Archive for the ‘Uncategorized ’ Category

Signing Off …

Monday, August 11th, 2014

This is the last post for Touch Points blog which was launched in ’07.  Seven years is a long time for a writing project.  This one served me well, particularly from the standpoint of learning more about my craft.

A new writing project, to be launched later this month (August, ’14), is called Nexus, referring to the junction of global markets and technology, and players having an impact in that space. Please join in what I hope will be a brisk, insightful conversation.

Thank you.

Steve

 

 

A President’s Business Trip to Africa

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Cape Town on the Ground cx1The U.S. president and first lady on the ground in Cape Town

President Obama’s second trip to Africa signals the administration’s renewed commitment to the Sub-Sahara. At stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania this week the president is expected to highlight, as he has before, his over-arching focus on food security and global heath. He’s also expected to present new programs aimed at strengthening commercial ties with African countries, particularly democracies like the nations on his itinerary.

The administration wants to make it possible for the US private sector to play a more vital role in Africa at a time when other countries — notably China, Malaysia, India and Brazil — are stepping up their investments across the continent. Joining the president along the way will be some 500 US business leaders, sending a message to both African and American audiences that the US is hereby rolling up its sleeves.  The critical question about the president’s trip is whether the US is serious and, if so, what substantive policies will follow the anticipated rhetoric.

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Kenya Delivers Open Government

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Leader of the pack

Last July, Kenya became the first sub-Saharan country to launch an open data government site, enabling its citizens to gain access to vital information. After only six months, the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) is still a work in progress, but it’s already reshaped Kenya’s culture of government.

When KODI was launched, Kenya was only the 22nd country with an open government portal. Today, 30 countries have live, open government sites, though dozens of other countries are in some stage of developing their own. Kenya’s early adoption is due in large part to the efforts of open data advocates both within Kenya’s government and among its influential technology community.

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A Short List

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

The New Year’s break is a timeout to reflect on the year before turning the page. In 2010, I enjoyed assignments in “frontier” markets which are becoming engines of innovation. With far-flung destinations that in mind, here’s a Short List of interesting books, music and travel experiences. Cheers!

Dispatch from West Africa

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

iStock_000000384450Small

Downtown Cape Coast, Ghana

Pulsating business scene

I spent the last couple weeks on assignment in Accra, Ghana. On this trip, I’ve seen more growth than any time since my company started working there in ’07. This is a period of unprecedented business activity and promising new projects within and beyond the mobile sector.  Meanwhile, new competitors from around the world are streaming in. This corner of Africa’s business scene is pulsating.

Astute businesses here are taking steps to preserve their client base and deepen relationships with their customers. We’re privileged to work with a new generation of African business leaders with the courage and determination to transform their offerings to meet the needs of an emerging class of consumers.

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A Distant, Quiet Mobile Revolution

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

sunset over cape point, south africa

Evening at Cape Point on the tip of South Africa

While the business world is preoccupied with the global economic recovery, a mobile revolution is quietly reshaping the marketplace in the developing world. In Africa, mobile phones are providing access to communications for millions of people who’ve never had fixed communications let alone cell phones. I’ve written before about the impact that such ‘leapfrogging’ is having on African business.  Now, we’re beginning to see exciting and substantial commercial projects taking shape, particularly in the service sector.

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The Elusive Black Swan

Friday, June 20th, 2008

I’m shamelessly lifting the content for this entry.  I really got a charge out of Chris Anderson’s review of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ’07 book, The Black Swan.

Now I really like Taleb’s work, and this book is a fascinating look at the world of unpredictable events. Taleb is an  mathematician who explains why such events are impossible to predict. But Anderson tells it better than I could, and I’m sharing:

Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon warned that our minds are wired to deceive us. “Beware the fallacies into which undisciplined thinkers most easily fall–they are the real distorting prisms of human nature.” Chief among them: “Assuming more order than exists in chaotic nature.” Now consider the typical stock market report: “Today investors bid shares down out of concern over Iranian oil production.” Sigh. We’re still doing it.

Our brains are wired for narrative, not statistical uncertainty. And so we tell ourselves simple stories to explain complex thing we don’t–and, most importantly, can’t–know. The truth is that we have no idea why stock markets go up or down on any given day, and whatever reason we give is sure to be grossly simplified, if not flat out wrong.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb first made this argument in Fooled by Randomness, an engaging look at the history and reasons for our predilection for self-deception when it comes to statistics. Now, in The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable, he focuses on that most dismal of sciences, predicting the future. Forecasting is not just at the heart of Wall Street, but it’s something each of us does every time we make an insurance payment or strap on a seat belt.

The problem, Nassim explains, is that we place too much weight on the odds that past events will repeat (diligently trying to follow the path of the “millionaire next door,” when unrepeatable chance is a better explanation). Instead, the really important events are rare and unpredictable. He calls them Black Swans, which is a reference to a 17th century philosophical thought experiment. In Europe all anyone had ever seen were white swans; indeed, “all swans are white” had long been used as the standard example of a scientific truth. So what was the chance of seeing a black one? Impossible to calculate, or at least they were until 1697, when explorers found Cygnus atratus in Australia.

Nassim argues that most of the really big events in our world are rare and unpredictable, and thus trying to extract generalizable stories to explain them may be emotionally satisfying, but it’s practically useless. September 11th is one such example, and stock market crashes are another. Or, as he puts it, “History does not crawl, it jumps.” Our assumptions grow out of the bell-curve predictability of what he calls “Mediocristan,” while our world is really shaped by the wild powerlaw swings of “Extremistan.”

In full disclosure, I’m a long admirer of Taleb’s work and a few of my comments on drafts found their way into the book. I, too, look at the world through the powerlaw lens, and I too find that it reveals how many of our assumptions are wrong. But Taleb takes this to a new level with a delightful romp through history, economics, and the frailties of human nature.

Want more on Taleb?  Check out Charlie Rose’s interview