To Glass or not to Glass

It seems as if Google Glass has travelled quite a long way along its hype cycle even though it has yet to be launched as a finished product. The product was shown initially at the I/O conference in June 2012 and the first beta products (knows as the Explorer Edition) were made available to a select group of evangelists who paid $1,500 for the privilege in April 2013. Since then they have made all sorts outings on various conference stages around the world, been photographed in the New York subway and even been photographed in the shower (see photo of Robert Scoble).There have been endless reviews from the “explorers” such as this or this.

On the whole the tenor has been – revolutionary product, will take some getting used to but generally positive. Lately, though the tone has changed. Gizmodo calls out Google for getting defensive but not answering the real issues. And Mashable weighed in with its prediction that Android smart watches (specifically the Moto 360) will render Glass obsolete:Why the Moto 360 Smartwatch will Kill Google Glass.

I think this new-found pessimism is wrong on a number of counts. It is easier to see how a smart watch would be used – we already have watches and if it gives us a bit of what our phones give us we can get our heads round that.

But that is to miss the basic point. We are all now inseparable from the web. We use the internet as external memory and our smart phones are our current access point. But they are far from perfect – staring at your phone screen distracts from the task in hand and acts as a barrier to the real world. Smart watches will be better, but only just.

The real end-game is seamless access to the web directly overlaid on the world. Google Glass is the closest thing we have to that right now.

Sure, Glass is flawed (poor battery life, limited applications etc etc) and certainly it will take us a while to work out the correct etiquette around it.

But the Glass paradigm is a powerful one which is qualitatively different to all that has gone before it. And Moore’s law should take care of the shortcomings.

This summary from Wired is a pretty good round up of both the good and the bad. The conclusion is, I think, right on the money:

You can make fun of Glass, and the assholes (like me) who wear it. But here’s what I know: The future is on its way, and it is going to be on your face. We need to think about it and be ready for it in a way we weren’t with smartphones. Because while you (and I) may make fun of glassholes today, come tomorrow we’re all going to be right there with them, or at least very close by. Wearables are where we’re going. Let’s be ready.

Is Yahoo’s move the first of many?

This morning’s story in the Guardian about Yahoo’s decision to move its European headquarters to Ireland is I think very significant.

According to the Guardian, Home Secretary Theresa May summoned the company to a meeting to express the concerns of Scotland Yard that Yahoo will no longer be bound to co-operate with British anti-terrorism investigations once it completes is move to Ireland.

The story says Yahoo has been “horrified by some of the surveillance programmes revealed by Snowden and is understood to be relieved that it will be beyond the immediate reach of UK surveillance laws.”

Thus a giant company has chosen to move to a state with more favourable privacy/security regulations and practices – it will surely not be the last. I would not be surprised if we see European countries advertising themselves on the quality of their regulatory safeguards. And neither would I be surprised if the current Government insouciance at criticism of GCHQ oversight begins to crack when hard economic consequences are felt.

The internet has grown so fast and technology so powerful so quickly that the legal and regulatory framework in the West is way behind. This move by an internet giant (and potentially others to come) may be what it takes to start a grown up debate about the kinds of trade-offs and safeguards a modern society needs. So far it looks like indiscriminate tapping of the Yahoo messenger chats of millions of innocent citizens has occurred at the potential expense of a future lack of co-operation in the case of a genuine investigation into real suspects. Talk about own-goal.

A new employer-employee compact

The old “job for life” certainties have gone but the laissez-faire approach which has replaced them is neither good for companies, nor good for employees argue Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh in the Harvard Business Review.

For most of the 20th century, the compact between employers and employees in the developed world was all about stability… progressed along an escalator of sorts, offering predictable advancement to employees who followed the rules. Corporations, for their part, enjoyed employee loyalty and low turnover.

The arrival of globalisation and the information destroyed all that, they argue. Adaptability and entrepreneurship became the key to achieving and sustaining success.

These changes demolished the traditional employer-employee compact and its accompanying career escalator in the U.S. private sector; they are in varying degrees of disarray elsewhere.

The result is a break-down of trust between companies and their employees with a “winner-take-all economy that may strike top management as fair but generates widespread disillusionment among the rest of the workforce.”

The answer, they argue, is to build a new kind of compact between employer and employee based on three things:

Hiring employees for explicit “tours of duty”
“A tour of duty serves as a personalised retention plan that gives a valued employee concrete compelling reasons to finish her tour and that establishes a clear time frame for discussing the future of the relationship. ” These typically would be between two and four years and the end of the “tour” needn’t necessarily lead to the employee leaving the company (though that could be the outcome) but it would mean signing up to a further two or four year “tour”.

“Work with employees to establish terms of their tours of duty, developing firm but time-limited mutual commitments with focussed goals and clear expectations. Ask ‘in this alliance how will both parties benefit and progress?'”

Encouraging employees to build networks and expertise outside the organisation
To maximize diversity and thus innovation you need networks both inside and outside your company. Therefore, employers should encourage employees to build and maintain professional networks that involve the outside world. Essentially, you want to tell your workers, ‘We will provide you with time to build your network and will pay for you to attend events where you can extend it. In exchange, we ask that you leverage that network to help the company.’ “

Establishing active alumni networks to maintain career-long relationships
“The first thing you should do when a valuable employee tells you he is leaving is try to change his mind. The second is congratulate him on the new job and welcome him to your company’s alumni network.”The authors argue that having an extensive and active alumni network is extremely powerful.

“One obvious benefit of alumni networks is the opportunity to rehire former employees….They can share competitive information, effective business practices, emerging industry trends, and more. They understand how your organization works and are generally inclined to help you if they can.”

They recognise that this may sound counter-intuitive to many firms. “You might fear that running an alumni network is an admission of failure—a sign that your company can’t retain its best people. But your alumni are likely to form a network anyway; the only real question is whether your company will have a voice in it.”

They sum up:

The key to the new employer-employee compact we envision is that although it’s not based on loyalty, it’s not purely transactional, either. It’s an alliance between an organization and an individual that’s aimed at helping both succeed.

In the war for talent, such a pact can be the secret weapon that helps you fill your ranks with the creative, adaptive superstars everyone wants. These are the entrepreneurial employees who drive business success—and business success makes you even more attractive to entrepreneurial employees.