Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Irving, Newton and Janis

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Irving Wladawsky-Berger the other day. He's been a forward thinker in the industry and, before retiring, led IBM's e-busineess and cloud computing strategies. Now, he is assisiting Citibank with their digital money strategy and, in his spare time, lectures at MIT.

Irving was sharing with me his insights into big data and the primary point he was making is that big data arereally HUGE data sets and it's still quite easy to make bad decisions using big data (note to self...think of this when folk cite the 'wisdom of the crowd' religion). We are still way early in providing proper toolsets to harness and highlight what's really important within these data sets. When we do, it will prvide huge value for users and corporations. I've seen the early value for customers of and the prople there have great plans to take their social media management application deep within the Enterprise. In many ways fulfilling the promise CRM left unfilled.

This brings me to the deeper point which I later gleaned from Irving's blog. He spoke about the major change in scientific perspective from Newtonian physics, where objects exhibit deterministic behaviors, that is, if you apply the same forces to the same object, you should yield the same results to a new world where Quantum mechanics and relativity rule the day. In this bizarre world, counter-intuitive behaviors abound.

When you use these theories as a background, it seems as if investing in young technology companies is much more like embracing quantum mechanics than following Newton. Meteoric rises by companies such as Pinterest, Zinga and Groupon have not been duplicated and, I am confident, that duplicating most, if not all their 'magic' will lead far different results. Being a follower is fraught with danger in technology. Though, it's not the point of who gets to the market first, nor is it necessarily that the 'better' product wins. I do think, however, that the management of the companies, through incremental tweaking of their products can, and do, match their solutions with an unmet need/fascination which the market embraces. Or, bold entrepreneurs  go against conventional wisdom in designing their products in a way which people suggest are doomed for failure. For example, Google had a stark homepage while Yahoo embraced ad and content clutter (and early revenue). Today,  current darlings, Evernote and Dropbox were all founded when the conventional wisdom was that forcing the consumer to download a client was a non-starter and the kiss of death. I suppose that it was....until it wasn't.

We live in an era of uncertainty where the answers obviously do the questions. Let's all try (just a little bit harder) to be just a little bit different.


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