Category Archives: Open Access

And here is another example of how Apple is doing things differently – using thought leaders

leaderby Hamed Saber

★ Mountain Lion
[Via Daring Fireball]

“We’re starting to do some things differently,” Phil Schiller said to me.

We were sitting in a comfortable hotel suite in Manhattan just over a week ago. I’d been summoned a few days earlier by Apple PR with the offer of a private “product briefing”. I had no idea heading into the meeting what it was about. I had no idea how it would be conducted. This was new territory for me, and I think, for Apple.

I knew it wasn’t about the iPad 3 — that would get a full-force press event in California. Perhaps new retina display MacBooks, I thought. But that was just a wild guess, and it was wrong. It was about Mac OS X — or, as Apple now calls it almost everywhere, OS X. The meeting was structured and conducted very much like an Apple product announcement event. But instead of an auditorium with a stage and theater seating, it was simply with a couch, a chair, an iMac, and an Apple TV hooked up to a Sony HDTV. And instead of a room full of writers, journalists, and analysts, it was just me, Schiller, and two others from Apple — Brian Croll from product marketing and Bill Evans from PR. (From the outside, at least in my own experience, Apple’s product marketing and PR people are so well-coordinated that it’s hard to discern the difference between the two.)

Handshakes, a few pleasantries, good hot coffee, and then, well, then I got an Apple press event for one. Keynote slides that would have looked perfect had they been projected on stage at Moscone West or the Yerba Buena Center, but instead were shown on a big iMac on a coffee table in front of us. A presentation that started with the day’s focus (“We wanted you here today to talk about OS X”) and a review of the Mac’s success over the past few years (5.2 million Macs sold last quarter; 23 (soon to be 24) consecutive quarters of sales growth exceeding the overall PC industry; tremendous uptake among Mac users of the Mac App Store and the rapid adoption of Lion).

And then the reveal: Mac OS X — sorry, OS X — is going on an iOS-esque one-major-update-per-year development schedule. This year’s update is scheduled for release in the summer, and is ready now for a developer preview release. Its name is Mountain Lion.


Yep, Apple gave a complete event,  just like Jobs did for hundreds if not thousands via the web, but for just one person.

I really wonder how efficient this might be but it certainly offers something quite different for this sort of an announcement.

Because if done well, this sort of presentation can be tracked much better for identifying who gets the information out to the widest targeted groups. Apple chose Gruber because his site is very influential and followed.

Gruber is a thought leader and is listened to by many people. Thought leaders are those who move ideas from the edges to the mainstream. They are listened to by the vast majority of people in a community.

If you convince a thought leader of something, it becomes much, much easier to convince the group. This could be another instance of Apple’s genius.

Instead of hosting large events where many people may hear about the information but few are actually able to accomplish change, hold one-on-ones with well informed thought leaders and they will accomplish the change for you.

That, after all, is their role.

Wow. It will be interesting to see if that is what happens.

Describing a 21st century company

Codifying asymmetry: How Apple became Jobsian
[Via asymco]

Any student of organizational theory must struggle with the question of how to assign weight to the influence of the leadership of a company. In the case of Apple, the question is:

Is Jobs is the embodiment of Apple or is Apple already Jobsian, imbued with his ethos?

John Gruber summed up the “Apple is Jobsian” argument by saying that Apple is Steve Jobs’ greatest creation and that he has been working on crafting the company as much as he has been crafting products. The result being that it’s well designed for sustainable longevity.


Apple seems to be taking positive steps to understand why it works the way it does. As I have written several times, it is one of the first 21st century companies. I worked at another – Immunex.

The hallmark of these companies is the ability to do more with less. Their efficiencies mean they stay focussed on what really works, Much of the management of Apple has internalized these values. The simple, not the complex. Admit mistakes and move on. Deep collaboration and cross pollination.

One other – something Immunex also did well – is to focus on what NOT to do. Figuring out rapidly what does not work, examining the project to see what not to do, provides opportunity savings that can be critical with small groups. Failing quickly and successfully is a key. This is something much larger companies can not do.

Pixar does many of the same things. I wrote more in depth in my series about the Synthetic Company. (1, 2, 3)

Margaret Wheatley said it best in her essay  on The Unplanned Organization:

I also want to emphasize that emergent organizations are leader-full, not leaderless. Leaders emerge and recede as needed. Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.

That is why Apple will do fine without Jobs, just as Pixar will do fine and why any 21st century organizations will succeed – the community is the leader. They can adapt to things that come at them and are resilient to changes.

20th Century companies often lived or died by their CEO. Not so for 21st Century companies. They live or die by the community that has been created.

We will see more of these as time goes on because they will be the successful organizations dealing with the complexities of this century.

Where the App economy began

appby merfam

The Class That Built Apps, and Fortunes
[Via NYT > Home]

In 2007, the “Facebook Class” at Stanford created free apps for millions of users. But it also fired up the careers of many students and pioneered a new model of entrepreneurship.


I was at a meeting in 2008 where this class was first described. It was so fascinating I took no notes. Here is what I wrote afterwards:

I just listened to most of this (no notetaking) because it was just an incredible story. some good lessons. Many crummy trials better than deep thinking. Students that shared the most were also at top of lists of apps.

Generated close to $1 million in revenue, several companies started, etc.

Novelty is not best approach. Sometimes best to copy what is out there. Today’s metrics are not the best.

You can LEARN to create a winning app. many stanford’s teams were successful.

Used chaos cycle – trials, evaluate, assets, inspire, trials. Faster could run cycle, faster reached peak. like evolution.

Mass interpersonal persuasion now possible. Created $10 million in value in 10 weeks.

Better to have a rapid development cycle than think things fully through. The ones who shared the most made the most.

Rapid development cycles. Thse that share the most made the most. Learn what works instead of just decide before. Use chaos to your advantage.

What these students found in 2007 is now a part of the economy. Just look at the App Store. This approach to business will expand to many other areas.

Rapid cycles of learning and knowledge will produce better decisions.

BioScience on the Brink (Updated 5-3-2011)

Register for BioScience on the Brink in Seattle, WA  on Eventbrite

Check out the news section of the registration page to see why the Early Bird tickets are $3 off for a limited time.

What happens when the brightest researchers in Seattle get together to talk, eat, drink and listen to each other?

Join us May 24 for the organizational meeting of BioScience on the Brink. Science exchange overlooking Lake Union.

Seattle has a tremendous number of researchers working on a wide variety of projects covering biosciences. Meet some of them.

In both for-profit and non-profit research settings they are exploring problems in  global health, biotechnology, bioinformatics and much more. Discuss their work.

Science on the Brink will be an informal space for them to talk with peers and to hear presentations from this vast array of scientists. Exchange knowledge.

Science on the Brink will provide  a place where young researchers, working hard at the bench, can connect with other scientists who are perhaps developing novel drugs, designing clinical trials or perhaps even selling pharmaceuticals.They will be working at non-profit institutions or for-profit corporations. There might even be some interested laypeople in the mix.

The plan is to have an opportunity for networking with some good food and drink, along with a couple of short (20 minute) presentations by working researchers. This will generally not  be a place for CEOs and department heads to present. They have many opportunities to do that. These presentations will be for the younger scientists – the scientific leaders of tomorrow.

This organizational meeting is to gauge the enthusiasm for such an event and to discuss future ideas. We are asking for a nominal fee in order to cover some of the costs for food and for the venue. However, the ticket price will be discounted – and SpreadingScience will pay all service fees – until May 10.

The Eastlake Bar and Grill  is centrally located to the greatest concentration of researchers. It has a great deck overlooking Lake Union which should be fabulous in May.

This should be an invigorating meeting in a wonderful location. If you would like to have some critical input into the future of these meetings, be sure to attend.

Hurry. Space is limited.

Supporting Partners:


Founding Sponsors:

Wikileaks and Apple – why does Apple not leak anymore?

steve jobs by Collin Allen

Wikileaks: traditional liberalism with balls?
[Via Boing Boing]

The mainstream media likes to suggest, with a nudge and a wink and abuse of the word “cyber,” that Wikileaks represents a radical ideological position. But if there’s a moral crusade to be found, maybe it’s rooted in a tradition closer to home: classical Western liberal-democratic principles.

In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber takes for granted that Wikileaks is here to stay, with relentless pressure on big business and big government that permanently hampers their ability to prevent leaks. This will result in smaller, more humane organizations.

I have no idea what size organization is optimal for preventing leaks, but, presumably, it should be small enough to avoid wide-scale alienation, which clearly excludes big bureaucracies. Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking.

To make this point, Scheiber reminds us that Wikileaks’ stated aim–making organizations operate more ethically–is a mainstream one: “It’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more affected negatively by leaks than honest businesses,” he quotes Julian Assange.

Scheiber’s argument seems to be that Wikileaks’ disclosures could have more subtle and far-reaching effects on organizations than it expects.


Apple demonstrates today the sort of company Scheiber discusses. Maybe it is because Jobs hates leaks.

Scheiber’s article is one that should be read by everyone. It is a very important one in its implications. Wikileaks, and the ideas behind it, may alter how businesses work and adapt. It touches on some of the ideas of David Brin in The Transparent Society – the same technologies that permit the powerful to spy on us can, and should, be used to spy on the powerful.

Scheiber postulates, and I agree, that the inability of large companies to stem leaks may result in the greater proliferation of corporate ‘cells – it is easier to control the flow in smaller groups without stemming the tide totally. Inefficiencies in small groups can be overcome when needed. In larger groups, it can be deadly.

Luckily, we also have the ability today for smaller organizations to leverage the abilities of others to succeed. The small biotech company I was VP, Research at had perhaps 3 of us who were working in the lab. But we did not need more because we could have other companies do the sequencing for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We could have other companies synthesize DNA for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We were able to accomplish great work with a company with 10-20 fold fewer people than it would have taken just 10 years earlier.

So, there will be business pressures to become smaller and more adaptive as well as information pressures.

That is why I think Apple is the first of its kind – a truly large company that has somehow maintained the abilty for small company adaptability. It acts small, has research abilities that are far beyond the modest number of people it has doing R&D. It is able to run rings consistently around other companies. It is one of the largest companies by capital value on the planet yet it acts like a startup.

I don’t know all the details of why but we all know that Jobs is the reason. But I think part of the way this new sort of company came about was because of Jobs’ reaction to leaks.

Apple used to leak like a sieve with whole websites devoted to writing about them. Jobs pretty much stopped that, so much so that a lost iPhone became a cause celebré.

One would have expected this sort of iron control on information leaks would have harmed Apple. Most organizations respond to by clamping down on information flow but, and this is especially true of large ones, this is like giving themselves a lobotomy. Information flow slows, making it very hard to make good decisions and adapt properly to changing conditions.

That is what Assange claims he wants to do with Wikileaks – cause the old dinosaurs to react in ways that result in their own downfall.

Well, Apple shut down leaks and actually became a better and stronger company. I’d love to know the details but I expect that Jobs actually implemented some of what Scheiber discusses. Break the groups down into more manageable units and use pressures to make leaking a violation of social mores.

Of course, this is a two way street and these same social mores can push back on the company to be more ethical, etc. Even the smallest group is open to leaks when some feel the company is acting unethically. It all becomes a system of controls and feedbacks that does not harm the information flow needed to adapt.

I believe that when it is all said and done, we will discover that the same things that ended most of Apple’s leaks also led to a large amount of their success. That somehow Jobs’ response actually did not stifle creativity but enhanced it.

If we can replicate this elsewhere, then things like Wikileaks would not need to be feared by most organizations. In fact, Wikileaks would become irrelevant for the vast majority of us.

The conversation I moderated

On September 14, I moderated a discussion between Ash Awad, Vice President of Energy & Facility Services at McKinstry; and Daniel Friedman, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington.

The topic was A Conversation About Sustainable Design and the Seattle Channel videotaped it. It was a fantastic evening and I had a wonderful time sitting between two great speakers.

Being forced to deal with change

ethernet cable by doortoriver

Feature: There is no Plan B: why the IPv4-to-IPv6 transition will be ugly
[Via Ars Technica]

Twenty years ago, the fastest Internet backbone links were 1.5Mbps. Today we argue whether that’s a fast enough minimum to connect home users. In 1993, 1.3 million machines were connected to the Internet. By this past summer, that number had risen to 769 million— and this only counts systems that have DNS names. The notion of a computer that is not connected to the Internet is patently absurd these days.

But all of this rapid progress is going to slow in the next few years. The Internet will soon be sailing in very rough seas, as it’s about to run out of addresses, needing to be gutted and reconfigured for continued growth in the second half of the 2010s and beyond. Originally, the idea was that this upgrade would happen quietly in the background, but over the past few years, it has become clear that the change from the current Internet Protocol version 4, which is quickly running out of addresses, to the new version 6 will be quite a messy affair.


While somewhat technological babble, the problems seen with running out of Internet addresses are very similar to ones we will continue to face over the coming years – having to make massive changes at the last moment because we did not do a good job thinking about the transition.

Like climate change, redoing the Internet’s addressing protocol will happen whether we want it or are prepared for it. And like climate change, we have wasted 20 years dithering.

And the transition may end up costing money, as older devices have to be replaced because they no longer work properly.

So, the next few years might be a nice demonstration of just how adaptive and resilient many organizations are. And not isolated organizations but almost all of them. One failure along the route can remove access for many.

We will be forced into a new regime where we have no experience and no real way to test possible solutions. Instead of one organization dropped in the deep end to sink or swim, imagine 50 all tied together, so if one goes down, the others may be dragged down also.

I figure we will muddle through like we have but a lot of productivity may be lost for some time as we make the transition that everyone knew we were going to have to make 20 years ago.

It does not give much hope that we will be any different with other complex problems facing us unless we change the way we do things.

Dealing with failure successfully

failure by jurvetson

What Google Could Learn From Pixar
[Via Daring Fireball]

Peter Sims:

Despite an unbroken string of 11 blockbuster films, Catmull regularly says, “Success hides problems.” It’s an insight Google should acknowledge and act on.


One thing the article mentions is that Pixar is always working to find solutions to problems. I wrote about this before, where I sketched out some of the technical problems each Pixar movie was designed to solve.

As Pixar says, “Success hides problems.” The complementary idea, that “Failure reveals problems”, is one very few organizations want to examine. At many companies, failure leads to loss of employment. The organizations seem to believe that as long as someone never fails, then they must be better than others. Fear of failure prevents innovation. This leads to a maladaptive company, one that is not resilient enough to deal with failure when it inevitably happens, because the hidden problems do eventually pierce the bubble of complacency.

In a complex world, failure often tell you more than success. I use the game I learned in Junior High School called Bulls and Creots as an example. Here, outright failure to get anything right actually gives you more knowledge than any other single guess.

Similarly, with some very complex systems, the only way to get to clarity is to make something fail, to make it work wrong. In biological systems, some of the most insightful work has come from disabling a part of the system and seeing what happens. So, for example, in a metabolic pathway with a large number of enzymes, looking at a single enzyme tells us little about the process, since in many cases we do not know what the enzyme really does.

But disable the enzyme and what will happen? If it is a critical part of the pathway, then none of the final product will be produced. Instead, a large amount of an intermediary product will build up – the intermediary product that the disabled enzyme was supposed to work with but can’t. So, like throwing a wrench in an assembly line backs up everything behind the wrench, a disabled enzyme results in a backup of intermediary product. Study that product and you will know what the enzyme does. Do this for each enzyme in the pathway and you can then delineated what happens at each step as you add material at the beginning of the pathway.

This and other approaches yielded understanding like this, which shows the complex intermediary metabolic pathways in cells. Pretty complicated but it was only revealed through things like designed failure.

intermediary metabolism

Failure and the continuing drive to solve problems is how you keep innovation fresh and creative. Pixar gets that. Companies that do not will discover that Failure does eventually reveal problems in even successful companies and if they do not deal with that failure in a productive way, the organization could go down in flames.

And this is quite likely simply because the company has no experience with failure and will lack the resilience to deal with that Failure in a successful fashion.

All part of the great cycle of knowledge

mandala by Peter Kaminski

Open access saves $1B
[Via Naturally Selected]

A new analysis suggests that making papers open access would pump $1 billion into the U.S. economy over the next few decades.

That’s about five times the amount it costs to archive the papers, according to ScienceInsider.

The economic analysis, about the effects of a pending National Institutes of Health policy that would make all papers from federally funded research free after a delay, comes from John Houghton at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues. He has also suggested open access could save nearly half a billion euros per year in the UK, as well. You can read more about the newest model here.

Publishers, of course, have decried the proposal. Do you think such a potentially dramatic cost savings is enough to convince skeptics?


I’m sure that the analysis will meet with some scrutiny but that is how we usually get closer to the truth. Someone takes some data to create information and produces some knowledge. Someone else takes that, adds some more data and, hopefully, creates more knowledge and a better understanding.

Cranking the cycle several times is how wisdom is achieved. So, perhaps soon we can find out if Open Access is actually a wise approach for many situations.

Lower barriers to entry applies almost everywhere

barrierby Donald Macleod

iPhone economics and lower barriers to entry
[Via O’Reilly Radar]

Tomi Ahonen at Communities Dominate Brands has an interesting analysis on iPhone economics. It’s a substantial piece with a lot of good stats, and his key conclusion is:

… don’t invest in [app development] today … Put your creativity and investment into the real money opportunities, remember Pop Idol simple SMS votes earning half a billion dollars in USA this year alone …

He comes to this conclusion after observing that the vast majority of apps will lose money, while only a tiny handful generate significant revenue. Consequently, the logical response is for developers (and businesses) to instead focus their attentions on more lucrative opportunities. In other words, the only way to win is not to play the game.

While his numbers are sobering, they’re not all that surprising. Consider publishing — people have long known that the vast majority of authors slave away on projects that will never make any money, while a very few stars (think J.K. Rowling) make a killing. Whatever you call it — the long tail, the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule — this simply appears to be the brutal truth of most media industries, from publishing to movies to music.

What I think he overlooks — or is bemoaning — is the important role the App store is playing in lowering the barriers to market entry for developers. He cites the big money opportunities as “SMS, MMS, and WAP” (seriously, WAP?). But, good luck trying to get a biz dev deal there. Only a few, really well-connected organizations are going to get those. When you compare the costs of hiring some kid out of college who can’t believe he’s actually getting paid to write apps to the cost of building the kind of highly skilled (and highly compensated!) sales force required to put these deals together, an app investment suddenly doesn’t look so bad.


Why industries are being overturned comes down to one simple fact – work that used to require years of training and a tremendous expense to accomplish can be done by someone in their basement. It is true in software development, in music, in books, etc.

While it may be difficult to be a superstar here, it does make it easier for creative people to actually make more money, since they can reproduce their work so easily.

I first heard about this new economy two years ago at an O’Reilly meeting. A class at Stanford was devoted to understanding how people choose apps. Breaking into small teams, they worked on developing apps that people would use. They discovered that you can learn what makes a winning app.

In 10 weeks, they had created apps with a possible yearly revenue of $10 million dollars. Some students left school to run the companies that created the best apps, which were bringing in close to $1 million.

The faster they could run their test cycle, the faster they could create a winning app.

The key is low barriers. This allows people to rapidly produce a variety of apps, with the focus then going to those with the best results. This way, instead of having to hit some grand slams in order to pay for overhead, a bunch of singles can give one a comfortable amount of money.