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Sunday, June 6, 2004


» Monkey business
» Start-ups urged to give
» Voice over IP
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CREATING EXCELLENCE

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Monkey business

Negative attitudes perpetrated over time
can squelch workplace innovation



You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that innovative new ideas are the lifeblood of any organization. In today's rapidly changing competitive business world, if you're not steadily moving ahead, you are, in fact, falling behind. It won't be long before your competitors leave you in the dust. However, it also doesn't take a rocket scientist to observe the numerous obstacles organizations put in the way of getting the very innovative new ideas they need.

Think about it for a second. How many times recently have you heard someone (or even yourself!) say, in response to the suggestion of a new and innovation idea, any of the following: "We don't do things that way around here." "We tried something like that a while back and it didn't fly." "That's a really interesting idea, but you'll first have to satisfy Policy X, Y and Z before we can even consider it."

If you've worked in a large organization (which includes government) you've heard more than your share of these statements, and a plethora more like them. They all reflect a simple truth about how organizational policies begin and get perpetrated that, as the story below points out, even monkeys can understand.

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt to get the banana with the same result -- all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stars, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. (Even monkeys experience turnover!) The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To her surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack her. After a second attempt and attack, she knows that if she tries to climb the stairs, she'll be assaulted.

Now, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes straight to the stairs and is attacked. (The previous newcomer takes part in this hazing with enthusiasm!) Continue this turnover process (after all, new blood is a supposed good!) and watch as all the newcomers get the same treatment from their teammates (most of whom are not really all that sure why they were not permitted to climb the stairs in the first place or even why they are making life equally difficult for the newest monkey.)

Now, here is the real kicker. After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever personally been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why? Because as far as they know, "that's the way it's always been done around here."

So, if your organization seems not to be getting the variety and number of truly new and innovative ideas it needs to stay ahead of the competition, here's a few simple questions you might want to ask yourself.

>> When is the last time you did a thorough and rigorously honest assessment of all your organization's policies and procedures to see which ones have become out-dated?
>> In what subtle (and not so subtle) ways do people's new and different ideas get "doused" by you and or your colleagues?
>> When you do bring some new blood on board, how long does it take for those people to look and act just like everyone else?

Why are these questions so vital? Because when it comes to human behavior in organizations, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know the power of "monkey see, monkey do."


Irwin Rubin is a Honolulu-based author and president of Temenos Inc., which specializes in executive leadership development and behavioral coaching, communication skill building training, and large system culture change. His column appears twice a month in the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Send questions and column suggestions to temenos@lava.net or visit temenosinc.com.


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New foundation
urges start-ups to
'give back' to society


Earlier this year, Hawaii's newest entrepreneurial venture opened its doors in Honolulu. The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii is a philanthropic organization dedicated to creating a culture of corporate community engagement by donating money and time to nonprofits.

The local Entrepreneurs Foundation chapter was founded by John Dean, a part-time Waimanalo resident and former chairman and chief executive of Silicon Valley Bank. In Dean's view, making a difference is just as important as making a profit.

The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii is based on a proven model that Dean and his Silicon Valley colleagues developed. EF Hawaii (www.efhawaii.org) encourages start-ups to set aside resources for charity and develops volunteer opportunities for employees.

Why is this timely? For better or worse throughout the United States (and Hawaii is no exception), the office has often replaced traditional community organizations and social clubs as the place where people connect and find a sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, start-up companies are typically so busy in their early stages that the idea of giving back to the community can get lost. Thus, it's incredibly important for new companies to create mechanisms that put the "giving" part of their corporate culture in order.

A giving place

Of course, Hawaii is traditionally a giving place -- I would venture to say much more so than Silicon Valley. According to a recent study, giving in Silicon Valley is almost 11 percent less than the national average, even though the average household income is 28 percent higher.

One of the exemplary things that Hawaii has in its favor is venerable, locally founded companies that have made the practice of giving back to the community part of their corporate culture. This is precisely the type of ethos that EF Hawaii hopes to instill in early-stage companies.

Studies show that if employers support employee giving and community involvement, then employees are more likely to give. There's no question that if employers match their workers' contributions, employee giving will increase. Moreover, direct involvement by employers makes employees proud of their companies. Hands-on community involvement creates a virtuous circle whereby corporate generosity raises morale, increases employee satisfaction and creates a positive workplace that is appealing to potential employees. The entire equation means a stronger community.

EF Hawaii charter members read like a who's who of Hawaii venture-funded companies, including Broadband iTV, AssistGuide, Hawaii Biotech, Cellular Bioengineering Inc., Hoku Scientific, Hawaii Superferry and PacifiCall.

Giving back

How can EF Hawaii companies contribute to the community? Giving back to the community can be as simple as providing volunteer or charitable giving opportunities to employees. Or, it can be through stock donations, corporate donor advised funds or the creation of corporate foundations. The key is that giving nowadays is not so much about writing a check at the office. To maintain a strong community, social services must be delivered as well, and volunteerism with the support of local companies is a key component.

I believe EF Hawaii can do its part as a steward of the greater community. Let's look at what our sister organization, the Entrepreneurs Foundation in Silicon Valley, has done for its community: Since its founding in 1998 -- in its advisory capacity and as a direct grant-maker -- the Entrepreneurs Foundation in Silicon Valley has channeled $2.5 million to nonprofits and organized more than 44,000 hours of volunteer time to community groups.

I know that, in time, we will replicate this feat in Hawaii, too.


Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based media consultant, is public relations director for the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii. For more information on EF Hawaii, contact Executive Director Leigh-Ann Miyasato at 547-5735 or e-mail info@efhawaii.org.


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VoIP integrates phone
and computer systems


One of the more interesting technologies lately is VoIP. No, this is not a new brand of swim fin or basketball; it's an acronym that stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. While most people who have heard of it associate it with making long-distance phone calls over the Internet, it is much, much more.

Let's start with its techie description. Simply put, it's a way for telephone calls to be made over networks normally used for data. Clear? Let me try to explain a little better. In the old days of telephone technology, telephone calls were actually pretty primitive. Basically, for you to talk to someone, the two wires in your telephone had to be physically connected to the two wires in the other party's telephone.

In general terms (and I know some phone company people out there will cringe at the simplicity of this description), if you wanted to call Mom, the following scenario occurred: The two wires from your house led to a phone company location, commonly known as a central office or CO. From that CO, another two wires went to the CO closest to whomever you're calling. Finally, another two wires went from that CO to Mom's house.

This is pretty simple if you live in Aiea and Mom lives in Pearl City, but what if Mom moves to the mainland? You need a whole lot of wires to get there. This technology is known as circuit-switching, and is quite inefficient. One call ties up a bunch of wires.

VoIP is based on packet-switching technology, which is the same type of technology used for data networks, such as the Internet, or the local area network in your office. This allows you to use a single network to support both your phone system and your computers. Such a network is often referred to as a converged network.

So what about making calls over the Internet? There are several companies that now offer such services, including Vonage (www.vonage.com), IConnectHere (www.iconnecthere.com) and Net2Phone (www.net2phone.com). In fact, many of the discount calling cards offered nowadays ("Call the Philippines for only 7 cents a minute!") are based on VoIP technology.

Of course, as many of you who have tried this service can attest, one of the biggest drawbacks to making phone calls over the Internet is that the clarity of the call can be somewhat lacking. Delay, noise, dropouts and other problems are prevalent on Internet-based phone calls. Did I mention that it was cheap?

On private networks, however, such as the local area network in your office, the quality of VoIP calls is on par with old-fashioned, circuit-switched phone systems.

So should you jump out and convert your conventional phone system to VoIP? Well, not so fast. VoIP costs are still relatively high, so unless your current system is on its last legs, it will be hard to justify the expense.

If, however, you are building or renovating a new office, VoIP systems can be cost-effective. Why? In the old days, you needed to provide two jacks in the wall at every desk, one for your phone and one for your PC. With VoIP, you will need only one because they run on the same cabling system; this dramatically reduces cabling costs.

Using this same principle of running voice and data on the same network, larger organizations, with locations spread over several islands or even states, can use VoIP to save on long-distance phone calls between sites. While this was possible before the advent of VoIP, it's even more economical now.

VoIP-based phone systems are also quite flexible. Your phone number and associated services, such as voice mail, are tied to your phone. You can plug in your phone anywhere on the network, even at the satellite office on a neighbor island, and you will have the same phone number.

Additionally, software applications continue to be developed for VoIP-based phone systems. Time clocks that allow employees to punch in and out, even e-mail, are now available.

Finally, don't confuse VoIP with a technology known as computer-telephony integration (CTI) or unified messaging. Unified messaging simply allows your e-mail and voice mail to be combined into a single location, like your e-mail inbox. It allows you to listen to your voice mail while checking your e-mail. Some systems will read your e-mails to you when you call in for your voice mail. This solution usually makes sense only for people who have a high volume of messages coming in from both sources.


John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies, Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy specializing in software development, systems integration and outsourcing. He can be reached at jagsalud@isdi-hi.com or by calling 944-8742.


To participate in the Think Inc. discussion, e-mail your comments to business@starbulletin.com; fax them to 529-4750; or mail them to Think Inc., Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813. Anonymous submissions will be discarded.

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