I thought it would be worthwhile to post this short comment that I made to a Pandodaily post by Francisco Dao entitled: When Dropping Out Might Be An Advantage. Like all comments, it could use more elaboration, and is good fodder for a future post. Pando forced me to sign up for yet another new commentary service and you can find it under username Pandocommentario.

Francisco, This is an interesting debate. IMHO, there are no hard and fast rules re what’s better to become an innovator, formal training/educaton or self-education. At the risk of sounding like a consultant, it depends on how you will innovate. There is innovation, as in application of existing knowledge for a new result. There is invention, and there is less of that possible due to so much documented knowledge. There is discovery, as in finding an unclassified plant from the Amazon and discovering its healing properties. There is also improvisation, creatively putting together x# of elements that ordinarily do not go together to achieve a goal – what we often saw Captain Kirk do, right? The drawback of formal education, is when you buy into the established mental models systemecized by formal education so deeply that you do not allow yourself as an innovator to consider all of these paths to innovation. (Andreesen did not buy in, in your example) Rather than focus on formal v informal education, I think the key element to being a breakthrough innovator is inspiration. I’ve written about this http://bit.ly/Vc9Lcs , and welcome comments. Extending this to entrepreneurship, you need a whole other set of traits, like drive, salesmanship, et al.

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English: The monk Samten who came to Samye Lin... English: The Tibetan monk Samten who came to Samye Ling with Sherab Palden Beru around 1967. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog post is the third of a four-part series on the Hotel California Scenario for future social, local and mobile media, apps, platforms, and solutions (SOLOMO). In the first post, I likened lyrics from The Eagles Hotel California to a future SOLOMO scenario where the User is the Interface, The World is the Computer, and the Situation is the Network. The second post suggested that it will be increasingly possible to do an “end-around” your smartphone passcode lock to access the sophisticated, powerful and user-friendly data mining that play a central role in the highly personalized experience we are coming to expect. This third post explores legalities and practicalities of privacy rights, emerging use cases, and possible outcomes. I am not an attorney, nor consider myself an expert on digital privacy, but I can read the tea leaves on where we are headed.

Can Anyone Keep Up with Privacy TOS?

The companies creating what I am calling the Hotel California future want to provide you with offerings that you will pay for because they improve lives and business performance. There will be other less obvious costs as well, highlighted ahead.

New SOLOMO product introduction is rampant and adoption is rapid. Generally, this indicates that no one wants to be labeled a Luddite, and expectations are high that new technology delivers advantages. In this type of insatiable market setting, who has time to read every line of a Terms of Service (TOS) document, or to recheck boxes every time privacy rules change?

In the last post, I covered how data mining will be done regardless of passwords and passcodes. NetFlix just succeeded in changing a law to allow sharing of your viewing history on social media. This means, figuratively for now, that your television can watch and report on you, and most people do not even own connected TV’s yet.  There appears to be some sort of after the fact opt-in clause that is unclear to me, however, it must be renewed every 2 years.  Is the renewal of your privacy rights on everything from robocalls to social media platforms to television to perhaps offline shopping eavesdropping really going to be programmed into everyone’s to do lists?

Moreover, if you download an app that you only use once and then shelve with the other 100 apps, don’t be surprised if the TOS you agreed to when downloading the app allows continued data mining and/or rights to your data.  Repeatedly forgoing these rights, whether through the TOS or expiration of opt-ins, is a cost of your new free service or inexpensive app.

The free and freemium service platforms and apps that are so helpful to us can also require approving lengthy CYA terms of service so protective that you’d need a team of lawyers to distinguish the egregious from the simply liberal. Of course, a quick policy change can turn what is the simply liberal today into the egregious tomorrow.  At some point, regressive analytics turned into predictive analytics and that will soon give way to persuasive analytics – how do we get you to buy a product you would not ordinarily try, or go somewhere you would not ordinarily go?  This has been a core goal of any marketing for decades, but the manners in which it will be done are changing rapidly. For example, which friends can we enlist, knowingly or otherwise, to persuade you using new forms of digital multi-level marketing? Does anyone really think that last month’s Instagram policy over-reach on their rights to market using your photos will never be repeated by another friendly startup with an innocuous cartoon logo? Changing policies that affect how others view you are another cost of using free platforms.

Today’s Evolving Models of SOLOMO Data Capture

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Members of the San Francisco Gold Rush at 49er...

Members of the San Francisco Gold Rush at 49ers training camp at the team’s headquarters and practice facility in Santa Clara, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog post is the second of a four part post on The Hotel California Scenario for social, local and mobile media / solutions (SOLOMO). In my last post, I likened lyrics from The Eagles Hotel California to a future SOLOMO scenario where the User is the Interface, The World is the Computer, and the Situation is the Network.  The future depicted is one of personal empowerment unlike anything that has ever existed, and should be celebrated. 

There is enormous momentum driving startups and established companies alike to have a social strategy and go “mobile first”. The statistics on social usage are undeniable, and mobility is evolving and disrupting worldwide.  Read any tech blog or media resource and you will be deluged with a never-ending stream of articles on the benefits of mobility, brought to you by the newest network, user-friendly platform, device or app. I first envisioned and strategized over some of this evolution in the early 1990’s with my IT colleagues.  We used to call this “Any 5” meaning anyone getting anything, anywhere, anytime, in any form.  Now that mobile’s time has finally arrived, it occurred to me that industry practitioners and users alike should take a step back to also consider possible corollary costs that the always on, on demand, in your pocket, highly personalized, presence-based world of social/mobile might bring us.   

The Theatre of Security

This past weekend, a security expert being interviewed on major media explained that there is something known as “The Theatre of Security”. His example was that of a random number of people who are singled out for pat downs on the trains. He explained that this form of “security” really did not make anyone any safer, but it provided commuters with the illusion that they were safer, hence the theatre.

In terms of your privacy, and potentially your future security, the passcode on your smartphone will provide you with similar theatre.  Sure, it is helpful to know that if your smartphone is fleeced in such a way that the thief cannot unlock it, today’s run of the mill robber will not have access to your data. Mobile devices are becoming so central to our lives, that people prefer to lose just about anything except for their smartphone.  However, as my previous blog post depicted using the Hotel California example, your face will soon biometrically unlock your data, and the world, including cat burglars, will be programmed to receive.  So if you shudder at the thought of having your cat burgled, or you take comfort in having a passcode on your smartphone, read on.

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Cover of "Hotel California" Cover of Hotel California[/VISIONARIES!]

Let’s reflect on one possible post 2013 future of smartphones and social, local and mobile in the context of a few stanzas of a famous Eagles song. In this scenario, The User is the Interface, the World is the Computer, and the Situation is the Network. The smartphone, on the other hand, is no longer the lynch pin of the mobile value proposition. Having your face as the primary interface may make privacy-minded folks recoil, but don’t hold it against the Eagles for being so visionary.  Consider a part of their 1976 Hotel California lyrics:

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place

Such a lovely face

They livin’ it up at the Hotel California

What a nice surprise, bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,

The pink champagne on ice

And she said, ‘we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

And in the master’s chambers,

They gathered for the feast

“Relax, ” said the night man,

We are programmed to receive.

You can check-out any time you like,

But you can never leave! “

The Business Trip Scenario

You walk up to a beautiful hotel in San Francisco, and the cameras outside the door initiate facial recognition. As you enter, you are welcomed immediately, both on the smartphone in your carry on luggage, and more importantly on the interactive digital signage display that everyone in the hotel lobbies and elevators can see. Immediately, and without prompts, your hotel arrival makes its way to your various location-based social apps (e.g., Foursquare, LinkedIn, Hotel discount club, and In-house and local restaurants via open table). You immediately begin receiving a daily Yelp list of offers and helpful content from everyone in town who fits your preferences and wants a piece of your wallet.

Your close friends on Google+ and Facebook who live locally

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Piers Morgan at CES 2011. Piers Morgan at CES 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/caption]

Due to their importance, I’m dedicating this second blog post to Sandy Hook related issues, with the hopes that readers act locally. After this, I’ll re-focus on technology.

Most nights this week I’ve been glued to my TV watching Piers Morgan on CNN. Tonight he said he was surprised people don’t publicly debate gun issues. He has expressed some passionate views on the gun control issue, and has gotten some passionate replies from the gun rights side of the issue. I believe that both sides are well-intentioned. In my opinion, this has been a classic example of two parties with conflicting views talking past each other, intensified by emotions that are understandable given recent events.  The key to understanding both sides comes from analyzing their arguments. This blog post is meant to help readers consider the differences between Means and Motivation, and how the focus on Prevention is crowding out a seriously needed discussion of Protection. Essentially, I think both sides are right about what they disagree on, and both sides are wrong about what they agree on.

If an argument goes on for weeks, months and years, like the gun control argument, it is probably an unwinnable argument. In my opinion, both sides have been talking past each other on CNN’s Piers Morgan show exactly because they are engaging in an unwinnable argument.  Let me explain what I mean when I say both sides are right about what they disagree upon, and both sides are wrong about what they appear to agree on.

Piers Morgan argues about Means. His argument is that having 300 Million firearms in circulation in the US has led to all of these killings.  Piers argues that without all of these guns and rifles, we would have far fewer killings because madmen would not have the means. He is right.

The pro-gun side argues about Motivation. Their argument is that an individual who commits such heinous acts is one of countless mentally unstable people watching violent movies, playing violent video games, and if the maniacs who are capable of these atrocities were identified, treated, and/or nullified ahead of time, we would eliminate the motivation and have far fewer killings.  So, the last thing they want is to not be able to protect them selves when faced with such a madman.  They are also right.

So, night after night, I watch both sides continue to argue past each other that two different things are the most important, Means vs. Motivation. And, they are both right about what they disagree on. The marriage of both Means and Motivation is what results in these tragedies; both elements are involved. However, I fear they are probably wrong about the underlying premise that they agree on, and that is that following either of their recommended courses of action will ‘PREVENT’ another tragedy.

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Classroom layout Classroom layout (Photo credit: Penny Coutas)[/caption]
This has been the season of Sandy sadness.  First a hurricane levels the Jersey Shore and devastates surrounding areas, and now the tragedy that occurred in Sandy Hook, CT devastates us all.

This is a sensitive time that brings up a number of sensitive issues including mental illness, the desensitization of youth through ever more realistic violent films and digital games that reward the player for more violence, our mainstream news practices, the propensity for copycat criminals, the right to free expression and of course the right to bear arms and how the arming of America has led to so many more gun injuries and killings in the US versus other advanced nations. If I stated a position and an opinion on any of the above, they would be largely uninformed.  However, I’ll weigh in with a possible solution.

We all know it will take months and years to take a step back to analyze root causes and recommend productive action and pass new legislation.  In the meantime, with so many millions of firearms in circulation, the notion that your children are safe in schools is a fallacy. All of this adds up to an impossible situation, where we can sadly expect to see more incidents while the powers that be work through all of these and more issues.  One thing that should be extremely clear to a lot of us is that we cannot wait to better protect kids in school and provide them with new ways to evacuate what can unexpectedly turn a great learning environment into a war zone nightmare.  Recall what happened when IED’s were rampantly wounding our soldiers.  Soldiers took it upon themselves to begin welding donated armor to the bottom of vehicles deployed in the Middle East. They did not wait for congressional approvals and new budgets to catch up because lives were at risk. In my opinion, the entrepreneurial ecosystem can do this as well and help define and solve the school safety problem.

The U.S. is a country of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are uniquely qualified to solve problems quickly. They turn negatives into positives and see opportunity where others see problems. Entrepreneurs are action-oriented doers. While all of these issues are being discussed in Washington, I’d like to call on any entrepreneurs that read this to tweet or re-post an entrepreneur challenge to protect kids in our schools. We have the power of crowdsourcing, the power of networks and fully vested interests in coming up with ideas to protect kids in schools.  We have experience creating business models, getting them funded and implemented. There’s nothing wrong if someone makes a business out of this, as profit-generating efforts are self-sustaining.  The startup ecosystem can drive change, and here are some ideas to get started.

  • Crowdsource solutions
    • It would be great to have a web developer create a “Grand Central Station” for ideas from diverse experts, for donor commitments, state by state feedback, and progress updates to channel the solutions.
  • Commit capital
    • It would be great to see the capital folks, angels, venture capital and private equity, offer no strings grants to start companies throughout the states that focus on this problem.
  • Involve industry
    • It would be great for some security manufacturers and consultants to donate time and materials to solving the problem.
  • Think locally
    •  It would be great if local tradespeople who donated their weekend work installing systems could later write off the donated time on their taxes.
  • Consult Security Experts
    • There must be thousands of veterans throughout the US who can add value to the security problem after creating green zones and operating in dangerous environments
  • Consult Psychiatric Experts
    • There must be hundreds of psychologists that can add value as to how solutions can be implemented in a way that is interpreted as a positive by schoolchildren and teachers
  • Involve Teachers
    • Self-explanatory

In the end, all that matters is that the problem of kids’ safety in schools is solved rapidly, and without having to wait for all sides to debate and negotiate the issues.  The goal might be to arrive at a handful of standard solutions that can be authorized and implemented locally.

Let’s get the brainstorm going.

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English: Jack Dorsey and Barack Obama at Twitt... English: Jack Dorsey and Barack Obama at Twitter Town Hall in July 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/caption]

This is the second part of a 2 part blog on evolving government power.  The first was entitled “Why Tax Rates Must Rise On The Top 2%”

What has already changed regarding the essence of power vis a vis changing media? The ability to consolidate popular power via ownership of major media and traditional forms of power is continuously waning, especially within key growing segments of the electorate like busy Moms, Hispanics, African-Americans, and of course, youth. Anyone with a blog, a Twitter and Facebook account or similar social media, can broadcast and promote ideas one to everyone, globally, instantaneously at almost no cost. Moreover, adoption past the chasm is bringing us to a “tipping point” of personalized anytime anywhere any form media as the preferred means of receiving mass communication. Witness, that the current administration has recently asked us to tweet to hashtag #my2k in order to force the opposition’s hand in lowering tax rates for 98% of Americans. They’ve begun to take the power of social media past the election, and into the governing. It is clear that news and opinion is being digested differently, and given the relative costs of the web versus cable TV we can expect to see more media channel substitution in coming years.  Once Apple shows us how it has “cracked the code” on TV, we may well see a spike in substitution that shifts our attention for a decade or more.

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English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone... Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)]

How many times does a hot new product or service come out and you say, “I could have thought of that” or “Why didn’t I think of that?”  Our high value US economy is increasingly dependent on innovation.  When people mention China’s economic rise, we depend on “innovation” as our figurative ‘USA, USA’ chant.  We are high-value, and everyone else is low-value, right?  (Not really, folks) There’s good money where innovation meets market need.  Everyone wants to capitalize on innovation, but in reality, inspiration leads to breakthrough innovation. Ere go, inspiration is the goal.

The Importance of Your Inspiration Quotient

This is a subtle but importance difference that business tomes rarely discuss because people think inspiration just happens to some people, and cannot be produced. I disagree. We all have an inspiration quotient, and in this blog post, I contend that practicing the Arts is the way to capturing inspiration in the art, in life, and in whatever endeavors you undertake.  If you want to hire, invest in or become an inspired innovator, hire, invest in or become a musician, painter, writer, sculptor or dancer.  If you want a company full of innovators, promote art as a central human development priority in your organization. Formalizing the practice of art in order to engender inspired innovation is not covered in your MBA text, and is overlooked in the general business media.  I’ve seen various innovation maps, innovation cycles, and innovation process charts, and none of them mentioned inspiration or the Arts. So, I’m putting it out there for business gurus to analyze, formalize, institutionalize and potentially monetize.  The pathway to inspired innovation is practicing the arts.

You might be thinking, great, another thing to add to my to do list of in order to be a top performer.  As you’ll read later, it’s only as time consuming as you want it to be, but here’s your scientific justification.  I’m a true believer in the line of thinking that one can change one’s success in many areas by disciplining yourself to adopt new habits that are out of your norm in other areas.  Said another way, if you drag your sorry ass out of bed and get yourself to work out early every morning, it will carry through to help you push through that next development cycle or to make the key point that lands a difficult sale. These habits can create actual physiological changes in your brain as well, if you want to get scientific.  Train your mind. So what?  We’ve heard that all before.  I’m busy, where’s the business rationale for art?

Well, the greatest disruptive innovations come from an ethereal asset that comes to us unexpectedly, and by seeming divine providence, known as “inspiration”.  Michelangelo had it. Benjamin Franklin had it.  Alexander G Bell and Marconi had it. Steve Jobs had it. You can’t learn it in business school.  You can’t order it on Amazon. You can’t force your engineers to engender it just because they listen to music or know a programming language.  I contend that great inventors like da Vinci and Steve Jobs achieved their greatness from inspiration, and that inspiration was due in great measure to their passion for practicing various forms of art. Historians might track back recognition of the importance of studying and practicing art to ancient Greece or Mesopotamia.  Inventors of the stature of a Ben Franklin, who began his professional life as a writer and lived his entire life as a satirist, were enormously multi-dimensional. Unfortunately, you can see a declining importance assigned to the Arts today in the tight budgets of US schools. We mistakenly view the study of art as a pathway to an artistic profession, rather than as a pathway to innovation in many professions.  Unlike Mr. Franklin or Michelangelo, we risk becoming a cradle to grave nation of intensely focused specialists on an org chart with an inhibited aptitude for the inter-dimensional imagining that is required for inspired innovation.  It is not critical thinking, it is imagining. Kids are born with a deep desire to make these neural connections, and we formulate that desire away. Think about this when you are discussing Arts budgets on your local PTA.

Inspiration – it’s already inside us all, but we don’t know it yet.  You can’t buy it, put your hands on it, or make use of it when you need to. We Americans hate that, and that’s why you won’t see it on any arrows or circles on mind-bending innovation process maps.  Imagine if an innovation consultant came in to tell your team “Ok, the first step is you want to get your hands on some inspiration.”  Like Peter Senge’s famous work on The Learning Organization, you’d recoil at the idea that everything from there on down would be built on the backs of turtles”.  Managers like to think they can process map everything. So if it’s not on our neat 3D process map, it must be superfluous.  The problem is, inspiration is the most essential element to great innovation.

How You Get Inspiration

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Members of Congress raise their hands Members of Congress raise their hands (Photo credit: @mjb)[/caption]

I spent this morning watching the Sunday morning network TV pundits discuss tax pledges and the fiscal cliff that promises to plunge the US in another recession.  This would have been a colossal waste of time if that cliff did not have such serious consequences. This is the first part of a 2 part blog post. The second will deal with how New Media’s popularity in emerging demographic voting blocks is changing the balance of political power. Without taking a position on who is right in the US tax policy battle (it would not matter if I did) the tax rate on the top 2% must increase. Here is why.

I Pledge Allegiance, To A Policy

Schoolchildren and government officials routinely pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA, and to the Republic… When a congressman takes office, he/she also takes a pledge to fulfill the duties of the office. These pledges are traditional methods to publicly proclaim and personally acknowledge intentions.  Until this past election, Congressmen always pledged on a Bible to ensure God was also aware of their pledge. The problem with pledging allegiance to the flag or to the duties of an office arises when these are thought by the pledger to conflict with a previous pledge.

We elect people to represent us.  We don’t elect policies.  The advantage to electing people is that we are placing confidence in more than a set of policy beliefs. We are placing our confidence in the character and intellectual capabilities of an individual who while professing some biased point of view on policy that agrees with our own, can negotiate with other elected viewpoints, adapt his/her positions to unforeseen events, and craft policy to meet changing circumstances. Otherwise, why would we need Congressmen?  The populace could just vote en masse on legislation.  No need for analysis or nuance, no grey areas, just black and white policy commandments.

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The answer to all world problems that will manifest themselves in grave ways in coming generations can be summed up in one word: Innovation. – Ed Rodriguez

Innovation

This photo taken on the road South from Boston on Rte 84, November 29th just before sunset. The sun was extremely large and low in the sky, practically blinding me every time I got to the top of a hill. It was taken only with an iPhone 5, and  I was fortunate the sun was between the bridge and the road. I won’t tell you who took the photo. Its not National Geographic material, but maybe enlarging it will give you a better idea of the scene.

IMG_0066

A quick note to articulate the importance of Branding as a separate link to Business on my blog. The cycle times for tech discovery and advancement are ever shortening.  Someone needs to come up with a Moore’s Law* for new offerings. Regardless of barriers like IP protection and network effects, the current state of open systems, usability design, process management, inexpensive global collaboration platforms, et al makes the potential for domestic and international copycats to rapidly deliver similar offerings to commercially successful ‘pioneers’ more and more likely.  In case you had not heard, copycats are longhaired nasty felines and pioneers are often the ones that end up with the arrows in their backs.

How can you, as a pioneer, compete with a newcomer that benefits not only from your lessons learned, but from the ability to possibly raise more money than yourself on the basis of the business model that your team has already proven is commercially viable?  Whether B2C, B2B, or B2G, one good answer is Branding.  It’s true that the best brands are built over substantial time, but there are things that start-ups can do to ensure the marketplace and investors understand that being first can mean that your team, your company and your offerings are better than followers’. Branding is becoming an increasingly important part of any start-up’s survival, and should not be overlooked by small entrepreneurial teams focused on going to market with MVP’s** and achieving market validation.

While I am not a Brand Manager, my instincts on branding have been validated. Future posts will elaborate.

*Moore’s Law is a widely held rule of thumb that integrated circuits double in performance every 18 months.

**MVP refers to Minimum Viable Product, i.e., the concept that to be the best pioneer one must go to market with an imperfect but viable product in order to gain market share and lessons learned as the “perfect product” is developed.

“Prudence is an attitude that keeps life safe, but does not often make it happy.” - Samuel Johnson

In my never-ending need to explain myself, I want to justify the use of space in what is a SOLOMO* / New Media tech opinion and personal interest blog for my Points Of View on Government (filed under Economics).  They say to never discuss religion and politics. Why get on this soapbox?  Here is the quick rundown top 8 of my reasons in no particular order:

  1. This blog is being launched just after 2 years of brutal non-stop national office campaigning.  Needless to say, Government power, policy and its real effects on life and business are still on a lot of people’s minds, including mine.
  2. I’m from Boston, home of the Kennedy’s.  I’ve drunk the Koolaid. The guiding quotation for this blog is RFK’s “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?.”  Without minimizing the enormity of RFK’s point, and the brilliance of his insight, this quote applies to the way I see the world, but also technology-enabled opportunities to fulfill unmet market needs. (We can get into social bottom lines later.) A blog on new business opportunities would be incomplete if it were to ignore government choices that foster the economic environments in which they bloom or wilt.
  3. Patents, copyrights, trademarks and financing rules are playing such an increasingly decisive role in web and mobile marketplaces and startups that overlooking them completely would defeat the purpose of the blog.  I’m not an attorney, but as I learn more, I’ll try to pass along my perspectives.
  4. One of my greatest pet peeves for the country, and more so in the Boston region, is that despite the opportunities available relative to other nations, the top of the funnel of new venture early stage financing in the US is so subjectively constrained as to be inherently ineffective.  I’m referring to the system, not the participants.  I am hopeful that new crowd funding rules being decided now as part of the Jobs Act will bring more opportunity and competition to counter an antiquated, broken system.  Moreover, tax reform may influence some on where they invest, and whether to invest in early stage businesses.
  5. I have an economics degree.  While I am far from an economist, I’d like to believe this gives me a perspective on how macro / micro business problems, solutions and relationships can be influenced by legislation, or lack thereof.
  6. I’ve spent a not insignificant number of years working in companies that serve federal, state and local government agencies. I hope that helps me to offer some context to readers.
  7. I have run a business in another country, and travelled enough that I have a high appreciation for American capitalism. I also know better than to use the term “American” to describe the United States since it is inclusive of all the Americas.  However, I think most of this blog’s audience will get that using that term conveys a mindset or zeitgeist that is uniquely “American” regardless of being geographically inaccurate.
  8. Like a lot of people, I have a diverse set of interests and opinions.  You don’t have to agree with any of them. Initiating a pros and cons discussion chews the fat off the issues and gets down to the bones.  Politics is a touchy subject. I’d appreciate it if readers didn’t bury my bones in the process.

*SOLOMO refers to social networks, localized content and commerce, and mobility.

I’ve been living under a rock. The Sphero by Orbotix has been around for some time, and is worth checking out for a very cool glimpse of the future of Arkinetics™. Yes, I said it, “Arkinetics™”, the marriage of AR and Kinetics. Using Bluetooth messaging good for 50 feet, the clever team at Orbotix in Boulder has created a robotic sphere that can be manipulated via your Apple iPhone or Android smartphone to amaze old ladies in grocery stores, play fetch with Fido without getting the glob on your hands, and let kids play games of dexterity on AR playgrounds. I like this idea due to its simplicity, which is apropos for emerging technology. The team was smart enough to create an open platform for developers to create their own games / value propositions. Right now, this is no more than a novelty.  Kids can roll a ball to knock down bowling pins the old fashioned way, right? (But can their Mom do so with them from a hotel room in Tokyo?) I did not see any press releases on their site related to venture investment, but I did see a lot of cool factor recognition. Right now its just a candidate for Smarter Image, and hopefully not competing on the same shelf with the wireless Ferrari.

You can think back to how another robotic company branched out from their original robotic vacuum cleaner product, into defense and healthcare and who knows what else is on their agenda. On the face of it, and without any insight into their team or IP, I think this is the appropriate way to look at a company like Orbotix. Its not what the Sphero does now that counts, its what the team may do in the future. What applications are there for a low cost, handheld, remotely manipulated robot? Companies like this, that may not have a ton of funding (I have no idea if they do), but have a committed and passionate team are what start-ups are all about. They’ll live and breathe the monetization problem until they either come up with a eureka moment, or go on to apply their lessons learned at another outfit with a different vision. In all probability linking together mobility, AR and robotics will be more than just cool when a few more things fall into place. Can you ruggedize it more somehow? Can you attach lasers? Can you embed more robust sensors and a camera? Can you add magnetic strips to the outside of the sphere and create a hovering cover that gets left behind? Can you use an ultra-wideband chip to create an ad hoc network of Arkinetic drones? Will it receive verbal commands? What about changing the form factor completely? This is all top of mind.  Seeing something like this opens the flood gates of possibilities, and no idea is too out there. That’s what great about start-ups. Whatever the future for the Sphero, these guys can say they were at the forefront of Arkinetics™.  In the meantime, you can get some free beers by showing the crowd at the pub how you can move that orange with your mind.