The Entrepreneurial Web

Concepts and Strategies for E-Commerce

Table of contents

Part 1

Bloodstains on the carpet

Part one begins, like any good detective story, with a mystery. The bloodstains on the carpet of this mystery is the evidence that many managers and executives in the corporate world don't seem to be getting to grips with the ideas and principles of e-commerce and e-business. The Internet appears to be a disorganised wilderness, with more noise than value.

These first three chapters look at the changes in attitudes that may be necessary as the transition is made from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. It explains how the organised business environment of the Industrial Age is rapidly being replaced by a fast changing chaotic environment where the firmly established rules, procedures and protocols of conventional Industrial Age strategies may no longer be valid. Perhaps they are even counter productive.

It is proposed that the new environment of the Information Age will need business strategies more usually associated with entrepreneurs: where opportunities are anticipated and exploited in a highly competitive business environment full of unknowns and unpredictable chaos.

Chapter 1

Anomalies and enigmas of the Information Age

The observation of Sherlock Holmes

Where then do we start to look for an alternative?

Learning on the fly

Forward planning in the Information Age

Using emergence to win at poker

Industrial Age reactions to Information Age ideas

A conceptual divide

Chapter 2

The old ways don't work now

The transition into a new Age

Deduction, induction and paradox

An example of Industrial Age attitudes

The way of the Industrial Age

What is the alternative to the Industrial Age way of thinking?

Dealing with a complex environment

The Information Age is not about technology

Chapter 3

In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king

Corporates and entrepreneurs: contrasting mind sets

The Zen thing

The mathematics of Zen-ness

What type of playing field is the Internet?

Zen-ness from Chaos Theory

A real life example of chaotic turbulence

Phase transitions

The ubiquitous role of the exponential

Part 2

Looking for clues

Part one set the scene of the detective story. It presented a daunting environment: too much information, little order and no logical framework for decision making.

Part two is about looking for clues as to how to deal with this environment. It begins by considering new ways to think about a dynamically complex world where it is impossible to have all the answers. Like the detective in any detective story, this involves stumbling around, looking for any clue that offers a pointer towards a solution.

The main characteristics of the world of the Information Age are: complexity; uncertainty; unknowns; unknowables and intense competition. Such conditions are not unique. These conditions have existed in certain areas before the advent of the Internet. Two of these areas are examined here to see what strategies the professionals in these worlds are using to deal with conditions of uncertainty and complexity. Chapter five looks into the world of investment and finance, where uncertainty, chaotic and unpredictable events are coped with every day of the week. Chapter six looks at the way complexity is managed in the arcane world of computer programming.

Chapter 4

Stumbling around looking for clues

It isn't possible to understand the Internet

How do you get into the game?

The square one position

The first inklings of a strategy

Searching for a strategy

Thinking about thinking

Chapter 5

Clues from the world of investment and finance

Into the world of the professional investor

The enigmatic nature of interest rates

Discounting for risk

Spreading the risk

Examples of spreading the risk

The resolution of some paradoxes

The strategy of an IT department

Chapter 6

Clues from the World of computer programming

Object oriented thinking

Top down object oriented design

Object oriented techniques in the world of computer programmers

Out of the hands of the technical specialists

What is an object?

An Object oriented software product

Viability of breaking up a project into small objects

The Christmas tree light problem

Part 3

Abstractions and strategic thinking

The human brain doesn't appear to come as a standard package that works the same way for everyone. Some people have a flair for mathematics, others cannot get to grips with it at all. Some find foreign languages easy to learn, others find them impossible. Some people find talking and discussion easy, others become tongue tied or can't get the words out before the conversation has moved on. Some can write down their thoughts clearly, others have difficulty composing even a simple letter. Some people are naturally good at art or music, others can't draw to save their life or have absolutely no ear for music. Some people have a sense of direction, while others can turn just two corners and become hopelessly disorientated.

Probably humans have evolved this way because it then becomes essential for them to co-operate with each other. Partnerships and groups are formed on the basis of benefiting from each other's special abilities and compensating for any deficiencies. Co-operative groupings are always favoured by the evolutionary process, so, it is not surprising that this oddity of everyone having different types of brain has evolved as a survival characteristic of our species.

Bearing in mind these differences in the way different brains can handle information, this next part of the book might be particularly difficult for some people to appreciate because it deals with abstract concepts. Apparently, according to many empirical studies (I can't vouch for any of them), only twenty percent of people have the natural ability to make abstractions to allow lessons learned in one environment to be be transferred to another. I don't belie that this ability is so rare, it's more likely that such methods of thinking are not adequately covered by conventional education (perhaps because teachers are typical of the population as a whole and eighty percent aren't aware of this phenomenon, so, are unable to teach it to others). Whatever the truth is, about people being able to use abstract models of thought, it does seem as if the ability to use abstractions is not universal.

Generally speaking, the people who can think in abstractions tend to be strategists. Those who can't tend to be tacticians. Tacticians and strategists work well together because tacticians concentrate on developing specialist skills and abilities that are essential for any strategist's plans to succeed. This part then is written with the strategist in mind, who will need to be able to use abstractions and mental modelling to be able to make decisions in the uncertain and complex environment of the Information Age. Tacticians will also benefit from this section because their ability to get appropriate commercial benefit from their particular area of expertise or speciality will also need to use a suitably efficient strategy.

Chapter 7

Growing rather than planning solutions

The uncertainty of prediction

The business that designed itself

Starting in the kitchen

A serious communication problem

Chapter 8

Abstract models to think with

Directing a bottom up design process

Strategy in the world of high fashion

It's about communication strategies

Starting with a green frog

A strategy that can ignore the unknowns

The abstraction of this model

Strategies in Hilbert space

Hilbert spaces within Hilbert spaces

Where this is taking us

Chapter 9

Difficulties in thinking with abstract models

The difficulties caused by the green frog

Stumbling around in E-Commerce solution space

Strategies within a Solution Space

A Hilbert Solution Space where the dimensions are Hilbert Solution Spaces

Part 4

Strategies for competition and co-operation

Part four looks at how to play competitive games of competition on the Internet. The conceptual model is taken from the works of the great economist, Lord Keynes, whose deceptively simple model of the business world led to the recovery of the world economy after the second world war.

The realisation that the game is about competing for co-operation sees the Internet as a place for people to use strategies to make contact with others and build up strategic relationships.

This part also looks at the efficiency of a managed team in the environment of the Internet. It shows that although a managed team is the most efficient organisational structure in the bricks and mortar world it is not appropriate for the environment of the Internet.

Chapter 10

Competing for co-operation

Choice and competition

Games of competition

Competing for co-operation - Keynes

Applying Keynes' thinking to e-commerce

The value of an act of co-operation

Allowing for risk in contemplating co-operation

From the solution builder's point of view

From the Expert's point of view

Chapter 11

The Industrial Age concept of a team is not appropriate for collaboration on the Internet

Why there are no examples or case histories

The puzzling post

A group does not necessarily imply a managed team

Examining the Industrial Age's approach

An event driven system

A planned approach to the fashion business

Feedback from a rich source of information

Mapping across to the Internet

The design side solution point in the environment of the Internet

The group as an information source

The Midwich Cuckoos

Chapter 12

Communication strategy

The supply side strategy

The dynamics of the middleman

Keeping up with technological changes

The strategy of the producers

Limitations of the managed team

The alternative to a managed team

The paradox of the unmanaged team

Mapping the unmanaged team across to a people space

Chapter 13

The strategy of the Individual

A new perspective for the individual

The essence of game theory

A strategy for seeking co-operation

Placing a value on relationships

Replacing a team with a network

The fragmentation effect of the Internet

Creating a profitable hub

Part 5

Putting the clues together

Part five is the equivalent of the final drawing room scene in detective stories, where the detective puts all the clues together. In this mystery the murder victims have been money and time: wasted on futile attempts to apply Industrial Age thinking to e-business and e-commerce solutions in the Information Age.

The conclusion is not in the form of a set of instruction that can be written down in a bullet point list. It is mental model that can be used to see the Internet for what it is: a massive connectivity that can be tapped into to vastly increase individual efficiency, power and wealth.

Chapter 14

Inheriting knowledge and skills

A real world example of a wealth producing network of contacts

Mapping the abstraction across to the Internet

Extending the concept to information exchange

The magic of ancestry and inheritance

Parenting and child objects

The structure of the connectivity

Coping with too many experts and specialisations

What makes a good solution provider?

Chapter 15

The optimum strategy

Summing up the situation

The two elements of a strategy

Giving yourself an identity on the Web

Multiple personalities

The strategy of the expert or specialist

The view point of the expert or specialist

Up front with the costs

Attaching to the network

Dealing with the complexity

Getting attention and co-operation

A world of groups

Parallel worlds

Living in parallel worlds

The private virtual cafe

Using the cafe