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On the ball | Silicon Valley Perspective


On the ball

Without effective
there is no team

By Irwin Rubin

All decision-making is a form of communication. In the business world, as in the sports world, working teams need to know how they can best communicate, and this is determined by the kind of purpose the team is put together to achieve.

If the team tries to communicate like a baseball team -- in a series of interactions that take place between various two-person groups within the larger whole -- but the structure of the group is more like that of a basketball team -- in which all the players work together -- their meetings will not be productive. The final outcome, even after multiple sessions, is likely to resemble a camel, an animal described as "a horse put together by a committee."

If we were to draw a picture of the normal lines of communication on a baseball team, it might look like a series of spokes on a wheel: the pitcher throws to the catcher; a shortstop throws to a first baseman. Occasionally, three players are involved, such as when an outfielder throws to a cut-off man, who then relays it to the catcher. By contrast, the pattern of the communications between members of a basketball team would look more like a spider web. Each player must rapidly throw the ball around to someone else, the whole group looking for the player with the easiest open shot for the hoop. If these two different types of teams were both made to communicate and make decisions using only one of these patterns, one would be a sure loser.

Imagine, now, three different phases in one team meeting. In the beginning of the meeting, the leader informs everyone about a decision that's already been made. The most appropriate pattern of communication at this point might look most like a baseball team's style -- a series of one-to-one interactions. "Here's what I've decided about this project. Mary, you do Y. Peter, you do Z." Everyone listens carefully and makes sure they know what they're expected to do.

Next there might be a consulting process that looks like a football team's huddle. Peter says, "I have to do something about Problem A. What are your thoughts?" Team members then "talk to the chair," giving their suggestions. If all goes well, the discussion will be spirited, with full participation from all team members, but there is little if any debate. And this is vitally important. After the "huddle" it is still the "quarterback's" responsibility to make the final decision and then to inform everyone of their part in implementing it.

Finally, there will be times when the team needs to make a true consensus decision. To start off the process, the leader might say something like, "Look, here's the situation with X. This is so important, and its implementation will involve us all, so I want us to reach a real agreement."

Several things are vital -- and badly misunderstood -- about consensus.

First, the appropriate communication pattern would look just like the "spider web" of a basketball team, in which every member has equal chance to talk directly to everyone else, without having first to go through the chair as a mediator.

Second, and this is most difficult for managers and leaders to accept, is the fact that in a true consensus discussion there is no hierarchy. Each person's ideas are as good as everyone else's. A test of this pattern of communication is that if the consensus decision is never different from the one the leader would make up by himself, true consensus has not taken place. A consensus decision means that each person's points are fully heard and given sincere consideration, regardless of the formal role each plays on the team.

Third, consensus is not the same as unanimity, or perfect agreement. Once the full discussion of different points of view has been had, the team must agree that they can and will put their full weight behind supporting and implementing the team's consensus decision.

The next time you as a team leader or team member are frustrated to see that your meeting has once again taken a horse and made a camel out of it, ask yourself these questions:

>> Were you and your teammates clear as to what communication process best fit each part of the meeting?

>> Were you really willing to let the outcome be a true consensus, or did it have to turn out your way?

If your honest answer to these questions is "No," then you yourself have contributed to a bumpy ride instead of a smooth one.

Irwin Rubin is a Honolulu-based author and president of Temenos Inc. His column appears monthly in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Reach him at


Use Hawaii’s unique
environment as an advantage
for developing high-tech

By Duane Kuroda

Facilities and physical infrastructure are the easiest to address of all factors involved in developing high-tech businesses. They can always be built with a good team of engineers, architects, and contractors.

In fact, I've received comments from readers that Hawaii would be a great place for a virtual Pac-Asian company due to its location. The distances to Asia and the mainland, combined with great weather, provides distinct advantages.

Physical infrastructure can be built nearly everywhere, as long as the key capabilities of high-speed networking, redundant power, telecommunications systems, general square footage and clean room capabilities are available and affordable. Exact physical requirements will vary by company and industry, but in general those few factors are the minimum.

But the ability to host high-tech companies or build the physical infrastructure isn't enough. For empirical proof, look at the lack of high-tech development in the mainland Midwest. There cheap labor, plentiful land and willing developers have led to scores of high-tech call centers in places like Kansas and Oklahoma. These are definitely beneficial for the local economy and employment, but there has been only limited noteworthy high-tech growth beyond that niche.

Similarly, Malaysia embarked on an ambitious project called the Multimedia Supercorridor in the mid-1990s. During that time, at a telecommunications tradeshow in Geneva, I met several of their people explaining how their massive bandwidth infrastructure would be the key to their success. To this day, even the hyper-growth of 1999 and 2000 have not pushed the area beyond moderate incremental growth.

Successful growth therefore requires some differentiation. High-tech developments on Maui have proven that the island environment is attractive to techies who desire stimulating work and the island lifestyle. More important, however, is the unique limited geographic test-bed that it offers for new wireless high-speed 3G technologies, which could be showcased as a key selling point of the area.

In this case, proximity and access to physical facilities is not in question, but rather the proximity and access to physical factors that provide a comparative advantage over other areas. The infrastructure is being built, but the unique advantage of geographic and environmental factors need to be highlighted to potential companies and investors.

There are more than a hundred so-called technology incubators across the U.S. mainland. Many are destined to fail to meet their growth and expansion plans, and others will fail altogether. It doesn't have to be that way. Incubators can provide a continuous stream of viable companies providing employment opportunities and valuable tax dollars to the local community. The Software Business Cluster in San Jose, Calif., has graduated more than 60 companies into the area and attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment capital. That cluster has taken advantage of the proximity and access factors discussed in previous articles and teamed up with the local university and entrepreneurial networking associations.

To review, proximity and access factors include: social infrastructure, investment, talent, customers, advisors and environment. A clear cohesive plan to address the proximity and access factors for high-tech start-ups can position an entrepreneurial community for success.

The plan can then be marketed to Asian and mainland investors, showing that the state is planning for and prepared for success and not haphazardly waiting for it to happen. Similarly it can be used to encourage the retention of local talent through educational and alumni exposure. One personal dream is that high-tech incubation in Hawaii not only provides employment and investment in the state, but also becomes a major force in a "reverse brain drain" effect, strong enough to attract high-tech entrepreneurs like myself back to the state for more than just visiting friends and relatives.

The road to building a successful high-tech entrepreneurial community is not as simple as building out bandwidth or incubators, but it is indeed doable and within the capabilities of the local community. The key is not to hope that high-tech will come, but instead provide the proximity and access factors that can maximize the chances of attracting and building the technology companies that can contribute to employment and the economy.

Duane Kuroda (Iolani, 1987) is co-founder and chief executive officer of Intrepic Technologies in San Jose, Calif. Reach him at

To participate in the Think Inc. discussion, e-mail your comments to; 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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