In general I am big supporter of “small is beautiful”. People perform best in contexts that they can relate to and where they know people. A famous example is the 50 employee limit of the old BSO cells. This is especially important in healthcare… being a personal and social branch. However, there is an important exception: Big DATA. Continue reading
Technology means different things for different people. That means that we need a lot more user involvement in the development of technologies for elderly. However, most technologies are developed by people in a different age bracket than the elderly people they are meant for. In the video below you see an advertisement where a company tries to sell an advanced alarm button with video to their elderly customers. Look at 40″ how horribly ugly that alarm button is. Continue reading
Loneliness is one of the big issues in elderly care, partly due big societal changes. 50 years ago most people died less than 15 kilometer from the place that they were born. This meant that families for the most part lived close together and had frequent contact with each other. Nowadays families often live all over the country. Distance is a big hurdle for intimate contact. Also, the loss of the church as the place where generations meet every Sunday is an important factor. It is much harder to ignore loneliness when you physically meet every week. Continue reading
One of the interesting aspects of Google+ is the concept of Circles. The idea is that in real life you have different circles of friends to whom you communicate differently. There is no single you but there are several you’s that are a bit different depending on the context. Most people act a different towards their boss, their old university friends and towards familiy.
There is however one aspect missing that I think will turn out to be crucial to it’s succes: uncertainty.
Friendship is by definition two sided. It does not have to be symmetrical (meaning you both feel the same towards eachother) but at least there is to be some level of reciprocity. Most group of friends consist of a small group of people that have a high level of reciprocity and close bonds in their relations to each other. Around that group there is a larger community where the level of reciprocity is not consistent for the whole core group. They are sort of in the group and out of the group at the same time, depending on who you ask.
This foggy definition of a circle of friends is something we as humans need since we deal badly with rejection. This lack of Transparancy makes it possible to create blurry edges for people to feel in while in fact they are only partly accepted. This blurry edge however does create a gradual path for people to move into the circle step by step. This is something we probably all recognise from our own experience, especially during school.
Because of this transparancy in Circles what you end up with is the relationships type in LinkedIn where everyone is a friend since it is too confronting to reject someone as a friend. And when everyone is you friend than no one is.
So unless Google is able to build in a combination of reciprocity and bit of vagueness in circles my prediction is that it will not succeed. If they (or Facebook) does succeed in modelling how friendships works in real life than that social network will win the battle. Because, aren’t we all looking for friends?
For a project in eHealth I have adopted the speech from Kennedy where he pledges to focus many efforts in order to put a man on the moon. Because, as he says, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard”
Looking at this speech is still amazing after all those years. Not just because of the eloquence of Kennedy but because of the idealistic spirit of a society that sets a goal and is willing to make great sacrifices in order to achieve that goal. I think in our age and time we have lost some of that willingness to put society first and the individual second.
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
And of course, as he promised, this was the result on July 1969.
A few weeks ago I read a book from Jaron Lanier: “You are not a Gadget“. I am a fan of Jaron Lanier, I think he is one of the few sillicon valley insiders that really tries to think hard about the effect technology has on our lives and societies.
There was one part of the book that really got me thinking and it was about the loss of the local notables.
If we look at the long tail from Chris Anderson we are now seeing that the long tail does exist but also creates havoc in a lot of professions due to the price pressure of the (often quite capable) amateurs. This counts for filmmakers, photographers and many other professions where there are also a lot of amateurs craving for attention. There are of course some that are succeeding and even flourishing but as a profession they are hit hard
A second effect is that in some cases there are winners that really take it all. Examples like Google, Facebook, Amazon and (some) others. These have become highly profitable companies that have become un-beatable monopolies in markets they often created themselves (but we now can not do without..).
What we are now losing is the middle ground, the vanishing local notables. On the one hand we have highly profitable de-facto monopolies and at the other end of the scale we have hordes of amateurs whose business model consist of their 15 seconds of fame and a proverbial Apple. In the area in between in the past lots of people were able to get relatively rich on a local level. The doctor, the lawyer, the local care dealer, the supermarket owner. their numbers are going down due to the transfer of part of their business to the few (global) winners and part of their business to amateurs that work for an Apple.
With their disappearance we also see a disappearance of local culture since these often were the people and companies that supported local activities. We may gain some brilliant cultural institutions like “The concertgebouw orkest” but we will lose many local orchestra’s, museums but also social activities that will not be sponsored anymore by the local notables.
In the digital realm this is probably an enhancement of our lives. After all, we only need one concertgebouworkest since we can listen to their breathtaking digital recordings for ever after. However, we also have a physical local presence that we should cherish.
What is the answer to this dilemma I do not know, neither does Jaron. But it is certainly something we will have to think about in the years ahead.
For many open source is a great example of innovation. Software like Linux, Apache, Joomla and OpenOffice have thriving communities that create great software. however, these products are not innovative. Linux is a clone from Unix that was developed in the 60’s, Apache is just another webserver, Joomla is one of the many content management systems and OpenOffice tries to mimic Word.
At the start of the open source movement the statement was that Open Source was to be free like in free speech, not as in free beer. In English the word free has two connotations: free as in gratis (no money) and free as in libre (free to go). Unfortunately open source has become free beer.
For an innovative product to be sustainable it needs a business model. Picture a young programmer that, in his time off from his day job, creates an innovative product that others start to use. After some time more and more demands will be made for new functionality and the solving of bugs. More and more of his free time will be spent on this product. He can not quit his day job because his innovative product does not bring in money in license fees since it is gratis. After some time he quits the project. Sourceforge, the place where many open source projects have a home, is filled with interesting but nonetheless failed projects like these. Sourceforge is the place where projects go to die ..
The main reason why a few examples like Joomla and Linux survive is because of many companies around it make money by delivering services. Because it is not innovative it is a product category that is understood by potential customers that are willing to pay for services implementing it. What we need is a business model for the software itself. What we need to do is to severe the connection between the openness of the software (to be able to inspect code is a good thing) and the business model behind it (being able to make a living creating great products).
We run the risk that the same thing now is happening in the open data movement. Pressure is set on several organizations to open up their data so app developers can build applications on top of it. We should realize that, once these organizations do not make money on that data, that the quality and access to that data will not be of strategic importance to them. We should as much as possible enforce the openness of the data to prevent a monopoly of information access. But the original creators of that data should be able to make a llving out of it.
Data should be free like in free speech, not as in free beer …
Due to my renewed interest in “Pancakes” I was looking for some info in my archive (yes, the paper one…). In the past I have worked for a company called BSO, founded by Eckart Wintzen. During the years I worked there I was director of a consultancy cell (I’ll explain the term cell later on), technical manager, commercial manager and director in the electronic commerce service line before leaving the company in 1999.
Eckart was a remarkable person, sometimes a bit difficult but always inspiring and, well, very present. He developed the vision that people work best in small teams up to 50 people. And implemented this vision!
When he left in 1996 the company had more than 4000 employees but was divided in units not larger than 50 people, called a Cell (from the biological cell). When a group grew to big it was split up and half the management team and employees started a new cell in a different place. There Board was doing their best not to steer the cells directly but tried to convince. There was almost no middle management (and nobody listened to them anyway). In many ways it was a Pancake organization before the electronic means were there. This was possible because Eckart was one of the few CEO’s that did not like raw power for himself.
Anyway, while looking into my archive I found the letter below that was part of the yearly report of 1995 (the reports were always very special, this one was designed as a folding map were you put in several papers between tabs (some of you elderly people will remember them!). This letter describes (in Dutch) how the Internet is not so much about infrastructure and computers but about connecting people and was written by the director of the McLuhan program (BSO was a sponsor of this program). Quote:
Het beeld van een wereldomspannende netwerkomgeving is niet zozeer dat van een ‘snelweg’ als wel dat van een soort ‘wereldgeest’
The concept of a worldwide network is not as much about a ‘highway’ but more about some sort of world ‘conscience’.
Funny how many of these issues already came together in 1995..
A couple of years ago I read the book “De eeuw van mijn vader” (“My father’s century”) from Geert Mak. In this book he describes how the Dutch society has changed from 1900 to 2000. One of the passages that struck me most was his statement that the majority of people in 1900 were not an employee at a firm. Many people were self employed as sail maker, baker, carpenter and other craftsmanships. Other were employed on a temporary basis as day laborer. For many people this independence meant of course mainly insecurity and near starvation.
It did open my eyes that the big Firm as a way to organize work is something relatively recent and started around that time. Before the Firm work was done by many individual and small informal companies, afterwards much of the work is done in large companies with often an emphasis on management and control. At the same time there was the shift from mainly local transactions to global transactions.
These days we again see a move towards smaller size of companies and and more informal contacts to coordinate work. Most important example is of course the explosion of Independent Professionals. But also many examples of small companies that supply a specific service, often on a global scale, like BasecampHQ, Evernote and others. My conclusion is that the Social Media and Cloud and the themes they bring forth put pressure on the size of Firms. Big is beautiful nor efficient anymore.
In 1936 (Nobel price winner) Robert Coase wrote the artikel “The nature of the Firm”. In this (very famous and often cited) article he states that the size of a Firm is based on the difference in transaction costs between the market (buying the service) and organizing the service yourself. He describes the relation between transaction costs and size as follows. The firm grows when:
- the less the costs of organizing and the slower these costs rise with an increase in the transactions organized.
- the less likely the entrepreneur is to make mistakes and the smaller the increase in mistakes with an increase in the transactions organized.
- the greater the lowering (or the less the rise) in the supply price of factors of production to firms of larger size.
Transaction costs in this are all costs associated with a transaction: communication, contracts, delivery, etc. If we compare these with the themes Scalability, Communication, Cooperation, Anyplace and Anywhere and Transparency it is clear that these themes are lowering the external transaction costs dramatically.
Scalability: the advantage of the Firm has always been that within the Firm it is easier to share resources over several activities. Now many operational costs have become variable costs in relation to turnover this advantage of size is not valid anymore. The risks of major investments in infrastructure is therefore also largely diminished. Due to the high level of automated processes there is less advantage in high volumes of purchasing
Communication and Cooperation: Finding people has become easy, contacting them has become easy and exchanging information on specifications and expectations has become easy. This means that transaction costs go down. This holds mainly for external costs since internally searching and working with people was enabled by the Firm.
Anytime, Anywhere: The Firm creates a context where it is easier to know what to expect from others and has a management structure to enforce compliance to this context. Social technology now enables us to contact everybody from everywhere at any moment. A natural advantage of the firm was that it was easier to do business within the Firm on a global scale. Now small companies can do the same in a virtual enterprise.
Transparency: We now see reputation mechanisms to build trust without previous experience with that person of service. We see reviews of previous experience of others that are similar to us. We know we are looking at the same data stored in the cloud. I know where you really are because of location based services. This transparency drives down risk immensely.
From all of the above it follows that due to social and cloud technologies Firms will shrink in size. Small will be more efficient. This also has a lot of impact on middle management whose role it was to coordinate work in the Firm. This coordinating role of management will evaporate and thereby create flatter organizations: Pancakes!