Thursday, May 26, 2011

The numbers

Critical mass is very important, to be the best, to stay on top, to attract talent, to get new ideas and innovation...

Recently, I was in Silicon valley, and I spoke to some folks at Google, Facebook and Nvidia. Their culture seems to be completely different from Singapore, wanting to be the "silicon valley" of Asia. I think the mindset basically is due to education.

In the US, there are a lot of people (because US is big) and the education system though highly irregular, produces the best people. There is no doubt that the top universities are doing something right, but basically, after interacting with the folks who are in the top tech companies, all of them -- love tech.

Passion is a driving force behind the people, and since young, they love to get their hands dirty and invent things. Silicon valley is a great place to be for engineers, and the education system produces a few kinds of people. One that is unfocused and don't know what to do with their lives, and another type who are driven by their passion to create and seek education to enable them. In America, education is not just a piece of paper. You learn things, and although it does not bring as much prestige, the whole system is based on performance.

Having a masters degree or a PHd does not guarantee that the employee has a better way of innovating and creating the edge for a company. Basically, people are worth what they can contribute. In many companies, solving problems is what they do best, (so that they are in business) and in top companies, they need to solve very hard problems.

It does not take a person with PHd to solve these problem, but rather, a passionate, driven individual with great amounts of experience and a bright spark. For most cases, innovation is found throughout the ranks of the company and rewarded accordingly. With the companies run by Engineers (instead of MBAs) the culture of innovation and performance exceeds that which satisfies the stakeholders, and that is one of the reason why they can get the best of of their people and be on top.

It is not surprising that many like to get their advanced degrees in America, and few in Singapore. It is not that people are stupid in Singapore, but rather, the need.

The problems Singapore is trying to solve are not as challenging, and the advanced degrees are purely for cosmetic reasons. Perhaps for a promotion and moving up the corporate ladder. Few I've seen applied their knowledge to their passion and develop great things, and because the pool of people is rather small, it is very hard to get great help.

The problem of critical mass of talent, market size and access is also key to the success in many technology companies. The culture of inventing, instead of outsourcing core competencies is essential when you are competing at the highest level as creating your technology is better than managing it at the top.

For social networks, creating a conductive, inclusive environment is key for conversation. There is a need to get a core group of focused people, but also a need to get the numbers up sometimes.

There are always silent lurkers on blogs and Facebook pages, and for something to be turned to action, you may need the numbers to spark off something new and interesting, like a long discussion. A few comments can spark off the interest of the silent lurkers to get them in the conversation.

I feel that the numbers game is very important to success. If you do not have the numbers, perhaps collaboration and partnerships may be the answer.

-- Robin Low


  1. Wow this such a great article and the tips are very comprehensive. For sure many entrepreneurs with small and big businesses are going to benefit from this. Keep it up!

    Digital media