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October 22, 2006


In any human situation -- a relationship, a family, a team, an organization, a market, a war -- the blend of arrogance and incompetence is one of a handful of formulas for weakness. Why? Well, of course for myriad reasons. Just one, though, suffices as illustration: Arrogance in the form of "I/We are never mistaken and, therefore, never need to invite other viewpoints into our choices" guarantees that incompetence remains incompetence forever. As I say, a prescription for weakness. And, therefore, a prescription for certain failure.

All of us must make our own choices (e.g. in voting as well as the exercise of speech) about paths forward. As you approach such choices - for example, this coming Nov. 7th -- think about whether, in light of the troubles and difficulties from terror to Iraq to disaster recovery to social security to education and on and on -- you choose to pull the lever in favor of a Republican Party deeply and permanently committed to being weak.

Put differently, you have a choice: Support a Republican Party whose blend of arrogance and incompetence ensures perpetual weakness; or, choose another possibility that, whatever your anxieties or hopes, is not yet permanently condemned to failure.

Posted by Doug Smith at 11:56 AM | Permalink

October 06, 2006

The Onyx Project

Nearly twenty years ago, in connection with my book, Fumbling the Future, I had the good fortune to meet the key players at Xerox PARC who invented personal distributed computing. The experience was a world-class classroom for learning about the challenges of innovation. But learning from others about innovation is never as instructive as innovating yourself. And, for nearly six-and-a-half years now, I've also had the good fortune to have had that opportunity through working with Larry Atlas (and others) on conceptualizing and bringing to the market an entirely new form of video story-telling: a fully browseable NAVworld -- a written, directed and acted world made with our new NAV technology and approach.

This past week we released for sale The Onyx Project which stars Academy Award nominee David Strathairn as Colonel Robert Henderson, a man and a military officer stationed in Afghanistan who wants -- no needs -- to tell his story about why, on the eve of the 2004 US presidential election, he launched an illegal, unauthorized and ultimately disastrous mission into Pakistan. As viewers browse their way through Henderson's world, they learn -- they experience -- that Henderson's testimony is not about right versus left. It's about right versus wrong.

In one scene in The Onyx Project, Henderson says about America, "We seek to innovate. But it is tradition that binds us together." In his story about our efforts, New York Times writer Richard Siklos picked up on this line to capture the challenge we've faced in our efforts to bring innovation to story-telling itself. The new video story-telling architecture we've created is one that invites creative people with imagination -- and viewers with imagination -- to experience and explore a new context for taking advantage of tradition -- narrative, plot, character and so on that are written, directed and acted -- while innovating the experience of story telling and story viewing through an architecture that is non-linear instead of linear. (It is non-linearity, by the way, that calls for the use of the word 'world'. NAVworlds are NOT movies -- they don't spoon feed beginnings, middle and ends. Instead, they are browseable worlds that, in turn, are built around plot, narrative, character and story.)

In Fumbling the Future (as in Clayton Christensen's classic, The Innovator's Dilemma) the challenges of innovation unfold in part because established enterprises -- while they have tremendous resources and opportunity -- also face significant and understandable obstacles when confronted by innovations that challenge 'the way we do things around here'. Habits -- of career, of investment decision making, of existing product economics, of skills, of internal culture and more -- array themselves on the opposite side of those who recommend a new product or service that must be made, delivered, sold differently.

There is much more to the challenge of innovation than this of course. Still, time and again over the past six plus years, we've had the chance to see this phenomenon first hand. And it has been fascinating. It's also been the case that, prior to The Onyx Project, our innovation was not yet a 'real thing in the world' -- a fact that understandably made it even more difficult for those (who usually found what we were doing interesting) to, nonetheless, hold off from taking risk.

Now, we are fortunate to have something 'real'. And, in that sense, our journey moves to a new stage. But, as we remind ourselves regularly, it took Xerox 14 years from Chester Carlson's conception of 'dry writing' to the first sale of the Xerox 914 copier.

We're into a new -- and exciting for us - stage of the journey. But, we expect, we still have a lot of road ahead. And there's no doubt that we depend on people -- writers, directors, producers and viewers -- who have the imagination to explore and experience Henderson's NAVworld in The Onyx Project -- both to enjoy it on it's own terms and to get a taste for of what other NAVworlds might be possible with this new form of story-telling.

Posted by Doug Smith at 12:33 PM | Permalink

October 01, 2006

Value versus Values

From Der Spiegel in Germany:

"In its report on Afghanistan, CorpWatch - a U.S.-based corporate watchdog - concluded that the companies were more interested in making money than helping the people. Thousands of foreign experts have been dispatched to Afghanistan.

The consulting firms in Kabul have been given multi-million-dollar budgets from their governments to establish a central bank and three ministries: Finance, Justice and Commerce. They have also been tasked with slowing poppy cultivation and finding alternative sources of income for the farmers. Their remit further extends to building schools, roads and hospitals.


American taxpayers would be stunned to hear where their tax dollars were actually going, the CorpWatch report says: beyond being wasted on failed projects, it helped pay for "contractors' prostitutes and imported cheeses." The CorpWatch investigators spent months monitoring the flow of international funds and concluded that business-savvy representatives of donor nations rather than Afghans were the real beneficiaries.

The U.S. government lavished $150 million on the private security firm DynCorp. Its mission: to close down Afghanistan's poppy fields. Ninety Americans and 550 Afghans set about the task. The result: thousands of extremely irate farmers who - despite having their crops destroyed - were denied realistic compensation.

The Rendon Group from Washington, D.C. was charged with winning public support for the United States and its military in Afghanistan. According to CorpWatch, the PR firm - which reportedly has close ties to the Bush administration - has received contracts worth more than $56 million since September 11, 2001. It has failed miserably in Afghanistan: never before have the Americans and their allies been as unpopular as they are today.

The euphoria that greeted Americans in Kabul on Nov. 13, 2001 has long been replaced by suspicion. Today many Afghans regard the erstwhile liberators as occupiers."

All of which begs these questions:

What do the people who work at these companies really stand for?
What do the people who work in the government organizations that hire these companies really stand for?

Posted by Doug Smith at 11:34 AM | Permalink