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Re: Your fans in Russia talk about you...
- To: <us>
- Subject: Re: Your fans in Russia talk about you...
- From: Phil Salin -- "Ducks-R-Us" <phil>
- Date: Sat, 31 Dec 88 13:18:54 PST
(preface to my message: please take the following as on a general subject
(diversions), and not on Soviet Xanadu per se, a subject of obvious inherent
political interest and intellectual appeal.)
I find this whole discussion fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating for
obvious reasons; frustrating because I can hear the siren Fnords singing
between the lines, "Don't Worry; Be Happy Now. We're almost there. Even the
Soviets want Xanadu..."
And once we have the satellite launcher, we can immediately begin our
effort at putting people inexpensively into orbit...and once we have low-cost
people launchers, well, it's only a short step to...
The hardest thing to do in a business is to focus energies on today's
job, not on tomorrow's; the more forward-thinking, imaginative,
alert-to-possibilities (i.e. entrepreneurial) one is, the harder it
is to keep from being distracted. After all, an hour here, an hour
there...one can't expect a brilliant, insightful person to spend ALL
his working hours, month after month, on short term objectives...one
will become short sighted...work will become boring...I do my best work
with ideas...etc etc.
It's a real danger alright. But one reason there are so many companies
managed by short-sighted people is that the ones that didn't focus furiously
on the here and now didn't survive... (or so the theory goes...).
I've seen companies not survive, and it's not pretty.
There will be plenty of opportunities for diversion in the next 3 years
(yes, at least 3 years) during which time everyone will be overburdened with
mere short-term tasks (like getting the 1st draft code written on the new
back-end, or on the exemplar front-end, or creating demos, or ...).
The nice thing about the Soviet Xanadu Proposal is that all of us can easily
see how much it represents "getting ahead of ourselves". True, we're ALMOST
ready for such proposals, since Xanadu is ALMOST an international product,
uh...a product...uh a beta...uh an alpha...uh a partial alpha...uh a
completed design improving on previous code...
The problem with getting into the satellite launching business is not a lack
of international interest or demand for satellite launchers. It's that you
have to have a launcher to launch satellites. And it's got to work right ("No,
we haven't quite completed the gyros yet, but it's ok, you can start using it
now anyway, to get the feel of how it will work as a real launcher later...").
I'm delighted the Soviets have heard of Xanadu. Ted's done a great job of
establishing an internationally recognized brand name.
Unfortunately, until we also have a brand (i.e., a product), that's a curse,
not a blessing. It increases potentially DISASTROUSLY the frequency and
severity of "Attractive" diversions being left on our doorstep wrapped in
glittery packaging and clearly labeled "HI. I MAY BE OF SOME USE. THEN AGAIN,
I MAY NOT. IT WILL TAKE SEVERAL CRITICAL PEOPLE'S TIME TO FIND OUT. BUT HEY,
YOU'D BE FOOLISH TO PASS UP AN OPPORTUNITY TO AT LEAST EXPLORE THINGS!"
Other potential diversions of time and energy won't come so clearly labeled as
the Soviet Xanadu. Effort dispersion comes in many flavors. Which explains
one of the less-well-known and sometimes misunderstood functions of a manager:
stamping the following label on various internal and external "interesting"
and "potentially attractive" possibilities/practices, including ones which to
others may appear "obviously" worth considering:
"REGRETFULLY, WE HAVE CHOSEN NOT TO EXPLORE THIS RIGHT NOW. I WILL KEEP IT IN
MIND/IT HAS BEEN GIVEN OVER TO "X", WHOSE JOB IT IS TO DEAL GRACEFULLY WITH
SUCH THINGS, INCLUDING 'KEEPING IT IN MIND FOR WHEN THE RIGHT TIME COMES,
WHICH IF WE ALL WORK EFFECTIVELY AND HARD AND ARE REASONABLY LUCKY, MAY WELL
HAPPEN SOMEDAY; BUT NOT TODAY/THIS WEEK/THIS MONTH/THIS YEAR."
A useful paraphrase of all this for the libertarians among us:
"TANSTAFO". (There Aint No such thing as a Free Opportunity).
Footnote on lightning rods, as requested by Mark:
Certain kinds of facts or appearances of facts are notorious for being
potential lightning rods for bad press--physical hazards, exporting of defense
technology, drugs (in the current era), gambling, etc. Anything where a
"muckraker" might think he can sniff out a potential scandal by "probing
Gayle made very clear to all of us, back in 1980, that you cannot CONTROL how
the press will present a given set of facts. In sensitive areas, the only
available option for influencing how the press will deal with a set of facts
may be to keep the matter private until you are able to handle the press
There are also facts which are self-evident given any press coverage at all.
The only way to keep them out of the press is to keep them from being facts.
Putting all this together, there are times when the only way you can look
clean in the eyes of the (trade or popular) press is to be clean, i.e.,
unproblematic. Crusades cost time and money. This does not mean they should
be avoided. It means they should be treated as expensive commitments of
scarce resources, and not undertaken lightly, or at the wrong time.
I generally dislike military metaphors in business, but this is one place
where they are reasonably apt: you try to choose your battles carefully, in
terms of timing, number, and vulnerability if the winds (i.e. the less
well-informed members of the press, and politicians) go against you.
When you are a small mammal, STARTING OUT by doing something very high profile
like 'helping the Soviet Union computerize' is like finding a very tall
mountain, firmly placing a lightning rod in the ground, holding on with
one's hands, and loudly declaiming: "Gee, I hope a really BIG lightning
bolt doesn't come along before we're ready to handle it."
It's different when you're large enough to attach a power plant to the
lightning rod, or at least to survive an occasional bad luck hit. Right now,
for the reasons mentioned earlier, Xanadu would probably find even good major
press coverage harmful. And as both Marc and Mark make clear, good coverage
is not the only possibility.