The mysterious Mr Fubini

Several years ago, I came across a simple and compelling vision on the adoption and evolution of new technologies, known as Fubini’s law:

1. People initially use technology to do what they do now – but faster.

2. Then they gradually begin to use technology to do new things.

3. The new things change life-styles and work-styles.

4. The new life-styles and work-styles change society …

… and eventually change technology.

Since the lines above apply to many technology domains I worked on throughout my career, I have cited Fubini’s law many times in my presentations. Just think of how technologies like broadband internet, digital TV, and mobile communications have changed the way people live, work, and play.

(Photo by Marc Mueller, CC BY 3.0 DE)

In analogy with Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws, about which I wrote in an older post on this blog, I have always assumed that Fubini’s law was invented by a person carrying the name Fubini. But, in fact, nobody seems to know who Mr (or Mrs?) Fubini actually is (or was), for which purpose he (or she) formulated this law, or when and where it was originally published. I ran a Google search to find out more, but this only yielded a handful of blog posts (the oldest ones date from around the year 2003) and books that refer to each other.

I have always been convinced that Fubini’s observations are spot on. And even if it’s not my style to quote anonymous or unverified sources, I will keep on using his wise words in my presentations. To illustrate the transformative power of technology and to celebrate human inventivity!

Note: Fubini’s law, as described above, shouldn’t be confused with Guido Fubini’s theorem that dates from 1907 and describes how to compute a double integral using iterated integrals.

Another note: after reading this post, Ron Murch from the University of Calgary  pointed me to the fact that the observations in Fubini’s law are quite nicely aligned with Marshall McLuhan’s work on the evolution of the adoption of new media technologies. McLuhan’s work was done in the 1960s and one of his propositions was that, when a ‘new’ medium for communication is introduced, it’s initial content is that of the ‘old’ media it is replacing. Then, as society uses the new medium more and more, we start to do things with it that the old media were incapable of doing. Thanks Ron, much appreciated!

Another reader, Rob Thomsett, wrote me that Barry Jones (who later became Australian Minister of Science) quoted Fubini’s Law as early as in 1974 at a Future of Work conference run by the Australian Government. Rob has written and spoken about it since then and many have referred to him as the origin.

Start with a book

When delivering a talk, it’s utterly important to grab your audience’s attention from the first moment on. In an earlier post on this blog, “Begin the beginning,” I gave a few examples on how you may surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll. And in another article, “Titles, ” I elaborated on using original presentation titles.

Here’s yet another great jump-start for the beginning of your speech: tell the people in the room about a book you read that’s relevant to the subject of your presentation. You may even consider bringing a hard copy with you: a tangible artifact that your audience can see, touch and browse through.

In my day job as a high-tech marketer and communicator, I’m involved in conversations with customers and opinion makers about how broadband internet, connected devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications are changing the way we live, work, and do business. So, after reading the summaries below, it should be no surprise that I picked these three  – fiction, non-fiction, and science fiction – books for introducing some of my speaking topics.

Blackout – tomorrow will be too late” by Austrian author Marc Elsberg, is a techno-thriller about a large-scale power outage in Europe, caused by a cyber attack. While the digitization of the energy sector, and the move towards distributed power generation, smart meters, and internet-connected appliances are creating a number of opportunities, new technologies can also open the door to cyber threats.

Elsberg-cover

As no-one wants to experience the scenario that’s described in this book, I mentioned it at the start a lecture about smart energy grids and cyber security. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of an English translation of the book.

In “The Zero Marginal Cost Society,” American social-economic theorist and activist Jeremy Rifkin describes how new technologies, such as 3D printing, green energy, and the Internet of Things, are speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services (and, according to the author, the eclipse of capitalism.)

Rifkin-cover

Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, energy grids, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers will be able connect to the network and use Big Data to accelerate efficiency, increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero…

In another post on this blog, “Back to the future,” I wrote about why it may be a good thing for a sales or marketing person to make speculations about the long-term future. Some of the best forward-looking statements –of which a number really materialized– about technology and the evolution of society were written many years ago. Take for example George Orwell’s “1984,” or Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot.”

The book I sometimes refer to when touching the topic of smart cities and a technology-powered society, however, is a less known work by French science-fiction author Jules Verne. Marketed on the cover as the lost novel, “Paris in the Twentieth Century” was originally written in 1863, but it took more than one hundred years before his great-grandson discover the handwritten manuscript.

Verne-cover

The work gives a staggering prediction of Paris of the nineteen-sixties. The author depicts a city in which industry and commerce have triumphed, and creativity and art have become obsolete. Just like Villemard did in his 1910 postcards, Verne predicts automobiles, the subway, fax machines, and more things to come.

For those interested in new technology and its impact on our (future) society, here are a few links to presentations I have given over the past years about the subjects mentioned above:

Moore’s law… and beyond

Earlier this year, the world (or maybe rather a few tech-savvy geeks like me) celebrated the 50th birthday of Moore’s Law.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density (and thus the performance) of microprocessors would double each 2 years. Take for example today’s iPhone 6, which is 3.5 times faster than the iPhone 1 while its price is 30% less than the first generation 7 years ago. Moore’s Law has been used as a stable basis for forecasting technology evolution in the ICT industry for the past 5 decades.

Reading a few articles about this special anniversary reminded me of a conference presentation I gave (also) many years ago, in which I explored the thin line between “nice to have” and “need to have” technology.

Starting with a picture of Moore’s Law, and with the help of two other famous industry laws, a bit of visual thinking, a healthy dose of abstraction and some creative chartsmithing, I developed the following storyline…

moore_curve

Note that, although “doubling each 2 years” suggests a parabola-shaped curve, Moore’s growth function is almost always represented a straight line ― complemented by an exponential scale on the Y-axis.

Several years after Gordon Moore’s famous observation, another ICT pioneer, 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe, stated that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of network nodes (or devices, or applications, or users, …) while the costs follow a more or less linear function. Take for example a wireless network: if you have only 2 subscribers with a mobile phone, they’re only able to make calls to each other. If you have millions of subscribers however…

metcalfe_curve

Metcalfe’s Law is about network growth, customer acquisition, and value creation, rather than about technology evolution. The combination of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws explains the rise of information technology and the growth of the Internet as we know it today.

As the next step in my presentation flow, I introduced my audience to the technology adoption lifecycle, and more specifically to the “chasm theory” that was developed by another Mr Moore. In his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers,” management consultant Geoffrey A. Moore talks about the gap between the take up of new technology by early enthusiasts and the mainstream market.

adoption_curve

And finally, in an unprecedented apotheosis, by combining the three preceding charts and by ― I have to admit ― visually cheating with axes, scales, and representations I came to the observation that the chasm is actually the point where the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business needs to take place ― and if this doesn’t happen, that any new product or technology introduction is doomed to fail.

combined_curve

That’s a nice conclusion, which ― just like Moore’s Law ― still holds today, isn’t it?

You may view my original presentation on SlideShare. Please note that the deck dates from 2002, and that the market, my company, and the technology and product related content obviously have evolved since then.

Who put the ram in the ramalamadingdong?

This is a plea for user-centric design. A call for easy-to-use technology. For simple applications with clean GUIs. For PowerPoint slides that care more about their viewers’ experience than about their presenter’s ego.

Last night I was called in by a neighbor to help her fix a problem with the doorbell. Actually, the wiring problem was quickly fixed. But when she asked me if I could also change the annoying bell sound  ―a long and loud bong-bong-dong-ding-ding-bong-bong-dong-ding-ding chime, as warped hourly by the Big Ben in London― I came to a stunning observation.

bigben

The questioned doorbell device was preloaded with a series of 20 merry melodies, ranging from Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, over Rossini’s infamous William Tell Overture, up to an almost-a-minute-long recital of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (at that moment I also realized that joy is a subjective term). But… there was no simple bell chime inside. No dingdong. Not even an old fashioned riiiing.

So, here’s my advice to all doorbell makers, product engineers, GUI designers and PowerPoint authors: keep your creations simple and sweet. Don’t over-design and don’t over-implement. Most doorbell consumers, including me, are happy with a plain dingdong and don’t need a loud and excessive ramalamadingdong.

What if?


Following yesterday’s horrific events in Paris, I dedicate this blog post to all cartoonists in the world.

charlie


How does one present a high-technical product portfolio to a non-technical audience?

The company I work for, Alcatel-Lucent,  recently organized an open day and I was asked to present my employer, our activities and our products. These were a few of the challenges I was confronted with:

  • We are an IP networking, cloud and ultrabroadband access specialist. Most of the solutions we develop and sell are complex and high-tech in nature;
  • We deliver communications technology to service providers, industries and public institutions. As such, our products (and consequently our brand) are not really visible to end-users and consumers;
  • The presentation was to be given to a broad, local audience of all ages. Most of these people are not familiar with any network gear, related jargon and acronyms;
  • With a guided tour of the venue scheduled each 10 minutes, the time budget to present our rather extensive portfolio was very limited;
  • I had given a similar talk during a past edition of the same event. As part of the audience might have attended that one, I had to craft a brand new pitch.

As reported in an old blog post of mine, “Highway 61 revisited”, this previous presentation was built upon the theme of a jamless (information) highway. At that time, I got lots of positive feedback from the management as well as from the audience: “an original and compelling corporate narrative”, “my parents understood your presentation” and “my kids thought you told a cool story.”

So, how could I be successful (again) with without retelling the same story or reusing the same highway metaphor?

What if?” is a bestselling science book by former NASA employee Randall Munroe (who is also the creator of the popular xkcd web-comic) in which serious answers are given to absurd hypothetical questions such as: “What if you tried to hit a baseball that was moving at 90% of the speed of light?, “What if I took a swim in a nuclear fuel pool?” or “What if a Richter magnitude earthquake were to hit New York City?”

There’s also a popular Emmy-awarded comedy show broadcasted on Belgian television, in which every sketch begins with a “what if?” question. What if Jesus was a politician? What if taxi drivers didn’t like driving? What if life was an R&B clip? …

This is why I proposed to build a company pitch around the theme of “What if there was no communication technology?” and illustrate the possible consequences of this unlikely assumption with a series of cartoons (created by the cartoonist about whom I already wrote in my “Mr. Watson, come here!” post).

Here are the visuals we presented (with a transcript of what was said ― sorry for the promotional tone, but it was a company presentation after all…)

What if you wouldn’t have fast internet access at work or in your home? No digital TV to watch your favorite movies? No wireless network to make calls and surf on your smartphone? No access anymore to email, FaceBook, YouTube, NetFlix, Dropbox, Skype or WhatsApp?

Slide1

As a worldwide leader in communication technology, Alcatel-Lucent provides products and innovations in IP and cloud networking, as well as ultra-broadband fixed and wireless access to service providers and their customers, that allow and enable all these applications ― and many more ― to function properly. Our people contribute to the telecom solutions for today and tomorrow.

Did you know that our company has been recognized by Thomson Reuters as a “Top 100 Global Innovator” and MIT Technology Review put us in the “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World”?

Slide2

We can’t imagine a world without broadband internet any more. To search for information, to communicate, to shop … or just to watch a movie on digital TV, Netflix or YouTube.

Alcatel-Lucent enables service providers to offer fast internet and to bring digital video at the highest quality in your living rooms. You can browse the web or watch movies on every screen: TV, tablet or smartphone.

Did you know that ADSL (or fast Internet over telephone wire) was invented by Alcatel-Lucent in Belgium? And that we, as a technology company, received an Emmy Award for our contribution to the development of digital TV?

Slide3

Internet is everywhere. So we think it’s only normal that we can call anywhere mobile and can surf at high speed in the park, in the station, in the car …

Alcatel- Lucent’s 4G wireless networks and Small Cells offer ultra-broadband access to the mobile internet whenever and wherever you want. To find your way around town, to watch YouTube on the bus, or simply to communicate with your family and friends.

Slide4

Most of you probably own a Facebook or a Twitter account. Or maybe you are an occasional or frequent Skype, YouTube or WhatsApp user. Did you ever wonder how it’s possible that all these apps (most of the time) run smoothly on your PC, smartphone or tablet?

Obviously there is an important role for the Apples, Samsungs, Microsofts and Googles of this world to play, as well as for their respective application developers. But it’s too often forgotten that the network also plays an important role.

Without Alcatel-Lucent ‘s communication technology, your smartphone suddenly wouldn’t be that smart anymore and all these popular apps would sit idle on your devices, not able to talk with their servers or with each other.

Slide5

Increasingly often you hear colleagues and friends say that they are “in the cloud”. Do they mean that they are living with their heads in the clouds? Certainly not! Cloud simply means that your emails, music, movies, business documents or applications are stored on a server that’s attached to the network. As such, they are always accessible. You can throw away your hard disk drives and servers, because a fast Internet connection is all you need!

At Alcatel-Lucent, we know that cloud computing is an opportunity for service providers and enterprises, and that a secure and high-speed access is important for end-users. That’s why we are investing in research and development of new technologies and products ― such as Software Defined Networks, Network Function Virtualization and CloudBand ― for faster, more robust and more flexible cloud solutions.

Slide6

So, the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. What would you do without? At school, at work and in your spare time. Imagine a day without the world wide web, no email, no Facebook, no YouTube, NetFlix, Skype, Snapchat or WhatsApp …

Did you know that 90% of the information that we use today was collected in the past 2 years? And that the traffic in that period increased by one-third?  With a PC in our living room, a tablet on your lap and/or a cell phone in your pocket, we are all travelers on the information highway.

To make your trip as comfortable as possible, Alcatel-Lucent keeps investing in the evolution  of broadband and IP networks. In transporting data over fiber, in routing and switching, in wireline and wireless internet, and in cloud platforms to offer voice, video and multimedia communications services. At high speed and with the best quality of service.

All our employees are giving the best of ourselves to invent new products, and to develop and commercialize communications solutions to make your internet faster, safer and more comfortable. Day after day.

Days after I created the presentation, I found out that Nissan is also running a “What if” advertising campaign.

Note: the cartoons above were created for and paid by my employer. If you want to reuse some of them for non-commercial purposes, you must acknowledge Alcatel-Lucent as the source and copyright owner of the image(s) ― which I am also doing by writing this sentence.

The perceived value of value

As I discussed in former blog posts about “five lessons from B2C” and “the good life”, there’s a lot that business presenters can learn from consumer marketing. A key lesson is that there is no universal standard that defines value.

I have worked in high-tech companies for many years now, and although me and most of my fellow marketers proudly call ourselves “customer centric”, we tend to assume that we always need to impress our audience with the latest ‘n’ greatest technology and with the best in class performance. And we use to call this “value”.

But lately I presented to an industrial customer who didn’t get impressed by the Mbps, GHz or PPI figures, the complex system architectures and the tons of product features he was bombarded with, but kept asking for a simple, stable and field proven solution. To this specific prospect, “value” just meant that the product would flawlessly do what it was supposed to do – nothing more, but also nothing less. And at a reasonable (which is not the same as the lowest possible) cost.

This is exactly what is happening in B2C too. Starbucks is offering good coffee at a “bearable” price (but not cheap at all). Their value offering is in the quality and the choice of their products, combined with a few extra differentiators (or benefit experiences) such as e.g. free Wi-Fi.

starbucks

McDonald’s is a similar case. Why would you spend big money to take your young children to a three-star restaurant if there’s Happy Meal® box and a PlayPlace at walking distance?

And there is also the story of Harvey’s: a half-a-century old hardware store in Massachusetts that sells commodity goods like nuts and bolts, but manages to obtain a revenue per square meter that is almost four times higher than its large-scale competitors  – by pricing products based on the (perceived) value of the benefit experiences they provide to their customers.

Sometimes good is good enough. No thrills, but also no surprises. With a few extras. No need to compete with players in a different league. So, hard value doesn’t exist. Value is in the perception of the beholder. It is a subjective concept that lies squarely in the minds of your customers and it’s always related to the context of their business, working or living environments.

So, as a B2B presenter, you’d better adapt your content and adopt your tone to the needs and expectations of your audience. And give them value for listening to you.

Other articles about the companies mentioned in this post:

Wise men say

For the past decades I have worked and presented in the very fast-moving telecommunications environment (not only FMCG is moving fast…), which is driven by technology innovation and the need for more speed, capacity and bandwidth. A world where you have to deal with audiences of highly skilled engineers, that often get carried away by jargon, acronyms and the nitty-gritty details.

So, how do you open or broaden a high-tech conversation? Sometimes it helps to use a quote. Here are a few ones I have used to catch the attention of (or provoke or challenge) the people in the room.

Moore’s law is probably the best known “forward-looking statement” in the history of computing hardware. Around 1965, Intel founder Gordon Moore made the observation that there is a continual increase in the density of electronic equipment (“doubling each 18 months”). Although originally formulated for the number of components in integrated circuits, the prediction has turned out to be applicable to processor speed, hard disk capacity, network bandwidth, and other ICT domains too, and –which is most remarkable– it is still holding true after more than 4 decades!

This is why I often quote Gordon Moore to set the tone for debates about product evolution. As Moore’s law is telling us that the increase in capacity and performance (combined with the decrease in size and cost per unit) is a given fact, we should not worry too much about the availability of enabling technology for future products, but rather focus on how we are going to create value from it.

About 2 years ago, I discovered this fruity statement on Twitter. It’s a great quote about the changing end-user devices offering, and the complexity it brings to service providers and application developers. I have used it several times to shift the conversation from “creating complexity” to “dealing with opportunities”.

Here’s another one. In 1977, the year the Apple II was introduced, DEC founder Ken Olsen predicted that computers would never make it to our living room. Today’s reality is that most of us have at least one (and often more than one) personal computer, laptop or tablet on hand and that personal computing has become a multi-trillion euro market.

I am using Ken Olsen’s quote to tell my audience that there is no crystal ball and that even the brightest people sometimes hit the ball wrong. A good lesson on modesty, as well as an excellent way to lead people into a (sometimes very productive) “what-if…” exercise.

If you got inspired by the sayings of these wise (and less wise) men, then give it a try and add an appropriate quote to your presentation. It may help you to lead your techy audience into a broader conversation about “how can we work together to shape the future” and lift the dialogue above technology features, product details, network architectures and solution roadmaps.

More tips & tricks on the use of quotes in your speech can be found in a recent Six Minutes article by Andrew Dlugan.