Closed means closed, whether insanely great or not.

From a recent article in The Register (UK):

We might continue to buy our Apple gear, but every time we buy a Samsung or Amazon or Google device, we’re going to be reminded why we don’t keep our content in iCloud, but instead keep it with Amazon or Google or Microsoft SkyDrive. These other services “just work.” Apple’s cloud? Not so much.

The author, Matt Asay, writes that his household owns: five Macs, two iPads, and four iPhones all running the latest OSes).

I’ve written before that Apple’s closed system is eventually going to get it into trouble, despite its insanely great hardware and OSes. A couple of days ago, my wife’s .me e-mail stopped working. We had moved her over to iCloud several weeks ago and it had been working fine. It stopped working on all platforms — iPhone, iPad, our two Macs, and through icloud.com, and whether accessed through our home network or over ATT mobile. She can log on to her account on icloud.com, but when she tries to check Mail, she gets a “Not available” message. When she tries to check from Mail on her computer or iOS devices, she gets an”incorrect username or password” message.

Because her system is over 4 years old, Apple support won’t talk to her. All we can tell from the discussion boards is that other people have the same problem. Other than the “send report to Apple” box from icloud.com, I can’t find any way to report the problem.

As I type this (on my MacBook), she’s busy converting all her accounts over to her new gmail address (I had already set her up on Dropbox). When Apple’s latest earnings were announced, she cheered.

Positioning for the melee

Venkatesh Rao has another thought provoking post up at his Tempo blog. Go take a look and then come back here … Play close attention to his distinction between “planning” and “positioning” near the bottom of the piece.

Rao’s concept of positioning & melee moves seems similar to the military’s concepts of operational and tactical levels of war. Even more interesting for business — where these concepts of levels apply only by analogy — they appear to be closely related to shih, Sun Tzu’s framework for employing force or energy.  For those of you not familiar with shih, it’s the title of the fifth chapter of The Art of War and encompasses a variety of concepts including zheng / qi (cheng / ch’i). For an excellent intro, see David Lai’s paper “Learning from the Stones,” available from the Federation of American Scientists.

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RIP Sally Ride

I sat next to Dr. Ride on a flight from Atlanta to Washington DC in the mid-1980s (it was Eastern Airlines, to give you an idea).

Idiot me, I didn’t recognize her–one does hate to stare, although the NASA briefcase should have given it away–until as we were getting off the plane, she was greeted by a NASA team at the door.

One of the greats, at the early age of 61.

MNCCG

As in “many noncooperative centers of gravity.” It’s what you want to turn your opponents into because it can, as Boyd suggested, pump up friction and entropy and “impede vigorous activity.”

Boyd’s primary critique of Clausewitz, for example, was that:

Clausewitz did not see that many non-cooperative, or conflicting, centers of gravity paralyze adversary by denying him the opportunity to operate in a directed fashion, hence they impede vigorous activity and magnify friction. (Patterns of Conflict, 42).

Think about a 3-D assortment of metal balls connected by springs. You try to get the contraption to move and you’ll find that most of your energy goes into the oscillations among the weights. Now translate that effect to organizations.

Nice example of this effect in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal in an article about Nokia, whose decline is spectacular, even by the standards of modern hi-tech. Here’s the critical conclusion:

“You were spending more time fighting politics than doing design,” said Alastair Curtis, Nokia’s chief designer from 2006 to 2009. The organizational structure was so convoluted, he added, that “it was hard for the team to drive through a coherent, consistent, beautiful experience.”

From: “Nokia’s Bad Call on Smartphones,” Wall St. J., July 19, 2012, p. A1 (subscription required)

If your organization has fallen prey to MNCCG, it doesn’t make any difference what your strategy is—because you won’t be able to execute it—or how potent your research and manufacturing operations are because they won’t be producing many products that customers want to buy. As the article shows, Nokia spent vastly more on R&D than any other company in its industry, nearly four times what Apple did, and had developed a modern smart phone, with touchscreen keyboard and a tablet with wireless connectivity some seven years before the iPhone. But today, they are struggling, to say the least, just to stay in the telecommunications business.

An agile interlude

Here’s a chart where Boyd lays out the power of agility (click to enlarge):

It’s chart 44 from Strategic Game, which makes some extraordinary claims about what you can do to adversaries by operating at a “faster tempo or rhythm” than they can.

To see that this really is agility, you may need to go back to one of the precursor charts in this “illuminating example,” where Boyd mentions again that :

The ability to shift or transition from one maneuver to another more rapidly than an adversary enables one to win in air-to-air combat. (SG 42)

This is the classic definition of “agility.”  What Boyd is suggesting is that even if your maneuvers don’t lead to a kill, just by being able to exercise a higher degree of agility (in this sense) over a period of time will end the contest in your favor.  Your opponent might, for example, lose control of the aircraft or, with the ability to carry on collapsed, just punch out.

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New qi sighting

From Slate.com yesterday:

I’m a frequent Amazon shopper, and over the last few months I’ve noticed a significant improvement in its shipping times. As a subscriber to Amazon’s Prime subscription service, I’m used to getting two-day shipping on most items for free. But on about a third of my purchases, my package arrives after just one day for no extra charge. Sometimes the service is so speedy it seems almost magical. “I Want It Today: How Amazon’s ambitious new push for same-day delivery will destroy local retail,” by Farhad Manjoo. http://slate.me/O8yt5C

Magical — a typical description of a successful zheng/qi operation. Written descriptions date back to Sun Tzu (chapter 5), but the basic idea hasn’t changed: Understand what the other players in your game expect (ideally by helping to shape those expectations), and then when you think the time is ripe, spring the unexpected.

The result in conflict can be paralyzing shock and disorientation (see, for example, Patterns 117). In business, if done well, it can be delighted and fanatically loyal customers, as I describe in Certain to Win, and Apple does so well.

Amazon’s strategy appears to be to use zheng/qi to offset the costs of establishing regional distribution centers and collecting local sales taxes:

[Retailers claim that] If prices were equal, you’d always go with the “instant gratification” of shopping in the real [CR: brick-and-mortar] world. The trouble with that argument is that shopping offline isn’t really “instant”—it takes time to get in the car, go to the store, find what you want, stand in line, and drive back home.

More important, and this is what I find so hard to understand, the people who run retail outlets don’t seem to realize that the one thing they can offer than Amazon can’t is interaction face-to-face with real people. Instead, they appear to regard people purely as costs, and so our experiences with their sales and service forces are often, shall we say, less than satisfying.

[Note: I'm also a subscriber to Amazon Prime and my experiences have been similar.]

Be agile and win

As we have seen, Boyd thought highly of what appears to be agility, but never used the word (with one exception) and never defined it in print. Several years after he quit distributing updated charts in 1986, he did change the “Theme for Vitality and Growth,” chart 144, to include “agility,” but he still didn’t define it.

While giving his presentations, though, Boyd would talk about agility, and he usually divided it between physical and mental (you cannot, as he would slyly remark, have “moral agility,” because that would be no morals at all!)

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