"business" entries

Flattening organizations

It's easy to talk about eliminating hierarchy; it's much harder to do it effectively.


Attend Cultivate July 20 and 21, in Portland, Oregon, which will be co-located with our OSCON Conference. Cultivate is our event looking at the challenges facing modern management and aiming to train a new generation of business leaders who understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate prosperity.

Do companies need a managerial class? The idea of a future without management takes many forms, some more sophisticated than others; but at their most basic, the proposals center around flattening organizational structure. Companies can succeed without managers and without grunts. Employees are empowered to find something useful to do and then do it, making their own decisions along the way. That vision of the future is gaining momentum, and a few businesses are taking the fairly radical step of taking their companies flat.

The game developer Valve‘s employee handbook is outspoken in its rejection of traditional corporate hierarchy. There is no management class. Teams self-organize around specific tasks; when the task is done, the team disappears and its members find new tasks. All the office furniture has wheels, so groups can self-organize at a moment’s notice. Employees rate each other, producing a ranking that is used to determine salaries.

More recently, Zappos and Medium have been in the news for adopting similar (though apparently more formalized) practices, under the name “holacracy.”

There’s a lot to like about this model, but I also have concerns. I’m no friend to hierarchy, but if I’ve seen one thing repeatedly in my near-60 years, it’s that you frequently are what you reject. By rejecting something, whether it’s hierarchy, lust for power, wealth, whatever, you make it very difficult to be self-critical. You don’t change yourself; instead, you turn what you dislike most about yourself into your blind spot. Read more…

Comments: 2
Four short links: 6 July 2015

Four short links: 6 July 2015

DeepDream, In-Flight WiFi, Computer Vision in Preservation, and Testing Distributed Systems

  1. DeepDream — the software that’s been giving the Internet acid-free trips.
  2. In-Flight WiFi Business — numbers and context for why some airlines (JetBlue) have fast free in-flight wifi while others (Delta) have pricey slow in-flight wifi. Four years ago ViaSat-1 went into geostationary orbit, putting all other broadband satellites to shame with 140 Gbps of total capacity. This is the Ka-band satellite that JetBlue’s fleet connects to, and while the airline has to share that bandwidth with homes across of North America that subscribe to ViaSat’s Excede residential broadband service, it faces no shortage of capacity. That’s why JetBlue is able to deliver 10-15 Mbps speeds to its passengers.
  3. British Library Digitising Newspapers (The Guardian) — as well as photogrammetry methods used in the Great Parchment Book project, Terras and colleagues are exploring the potential of a host of techniques, including multispectral imaging (MSI). Inks, pencil marks, and paper all reflect, absorb, or emit particular wavelengths of light, ranging from the infrared end of the electromagnetic spectrum, through the visible region and into the UV. By taking photographs using different light sources and filters, it is possible to generate a suite of images. “We get back this stack of about 40 images of the [document] and then we can use image-processing to try to see what is in [some of them] and not others,” Terras explains.
  4. Testing a Distributed System (ACM) — This article discusses general strategies for testing distributed systems as well as specific strategies for testing distributed data storage systems.
Four short links: 19 June 2015

Four short links: 19 June 2015

Computational Journalism, Bio Startups & Patents, Ad Blocker Wars, and The Night Watch

  1. Computational Journalism — Google awards to projects around computational journalism. Sample: The goal of the project is to automatically build topic “event threads” that will help journalists and citizens decode claims made by public figures, in order to distinguish between personal opinion, communication tools, and voluntary distortions of the reality.
  2. Editing the Software of Life — research yielding the ability to edit DNA has spawned a new set of biotech startups, and a patent morass. Zhang already holds the first of several vital and broad patents covering cas9 genome editing. Yet, Doudna and Charpentier had filed patent applications covering similar ground earlier than Zhang.
  3. Ad Blocker-Stopping Software — the evolutionary battle between ads and blockers is about to get gunpowder. As Ethan Zuckerman said, advertising is the original sin of the Internet.
  4. The Night Watch (PDF) — There is nothing funny to print when you have a misaligned memory access, because your machine is dead and there are no printers in the spirit world.
Four short links: 17 June 2015

Four short links: 17 June 2015

Academic Publishing Concentration, Hardware Independence, Exception Monitoring, and Negotiating Tactics

  1. The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era (PLoSone) — Combined, the top five most prolific publishers account for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013. (via CBC)
  2. LLVM Bitcode Gives Apple Hardware Independence (Medium) — Bob [Mansfield] has been quietly building a silicon team with the skills to rival all other players in the industry. Bob works for one of 15 companies with an ARM architecture license, giving his team carte blanche to modify and extend ARM in any way they see fit. And Bob’s CPUs only have to satisfy a single customer.
  3. Github Exception Monitoring and Response — I need another word than “porn” to describe something that makes me sigh fervently with desire to achieve at that level.
  4. 31 Negotiation Tactics (Nick Kolenda) — he mysteriously omitted my power tactics of (a) crying, (b) greeting my opposite number with the wrong name, and (c) passing a napkin covered with random scrawls as I say, “what do you make of this?”
Four short links: 16 June 2015

Four short links: 16 June 2015

Accessibility Testing, Time-Series Graphing, NO BUBBLE TO SEE HERE, and Technical Documentation

  1. axe — accessibility testing of web apps, so you can integrate accessibility testing into your continuous EVERYTHING pipeline.
  2. metrics-graphics — Mozilla Javascript library optimized for visualizing and laying out time-series data.
  3. US Tech Funding: What’s Going On? (A16Z) — deck eloquently arguing that this is no bubble.
  4. Teach Don’t Tellwhat I think good documentation is and how I think you should go about writing it. Sample common sense: This is obvious when you’re working face-to-face with someone. When you tell them how to play a C major chord on the guitar and they only produce a strangled squeak, it’s clear that you need to slow down and talk about how to press down on the strings properly. As programmers, we almost never get this kind of feedback about our documentation. We don’t see that the person on the other end of the wire is hopelessly confused and blundering around because they’re missing something we thought was obvious (but wasn’t). Teaching someone in person helps you learn to anticipate this, which will pay off (for your users) when you’re writing documentation.

Guidance for startup CEOs in the hot seat

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Dan Shapiro on his new book Hot Seat, startup co-founders, and imposter syndrome.


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In this episode of the O’Reilly Radar Podcast, I chat with Dan Shapiro, author and CEO of Glowforge, about his new book Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook, why startups need co-founders, and why startups are hotbeds for imposter syndrome (and why that’s OK). He also talks a bit about his new endeavor, Glowforge, and how it’s different from other startups he’s launched.

Shapiro explained that the target audience for the book isn’t limited to startup CEOs — in fact, he noted, it’s quite the opposite. “The audience that I’m really excited about getting to see this is everybody who’s not the startup CEO,” he told me. This would include everyone else in the startup ecosystem: co-founders, employees working at a startup, and people employed at big companies who are thinking about taking the leap to found their own startups. He said he wrote this book for “people who are on the cusp or who are touching or who are thinking about that role, either directly or indirectly” — he wrote the book he’d wished he’d had when he started out:

The thing that I wished I’d had in my startup experience — and was always missing — was the honest and unfiltered look at the earliest days of a startup. That was not just, ‘here’s some advice,’ because advice is plentiful and mostly wrong, but real experiences of the stuff that happens. My personal experience, I’m on my fourth or fifth company now, depending on how you count, was that, especially in my first and second companies, I was going through misery and suffering and had these terrible problems. I thought I was the only one who did. I was ashamed to talk about them because everybody else seemed like everything was great and sunny, and I was like, ‘Wow, if my co-founders and I can’t get along, how am I even fit to think about running a company, or shouldn’t we just give up now.’

It was only years later that I realized that almost every set of co-founders has problems and has trouble getting along and runs into issues, and that’s okay. That there are techniques for dealing with that and this is actually really common; it’s just that people are ashamed to talk about it. I wanted to write the book that took lots of peoples’ stories and put them together in the context of, ‘look, startups involve a lot of highs, which there is no shortage of to read about in the press, but a lot of lows as well’ and those are not as often talked about; to talk about some of the experiences of those lows, and strategies for dealing with them.

Read more…

Four short links: 8 June 2015

Four short links: 8 June 2015

Software Psychology, Virus ID, Mobile Ads, and Complex Coupling

  1. Psychology of Software Architecture — a wonderful piece of writing, but this stood out: It comes down to behavioral economics and game theory. The license we choose modifies the economics of those who use our work.
  2. Single Blood Test to ID Every Virus You’ve Ever HadAs Elledge notes, “in this paper alone we identified more antibody/peptide interactions to viral proteins than had been identified in the previous history of all viral exploration.”
  3. Internet Users Increasingly Blocking Ads, Including on Mobiles (The Economist) — mobile networks working on ad blockers for their customers, If lots of mobile subscribers did switch it on, it would give European carriers what they have long sought: some way of charging giant American online firms for the strain those firms put on their mobile networks. Google and Facebook, say, might have to pay the likes of Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica to get on to their whitelists.
  4. Connasence (Wikipedia) — a taxonomy of (systems) coupling. Two components are connascent if a change in one would require the other to be modified in order to maintain the overall correctness of the system. (Via Ben Gracewood.)
Comment: 1

The new fintech: mobile, decentralized, and friction-free

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Dele Atanda and Mutaz Qubbaj talk about their startup platforms and the disruption in fintech.


Learn more about Next:Money, O’Reilly’s conference focused on the fundamental transformation taking place in the finance industry.

In this Radar Podcast episode, I chat with Dele Atanda, founder and CEO of Digitteria, about the disruptive state of the financial tech industry, what he thinks is driving that disruption, and why smart data (as opposed to big data) is going to revolutionize finance. I also talk with Mutaz Qubbaj, CEO and co-founder of Squirrel, about about the Squirrel platform, accelerator programs, and how he views the big disruptors in fintech landscape.

We’ve started an investigation — and launched a new summit, Next:Money — here at O’Reilly to look into the disruption happening in the fintech industry, as burgeoning startups create services and products that threaten to disaggregate traditional finance incumbents. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a number of fintech startup founders and will be featuring several of those conversations in upcoming Radar Podcasts.

Dele Atanda founded Digitteria, a startup developing sustainable identity and personal data management solutions for both consumers and enterprise. I asked him why the time is ripe for disruption — he pointed to the growing complexity of the landscape and compared the current state of the finance industry to the early stages of the Web:

There’s a significant increase in complexity, and in that complexity there’s a much more detailed and rich ecosystem. Banks, it’s difficult for them to be able to tackle all the ends and elements efficiently, so it’s interesting because it’s almost representative of, it’s lacking the evolution of the Web, but it mirrors it in very many ways. Initially, you had these monolithic sort of applications, or browsers, or services that tried to do lots of things, and then we moved into the mobile era where things became much more siloed and application centric, where you did one thing particularly well. That’s inevitably going to happen in the fintech space. They say that the currency of the industrial era was paper, and the currency of the knowledge era is the electron.

Money is primarily electronic now, so it’s inevitable that there’s going to become this confluence between the Web and finance in that regard. I think, of course, because of security, regulatory issues, and the cultural dimension of money, there’s been a lag and resistance. Now that the Web has reached a level of maturity that it can address those issues, I think that’s inevitable.

Read more…


Filing cabinets, GAAP, and the accountant’s dilemma

The inability to take advantage of digital technology is as big a threat to financial organizations as any fintech startup.

Learn more about Next:Money, O’Reilly’s conference focused on the fundamental transformation taking place in the finance industry.

Burroughs_adding_machineThere’s plenty of news about the fintech, or financial technology, sector these days. Hundreds of nimble startups are disaggregating the age-old financial systems on which every transaction has relied for decades. There’s little doubt that this will continue — after all, more than four billion humans have a mobile phone, and 1.3 billion know how to use a Facebook feed, but only a billion are what we’d consider “normally banked.” Something’s got to give, and software is eating traditional financial systems one bite at a time.

But the existing financial industry isn’t just under threat from outside. Many of the processes and institutions of finance have been around for centuries, and their processes are tied to physical systems rather than digital ones. As a result, they’re unable to take advantage of digital innovations easily and remain competitive. Read more…


Here’s why finance is about to be disrupted

O'Reilly's Next:Money event helps business leaders understand the fundamental shifts reshaping finance.


Learn more about Next:Money, O’Reilly’s conference focused on the fundamental transformation taking place in the finance industry.

Editor’s note: We’re approaching an inflection point in all things “money” — currency, transactions, markets, and capitalism itself. Fundamental changes in the financial industry, driven by technology but with implications for every business and government, are beginning to manifest, bringing both disruption and opportunity. We created O’Reilly’s new conference, Next:Money to help business leaders understand and act on this shift. Below, investor and entrepreneur Paul Kedrosky lays out the forces and patterns that are reshaping the financial industry.

Finance has the three main characteristics of an industry likely to be transformed by technology:

  1. It traffics in bits, not atoms.
  2. Its services are often delivered remotely.
  3. There is little need for human contact.

Unlike other sectors with these characteristics — e.g., media, advertising, and travel services — finance hasn’t been disrupted. Despite huge technological change and a series of financial crises, the league table of the largest financial firms today, both in the U.S. and around the world, remains much the same as it has always been.

Granted, the $1.2-trillion U.S. financial services industry isn’t homogenous. Its main components — banks, brokers, asset managers, markets, payment networks, insurers, and credit card companies — are very different, and have seen widely varying degrees of technology-induced change. In no sense, however, is this industry as transformed by new companies and new business models as one would expect, given its disruption-ready characteristics.

So, why haven’t entrepreneurs transformed finance? There are (at least) five reasons: Read more…

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