On Expertise

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine reminded me of my own days as a business consultant, but what really struck me was how much it sounded exactly like the kind of activities that academic faculty already engage in or are being asked to engage in:

Are you an expert? If so, you might be able to profit from your expertise in a side business apart from your everyday work. How? By selling products teaching other people about your area of expertise. You may have a hobby and find yourself answering other people’s questions about what you do in online chat rooms. Or you may have developed great ways to perform services in a particular business. You may be able to package what you know into an information product. It might take the form of traditional books, audio programs, videos or DVDs, magazines, newsletters, ebooks, membership websites, teleseminars and webinars, telecoaching programs, seminars and conferences, and combinations of these. Businesspeople and consumers alike need to learn about solutions to problems they have in a convenient and useful format.

Consulting as “side work” is quite common among business and engineering faculty, but less common in the humanities and in those sciences that are further away from the “applied” arena. Curiously, much of the discourse around web entrepreneurship — I am thinking here specifically of bloggers and others who host similar independent content creation sites — advocate a very similar set of activities: get exposure in as many channels and arenas as possible.

Let’s hope it works. I am certainly going to try for it.

Business Ethics in Our Era

This Chronicle post reports on a meeting where business schools continue to re-think the content of their curricula in the wake of the financial crisis. As I have noted elsewhere, the MBA is already under some scrutiny for its role in offshoring (aka outsourcing) so much of our productivity. (I am suddenly reminded of the line from Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” when he sings “The foreman says ‘those jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back.’”)

Essentially, liberal business faculty are arguing that businesses should be more social responsible. While I agree, that is not the nature of capitalism, which is really about efficiency and not about doing the right thing. Thus I find myself in agreement with Aneel Karnarni, of the University of Michigan, whom the Chronicle reports as saying: “business schools should stop demonizing government and regulation and recognize that the fiscal crisis was caused not by a lack of ethics but by a lack of regulation. Publicly held businesses should just follow rules set by the government and not try to solve the world’s social problems if doing so cuts into their profits.”

Tribal Leadership

Business books are an interesting genre. In another life, I would love to have participated in something like critical business studies that took its cue from critical legal studies. (Maybe this field exists?)

That noted, I have to admit that I have read enough of the books in my time that I recognize the role many books have as consulting pitches and not really as standalone commodities. That’s perfectly acceptable. In some cases the humanities pursue a similar economy: scholarly books aren’t really published for the raw sales numbers they will accumulate but more for citations and/or speaking engagements, which are very similar economy to consulting.

And so when a book titled Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization crops up on my intellectual/professional radar I am intrigued. How substantial will the book be? How well will its use of tribes articulate with domains of knowledge that I hold near and dear? I haven’t read it, but I will keep an eye out…

Google Should Buy the Music Industry

It started off as a throwaway line by Wayne Rosso, but it’s beginning to grow into something of a meme:

The latest rumor to emerge from the Google campus is that the company’s much anticipated music service is just about at the end of their rope with the major label licensing process. A source close to the negotiations characterizes the search giant as “disgusted” with the labels, so much so that they are seriously considering following Amazon’s lead and launching their music could service without label licenses. I’m told that, though very remote and my guess is that it would never come to this, Google may go so far as to shut down the music service project altogether. Google may be starting to think that if the industry weren’t going to sue Amazon, then why would they take on Google? After all, who needs whom the most in this scenario? Could you even wrap your brain around the legal costs? As a source pointed out to me, “Larry, Serge and Eric could buy the entire music industry with their personal money”.

Farming versus Mining

Wil Shipley of Delicious Monster, maker of Library, has a nice post up that compares two ways of approaching the software business: farming versus mining. Essentially, farming is the old-fashioned way of building a business to last, building with the long game in mind. Mining is the new way to do business: build a business with the current hot model in order to sell it. Investors, at least the generation of investors who came of age in the last two decades, prefer the latter model: they make money as a business rises, usually with unmaintainable growth, and a number of investors make money as the business crashes and burns. The founders, as well as the investors who find them, of such companies are the new rock stars, but they are even better than rock stars, like other media stars, might begin to lose his or her shine after one flop too many. These new business stars don’t seem to have to worry about that. As long as the flop occurs after everyone has made their money, no worries.

To be fair, the software industry is only one of many industries to be troubled by this dynamic, which dates back to the shift in investing for dividends and slow, but long, stable growth to investing for growth in stock price. Shipley’s analysis is especially interesting because he goes on to make an argument about how easy mining is: ideas are easy. Implementation is hard. Certainly the farmers I know would agree that their work is hard, without guarantee of success, and likely to yield only small successes over a series of years.

Own Your Data

I had never heard of Lendle until they found themselves on the wrong side of Amazon’s API guidelines, but I agree completely with the assessment offered by The Economist: “The brief outage demonstrates a fundamental truth about the internet: if you don’t own the data you need to run your business, you’re dependent on the policies—and whims—of the parties that do.” (Link to post.)

I find myself making this point rather regularly to my students with regards to Facebook, but I also found myself making the same point to a university committee that is working to develop a digital repository. Worse, I wonder now if I didn’t make the point strongly enough as part of the team that is working to build a new infrastructure for the American Folklore Society. (We are using a software-as-a-service vendor, and my experience of it has been, er, eye-opening.)

Why Wesabe Lost to Mint

Great post by Marc Hedlund on his blog detailing the rise and fall of Wesabe. Like the Snapper story, I love these kinds of thoughtful business narratives. (There’s got to be a project in that.)

I tried Mint but ultimately was uncomfortable with my financial data traversing the intarwebs. (I know, I know, it does anyway. But usually it does so in pieces, not in large chunks the way it felt like when I interacted with Mint.) Perhaps Wesabe’s functionality would have overcome my reticence.

By the way, his advice for failure and/or depression? Ship something.

Google eBooks

Google’s eBooks has finally emerged from its Google Book shell:

Today is the first page in a new chapter of our mission to improve access to the cultural and educational treasures we know as books. Google eBooks will be available in the U.S. from a new Google eBookstore. You can browse and search through the largest ebooks collection in the world with more than three million titles including hundreds of thousands for sale.

The full post is here.

Everybody’s Talking Bout Disintermediation

Everybody’s talking about disintermediation, but, as Don Linn points out:

Disintermediation is nothing new. It happens when businesses change so get used to it. Sears, Roebuck disintermediated the local dry goods store when it mailed its first catalog and it continues unabated in every sector…not just publishing and bookselling.. As Mike Cane has pointed out, there’s a sad irony in watching independent booksellers ranting about being disintermediated by Amazon as they listen to music they downloaded to their iPods from uber-disntermediator, Apple iTunes.

Harvard Cozy with Business

It should came as no surprise, given what we know about the many tentacles of Goldman Sachs and how far they reach into the various centers of power in the U.S. as well, it seems, in Europe, that all Goldman Sachs was doing was following, or building, on the work of bastions of respectability of Harvard and Company: In a wonderful bit of exposé work, Emily Brill reveals Jonathon Zittrain’s ties to Google which he seems to seek to hide even as he discourses for various media channels about the future of technology.

The Halls of Power, my friends. Apparently once you have walked in them — lined as they must be with marble and furnished with rich decor — you never want to come back out into the sunshine and rub elbows with ordinary working stiffs. And so you’ll do anything to keep in favor. The effect seems to be at work in Congress and in the media. And in the academy.

Interesting Work for Interesting People

O’Reilly Press, now O’Reilly Media, has long been a publisher of quality technical books. I own at least a dozen, and I also subscribe to Safari Books Online. And if I had more time, I would keep up with more of the O’Reilly web offerings, which feature a lot of amazing content for free.

All that noted, this Inc.com profile of O’Reilly is really interesting. I had always assumed, based on what others have written about him, that he would have a larger sense of himself than he does. I either want to work for the guy or emulate him.