René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for February, 2009

Collectively collapsing all Rules at Carnival

After all my successful years of abstinence, I got drawn in this time. Into the weird proceedings of carnival in Germany. Unfortunately, my friend Arnd exploited a weakness of mine which was asking me if I wanted to join him and some friends to the unique, unparalleled und world-famous carnival in Cologne. It took me around 10 seconds to accept. And there we were for “Altweiberfastnacht“, the brave sailors after an exhausting trip on the seven seas ready to go on land (pictures here).

Leichtmatrosen Benninghoff und Seifert

The unbelievable thing is that over the last 5 days of the carnival season, the city is basically  in a state of emergency. Nobody works, don’t even try to call someone up for business and everybody in the street is in one form of disguise or the other.

Everyone in Costume for Carnival in Colgne

I don’t intend to bore the death out of you by intellectualizing the sheer fun. But I found the social dynamics of something like carnival extremely insightful. Also I realized that quite a few “cultures” (in a simplified usage of the term) have something which carries some similar properties. For instance, Oktoberfest in Munich, Holi in India or Springbreak in the U.S. Or yesterday, I went to another carnival-event, “Fasching” as it is called in Bavaria, thanks to an invitation of the “Münchner Sozietät”, slightly changed my dress and went as both Barack and Hussein ;-) – pictures here

Faschingsball "Münchner Sozietät"

What I mean that for some pre-defined period of time, the usual collective rules seem to collapse. Those underlying values of proper behaviour which we deem essential for the very functioning of our social fabric. Just gone, right through the chimney. People drink in a way where they make sure everyone realize, personal distance among strangers disappear and the approachability between genders raise exponentially.

It was interesting to watch in Cologne’s pub how apparently new acquaintances were polishing each other’s tonsils in a matter of minutes – thereby seemingly reinforcing the communal cohesion for the rest of the year ;-) Moreover during carnival, the very nature of being in a costume creates an alter ego which allows for acting in a parallel self which can’t be held accountable for these unintentional occurrences.

Ultimately, hey, when everyone is doing it, nobody can be blamed. Hence, the state of emergency becomes just a normality. Essential, however, is the common notion of this “pre-defined period of time” where everyone can go berserk before knowing exactly where the point is when it’s time for the reboot.

Leadership Forum: How NASSCOM just doesn’t get 2.0

After the gala dinner “Salaam Mumbai” on Friday night, I made my way to the airport and had a relaxed night flight with Swiss Airline to Zürich where incidentally Rattan Tata was two seats away from me. The landscape here couldn’t pose a bigger contrast to the previous three days in hot and humid Mumbai. On the snow covered slopes of St. Moritz (Switzerland) I found some time and focus to reflect on the conference.

Piz Nair (3057 m) in St. Moritz

These three days at the NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2009 have – like my previous two attendances – been tremendously inspiring with phenomenal speakers like John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) as the starter and management guru C.K. Prahalad for the grand finale. Moreover, and that’s what I love deeply in Indian culture, if you know on Day 1 some people, on Day 3 you will know many people thanks to the cordial introductions which those some will make for you to the many. The strong impression which the evening events left on me, is the result of a long-term effort putting these choreographies for the shows with all the awards and dancers together. All fine, and I am quite sure I will attend next year again, that’s for the red cross in the calendar February 9th to 11th 2010.

Yet, and that’s where it really loses me, that in spite of the professional organization of the event, India’s IT-industry association NASSCOM simply doesn’t get it what this beast Web 2.0 or Communication 2.0 or Innovation 2.0 or however you want to name it, is about. Ironically, the two top-speakers I mentioned above where teaching and preaching how it works, what it means and how it positively impacts the outreach of an organization. Specifically, C.K. Prahalad mentioned in his talk that he sees a huge opportunity to consult companies in “social architecture”. NASSCOM should be the first customer.

So in my perception, NASSCOM is still stuck in the mindset: “Uuups, there is this something called Facebook, Twitter, Web 2.0 – and we have to do something with it.” The result: Applying the old mindset (which again Prof. Prahalad was pointing out as the biggest obstacle) onto these platforms and forcing the existing command & control structures of its organizations on these platforms. And it just hurts, because it just doesn’t work this way and thereby gets stuck in the old format (sorry for the blurred quality of the pic).

C.K. Prahalad: Impediments for Innovations

Examples:

  • NASSCOM is running “a blog”, hu-ha-hu a blog, how fancy does this sound with a few “bloggers” writing for it here and identifying themselves on the event with a badge “NASSCOM – I’m blogging” plus some through the audacity to have their hair grown over the tip of their ears. Nothing to object, but this has nothing at all to do with blogging. What NASSCOM in fact does, it hires a few people as editors, thereby controlling the message and pushing it “out to the world”. I wonder if the world cares when the oracle has spoken. (When I got the offer by Avinash Raghava from NASSCOM to “get an account also write for us”, I politely declined. I prefer to write what I think on my own blog.)
  • NASSCOM in on Twitter, check out what came out in the last three days of the conference under http://twitter.com/nilf2009: It’s nothing but pushing one-directionally micro-links of these same messages out. Moreover, using the account name NILF2009 carries a fundamental and obvious flaw: It terms that NASSCOM easily understands, it’s simply not “scalable” as for 2010, 2011 etc. there have to be a new accounts over and over again with losing all the old followers and starting from zero. If I was a cynic, I could argue: With the 36 follower at the time of writing no harm done. Note by the way, the absence of NASSCOM’s interest in conversing by only following back 10 people.

NILF 2009 Twitter

  • NASSCOM has set up a community “Emerge” of its own using CollectiveX to have its members and the delegates respectively interact on that platform beyond the face-to-face meetings. So far absolutely a right move. Yet, it stops exactly there as the old mindset dictates that one must own, control and monopolize the conversation. This platform is not bad at all, but it is not exactly the comfort that Facebook offers. So where is the Facebook-group of the conference where there are not just the better features for interaction, but more importantly where EVERYBODY is already around. When I asked new acquaintances on the conference after receiving their business cards if they were on Facebook, in 80 percent the answer was “yes”.
  • NASSCOM is taping all of the keynotes and most of the panels on video. Why in this world is there no channel on YouTube to put these treasures out? The same applies to the presentations where NASSCOM-president Som Mittal mentioned at the very end that most of them will be available for download. Thank you very much, had I known that before I would have not written my fingers off with taking notes. Just see this slide from John Chamber’s presentation on YouTube’s impact on his organization.

Cisco YouTube-Usage

  • NASSCOM, and that brings me to the last point, is acting in an era of connectedness entirely disconnected in all the separate, distinct and isolated silos of activity. The moderately talented moderator who regularly stumbles in just presenting what the presenter is going to present is of little help either in that context. Where are these closed feedback loops of someone qualified on stage continuously bring the pieces together?

But let’s take a step back and not get stuck in doing the same mistake of bashing single flaws here and simple formats there, but re-draw the big picture of what this all is about: It’s about providing the delegates with a profound and sustainable experience of the event in terms of learning, connecting and participating. Beyond that, the message should get out of the “echo chamber” and travel as far and as fast as possible to anybody who could be a relevant stakeholder. As part of a communication strategy, NASSCOM perfectly includes the press in the process. But here the story ends. Where NASSCOM entirely fails, is getting real word-of-mouth out by engaging into a CONVERSATION. A conversation by definition requires at least the same amount of listening as much as of talking yourself.

Attend a conference of O’Reilly like the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco next month (I will be there, too) and you see how it can be done differently by pulling all levers and connecting them. Attendants can twitter questions upfront which the moderator will use for his interview, he will suggest tags for pics and videos which will be uploaded etc. Furthermore, the conference organizers will invite impartial bloggers equal to traditional press which will, of course, write on their own blogs. The official conference-bloggers would read them, link to them, comment, retort, put things straight or, clearly, ignore trolls who are just out there for parasitic attention.

Or, visit the DLD-Conference in Munich where I moderated two panels a fortnight ago: There is a dedicated video-channel with all the panels. Also, from the organizers’ communication team someone will constantly watch what is being twittered in order to make improvements of the event “on the fly”.

Overall, if NASSCOM is serious about its efforts to move up the value chain towards products, it would require some colourful “Gondalization”, named after my friend Vishal Gondal from Indiagames, who won this year’s NASSCOM India Innovation Award for evangelizing his service in a novel way. Vishal was not the only one to wear an orange T-shirt in the dark ocean of seriousness. What is more, he has fully understood how Communication 2.0 works, he is a real blogger who has a tremendous network to leverage upon. This includes that NASSCOM would have to deal with posts like his Why Wipro, Infosys and TCS are “The Axis of Evil” for Indian start-up space which has garnered 120 comments. One of the major properties of Communication 2.0 is the ability to let go and have the network do the work from amplifying to correcting the message.

CIMG4308

It’s not about if Vishal in right in all he writes, or if I went too far with criticism in this post. That would be missing the point which John Chambers got so right as the bracket for this keynote: “If you agree in all I say, I have failed.” But listening to it from a position of equals is the starting point for a true conversation.

Thanks for your Birthday Wishes from St. Moritz

My dear friends,

Although it’s what I do every day for my living, I feel that we have truly crossed the tipping point where we can cordially stay closer in touch than ever regardless where we are and what we do with all the tools of social architecture which are at our fingertips.

Many thanks to the many warm birthday wishes from India, Germany, Croatia, the U.S. and some other countries I might not even be aware of. I am deeply humbled and touched that you have been thinking of me. My little thank you comes as a video from the Piz Nair at 3057 meters altitude. It’s here in St. Moritz that I spend my birthday today.

Will have a glass of “let’s see what gets poured” tonight on your health :-) Hope to see you soon in person again.

Warm regards from Switzerland
René

P.S.: Read something very funny recently: How do you know that you are getting old? –> When you remember the Dead Sea still being sick – LOL

“Slumdog Millionaire”: Best Fiction ever set in India

It couldn’t have been more authentic. After sitting sitting in Bangalore’s well organized INOX-cinema at Garuda Mall, it was after midnight that I stepped out of the theatre and into the empty streets of Bangalore. For the first time in 5 years that I watched any Indian movie, after seeing Slumdog Millionaire, I had this feeling of “this is so real.”

Sure, the narrative is fiction, I loved the book by Vikas Swarup already, but the way the movie is set into India is a cinematic and cultural masterpiece. The director Danny Boyle has accomplished the herculean task of studying Mumbai, India and their people in such detail before coming up with this perfect representation.

When I wached the scenes set in Mumbai with its buzzing streets, crowds of people, views of the Dharavi slum which I had seen so many times for real, it sent a shiver down my spine. Yes, torture at Mumbai’s police is commonplace. Yes, there are sleazy underworld dons, of bigger and smaller calibre, like depicted in the film. And yes, the way how the characters interact, from the game-show to the streets reminds me of watching uncountable conversations in my host country.

It’s together with Gandhi the best movie ever set in the subcontinent which appeals to a global audience. Well deserved that it has won aleady acclaimed awards and has been nominated for 10 Oscars.

Exactly that, conversely, could be the reason that the movie has been received with criticism from the incumbent Indian movie industry, more commonly known as “Bollywood”. Especially, its Godfather, Grand Seigneur and Eternal Hero Amitabh Batchan has his own view:

If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as a third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations. It’s just that the Slumdog Millionaire idea, authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a westerner, gets creative global recognition.

Deep down in such a statements lies Bollywood’s innate inferiority complex. Although churning out more films per year than Hollywood, the international community has still refused to acknowledge the outcome as serious cinema. If you ever watched one, then you will certainly not be surprised. Apart from the colourful dancing scenes, which by themselves tend to raise eyebrows, if one had one wish it would be having one’s brain temporarily amputated. Only then it would be no issue to follow the non-existent plot over 3 hours and suffer from characters who are their own caricatures – at best.

Therefore, receiving such a remark from Mr. Bachan, should prove to be the ultimate accolade for one of the best movies. It is in some way also a piece of art which drives globalization forward and is set in an environment which even 5 years ago would have been considered irrelevant for broader appeal. If you’ve never been to India, the movie will for sure delight you. If you’ve visited India before, the experience will in addition evoke memories with oscillating emotions.

(Not sure if I can keep up writing this week, will be off to Mumbai tomorrow for the Nasscom Leadership Forum, fly directly to Zurich and hope to stand on the skiing-slope of St. Moritz on Saturday noon. Have a great week, anyway.)

Why the “3 P” should read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”

Malcolm Gladwell: OutliersThe simple recommendation would be: Everybody should read the book. But in terms of the topics Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” touches upon, I’d like to break it down into interest-groups (in order to avoid the over-used prefix “target”). First of all, the book is outstanding which I as a faithful reader of Gladwell didn’t expect it to be. I felt that the book is under-communicating its value with the title “The Story of Success” and over-relying on the fame of its best-selling author.

Yes, the headline throughout the book is that successful people are not just the result of their individual hard work and sheer determination, but equally a product of the social environment they grow up in. As I would not have disputed this, I didn’t expect the book to deliver a lot of novelty. I was wrong. So whom would this book concern most?

I found that it’s the “3 P”: Parents, Pilots and Politically IN-correct.

Parents

Most of us are obsessed with the importance of the intelligence quotient (IQ). I guess I was too when I applied 10 years back to join Mensa, that club of the 2% most intelligent people in the world, with an IQ of 130 and above – and missed out on 4 points. Gladwell makes a convincing case that for being very successful in life up to even earning a nobel prize, one just has to be “intelligent enough”, say with an IQ of 110 or 115. All the rest is something which will range in the dimensions of “emotional intelligence”, “practical intelligence” or “street smartness”. And here the social environment in which a child gets nurtured kicks in.

Parents and their way how to bring up their children will make an awful lot of difference. Scientists studied different social environments over time where there would exist an equal distribution of IQ among the children. Yet, among upper and middle class families, the model of “concerted cultivation” as opposed to “accomplishment of natural growth” in lower class families will put their children on distinct trajectory for the future. The former will grow up with a sense of “entitlement” versus the latter with “an emerging sense of distance, distrust and constraint”. This in turn, will in most cases determine if the grown-up will be able to get the rubber of her potentially superior IQ on the social ground or not.

Pilots

Professional pilots are for sure trained in this within “Crew Resource Management”, but for most private “hobby” pilots like me, Gladwell’s explanations were simply breathtaking. Examining at the miserable record of Korean Air’s fatal crashes in the 1990s, examinations of the voice recorders from the black box concluded that the nature of communication in the cockpit had played a crucial role. Korea being a particularly hierarchical society, possess in its language seven nuances to express basically the same factual idea – depending on the social relationship between “transmitter” and “receiver”. This had led in the communication between the captain and the first officer to something called “mitigated language”. Example: You will hardly tell your boss “I need this presentation by Monday”, you might rather apply “If you don’t mind taking the effort over the weekend to send me this thing over” or so …

Polite, well rehearsed in the social context, but in a cockpit potentially deadly. Imagine in a blind approach for landing through clouds where the first officer is convinced that the plane is heading against solid mountain rock. All that comes out is uttering something like “I am not sure if we have established our gliding path with necessary precision”. Bonk. This chapter is particularly illustrating as it quotes such low-impact statements before, err, heavy impact. The solution for Korean Air was to admit to the cultural reasons for the problem, bring in a foreign trainer and change the language among the crew compulsory into English. Changing the framework of the conversation proved to mitigate that bug of “mitigated language”.

Politically IN-correct

Admittedly, that’s my favourite. I always have had my strong reservations about the Thought-Talibans coming in disguise of the semi-divine cause of “political correctness”. The result of their persistent efforts has unfortunately been the suffocation of looking at things as they really are in exchange for pressing everything in an all-equalizing box. Thereby denying important cause-and-effect statements, overlaying problems with a cloth of silence (which would erupt later even worse), nailing every critic with the moral hammer for being a discriminating pig and, worst, prohibiting to work towards an effective solution.

It takes courage to speak out a number of truths where Gladwell doesn’t shy away from: First the one mentioned above with different results of education-styles based on social environments. Second, his analysis why children from Japan and China square so much better in maths than those from the West: Their ancestors always have had a much tougher attitude towards hard work, as cultivating a rice pad requires on average three times the effort of a wheat field. This trait of high working ethics, passed on from generation to generation, has proved instrumental when cracking a hard nut of a maths-problem.

In that context, my own conclusion one of Germany’s biggest post-war failures: The integration of Turks into society,  where many of them are living in a parallel universe which had occasionally mounted to anti-social excesses of violence like in Berlin’s Rüthli School. Conversely and most interestingly, issues with Asian immigrants are almost unheard of. Could it be that an attitude of hard work comes with a better aptitude for integration than a “culture of honour”? – by the way another fascinating topic in the book. In Outliers, it’s about the chapter “Harlan, Kentucky” with the subtitle “Die like a man, like your brother did” and set in 19th century, well, Kentucky. Phenomenal read which awakes a lot of contemporary insight.

Last but not least, the final chapter of the book “A Jamaican Story” where the author himself embarkes on a fascinating journey to his cultural self. Being half a half-English, half-Jamaican Canadian he looks into the story of his maternal line from the carribbean Island. What turns out is a candid and powerful description on racism. Merely on the sideline starting with what the “politically correct”-deformed mind would allow for as racism between the colonial masters and their imported African slaves. More importantly, moving on to describe ho the coloured people who emerged as offspring from those didn’t miss an opportunity to discriminate against each other based based on slightest nuances of their skin-pigmentation. This chapter is so darn convincing in resisting the broadly applied victimization of particular ethnic groups and in forcing everyone into much needed introspection.

I hold high hopes in people like the new US-president Barack Obama and Malcolm Gladwell whose intellect is undisputed, their record on integrity untarnished and both their racial and cultural background diverse. Especially the latter makes them immune against attacks from either side of the radical political spectrum: on the one the blunt racist bastards and on the other the more subtle PC-cruisaders. Obama and Gladwell are allowed to explain things as they really are, whilst standing above it all. That could finally provide progress in eradicating the social cancer of, in the broadest sense, separation, discrimination and racism.

Outliers is an important book on that mission. Although it calls itself “A Story of Success” on the cover, I found it equally illustrating on many instances as “a story of failure”. But coming from an honest account, drawing the right conslusions it can do a lot in overcoming failure and move towards success.

Videos of my DLD Panels “E-Commerce” & “Mobile” live

So here we are with the videos which got taped last week during the two sessions I moderated during the DLD in Munich at the new format “Technology Enables Success”.

Panel “E-Commerce”

Panel “Mobile”

Link: Mobile - Panel 3 - TES

Thanks to all the great panelists with their profound knowledge and enthusiasm which they displayed during the conversation and which they display every day to run their businesses successfully.