One Laptop Per Child Transition: Welcome to the NFL

   
   
   
   
   

Welcome to the NFL (a phrase I've used before)! This is a situation not at all uncommon in the commercial startup world. The promoter (Nicholas Negroponte) has, by dint of impressive skills of persuasion, assembled a small but driven team that has created something sufficiently like the promised product to push out the door.

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The investors, who previously stood back and watched, have realized that they may in fact see some return for their money, so they send in the experts they've used before to bring order to the situation.

The promoter loses his position as CEO ("kicked upstairs" to a lofty-sounding position with no power) and the ranks of management are purged and replenished with people who are generally more motivated by social advancement within the office than by the opportunity to innovate.

The company targets an easily-identifiable market and the product design is re-focused on that market. With luck, it becomes a cash cow, at least until competition catches up. The intelligent thing for the innovators to do at this time is to re-group outside the company and work on enhancements, applications and systems centered around the original product concept.

Obviously, adaptations will have to be made to ensure that these secondary products can be used with the base product as it emerges. They shouldn't try to ride the beast as it grows from a pony to a dinosaur (take it from one who's been there). To do so is to invite being corralled and separated from the possibility of creating something really new.


Mary Lou Jepsen's opportunity

Steve Jobs with Next and the Donna Dubinsky/Jeff Hawkins team with Treo are successful examples of this step-outside-and-keep-innovating strategy, which they used to get back into the good graces of their original company. To put it another way, when I interview engineers I always ask "how would you have done it if you had been allowed to do it the right way?"

So Mary Lou's Pixel Qi approach is the right way. There is a lot of opportunity in the software and courseware field, too, as well as security (Ivan?).

Now making the sale (of the product or of its concept) is no longer a missionary sale, but can be done on the basis of comparison. The nonprofit structure of OLPC provides some interesting opportunities as well. If it survives, it will have enough of a cash flow to reward its management. Nonprofits can collect money for licenses without tax consequences and can dole out the not-profits as they see fit without the threat of stockholder lawsuits.

The structure is well suited for a cash cow product to serve as catalyst for more innovation. Remember, what remains to be built is not a company but an industry. In the personal computer industry the original innovators (whose names you will never hear outside the historical accounts) often became fixated on building their own cathedrals while the rest of us went around them to build the thriving bazaar (thanks to Eric Raymond for the metaphor). They were soon engulfed and their plans for domination of the industry quickly turned to dust.

Things are turning out better than I had feared. OLPC will become a structure with high inertia, turning out a product to be bought by slow-moving institutions while the founders and others generate a vital leading edge that is constantly growing and changing. The money with which to do the actual educational research can be spun off from OLPC to be applied by externally-assembled ad hoc teams working at high efficiency. Money will be attracted to fund new companies to carry improvements into the market and enable its growth.

A lot of us reading these pages will be the ones to exploit their corner of the opportunity, and in doing so, generate more opportunity. The crucial element is communication - across enterprise and institutional boundaries. Things have never looked so good as they do now for the successful development of low-cost systems to empower people in developing areas.

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16 Comments

Lee Felsenstein wrote:

'Company X will become a structure with high inertia, turning out a product to be bought by slow-moving institutions while the founders and others generate a vital leading edge that is constantly growing and changing. The money with which to do the actual educational research can be spun off from Company X to be applied by externally-assembled ad hoc teams working at high efficiency. Money will be attracted to fund new companies to carry improvements into the market and enable its growth."

Isn't this the essence of bullsh*t? A bunch of buzzwords trying to pass off as some sort of coherent thought.

Sounds like the entire article was created with this 'wizard':

http://www.dack.com/web/bullshit.html

Irvin,

"Isn't this the essence of bullsh*t? A bunch of buzzwords trying to pass off as some sort of coherent thought.

Sounds like the entire article was created with this 'wizard':.
..."

How about that Irvin - we actually agree on something :). Although I thought the 'wizard' was just a case of having a few too many - one way or other one of the most bizarre articles ever posted here...

Lee Felsenstein's posting is excellant. There is plenty of proof that is true. That is the track record of most inventions.

Excellant posting.

Really? Steve Jobs' experience at NeXT is considered "successful"?

Despite any OS X underpinnings that can trace their ancestry back to the NEXTSTEP OS, the fact remains that as poorly as Apple performed as a company without Jobs, NeXT performed even worse. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that PowerComputing sold more Mac clones than Jobs sold NeXT workstations.

Wayan - I would think that finishing the article with the parallel to "Welcome to the NFL" would make this a bit better. I read the whole article wondering where your analogy was going. Rookies, Team owners, Expansion teams, New Coaches, Free Agents? The metaphorical references are good just help me finalize your point with a little direction.

OT - Do you think OLPCNews should report about updates. I just visited the Wiki and saw that Build 656 was released, and as my WPA connection has been flaky at best I am going to update. As OLPCNews is main source for all things OLPC, I think a little more software thrown in would be great.

OT reply - apparently build 656 is what I had and not "new" out since Jan. My bad. Hope the software idea is not lost in the shuffle though.

Dave,

The NFL reference that Lee Felsenstein makes in this post refers to a Silicon Valley phrase noting that football and technology are both leagues which play a brutal sport with almost no sportsmanship.

wayan and lee -- i suspect the "NFL" reference is lost on most of your audience. i'm reasonably connected in high-tech, and i had no clue.

@Mike:
"Despite any OS X underpinnings that can trace their ancestry back to the NEXTSTEP OS, the fact remains that as poorly as Apple performed as a company without Jobs, NeXT performed even worse. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that PowerComputing sold more Mac clones than Jobs sold NeXT workstations."

Indeed, as a commercial enterprise, the NeXT was a failure. But the turnaround at Apple after Jobs' return incorporated many of the NeXT ideas (eg, Unix). But Jobs also had Pixar, which was less innovative, but more of a commercial success.

The equation of success with commercial profit is a common mistake. The Apple Lisa was a commercial failure, but lives on in the Mac.

As another example, Gutenberg went bankrupt a few times, but I have yet to see movable print described as a failure.

Winter

Dave Kaufman is a better editor than I am - his suggestion would have improved the way the posting read. I was referring to a comment I had made in these pages on Sept. 28th, which is a bit long ago for most people's memory.

The recipient of the comment is usually metaphorically flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him.

I completely agree with Lee! Especially with:

"The money with which to do the actual educational research can be spun off from OLPC to be applied by externally-assembled ad hoc teams working at high efficiency."

It is amusing to read the magisterial dismissals of THE Lee Felsenstein by Irwin and Delphi. Easy on the ad hominem attacks, guys!

Chilly Ram,

I don't mind Lee's pompous style ( got used to it ) or his recent metamorphosis, now that OLPC has the ball rolling, from consistent and a long-time OLPC basher to, amazingly, OLPC 'visionary' ( we can all do with a few laughs after all :). My criticism in Lee's 'analysis' is to do with:

1) obvious distorting of the facts - eg:

"the ranks of management are purged and replenished with people who are generally more motivated by social advancement".

This sounds like from some avid student of Chinese communist party history or, worst still, conspiracy theories fanatic. The usage of the term 'purge' makes it just laughable. Not just for its 'dark' overtones but simply for the lack of factual accuracy. And the facts are: OLPC has moved from research-only to production and deployment phase, re-focus and re-structuring are badly needed, there are no 'purges' - it's completely understandable that researchers like Mary Lou Jepsen ("my job was simply done") although, clearly, there were still many opportunities, even if more mundane than till now, for Ivan Kristic to contribute. They both have decided to move on - but I'm sure will still contribute in some ways in the future.

2) and simplistic and far-fetched assumptions - good example of this is the very one you so "completely agree":

"The money with which to do the actual educational research can be spun off from OLPC to be applied by externally-assembled ad hoc teams working at high efficiency."

Lee, as a hardware engineer, seems to have very little understanding what's actually involved in educational research - what he 'recommends' above, even if simplistic, could well apply to hardware manufacturing but is nonsensical (notice his emphasis on money rather than what actually motivates the people involved in the project) in the complex effort of educational research (and this, unlike, hardware, is an on-going effort) at OLPC. OLPC has already top researchers in the field [1] and their involvement attracts contributions of many others, in true open source fashion, both with established reputation and newcomers...

[1] Alan Kay - Education? Papers on Simulation Software and micro-world environments
( http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/sugar/2007-March/001748.html )

I defy delphi to show where I have made a "metamorphosis" and changed my position. In my own words, please, and not his substitutes.

Thanks for clearing up the confusion, I think.

As someone not living in Silicon Valley, but pretty plugged in and very NFL aware, I have never heard that analogy before. I guess it makes sense.

Lee,

"I defy delphi to show where I have made a "metamorphosis" and changed my position."

That's as easy as 1-2-3: 1) you've been,what now seems like years (indeed reminding everyone being the very first one :), carping from the sidelines about all aspects (and that includes their hardware development) of OLPC and predicted their coming failure, however 2) with their successful completion of the hardware and start of XO production you seem to have gone quiet for a while only to 3) 're-surfice' right in the 'front line' with your 'call to the troops' in your 'Stamp Collectors" (or was it 'Coins' :) posting - this is almost as amusing as Irvin telling us recently that he actually writes in support of OLPC - I mean, one has laugh...

But, in the end, your changing position (after all XO is out there and being deployed no matter what you predicted) is as irrelevant as anyone else's posting here. What does matter, however, is when someone maliciously spreads false information - which takes me to your insistence to continue making bombastic attempts at degrading OLPC itself and _that_ is the main issue with your current posting:

I defy Lee to show the sources supporting his assertion that "the ranks of management are purged and replenished with people who are generally more motivated by social advancement" allegedly taking place at OLPC...

Delphi conveniently fails to quote the following sentence of my challenge; "In my own words, please, and not his substitutes".

I don't see any of my words there in your arguments. You are entitled to your opinion, delphi, to be wrong and make a fool of yourself about it.

As for delphi's challenge to me, the whole set of statements including the one he mentions was predictive, summarizing my observations taken from observing and participating in a number of startups. Upon re-reading my post I will admit that it isn't as clear as it might have been that I'm speaking from general observations and not detailing what I claim to know about this situation. My apologies, therefore, if it caused any confusion to delphi or others.

Still, I stand by my predictions. Wait and watch.

Mary Lou has been around the block enough times to know where the knee of the curve lies, and has made her own decision. Management would never have tossed her off the bus - they tend to keep the original high-profile tech people around as long as they have no influence on what is done.

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  • Oh, come on Michael. Do you really think anything that was said on OLPC News would have had much …

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  • Hi!

    I bought 2 "Tablets OLPC." I had to return because the two did not work. O …

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

    Comment on The XO Tablet - A First Impression in 750 Words

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

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  • Bonjour Mokifisi!
    Je suis bien d'accord avec vous. Je travaille depuis 4 ans dans un petit …

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  • You just follow the same route upstream how you got the 2XO Tablets? How did you get them? Bring …

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  • └ quelle adresse envoyer mes deux XOTablet qui ne fonctionnent pas?

    At what address to s …

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  • That's called "Death on arrivals". They happen. That's why there's always some additio …

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  • What is a shelf XO? If you tell me what did you buy and from whom, perhaps I will have a suggest …

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  • Voici mon message en franšais...

    Bonjour,
    Je viens d'acheter 2 tablettes XO. Les d …

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

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  • OLPC is not death; eg. this One Laptop per Child San Francisco (OLPC-SF) June 21, 2014 Meeting a …

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