Last week, MIT alum Andrew “Drew” Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox Inc., returned to his alma mater to talk about “The War for Talent” in a fireside chat with Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review. There, Houston touched on how, as the organization has grown over the years, the company culture has had to grow right along with it.
“The culture of a startup starts as bizarre average of the founders’ personalities,” Houston said. And it evolves from there. Because many of the initial Dropbox team members came from the Cambridge, Mass.-based campus, including Houston’s co-founder and CTO Arash Ferdowsi, “a lot of the Dropbox culture descended from the MIT culture,” Houston said.
As Houston and Ferdowsi brought in new hires with different backgrounds, maintaining an MIT feel became harder, Houston said. “So you have this drift, and you wake up and say, ‘Now we have to really be clear and set down what this culture thing actually is,'” he said.
They approached it as an exercise, trying to figure out, for example, ways to verbalize the characteristics they look for in new hires. “We took it from this implicit thing based on feel and actually wrote it down,” he said.
“What are the written, expressed values?” Pontin asked.
Houston ticked them off one by one:
- Have the drive to “do important things.”
- Have an obsession for achieving a high quality standard on everything — from hiring to customer service to product design.
- Break new ground; be inventive. “We want to do things better than any company ever before,” Houston said.
- Push the limits (or don’t give into complacency). “No matter how hard we’ve done something, you want to do it better,” he said.
- We, not I. “We take greater pains than most companies to ensure everyone all over the company is working really well together, including the business side of the house with the engineers and product development folks,” he said. “We overinvest in food and the office space to force people to have more serendipitous interactions. … We frown on any activity where people take credit for something. We only want you to be successful as an individual because the company is successful.”
Those are the five major values; other less-major values include having fun, taking care of users, taking care of the team and building trust. Of course, those values could be altered, stretched or added to at any time. “It will be a living document,” Houston said, adding that Dropbox is in the process of revising this list even now.
When Foursquare partnered with GrubHub-Seamless this week, it was more than just a boon for lazy burrito lovers. It provided a useful illustration of what omnichannel is intended to be today, and it’s part of the lead story in this week’s Searchlight.
Back in the day (a few years ago), if you were alone in a strange city and wanted to know where people in your social network got good grub, Foursquare could help point you in the right direction. But with its new partnership, the customer experience is taking on a new dimension. You can reach your end goal — eating a burrito — without ever “leaving” your smartphone; when you find what you want based on others’ recommendations and your own location, you can have that burrito delivered straight to your door (that’s where GrubHub-Seamless comes in). It’s social, information rich, integrated and delivers (near) instant consumer gratification.
It fits in well with the “expanded” definition of omnichannel, which calls for satisfying all customers these days — not just the customers of a particular brand or restaurant. Seamlessly skip over to SearchCIO to get the full story as well as news of Google’s big AI acquisition, why the NSA loves Angry Birds and more.
Digitization makes information so easy to access and disseminate that it comes in waves and piles up like mountains — and the volume can make a day spent in proximity to a computing device, in other words just about every day, seem like a month’s worth of experience. It’s still January but already those 2014 resolutions seem so last year. That’s how fast time moves. I blame this digitalized time warp on you, CIOs. At least, you’d better be to blame, according to the latest CIO research advice.
“Digital disruption is about to tear down and rebuild every industry. The competitive context for corporate leadership teams has shifted,” writes Forrester Research analyst Nigel Fenwick in this month’s SearchCIO tip.
A former CIO at Reebok UK (in his tender 20’s), Fenwick specializes in the impact of technology on business. The old rules of corporate competition — the bigger and more optimized, the more likely to win — have given way, Fenwick writes. Gone, poof! The race now favors the lean and adaptable. And the winners will be those organizations propelled by “innovators who are disrupting every industry by delivering value-added services to digitally-savvy consumers.”
Fenwick believes this is a pivotal time for CIOs, presenting you the opportunity to take the limelight or be left in the shadows. He offers advice (partnering with the CMO is critical) and leadership examples from the likes of Delta Air Lines, Nissan Motor Co. and Nestle.
It’s not just Forrester sending out an SOS to CIOs. Consultancy Gartner Inc. casts digitization in an equally portentous light. In a new report, “Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda,” the consultancy hails digitization as the “third era of enterprise IT.” It’s a dangerous era indeed, in which the very capabilities you acquired to thrive in the second era of IT (marked by back office efficiency) actually undermine your chances to prevail right now. If you’re like the 2,339 CIOs responding to Gartner’s annual CIO survey, this new “digital paradigm” for enterprise IT makes you anxious: over half (51%) are “concerned that the digital torrent is coming faster than they can cope.”
One of the reasons for this anxiety, Gartner believes, is that corporations “have a vacuum in digital leadership.” Yes, companies are hiring chief digital officers left and right, but therein is the problem. One person cannot be held responsible for digital business. The resources required to succeed in the digital era include all business leaders — the digital savviness of the CEO is apparently “one of the best indicators” of success, according to Gartner. And on the IT side it requires a “post-modern-ERP” mindset, leveraged by public and private clouds, and carried out by people who are good at digital design, data science, startup skills and agile development.
Of course, consultancies like Gartner and Forrester make their money by proclaiming vacuums and offering to fill them. But I’m ready to give them this: many companies do not have the organizational or IT structures in place yet to exploit this era of digital business. And CIOs do seem to be at a crossroads, poised to design and implement the systems for this era or be left behind. The good news is that the choice between the limelight and lights out appears to be up to you. Fill the vacuum!
In case anyone wasn’t aware by now, private and public entities are collecting our data. This tidbit of not-quite-news was included in President Obama’s address last week on NSA surveillance reform. If upon hearing this, you thought to yourself “Aaaand …?” it’s pretty likely you’re not alone. Well, this week brought an answer to that sarcastic question; it’s the subject of this week’s lead Searchlight item.
On Thursday, the White House announced the launch of a working group tasked with looking into potential privacy issues related to data collection by public and private entities. A shall we say, “interesting” proposition considering the source — not to mention an enormous undertaking. As the White House well knows, it’s called “big” data for a reason. It’s easy (and entirely understandable) to look at this proposition with a very cynical eye — but worth looking at nonetheless.
Also in Searchlight this week: Netflix talks tough about net neutrality, HP and BlackBerry have a lousy week, and more.
When it comes to defending against cyberthreats, the traditional method of update, patch, repeat is no longer cutting it. The security market is responding. Are you? This week’s lead Searchlight item looks at the burgeoning field of cybersecurity start-ups. Unlike their well-established competitors, these young companies are devising ways to combat — and even anticipate — new threats that are evolving along with the age of BYOD and the so-called Internet of Things. Searchlight isn’t about pitching products, and this week is no exception. But it is about pitching ideas — and one CIOs need to be thinking about is just how safe their companies are with the security they currently have.
Also this week: With its $3.2 billion cash buy of Nest, Google gets real with The Internet of Things (and finds another way to insert itself into your everyday life); what the net neutrality ruling means for the average user and more!
Another International CES show, another year of bloggers complaining how very passe it is. Well, maybe it’s a slog to actually be there, but what filtered out through various media seemed, if not super exciting, at least pretty important. Sigh, another year with a bunch of wearable technology. Yes, but doesn’t that say something? It’s not going away. Read a little further and you’ll find it’s getting better, both in form and function. Scratch the surface of some research and see that some companies are already embracing wearable technology modified to suit their business needs. This week’s Searchlight focuses on why CIOs need to focus on this trend more than they might realize. Also in this week’s Searchlight: you kids keep your Snapchat– the grownups want ephemeral messaging that says something, a harsh reminder that emails don’t disappear and more.
If you do something more than once and do it at the same time of year, it’s reasonable to consider it an “annual event.” Therefore, welcome to the annual Searchlight List of Lists! It’s my business to write for and about CIOs, so I know you haven’t got time to sift through all those year-end best/worst lists and future predictions. Hence the List of Lists — a handy roundup of roundups all in one spot. I’m curious to see if you agree or disagree with the oft-shared contention that 2013 was a crummy year for technology. And I’m equally eager to hear what you think will be the big trends in 2014. So, drop me a note in the comments when you, you know, have a “free moment.” Happy New Year!
We’ve all said silly things. We don’t all get haunted by them on the Internet on a regular basis. Back in 1995, writer and astronomer Cliff Stoll shared his thoughts on the future of the World Wide Web with Newsweek. In short, he suspected it didn’t really have one. Ironically, that scathing opinion piece on what a waste the ‘Net was and evermore resurfaces now and again — on the Internet — for “can you believe that?” laughs. It popped up once more this week, gave me pause and became this week’s lead Searchlight item.
Sure, it’s a funny read now. But there’s also a lesson here that’s especially pertinent at this rife-with-predictions time of year. We’re so bombarded with what’s coming next and hype about the big new technology that will save us all that it’s easy to sour on the whole scene. But beware, being too dismissive of what’s new could cause you more harm than becoming good for a viral giggle.
Also this week: Target lands in the cross hairs of big time hackers, meet the newest (weirdest) crypto currency and more.
Won’t someone please think of the children? Oh, great, someone is. This week, Computer Science Education Week and the non-profit group Code.org successfully encouraged teachers in the U.S. and around the world to participate in an “Hour of Code.” The initiative, started by philanthropic computer science-loving brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi, provides teachers and students with the materials — online lessons and tutorials — needed to spend an hour learning about computer programming. (An additional 20 tutorials are also available online.) As of Thursday evening, more than 12 million kids participated. By the looks of media reports students and teachers alike embraced and enjoyed the opportunity. Great! But, as Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser points out in this week’s lead Searchlight item, it’s not nearly enough. If the end goal is to ignite a passion for computer programming in kids K-12 and lead them toward a strong career path (with some long-term viability), one hour of one week doesn’t cut it. “A” for effort, but still needs improvement.
Also in this week’s Searchlight: how not to get potential customers to use your app, the NSA levels up on its spying efforts, the message behind Instagram’s new chat feature and more.
Drones and robots and mini Robocops, oh my! Leading off this week’s Searchlight: smart machines are having a moment and it’s only the beginning. Amazon and it’s delivery drone announcement, Google’s no-longer-secret robot labs, a crime deterring R2D2 all jockeyed for attention this week. And depending on your point of view it’s all very cool or all kinda scary. Sure these tech innovations are neat and could make life a lot easier. But what’s the price?
We’ve all been impressed by how smart a smart machine can be. We’ve seen Watson put the smack down on Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings. We appreciate, for the most part, that machines and drones carry out dangerous military actions in place of humans. But it’s worth debating long and hard whether they’re something we should strive to make an integral part of our economy. One thing is for sure, CIOs need to get in on the technology and the conversation now. Also in the Searchlight: Apple pays a big price to get social, hackers steal and expose more than 2 million passwords, why coding shouldn’t be for everyone and more!