Empowering small, cloistered teams

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 19, 2017

Blackberry

Lazaridis had a blueprint inspired by Clayton Christensen’s acclaimed 1997 management book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. The Harvard professor argued that for established companies to succeed against disruptive competitors, they had to empower small, cloistered teams. These autonomous groups, unsullied by the parent company’s set ways, would develop disruptive technologies of their own and could eventually subsume other parts of the organization. It was tumultuous but necessary to stay at the forefront of innovation.

Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff in Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry (p. 195). Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.

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Betting on your side to win

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 15, 2017

Dogfight US Navy

This was a fascinating throwaway line in George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe:

We owe the existence of high-speed digital computers to pilots who preferred to be shot down intentionally by their enemies rather than accidentally by their friends.

(Kindle Locations 2617-2618). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Dyson mentions this while explaining how pulse-coded IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) radar systems were developed during World War II. Defensive systems had relied upon someone visually seeing a plane approaching, and then the person who saw it identifying if it were an enemy or not, before deciding to shoot. Radar made it possible to hit objects out of visual range, and immediately led to a number of friendly fire incidents. This led then to the development of pulse-coded responses to radar that allowed planes of each side to be identified.

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Ideas are worthless…

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 14, 2017

Tech Ops / TransPort Team Photo

For all the times people say, “I had that idea first…” or…my original insight was to do what everyone else was doing, (but better!)… There’s one thing that all technology entrepreneurs seem to agree on… Ideas aren’t enough for success.

The foundation of success is the right team and good timing:

Ideas without implementation, or without an exceptional team to implement them, are like assholes and opinions: everyone’s got one.

Antonio Garcia Martinez in Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley (p. 37). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Here’s the thing about ideas: ideas are worthless. That might sound harsh, but my experience has been that execution is everything.

Alexis Ohanian in Without Their Permission: The Story of Reddit and a Blueprint for How to Change the World (p. 91). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.

Computing pioneer, Howard Aiken.

For the past 5 years at TransPerfect, I’ve been empowered to run an intrapreneurial team (the term makes me cringe, but it fits) creating solutions that have helped the different pieces of the company communicate and do their work. This is the extraordinary thing compared to what I’ve heard from many of my friends: there wasn’t some managerial dictat that the projects I worked on should be done. (Many of the most impactful projects I worked on were side projects that I came across because of a chance conversation.)

I was entrusted by my manager to find opportunities, things that weren’t efficient – and to spend some time and resources getting something done. And it worked. Today, nearly 70% of the company’s work has at least 1 workflow step (sometimes as many as 10) go through products my team has built and we run one of the company’s flagship properties, TransPort.

Having the idea though accomplished little. Ideas always evolve as they are implemented. The success that I’ve been able to have isn’t because I had ideas – but because of the team I’ve been lucky enough to work with – from my core team members, to being empowered by senior management, to the extended network of technology, production, and sales that have been part of every success.

This has been the core of my success, and I would wager, of the company’s success in general.

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Startups versus large companies

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 13, 2017

Startup brainstorming post its

Here is a key insight for any startup: You may think yourself a puny midget among giants when you stride out into a marketplace, and suddenly confront such a giant via litigation or direct competition. But the reality is that larger companies often have much more to fear from you than you from them.

For starters, their will to fight is less than yours. Their employees are mercenaries who don’t deeply care, and suffer from the diffuse responsibility and weak emotional investment of a larger organization. What’s an existential struggle to you is merely one more set of tasks to a tuned-out engineer bored of his own product, or another legal hassle to an already overworked legal counsel thinking more about her next stock-vesting date than your suit.

Also, large companies have valuable public brands they must delicately preserve, and which can be assailed by even small companies such as yours, particularly in a tight-knit, appearances-conscious ecosystem

Antonio Garcia Martinez in Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley (p. 125). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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The Regret Minimization Framework

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 13, 2017

What happened next became one of the founding legends of the Internet. That spring, Bezos spoke to David Shaw and told him he planned to leave the company to create an online bookstore. Shaw suggested they take a walk. They wandered in Central Park for two hours, discussing the venture and the entrepreneurial drive. Shaw said he understood Bezos’s impulse and sympathized with it— he had done the same thing when he’d left Morgan Stanley. He also noted that D. E. Shaw was growing quickly and that Bezos already had a great job. He told Bezos that the firm might end up competing with his new venture. The two agreed that Bezos would spend a few days thinking about it.

At the time Bezos was thinking about what to do next, he had recently finished the novel Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, about a butler who wistfully recalls his personal and professional choices during a career in service in wartime Great Britain. So looking back on life’s important junctures was on Bezos’s mind when he came up with what he calls “the regret-minimization framework” to decide the next step to take at this juncture in his career.

“When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff,” Bezos said a few years later. “I knew when I was eighty that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re eighty years old. At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event. When I thought about it that way… it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”

Brad Stone in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (pp. 26-27). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

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A favorite saying about technology

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 12, 2017

I am reminded of my favorite saying about technology: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.”

Mark Zuckerberg in his Facebook post on Building Global Community, quoting Bill Gates in The Road Ahead.

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A business civil war

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 11, 2017

Loot Train Attack on Game of Thrones

Every creative industry is engaged in a civil war. The creatives — whether writers, painters or musicians — want to play with new forms of expression; the capitalists prefer to go with what worked last time. But sometimes the two sides come together, on equal terms, in gloriously fertile equilibrium.

We call these periods golden ages.

Ian Leslie, writing in the Financial Times, on “the golden age of television

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The inherent constraint of usability

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 7, 2017

What I love about architecture and industrial design is the inherent constraint of usability that exists in those fields. You can make a pretty house but it has to be livable. You can make a beautiful fork but someone still needs to be able to eat with it.

Tara Mann, a product designer who has worked for Basecamp, Twitter, and Science, Inc. quoted in: Tara Mann walks the line between weird and sensible.

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Your phone is your most vulnerable gadget

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 6, 2017

iPhone

People care about security, but they also have a lot on their mind. They don’t want to think about security.

Syl Chao, CEO of Turing Robotic Industries, in Wired Magazine. (Your phone is your most vulnerable gadget.)

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A sustainable competitive advantage

Quote - Joe Campbell - September 5, 2017

Phil Shawe

In my 24 years as CEO, I have learned one big thing.

All competitive advantages – price, quality, even technology – are commoditized over a long-enough time horizon.

The only way to have a sustainable competitive advantage is people.

Phil Shawe, co-CEO of TransPerfect, at GlobalLink Next 2016 in San Francisco. (Came across it while thinking through a piece on the translation industry, private equity, and Labor Day over at my political blog.)

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