Monday, July 23, 2007

Rattlesnakes, Cell Towers and One Step at a Time

This weekend, I took a hike in Will Rogers State Park in the Los Angeles area. Much to our surprise, about a quarter mile into the hike, the trail turned into wilderness -- with masses of brush, rattlesnakes, and wild animals. Clearly we had taken a wrong turn. Cross country hiking was fun at first -- meeting the challenge with each step. Then, as our path clearly didn't return to the formal trail, we realized we were going to have to gut it out and find our way back to "civilization."

Since this isn't a blog about hiking, or even about my life in general, I will share with you some of the most interesting things I thought about during the hike:

  • First, there was a clear cell signal throughout the hike. This provided a lot of comfort, but it also was a reminder that such mass communications have only been around for a few years. What did everyone do before?
  • Second, and probably much more important than the first, the key to success was taking one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other till we reached our goal.
This second lesson, was , of course, the essential one. And, as I was putting one foot in front of the other and not worrying about the longer term, I realized that the lesson applies all over life. At Roeder-Johnson, we work with Start-Ups, and often every day is about survival for them. Therefore, this one step at a time perspective seems to be critical for the technology world. It's imperative that young companies constantly challenge themselves to understand which next step will take them closer to the goal. And, to make the challenge even greater, all along the way, this one step at a time perspective needs to be integrated with the long-term goal -- while still remembering that without each individual step, the long term won't happen.

Who knew when we set out on Saturday morning, it would prove to be such an important few hours?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Power of Propaganda

I just returned from a trip to Russia. In short, it was fascinating! Every time I travel internationally, it reminds me of The Power of Propaganda. The first time I realized the power of propaganda throughout history was when I traveled to Egypt about 15 years ago: the pyramids were just as legitimate a form of propaganda as any we see today.

In Russia, the power of propaganda is hugely evident. Since I don't speak or read Russian, I don't know what kind of propaganda is being disseminated today. This is really a reaction to the residual impact that propaganda has on people over time. The most stunning thing I heard in Russia was that many adults -- over 35 or 40 -- are quite equivocal about the benefits of their new-found freedom since the fall of the Soviet government.

Undoubtedly, this uncertainty about the benefits of freedom vs. the Soviet state is a result of a complex combination of factors -- history, economics, AND propaganda. I won't try to unravel the clearly complex Russian psyche or understand the economic hardships the country has faced over time. But it was quite clear to me that if you grow up hearing every day that the State is doing good for you and all the countries in the West -- with all their freedom -- are not, you will very likely retain some of that perspective for your entire life. That's propaganda.

But an interesting question emerges about propaganda: is the speed of communications today changing the way propaganda takes hold and even how it needs to be created? With transparent communications today, can propaganda really exist? Is there enough longevity to any ideas that they can really take hold?

The answer is probably yes: with a big enough campaign and mass repetition and reinforcement, new, big ideas can be promulgated. Today, we see it with some big advertisers and religions. But with direct communications increasingly penetrating every inch of the world, how will propaganda be created in the future? The creation and maintenance of a propaganda machine is clearly more complex than it ever was before.

Or maybe the answer is in the march of small ideas, that ultimately grow into a big idea -- but this takes a pretty well conceived architecture. Over the next few decades, it will be very interesting to see how propaganda will evolve.

Tell me what you think.