Business and Social Frog Soup – are we ready for the next decade?

Over the past couple years I have written several stories with “frog soup” as a main theme. The idea of being in cold water, and not recognizing the degree by degree Frog soup concerns for the American economyincrease of heat in the water, till at some point we are cooked, is the danger of being a cold-blooded animal. Business may follow a similar course.

In business we can follow the route of “this is the way we’ve always done it, and it works, so there is no reason to change our processes or strategies.” Innovations like virtualization or cloud computing hit the headlines, and many say “it is a cool idea, but we want the security and hands-on confidence of running our own servers and applications.”

In the United States many telecom companies continue to build business cases based on “milking” telephone settlement minutes, bilateral relationships, and controlling telecom “pipes.” Internet service providers (ISPs) continue holding on to traditional peering relationships, holding out for “paid peering,” doing everything possible to attain market advantage based on traffic ratios.

Nothing new, same ideas, different decade.

It is international frog soup.

In Vietnam the government is currently planning to build an entirely new information infrastructure, from the ground up, based on the most cutting edge telecom and data/content infrastructure. Children in Hanoi go to school at 7 a.m., take a quick lunch break, hit the books till around 5 p.m., take another break, and finish their day at study sessions till around 9 p.m.

Concentration – mathematics, physics, and language.

The children are being exposed to Internet-based technologies, combining their tacit experience and knowledge of global interconnected people with a high degree of academic sophistication.

In the United States children go to school for, at most, 6 hours a day, graduating with (on average) little capabilities in math or language – although we do have deep knowledge of metal detectors and how to smoke cigarettes in the restrooms without being caught. In Los Angeles, some locations cannot even hit a 50% graduation rate among high school students.

And oddly enough, we appear to be comfortable with that statistic.

Perhaps our approach to business is following a similar pattern. We become used to approaching our industry, jobs, and relationships on a level of survival, rather than innovation. We may not in some cases even have the intellectual tools to apply existing technology to the potential of functioning in a global economy. Then we are surprised when an immigrant takes our job or business.

Some universities, such as Stanford, aggressively recruit students from foreign countries, as they cannot attract enough qualified student s from the United States to meet their desired academic threshold. And once they graduate from Stanford, they find their way into Silicon Valley startups, with an entrepreneurial spirit that is beyond the scope of many American graduates.

Those startups have the intellectual and entrepreneurial tools to compete in a global economy, using innovative thinking, unbound by traditional processes and relationships, and are driving the center of what used to be America’s center of the global innovation world. Except that it is only based in Silicon Valley, and now represents the center of a global innovative community. Possibly due to the availability of increasingly cheaper American labor?

Frog Soup

Us Americans – we are getting lazy. Innovation to us may mean how we manipulate paper, and has nothing to do with manufacturing and business innovation. We are starting to miss the value of new products, new concepts, and execution of business plans which end up in production of goods for export and domestic use. We believe concentration on services industries will drive our economy into the future, based on products and other commercial goods imported into our country.

Except for the painful fact and reality we do not have a young generation with the intellectual tools to compete with kids in Hanoi who are on a near religious quest to learn.

The temperature is rising, and we as a country and economic factor in the global community is being diluted every day.

Time to put away the video games and get back to work. No more “time outs,” only time to roll up our sleeves and learn, innovate, learn, innovate, and innovate some more. Forget comfort, we are nearly soup.

Blackberrys, PDA Phones, and Frog Soup

“Frog Soup” is an interesting concept. As a cold-blooded critter, a frog cannot easily feel the difference between hot and cold, although when cold the frog, like all cold-blooded animals, gets a bit sluggish. On the other hand, when you put a frog in a pot of water, and start to turn up the heat, the frog will not notice the gradual rise in temperature, and will be happily swimming around up till the point the frog finally succumbs and is cooked.

So we use the phrase “frog soup” as a metaphor describing how we can get ourselves into a situation through time, without ever having really been aware we were getting into a situation. This metaphor can be applied to relationships, jobs, life – almost anything where you wake up one day “cooked,” without ever having suspected you were in hot water.

I’ve been using email since the mid 1970s, when I was first dabbling with messaging systems in the US Air Force. Even back then, I quickly established a routine for connecting to the network, and often checking to see if I had received any new messages. By the 1990s it had gotten to the point where I would actually delay other activities just to check and see if anybody had sent me an email in the past hour or so.

Thus, when I had received my first Blackberry, I was probably already in some pretty hot water. How many of us can relate to our need to carry our Blackberry EVERYWHERE we go. To parties, the bathroom, driving, and end the day by putting the Blackberry next to our bed at night in case somebody decides they need to reach us at 0230 in the morning? I even have people SPAMing me, upset because I did not respond to their email within 5 minutes of receipt.

Do you remember the good old days when you could get off work, go home, and your life was essentially yours until you showed up at your workplace the next morning (OK, OK, I am also an operations guy and understand the concept of an “on call” career)? You might occasionally meet the “guys” for a drink or pizza on the way home, but most of the time your life was yours outside of the office.

Employers must really like the idea of being connected with their staff 24 hours a day. Some people may call it “untethered,” some may call it “telecommuting,” some may call it “flexible work-enabling technology.” I call it being “owned” by my company. “Sorry dear, I can’t come to dinner because I just got an email from my boss, and he needs some information tonight to respond to his boss asking for additional information.” Or, if your boss sends a broadcast email to 15 people, and some are already acknowledging the email, and suddenly you have a cold chill running down your spine that says “I better respond to my boss quickly, or he will think I am not motivated.”

Sometimes, when my mind is not fully engaged in where I am at in the global mesh of being wired to technology, I think of the good old days. Walking down to Ala Moana Beach with a novel, some cold drinks, and a sincere desire to get a jump on my tan. Prioritizing a jog around the Ala Wai, Diamondhead, Magic Island, or even just a beach run in Long Beach. Spending the weekend at a distant island, far away from any technology or – can you believe this…, or even a Starbucks?

We must resist allowing our lives to become cooked like the frog in a pot of boiling water. Blackberrys and PDA phones are wonderful technology, but life is also a wonderful thing. I am currently considering PDA rehab, with the objective of gradually reducing my addiction to PDA phones. I will leave the phone in another room to charge overnight, or even consider turning the thing off for a minimum of 8 hours a day. Maybe even consider turning it off for a whole weekend (ouch!).

I’d be very interested in how you avoid being “cooked” by succumbing to the frog soup of our Blackberry culture.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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