Web’s Forrest Gump – Grow by Rejecting Innovation

Which business I am talking about? Clues –

  • 1 in 5 US residents visits it every month
  • Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate
  • Founder told Charlie Rose – “already have a parking space, a hummingbird feeder, a small home with a view, and a shower with strong water pressure. What else am I supposed to want?
  • It has serious presence in at least 50 countries
  • It has rejected just about every “hot” technologies for last 10 years. It’s User Interface is probably more outdated than the
  • It has by the the most “closed” system — there is practically no externally documented “API” or “ecosystem” built around it
  • It does not charge anything to 95% or more of its users from way before the term “Freemium” was “in”
  • Its site has no “text” or “banner” advertising
  • Even though it could rake possibly billions, it never tried the IPO route
  • You don’t need to become a member to use any feature

You agree with him or not, you must bow to Craig Newman who is a living antithesis to just about any reigning business theory. There are all IBMs, CISCOs, HPs and even Googles — and then there is Craigslist. Being a somewhat aggressive reader of business and leadership literature, it was challenging enough for me to find an equivalent. Then – recently – I came across a thin translation written more than 400 years ago. “Code of the Samurai” says —

“If you are going to (study military science), you should not stop halfway. You should practice until you reach the inner secrets, finally to return to original simplicity and live in peace. If, however, you spend days in half-baked practice, unable to reach the inner principles, thereby losing the way to return to original simplicity, thus remaining frustrated and demoralized, that is most regretable.

..just as with bean paste that stinks of bean paste, when you meet a (military) scientist who stinks of (military) science, you cannot stand the smell”

Replace the ‘military science’ with ‘business of community’, and you would get Craig Newman – a self-proclaimed “Forrest Gump of Internet“.

He is willing to perform the same task again and again. During the company’s first years, Newmark approved nearly every message on the list, and in the decade since he has spent much of his time eliminating offensive ones. Even by the most conservative accounting, he has passed judgment on tens of thousands of classified ads. Very few people could do this and thrive.”

Wired magazine profiled Craig and his list in the latest issue. Give it a read when you can. Despite the tactical problems, the business is fully poised to survive — perhaps because it never consciously tried to!

Your ‘Persona’ from Collective Online Data

MIT Media Lab scans all online data about you and builds a “persona” of weighted attributes like “books”, “exercise”, “politics” etc. I did not understand what is implied by “illegal” attribute, however! But it’s actually cool. Try it out at http://personas.media.mit.edu/personasWeb.html

It will give an output persona (mine) looking something like —

What is the best programming joke ever?

This one is so bad it is great — An SQL query goes into a bar, walks up to two tables and asks, “Can I join you?”. I actually even heard an addendum (in a bar, of all places) — “Sure. Only if you can do it naturally“.

StackOverflow has this post that’s gone totally viral over the weekend. The most voted one is a bit (politically, some otherwise) risque’, check it out if you like – http://stackoverflow.com/questions/234075/what-is-your-best-programmer-joke

My favorite ones —

(i.e., it’s not a BUG, just a feature 😉

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

very long pause….


Q: “Whats the object-oriented way to become wealthy?”

A: Inheritance

“To understand what recursion is you must first understand recursion”

A programmer puts two glasses on his bedside table before going to
sleep. A full one, in case he gets thirsty, and an empty one, in case
he doesn’t.

And, of course, the very well known life-cycle image —

Why Meetings Cost More to ‘Makers’ than to ‘Managers’

Rarely does one get to read such insightful analysis

“There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.  When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.”

I urge everyone to go and read Paul Graham’s latest essay. It is simply a wonderful read outside a conference room 😉

A few principles I try to follow while calling meetings with “makers”  —

  • Is it a one-way communication – from myself or someone else? If yes, meetings are not needed.
  • Try not to invite more than 5-6 people for a 1 hr slot; 3-4 for a 30 min slot.
  • Send a stated “Objective” along with invitation to everyone. One invite I sent last week — “This meeting is to vet our proposal to remove Apache from our stack with our Security experts before going to IIT. If you cannot attend, please nominate someone who can be “A” for security.”
  • Meet your Captain *before* the flight takes off – Never schedule meeting with “makers” after 11AM. These meetings should be about planning, status tracking, gaining confidence on schedules etc. Please keep career, personal, motivational, benefits and sports out of these meetings.
  • You can “Thank” the Captain *after* the flight lands – These meetings can be after 4:30PM. The topics could be kitchen sink (other than regular tracking) — career, personal, motivational, benefits, constructive feedback etc
  • Never ever enter cockpit while in-flight – It has been shown that during creative work (programming; QA; bug solving; performance tuning; writing etc), even a single email “context switch” wastes about 30 minutes of productivity.
  • Pay close attention to the Captain during flight- None of these rules apply *if* a maker calls for meeting. Makers, as observed in the article, typically have a huge cost to meet. If they want to, there must be some serious reasons. Be there early!

Why Coke Beat Pepsi for the last 100+ years

Originally, I parsed the image as Coke never having changed its core branding while Pepsi wandered across a multitude of brand messaging over the years. Then a colleague asked whether the core of the message conveys that – “Coke resisted change to a somewhat proven message / culture, Pepsi tinkered with it a bit too much. Is change over-rated? Could it – at times – mean lacking confidence on the present scheme of things? Could large businesses afford radical changes so closely spaced? Like, changing the core brand message once almost every five years.” Interesting thought. However, if you remember the fiasco of “New Coke” the idea above may not be full proof.

Courtesy – This post