Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category

Why is US Return on Assets in Decline?

October 8th, 2009, by Haydn Shaughnessy | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

John Seeley Brown is the writer that converted me to digital sociology and digital economics. The Social Life of Information is the classic social technology text, written prior to anyone talking about social technologies. Lately Brown, along with John Hagel, has been writing about asset returns:

“Corporate returns are under pressure from far more than the recession. The patterns we’ve uncovered span decades and deeply affect even the highest performing companies, with the single greatest driver of these challenges, and indeed future opportunities, being our underlying digital infrastructure. Regardless of when the economy shifts back to an upturn, the long-term implications for continued erosion of return-on-assets will continue.”

And worrying abut their decline in the USA

Among the key findings, U.S. companies’ return-on-assets (ROA) have progressively dropped 75 percent from their 1965 level despite rising labor productivity. Even the highest performing companies are struggling to maintain their ROA rates and increasingly losing market leadership positions.

The point to where Seeley Brown and Hagel’s thoughts are leading is a kind of vanishing point. Radical innovation on a scale and of a type we can’t imagine. I know, I know. they quote things like the impact of innovation in China and India on the west – blowback innovation. But I value more this sense that we can’t imagine or anticipate the radical changes we are due after 40 yea of relatively lethargic inactivity disguised as growth.

I see the problem slightly differently – as a gradual desertion of conventional demand and supply economics for social and moral reasons – because it increasingly failed to deliver fairness. That’s the subject of a paper I’ve written which I hope will be presented soon in Stockholm but if not Memphis in December.

UPDATE: Meanwhile…. isn’t the RoA paradox partly resolved if we look at the contribution of intangible assets to corporate reporting? I can’t believe JSB and JH would have overlooked this so I offer the explanation tentatively. If companies are adding ingtagile assets in (patent rights, brand valuations) then their RoA will apepar to be down because their asset base will suddenly increase?

Back to iPhone

October 2nd, 2009, by Haydn Shaughnessy | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

Continuing our occasional coverage of the evolution of the web as an information market, Joe Wilcox had a great article recently that picked apart the story around the iPhone.

We’ve been reviewing iPhone coverage here and here oh and here as well. Here is the tail end of Joe Wilcox’s article. the whole is well worth a read as are the comments.

“Many of my journalist peers are themselves obsessed about iPhone and App Store. The number of blogs in any given week just dedicated to new App Store applications is evidence enough. There is informational obsession with the device that defies reality.

IDC’s Ryan Reith agrees. “The view about American journalist obsession with the iPhone couldn’t be more true,” he said.

It’s that misguided obsession as expressed in two separate blog entries posted yesterday that prompted my writing about iPhone. At the Apple 2.0 blog, reporter Philip Elmer-DeWitt asserts that “iPhone’s share of the smartphone market hits a record 40 percent.” Really? In what alternate universe? He writes:

Apple now has a substantial — if not the largest — share of the smartphone market in every region of the world except Asia and Africa, according to a report issued Wednesday by AdMob. Overall, the iPhone’s worldwide share grew to 40 percent from 33 perent over the last six months. In North America, its share of the smartphone market is 52 percent, as measured by hits on AdMob’s ads.

This data — based on advertising measurements — doesn’t even remotely jive with Gartner or IDC smartphone unit shipments, nor even Apple’s figures. According to Gartner, Nokia has 45 percent smartphone marketshare in the United States. But the data makes sense perhaps looking at AdMob’s share on different handsets. This kind of persistent reporting makes iPhone appear larger than what it really is. It’s wonderful for Apple’s Stock price.”

The Social Web’s impact on Management Theory

September 28th, 2009, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
An increasing number of people are talking about how social technologies — social media, social networks, collaboration, reviews, crowd sourcing, etc — are impacting our understanding of how organizations should be structured and how employees should be recruited, managed, and rewarded. On Wednesday of last week I presented an initial paper in London on this subject, based on my work with companies over the past decade or so: Open Management (opens PDF on Scribd website).

The last 10 years? Yes, in May of 2000 I joined Borland as its Chief Strategy Officer and had the pleasure of working with Doc Searls (one of the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto) who was working as a consultant to the company. Borland had decided to develop an open source development tools product, (Kylix for those of you who might wonder) and Doc had been retained to help the company understand the Linux “community” whatever that was!

As a technology firm working with software developers Borland already had a long history of using online forums to connect with customers. But I think it is fair to say that the experience of bringing a Linux product to market significantly increased our awareness of a new dynamic between companies and their markets. This has led me on a decade long exploration of social media, social networks, and a variety of other tools which I broadly group together under the name “social technologies.” Social, not because it they are about fun but because they are about people doing things with other people. In other words, social as in sociology.

And organizations, especially corporations, are one of the most interesting places to study human social behavior. For generations now we have relied upon hierarchical structures to facilitate the coordination required for large numbers of people to act together. Now technology is offering an alternative to hierarchy, one which is proving to offer significant competitive advantages to early adopters, open source being one clear example.

In taking “open” as my label for this movement I seek to focus on the difference emerging from our twentieth century business constructs. All business is “social” — but the 21st century will see an increasing number of open business models — open management, open communications, open source, open support, open product development, open research… It is a great time to rethink assumptions and consider alternatives to everything we know in business!

Remaking the Local

September 20th, 2009, by Haydn Shaughnessy | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

We are not frequent posters – opting instead to get a post up here when we have an observation that helps the underlying argument. Hope that explains the radio silence.

Over the past week or so I’ve been trying to think how to get back to the core argument. This goes something like:

There are profound changes underway in the economy and society and they are taking place at a point where a set of new ideas meets a set of new practices. We think we can understand the probable success of the new practices by understanding the power (emerging popularity) of the ideas.

The image is of the Sintesi concept car from Pininfarina. The picture  is an example of new fabrication technology (one of the big ideas in auto) that represents one of these joining points in ideas and economic activity. It offers up an example of how resilience (a key element of new ecological metaphors or bioconsciousness)  and personalisation and customer-driven configuration (the ability to create or hack what I wish to) meet. Here is a couple more images:

So the obvious question is – why is it so interesting? The answer lies in the involvement of Materialize, who specialise in Freeform Manufacturing. Here’s how they describe their speciality:
Freeform Manufacturing uses additive technologies (also referred to as 3D printing technologies), fully automated processes that don’t require molds and thus allow a virtually unlimited freedom in design. Today, these technologies are increasingly used in the production of concept cars. Gradually, this production method will be applied for the production of final cars as well.
I came across the Pininfarina example at 3D Print. The link is this: desktop fabrication that can power the design and data output to make complex objects, cheaply, is upon us. Materialize’s facilities are desktop factories writ large. In fact the DeskTop Factory project and others are aiming at providing that facility. The interesting development (or evolution) in personal fabrication (well not quite personal but certainly local at $5000 a pop) is self reproduction in fabbing technologies. Inevitably that idea is driven by an open source community. I think we are going to be surprised by what can be self-made and at the cost. The dream of self-fabricating things like autos is definitely one for the future but how absurd sane or is it? I had the pleasure a few years back of seeing a few of the micro-cars created by impoverished engineers in the 1940s. For the most part I was looking at German microcars. They were made out of whatever an engineer could find in the rubble. Here’s an image from the Museum of MicroCars (mostly models from the 1940s and 1950s). MicroCars were homemades and they were production models. Their distinguishing feature was a skilled engineer who knew the product’s totality. We might never get back to that but future production systems offer an opportunity for people to reinvent their interests and rebuild their communities. The term “bubble car” by the way seems to come from the aircraft cockpit inspiration for these early post War designs. Finally – talking about aircraft cockpits here are two pictures of the 1953 Messerschmitt KR175,

The Unbundling of “Augmented Reality” — Behold the Bionic Eye

September 13th, 2009, by Giovanni Rodriguez | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

In a story that got a bunch of reporters and bloggers excited this week (check out the post on, Babak Parviz, a professor at the University of Washington, recently wrote about LED and radio-powered contact lenses that could both monitor health and display information over the user’s visual field. The latter functionality — information display — was the bigger story this weeks, exciting the legions of writers who are following each and every advance in “augmented reality.”

In case you haven’t been following the trend story, augmented reality is a set of technologies that enable consumers to digitally display relevant data over the image of an object. Most AR projects and experiments, however, are being conducted on the screens of smartphones. For a great demo, see the video below, by the very hot Netherlands-based AR company, Layar.

The excitement — and hype — that the Parviz article is generating is understandable. While the bundling of various technologies on smartphones — computation, video display, GPS, compass technology, messaging — appear to be driving the adoption of augmented reality, in theory there’s nothing stopping savvy technology vendors from unbundling these technologies and adapting them to the way the body naturally performs in the physical world. The Parviz lens is not the only attempt to unbundle technology. Earlier this year, a team from the MIT Media Lab unveiled a prototype for an AR-like product that enables the consumer to project data on any surface.

On a more theoretical level, just this week Nokia released a demo for a group of products that work together to create a “mixed reality” for the consumer. The most interesting of the products was a pair of spectacles that project data — e.g., the weather, news headlines, text messages from your — above the main field of vision.

Critics of these various unbundlings claim that consumers will never allow themselves to be encumbered by new tech appendanges. But that’s what makes the contact lens so provocative. There are many of — people who are too vain — who would never wear glasses. And there are many of us — people who are too fussy, too lazy, or too disorganized — who would never wear contacts. But I’d bet that there are even more of us — people who just fear looking dorky — who would never walk down the street pointing our phones at people, places, and things. With the options for “better vision” ever increasing, AR is beginning to look like it’s really going to happen.