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March 2005

The Future of Search: What We Want vs. What We Need

Dan Farber and Gary Price have some interesting things to say about a recent panel on "New Directions in Search" at the PC Forum ... which brought to mind the song "You Can't Always Get What You Want".  According to these reports, panelists agreed that the main goal is to get users the information they want, but differed in the approaches they are taking, or planning to take, in trying to infer what it is that users want.  Examples include the use of search and browsing histories of the searcher, information from users somehow linked to the searcher, and additional sources of content (e.g., video, GPS data).

There are times when I am searching for a very specific answer to a very specific question, and so I believe that some of these improvements can be useful.  However, there are many times when I'm not exactly sure what I am looking for, and I discover interesting new things rather serendipitously.  My concern is that if search is narrowed to include things that I've encountered or that my friends have encountered, we'll be sacrificing diversity for homogenization, and such opportunities for serendipitous discoveries may be significantly diminished.  While this may make for greater efficiency, I believe it may also reduce the richness of the online experience, through which I often find things I did not know, much less specify, that I needed.

You can't always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

Continue reading "The Future of Search: What We Want vs. What We Need" »


Fred Crosetto: Energy, Relationships and Latex Gloves

Fred Crosetto, the founder and Chief Energizing Officer of +Ammex Corporation ("the right protection right now"), gave an energetic and energizing presentation on "Bootstrapping: Creative Financing for Early Stage Companies" this week at a free (!) Northwest Entrepreneur Network seminar.  He shared all kinds of useful insights and experiences from his 17 years of entrepreneurship; I'll highlight a few in this post (his full presentation can be downloaded here).

Fred emphasized the importance for a CEO to set the vision and the mission (which he defined as "a dream with a plan"), and then be positive and persistent in being a source of energy for the organization (and removing energy sinks as early as possible, for everyone's greatest good -- his biggest mistake in business has been in not terminating poor performers sooner).  His team-building motto: get the right people in the right seats headed in the right direction.

Fred is the sole owner of Ammex, and is explicitly unwilling to share any pieces of the pie, having had unfavorable experiences early on with the initial partners.  And yet he emphasized the importance for a CEO to identify his/her own passion core, and then build a team with others who are excellent and passionate about areas in which the CEO is not passionate, excellent or (especially) competent.  He also had some suggestions about how to deal with lawyers, accountants, consultants and advisors -- essentially, to seek and listen to advice, but not to cede any decisions to them (and to report back to advisors on steps taken or not taken with respect to earlier advice).  He didn't have much to say about investors, except that he didn't have any and that "once you take money from people, they own you" (Fred is perhaps the only NWEN presenter I've encountered in the past several months who was not an investor, or someone seeking investment -- that, in itself, is considerable food for thought).

A final, brief word about Ammex: they sell latex gloves, and other protective gear, to various businesses.  Surprisingly (to me), only a small fraction of those are sold to the medical establishment, the vast majority going to other industries (e.g., auto mechanics who want to keep their hands clean).  Fred suggested that it was hard to get anyone excited about latex gloves, but if he brings the kind of energy he brought to the seminar into all his business interactions, I expect that he regularly succeeds in creating that kind of energy and excitement.


Philips Polymer Vision: A Realization of Phineas J. Whoopee's 3D Blackboard

Philips Polymer Vision recently announced a new rollable display for use with mobile devices and applications:

Polymervisionhandgraph_small12964

The Polymer Vision PV-QML5 is an ultra-thin (100µm) featherweight QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) active-matrix display with a diagonal of 5 inches. When not actively used, the display can be rolled up into a small housing with a radius of curvature of less than 7.5 mm. With four gray levels, the monochrome display provides paperlike viewing comfort with a high (10:1) contrast ratio for reading-intensive applications. Even in bright daylight, the display is easy to read. Using a bi-stable electrophoretic display effect from E Ink Corp., the display consumes an exceptionally low amount of power. It is thus ideally suited for mobile applications.

Polymervisionthumb_enterprise12990_1  Polymervisionthumb_gps12891_1

There are, of course, many useful applications for a scrollable display, some of which are highlighted on the Polymer Vision home page, and in their products and applications pages.  In looking them over, I was reminded of the 3-dimensional blackboard used by Phineas J. Whoopee, in the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoon series I watched as a child.  Whenever they had a problem to solve, Mr. Whoopee would pull a small slate out of his closet, and expand it to a full-sized blackboard, which would then provide a surface through which they could work on the solution (and upon which instructional filmclips could be shown). 

Tentux2

I don't know if the researchers working on this project were in any way influenced by Tennessee Tuxedo.  Science fiction has long been a resource for technology research and development (a fact that is noted on the Polymer Vision home page) ... it's interesting to consider how cartoons may also be a source of inspiration.


On Friendship: Symmetry vs. Karma

I recently read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on "Friendship" in "Self Reliance and Other Essays".  As with his essay "Self Reliance", there is much with which I agree, but some significant issues with which I disagree ... most notably his emphasis on the requirement of symmetry in friendships.

Among the themes Emerson emphasizes that resonate with me are the importance of truth, tenderness, and "rough courage" -- the willingness of friends to speak their truth(s) without reserve.  I feel ambivalent about his "law of one to one", stipulating that true conversation can only occur between pairs of conversants (vs. larger groups); while most of my deepest conversations have been 1:1, I have also participated in deep and enriching exchanges among larger groups of people ... although I will admit that these have been more the exception than the rule.

I do not agree with Emerson's notion that all friendships must be equal and symmetrical:

"I ought to be equal to every relation.  It makes no difference how many friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal.  If I have shrunk unequal from one contest, the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean and cowardly."

I believe that friendships follow the law of karma rather than the law of symmetry.  There is always give and take in any relationship; in my experience, at any time, with any friend, I judge that I am usually disproportionately giving or receiving.  In some cases, this giving / receiving ratio may balance out over time, but I have some friendships in which I do not believe we have reached, or ever will reach, parity.  I am grateful for the friends who have been been willing to give me so much more than I can ever "repay" ... and I can only hope that I, in turn, have been able to help other friends, some of whom may not be able to directly "repay" me.  While I may not be giving and receiving in equal proportion with any one particular friend at any given time, I do believe that the cumulative giving and receiving balances out across all friendships.

Now, even as I write this, I realize that even when I am giving, I am also receiving.  I rarely share any insights or experiences with my friends that I do not also benefit from hearing or reading [again] -- anything I say, I say as much for my own benefit as anyone else's.  I also experience great joy whenever I feel I am able to give something of value to a friend.  Perhaps the friends who I believe are far more giving in our relationships receive similar benefits ... and so there may exist some kind of symmetry even at the 1:1 level.

I enjoyed some of Emerson's statistically improbable phrases (based on my filter) -- cordial exhiliration, commended stranger, high freedom of great conversation, mush of concession -- and will conclude below with a few of the longer exerpts from the essay that I found particularly provocative and/or profound.

Continue reading "On Friendship: Symmetry vs. Karma" »


Curt Rosengren: Discovering Career Passions

Curt Rosengren gave a catalyzing presentation on Discovering Career Passion at the EastSide Professional Networking Group (ESPNG) recently.  He began with a simple and empowering definition of passion:

Passion is the energy that comes from bringing more of YOU into what you do.

Curt also invoked the Mayan notion of center as a direction (via the word "yaxshim" (sp?)) and contrasted this with modern western society's tendency to get away from our centers and move toward something else (the "next big thing").  He then went on to provide a pragmatic process to creating a vibrant, fulfilling career (more details about which can be found in his Occupational Adventure Guide).

While Curt was emphasizing baby steps toward igniting career passions, I got to thinking about what the world might be like if everyone was fully and passionately engaged in everything they did.  I earlier speculated on what the world would be like if all people and organizations adopted a strict policy of socially responsible investing of their financial resources, but what if we were to only invest our time and efforts into activities about which we felt passionate?  What kinds of careers would survive?  What kinds of careers would thrive?  What kinds of corporations would exist ... and how large could they possibly be?


Amazon's Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs): Potentially Useful Curiosities

I was browsing through some books at Amazon today and saw a field I'd never seen before: statistically improbable phrases (SIPs).  These are phrases that occur frequently in one particular book and infrequently in others, and thus likely to be "interesting" or "distinctive".  As an example, the Amazon page for "Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming Your RIght to Live the Life You Were Meant to Live", by Martha Beck, includes the following SIPs: your emotional compass, your social self, your essential self, your internal compasses, your true path, turtle steps, emotional shrapnel, your emotional wounds, emotional compasses, divine decadence, catalytic event.  Clicking on "your emotional wounds" brings up a page listing 17 other books in which that phrase occurs at least once.

I've always been fond of turns of phrases, and so I like this new SIPs feature (though it doesn't appear to be available all too widely yet -- seems to be limited to those books for which an exerpt is included).  I suspect I'd be more likely to buy books in which the author has coined some evocative phrases than a book in which no phrases -- or none that evoke anything intriguing (for me) -- are listed.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time that Amazon has expanded its recommender system beyond collaborative filtering -- where recommendations are based on people who have bought similar items to what you have bought -- and into (or at least toward)  content-based filtering -- where recommendations are based on the actual content of the items that you have bought.  It will be interesting to see how this new feature affects customers' experience (and Amazon's sales).  If nothing else, it adds yet another cool feature that distinguishes Amazon from its competitors.


Jan Jewell: Celebrating Entrepreneurial Perseverance and Open Book Management

Jan Jewell, co-founder and co-CEO of Celebrate Express, gave a presentation on "Open Book Management and the Celebrate Express Story" at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network Venture Breakfast Meeting this Friday.  Jan led off with a history of her personal and professional ups and downs with Birthday Express (which evolved into Celebrate Express).  Among the themes that stood out for me were her strong perseverance and "do-it-yourself" spirit, perhaps best summarized by her oft-repeated mantra, "'No' doesn't mean 'no' unless I say it does."  It's pretty clear to me that she has the material for at least one book just based on the this part of the presentation.

The second portion of the presentation, which was very brief, focused on the concept of open book management, as espoused by Jack Stack in his book "The Great Game of Business", which emphasizes three ideas:

  1. Know and Teach the Rules
    It is tough to play a game if you don’t know the rules.
    Plan the business.
  2. Follow the Action and Keep Score
    The only way to know the score is to follow the action and keep tally.
    Communicate results.
  3. Provide a Stake in the Outcome
    Providing an incentive keeps the players in the game.
    Reward the outcome.

Jan distilled many of her words of wisdom for entrepreneurs into one compelling concept: DROOM (Don't Run Out Of Money).  She emphasized the importance of making sure that employees understand the importance of positive cash flow, develop financial literacy, and take an active part in saving money (she suggested a variety of fun and games to achieve this last goal).

She finished off her presentation with three quotes that summarize her main points:

  • Once you arm people with information, your organization will take on a life of its own.
  • If you create an organization of people who think and act like owners, you will unleash your organization’s financial potential.
  • Birthing a dream takes years and exacts a price.   Dreams cost money, sweat, frustration, tears, courage, choices, perseverance, and extraordinary patience.
    But birthing a dream requires one more thing. Love.

On Karma and Being a Mensch

I just finished posting another goal on 43 Things: "be a mensch", in the sense that Guy Kawasaki describes in his book "The Art of the Start":

Mensch is the Yiddish term for a person who is ethical, decent and admirable. It is the highest form of praise one can receive from people whose opinions matter.

Guy describes three foundations for menschhood:

  1. Helping lots of people, especially those who cannot help you (although I personally believe it's impossible to determine in advance who can and can't help you ... in fact, I actually believe that everyone has something of value to offer, even when it's not immediately obvious).
  2. Do what's right (not what's easy, expedient, money-saving or possible to get away with)
  3. Pay back society, for such gifts as
    • family and friends
    • spiritual fulfillment
    • good health
    • beautiful surroundings
    • economic success
    • a hat trick every once in a while

In writing this down, I was reminded of the book, "Instant Karma", by Barbara Ann Kipfer, that I picked up at Jamba Juice a while back.  I also found a site that has a nice description of the Law of Karma, which involves the consequences of "skillful" vs. "unskillful" actions.  [BTW, Peter Hupalo also has some interesting things to say on becoming a mensch.]

I originally started writing this down in my 43 Things post, and recognized that this is the kind of thing I would normally write about in this blog, which up until discovering 43 Things a few days ago, had been my primary repository for inspiration.  I'm concerned about the growing fragmentation in my digital representation of self.  I hate to scale back my posts here (which is why I'm reproducing and elaborating on my 43 Things post here), and yet thus far, I'm getting more feedback and encouragement on the goals and comments I post on 43 Things than I typically get on this blog. 

My primary intent for this blog was to have a personal repository for thoughts and experiences, but perhaps I am more concerned with feedback than I originally acknowledged ... or perhaps something about the community within 43 Things is growing on (and through?) me.


Building a Winning Team: Attracting Human and Financial Capital

Joseph Piper, Managing Partner of Integra Ventures, and Janis Machala, Managing Partner of Paladin Partners, gave a great presentation on "Building a Winning Team" at the MIT Enterprise Forum Venture Lab forum tonight.  As with the last Venture Lab I attended -- on the entrepreneurial passion and discipline required to "Build a Valuable Business" -- the presenters merged their presentation slides and took turns sharing their insights and experiences throughout the event.  Among the interesting new things I learned were:

  • the CEO's primary role is to be an attractor of capital, human (recruiting) or financial (fundraising)
  • financial capital follows human capital -- VCs are unlikely to commit funds if the management team has not demonstrated their commitment to the venture (e.g., by giving up their income-producing day jobs)
  • hiring the right people involves striking a balance between ensuring cultural fit without requiring everyone to be friends

Toward the end, Janis emphasized the importance of "the little things" -- having a czar of fun, various recreational props (ping pong or foos ball tables) or hand lotion in the bathroom.  I've never worked in a place that had these features ... but perhaps my next workplace will.

[Update (2005-03-21): Cem reminded me that we did have hand lotion in the lavatories at Accenture; and if any of my former Intel friends were to read this, they would probably remind me that Sunny maintained a hand lotion "bar" near her desk ... but I'm still pretty sure I've never worked near ping pong and foos ball tables.]


What is Joe Wining About?

I have launched a new blog, devoted to wine.  I've been meaning to do this for quite some time now, and the prospect of setting and accomplishing a goal on 43 Things -- and experiencing the [anticipated] accompanying endorphin release -- provided the tipping point.  It's called "What is Joe Wining About?", and I plan to use it as a personal repository for my wine experiences.  To kick things off, I posted about a great, inexpensive Zinfandel (Old Moon) I just found and an unusual food/wine pairing (hamburger and Cabernet Franc) that I'd wanted to post something about since I started this blog.  Perhaps I'll get an additional endorphin release as this contributes to another goal I've posted on 43 Things: "Be a better blogger".

[Update: I changed the name to World Wine Weblog; more about that here.]