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First time at @innospring, a Chinese – US early stage startup incubator

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Map of average Laptop supply chain footprint, scary but cool!

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Steve Jobs’ two gifts to us.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Apple TV Advertisement, 1997

The Products

Every day at 3:10pm when I was seven years old, I would get start to get excited, because school was about to finish. That meant in just a few minutes I could race home and carry on with my drawings.  My father was the headmaster, and he had decided to buy a Macintosh for the school bursar, who happened my mother, to do the accounting. Using a computer saved her hours of filling in forms and doing manual calculations, but that was not why I was excited, as I perched myself on her office chair and double clicked ‘MacDraw’. I would play for hours in this simple application, letting my creations come to life, experimenting with digital ink, simple lines, circles and patterns on the black and white screen.

Macintosh Operating System 1.1, 1984

When I was 13 I got my first mac, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was just after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. I remember seeing a poster at my high school with the Apple logo, that simply said ‘Think Different’. I liked that a lot. It didn’t look like an advertisement, it looked like advice for life. In the mid nineties Windows was taking an aggressive lead in the home computer OS m

arket and I was made fun of by my friends for using and defending Apple. When Mac OS X came out in 2000, I was very excited because it was based on UNIX, more powerful, safer, and more stable, but my excitement only made my friends laugh more. Interestingly, now half of them have iPhones which run the mobile version of OS X: iOS.

It is a reminder that Apple was not always cool and popular, a reminder that the company made a monumental comeback at the hands of Jobs. After his return in 1996, he swiftly began work on the iMac and the iPod, launched in 1998 and 2001 respectively, and thus began a line of increasingly popular products designed with high utility, yet beautiful simplicity. Jobs has left behind a legacy of products that have revolutionised personal computing, and changed many lives for the better. It’s hard to imagine what the personal computer, music, and phone industry would be like if it wasn’t for Apple. You may not agree with Apple’s closed product philosophy, but you can’t deny their massive influence in multiple markets. Jobs has left us a lasting legacy of amazing products and ideas, and a company with a mission to continue innovating and transforming our experience of a product. This is his first gift: the legacy of products and market changing innovations.

The Story

But what of the man himself? How do we make sense of the overly critical, hypersensitive, super-passionate genius who frequently behaved in ways we wouldn’t tolerate in even the most forward thinking and modern organisation? I think the answer is, most of us can’t make sense of it, but we can still learn from him. The idea that someone with so much darkness was also able to rise up so high is not unique, of course; it is the paradoxical nature of every hero in every good story ever told. Somehow it’s the controversial ones, the flawed ones, and the ones who are at extremes in the personality spectrum who make a dent in our universe, leaving the rest of us behind in the dust, stunned.

It is probably harder for a western mind to understand this paradox than an eastern one. In the West we tend to categorise things, as indeed Jobs often did himself, as either good or bad, perfect or terrible, you either like it or you hate it. Here in Asia they have a better grasp of how everything, including people, are both positive and negative at the same time. Jobs was a both the Ying and the Yang, pulled to both extremes, highly brilliant and highly flawed. For the rest of us swimming around somewhere in the middle of this sea of consciousness, trying not to appear too stupid in life, he doesn’t make much sense.

Steve Jobs, 1984

Yet to Jobs, it’s likely most of the rest of us didn’t make sense. Much of his character traits appear to echo a deep-set belief that ‘You are already naked’, meaning your days alive are limited, so why waste time conforming? “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Jobs said during his speech to Sanford Graduates in 2005. How many of us would like to truly be able to live every day as if it’s our last? Jobs left behind him a trail of evidence of someone who consistently managed to fight passionately for what he believed in, rather than succumb to the drone of acceptability. He is living proof that it is possible to live a high engaged, energetic life following your heart.

And then there’s his massive and very public moment of failure, which is the most important part of his stranger than fiction story. Jobs’ dark side caught up with him, and still under the spotlight of public attention, he was forced out of Apple, the company he’d almost single handedly built. But he quickly picked himself back up and got back to doing what he loved doing, showing the world he was not through. His failure also taught him about his dark side, and in turn enabled him to grow. This theme of growth through failure is one of the most important lessons of life, and again, his life story is proof of this. Real heroes are not perfectly shiny, and they have all, in one form or another, suffered a great setback in their lives. Rather than being a straight – running success, Jobs was knocked hard, only to pick himself up again, eventually to return to Apple.

Apple Market Cap, 1981 – 2011

And what a comeback – a more mature, but equally determined man, who’d been but a youth when he left, returned to lead Apple to one success after another. Some call it ‘the greatest second act in the history of business’. Jobs proved that perseverance and great passion in what you do can overcome the inertia of what the world told you you just couldn’t try to do. In a world that whispers to us to be balanced, stay cool, and get an MBA, Steve Jobs carved out a completely different path, showing that other realities exist beyond what most of us take for granted. And so it was that the boy of 70s counter-culture California, determined and unafraid to fail, gave us his second gifts: that of his story.

When Jobs died an early death, I began looking back at his life in more detail, and these powerful themes of passion, failure, and the paradoxical hero popped out of his story. Despite having been an avid Apple product fan my whole life, I realised that the gift of his inspiration; his larger than life personality, was worth a lot more than his products. He not only gave us the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone. He taught us to work hard for what we believe in and what we love. He demonstrated that the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who really do. And he truly showed us the meaning of ‘Think Different’. Thank you, Steve, you will be missed, and appreciated, for a long time.

Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011

Nick Adams, November 2011

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Fear and opportunity – the rise of consumer dominated IT

This years VMworld conference, notably now one of the biggest and most important events in the IT world, was dominated by one theme: Consumerization. Not even having yet found a place in the Engish dictionary, you’d be forgiven for wondering what the word means. No, it’s doesn’t mean people doing more shopping, in fact it’s specific to the IT world and describes the trend of technologies to spread from the consumer IT market to enterprise (e.g. Mobile Apps), rather than the traditional path which is the other way around (e.g. the PC). Do you use your personal mobile phone to check work emails or write work related notes? Do you bring your personal mac, PC or iPad to work? Do you use MSN messenger, professional social networks, or document syncing services for work? Do you find your personal software and favourite websites easier to use and more functional than the ones your business offers? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you represent the fast growing number of employees who are changing the way corporate IT managers are looking at the world. We are moving into an era where consumer technologies are penetrating all aspects of our lives, particularly the workplace.

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The interest from enterprise vendors in this trend is clear; VMware CEO Paul Maritz’s and CTO Steve Herrod lead this year’s VMworld conference with mobile and application focussed keynotes, despite VMware having its technology roots firmly planted in IT infrastructure and server virtualization. They launched their new ‘Project Octopus’, a system that allows users to sync and store documents in a secure environment, similar to Apple’s recently announced iCloud, and T-Cloud’s SecureSync but focussed on enterprise. Some say it will be difficult to pull users data away from this consumer dominated space, with their data already spread around services like Dropbox, Google Apps, and soon iCloud. Others believe enterprises need to lock down their data and create virtual ‘silos’ which span servers, PCs, tablets, and mobile devices and keep corporate data safe and protected from the increased risk of theft or hacking. Whatever the success of VMware and other enterprise vendors in ‘enterprise-ifying’ these popular apps, one thing is for sure, today the growth of data and success of enterprise IT depends dramatically less on a corporate top down approach and more on consumer expectations and habits.

The Man in the Middle

 

Regardless of how major  IT vendors respond to this trend, I believe it is the CIO and IT managers response that is most crucial. IT managers play an increasingly difficult role of ‘man in the middle’, stuck between a mix of employee demands, software and devices such as iPads and iPhones; and the growing risk of data security, theft, and disaster recovery. IT managers have to balance the potential benefits of consumerization, with the associated risks. And this is not a future trend, it is happening now. According to Unisys’s recent study of 2,820 information worker respondents from ten different countries, over 95% of devices purchased by consumers are also used in a work environment. However, in the same study it was found that 70% of IT managers and employers wanted to standardised devices for their employees. This shows a mismatch between the reality of consumerization in the enterprise, and the IT managers expectations of their system. However, if employers can meet the reality of employee use of personal devices in the workplace head on, rather than just play ‘catch up’ with consumer trends and preference, there is a great opportunity to improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and even lower IT budgets.

And the issue is not just with devices. Many employees use their preferred platforms, applications, and even SaaS as tools in their workplace. I am one of those; a Mac user using Mac apps and SaaS document collaboration tools to aid my work. What does this mean to data security? Enterprise standards & compliance? Scalability? For years enterprise IT and IT departments have failed to keep pace with the rapidly expanding base of easily available and extremely useful tools available to any consumer at the press of a button or swipe of a credit card. This should be a wake up call to managers who want to return IT to it’s once glorious purpose of  aiding enterprise productivity, rather than holding back employees and reducing efficiency with legacy software and rules built for the ‘top down’ era of enterprise IT. It’s time for some radical rethinking of software. Luckily, it’s already begun.

Cloud to the rescue?

 

Enter Cloud. Cloud, or I should say SaaS, is helping bring enterprises back on track, in line with staff expectations of design and interface gained from social networks, games, and smartphones. Services like Google Docs and Baihui allow employees to collaborate, share data, and work from anywhere, in ways that are not possible with conventional IT software. New enterprise software like Project Octopus and SecureSync will allow enterprises to regain control of the data while offering cloud – like sync services to their employees, keeping data safe but allowing convenient access from anywhere. VDI (Virtual Deskop Infrastructure) allows users access to their desktop environment not only from inside the office but securely from outside and from any device, without file transfers or security holes. But even these technologies may not be enough to shift the momentum of users away from their flashy iPad applications and social networks like QQ and Dropbox, which offer similar services. As well as utilising public and private cloud solutions, IT managers need to find clever ways of allowing access to popular services while maintaining security and educating their employees about the risks of data security.

From fear to leadership

 

With the rate of development in mobile devices, applications, and the consumer cloud, the average employee can now derive more value from personal IT purchases than from their company’s IT department. However, as well as empowering the employee to become more efficient, these consumer technologies in the workplace can represent significant risk to the IT manager. It’s no surprise then, that the obvious reaction to this trend of consumerization is one of fear. However, I believe through a combination of communication with employees, Cloud solutions, and careful policy-making, IT departments can turn this wave of consumer technology into a major strategic advantage for their whole company.

 

The first challenge is to recognise the trend, gather data internally about what devices and software staff are using, and carefully open access to useful tools and services. Next, the IT manager can provide a suite of matching tools and software such as SaaS applications which reduce risk and increase employee flexibility. Finally, it is up to the IT manager to help employees understand how to best utilise their personal devices and software for work purposes, while educating them about important topics such as data security, and regular backup. A simple idea such as providing a free secure backup service for employees’ mobile devices and laptops can both help win the employee over to the value of the IT dept, and help protect important company information which might only reside on a their personal laptop from loss or theft. Gartner believes the consumerization of IT is the most significant trend affecting the IT Industry in the next ten years, even bigger than Cloud Computing. I believe these two massive trends are fundamentally linked; that IT managers now have a unique opportunity to shift their thinking from one of fear to one of leadership, and to help their organisations gain a competitive edge by empowering staff with next generation, flexible and secure IT solutions.

 

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