Sunday, April 05, 2009

Speeding Along in the Real-Time World

David Brooks wrote a very interesting piece in yesterday's New York Times called "Greed and Stupidity" about the current financial crisis. I won't comment here on the specifics of his view of the crisis. But he had a very interesting comment in the article that got me thinking:

"To me, the most interesting factor is the way instant communications lead to unconscious conformity. You’d think that with thousands of ideas flowing at light speed around the world, you’d get a diversity of viewpoints and expectations that would balance one another out. Instead, global communications seem to have led people in the financial subculture to adopt homogeneous viewpoints. They made the same one-way bets at the same time."

We have all been made increasingly aware over the last decade of the implications of the world being flat. But i don't know that it was quite so clearly articulated that one of the side effects is, in fact, increased "lemminghood" (my term for Brooks' more polite "unconscious conformity"). But it is certainly the case. I have been concerned about it when reading poll numbers -- they reflect the perceived direction of the moment (sometimes this is valuable and sometimes it can be misleading); it's certainly impacted and been impacted by the news media and what's popular and what we read about; the speed with which 'fashions' come and go; and there are many other unintended consequences of real time communications.

So what is the impact on technology start-ups?

*First, now more than ever, young companies cannot afford to be slow in their decision making. This has been true for as long as I can remember. In small companies, there has never been room for misdirected use of resources for long.

*On the one hand, it is important to listen to the market and ferret out what can be learned from the constant access to information and opinions and real-time responses. This is a very powerful tool.

*But, on the other hand, it's critical now to be clear on your goals and have the "intestinal fortitude" to stick to them. We have always believed that "looking over your shoulder" is a very distracting activity for any company, especially start ups.

*The real time world is one in which entrepreneurs need to have a well-honed sense of balance between their fundamental views and outside input -- both of which are key, when you have an instinct about which to heed when.

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