Whose Responsibility is Clarity?


Too often I believe that purveyors of information/knowledge tend to leave the burden of comprehension of what is being communicated solely to the recipient of that knowledge; all too often, they forget about their responsibility to most fundamentally communicate what they are saying clearly and in a manner that is adapted to the needs of their audience.

Think about this in the context of your day to day life. Imagine a time when someone has asked you a question about some aspect of your life, job, area of expertise, etc that you know backwards and forwards, up and down. For this topic you will be able to rattle off a detailed answer to the question, you will anticipate every single follow-up question that someone could ask of you, and most importantly if the explanation is not understood you will have 2 or 3 other ways of explaining the same thing in your back pocket just in case the 1st explanation was not clear.

Now imagine an alternative scenario. Think about a topic you have just recently become familiar with. You have obtained a surface level understanding of something and when questioned about it you stand, secretly hoping you can cover the surface level information and get the hell out of there. You end up speaking intelligently enough about this part of the question that the questioner pushes you further, expecting you to be able to go deeper. In a futile attempt you begin to go deeper, all the while knowing you are venturing into uncharted territory – wanting to help provide information but not wanting to offer false data. Suddenly your answers become confusing and obfuscated. Even as it is happening you know the latter half of this discussion is not as clear as it should be. As is often the case however, people don’t back out and offer to clear the topic up in their head and get back to the person, they merely continue on this zig-zag path towards the land of confusion. We’ve all been there on the sending and receiving side of things.

What is the end result? Well my suggestion is two sided when you are the sender and you recognize being in this position:

  1. Take the path less travelled get the details you need to be able to explain the topic fully and clearly.
  2. Take responsibility for the receiver leaving with an understanding of what you are saying!

When you are on the receiving end, the key is to recognize when the sender is weaving you into the land of confusion and since you now demand so much of yourself as a sender, demand no less when receiving information from someone else.

Amazon vs iTunes, a Matter of Trust

AmazonvsItunes.pngTo get their iTunes service to market Apple had to make a significant compromise – they had to add DRM onto the downloaded tracks. Was it necessary? or was it their choice? We’ll probably never know but it has, at least for me, had a significant impact on “dirtying” the trust I may have otherwise had in the Apple brand and thus the iTunes service.

Despite their efforts this past January to go back and remove this Digital Rights Management (DRM) security from their music I have found myself remaining cautious about buying any tracks from Apple. When considering the purchase I am thinking about things like – are all of these tracks now DRM-free (in all countries?) or are some still encumbered? where do I check to be sure? can I be sure Apple won’t change the rules again (to my detriment) going forward? with increasing operating system fragmentation can I be sure the AAC format will be as widely supported as MP3?

Yes – many of these answers are obtainable but the fundamental problem is that the original inclusion of DRM has infused enough confusion and uncertainty into the service that it is just simply easier to go to another source untainted by the dark cloud of DRM. With the Amazon MP3 service none of these questions (my purchasing criteria in this case) exist – they are all the de-facto standard MP3 format and most importantly I can trust that the rules of usage on these files will never change since Amazon has never encumbered their music files with DRM nor do they have the control to do-so once they are on my computer.

Ultimately I am sure I would get just as much use out of the Apple files, but for the cost of typing in a different URL in the browser I am willing to go to another provider and eliminate all of this uncertainty.

Filed under: Business, Media | No Comments

Strength in Product Management, Simplicity in Product

Today, we are inundated with more information, data, opinions, news, reviews, global insights and ideas than ever before. We are connected around the world and are able to hear all of these things in near realtime, and for those willing to listen it is possible to get all the necessary diversity one could require to drive creativity over your broadband connection.

With all of this data at your fingertips how do you know what to focus your product on? how do you filter out all the noise, ignore all of the cover fire coming from your competitors announcements and have the tenacity to focus all your organizations limited resources on a simple, coherent vision for your product and not be diverted by all the ‘noise’ in our environment today?

A business today, more than ever, needs to be willing to say no – or at a minimum say it’s not ready. Apple is the extreme example of this. This is a company willing to launch a flagship product without core functionality – copy and paste – because they didn’t have the implementation just right. Despite unending ridicule from reviewers, competitors and the market they waited three full releases of the product before they let it loose. Was it the right move? we’ll never know but at least they built the product with their features, on their terms and their schedule.

The economist recently wrote of a scourge of feature creep happening today with products and services, citing the Netbook as a good example. Without the will of a strong product manager who will say no to the inevitable demands of the corporate peanut gallery trying to push the latest feature fad into an already feature engorged and complex product.

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WIND Mobile – Government Policy Meets Job Creation

98F7915E-5441-4B0A-851C-A62DC90DFEE7.jpgLooks like one of the winners of the fairly recent spectrum auctions in Canada is beginning to get their team together.

This is a great example of the positive impact changes in government policy can have on the creation of jobs in what was an otherwise stagnant, uncompetitive and fairly uninteresting Canadian telecom market.

The WIND Mobile website lists no fewer than 107 open positions – most of which look like very highly skilled and likely well paying positions that previously would not have existed.

The simple change to open up spectrum to new competitors is better for consumers, better for job creation, and better for driving continued innovation. This type of government intervention to the market is both necessary and welcome to help keep pushing us forward.

Good luck to WIND, and all those new WIND Mobile employees!

Geddes on The Future of the Telephony Business

old_phoneMartin Geddes posted a great video clip from eComm about the future of the telephony business.

There were two concepts I thought were really interesting and clearly described both the future potential, and main challenge of unified communications.

1. Future Potential

  • Martin talked about the idea that future telecom revenues will come from opening up new services that businesses can use to better integrate the telephony network into their existing business processes and applications. No doubt a significant driver behind BT’s acquisition of Ribbit – so as to allow a giant API to be put on top the BT network, giving access to application developers to tightly integrate telephony into their software.

2. Main Challenge

  • Near to the very end of the video Martin says that no one telecom company will be able to achieve this on their own. As an industry filled with companies built on the idea of tightly controlled access to network services, the idea of opening up to the likes of companies such as Skype, Google, Microsoft, etc will definitely be a significant hurdle to overcome.

For years fixed and mobile operators have been concerned about becoming a commodity bit pipe to end users. In an attempt to avoid this fate the operators exercised control, artificially limiting the services that application developers could leverage when building new products. In contrast to this, Martin’s comments made me consider whether the future will see operators competing based on how open their networks are and what core network services are made available for companies and developers to use and integrate into new applications.

It may be a long and painful road for some operators who are still stuck in the mindset that they can control when (or if) innovations occur on top of their network. But fundamentally the prize in all of this is about making the telephone network (both mobile and fixed) into a massive platform for innovation, experimentation and development.

If you’re interested in some insights to the potential of “Telco 2.0”, Martin’s video is definitely well worth watching.

Grand Central – Round 2

A24637DC-18B7-4B46-8D10-B129F91E8974.jpgApparently the rumors of its death were premature. Google dropped the Google Voice bomb today as the reincarnation of Grand Central.

Accounts are still only available to those who already had a Grand Central account but the promise is that it will be opened up in the coming weeks for new users.

It will be fascinating to see how this changes our voice communications behaviour. I don’t see anything obvious on there at the moment about integration with Google Talk Voice/Video but surely they must have pulled this into the offering (or at least are going to soon).

When the biggest news isn’t news at all – Nokia and 3GPP VCC

This year’s 3GSM/MWC passed by with few (if any) words said about one of the most interesting announcements from Nokia. In reality this was no announcement at all, it was merely a single line found deep within the spec sheet of the newly launched Nokia E75.
Picture 5.png

What was the big news?

The big news was that the new line of Nokia’s E-Series phones – the E75 model – appears to be shipping with the 3GPP VCC standard embedded within.

What does this mean?

3GPP VCC is a standard developed by some very clever individuals, many of whom I had the pleasure to work with for the past 2 years or so, which allows a phone call to seamlessly handoff between mobile (GSM/CDMA) networks and IP based networks (such as WIFI).

What is the impact?

If the phone is actually delivered with the VCC feature on board, it opens up the possibility of merging together the VoIP telephony worlds on WIFI (at the office or home) with your mobile phone (while on the road). Yes, VCC has been around for a (relatively) long time now, however prior to the Picture 4.pngappearance of this rather innocuous line in the E75 specification it has been largely unused as a result of no phones having the capability built in. Up to now the only way to leverage this standard was through 3rd party software that required significant aftermarket configuration and support. Most of the software on the market either produced a poor overall phone experience by changing the behaviour of the phone too much, or it simply could not keep up to date with the newest phones. Assuming the E75 comes to market with the functionality on board, this will be the first mainstream phone to offer it out of the box.  It will be very interesting to see whether this triggers increased business or consumer offerings.

Two more things…

It was surprising how little effort Nokia put into letting people know about the feature’s existence. It was written on the spec sheet as the very palatable techno-jargon “3GPP VCC”, which no one short of a select few people in the industry will even know what that means, and near as I can tell no effort was made to demonstrate the technology despite its very significant “cool” factor. The end result is that throughout the web and ‘blogosphere’ the silence has been deafening. In contrast, you can imagine a few years from now when Apple releases a new iPhone with the same technology embedded you can be certain that Steve Jobs will be up on stage walking around in his black turtle neck demonstrating for all the world to see the amazing Apple innovation allowing you to use your mobile at home via WIFI and magically walk outside and continue talking on the mobile network.

As a final note, the phone also claims to offer up to 9 hours of talk-time on WLAN which just seems incredible, but well done Nokia if they even come remotely close to this figure.

Impact to Unified Communications

Voice over WIFI merged into the mobile network is a powerful example of the vastly overused and often misunderstood term “unified communications”. In this particular case it:

  • brings together two completely separate network SILO’s – your in-home or business WIFI network and external GSM network.
  • and ensures that no changes of user behaviour are required to achieve this integration.

Both of these I believe to be key elements of any unified communications service and both of which may be achieved should this device deliver on the promise of VCC.

Skype and Unified Communications

F4664CC3-7BE5-4F46-9359-9613BB700C6B.jpgWith some estimates suggesting that 30% of Skype users are using it for business purposes it is interesting to consider Skype’s place in the world of Unified Communications.

Skype’s history as a proprietary protocol and a closed network has so far limited the opportunity to unify the calls with an existing enterprise telephony system (such as a Cisco PBX or alternative). With Michael Robertson’s announcement about Open Sky(pe) some degree of integration is now possible. Specifically, it allows for calls to your business phone number to also terminate to Skype clients as well as allowing non-Skype (e.g. SIP devices) to call out to Skype users via the new gateway.

This does open up some new opportunities however, at the moment, without Skype’s direct involvement the solution is still limited as you are unable to make Skype originated calls that flow through your existing enterprise telephony network (e.g. so the calls can pickup your business number identity). In order to really offer a unified experience with other communications networks such as mobile, fixed line and IM networks Skype will need to open up further to allow things like this or otherwise risk remaining a single disconnected silo of communications.

There is a lot of power in the Skype platform without a doubt offering the best audio and video quality available in a public network dependent VoIP offering, however at the moment the extent of focus on the market needs of business users has seemingly been quite limited.

Mobile Internet meets Peugeot 308

736B9986-9CE4-4E9E-8B1E-53F9440DD2DA.jpgWhere would I be without mobile internet? Probably still sitting at a petrol station somewhere along the M1.

While attempting to drive back to London I became aware that my rented Peugeot 308 was running a bit dry on windshield washer fluid (albeit not because it warned me of this, it has no windshield wiper fluid warning light as it turns out!). Off I pulled into the roadside station to pick up some wiper fluid thinking this should be a relatively simple task – you know, buy wiper fluid, open hood, open wiper fluid, pour into fluid container. Not so much. 10 minutes later I was still walking around the car trying to find the lever to crack open the hood. While I am no mechanic, I like to think I checked the spots this lever would typically be:

  • A lever underneath the steering wheel.
  • A button under the arm rest in the centre console.
  • A button on the side of the driver seat.
  • A button inside the glove box.
  • A lever on the passenger side underneath the glove box.
  • A button in the trunk. (yes I know, a stretch, but I was getting desperate!).

Always the last thing to check of course, but I did also try and check the instruction manual. However, as luck may have it the rental company conveniently did not include it as part of the package.

Finally after becoming somewhat disgruntled that I could not find something as simple as the hood opener I got back in the car and thought about what to do next.  Then, eureka!  Google was clearly the answer – through the magic of mobile internet there may still be hope for me to get the windshield wiper fluid filled up!

I picked up my Blackberry and typed into Google: “hood opener peugeot 308”.

Results: nothing of any interest.

Frustrated at first, I then came to the realization of my perhaps North American centric search terms, and swapped out “hood” for “bonnet”.


Up came a few sites, all of which went on to complain about the lack of a windshield wiper warning light as well as the location of the “bonnet” opener.  Which, as it turns out, is conveniently located in a virtually invisible lever in the border of the door frame on the passenger side of the vehicle.  Hallelujah, the bonnet is open and my windshield wiper reservoir is filled up!

In the absence of mobile internet and Google, where would this answer have come from?  I probably could have found a number from the rental company to call and, assuming they were still open, perhaps I could have been connected to someone who knew the answer. I would hope so, but thats probably optimistic. Another alternative would be to find someone at the petrol station who knew the Peugeot’s more subtle details, or to call someone who could have checked the internet on my behalf to answer the question. Whether any of these solutions would have given me the answer I was looking for is up for argument but no doubt they all would have taken more time and quite likely led me to the decision that wiper fluid wasn’t all that critical and I could make it the remaining 20 miles home by leveraging the spray of cars in front of me to clean my windshield. Clearly not a great option – so needless to say I am pleased to have found yet another useful application of mobile internet – finding out how to open a bonnet on a Peugeot 308.

Filed under: Random | 6 Comments

Jobs, Life, Creativity and Passion

I just finished reading Seth Godin’s new book – Tribes. As normal with Seth’s books he frequently goes into various stories throughout to make his points, this book was no exception with one particular story that really caught my attention.

Here is the excerpt from Tribes:

How Was Your Day?

It’s four a.m. and I can’t sleep. So I’m sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Jamaica, checking my e-mail.

A couple walks by, obviously on their way to bed, having pushed the idea of vacation a little too hard. The woman looks over to me and, in a harsh whisper a little quieter than a yell, says to her friend, “Isn’t that sad? That guy comes here on vacation and he’s stuck checking his e-mail. He can’t even enjoy his two weeks off.”

I think the real question – the one they probably wouldn’t want to answer – was, “Isn’t it sad that we have a job where we spend two weeks avoiding the stuff we have to do fifty weeks a year?”

Seth Godin, Tribes (2008)

I suspect that for the vast majority of people the idea of having a job which drives such passion that you do not mind, in fact you want, to make it part of your life is just a step too far. It is, presumably, why whenever we ask people about how their job is going it inevitably begins with a groan and ends with a “I need another drink!”.

Can a work environment be created that allows many more of us to feel a similar way about their work to how Seth does? I had the opportunity to see Gary Hamel speak a few months back and if we believe in the vision he presented it seems like this is not only possible but it will be an economic necessity for developed nations. An excerpt of the content he covered a few months ago is available here and very much worth the 20 minutes to listen to the podcast.

We’re going to have to get people to bring to work their initiative, their creativity, their passion, and those are human capabilities that cannot be commanded. Those are gifts that people either choose to bring to work or not.

Gary Hamel

One of Gary Hamel’s central premises is that organizations up to now have been managed by seeking out those with Intellect, Diligence, and Obedience (attributes he argues are now a virtual commodity) but now and in the future survival of companies will be dependent upon finding those with the additional talents of Creativity, Initiative, and Passion. It seems logical then that to support and attract these individuals, organizations will have to adapt and create a work environment where those with these talents will want to put their unique skills to work – and as Gary says – choose to give these ‘gifts’ to the place that they work.

Filed under: Random | 2 Comments