Aaron Swartz

Aaron SwartzI was upset yesterday to learn of the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the founder of Reddit and RSS particularly so because it ties into society’s debate about internet freedom. Swartz had been charged by the US government essentially for stealing academic papers in an attempt to make them freely available.

I find this somewhat disturbing as for the most part the taxpayer pays for academics to conduct research which is then published in private journals for which the taxpayer must pay again for access.

Even worse, universities pay faculty to conduct and publish research which is given away to the private publishers for free, and then purchased back from them by the university to put in the library.

This is just perhaps one more facet of the education system that is desperately in need of innovation. While some attempts at innovations such as the flipped classroom model, massively open online courses, online textbook publishing, and open journals have been tried it is still a very closed system.

The system protects who gets in, who gets out, how they learn, how they teach, research and publish. Because it is publicly funded we should deserve more but the system is entirely closed, expensive at every entry point, and self protecting.

Aaron’s death is a pathetic reminder of how a closed system can bully those who try to innovate from within or without.

Happy New Year!

UnknownYes I know it is a few days late but I suspect that people are only now getting back to work in earnest. I wanted to start the new year by telling a story of a friend’s father, a man who is 88 years old.

My friend will often go over to his father’s place and find he is eating something new, something strange like creamed spinach. It turns out that his father long ago decided that he would do whatever is necessary to live a long and healthy life and so if some research said that eating creamed spinach would make you live a longer and healthier life, he’ll start eating creamed spinach.

The point isn’t about creamed spinach but that his father is very goal oriented and has long believed that you get somewhere in life by setting goals. Every year since he was very young he has written out his goals for the year and every year at the end of the year he ticks off those goals he accomplished.

He started life in a family of modest means and a goal he set one year was to buy a winter coat. Another goal one year was to make two friends. Over these many years, this man has written down and kept a record of his annual goals thus comprising a heart warming and inspirational history of a man’s desire to live a happy, long, productive life.

Most of his friends have passed away and he relies on support from his family but he still at 88, starts the year by setting goals.

Is planning really useful?

If you read anything on goal setting it will say that after you establish some goals you’ll need to make a plan. But if you look back over your life to date, can you name five really significant things that you accomplished as a result of a detailed plan?

I suspect that many of us wander through life with very loose plans, some of which may be written down but most of which reside in our minds. I have never been a proponent of detailed planning but as I wander from one objective to another I wonder if perhaps I’ve given too little attention to planning.

In one of my recent nocturnal net surfing forays (without a plan) I blundered upon a write-up on Thomas Edison. You know, prolific inventor, rabid entrepreneur, holder of 1,093 patents etc. etc.

What I didn’t know about Edison was that he was a rabid planner. Apparently he made detailed plans for every trial and faithfully recorded both the plans and the results in notebooks. While he was meticulous and scientific, he wasn’t averse to trying inspired guesswork. What was key to his success though was that as he said it “I never did anything by accident.”

So maybe the rest of us have been wrong. Maybe we’ve ended up where we are mostly through accident because we didn’t have detailed plans. Maybe if we had been better planners we would have ended up more like Edison.

Leaders and Passion


Take a look at the three leaders featured above, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Jack Welsh. Each of them was successful but each seems to have had a different passion in business.

Richard Branson entered multiple businesses because he was fed up with the poor customer service that was a standard in the industry for each business. He sought to change the customer experience in each business because he cared about people and figured they deserved better.

Steve Jobs built multiple products in a variety of sectors because he cared deeply about the beauty and simplicity of product design, a passion for product.

Jack Welsh had a passion for the business process and was able to make GE a consistent world leader in multiple indistry sectors because of this basic passion for process.

Each one of them was exactly what was needed for each style of business and each would have failed in the others’ business. In fact when you put someone who has a passion for process like Sculley in a product business like Apple he fails when he can succeed in a business that needs process.

Leadership is complex and multidimensional but passion plays a large part in determining what leader is suited for what type of business.