I had hoped that my second blog post for FirstRain wouldn’t, once again, be about Google (you’d think that we’d all be sick of hearing about Google 24×7? And we may be, but sick in that ‘I-still-must-tune-in-and-see-what-is-happening-kind of way’ …). Still, I found myself captivated by their announcement this summer that they would phase out a major program called Google Labs by the end of September. And as we’re now approaching that shutdown date, it’s gotten me thinking again about this interesting decision.
For the most part, I’ve always been quite impressed by Google. I am a long term Gmail user (Gmail has its own Labs, as does Google Maps) and I am still a firm advocate that Google+ will eventually be big (especially after seeing all the complaints of Facebook’s new design on my Facebook newsfeed the past two weeks). Google has launched so many winning products over the years that I was shocked to hear that such a successful and interesting part of Google was to be phased out.
For those unfamiliar with Google Labs, it was a playground for users who are interested in trying Google prototypes and providing feedback directly to Google Engineers. It allowed the public to freely experiment with pre-released Android apps, Google Maps experiments, Google Search betas and much more. Although, not all of these prototypes prove to be effective, it is still a nice way to get the public involved in ‘designing’ and evaluating some of Google’s most popular ideas.
So exactly why has Google decided to pull the plug on this program, when it seemed so many people (albeit, adventurous tech people) were benefiting from it? According to Bill Coughran, Google’s Senior VP for Research and Systems Infrastructure, Google is now beginning to prioritize their product efforts more strictly. And although some of their biggest products had started in Google Labs, they’re now focusing much more of their efforts into dominating the products already in progress, such as Google+. Google has decided that ultimately there are too many ‘small’ projects and they want to channel the company’s focus on the larger and, *cough*, more lucrative options. By simplifying and focusing Google’s product line, Coughran said, more “extraordinary opportunities are ahead”.
The Google Labs decision is more than just phasing out a neat program, however. The last few years were spent testing potential golden projects. And they did this successfully. Google beat out competitors like AOL and Yahoo in numerous departments such as search, smartphones and Email (does anyone use AOL for email anymore?). And Google Labs has significantly helped develop some of these platforms. But the need is no longer necessary as the trial period is officially over. What’s interesting is what a signpost this is for where Google is in their lifecycle as a company. Instead of the fun, pioneering tech startup playing in many sandboxes, looking for ideas and doing no evil, they’ve now evolved into a focused and mature company that—for the most part—knows its market, where the money is, and is coalescing around key products like Search, Gmail and Google+.
Now that the deadline is upon us, I was curious to check out the status of Google Labs, especially since I haven’t come across much recent news about the Google Labs termination. If you go to GoogeLabs.com, they inform users directly (no sugarcoating) that the Google Lab’s program is being phased out. Also, it is obvious that many of the experiments have been visibly shut down.
Not all of Google Labs’ programs will completely disappear. Google claims that they will be integrating some of their better prototypes into many of their already existing experiments but the actual “Labs” name will be retired. The real question for Google now, is how they can retain the spirit of Google labs—that open sense of valued community feedback in a beat environment, now that their flagship vehicle for those values has been lost.
Recently, my colleague Ryan Warren made some astute comments about the emerging importance that algorithms are now playing in our economy, society and daily lives. Like Ryan, I believe that smart people writing creative algorithms are the guts and magic that glue together much of the wonder and advancement in modern life. Algorithms are tools, and in the end, it’s the use of tools that make us fundamentally human.
I am often surprised how when reading articles, technical papers and reading the news, how a particular phrase pops out and hits me. The human mind is an amazing thing: It’s ability to take in, digest and synthesize information is magic. It’s like an “ah-ha” moment when out of all the text, information and perspective, a particular phrase catches the eye, stimulates the old grey matter and in a split-instant a new connection is made.
As I read Jane Wakefield’s recent article on BBC News, I had one such moment. As I was reading, the following quote caught my eye:
“Increasingly … we are knowing where information can be found rather than retaining knowledge itself.”
Suddenly, I found myself thinking about watching Donald Trump in an episode of the Apprentice, and then being involved in yearly business strategy meetings at several companies I have had the pleasure to work at, and then on to the several years consulting with Companies related to branding and marketing challenges.
And thus, new connections were made. In each of these situations, people were being asked to work on projects where they had to rapidly become experts in a subject area, enough to make and execute on business plans. And today, this is far from uncommon. With the pace and demands on today’s knowledge workers—business professionals who need information on which to base their daily decisions—and the inexorable drive towards higher efficiency and productivity, major changes in how we work are occurring. For example:
• Knowledge workers now move from project to project, with few jobs remain static in their responsibilities. A Marketing Professional may be writing an op-ed article one day, and the next working on the company’s strategic plan.
• Self-service is now the way of working. Why ask a researcher or admin to get information, when there are tools out there like the Web where information can be at hand in a matter of minutes or even seconds?
• Just-in-time information delivery is now expected, with no tolerance for waiting days for information to be delivered, and thus …
• The speed of work is increasing. The ability to rapidly understand a project’s business requirements, be able to do essential subject matter research, and get up to speed fast is essential, as successful professionals are those who are viewed as having a track record of working on fast, high-impact projects.
And a thread common to all these developments is that success is now often determined by a person or team’s ability to rapidly acquire information and data upon which to base implementation and operational decisions.
In this kind of environment, the need for a tool like FirstRain was perhaps inevitable. With FirstRain Monitors, business professionals can easily track the markets, companies and business-related topics that are of interest to them. They are easy to setup and provide current, daily or weekly updates. In today’s business world, business monitoring needs to be useful quickly and have value only for the duration of the project being worked on now. FirstRain’s display engine responds to this by preferentially displaying a user’s most recently active Monitors.
But our new just-in-time paradigm has risks. Our understanding of the meaning of content requires context and interpretation, and this can take time we’re often unwilling to wait for. Viewed in isolation, a piece of news may seem to have a very different meaning than it does when combined with the right historical context.
YHOO: Previous 7 Days
YHOO: Previous 1 Year
For example, an examination of Yahoo!’s results over the last week tells a very different picture than would see once you step back and look at that firm’s performance over the last year. The human mind is a great tool for synthesizing perspective based on long-term acquired knowledge—we call this learning. And it is the connection between news items and other pieces of information that provides context and the tools for critical discernment—as professionals we call this experience. Our individual ability to make smart decisions is based on the information at hand, processed through all the biases and filters represented by our past experiences and personal beliefs. To succeed and make smart decisions, we need a mixture of the right data, the right tools, the right context and the right experience. Algorithms, and tools like FirstRain, can help by providing not just the news, but timelines of related significant events and topics of further interest.
In the end, it’s the man-machine combination that creates a unique ability to assimilate information, synthesize pertinent results and make sound business decisions. In other words, it’s a continuation of that amazing innovation that’s helped us succeed as a species: the ability to make and use tools—tools that feed us, that shelter us, that move us, and that deliver us the information we need to shape our world.
Do women lead differently than men? Yes, usually. Do women face more barriers than men? Frequently. But do women often hold themselves back ? Yes.
I gave a leadership talk and Q&A, at a tech company in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago where I was meeting with female leaders in a hardcore semiconductor company. Because it’s hardcore it was a small group, and because I grew up (professionally) in a hardcore technical environment like that I spoke to the things I have seen women do that hold them back as leaders – and how to flip these challenges around and turn them into advantages.
Here are the 5 keys to leadership as a woman (although not exclusively…) and each one is the flip side of a common weakness:
1. Embrace making decisions – they are fun
Companies need people who are decisive and courageous. A common issue with new entrepreneurs and young managers is that they hesitate to make decisions. It’s tough when you don’t know what to do, but it’s better to make a decision quickly and decisively, and be ready to change it if you are wrong, than to hesitate, hash it over many times, or wait for someone else (your board, your team, your boss) – or even worse time and delay – to make it for you.
Making decisions gets easier when you learn to trust yourself and your judgement – you can feel in your gut and in the tips of your fingers what to decide. Never underestimate your own intuition – it’s not a myth, it’s real.
I simply did not understand or trust this until I read Blink (the voice is my head is uber-critical) but now I love the feeling. I am not always right, and I definitely need and value advice, but I learned to trust, move forward fast, knowing that if I am wrong I’ll also figure that out quickly, or someone I trust will slap me.
2. Never ask whether, ask when
This is a mindset that many men are good at. They come out of of the womb asking when they’ll get that raise, when they’ll be promoted, when they’ll go kill that bear, not whether. Women so often talk about whether. Should I push for that promotion, should I ask for more money, will I get funded, will they promote a woman, will they like me?
Working with mostly men, and a few women, I see a pattern in the successful women. They don’t ask whether they have a right to what they want, they assume they’ll get it. They don’t particularly care what other people think of them, they care about getting the job done. They act like they are competent, it’s in their future, they are going to get it, and there is not any question of whether, just when.
3. Hire your betters
The fastest way to build a great team is to hire people who are smarter and more experienced than you in their field, and if you are technical these are probably mostly men today.
It can be intimidating to interview people who are senior to you – I know. It can be downright frustrating when you talk to men who, when they meet you, talk down to you because you are blond and forget that you are interviewing them (can you tell I’ve been through this?). Remember, you don’t need to be “the man” – you need to get the job done better than anyone else.
Stay focused on your vision for your team. A group of people who work for and with you, all of whom are smarter than you in some dimension but who want to climb the hill with you. Plan to grow into being their leader and if they are good people they will give you space to do it. Give in to fear of being usurped and you’ll fail because you don’t hire a strong enough team.
I confess I used to always try to hire my “elders and betters”. As time goes by the first becomes more difficult, but thankfully the second is still easy!
4. Speak up and be sure you are heard
I have often heard the complaint that a woman will say something in a meeting, not have her idea acknowledged and then a man will say the same thing and everyone will jump on a agree. There are even TV ads that make fun of this reality.
Given that this does happen, develop some tactics that help you be heard, and help you confirm that you have been heard. State your input and then ask a question that causes your co-workers to engage in your idea. Repeat yourself in different words. Go to the white board to sketch your concept – whether it is a process or a product idea – it’s really hard to ignore the person at the white board. If you are in an online meeting call on a co-worker by name to get their direct input on your idea. What does not work is speaking your piece and then waiting – that is the easiest way for you to be dismissed.
5. Put the company first and get results
And finally – the playing field is not level. Fact. Deal with it. To lead men and get ahead in a man’s world you need to work harder, be smarter and be more ambitious than the men around you.
The CEO lives in the place where the company and it’s results are all that matter to her. So practice that. In everything you do put the company first, ahead of your needs. Ahead of office politics (I wish I had known this from day one – I had to learn this one). Drive to results, be sure you get recognition for your results, and you will get ahead and become a leader.
Male dominance of tech is not going to change quickly so don’t complain, or hesitate, just get on with it. And if you are a leader – men, and women, will follow you. When you look over your shoulder you will know.
One of the more fascinating developments in our rapidly evolving financial markets is the shift that’s beginning to occur as the Baby Boom Generation—whose oldest members turn 65 this year—approaches and enters retirement. And while this event raises many societal challenges, ranging from the increased load on our health care system to the solvency of our social entitlement programs, it’s equally interesting to consider those folks who are recognizing the emerging needs and opportunities presented, and coming up with innovative ways to fill that need. And it’s a big need.
An interesting article last week from Canada’s Financial post articulates well the big demographics changes to come for countries like the U.S. And Canada, and the potential impact and opportunity for financial service providers:
“As you assess the stock holdings in your portfolio this fall, consider this: According to recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in Canada could nearly double in the next 25 years, while the proportion of children is expected to continue falling. If these demographic changes occur, it will have a major impact on the Canadian economy, which in turn will impact your investment portfolio…Financial service providers, especially wealth and asset management companies, also stand to benefit as an enormous amount of wealth is controlled by the Boomer generation. Institutions that cater to the specific needs of older clients will capitalize on this growing segment.”
One great example of a firm actively adapting to meet this opportunity is Fidelity Investments, who announced this week the launch of a greatly expanded set of market research and education tools focused specifically on helping Baby Boomers and others learn about and select fixed-income market investments. It’s a smart move, and we at FirstRain were very pleased that our technology was selected as one of the top tools available in the new Fidelity fixed income research suite. As their announcement notes, Fidelity users will be able to leverage a custom FirstRain implementation that provides, “trends analysis on the fixed income markets, so investors can see what fixed income topics are being discussed online and with what frequency. The content is categorized and investors can drill down into subcategories that change daily, depending on what is being discussed online.”
It’s a powerful tool that builds on the quite successful and popular FirstRain ‘Hot Topics on the Web’ tool that Fidelity users have already been using on the Fidelity.com Stock Research Center since 2009 (we’re told FirstRain hot topics are very popular on the page).
FirstRain ‘Hot Topics on the Web’ on Fidelity.com’s Stock Research Center
And the reason, we believe, it’s been so successful is because of the incredibly targeted, unique and interesting content we’re able to uncover from the business Web. Because, at our heart, we’re an analytics software company which applies powerful technology to uncover hard-to-find business content: our customers consistently tell us they find content on FirstRain that they wouldn’t otherwise find or would take them a great deal of advanced searching.
Fidelity has been a fantastic partner to work with over the last two years, and we’re very much looking forward to our expanded relationship and tackling these new challenges—and the opportunities they now present!
Earlier this year I set out a challenge for myself to do a really long swim for my mother, and on Monday that crazy idea grew into something really big for FirstRain and for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
We started doing athletic competitions at FirstRain back in 2008 as a way to build stronger teams inside the company and this Summer I decided to encourage Rainmakers to get involved in a series of events building up to my personal challenge of a 2.4 mile ocean swim off Maui.
And to my delight many of my coworkers have been with me all the way – and into the race! All summer Rainmakers have been training with me in the pool, competing in the Splash and Dash series and yesterday two of them did the Maui ‘Aumakua Swim too. We’ve been doing relays, running, teaching each other how to swim better and generally having fun and becoming friends.
The race yesterday was on a spectacular, perfect Maui day. The water was crystal clear and we were swimming over coral reefs, fish and the occasional turtle. Thomas and Jordy did the 1 mile distance and were both very pleased with their times and I beat my time goal in the 2.4 mile distance.
Jordy, Thomas and me – we were ready!
2.4 miles is a very long way to swim if you don’t compete all the time. It was a huge personal challenge for me but once I set my pace I pushed through, absolutely determined to finish because I was raising money for OCRF, I was on a mission and I was supported by so many coworkers, friends and family.
My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer 18 months ago. She has been through treatment and is in remission but we know the fight is not over. Unfortunately today there is no effective early detection method for this disease and so the statistics are tough. Over 22,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year in the US and over 15,000 die from it. My goal was to raise as much money as possible for OCRF to help find a detection method and ultimately a cure.
And the result was donations of more than $31,000! Truly fantastic generosity from many, many people. We put out a FirstRain press release on the news because the achievement is, to a great extent, the result of my coworkers wonderful involvement and support. It’s a privilege to work with such terrific people.
Several Rainmakers have asked me what we are going to do next Summer – any suggestions for what we should do next?