Cisco’s curious week

HBR has a great article (I love HBR articles that get delivered to my email … small and crisp and full of information) on CISCO’s curious week – and how the giant has been playing around with Disruptive Innovation for quite some time. In a recent workshop I attended, I learnt that this is also called Paradigm Shift and it is well known that, paradigm shifts lead to leaders.

Cisco is not new to paradigm shifts. It originally started with usage of the Internet Protocol (IP). The giant has been making some pretty changes inside. Some of them as outlined in the article are:

Its purchase of linksys – an entry into the home router market. I think the Linksys routers are the best. I have one at home, and they are incredibly easy to configure.

Its purchase of WebEx seemed pretty logical to me. Networking giant + good conferencing company = Revenue.

It has also recently bought Pure Digital – which makes a popular line of flip handheld video cameras. (I have never heard of this one though!). But it is interesting to see the networking giant move into this market.

And ofcourse the biggest news of last week is CISCO trying to buy SUN, and enter the server market – directly getting face-to-face with IBM and HP and the likes.

But at a very high level, all this kinda makes sense to me.

(big router business) + (home routers) + (good video cameras for conferencing) + (good conferencing software) + (stable servers to handle the software) = Awesome $$.

The stable servers is probably a weak link in the above equation. But it is defenitely a good entry into a large revenue stream business. Here’s to CISCO, and lets hope they come out of this recession fine and dandy.

Note: I was in Silicon valley on a business visit in 2003, and going through some of the CISCO buildings near McCarthy Blvd/Tasman/Cisco way, and it was very disheartening to see some of the empty buildings (what was left of the DotComBust). But still CISCO lasted. And is surviving.

Did MBAs cause all the mess-up ?

The HBR editor’s blog has a small, crisp, and interesting write-up on the subject of the financial crisis, and who caused it? 

The one paragraph that impressed me:

But whether that’s true or not, they’ve certainly figured out that the MBA offers an attractive return on investment. That payback can happen in different ways. The low-risk option is to enroll in a relatively inexpensive program on a part-time basis (especially when tuition reimbursement is available from one’s employer). A higher risk, higher return option is to enroll in a top-ranked school, quit your job, move your family and pay maximum tuition for a chance to earn an elite degree. 

You see where I’m headed. The type of person who has the appetite for this second kind of risk-reward equation–plus the brains to excel in a rigorous academic setting–is the same type that Wall Street firms have been so eager to hire. 

And yes, sure enough, payback happened. Greed overflowed. And in the famous american lingo, sh** hit the fan!

Read the full article here.

Proximity Management

I just read an excellent article on “The real secret of thouroughly terrific companies”, by Peter Bregman. Bregman recounts and explains his terrific experiences in staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Chain. He sees what he calls “Proximity Management” being practiced. The managers know about their employees. There is a lot of trust within the different properties. There is open communication. There are monthly meetings, without any agenda, and the GM (Michael Newcombe) just engages in conversation. There are such meetings with all employee groups. 

Here is one anecdote, of how open communication solved a huge problem:

During his meeting with the front desk staff, he learned they were slower than usual in checking in guests because rooms weren’t available. Then, in his meeting with housekeeping staff, someone asked if the hotel was running low on king size sheets. Most CEOs wouldn’t be interested in that question, but Michael asked why. Well, the maid answered, it’s taking us longer to turn over rooms because we have to wait for the sheets. So he kept asking questions to different employee groups until he discovered that one of the dryers was broken and waiting for a custom part. That reduced the number of available sheets. Which slowed down housekeeping. Which reduced room availability. Which delayed guests from checking in.

Read the full article at The Harvard Business Blog here.

When payslips kill motivation

Shankar Vedantam over at Washington Post has a great article on how payslips and rewards actually intrinsic motivation, and often kills creativity.

It happens all the time: Two guys in a garage come up with a cool new technology — and dream of making it big. A thousand people take time off work to campaign for a visionary politician because they feel they are doing something to change the world. A million kids hit baseballs — and wonder what it would take to become a pro.

Then the brainiacs, volunteers and Little Leaguers grow up. What they did for fun becomes . . . work. Paychecks and bonuses become the reasons to do things. Pink slips and demotions become the reasons not to do other things.

Read the full article here.

[banner and excerpt courtesy: Washingtonpost]

Managing men

Now, I am not a male chauvinist, neither am I a feminist (last time I checked, I am still of the masculine species). But this really sent me rolling in laughter. The above snapshot is from the course listing of an executive MBA distance education program offered by the IICT, Lucknow. Is there something special about managing men ? Maybe frustrated wives can also take this course? How about managing women? Is that a specialization subject as well ? I cannot stop imagining all the possibilities ! ROFL.

The Wipro Story

EEtimes has a write up on the Wipro story. Very very well written. Talks about how it all started, and how it metamorphosed to what it is today. My favourite exerpt:

The government policy shift led Wipro to extend its expertise in designing printed-circuit boards to developing its own semiconductor blocks and ASICs, in order to address the needs of its new telecom and PC customers.

“ASICs were new to us, but we figured there was no magic to it,” said Valavi. “We put a group and tool flow together, started some basic designs for standard interfaces, and implemented them in such a way that people could put them in their chips, so we could license the blocks to others.”

Within 18 months, Wipro had USB and FireWire blocks it could license to other companies or use in its own ASICs. It has nearly 90 FireWire licensees today.

Read the full article here.

Self Appraisal

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(Image: shot using my Nokia 3110 and polished off with Paint.Net)

The following story was sent to me by a close friend. Brilliant. Read on.

A little boy went into a drug store, reached for a soda carton and pulled it over to the telephone. He climbed onto the carton so that he could reach the buttons on the phone and proceeded to punch in seven digits (phone numbers).

The store-owner observed and listened to the conversation:

Boy: “Lady, Can you give me the job of cutting your lawn?
Woman: (at the other end of the phone line): “I already have someone to cut my lawn.”

Boy: “Lady, I will cut your lawn for half the price of the person who cuts your lawn now.”

Woman: I’m very satisfied with the person who is presently cutting my lawn.

Boy: (with more perseverance): “Lady, I’ll even sweep your curb and your sidewalk, so on Sunday you will have the prettiest lawn in all of Palm beach, Florida .”

Woman: No, thank you.

With a smile on his face, the little boy replaced the receiver. The store-owner, who was listening to all this, walked over to the boy.

Store Owner: “Son… I like your attitude; I like that positive spirit and would like to offer you a job.”

Boy: “No thanks,

Store Owner: But you were really pleading for one.

Boy: No Sir, I was just checking my performance at the job I already have. I am the one who is working for that lady, I was talking to!”

This is what we call “Self Appraisal”

Personality checks during an interview

There are some very important personality-analysis questions, that one should ask, while interviewing a person. I re-emphasize here, these are over and beyond the technical interview that one needs to do – to make sure the interviewee (if hired), will do his/her job well.
Trent @ simpledollar does a wonderful job in summarizing this. Some questions that I routinely ask (and are mentioned in this post) are:

4. Describe to me the position you’re applying for.
11. Tell me about the most difficult project you ever faced.
21. Are you applying for other jobs?
23. Where do you see yourself in your career in five years?
24. What are your long-term goals – say, fifteen years down the road?

Each of these questions give a good feel of the candidates energy, and honesty. Read the full article here.