Author: John W Lewis

Social communication is with us

Hallo – are you there?
The technology of communication devices, systems, services has changed hugely over the years. There have been lamps, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and a variety of others (I suppose we should also include smoke signals!).
A replical of a Morse code transmitter of 1844
The characteristics of each technology have dictated the behavioural model of the systems and the services available to users.
With the advent of the Internet, systems have tended to emulate traditional models: bulletin boards, post (email), with the web (world wide that is!) being based on a well-known “request-response” model until relatively recently.
But, now,  the gloves are coming off! People are building software-based communication services to provide whatever behavioural model they choose; consider, for example, Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed and there will be many, many more.
So far, their matching of the models to any specific requirements has been very loose. They build something and then figure out what people use it for!
There is an opportunity to get serious now: to decide whatever experience we want users to have; to design it and build it. Then to iterate models based on live tracking of actual scenarios. This is potentially very big … and keep half an eye on “augmented reality”.

By John Lewis

Liking LikeMinds 2010

A global local conference

How often does a great conference on an emerging subject attract local, national and global participants to a quiet corner of the UK? Not often, I suspect.

Nevertheless last Friday, 2010 February 26, it happened again at LikeMinds 2010! The first time it happened was in 2009 on October 16th. Back in February 2009, two people met having got to know each other using Twitter, the popular social media tool/service. Scott Gould is a Devon-based web and experience designer. Trey Pennington is an American social media and business consultant. They met in Exeter and set the date for a half-day event which became LikeMinds 09. A local conference centre was the venue. People came from far and wide to became part of the inaugural gathering. Afterwards, they knew that they’d started something and felt the need to repeat it.

This time, just over four months later. More came to LikeMinds 2010, in the same relatively small venue. The same loyal bunch of social media specialists came back and brought more with them. There was more buzz and activity. This time, it lasted a full day and was followed by a business-oriented summit event at a prestigious location.

It was good to be there. It was good to meet new people. It was good to get a real sense of what is going on in human social communication. And all of this in my local city of Exeter, Devon, England.

There is more to come on this conference! But to give you a flavour, here is the talk by Chris Brogan … after I’d had lunch with him!

And, I am sure, more LikeMinds conferences to come.

By John Lewis

Entrepreneurship – Jason Calacanis

Rice picker or samurai? You choose!

There are many people who might represent the subject of entrepreneurship. It is likely that a calm analysis of the candidates would select someone with a broad range of characteristics which had been identified as generally accepted as typical. But this would be to fly in the face of the nature of entrepreneurship itself!

How can the sense of the personal distortion of reality required to see a different path be communicated by someone identified as a “typical” entrepreneur?

With that in mind, the following video captures such a motivational performance that any selection process that might have been used has been abandoned in selecting Jason Calacanis, the controversial and abrasive founder of multiple “dot com” ventures, mainly in the broad area of web publishing.

Say what you like about his activities during his various ventures, and who knows whether it is as unprepared as it appears to be, his performance in this video is pure gold in the annals of motivational presentations for entrepreneurs. He starts slowly, sets the scene, describes his story and steadily builds momentum and intensity. As the stakes increase, so does the passion. Balanced by a substantial level of self-analysis, this is a gripping personal story. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, set aside the next half hour or so, sit back and enjoy this:

Calacanis’ own channel, TWiST (This Week in Start Ups), provides further description of the event portrayed in the video.

While many factors arise in describing entrepreneurs, the one issue that comes up time and again is the simple choice between two different paths. He captured that!

By John Lewis

Remarkable people: Eli Goldratt

What do you know? And when did you know it?

Eli Goldratt

Many of the situations that we face are well understood … or, at least, we think they are! Then someone comes along with a different approach and breaks through into a new regime.

This can be unsettling, but then the new approach becomes the norm. What was previously obvious is now ridiculous; and what was previously ridiculous is now obvious! No wonder these things do not happen often, because, if they did, they would not be so unusual!

Eli Godratt has had an enormous impact on many businesses through his approach to understanding business processes. Some of his most effective works are novels! How many business consultants write novels to help people to learn? “The Goal” was his first and captured the main elements of his approach which he termed the Theory of Constraints. He has gone on to describe new approaches to project management, which he calls Critical Chain.

Continue reading “Remarkable people: Eli Goldratt”

Selling airplanes!

Jet airliners any way up!

Back in 1955, air travel was an adventure and the age of the jet airliner had already dawned in the UK, albeit with some major setbacks along the way.

As the US prepared to enter the market that summer, there is the well known incident of Boeing test pilot “Tex” Johnston rolling a prototype Boeing 707.

From today’s perspective, under those circumstances , the integrity of the people involved was impressive. As the pilot describes, he was called into the office of the president of Boeing to explain his actions. For me, the most telling comment is his final line:

It was fine!

By John Lewis

Remarkable people: Charlie Simpson

What a contribution!

How does a 7 year old contribute more in one day than most people contribute in a whole lifetime?

To give your time and effort to raise money for charity is noble and worthwhile, and many people do it for a variety of causes and for a variety of personal and public reasons.

To maximise the benefit of your efforts, however, is also important; anyone who has had difficulty finding sponsors for their swim, run or ride can tell you that!

Connecting with people

Charlie Simpson made a short video in his attempt to raise money for people of Haiti as they deal with the consequences of the earthquake there.

That video is clear, it is personal and I defy anyone who watches it not to feel a connection with this young boy from London.

He aimed for £500. At the time of writing, he has passed £118,000 !! You can give here

By John Lewis

Craftsmanship and business in the modern age

Sally Ryan for the New York Times

Pizza and a business plan

Here is a wonderful story of craftsmanship in the modern age and its interaction with business expectations. There is a very small, but reportedly excellent, pizza place in Chicago called “Great Lake”; and I learnt about it when a friend referred me to an article about its culture, its success and the consequences published by the New York Times.

The effect of extremely good reviews has been that they have been overwhelmed by demand and some customers have reacted unfavourably as a result. I think that they should stick to their guns and not compromise their principles and standards. However, this does not mean that they could not be doing some other things too!

There also seems to be an interesting systems story here! Continue reading “Craftsmanship and business in the modern age”

Remarkable people: John S Denker

Scientist and pilot

John S Denker is both a scientist and pilot. Now, I have no doubt that there are many scientists who are pilots, and that many of them combine these interests in a variety of ways. So in what way is he “remarkable”?

Experts as communicators

Sometimes experts dedicate considerable effort to communicate their understanding for the benefit of people who are much less knowledgeable. It is probably important that this happens, because it is the main means by which substantial topics are understood in any depth by other people. Without the experts’ thorough knowledge of a specific subject area, very little understanding is likely to be transferred. Continue reading “Remarkable people: John S Denker”

Pocket computing – innovation in an expanding market

On a more professional note …

In the various posts that I have contributed here on the “Learning from Dogs” blog, my approach to the general topic of integrity has been broadly related to people, their behaviour and their contribution. However, it is noticeable that I have barely mentioned any professional interests; so, this post relates to an area which I have usually discussed elsewhere: it is reproduced from my personal blog.


Go, Nokia, go!

You have nothing to fear and everything to gain!

The mobile internet is becoming mainstream, so the smartphone market is booming. Nokia occupy the strongest position in the smartphone market, has loyal customers and a reputation for phones that, relative to other mainstream phones, are user friendly.

So what is happening?

Continue reading “Pocket computing – innovation in an expanding market”

Crimes and accidents: the extent of responsibility

How bad can a car accident be?

On 28 February 2001 a vehicle came off the M62 motorway at Great Heck, near Selby, [North Yorkshire, England. Ed] ran down the railway embankment and onto the East Coast Main Line, where it was struck by a passenger train. The passenger train was derailed and then struck by a freight train travelling in the opposite direction. 6 passengers and 4 staff on the trains were killed. The driver of the vehicle was found guilty of causing the deaths of 10 people by dangerous driving.

So begins the report “Managing the accidental obstruction of the railway by road vehicles” from the UK Department for Transport (DfT).

If you were aware of this incident at the time, you might remember that it attracted considerable discussion and press coverage, here are  some examples.

At the time,  a variety of causes were cited for the accident and for the failure of various mechanisms to prevent the accident.

“Whose fault was it?”

Most of the discussion seemed to be based on trying to find someone to blame for everything that happened and the main target was the driver of the vehicle who was alleged to have been driving while unfit to drive due to lack of sleep, and to have fallen asleep at the wheel.

However, I thought that the public response to the incident was a matter of considerable concern; and I continue to think so.

Clearly people can expect to be held responsible for their actions. When their action or lack of action causes damage, they can expect to be held responsible for that damage. However, there are surely limits to that responsibility.

Also, it is interesting that this incident was described at the beginning of the DfT report which was otherwise entirely about ways of reducing incursion of road vehicles onto railways. So, if it is accepted that insufficient fences, banks, ditches or other obstructions had been provided, the implication is that the motorist could expect some protection to exist and is therefore not wholly responsible for the consequences of it not existing.

Level of responsibility

If, as alleged, the driver was unfit to drive then he can expect to be held responsible for his actions. But, in much of the discussion about this incident, there was very little importance attached to the issue that the probability was infinitesimally small that he would fall asleep at exactly the location which resulted in his vehicle entering a railway line, and at the time when not one but two trains were about to pass that point. I would hazard a guess that he could not have planned it so accurately if he had intended to cause the incident!

Having, by extremely bad lack, ended up on a railway line and before the railway collision occurred, he was aware of the danger of collision and was already using this mobile phone to attempt to warn the authorities of the situation. But even if he had been injured and unable to warn anyone, to what extent was he responsible for the full range of consequences of this extremely unlikely incident?

According to one of the press reports:

The HSE report described the accident as ‘wholly exceptional’ and concluded: ‘There was nothing the railway industry could reasonably have done to prevent the collisions.’

Chief Inspector of Railways Vic Coleman said: ‘It’s clear that the chain of events that led to this catastrophe were determined by sheer chance.’

The DfT report, and the fact that the work to generate it was instigated, suggests that the Department for Transport did not agree with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that there ‘There was nothing the railway industry could reasonably have done to prevent the collisions.’

Distinguishing the criminal from the accident elements

How do we distinguish crimes from accidents? In particular, in complex incidents such as this, how do we distinguish the criminal elements from the accidental elements of an incident?

In my opinion, there is no benefit in penalising, or even reprimanding, people for actions which led to consequences which either they were completely unable to foresee or which were so improbable as to be bordering on fantasy. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to learn more about the consequences of one’s actions; this can be a positive process of extending one’s understanding, rather than a negative process of “not doing that again”.

In particular, in cases like the Selby incident, clearly someone should be penalised if it is determined that they were driving dangerously; but it seems to me that the severity of the penalty should be based on the severity of crime, which relates to the severity of the likely consequences of their actions and, presumably, whether this is a recurrence of this or other offences.

It also seems to me that the severity of crime is largely independent of the actual consequences of the incident. In other words, someone should expect to be penalised just as severely when there were no consequences as when there were.

I understand that many people would like to find someone to blame for all damage which occurs. But is this reasonable? There are, after all, such things as accidents!

Our blame culture

My view is not that held by the authorities, at least not in the UK. The sentencing guidelines of the Crown Prosecution Service in cases of dangerous driving take the view that the consequences are relevant.

As is probably apparent, I respectfully disagree. This blame culture does not, in my view, serve any purpose and may even reduce safety. Safety experts in the aviation industry seem to take a completely different view from that in the motoring world and reap the long term benefits of improved safety as a consequence.

You may take a different view!

By John Lewis