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Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Business of Tetris

The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World

Decades before you lost your first few hours to Candy Crush, Tetris had cast its spell over video game players worldwide. The concept of Tetris, which originated deep behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, is deceptively simple: You manipulate different shapes of bricks, or tetronimoes, as they fall at an increasingly fast pace, to form rows of horizontal lines. A Russian folk tune plays in the background. But the game can quickly turn on you — one wrong move and the pieces start to pile up. The game ends, and then you play again, and again, and again.

Unlike many modern addictive games, Tetris has no plot, no cute animals, and no lifelike animation. And yet Tetris is one of the most popular video games of all time. It has been downloaded more than 500 million times on mobile devices, and authorized copies have earned close to US$1 billion in total sales. Not bad for a piece of code that traces its origins to the waning days of Soviet Russia.

Tetris was the brainchild of a Soviet engineer, Alexey Pajitnov, working on an outdated desktop computer at the Russian Academy of Sciences. When he invented the game in 1984, Pajitnov and his colleagues knew the game was special — it spread quickly throughout the academy by word-of-mouth and floppy disk, like a piece of samizdat. But pre-glasnost and pre-perestroika, the notion of taking Tetris outside the country, let alone commercializing it, was difficult even to imagine.

The story of the next five years, leading up to the moment in 1989 when Nintendo secured the living room console rights to Tetris, is a complex, winding tale. And in The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World, Dan Ackerman, a journalist and editor at the tech site CNET, unravels it.

The game’s soaring popularity, and its potential for massive profits, quickly attracted the attention of the business world. At one point, in early 1989, executives from Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. literally race to Moscow to vie for licensing rights. “With such a perfect combination of widespread dissemination, psychological triggers, and basic human greed,” Ackerman writes, “it’s not surprising that Tetris was one of the world’s first ‘viral’ hits.”

Ackerman introduces a long cast of characters, and over the course of the book we learn more about their motivations and machinations. The effect can be a bit dizzying at times as he toggles back and forth between different players and places. Coders, lawyers, and executives jump in and out of the narrative, all while Ackerman painstakingly describes how the rights to Tetris for various channels were licensed and sublicensed by an ever-widening web of software companies.

There’s Henk Rogers, the surfer-turned-programmer who ultimately finds himself working on behalf of Nintendo. His story is perhaps the most breathless; the book opens with Rogers flying into Moscow on plane jointly operated by Japan Airlines and the Soviet state-run Aeroflot with a tourist visa, a checkbook, and little else. Among some of the other key players are the British communications mogul Robert Maxwell and his son, Kevin; Nikoli Belikov, the bureaucrat who served as lead negotiator for a Soviet bureau called Electronorgtechnica (ELORG), an enigmatic division of the Soviet Ministry of Trade tasked with licensing rights for technology developed by state agencies; and of course, Pajitnov, the engineer who created Tetris, and watched for years as others profited.

The Tetris Effect is also an ode to the game itself. A chapter of the book is devoted to the story of journalist Jeffrey Goldsmith, who is credited with coining the term Tetris effect. In 1990, while staying with a friend in Tokyo, Goldsmith played the game for six straight weeks, barely stopping to eat and drink, and noticed that he started seeing people and cars on the street as pieces that he was trying to fit together. In a Wired article, “This Is Your Brain on Tetris,” he described the pharmatronic (another term he coined, to describe an electronic drug) effect the game has on the brain.

This is a recurring theme throughout this fast-paced, gripping book: Playing Tetris can actually change the way your brain is wired. The game’s repetitive patterns, and the repetitive activity it inspires, enables Tetris to imprint itself on the brain, and can shape a player’s thoughts. Ackerman notes that an Oxford University researcher has shown that playing Tetris shortly after experiencing a trauma can prevent painful memories from repeatedly terrorizing victims. They can remember the events, but because the way in which the events are remembered is altered, victims avoid some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ackerman also mentions a 2014 study that found that smokers and drinkers who played Tetris reduced their cravings by roughly 24 percent. In other words, the addictive game can prove to be a weapon in the war against addictive behavior.

7 Principles of Strategy through Execution

1. Aim High

Don’t compromise your strategy or your execution. Set a lofty ambition for your strategy: not just financial success but sustained value creation, making a better world through your products, services, and presence. Apple’s early goal of making “a computer for the rest of us,” which effectively shaped the personal computer industry, is a classic example.

Next, aim just as high on the execution side, with a dedication to excellence that seems almost obsessive to outsiders. Apple, for instance, has long been known for its intensive interest in every aspect of product design and marketing, iterating endlessly until its notoriously demanding leaders are satisfied. The company’s leaders do not consider execution beneath them; it is part of what makes Apple special.

2. Build on Your Strengths

Your company has capabilities that set it apart, things you do better than anyone else. You can use them as a starting point to create greater success. Yet more likely than not, your strongest capabilities have been obscured over the years. If, like most companies, you pursue opportunities that crop up without thinking much about whether you have the prowess needed to capture them, you can gradually lose sight of what you do best, or why customers respond to it.

Take an inventory of your most distinctive capabilities. Look for examples where you have excelled as a company, achieving greatly desired outcomes without heroic efforts. Articulate all the different things that had to happen to make these capabilities work, and figure out what it will take to build on your strengths, so that you can succeed the same way more consistently in the future.

3. Be Ambidextrous

In the physical world, ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands with equal skill and versatility. In business, it’s the ability to manage strategy and execution with equal competence. In some companies, this is known as being “bilingual”: able to speak the language of the boardroom and the shop floor or software center with equal facility. Ambidextrous managers can think about the technical and operational details of a project in depth and then, without missing a beat, can consider its broader ramifications for the industry. If strategy through execution is to become a reality, people across the enterprise need to master ambidexterity.

Lack of ambidexterity can be a key factor in chronic problems. For instance, if IT professionals focus only on execution when they manage ERP upgrades or the adoption of new applications, they may be drawn to vendors for their low rates or expertise on specific platforms instead of their ability to design solutions that support the company’s business strategy. When the installation fails to deliver the capabilities that the company needs, there will be an unplanned revision; the costs will balloon accordingly, and the purchase won’t fulfill its promise.

4. Clarify Everyone’s Strategic Role

When the leaders of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia decided to improve the way they ran the country’s 25 airports, they started with the hub in Riyadh, one of the largest airports in the country. They had already outsourced much of their activity, redesigning airport practices and enhancing operations. But not much had changed. Convening the directors and some department leaders, the head of the airport explained that some seemingly minor operational issues — long customs lines, slow boarding processes, and inadequate basic amenities — were not just problems in execution. They stood in the way of the country’s goal of becoming a commercial and logistics hub for Africa, Asia, and Europe. Individual airport employees, he added, could make a difference.

The head of the airport then conducted in-depth sessions with employees on breaking down silos and improving operations. In these sessions, he turned repeatedly to a common theme: Each minor operational improvement would affect the attractiveness of the country for commercial travel and logistics. A wake-up call for staff, the sessions marked a turning point for the airport’s operational success. Other airports in the Saudi system are now expected to follow suit.

5. Align Structures to Strategy

Set up all your organizational structures, including your hierarchical design, decision rights, incentives, and metrics, so they reinforce your company’s identity: your value proposition and critical capabilities. If the structures of your company don’t support your strategy, consider removing them or changing them wholesale. Otherwise, they will just get in your way.

Consider, for example, the metrics used to track the results delivered by call center employees. In many companies, these individuals must follow a script and check off that they’ve said everything on the list — even at the risk of irritating potential customers. Better instead to get employees to fully internalize the company’s strategy and grade them on their prowess at solving customer problems.

6. Transcend Functional Barriers

Great capabilities always transcend functional barriers. Consider Starbucks’ understanding of how to create the right ambience, Haier’s ability to rapidly manufacture home appliances to order, and Amazon’s aptitude for launching products and services enabled by new technologies. These companies all bring people from different functions to work together informally and creatively. Most companies have some experience with this. For example, any effective TPE capability brings together marketing, sales, design, finance, and analytics professionals, all working closely together and learning from one another. The stronger the cross-functional interplay and the more it is supported by the company’s culture, the more effective the promotion.

Unfortunately, many companies unintentionally diminish their capabilities by allowing functions to operate independently. It’s often easier for the functional leaders to focus on specialized excellence, on “doing my job better” rather than on “what we can accomplish together.” Pressed for time, executives delegate execution to IT, HR, or operational specialists, who are attuned to their areas of expertise but not necessarily to the company’s overall direction.

7. Become a Fully Digital Enterprise

The seventh principle should affect every technological investment you make — and with luck, it will prevent you from making some outdated ones. Embrace digital technology’s potential to transform your company: to create fundamentally new experiences and interactions for your customers, your employees, and every other constituent. Until you use technology this way, many of your IT investments will be wasted; you won’t realize their potential in forming powerful new capabilities.

Complete digitization will inevitably broaden your range of strategic options, enabling you to pursue products, services, and innovations that weren’t feasible before. For example, Under Armour began as a technologically enabled sports apparel company, specializing in microfiber-based synthetic fabrics that felt comfortable under all conditions. To keep its value proposition as an innovator, it aggressively expanded into fitness trackers and the development of smart apparel. The company is now developing clothing that will provide data that can both help athletes raise their game and point the way to design improvements.

7 Security Solutions for Small Business

When it comes to low-cost security solutions, you usually get what you pay for. Comodo is a global, award-winning security provider that offers free and affordable security tools that don’t compromise on features and reliability. Solutions include: Comodo One, the company’s free IT management platform that features Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM), Patch Management and Service Desk all in one place; Comodo Securebox to shield apps from malware-infected devices; and Comodo Advanced Endpoint to automatically prevent malware from entering networks. Small businesses can also enjoy free antivirus, free and paid SSL certificates, free Internet security, mobile device management, firewall protection, security for POS systems and many other services.

Looking for a single solution to cover all your bases? ESET lets you choose from a wide range of security bundles to protect your computers, mobile devices, USB drives, networks and servers. For instance, the ESET Small Business Security Pack guards Windows and Mac computers, as well as iPhone and Android phones, file servers and email accounts. The company also offers custom solutions that allows you to build the perfect security tool for your business. You can choose by product type, company size and industry. Choices include endpoint security, mobile security, remote management, two-factor authentication, encryption, file security, email security, virtualization security and more.

Virtualization and cloud computing offer many gifts, including the ability to access your desktop, files and other data anytime, anywhere using any device. Security concerns, however, can complicate the convenience. Cradlepoint NetCloud Engine, formerly Pertino, offers one easy, affordable and super-secure way to virtualize your network and your business. You’ll enjoy a VPN decked with layers of security protection, such as multifactor authentication — a combination of users’ ID, token (i.e., their device) and PKI-certificate — fully cloaked private addresses, micro-segmentation, end-to-end encryption, access policies, industry-leading cloud security, data center protection and more.

It’s not just computers that are at risk for security breaches. Lookout Mobile Security is all about protecting your business from cyberattacks on phones and tablets. It works by predicting, anticipating and shielding businesses against all types of mobile threats, such as malware, data leakages and the risks associated with sideloaded apps and jailbroken devices. Lookout also gives you complete visibility over devices and offers advanced tools to manage risks, vet software and app vendors, investigate incidences and ensure compliance with security regulations and company policies.

According to one of the tenets of cybersecurity, you should create strong passwords for all your accounts and services. These days, even passwords based on your pet’s name or your spouse’s name and birthday come with risks. Random passwords are the way to go. Random.org features a random password generator that automatically creates strong, alphanumeric, case-sensitive passwords up to 24 characters long. Combine results or add your own touch for a super-secure password. You no longer have an excuse to use “password,” “fluffy123” or other ridiculously easy-to-guess passwords.

As a small business, it always helps to know someone has your back. StaySafeOnline.org, powered by National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), is full of tools and resources to help small business owners protect their businesses, employees and customers from cyberattacks, data loss and other online threats. Small business owners can learn how to assess their risks, monitor threats, implement a cybersecurity plan and train employees. They’ll also learn what to do after an attack, and how to report one to the proper authorities to recoup any losses and bring attackers to justice.

Cybersecurity can be overwhelming for small business owners. Want to cover all your bases, but don’t know where to start? The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Small Biz Cyber Planner can guide you in the right direction. Just fill in your information, indicate your areas of concern, and the planner will automatically generate a custom cybersecurity plan with expert advice for your business. Areas covered include privacy and data security, scams and fraud, network security, website security, email, mobile devices, employees, and more.

A Small Business Guide

While breaches at big corporations such as Target and Home Depot make the headlines, small business are still very much targets for hackers. Stephen Cobb, a senior security researcher at antivirus software company ESET, said that small businesses fall into hackers’ cybersecurity “sweet spot:” They have more digital assets to target than an individual consumer has, but less security than a larger enterprise.

The other reason small businesses make such appealing targets is because hackers know these companies are less careful about security. An infographic by Towergate Insurance showed that small businesses often underestimate their risk level, with 82 percent of small business owners saying they’re not targets for attacks, because they don’t have anything worth stealing.

In almost every case, the end goal of a cyberattack is to steal and exploit sensitive data, whether it’s customer credit-card information or a person’s credentials, which would be used to misuse the individual’s identity online.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential cyberthreats, especially as hackers’ techniques continue to evolve, but businesses should at least be aware of the most frequently used attacks.

APT: Advanced persistent threats, or APTs, are long-term targeted attacks that break into a network in multiple phases to avoid detection. This Symantec infographic outlined the five stages of an APT.

DDoS: An acronym for distributed denial of service, DDoS attacks occur when a server is intentionally overloaded with requests, with the goal of shutting down the target’s website or network system.

Inside attack: This is when someone with administrative privileges, usually from within the organization, purposely misuses his or her credentials to gain access to confidential company information. Former employees, in particular, present a threat if they left the company on bad terms, so your business should have a protocol in place to revoke all access to company data immediately upon an employee’s termination.

Malware: This umbrella term is short for “malicious software,” and covers any program introduced into the target’s computer with the intent to cause damage or gain unauthorized access. More about the different varieties of malware can be found on How to Geek. Business News Daily’s sister site Tom’s Guide also breaks down the myths and facts of malware.

Password attacks: There are three main types of password attacks: a brute-force attack, which involves guessing at passwords until the hacker gets in; a dictionary attack, which uses a program to try different combinations of dictionary words; and keylogging, which tracks all of a user’s keystrokes, including login IDs and passwords. More about each type of attack (and how to avoid them) can be found in this Scorpion Software blog post.

Phishing: Perhaps the most commonly deployed form of cybertheft, phishing involves collecting sensitive information like login credentials and credit-card information through a legitimate-looking (but ultimately fraudulent) website, often sent to unsuspecting individuals in an email. Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute reported that the most prevalent attacks against SMBs are web-based and phishing/social engineering. TechRepublic shared 10 signs to help you spot a phishing email.

There are a few different basic types of security software on the market, offering varying levels of protection. Antivirus software is the most common, and will defend against most types of malware. For a side-by-side comparison of the best antivirus software programs for small businesses, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews.

Firewalls, which can be implemented with hardware or software, provide an added layer of protection by preventing an unauthorized user from accessing a computer or network. In an eHow.com article, author Sam N. Austin noted that some computer operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, come with built-in firewalls. These protections can also be added separately to routers and servers.

Cobb, of ESET, said businesses should also invest in a data backup solution, so any information compromised or lost during a breach can easily be recovered from an alternate location; encryption software to protect sensitive data such as employee records, client/customer information and financial statements; and two-step authentication or password-security software for their internal programs to reduce the likelihood of password cracking.

It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all security solution, so Charles Henderson, global head of security threats and testing at IBM, advised running a risk assessment, preferably through an outside firm.

One important solution that doesnꞌt involve software and that many small businesses overlook is cybersecurity insurance. As mentioned above, your general liability policy will not help you recoup losses or legal fees associated with a data breach, so a separate policy covering these types of damages can be hugely helpful in case of an attack.

Tim Francis, enterprise cyber lead at Travelers, a provider of cyberinsurance, said that small businesses often assume cyberinsurance policies are designed only for large companies, because those businesses are the most frequent targets of hackers. But many insurance carriers are beginning to offer tailor-made coverage for smaller companies to meet their budgets and risk-exposure levels, he said.

Francis advised business owners to look for a combination of first- and third-party coverage. First-party liability coverage includes any general costs incurred as a result of a breach, such as legal expertise, public relations campaigns, customer notification and business interruption. Third-party coverage protects you if your company is at the center of a breach that exposed sensitive information. This type of protection covers defense costs if the affected parties sue your company.

“Coverage is more than words on a page,” Francis said. “Make sure your carrier is well-regarded financially and has a good reputation in the industry. There’s tremendous variety in policies, [and] … you need an agent who understands the differences.”

Ready to protect your business and its data? These best practices will keep your company as safe as possible.

Keep your software up to date. As stated in this Tom’s Guide article, “an outdated computer is more prone to crashes, security holes and cyberattacks than one that’s been fully patched.” Hackers are constantly scanning for security vulnerabilities, ESET’s Cobb said, and if you let these weaknesses go for too long, you’re greatly increasing your chances of being targeted.

Educate your employees. Make your employees aware of the ways cybercriminals can infiltrate your systems, teach them to recognize signs of a breach, and educate them on how to stay safe while using the companyꞌs network.

Implement formal security policies. Bill Carey, vice president of marketing and business development at Siber Systems, noted that having companywide security policies in place can help reduce your likelihood of an attack. He advised requiring strong passwords — those with upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols — that should be changed every 60 to 90 days. Sixty-five percent of SMBs that have a password policy do not strictly enforce it, according to the Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute report.

Practice your incident response plan. IBM’s Henderson recommended running a drill of your response plan (and refining, if necessary) so your staff can detect and contain the breach quickly should an incident occur.