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Monday, May 31, 2010

Google's Economic Impact : Next Time It Will Look Different

Google published the first ever “Google’s Economic Impact” report, which estimates that in 2009, Google generated $54 billion of economic activity for advertisers, publishers, and non-profit bodies in the United States. This is done using the AdSense & AdWords frameworks and delivered via paid search clicks, natural search clicks, AdSense revenue sharing, and Google Grants aka charitable donations. The report reveals that Google’s US revenue in 2009 was $11 billion; the $54 billion figure is Google's computation on how much value Google creates for its partners. The methodology used therein is quite a pioneering one, given that this is the first time that someone is attempting to assess the economic impact of online ads at this scale : the whole internet and who else is better qualified than Google to attempt this.

This is an interesting report, the implications of which will be felt more and more in the years to come. If we reason out that search engines (Google)are in many senses replacing displacing traditional media ad spends, it may be difficult to agree with Google’s $54 billion estimate for its direct economic impact but we have to concede a few things. This is a new growing media, the media, by nature brings in more participation from new class of users and one that may be potentially more ready to spend and the flexibility this provides to advertisers - they can cap daily ad spend and can look at in realtime extending or suspending ads based on clicks and reach. Google's report primarily depends on the assumption that clicks on natural results drive five times as many leads for businesses as clicks on paid results. However, we believe the indirect impact may be much much more.

I have seen estimates suggesting that Google's Traffic Acquisition Cost payments to US publisher websites, (as assessed by analysts) at about $3 billion, for an revenue of 11 billion dollars which is now being projected by Google to have an advertiser impact of about $50 plus billion. Lets look at the calculation :
Google calculates the advertiser impact of its search service by assuming that for every dollar spent by an advertiser, the advertiser generates two dollars in sales (and one dollar in “sales minus marketing expense”, which the report calls “profits”) from consumers clicking on the purchased search result, and a further seven dollars in “profits” from consumers clicking on natural search results for the same advertiser, creating an 8X multiplier effect. Thus, claims the report, $7 billion in US-owned and operated revenue should drive $56 billion in economic impact

Now the difficult part:
- Google says that businesses receive an average of five clicks on search results for companies as ads, and by its own conservative standards, estimates that search clicks are about 70 percent as commercially relevant and valuable as ad clicks, and thereby calculates that advertisers receive a total of eight times in surplus what they spend in AdWords. Look carefully here:

- Google assumes that people clicking on links are as inclined to purchase. Any benefit from link clicks has nothing at all to do with having ads. The two are separate events, and a company gets the benefit from search engine optimization and all the work of having a Web site, rapidly increasing the effective cost of using the ads.

- As the Jansen and Spink study states, “More than 80% of web queries are informational in nature and approximately 10% aretransactional, and 10% navigational.” This may lead one to think that the vast majority of clicks need not convert into sales (this is understandable) and so the impact may be less than what is assumed herein.

Thinking deep, it occurs to me it would be tough to embrace or discard Google’s estimated multiplier effect .As noted earlier, Google calculates the advertiser impact of its search service by assuming that for every dollar spent by an advertiser, the advertiser generates one dollar in “sales minus marketing expense” from consumers clicking on the purchased search result, and a further seven dollars from consumers clicking on natural search results for the same advertiser, creating an 8X multiplier effect. Google estimates that one dollar spent on search generates two dollars in advertiser sales via consumer clicks on paid search results. This assessment is centered on the methodology devised by Hal Varian, its Chief Economist, which in its core, assumes that advertisers are spending rationally to buy a certain keyword ranking rather than a higher or lower ranking, and then deriving the implied value which advertisers place on a click. I would think that this resonates well with my intuitive reasoning. Google estimates that one dollar spent on search corresponds to seven dollars in advertiser revenue via consumer clicks on natural search results.

Ideally , Google should have attempted a Lifetime Value assessment to derive the economic impact but rightfuly chooses to center these on transaction basis given the characteristics of the internet media and its limited lifespan. I talked to a few power users of these services (corporate and SMB) and find that for many interenet centric revenue generators, the proportion of their online centric revenue coming out of search engines on an average hover around upwards of 20% in their established and growing phase of business. The informal estimates from such sources point to 40-20-40 ratio - direct traffic,keyword centric and natural search referrals. For startups and early life enterprises, the ratio could be 25-35-40 pointing to a near 6X ratio. The swing across the range hovers between 4x to 6x ratio.

Without search engine, Google acknowledges advertisers would find other means of reaching consumers. We have to concede that search engines are not just merely capturing existing consumer spending rather they stimulate additional consumer spending(any online purchaser can vouch for this - they tend to buy more , owing to the dramatic increase in efficiencies and the smoothness of the operation). To be fair, Google’s true “economic impact” on a community should likely be measured in a way that balances the economic patterns it disrupts with the new-model of business it generates. Online ads and Google being the dominant player there are directly influencing the sale and retail mechanisms in a big way and are bound to increase their influence and hopefully, we will see the economic impact assessment methods improve a lot more along with the results.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The New Polymath : The New Way To The New Future

Fellow Enterprise Irregular and a great friend Vinnie Mirchandani is coming out with a new book :The New Polymath - Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations, due for release last week of June 2010. He shared an early review copy with me for my reading – what a pleasurable and stimulating read it turned out to be. I was impressed with the theme of the book , the very powerful examples therein ( who won’t be impressed to look at the striking success of the likes of Apple, Google, General Electric and scores of others in other industries in a new light) and the recommended practices therein.
The present era of mankind is seeing lot of excitement and promise all around. Around the world, everyday in our lives bring lot of changes – fast , unpredictable and may times we have to struggle hard to understand what the change stands for. Globalization, Technology has transformed the playing fields across continents, industries and sectors. Very powerful forces of change have shaken the beliefs in many aspects of governance and social thinking. Fortune 500 companies list is changing faster than the fast pace that we have seen in the past. Powerful brands have suffered huge damages and many industries have gotten transformed substantially so much so that many successful leaders today claim their business need to adapt and transform faster than ever. Leading edge corporations run faster in this direction to ensure that their rate of change inside is ahead of the change seen in their external environments. Looking at these developments, its clear that the time to re-imagine the future is now, and it is best done by a fresh school of thought that governs our thinking frameworks to enable a fundamental rethink and envision what is desirable and sustainable.

Now about the book: What does the term Polymath mean? Vinnie explains, “Polymath,” as in Greek for someone who excels in many disciplines, like Leonardo da Vinci, who was an artist, sculptor, architect, and so much more,
Isaac Newton, the English physicist, astronomer, and philosopher, and Hypatia of Alexandria, who was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and teacher
Ben Franklin - author, journalist, scientist, inventor, political philosopher and statesman. In this book, Vinnie focuses on Polymath enterprises, who are setting out a strikingly successful path in business.

Vinnie, the quintessential polymath as defined in the book, starts by observing that for the most part today, most of us seem to specialize and highlights the fact that we are monomaths in a world of exploding knowledge and passionately argues for more and more polymaths to be nurtured both at the institutional and at personal levels. (Being a monomath is a direct teaching of many management thinkers of recent era – for example, as recently as in the last two decades, Jim Collins adopted Peter Drucker’s thinking and brought out in his book “Good to Great” that leaders need to think and act like hedgehogs , not foxes. Hedgehogs are more like monomaths and foxes are more like polymaths ). With monomaths around, Vinnie argues that many ecosystems are going through a phase aka the dark ages, where there was plenty of living, but there was little forward movement in terms of progress. It was defined by its relative “nothingness”. Drawing a parallel to the current time, he points out, in the information technology, there is lack of nutrition—so much of the spending is wasted. In sustainability, there is lack of agreement—there are so many rancors in spite of so many global concerns. In health care, it is about lack of availability—so much of the world does not have access to all the advances in technology—or even basic health care. The core of these problems Vinnie argues amongst others centers on monomath thinking and execution.

At the same , Vinnie brings out the modern day success stories of polymath enterprises and individuals and argues that in them he sees the potential to capitalize on the promise that future holds for business and mankind. He succinctly points out to the fact that well-designed enterprises are taking individual monomaths, leveraging a wide array of technologies and becoming the new polymaths. The good news is that as in the European Renaissance, there are plenty of polymaths that are around. Though a lot of attention these days seems to go to innovation in mobile and social technologies, plenty of complex, hairy “industrial innovation” is also going on. This is encouraging because we face a daunting series of challenges at the global, enterprise, and individual level. We need polymaths to help deal with a range of challenges – big and small, of various size and structures.

Let's looks at the new business that are shaping many emerging industries - The successful enterprises spanning established corporations to upcoming start-ups—are creating incredible value by succeeding in a new way: by bringing together various streams of technology (biotech, cleantech, healthtech, infotech,Nanotech etc) to create new form of processes, products and services to create value . These are the poster child of Vinnie’s definition of the New Polymaths.

What I see in the book are a rich set of examples and metaphors that talk the story of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and multinational companies innovatively leveraging technology to tackle big problems, “grand challenges,” related to health, hunger, and natural disasters—and, of course, information technology. In their own ways, these big and small enterprises in their spheres of influence are reshaping the world . Vinnie highlights that examples represent a range from a triangle to an eight sided octagon to a ten sided decagon to a twenty sided icosagon to a 50 sided pentacontagon! The “more-sided” polymaths are trying to solve the really big, hairy problems. The “fewer-sided” ones are a bit less ambitious, but they are helping us run our enterprises and lives much better. The book rightfully brings out the range, recognizing that we need a variety of such forms of organizations.

The easy to read book is structured into three parts :

Part I sets the stage for the challenges of today and opportunities for polymaths of today and profiles GE, a new polymath.

Part II is organized around an acronym—R-E-N-A-I-S-S-A-N-C-E—each letter of which discusses a building block for the new polymath to leverage.

Part III is focused on how helping you groom your own new polymath. It profiles the BP CTO group, its tools and processes, and its vast ecosystem of innovation ideas, besides bringing together common threads from the seven other polymath profiles and the 11 building blocks

Leaders who disrupt to succeed in business need a framework to navigate their way and Vinnie provides that through his key building blocks of the R-E-N-A-I-S-S-A-N-C-E framework (each letter is a chapter that discusses a building block for the New Polymath), we learn about 11 key ideas: Residence; Exotics; Networks
(Bluetooth to broadband); Arsonists; Interfaces; Sustainability; Singularity;
Analytics; Networks (social); Cloud Computing; and Ethics. He further brings in the ethics dimension and urges integrating this into the warp and weft of innovation that the Polymaths unleash. This is a nice read explaining the need for these changes and how to effectively leverage them for success.

Do all these things thing look theoretical? - No way!. Look at the rich examples that Vinnie is parading: Apple, Google, Salesforce.com et al... Marc Benioff in the preface to the book captures this very well.–“Being a Polymath isn’t that difficult—and it always yields multidimensional rewards”. One of my favorite in this book is the chapter on steps to becoming a polymath – and the book lays out the key steps to becoming a Polymath enterprise.

Vinnie’s closing comments captures the essence that if we add up all the personal interests and skills that do not show up in job descriptions, there are plenty of other modern-day, mainstream polymaths and urges business to craft the right blend of monomaths that can lead to running successful polymath enterprises. And that we need these polymaths to solve the world’s wicked problems that Aristotle and al-Tusi and Jefferson never even imagined. In Vinnie’s dream, in such a world, Michelangelo would propose a toast to the uomo universale, the Italian term for polymath, and invoke his contemporary, Leon Battista Alberti: “A man can do all things if he but wills them.”

When In Search Of Excellence got published in 1981, it was a time when every good business idea seemed to be born in Japan, and most did not appear transferable to the United States. That’s the time, Tom Peters & Robert Waterman, the authors of the book examined several successful American companies and detailed readily transferable attributes shared by most of them. It helped American executives look into the mirror and see that some of the things they were doing were not bad at all, that others were excellent, and that they could borrow excellent ideas from each other. That, in turn, paved the way for many wannabes to create successful business. With the examples showcased in The New Polymath, Vinnie is again demonstrating the extraordinary ways in which the New Polymaths of the American business are winning in the international arena – he tops it by laying a robust framework for others to get there. When we extend these concepts to new strata - the likes of the emerging world, the non profit institutions etc. the results shall turn out to be much more significant. A very important reference book for business, entrepreneurs, management students and all professionals who dream and are working to create a better world.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Charlene Li’s Book : Open Leadership

Charlene Li and Forrester’s Josh Bernoff earlier gave the pioneering book, “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies”, which provided business a leg up to understand social technologies and consumer behaviors. (For the record : Charlene was amongst the well known Forrester Star who quit to start her own venture Altimeter Group with other partners) Among other things the book laid out the now widely used, the four-step process for developing a social media strategy. A lot has changed since then – the most noticeable one includes, blogging meeting its match as a popular social technology with the exploding popularity of social tools like Facebook ,Twitter, Ning etc. I was delighted to when I got the chance to review Charlene Li’s to be released book – “Open Leadership – How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead” (Release planned May 24, 2010) .

To begin, let’s look at the business world and leadership challenges therein as it exists today: As is now widely recognized, the contours of leadership inside business are changing. Business in this era are discovering that the command -and-control leadership methods of the last century are a misnomer in this age where changes happen too fast, ten year old organizations scale up to support multiples of tens of billion dollars in market cap, business can go global at such a terrific pace that virtually every business that operate in the free market edifice becomes global in nature. Advances in social media impose a huge influence in the way stakeholders come together in running the business. In these circumstances, to attract and retain employees and all other stakeholders to get them to contribute their best to make business grow is a challenge being grappled by all organizations. Working styles and enriching work environments becomes a clarion need and the traditional models of centralized leadership is slowly (some would say that is too swiftly) giving way to more social(open) leadership. In its classical command-and control leadership style, the leadership was identified by its position, authority and power, whereas in this new age – this paradigm has suffered a lot – resulting in lack of innovation, participation and creativity, passion and accountability. The new positioning is for business to recreate leaders embracing open leadership who see themselves more as coaches, facilitators, investors and partners. The boundaries inside an organization have become more permeable; knowledge and innovations can easily transfer inward and outward. All involved elements in the organization participate and influence decisions in the process helping these companies to perform better than their rivals on employee retention and morale, and other performance measures like innovation, profitability and market leadership. A very towering presence serves as the backdrop for this change: your business does not embrace social media – its social media that embraces your business and creates a huge perturbation effect so to say! Every organization is becoming a social organization. The challenges organization faces is how to evolve into a social organization. This evolution will affect individual staff, internal processes, and the structure and culture of the organization association – every part of the organization gets affected and that includes leadership within the organization.

Simple and appealing right ? No, not that easy for all business to embrace such things so easily. As they say in organizational change management, hard change( say process, technology) is soft and soft change( human beaviour) is hard. Ask the question why is social hard ? Charlene has the answer: It’s because real relationship requires you to cede control and win by influence! She explains, having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control, while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals is the basic tenet of open leadership. Open leadership is coming to organizations—companies, non-profits, governments, schools—because we are in the middle of a fundamental shift in power, one in which individuals have the ability to broadcast their views to the world. It means that the person at the top no longer controls the flow of information, and without that the leader is no longer the best person to make all the decisions. To be open, you need to let go of the need to be in control. You need to develop the confidence—to develop the trust—that when you let go of control, the people to whom you pass the power will act responsibly. Leaders who are unable to let go in this new world of social media will eventually find themselves at the head of a sorry band of unimaginative time-servers.

Open Leadership argues that a new organizational structure is required to accommodate and benefit from the culture of sharing that social media has fueled over the last few years. Charlene’s new book, “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead”, is essentially about how leaders can tap into the power of the social technology revolution and how to be “open” while still maintaining control. Does it sound paradoxical? No! Not at all.
Charlene argues for openness but cautions toprovide for disciplined control. Practically speaking, this is being more grounded on reality – open leadership is not like laissez-fair leadership. While this may look like a natural progression in the business scheme of embracing technology advances, the reality is that there is a huge challenge for executives and leadership teams to embrace openness while maintaining control. Charlene helps provide that framework with her new book - this is relevant to all business that are exploring the new social web and creating/refining an approach towards effectively embracing them. This has come at the right moment, when almost all business – big and small have been confronted with this challenge /opportunity of embracing the social web actively and in an effective manner.

And, now about the structure of the book: I like the fact the book is organized into three sections – 1. Upside of giving up control. 2. Crafting Your Open Strategy, 3.Redefining Relationships. The book starts with a persuasive argument as to why giving up control is non-negotiable and goes on to define ten characteristics of being open (In my view, openness is a journey – difficult to define in a scientific way, but can only be characterized – the more we travel this route, the more enriching the characteristics become). Section two helps delineate the methods of custom creating open strategy - with means to initializing with determinations of how open to be, followed by understanding benefits and measuring the value of being open. The idea of “Sandbox Covenants” is a very powerful metaphor and can act as a tool for strategizing openness and executing the strategy.
Creating a robust mechanism for social graphic profile definitions – the steps include Social Audit, Engagement Audit and Influence Audit is a powerful tool and as told by Charlene in the chapter of orchestrating your own social strategy is a very powerful message and a robust mechanism for business to follow with a social fabric while on the open leadership path. The framework of organic, centralized, co-ordinated forms of openness is an important advance in the study and practice of openness. Part three focuses on the mind set changes and skills, executives need to learn to foster a climate of openness inside their business and means to nurture openness, imperative of failures and transformational case studies centered on organizations like Cisco, Dell and Proctor & Gamble.

Very rich and well known examples and case studies from an array of organizations have been included and widely quoted within the book – Best Buy, Cisco, Google, Kodak, Microsoft, The State Bank Of India, United Airlines, U.S.Department Of State, etc I like the book’s structure and presentation for three reasons :

A.Its about strategy but highly actionable Refreshingly, most chapters come with actionable lists.

B. The examples are of Large corporate behemoths – the Fortune 500 types and this shows the power, reach and results of openness as we can all see. (Charlene must be complemented for this – by relating to examples that all can find out with some efforts and research adds to the credibility) and the need to embrace failure where needed and learn from those.

C. The very easy to read style and the fact the actionable frameworks can be applied to business of all sizes, shape and color.

Needless to say, this is a good read for leaders planning to effectively embrace openness and leverage social technologies inside their organizations.

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