Man and superman

There are two broad philosophical approaches to explaining the forces that drive world events. The first one is sometimes called the Great man theory, neatly summarized by the quote ”the history of the world is but the biography of great men.”  This view was famously espoused by the philosopher Hegel and later Nietzche, who called such great people Ubermenchen (“supermen”).

The alternative view argues that history is largely determined by a complex series of societal, political, institutional, technological and other forces.  This view argues that great people are more a product of their time than the times are a product of them.

You can apply these theories to companies, in particular to the founders of technology companies who keep their companies great long after their “natural” life cycle.  Most successful companies start with one great product and ride its growth but fail to pull off a second act.

The companies that defy this natural cycle are invariable run by “supermen” (or women).  Akio Morita founded Sony in 1946 and was a very active CEO until 1994.   At the time he left, Sony had a $40B market cap.  Today it is valued at $28B.  Akio had an incredible run of hit products: the first transistor radio, the first transistor television, the Walkman, the first video cassette recorder, and the compact disc. Akio ran Sony based on his intuitions.  For example, he ignored focus groups that hated the Walkman, saying:

We don’t ask consumers what they want. They don’t know. Instead we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we’re there, ready”

Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976.  He was pushed out in in May 1985 when the company was valued at about $2.2B.  He returned in 1996 when Apple was worth $3B.  Today it is worth $169B.  Jobs famously micromanages every product detail and like Akio makes decisions based on intuitions.

Bill Gates was the co-founder and CEO of Microsoft, building it to an astounding $470B market cap.  Under him, Microsoft had multiple acts, among them:  DOS, Windows, Office, and enterprise server software.  Since Steve Ballmer became CEO, the company’s value has declined to $223B. I’m sure Steve Ballmer is a smart and passionate guy, but he’s no superman.

Some observers like the author Jim Collins think great companies are all about culture, not a singularly great leader.  Collin’s “built to last” case study companies included Circuit City and Fannie Mae, both of which have been catastrophic failures.  His “portfolio” has underperformed to S&P.

It is convenient to think you can take greatness and bottle it up and sell it in a book.   In fact, life is unfair:  there are geniuses and then there are the rest of us.  When great leaders go away, so does the greatness of their companies.

NYTimes gets computer security wrong again

I love the NYTimes and read it every day.

But almost every computer security related article I read in it is just dead wrong. As someone who started and succesfully sold a computer security company (SiteAdvisor to McAfee) I feel like this is one area I know something about. (scary thought: does the NYTimes just happen to be wrong about my area of expertise or are they wrong about a lot more and this is the only area where I’m able to detect it?).

Today’s poorly researched and flat-out wrong security article claims Macs Aren’t Safer, Just a Smaller Target. The sole piece of evidence comes from a study by Symantec, a company that sells Mac anti-virus software. When your only source has a significant business interest in “results” of the study, shouldn’t the “newspaper of record” get a second opinion? For example, maybe talk to an operating systems expert, most if not all of whom will tell you Mac’s Unix-based OS is just a vastly better architecture from a security perspective.

Moreover, as comments on the article point out, Mac’s market share is big enough now (~10%) that it certainly seems like a reasonable target. In fact with all the talk of how Mac’s don’t get viruses, if I were a virus writer today looking to make my name, I’d imagine targeting the Mac would be a far more interesting way to go.

I literally can’t remember the last time I met a techie in CA or NYC who used a PC. At this point using a Mac versus PC in the tech world has become an IQ test, not a preference.

enigmo = awesome

Ok, Enigmo is awesome.  i downloaded (and purchased!) the mac os X version of Enigmo and also the sequel Enigmo 2.

I am embarassed to say it is so addictive I won all 50 levels on Enigmo last weekend.  It’s really an incredibly clever and fun game and better on the Mac (although still good on the iPhone).

I found Enigmo 2 interesting at first (the laser and magnets are neat) but the true 3d interface gets kind of tedious.  Instead I downloaded some user created levels for Enigmo 1, and continue to enjoy it (albeit in smaller, healthier doses!).

iphone apps- the good, bad, and mediocre

best game so far:  Enigmo – really addictive!

dissappointing games: monkey ball (too hard to control), cro-mag (ok mario kart clone),

need to play more to decide:  AquaForest

really fun to show off your iphone and cool technology:  shazam

what’s the point: nytimes (no better than website), AIM (can’t run in background)

seems like they have a lot of potential:  AOL Radio, Pandora

Useful if you live in NYC: CityTransit

Kind of useful no matter where you live:  BoxOffice

Silly free ones that are kind of fun:  World 9, phone saber, life game

don’t really get it and it seems overhyped: Loopt

UPDATE:  aquaforest isn’t good.   AIM would be good if you could run apps in the background on the iphone. actually the only iphone apps i’ve liked so far are labyrinth and enigmo.