My Research Agenda for the Fall 2016 and a Call for Participation

After a few weeks of failed vacation — my attempts at unbroken away time kept surrendering to business-related meetings and travel — I’m ‘back’ (as if I ever was ‘away’).
During the few hours of contemplation that I managed, I determined to announce a few research initiatives that I’ll be kicking off, on the heels of finishing up the Work Management Narrative Baseline, and Marketing Goes Agile.

  • Work File-Sync-and-Share — I am rebooting the former Enterprise File Sync-and-Share project which was started early in 2016, but which was sidelined for a number of unforeseen reasons. We will be reviewing the leading products in the market, and exploring the trends and changes in the marketplace.
  • Workplace Communications — from the prospectus:

Workforce communications is a class of message-centric work technology that is principally geared toward the modern mobile workforce, especially geared toward enabling communications between workers in retail, manufacturing, transport, security, and construction. These are mobile-first applications, although they also support other enterprise functions, but with an emphasis on the efficient functioning of the mobile worker, often working outside the typical workplace, and in particular, often without access to PCs. They incorporate elements of messaging, chat, social media, and file sharing, as well as more workforce specific capabilities like shift scheduling, calendaring, task management, and other functional tools.
I’ve been talking with a broad spectrum of vendors, and we will likely launch this in October.

  • Work Intranets — Intranets are private, content-centric networks used to provide communications and work-related services to internal knowledge-worker teams. We will likely launch this in December.

In all reports, we are taking a new approach. In each case, we are creating a research note that provides a concise take on the niche, and sets context for the trends and ‘bends’ (countervailing influences that block adoption) in the marketplace in question. I will take the lead role in these research notes, possibly supported by other researchers.
Call for Participation
And, about other researchers: We are taking a different approach to the Gigaom research network. We’ve had limited success with the model we more-or-less inherited from the old Gigaom, which was to rely on a network of self-motivated freelance researchers. This has had mixed results (at the most generous) and in some cases has led to extra effort due to the lack of alignment and integration in research processes. As a result, we are going to phase that approach out, and adopt a different approach.
We will — going forward — bring aboard only those researchers who want to transition into being full-time staff at Gigaom. While those researchers will start as freelancers, it is our intention to only work with senior analysts that we believe will make great contributions as full-time employees. Yes, they would start with a short period of freelance involvement, like three to six months, so we can be certain of the fit. And, to start with, we will be limiting ourselves in the next months to finding two or three senior analysts who could operate very quickly as Research Directors, managing a research domain for the business, developing new business, and hiring other analysts. So the network going forward will be transitioning from a large number of relatively uninvolved freelancers to a smaller network of full-time researchers where freelancers are involved only as an on ramp to a full-time job.
I am actively seeking one or perhaps two prospective research directors to work with me in the work technologies and future of work domain, and we are open to more candidates in other domains we are interested in, like internet of things, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and others.
At the present time, we are looking for contributors based in the United States, exclusively, people with considerable experience in their domain as analysts, consultants, or journalists (with an analytic bent). We are likely to expand that to other regions in time.
If you are interested in discussing the research agenda, or in participating in the new Gigaom research network, please contact me by email.

Here’s what Facebook wants to do with 1,200 more employees

Facebook is growing its head count by as much as 14 percent according to a new Reuters report. It has 1,200 open job listings on its website, mostly for virtual reality roles with Oculus Rift. It’s also hiring for its drones, data centers, and Atlas advertising efforts. None of the roles mentioned by Reuters support Facebook’s core business: Its social media application. Facebook is pulling a Google, expanding into new industries to protect itself.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg placed a sizeable bet that virtual reality will be the next big thing in mobile computing when he bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion in March last year. That’s exactly what he told media, explaining, “When you put on the goggles, it’s different from anything I have ever experienced in my life.” Oculus has stayed pretty quiet since coming under Facebook’s purview, but Reuters analysts suspect the big staff up in positions like logistics and global supply management mean the company is getting ready to launch to the public.

If you don’t follow the company closely, you might be confused at the positions Facebook is hiring for to support its drone technology development: Roles like thermal engineering and aircraft electronics. Remember, Facebook’s big ambitious project to bring Internet connections to parts of the developing world? That’s what it hopes to use drones for, and it needs people with expertise in these areas to make that happen. If succeeds it will ultimately benefit Facebook. Reliable, fast internet in more parts of the world — the two thirds of the population currently without Internet — likely means far more Facebook (and WhatsApp and Instagram) users.

In the last few years, Facebook has moved quickly and deftly into these new business endeavors, not content to rest on its cooling social media laurels. It has grown largely through acquisition, snapping up separate, independent companies and product like Oculus, Atlas Ad Server, WhatsApp, and Instagram, instead of trying to build them from scratch. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is investing in Facebook’s future stability and growth, a smart move given the fact that its core social product has faded in relevance with younger populations. Eventually teens grow up and become the new adults, slowly decreasing Facebook’s power over time.

It needed to diversify to ensure its future.




Two more key Twitter product engineers leave the company

Twitter is reorganizing once again, and with that shift, Twitter’s lead of Analytics, Adam Kinney, and VP of Engineering, Jeremy Gordon, are moving on. No word yet on where they’re heading, but CNBC reported that Kinney and Gordon quit because they didn’t agree with the executive team’s strategy for the company. It’s the latest in a long string of talent changes at Twitter, whose user growth has stagnated in recent months.

Zappos tries to leanify HR by going social

Zappos has taken another unconventional step. Recently the company dropped official job titles as part of CEO Tony Hsieh’s embrace of Holacracy, the manager-less organizational method (see Leanership trumps leadership), also adopted at Medium by Ev Williams and Co. But now Zappos is dropping the traditional model of attracting potential employees: job listings.

Now, instead of candidates poring over descriptions of jobs, and applying to the company for those that might match, Zappos has set up a social network for people interested in working for Zappos, called Zappos Insiders.

The solution feels a lot like a professional network, like Linkedin or Xing. Here’s the landing page:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.27.00

I chose Human Resources as my team, and found profiles of Zappos staff, but not other Insiders. Here’s the profile of a senior editor, Mandy Crispin.

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.27.49

I think a candidate might learn a great deal about company culture by reading a bunch of these profiles, and getting in touch with specific people. I didn’t go far enough along in the process of becoming an Insider to test that hypothesis, but I presume that’s where it was heading when I bailed out.

Here’s my incomplete profile page, which was pre-populated from Linkedin data:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.30.05

Other parts of the Insiders set-up are fairly conventional, in that they talk about corporate culture and what Zappos Insider is all about:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.28.51

The Bottom Line

Last fall I commented on an article that Reid Hoffman and colleagues wrote in the Harvard Business Review (see Hire for “Tours of Duty” instead of pretending jobs are forever). In the article Hoffman et al argued that companies need to drop the empty promises of hypothetical permanent employment, and embrace a new social compact between the worker and the company, based on the reality that the average period of employment in the US in 2012 is 4.4 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor.

Hoffman’s recommendation is to start with that term — 4 years — as the basis of an agreement between the parties, and work around it: not ignore it. As the authors wrote,

If you think all your people will give you lifetime loyalty, think again: Sooner or later, most employees will pivot into a new opportunity. Recognizing this fact, companies can strike incremental alliances. When Reid founded LinkedIn, he set the initial employee compact as a four-year tour of duty, with a discussion at two years. If an employee moved the needle on the business during the four years, the company would help advance his career. Ideally this would entail another tour of duty at the company, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.

So the new responsibility of a company requires building and maintaining an active social network with other companies, alumni, and organizations so that departing alumni can take on new work elsewhere. And to accomplish that, the company must create and maintain an active alumni network, at whatever expense, so that career-long relationships between alumni and employers.

Zappos is starting at the other end of the employee lifecycle, prior to hiring, but I think both sides need to be addressed. Zappos is focused on Outsiders (while calling them Insiders), but I wonder if there is any attention to the real Insiders, and the necessity for a Hoffman-style network for the inevitable departure of some Insiders (who are becoming Outsiders again).

At any rate, the bureaucratic, process-centric approach to hiring is simply too slow to keep up with the needs of today’s lean and agile businesses. The answer is to become more fast and loose, by allowing the participants to create direct relationships with people in the company, and not just Zappos Ambassadors.

I recently spoke with Gabriel Weinberg of Duck Duck Go (see DuckDuckGo’s Gabriel Weinberg talks about ‘Inbound Hiring’), an open source search engine. His company hires exclusively from within the contacts he’s met through the open source community, which is more or less what Zappos is trying to emulate. We’ll have to see how this shakes out at Zappos, and whether others will follow suit. My bet is on networks obliterating process, as usual.

Laszlo Bock talks about hiring at Google, and why the GPA is irrelevant

Thomas Friedman interviewed Laszlo Bock, based on the Adam Bryant interview of last June which I wrote about at the time (see Google admits HR brainteasers were “a complete waste of time”). The big takeaway was that Google — and everybody else — have been using techniques to choose job candidates which are not great predictors of future success in those jobs. GPA, best schools, and the famous Google brainteasers are not enough.
Bock proposed ‘behavioral interviewing’, where candidates have to explain in detail how they would react in specific circumstance, but his description was too brief, and I don’t understand how interviewers are trained in the technique. So I have been on the prowl for more info on this topic.
Friedman doesn’t add much to what Bock says, so I have just clipped him out and retained Bock’s words, framed by my own commentary.
Asked about what Google looks for in a candidate, since GPAs are not a great indicator:

There are five hiring attributes we have across the company. If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.

Number 1, the ability to learn quickly.
Number 2?

[Second] is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.

The second most critical skill is leanership: emergent leadership. Not the title, not a degree in management. But the ability to steer things in the right direction without the authority to do so, through social competence.
And then? Responsibility and humility:

It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in [and try to solve any problem]. Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.

This is a great description of the inner workings of cooperation. You add your competence because you are called to assist in the common cause with others: you feel responsible for that contribution. But you don’t need to make everyone get in line and follow your detailed plan for every step in every part of the project. You operate under the assumption that others will contribute their expertise in a manner similar to you, because of shared work culture: a culture greater than organizational culture; a worldview; a philosophical stance.
Part of that stance is ‘strong opinions, loosely held’. An intellectual humility:

Without humility, you are unable to learn. Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure. They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved.
What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

This is another key aspect of the cooperation culture and of leanership.
What turns out to be least important? Expertise:

If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’

Friedman paraphrases Bock as saying, more or less, that the inexpert may goof one in 100 times, but they are also capable of innovations that the expert would not consider. And that occasional breakthrough pays for a dozen small toe stubs.
The bottom line? The skills to look for in candidates are these, in order: the ability to learn quickly, leanership, responsibility, humility, and for developers, coding ability.
Let’s hope that the corporate HR folks out there are taking notes.
And it makes you think, obviously, that schools are focusing on the wrong things when the metric that they consider the distillation of the value they create — the GPA — turns out to be irrelevant.

“The biggest hindrance to corporate growth”

IT departments are “the biggest hindrance to corporate growth”, and they need to learn from the “shadow IT” workaround of other divisions bringing SaaS solutions in directly. That’s what David Linthicum, the curator of Gigaom Research’s cloud coverage, sees in his role as an SVP at Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud consulting and implementation firm.

In his view, IT departments on one hand get in trouble by violating IT principles in their approach to the cloud. But on the other hand their lack of responsiveness is the cause for line-of-business managers bringing in SaaS products in a way that may violate the compliance, security and integration requirements of the organization.  Too often, firms know what they want and need to meet customer demand, but IT is too slow in delivering on it.

Cloud computing is the technology that enables companies to break that cycle, but it takes great skill to leverage the agility of cloud solutions within increasingly complex hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

IT department mistakes with cloud

Among the mistakes David sees IT departments make with cloud are

  1. Bypassing traditional prototype and pilot approaches, with the resulting data points factored into ROI projections—and thus ending up with unworkable solutions by the time they call in external assistance, and
  2. Not factoring in the dynamics and cost of staffing with the skill set needed to manage a cloud environment.

Sticker shock

The cost and difficulty of staffing with the needed skill set may be what most takes IT departments by surprise. Although some employees can be retrained effectively for the requirements of cloud—and cloud vendors are happy to train them on their products—David says many staffers are simply not suited for challenging cloud jobs. For both implementation and operation, new employees must either be hired or contracted for with a service provider.

A service provider may be an easy choice for the temporary role of implementations, but even operational staff can be difficult to hire. In smaller cities in the U.S., they may be difficult to find, while in larger tech centers such as Silicon Valley, Boston, or Washington, DC, they can be found but are very expensive. For those shops in markets where they are scarce, contracting with a service provider may be the way to go. Either way, the sticker shock of salary costs can confound companies that haven’t factored it into their business case.

Recommendations for “shadow IT”

With  SaaS, sales, marketing, HR or other departments can go around a slow IT department to bring the applications they need into an organization more quickly. But such side-door technology purchases can lead to breaches in legal, regulatory and security requirements. David advises departmental executives tempted to bring in their own SaaS solutions to follow these minimum rules:

  1. Tell the IT department about what is being brought in, so security and compliance concerns, at least, can be addressed;
  2. Work with the IT departments as well as possible; and
  3. Don’t hide it!

How the smart IT departments learn

David believes that smart IT departments learn from shadow IT initiatives by learning the priorities, needs, preferences and preferred delivery for technology in line-of-business departments. Proactive IT executives are enabling their non-IT peers to continue to take the lead in such decisions, while also assuring that such purchases meet the security, compliance and integration requirements of the firm.

Former Netflix CFO joins mobile payments startup Clinkle

Clinkle claims it will invigorate the lackluster mobile payments market, though it still won’t tell us how. Former Netflix finance honcho Barry McCarthy, however, is confident enough in Clinkle’s plan to take over the COO role.