Anderson, Indiana

Emmett Dulaney: The value of diversification

Tue, 2012-09-25 08:00 -- univcomm
September 25, 2012

Some of my favorite lectures are over technology and how it has evolved to create the world that we live in today. Occasionally, the very basic lessons of life and business come through in those lectures and they have as much to do with success and failure as anything else. My classic example is that of something I gambled on in the mid-1990s. Everyone had become entranced by the web at that time and the need existed to be able to run a program within the confines of a browser regardless of what browser was running or what operating system that browser was running on.

Programmers with legendary credentials were looking for a way to provide this solution with two companies were leading the charge above a field of several: Lucent and Sun. At Lucent, you had many of the programmers who had been and Bell Labs and created both Unix and Plan 9. They called their product Inferno and I was lucky enough to see a pre-beta copy of it while working as a publishing manager for a book publisher. The possibilities amazed me far more than the product itself, but I was confident that the kinks could be worked out and the market would embrace it. Embrace it wholly is something I did by assigning as many staff and resources as possible to writing books on the technology. Rarely does a programmer buy a book after they’ve mastered something, so it was important that the books we put out be available as close as possible (preferably before) to the date the product went live. No other books were given as high a priority by my team as these and our big gamble was that authors, editors, and others working on these titles weren’t working on other things that the market may want a book on. So sure was I that this technology would change the IT world that I padded the publishing schedule for many months to come with books that had Inferno in the title.

Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, continued working on their competing technology with very competent programmers who lacked the same name recognition in the community. Their beta was promising (I did not see a pre-beta), but paled — in my humble opinion — to what Lucent had. Another team at the same publishing house I worked for decided to put out a book on their technology just to cover the bases. You often have rivalry between teams at a company and the computer book publishing business is no exception.

Having the other team put out a book on what came to be known as Java more than saved the year fiscally at the imprint — it was our bestselling title. Inferno did not make the expected release date and Lucent ended up all but abandoning it without warning (it has since resurfaced for other purposes). Denied a released technology, every one of the planned books on Inferno had to be scrapped regardless of what stage they were in. Disappointment is one thing, but this was a costly gamble that went bad. Eventually, the team rebounded and found success with other technologies but the lesson learned is an idiom that most learn as children. Never place all your eggs in one basket.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology. The Falls School of Business is one of Anderson University’s largest academic departments offering eight undergraduate majors as well as MBA and DBA programs. The school is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and is a member of the Christian Business Faculty Association (CBFA).

Columns from Anderson University’s Falls School of Business are published Tuesdays in The Herald Bulletin. Tuesday’s columnist is Emmett Dulaney, who teaches marketing and entrepreneurship.