Fifteen years of Sloan

I went to my class dinner last night for my fifteen year anniversary of graduating from MIT Sloan. (The actual anniversary of graduation passed, unremarked, on Wednesday.)

Fifteen years ago this week I was sitting in the rain on a fifty-degree day in Cambridge, hoping my Dad wouldn’t catch pneumonia and listening to the commencement speaker (who, being from the World Bank, was getting his share of protesters). It was a momentous month; in addition to my first Blogaversary (and hard to believe we’ll celebrate the sixteenth tomorrow), we were consolidating belongings from storage in New Jersey with the contents of our North End apartment; I was driving south to North Carolina for a family visit and my first visit to the Marshall Depot (about which more soon); visited with my grandfather; spent a week batching it as Lisa flew ahead to sign the closing papers on our house; packed up our apartment; and settled into our new home in Kirkland.

June will forever feel to me like a time of transit. But it also becomes a time of reunions, and it was amazing seeing so many familiar faces and hearing people’s life stories. I look forward to doing more of that tonight.

RIP Andy Grove

Andy Grove, courtesy Esquire
Andy Grove, courtesy Esquire

CNN: Andy Grove, former Intel CEO and personal computing pioneer, dead at 79. It’s worth taking a second this morning to think about why we remember what Andy Grove did when other pioneers of silicon are mostly forgotten.

Motorola, Texas Instruments and others built chips. Andy built an ecosystem.

While Wintel may rightly be regarded as an example of a noxious monoculture, mostly because of the Windows side of the equation, Andy recognized the potential for personal computers and ensured that they would run on his chips. And he recognized that Wintel was only one ecosystem that could have been built with Intel as its foundation—witness his convincing Steve Jobs to shift the architecture of Macs away from PowerPC to Intel chips in 2006.

I had an opportunity during the 2001 MIT Sloan Tech Trek to meet Andy. He spoke with a bunch of MBA students for a few minutes, and took questions. He struck me as a long thinker, so I asked him a long thought question: how long could Moore’s Law continue to hold before the physics of small matter caused it to bottom out? He was airy as he said it was a “20 year problem.” And he was right: he knew that there was plenty of room to continue innovating on the silicon. He didn’t say it, but I suppose he was more focused on the business of the ecosystem; even then you could read the writing on the wall that the antitrust suit, a resurgent Apple, and mobile computing were about to take the wind out of Microsoft’s sails.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get to talk to a more brilliant man (not counting Bill Gates, but I never got a chance to ask him any questions as an intern). Rest in peace.

Entering the Wii generation

We bought a Wii this morning on Amazon. And it was my wife’s idea.

I’ve never owned a console. I bought a vintage game-in-a-joystick set a few years ago and was a dedicated MAME gamer for a while, but never made the leap to modern systems. My college suitemates who brought an NES to school and kept us up all hours of the night saw to that.

I did a paper in grad school (with George and Bransby) on the video game industry, in which we concluded that the gamer market had enough room for all three players, largely because Nintendo was going after an audience that Sony and Microsoft weren’t. At the time, what we saw was the 10-12 year old audience that they had locked up. What we didn’t see was their “blue ocean”–that Nintendo would find another untapped audience that ranged from retirees to non-gaming women.

The other thing we didn’t see was that the real story in the Nintendo vs. Sony and Microsoft battle wasn’t technology strategy per se. You could look at all the s-curves in the world, but polygon count was ultimately a poor predictor for the market. Fun–now there’s a much better predictor.

So I’m looking forward to playing around with the console when it gets here. A little tennis, a little family time–and maybe, if I play my cards rights, some Lego Star Wars too.

Why some website redesigns work

Generally, it’s because they aren’t just slapping a new coat of paint (er, HTML+CSS) on the same pig. In the most successful cases, they’re a complete rethink of what the site is trying to communicate and a complete new set of ways to make that happen.

That appears to be the case with the redesign of the MIT Sloan website. It’s a sign of how bad the previous site was that I missed the redesign happening back in March of this year. But the b-school that I came from has come a long way since I was the sole MBA blogger back in 2001-2002. There are podcasts, official and unofficial blogs, and news feeds galore, all of which combine to give a much richer picture of everything that happens at the school. Compared to the 2004 site redesign, which put a thin veneer of Annoying Flash Movie on top of largely the same static content, it’s revolutionary.

It all conveys what I think is the unique strength of Sloan: it’s a school that’s focused, despite its size and institutional veneer, on empowering individuals and encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors. And to that end, it’s great to see the aggregated feed of Sloan student blogs right alongside official podcasts and other school-developed content, all together in the Sloan master feed. Of course, it would be nice to see everyone posting more often, but nobody’s perfect.

Coming back to campus

I’ll be making an infrequent return to the MIT campus this afternoon on a career panel, talking about non-traditional recruiting paths. Sloan alums will remember my vocal skepticism of the value of traditional MBA recruiting, which at most schools seems designed to funnel MBAs into consulting or banking while giving other options short shrift. So I have a lot of things to say about the topic; hopefully I can say them in a constructive way this afternoon…


…to my Sloan friend Charlie, who just ran the New York Road Runners Manhattan Half-Marathon on Sunday in a respectable 2:07:32. Considering that it was in 20° weather (14° with wind chill), that’s a pretty darned good start to life in the marathon lane. Onward!

Sloan school dean stepping down

Breaking news this morning was that Dick Schmalensee, the dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, will be stepping down at the end of the year to return to research. What is interesting to me is that (a) two other school deans (the head of Engineering and Science) are stepping down at the same time and (b) Schmalensee is stepping down with a fixed timetable, rather than remaining on board until his successor is chosen.

It’s great that Dean Schmalensee, who was dean while I was at Sloan, gets to return to his research. The timing of the announcement is interesting, but reading the provost’s letter it looks like all three of these individuals wanted to leave earlier but held on while the school’s administration stabilized after the transition of the presidency from Charles Vest to Susan Hockfield.

Audio from the MIT CIO Symposium

ZDNet: Nine great podcasts from MIT’s CIO Symposium. While the timeliness is questionable (the symposium, of course, was in June), it’s still nice to have this on the record and to allow other people to listen in.

If I recall correctly, particularly interesting sessions were The Habits of Highly Effective IT Leaders, with our own Brian Whetten stepping in as a superb last minute moderator; Liberation Technologies (listen for the clash of opinions between the Media Lab’s Michael Schrage and Hyperion’s Howard Dresner about, well, everything); and of course the final session on the Future of IT and Sports, in which all present made it quite clear that any attempt to use data relating to major sports for any purpose, mash-ups or otherwise, will be met with the long hammer of a lawsuit. (Well, that was my takeaway, anyway.)

If you like these, you may want to subscribe to the Between the Lines podcast (and blog) from ZDnet, on which these items were featured—or just plan to attend next year.

Sox, Bruins, ESPN, and NASCAR talk IT

One of the more unusual panels this year at MIT Sloan’s CIO Symposium has some speakers who aren’t usually at IT conferences. We’ve pulled together the VP of Media Applications at ESPN, the Managing Director of IT for NASCAR, the VP of Technology and eBusiness for the Boston Bruins and TD Banknorth Garden, and the Director of IT for the Red Sox to talk about the Future of IT and Sports. Talk about mission critical: when the scoring system goes down, IT is facing mobs of angry fans along with their usual constituency. It should make for an interesting discussion.

As discussed previously, we also have a keynote from Google’s VP for Google Enterprise, so between discussions of consumer software in the enterprise and enterprise IT for sports it should be an interesting day. If you haven’t registered, there are still a few spaces available; though we’ve officially sold out, it’s still possible to register as a walk-in on the day of the event on a first-come, first-served basis. You can find us in Kresge Auditorium starting at 7:30 am on Wednesday, June 21. Hope you can make it!

MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: Googling your customer data

I’ve been working on the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium for the last few months, helping to pull together this annual conference that brings together CIOs from across corporate America with thought leadership and technologists from industry. This year’s topic is about maximizing the business value of IT, something that’s near and dear to my heart.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about some of the speakers and topics that we’ll cover at the conference. I welcome any input about the topics or questions for the speakers. Today’s post is about our keynote address.

One of the notes from the Gartner Symposium last week that I didn’t blog at the time was an analyst’s prediction that we’ll see increasing “consumerization” of corporate technology, as a generation that has gotten used to Google and Amazon looks at their own corporate IT and says, “why can’t you do that???” The speakers particularly pointed out that after Google’s search, looking for data across disparate systems is a frustrating experience. Our keynote speaker, Dave Girouard, who is the VP and General Manager of Google Enterprise, should be able to speak to that question—and if he doesn’t I’ll certainly ask him. Google Enterprise has rolled out some innovations in corporate search through their Google Search Appliance, including OneBox, which provides a unified search experience around both file server and intranet content and corporate information. The model that they’ve used for this is a partner plug-in model coupled with an API. The end result, in theory, is that you can type in a customer’s name in your internal search portal and get results from the file system together with sales data and forecasts, customer support issues, and other relevant data in a single, easy to read format.

The concept is great. What I’ll be interested to see is how well they avoid the pitfalls of corporate search: incompatible taxonomies, isolated data islands, customer information privacy barriers, and so on. At the very least it should be an interesting question and answer period.

Naturally, I’ll be shamelessly plugging the conference in each of these posts. You can register and get information about the speakers on the conference site. (Yes, I know it should have a blog and RSS. We’re working on it…)