Archive: individual

What makes good leadership?

A lot is being said and has been written about how strategies and market mechanics determine the success or failure of ventures and large companies. But any entrepreneur will confirm that it usually is execution which decides the fate of the company, especially in venture companies. Thus, leadership capabilities may be the most important skill set of venture management.

Leadership, management, and the principles which guide how employees are motivated and directed in their tasks are usually treated either as a self help topic in management books or as the HR side of company organization.

It might be time to focus on leadership and HR capabilities in the strategic dimension they have for the company. This means to recognize that the best company strategy can be killed by the wrong leadership methods. Good leadership is not only an important requirement for management. It is the necessary condition for company success!

In the region of North Germany where part of my family comes from we say that a fish always stinks from the head, which in my opinion puts in a nutshell the essence of leadership. If your venture team is not motivated or doesn’t excel, start at the head.

Ted Levitt once said that

organizations exist to enable ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things,

which I believe is only a way to say that things happen only if people do them. The success of a company is only achieved if the employees and the managers of that company willingly take the necessary actions to enable that success.

That is certainly first and foremost a question of deciding which of the actions that are available in a given situation is chosen, but it is equally importantly a question of ensuring that every employee executes that strategy in the way that best ensures success, including feedback and adaptation of the strategy when problems arise.

Achieving this, however, is a question of leadership.

Since all dictatorships eventually fail, leadership cannot be reduced to the ability to bark orders. All great historic figures acclaimed for their leadership, from Julius Cesar to Napoleon, from Spartacus to Martin Luther King, are all admired for their ability to inspire, to motivate, and to convey a sense of purpose to a large number of people, i.e. to the organization that they led.

Inspiration however, is nothing without credibility. Credibility, in turn, is only achieved through authenticity. Authenticity is only achieved through honesty. Applied to the world of the 21st century and the context of leadership in business organizations, this means that a truly successful leader needs to combine the ability to inspire others with a set of skills and principles that are tenets of credibility as a leader:

1. An inspiring sense of purpose.

2. A clear set of unflinching values. Shifty leaders command no respect.

3. Honesty at all costs.

4. The ability to communicate necessities and convey a sense of urgency to a team.

5. The ability to define the organization as a community serving a common goal.

6. The ability to honestly admit own mistakes and address the weaknesses of the organization.

7. Relentless commitment to the company goal, including the necessary ability to “punish underperformance”, without humiliating anyone in the organization.

8. The ability to lead by example, including in personal matters such as health or respect for others.

9. The discipline to pursue a strategy and tactics that belong to that strategy and to adapt these whenever necessary, not only “acting from the gut”.

10. The intelligence to always overestimate competition and underestimate your own position.

Most of these traits require a certain level of self-assurance, respect for others, and clear view of your own shortcomings that is incompatible with most managerial egos. But while there are enough cases of at least temporarily successful egomaniacs, in the long run only those entrepreneurs intelligent enough to value, respect, and reward their performing team members, and self-critical enough to recognize their own mistakes become truly great.

What is Web 3.0 ? (revisited)

As always, that’s a difficult discussion. First of all it’s important to remember that “Versioning” the web is initially a marketing trick, albeit a powerful and a valid one. It does make sense to try to assess the pace and scope of change in and through the Digital Revolution. In our internal discussions at http://www.denkwerk.com we differentiate the technical, the social and the business levels of analysis. Our very broad clusters are as follows:

Web 1.0:
It is particularly inexact to retroactively dub the pre-2004 era as „Web 1.0“, since that is a rather vast period of time which underwent different phases in itself. When did it start? With Tim Berners-Lee & the appearance of Mozilla in 1993? With the first Social Network (sic!), the Well, in the 1980s?, With the ARPANET in 1968?

Tim O’Reilly coined “Web 2.0” as a call to reconsider the then ruling technical paradigms and the generalized underestimation of the social and economic impact of the internet in post-bubble headache times. But the 90s, the bubble, and 2001 – 2003 constitute a wild rollercoaster of different developments. In our view in short:

Technology:
The first simple websites evolved to more and more interactive, from static to dynamically generated, from handcrafted to cms-driven, from pure media to more and more transactive, and these vast increases in value remained through independently of the vast hyperbole of expectations that the New Economy and Irrational Exuberance engendered. In software paradigms though, simple web development and early script-based architectures and languages were supplanted by Enterprise Application thinking, the advent of web services, and the JAVA Revolution. After 2001, you were a wimp if you stuck to PHP.

Social:
Mostly Early Adopters went from discovering the web and portals as sources of information to accepting shopping, then dating and other increasingly interactive services and transactions.
The Internet, however, was never “lean-back”, a prerogative of TV.

Business:
The only really working business models (at high volumes) were
a) lead generation for existing brick and mortar business (“click and mortar”)
b) Online Advertising (mostly banner, after 2002 more and more search engine marketing)
c) E-Commerce (online sales, B2C or B2B )

BTW: Many ideas that now resurface in Web 2.0 were imagined just then, but failed because user behaviour and markets weren’t there yet. We founded http://www.oneview.com as a very early precursor of deli.cio.us, for example.

Web 2.0:
Somewhere around 2003, disgruntled entrepreneurs, the aforementioned PHP Wimps, the Linuxites, and others started reforming and having Galilean Moments („eppure si muove“ – “and the Earth does rotate”). That is what O’Reilly picked up at his conference in Fall 2004 when he coined Web 2.0.

Technology:
On the technology side, Web 2.0 can be oversimplified by describing it as a set of new or renewed technical paradigms:

a) the return of scripting and DHTML.
b) AJAX and the transformation of websites into dynamic applications
c) much faster development speed, prototyping
d) APIs and total interoperability of all digital services (mashups, microformats etc..), the rebirth of standards
e) the end of the concept of “the site”, with functionalities spreading across converging media (web, mobile, TV) instead

Social:
a) You Are Not Alone:
If “Web 1.0” was all about discovering the potential of interactive services, then Web 2.0 is the discovery of the Fellow Users, of the immense potential of finding online people that you can share interests and needs with.

b) You Can Do Things Together / User Generated Content:
New Web 2.0 tools let the vision of the web as a collaborative platform slowly become true: every type of content can be shared, discussed, rated, and messaging allows constant and instant, but also deferred and intermittent interlocution with other users (networking, messaging, Blogging, co-shopping etc…).

c) Mashup Everything / User Generated Functionalities:
The combination of different services, information, and functionalities that the technical paradigm shift of web 2.0 makes possible opens a whole new set of possibilities for networked and collaborative behaviour on the web that creates value from the wisdom of crowds and the knowledge of the few.

Business:
a) Businesses are under pressure and with the opportunity of adapting to the fact that the consumer / customer has an increasingly wide, reliable, and truthful range of sources of information and first-hand experiences with any given product.
b) Creating customer communities becomes increasingly relevant as a business factor. This increases the demand on long-term accountability and trustworthiness of business institutions
c) In the same vein, Business and Media monopolies on information and broadcasting power are dwindling with the advent of increasingly differentiated access to the opinions and knowledge of customers and the creation of increasingly valuable User Generated Content and Community-Based or Collaborative Functionalities. This doesn’t mean a perfect world of truthfulness, but it certainly shifts power to the customer.
d) an open question is by whom and how is this information power, the interlinking of customers, and the long tail of business, going to be aggregated, thus creating the next Googles?
e) On the long tail of business, even the most absurd niche markets can network worldwide, thus creating market volume until now completely untapped.

Web 3.0:
We don’t really need a new term – but it is clear that versioning will somehow be inflationary, since it is such a nifty marketing tool. So we might as well tackle the definition now (and secure some mind share early on, hehe).

In our view, Web 3.0 describes where the different patterns and revolutions might lead to. Think “minority report”, “Neuromancer”, “Matrix”, for early paradigms (not literally of course, we’re between 30 and 1000 years away from that). It is hard to describe and open for discussion, but we see the following trends:

Technology:
a) Interoperability and total convergence of all media and networks to form the Evernet
b) The End of The Site: Functionalities can be used by any user on any device in any network.
c) Everything is mashed or modular or snippeted or microformatted, so that a search on your handheld will deliver a topical article, four experts, seven alternative topical products to be ordered along with their ratings and reviews, three according services and information about what your friends or respected contacts think about the topic, all in one fell swoop.

Social:
a) The rise of the „Digital Boheme“ – in a No Man’s Land between employment, freelance and artistic lifestyle, everyone on the web can “market” whatever talents he has, whenever and however much he wants.
b) Thus, “virtual environments” will play a much bigger role in determining the social status of an individual much more than his geographic environment used to. In other words, the lost liberal hippie tech geek living in, say, Oklahoma suddenly gets a life and recognition – that’s one of the reasons for the hype about Second Life.
c) Thus a) and b) become more and more determining for the identity of the individual – with all due consequences
d) Technology and the networking of individuals and their expertise will lead to an increasingly efficient tapping of the Deep Web (that has been building up since 1974), thus creating a “semantic and human web”, where searching and finding delivers increasingly complex results, ranging from data / documents to Evernet functionalities and sites, to experts and interest groups and events.

Business – we call it VIRAL SOCIAL COMMERCE
In the virtual worlds of the web 3.0 or Evernet, every individual will get a much fairer share of his or her social and economic status. If until now, the consumer was an object of the economy, he increasingly becomes a an active element in every one of his areas of expertise and interests. (Someone who is into handmade puppets from the Münsterland [a region of Northern Germany] can connect to fans of handmade puppets worldwide an be recognized as an expert and set up business selling access, expertise, or even the puppets themselves – if he chooses to do so).

We could call it the Ebaying of life – but the differences to the Ebay model are:

a) it expands virally along social network lines
b) it is not focused on price, and probably not even profit-oriented, but is a blend of social and economic rewards that triggers individual behaviour
c) it is in an elementary sense democratic, with almost any space for very individual definitions of success and lifestyles.
d) thriving in such environments will require new business, communication, and marketing models in almost any industry.

In Science Fiction, the various visions of the emergence of a web interlinking society almost invariably include that web become a determining factor of social and economic status in the real world. We aren’t that far away from that, even if reality always tends to be mundane. What is almost certain is that already today, the web liberates the individual even from very difficult forms of seclusion, allowing him to overcome niche market intransparency and increase his social and economic impact in society.

What we are doing at sevenload (http://www.sevenload.com), itravel (http://www.itravel,de), oneview (http://www.oneview.com) and Qype (http://www.qype.com) is working toward that vision.

Join us, discuss, hire in, let’s create the tools of this evolution step by step!

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