Better Honest Than Polite

I gave a short speech a couple nights ago at a gathering organized by Pat Mitchell and the newly named Paley Center for Media. I was joined by some august guests, including California State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who wore, and I’m not joking, green alligator skin boots); along with Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google – and a little known fact, my very first boss at Sun), and Terry Semel (CEO, Yahoo!).

After dinner, I found myself talking to a group of media company CEO’s. I asked a simple question, “do you have a general counsel reporting to you?” The answer was universally, yes.

I do, too. Mike and his team are central to the evolution of Sun (as I’ve said, we are nothing less, or more, than an intellectual property company – it’s hard navigating those waters without a great legal team).

But then I asked a harder question: “Do you have a chief technology officer reporting to you?”

I do, and I talk to Greg at least every day. He plays a central role at Sun. Central as in nervous system. He’s involved in every major strategic decision I make (and a ton of minor ones, too).

But in repsonse to my question, the answers from the group were more dismissive than substantive – most did not. And in my view, if you have a general counsel reporting to you, and not a CTO, you’re saying legal advice is more important to you than technology counsel. Which seems backward for a media company. Why?

Because convergence isn’t a legal phenomenon. It’s a technical and social phenomena first and foremost – that’s why you can’t talk about media without talking about software (what is an MP3? AAC? Java? Flash?). You can’t talk about distribution without talking about free media, social networking or mobile devices (technical assets that reach more of the planet than all other network outlets). Ask Eric or Terry (or Steve or Mark if they have CTO’s reporting to them. Of course they do, they’re media companies using technology to win. Or vice versa. It doesn’t matter, they’ve converged.

Which brings me to a simple, and heretical conclusion – for which I’m sure I’ll be apologizing for years to come. But I’d rather be honest than polite.

Media company CEO’s without a CTO on their staff should prepare to be acquired or broken up – they are fighting the future rather than monetizing it.


Filed under General

45 responses to “Better Honest Than Polite

  1. Your AAC link has an extra quote on the end of it. It should be AAC. Talking of Greg, you never did say what oven you both use. Maybe Linus will be the first to find out how you cook your open sauce 😉

  2. John Hansen

    In Europe we would smile more about a male with a pony tale than boots.

  3. Jonathan,
    I wouldn’t concern myself to much about having to apologize “in the years to come” on this one “Because convergence isn’t a legal phenomena. It’s a technical and social phenomena first and foremost”….the evidence of this fact is already all around us today. Ignoring it is more so fear of uncertainty than anything else. If, the media industry, just as one example, doesn’t see that the price and technological advances of storage (just one technology example) has and will continue to have a major impact on their industry, by making points of entry for new competitors by way of “digital” and how price points and technology remove price barriers and even add value to their usage, then they should already be deemed as “flat footed”. An example, the explosion of email usage and all of the regulations, legal “havoc” etc. that have come to fruition over the last few years wasn’t because every business person in the world decided to call each other up one day and collectively decide that e-mail communications would supplant the “old” telephone, it was because different “technologies” came of age and advanced rather quickly-making hitting the “send” button as reliable as picking up a handset and hearing the trusty “dial-tone”. Once a number of technologies (to many to name) became hard and true – that was the phenomenom, fork in the road, delta, what ever you want to call it – but it was not any “business” phenomenon, in fact exactly the opposite it was a change in “technology”. I think any major corporation that is not aligning their business efforts with technology changes and advances vis-a-vis risk to profit is in for a major awakening. Either the Government (i.e. the SEC (who insists on running American businesses) or “other” good old fashion “litigant” or better yet, a new competitor with a better mouse trap devised with a few good and some serious “technology” that “works” is “reliable” and lastly “affordable” and quick to deploy , Bang! Those in combination should keep everyone on their toes….apologies will not be needed…
    Peter Mojica

  4. William R. Walling

    Well stated!

  5. John

    “Because convergence isn’t a legal phenomena. It’s a technical and social phenomena…” Either way, the word is phenomenon, and phenomena is the plural form. It’s a Greek word: perhaps that’s one more minor decision you should have asked Dr. Papadopoulos about. 🙂

  6. Peter

    Well said and thanks for the link to Greg’s blog, well worth reading.

  7. {plural phenomena vs singular phenomenon}… CTO’s know spelling flames are so 90s. 😉 I won’t mention the stranded preposition in the response. Oh wait, I just did.
    Great post, Jonathan. Many media companies seem to be spending more on their legal innovations than technology innovations.

  8. Convergence is a social phenomenon first and foremost and technical a close second.
    The very first hurdle is getting the organization to understand what is going on and how the world is changing. Massive connectedness is not something that is natural to everyone — the younger you are the more natural it seems to be. There is a difference between experience and awareness and it is subtle. Awareness is observation where as experience is participation (Daniel Gilbert.) I believe old school media is used to engaging its consumers in a unidirectional way (where the consumer is merely the observer and the media organization source.) Participation is an alien concept to most media companies Citizen Journalism etc? No way.
    Is selling Open Source primarily a technical problem? No it is an issue of making clear that a sea change has occurred; connectivity matters, clue train matters.
    It is only that this time you are not pitching participation to a CIO; you are pitching it to an editor or a publisher. You are pitching participation none the less.
    You are right. They do need someone on their staff that understands technology — but I would add: understands open source.
    I understand (and agree) your point about seeing technology as a strategic asset but I believe they may be missing something even more fundamental. Who cares about technology (the second issue) if you cannot solve the first?

  9. M. Lapierre

    Well. From a customer point of view, convergence is a very bad thing, it’s pulp for cats!! It’s good to remind that the most solid technology is chosen, regardless of trademarks, patent or legal concerns. This is the reason why I use free software for more than 8 years!
    Like we use image formats that have flexibility and less disk usage, we use the Operating system that is rock solid like stainless steel or reinforced concrete… like LINUX :)) Linux may be the greatest technical and ambitious prowess of our time.
    Here’s the point: Only quality sells, the remainder is wind. Even with or without CTO’s, companies that don’t adapt themselves to customers are doomed. Companies are even doomed if they don’t have a knowledge management plan to face the rapildy change of the tremendous information that transit in our world everyday.
    As said by Nick Bontis, professor at the McMaster university, Aristote wrote that “all men by nature desire knowledge.” More than 2,000 years later, in a recent statement Pope John Paul II claimed that “whereas at one time the decisive factor of production was the land, and later money, today the decisive factor is increasingly man himself, that is, his skills.” (I changed knowledge by skills because there is a blur of what defines human intelligence)
    In an immediate future, I think Microsoft will face many difficulties if they don’t adapt to customers that will be more informed and more flexible than at now. Current, millions of internet users will agree with me, Microsoft products are crap. In fact, Windows was crap at is first run on the market. The same thing arrived with JAVA.
    Why Ford Motor doesn’t succeed?
    First, they neglected their customers for more than 10 years.
    And, they don’t adapt themselves to the current trends. Some models are very ugly. This is the risk they lost to try to “change”,”force” the market instead to follow it.
    Ford is doomed.
    The key factor to avoid doom is a great knowledge management, not in an bureaucracy way but with our skills. To understand what I means you should take a look at the greatest wonder of the world. It may be the great wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt, The Golden Gate, the Chrysler building,… for me it’s linux

  10. Chris

    Hi, you only corrected the first misuse of “phenomena”:

    > Because convergence isn’t a legal phenomenon. It’s a technical and social phenomena first and foremost

    Both should be singular.

  11. Mark Davies

    Hi Johnathan,
    This is completly off topic and as I haven’t followed every blog you have done, I’m not to sure this has been coverd before, I suspect it has. I have just (2 weeks agaon) started as IT Manager Hi Jonathan,
    This is completely off topic and as I haven’t followed every blog you have done, I’m not to sure this has been covered before, I suspect it has. I have just (2 weeks ago) started as IT Manager at a new company that is in need of a major revamp. This I knew, and was one of the reasons I took the job. It gives me the chance to be creative and innovative and to create a base infrastructure that will cope with the future. So last week I entertained a very nice woman called Oliva from SUN UK and Michael Harrison from SUN partner WTL to discuss what possibilities there are for a SUN implementation to take over the Small Business Server setup we currently have. I raised the question that the SUN Blade that I use at home has far to many updates and requires far to many reboots. They suggested I contact yourself via your blog.
    Is it that the days of UNIX boxes having uptimes measured in decades have gone and we are lucky if we have a complete day that goes by without the need to reboot for a fix to be installed. I’m sure that I may be slightly over exaggerating the point, but it certainly feels like it. I’m looking for a systems solution that is not going to take up my technicians days reading documents to work out if the update is needed or not and I certainly do not want to have to go to the CEO every day explaining why he needs to pay me for yet another overtime trip back to work to reboot the servers (even if I do it remotely, I’m still going to claim something.)
    Anyway, this may sound like a moan, and I suppose it is a bit, but I am looking for solution from SUN that fulfills everything I want, as I see SUN as green, innovative and cost effective.
    Thanks for listening.
    Mark Davies

  12. Well … having a CTO isn´t sufficient … you need the will to do some things different, as we did with T1 or with opensourcing our core assets. Without the will to change something and to kick some butts, a CTO is only an empty suit. Especially the music/film industry is known for reiterating the same business model again and again and for protecting the business model against their own customers.

  13. jeff quast

    blah blah blah.
    Respond to Deraadt you coward.

  14. When they say “Massive connectedness is not something that is natural to everyone”, I think they’re talking about people like Mark Davies who seems to think its appropriate to contact the CEO via their blog for support and technical problems.
    How can we explain common sense to these supposed IT managers? I can’t imagine what it must be like to work for such as PHB. Maybe they need some web etiquette classes to go along with their suits and ties? After all those years of handling tier 3 phone support I’d be happy to train him for free. Where’s Dogbert when you need him?

  15. Well worth reading.

  16. One Sheet

    Traditionally, since the entertainment biz was an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution, a high degree of division of labor and specialization was the norm. The content creator / artist would be rep’ed by an agent, who then engineered deals with various production companies who would then go on to distribute the product to captive and / or third party theatres, mass media and the like. Theatre and concert events and runs would serve as direct revenue streams while advertising funded the media outlets.
    In the new model, there is immense commoditization (just like everything else!) and this removes the viability of middlement like agents and certain aspects of production companies, at a minimum. Content creators / artists and B2C channels need to take on most of the traditional representation, production and distribution tasks. Of course, those now in those arenas are not happy about the new model. Meanwhile, the content creator needs to multitask and take on more business responsibility. One good thing about the old system was artists could focus on the art, however, the need for economies of scale meant artists had to gear their product for the mass market, and compromise the artistic impulse, since the overall value chain required high revenue to pay all the middle men. What we’ll likely end up with is smaller market niches, but a more direct revenue stream from end user to artist. It’s going to be a pretty difficult transition but hopefully one enabling more pure creativity and less need for broad commercial appeal.

  17. Mark Davies

    In response to ‘nobody’
    I don’t recall it being a request for technical help. It is aimed as a question relating to the change in direction in solaris.
    It’s very big of you to name yourself, you sound like a frustrated wannabe…
    I’m suprised you managed the math question to even get your post submitted.

  18. vanessa

    Excellent point, Jonathan. I’ll be sure to pass along your blog to my husband who was recently promoted to Publisher
    I saw posting on our Sun internal site (I’m one of your employees)

  19. Interesting timing: making inquiries to a group including Yahoo CEO Terry Semel
    about CTO presence inviting dire consequences. No sooner does a websearch
    reveal that Yahoo is CTO-rudderless, per:
    but we now witness that the CEO is out as well.

  20. Sean

    Valuing honesty is not an attribute requiring apology. That kind of leadership yields actual followers. Well spoken. Lead on.

  21. Hmm, So is not having a CTO the key for making more money? Looks like the Gang included names like Google and Yahoo.

  22. Tier too support

    I think what Mr. Davies needs is a link to Sun Services EVP Don Grantham’s blog. But, this is odd. I can’t find him on a search of Shouldn’t he be engaging in these types of conversations? Does he even have a blog? It is not too tough to imagine a time when no exec blog = no integrity within these communities that Sun is promoting.

  23. @jeff quast: Please see my blog entry for the start of a reply.

  24. nobody

    My apologies, Mark, I was out of line. The math question took me a few tries. 😉 Nothing personal, it just struck a chord when you mentioned the required reboots, reminded me of those phone calls way back when.. but that was another time, another OS.

  25. Kevin

    In the same way that media companies depend on technology, technology companies (e.g. Sun) depend on developer community support. I spent almost the whole of a Houston vs Anaheim baseball game tonight trying to download and install JEE 5 SDK on RHEL4/Intel. I found the whole ungratifying experience very typical of most user interface experience at – i.e. the end result was nada (as we say here in Mexico).
    First the download. Have you taken a look at your download site recently? It took me a long while to work out which flavor of JEE I wanted (I’m a beta kinda guy). To be honest (rather than polite) your download site sucks compared to, say, Apple or Microsoft. Why not take a look at CNET’s for inspiration?
    Finally after playing with lynx on my Texan web farm (the URL was too long for wget), I got a download! Yay – it felt similar to seeing SUNW go up 20c in a day (rare and pleasant). So I ran it as “root” and got this output after waiting a good 10 minutes for the script to run (without any “this will take a while” warning):

    Exception in thread "Thread-5" java.lang.UnsatisfiedLinkError: no Password in java.library.path
    at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadLibrary(
    at java.lang.Runtime.loadLibrary0(
    at java.lang.System.loadLibrary(
    at com.sun.enterprise.installer.utilities.PasswordUtil.<clinit>(
    at com.sun.enterprise.sdk.installer.dialogs.NewConfigInfoPanel.consoleInteraction(
    at com.sun.wizards.core.IteratorLayout.cliConsoleInteraction(
    at com.sun.wizards.core.AutonextController.displayPanel(
    at com.sun.wizards.core.AutonextController.setCurrentPanel(
    at com.sun.wizards.core.IteratorLayout.setCurrentLeaf(
    at com.sun.wizards.core.WizardTreeManager.actualNextButtonPressed(
    at com.sun.wizards.core.WizardTreeManager.nextButtonPressed(
    Deleting temporary files...

    So what’s the point I’m making? You have great technology when it works. Let’s call this point B. And you have a lot of really keen interested developers who run Windows and Linux laptops and servers around the world. Let’s call these guys point A. It appears to me that you don’t invest in the journey from point A to point B. If, in a Zen way, “the destination is the journey”, then this journey seems to lack those “warm fuzzies” and “easy wins” that most developers (including me) are looking for. You know – you’re a software guy (otherwise I wouldn’t waste the effort of typing this post).
    Anyway, it’s now midnight central time and the top of the 9th and they’re tied 9-9. In baseball, as in business, there is always a winner and a loser.
    PS If I ever get this JEE 5 SDK installed, I’ll let you know.

  26. Even from a simplistic point of view, it is better to be honest than polite. But a CEO of a media company, without a CTO is not only taking his company but also the immense faith of the shareholders to the rock bottom, which is definitely not what he or she is paid for.
    In any big firm, I believe it is more important for the top honchos to make sure they have the right number of right people in the right place. Any deficiency in any of these is sure to ring a death-knell to the firm, sooner or later.

  27. Gil

    New support plan from Sun (One Point Of Contact)looks like it will have a very positive effect long term, as advertised on a media company – Yahoo Finance.

  28. Feder

    So it is that “Mike” we have to thank for ninety-words-in-a-single-sentence in the Sun Contributor Agreement? The agreement normal human beings, not lawyers, have to sign should they desire to work free of charge for Sun and enrich Sun products.

    Please, next time Mike is reporting to you, could you please give him a symbolic kick in the lower back for inflicting such things on innocent free software developers?

  29. PK

    As a CTO, I find it hard to disagree with you. Yet, I’d also point out that just HAVING a CTO is like just having an exercise machine. How that individual gets utilized by the CEO, in terms of participation and input into major decisions, is paramount. Lots of people, even or especially senior executives in a media company, somehow tend to dismiss the importance of incorporating the CTO’s input. I’ve been in at least two media companies where the CTO was a key individual to help assess an initiative’s feasibility, cost effectiveness, long-term impact, and strategy, yet was either not consulted or had his advice ignored, more than once.

  30. No one comment about the boot Arnold was wearing!

  31. Mike Dillon

    Feder: Eliminating contract complexity is something we are focused on. You might want to read my post on this subject to get a look at what we are doing.
    And, I’ll make sure the Contributor Agreement gets some immediate attention.


    Oh yes, the SCA. Some time ago I had 60 seconds of fun with it, too. Then I gave up trying to understand it. I couldn’t even remotely find out what I was supposed to grant to Sun. But I am sure me not signing it wasn’t a great loss for Sun. I am not the brightest software developer under the sun (no pun …). Maybe the SCA is supposed to weed out the developers with average or below average IQ 🙂

  33. Jesse

    Of course a CTO for a media company would most likely be one of the snake-oil salesmen pushing DRM. I don&amp;rsquo;t see a real advantage there.

  34. well

    Know the # of Sun heads titled as “CTO” ? (hint: CTO is commodity there)

  35. Shareholder

    Speaking of politeness, I’m disappointed that Linus did not accept the recent invite. But his non-response is a response worth thinking about. If that is going to be his response, then it makes JS seem a bigger person.

  36. Shari

    EUREKA! At least when it happens no can say the fall of Media companies came out of left field.
    P.S. No need to apologize, this is a Paul Revere moment.

  37. One good thing about the old system was artists could focus on the art, however, the need for economies of scale meant artists had to gear their product for the mass market, and compromise the artistic impulse, since the overall value chain required high revenue to pay all the middle men.

  38. George Potts

    Me thinks you were talking mostly about Terry Semel … and you were quickly prooved to be right.

  39. Dave Cavena

    FWIW, my view is that Jonathan is right in that convergence isn&amp;amp;rsquo;t a legal issue, but he stopped short of what it is. Convergence indeed is a social issue (ask studios and content owners and users of file-sharing systems), but it is a technical issue only as technology solves business problems or presents business opportunities. In the tech world we have too many folks thinking technology is a solution. It isn’t. The application of technology to business issues can create opportunities and solutions, but technology in and of itself is not a solution… just a creator of opportunity when properly applied. The use of technology in addressing convergence offers us the opportunity to create new business models and adjust older ones. Technology improperly applied &amp;amp;ndash; and the definition of &amp;amp;ldquo;proper&amp;amp;rdquo; is up to both the society and the business model &amp;amp;ndash; solves nothing and can create havoc. It also wastes extraordinary amounts of capital.
    I think that the excellent technology provided by Sun, strongly enhanced by providing this technology in Open Source, creates far greater solution opportunities for society in general and users of technology in particular, than the technology of our competitors until and unless they, too, embrace Open Source, looking first at the needs of society and the users of that technology.

  40. I believe that a CEO needs to appropriately utilize all sources of information – that includes the CFO the CTO and the legal counsel including others.
    All need to influence the decision making process based on risk/cost/benefit (and yes i separate risk from cost). Now, I do not believe these people will always see eye to eye. And there can be debate between whether a legal opinion can be provided in place of an accounting opinion. However, the leader needs the ability to take the arguments and make a decision.
    Remember RIM had to pay a bit of a settlement just a year or two ago – where they feared the end of their company. I wonder who’s opinion they took more to heart -?

  41. I think you hit a very important aspect of traditional media companies. Technology may enable media companies, but in the end it’s the thing that generates the “experience” (not just distribution). It’s a very interesting environment right now when it comes to media: currently ruled by legal usage policies and the art of deal making, technology has opened the door for quality content to come as a service [from many]… not only a creative business.
    Content maybe king, but as someone at my company mentioned: we are in the “immersive experience business”. It’s about the experience, and that’s what technology brings to the table.
    Your tone reminds me about another article written yesterday about Yahoo!’s future, which I am in deep agreement that software will play a huge role in the new media landscape. That editorial is here from (CNN Money):

  42. Abhijit Kumar

    Kevin (who is having trouble installing Java EE SDK), can you please get in touch with the Java EE SDK team on users at glassfish dot dev dot java dot net alias.

  43. It is ironic that many managers find it easier to see the role of legal function when faced with major uncertainties. This is more about trying to defend the position than face the opportunities that these shifts bring. Media is technology-driven; it is technology-enabled; it is software-shaped; it is customer-centric etc.

    In management research, we have known for a long time that organization structure is a strong reflection of the strategic direction pursued by the management team. I do hope that the media companies realize the shift to media 2.0 (where technology and media intersect to unleash new models of content creation and consumption).We are at a very early stage of this shift.

  44. Rogerio Carneiro de Andrade

    My name is Rogerio, im a dentist, “head and neck surgeon” and i´ve decided to chance into a new direction, im studying to become a specialist im SERVERS, at first, Windows server 2003.
    And i find that your statements about the future are correct.
    Being honest is the most simplistic way of achieving success.
    Not waisting time with bla bla bla, being objetive is the key.
    That´s why i´ve chosen this new career.

  45. It’s refreshing to ‘experience’ a leader who
    understands ‘alignment’. In ‘social networking’ an index of terms defining: ‘Apologizing for honesty over politeness’ = ‘Enablement’. [See Version ST1.0, release schedule end of ’07’s 3rd qtr – By: AIAG]. / Nations maintain greatness through, by, and within the minds of their sole principal source of capital, ‘the people’. / Prioritizing rule, regulation, policy or procedure ABOVE solution needlessly compounds accellerated breakdown. / Humanities engagement of the ‘planetary shift’ will soon show itself to ‘the world at large’. / Every solution sought is attainable if we ‘vector together’.

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