Thursday, April 17, 2008

Edward Lorenz and my career path

Edward Lorenz, father of what is popularly known as Chaos Theory passed away at the age of 90 today.  Many of us might have heard a statement which goes something like, "if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil will there be a tornado in Texas?".  Well, he was the guy who had originally conjectured that such a thing is possible. 

I have a special association with Lorenz's writing as my original inspiration to pursue a PhD came from reading a book titled "Complexity", which first introduced me to many concepts that are part of Chaos Theory.  I had read this book when I was an MBA student at the Indian Institute of Management from 1999-2001.  I was so inspired by the book and the apparent ramifications on business practice that I did a group term paper for the Strategic Management course on the "red queen effect", another fall out of the complexity theory. Red queen effect refers to the red queen's race in Lewis Carroll's "through the looking glass".  The character red Queen in this book tells Alice that, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place". The effects stresses the nature of change and how firms need to be innovating constantly to sustain their competitive advantage.

Eventually, I was so smitten by the principle that I followed up on the theory of Complexity and found that the University of Michigan offered a certificate course on Complex Systems.  I wrote to students in the program and found out that you had to be enrolled as a student in one the graduate programs at the university to be able to take this course.  Thus started my quest for information and eventually I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in business. 

My admiration of chaos and complexity did not end with my admission to the marketing phd program at Penn State.  I further did a first year term paper (in Dr. Martin Kilduff's Organizational Theory course) on Complex Systems by reviewing the literature in management journals that employed complexity theory to business problems.  I stopped pursuing the idea after I found more interesting things - open source software development.  However, I still read many related articles as I use a Social Network approach to understanding developer networks.

Serendipity eh ?... or is it the essence of "Chaos Theory" ?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Microsoft, Fed and a future bailout story

This might happen in the not too distant future.  A Fed bailout of Microsoft.  Just as the Fed bailed out Bear, it might have to eventually bail out Microsoft as well.  It is no secret that Vista has been a big flop for Microsoft.  What could now happen is Microsoft tries to scramble desperately to develop a new OS that is not like Vista and given that MS never learns from its mistakes all we will we get is some variant of XP and Vista. (gates has already called this Windows 7).  As usual, due to to Microsoft's thoughtlessness it will be a flop and what the world will end up with is a monopoly that cannot address the needs of millions of consumers and firms.  Very sensitive financial data and hosts of other things will be continue to be hosted on old legacy Microsoft offerings that lag behind other technologies.  One the day of reckoning when no one is prepared, there will be a system wide crash and with it the stock markets.  The Fed will be asked to bail out Microsoft because a further collapse needs to be prevented.  The Fed will agree and rescue MS shareholders while leaving million sof MS consumers at a loss.

I urge what we need is a consumer bill of rights from Microsoft.  The right to be free and be able to insist for software that can work with other programs.  Also, these rights should enforce hardware providers not to develop hardware that is OS dependent.  The driver developers need to be arm-twisted as well.  The reason we need the institutions to intervene is that otherwise they would be the ones who would be forced to bail out Microsoft and all the other greedy firms which rely on closed IP, just like we had to bail out Bear.  We deserve much better and much more than that.

Harvard on Open Source

Yes!  The Ivory Tower has spoken. Harvard has a new case on open source.  For too long have b-schools stayed away from trying to understand the impact of the open source movement on organizational theory.  With the increase in focus on "open innovation", the open source movement is getting a much deserved attention from multiple quarters. 

Having been a student and researcher of open source I have had many tough moments when I had to make a case for the importance of open source.  Cases taught in the business schools serve an important purpose of introducing future managers to new ideas and business models.  May there be more on open source!