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Positioning, Analogies, and assimilation for immigrants

22 Nov

RIM positioned the Blackberry as an “interactive pager,” because pagers were something people could understand. While the device was actually was doing email, people understood it as “the pager that you could respond with.” While phrases like “mobile email and packet switching” didn’t mean a thing to RIM’s first customers, the “interactive pager” positioning proved important in attracting early adopters.

via Hubris vs. Humility: The positioning challenge | VentureBeat.

Yesterday, I was at my favorite All-American chain restaurant–the Olive Garden.  Our group was talking about how two of us were particularly adept at arguing by analogy.  The two being picked on, me and one of my good friends, are both immigrants.  We began chatting about why it was that we liked and learned so much through analogy.  Ultimately, we concluded that for immigrants analogies are everything.  Indeed, only through analogies can an immigrant get a good frame of reference for learning a new culture and for assimilating in that new culture.  For an immigrant the cultures which are more prone to analogy are simply friendlier, easier to understand, and ultimately most convenient to adopt as their own.

Which brings us to Research in Motion and the thinking behind their decision to brand the blackberry as an “interactive pager:”

RIM, the Blackberry and its network had more inventions per square inch than most startups. The founders could have easily described the product as “the first packet-switched interactive messaging network.” Or they could have said, “corporate email now seamlessly forwarded from your company’s network to your pocket.” They did none of that.  The founders swallowed their pride and simply introduced the Blackberry as an “interactive pager.” Their board, with no need to prove how smart and creative they were, agreed.

Maybe what makes certain parts of the country so good for immigrants is that the “positioning” of American culture is so heavily reliant on analogy.  We’re at our best when we shelve our pride.  I think Blackberry and their market positioning decisions are a simple example of not only successful business but also an example of how learning and integration by immigrants works.

Josh Barro on limited government and the mosque “controversy”

16 Aug

Part of supporting limited government is understanding that sometimes, things you don’t like will happen, and the government especially the federal government won’t do anything about it. Getting to do what you want comes at the price of other people getting to do what they want—including build mosques where you’d prefer they didn’t….

There is even a strip club three blocks south of Ground Zero, but nobody seems to have noticed that it is sullying the memory of the place.

via A Very Long Post on Cordoba House – The Agenda – National Review Online.  Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link.

I’ve yet to read a persuasive argument for why a law-abiding group of Americans ought to be prevented from building a religious house of worship.  If you come across one, please let me know.

Why Charlie Rangel should defend himself

11 Aug

In an unprecedented 31-minute speech on the House floor done against the advice of lawyers and friends, Rep. Charlie Rangel, attacked head on the allegations against him and the process under which he said he’s suffered unfairly.

via Rangel’s Rant – Swampland – TIME.com.

I won’t comment on Charlie Rangel’s guilt or innocence but I will say that his trial will be an incredibly positive event for the country.  Trials are instructive and cathartic events.  While a plea deal only tells us that an individual did wrong, trials teach us about the systems and processes that created the person’s conduct.   Trials are sunlight on a wound whereas “apologize and resign” is a band-aid.

If Charlie Rangel defends himself, we, the American people, will learn about what goes on in our government and what favors are considered normal.  Through tales of other representatives, we’ll get to judge the normality or abnormality of Rangel’s actions.  Rangel or his witnesses will surely tell us what his colleagues do and we’ll get some insight into what’s tolerated.

There is no question that a trial could be very bad for Democrats, and maybe even Republicans, but that’s probably because the truth will be uncomfortable and maybe even a little shameful.   The lives of powerful politicians come with special privileges and unimagineable burdens.   It is a world that 99% of us know nothing about.  A vigorous Rangel defense is a good way for us to find out.

I ask Charlie Rangel to defend himself as (maybe) his last act of public service.  He may end up teaching all of us a powerful civics lesson that it seems only trials or powerful investigative journalism can bring out.  With the latter largely dead in the popular press, we’ll have to hope that Congressman Rangel chooses to fight.

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Reform and tools for online advocacy

21 Jul

Let’s keep up the pressure on our elected representative to do the right thing and give us comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.

via A VC: Immigration Reform.

In this context, Fred Wilson was writing generally about the need for immigration reform and specifically about how reform should include more H1B visas, a startup visa, and visas for science, technology, engineering and medicine graduates.

Here’s what I find fascinating about the entire discussion: I bet thousands of people “tweet” this link or share it through some form of social media.  But how many people actually follow this call to action and keep up the pressure on their elected representatives? How many people write to their Congresswoman or Senator?

Why is sharing your views or the fact that you agree with something so easy to share with your friends but so much more cumbersome to share with your elected official?  What if we had tools that would allow a blogger like Fred Wilson to easily push advocacy on a specific issue?

I imagine a solution that would work for any blogger or any journalist.  How many times have you read a story that just made you care and want to do something but you never knew how to do something about it?  Truth is that most writers are not as specific as Fred Wilson and they don’t ask you to advocate for a specific issue.  But if you’re reading about the oil spill and the writer wants you to “put pressure on Congress”, shouldn’t a tool automatically allow you to do so?

Just like his webpage says “Tweet this,” what if it said “Lobby Congress on this Issue” and it led to another page or a quick form that allowed you to enter your information, sign a petition, or do some other action.  I think thousands of people would love a quick way to share Fred Wilson’s words with Congress, not just with their friends on Twitter.

Will someone please build such a solution?

Alternatives to the “paperback Kindle”

10 Jun

Seth Godin proposed that Amazon introduce a basic and no frills $49 Kindle.  I’ve got a better idea–sell me an e-reader that allows me to electronically access the books I already own.  Give me the benefits of the Kindle–one device that holds 300 books, wireless access, bookmarking, ability to take notes, search notes–but make it extend to every book I already own.

I have a massive library of books that I love and don’t want to have to buy again.  I want Kindle benefits without paying $5000 to rebuy all these books.  You can even make me verify the fact by having me send in books that I want to digitize.  This should satisfy publishers that I’m not getting a free ride or that I won’t go sell my hardcopies later.

If I can convert all my CDs to MP3s, shouldn’t I be able to do the same thing for all of my books? Imagine if every Kindle came with the opportunity to electronically access the books you already have hard copies of? It would be a massive undertaking to negotiate with the various rights-holders but Amazon already has the relationships to do this.  If they did this for me, I would even pay a little extra for the privilege.  I’d also own just one reading device and that would be a great thing for whoever sold me that device.

Be silent; or what the iPad debate says about us

7 Apr

 The entire debate over the iPad is thoroughly fascinating.  Reactions to the device range from effusive praise to bitter disappointment.  Some think its the most important tablet to be introduced since a certain figure came down from the mountaintop.   Others think it’s merely a large iPod touch that misses functionality present in every computer made since 1993.   Apple’s own PR machine promises a “magical and revolutionary device,” that allows a user to “have the internet at their fingertips.”  A friend of mine remarked that he’s never before heard people express such strong views toward a device.  Indeed, the last time I heard such heated opinions was over the healthcare bill.  Wait, that was last week.

Ironically, the most insightful commentary on the iPad is about how it makes reading feel “serene” and that how it allows one to  “absorb,” to “listen, really listen, to what someone else has to say.”  Could the iPad, with its inability to multitask (which one reviewer  hails as a virtue), actually retrain us away from the constant comment and heated debate society we have become?  After all, if we begin using a device that makes it easy to absorb but hard to create, might that make us comment less? Or at least allow time for our passions to cool as we slowly tap away at the iPad’s built in keyboard?  If the iPad fails, will it be because few people really want to listen; that we prefer a society of comment over one of consumption?

Maybe the iPad’s actual features aren’t a commentary on us and maybe they won’t change how we behave, but doesn’t our love or hatred of a device speak volumes about the things we value?  Remember these are opinions are sparked about a machine, a machine that perhaps no more than 5% of the world’s population will ever use.  For some reason, the entire debate reminds me of what  Bobby Kennedy  famously said about GDP:

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Read that quote a few times.  You’ll probably realize that there’s an app closely related to every one of the good (and bad) things that Kennedy references.  Fascinating indeed.

Do what you know (entrepreneurship and solving the world’s problems)

15 Feb

If you’re someone looking to start a business or become an entrepreneur, the banal wisdom you’re likely to hear is “do what you know.”  If you’re between the ages of 18 and 25, what do you know better: Farmville or real world agriculture? Twitter or children’s books? Youtube videos or synthetic biology?  Is it any surprise that the brightest college minds endeavor to build better polling software or more entertaining facebook apps instead of tackling the grand challenges?

As a result, I’ve decided to give you specific problems to solve (and maybe even some potential solutions).   I’ll challenge you to work on solutions that don’t require political reform but center on behavioral reform.  (Understand that the iPhone engendered one of the greatest instances of “behavioral reform” of the past fifteen or twenty years and it required no government intervention whatsoever.)  I’ll ask you to consider the impact of improved access to information on some of these problems.  (Information overload versus the ability to learn anything on the quick).  I’ll ask you to ponder the need for structural intervention.  (We can all go to more efficient light bulbs but maybe we need a system that more clearly penalizes big polluters and rewards conservation).  In every event, these “social enterprises” will be wildly profitable and hopefully if I tell you a bit more about them, you’ll be more likely to tackle the world’s challenges than your friend’s facebook malaise.

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