Friday, May 28, 2010

When Did We Stop Eating in the Cafeteria?

Did you spend your lunch hour today at your desk on a critical conference call? Or maybe, you ate at your desk while furiously working on a project that was due at 1pm? If you were having a good day, maybe you ate at your desk catching up on e-mails and returning phone calls.

When was the last time you ate in the cafeteria with colleagues? Or, if you work in a small office or at home, when was the last time you went out for lunch with colleagues?

When was the last time you actually had a true unscheduled lunch break?

I may be one of a rare breed (okay, that means I’m old enough) that remembers actually eating in the cafeteria with friends and colleagues. We looked forward to it every day. It wasn’t just about food. It was a chance to get to know each other. We could catch up on who won the high school game the night before, or whose parents were coming to visit, or who was redesigning their kitchen.

I remember when we didn’t feel guilty for going out to lunch, or eating in the cafeteria. It was a chance to connect. And in doing so, we knew more about our colleagues than what their job responsibilities were. We felt like a team.

When did eating lunch become a luxury?

Is there a connection between when we stopped eating in the cafeteria and when we started to become distant and impersonal with our colleagues? What do you think?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Galleon Watch – Do We Have a Motive?

The NY Times Dealbook reported last week that the first of the sentencing hearings in the Galleon criminal trial concluded with Mark Kurland (formerly of New Castle) receiving 27 months in prison.

In what appears to have been an argument by defense attorneys that Kurland deserved no more jail time than Moffat (whose plea deal would allow up to one year in prison) prosecutors disagreed noting that Kurland was motivated by greed while Moffat, “had an intimate relationship with Chiesi.”

Moffat’s sentencing hearing is set for late July.

In the related civil trial, Anil Kumar (formerly of McKinsey) reached a settlement of $2.8 million with the SEC.

Catch up on the Galleon case here, and don’t forget to check out this week’s regular edition.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Confessions of a Reluctant Early Adopter

Do you remember your very first personal computer?

If the first PC you bought for your home could do little more than crunch numbers and run a simple spreadsheet application – and you paid about five times more than a state-of-the-art laptop would cost today, then you are probably an early adopter.

While I love my gadgets, I am happy to wait for the second generation for most of them. But I married an early adopter, which makes me a reluctant early adopter.

Don’t get me wrong. The world needs early adopters. After all, someone has to be first. Someone has to try the things the testers never thought of. Someone has to work out all those bugs. If noone ever bought first generation technologies the market would collapse before we ever got to the second and third generations – the good stuff.

But too often these first generation technologies become obsolete too quickly, or they become unaffordable to maintain. What happens to the gadgets early adopters buy that never catch on, or when that first generation technology is outdated?

We have a basement full of computer parts that we can’t part with because we “might need them some day”. This collection harkens back to the days when the best way to have a state-of-the-art personal computer was to buy cards and memory and computer accessories at computer shows – shows that were magnets for like-minded early adopters.

We own a laser disc player. (If you’re wondering what a laser disc player is and you’re over twenty-five you don’t qualify as an early adopter.) Most people skipped right from videotape to DVD, while my spouse was insisting that laser disc players were the wave of the future. He even paid extra for a feature so we didn’t have to get up to turn the disc over halfway through the movie. Do you think we can sell it on ebay?

For Christmas one year my gift was a photo iPod. It was the largest capacity iPod available at the time, and its claim to fame was that you could store photos (in addition to music) on it. It was quickly displaced in the market with iPods that were video-capable and played games. Just a couple of years later my new iPod Nano model has the same capacity, weighs about six pounds less, and even has a video camera.

We had to have a high definition TV as soon as they were available (despite the fact that we didn’t get an HD TV/cable signal until three years later). The large screen TV was indeed a welcome addition to our living room, but each projection bulb only lasted about a year. When the replacement bulbs could only be purchased from third party vendors at about the same cost as a brand new flat screen LCD TV, we knew it was time to move on.

So what does my technology-hungry spouse want now? An iPad? I could go for one of those (but will wait until the second generation). His eyes light up when he sees commercials for 3D HD TVs … and I have visions of 3D glasses gathering dust on the family room coffee table.

Okay, early adopters. Time to fess up. What’s in your basement?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Who is Picking Up the Check?

This isn’t a story about the tooth fairy and clouds in the sky, but it’s close. It’s a story about the cloud fairy. You know, the fairy that makes cloud computing possible – for free.

What? Free? Is that possible?

Consider the perspective of Douglas Merrill, ex-CIO of Google, as reported by Andy Greenberg in this article on Forbes.com. Merrill is a strong proponent of cloud computing, and recommends that organizations should rely on search capabilities (e.g. Google) rather than e-filing systems (like the kind Microsoft makes). Merrill suggests a very flexible model for managing data in an age where data is everywhere – literally. Fair enough.

And then Merrill says that organizations should, ”Ride on the wave of virtually infinite storage at virtually zero cost.” He is talking about cloud computing. Later in the story he does acknowledge that there are “one rate costs” associated with cloud computing, but nonetheless he advocates storing your data on “a big hard drive that someone else is paying for.”

Okay, so he didn’t say “free”, he said, “virtually zero cost.” Store your data in the cloud. Let someone else pay for it.

Yes, I suppose a good CIO’s job includes reducing costs. But, someone has to manufacture the storage capacity. Someone has to provide the infrastructure. Someone has to pay for managing it. Cloud computing, while arguably more efficient, is not free. Moreover, I believe it can’t be free. What manufacturer will continue to innovate storage solutions in a model where only the service providers and the end users realize value?

Ironically, this blog exists in the cloud. I created a free site (using Google’s blogger) and I pour new bits and bytes of data into the cloud each week. But I do worry that some day the cloud fairy will turn into the wicked cloud fairy of the west and start charging me for every post, or that the cloud will burst and my data will become inaccessible, which is why I keep a copy of everything I post on my own server (and then I back that up). Paranoid? Maybe.

Can we allow the storage systems that host our data to continue to commoditize until they have no essential value? Will the cloud burst? Or perhaps the question should be: When will the cloud burst? What do you think?

Friday, May 7, 2010

A New Kind of Corporate Responsibility Emerging?

I’m feeling optimistic.

Amidst the many stories that cross my desk daily about bosses behaving badly, corporations shipping jobs overseas, and frustration in the workplace, recently I have seen some stories that give me hope that we could see a shift in the way the leaders of corporations view their responsibilities.

For example:

On February 18th, ABC World News reported that Bob Moore, founder and owner of Bob’s Red Mill was turning over ownership of the multi-million dollar company he founded, to it’s employees. Surely Moore could have pocketed (more than) a bundle by selling to a large food producer looking to expand in the organic, health food and gluten-free segments – the markets that Bob’s Red Mill serves. But instead, this leader felt an obligation to the people who helped him build his company for the past 30 years. This wasn’t an obligation served by typical corporate responsibility. Instead, in his own words, Moore believed that this was, “The only business decision that (he) could make."

Remarkable.

And let’s also look at the new socially minded corporations emerging known as ‘B corporations’. The ‘B’ stands for ‘beneficial’. Companies certified by B Labs as ‘B corporations’ must demonstrate that they benefit all stakeholders (employees, communities, and the environment), not just shareholders. That’s right, they must be socially responsible. Two hundred eighty five companies have certified including Seventh Generation, Uncommon Goods, and King Arthur Flour. They are for profit businesses, but they believe they answer to more than just Wall Street and their shareholders.

Altruistic? Perhaps. Nonetheless, remarkable.

Is it possible, that coming off of a decade where we have too many examples of corporations behaving badly, that we will see a return of ethics to the workplace? Is it too much to hope for that instead of sending jobs offshore, over-working employees, cutting benefits, and answering only to Wall Street, that we will see businesses once again focusing on their responsibilities to their employees?

What do you think?