“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”
– Parable by the Greek poet Archilochus.
FOX or HEDGEHOG?
After reading about this parable first in a Jim Collins book, and then encountering it a few more times, I began to wonder, am I a fox or am I a hedgehog?
One of the comments people have made to me is how I “throw myself into a project or position”. I read and research intensely, even obscure information I may never use, except in trivia contests. I do this for background and to have a complete understanding of a topic at hand. I would never consider it a waste of time as it establishes a foundation.
So I wondered, when I provide high-level strategic advice, am I a fox? And when I take on a project, am I a hedgehog?
Is there duplicity in this thinking?
I believe it is possible to have both sides in a person. Possibly even in a very small focused team. I believe a large organization needs the focus of a hedgehog to preserve its core business and be great! Though to be great, I also believe the organization needs its foxes to stimulate progress. For my industry experience, I present that many times I’ve been “the expert hedgehog” and multiple times, I’ve been “the resident fox”.
While technology started my career, I’ve learned the same technical detailed understanding and focus on data that provides the means to excel in technology, also provides me an understanding of business. The combination of figuring out how to start my own companies and building a technical infrastructure are similar. This along with developing vision, mission, and management philosophies, has propelled me for most of my career.
As referenced in other parts of this site, I am an avid book reader, audible book listener, and podcast listener. I also spend time on Twitter, Reddit, and LinkedIn following current discussions. In the earlier days, it was CompuServe, Source, Genie, and local dial-up BBS’s.
My earliest business education came from my attorney who also was an investor and worked with a few of the billion dollar companies that came out of the ’80s and ’90s. A Stanford grad, his guidance gave me an early glimpse into where I am today. Luckily I was able to work off some of my bills providing computer support to the firm he was a partner in. He is one of my early mentors and business friends.
Early books that influenced me were those by Michael Gerber The E-Myth, Tom Peters In Search of Excellence, and Andy Grove High Output Management. During the 1980s and 1990s, my ratio of technical to business books was higher and likely 5 to 1. Whereas today that number is closer to 1 to 1 and likely 1 to 2.
I’ve also learned from the various partners I’ve worked with. Some I still bounce questions off of to this day even though we are no longer in the same business. While not all these relationships survived the business as I was told that nothing strains a business relationship like either making a lot of money or losing a lot of money. I’m still grateful for all the learning experiences, good and bad.
I’ve now founded, been a founding partner, or been an advisor in 9 businesses. Not all made money and only 6 had employees over 10 with one reaching over 200 employees. I’ve also been involved in the creation of several companies through angel investing or working with friends and business associates to create their companies. I’ve handled a variety of needs from ensuring registration with multiple government agencies, setting up accounting systems, and developing compensation plans. I tended to be the person who took on the misc projects and got them done which I’m also grateful for as it provided me a most varied set of experiences.
To take 30+ years of experience and write it down, would take a book. Though in summary, I believe in a written vision and mission that is taught religiously to everyone in the organization. There has to be a clear purpose or “why” in the vision for people to relate to. Also setting organization objectives and results and cascading them down throughout the organization lets departments and individuals own their contributions to the results. Though there is a science to prove this works, I still consider the act of doing this an art and something I’m still practicing and improving.
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many different projects and technology transitions. Listed below are several projects or technology transitions I’ve worked on or through. In all of these I’ve worked from strategy through to being “in the weeds” on dissecting packets, config files, and, at times, jumper settings.
Networking: Starting with base-band Ethernet, Omninet, and Arcnet through my latest implementations of fiber optic Ethernet on casino floors, campuses, and private islands. All data communications comes back to the base network.
Databases: Starting with dBase II in the 80s through using SQL and Hadoop architectures today. As a journalist and online technical editor for Database forums on the online services Compuserve, The Source, and GEnie, I worked in this industry for several years.
Protocols: Starting with IP with side trips with IPX, AppleTalk, BNS, and several others. With a round trip back to IP as the basis for all. I spent several years doing protocol analysis for diagnostic and performance improvement.
Wide Area Networks (WANs): Though I didn’t consider dial-up to be a “WAN”, it was my first experience with remote access. Newport systems add-in boards to Novell servers, Cisco, and 3Com routers over ISDN and T1 lines, and eventually as an AT&T partner designing, installing, and maintaining one of the largest frame relay networks in the USA. Today with our internet VPNs and security now an intricate part of every remote experience, this continues to be an interest of mine.
Voice, Video, Data: I started as a partner of Selsius, the first Ethernet telephone manufacturer. I still have the first 2 phones I used for demos. This grew into a solid VoIP practice that I became known for over several years. It culminated into a highlight when I led the design of Hotel 1000, one of the first fully converged hotels in the world. Also designing the voice convergence for Station Casinos in Las Vegas saving and creating money yearly. Convergence has become a driving factor in almost everything I do today.
Smart Buildings: While working with Cisco on convergence, I got involved with their Workplace Resources group and started converging building systems onto the network for greater control and monitoring. Intelligent or Smart buildings became a big part of one of my companies. With work in micro grids and other energy areas today, this background has proved worthwhile.
Physical Security technology: I took the phrase “if I can’t turn it with my hand and feel it click, how can I be sure it’s locked” as a challenge. This question came from a high level security architect. I learned physical security basics from this architect and expanded it with technology to build some extraordinary projects. I’ve learned that like the two by four’s that hold up the building and the light switch clicking on and off, security and automation need to be fundamentally built-in and just as easy to use. This applies to IT frameworks as well.
Hospitality Systems: While converging voice, video, and data at hotels, we started driving everything to the network to be monitored and managed. A prime example of this became Battery Wharf Boston which won an award for building systems convergence.
Casino Systems: While working with hotels, I become involved with hotel/casinos and started driving my own form of convergence. The industry was moving towards server-based gaming which converged casino traffic onto the network. It was a perfect fit for everything else we were doing.
Interactive (online) gaming: I was lucky to get involved with some leaders in this industry through a few different projects. I worked with them both with their companies and as a regulator reviewing and certifying companies and software. I learned and taught several aspects of online gaming and sports betting. As an avid gambler, It is one of my favorite parts of my career.
Blockchain, Digital Assets, and Smart Contracts: Blockchains have changed the world, Digital Assets are changing the world, and Smart Contracts will change it further. I’ve researched writing a book on these subjects and may still. Though I’m enjoying adding them to my consulting and possibly my next position helping drive the success of another company. Follow my blog posts for the latest on this.
Video Distribution: H.265, HEVC, and AV1 have become common topics along with AndroidTV and Casting. From the consumer experience into the guest room, video is a regular part of out lives and I have helped work on several large distributions from home to guest room entertainment.