Sunday musing: Life, a second at a time

Life

Photo courtesy of Toni Blay

On this beautiful morning I came across this video that embodies one of the most powerful lessons of life and I thought: "I Gotta Share :-)"! Cesar Kuriyama who was selected as one of the 17 finalists for the TED full spectrum auditions, has launched a very interesting project called the "One Second Everyday":  

The concept is simple: every day I record and capture a single second of video—just something interesting about that day. I will compile these tiny slices of my life into a single, continuous video.
But what started out as a fun way to chronicle my year off grew quickly into a catalyst that forced me to reevaluate how I approach my day-to-day life. Soon after I started the project, I realized that I couldn’t even spend a couple of days on the couch without detracting from the whole video. Footage of my typical routine was, frankly, boring. The One Second Everyday project has helped me to maintain my creative drive, as I am constantly attempting to capture something noteworthy. It has become a perpetual reminder to wake up and seize the day.

"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swaps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it's yours." 
— Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)

Have a great Sunday everyone!

Lamia Ben.
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G|Maghreb Day 1: An event in review (Part 2)

Disclaimer: I’m a morning person, so my focus function is negatively correlated to the afternoon hours, hence the slimer notes. But I’m sure you’d get a clearer idea once the keynotes are online 🙂

HTML5 and the future of the web

It’s well known that Google is betting High on HTML5. Whether you too think HTML5 rocks or you’re one of those who secretly damn Apple for not supporting flash, one thing is sure HTML5 is going to be part of the future web landscape. And nothing spells this better than WebGl in the ro.me Demo Sylvain Weber & Pascal Corpet showed us on “mobile and web development” session. Here is a video I once stumbled upon which gives a rather clearer view of the power of WebGL capabilities:

Google App Engine: Developing on the “Cloud”

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Google App Engine is the infrastructure offered by Google to let developers build, maintain, scale and run their web applications easily on the cloud. Not sure about its penetration among Moroccan developers, but according to Nicolas Garnier, Developer Programs Engineer, App Engine has 100.000 active developers worldwide, introducing 200.000 active apps per week and reaching 1.5 B Page views per day. Applications can be written in Java, Python or Go and a simple adaptation of the relational DB Layer could do the trick for migrating your native apps into the app Engine. Here are some interesting apps and websites hosted on Google App Engine:

Webfilings: Enterprise adoption of App Engine

BuddyPoke: Gaming at scale

The Royal Wedding: Example of event-based websites

Roundtable: Women In Technology

No, we were not plotting to take over the world (well, kind of). And yes, I’m aware that in the end it’s a false debate. But the women and technology roundtable was a great opportunity to meet inspiring women working at Google and to draw wisdom from their rich experience. Luisella Mazza, Noha Salem, Nada Faridane & Shaden Mohamed sent a loud and clear message: it takes hard work, perseverance (obviously for everyone and not only women) and more self-confidence (being honest about your capacities does not imply under-estimating them). I ceased the opportunity to share my simple observation: Women in technology are not less competent; it’s just that they are less present online and offline. So it comes down to encouraging them to take center stage by 1) Setting the example and 2) Empowering them to do so. (Hold that thought, I might have something to announce soon).

  

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 Well, these were pretty much my major takeaways from G|Maghreb, a successful event overall. I would definitely love to see another Google event taking place in the near future, only this time it would make more sense if it dived a bit more into the advanced aspects of the technologies. My only advice to you dear reader: Get your gears ready, it’s time to deliver your star performance.

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Lamia Ben.

G|Maghreb Day 1 : An event in review

Once I started writing down my notes from the first day, I realized that I had more to say than a single blog post can bear. This is my review from the morning of the first day of G|Maghreb, the second post will be published shortly, stay tuned! 🙂 

Gmaghreb

You don’t get an auditorium full to its last seat, cheering whenever you show up, enthusiastic geeks waking up before 8 am to attend your event, unless of course you’re Google. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I set foot in the G|Maghreb, the first Google event in Maghreb, taking place in Rabat from 21st to 23rd May.     

I only had the chance to attend day 1 a.k.a “The mobile and web developers’ day” since it suited most my “PHD student” and “Geekette” hat (Yes, my hat is big enough to bear both). That’s to say that my review of the event would actually be from that perspective, not the hardcore developer’s one. (It’s worth pointing out that the keynotes will be available on the event’s website very soon)

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Once badge in hand (Not as easy as it sound believe me!), I headed to the auditorium where G|Maghreb would officially start. A countdown (see picture below), hundreds of giddy geeks with phones and laptops in hand, in short, I’ve never felt so “at home”. 

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Google MENA strategy: up for the long haul

After a funny Arabic-oriented welcome speech from Sebastian Trzcinski-ClémentOutreach Programs manager for MENA, we were introduced to Google’s strategy regarding the region in Juergen Galler’s keynote: “Towards an Arabic Internet Ecosystem: Locally relevant, vibrant and with an enriched user experience”. Galler listed the obvious reasons why Google would be interested in the region but also the challenges ahead: Lack of high quality content (while 5% of Internet users speak Arabic only 2% of Arabic content is published online), underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of online forms of payments to name a few. He said that Google’s mission is to: Foster the growing Internet Ecosystem by delivering a locally relevant product portfolio and promoting a mature user experience. In short, two main focuses: Relevance and sustainability.

Innovation @ Google: Culture + Technology

The second keynote by Ahmad Hamzawi, Head of Engineering – MENA, was more culture oriented as he spoke about Google’s philosophy of innovation summarized in one word “its environment” (Google Zurich headquarters point in hand).  If Google is one of the most innovative workplaces in the world it’s no accident. It is bathing in a culture that encourages quick learning, embraces failure (Fail early, fail often, fail gracefully) and attracts top talents from around the world. Alongside these cultural aspects, Google is geared up by a set of internal tools that help foster innovation. Hamzawi made us a quick preview on:

 

  •  “Google Ideas”, the platform that encourages employees on acting on their ideas by sharing them and having colleagues rate them.
  •   “Google Snippets” that ensures transparency by submitting employees’ progress report to the system rather than their hierarchy (which takes a flatter form in the Google world by the way).
  •  “Google Projects” lists the various projects an employee has worked on
  • and “MOMA”, Google’s intranet with various search capabilities. 

Hamzawi closed the session by demoing some of Google’s innovative products. I have been most impressed by Goggles and visual search as they unleashed some of the great potential laying in augmented reality.

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Now that the first set of keynotes was done, came the difficult choice of workshops (ok, it wasn’t that difficult in the end). I of course, geared up with my PHD hat, headed to “Google and students” and “Google and Professors” workshops, both presented by Noha A. Salem, University relations manager in MENA.

Google || Students: Myriads of opportunities

Noha first presented the interesting opportunities Google is offering students such as Google Ambassador program, Google summer of code and Google Code Jam. I had the nice surprise to discover that they also offered excellence awards (If you’re an excellent student, have your teacher contact Google right away!), conference and travel grants (300 € registration Fees and 400 € travel grant) and Internship programs ranging from 3,6 to 9 months. Google is also encouraging women to excel in technology and computing fields by offering the Anita Borg Scholarship. The scholarship recipients will be granted up to 7000 €, and along finalists will be invited for a 3 days stay at a cool Google office where they will meet Google Engineers and exchange experiences.

To postulate for an internship: mena-recrutement@google.com

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Google || Professors: Bridging the gap

On a rather different note, where most attendees were professors and grad students, Noha affirmed that they don’t get enough candidates from the country. Bridging this gap is a priority for Google as it is trying to reach out to professors by helping them set curriculum, offering them research awards, post-Doc positions and encouraging them to weave a collaborative network through initiatives such as faculty summit.

Research awards: is a program initiated twice a year (on August and February) with grants reaching 150k$ a year. Last December’s round attained 6M $ for 112 proposals from 20 areas around the world. There are also focused grants on 3 years that could reach up to a Million $.

Visiting Faculty: is a program that welcomes faculties into Google’s offices for a year where they can use Google’s material and human resources. The project stays the researcher’s propriety.

Noha also brought out the AndroidEdu program that provides teachers up to 10 Android handsets to help their students coding and testing on the gadgets. An upcoming program dubbed ChromeEdu will do pretty much the same with Chromebooks.

And that wrapped up the morning of the first day of G|Maghreb. This was Lamia, live (with a slight 24h jetlag) from EMI, Rabat. Stay tuned for more details on the second half of the day as I will squeeze publishing the blog post into my busy schedule of tomorrow.

Have a great start of the week!

Lamia Ben.

 

 

 

The right collaboration: A fine line.

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Photo courtesy of HikingArtist.com

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it seems that Cisco’s boards and councils’ structure is stirring much conversation about the optimal collaboration effort to implement within organizations. Let’s get something out of the way first; I truly believe that collaboration is not necessarily good. As Morten T. Hansen puts it in “When Internal Collaboration Is Bad for Your Company”

“…the conventional wisdom rests on the false assumption that the more employees collaborate, the better off the company will be. In fact, collaboration can just as easily undermine performance.”

As the context of organizations is getting more and more complex, getting collaboration right is becoming a hard and critical job. In Social networking for business, Rawn Shah states that “Although collaboration is at the heart of modern business processes, most companies are still in the dark about how to manage it…they do a poor job of shedding light on the largely invisible networks that help employees get things done across functional, hierarchical, and business unit boundaries.”

So “Let’s collaborate” is no silver bullet. The right questions to ask are how much collaboration we need? And how can we avoid under-collaboration and/or over-collaboration? Through a network perspective, it comes down to finding which bridges to cross and which to burn based on intrinsic characteristics of the nodes, the ties and based on the context the team evolves in. How do you know when enough collaboration is enough? How do you set the line between over and under-collaboration? A very tough question indeed and no single fix can fit it all. I’ve been pondering this for a while and I really think that analyzing organizations through a network lens can help shade some light.

Targeted collaboration

Here is a fact that is often overlooked: every formal organization has in its shadow an informal “invisible” organization. And this informal organization is where the real work gets done. So the first thing we need to do is acknowledge that any effort aiming to enhance collaboration must go beyond the organization chart and dive in its shadowed structure.

Once we come to that realization, we need to analyze collaborative and decision -making networks and identify the weak spots. Over-collaboration is recognized by a very dense collaborative network and by high costs in terms of traffic and communication between its different nodes. Under-collaboration on the other hand is identified by a fractured network and too many bridges with few people to span them.

Once we get a clear picture of the organization’s collaborative network, we can start remedying to the situation by implementing targeted connectivity. This means that we need to cultivate collaboration precisely where it is needed the most. A way to solve under-collaboration issues for example is by identifying the most connected employees from different clusters (small-scaled interlocked structures) and encouraging them to connect, which by extension means spanning structural holes among their clusters as well.

It becomes obvious then, that any collaboration initiative depends less on the technological choices but rather heavily on the network components of the organization. Leaders need to weave their collaboration efforts into the organizations' strategy. They need to design the underlying collaborative networks as much as they do with the matrix structures they've been acustomed to manage. Leaders will therefore need to upgrade their skills by adding yet another crucial one, what Ibarra and Hansen like to call "collaborative leadership".

Lamia Ben.

Sunday musing: Mundane for you. Valuable for others.

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Photo courtesy of gooseflesh.

As I was thoroughly enjoying this passage from Birt's article  "Structural holes and good ideas" :

People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering good ideas. People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not cre­ativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.

I remembered this nice video I came across last week, worth cogitating. 

The script of the video can be found here http://sivers.org/obvious
Have a great Sunday!

Lamia Ben.

Enterprise 2.0 reads – April 2011

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It’s been a busy busy month! But it’s also been a delight to finally see the Social Media Club Casablanca Chapter become a reality. And I’m sure it’s just the start of a long and enriching adventure.  On the local scene, Earth Hour Morocco, Café 2.0, Startup weekend Casablanca and Ignite Ingénieur were the highlights of this April. Another highlight was waking up to find many website down because of Amazon’s cloud crash! A real life example of how failure of Hubs in power-law networks can turn disastrous in no time. But I’m sure I’ll need another post if I kept listing every remarkable event, there are just so many! So, with no further ado, I here present, the most interesting reads I crossed this last month.  

By the way, Jim Worth does a great job curating his monthly tweets even though they fairly need any curation if you ask me. You can catch them here to find out more interesting reads of April.

IBM Says Merge your Email into the Activity Stream By Barb Mosher

Some say email is over and done. Others say it’s the platform of the future. IBM says put email into context — into the activity stream.

[Activity stream is] a real-time feed of various events that happen in the workplace. That could be changes to documents, status messages from users and so on. It’s one of the most talked about features of social software today.

IBM says we need to move the content out of our inbox and into the activity stream too. Not everything, because that would be a nightmare and a waste of time. But only those emails that are relevant to the work we are doing, things that are actionable by us.

 

The future is podular by Dave Gray


If you want an adaptive company, you will need to unleash the creative forces in your organization, so people have the freedom to deliver value to customers and respond to their needs more dynamically. One way to do this is by enabling small, autonomous units that can act and react quickly and easily, without fear of disrupting other business activities – pods.

 A chain, as the saying goes, is only as strong as its weakest link. Break one link and the whole chain fails. A podular system is like a net… If one strand breaks, the system can still carry the load…

 For a podular system to work, cultural and technical standards are imperative… This kind of system needs a strong platform that clearly articulates those standards and provides a mechanism for evolving them when necessary… What’s most important about platform decisions is that they focus on the connections between pods rather than within pods

 Pods don’t answer every business problem. Like any other strategic decision, the choice to go podular involves inherent risks and tradeoffs… The benefit, though, is that you unleash people to bring more of their intelligence, passion, creative energy and expertise to their work.

 

Enterprise 2.0: Why All Business Software Must Go Social by Eric Savitz

 

it is increasingly evident that the prevailing wisdom on the subject has changed; having an enterprise social network is no longer a fascination of early adopters. It is now an essential component of the enterprise.

 Enter Enterprise 2.0, a new management paradigm based on enterprise social networking. It is the platform of engagement for all constituents across and beyond the enterprise, empowering them to be more engaged by staying connected with the people and activities around them…. any successful adoption requires a cultural, behavioral and habitual transformation for the entire organization.

 Like any change, this is a classic chicken-and-egg problem: you need enough stuff in it for enough people to get it; you need enough people who have already got it to generate enough stuff. That’s the bad news.

 

Companies aren’t communities By Michael Idinopulos

 

Companies aren’t communities. They aren’t forums. Companies are companies.

 Companies, by very definition, have reporting structures, established workflows, shared systems and processes, defined roles and responsibilities, and closely managed performance. Those are assets we don’t have in communities and forums

 Companies achieve adoption and business value when they place social software in the flow of work. The tools achieve real benefit when people do … their actual “day” jobs in social software.

 Social software fails when it tries to turn businesses into communities. It succeeds when it turns businesses into better businesses.

 

The cultural imperative for a social business by Maria Ogneva

How does one become social internally? Just launch an internal social network like Yammer of course, and wait for magic to happen? Not so fast! … Culture is the hardest element of success, because it’s 1) hard to define, 2) takes a long time to change, and 3) there are serious disincentives to changing it…The better you can anticipate resistance and channel it into positive energy, the higher the chances of success.

There are certain common elements of organizations that do well with these types of initiatives. Charlene Li sums it up best: “be open, be transparent, be authentic”

There are some serious barriers to this type of culture, some of which are:

  • Command and control mindset: This is starting to change drastically, as teams are now acting as fluid organisms vs. machines.
  • Functional silos: cross-functional collaboration is absolutely key to exchanging ideas, doing a better job, making better decisions and avoiding work duplication.
  • Rigid hierarchies: democratization of information is definitely putting the emphasis back on leadership style, and not access to information, as a competitive advantage.
  • Wrong things are measured: we need to make sure we are also incentivizing behaviors that will help us succeed in the long-term, and measuring their effect.

 

Lamia Ben.