Guest column: Don't let hype obscure what's irrelevant

When I say "Mark Templeton", what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Boy, what a blank stare. OK, so he's not a household name. He probably deserves to be, though. Templeton is the president and chief executive officer of Citrix Systems Inc, a company that appears to be doing everything right at the moment, given that server-based computing, Citrix's bread and butter, is all the rage.

I had the opportunity to speak at length with Templeton a couple of weeks ago, and that encounter gave me an appreciation for what's keeping Citrix on the right track. I've found most CEOs to be fairly unassuming and unpretentious, but Templeton is just about as regular a guy as you can get and still be the head of the 13th largest independent software vendor in the US.

What impressed me the most was what Templeton had to say about hype. We were talking about the fact that Citrix managed to avoid getting sucked into believing that Java could ever be an operating system in its own right the way Sun Microsystems and IBM have always professed it would (until they abandoned their joint project to develop a Java-based OS last month), and Templeton made this observation:

"Either this is an industry with very astute, diabolical tricks to make this all so confusing that it's hard to choose, or it's an industry that throws a lot of hype on the wall and just tries to see what sticks," he said. "I think it's the latter, not the former."

I think so too, and examples of it are absolutely everywhere. One of the most entertaining examples I've seen in a long time came recently in the form of a press release from a company called InFocus, which makes notebook projectors for presentations.

The press release, which was sent to us by the good people at Shandwick Hong Kong, InFocus' PR company here, had us rolling on the floor. Check out this headline: "INFOCUS STUNS INDUSTRY WITH THE FIRST FULLY FEATURED SUB-FIVE POUND XGA NOTEBOOK PROJECTOR". The industry has been stunned by a notebook projector! Don't you just love it?

Then you read the text and you come across this ditty: "The new InFocus LP(tm)330, developed under the code name 'Dragonfly,' is the industry's leading sub-five pound, presentation solution to mobile professionals." Now, did they really have to come up with a code name for this thing? I mean, "Cedar", the code name for the next release of Microsoft's Windows CE, I can manage. I was OK with "Katmai", which was the codename for the Pentium III. I can even handle "Six Pack", the code name for the multiprocessor version of NetWare. But Dragonfly? Please. You just want to shake these people and scream, "IT'S A PROJECTOR, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!!"

So how are you supposed to make your way through all this muck without being sucked into it? Templeton has his own way of going about it.

"In order to navigate through as a company our size, the trick for Citrix is to keep the friction to a minimum, and one of the ways to reduce the friction is to recognise what's irrelevant," he says. "You never spend any time on it."

That's certainly easier said than done, but in any case it probably applies to a company of any size. Recognising that hype doesn't make something relevant is a good place to start. In fact, sometimes it seems that hype is inversely proportional to relevance. It's worth noting that Citrix, whose hype machine operates at a refreshingly low hum, is becoming very relevant in a great many enterprises. Dragonfly food for thought.

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