This year, despite the past few weeks and all it implies, I am in awe of all that I have to be grateful for. I am free, I am safe, I live with abundance and joy, my worries are for all intents and purposes, quite trivial. I'm blessed with amazing people in my life - from family to friends to students to clients. This is not the case for much of the world. So in this week of thanksgiving, and through til next thanksgiving, let those around you know how much they mean to you, how they make your life better, and how precious their relationships is. Stuff doesn't matter - it's fleeting, it's temporary, it's just stuff. People do - so let them know the depth of your gratitude for their presence in your life - and cherish the awe of it.
Once upon a time, a paragon of American innovation lost its way. It embodied Einstein’s definition of insanity, spending over $200B for a train wreck… and they’re doing it again. The story starts in the last century and my part about 28 years ago.
In the early 90’s at AT&T, I was on a ‘special project’ with some friends to design the next generation core domestic network. We were from Bell Labs and had “grown up” with the Internet (Arpanet, initially). We were young and idealistic so our designed was based on the TCP/IP protocol. This let us move anything over the network – email, faxes, images, movies, songs, phone calls, photos, anything – in real time. We knew that with enough bandwidth, routers, redundancy and diversity, someday we’d watch or listen to concerts and movies live. This way, we only needed 1 network (with tons of security & safeguards obviously) to handle everything. The days of a voice-only network built on big expensive switches was over. We presented our design to the powers that were. Answer? Nope! They thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard. [About 13 years later, a friend asked me if I still had the designs because they were looking to build that network.]
The 90’s were a battle between the network/telecom providers (AT&T, MCI, etc.) and the PC/Software maker end points (Microsoft) deciding where to put the ‘smarts’. Microsoft et. al., felt they owned the smarts and just needed commodity dumb pipes to connect them together. The networks knew if they didn’t have any ‘smarts’, they didn’t have any differentiable value from each other. The smart ends would win the battle, forever commoditizing the networks. I saw this and worked on this firsthand. It wasn’t pretty. It led to a lot of spending with little success:
- 1999: AT&T pays $44B to buy the cable company TCI, creating AT&T Broadband.
- 2002: AT&T sells AT&T Broadband to Comcast for $47.5B after having invested about $58B more for a total of $102B in AT&T Broadband.
- 2015: AT&T buys DirecTV for $49B.
- 2016: AT&T offers to buy Time Warner (not the cable, the content) for $85B (and I don’t think this is a bargain price).
The networks lost the smart-dumb battle. So, if it hadn’t worked before, why now? Is “Media” that different from smart-ends? Really? Maybe this is what they’re thinking:
- AT&T is losing wireless customers with decreasing revenue/customer;
- DirecTV is losing customers because of cord-cutting;
- Content drives revenue (yup, heard that 20 years ago); it uses lots of bits and time;
- “New” Media companies are becoming networks– Facebook, Amazon, and Google (take special notice of Google – if I were AT&T, I’d worry about them non-stop).
Over 17 years, AT&T spent about $236B (BILLION) dollars to get in, out and back in to the cable and content business. Having lived through some of this and trying to show why it wouldn’t work financially, strategically, innovatively, and a bunch of other ‘ly’s, here are at least 6 lessons I learned:
- If you can’t figure out how to add value to your own stuff, buying other stuff to bolt on, without understanding markets and customers, doesn’t work;
- Culture matters, first and only; Making acquisitions outside your traditional space is hard, it’s virtually impossible if your cultures are radically different;
- If you’re losing customers, DON’T buy a company in the same situation!!!
- If you keep repeating solutions that don’t work STOP! Either figure out something different or figure out how to be a profitable commodity… it works for Coke!
- Check the C-suite egos at the door; hanging out on the set of Game of Thrones isn’t worth billions to shareholders.
- In my next life I want to come back as a company AT&T buys.
What a lovely home, probably somewhere out in the country. From the crops on left, this must be a farm. From the swing set, they probably have kids (or grandkids). The house seems to be fairly modern (look at the windows) and well maintained. The horses look healthy.
What’s the story about this house and family? Are they ‘weekend’ farmers who commute to jobs during the week? Does one of them, or both, work from home? Are they full-time farmers, with the land being the main source of income? Hard to know.
But what’s missing? Look at the photo; what’s missing?
See any cars or trucks? Maybe the people are not at home – they’re at the store or work or a kid’s soccer game. Look closer. Do you see any power lines going to the house? Hum… Maybe the power lines are buried. That could be, but given the size of this house and probable acreage, I kind of doubt it.
This is an Amish house in Lancaster County, PA.
What if we look at what’s missing instead of just what’s there?
What if we ask why something we’d normally expect to be there isn’t?
What are we assuming is in the picture because it usually is?
What if folks are just fine with not having what’s missing?
What if they didn’t know they could even have what’s missing?
What will we discover if we start looking at what’s Not There?
When you meet someone at a party, an event, in the store, at a school, what do we usually ask? “What do you do?” or if you’re in college, “What’s your major?”
There are many ways in which others define us and we define ourselves:
· Job, title, level;
· Mom, Dad;
· Daughter, son, sibling;
· Aunt, Uncle.
· College, university, and major or degree;
· Home town, city, country;
· Political leaning;
· Causes, volunteer efforts;
· Board roles;
· Combinations and integrations of the above;
· None of the above – something else.
How do you really want to be identified? To be known? You may answer differently depending on where you are in your life and what matters. That’s normal. But when you strip away all your functions and roles, at a very fundamental, who are you? What do you want to be known for? And why?
Do you say, "Can you tape that show for me" when you'll be out missing a TV show or "Will you roll up the window?" when you're in the car? When your friend keeps repeating himself over and over do you tell him he "sounds like a broken record"? How often do you "hang up" the phone, "dial" a number or "ring" someone up? Think about it - 25% of the USA population doesn't know what it means to dial a phone let alone hang one up! Many of our idioms and phrases are tied to outdated technology and behaviors, and while some are still widely used (e.g., Stereotype, Pipe Dream (ha!)), the younger generation has no clue what they mean. They are obsolete, meaningless.
I wonder - if some of our language is becoming obsolete, are we as well? We can rue the loss of life as we knew it or we embrace the future. Every generation has dealt with this, but today is different. Today, we live longer. Our children (and some of us) have multiple careers, tweet, snap, text, google without hesitation while we 'flip through the channels." It's a choice. We can choose to become outdated or to be relevant. What will you choose?
Also published on Medium ~ Finding Blue Lobsters
After ten weeks in this city, I have a lot to reflect and think about on my last day before I embark on my next journey. This post has no clear theme other than what’s been going on my head. Thoughts about New York, about being lost, about feeling useless, about feeling useful, about adventures, about learning, about healing, about loving, about everything and about nothing. Hope you enjoy the thought ramble :) ...."