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6 September 2014

Smartphones and the mass market: the view from 2005

Filed under: insight, openness, smartphones, Symbian — Tags: , , — David Wood @ 7:07 am

The following article was originally published in the “David Wood Insight” series on Symbian’s corporate website, on 11 Sept 2005 (the first article in that series). I’m re-posting it here now since:

  • It’s one of a number of pages in an old website of mine that I am about to retire – so the article needs a new home
  • The message is aligned with many that are included in my book “Smartphones and beyond” that was published earlier this week.

Smartphones and the mass market

Smartphones in 2005 are roughly where the Internet was in 1995. In 1995, there were, worldwide, around 20-40 million users of the Internet. That’s broadly the same number of users of smartphones there are in the world today. In 1995, people were debating the real value of Internet usage. Was it simply an indulgent plaything for highly technical users, or would it have lasting wider attraction? In 2005, there’s a similar debate about smartphones. Will smartphones remain the preserve of a minority of users, or will they demonstrate mass-market appeal?

Personally, I have no doubt as to the answer. Smartphones are for all. Smartphones – the rapidly emerging new category of advanced computer-based programmable mobile phones – will appeal to all users of mobile phones worldwide. Smartphones are built from highly advanced technology, but they won’t require a highly advanced understanding of technology in order to use them. You won’t need to be a computer whiz kid or the neighbourhood geek to get real value from a smartphone. Nor will you need a huge income to afford one. Smartphones will help us all to keep in better touch with the friends and colleagues and information and discussions and buzz that are important to us, and they are opening up new avenues for entertainment, education, and enterprise alike. Smartphones will help us all to work hard and play hard. And in line with their name, smartphones will also help us to work smart and play smart.

Smartphones differ from ordinary mobile phones in two fundamental ways: how they are built, and what they can do. The way they’re built – using open systems to take advantage of the skills, energy, and innovation of numerous companies from a vast range of industries – means that smartphones extend the phenomenal track record of mobile phones by improving constantly and rapidly, year by year. As for what they can do – in line with the “phone” part of their name, smartphones provide all the capabilities of ordinary mobile phones, in a particularly user-friendly style – but that’s only the start. In addition, smartphones increasingly use their computer-brains and network-connectivity to:

  • Excel at all sorts of communication – instant messaging, email, video conferencing, and more
  • Help us to organise our to-do lists, ideas, calendars, contacts, expenses, and finances
  • Boost our effectiveness in our business life – connecting us smoothly into corporate data systems
  • Entertain us with huge libraries of first-rate music, mobile TV, social networking, and games
  • Guide us around the real world, with maps and location-based services, so we never get lost again
  • Subsume our keys, ID cards, tickets, and wallets – so we can leave these old-world items at home
  • Connect us into online information banks covering every topic under the sun.

In short, smartphones are rapidly becoming our preferred mobile gateway into the ever growing, ever more important digital universe.

In 1995, some people wondered if the Internet would ever really be “useful” (as opposed to a passing fad). Today, you may wonder if mobile access to the Internet will ever really be useful. But if you look at what smartphone users are already able to do, you’ll soon see the benefit. If it’s valuable to you to be able to access bbcnews.com or amazon.com or ebay.com or betfair.com or imdb.com or google.com or wikipedia.org (etc) from your desktop PC, you’ll often find it equally valuable to check these sites when you’re away from your desktop. Because you’ll be carrying your smartphone with you, almost everywhere you go, you’ll have the option to keep in touch with your digital universe, whenever it suits you.

Crucial to this increase in value is the steady set of remarkable improvements that have taken place for both output and input mechanisms on smartphones. Screens have become clearer, larger, sharper, and more colourful. Intelligent handwriting recognition systems, word-completion systems, multi-way jog-dials, Bluetooth keyboards, and ingenious folding and twisting mechanisms, mean that it’s easier than ever before to enter data into smartphones. And faster networks, more powerful on-board processors, and more sophisticated software, mean that “www” on a smartphone no longer means “world wide wait” but rather “world wide wow“.

In parallel, costs are dipping, further and further. In part, this is due to Moore’s Law, which summarises the steady technological improvements in the design and manufacture of integrated circuits and memory chips. But in large part, it’s also due to the dramatic “learning effects” which can take place when world-class companies go through several rounds of finding better and better ways to manufacture their smartphone products. In turn, the magnitude of these “learning effects” depends on the open nature of the smartphone industry. Here, the word “open” has the following meanings:

  • Programmable: the intelligence and power that is in a smartphone can be adapted, extended, and enhanced by add-on applications and services, which tap into the underlying richness of the phone to produce powerful new functionality
  • Interchangeable: services that are designed for use in one smartphone can be deployed on other smartphones as well, from different manufacturers (despite the differences between these smartphones), with minimal (often zero) changes; very importantly, this provides a better incentive to companies to invest the effort to create these new services
  • Collaborative: the process of creating and evolving smartphone products benefits from the input and ideas of numerous companies and individuals; for example, the manufacturers of the second generation of a given smartphone can build in some of the unexpectedly successful applications that were designed by previously unknown companies as add-ons to the first generation of that smartphone
  • Open-minded: the companies who create smartphones have their own clear ideas about how smartphones should operate and what they should contain, but newcomers have ample means and encouragement to introduce different concepts – the industry is ready to accept new ideas
  • Free-flowing: the success of a company in the smartphone industry is substantially determined by its skills with innovation, technology, marketing, and operations, rather than any restrictive contractual lock-ins or accidents of location or history.

In all these cases, the opposite to “open” is “closed”. More specifically, the opposite of the successful smartphone industry would see:

  • Fixed functionality, that changes only slowly and/or superficially
  • Non-standard add-ons, that are each restricted to a small subset of phones
  • Overly competitive companies, whose fierce squabbles would destroy the emerging market before it has time to take root
  • Closed-minded companies who are misguidedly convinced that they have some kind of divine right to act as “benign dictators” for the sake of the industry
  • Bottlenecks and chokes that strangle or restrict innovation.

Foreseeing the risks of a closed approach to smartphone development, the mobile phone industry came together to create Symbian, seven years ago. The name “Symbian” is derived from the biological term “symbiosis”, emphasising the positive aspects of collaboration. Symbian’s motto is “cooperate before competing”. It’s no surprise that the vast majority of today’s smartphones utilise Symbian OS.

The volumes of smartphones in circulation are already large enough to trigger a tipping point – more and more industry players, across diverse fields, are choosing Symbian OS to deploy their new solutions. And at the same time as manufacturers are learning how to provide smartphone solutions ever more affordably, users are learning (and then sharing) surprising new ways they can take advantage of the inner capability and richness of their smartphones. It’s a powerful virtuous cycle. That’s the reason why each new generation of smartphone product has a wider appeal.

Footnote (2014): The site http://www.symbian.com has long since been decommissioned, but some of its content can be retrieved from archive.org. After some sleuthing, I tracked down a copy of the above article here.

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28 December 2010

Some suggested books for year-end reading

Looking for suggestions on books to read, perhaps over the year-end period of reflection and resolution for renewal?

Here are my comments on five books I’ve finished over the last few months, each of which has given me a lot to think about.

Switch: How to change things when change is hard – by Chip & Dan Heath

I had two reasons for expecting I would like this book:

I was not disappointed.  The book is full of advice that seems highly practical – advice that can be used to overcome all kinds of obstacles that people encounter when trying to change something for the better.  The book helpfully lists some of these obstacles in a summary chapter near its end.  They include:

  • “People here don’t see the need for change”
  • “People resist my idea because they say, ‘We’ve never done it like that before'”
  • “We should do doing something, but we’re getting bogged down in analysis”
  • “The environment has shifted, and we need to overcome our old patterns of behaviour”
  • “People here simply aren’t motivated to change”
  • “People here keep saying ‘It will never work'”
  • “I know what I should be doing, but I’m not doing it”
  • “I’ll change tomorrow”…

Each chapter has profound insights.  I particularly liked the insight that, from the right perspective, the steps to create a solution are often easier than the problem itself.  This is a pleasant antidote to the oft-repeated assertion that solutions need to be more profound, more complex, or more sophisticated, that the problems they address.  On the contrary, change efforts frequently fail because the change effort is focussing on the wrong part of the big picture.  You can try to influence either the “rider”, the “elephant”, or the “path” down which the elephant moves.  Spend your time trying to influence the wrong part of this combo, and you can waste a great deal of energy.  But get the analysis right, and even people who appear to hate change can embrace a significant transformation.  It all depends on the circumstance.

The book offers nine practical steps – three each for the three different parts of this model:

  • Direct the rider: Find the bright spots; Script the critical moves; Point to the destination
  • Motivate the elephant: Find the feeling; Shrink the change; Grow your people
  • Shape the path: Tweak the environment; Build habits; Rally the herd.

These steps may sound trite, but these simple words summarise, in each case, a series of inspirational examples of real-world change.

The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work – by Shawn Achor

“The happiness advantage” shares with “Switch” the fact that it is rooted in the important emerging discipline of positive psychology.  But whereas “Switch” addresses the particular area of change management, “The happiness advantage” has a broader sweep.  It seeks to show how a range of recent findings from positive psychology can be usefully applied in a work setting, to boost productivity and performance.  The author, Shawn Achor, describes many of these findings in the context of the 10 years he spent at Harvard.  These findings include:

  • Rather than the model in which people work hard and then achieve success and then become happy, the causation goes the other way round: people with a happy outlook are more creative, more resilient, and more productive, are able to work both harder and smarter, and are therefore more likely to achieve success in their work (Achor compares this reversal of causation to the “Copernican revolution” which saw the sun as the centre of the solar system, rather than the earth)
  • Our character (including our degree of predisposition to a happy outlook) is not fixed, but can be changed by activity – this is an example of neural plasticity
  • “The Tetris effect”: once you train your brain to spot positive developments (things that merit genuine praise), that attitude increasingly becomes second nature, with lots of attendant benefits
  • Rather than a vibrant social support network being a distraction from our core activities, it can provide us with the enthusiasm and the community to make greater progress
  • “Falling up”: the right mental attitude can gain lots of advantage from creative responses to situations of short-term failure
  • “The Zorro circle”: rather than focussing on large changes, which could take a long time to accomplish, there’s great merit in restricting attention to a short period of time (perhaps one hour, or perhaps just five minutes), and to a small incremental improvement on the status quo.  Small improvements can accumulate a momentum of their own, and lead on to big wins!
  • Will power is limited – and is easily drained.  So, follow the “20 second rule”: take the time to rearrange your environment – such as your desk, or your office – so that the behaviour you’d like to happen is the easiest (“the default”).  When you’re running on auto-pilot, anything that requires a detour of more than 20 seconds is much less likely to happen.  (Achor gives the example of taking the batteries out of his TV remote control, to make it less likely he would sink into his sofa on returning home and inadvertently watch TV, rather than practice the guitar as he planned.  And – you guessed it – he made sure the guitar was within easy reach.)

You might worry that this is “just another book about the power of positive thinking”.  However, I see it as a definite step beyond that genre.  This is not a book that seeks to paint on a happy face, or to pretend that problems don’t exist.  As Achor says, “Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change.  It is the realization that we can”.

Nonsense on stilts: how to tell science from bunk – by Massimo Pigliucci

Many daft, dangerous ideas are couched in language that sounds scientific.  Being able to distinguish good science from “pseudoscience” is sometimes called the search for a “demarcation principle“.

The author of this book, evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci, has strong views about the importance of distinguishing science from pseudoscience.  To set the scene, he gives disturbing examples such as people who use scientific-sounding language to deny the connection between HIV and AIDS (and who often advocate horrific, bizarre treatments for AIDS), or who frighten parents away from vaccinating their children by quoting spurious statistics about links between vaccination and autism.  This makes it clear that the subject is far from being an academic one, just for armchair philosophising.  On the other hand, attempts by philosophers of science such as Karl Popper to identify a clear, watertight demarcation principle all seem to fail.  Science is too varied an enterprise to be capable of a simple definition.  As a result, it can take lots of effort to distinguish good science from bad science.  Nevertheless, this effort is worth it.  And this book provides a sweeping, up-to-date survey of the issues that arise.

The book brought me back to my own postgraduate studies from 1982-1986.  My research at that time covered the philosophy of mind, the characterisation of pseudo-science, creationism vs. Darwinism, and the shocking implications of quantum mechanics.  All four of these areas were covered in this book – and more besides.

It’s a book with many opinions.  I think it gets them about 85% right.  I particularly liked:

  • His careful analysis of why “Intelligent Design” is bad science
  • His emphasis on how pseudoscience produces no new predictions, but is intellectually infertile
  • His explanation of the problems of parapsychology (studies of extrasensory perception)
  • The challenges he lays down to various fields which appear grounded in mainstream science, but which are risking divergence away from scientific principles – fields such as superstring theory and SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence).

Along the way, Pigliucci shares lots of fascinating anecdotes about the history of science, and about the history of philosophy of science.  He’s a great story-teller.

The master switch: the rise and fall of information empires – by Tim Wu

Whereas “Nonsense on stilts” surveys the history of science, and draws out lessons about the most productive ways to continue to find out deeper truths about the world, “The master switch” surveys many aspects of the modern history of business, and draws out lessons about the most productive ways to organise society so that information can be shared in the most effective way.

The author, Tim Wu, is a professor at Columbia Law School, and (if anything) is an even better story-teller than Pigliucci.  He gives rivetting accounts of many of the key episodes in various information businesses, such as those based on the telephone, radio, TV, cinema, cable TV, the personal computer, and the Internet.  Lots of larger-than-life figures stride across the pages.  The accounts fit together as constituents of an over-arching narrative:

  • Control over information technologies is particularly important for the well-being of society
  • There are many arguments in favour of centralised control, which avoids wasteful inefficiencies of competition
  • Equally, there are many arguments in favour of decentralised control, with open access to the various parts of the system
  • Many information industries went through one (or more phases) of decentralised control, with numerous innovators working independently, before centralisation took place (or re-emerged)
  • Government regulation sometimes works to protect centralised infrastructure, and sometimes to ensure that adequate competition takes place
  • Opening up an industry to greater competition often introduces a period of relative chaos and increased prices for consumers, before the greater benefits of richer innovation have a chance to emerge (often in unexpected ways)
  • The Internet is by no means the first information industry for which commentators had high, idealistic hopes: similar near-utopian visions also accompanied the emergence of broadcast radio and of cable television
  • A major drawback of centralised control is that too much power is vested in just one place – in what can be called a “master switch” – allowing vested interests to drastically interfere with the flow of information.

AT&T – the company founded by Bell – features prominently in this book, both as a hero, and as a villain.  Wu describes how AT&T suppressed various breakthrough technologies (including magnetic disk recording, usable in answering machines) for many years, out of a fear that they would damage the company’s main business.  Similarly, RCA suppressed FM radio for many years, and also delayed the adoption of electronic television.  Legal delays were often a primary means to delay and frustrate competitors, whose finances lacked such deep pockets.

Wu often highlights ways in which business history could have taken different directions.  The outcome that actually transpired was often a close-run thing, compared to what seemed more likely at the time.  This emphasises the contingent nature of much of history, rather than events being inevitable.  (I know this from my own experiences at Symbian.  Recent articles in The Register emphasise how Symbian nearly died at birth, well before powering more than a quarter of a billion smartphones.  Other stories, as yet untold, could emphasise how the eventual relative decline of Symbian was by no means a foretold conclusion either.)

But the biggest implications Wu highlights are when the stories come up to date, in what he sees as a huge conflict between powers that want to control modern information technology resources, and those that prefer greater degrees of openness.  As Wu clarifies, it’s a complex landscape, but Apple’s iPhone approach aims at greater centralised design control, whereas Google’s Android approach aims at enabling a much wider number of connections – connections where many benefits arise, without the need to negotiate and maintain formal partnerships.

Compared to previous information technologies, the Internet has greater elements of decentralisation built into it.  However, the lessons of the previous chapters in “The master switch” are that even this decentralisation is vulnerable to powerful interests seizing control and changing its nature.  That gives greater poignancy to present-day debates over “network neutrality” – a term that was coined by Wu in a paper he wrote in 2002.

Sex at dawn: the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality – by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

(Sensitive readers should probably stop reading now…)

In terms of historical sweep, this last book outdoes all the others on my list.  It traces the origins of several modern human characteristics far into prehistory – to the time before agriculture, when humans existed as nomadic hunter-gatherers, with little sense of personal exclusive ownership.

This book reminds me of this oft-told story:

It is said that when the theory of evolution was first announced it was received by the wife of the Canon of Worcester Cathedral with the remark, “Descended from the apes! My dear, we will hope it is not true. But if it is, let us pray that it may not become generally known.”

I’ve read a lot on evolution over the years, and I think the evidence husband and wife authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha accumulate chapter after chapter, in “Sex at dawn”, is reasonably convincing – even though elements of present day “polite society” may well prefer this evidence not to become “generally known”.  The authors tell a story with many jaw-dropping episodes.

Among other things, the book systematically challenges the famous phrase from Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan that, absent a government, people would lead lives that were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.  On the contrary, the book marshals evidence, direct and indirect, that pre-agricultural people could enjoy relatively long lives, with ample food, and a strong sense of community.  Key to this mode of existence was “fierce sharing”, in which everyone felt a strong obligation to share food within the group … and not only food.  The X-rated claim in the book is that the sharing extended to “parallel multi-male, multi-female sexual relationships”, which bolstered powerful community identities.  Monogamy is, therefore, far from being exclusively “natural”.  Evidence in support of this conclusion includes:

  • Comparisons to behaviour in bonobos and chimps – the apes which are our closest evolutionary cousins
  • The practice in several contemporary nomadic tribes, in which children are viewed as having many fathers
  • Various human anatomical features, copulatory behaviour, aspects of sperm wars, etc.

In this analysis, human sexual nature developed under one set of circumstances for several million years, until dramatic changes in relatively recent times with the advent of agriculture, cities, and widespread exclusive ownership.  Social philosophies (including religions) have sought to change the norms of behaviour, with mixed success.

I’ll leave the last words to Ryan and Jetha, from their online FAQ:

We’re not recommending anything other than knowledge, introspection, and honesty. In fact, as we say in the book, we’re not really sure what to do with this information ourselves.

13 September 2010

Accelerating Nokia’s renewal

Filed under: leadership, Nokia, openness, software management, time to market, urgency, usability — David Wood @ 8:29 pm

“The time is right to accelerate the company’s renewal” – Jorma Ollila, Chairman of the Nokia Board of Directors, 10 Sept 2010

I’ve been a keen Nokia watcher since late 1996, when a group of senior managers from Nokia visited Psion’s offices in Sentinel House, near Edgware Road station in London.  These managers were looking for a mobile operating system to power new generations of devices that would in time come to be called smartphones.

From my observations, I fairly soon realised that Nokia had world-class operating practice.  At the time, they were “one of the big three” – along with Motorola and Ericsson.  These three companies had roughly the same mobile phone market share – sometimes with one doing a little better, sometimes with another doing a little better.  But the practices I was able to watch at close quarters, over more than a decade, drove Nokia’s position ever higher.  People stopped talking about “the big three” and recognised Nokia as being in a league of its own.

In recent times, of course, this market dominance has taken a major hit.  Unit volume sales continue high, but the proportion of mobile industry profits won by Nokia has seen significant decline, in the face of new competition.  It’s no surprise that Nokia’s Chairman, Jorma Ollila, has declared the need to accelerate the company’s renewal.

Following the dramatic appointment earlier this week of a new CEO, Stephen Elop, I’ve already been asked on many occasions what advice I would offer the new CEO.  Here’s what I would say:

1. Ensure faster software execution – by improving software process quality

Delays in Nokia’s releases – both platform releases and product releases – mean that market windows are missed.  Nokia’s lengthy release lifecycles compare poorly to what more nimble competitors are achieving.

Paradoxically, the way to achieve faster release cycles is not to focus on faster release cycles.  The best way to ensure customer satisfaction and predictable delivery, is, counter-intuitively, to focus more on software quality, interim customer feedback, agile project management, self-motivated teams, and general principles of excellence in software development, than on schedule management itself.

It’s in line with what software process expert Steve McConnell says,

  • IBM discovered 20 years ago that projects that focused on attaining the shortest schedules had high frequencies of cost and schedule overruns;
  • Projects that focused on achieving high quality had the best schedules and the highest productivities.

The experience of Symbian Software Ltd over many years bears out the same conclusion. The more we in Symbian Ltd focused on achieving high quality, the better we became with both schedule management and internal developer productivity.

Aside: see this previous blogpost for the argument that

In a company whose culture puts a strong emphasis upon fulfilling commitments and never missing deadlines, the agreed schedules are often built from estimations up to twice as long as the individually most likely outcome, and even so, they often miss even these extended deadlines…

2. Recognise that quality trumps quantity

Large product development teams risk falling foul of Brooks’s Law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.  In other words, too many cooks spoil the broth.  Each new person, or each new team, introduces new relationships that need to be navigated and managed.  More and more effort ends up in communications and bureaucracy, rather than in “real work”.

Large product development teams can also suffer from a diminution of individual quality.  This is summed up in the saying,

A-grade people hire A-grade people to work for them, but B-grade people hire C-grade people to work for them.

Related to this, in large organisations, is the Peter Principle:

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence.

Former Nokia executive Juhani Risku recently gave a lengthy interview to The Register.  Andrew Orlowski noted the following:

One phrase repeatedly came up in our conversation: The Peter Principle. This is the rule by which people are promoted to their own level of incompetence. Many, but not all of Nokia’s executives have attained this goal, claims Risku.

One thing that does seem to be true is that Nokia’s product development teams are larger than comparable teams in other companies.  Nokia’s new CEO needs to ensure that the organisation is simplified and make more effective.  However, in the process, he should seek to retain the true world-class performers and teams in the company he is inheriting.  This will require wise discrimination – and an inspired choice of trusted advisors.

3. Identify and enable people with powerful product vision

A mediocre product delivered quickly is better than a mediocre product delivered late.  But even better is when the development process results in a product with great user appeal.

The principle of “less is more” applies here.  A product that delivers 50% of the functionality, superbly implemented, is likely to outsell a product that has 100% of the functionality but a whole cluster of usability issues.  (And the former product will almost certainly generate better public reaction.)

That’s why a relentless focus on product design is needed.  Companies like RIM and Apple have powerful product designers who are able to articulate and then boldly defend their conceptions for appealing new products – all the way through to these products reaching the market.  Although these great designers are sensitive to feedback from users, they don’t allow their core product vision to be diluted by numerous “nice ideas” that complicate the execution of the core tasks.

Nokia’s new CEO needs to identify individuals (from either inside or outside the existing organisation) who can carry out this task for Nokia’s new products.  Then he needs to enable these individuals to succeed.

For a compelling account of how Jeff Hawkins acted with this kind single-minded focus on a “simply great product” at Palm, I recommend the book “Piloting Palm: The Inside Story of Palm, Handspring and the Birth of the Billion Dollar Handheld Industry” by Andrea Butter and David Pogue.

4. Build the absorptive capacity that will allow Nokia to benefit from openness

Nokia has often talked about Open Innovation, and has made strong bets in favour of open source.  However, it appears that it has gained comparatively little from these bets so far.

In order to benefit more fully from contributions from external developers, Nokia needs to build additional absorptive capacity into its engineering teams and processes.  Otherwise, there’s little point in continuing down the route of “openness”.  However, with the absorptive capacity in place, the underlying platforms used by Nokia should start accelerating their development – benefiting the entire community (including Nokia).

For more on some of the skills needed, see my article Open Source: necessary but not sufficient.

5. Avoid rash decisions – first, find out what is really happening

I would advise Nokia’s new CEO to urgently bring in expert software process consultants, to conduct an audit of both the strengths and the weaknesses of Nokia’s practices in software development.

To determine which teams really are performing well, and which are performing poorly, it’s not sufficient to rely on any general principle or hearsay.  Instead, I recommend the Lean principle of Genba, Genbutsu, Genjitsu:

Genba means the actual place
Genbutsu means the real thing, the actual thing
Genjitsu means the actual situation

Or, colloquially translated:

Go and see
Get the facts
Grasp the situation

6. Address the Knowing-Doing Gap

The advice I offer above is far from being alien to Nokia.  I am sure there are scores of senior managers inside Nokia who already know and appreciate the above principles.  The deeper problem is one of a “knowing doing gap”.

I’ve written on this topic before.  For now, I’ll just state the conclusion:

The following set of five characteristics distinguish companies that can successfully bridge the knowing-doing gap:

  1. They have leaders with a profound hands-on knowledge of the work domain;
  2. They have a bias for plain language and simple concepts;
  3. They encourage solutions rather than inaction, by framing questions asking “how”, not just “why”;
  4. They have strong mechanisms that close the loop – ensuring that actions are completed (rather than being forgotten, or excuses being accepted);
  5. They are not afraid to “learn by doing”, and thereby avoid analysis paralysis.

Happily for Nokia, Stephen Elop’s background seems to indicate that he will score well on these criteria.

16 December 2009

What’s in a name – pirate?

Filed under: brand, democracy, Intellectual property, openness, piracy — David Wood @ 7:24 pm

I’ve been taking a look at the website for the UK Pirate Party.

There’s quite a lot there which strikes a chord with me.  Here are some extracts:

The world is changing. The Pirate Party understands that the law needs to change to match the realities of life in the 21st century…

Reform copyright and patent law. We want to … reduce the excessive length of copyright protection… We want a patent system that doesn’t stifle innovation or make life saving drugs so expensive that patients die…

Ensure that everyone has real freedom of speech and real freedom to enjoy and participate in our shared culture…

The internet has turned our world into a global village.  Ideas can be shared at incredible speed, and at negligible cost.  The benefits are plain to see, but as a result, many vested interests are threatened.  The old guard works hard to preserve their power and their privilege, so we must work hard for our freedom.  The Pirate Party offers an alternative to the last century’s struggles between political left and political right.  We are open to anyone and everyone who wants to live in a fair and open society…

The Pirate Party UK offers a new way to tackle society’s problems, by releasing the potential of ideas, at the expense of corporate monopolies and the interests of a controlling state…

I ask myself: should I sign up to support this party – hoping to help it break the mould in UK politics?

I’m tempted.  But three things hold me back.

First, there are others items listed as priorities on the Pirate Party website, which seem much less important to me.  For example, I’m sympathetic to looking at the ideas “to legalise non-commercial file sharing”, but that hardly seems a black-and-white “no-brainer” deserving lots of my attention.  It’s not a principle I would nail to the mast.

Second, I wince at the description on the website of “the corrupt MPs who hold our nation’s cultural treasures to ransom, ignore our democratic wishes and undermine our civil liberties”.  I think this paints altogether too negative a view of existing UK politicians.  I’d rather find ways to collaborate with these existing MPs, rather than to out them and oppose them as “corrupt”.

Third, I’m thoroughly unesasy with the name “Pirate”.  This word has connotations which I think will prevent the party from “crossing the chasm” to gaining sufficient mainstream support.  Names are important.  If the party were called something like “The open party” rather than “The pirate party”, I suspect I (and many others) would be quicker to offer encouragement.

26 November 2009

Forthcoming speaking engagements

Filed under: Bangalore, Cambridge, developer experience, openness, presentation — David Wood @ 8:50 pm

Cambridge Wireless, 3rd December

Next Thursday, 3rd December, I’ll be participating in a meeting of the Software & Open Source SIG (Special Interest Group) of Cambridge Wireless.  Cambridge Wireless is a community of companies in and around Cambridge with the following declared ambition:

Our objective is to establish Cambridge Wireless as the leading wireless community in the world and where we are at the leading edge of thought, leadership and wireless technology discussions

Symbian Software Ltd was one of the founding members of Cambridge Wireless, and the Symbian Software Ltd office on the outskirts of Cambridge hosted several Cambridge Wireless events over the years.  The ones I attended provided excellent networking and stimulating conversation.

Cambridge Wireless organise a series of SIGs – such as the one on Software & Open Source.  Next Thursday, this SIG will be gathering to review a set of presentations addressing the topic,

Open handset ecosystems – can they deliver handsets that consumers want?

My own presentation at this event has the title,

Open Ecosystems – a Good Thing?

Here’s the abstract for my presentation:

David will look at the various ways in which openness is changing the way that handsets are being developed through the use of open ecosystems, how developer ecosystems are transforming the way that applications and services are being created, and give his view on the impact of this on consumers. Openness brings challenges as well as triumphs. Done right, however, the open community approach will (over time) generate better solutions than any system of tight control – and consumers will reap the benefits.

The other speakers at the event will be:

  • Alberto Bonamico of Symsource – talking on “Adapting to the Open Source Ecosystem”
  • Andrew Savory of LiMo Foundation – talking on “Open Apps – Good, Bad or Ugly?”

There will be a panel discussion after the talks, with plenty of opportunity for Q&A from the floor.

Registration for this event is still open, via the Cambridge Wireless website.

Special thanks are due to Peter Montgomery of Ogma Solutions and Phillip Burr of Octymo, the champions of this SIG.

Forum Nokia Developer Conference, Bangalore, 7th December

The following Monday, 7th December, I’ll have the privilege to join another illustrious panel of speakers, at the Forum Nokia Developer ’09 conference in Bangalore, India.  This conference has the theme,

Unlock Star within you

(Anyone familiar with the UI on Nokia phones will appreciate the double significance of this name.)

As stated on the event website:

Unlock possibilities!

A world of infinite possibilities is waiting for you. It opens up when you press the Unlock Star keys of a mobile phone!

Discover the amazing new ways in which Mobiles are simplifying life, helping people to connect, communicate and access information at Forum Nokia Developer Conference ’09, the biggest forum in India for mobile application developers. See how everything anyone can imagine can be possible, at the touch of a fingertip and from the top of the palm.

Unlock Learning!

Get the right inputs, insights and network at Forum Nokia Developer Conference ’09. Access all the resources you will ever need to turn your ideas into reality. Get insights from industry leaders. Learn tricks and tips to create applications, faster. Explore the value OVI store has to offer to you as a developer. And more…

You and your mobile application is all it takes!

Your innovation can play a key role in shaping the future and enabling people. Create it to run on hundreds of millions of mobile phones and transform yourself into a global star.

Keynote speakers at this event include:

D. Shivakumar, Managing Director, Nokia Mobile phones and Vice President, Nokia

Purnima Kochikar, Vice President, Forum Nokia and Developer Community

On this occasion, I’ll be speaking on the topic

Winning habits of star developers

People interested to attend can register via the conference website.

1 March 2009

A different kind of job title

Filed under: catalysts, communications, openness, vision — David Wood @ 11:29 pm

The companies where I’ve worked for the last twenty years – first Psion PLC, then Symbian Ltd – were, in the end, commercially driven companies, with a mission from shareholders to generate profits. The Symbian Foundation is different: it’s a not-for-profit organisation.

That’s not to say we are blind to commercial considerations. On the contrary, our task is to support a collection of member organisations, many of which are highly profit-focused. We have to manage our own finances well, and we have to enable our member organisations to earn significant profits (if that’s what they want to do). But we’re not, ourselves, a fundamentally commercial entity.

With this thought in mind, we took the decision that we ought to rethink other aspects of how we organise ourselves, and how we communicate. We did not want to take it for granted that elements from the setups of our previous companies would automatically also appear in the setup of the Symbian Foundation.

One outcome of this is a decision to avoid overly business-oriented language like “vice president”, “officers” and “chiefs”, in describing the senior management team. Instead, we’ve eventually settled on the term “Leadership Team”. Hopefully this terminology conveys an emphasis on openness, approachability, and a pioneering spirit.

To designate my own particular area of responsibility, I’ve taken a deep gulp, and I’ve plumped for the description:

Catalyst and Futurist, Leadership Team

In brief:

  • As catalyst, my role is to enable the Symbian software movement to discover and explore innovative solutions for the many challenges and opportunities faced by the mobile industry;
  • As futurist, my task is to distil compelling visions of the future of technology, business, and society – visions that provide the energy and inspiration for deeply productive open collaboration among the many creators and users of mobile products.

As catalyst, it falls to me to accelerate reactions that might otherwise occur too slowly. These reactions draw on energy that’s already present in the ecosystem, but my activities should help to ignite that energy. I’ve written before about the important role of catalysts in ecosystems, in my review of the book “The starfish and the spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

What’s involved in igniting reactions? In part, it’s to hold out an attractive vision of a different way of working, a different kind of product, a different software architecture, a different user experience, and so on. That’s where the “futurist” part of my job description fits in. In part, it’s also to act, on occasion, as an irritant.

From time to time, I’ll be acting as an ambassador for Symbian, as an agitator, as a networker, and as an evangelist. I’ve got mixed views about the term “evangelist”. On reflection, here’s why I prefer “catalyst”:

  • Evangelists come with pre-cooked solutions – they already know the answers;
  • Catalysts come with suggestions and ideas, but the answer actually comes from the ecosystem, rather than from the catalyst;
  • Evangelists listen, but only to improve their prospects for converting the listener;
  • Catalysts listen, in order to find the ingredients of a solution that no one fully understood in advance.

If I should forget this advice in the future, and speak more forcefully than I listen, I’m sure that members of the ecosystem will find the way to remind me of what true openness really means!

17 December 2008

Order from open source chaos

Filed under: chaos, Open Source, openness, partners — David Wood @ 11:57 am

Various videos and PDFs from the recent Symbian Partner Event are now available online.

One video that amply repays viewing is Jay Sullivan of Mozilla speaking on “Chaos and order: a Mozilla story”. You’ll find it on the presentations page of the SPE website.

Mozilla’s declared mission – “promote choice and innovation on the Internet” – has a lot in common with what Symbian is trying to do. One size does not fit all. Mozilla’s declared methods – involving open source, weak copyleft, and an independent foundation – also resonate with those of the Symbian Foundation. Even the sizes of the organisations are broadly comparable (Jay mentioned that Mozilla has around 175 employees).

Mozilla has been travelling along this particular road a lot longer than Symbian. This helps to explain why many Symbian people in the audience were hanging intently on every word in the presentation.

The questions that the presentation sought to answer included:

  • How can your organisation harness openness (where more and more things happen in public), rather than fight it?
  • How do you get your customers to support each other (peer-to-peer support), rather than always going to the centre for support?
  • How can a comparatively small company take advantage of wide public support to compete with huge existing players?
  • How can 75 developers inside the company leverage 100s of external daily contributors, 1000s of less frequent contributors, 10s of 1000s of overnight testers, and around one million beta testers?

In part, the answer to these questions is to use appropriate tools. For example, Mozilla relies heavily on the Bugzilla bug-tracking database.

In part, the answer comes down to attitude. Mozilla have adopted widespread openness of information sharing: they use wikis and newsgroups, which are almost all publicly accessible. (The exception is a small amount of personnel information.) Another example: Everyone in the world is able to dial into the company weekly status update meeting. (Jay commented: “We know our competition dials in”.)

What I personally found most interesting was Jay’s analysis of the potential chaos that ensues from this openness. For example, there can be a great deal of “noise” in the online comments from all sorts of people: it’s hard to filter postings that are based on reality, from those based on speculation or fantasy. There’s a constant trail of chat, with input from all over the world. Everyone can propose changes to the project. In such an environment, how can real work get done? How can you mediate among 50,000 people who all have ideas to improve a particular dialog box in the UI of an application? How to deal with strongly vocal minorities?

The answers were fascinating (and deeply practical):

  • Open doesn’t mean democracy
  • Decision-making is messy (but that doesn’t mean you should step back from openness)
  • Be prepared to tolerate some messiness
  • Treat disagreements as negotiations
  • Managers of the project need to drive towards definite outcomes – focusing on what is the right outcome rather than who has the right ideas
  • Organise a chorus (rather than a chaos), around local leaders
  • Although anyone can propose changes, you need to earn significant amounts of credibility before you are allowed to implement a change
  • Ensure quality through multiple reviews
  • Review for performance regressions as well as for functionality
  • Educate participants about the vision and the mission of the project, which in turn allows greater micro-level decisions
  • Guide participants towards using the appropriate communication channels for particular topics, and to back up their assertions with research and data
  • Create small focused teams with responsibility for specific areas of product interest
  • Create a common language, to allow discussions to be more productive
  • You still need to have clearly identified decision makers, even though you push as much of the discussion out “to the edge” as possible.

These are good thoughts to keep in mind in the midst of the inevitable turmoil as the Symbian Foundation places 40 million lines of code into open source (and makes corresponding changes in processes) over the next 18 months.

29 October 2008

A market for different degrees of openness

Filed under: openness, regulation, Wireless Influencers — David Wood @ 3:52 am

To encourage participants to speak candidly, the proceedings at the Rutberg “Wireless Influencers” conferences are held away from the prying eyes of journalists. A few interesting ideas popped up during the discussions at the 2008 event over the last two days – but because of the confidentiality rules, I’m not able to name the people who raised these ideas (so I can’t give credit where credit is due).

The common theme of these ideas is the clash of openness and regulation – and (in some cases) the attempt to find creative solutions to this clash.

The first example arose during a talk by a representative from a major operator. The talk described the runaway success one of their products was experiencing in a third world country. This product involves the use of mobile phones to transfer money. The speaker said that the main reason this product could not be deployed in more developed countries (to address use cases like simplifying the payment of money to a teenage baby sitter, or transfering cash to your children) is the deadhand of financial regulations: banks aren’t keen to allow operators to take over some of the functions that have traditionally been restricted to banks, so operators are legally barred from deploying these applications.

I found this ironic. Normally operators are the companies that are criticised for setting up regulatory systems that have the effect of maintaining their control over various important business processes (and thereby preserving their profits). But in this case, it was an operator who was criticising another part of industry for self-interestedly sheltering behind regulations.

Later in the day, one of the streams at the event discussed whether operators could ever allow users to install whatever applications they want, on their phones. The analogy was made with the world of the PC: the providers of network services for PCs generally have no veto over the applications which users choose to install. On the other hand, in some enterprise situations, a corporate IS department may well wish to impose that kind of control. In other words, for PCs, there is a range of different degrees of openness, depending on the environment. So, could a similar range of different degrees of openness be set up for mobile phones?

The idea here is that several different networks could form. In some, the network operator would impose restrictions on the applications that can be installed on the phones. In others, the network operators would be more permissive. In the second kind of network, users would be told that it was their own responsibility to deal with any unintended consequences from applications they installed.

Ideally, a kind of market would be formed, for networks that had different degrees of openness. Then we could let normal market dynamics determine which sort of network would flourish.

Could such a market actually be formed? Could closed networks and open networks co-exist? It seems worth thinking about.

And here’s one more twist – from a keynote discussion on the second day of the event. Rather than a network operator (or some other central certification authority) deciding which applications are suitable for installation on users’ phones, how about using the power of community ratings to push bad applications way down the list of available applications?

That’s an intriguing Web 2.0 kind of idea. On a network operating with this principle, most users would only see apps that had already received positive reviews. Apps that had bad consequences would instead receive bad reviews – and would therefore disappear off the bottom of the list of apps displayed in response to search queries. “Just like on YouTube”.

A market for different degrees of openness

Filed under: openness, regulation, Wireless Influencers — David Wood @ 3:52 am

To encourage participants to speak candidly, the proceedings at the Rutberg “Wireless Influencers” conferences are held away from the prying eyes of journalists. A few interesting ideas popped up during the discussions at the 2008 event over the last two days – but because of the confidentiality rules, I’m not able to name the people who raised these ideas (so I can’t give credit where credit is due).

The common theme of these ideas is the clash of openness and regulation – and (in some cases) the attempt to find creative solutions to this clash.

The first example arose during a talk by a representative from a major operator. The talk described the runaway success one of their products was experiencing in a third world country. This product involves the use of mobile phones to transfer money. The speaker said that the main reason this product could not be deployed in more developed countries (to address use cases like simplifying the payment of money to a teenage baby sitter, or transfering cash to your children) is the deadhand of financial regulations: banks aren’t keen to allow operators to take over some of the functions that have traditionally been restricted to banks, so operators are legally barred from deploying these applications.

I found this ironic. Normally operators are the companies that are criticised for setting up regulatory systems that have the effect of maintaining their control over various important business processes (and thereby preserving their profits). But in this case, it was an operator who was criticising another part of industry for self-interestedly sheltering behind regulations.

Later in the day, one of the streams at the event discussed whether operators could ever allow users to install whatever applications they want, on their phones. The analogy was made with the world of the PC: the providers of network services for PCs generally have no veto over the applications which users choose to install. On the other hand, in some enterprise situations, a corporate IS department may well wish to impose that kind of control. In other words, for PCs, there is a range of different degrees of openness, depending on the environment. So, could a similar range of different degrees of openness be set up for mobile phones?

The idea here is that several different networks could form. In some, the network operator would impose restrictions on the applications that can be installed on the phones. In others, the network operators would be more permissive. In the second kind of network, users would be told that it was their own responsibility to deal with any unintended consequences from applications they installed.

Ideally, a kind of market would be formed, for networks that had different degrees of openness. Then we could let normal market dynamics determine which sort of network would flourish.

Could such a market actually be formed? Could closed networks and open networks co-exist? It seems worth thinking about.

And here’s one more twist – from a keynote discussion on the second day of the event. Rather than a network operator (or some other central certification authority) deciding which applications are suitable for installation on users’ phones, how about using the power of community ratings to push bad applications way down the list of available applications?

That’s an intriguing Web 2.0 kind of idea. On a network operating with this principle, most users would only see apps that had already received positive reviews. Apps that had bad consequences would instead receive bad reviews – and would therefore disappear off the bottom of the list of apps displayed in response to search queries. “Just like on YouTube”.

11 October 2008

Serious advice to developers in tough times

Filed under: Economics, FOWA, openness, regulation — David Wood @ 6:57 pm

As I mentioned in my previous article, the FOWA London event on “The Future of Web Apps” featured a great deal of passion and enthusiasm for technology and software development systems. However, as I watched the presentations on Day Two, I was repeatedly struck by a deeper level of seriousness.

For example, AMEE Director Gavin Starks urged the audience to consider how changes in their applications could help reduce CO2 emissions. AMEE has exceptionally large topics on its mind: the acronym stands for “Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine“. Gavin sought to raise the aspiration level of developers: “If you really want to build an app that will change the world, how about building an app that will save the Earth?” But this talk was no pious homily: it contained several dozen ideas that could in principle act as possible starting points for new business ventures.

On a different kind of serious topic, Mahalo.com CEO Jason Calacanis elicited some gasps from the audience when he dared to suggest that, if startups are really serious about making a big mark in the business world, they should consider firing, not only their “average” employees, but also their “good” employees – under the rationale that “good is the enemy of the great“. The resulting audience Q&A could have continued the whole afternoon.

But the most topical presentation was the opening keynote by Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer Tim Bray. It started with a bang – with the words “I’m Scared” displayed in huge font on the screen.

With these words, Tim announced that he had, the previous afternoon, torn up the presentation he was previously planning to give – a presentation entitled “What to be Frightened of in Building A Web Application“.

Tim explained that the fear he would now address in his talk was about global economic matters rather than about usage issues with the likes of XML, Rails, and Flash. Instead of these technology-focused matters, he would instead cover the subject “Getting through the tough times“.

Tim described how he had spent several days in London ahead of the conference, somewhat jet lagged, watching lots of TV coverage about the current economic crisis. As he said, the web has the advantage of allowing everyone to get straight to the sources – and these sources are frightening, when you take the time to look at them. Tim explicitly referenced http://acrossthecurve.com/?p=1830, which contains the following gloomy prognosis:

…more and more it seems likely that the resolution of this crisis will be an historic financial calamity. Each and every step which central banks and regulators have taken to resolve the crisis has been met with failure. In the beginning, the steps would produce some brief stability.

In the last several days, the US Congress (belatedly) passed a bailout bill, the Federal Reserve has guaranteed commercial paper and in unprecedented coordination central banks around the globe slash base lending rates. Listen to the markets respond.

The market scoffs as Libor rises, stocks plummet and IBM is forced to pay usurious rates to borrow. There is no stability and no hiatus from the pain. It continues unabated in spite of the best efforts of dedicated people to solve it.

We are in the midst of an unfolding debacle. It is happening about us. I am not sure how or when it ends, but the end, when it arrives, will radically alter the way we live for a long time.

Whoever wins the US election and takes office in January will need prayers and divine intervention.

As Tim put it: “We’ve been running on several times the amount of money that actually exists. Now we’re going to have to manage on nearer the amount of money that does exist.” And to make things even more colourful, he said that the next few days could be like the short period of time in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina had passed, but before the floods struck (caused by damage brought about by the winds). For the world’s economy, the hurricane may have passed, but the flood is still to come.

The rest of Tim’s talk was full of advice that sounded, to me, as highly practical, for what developers should do, to increase their chances of survival through these tough times. (There’s a summary video here.) I paraphrase some highlights from my notes:

Double down and do a particularly good job. In these times, slack work could put your company out of business – or could cause your employer to decide your services are no longer necessary.

Large capital expenditures are a no-no. Find ways to work that don’t result in higher management being asked to sign large bills – they won’t.

Waterfalls are a no-no. No smart executive is going to commit to a lengthy project that will take longer than a year to generate any payback. Instead, get with the agile movement – pick out the two or three requirements in your project that you can deliver incrementally and which will result in payback in (say) 8-10 weeks.

Software licences are a no-no. Companies will no longer make large commitments to big licences for the likes of Oracle solutions. Open source is going to grow in prominence.

Contribute to open source projects. This is a great way to build professional credibility – to advertise your capabilities to potential new employers or business partners.

Get in the cloud. With cloud services, you only pay a small amount in the beginning, and you only pay larger amounts when traffic is flowing.

Stop believing in technology religions. The web is technologically heterogeneous. Be prepared to learn new skills, to adopt new programming languages, or to change the kinds of applications you develop.

Think about the basic needs of users. There will be less call for applications about fun things, or about partying and music. There will be more demand for applications that help people to save money – for example, the lowest gas bill, or the cheapest cell phone costs.

Think about telecomms. Users will give up their HDTVs, their SUVs, and their overseas holidays, but they won’t give up their cell phones. The iPhone and the Android are creating some great new opportunities. Developers of iPhone applications are earning themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars from applications that cost users only $1.99 per download. Developers in the audience should consider migrating some of their applications to mobile – or creating new applications for mobile.

The mention of telecomms quickened my pulse. On the one hand, I liked Tim’s emphasis on the likely continuing demand for high-value low-cost mobile solutions. On the other hand, I couldn’t help noticing there were references to iPhone and Android, but not to Symbian (or to any of the phone manufacturers who are using Symbian software).

Then I reflected that, similarly, namechecks were missing for RIM, Windows Mobile, and Palm. Tim’s next words interrupted this chain of thought and provided further explanation: With the iPhone and Android, no longer are the idiotic moronic mobile network operators standing in the way with a fence of barbed wire between developers and the people who actually buy phones.

This fierce dislike for network operator interference was consistent with a message underlying the whole event: developers should have the chance to show what they can do, using their talent and their raw effort, without being held up by organisational obstacles and value-chain choke-points. Developers dislike seemingly arbitrary regulation. That’s a message I take very seriously.

However, we can’t avoid all regulation. Indeed – to turn back from applications to economics – lack of regulation is arguably a principal cause of our current economic crisis.

The really hard thing is devising the right form of regulation – the right form of regulation for financial markets, and the right form of regulation for applications on potentially vulnerable mobile networks.

Both tasks are tough. But the solution in each case surely involves greater transparency.

The creation of the Symbian Foundation is intended to advance openness in two ways:

  1. Providing more access to the source code;
  2. Providing greater visibility of the decisions and processes that guide changes in both the software platform and the management of the associated ecosystem.

This openness won’t dissolve all regulation. But it should ensure that the regulations evolve, more quickly, to something that more fully benefits the whole industry.

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