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Archive for January 3rd, 2008

Why Six Sigma fails to work in media

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In “You Don’t Understand Our Audience,” John Hockenberry writes about his time while working with NBC on Dateline NBC and the things he had learned from his time there.

It is quite a long piece and I don’t have the time to go through all the points, but there is one bit that stands out in it, which has bothered me (being someone who started out as a journalist) for a while now:

While Six Sigma’s goal-oriented blather and obsession with measuring everything was jarring, it was also weirdly familiar, inasmuch as it was strikingly reminiscent of my college Maoism I class. Mao seemed to be a good model for Jack Welch and his Six Sigma foot soldiers; Six Sigma’s “Champions” and “Black Belts” were Mao’s “Cadres” and “Squad Leaders.”

While quantifying results, targets and every possible variable is almost a given in any operation, it is, perhaps, not best applied in a news or a media environment. It may look like commonsense that results may not always be in line with effort in a news operation for most media people (read journalists, producers etc), the same is not what can be said about top level executives who are not from a media background.

The reasons are quite simple:

  1. 20% of your top-performing content will always do well, irrespective of the incremental effort you put into it. This segment will always have lousy marginal productivity, since the story by itself will do well.
  2. The bottom 20% of your content will always suck and never do well, even if you were to break your head against the wall and also the heads of the rest of your editorial team. This segment is a place where you have no business putting anything more than your cursory effort into.
  3. The middle 30% is where your hidden gems are often to be found. If you need to make something like Sig Sigma work, you need to consider this 60% as the 100% subset you got to work with.

Obviously, for a top level executive who has seen Six Sigma work wonders across the production line, it is an impossible situation to fathom that you can’t eliminate all inefficiencies when your primary product is something that has inefficiencies which can’t be eliminated.

Written by shyam

January 3, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Media

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Subvert and profit: Bush greenflags Chinese high tech transfer

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This has to be one rather interesting and hilarious development. Apparently, the Bush administration has happily worked around a treaty that was meant to restrict high technology transfers to China and has allowed IBM to transfer some cutting edge technology to the nation.

It seems that the Bush White House has quietly relaxed the restrictions imposed by Wassenaar by saying there are some approved companies, operating in China, which can import technologies without a license.

So far the US has approved five companies to be in this select group, four of which are semiconductor related companies, National Semiconductor’s Chinese facilities, Applied Materials’ Chinese facilities, the Shanghai Hua Hong NEC Electronics Company and SMIC.

The government and the corporations are strange bedfellows in a free market (if there was ever an oxymoron, free market will get the first spot each and every time) and this once again proves that costs are the only benchmark for corporations to follow and eventually all such costs work back into the system via the government.

There is a larger picture to this, that the semiconductor firms are trying desperately to increase margins and cut costs and China is one of the cheaper and more reliable places to put up fabs. And SMIC is one of the largest fabs who basically do white label manufacturing for the other manufacturers like IBM.

To increase their margins, the fabs need to incorporate the latest and greatest technology and agreements like Wassenaar stand in the way of such things being made possible.

For us, in India, this is a welcome development. While we are a long way off from being able to provide the guaranteed infrastructure to support multiple fabs, at some point in the future we should see high technology manufacturing slowly making its way into India and with prior-art like what just happened being already in place, life should only be easier.

Now, only if someone would actually start building that infrastructure.

Written by shyam

January 3, 2008 at 8:31 pm

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