Virulent Word of Mouse

December 20, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Economics of One Entrepreneur

Filed under: biography,Entrepreneurship — Shane Greenstein @ 10:13 pm

There are no second acts in life, but the American system of entrepreneurship has provided many second chances. That flexibility is, perhaps, one of the greatest strengths of the US system of value creation. For example, a less-flexible system would never have given Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, an opportunity to have much impact later in his career. A market dominated by rigid organizational structures would have denied him entry.

To appreciate this point, it’s necessary to move beyond the managerial maxims many recent eulogies have used to describe Steve Jobs. These have displayed a disappointing degree of plasticity. Look, as a youngster, Jobs displayed a penchant for brashness, impatience, and needless confrontation, just as he did later in life. Two decades ago, the old consensus held that Jobs succeeded in spite of himself, while the recent consensus ascribed Jobs’ commercial success to his passion and attention to detail. The common analysis reassessed superficial traits based on outcomes.

That interpretative flip is a symptom of a deeper schism. Different conceptual frameworks underpin and frame distinct perspectives about the role for entrepreneurs in American business. Steve Jobs’ career can illustrate these perspectives.

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March 12, 2011

The Internet and Innovation: My Testimony to Congress

A couple days ago I had the privilege and pleasure to testify before the House Sub-committee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, which is part of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the House of Representatives.

Broadly speaking, the topic was net neutrality. That is what the newspapers said.

Frankly, I hesitated to testify. I am always happy to talk with any government analyst who calls, irrespective of party affiliation. Congressional testimony is different, however, especially in this topic, which tends to yield more heat than light. Moreover, I am neither advocate nor opponent for net neutrality — at least as that phrase commonly gets used in US political debate. Why should I be a neutral voice in someone else’s political fight?

Ah, but I could not say no. Even with reservations, there still exists a professional obligation to show up. It is the right thing to do. Also, and I will admit to this, I was excited.

One other thing made it easy. The hearing did not concern the entire net neutrality debate. It concerned a rather specific question, something called House Resolution 37, which disapproves of the Open Internet Access Order issued by the FCC last December. If passed, the entire order would not take effect — not its provisions for transparency, blocking and discriminatory traffic.

I had testified at the FCC hearings leading up to to the order, and  had testified in favor of transparency provisions, for example. That made it easy. Such a blanket resolution — getting rid of everything — looked like throwing out the baby with the bath water. To me this resolution did not make sense.

One other broad motive shaped my views. I believe there actually is a big economic question on the table, and it gets lost in the popular debate. I hoped to bring attention to that. In a nutshell, if there is anything a government might be able to do, it might be able to foster economic growth by nurturing entrepreneurship on the Internet.

Those expectations were naive (of course), but we will get to that below. Anyway, that is why I agreed to come.

This post will share what I learned about how the existing political debate filters this topic.  Below is a copy of my oral testimony, and a link to my written testimony. After that comes many  observations about what sort of questions arose at the hearing. I hope others find this insightful and useful.

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July 13, 2010

Early Adopter, Enthusiast, or Pioneer? A User’s Guide to Technology Lingo.

Filed under: Editorial,Entrepreneurship,Essays,Managerial challenges in evolving markets — Shane Greenstein @ 1:43 pm

My wife glanced at the front page of the Sunday Chicago Tribune. Without looking up she said “Hey, this is what you study.”

The headline screamed in black, blue and green “The Early Birds.” Below it a sub-heading asked provocatively, “What is it about the new thing that makes us want it so bad? And why are some people more likely than others to take that first leap?

This is not the sort of headline or topic one sees in the Chicago Tribune every day, and certainly not on the front page with any regularity. I wondered if the newspaper had been sold to Wired or Techcrunch, and I had just missed the news.

I checked the online edition of the Tribune. It gave the article a headline with more tension, “Me-first Mentality” it screams, followed by “Early Adopters, whether of new smart phones, electric cars or solar panels, help clear a path for mainstream consumers.

My wife was just looking out for me. She knows that I am always looking for well-written articles for my MBAs. Needless to say, I do not get them from the Tribune often, but I would be perfectly happy to do so. The source does not matter as much as the content. I am happy to show an article to students if the news article illustrates the concepts of the class and illustrate the concepts in real world settings.

So I read the article. Sorry to say, it does not make the cut. It is an entertaining article, but not an informative or enlightening one.

I was going to leave at that, but I could not get the errors out of my head. The errors were so basic, so fundamental, and ultimately so maddening. More concretely, the article does not properly draw sharp differences between an enthusiast, an early adopter, and a pioneer. It also has a side note about technology orphans, but does not label the topic properly.

To be fair to the reporters, it is not as if they could look up the definitions in Websters dictionary. These words are the lingo of technology markets, and that is a specialty, to be sure.

At the same time, I would hate to see the type of mushy definitions found in this news article fall into common use. At the risk of sounding like a pedantic curmudgeon, this post explains where the article went wrong, and why it matters. In brief, getting a few definitions straight helps navigate an otherwise confusing technology landscape.

There is one other reason you might read this post. If you have ever found yourself in the middle of a conversation conducted by technology nerds, you may have noticed these terms. They get thrown around regularly. Perhaps you were too embarrassed to ask for definitions then. Perhaps this post can help you understand what the nerds were talking about.

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