My Op/Ed in Xconomy

petri dish by kaibara87

The opinion piece I wrote for Xconomy has been published. Luke Timmerman asked me on Monday to examine the bill and the sections that impacted the Biotechnology industry. I had not even realized there were parts of the huge healthcare reform bill.

I started writing on Monday evening and got Luke my version by about 1 PM on Tuesday (I had to take my car to the shop for its 15,000 checkup or I would have been done sooner). Luke had some edits and it was ready by early evening.

Everything was done using online technologies. Even 5 years ago it would have been hard to put this all together in such a short time. I essentially started from zero on the specifics (I mean how many people have actually read any of the healthcare reform bill itself?), educated myself rapidly, used my background of 25 years in the industry to form an opinion and composed the piece. I then carried on a ‘conversation’ with Luke to get it into final shape.

I found the relevant parts using Open Congress’s interface, which allows you to link to specific paragraphs, as well as leave comments. It presents a unique way for citizens to interact with the legislation that our Congress is working on. Not only are there links to every piece of information one may want, there are also links to news stories, and other facts (Like the Senate version has over 400,000 words.)

Without this web site, it would have been very difficult to even find the sections dealing with biotechnology, much less try to understand them, It was very easy to search for the relevant sections and get an understanding of what they really said. I read a few articles online to get some other viewpoints and then wrote my opinion of the sections.

The fact that the biotechnology industry now gets 12 years of market exclusivity for its products, several years longer than for the small molecule drugs sold by pharmaceutical companies, is really a pretty big deal.

There has been uncertainty for several years over this time frame, with the FTC feeling there should be little or no market exclusivity outside of the patent time frame to the industry’s organization, BIO, which wanted at least 12 years without regard of patent considerations.

Not knowing just how long a time period a new biologic might be free of competition can have a large effect on determining which therapeutics make it to the market place. Now those who model the value of a product have much surer time frames to work with.

I do not think the bill is as friendly to those companies hoping to create ‘generic’ biologics called biosimilars. While it does delineate a path to government approval, the legislation does not make it easy. There are some substantial costs for getting approval of these products. They may not be very much cheaper than the original therapeutic itself. and they do not get any real exclusivity for their products in the end.

For many possible follow-on biologics it will simply be too expensive to take them to market. The large costs incurred while doing this will also make it harder for them to take market share away from a biologic, which has had 12 years of unfettered ability to market itself and its positive results to the customers. at least market share based on cost.

And, as I read the section dealing with patent issues, I became even more aware of the hard road for these follow-on generics. In order to get patent issues dealt with before the follow-on biologic is marketed, the patent holders/licensees of the original drug must be furnished the same information that is submitted in the application to the FDA – the results of clinical trials, assays to determine the follow-on biologic’s potency, stability, etc.

It seems to me that this could open up all sorts of shenanigans. And it appears to be more than regular generics have to do. From what I could determine, a company hoping for approval of a generic simply has to provide the patent numbers that cover the drug it is proposing to market. I could find nothing to indicate that it must turn over all the data of the generic to its direct competitor before going to market.

How many companies will be willing to provide their direct competitor with all the information present in its application to the FDA? It seems to me a place where some mischief could occur.

Now, I did not have time to review the complete history of these sections. I’m sure I could find all the committee testimonies on these parts. Perhaps someone out there has more detailed information. I’d love to pull an Emily Litella and say “Never Mind.”

So, this bill settled something really important for the biotech industry and, while bringing some clarity to the idea of biosimlars, also introduced some possible complications.

I have to say it was fun to use the power of the Web to investigate the issue and form some opinions. Using technology to move information around faster is part of what SpreadingScience does.

The world’s oldest profession provides modern insights

sugarloaf by Paul Mannix

Brazilian hooker-john hookups used for network analysis
[Via Ars Technica]

Modern communication networks, such as cell phone systems and the Internet, have provided researchers with the opportunity to study human associations and movement on a much greater scale than previously possible. Almost all of the papers that describe this sort of network analysis notes that it could have real world applications, since existing and emerging disease threats can spread through social and transit networks. A paper that will be released later this week by PNAS, however, skips the whole “this may be a useful model” aspect, and goes straight to a network in which diseases actually do spread: prostitutes and their clients.

Although organized prostitution is apparently illegal in Brazil, there are no laws against receiving payment for sex, making it possible for sex workers to freelance. Like everything else these days, that trade has found its way onto the Internet, and some enterprising Brazilians created an ad-supported public forum for individuals on both sides of the transaction. The forum is heavily moderated to keep it strictly on-topic: sellers (aka prostitutes) can advertise their business, and those that partake can rate the experience, as well as provide some information about the precise services rendered (the focus was strictly on heterosexual prostitution in this system).


Using the data generated by Web 2.0 technologies these researchers have been able to garner a lot of insight into a very large social network that has existed for some time.

This looks like it will be a pretty interesting article – Information dynamics shape the sexual networks of Internet-mediated prostitution. And you can download it for free.

These online forums map very well with the correlated social networks, providing a nice insight into how the networks are set up and how something like diseases might progress through the network.

It is also a network that is highly optimized to move information around – who is the best for doing whatever at whichever price. It is also a very large network, so they were able to identify some other interesting characteristics.

For example, social networks also alter over time. Because they had 6 years worth of data, the researchers could examine how the contacts changed over time. They found that there were still very large connected networks at all times, with a minimum of 71% of the people being connected in the network.

There were over 10,000 buyers and about 6600 sellers. The average number of jumps between buyers was about 5.8 (those 6 degrees of separation) while it was smaller for sellers (about 4.9). Also interestingly, was the high number of what are called four-cycles – a set of connections that end where they start. These are normally described as a mutual friend introducing two people, this creating a triangle. This seems to make sense to me – someone who has found a great prostitute telling his friends, for example.

Another interesting aspect of the network, and one that has implications for disease spread, is that it was slightly disassortative. In a highly assortative network, highly connected members also tend to connect to each other. In a disassortative network, highly connected members tend to connect to less highly connected members.

The data suggest that for this network the most active buyers, those with the most connections to prostitutes, tended to connect to prostitutes that were less active in the network (i.e. fewer connections). And the most popular sex workers tended to connect to buyers that were not actively seeking out other prostitutes.

This actually creates a network where disease is not likely to arise but when it does, it could spread to a larger part of the network.

Another intriguing observation they made is that on a log-log plot, the number of sex workers and buyers increases linearly as the size of the city increases. In many things (such as wealth or information workers), the trend is greater than linear because larger cities provide greater benefits. Linear scaling falls for things that are usually necessities, such as water or power.

Normally, prostitution requires face-to-face interactions, so being in a big city, with its increasing large social networks, makes it easier to find one. And thus harder to find one in a small town. But, the online form removes that need and now small towns can do just as well as large towns, bringing prostitution down to the level of human necessities.

Pretty nice examination of a somewhat specialized human social network, one that could only really be studied because of Web 2.0 technologies.

Watching a community adopt change

VIDEO: Great Demo on Leadership and Tipping Points
[Via Global Guerrillas]

Make sure you turn on the audio for the commentary.


Here we can see the S-shaped curve of change adoption happen in real time.


The X-axis is time and the yellow curve is the cumulative number of people adopting the change. The crowd dynamics almost exactly hit this curve. Assume a total crowd at the end of about 50 people.

We start with an innovator standing alone. Then another one joins and the two dance alone for almost 30 seconds. They are then followed by a third, for about 20 seconds.

The tipping point on the curve, the point of maximal adoption of change, occurs at 15-20%. So for a group of 50, we would expect to see a very rapid rate of adoption occurring when 7-10 people become involved.

And that is exactly what is seen. within 10 seconds after the 7th person has joined, the group more than triples in size, rapidly reaching its peak numbers.

It takes over a minute for the group to grow from 1 to 3. Within another 30 seconds, there are too many to count without freezing the video.

Exactly the same dynamics takes place when any sort of novel change hits a community; often not started by a half-naked dancer but by someone trying out something different.

And, just as the narrator explained about how important the second and third followers are, so to is it with other types of change. It is these early adopters who mediate change for the whole community, transforming a lone nut into a leader.

Without the second and third joiners, the whole movement would not have materialized. we often spend too much time on the leaders, the innovators, and not enough on those that create the tipping points – the mediators between the disruptive antics of the lone ‘nuts’ and the actions of the majority.

Doers, mediators and disruptors

network by Arenamontanus

On self determination
[Via Seth’s Blog]

I posted this eight years ago (!) but a reader asked for an encore.

…are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that’s what I was told… I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman professed to agree with me, but then explained, “But those companies don’t interview on campus.”

Those companies don’t interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent $100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an MBA, but…


I’ll discuss this in greater detail later but I wanted to discuss a little why the young woman replied the way she did.

We have a probably seen this figure graphing the number of people that adopt a new workflow or innovation as a function of time:


A small number of people chose the innovation rapidly, while the majority takes much longer. Part of the problem Seth describes arises because, that in my experience, many of the people in MBA schools have come from the middle of the figure, while someone like Seth comes from the earlier segments.

It turns out that people in each of these segments often exhibit a defined pattern of behavior.

The majority in the middle (67% of the total) are doers. They are the ones who get things done. They follow a workflow that generates positive results and see it to the end. They are process-driven and the backbone of any successful venture. If things do not get done, if details are not taken care of, then failure usually results.

Doers are justifiably resistant to change. Change can slow down the workflow. It can introduce a process that has not been proven to produce positive results. They hate anything that does not have a defined metric for success.They want proof it will work before changing. That is why they are in the middle.

The small percentage of innovators are disruptors, bringing change to the rest of the community. They are always finding new things that work, often after experimenting with many that do not. And they are always telling the doers that they are doing things wrong, that there are better ways to accomplish a task and generally disrupting the workflows of the doers.

These two groups are absolutely necessary for a successful organization. But they are often in opposition, with the disruptors upset that no one will do anything they say and the doers upset with the disruption that comes from change.

The critical people in a community, and the ones that actually are often in very short supply, are the so-called early adopters. They happen do be unique people who can listen to the ideas of the disruptors and translate them into processes that the doers can accept. These mediators are often well trusted by both communities because of their abilities to let just enough vital change through to the community to allow things to get done better while slowing down those things that would disrupt successful operations.

So, a doer with an MBA is going to follow procedures that have worked well in the past – campus interviews. Being focussed on current processes, it is not likely that she would have been able to accomplish novel approaches on her own. And, if somehow she met a CEO of a small company at a party, she would most likely not have been attracted to his proposal to come work for him.

But an excellent mediator, such as Seth, will explain to her how to use some of the ideas he has seen work well – small company, make mistakes. Now, it is much more likely that given the opportunity to work at a small company, she will actually consider it.

The manner by which change traverses a community seems to follow a very common framework. In many cases, the reason useful change does not get used by a community is that the ideas of the disruptors can not get to the doers. Because there are often not enough mediators.

One of the great innovations of online technologies is that they leverage the reach of a small number of mediators, allowing them to have a much greater effect than in an Industrial world. Thus a community without enough mediators to be successful 50 years ago can, by properly using Web 2.0 techniques, make those mediators much more influential. This will enhance the rate that innovations traverses the company.

Getting news in the mobile connected world

So, I’m driving to the nearby Barnes and Noble to use their Wifi and get some work done. Plus I get a discount on their coffee. I get a voicemail on my iPhone from my Mom saying she hopes I’m not in downtown Seattle, that it looks like a real mess.

Not having a clue to what she was talking about, I checked Google News. I found a couple of articles like this one, about a man wandering around near the Courthouse with some sort of device on his arm. The police has him in custody and were examining the device.

Then I ran across this article which quoted a Police tweet about the incident:

In a tweet, Seattle police said, “Adult male in 300 block of James has made general threats against persons and property. He has taped an unknown device to his left hand.”

Whoa. I had not thought about that at all. You can follow the whole incident on their Twitter page! Here is a picture of the description so far:

seattle pd twitter

Jeez. They have a picture of the device online already! Who would have really thought 5 years ago that information about something like this could not only be readily available but that organizations, such as the police, would be on the front lines of providing it. we no longer need to wait for the evening newscast or the paper the next day to get informed.

And as I finish this, the Twitter feed states that the downtown streets have been reopened.

Disruptive technology seldom is accurately described during its disruptive period

Apple’s “history of lousy first reviews”
[Via Edible Apple]

From the original Mac to the iMac to the iPod and even the iPhone, early reviews of revolutionary products tend to evoke a lot of negative reactions. The Week takes us back in time and examines what reviewers have historically thought about Apple’s latest and greatest creations.


The problem with so many new, disruptive technologies is that most people do not understand them. Let me pull back a little bit to discuss how innovations are accepted by a community, using the model proposed by Everett Rogers.


The majority of people do not change, do not take up new things, very rapidly. They like to stick with what they know.

A small group do accept new things very fast. These so called innovators are the ones that almost always make up the tech community.

Read any tech blog and you’ll see all sorts of stuff regarding the coolest new toys. They know in detail just why a new product is worthy, usually because it is the best, fastest, newest.

Now, to get new technology out of the hands of the innovators and into the majority requires the work of early adopters. These act as filters, helping move innovations that can make a real difference to the majority, out of the hungry hands of the innovators.

These people are pretty special because, for all sorts of reasons, the majority just will not listen to the innovators. They are too disruptive. They might listen to the early adopters because this group seems to know how to mediate between the two groups that often fail to communicate at all.

Now, the people who write about high tech are usually of two types (and this holds for any writing about rapidly changing technologies). They either write for the innovators, providing insights into the newest. Or they write for the majority, providing a comfortable view of how the rapid churn of the new can be ‘controlled’.

To really be successful, a technology needs to move out from the innovators to the majority. But who will write about this? Those that cater to the innovators will not because the technology that is usually being moved is ‘old hat.’ That is who their audience is.These writers always tell us how there are faster things with more memory that can do the same thing. “My hand-built PC is able to do three times as much for half the price.”

And what about those who cater to the majority? Well, they are usually skeptical of anything new. That is who their audience is. So this disruptive technology is often viewed in the same way as any other – something to be feared and watched carefully. “This computer is really slow and will never replace the speed of a mainframe.”

If you look at the criticisms of Apple products over the years, especially the ones that have been shown by history to be flat out wrong, you see they fall into one of these two bins.

What Apple has done, more than most other companies, is act first to move technologies and ideas out of the hands of the innovators, into the land of the majority. This does not mean they have to be the most innovative or always have the best ideas. What they have been successful at is becoming the premier company of transitioning technology. They filter out the technology, finding the best ones to move out to the majority.

Few companies are able to do this even once. The fact that Apple has done this in multiple product categories is amazing.

And, just as early adopters are usually the opinion and thought leaders of a community, so Apple is watched to see what will become the new paradigm for the majority. This explains why keynotes given by Steve Jobs can bring down the internet.

Most pundits and commenters on Apple, and on any disruptive technology, will continue to get it wrong. Few people are able to effectively, and accurately, discuss the views of the early adopter segment. I think that might be because to do that requires someone who can simultaneously understand both the views of the innovator cohort and the majority. These people seem to be pretty rare and can probably find a more lucrative livelihood than writing for a magazine. Perhaps working for Apple.

Creating collaboration

group by Arenamontanus

How John Chambers Learned to Collaborate at Cisco

In 2001, as the boom turned to bust, CEO John Chambers of Cisco saw a massive $460 billion of Cisco’s overall stock market value evaporate before his eyes. Game over? Not really. At that moment, Chambers started a reinvention of the company — from a “cowboy” mentality where people worked in silos to a collaborative approach. It has paid off so far. Revenues are up 90% since 2002, while profit margins are up to 20.8% from 16.3%. And Chambers earned the #4 spot on our best-performing CEO ranking, published last month by Harvard Business Review. Not bad.

Chambers created the following 5 pillars to drive collaboration, an approach we can all learn from. These amount to what I call disciplined collaboration in my book Collaboration: focus on business value, tear down barriers, and create a new organization architecture. (Full disclosure: last autumn I met with the top 50 leadership team at Cisco to discuss collaboration; the information here is all from public sources, however).


The five pillars are these:

1. Change leadership style.

2. Change incentives.

3. Change the structure.

4. Change how you work.

5. Use new social media tools.

These are all hallmarks of systems thinking. No more top-down thinking. Make people want to collaborate. The structure needs to map human social networks. Bring multiple points of view to examine the problem.

But it also uses things like constraints and goals to keep on track. It uses diffused leadership rather than central but makes sure there are ways to give the successful groups their rewards.

It also includes selecting for people who want this sort of structure. Luckily, the ones who thrive here are exactly the types who will produce success.

Read about the development of the Mac to get an idea of what these people are like. And also see what happened when a typical hierarchical manager was put in charge. Order and proper respect for authority was more important than success.

Apple made a mistake by putting these people into a silo type of management structure after the Mac came out. Many of the developers of the Mac were gone in less than 18 months, including the founder of the company, Steve Jobs.

The structure that Cisco built for collaboration can produce wonderful things. But its requirements need to be understood and supported by management in order to succeed.

Disruption rather than deviancy

path by notsogoodphotography

Why every team needs a deviant.
[Via Creativity Central]

Most of us in the creativity brainstorming world are professional deviants.

We don’t typically use the term deviant, preferring the less harsh term gadfly. Or in a politically correct world, idea catalyst.

But deviant is good enough for J. Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and leading expert on teams. Hackman has spent his career exploring and questioning — the wisdom of teams.

In a recent interview with Diane Coutu called “Why Teams Don’t Work” he talks about why every team needs a deviant.

Coutu: “If teams need to stay together to achieve the best performance, how do you prevent them from becoming complacent?”

Hackman: “This is where what I call the deviant comes in. Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity, which can stifle creativity and learning.

Deviants are the ones who stand back and say, “Well wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all?” What if we looked at the thing backwards or turned it inside out?” That’s when people say, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s ridiculous” and so the discussion about what’s ridiculous comes up…the deviant opens up more ideas and that gives you a lot more originality.


I view these types more as disruptors than deviants. They look at things differently, bring in novel ideas from outside the group and generally disrupt the ‘easy flow’ of a strong team. They look to stretch or beak some of the constraints that we use, in order to make sure we really need them.They are often disliked by the rest of the group and will simply shut up if not provided even a little support.

And that is what most teams do, shut them up. Shunning is usually the main approach. The disruptors then quickly understand and stop disrupting. The inability to support any disruption, often because it may seem almost insubordinate, leads to the failure of many teams.

But, even a little support will go a long way. Some useful facilitation of disruptors, allowing their ideas to be brought out and examined, can have a huge effect on the general creativity of the group. Good managers need to realize this because, as has been shown in many studies, the people that act as useful filters for this sort of disruptive information, the ones that help the community adopt these disruptive ideas, are often the ones that are viewed as thought leaders in the organization and on the track to greater things.

Unfortunately, at the moment, few organizations properly recognize the disruptor. Maybe that will change.

The difference between the creative and the commonplace

tufte by BruceTurner

Edward Tufte Presidential Appointment
[Via Daring Fireball]

President Obama has appointed Edward Tufte to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, “whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds”. Outstanding.


This is pretty cool. Tufte is one of my favorite people, not only for his highly original books on data presentation but also for his sheer force of personality. He is one of the most entertaining, enlightening speakers I have ever heard.

I attended one of his workshops in Seattle probably close to 20 years ago. There was an interchange that has stuck with me ever since, because it so succinctly illustrates the divide between truly original, innovative change and the typical corporate response.

Tufte was discussing the different interfaces between the Mac OS and Windows. After going through a lot of the pluses he saw in the Mac and a lot of the minuses in Windows, he stated that the Mac looked like it had been created by one or a small group of people with a single purpose, a single view of how the information should be presented, while Windows looked like it had been done by a committee.

He then said that all the best presentations were this way – a single point of view forcefully pushed onto everyone. Someone in the audience then asked but what happens if your single point of view turns out to be wrong, to not work.

Tufte replied, simply, “You should be fired.” You could almost audibly hear the intake of everyone’s breath. That is exactly what they feared and why they would always want to retreat into committee decisions – they can’t be fired if the committee made the decision. FUD is what drives most people.

The creative, the innovative do not really fear failure, often because they are adaptable enough to ‘route around the damage’ quickly enough. They do not usually doubt the mission they are on and are certainly not uncertain about the effects. Read about the development of the Mac. They were going to change the world, no doubt about it. While you can see that there really was a focus of vision, there are also lots of ‘failures’ that had to be fixed. The key was to fail quickly, leaving time to find success.

And permitting committed individuals to find their own way to success rather than rely on committees to fix them.

Committees very seldom fail quickly, since failure is the thing they fear the most. They would rather succeed carefully than perhaps fail spectacularly. And they very seldom produce revolutionary change.

Single viewpoint, change the world, rapidly overcome obstacles, adaptable. All characteristics of successful change. They do not fear spectacular failure because the fruits of success will be so sweet.