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Archive for October, 2008

10 Years of The Cluetrain

Thursday, October 30th, 2008
If you have not had the opportunity to read , I suggest you take the time to do so. You can read the entire book online for free. Cluetrain is coming up on ten years old, which is amazing in its own way, but what is important here is how absolutely relevant the manifesto and its strong messages around markets being conversations still are. Messages like:
“People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.”
The Cluetrain Manifesto, Thesis 11
Seriously, read it. I’ve even embedded the book as slides here for your convenience:
View SlideShare or your own. (tags: )

Challenges for New Leaders – Intensified

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Everybody is being tested right now. The state of the economy being but one of many forces acting on modern business, leaders within companies find themselves operating increasingly in uncharted waters and dealing with operational realities that had previously, in many ways, been inconceivable. And yet, deal with them they must. Business always demands tough decisions and decisive action, but the present seems to be intensely unforgiving of hesitation, confusion, and inexperience. These challenges must be doubly difficult for those new in positions of leadership, especially as those around them look desperately for guidance and indications that everything is going to be fine.

I just read a brief but interesting article at the site for the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. succinctly outlines some of the more frequent challenges to new leadership, challenges that are being magnified by the realities we all now are attempting to navigate. I am sure that we have all seen manifestations of each of these with those we work with, with the leaders of the companies we know well. That, and the headlines at present seem to itemize daily the consequences of failed leadership. As a starting point, below are the seven things that surprise new CEO’s from the article:

  1. You can’t run the company – You are too deeply entwined in operations, involved in too many meetings and tactical decisions.
  2. Giving orders is very costly – You are the bottleneck in the decision process and your employees feel obligated to consult you before they act.
  3. It is hard to know what is really going on – You keep hearing things that surprise you and you do not hear them directly. Often, you are learning about situations after the fact.
  4. You are always sending a message – Stories about your behavior magnify or distort reality and people seem to always be attempting to anticipate your likes and dislikes.
  5. You are not the boss – You do not know where you stand with board members, and roles between the board and management are not clear. The discussions in board meetings are limited mostly to reporting on results and management’s decisions.
  6. Pleasing shareholders is not the goal Executives and board members judge actions by the effect on stock price and management incentives are disproportionately tied to stock price.
  7. You are still only human – Your lifestyle is more lavish or privileged than that of other top executives in the company and you have few if any activities not connected to the company.

One overriding theme pointed out in the article is that we need to look closely at how the role of CEO is defined. My take is that this is not a position that we need invested in operations and tactical planning for the organization. It is a position that needs to set, nurture, and monitor the strategic direction for the company while mentoring the executive team for success with their individual responsibilities, and for success in working together as a team. It is a position that needs to embody the culture of the organization, and act as role model for the behavior, management style, and vision that the company requires to be successful in the marketplace over the long term. The CEO is a role that needs to own the long view, that plans for and relentlessly pursues the five and ten year plans, while holding others accountable for the successful day-to-day operations of the organization and for quarterly and yearly performance.

To the point of the article’s authors, successful leadership will come from becoming absorbed in the best definition of the role, by maintaining personal balance, and by staying grounded. This may mean being clear about your own strengths and weaknesses, working to maximize the former and compensate for the latter. Additionally, it is important that the position does not confer the right to lead and that this is something that is, and always will be, an earned position based on effectiveness. A position that can be taken away by failed leadership, investors, the markplace, or organizational dysfunction. Ultimately, only by working through all of this and being honest with oneself will a CEO find success in leading an organization through challenges.

Cassini-Huygens. Relentless. Awesome.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Saturn\'s moon Enceladus shot by Cassini on February 16, 2005 with the atmosphere of Saturn as a backdrop.

That I am absolutely fascinated by the exploration of Saturn and its moons being conducted by the is no mystery. There is the fire hose of discovery that Cassini is beaming back to us, discovery that is changing the way we think about our solar system and how it was formed. As if that alone is not enough to justify this mission of space exploration, there is the incredible imagery sent back to blow our minds like the image above of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, shown with the atmosphere of Saturn in the background, captured by Cassini back in 2005, and images like these:

The image above, taken by Cassini on March 12, 2008, provides us great detail of the pock-marked surface of Enceladus. Contrast this image of Enceladus to this one:

This image shows the deep canyon feature of Enceladus and is noticeably missing the impact craters of the previous image. The picture above was snapped by Cassini earlier this month on October 12th.

These images, and more, can be viewed in incredible resolution at .

Vito Acconci’s Manifesto: Dualities, Tension, and The Architecture of Fairy Tales

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Back in 2002 I had the opportunity to attend the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA). The event was an incredible mix of design professions, creative leaders, and visionaries. Among the more memorable on the list of presenters was . Acconci’s presentation was an arcing review of the work and thinking of his studio, and gave us a window into the creative process used to conceive some of the more conceptually challenging work I had experienced up to that point. Simultaneous with the conference was an installation of the diversity of work by Vito Acconci at a local gallery, which was an appropriate exclamation point to Acconci’s provocative presentation at IDCA. I had a chance to meet Acconci at the conference, and greatly enjoyed our brief conversation about the thin boundary between conceptual and real, and how the effectiveness of crossing that boundary is defined by our own ability to effectively communicate what it is we intend to do, and how exactly we intend to do it.

I bring up Vito Acconci because a couple of days ago I came across his manifesto, , from last year’s Icon Magazine Manifesto issue and it made me recall meeting Acconci at the conference. His manifesto articulates the dualities of the tensions in architecture and the built environment today:

“It is the best of architectural times, it is the worst of architectural times. It’s the age of lightness, of fluid architecture; it’s the age of architecture that’s only constructed into forms of fluidity and lightness that themselves remain solid and heavy. It’s the epoch of architecture that emerges and grows as a living creature; it’s the epoch of architecture that only looks as if it emerges and grows, that only looks like a living creature. It’s the era of sensual architecture; it’s the era of an architecture of visual affects. It’s the season of virtual architecture, science-fiction architecture; it’s the season of architecture that, when built, comes tumbling back down to earth. It’s the spring of code-writing and computational architecture; it’s the winter of generic architecture generated by and justified by numbers. We architects and designers practice operations now that will make architects ultimately unnecessary, we anticipate architecture that designs itself; in the meantime, we’re narrowed down to the chosen few starchitects. We architects and designers harness multiple complexities; all the while we refine complication into elegance, we revive aesthetics, we do something that smells like art, we resort to taste and sophistication, we tag onto an ‘upper class.’ We architects and designers make places for people; but the more parameters we use to design, the less our design-process can be read in the places we build – if people can’t ‘get’ the buildings we make, then those buildings are meant to appear as a force of nature, and we expect from people only belief”

Vito Acconci –

Understanding Millennials

Friday, October 24th, 2008

from on .

Another learning opportunity for the misguided university president that I posted about earlier. Generation Y, the millennials, generation WE… start getting to know them now as they are going to be a force to be reckoned with for all of us that came before. I loved this video. Wants You to Understand Global Warming. So Do The Rest of Us.

Friday, October 24th, 2008

In 1989 wrote . He was among the first to illuminate for the rest of us the risks and perils of climate change. The animation above is a recent effort to help us understand the gravity of the global warming crisis, and how important it is to control our carbon dioxide output as individuals, families, companies, cities, states, nations… all of us. The stakes are very, very high.

At present, the atmosphere of our planet is up around 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide. This is not only of concern, it is potentially catastrophic. In order to avoid the prospects of global catastrophe, as a global community we need to reduce this number to 350 parts per million.

Watch the video above. It’s a powerful animation in what it communicates, and how well it does so without language. It’s a global concern.

Rhea Dwarfed by Saturn

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Definitely a beautiful image of Saturn’s second largest moon, Rhea, with the backdrop of Saturn’s murky atmosphere as Rhea “floats” above it. The black line is Saturn’s ring plane which Cassini has captured essentially head-on, about one degree above the ring plane. This image offers an incredible sense of the scale between Saturn and Rhea.

Found this image . I have written previously about Saturn’s icy moon Rhea, check it out.

Where Does Our Oil Come From?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Really interesting piece at that looks closely at where the United States imports its oil from. We are constantly told that the largest exporters of oil to the U.S. are Canada and Mexico. But, we also export refined petroleum products back to both nations, and when you net out exports Mexico falls down to the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States, presently just ahead of Iraq.

Saying What We’re Feeling

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

“I’ve never been a big hippiefied ’60s nostalgist, but after all we’ve been through lately, to have the *1990s* back… would that rock, or what?”

Bruce Sterling – Author and Futurist

Via Sterling’s blog .

Magnetic Fields Made Visible

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

from on .

A pretty incredible film shot at NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories at UC Berkeley that does an excellent job visually describing the magnetic fields of the sun. We’re surrounded by them, as well as a complexity of other magnetic fields, and it is interesting to think that as we move through our environments we are moving through the intricate patterns made by these fields.

Check out for more information on magnetic fields and the making of this film. Also, from the same group that did the film above, there is the video below which has taken the enormous library of images from solar astronomy and pieced them together into gorgeous time-lapse photography that captures some of the stunning activity happening on the surface of the sun. At about four minutes the video below gets really, really interesting and relates strongly to my previous post The Surface of A Star:

from on .

Getting Millennials Right. And Wrong.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The video above was shared with me by a colleague with whom I discussed this post, which I have been mulling over for about a month. The video is from a project by professor and 200 of his students at Kansas State University. A few weeks ago I attended a board meeting at which the president of a local university gave a presentation on “getting” generation Y, or . The board of directors is mostly comprised of individuals between the ages of 45-70 (and 90% male), I am by far the youngest person on the board being just outside that age range by a few years (and a gen X’er myself). As the presentation was announced there was a lot of murmuring, nodding of heads, and apparent agreement that this group definitely does not understand this new generation of young people, the generation that is beginning to and will fill the ranks of each of their companies. There is a lot of pressure on millennials. There are over 80 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement with only just over 40 million gen X’ers behind them. This reality is going to mean that the millennials, estimated at around 75 million, will need to step up and fill the very important talent and leadership void left by all the retiring boomers. What was presented by the university president made me very uncomfortable. This is because her presentation seemed to be incredibly general, and largely critical of this generation. She focused on broad, strange statements like:

  • Millennials do not read newspapers
  • They do not read books
  • They do not use libraries
  • They would rather communicate via instant message than in person
  • They cannot relate to older generations (????)
  • They do not understand the Cold War (????)
  • They grew up on video games
  • They like to be entertained (????)

I added the question marks above to emphasize my own bewilderment with those statements. All of these are actual points offered in the presentation. I was shocked as none of these statements is meaningful in creating an understanding of the millennial generation, or of anything. They seem to be observations made in the context of contrasting the observation against a different experience, as if that experience is qualitatively better, when in reality it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. With regards to the reading of books, magazines, and newspapers I believe it is true that everybody is reading the printed manifestations of these less and less, hence the ongoing demise of printing and publishing as industries. Excuse me as I speak from my own experience, that of a gen X’er, when I say that I cannot remember the last time I actually held a paper newspaper, and yet I subscribe to the RSS feeds and hit the websites of probably no less than 4-5 newspapers daily. Add to this the websites and blogs of magazines and that number jumps to 10-15 per day. I would consider myself a moderate user. The university president attempts to make the case that millennials do not read. I would counter that they read, and that they probably read more than previous generations. They’re not reading the formats that previous generations grew up with, they’re taking advantage of this new information technology called the “internet”. Yes, the internet offers exponential ways to entertain, but it is also an incredibly efficient connection to information and the world around us. Does that even need to be said anymore? The university president does not talk about how millennials are using technology like RSS feeds (I subscribe to over 200 sites presently via RSS), or how they strengthen their connections and networks with instant messaging, or how they have essentially grown up with incredible technologies as commonplace. I doubt that she actually knows what an RSS feed is, which is frightening because at some level this university president is informing the curriculum for her school, and determining how students are going to be activated through education at her institution. As I was listening to this presentation I could not help but think that the standard being communicated and on which this analysis of a generation was being made, was completely and totally baseless and irrelevant to reality, to modernity, and to the way things have changed. This is dangerous, and to paint a generation with critique based on experiences that pre-date the information age is useless to all of us, but especially to an entire generation that is connected to information in ways that were inconceivable a decade ago.

It might help for people like this university president to watch this video, also by Michael Wesch:

Innovation and The Future of Peugeot

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The vehicle above is the Peugeot RD concept created by 25 year old Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar of Colombia and chosen as the winner for the recent , which ended back on September 15th. Like other automobile companies, Peugeot hosts these contests to open wider the search for innovations, vision, and ideas for the future of its products and while the RD will probably not actually be made, some of the smart innovations that it incorporates may very well inform the Peugeots of the immediate future. Some of the innovations in the RD concept are focused on shrinking the vehicle’s footprint, like the ability to fold and being single seat 3-wheeler, as shown below in a detailed rendering:

As of late there have been several automobile concepts that take advantage of folding functionality. This is a response to the reality of space constraints of navigating urban environments and the need for a smaller parking footprint. We’ve also seen more single seat concepts, a design approach that takes up less space, less material, and subsequently less weight. In many ways, the single seat concept is one that takes the great efficiencies of a motorcycle and wraps them in the safety and convenience of an automobile, making vehicles like the RD concept above seemingly ideally suited to urban commuting and meeting the needs of a flexible city car.

Better Than Coffee This Morning

Friday, October 17th, 2008

from on .

This video would be the first thing viewed via my RSS feed this morning, and it pretty much sums up my present attitude. Nothing like starting your day with a little Ferrari racing action. Grrr.

Video via at .

The Surface of a Star

Monday, October 13th, 2008

I have posted about the sun previously (here and here), but the images I came across today at stopped me in my tracks. Simply amazing. We’re seeing the surface of the sun, our sun, the surface of a star. Images like above, which captures a massive solar flare, and images like this:

This shows the magnetic structures of the sun and was taken by the in the back in 2003. Do yourself a favor and go to and see these images in larger scale (or at least click on them here to see them larger). They’re stunning. I mean, check this out:

You are seeing the roiling, molten surface in detail, the bubble shaped objects packed tight are called “granules”. The dark shape in the upper left is an irregularly shaped sunspot. These are all amazing to me, but then there is the as it projects over a billion tons of matter into space at over a million kilometers per hour:

I am wide-eyed. That is all.

Honda and The DNA of Innovation

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

That is (1906-1991), the founder of Honda, above in an image from 1963 when Honda was still somewhat of a fledgling company, though already a powerful innovator. He is sitting on one of the many racing cars, this one for Formula 1, that Honda was developing at the time, and not because racing for Honda was a marketing exercise. At the time most of Honda’s attention had been focused on motorcycles, and it was in 1963 that Honda became the best selling motorcycle in the United States. Moving into automobiles was the next priority for the company, and only as an innovator. As Honda began building cars, so it also started racing them, just as it had been doing successfully with motorcycles (in 1966 Honda won the Constructors Championship and all five motorcycle Grand Prix classes). For Soichiro Honda, racing IS Honda, the ideal environment for Honda’s engineers, designers, and leaders to be challenged, to innovate and address situations, problems, and opportunities in a way that ultimately benefits the entire culture of the organization. This approach is not an ancillary element of Honda culture as Mr. Honda succeeded in making racing synonymous with the culture of Honda. He had been a successful racer himself, winning and setting longstanding speed records in the 1930’s, and understood intimately that the passion for winning in motorsports can translate into product innovation and market success. Previously, I had written about innovation at Honda and touched on the racing culture of the company. Just recently, though, I had cause to dig deeper into how Honda’s passion for racing has informed the entire company, and lead to innovations across the comprehensive product range that Honda offers.

Several automobile manufacturers benefit from comprehensive racing programs. Think about BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, and Toyota. For each of these companies, as with Honda, R&D happens on the racetrack, and the successes from the track quickly make their way to the road, to the customer. For Honda, though, there is something deeper with regards to racing and innovation, and this is due to the place that Soichiro Honda ensured that racing held in corporate culture. More than the engineering benefits of a successful racing effort, Honda has imbued its entire culture with a passion for innovation that found its inception on the racetrack, but now touches and informs the development of robotics, aircraft, marine engines, and a long list of other products. Honda doesn’t just race cars and motorcycles, they race everything. Or, perhaps, it is accurate to say that for Honda everything is a race. For people like me, who share similar passions (and I have never owned a Honda product), it is windows into the Honda culture of racing and innovation, like below, that continue to earn my admiration and respect:

Video found at .

Anything Times Zero is Zero

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Last evening I watched the recent discussion about the economy and financial crisis between . Warren Buffet, who talks about the opportunities that this crisis presents to those with their money and wits about them, provides an incredibly succinct breakdown of how we got to this place, to the decisions that were made that resulted in such instability in the global markets.

The Three “i’s”

Buffet describes a progression to how good ideas can go bad. He called this progression the “three i’s,” with the first “i” being the innovators, those who originate new ideas having identified the opportunities that others had not seen. The next “i” would be the imitators, or those who attempt to replicate the successes of the innovators. Lastly, we have the idiots. The idiots, driven by greed and avarice, ultimately unwind innovations through blind determination to get rich. With regards to the global financial crisis, the issue is not with innovation, but with the rampant idiocy that followed that innovation. To Buffet’s point, the innovation in the financial system was very much about value creation, and the profit that results from this. The idiots sought to massively exploit the profitability piece of the equation, but this had the result of shutting off the creation of value, and ultimately created the financial bubble. This is an interesting and informing explanation on how we have arrived at the present. I suppose the challenge in moving beyond this is to get better at identifying the difference between the innovation and the immitation, and to subvert the potential influence of those who seek to exploit. Good luck to us all.

At about 22 minutes into the interview, Buffet starts talking about the danger of leverage and how much of what we face now has been caused by the collective abuse of leverage. On this, he points out:

“You can do smart things, but if you use leverage and you do one wrong thing it can wipe you out because anything times zero is zero.”

Warren Buffet

Getting Closer to Mercury

Friday, October 10th, 2008

This week, on October 6th, the robotic explorer made another intimate pass of the planet Mercury, getting as close as 125 miles, and delivered more stunning imagey. This flyby provided Messenger with a gravity assist to allow it to settle into Mercury’s orbit in March of 2011, being the first probe to do so. In the above two pairs of images, the top being from Messenger’s last flyby in January of this year, and the bottom being from the flyby this week, we get the opportunity to contrast two very detailed views of the planet. I’ve been following Messenger’s adventures with Mercury for awhile, and continue to get excited by what Messenger is sending back to us. I found the image above at .

Design Thinking, Divergent Thinking

Friday, October 10th, 2008

I have been wanting to post about the recent piece in the New York Times. It’s a brief article, but quickly gets to the heart of something seemingly being discussed everywhere for the last couple of years, the concept of design thinking. Reading the article made me recall the image above, which is a quick sketch done by Charles Eames to visually help him to explain design, and that was shown in the 1969 Louvre Show, “What is Design.” I like that we are still investigating what this means nearly thirty forty years later (1969 is my birth year, I was in denial…).

In the article I was excited to see Tim Brown of IDEO bring up the relationship between design thinking and divergence. He goes into more detail on design thinking as one of many approaches to problem solving, to business, on his own blog, which is aptly titled . This is what we are talking about, after all, and this is from where the value for business in design thinking emanates, this idea of divergence or divergent thinking. I was discussing this with a friend of mine who is an architect, and he proclaimed that this is how architects have been talking for awhile. Oh, really? Talking, probably, but acting on… not so much. In the article Brown goes on to say:

“Most business processes are about making choices from a set of existing alternatives. Clearly, if all your competition is doing the same, then differentiation is tough. In order to innovate, we have to have new alternatives and new solutions to problems, and that is what design can do.”

This, however, is not what you are seeing in the business of architecture. Nor have you seen this for a very, very long time. Sure, there are architects who embody this approach to their business and some of them are very, very successful. But as an industry, as a group, this hardly applies to the way that architects think. We have hardly seen the business model of architecture, or its approach to design, change in any significant way for decades, other than to see its influence in building culture be consistently reduced by other, smarter, more aggresive industries. The truth hurts, but this is where the opportunity for architecture clearly lies, on putting action to his words and actually applying divergent thinking to the architecture business model and making a determined effort to focus on innovation.

This post is a milestone for schneiderism, it being the 300th post since launch in July of 2007.

Preparing For The Worst.

Friday, October 10th, 2008

We’ve got a little bit of a financial struggle on our hands, no doubt about it. How things will resolve themselves is still very unclear to just about everybody. This is affecting confidence, planning, and decisions at every level of government, business, and society. Forget about the stock market for now, that’s been reduced to nothing but a moment-to-moment measurement of overreaction and rampant emotions. Wait, I guess the stock market has always been like that.

Given the intensity of the mess we find ourselves in, many of the venture capital firms have been calling “CEO all hands” meetings for those who lead the companies in their portfolios. The meeting of Sequoia Capital’s CEO group was earlier this week, and the presentation for that meeting, shown above with its dark humor intro slide, is making its way around because it succinctly drives home the need for one very important strategy: Prepare for the worst.

“My attitude is batten down the hatches… it is going to be a rough ride.”

Douglas Leone of Sequoia Capital

When events are fluid, unpredictable, and at best volatile the appropriate strategy is to secure what you can, make the hard decisions, prepare for a worst case scenario, and ready yourself to take advantage of when situations begin to improve. The appropriate strategy is to do what is required right now to ensure your company is around on the other side. Prudent advice, indeed. What is important here, though, is not so much the practical reality of that advice as much as how well Sequoia Capital’s presentation above provides such an effective situation analysis to justify it. Next step, focus on the facts and remove emotion from our collective thinking on these matters.

Found the slideshow above via .

The Biggest Computer Grid in The World

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Previously, I posted about the Large Hadron Collider (here and here) and how upon completion it became the most complex machine ever built by mankind. The LHC was successfully tested just a few weeks ago, and despite some minor setbacks recently is set to deliver a treasure trove of information to researchers about the earliest moments of the universe over the next year.

As part of this research, and to enable the analysis of huge, huge amounts of data, a collaborative approach has been taken to create a virtual computer capable of this task. This analysis will be mankind’s biggest data challenge, and on October 3rd the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid came online, becoming the largest computer grid in the world. This grid is comprised of 140 computer centers in 33 countries and will have the capability of processing, analyzing, and managing over 15 million gigabytes of information from the LHC each year.

This collaborative, networked approach not only makes this complex analysis possible, but it allows a diversity of research groups globally to participate and benefit from the information generated by the LHC experiments.

This networked grid of computers would seem to align with my Network is The Computer post from a few weeks ago.

More information at .