of those guys you have to close manage to get things done. In fact, the challenge is to stop him working too hard! We were talking this morning about "Situational Leadership" and the importance of changing style based on the maturity of the individual, and their competence or familiarity with the task.

  1. Tell what to do and how to do it (give clear directions, follow-up and feedback)
    when the members of the group are
    • New and inexperienced
    • Have little knowledge or ability
    • Or if they lack confidence

  2. Sell (explain decisions and give opportunities for clarification)
    when the members of the group are
    • Somewhat experienced
    • Need help "buying into" decisions
    • Need coaching about how to do the task
  3. Participate (share ideas, help in decision making, encourage & compliment)
    when the members of the group are
    • Know how to do the job, but lack self-confidence
    • Need to share decision-making with each other and the leader
  4. Delegate (turn over responsibility and allow members to carry out decisions)
    when the members of the group are
    • Quite experienced
    • Capable of doing the job
    • Want to do the job
    • Are responsible for directing their own affairs

#really? 15. Income stability & equality

"Incomes will become more unequal within jurisdictions but more equal between them. Countries with a tradition of a very unequal distribution of incomes may be relatively more stable under these conditions than those jurisdictions where strong expectations of income equality have developed in the Industrial period."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

#really? 14. Virtual corporations

"Corporations in the Information Age will increasingly become “virtual corporations” – bundles of contracting relations without any material reality, and perhaps without physical assets. The virtual corporation should be domiciled with an offshore trust to minimize tax liabilities."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

#really? 13. Offshore businesses

"Where possible, all businesses should be domiciled offshore in a tax-haven jurisdiction. This is particularly important for Websites and Internet addresses, where there is virtually no advantage in locating in an on-shore, high-tax jurisdiction."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lessons from a light switch

I used to think that becoming a Christian was as simple as flicking on the light switch: it's either 'off' or 'on'; you're following Jesus, or you're not; you're going to heaven, or to hell.

Now I realize that the truth is more complex: it's more like turning on a "dimmer" switch (why are they "dimmers" when they make the bulb brighter?!)

With a dimmer switch, there's a point when the light is off and there's no electric current flowing. You're not a Christian, yet. Turn the switch past the click point and, if that's all you do, the bulb hardly shines with any brightness (but if you stick your fingers where the light bulb goes then you meet Jesus sooner than otherwise!).

But, the bulb is pretty useless if it's kept on its absolute minimum setting. The switch needs to be turned to make the bulb brighter. In the same way, my question is whether I'm shining more brightly for Jesus this year compared to last; this month rather than last month; am I more like Jesus today than yesterday?

Just as the light switch can't turn itself on, so we need the operation of God's grace in our lives. After all, no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' without His help; and we can't be transformed into the likeness of Jesus unless we let the Holy Spirit have free reign to change us.

#really? 12. Encryption importance

"Encryption will be an important feature of commerce on the Web and the realization of individual autonomy. You should acquire and begin using strong encryption immediately. Just as the church attempted to ban printing at the twilight of the Middle Ages, so the United States and other aggressive governments bent on control will seek to bar effective encryption. As happened five centuries ago, this may merely drive the taboo technology into areas where the writ of established authority is weakest; assuring that it will be put to its most subversive use in undermining state control everywhere."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Business Conduct Guidelines

IBM was my first employer out of University. Before starting work I had to sign to agree to work in accordance with the company's Business Conduct Guidelines, a short document laying out compliance with laws and good ethics, and ensuring that the company's relationships are built on trust.

Each year of my employment I had to sign to confirm my continued compliance; and I saw colleagues, even very senior ones, lose their job if they broke the guidelines because IBM takes these things seriously. For example, Business Conduct Guidelines says that IBM staff will not sell by 'disparaging the competition.' You won't see IBM running 'attack ads' so widely practiced by other companies.

My colleagues are now taking IBM's Business Conduct Guidelines as a starting point to draft our own document: it may cost us more, and in the short-term it's a big investment for us to task such a senior member of the team with this as a priority, but we believe that doing business right is vital to our ethical success.

#really? 11. Cyber economy growing

"The fastest-growing and most important new economy of the next century will not be China but the cyber economy. To take full advantage of it, you will need to place your business or profession on the World Wide Web."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cashflow from Zero!

We have recently been introduced to several Christian millionaires and billionaires. They're interested and excited about what we are doing, and keen to become involved.

However, we believe that the Lord wants all the glory, and not just some of it. We've come to understand that if investors get involved then they get to say that, to some extent, they 'did' this. The Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her ..." (Judges 7:2) So in the same way, we believe He wants to bring us forward from, quite literally, an empty bank account!

We're trying to move from having a faith to living by faith!

#really? 10. Preferred jurisdictions

"Jurisdictions of choice in which to enjoy high living standards with economic opportunity include reform areas in the Southern hemisphere, such as New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina, which boast adequate to superior infrastructure and many beautiful landscapes and are unlikely to be targets of terrorists wielding nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

China mandates screening software on citizen PCs

China has defended the use of new screening software that has to be installed on all computers to 'filter out pornographic or violent material.' Critics have complained that it could also be used to stop Chinese internet users searching for politically sensitive information. Already, sites such as BBC China News and Yahoo are blocked within mainland China.

BBC NEWS | China defends screening software

#really? 9. Countries' fortunes

"The forty-eight least-developed countries, comprising some 550 million persons with per capita income of less than $500 per head, will have widely divergent fates in the Information Age. Most will become even more marginalized and desperate, providing a venue for only the most intrepid investors. But those that can overcome structural problems to preserve public health and order stand to benefit from rapid income growth."

This is another of the controversial implications from The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Is it really so?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ethics in business

Setting the highest standards of trustworthiness.

Regarding every business commitment to be as binding as an oath.

Believing in a quiet style of living, decent but frugal.

Avoiding quarrels.

Regarding war as always wrong.

Having a moral obligation to give fair value: high quality with moderate prices. (Low margin; high turnover)

These are some principles that I want to take forward into our own version of IBM's "Business Conduct Guidelines."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pushing forward

Which kind of captain are you? Do you turn away when you see the waves billowing; or do you steer straight ahead, even if it means going through the eye of the storm?

Today Jeremy said that each of these approaches is dangerous. He says there's a much better way that involves taking note of the prevailing conditions, but keeping on towards the strategic destination, even if there are some tactical changes to make in the meantime.

He thinks this is exactly how we're operating. And for me, that's great news!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Old Covenant, or New?

What we do for God, or what God does through us?

Today some of us were thinking about the difference between the covenant promises in Exodus 19-23 and the new promises that we have in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, described in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ...

Basically, the old way of living involves trying to impress God with the things we do, the way in which we uphold his rules. And most of us can probably manage to keep them for about fifteen minutes, on a good day!

The new way is acknowledges that "our sufficiency is from God" and that our life should be about letting Him work, in us and through us. It's a different way to run a business, but we're seeing the results! It's certainly exciting, and it's almost daily proof that God is real and interested in every detail of our life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What are friends worth?

Social network members purchase stuff differently:
  1. Low-status people (those 48% with few connections to others) do not imitate others, perhaps feeling that it will not help them gain more status; so what others in their social network do has no impact on their purchasing choices.
  2. High status people (12%) do not imitate others very much because they feel quite confident in their own judgment and are like those in the world of high fashion who choose to stand out from the masses. When others in the social network copy their purchasing patterns it tends to reduce their purchasing by a huge 14%
  3. It is only the 40% middle-status people who feel that social pressure to buy for the fear of falling in the social ranks. Here, it seems there's a 5% positive impact on purchasing choices as they "keep up with the Joness."
Recently Business Week has been asking "What is a friend worth?" Social networking sites and large advertisers can learn from this early research from Harvard Business School: members in the high status group have an influence on those in the middle status group for the diffusion of a new product. However, a successful diffusion in the middle status segment may make high status members lose interest in the new product. Find out more here

Champions: the fifth leg of a starfish network

As with the starfish, a decentralized network can lose one or two legs and still survive. But when you have all five legs working together, a decentralized network can really take off. In their book “The Starfish and the Spider” authors Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman identify five legs upon which a decentralized network stands:

Leg 5 – The Champion The Champion is a restless pioneer in promoting a new idea. Catalysts are charismatic, but champions take the necessary steps to move the network forward to the next level. Catalysts inspire and naturally connect people, but there is nothing subtle about the Champion.

Characteristics include:
  • A natural people person and a good salesman
  • Able to draw people in and make them feel comfortable
  • People are fascinated by the excitement and charm of the Champion
  • Naturally passionate and lively
  • Tenacious, will not stop or let go until they have won or they are the best at what they do
  • Do not do anything half way
  • Inherently hyperactive and operate well in non-hierarchical environments
  • Tend to be more like salesmen than organizers or connectors; but, as a salesman, they help people get involved in some type of structure or activity
When a Catalyst joins up with a Champion to architect a movement, create self-empowered circles, tap into an ideology whose time has come, and draw upon a pre-existing network, they can change the course of history.

See also

Monday, May 25, 2009

Free speech: Blocking social networks

"Iran has blocked access to social networking site Facebook ahead of June's presidential elections," according to the BBC News.

Clearly there's an implication here for free speech in Iran; but is there a broader principle involved? As we come to rely more and more upon social media technologies such as Facebook and Twitter how do we remember how to do things the 'old way' if suddenly access is removed? And as more and more of our life is digitally recorded, are we right to fear the invasion of privacy?

Today my family watched the movie "Eagle Eye" and we were struck by Executive Producer Steven Spielberg's nightmare vision of computer databases linked to CCTV cameras and a rogue artificial intelligence getting out of hand ... it's a familiar Sci-Fi plot with roots older than 2001: A Space Odyssey but as a society we're still rushing headlong towards this vision.

Pre-existing networks: the fourth leg of a starfish network

As with the starfish, a decentralized network can lose one or two legs and still survive. But when you have all five legs working together, a decentralized network can really take off. In their book “The Starfish and the Spider” authors Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman identify five legs upon which a decentralized network stands:

Leg 4 – The Pre-Existing Network Almost every decentralized network that has made it big was launched from a pre-existing platform. But gaining entrance into a pre-existing network is not as simple as just showing up with a good idea. Centralized organizations are not setup to launch decentralized movements. Without Circles, there is not the infrastructure for people to get involved and take ownership of a new idea. Circles provide the vehicle to put people together in a close-knit community of empowered members with shared values and a belief that everyone is equal. Loose knit social networks provide the ideal breeding ground for decentralized circles and typically have a higher tolerance for innovation. Typically it takes the special skills of the Catalyst entering the social network to birth a decentralized movement, but today the Internet also provides an ideal launch pad for new starfish networks, by enabling rapid and simple communication and active participation.

See also

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Don't be anxious

I like the New Living Translation of Philippians 4:6, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done."

Like the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 where he tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and to receive God's daily provision for today, these words are familiar to all who have been a Christian for some time.

But they get right to the heart of our faith: if we continue to worry then we have a limited view of God, of who He is, and of His love and power to provide for us. The consequence of living this way is that the best that can be said is that we have a faith, rather than living by faith. Living by faith is not easy, it's a journey, even a battle. It's certainly a constant set of choices to live in a certain sort of way. Merely having a faith as a lifestyle accessory is much less demanding, but it's not how Christians are meant to live.

Ideology: the third leg of a starfish network

As with the starfish, a decentralized network can lose one or two legs and still survive. But when you have all five legs working together, a decentralized network can really take off. In their book “The Starfish and the Spider” authors Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman identify five legs upon which a decentralized network stands:

Leg 3 – Ideology Ideology is the glue that holds decentralized networks together. It is more than a sense of community or the desire to create a better world. It is a common set of beliefs or values that inspire members to fight and sacrifice of themselves for a common cause. These common beliefs define the norms or values of the network, which in turn, dictate the cultural DNA. Since there is no central command and control structure in a decentralized network, a clearly defined ideology is central to controlling behaviors. The greater the common cause and the stronger the ideology, the longer the network will last.

See also

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Catalysts: the second leg of a starfish network

As with the starfish, a decentralized network can lose one or two legs and still survive. But when you have all five legs working together, a decentralized network can really take off. In their book “The Starfish and the Spider” authors Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman identify five legs upon which a decentralized network stands:

Leg 2 – The Catalyst A Catalyst is any element or compound that initiates a reaction without fusing into that reaction. In a decentralized organization, a Catalyst is a person who initiates a reaction and gets the organization going and then fades into the background by ceding control to the members. In letting go of the leadership role, the Catalyst transfers ownership and responsibility to the circle or decentralized organization. Once the Catalyst moves on, however, their presence is still felt as they provide the inspirational motivation to continue to spur others to action.

Additional characteristics of the Catalyst include:
  • Develops an idea, shares it with others, leads by example
  • They trust the community and let go of the organization
  • Often they are not aware of who is doing what in the organization as they are focused outward
  • Casual acquaintances fascinate them, and they are always trying to connect people
  • They are good at navigating complex social networks
  • Very comfortable at any level of engagement in influential circles
  • They never work on commissions – easier to be ethically pure, introductions are more long-term
  • They have fun meeting and helping new people. They always ask “How can I help this person?”
  • Mobilize people by sharing inspirational stories
  • They are never pushy but work to try to understand you
  • Mission oriented, not command and control or objective driven.
Most Catalysts draw upon similar tools to operate and get the job done. Catalysts’ tools include:
  • Genuine interest in others - No one is boring; everyone is like a walking novel, because they care!
  • Loose connections – They establish a loose social network with thousands of people. They are able to socially connect people into the network wherever they go.
  • Mapping – When they meet new people, they immediately begin mapping out how they fit into their vast social network.
  • Desire to help – wanting to help is the fuel that drives a Catalyst’s ability to connect.
  • Passion – A Catalyst provides the inspirational drum beat for a decentralized organization because it cannot rely on command and control to motivate participants, it needs a strong and ongoing ideology to keep them going.
  • Meet people where they are – You follow a Catalyst because he understands you.
  • Emotional Intelligence – Intellectually brilliant, but they tend to lead with emotions. Emotional connections come first.
  • Trust – With a decentralized organization, you never know what people are going to do. You can’t control the outcomes. All you can control is whether or not people have personal relationships with each other based on trust. Catalysts build trust throughout the network and the community.
  • Inspiration – They are passionate about believing in the big dream and it is not about them. It is not for personal gain. They have a natural ability to inspire people to action.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity – They do not know, nor really care who is doing what in the organization. They trust the community. The more decentralized, the less that is known. Starfish organizations need ambiguity to survive. It creates a platform for creativity and innovation.
  • Hands-off approach – Once a Catalyst gets an organization going, they back off and cede control. People may get frustrated and say, “What are we supposed to be doing?” This leads people to take charge and have a high level of ownership.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Two-year storing of car journey details

A UK database is storing details of car journeys undertaken on British roads for up to two years, according to a BBC News report. A national network of CCTV cameras is being linked together with a centralized database, including cameras that monitor major roads and intersections together with those operated by local city authorities ...

And the country's Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, whose job it is to protect personal data, has concerns about the lack of regulation. He said: "There's very little monitoring. I mean, my office has very limited powers. We have very limited resources. We are not actively monitoring that area. You're right to ask the question. No one's checking it at the moment"

Circles : the first leg of a starfish network

As with the starfish, a decentralized network can lose one or two legs and still survive. But when you have all five legs working together, a decentralized network can really take off. In their book “The Starfish and the Spider” authors Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman identify five legs upon which a decentralized network stands:

Leg 1 – Circles Circles are important to nearly every decentralized network. They provide the vehicle for independent and autonomous operation:
  • Once you join, you are an equal. It's then up to you to contribute to the best of your ability. People commit to what they help create.
  • Virtual Circles are much larger, but the bonding is lower. Being in the physical presence of others creates more ownership and bonding, which produces a great level of trust.
  • Circles are not lawless, they depend on norms or values. Clearly defined and inculcated norms (or values) control behaviors.
  • When ordinary people are organized into Circles or cells, they gain immense power.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Starfish and Spiders

Superficially, starfish look like spiders. A spider is a creature with eight legs coming out of a central body. If you chop off the spider’s head, it dies. It could maybe survive without a leg or two, and probably even stand to lose a couple of its eight eyes, but it certainly couldn’t survive without its head. The spider has a centralized control system that is similar to most organizations.

A starfish, at first glance, is similar to a spider in appearance. Like the spider, the starfish appears to have a bunch of legs coming out of a central body. But the starfish is decentralized. It does not have a head. Its central body is not even in charge. In fact, the major organs are replicated throughout each and every leg. If you cut the starfish in half, the animal doesn’t die, it regenerates.

Similar to the starfish, there are a host of emerging organizations that function in a decentralized manner like the starfish. Examples include such entities as Visa, Skype, Craig’s List, Wikipedia, Alcoholics Anonymous and Apache Software, to name a few.

See also
More at

The lazy approach to privacy

"Social networking sites often take a lazy approach to user privacy, doing what's simpler rather than what is correct." Researchers from England's University of Cambridge have found that photographs that they had uploaded to seven out of sixteen popular social networking sites were still accessible via their direct URL even thirty days after the user had deleted the photograph. The researchers commented that "privacy must be a design constraint, not a legal add-on."

BBC NEWS UK Websites 'keeping deleted photos':

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pricing ideas

Service agencies sell ideas, not time, and ideas should be generously compensated. This idea comes from Ron Baker's "Pricing on Purpose" and is a challenge to the currently accepted practice of billable hours used by law firms, accounting and consulting practices, advertising agencies and such.

Expect to see an increasing move towards payments for results in this challenging economy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Partnership provision

We got confirmation this morning from software developers in the Ukraine that they will give us a product that they have developed. We will "skin" it to make it fit with our environment and should be able to bring it to market really very soon.

We agree with them that they will continue to build out and enhance their market-leading offering and to work with us on into the future.

This seems an amazing and pretty much perfect application of the "division of labor" principle that 18th century economist Adam Smith explored in "The Wealth of Nations". They have extensive experience in some arcane and technically complex fields.

It's best for them to focus on being world leaders in their field. We can focus on bringing their product to our market along side our other offerings. We are just astounded that they would work with us in his way and take a chance on us!

Radical truth-telling

Can we believe the New York Times when it reports that 91% of people regularly do not tell the truth? There's something ironic about the precision of the statistic!

But today some of us met to consider the erosion of truth-telling in Western society. Greg Griffin told us that the class of 2001 believed 79% of their grandparents' generation would tell the truth compared to only 68% of their parents' generation and just 25% of their contemporaries!

This is an issue that's live and practical and difficult for lawyers, for sales people, car mechanics, teachers, politicians, parents - and human beings in general.

Like alcoholics, the first step to recovery is to admit that I do not always tell the whole truth. J.I. Packer wrote, "A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth!" And Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that the very existence of oaths is proof of the existence of lies.

I want to "let my 'yes' simply be 'yes'" and monitor my promises to establish credibility and so that others can count on us to follow through on what we say we will do.

Not being evil

Google famously has a motto, "Don't be evil" yet the company's Street View service has been kicking up a bit of controversy. The service has a car equipped with cameras driving the public streets preparing Internet information so that online users can use Google Maps to look at a 360 view of a location without visiting for real.

I can pretty much understand why the Pentagon should ban Google from the area around US military bases.

But recently UK householders have blocked the Google vehicle, believing that the street view makes crime more likely. Today we get reports that the data protection authority in Greece is also deciding whether to allow the photography in their country.

What am I missing? Why is this an issue when Google indexes phone book entries and so much other information? Why is Street View more dangerous than allowing Gmail to store, index and serve advertisements tailored to the context of emails?

More help possible?

Driving home from the office this afternoon I got a call from a UK-based specialist in
Information Management offering his help in the projects we are engaged in.

He's recently retired and 'adequately provided for' so this could be yet another example of the Lord bringing alongside us those who can help in the journey.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mobile development

Just had a great meeting with an iPhone developer who has asked us for a specification, will develop the application, and then take a slice of the revenue ... But it means we might be able to get a parallel software development track, even whilst we are cash-constrained in this start up phase.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lessons from a potter's wheel

At a meeting today a potter made a vase and talked through some lessons. He was Dale Forton from Hallmark and had a number of profound points to make:
  • He works with clay which can either be soft and pliable, or hard and unmoving
  • The clay can only be worked when it's surrendered to the potter's skill
  • Clay is a messy thing to work with!
  • Clay can be broken; but at various stages it can also be restored
  • It's either 'soft', 'leather hard' where it holds its shape but can still be worked, or 'hard' when its transformation is complete
  • At some point the clay has to stand firm and be what it's designed to be, serving its purpose at the right time

In making a new project

  • The potter starts with a vision, a plan and a sketch deciding and documenting what the function of the pot will be. The designer has this vision and plan from the beginning
  • 'Wedging' clay is like kneading bread to get out all the imperfections such as air bubbles that might cause the pot to crack in the kiln later. It's an essential, if boring and unexciting, first step
  • Next the lump of clay is centered on the wheel, a process that takes skill and time and without which nothing else can go right
  • The potter then presses thumbs into the center of the clay. If the clay could feel this might be uncomfortable, even painful, but is the start of the transformation into purpose
  • He establishes the bottom of the pot, a firm foundation caused by pressing firmly so as not to crack the piece in the kiln
  • All the time, the master potter is thinking one step ahead, building on each step to reach the next
  • As he pulls the walls of the pot up from the clay base he at last begins to see something of the fulfilment of his plan
  • He employs a lot of tools, whether to shape or to trim, each one employed at the right time to accomplish his purpose. Trimming takes away the excess that's not needed, everything that would take away from the vision
  • 'Handwork' is the name the potter gives to finishing touches, whether a handle or decoration, that is applied when the piece is off the wheel. It's a labor of love that can take very many hours for a complex piece
  • Each stage serves the purpose necessary, we can't skip steps or the full transformation cannot reliably take place
  • The clay cannot change itself: it has to submit to the potter's hand which is in constant contact with it, sometimes with a soft touch, other times with firm pressure
  • The final step before the piece is fired in the heat of the kiln is for the potter to inscribe his name in the piece, taking responsibility or ownership, an acknowledgement that, in the potter's eyes at least, this piece is not only fit for purpose but perfect!

Lessons from Lego bricks

Years back my 7-year old son came rushing up to me with a model that he'd built out of Lego bricks. He was excited and started explaining, "Daddy, here's where the pilot gets in; and here's where the laser shoots out..."

Suddenly I saw life from a new perspective: I realized that my son, the creator, had a perfect understanding of how his creation was meant to work. I began to think about those Lego bricks:

  • The bricks have no intelligence, self-awareness or understanding, by comparison with the creator.
  • Each brick on its own is fairly unexciting. They only really become useful in combination with others.
  • It's not the job of the Lego model to get going, or decide where to go.
  • Once sent scooting across the floor it will keep going until it either hits something or runs out of momentum. Then it's the creator's job to get it moving again, wherever he wants it.
  • The bricks can be taken apart and put back together in a different way to achieve something new.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An odd way of doing business

My friend Robin once asked me whether I'd ever prayed something along the lines of, "Lord, let what I do count for the Kingdom, but so that you get the glory, not me!"

When I said I had she smiled ruefully and explained that her husband Rick had also done this. It seems, she said, that the Lord answers this prayer by bringing us both to the point of admitting that our own resources are not enough to accomplish the tasks before us. In the words of Shania Twain, "That don't impress me much!"

Years back I realized that Jesus is either Lord of everything or nothing. There is no middle ground. But my life since has been one of having to learn how to put that realization into practice, and it's not easy. I keep wanting to take back control.

It's certainly not the usual way of doing business where we push through obstacles through force of will or application of money, technology or other resources; and are quick to claim the credit.

As we form and run a business, how do we keep this realization alive and meaningful?

Monday, May 4, 2009

UK's "secret plan to carry on snooping"

Reporting a secret plan to carry on snooping The Sunday Times writes that an "internet-monitoring network will shift the focus of the surveillance state away from a few hundred targeted people to everyone in the UK," representing a "step change in the agency's powers of surveillance."

The UK government has backed down on plans for a centralized database of 'big brother' surveillance. However, Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the announcement appeared to be a “smokescreen”. GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre, is developing classified technology to intercept and monitor all e-mails, website visits and social networking sessions in Britain. The agency will also be able to track telephone calls made over the internet, as well as all phone calls to land lines and mobiles.

“We opposed the big brother database because it gave the state direct access to everybody’s communications. But this network of black boxes achieves the same thing via the back door,” Chakrabarti said. Liberty has produced a comprehensive background briefing. And the controversy has produced a rare press release from GCHQ claiming the agency "does not spy at will!"

Meanwhile, computer security veteran Phil Zimmerman warns about the seductive nature of technology for businesses and governments, saying that the UK risks sliding unwittingly into a police state because of the growing use of surveillance technology. More here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Strategic planning

19 out of 33 major strategic plans went off course, according to a 1984 Business Week survey. That must have been pretty discouraging for the international consultancies building a strategic planning business!

Does that mean we shouldn't plan strategically? Business Week clarified their claim in 2008.

I think planning is something we all do anyway, even if just going to Walmart to buy milk:
  1. Firstly, the reason for the journey (with its inevitable costs) has to outweigh the benefit of staying on the couch: we need to get a good answer to Why?
  2. Next, we need to know Where we're going. We can know this with GPS accuracy and beyond, down to a particular chiller cabinet at the back of the store. And where are we coming from?
  3. Only when we know where we're going from and to can we work on the next step, which is How. We can change the route, in the light of new information, even the 'method of transport', but the Why and Where don't ever change!
  4. Having worked on the How we can fill in the Who: we might need specialist skills (such as a helicopter pilot!) for parts of the journey.
  5. Finally, we can work on the When because the people involved in the project come with constraints on their availability!
So that's it, strategic project planning in a single blog post! What more is needed?!