Not too long ago, some expert or other claimed that overcoming the market dominance of an initial entrant is virtually impossible. Interesting theory.

As I recall, at least a half-dozen colleagues quoted this “first mover” theory as an important business insight. It was pretty convincing. The only reason I’m skeptical is that I can’t think of a single example where the theory holds, while the entire history of our industry consists of ugly little facts that disprove it.

The early dominators – the Apple II computer, CP/M operating system, Macintosh GUI, Epson printer, WordStar word processor, VisiCalc spreadsheet, dBase II database – all have either vanished completely or have retreated to being niche players. Often, their immediate successors have fallen by the wayside as well. Only Netware has so far managed to maintain its early market dominance, and its continued success is far from a sure thing.

As my grandmother said in a different context, what you say is less important than how you say it. This explains the influence of many experts and self-anointed visionaries.

As your company’s technology leader, you’re supposed to be its technology visionary (in your spare time, when you’re done tuning network performance). Today, I’m going to reveal the secret to success: read some old science fiction. It doesn’t have to be good science fiction. It just has to be science fiction – not fantasy, or some other related genre. Want proof?

Wearable computers: I’ve read the occasional pundit sound tremendously visionary by describing these gadgets. The main unit may be flexible and adhere to the skin, or it may be a pouch on the belt. The user-interface is either a direct jack into the brain, or it’s a heads-up display built into a pair of glasses. Whatever the case, the pundit describes it as the Next Big Deal.

Big Deal. I first read about wearable computers sometime around 1966 in a short story whose plot was thoroughly forgettable. The human received output through bone conduction and input by subvocalizing – pretty good, practical ideas even now.

Wearable computers are, then, a 30-year-old idea.

Information Everywhere: We all know of at least one industry leader who presents this as a daring vision. Too bad Poul Anderson described the same notion over 20 years ago. In this case, the plot revolved around a society in which all but the dispossessed enjoyed the services of a portable, AI-based interface to a wireless ubiquitous information network. Society’s untouchables couldn’t afford the technology, and were forever relegated to poverty and the disdain of the higher classes.

The idea of information haves and have-nots isn’t, then, exactly new.

Replicators: About 30 years ago, I read a series of short stories about a space station run by some wizard-caliber engineers. One of their inventions was a replicator, similar to that shown on Star Trek around the same time.

What was remarkable was the author’s description of complete economic collapse resulting from the invention. Since a replicator could replicate replicators, the device itself cost next to nothing. And with replicators, once someone created anything of value, an infinite number of additional copies immediately spread through society without any compensation going to the inventor.

This, to me, sounds a lot like our information economy. Replication technology, in the form of the COPY command, is available to huge numbers of individuals beyond any realistic hope of copyright enforcement.

Why do you need to be a technology visionary? That’s a topic for a future column. For now, I’ll just present that as an opinion. If you agree and want help, you can get it from high-priced “experts”, or you can read the literature of the future … the literature in which Robert Heinlein, in the 1930s, predicted a post-world-war-two nuclear stalemate between the United States and Russia.

And science fiction generally has, as a fringe bonus, a plot.

A few years back I ran across a book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I didn’t buy it, because what I can’t stand is when good things happen to bad people. That drives me crazy.

And I’m not alone. More than any over other issue, employees become enraged when they see some no-talent, incompetent kiss-up get a promotion over more deserving souls. Like themselves, for example.

So how is it incompetent bowbs get promotions while the company passes you over?

If you look at yourself as a product, it’s all becomes clear: the Windows/95 employees always seem to beat out the OS/2 ones. (Macintosh employees thrive, but only in Marketing. Unix employees find niche jobs and stay in them until they retire. Pick your favorite operating system and insert it here.)
Last week we talked about the first of the “Four P’s” – Product. Let’s continue with the other three.


Now don’t turn up your nose. Like it or not, perception is reality: It’s a falling-tree-in-forest thing. No matter how good your work and how great your potential, it will go unrecognized unless someone who can do something for your career (a potential customer) perceives your work to be good and your potential high.

As in product marketing, self-promotion can lead, to put it gently, into ethically questionable territory. While that’s true, don’t make the mistake of viewing marketing as a morally dubious activity. Ask yourself: what’s the point in creating a high-quality product and then not helping people who need it see its value?

Self-promotion, when too flagrant, can be self-defeating, especially when it takes the “I’m really great” approach. The best marketers know two facts that in combination create powerful marketing: specifics work far better than generalities, and benefit to the customer is the best message.

So be specific. Make sure people who matter know about significant accomplishments, not in the context of, “…and so I’d like a promotion,” but in the context of, “…and so the company is better off.”

A fringe benefit: you’ll focus your efforts on achieving tangible results that improve the organization.


Place describes your market – who you sell yourself to. Here’s what it means in this context: figure out who can help you get where you’re going, and cultivate them.

This isn’t a matter of Machiavellian machination. You’ve spent some effort figuring out the product you’ll want to be … that is, the position you want to hold. You’ve also figured out the skills and experience you’ll need to acquire to get there. With luck, you’ve also done some soul-searching to make sure you have both the attitude and aptitude.

Look around your company to determine who can help you make the transition to the job you want. It’s probably not the person you report to. It may be the next person in the hierarchy, or it may be someone in another area.

Call them. Ask for a half-hour of their time. Even better, buy them lunch. Explain the process you’re going through and ask for their help. Volunteer for a project in their area that may benefit from your skills. Ask advice and listen intently.

Pay close attention to the chemistry between you and your potential ally – if the chemistry is wrong, you should probably try someone else as well.

Don’t be shy. People like to help, and asking for it flatters them.


Now we come to salary. Many companies rely on salary surveys to determine pay ranges for different jobs, and they’ll use them to explain why they can’t pay the salary you want. Your only defense: find similar surveys or recruitment ads in the classifieds that support the salary you think you deserve.
Negotiating salary is a lot easier when you change employers than when you change jobs inside the same company. My best advice: be assertive but not greedy.

(To be candid, I’m not all that good at negotiating salary. Sigh.)

You’re your own product. Manage yourself well.