Thoughts on Business of Software 2011

I find myself in LA getting ready for SQL in the City head still whirling from a fantastic 3 days of talks and networking at this year’s Business of Software conference in Boston.

The speaker line-up was amazing as were all the attendees. There’s no way I can do the event justice in a meagre blog post however, while its all still fresh, here are my key takeaways:

  1. Clay Christensen, author of the Innovator’s Dilemma, blew our minds with grounded stories of how companies can make all the ‘right’ management decisions right up until the point they die. The key lessons for me were:
    • Try to ‘compete with nothing’. RCA ignored transistor technology because it’s high-end customers would never have bought inferior (at the time) technology. Meanwhile, Sony was selling $2 crappy portable radios to kids who otherwise would have had no radio at all. History relates who won.
    • Companies have a life-cycle; and that includes decline and demise. An organisation set up for a particular business model can’t easily adapt to a new landscape. IBM survived 3 major disruptions by setting up completely new business units and giving them the flexibility to do things differently. Do this before you have a problem. It’s very likely that when you have a problem its too late.
  2. Jason Cohen of Smart Bear passionately and convincingly advocated the value of honesty in business. Are you really the “leading provider of X” as your website claims? If you’re honest about your limitations – eg we’re only 2 people in our company; our software doesn’t have these features – then you set yourself up to be infinitely more believable when you describe the value that your company truly delivers.
  3. Josh Linkner rivalled TEDster Ken Robinson in advocating the importance of creativity education both at a very young age and in mature companies. Creativity is a discipline that you can learn and become better at, and his ‘RoleStorming’ idea (amongst many others) sounds exceptionally good at removing inhibitions and unleashing people’s ideas.
  4. Rory Sutherland, of Ogilvy Group, was probably my favourite speaker of the lot. With my design bias I found it exceptionally brilliant to see how a talented and experienced speaker can demonstrate to a bunch of engineers the supreme value of psychology in business. Rory based a lot of his talk on the Austrian School of economics – a longtime favourite of mine – to show how rationality is very often not the key driver of buying behaviour and how to leverage that.
  5. Peldi and John Nese, the former of Balsamiqfame and the latter a non-software guy who runs a boutique soda pop store in LA gave us a frank discussion on motivation in business. My favourite quote was “it’s very easy to make decisions when you’re broke” which in everyday terms means: don’t rest on your laurels and some element of pressure is good for business.
  6. Finally, the awesome Paul Kenny spoke about how to speak to customers on sales calls and how to close deals. Easily the most motivating session of the lot Paul had me itching to pick up the phone again and try selling to people.

I hope to write a bit more detail about a couple of these but in the meantime a huge well-done to Mark Littlewood and Neil Davidson for one of the best software and business events on the calendar.

If you only attend one conference next year, make it Business of Software 2012.

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1 thought on “Thoughts on Business of Software 2011”

  1. Careful, Mr. Linkner’s got some great ideas but rolestorming came from Rick Griggs in Silicon Valley many years ago. Need to get those credits straight.
    Rolestorming: R.E. Griggs, Training Magazine 1985, “A Storm of Ideas”

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