Tag Archives: Technology

THE TYRANNY OF THE TELEPHONE

SmartphoneVERBATIM – Transcribed from a recording by Loop Lonagan

Everywhere I go, people bow their heads over their smartphones or hug ’em to their face like they’s worshiping pagan idols. And maybe that’s not far from the truth. It looks dumb. It rude. And a guy could walk into a truck. Nowadays you can’t have a decent conversation without getting interrupted five times by a phone call or text.

One time, long ago, an exec answered a call in the middle of our meeting. After I waited three days to see this guy in person, some yahoo calls up and takes front stage. That’s The Tyranny of the Telephone. That little incident happened before cell phones. Now it’s worse—we carry the little tyrants around in our pockets 24/7. Pretty soon these things is gonna be waterproof so we can carry ‘em in the shower—even take ‘em to the beach. I can picture some new venture raising money to make special smartphone holders for soap racks. With the screens growing in size, I wanna see ‘em try and develop a pocket to fit a string bikini.

Yeah, I know it—I’m no different from anybody else. I’ll remember to confess that to the Padre this week along with a buncha stuff I can’t talk about here. See, I’m what’s called an early adopter. Already on my third smartphone. Anyhow, I gotta get off this train of thought and focus on this speaker I came to hear.

HUGH JEDWILL on the FUTURE OF MOBILE

Hugh Jedwill, CEO of Mobile AnthemI’m listenen’ to a really smart guy talk about mobile tech. This ain’t no Madison Avenue sharpie. Guys got a shaggy pony tail. Roudy jeans. Nice sport jacket, though—just enough to show you he’s here on business. Looks like California big venture money–those guys dress like street bums but with sport jackets.  We’re all used to it by now. I think it’s an image thing and it seems to work. People go for it. Anyhow, he knows his stuff, which is what counts with me. He’s soft spoken with a good sense of humor and it’s easy to like the guy.

Mobile Anthem

Hugh’s big-time. Used to work marketing for Fortune 500 outfits. Now they seek him out. He’s CEO of Mobile Anthem—a marketing agency that helps these companies build a bridge between traditional marketing and mobile technology. There’s a big-demand for that. They need his help and need it bad.

Tektite GroupThe event’s put on by the Tektite Group. Jean Pickering moderates and she calls Hugh “her hero,” which is kinda weird, but I’m sure she’s got her reasons.

THREE KEYS to a SUCCESSFUL VENTURE

Hugh says with these, you got a good business.

Awareness
Trial of product
Repeatability

Smartphone

THREE STAGES in MOBILE TECHNOLOGY

He talks about what’s going on now and what’s to come:

Stage 1—We’re using the mobile internet NOW—not 15, 20 years from now. That’s way faster than the elite predicted. And mobile is ubiquitous. (I like that word.) Who ever leaves home without the keys, the wallet, and the phone?

Stage 2—Pretty soon, mobile isn’t just about phones. It’s ID wristbands in hospitals. ID devices at amusement parks—systems that pull down your Facebook profile and help you find your lost kid. It’s Clairol using an app to time your hair coloring perfectly. It’s Nike shoes reporting your running stats for you—and sending them to your accountability group.

Stage 3—In the future, it’s not even a phone. Hugh says it this way: “The idea of what is mobile will change dramatically.” Maybe it’s in your clothes—and you get to change the color of the fabric. Maybe it checks if your windows are closed. Maybe it monitors your meds. He quotes some futurist who expects it in nanotechnology. He’s talking really small, like IN YOUR BLOODSTREAM. Now just stop a minute and think about the positive and negatives of that.

Hugh says that not all these possibilities are so pretty. The opportunity for abuse by unscrupulous individuals, greedy companies, and repressive governments is huge. That gets my attention. And I’m wondering how it will all shake out.

He talks about innovations that don’t get used effectively. Here’s an example: The QR code was big for a few months then it fizzled. Reason? Poor use. People posted lots of QR codes that didn’t lead anywhere. So people ignore ‘em now. Cry wolf.

smartphone with keyboardTHREE LIMITERS

He talks about three limiting factors in mobile technology. (Hey, this guy thinks in threes):

Limiter #1—First is battery life. These things suck battery and everybody’s looking for a wall outlet wherever they go. The industry needs to get that solved. (FYI: Just happens I know a startup company’s got a way to make batteries last ten times longer, so the fix is coming—people just don’t know about it yet.)

Limiter #2—Next is privacy. There ain’t no safeguards now. Everything’s self-regulated and there’s some real bad actors out there—people who know your location and take advantage of that. Companies can pull down your personal profile. Think they’re not using that stuff? Think again. You walk down the street and WHAP—a lousy come-on from the bar you just walked past. Hey—it’s in the terms and conditions you never read when you downloaded that app, so it’s legit. Then there’s the illegal text spam—the kind you didn’t ask for at all. It’s already with us. Then there’s the fact that smart phones are computers. Won’t be long before the hackers and cheese-doodle-eating virus kids get busy. That kinda behavior slows down the industry. I wonder how fast it would be movin’ without these creeps.

Hugh predicts two major events in the very near future.

A major privacy incident

A major location-based incident

A mobile app is like a credit card transaction over the Internet—theft happens. The credit card company gives you some protection but nobody’s protecting the cell phone users. He predicts that both of these events will get a lota media attention and plenty of righteous indignation. It’s gonna be bad enough that the industry is gonna face a contraction, so watch your telecom investments.

That also means regulation is coming. Plenty of it. But Hugh sees it as the only way. Says this particular industry CAN’T regulate itself. He’s hoping for the kind of regs that worked real good for the food industry. Rules that make it easy to find out what’s in your food. But the government might come down with a heavy hand, like the way Sarbanes Oxley is screwing with our capital markets. Me, I’m betting the government will do something dumb. That’s their trend. But all I can do is wait and see how it shakes out.

Limiter #3—In the future, our location privacy and personal privacy is gonna be pretty much gone. That’ll be another limiter on mobile technology. Maybe somebody’ll solve it or maybe we just get used to it.

Pockets full of Smartphones

Now his time is shot and he takes Q&A. I think it’s a good presentation. I learned somethin’ and had a good time. Before we break into groups, I meet him one-on-one. Guys got FIVE—count ‘em—5 smartphones on his person. Pockets full of ’em.  What’s with that? So I ask him what gives. “It’s my business,” he says. Simple answer. Direct. Honest. One thing I learn dealing with this new crop of technical business people—they’re intense. And they get the job done.

Your editor invited me down here ‘cause he don’t own no smart phone and he wants I should meet with these people. Yeah, you heard right—no smartphone. Hard to believe but it’s true. Says his Palm Pilot ain’t broke yet. Palm pilot? That thing belongs in the Field Museum with the dinosaurs. The guy carries that piece o’—that piece of hardware around everywhere. Calls it a classic. I call it dumb. Weber GrillHe coulda been here, eatin’ this great food at the Weber Grill. www.webergrillrestaurant.com.  So, John, I raise one to you. Cheers!

CONTACTS

Find Hugh Jedwill, CEO of Mobile Anthem, at http://mobileanthem.com, an agency that bridges marketing with mobile technology. See him on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2oY4vrZFDc

Find the Tektite Group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheTektiteGroup  and their blog at http://tektitegroup.wordpress.com.  These events are organized by Jean Pickering www.facebook.com/jean.pickering who for years has run most o’ the best stuff in this town. Was always behind the scenes till now. I might just mosey on down next time. Had a blast. This ain’t no waste-of-time networking group. I took in a terrific presentation and made three solid business connections.

And check out the great food at the Weber Grill.  http://www.webergrillrestaurant.com/

All my best regards,
Loop Lonagan

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GO TO – 3 KEYS TO GAMIFICATION

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

3 Comments

Filed under Chicago Ventures, Tektite

SIX KIDS PUT TECH COMMUNITY TO SHAME

Rong Mayhem is screaming. “This kid puts the whole tech community to shame! His presentation is better than 90% of the professionals!” Bill Blaire mutters a response as if talking to himself. “Why don’t them guys make that loudmouth pipe down?” Thinking back, I recall Rong Mayhem getting silenced—even banned, but his harsh voice sometimes broadcasts the raw truth and I find that valuable.

In a roomful of investors and professionals, I sit between Bill and a six-foot-six giant of a man, Dr. Alexander Harbinger, three-time Ph.D. Alex looks around me to address Bill in his faintly German accent. “It is my heartfelt belief that the man is correct in his assertion,” he says. Bill responds with a scowl and crosses his arms. I nod and give a thumbs-up—I agree with every word Ron just blurted out.

The next speaker begins his pitch and Alex lets out a whispered, “Yes.” I feel the enthusiasm in the room. He leans close to my ear. “Think of it, John: These are high school children. One is only an 8th grader. And at a time that the public schools struggle to teach reading and simple arithmetic. We are seeing hope for the future of our country.”

I meet his eyes. I see the passion there. I’m getting treated to the six best startup pitches of the year. We’re at POWER PITCH, the capstone event of a partnership between IMSA and the MIT Enterprise Forum right here in Chicago. It’s the 25th anniversary of IMSA—the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy—the high school with some of the smartest kids in the world. They’re proving it tonight—showcasing their new entrepreneurial program called TALENT.

“Nice digs.” It’s Bill Blaire, patching things up with Harbinger. I lean back in my leather chair and take in the enormous room, the multiple screens—the IBM Innovation Center is a beautiful facility. “TALENT,” Bill says, “Acronym, anagram–whatever. Must stand for somthin’ but I duno what. Teens Always Learn…Ten Advanced Lunatics… That can’t be it.” Then he taps the back of my head. “One thing’s sure—these kids know their stuff—anybody can see that.”

Alex responds for me: “These young people are more than just poised. They are professional and their fledgling ventures deserve serious attention.”

So, Bill challenges him. “You ready to plunk down a quarter mil in a company started by a 17-year old kid?” As the next speaker steps to the front, Alex surprises me. “Yes,” he says.

“What about that 12-year old?”

“Of course.”

Alex is right. These kids are for real. They aren’t geeks and they aren’t loners. Each of them comes with a team. Tonight we’re only seeing technology ventures. In the back of the room sit a group of students with non-tech companies. Smiling. Polite. Quiet. What kind of ideas did they cook up? I wish there was time to hear them all.

At break, a guy I don’t know pulls me aside, bursting with the need to let off some steam. He praises the kids up and down then finishes with, “Don’t you realize these entrepreneurs aren’t even legal age?”

I return to the room and Harbinger is asking Blaire what he thinks about one of the contestants. Alex sees real potential. And sure enough, at the end of the evening that one takes first place and the lion’s share of a fat cash prize.

Back at my seat, Alex points out an older gent in front. “That is Dr. Moises Goldman. He created this partnership between the MIT Enterprise Forum of Chicago and IMSA.” I know Moises. I like him—everybody does. We’re all glad he’s still making an impact on the entrepreneurial spirit of this city. Moises introduces Carl Heine, lead innovation architect of TALENT and I become conscious of an unusual number of Ph.D. level academics in the room.

I think back to the icebreaker before the session. We grab some food and after Bill complains about the lack of beer, he says, “Lookit all these kids in the crowd. Notice something strange?”

It takes me a moment to process that. Finally, “They’re all dressed like business people. Real clean cut. Unusual for high school kids.”

Bill glares at me as if I’m dead from the neck up. “Naw, it’s way bigger than that. Look—none of ‘em is usin’ a smart phone. The only guy doin’ that is the old man over there in the corner.”

I have to smile. Can you beat that?

The judges make up quite a group—not the usual panel of pitch coaches and angels investors:

  • Bob Geras—CEO of LaSalle
  • Kevin Willer—CEO of CEC
  • Nik Rokop—Executive Director of Knaap Entrepreneurial Center
  • Dr. Lance Pressl—President of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation
  • Jose deFrancisco—Director of Marketing for Cloud Computing at Lucent.

At the end, they present the winners with checks—great big checks.

“Hey, lookit the size of that thing.” Bill laughs but Alex is clearly annoyed with him. “Are you referring to its physical dimensions or the dollar denomination, Mr. Blaire?”

“Both. Big as a tabletop. Numbers ain’t shabby neither. A kid can do a lot with that kinda dough.”

I need to catch a train and quickly look over my notes on the six ventures.

ATONA 

Lydia Auch and Kenso Esquivel – IMSA – 1st Place Winners.

These kids give a peek at the future of music-reading technology and put on a good show too. Kenso tries to turn pages of sheet music while playing a violin. Impossible. His music falls in a heap on the floor. That gets a big reaction from the crowd. Lydia takes over the presentation with this quote, “There has been almost no innovation in music technology since the 15th century.”

Good start.

Their offering is an electronic music reader with double touch screens, each large enough to see an entire sheet of music with e-ink technology—much like an oversized Kindle, not those tiny backlit tablet screens. You can see your music in any light and the device consumes almost no juice. A musician can store an entire library of music in one location and carry it everywhere—and it turns pages automatically with the music. Other features include a tuner, a sound recorder, a metronome, and a USB interface. A musician can scan hard-copy sheet music or download it on the cheap. Hey, I want one of these things.

They acquitted themselves like professional speakers with super-cool visuals, a clever marketing plan, and well-justified numbers. I won’t go into those details—all six contestants did a fine job. The technical side of their presentations wowed us as much as the smooth delivery and slick graphics.

TOSIgram

Andrew Chen – Nequa Valley High School – 2nd Place Winner.

This kid proved that TALENT is open to students outside IMSA. He started with a clear statement. “The way we deal with privacy is broken.” He went on to point out that everybody needs to decide on privacy boundaries. But who wants to read a 9-page document? Who wants to draft one? TOSI stands for “Terms of Service Made Easy.”

A Carnegie-Mellon study shows that reading privacy policies use up an average of 25 days a year per person and soon they’ll be required for the thousands of mobile apps. Every storefront needs one and the list is growing. TOSIgram has created an online step-by-step process to create these documents. It bypasses the lawyers. It provides a summary-driven interface that lets the user quickly drill down to the clauses that matter.

The Living TEG

Shivansh Padhy – Granger Middle School – 3rd Place Winner.

That’s right—he’s in 8th grade, maybe 13 or 14 years old. He poses this idea: “Imagine a world where YOU are the source of power for all your energy needs.” He’s discovered a practical way to use excess human body heat to re-charge electronic devices. This is both extreme green and extremely useful. No more batteries or electrical outlets.

Turns out the human body produces 116 watts of heat every hour. A smart phone only needs five. Body heat can run a cell phone continuously and energy can be stored for higher output devices. His first target is cell phones, then medical electronics, then radios and flashlights. He has a working prototype. If he’s in 8th grade now, what will he do when he gets to IMSA? When he gets to MIT?

TiqFolio

Kevin WangIMSA

This one wins my prize for the best speaker. He’s the super-glib one that caused Ron May to blurt out his praise at the start of the meeting. TiqFolio is a unique online storefront concept for selling digital products—a gap in the market. He’s applying a proven business model to a new segment.

Sofi

Shawn JainIMSA

“Put your portfolio online.” People love to talk about their stocks on the Internet. They love to socialize on the Internet. Why not combine those two? The result is an investor community. People helping each other succeed.

QuickLine

Jennifer Ren, Mitch Bieniek, and Konrad WrobelIMSA

Imagine creating your own bus route—one that fits your needs. These kids have a network to dynamically optimize bus routes and make them more efficient. They gather input from the end user then use a computer algorithm to re-route and size the transportation. A working prototype is already in place in the form of an Android app.

What’s next?

This summer, TALENT is putting on a 2-week micro incubator to bring in partners and make student’s ideas a reality. I’d like to see them find the right consultants and the right investors—the kind that’ll really help these kids.

For Information on the summer TALENT incubator, contact Dr. Carl Heine at heine@imsa.edu

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GO BACK TO PART 1 – THE TWO LAWS

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at
www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com
Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

© 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved.

3 Comments

Filed under IMSA, MIT Enterprise Forum

WHAT IS AN OFFICE?

MIT Enterprise Forum

As I heard it –

What is an office? Yes, I’m really asking that question. What makes an office an office? What might it be in the future, because it sure isn’t going to be what it once was. Sitting in the huge conference room at the IBM Innovation Center in Chicago, I hear serious ideas thrown around that question. The room dwarfs the oversized projection screen and four 60” flat-screen monitors flank the seats. The MIT Enterprise Forum is presenting THE FUTURE OF THE OFFICE, and tonight, this room is my office. There are more Ph.Ds. in the room than MBAs. MIT’s events are always as good as it gets. I like these events so much that I joined the executive committee and I never join committees. Tonight, I am treated to an outstanding panel:

  • Hugh Musick – Moderator – Dean & Director of Exec Education at IIT
  • Jeff Calusinski – IBM distinguished engineer – one of only 400 in the entire company
  • Brian Shapland – Forward thinker at Steelcase
  • Ross Kimbarovsky – Entrepreneur extraordinaire at CrowdSPRING

As moderator, Hugh Musick issues the challenge: What is an office today? What might it be in the future? If anyone can work with anyone, anywhere, anytime, what’s in the future? Further, what’s the value of culture in this distributed world? And how does culture promote work? Hugh turns it over to Ross Kimbarovsky of CrowdSPRING..

Ross starts with a story about a friend who asks a waiter to bring her special tea pot. Imagine having your own personal teapot and your own personal tea at your favorite restaurant. That’s a good analogy for the way people see the workplace these days, and the younger the employees, the more divergent their expectations about the ways they engage with employers and co-workers.

Next, Hugh makes a striking point. Work is now continuous—not the old 40 hrs. Productivity is no longer measured by time at a desk. A big cultural change is underway—not just in the works, but happening right now to you and me. The factory is no longer downstairs from office—it’s overseas. The middle class is growing worldwide. Management is becoming less top-down. Collaboration is the way successful companies do business today. Working is informal compared to anything in past experience. This is real. Practical. These aren’t dreams.

Brian’s company, Steelcase, makes high-end office furniture. How do they adapt to shrinking demand? He talks about stepping back for a new look and sees three key global work trends

  • Less square feet per worker. Yes, that’s already a fact despite the economy.
  • Today, only 72% of people consider the office as THE place to work.
  • There are 75M people in Gen Y. Today’s eighth graders will soon replace baby boomers in the workplace. These kids reject the traditional workplace.

Is your workplace ready for that kind of change?

Ross—people don’t know what they need. As they work in a new culture, their wants and needs change. Originally, people wanted video games and Ping-Pong tables, but that changed. Now people want flex hours, remote work. As the needs of the workplace change, companies keep adapting. “Thinking long term isn’t the real world anymore.” Whoa—they could do a big debate over that single statement, but I get his point.

 

TECHNOLOGY

To today’s young workers, technology is oxygen. Values have changed. To many, an iPad is worth 5K in salary. Ross points out that in the past, people needed all sorts of expensive office equipment. That limited what they could do away from the office and made remote work an obstacle. It was just too expensive to provide the essentials for every employee. Now, global telephony enables work anywhere, any time. Cloud Computing allows people to be productive away from the office. People sometimes work at 2am and take off the middle of the day. People are comfortable working where they want, when they want.

Hugh—The PC enables people to do things they never did before. Kids today are a true producer class. Tech lets them make anything they want. Movies, recordings, etc.

Jeff addresses the subject of technology in collaboration. Nobody needs to solve a problem alone any more. If two can collaborate face-to-face, many on social media can do even better. The old model was, get in front of clients, customers, employees. The new model is, get in front of community. Influence is key and sharing creates influence.

Ross points out a huge structural change. Because of technology, small companies can now compete with giants. His company, Crowdsping, is 19 people managing 100K+ people.

At the same time, traditional corporate environments are getting more and more entrenched. They don’t reward innovation. They don’t understand new structures. The way people want to work and the way they choose to work is vastly different from the way big corporations think people need to work. This gives small nimble companies a competitive advantage.

 

CULTURE

Today’s young workforce functions differently than their older counterparts. These people want a relationship with everybody in the room and constant feedback. They want the freedom to connect with the company president. But they’re satisfied with a relationship that’s digital.

According to Ross, you can’t legislate culture. You create culture by fostering the desired environment. Culture is defined by the way people cooperate, collaborate, innovate. It’s not done by building better offices. Culture drives work. Office space doesn’t do that.

Brian believes that if the culture doesn’t support the new ways of working, it won’t function in the workplace. Technology now lets you sit in a comfortable chair when 10 years ago people saw that as goofing off. Mentorship is huge in retaining workers today and a big part of encouraging collaboration. An interesting shift is the trend toward reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring is more important than ever because experienced workers need to embrace unfamiliar technology. That’s a cultural reversal that can’t be denied.

Ross asks, if you have a non-distributed team, how do you design your office? One workplace may be fancy, another functional. Either style can work if it fits the culture. CrowdSPRING doesn’t have offices at all—just one big room and a couple of conference rooms. No cubicals, just open desks. Yet some face-to-face time is still needed to model collaboration. He freely admits that his model may not work for another company and recommends that you drive your structure by your company’s cultural needs, not by management’s needs.

 

TRUST

Trust is a different concept than it once was. Many kids today have online relationships with people they’ve never seen. What will be the impact of today’s eighth graders when they come into the workforce? These kids are comfortable with digital connections and a paperless office.

Sustainability is a big issue. People switch jobs at a higher rate than ever before. The successful companies will foster change that reverses that trend. The #1 priority is a company’s commitment to sustainability, and that comes from trust.

Ross makes a huge point: Trust is digital—“Do or do not,” as Yoda would say. Small companies ask people to do the work and trust that they can. To emulate that, large companies need to form small teams that have trust in each other, much the way Google does.

At this point, we go to Q&A. Ron May is saying that the panel is spooning out Pablum. Hasn’t he been listening? I know Ron May. His mama didn’t raise no dummies.   If he missed it, much of the audience must have missed it, too.  I admit that the subject is highly targeted but the abstractions the conversation throws out are nothing short of fascinating. We’re talking about the basic structure, culture, and human issues of the way we work. We’re at Point A and most of us didn’t even think about it. We’re heading for Point B, which will be really different. And that’s clearly the case once you recognize Point A. The ramifications are staggering. I lean back and recognize how glad I am that I came tonight.

QUESTION—“How do you address the issue that different parts of a large company may need different types of offices?”

Jeff—“IBM is 100% mobile.” What did I just hear? A hundred percent? Think about that for a moment. A big company like IBM. Then he points out that mobile means different things to different departments. For some that may be only one day a week away from the office. That’s still a big shift. Then he answers the question directly. “It has to vary by department.” Sales is mobile all the time while manufacturing can’t work away from the factory all that much.

Brian—Steelcase designs a different space to fit the particular group. People don’t want to be in cubicles, but there has to be privacy when needed. Imagine that. An office furniture outfit thinking in terms of company culture and human needs, using technology to make a fit on an individual basis. How many desk makers think that way?

QUESTION—“How do you measure value in a mobile collaboration? It may be easy to monitor sales, but what about everybody else?” As I listen to this question, I am keenly aware of the dehumanizing aspect of it. It’s a big corporate idea. How do you measure a human being?

Jeff—Many corporations, purchase technology, then put it in corner and tell their people, “Go use it,” with the expectation that people know how to use it. You’ve got to be purposeful in asking, “What is the expected outcome and how do we accomplish it?” It’s worth paying attention to this. People who are empowered download documents and do their own self-service. We no longer need to be directly involved in each function. Work is done in context. The real measurement is “outcome-based” And he’s right. We’ve come to the point where we no longer care about method. It’s the result that counts. That makes for acceptance of all kinds of eccentric work styles never tolerated before.

Ross—ROI is tough to measure, especially in social media. Ask instead, “Did this person contribute to revenue in a positive way?” That sounds to me like the previous answer. Results.

Brian—Companies are developing new metrics because customers are asking for them. We’re developing products to do the same thing. For example, an ergonomic chair that reduces repetitive stress injury. That outcome can be measured.

Hugh—”Metrics have changed. How do you measure what it costs to not do something you could have done?”  I’m struck by his question.  Clearly, you can’t, but the impact is massive.

Ross—It’s more difficult to measure productivity in large companies. Much of revenue these days is driven by exclusive projects—driven by people who spent a Friday doing “something else.” I find myself nodding in agreement. The best ideas happen at times that used to be seen as waste.

 

NEW MODELS

Jeff—“IBM’s Watson was developed through a collaboration across the globe, driven by mobile technology. Nobody had a budget.” No budget? Think of that. He goes on: “It took 4 years and represented a huge departure from the way IBM used to do things. Economic aspects are driving a lot of this. The question of “Where will we go?” is no longer limited to a small group of people. The old model legislated innovation. Now it’s all about people collaborating.” Yes, I can relate what he’s saying. This year I purchased mind mapping software that allows brainstorming and collaboration across the globe at a very high level.

Brian – “The Internet allows a synthesis of information. Information is power. Everybody can work better as a result. Even competitors are collaborating.” Again, I am struck by just how strange that would have sounded only a few years ago.

QUESTION—“How do you keep people from hiding in a big company? People work from home and get by with the minimum.”

Jeff—“You always have your A, B and C players. At IBM, one group produced a higher defect rate than others, so they had to move back to the office.” Jeff then ramps up the stakes to address the real problem looming over all of us. Help will soon be needed in the form of analytics because people need filters to deal with the overload of information. Something is needed to filter the masses of data. Watson did its job through statistics. Now the working environment needs to be smarter. It will tell us what we need to be doing. Does that sound like the Hal 9000? Then he shifts gears and talks about Amazon’s crowd sourcing model, built around ratings and reviews by the public that allows natural filtering. The same result using the Internet, but no Hal.

Jeff—today you are evaluated by manager who rates you at end of the year. That may change to another model—the way you are rated by your entire community. This is important. How are you rated by your network of 100 people?

Brian—“The way you motivate people and stop the cycle of hiding and doing nothing is actually very simple. It’s about being very explicit about expectations and goals.” That seems to sum it up for me.

QUESTION—“As the thinkers of tomorrow, how do you educate our children to fit what the world will become 5-20 years from now?”

Ross—Turns out his wife is a teacher. School districts have entrenched cultures, just like corporations. It’s even more difficult because of small budgets, small teams of busy people. There is a need to educate educators on new technologies as it becomes available. He compares Microsoft Word to Google Docs and points out the disconnect between what students already know and use and what teachers teach. His wife helps educators know what kids already know and use. So we’re back to the subject of reverse mentoring.

Brian—Steelcase Learn Lab is a classroom prototype, changing one-way directional teaching to three-screen multi-input. Students want to learn from each other. The technology makes every seat in the room seem like it’s in the middle. Nobody is at the back of the class.

Jeff—IBM and City of Chicago are working on this very concept.

QUESTION—“How do you encourage good work habits?”

Ross answers with a strong idea: If we were to create a company to compete with our company, what would we do? A lot of companies don’t ask their employees what the work space should look like. Keep asking what people need. Be ready for constant change. Don’t pass policies and build walls you can’t tear down.

QUESTION—“How does recession effect future of office and work? If people can’t get jobs, what will the office look like? What about the digital divide that doesn’t have access to Steelcase and IBM equipment?”

Jeff—Companies are doing more with less—using technology and fewer people.

Ross—CrowdSPRING has developed a network of over 100K designers. They are not pre-qualified. They do not need offices. Younger generations don’t want to work downtown in cubicles any more. Freelancing is more accepted. Companies are actually reducing office space.

Jeff—IBM is not just looking at your degree any more, but your multi-dimensional ability. Perhaps in the future you’ll work part time for two different companies and not in an office at all.

Brian tells us that half of his college friends either own their own businesses or work for a friend who does. The web has enabled an explosion in entrepreneurship. These are small companies. Because of technology, small can out-compete big. Today, you can buy a product online and assemble it yourself.

Afterwards, I talk with friend and luminary, Terrry Flanagan—a guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of business. He sums up the entire office topic in the words of architect, Louis Sullivan. “Form follows function.”

That’s what I heard.  What did you hear?  Comments welcome. 

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Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

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