"Never describe yourself as poor....."

Hello Everybuddy,

Last week I had a chance of attending two events. The first was at the Microsoft's New England Research & Development centre (they proudly call themselves NERDs) on robotics. It was kind of cool to see military robots used for bomb disposal squad, and within yards to see college students displaying their 'autonomous fire extinghishing robot' (which had won an award for its ability to navigate a maze on its own and put out fire (actually candles!) in three  locations). I met with Dan Bricklin, the person who invented spreadsheets (Visicalc), his book 'Bricklin on Technology' is just out and by the looks of it seems very interesting (no I am not getting any commission from him, just thought he is an interesting visionary guy and the book seems to have a collection of 'interesting conversations' on technology). I also met with the ex-CTO of Lycos Don Kosak and to get to hear his vision and story from the early days of the internet. I also saw 'Surface', the technology we discussed in our first case study at Babson; two people were playing chess on the Surface table. It looked like fun and interesting (I am sure at the right price point, many entrepreneurs will find new uses for it)

The second event was the IT Collaborative Dialogue, again held at NERD. Back in January, Governor Patrick of Massachusetts had challenged the industry and academia to come together with the government to determine the direction and shape the future of IT. 18 leaders came together and formed the IT collaborative to create the industry-led framework. The event was excellent platform to communicate among each other and to understand, appreciate and realise the strength and vitality of the IT sector in Common Wealth of Massachusetts.

While listening to the speakers, during the question answer sessions, participating in the break out sessions, and networking afterwards with the industry leaders  and govt. officials, I could not help but notice and think about the similarities of issues, challenges and opportunities that Massachusetts and Scotland face. So, here are the key points I found interesting:

  • The way the event was organized was excellent, using different platforms- along with traditional media, they used twitter feed, flickr, facebook, RSS, YouTube and Blogs, as well as live thought capture electronic boards.
  • Key note speaker Rodney Brooks (iRobots and recently Heartland Robotics) says Technical exponential growth (Moore's law) begets social exponentials (because the rate of improvements is proportional to current level of adoption, existence of the law tells everyone what level to aim for and when others are working to achieve the exponential too, we can hop on for free).... The future has many IT exponentials to come, especially when IT meets the physical world processes and now it is combining its power with the social dynamic.
  • Being more audacious in adoption of new business models, having higher aspirations at the beginning and attitude towards risk and failure
  • Be better at retaining own educated IT students (the challenge of how to keep them here)
    • Students / fresh graduates want to start career with large scale companies (through Saltire Foundation initiative hopefully we will have some of this issue resolved by creating companies of scale)
    • The issue of affordable housing,
    • commuting, transportation links, infrastructure to support high quality life style and high quality businesses (telecomme and broadband)
    • and after a while, the importance of children's schooling quality
  • Immigration policies to attract, allow and enable talent from the global pool (in MA, it is federal control vs state interest, in Scotland it is Scottish interest in the broader scope of UK immigration policies). Make it easier for people to come and stay (in Tom Friedman's words, staple a green card to each advanced degree)
  • Universities are providing excellent education (but how good are they at providing continuing education... M.I.T has open course-ware model, Standford broadcasts its classes to all companies in the area)
  • Letting people change jobs frequently is a good idea, therefore aim to have a better churn of employees (i.e. encourage them to leave job and move to another) so they can continue to grow and learn.
    • In California, Non-compete clauses in employment contracts are not enforceable. It is a hugely debatable issue where short term gains need to be balanced with the long term benefit to the whole economy
  • Costs of infrastructure building  (e.g. cost of power and cooling, very important for data centers) and taxes have some impact on business decisions, but other factors such as availability of educated high class labour, networks, government and community support are very important. Good foundation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) create that competitive advantage through education. Access to the research partners is also very important... this reminded me of the Value Networks and Collaborators in Anirudh's 8 forces model!
  • Perils of Outsourcing: If your R& D is going on in other countries, next generation of companies will then start there (a great number of people who left Cisco and Microsoft went on to follow their own ideas and created sizable companies) .
  • Attitude towards Openness vs confidentiality: West Coast seems much more open, East Coast keeps cards close to chest... one observer commented that this is partially due to large defense contracts, confidentiality got ingrained in our psychology (Does Scotland sit closer to the Openness dimension or more conservative in communication side on this continuum?).
  • In the words of Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande, a legendary entrepreneur here, Entrepreneurship works best when based on Naivete, as no body believes you,  being slightly crazy helps! We should all be encouraging Entrepreneurship as a career.
  • The importance of Mentoring, Existing entrepreneurs to do nurturing of younger entrepreneurs (they created 'Venture Cafe' and 'Open Coffee Wednesdays', where entrepreneurs, techies, VCs all come together to talk, no business plans, no power points, no 'email me your stuff' , just plain talk and open, friendly, informative conversations and networking.
  • Combine marketing with Mentorship.
  • They started a 'Stay in MA' website, a programme developed in collaboration with VC firms to retain talent in MA..... we should have a 'Stay in Scotland' website!
  • Funding should be rapid, smaller but much more easier.
  • For government, the advice from the industry was: pick two things (which ever) & make them big and advertise them and do them really well. Need to move government at the speed of business.  Also, have a more friendly attitude towards out of state businesses so they feel at home here (people or businesses should not feel they have to show their roots or connection to this place, and be comfortable as a welcomed new addition to the community). Direct the stimulus money towards building enterprises & businesses rather than repairing. Involve teachers (and students at an early age- integration of IT industry with K-6 education). The chairman of Society for Information Management (SIM) said that in the years we have a guest entrepreneur at the college freshman induction, the enrollment in IT courses goes up substantially. There is a great need to create an identity in the Global market place, a place to do business, but also a place to come to for global project teams to work together and then go back.

Governor Patrick announced a $1 million business plan competition, open to ideas and companies globally. In Scotland, we have likes of SMART, SPUR and SPUR+ awards to encourage innovation. Greg Bialecki, Secretary for Economic Development and Housing, stressed the need for change in culture to become more friendly and welcoming to attract talented people, to be a Big Welcome sign = We are open for business and are friendly (I think they mean it, as later when we exchanged cards and he walked away, the Industry Director-Creative Economy came and also took contact details saying "In case the secretary forgets, I will get in touch!" )

If some of the above points sound quite general, that is because I have tried to summarize the details at a fairly high level. At the event, there was some solid discussion about practical steps to be taken to move in the clearly determined direction of making Massachusetts a destination of choice for future businesses (competing both with CA and internationally).

Why have I shared this lengthy motherhood and pie? Because I genuinely believe there is a lot of potential to create the Scotland of tomorrow with learnings from others....and like Massachusetts, Scotland prides itself in its quality of education and friendliness of people (and with perception of neutrality by the outside world). There are a lot of similarities, and areas of collaboration and avenues of learning from each other's experiences.

Governor Patrick acknowledged the current hard times, but then shared with us what his grand mother used to say "Never describe yourself as poor,.... always say I am broke...." because broke is temporary. All cycles are temporary. Things would and do take turns.


Look up & Look forward.


Posted 16-Jun-2009 4:14 by Mubbasher Khanzada