Tag Archives: Sustainability

Apple’s iTunes Remote app and one guy

[Crossposted at A Man with a PhD]

Apple’s iTunes Remote app was developed by one person – report
[Via AppleInsider]

Apple’s iTunes Remote application for the iPhone has not been updated in over 8 months because the software was written by just one person, and he is currently busy with other projects, according to a new report which describes Apple as “a huge startup.”


Here is how he describes the way Apple runs things:

Apple doesn’t build large teams to work on every product they make. Instead, they hire very few, but very intelligent people who can work on different projects and move around as needed.

One day you might be working on the Remote app, and the next day you might get pulled on to another project that needs your help.

The engineers on the Mac OS and iOS teams move back and forth between the two projects based on release cycles and what needs to ship next.

That is how we worked at Immunex – whatever was on fire got the bucket brigade approach. we all worked on multiple projects at the same time, allowing us to drop something that was going slow and pick up on something that needed more attention.Once we had gotten our role done, we handed it off to the next member of the bucket brigade and picked up another project.

In order to make this work well, there needs to be constant vetting of the progression by everyone involved. Any bumps in the road can be smoothed over if more eyes are on the prize.

Thus everyone feels a part of a successful project, even if they had a little part. Immunex’s great drug was Enbrel. I had a very small part working on that molecule quire early. While only peripheral to the amazing work done by others, I felt every bit as proud of its success.

Plus this approach keeps smart people interested and helps prevent empire building, which can be a real detriment to the rapid actions a small team needs to make.

Any company basing its success on the creativity of its employees needs to have a management style closer to Apple’s or Immunex’s.

Creating a sustainable community at Scienceblogs

community by D’Arcy Norman

I wrote this in response to a comment left by David Croty – who is one of the guys at the great site, The Scholarly Kitchen – at my previous post on the blowup at Scienceblogs.

The inherent problem is that the best interests of the company running the social network often are in direct opposition to the users of that social network. In the case of Facebook, their profits are going to be reliant on selling out the privacy of their users. In the case of ScienceBlogs, commercialization alienated the strongly anti-business, anti-industry members of their community and threatened their perceptions of themselves as an elite and well-respected group of experts.

One can, as you suggest, focus instead on serving those users but that’s a mighty difficult thing to monetize. If you’re a corporation with investors who would like to be paid back (like Seed Media), you need some way to make money. Perhaps running social networks will fall out of fashion as a profit-making enterprise due to these conflicts.

It was getting pretty long so I made it a post.

David, That is part of what I am trying to delineate. Scienceblogs went and created this community of blogs, hoping it would drive more traffic to their magazine and its website. But the magazine failed and the magazine website is not making nearly the inroads as the Scienceblogs are.

Seed Media simply did not realize that Scienceblogs had become this community – any group that can decide to strike is a community of people – with an focus independent of Seed..

Its business model for these blogs simply is not sustainable, even if it was full of pro-business, pro-industry people. Seed as looking for a bunch of well-written, independent voices. They got those in spades. The writers are always going to be independent, to the detriment of Seed when their motives conflict. Which it is almost bound to do because Seed’s focus was on getting advertising money, not on servicing the community created by the bloggers. A similar problem is seen in newspapers.

A better business model would be to find ways for the Scienceblogs to be sustainable in themselves, I can think of a couple of ways but it requires an organization quite different from something like Seed, which seems to be still trapped in the era of magazines and print.

Frankly, it is extremely difficult to monetize any sort of social community that is digital and open. It is not only too easy to create an ad hoc social community but, in the era of Web 2.0, it is too easy for members of the social network to leave and create another ad hoc community. The community want to support the community’s needs and wants, not necessarily the needs of the founding institution. Something Facebook would do well to consider.

So, where to make money? Well, if you have the right niche, you might make it by charging admission online. Essentially, the WSJ and science journals, such as Protocols, can do this and survive. They fulfill a need for a specific sort of information – which the community realizes costs money and is hard to create – and do not need the same network effects (think Metcalfe’s law) as Facebook to be successful.

Not so for Facebook and Scienceblogs. The content is easier to create and costs less to produce but it also harder to make sticky, holding onto readers in a way to make much money. So, how to create a sustainable business? Well, one way would be to make money on the things that can not be digitized – the human angle.

Thus, whoever takes control of nurturing the Scienceblogs community makes a business out of that by servicing the community it creates. How, and still make some money? Off the top of my head – have a yearly conference where they bring together their bloggers with the people who follow them. Perhaps take some of them out on tour. Looking at the successful nature of w00tstock, this can be a pretty interesting model. They could even host a scientific/non-scientific conference. Or a TED-like symposium. Or one on how to communicate science. Or one on atheism vs. religion. Or one on evolution. I would pay to see PZ and others. The bloggers could receive compensation for this and I would imagine the meetings could become quite popular.

And also realize that the community also encompasses all those that read these blogs. So, if people pay a yearly fee, they can get reduced prices to attend the symposia/meetings. Or maybe a special edition of The Best of Scienceblogs.

The point is that many of the creators of these blogs write about going to meetings or panels or debates. And many of the readers of these blogs would love first-hand contact with the bloggers. How about a business model where sponsoring these events is a money-making opportunity?

O’Reilly has a similar sort of model where it publishes specialized books for a variety of high tech communities but also puts on a set of conferences that bring together the various members of its communities. These are quite highly attended. The conferences drive book sales and the books drive the conferences.

Of course, this would require a very different organization than Seed currently occupies and may not be as interesting to some investors.

But, if a different set of investors wanted to produce a real organization that serviced the community it created (and probably have many more creative ideas that I can come up with), I think it could be sustainable.

I agree with you that organizations that simply make their money by online social networks will have a hard time because the profit motive often goes against the community’s wants. When that happens, the community may very well migrate somewhere else. To survive, Facebook and others may need to figure out ways to monetize servicing the community, not the advertisers.

Why science communication often fails

science by o palsson

A great paradox of the current world:

Researchers are probably uniquely qualified to present the facts about much of the complexity we are dealing with, allowing us to make rational decisions about the problems facing us. But their training also makes them uniquely UNABLE to provide the stories that people will actually listen to.

My words about the problem.The same rules of thumb that create great science produces scientists that have a hard time connecting with the rules of thumb used by most others. Their heuristics do not overlap enough.

There was a wonderful conjunction of several online posts I read today that helps illustrate this. The first was this one:

Is Our Scientists Learning?
[Via The Intersection]

In my talks, I often discuss the different groups who came to meet with me when I worked on Capitol Hill with regard to who was most effective. On science related issues, the general breakdown fell into two categories (with exceptions):

  1. Scientists from universities or NGO’s would usually show up in my office with a briefing binder as thick as a phone book. There would be a lot of charts, p-values, figures, and complicated concepts. Most didn’t talk to me, but at me. And the take home message would be different than that of the other scientists I met the previous hour on the same subject.
  2. Special interest groups were frequently very well organized. They spoke with a common theme and brought articulate speakers. Rather than stop in our office, they usually hosted large and well attended briefings, supplying easy to digest hardcover books with titles like ‘climate change conspiracy.’ Typically they were funny and made references to Michael Crichton’s science fiction. Perhaps most importantly, they provided a free boxed lunches and held long Q&As to engage the audience.

Both types introduced themselves as the “honest broker” of scientific information, but the latter often made the stronger impression with staffers.


So we have a whole post discussing how sucky scientists are because they present facts and not lunches, they show figures instead smoozing, they have charts instead of playing to the egos of policy makers.

As a researcher, it was a little upsetting to read something like this, that facts are not what are important. In fact, the truth may be the least important thing. Others felt the same way:

Once Again, Professional Science Communicators Blame the Victim
[Via Mike the Mad Biologist]

Since I’ve raised this issue before, and it doesn’t seem to have taken, the gloves are coming off.

Once again, we see the sorry spectacle of blaming scientists for policy failures–all scientists, not a subset (consider this foreshadowing). As always the ‘scientists’ are described as bookish nerds who bore policy makers and reporters with p-values.

This is as stupid as blaming a working ob/gyn for the lobbying failures of NARAL.


This pretty much shows the scientist’s viewpoint. We deal in facts. That is how we’re trained, how we talk and how we expect others to respond. It is really hard to understand that most people are not convinced by facts. In contrast to researchers, they are convinced by stories and by narratives.

An article I ran across drove this point home:

BBC News – Why do people vote against their own interests?

[Via BBC ]

Last year, in a series of “town-hall meetings” across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms.

What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence.

Polling evidence suggests that the numbers who think the reforms go too far are nearly matched by those who think they do not go far enough.

But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help.


This article explored why people were so against things that actually would help them. And it suggests that stories are what count, not facts:

For Mr Westen, stories always trump statistics, which means the politician with the best stories is going to win: “One of the fallacies that politicians often have on the Left is that things are obvious, when they are not obvious.


As Mr Frank sees it, authenticity has replaced economics as the driving force of modern politics. The authentic politicians are the ones who sound like they are speaking from the gut, not the cerebral cortex.

In a very complex world, people do not have the time to fully understand the many aspects of this complexity. They have to use their own heuristics to try and reach a decision. These rules of thumb are very seldom based purely on facts unless those are what one has been trained to use.

I’ve written about the need for a story, the need to create narratives, in order to effect change.

Scientists have had a lot of hard training to provide them with tools and approaches to make decisions based on facts. Most people have not. They respond to stories and narratives that resonate with their personal heuristics.

So, researchers present the facts, show charts and expect people to reach the same logical conclusions they did. But most people react to stories that make these complex facts understandable.

But to scientists, those stories are poor substitutes for the truth. And they may be poor substitutes but that is often irrelevant to the discussion.

It does not matter whether a scientist is able to convince someone to adopt a policy because of the facts or because of a nice lunch. What matters is the convincing.

Of course, that is an anathema to many researchers. If facts do not work, nothing will.

So, the conflict.

I agree with Mike that this is not something most scientists can deal with. It goes against their own heuristics.

But there has to be a way to identify people who can present a truthful scientific narrative that will help policy makers decide on the reality-based solution. Otherwise, the group with the best lunch – and most money – will drive the decisions.

Creating collaboration

group by Arenamontanus

How John Chambers Learned to Collaborate at Cisco
[Via HarvardBusiness.org]

In 2001, as the dot.com 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.