Technical metadata

Seth Godin recently pointed to Richard Thaler’s article in the New York Times about how governments and businesses should make the data they collect about us consumers available to us in a form we understand. It is our data after all. You know the way Google and Facebook target their ads to us – he’s right when he says we have a right to know how they make those decisions to show us what they want to – rather, what advertisers want to. I think open data is the way forward and sooner or later there will be a more concerted effort made around getting this to happen. As Godin says:

Data about data is more important than ever, and being on the side of the person creating that data is a smart place to be.

Jan Chipchase also recently wrote a really good post about making field data transparent to participants, and giving them control over what is finally tabled:

Today we live in a world of data servitude, where commercial organisations own and have the rights to exploit the personal data that lies on their servers. Whilst the effort taken to harvest, sift and draw value comes with the assumption of being able to then seek commercial returns fro this investment, the relationship is one-sided, the process for the most part opaque. To truly go full circle is to give participants the rights and access to their personal data both now and for ever more, something that will enabled by the prevalence of always-on connectivity and a shift the expectations of participants.

For every Google Health that dies, there is a Keas that lives (more here, if you’re interested). (The title of this post comes from here).

The start of a new business education model?

Over the last few months, I’ve spoken to quite a few friends who are or were considering doing an MBA, that magical degree that used to enable students to start earning over twice what they previously were. But that was in the days before banks started collapsing like a house of cards all around us. Most of these people are now being very practical when they say that spending over $50,000 a year just for fees (leave alone living expenses) cannot be justified when there is no longer a guarantee of even getting a job, forget one that pays sky-high salaries. 

A couple of days ago, Seth Godin wrote about the results of his SAMBA program (Seth Godin’s Alternative MBA, if you’re wondering), a 6-month course he ran where 9 students (selected out of 350 applicants) had rigorous, in-depth, on-the-ground training in business methods and leadership. It was unaccredited, free and residential. These students worked on a range of very interesting projects, which you can read more about on their blog
Anyway, there are a few things Seth Godin, a Stanford graduate himself, said in his post that stood out for me as making particular sense:

The educational lesson that I found the most striking is that the book knowledge was easy to transmit and not particularly essential. Once you get this far, it’s sort of a given that you’re good at school. We read more than a hundred books, and the book learning happened quickly . Our culture has done an amazingly good job at teaching talented people how to learn concepts from books.

I taught for five to twenty hours a week, and very little of it was about the books. So, if concepts from books are easy, what’s hard?

Doing it.

Picking up the phone, making the plan, signing the deal. Pushing ‘publish.’ Announcing. Shipping.

We spent a lot of time on this area. Every morning, each person came in prepared to push someone in the group to overcome the next hurdle. This is what growth looks like, and it was energizing to be part of.

We didn’t do this at all at when I was at Stanford. We spent a lot of time reading irrelevant case studies and even more time building complex financial models. The thing is, you can now hire someone to build a complex financial model for you for $60 an hour. And a week’s worth of that is just about all the typical entrepreneur is going to need. The rest of the time, it’s about shipping, motivating, leading, connecting, envisioning and engaging. So that’s what we worked on.

It amazes me that MBA students around the world aren’t up in arms. How can schools justify taking $100,000 in cash and teaching exactly the wrong stuff?

So the young people – my peers that I’ve been speaking to, are almost echoing what Seth says in some ways. Whether it is Harvard or Stanford, business schools today are teaching the wrong material. Students do not feel confident, nor do they feel particularly more knowledgeable when they come out of it. Attending business schools, especially the Ivy League ones, is all about becoming part of a world-class alumni network. But if that network produces people who are struggling to stand on their feet, how valuable is the network itself? This is not a blanket rejection of all business schools or all MBA students. When I was leaving university, doing an MBA was considered the path to a great career. I never did one, and used to listen in mild jealousy as I heard about those who did do one and got exactly the kind of career they wanted. 

Those days are over now. What IS needed are training grounds like the SAMBA or W+K Platform that give people on-the-job training and recognises their inherent talent and skills. 

Maybe this is the start of a new business education model. 

The Tribes Q&A eBook (also featuring Yours Truly)

A few months ago, Seth Godin embarked upon an experiment that was largely intended to help market his new book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us. He started a group on Ning for people who wanted to commit to buying his book, sight unseen, and start discussing various topics related to the behaviour of people when they band together – what they do, how they get together, why, and most importantly, how change can be brought about by a truly committed group of individuals. The group was limited to the first few thousand people all over the world who took the initiative to sign up (or, those like me, who were sufficiently curious). Soon, the group, called Triiibes, stopped accepting new members (We’re at over 3000 now).

I started out being a pretty reticent member, content with viewing from the sidelines what was going on or being talked about in the group. Then the Tribes casebook (PDF), based on Seth’s original book, came out. Plans were consequently put in motion to compile a Q&A eBook that answered the most common questions with regard to the creation of tribes. I got enthused, and started contributing actively. I think it was seeing the sheer enthusiasm and variety of really solid content that people were contributing with no selfish agenda. It was a long process, from questions being thrown into the hat, to anyone who had a view responding with their thoughts, to creating sub-groups for the final group of questions, appointing leaders for compiling them, asking for volunteers to help with compilation and the final proof-reading. Megan Elizabeth Morris and the rest of us on Triiibes who volunteered did a remarkable job getting this done, even if I do say so myself. Paul Dawson‘s design for the book is especially beautiful. I am proud to say I was part of the effort. 
You can view the outcome here – presenting the Tribes Q&A eBook
Though I did order Seth’s book from Amazon and it duly arrived, imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I received another copy in the post – absolutely free. Seth had sent a copy to everyone who was a member of Triiibes, with instructions to give the extra copy to someone else if we were sufficiently motivated by the book. Mine’s going to Alex, a colleague of mine at work!