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.