Will Nicholas Negroponte Ever Understand That Competition Isn't About Killing OLPC?

from the get-over-it dept

We've never quite understood Nicholas Negroponte's position when it comes to the $100 Laptop/OLPC/XO (whatever it's called these days). While the idea behind creating a super cheap, super durable useful computer for children in developing nations is good, Negroponte has always approached the idea as one where only he should be allowed to see that vision through. When other companies decided it might be a good idea and wanted to target that market themselves, Negroponte flipped out and started attacking them for trying to undermine his project.

Sorry, Nicholas, but competition isn't undermining.

In fact, competition is generally what drives all parties to be better at what they do, in order to fend off the competition. Yet, somehow, the UK's Times Online has bought into Negroponte's side of the story and written up an article bashing Microsoft and Intel for trying to "kill" the OLPC. The article is riddled with factual errors and opinion substituting as fact, but the worst is in the central point of the article. The author mistakes companies all aiming for the same market as a nefarious attempt to "kill off" Negroponte's pet project -- as if he has some universal right to the market that no one else can attempt to enter. It also brushes over some simple facts, like the one where many countries have looked at the OLPC and realized it doesn't really serve their needs just yet. That, if anything, should be even more reason why competition is necessary. It helps create better products that actually serve the needs of people in those markets, rather than just what Negroponte decides they must want in his top-down manner.
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Filed Under: competition, execution, ideas, nicholas negroponte, olpc
Companies: amd, intel, microsoft, olpc

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2008 @ 10:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Intel is not competing fairly

    How is this not Negroponte's mistake?

    I don't know whose mistake this was, perhaps Negroponte was too trusting of the intel people?

    Normally when a board for a major corporation assigns a task to one of its board members, a certain minimal amount of professionalism is expected, such as, for instance, doing the task that had been assigned! One would further expect the board members to abide by their agreements, one of the implied agreements being that if someone sits on the board of a corporation that that person is acting in favor of the corporation's investors. Negroponte can't be blamed for expecting people to behave according to established corporate norms, he can only be blamed for expecting corporate people to behave according to those norms outside of their corporate environment. Perhaps he should be blamed for thinking that intel wouldn't do everything it could to monopolize the market sector in question?

    Too see why it would have been hard to expect, if you hired a salesperson to sell cars, you would fully expect the salesperson to sell your cars as per your agreement with that salesperson. In exchange, if the salespeople do as they're supposed to, at a minimum, they get to keep selling cars. That much is in their interest. They may also get a bonus for being the top seller or employee of the month (good PR), sometimes the commissions are proportional to the sales, and there may be other perks. What you wouldn't expect is for the salespeople to drive all of the customers off to go buy a car at another lot across the street. A salesperson who did that in a commercial environment would not be thought of as "the standard" they would be dropped like a hot potato. In academia or in a charitable work you expect underhanded activity even less, and that's mainly because there's typically nothing to be gained from making your own project fail. Despite what you say, that it's the standard way of doing things, I don't think we're to that point yet in academia or most businesses.

    In a corporate setting I dare say this isn't exactly standard behavior either. If a corporate board member doesn't do an assigned task, that person is not fit to be on the board representing investors and will be kicked out. If that person not only doesn't do her job but betrays the investors' interests to a competitor, somebody might walk out of there in handcuffs. So it took some uncommon heart-pounding audacity for someone to act this way.

    Because this was only academia, and this was only a charitable work, the only people who could complain about unfairness are those who donated and who nearly saw their donation frittered away on a different purpose (that OLPC was making sales for a competitor, or for not following the promised educational vision for the project). Still, I think it may qualify as "monopoly abuse" if AMD (a major donor to the project) lost sales because of it.

    potential customers changed their minds about which product to buy

    So what's your point, that if a competitor monopolizes your sales force they are able to make some sales? I would sort of expect that. In fact, I would be surprised if they didn't make any sales at all (and they barely scraped together any interest).

    And what is it that Intel has done to those potential customers other than pitch a better sale?

    I wasn't arguing that it was unfair to the "customers" (whom you should really call beneficiaries. The children and their countries are beneficiaries of the charitable research & development and donated educational equipment.) I was arguing that it was unfair to the donors because their donations went to a different purpose than the lofty educational vision that was sold to them. It's like if you donate educational books to a child and you later find out that your donation allowed somebody to stick their own advertisements or drugs in the book. Maybe this is an extreme analogy but some donors would never have donated if they knew it would lose its purpose as being primarily educational and only secondarily to prepare the customer base for the true beneficiary.

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