5 Years From Now…

Seth Godin looks ahead:

Assume that [in five years from now]:

– Hard drive space is free
– Wifi like connections are everywhere
– Connections speeds are 10 to 100 times faster
– Everyone has a digital camera
– Everyone carries a device that is sort of like a laptop, but cheap and tiny
– The number of new products introduced every day is five times greater than now
– Wal-Mart’s sales are three times as big
– Any manufactured product that’s more than five years old in design sells at commodity pricing
– The retirement age will be five years higher than it is now
– Your current profession will either be gone or totally different

What then?

What can we do to bring a similar future to the world’s emerging markets?

Internet Who’s What

Sth Goldstein writes:

Amazon is the best single merchant on the web and understands how to sell better than anybody else.

EBay offers the broadest selection of merchants and therefore guarantees the greatest amount of choice for consumers.

Google is taking on the role of Kinkos, a convenient, self-service outpost for businesses big and small to market their products and services.

Yahoo is the AOL of today.

AOL is the ATT of today.

Microsoft is Microsoft

Microsoft as Tech’s T-Rex?

Mike Langberg writes on Microsoft’s evolution:

Silicon Valley still sees Microsoft as the Tyrannosaurus rex of technology, so powerful it can break any competitor in half with a snap of its mighty jaws.

Does this leave valley companies as slow-moving dinosaurs doomed to serve as snacks for T. rex? No.

Many of Microsoft’s competitors are behaving more like tiny, scurrying mammals who will evolve and one day take control of the earth when T. rex has crumbled to dust.

There’s a growing pile of compelling evidence that Microsoft is so big it can’t effectively enter new markets.

Overall, Microsoft still reaps huge profits. But it’s all from two aging monopolies: the Windows computer operating system and the Microsoft Office suite of productivity software.

In the nine months ended March 31, the three Microsoft divisions responsible for Windows and Office contributed 83 percent of the company’s $27.5 billion in sales and 112 percent of operating profit.

The other four divisions lost $1.2 billion. They represent all of Microsoft’s efforts to move beyond the twin monopolies — such as the Xbox video game system, the MSN online service, software for advanced mobile phones, the PocketPC personal digital assistant and the bCentral service for small business.

Microsoft’s bottom line, in other words, would look better right now if the company did nothing but Windows and Office.

MSN didn’t obliterate America Online. Microsoft Money didn’t crush Intuit’s Quicken, and Microsoft TaxSaver disappeared after making not even a dent against Intuit’s TurboTax. A digital video recorder called UltimateTV, a challenge to San Jose-based TiVo, died after six months. An almost forgotten product named PhotoDraw never came close to threatening the powerhouse Photoshop from Adobe Systems of San Jose.

Indeed, I can’t cite a single example where Microsoft has managed to create an overwhelmingly dominant position for itself beyond products directly linked to Windows and Office.

Not that Microsoft is a toothless tiger. You can never ignore a company with $56 billion of cash in the bank. What’s more, the antitrust cases brought against Microsoft and the threat of further litigation could be keeping the company from using its vast resources in ways that could instantly destroy competitors. And some of the Microsoft efforts that look like also-rans today could eventually become big winners.

But I’m no longer losing sleep at the thought Microsoft will stomp Silicon Valley. If anything, Microsoft should fear us.

Information Middlemen

Steve Goldstein points to a NYTimes article by James Fallows and writes:

Fallows argues that a) the rise of blogs, and b) the web-availability of publicly-financed information (weather, scientific journals, etc.) are daggers in the heart of various information intermediaries. Hes dead wrong.

Now, the most interesting things about blogs are business models and ways to aggregates them and filtering out the stuff that Fallows claims inspires despair. The need for Kinja, Newsgator and the like rises dramatically as the number of blogs increase. So, there will be a battle of the middlemen in the blog space just as there is in the SEC filing space where GSI, Edgar-Online, 10K Wizard and Disclosure survive aggregating and acting as middlemen for free, publicly-available information. Only business reasons prevent Elsevier from surviving as a middleman for scientific journals poor pricing and limited value-add.

From the NYTimes article:

Information is both invaluable and impossible to value. Historically, the main way around this problem has been to pack the results of intellectual or creative effort into something tangible that can be priced and sold: a book, a seat in a theater, an hour of an expert’s time. Technology causes economic chaos when it disrupts this packaging plan, as is now happening in the music industry. Ten years ago, if you wanted to play a song, you had to buy a CD or a tape. Now, thanks to downloaded MP3 files, you don’t – and the chaos is all the worse because the same young audience that would otherwise be buying the most CD’s is the quickest to adopt MP3’s. Publishers must shudder as they contemplate the distant but inevitable day when “electronic paper” does the same to them, making downloaded files as convenient to read as ordinary books, magazines and newspapers are today.

But while lawyers and business officials worry about technology’s effects on who will be paid, and how, for their creative efforts, the Internet’s most fascinating impact has been on those who have decided not to charge for their work. I’m not referring to the open-source movement among software designers, who by creating Linux and other systems want to establish a low-cost alternative to the world of Microsoft-style commercial software. I mean the emergence of two information sources that make us collectively richer and exist only because of fairly recent changes in the Internet.

One, believe it or not, is the world of blogs…At the democratic extreme, blogs are a nightmare vision of a publishing house’s “slush pile” come to life. At the elite end, the dozen or so best-known sites, they are an intensified version of insider journalism. If you don’t get quite enough sass, attitude or instant conclusions from the rest of the news media, you can always find more at the leading blogs.

If blogs represent the uncoordinated efforts of countless volunteer writers, another information explosion shows the institutional might of the state. Taxpayer money still is behind a surprising amount of crucial data: nearly all weather observations and the supercomputer-based models that create forecasts; most basic scientific research; most research into disease causes and cures. In principle, this publicly financed knowledge has always been the public’s property, but until a few years ago there was no easy way to get it from research centers to a wide audience. Thus various middlemen arose – notably scientific journals, which did the expensive work of printing and distributing research papers in return for steep subscription costs.

India Outsourcing Trends

The Economist says that there are “four trends converging in an industry-wide consolidation”:

Some multinational firms with captive offshore operations in India, such as Phoenix, are thinking of selling themin effect, outsourcing through divestment.

Second, young, fast-growing India-based firms, flush with cash and besieged by would-be investors offering more, are thinking of acquisitions as a way to sustain growth.

Thirdly, while these upstarts race to expand in their target markets, the big western IT consultancies are reversing the process. Last month, mighty IBM bought Daksh, one of India’s biggest call-centre firms, with about 6,000 employees.

Finally, as these multinationals bulk up in India, extending the range of their wares to include call-centre and other BPO operations, Indian firms such as TCS have been matching themas well as expanding overseas.

Sony’s Cell

Fortune writes about Sony’s new chip that will power its video game consoles and other devices:

Code-named the Cell chip, the new processor has a parallel-processing engine that is optimized for handling vast amounts of complex graphics instructions, the kind that can blur the distinction between filmed movies and computer-generated special effects…Sony said it would deliver a Cell-based workstation computer before the end of the year.

The Cell chip is also expected to be the main engine of the PlayStation 3 game console, expected to replace the PS2 in late 2005 or 2006.

Within a few years, Sony said, movies and games will be “fused and indistinguishable.” My guess is that the Cell chip will eventually find its way into all sorts of Sony products, ranging from game consoles to portable media players to TV sets.

Also, because most of these future Cell-based products will have broadband connections, it’s not inconceivable that millions of devices hooked to the Net can share unused processing cycles. We’ve already seen examples of how ad hoc networks of small personal computers can be harnessed to create virtual supercomputers. Now, imagine ad hoc networks of small supercomputers, which just happen to be game consoles. Who knows? Maybe such a global supercomputer will discover intelligent life in the universe, which seems to be lacking these days.

Forbes adds: “Sony Chief Executive Nobuyuki Idei said it would use Cell to power its next-generation game console as well as a network television that will offer functions similar to a personal computer…The Cell processor will be up to 10 times more powerful than conventional chips and able to shepherd large chunks of information through a high-speed Internet network.”

TECH TALK: Crucible Experiences: Four Types

Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas write that the heart of the leadership crucible: the ability to extract wisdom from experience. Based on their interviews with leaders, they identified four major types of crucibles:

Mentoring Relationships: Mentors have long exerted dramatic influence on those they mentor, of course, particularly on young people. But two critical elements appeared in virtually every mentoring relationship described in our interviews. First, protgs attracted mentors; there was something compelling about them that made them approachable and interesting. Second, mentors were recruitable; they were open to caring for a particular protg and willing to share valuable insight without any expectations of reward for their efforts.

Enforced Reflection: This crucible has at its core an opportunity for both exploration and reflection. College has the potential to be such a crucible, particularly as it affords a young person the time and space to explore other possible selves and lifestyles. The same can be said for more regimented settings that emphasize introspection, like yoga retreats, martial arts training and seminaries.

Insertion Into Foreign Territory: Most people find themselves operating in foreign, sometimes hostile, territory at some point in their lives. However, the leaders we interviewed demonstrated a remarkable capacity not only to survive those tough experiences but to extract profound insights from them. Others might be overwhelmed by the newness, the confusion, the deluge of sensations encountered in foreign territory. But these leaders embraced the disorientation and wove it into their own experiential tapestry. More important, they continued to seek out new foreign territories, whether a new geography, culture, business, organizational role or idea.

Disruption and Loss: Personal loss, particularly of an associate, has the capacity to destabilize. The loss of a parent (particularly when it requires a person to take on family responsibility or live independently at an early age), loss of a sibling or close friend (which often occurs during war-time), bankruptcy, or failure in an important assignment or undertaking (including a run for public office) can stimulate a search for greater understanding of self, of relationships and of larger webs of affiliation. All these events carry the potential to catalyze a search for meaning and develop a far keener ability to extract insights from experience.

For Mahatma Gandhi, the crucible experience was his stay in South Africa. For Nelson Mandela, it was the many long years he spent in prison. For John Kerry, it was the Vietnam War. As I think back on my life, there are at least three experiences which I can think helped change me. One was a brief incident at school, the second was my first semester at IIT, and the third was a two-year period of business failure after my return to India in 1992. Each incident, in its own way, made an impact. While time can diminish memories of the period, it cannot take away the reality of the occurrence. In the next two columns, I will share my experiences and how these events made a difference to me. Perhaps, you too can think about yours.

Tomorrow: My Crucibles

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