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meta meta & keeping secrets

2007-09-10 15:00:17.030541+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

One of the occasional discussions in the hiking group is how "meta" a job is. You get your hands dirty making a product, that's pretty concrete. You manage several people getting their hands dirty, that's a little further removed. A new guy in the hiking group has us all trumped: He sells a service that sends consultants out to help your company rework its management of its sales force to... well... you get the picture.

So a question I asked on yesterday's leg burner hike (13 miles with some decent elevation, we clipped it off at about 3 MPH but I carried a couple of extra gallons of water just to make it fair so I'm a little sore this morning) was about how to institutionalize the consulting knowledge. It's one thing to be a smart guy with some ideas about sales that you can present to various organizations, it's quite another to teach people to recognize the patterns when they occur in your clients, and communicate those solutions.

And it's yet another to do so while retaining your company's edge, keeping the ability to do that pattern recognition within your own company while still effectively teaching your clients how to solve their problems. In fact, one of the topics he's run up against recently has been about trying to let a large customer integrate the ideas of his company into their CRM systems.

I see this pattern over and over again, especially in software and hardware where I spend my time: What we're selling to our customers is the ability to solve their problems, but since our profit comes from that process, we don't want to give them the ability to solve their own problems.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this yet, but as I balance two different paths in software, playing with the freedom of open source and sharing and seeing how advanced Linux is, and yet looking to Windows and the Mac because it is that economic friction that lets a system be profitable, I think there's gotta be some monster opportunity here.

[ related topics: Free Software Microsoft Open Source Invention and Design Software Engineering Macintosh Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-10 18:28:21.524582+00 by: radix

This reminds me of my pattern language expedition. I read the Java pattern language stuff and was intrigued by the citation to Christopher Alexander's "The Timeless Way of Building" and "A Pattern Language". I bought and read those. It's very hard to grasp where he's going. I think it is very much like the problem you outline. Apparently Mr. Alexander thought his two books weren't getting it done either: he's now expanded to a 4-volume set: http://www.natureoforder.com/overview.htm

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-10 19:36:07.912178+00 by: Dan Lyke

Interesting. I read A Pattern Language[Wiki] when I was first introduced to the whole notion of patterns in software, and came away from it thinking "this is the same crap that architects have been foisting on us for years, and it makes for unlivable houses", but I've thought that it'd be cool to read The Timeless Way of Building[Wiki] because I wanted more of the philosophies behind what lead him to A Pattern Language[Wiki] rather than the result.

Unfortunately, that overview you link to has as its volume 4 something that rings a lot of the same bells as the phrase "Goethean Science" of the culture of anthroposophy that I grew up in, and given that, and the reaction I had to A Pattern Language[Wiki], I'd be interested in reading what others have made of his work so far.

So if you read 'em, write something up and tell me about them.

The bifurcation I see in the computer world is starting to gel in some way. I recently ran across some notes by someone who said "I'd never use .NET for shareware", in the context of code obfuscators and systems to package .NET applications into single executables. It seemed to me that the .NET system was developed to wrest the replacement market for COBOL away from the Java folks, but that the framework itself almost mandated a certain way of thinking. And as I work with a client on how to make sure that their Windows platform application has the right licensing situations, I'm seeing that same thing: It's hard to write a consumer app on Windows any more, it's easy to write an enterprise one, but there's a cognitive load to building something that installs easily on Grandma's computer.

In the same way that the GPL that's so pervasive throughout the GNU/Linux system is viral, it tends to turn all applications into things that are itching for other people to expand on them.

And each of those systems, enterprise software, consumer software, and open source, not only have different necessities to the mechanisms necessary to extract economic value from them, but also define how problems approached within those contexts get solved.

What I'd like is a way to extract consumer level value from applications created in the context of the open source code, but somehow that synergy is really tough to find.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-10 20:28:17.640727+00 by: meuon [edit history]

In my own very small world, I try to give away the "secret", I even watch NextKnowledge do it... but at least in smaller company realms, what the customer really buys is your time and expertise, even if it's abstracted into a monthly hosting and maintenance agreements.

Nextknowledge technically competes with Moodle, a very good open source learning management system. But like many 'open source' projects, using the free code requires a lot of human capital. NextKnowledge provides turnkey services including content creation, often training the customer how to do it in the process (it's got a kick-ass web interface for content/course creation). They almost always say: "impressive, but how about I just pay you to do this for me". because the real issue in any company is the available time of the really competent and smart people.

In many cases you can give the process/code/method away, they'll still pay you for your time to do it better than they can. A great reason is, if you sub-contract out X, and it sucks, you can blame and fire the sub-contractor and keep your job. Really. I just got told this by a customer (a small bank) and all I have to say is: their bill for the next job will be much larger.