This is my first week as Principal Instigator at MyStrands. I wrote last week about leaving Nokia to join MyStrands, in which I focused primarily on the leaving part. I wanted to write a little more today about the joining part, and the excitement I feel about reprising and redefining my principal instigator role in a new organization. I have meetings next week in Corvallis with some of my new colleagues in the Innovation group to discuss more generally and specifically what we'll be doing - collectively and individually - and hope to post another entry toward the end of next week regarding what the soon-to-be-established Seattle lab will look like - and do.
In a bio blurb I recently sent to Dan Oestreich to preface some of my favorite poems about leadership (The Journey, by Mary Oliver, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and Our Deepest Fear, by Marianne Williamson) in his growing collection of leadership poems, I wrote that "Joe is in the people business, serving technology" (riffing on a perspective articulated by the passionate, persevering and partnering Howard Schultz that he - and Starbucks - is in the "people business, serving coffee"). So I want to write about both the people and the technology at MyStrands that infuse me with enthusiasm for this new adventure. [Update: a variation of the blurb I sent to Dan is now on my bio page in the collection of MyStrands Management Team pages.]
I first met the Francisco Martin, CEO of MyStrands, and Atakan Cetinsoy, VP of Corporate Development, rather serendipitously at a Supernova conference pre-party in San Francisco in the summer of 2006, where they were going to be giving a presentation (I was in town for another event, and just happened to get on the party invitation list). We started chatting during the party about the work I'd done - especially an earlier group recommender system for music (MusicFX) and some more recent proactive display applications - and they told me about their social recommendation core technology (which started out with music recommendations) and their [then] new partyStrands application that combines music recommendation with large displays and mobile phones to promote social interactions in party settings. I joined Nokia Research Center Palo Alto shortly thereafter, where - among other activities - I instigated a new generation of proactive displays that promote community in a workplace environment. MyStrands, meanwhile, has continued to make great strides in areas of mutual interest.
Francisco recently contacted me about the possibility of starting up a new MyStrands lab in Seattle. MyStrands already has labs in Barcelona and New York that are developing a range of new innovations for the company (and its customers) - not that I mean to imply that innovations only arise out of the labs (at MyStrands or elsewhere) ... indeed, one of the refrains I heard from everyone I spoke with over the past month or so was [what I would call] distributed empowerment - everyone is encouraged to innovate (and feels supported in doing so). The company's recent infusion of capital has vastly increased the ability and incentive to expand, and I'm honored and delighted to have been asked to help facilitate that expansion - in people and innovations - in Seattle.
Other people I spoke with at MyStrands after my reconnection with Francisco reinforced many of the positive prospects I sensed during our initial discussions. Rick Hangartner, the Chief Scientist, confirmed that many of the things I'm interested in doing are very well aligned with MyStrands' vision, mission and goals, and that many of the projects already underway will help support and propel many of the new ideas we all have in mind. Jason Herskowitz, VP of Consumer Products (as well as blogger, creator of me*dia*or, a Ning social network site focused on music, and regular contributor to the Music 2.0 Directory that is charting out the future of [digital] music), shared some of his aspirations for creating ever more engaging future music experiences and assured me that he and others at MyStrands were preparing for the potential disruptions in the music industry I recently read about in the Future of Music. Peyman Faratin, Principal Scientist and director of the new MyStrands lab in New York, has some interesting ideas about economics, market mechanisms and business models that I'm looking forward to learning more about (and capitalizing on) ... and it is very reassuring to have a compadre on the east coast who will be facing many of the same opportunities and challenges that I anticipate in Seattle. Marc Torrens, Chief Innovation Officer and my (& Peyman's) direct manager, described his management style as very facilitative and connective, and hopes to help Peyman and me learn quickly about what MyStrands already has in the works, and how our ideas can help expand or extend innovations most effectively - or perhaps introduce entirely new strands to the growing range of social recommendation systems in the MyStrands family.
Gabi Aldamiz-echevaria, VP of Marketing and Communications - as well as others throughout the MyStrands organization - do a great job of walking the talk of open innovation by openly communicating through the MyStrands blog (which recently posted an entry announcing my joining MyStrands). The blog manifests much of the positive energy I've felt in all my email and phone exchanges with other Stranders, and I'm really excited about tapping into and promulgating that positive energy as our paths (strands?) increasingly intertwine.
A final note on technology: MyStrands is an all-Apple shop. Although Nokia had been a Windows shop, I was one of the more than 50% of researchers at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto who had switched to Macs, so that part of the transition is going smoothly. However, I also got a brand new iPhone (which my daughter thinks is exceedingly unfair), and so I may start nonconsensually exhibiting iPhone iGloat - I have not figured how to modify the "Sent from my iPhone" signature. Nokia was kind enough to let me keep my N95 ... which, as my new colleagues recently noted on their blog, runs the MyStrands Social Player (ranked among 25 coolest mobile applications for the N95) ... so I'm not yet sure which will become my primary mobile "phone" (or, perhaps I should say my primary "mobile social media connection device").
[Oops - I forgot to add a final note on terminology. At Nokia, it became clear that "instigator" did not translate easily into Finnish, the native language of many of my former colleagues. In case the word does not translate easily into Spanish - the native language of many of my new colleagues - I wanted to include a Merriam Webster's definition of instigate:
to goad or urge forward : provoke
I also want to clarify that this title is not intended to suggest that I am the chief instigator - I am sure there are many instigators throughout the company (as there are throughout Nokia) - but rather to suggest that instigation is what I will principally be doing ... I think this better characterizes my modus operandi than "Scientist" or "Researcher", or even "Manager" or "Director", although I do like to intermingle research and science - and even some management and direction - along with design, development and deployment ... and, of course, instigation :-) ]