Monthly Archives: November 2002

We are inclined to think

We are inclined to think that genuine innovators are loners, that they
do not need the social reinforcement the rest of us crave. But that’s not how it works… In his book ‘The Sociology of Philosophies,’ Randall Collins finds in all of known history only three major thinkers who appeared on the scene by
themselves: the first-century Taoist metaphysician Wang Ch’ung, the fourteenth-century Zen mystic Bassui Tokusho, and the fourteenth-century Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun. Everyone else who mattered was part of a movement, a school, a band of followers and
disciples and mentors and rivals and friends who saw each other all the time and had long arguments over coffee and slept with one another’s spouses. ” — Malcolm Gladwell

Why We Have to Stick Together

Amen brother (and sister). Since this is Thanksgiving week, I’m going to tell you what I’m most thankful for: all of you–friends, family and business associates — who remain in my life adding intelligence, warmth, joy, and even criticism. I hope I have added to your lives as you have enriched mine.

Every time I see that someone out there has opened and read one of these emails, I think how blessed I am to have people who care what I have to say enough to invest some of their precious time in reading it. Please keep offering me your feedback (even negative), which I take as a sign of your love.

In the same article by Malcolm Gladwell that I quoted from above (a book review from next week’s “New Yorker”), Gladwell points out that “one of the peculiar features of group dynamics is that clusters of people will come to decisions that are far more extreme than any individual member would have come to on his own. People compete with each other and egg each other on, showboat and grandstand; and along the way they often lose sight of what they truly believed when the meeting began. Typically, this is considered a bad
thing, because it means that groups formed explicitly to find middle ground often end up someplace far away. But at times this quality turns out to be tremendously productive, because, after all, losing sight of what you truly believed when the meeting began is one way of defining innovation.”

I love this point. Pushed to its extremes, it’s not unrelated to crowd psychology, which convinced on some perfectly nice Columbus Ohioans to rip up their city last weekend. But anywhere along the path to that kind of behavior, a support system, salon, cult, cirle — whatever–can be tremendously effective in making something happen.

There’s always strength in numbers, which is why I persevere at things like the Tech Oasis, where volunteers manifest almost magically to spread the word.

Want help from Stealthmode Partners?

Who Are You? And Who Can Be You?

“An identity-theft ring that relied on a low-level employee of a Long Island software company stole the credit histories of more than 30,000 people and used them to empty bank accounts, take out false loans and run up charges on credit cards, among other crimes, federal authorities in Manhattan said yesterday.” –New York Times, 11/26/2002

As a foster parent, I’ve been a victim of identity theft several times: the kids have used my credit cards, forged my name on checks, and gone to the ATM with my bank cards. Typically, I didn’t find out about it until I needed a loan and some bank or mortgage company pulled my credit.

THat was all before the Internet. Since then, identity theft has proliferated extraordinarily. The worst kind of identity theft comes from online records that aren’t secure, like the ones described by the Times. In the past few months of working with Edgeos, a “hacker” company that tests networks for security vulnerability, I’ve seen a remarkable lack of attention paid to cybersecurity. What a tough sell! No one really cares — not your lawyer, not your accountant, not your doctor, not your banker. They are living in a dream: “it will never happen to me.” You are probably a supporting actor in this dream.

I remember this same attitude from ten years ago, when I had a client who sold anti-virus software. No one at that time believed viruses were for real, or would affect them. Only after whole companies were taken down for days by viruses did people spring for anti-virus protection.

This is not peculiar to my readers, or to Arizona, or to small business. Indeed, this lack of adequate security is apparently endemic in cyberspace. May I suggest that you get your head out of the sand and order a security audit for your computers and/or your network? There’s even a free trial.

Have an attitude of gratitude, and a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Good-bye, Columbus

I spent the week-end in Columbus, Ohio, the first time I had been east in a couple of years. It was raining when I arrived, it rained both week-end days, and it was raining when I left. In fact, I was never sure if it was day or night during my stay, because it never got light. Not light the way I am used to it: the kind of light that occasions sunglasses.

This was a big shock to me, because even when it rains in Arizona, we don’t get that everyday dreariness that characterizes the late fall in the midwest and the northeast. I wondered how people got themselves motivated to get out of bed in that weather.

And yet, people continue to live there. Smart people. Big companies like Battelle and Nationwide are headquartered there. Large universities are there. My business partner, who grew up in Columbus, says it is a good place to start a business because there’s not much else to do.

Here in Arizona, we have a lot else to do, because the weather’s great and the natural surroundings are beautiful. We do, however, have a shortage of successful businesses at present.

But now, TGen has started its “business” here, and the world will finally find out what a great place this is to live. Already, its three new hires have bought homes in Anthem, Paradise Valley, and Fountain Hills: seems like quite a commute downtown to us locals, but not to someone from the east, where the commute was invented. The TGen people are so happy to be out of Columbus, or Bethesda, or New Jersey, that they don’t mind driving past all those miles of red tile roofs to get to work.

I warn you right now: this is a pro-TGen stance I am about to take. Yes, TGen is a non-profit research institute that will study the genetic basis of disease. Yes, it may take a while to reap the economic development benefits of its basic science research. Yes, the state put a lot of money into TGen that might have gone elsewhere down the social services or the correctional drain.

But — TGen is also an important public/private partnership that will bring together some of the best minds here in Arizona with some top researchers from across the nation. Both the Human Genome Project and TGen have gotten national exposure and that will attract national talent. It will bring the best and the brightest to us and to the three universities.

The people who are attracted to the idea of translational genomics are not welfare recipients or retirees. They already have grants that will follow them if they chose to move here. Listen carefully: they come with money.

More important, TGen will focus on translating scientific research into medical advances for patients. TGen isn’t a semiconductor company or a golf club manufacturer, a call center or a restaurant chain. It’s a partnership dedicated to using research in genomics to improve the quality of life all over the world.

However, because we were lucky enough to attract it, TGen’s first foci are melanoma, diabetes, neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer. In Arizona, we have plenty of all of these. We’re the melanoma capital of the world. We have a surplus of native Americans with diabetes. And we have even more elderly people who are destined to get Alzheimer’s.

People live in places like Rochester, MN because of the Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland, OH because of the Cleveland Clinic. They gravitate to good health care. An aging demographic accelerates this.

They move to places like San Francisco and San Jose because of the exciting jobs, enduring high living costs and lousy commutes. The baby boom echo will accelerate this, unless we put some of those exciting jobs here.

Until recently, smart, successful people came to Arizona only for the golf. But I count on TGen to reverse the brain drain that has plagued Arizona. As we gradually come to the attention of the scientific community, we will come to the attention of the rest of the smart people as well.

We can quit spending money on ads to lure tourists to Arizona. We can quit spending money on branding campaigns that change every year and don’t work anyway. If we play our cards right, TGen will do our branding work for us. If Arizona becomes the place where cures for melanoma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, prostate and pancreatic cancer are found, there will be no shortage of tourists, startups, retirees, or corporate headquarters.

And then all our children will come home.

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I have been writing this

I have been writing this column for almost four years. In that time, the technology world has been turned on its ear twice, first by a huge influx of dumb money that made many unassuming engineers rich, and then by a huge sucking sound that made many presumably smart people poor.

If you are a recent recipient of this weekly e-zine, you probably don’t know why you’re getting it. (That might be true even if you have been getting it for years!) This journal is a vehicle through which, from the vantage point of human being, I express my perceptions about how technology and humanity intersect. It is meant to encourage thought, response, and sometimes action.

But it’s only my opinion, gleaned from my own reading and experience. I started it for clients and family, and it has just grown.

When I started it, hardware and software were fairly arcane subjects and most of my friends didn’t discuss them in public. The Internet was something for people in universities. As an early adopter, I thought I could help spread the gospel of how technology improves the world.

This week, after the election, I felt it was time to take a step back and look at the way the world has changed since I started proselytizing on behalf of technology. I’m beginning to question whether “improved” is a world I can apply to the world today as opposed to that of four years ago.

Now, as I listen to CNBC every morning, I hear commentators debating about whether we will ever see another bull market like the one we had in the late ’90s. At the same time, I hear that Osama bin Laden is alive and celebrating the recent terrorist attacks in Bali, Russia, Israel, etc. Next, I hear that we can expect another terrorist attack on the heels of this latest tape.

What’s the biggest change? Not the pervasive influence of the semiconductor in everyday life. Not the ability to keep in touch over the Internet with people from distant countries and distant times (yes, Dan and Susan, my high school buddies, I mean you).
Not the ability to bombard anthrax molecules with proteins to discover cures for a disease only cows used to get.

No. The biggest change is fear. People today are living in a pervasive climate of fear.

Last weekend, I saw “Bowling for Columbine,” a movie about America’s complex relationship to guns. Among the many things I liked about that movie was the point Michael Moore made about the difference between Americans and Canadians. Moore points out that Americans live in fear, which causes them to use their firearms against each other rather than against real enemies, or for killing food. On the other hand, Canadians have just as many guns per capita as Americans, but very few homicides per year.

This is not the major theme of the movie, but it’s something that attracted me. It makes the issue of gun control much more complex. American activists for gun control have long been saying that we have to limit the number of guns sold, more carefully screen the people who possess them, or remove our right to bear arms altogether in order to prevent incidents like the Columbine High School massacre.

But in Canada, there are something like ten million households with seven million guns. And we have more homicides with guns in Tampa, Florida annually than they do in the entire country of Canada.

Moore believes the reason we are using guns on each other is fear, a fear Canadians (who don’t lock their doors) don’t have. He believes this fear is fostered by the media, which reports in the “if it bleeds, it leads” tradition.

I’ll go further than Moore. I believe our government also fosters fear by constantly discussing Saddam Hussein and his fondness for “weaponsofmassdestruction” (this is one word on TV), Al Qaeda and its plans for the future, or the changing supply of smallpox vaccine at NIH. President Bush, whether you agree with him or not, is marketing to Americans through fear.

Fear and greed are known to be great motivators. The stock market bubble was motivated by greed. The current environment for technology is motivated by fear.

Technology is a facilitator, not a thing in itself. Somehow, we have taken all the technological advances in recent years –the Internet, communications satellites, the PC–and turned them into instruments of fear and greed, rather than facilitators of peace and love. Even our medical advances are marketed through fear: the MRI, the PSA test, the mammogram.

This leads me to believe, as we go into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, that technology has, on balance, not changed a damned thing. Or at least not anything important.

But if I had to choose, I might choose the era of greed over the era of fear.

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No wonder teachers are not

No wonder teachers are not convinced computers work in education. They are the most user-unfriendly devices on earth, and it�s a minor miracle that anyone struggles through the learning curve. What�s worse, they are marketed, with great hyperbole, as plug and play. In my twenty one years of owning a PC, I have *never* plugged and played anything � not a Mac, not a PC, not a device. This week, as Bill Gates launches the tablet PC, I am almost laughing aloud as I imagine what can go wrong with this user-friendly device. I�m an early adopter of devices, and a power user of every gadget I can get my hands on, but I would never claim any of them are easy.

In the classroom, all that difficulty is magnified, perhaps because there are students present to observe. Every week, I invite a guest speaker to my entrepreneurship class at Arizona School of Health Sciences. This facility is the most exciting classroom I have ever seen: it has electrical outlets at every seat, broadband internet connectivity to the podium and the desktop, a huge projection screen in the front of the class wireless microphones for the speakers, the ability to digitally record activity in the room from at least three different perspectives (teacher, student, monitor) and every conceivable multimedia gizmo you would ever want. There are two members of the medical informatics program in attendance at every class, one an MIT grad and the other a former Apple employee, waiting in the wings to provide tech support.

I thought to myself �all is changed in the classroom. How fortunate I am to be teaching again.�

On one occasion, a distinguished speaker did me a huge favor and drove up from Tucson to present his talk, which was accompanied by about fifty slides. One of the attractions was our promise that he could have a copy of his presentation that he might make use of again. But when we played the tape back, it contained no audio.

Another week, we lost about fifteen minutes trying to make the projector talk to the computer.

In yet another case, we couldn�t get the microphone to work.

Inevitably, something is plugged in wrong when we enter the room, and in order to make every device talk to every other device, we have to shut the whole system down and boot it up again, while I tap dance in front of the room. I bet we lose fifteen minutes of almost every class.

And I don�t mean to pick on ASHS; it�s just a metaphor for every videoconference, Webex, and conference call I ever participate in. They never get started on time, because the equipment, no matter how many times it has been tested, never functions the way it should. When I was at Intel, the overwhelming question was �who�s on the bridge? Who just dropped off? Can we get so-and-so back on the line?� I�ve been in hundreds of meetings where someone has said, �does anyone know how to conference so-and-so in?�

Just this morning, I was part of a presentation at the Arizona Credit Union League. The lead presenter had all our slides on his laptop. His laptop had a track ball instead of a mouse. The audience writhed while we presenters all struggled to move the cursor with the track ball. Half the time the cursor was out of control, randomly careening across the screen, pointing to nothing. I bet we wasted the same fifteen minutes, and we finally gave up trying to demonstrate on the computer.

Now go back in time. Remember when you were in school, and your teacher tried to show an educational film? It was a special occasion. The projector was ceremoniously rolled into the room from the mysterious �AV� source, the film was carefully extracted from the metal can, and the teacher began trying to thread the film through the �automatic� threader. Remember those moments when the projector�s bulb burned through the film? Remember when the film�s leader escaped the threading and flapped wildly as the projector�s reels continued to turn? Remember the volume in the classroom getting louder and louder as the teacher struggled to re-thread the film, change the bulb, discover why there was no sound?

Has there truly been a technology revolution? Have we really increased our productivity through the use of technology? Everyone is computer literate now, so that�s not an excuse. But have we really made learning any quicker, faster, better? In the old days of projectors, we all knew we�d lose fifteen minutes of every class while the teacher fiddled with the film. We should probably come to terms with the fact that we haven�t made up for that loss, and we never will.

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I just got the first

I just got the first personalized license plate I have ever owned. My father viewed vanity plates with derision, saying that if you didn�t know who you were, no license plate could tell you. But I now own a Toyota Forerunner of a color � like a metallic baked potato skin — that matches all the other SUVs in any parking lot. Tired of wandering around acres of asphalt trying to identify my car, I got on the Arizona Divison of Motor Vehicles web site and went through a process very similar to that of selecting a domain name.

And guess what was available? STARTUP!!!! Can you imagine a population so lacking in entrepreneurial spirit that the quintessential license plate for entrepreneurship hasn�t already been taken??

I am now the proud possessor of STARTUP, black letters against the hot pink �protect the environment� background. It was that easy to have two of my major passions stamped on one piece of metal.

To make the money to pay for the personalized license plate (and the dog food I�m buying for the other two occupants of the Forerunner), I�m working on my own little startup project for this year. Since nothing I do is ever in stealth mode, here�s the thought process so far:

In beating the drum for small amounts of funding for early stage companies, I�ve spoken to many people in the community who could be angels, but don�t feel comfortable investing in technology companies or investing in any kind of companies they don�t control.

I�ve been trying to figure out how to engage people like this in the entrepreneurial community in a way that makes them feel comfortable � after all, most of them are entrepreneurs themselves, but in fields other than technology. And they are generous, contributing to their alma maters, buying tables to black tie events, underwriting everything from Little League to the Science Museum.

About six months ago, I got the idea that if I started a not-for-profit, or a foundation, it could give small grants to entrepreneurs to get them off the ground or see them through emergencies. (�I�ve got this order, and I can�t afford the supplies to fill it.� �He said yes, but not until the first of the year.� �We need $10,000 to make a working prototype/protect the intellectual property/have the business plan written/make the marketing materials.� )There is always some situation facing an entrepreneur that is too risky for a bank to lend on and inappropriate for a hard money lender.

These grants would be in the form of �l.oans,� which could be paid back to the foundation down the road, rather than to any individual lender. The fund would grow, based on the interest on the loans and perhaps even on some warrants. The investors, who would be contributing to a not-for-profit rather than to an angel fund, would not expect a 25% IRR; they would be content to reap the economic development benefits of increased jobs. The money would be from their philanthropic or marketing budgets, not from their investment budgets. And if these people wished to share their expertise, they could make themselves available as mentors to young entrepreneurs.

Who would choose the companies to receive the loans? A group of experienced VCs or angels � the ones who would have to do the subsequent funding rounds (if there were any needed). I�d be happy to lend my own experience with startups � I�ve probably seen a couple of hundred of them in the last three years � but I�d want many sets of eyes on the companies that got the loans.

Who would be the contributors? Ten community leaders, probably in real estate or retired corporate executives, who want to help the technology community and aren�t sure how to do it. Ten donors of $50,000 each (this is my dream). A minor blip on the screen of what�s needed for capital formation, but at least a beginning.

IN order to avoid making any political mistakes (such as the ones I�ve been known for in the past), I�ve been running this idea past everyone I can think of in the local community that would be served by such a fund. It has met with quite a bit of interest, and has evolved a bit with each conversation.

And yes, I�ve even written about it before. I keep thinking that if I put it �out there,� it will happen. Amidst all the state by state competition for economic development (Pennsylvania is running ads on TV), someone will think this is a good idea. It�s almost ready for prime time.

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