René Seifert

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

Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Global Russia Business Meeting 2011 in Cyprus

Traditions require pursuit. So when Frank Richter from Horasis is inviting to one of his legendary “Global Business Meetings”, the best option is simply to show up and receive a stimulating update on the state of the globalized world. This times it was the Global Russia Business Meeting 2011, last year I attended in Ljubljana, this year in happened to take place in Limassol (Cyprus).

As it was the first time to this island for me, I decided to come two days earlier and do a little bit of sightseeing, mainly into the surprisingly high mountains up to 1,900 meters …

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… as well as trying out the local cuisine which is famous for its “Meze”. Shared dishes which keep on coming in endless numbers and makes. Apparently, me including, every foreigner on his first time consistently commits the same mistake: Eating too much in the beginning and then facing complete paralysis when more and even more food is arriving to the table.

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The Island-Republic has been for decades an attractive destination for Russian tourists and investors alike: The single biggest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FTD) into Russia comes due to favourable holding- and taxation structures indeed from Cyprus.

Our hosts were enormously hospitable who made our stay a truly memorable experience. During the gala dinner on Sunday evening, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Dimitris Christofias welcomed us …

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… after which inspiring and funny conversations with other attendees extended way after midnight.

On Monday, in fact the major day of the event, there were a couple of “all hands” plenary sessions with CEOs and ministers of state as well a plenty of parallel “break out-sessions” for a more intimate exchange. Like last year in Madrid for the India-Meeting, I had the honour to moderate a session about “Creating Innovation Capacity” with eight distinguished participants on the panel.

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In the nutshell, a couple of issues pertaining to Russia:

  • Assumptions from foreign businesspeople that Russia is operating like a Western country are strongly overstretched; one needs to know how to navigate the system with all its intricacies.
  • Political regulation changes frequently, and not always for the better.
  • Russia has strengths in R&D, yet deficits in devising products and services out of this, also with sub-standard abilities downstream when it comes to marketing and sales.
  • Russia’s strongest GDP-driver, natural resources, is both a salvation as it is a curse: It lacks the necessary “eco-systems” (benchmark: Silicon Valley) to allow other truly innovative sectors to emerge in order to contribute to a better diversification of the economy.
  • Russia possesses a healthy self-awareness about its strengths and weaknesses and has set up a variety of private and public initiatives to foster exchange to gain best practices.

This appears to be especially true after the financial crisis where the government is listening better than ever to entrepreneurs how to be serious about the necessary implementation of change.

Thanks Frank for once again putting a great program with inspiring people together, hope to see to see you soon at one of the subsequent events.

And on a personal note: Thanks to Davor, from Les Clefs d’Or– Concierge from LeMeridien in Limassol who helped me within 18 hours print my forgotten business cards and held some true insider tips for the best local dining in the area ready. “Hvala vam ljepa na vasoj pomoci, Davore”, – who originally hails from Bosnia and with whom I proudly conversed in our mother tongue Serbo-Croatian. That’s globalization at its best as it comes with the touch of home … :-)

New Venture: MillionMiles Media launches aMillionLives.com

For more than half a year I have been really busy creating something new. Today, I am proud to announce that I started a new venture MillonMiles Media Ltd. and we just went live with our really cool flagship site aMillionLives.com. And, yes, we have a Facebook Fanpage, too, where I like if you like ;-) In case you want to read our „official press release“, it’s here for download.

aMillionLives.com

Let me explain here on my blog in a bit more of a conversational tone what we are up to. We are global publishing network writing stuff that matters for our life, in particular the various lives of each of us. You might be familiar with Edward de Bono’s concept of the various hats we should put on during decision making. Similarly, on a broader perspective in one’s life somebody might be a teacher by profession, have a family with a lovely wife raising two kids. But there is more to life than the obvious on the surface: This human being might be an avid guitar player, enjoys going for a hike in the mountains and really love his food. That same person will find help, advise and entertainment for his various lives like in a magazine as a teacher, spouse, parent, musician, naturelover and foodie. Check out our overview of all the lives we are writing for.

aMillionLives.com

Here’s the deal with „global“ for our publishing network. I’ve been living and working in various continents for the last years where I dare to say that I have a fairly good understanding how to assemble a business that brings together the best pieces from each part of the world. Our company is incorporated in London (U.K.), a big chunk of our operation runs out of Bangalore (India) with an international team, the design for aMillionLives.com has been done in Poland, our writers hail from India, the Philippines. Our users as we know from our logfiles appreciate our content from all over the world, the U.S. running with 60 % at the forefront.

aMillionLives.com

Where does the name MillionMiles Media (MMM) come from? Two simple explanations: I was looking, no surprise, for something that sounds somehow cool and has „Media“ at the end. If you check out every freaking word on this earth in combination with „Media“ at the end, the domain is taken by some filthy domain-grabber. So extending the query to two prefix-words, landed me with MMM. Second, I liked it because last year with all my travelling I had crossed the mark of a million miles in my frequent flyer programme.

aMillionLives.com

Yep, that’s my news of the day. Happy about every feedback, good or bad, sympathetic or just pathetic. If you like our Fanpage on Facebook or moreover, place a link from your blog or site to aMillionLives.com, I’ll include you in my evening prayers – hands duly folded. Promised.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Horasis and its founder Frank-Jürgen Richter are really coming to ever new heights with its format of “Global X Business Meeting”. Take “X” as a placeholder for China, India, Russia and soon Arab, too. The concept is brilliant: Create a platform for political and economic leaders for a specific country, let them fly out of their cocoon for 2 days in a completely different continent and blend them with political and economic leaders from the host country. For the recent Global Russia Business Meeting that host country was Slovenia (in Ljubljana), last for last year’s Global India Business Meeting it was Germany (Munich) and for this year it was Spain in its magnificent capital of Madrid. (All pictures of the event here on this set.)

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

This year’s top participants from India were the Union Minister of Commerce, Anand Sharma, who spoke about his country’s resilience to weather the storm of the global economic crisis, aspiring to a double digit GDP-growth and acknowledging the requirement build stronger ties to Europe. As a reference to his hosts Mr. Sharma mentioned in particular Spain whose trade volume with India ranks only 43.

Anand Sharma, India Minister of Commerce

From the Spanish side, the Crown Prince Felipe gave himself the honour to speak. As someone who has rather reservations to monarchy, I was honestly surprised not to see some smug royal retard, but a highly educated, soft-spoken and down-to-earth guy who is very well able to play his constitutional and social role in such a setting very well.

Felipe, Prince of Asturias, Spanish Crown Prince

I had the pleasure to moderate panel on a topic which is personally very dear to me: Innovation. In particular “Driving the Future: India’s Technology Pioneers – India’s IT and other technology firms are emerging as global players in their own right. What areas are they pioneering in and how do they compete in world markets?” The participants had a lot to share from their experience:

  • Dinesh Dhamija, former Founder and CEO of ebookers.com, now Founder and Chairman, Copper Beech Group, United Kingdom
  • Sachin Dev Duggal, Chairman, Nivio, India
  • Naeem Ghauri, Co-Founder, NetSol Technologies, Pakistan & United Kingdom
  • Clas Neumann, President, SAP Labs India, Germany
  • Jeff Heenan Jalil, Head – Wipro Technologies, Europe, Wipro, India
  • Glenn Proellochs, Chief Executive Officer, Travelpaper.com, Switzerland
  • Sudhir Sethi, Chairman, IDG Ventures India Advisors India
  • Sudhakar Shenoy, Chairman, IMC, USA

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

This format of a so called “board room dialogue” in an intimate setting allows for a true conversation among the panellists where the “audience” blends seamlessly in. Three main conclusions on innovation that I’d to summarize here:

  • IT-Innovation in India has multiple dimensions. It’s not just about the classic Western understanding of filing a patent for some say cutting edge laser-thing. It’s often process innovation: Just think of the 1 million resumés (!) that Infosys is getting every year to fill 12,000 positions, you need to handle that somehow. Or business innovation with a particular focus on the price point, see for example the world-class rate of 0.5 US-Cent per minute on Indian mobile operators.

  • Bigger organisations like SAP or Wipro can only innovate of their culture embodies constant change whereby their organizational frameworks act like a stable meta-layer for innovation.

  • India is not good at everything, should and often does recognize both its strengths and weaknesses. For instance anything around User Interface can be done with a company in the Silicon Valley much better. The conclusion here: In times where you can assemble easily global sourcing chains, also from the Indian perspective applies: Do what you can do best and outsource the rest :-)

After all the inspiring discussions over the day, we headed off for a cocktail reception to the beautiful Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez where Mr. Peacock was greeting us with his evergreen mating-show.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Last but not least, thanks a lot to Frank for once again putting such an awesome Horasis-event together.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

TED India with Inspiration for Profit and Non-Profit

Even after a week of TED India, I feel the inspiration of this unique event still hasn’t left its grip on me. On the weekend, there came via e-mail the request from the TED-team to rate the event, it took me some 10 minutes in all various categories and questions, but the last one was certainly the most important. Besides all the dissecting of single aspects of the event, the holistic question was “How would you rate your overall TED India experience?” On the given scale I gave it the best marks with “off the charts”. This applied for the venue, the Infosys Campus in Mysore, as well.

The Infosys Campus in Mysore

(All pictures of the event, here on my Flickr-set.)

What makes this event so fundamentally unique is the mix of phenomenal speakers in a broad array of disciplines combined with an extremely open discussion culture with the attendees, around 1,000. In terms of the latter: The norm is to just sit down e.g. at lunch or before a session and start a conversation with the people left and right of you. Every time, I felt it was interesting what they had to say, moreover the conversation was characterized by mutual curiosity. The topics started mostly with “what do you do” (without the sales-pitch to it) or “where do you come from”. A phenomenal review of the event which speaks from my heart here at GodInChief from my dear friend Vishal Gondal.

TEDIndia: Day 1 - Vishal Gondal & Rene Seifert

For instance during the last night at the party, I spoke to a PhD in biology who has been running a field study in South India how to reconcile the two apparently contradicting systems of wildlife conservation and that of agriculture for the neighbouring farmers. (There seems to be one …)

Plenty of such exciting conversations on how to lift the life of the underprivileged, especially through grass-root-projects which create some self-sustaining momentum. Those can have an approach of “one person at a time” to scalable models. A brief update at this point on our own charity “Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya”: We are optimizing tiny little bits and pieces. Being an anal German we bought some buttons from felt which we installed below the table-legs to stop them rock, got some pillows for the chairs so that the very little girls would not have to have their arms at the level of their ears to reach the keyboard.

In fact, it was Petra who who took care of it during her and her husband’s Jürgen visit to Bangalore in the last weeks. Jürgen with his IT-network expertise installed a new, more robust WiFi-router which is better suited to serve 12 concurrent connections. Last, but not least: This month, the computer training started with an experienced female teacher twice a week.

Also, I would not like to withhold the official “thanking letter” from Shashi in the name of the institution.

Thanking Letter Vatsalya

What TED’s inspiration taught me or at least recalled to keep in consideration: If you do business for profit, there is always some higher calling beyond the P&L. Go out, find this mission and inspire your employees, your customers and all your other stakeholders with it. Your following will be manifold.

When you are doing well, there is ample of space of doing good. Go and understand what is what you do best in your organization. Find a way to apply a tiny portion of time and resources from it. Find a way to transfer this abilily in order to enable those who need this little kick-start before they can get lifted on their own.

That’s something I have just embodied in a recent business plan. In one year down the line I will have to be measured by my actions resulting from the easy part called words.

MenorcaTechTalk: Lasting Impressions from the Farm

Back in India, the mental dust has settled after those four days of amazing conversations on Martin Varsavky’s farm for the MenorcaTechTalk. Besides being hyper-inspiring with plenty of take-away value to be put into action, I found it at least as interesting as a sort of „social experiment“.

Menorcatechtalk: Day 2 ending

Bring around 60 fantastic people together on a farm, have almost no structure (apart from the „official“ 4-hour session on Friday afternoon), have bikes and a quad ready for usage, let people hang out on the pool, take them on the sailing boat and see what happens.

Menorcatechtalk: On the Boat

Even more so, put people – who would usually stay in chic hotels – and have them share a simple but honest room and then see what happens.

Menorcatechtalk: Shared Room

Interestingly, much more than if you met the same people over the same period of time on a conference where you get conversations of the type “I am the XYZ from soandso and we are the number 1 in thisandthat). In Menorca, it was quite different, because people open up in a completely new way on the personal level, which then also transcends to the “professional conversations”, or even more so, makes the distinction between the two obsolete. (By the way, my entire picture-set under Creative Commons-license here on Flickr.)

Menorcatechtalk: Open Session

On another note, the event confirmed my discovery that dressing-down is directly proportional to better results in a team-setting. (Maybe investment bankers should also relax and start coming in shorts and flip-flops to work to prevent them from final extinction …) Martin is in that context clearly “leading by example” himself with our host’s take on the event on his blog.

Menorcatechtalk: Open Session

It certainly helped that this brief formal part allowed every participant who wished to give a maximum 5 minute-talk which had to conclude with a tangible problem. This kind of anchoring allowed the other participants afterwards to start a meaningful conversation about how to solve the problem whereby the communication usually took extremely interesting and unpredicted routes.

Picture courtesy of Rodrigo SEPÚLVEDA SCHULZ

I introduced my latest project “OLPC for the Vatsalya-Orphanage” asking for sharing of experience how to structure charity in general as well as best practises in fundraising, performance-metrics and how to avoid the traps of diluting focus and/or as over-investing. Very concretely, I got three very interesting contacts referred where I started to interact with. (And by the way, two days back, I was able to close the round of funding.)

One of the most mind-blowing presentations came from Isaac Shpantzer who presented a new technology, which allows for the transmission of broadband internet via laser. Yes, laser. The concept: A laser-beam in the blue spectrum (therefore also suitable during daylight) is beamed vertically into the sky and carries the digital information where the 1s and 0s are transformed through some “language” into light.

Menorcatechtalk: Open Session

Because of the earth’s atmosphere, the laser beam begins to scatter. Now: Whoever is located in the line of sight of the upper part of the laser (where it scatters) and has a signaling-device installed e.g. behind his window is able to exchange data. The technology is fully bi-directional and allows for a dedicated bandwidth per household of up to 100 MBit/sec. If only 50 % of this concept became feasible at reasonable economics, I bet that it will fundamentally impact the backend-infrastructure of internet-connectivity.

Besides such food for thought, the food for real was absolutely stunning with an ever changing variety of dishes over the days. (I could still kick myself that I had to leave too early on Sunday and miss the Asado.) But for sure, I got a fair share of this paella:

Menorcatechtalk: La Paella

Thank you very much Martin and Nina, for your kind invitation and putting this event with lasting impressions together. The atmosphere, the networking, the fun and especially the bonding were unparalleled. Thanks also to Matias and Eva for the perfect organization and their ever-sunny-mood for – as a Germany proverb goes – “herding a sack of fleas”.

OLPC for Vatsalya-Charity: We got the Funds!

For the risk of sounding repetitive, I am deeply honoured and humbled about your instant participation which led to the final commitments for our charity “OLPC for Vatsalya Orphanage”. We got the money together, EUR 2869 within 5 days of fund-raising. Stunning! Thank you very much for your support; together we are making it happen.

Vatsalya Bangalore 04

Here the list of all those who walk the talk and have agreed to support me in equipping the Vatsalya Orphanage with 11 OLPC-computers.

Juri Reisner
Martin Wunsch
Rene Seifert
Malte und Tina Krüger
Fabian Seyfried
Dirk Schornstein
Petra Rautenberg and Jürgen Kock
Andreas Hörr
Sascha Mladenovic
Paul Fritze
Simone Bayer
Michael Munz
Alexander and Michaela Erlmeier
Lukasz Gadowski
Nils and Anita Rauterberg
Jan Poerschmann
Daniela Hinrichs
Anju Rupal
Anca Carstea
Philip Brunner
Michael Gebert
Julia Knop

Now it’s on me to deliver based on your support and put the concept into action. As for the next steps I will be writing to all donors tomorrow the details of my bank account along with the request to wire the funds. Again, full transparency here on the donors’ list about the payment-status. Then we are going to order the computers directly from the non-profit organization OLPC which is so far established in India that it will clear customs and take care of logistics within the country. In short, the computers will be delivered directly to the orphanage. The excess of EUR 69 I dare to put aside for some foreseeable work putting the network-infrastructure together to bring a server as well as the WiFi-hotspot to life.

Actually, in order to give you a bit clearer picture (literally) of the organization itself, I aggregated the photos which I have taken so far in this picture-set on Flickr. The one above in this post depicts the stone plate for the inauguration of Vatsalya back in July 1948 by the Maharaja of Mysore. At that time in India one labeled such a foundation “Association for Moral and Social Hygiene”. That’s of course both an obligation and a leitmotiv which we will – through our laptops – proudly catapult into the digital age :-)

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Glad to be a TEDster: India Event in November

Last week got the lucky mail that I got accepted to TED, in my opinion one of the finest organizations these days to make a change for the better to our world. Under the claim “Ideas worth Sharing”, smart minds with a good heart get together to discuss concepts that are often extremely bold, yet possible to achieve only through a joint effort. Projects which are independent from governmental politics and for profit interests, from their approach moreover deeply democratic. Whoever decides to buy into an idea and support it, can do so. If many do so, chances are that that the bold objective might turn into a new reality.

So far I have watched the many TED-talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design) “free to the world” mostly on the treadmill in the gym through my iPod Touch, always inspired by the rigor of reason applied to the concepts, its fabulous storytelling and admiration of the creative human mind. Hence, I feel deeply humbled and honoured to be able to participate in that crowd live. The first event I will take part in is – suprise, surprise – TED India, in fact from November 4th to 7th 2009 in Mysore, around 80 km northwest from Bangalore on the legendary Infosys campus.

TED India

What I also liked are the terms of participation which one has to opt-into and which couldn’t be any clearer:

I understand that those who attend TED do so in a spirit of curiosity, open-mindedness, respect and tolerance, thereby enabling constructive conversation and allowing TED speakers to be more open than they might otherwise be. I confirm that I will respect these values, and will abide by the conference rules. I also understand that the atmosphere at TED is appropriate for high-level relationship-building, not salesmanship. I confirm I will not use my TED attendance to aggressively pitch my company, organization, products or services to other attendees.

It reminds me a bit of our non-solicitation policy at the Entrepeneurs Organization (EO). There is nothing more damaging to building a trustful relationship that if you have to suspect that the person opposite is only talking to you with a hidden agenda for the sake of selling you his crap.

Till then, I will continue watching the talks on my iPod as well as developping a little project further which I actually picked up from TED. Happy to make an announcement soon here on my blog. Else, please let me know if you are coming to TED India as well so we can connect already ahead of the event along the lines of the conference’s motto “The Future beckons”.

Before my Mac, I owned the ugliest Notebook in the World

Last Saturday, I did it. After a few years of consideration, I seized the moment of agony for my Fujitsu/Siemens-Microsoft-Vista-Notebook, went into the Apple flagship store in San Francisco and got myself a MacBook Pro. Life has changed -for the better. I am still getting into the nitty-gritty about the Mac, but I am getting there, especially with more and more enthusiasm. The same enthusiasm which I so far observed with suspicion from the other side of the fence owning and using a PC for almost 20 years.

The final nail in the coffin to get a Mac was that my last notebook, a Fujitsu Siemens Celsius in the vicious combination with Microsoft Vista. This evil package was the biggest piece of shit in technology which I’ve touched in my whole life. And I never belonged to those predictable Microsoft-bashers; I was indifferent as long as this thing quietly did its job, rather in terms of a hygiene factor. Maybe that’s in Microsoft’s proportions anyway the highest Zen of praise.

But with this monster, which I bought, some 15 months ago, everything started to change. Have a look:

My ugly, shitty PC-Notebook

Frankly, have you ever seen something more ugly, clumsy and less elegant than this grey brick containing chips and processors? (If so, please send me pics and links). I am actually sure, that the spec for this notebook said this had to be ugly. I imagine a conversation at Fujitsu/Siemens during the design phase, when the engineer presented the first prototype to the team getting a reaction like: “Oh no, no. Back to the drawing board, that’s way to beautiful, it has to become, really, really ugly.” After seven iterations or so the engineer finally comes up with something that looks like this insult to fundamental human aesthetics.

Anyway, I decided myself to buy this thing, and I was not looking out for a piece of postmodern Andy Warhol art, but a fast and powerful computer. But what ultimately amounted to my deepest despise for this thing is that it terminally crashed four times in these 15 months of my ownership. To be fair in giving shit: It was equally distributed between two identical crashes of Vista and two identical failures of the hardware. So, do we start to see patterns here?

I think so. And it brings me to the conclusion that the hardware-software model of the last 20 years for the PC is broken. Sadly and luckily. The model went like this: Faster machines allow for more powerful software where Moore’s law doubling processor speed every two years allows for even more powerful software and so on. The problem: The duo of MS Windows and MS Office suite, sitting centrally on your machine, have become heavier and heavier, cluttered with useless features that were built in order to keep the release cycles and its underlying license model spinning. Who lost out? The consumer, the user.

Just to deep dive into my case, which I don’t see as just an outlier in terms of, well, I was just unlucky with my particular PC-unit. There is a system of collective disregard for the customer:

  • I bought the computer in Germany, but wanted the software for the operating system Vista and MS Office in English. Guess what, not that I could not just change the settings in the software or at least handily download a patch from Microsoft’s website. No, this language kit had to be ordered from Microsoft UK. That took 6 weeks to get physically shipped. Hello?!? In which millennium are we living?
  • With the installation of the first pieces of software when I got started, in particular a standard driver to run my PCMCI-card for wireless connectivity in India, Microsoft Vista froze during re-booting. Froze without any chance to bring it to life. Terminally dead such that I had with the help of my dealer make a mirror of the hard-drive to save the data and run a complete fresh re-installation of the software. The same happened a few weeks later. How can that be? I believe it’s in line with all the anger and complaints that have been around since Vista was hastily released without sufficient testing.
  • Last November then in India, I tried to start my computer. Nothing happened, apart from three sounds: short – long – short and a black screen. Calling in Fujitsu Siemens they let me know that the sounds were for remote diagnosis and said that the motherboard had gone. During one of my visits in Germany the technician had to replace it and mentioned something like “it happens quite often with this model as it tends to get hot which strains the motherboard to death. “

This “getting hot” is a charming euphemism for this super-heavy-ugly thing on my lap being able to either fry eggs (or my balls alternatively). And where the fan was making sounds of a sick old steam engine whose time had come.

Maybe this picture of a “steam engine” illustrates best how outdated and of yesterday this model “bigger, higher, faster, centralized” has become in a time where we are moving towards distributed computing, software-as-a-service and lightweight netbooks.

I see parallels to what the U.S. car industry is going through. Innovation at GM in the last 50 years largely consisted of building even heavier, even bulkier and even more fuel-guzzling monsters who are in fact nothing but dinosaurs – too heavy at some point to carry their own weight, collapse and perish. And that in a time where we require “The Power of Less” (as the meaningful conference title of Web 2.0 Expo went last week. )

What the car industry needs is something like Google or Apple in technology to fix the entire model. Start from scratch with new paradigms which fulfil the demand for cost-effective mobility and balance the impact on the environment.

But back to my computer. With these three incidents I had really started to loath my notebook to the point to co-addiction. When I booted it in the morning and it went slower that usually, I held my breath (“Will it resurrect?”). I became hesitant to install new software because it could risk the freezing. Not to mention that the battery for this energy-guzzling beast lasted for some 25 minutes, whereby it took already 5 to get it running. All in all: A total, complete and utter failure on every possible front.

Finally, thank god finally, last week in San Francisco at the conference, on Thursday morning during the keynote I tried to boot this piece of crap. There they were, the three sounds: short – long – short. The motherboard again, just 4 months old. After 10 seconds of changing temperature between cold and hot, I just felt deep relief as it was clear: This was it. Never again. Over and out. Now the shit will see the trash-bin. Liberation. No more self-betrayal of the sort: “OK, I don’t like my notebook, but still: I bought it last year and I should keep it for one more year.“ (Maybe you realize that this blog-post carries traits of a self-therapy ;-)

I was immediately geared towards buying a Mac, but needed more confirmation. And it seems that this is how it works with Apple-products: The community of enthusiastic users is the best evangelist. Within 48 hours I consulted three trusted people whom I hold in highest esteem and who were already Mac-users: Anju Rupal, Sören Stamer who were also at the conference, and in good Web 2.0-fashion via Twitter (and e-mail) Lars Hinrichs who had made the change to Mac only recently.

After they had given me a thumbs-up for all the apprehensions I have had, I went into the hyper-cool Apple-Store and started my own journey with the Mac learning what it takes and having fun with it. Anyway, also to prevent lethargy from age, it is always good to be drawn out of the comfort zone by having to adopt something different. A great start for a new beginning.

Landed in San Francisco: Stunning Lufthansa Service

I couldn’t be luckier for today’s flight LH 454 where I just landed in one of my most favoured cities, San Francisco. Bought myself an Economy Class ticket, used my abundance of miles for an upgrade to Business and checking into the Lounge in Frankfurt, I got a free upgrade to First Class. And yes, the Flugröserl was in the game again :)

Surely, this is not a lucky draw in the lottery, but based on my HON Circle-status, but I appreciate these gestures from Lufthansa a lot. Maybe, therefore, I am a bit biased, but overall flying Lufthansa like crazy in the last 3.5 years between the continents, I feel that it is time to express a thank for the splendid work the airline does.

Jumbo Jet Boing 747

It doesn’t come by surprise that – based on “good old Germany virtues” – Lufthansa consistently ranks high at safety, reliability and punctuality. But those same virtues culture-wise were not always prone to outstanding service, it’s usually not what Germans are like. Slightly on the brush side of life, the understanding of service falls short in the scale of galaxies what one finds in India, Singapore, Thailand or Japan. There, serving a customer is culturally considered an honour.

Hence, it deserves even more hail that Lufthansa grew above itself to be not only significantly better than average German service, but even on the many instances on the ground, but especially on board, truly exceptional. Gone are the times (which I remember) where a bitchy flight attendant would almost throw the tray with the meal in front of you.

Admittedly, passengers in Business and First Class pay more to get better service. But my point is that you can’t buy friendliness, attention and charm when it’s not in a company’s DNA, when you have the wrong people or you have the right people and over time in a  bad organisation they degrade to jerks. In my perception, Lufthansa has worked hard to change its DNA. In some instances I spoke to flight attendants off the records where they told me about their training in general and the briefings before every flight in particular. The purser would remind the cabin crew that it’s them who will make a difference in choosing Lufthansa over a competitor and make a lasting impact on the experience. So there seems to be a system of deliberate effort behind, and to me it seems that the system is bearing fruit.

There are many aspects of outstanding service, but it come most in the shade of getting something which you did not expect: Like today I chose for my meal a French wine, the flight attendant asked me if I was sure not to go for the Chilenean one. I stayed with my choice, but he came back to me smiling after two minutes with a sip with the one from Chile just to give me a try.

I don’t intend to celebrate my middle-age-wine-decadency with such an example; it’s just illustrating how small unexpected gestures can make a difference in delighting a customer. Today and in the last months and years I have seen a couple of these instances where Lufthansa’s staff has gone, or rather, flown that extra mile for me. Thanks.

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.

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