Monday, April 5, 2010

Data, Inforamtion, Knowledge

According to many information scientists, it is useful to think of information as part of this sequence: Data -> Information -> Knowledge, where the following definitions make sense:

Data are sense stimuli that have been attended to (Noise -> Attention -> Data).
Information is sensible structured data (Data -> Structure -> Information).
Knowledge is usable information that has been interpreted through a social-cultural process (Information -> Interpretation -> Knowledge).

For example:

There are many sense stimuli around me, but my attention turns to two moving bodies below. At that point I have data - two moving bodies.

Right after that, I ascribe meaning to these data: I structure them by classifying them into pre-existing categories - here's a man, here's a woman, here's a street. Now, I have information/meaning: I see a man and a woman walking down the street.

Can I do anything with this information? Do I care? Probably not. If I do care, I can
interpret this information in the light of various other information pieces in order to create some kind of contextual picture which other people find sensible and usable.

Let's say we're waiting for a couple to visit us. I focus on the man and the woman, but can't see their faces. I call my partner from the other room, and ask her - Can you see there? Are these John and Wendy? And she says - "yes, they are". I look again and I say - "yeah, you're right, let's call them and help them find our apartment". Now we've created a usable piece of knowledge through a social process.

So the sequence was:
Noise (various sense data around)
-> Attention -> Data (two moving bodies) -
> Structure -> Information (Man and woman walking down the street)
-> Socio-Cultural Interpretation -> Knowledge (John and Wendy coming to visit us and might need help in finding our apartment).

You can also check out a nice post by Khen Ofek at his blog 'Cloud Philosophy'.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Technology and free will

The people who create technology are changing the world in surprising ways. Never before have we achieved such an amazing control over the ability to create technical solutions to problems.

We can send spaceships that will survey Mars. Billions of people have unprecedented access to unimaginable quantities of other people, of all types of content and various devices. Everything becomes mobile and fast and countless of opportunities are opened for people, groups, organizations and nations.

On the other hand, the unnoticeable way in which technology gets a hold on our life re-creates us as human beings. The Internet lets executives run huge multi-national corporations, but it is still difficult to get rid of dozens of spam messages every day. It’s possible to contact people and devices in space, but billions of people have never conducted a single phone call. The best technological tools are used by the best minds, but also by Bin Laden.

Technology saves time and spends time, benefits and harms, saves lives and threatens lives. There are some things beyond our control here (like the use of technology by terrorists), but what is within our control is also very clear: each one of us determines, if, how much and how one technology or another is used. There is a space between the urge to use everything all the time and the actual use itself. Our freedom resides in this space, and so does our real benefit.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Five Thinking Hats of the Public Relations Professional

The public relations profession is not considered a thought-intensive profession. On the contrary, the field is associated with uninhibited PR people nagging every journalist they meet and urging him to write about some unimportant subject, provided the journalist does it in a big way. But a different approach to public relations is possible – one that is based on systematic and multi-faceted thinking.

A profession whose aim is to create good reputation has created itself a problematic reputation, to say the least. What an irony.

It should be admitted that many public relations people are contributing to this reputation. Every day, they are approaching journalists in every possible fashion – phone calls, fax messages, emails, personal visits, etc. – with various subjects that journalists are not interested in and do not need for their job.

The result: day in and day out, journalists are flooded with an endless number of annoying approaches from public relations people. Is it possible that these PR guys, whose aim is to disseminate good reputation in general and good reputation for their own profession in particular, will create a positive image for public relations? No one - no journalist and no PR guy – likes to be bothered by so many irrelevant issues.

Photo by Brain Solis

Is this the reality of public relations? Not necessarily. Can public relations work differently? They surely can and sometimes do. So how is this done?

In the age of knowledge, advanced public relations should rely on information, knowledge and thinking – a lot of systematic, sophisticated and creative thinking.

How does this thinking look like?

Public relations is the systematic effort of managing the reputation of people, companies and organizations. I am intentionally saying “reputation management” and not “positive image creation” because honest public relations should start with the premise that it is impossible to make a person, an organization or company something that he or it is not.

If a certain company is a failed company, it is useless to present it as a successful company. In an age when nuclear secrets are flowing in the speed and transparency of light, the thing that can be done with a failed company is to admit its difficulties and failings, while showing the other – more positive – aspects of its nature.

A company’s reputation should be managed with the same levels of depth and sophistication which are employed when managing the company itself. This is the difference between reputation management and the creation of positive image at all costs. Moreover, some companies and organizations are so negative that a public relations professional should prefer not to handle them at all, particularly if he or she will be part of a campaign of lies and deception.

This is the way to “clear the table” in order to set public relations on the basis of credibility and honesty which it needs so desperately.

So how can we manage a company’s reputation in a thought-intensive way? The first element that should be thrown out is also the toughest to get rid of, since it is inherent in the nature of media itself and is also part of the market’s nature: the element of urgency. Speed and agility are good things - urgency is something else.

It is impossible to change years-old reputation in a single thrust of a short, brilliant campaign. It is possible and necessary to quickly respond to changing circumstances in the market and the media. Nevertheless, public relations should be based on a thorough understanding gained by the PR professional.

Public relations is the meeting point of the market, the organization or the company, the marketing world and the media world. Thinking expert Edward de Bono has presented the idea of six thinking hats, where each hat represents a different angle: factual, positive, negative, emotional, creative and holistic.

The thinking of the public relations professional has to be able to fully wear each one of the following five hats, which represent the various arenas in which the professional operates.

The first hat that the public relations professional has to wear is the hat of the market. You cannot navigate properly in an unrecognized territory. The same logic applies to reputation management, which takes place in a certain market.

When the public relations professional thinks about the market, he or she should answer questions such as: What is the focus of the market? What’s its size? What are the main trends? Who are its principal players? What are the market drivers? What media outlets does this market consume, to what extent and in which ways?

The hat of the manager of the company or the organization: When a public relations professional represents a company or organization, he or she has to wear the hat of this entity’s manager. Who is the company exactly? What’s its expertise? Who are the employers? What does it aim at and how? What are its products and services? What problems does it face? Who is its manager, as a human being and as a company leader? What bothers him? What makes him ‘tick’, personally? And above all – what is the company’s reputation?

This is a partial list, but it sheds light on the type of the required knowledge and the type of thinking that is involved in PR. The creation and the processing of this knowledge are substantial elements of the public relations work.

The hat of the marketing manager: A PR professional should wear the hat of the marketing manager and answer questions such as: What are the capabilities and aims of the marketing department? What does is its most pressing need? Who is the marketing manager as a human being and as a professional? How is the marketing department structured and how does it work? This, too, is a partial list.

The hat of the editor: A public relations professional who wears the editor’s hat should understand issues such as: What is the positioning of the media channel, publication or section that is targeted? What does the editor consider as interesting? How does the editor work with the media? Where does the editor want to lead the media outlet or publication to? Without the answers, it will be difficult for the public relations professional to target the right items to the right media outlet in the right timing.

The hat of the journalist: It is almost needless to say that a public relations professional should be able to think like the journalists he or she works with. The professional should know what is interesting for whom, when and in what context. He or she should know the journalist’s social and professional environment, and the factors that influence the journalist’s preferences. The PR professional should know the journalistic language and its conventions, starting with the way press releases are written, through the preparation of articles to the editing of journalistic investigations or supplements.

Public relations that stems from wearing and changing each of these hats is more like strategic planning and long-term management than an urgent race after tomorrow’s title. The urgency is replaced by a thorough understanding of the customers, the customers’ needs and the media and by the intelligent management of the customers’ reputation.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Essential Do’s and Don’ts for Entrepreneurs

Suppose you’re about to start your own technology company, or have just started one. Wouldn’t you want valuable advice from veteran entrepreneurs and managers who already did it? This is what the audience at a recent meeting in Tel-Aviv got in an event called annual "Day of the Entrepreneur 2008", which was organized by the Israeli branch of the MIT Enterprise Forum.

Zohar Zisapel, founder and chairman of the Nasdaq-traded Rad Group, has started, together with his brother Yehuda, at least 27 companies. Rad Group was called "the world's most successful incubator" of telecom-related startups by Business 2.00 magazine.

Zisapel tipped the eager entrepreneurs in the audience about Do’s and Don’t’s in approaching venture capital funds (VCs).

“One of the typical lies VCs tell entrepreneurs is ‘we have all the time in the world for your company’,” Zisapel said. “Investors think that entrepreneurs are guilty so long as they are not proving their innocence. From the outset, they try to prove you wrong. Therefore, you have to be modest in your presentation,” Zisapel stressed. “Describe all the risks involved in your venture and prove that you are aware of them. During the first meeting, let the VC find one positive surprise about your venture. That’ll help them be less skeptical.”

It’s hard to get a positive answer from a VC, but it is also difficult to get a plain negative answer, according to Zisapel. “The VC fund does not want to get itself out of the game in case it does decide to invest.” So how will the entrepreneur know where he stands? Zisapel came with a prepared answer: “There is no reason why it will take more than two months for a VC to decide whether to invest in a venture or not. If you pass this timeframe, you actually got a negative answer.”

Other common mistakes, Zisapel maintained, is to first focus in the U.S. market, instead of the Chinese market, to use complex investment formulas, to simultaneously talk to many investors or to use middlemen for help with fund raising. To be practical, Zisapel reminded, you have to summarize each meeting with the VC with a decision regarding the next step.

Aharon Aharon, co-founder and CEO of Camero Inc. and chairman of Discretix Technologies, served as the CEO of Seabridge, a Siemens company. Prior to that, he was the COO of Zoran. Aharon started his professional career at IBM Research Division where he managed the VLSI and CAD tools activities.

Aharon’s test case was Zoran, a supplier of chips for DVDs (35 percent market share), HDTV, digital cameras and digital imaging products. Aharon showed how the company transformed itself through mastering its marketplace. “Zoran has set itself a goal to achieve a market share of more that 25 percent in each of its end markets. For that purpose, it reorganized so that 80 percent of the sales came from the Far East. It focused on the strategic goal, while remembering that
China, Japan, Korea are very different from each other. “You need dedicated workers for each of these markets,” Aharon observed. As a result, in 2007, Zoran had about $500 million in revenue, around $65 million net profit and more than 1,200 employees.

He urged the entrepreneurs to define strategic goals, to think out of the box, to turn goals into annual operational plans and build a healthy and professional organization.

“Don’t underestimate your competitors and remember that shortcuts are not applicable to you,” he warned. Being both a CEO and chairman, Aharon stressed the loneliness of the CEO. “Don’t count on the board,” he gave another warning. “The board helps you when you don’t need it, and doesn’t help you when you need it. Therefore, accountability and responsibility are essential, while remembering that tough decisions and dealing with hiccups are where leadership is needed. It’s very hard to drop the context in order to really focus on what matters most, but in a startup, you have just one try,” Aharon summarized.

“Invent or die” is the motto of Igal Rotem, founder and CEO of PowerDsine, the power over Ethernet pioneer which was acquired in 2007 by MicroSemi for around $250 million. Today, the PowerDsine unit in MicroSemi is responsible for sales of more that $50 million and it employs 145 workers.

Rotem doesn’t like analysts. “Don’t listen to all those research companies which are quoting you own quotes and charging you money for that,” Rotem warned. “You have to study your market by talking directly to the people who operate in it.”

PowerDsine has reinvented itself five times, according to Rotem. The company’s claim to fame was the Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. “When we came up with this technology in 2000, people told us ‘you are nuts’. Later on, we created 70 percent of the IEEE802.3af standard. During the process, we’ve understood that part of our technology has to come as a chip and not as a box, and it helped us a lot.”

Asked about PowerDsine’s biggest mistake, Rotem replied without hesitation: “We made too many private funding rounds, we raised too little money and we did it too late.”

Other conclusions are no less important: “You have to play in a big market. You can’t be a follower; you have to be number 1 or number 2 in your space. But remember that anyway, when the market will be large, the big guys will take it…”
Some pessimism might help, according to Rotem: “Assume new markets will grow three times slower that you think. Therefore, you constantly have to look for growth engines. Invest in intellectual property.”

Rotem referred to acquisitions, a very common practice in Israel, where startup companies are bought on a weekly basis: “If you’re about to sell your company, treat it like marriage, but make sure that the bride has more than one admirer…”

Avi Cohen, who is currently COO at ECI Telecom, spent more than eleven years at KLA-Tencor Corporation, including seven years as president of KLA-Tencor Israel. During his tenure, Cohen led the creation of the global metrology group at KLA-Tencor while driving revenue and market share three-fold.

Cohen’s talk, entitled “creating value in technology”, stressed time and time again that strategy comes before tactics. “Strategy is a direction and a way to stay focused and it cannot be built without the use of cycles of understanding,” Cohen noted. “Confusing strategy and tactics is a mistake. For example, the budget process is a tactical tool, not a strategic tool.”

And a warning for technologists: “Technology is an accelerator for the strategy, not the strategy itself”.

Looking for revenue and profits? Differentiate, Cohen emphasized. “Differentiation is what drives returns. It provides pricing power and economic success and it must become a culture. You have to evolve your company’s core competence and create a culture of consistent innovation, as a way to protect against inertia. One way to do that is to create roadmaps for differentiation and discontinuities.”

Cohen described how KLA-Tencor’s optical metrology division, which is mostly based in Israel, managed to increase market share from less than 20 percent in 1994 to more than 75 percent in 2002. “The next 15-20 percent needed a change of rules,” Cohen recalled. But KLA made use of effective formal processes of annual strategic planning and quarterly business reviews, that saved it a lot of mistakes, and as a result, “the market share of the division today is perhaps around 90 percent,” according to Cohen.

Startups are often chaotic, so Cohen had a warning for that, too: “A culture of discipline does not equal bureaucracy. You can and should balance innovation with discipline. Keep you organization simple. Construct clear roles and responsibilities.” What does that mean, specifically? Cohen gave a hint: “Managers should have 6-7 direct reports and 30 percent more when they are more experienced.”

Cohen dwelled on the nature of teamwork: “A culture of teamwork is so powerful and so rare. Some of the dysfunctions of a team include status and ego, low standards, ambiguity and artificial harmony. Don’t be afraid of conflicts. Leadership doesn’t mean being the smartest or knowing everything,” he quoted a well known phrase.

He continued to talk about his current role at ECI Telecom, which has turned private and did ‘roles and responsibilities cleanup’, according to Cohen. “We differentiated between product portfolio management and facing customers. At the end of the process, about every third person at ECI had either change of boss or of role.”

What was the result? “The three pillars of the new ECI are clarity of roles and responsibilities, redefined core competencies and a ‘fabless’ model,” Cohen concluded.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Israeli Inventions which Can Make Your Life Easier

Amir Ben-Artzi

What’s the common denominator among someone who is stuck on the road with a flat tire, someone who strolls with a baby in a hot day, and yet another who fills the living room with dust as he drills a hole in the wall? All these people and many others can benefit from the new Israeli inventions which have recently been presented in Tel-Aviv.

The guy who got stuck on the road with a puncture can take out FastAir, a special 16-feet long tube, connect one of its ends to the spare wheel when it is still in the trunk, and the other end to the flat tire. The tube will transfer air from the spare tire to the punctured one, and so the driver will be able to drive to the closest repair shop.

The lady who strolls with her baby can use Baby Comfort, a tiny portable air-conditioner that is located in a mother care bag. The bag consists of special pockets for food, bottles, disposable diapers and other things a baby needs when going out. The air-conditioner is fitted into a special pocket that can be disconnected from the bag, and it includes a pipe that distributes cold air. The special bag, which is going to be on the market next summer, can also be used by bikers and handicapped people in wheelchairs.

The guy who drills a hole in the living room’s wall can use Issufit, a pipe-like rubber device, which is connected to an electric drill and collects the dust that comes out of the drilling. As a result, there is no need to cover the furniture in the room where the drilling takes place. Executives from Bosch, who have seen the invention in the exhibition, expressed their interest in the product.

These are only a few samples out of dozens of inventions that were exhibited by the Israel Center for Inventors by the Schnaider Method, whose second inventors’ conference attracted more than 1,000 attendants. This year’s conference focused on the interface between inventors and investors, including a professional fair of service suppliers in the areas of intellectual property, investments, research and marketing. It seemed like a gathering of practical dreamers.

The conference also celebrated the launch of the Nethrone gaming and work environment, which nestles users in a multi-positional cradle-like environment, equipped with an adjustable reclining vibrating seat, keyboard or joystick, dual mouse position armrest, neck cushion and dual footrest position.

Another useful invention is Silonit, a domestic clog opener. This 20 feet long flexible rubber pipe is equipped with an adapter that fits into any domestic faucet. The other end of the pipe consists of a special ‘spearhead’ with several openings, which allow the water to flow to the sides and open the clog. According to the inventor, Moshe Strauss, the pipe enables anyone to open clogs on his own, using regular water flow.

Other inventions included electrical garlic peeler and chopper, which cuts other vegetables as well, Trick, a product that prevents doors from being slammed in a way that injures children’s fingers, and thick wooden skewers for barbecue coated with spice mixture.

The founder and manager of the inventors’ center, Yossef Schnaider, is a 37 years old ultra-orthodox Jewish Israeli, who established the center in 1999. “There’s a huge list of Israeli inventions”, said Schnaider. “For example, Iranians drink water that is desalinated by machines provided by the Israeli company Electra. We have met about 15,000 inventors in our center. Next year I intend to establish inventors’ centers in France and in the U.S.”.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Israeli money and know-how fuel Chinese packaging plant

Israeli brain drain is cause for concern