Saturday, December 31, 2005

Celebrating great enterprise stories

Great enterprises of all shapes and sizes develop around great stories.

As you proceed outbound on your own enterprise path, first find your own story. Don't look for a story you can sell people. No one wants to be sold.

People want to join, to participate actively in great stories. We are all looking for ways to make our own lives and our own enterprises better. Great stories are tales of solution.

Among the best enterprise stories I know is that of Mr. Tim Kehoe, the colored bubbles guy from St. Paul, MN. Tim's 11 years of persistent experimentation led this past year to the development of a valuable new chemistry, but more fun, of course, are the brightly colored bubbles he's invented. See my post from Nov. 19, linked below, for the full story.

To help close out this year, I'd like to thank Tim once again for his patience, his durability, and most of all, for one hell of a great story. I'd also like to point to some good news and good publicity Tim and friends have received lately.

Popular Science Magazine, which first ran with this story, has just awarded Tim and his colored bubbles with their Grand Award for General Innovation for 2005. Congrats, friends!

I also heard a nice interview on NPR's Morning Edition with Tim about his story. You'll like hearing it directly.

Tim started last year with some new investors, a lot of great ideas, and plenty of unfinished problems with his colored bubbles.

Less than a year later, he's a national innovation award winner, and we'll soon all be joining his story.

You too can create a great story. Look for it in what you're most passionate about.

The rest of us are waiting to join in.

Zubbles! Home of the colored bubbles. Their web site gets better all the time. There is a video on line now.

NPR audio interview with Tim Kehoe

Pop Sci Grand Award Winner for General Innovation, 2005

From the kitchen sink: A great tale of innovation My original post about Tim and colored bubbles. 11/19/05

Think that's Tim in the bubble's reflection above? Colored bubble photo above borrowed from NPR.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas
and Happy Holidays 2005

My daughter and I like ushering at our church on Christmas Eve. She's in college now and we've been doing this since she was in a backpack over my shoulder.

We were in place again last night. The church looked wonderful, and was packed to the rafters.

I'd drifted to the entry area midway through the service. A guy came in from the snow and apologized for making noise. I told him only he and I had heard anything. Offered to find him a seat but he just wanted to stand in the back and soak it up a bit.

He whispered he'd been married in this church but had gotten away from all this for the usual reasons.

He smiled at a nice part of the sermon. He looked at me again and whispered, "I'm glad you're here." I said, "you too, friend."

We shook hands and traded a look.

An angel in a ball cap? Nope, just a guy from the Christmas party across the street wondering about the big stuff.

It's easy to walk away from all the wonder that's tied up in spirituality. Life is saturated with daily-survival, important stuff. Like we need more wonder.

In fact, we do.

Sustainability means keeping to your journey. Spirituality, for me, is not the big stuff. It's not theological warfare. It's little paths. It's keeping to your journey. Among my greatest joys is to be able to share small things with my daughters that go past their remembering. Little paths. Big journeys.

My new friend in the ball cap and I both came in from the snow. In a few short whispers we'd both figured out the other guy was still searching.

As good an outcome as I could wish for us all.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sustainability sweet spots

Fortune Magazine, running major sections on sustainability. They've been hipping up old Fortune lately. Lots of titans probably spinning in their gilding at the thought.

The December 12 issue had a special section with a number of articles about sustainability and enterprise.

It opened like this: "Without any fanfare the sustainability movement is gaining powerful momentum. The concept is simple: Economic development, if carried out in a careful manner, can proceed without exhausting the natural resources needed by future generations. While conservation and development often seem at odds, corporations are realizing that they can employ eco-friendly strategies while running and growing their businesses."

I'm not going to paper over the fact that there are rogue enterprises rooting up the commons. If you were to go 1,000 years in both directions from now you'll find rogue enterprises rooting up the commons.

However, civilized types have been growing smarter and more sustainable economies and societies throughout history. It's our duty to not only defend the commons, but to grow it. Creating smarter, helpful, sustainable enterprises is a part of all that.

While the Fortune article focuses on large organizations benefiting from smart less-waste strategies, so can we all. In fact, there are a zillion small, smart enterprises that can be grown and developed by the rest of us in support of this strategy.

You want an idea for starting your own enterprise? Follow that lead.

Find a specialty that helps specific target customers get smarter about their enterprises. Get great at that specialty. Identify a core market of precisely focused end users.

I recommend setting up your enterprise to sell to other enterprises. I strongly believe that it's much easier and more rational to make and sell stuff to other enterprises than civilians. While your vendors should be eclectic as hell, your customers should be filtered carefully.

There are many, many enterprises within your reach that could benefit by the addition of smarter, more sustainable technologies. Make one of these tools or processes the thing you're great at. Specifically for (you fill in the blank) type enterprises and organizations. Find a technology niche, a set of tools, or a proprietary process you can reproduce inexpensively then fire it off with rifle barrel accuracy at just the customers you choose.

Breakthroughs don't have to come in extra large sizes. Breakthroughs can mean a few percent more efficiency someplace. Breakthroughs are processes done safer. Breakthroughs can come in all manner of shapes and sizes and levels of recognition. If you can help other enterprises produce their work with less waste, you've got the start of a sustainable business model.

That’s my pitch. Done over a number of enterprises, repeat-ably, throughout your network, you make a living and the whole place gets better.

Get really smart about something that helps. Search it out in magazines about stuff you already love. That’s a big help, as love can sustain you (for a short while) during times of bad cash flow. Don’t push this though. Analogies don't pay the bills.

The Fortune article quoted, “To Andrew Savitz, a Boston-based consultant who specializes in environmental and sustainability issues, there’s been a tipping point in one area after another, in which 'business and societal interests are clearly seen as intersecting'. He calls them ‘sustainability sweet spots’.”

Mr. Savitz goes on to report how Toyota bet its future on rising awareness of environmental performance in all walks of life. They are about to become the world’s largest auto maker. Figure it out.

You don’t have to develop hybrid engines, though I encourage that if you’ve got the stuff. You can make the world better in tiny incremental steps. That’s how most of what makes the planet grow happens anyway. Unnoticed hard work, getting it done better, little by little.

Your neighborhood is only limited by the internet.

Get smart about something helpful then go be helpful. Keep good notes and, among the right company, never pass up a chance to sell.

Come on in. The water’s fine. Your enterprise life awaits.

Fortune Magazine

Andrew Savitz works from Boston as a partner in PriceWaterhouse-Coopers' environmental sustainability business services practice. I can't locate a link to him but here's the PwC front door PriceWaterhouse-Coopers

Saturday, December 10, 2005

It's the journey stupid.
Enterprise and civility.

Professional yellers are stinking up the place.

Big mouths, big egos. The obnoxiousness of absolute certainty. True Believers, as Eric Hoffer called them.

The stated purpose of these posts is to encourage two things. The one that gets the most attention here lately is that you should take steps to make your life more economically sustainable by creating enterprises that make the world better. The other is the glory of simplicity in designing products, services, and processes for those enterprises.

This post is about the role of civility in enterprise. And the fact that it's in your self interest.

First the topic, then a nice implementation piece from Tom Peters.

The Providence Journal, over in Rhode Island, published a nice guest column by Eugene G. Bernardo, titled "Rise of Political Incivility Threatens our Democracy."

Mr. Bernardo cites a famous theory from criminology called "broken windows". If a vandal breaks a window or defaces a building, or dumps garbage and that mess isn't fixed, the redshift of decline accelerates. More broken windows, more garbage.

A telling change also occurs in the human behavior of the residents as their perceptions of the decline grow. "They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. Don't get involved."

Mr. Bernardo goes on to say that while we all have a constitutional right to speak with incivility, doing so hurts our own self interest significantly.

"By encouraging us to see as equals even those with whom we disagree vehemently, civility lets us hold the respectful dialogs without which democratic decisionmaking is impossible."

Yep. The same goes for your enterprise life, friend.

If we let the bums and professional yellers dominate commercial life, then we all lose. To get good decisions for yourself, make good decisions for everybody (except your competitors).

The "broken windows" theory says you can accept decline, or you can take back the streets. There's a built in success loop when you do things right. However, if you're going to set up your enterprise to cut corners and live in the shade, you put yourself into a neighborhood where the vandals are winning. Guess how your enterprise life will progress? Think gravity.

If you can make it a habit to look up and smile, to fix the broken glass, to say hello, you can sustain yourself and your enterprise and maybe change the world a little bit.

Enterprises of all sorts, for profits and non profits, need excellent discipline in their execution. That execution, done civilly can make your enterprise life worth living.

You know the drill. It's not the destination, it's the journey.

Today, people are learning about enterprise life from bad movies and worse TV. This cutthroat, take no commercial prisoners, sell whatever you can as unethically as possible is BS. It's not sustainable. Do enterprise crooks win? All the time, but that's not a life most people aspire to.

For the rest of us, living decent enterprise lives, sustainability comes from building bridges. Finding common ground. Being a fellow human because it's the right damn thing to do. If you need the bean counter return on investment justification, being civil means better decision making. Better decision making is in your own self interest. Argue with that.

Tom Peters posted a short piece on his site about an interchange he had while traveling. TP is a big shot biz guy who could easily throw his commercial weight around. However, involving people civilly works better.

Tom's post, dated November 21, 2005 revolved around an American Airlines counter agent who was being ripped by customers and her employer. Tom was working through screw ups like everyone else. Bad situations every direction.

Do you contribute to the problem or do you contribute to the solution? Here's TP's approach...

“Operation You-Alone-Can-Help-Me-and-I-Dearly-Pray-You-Will. We joked a little, commiserated about our different but extreme pickles, and I just kept on smilin'. Several things happened. By behaving in a relaxed, empathetic, life-goes-on fashion, I actually started to feel better myself—hey, this wasn't a trip to market in Baghdad. More important (selfishly), my "you're the only one for me" AA(Air) buddy bent over backwards and then some to track the bag, double-confirm its current whereabouts, get unequivocal info on the arriving flight, give me a priority hotel dropoff slot, and so on. And I flatter myself by thinking that she, too, ended up feeling a touch better about life—it really isn't much fun to be ripped, and ripped again, by customers mostly because your employer is in dire straits and understaffed everywhere and has left you on point to take [all] the heat.”

Tom Peters continues, "That's my "little tale." But of course it's not so little at all. It's near the heart of what happens on those occasions when human beings take the trouble in the face of trouble to deal in a civil and empathetic and even cheerful fashion with their fellows. That's not "news"...except that of course it is!"

Yep again. That's my news for the week. Your enterprise life can be one you can be proud of. It's the easier path. You don't need to live it out among broken windows and commercial idiots.

Build something you can be proud of. You can do this. You should do this. Keep up the details, then execute with civility, please.

Eric Hoffer resource site "Good and evil grow up together and are bound in an equilibrium that cannot be sundered. The most we can do is try to tilt the equilibrium toward the good."

Tom Peters. Want to lead a good enterprise life? Put Tom on your daily links.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The poetry of great headlines

Those funny folks at MIT's Technology Review have some great headline writers.

One story, plucked from the back of my desk, is about a cool new idea for improving weather forecasting.

Right now all the data from the lower atmosphere in the US is gathered by just 69 weather balloons each taking only two readings per day. Amazing.

The July 2005 issue of Technology Review reports that newly developed sensors are being affixed to commuter aircraft to gather and transmit meteorological data in real time.

"The amount of data we're getting is just incredible", says a National Weather Service meteorologist. With this kind of data loop, forecasting ground conditions and precipitation is now becoming accurate to the minute.

Pretty simple idea, though surely long, arduous and exciting in getting it here.

In the world of innovation, there will forever be an unlimited supply of low hanging fruit. Please note.

However, my real love for this story comes from the poetry of a great headline. Ready? Here's how TR wrote it...

Proclaiming Rain Falls Mainly to a Plane

Technology Review Magazine. This small article is not linked. See hard copy July 2005.

NOAA's Great Lakes Fleet Experiment. Great links to the history and technolgy behind this story.

AirDat, the company processing the sensor data

Saturday, November 19, 2005

From the kitchen sink:
A great tale of innovation.

I guarantee you will remember the first time you see colored bubbles.

Bubbles that kids blow, except well, blown into spectacular colors. Technicolor bubbles. A zillion pixels per inch colored bubbles. Hot pink bubbles. Neon green bubbles. Yellow and orange bubbles. And when they pop, the color and the magic disappear until you do it again. And again. And again.

Colored bubbles will be on the market early next year. And you doubted that the world is getting better...

My report from the world of invention and innovation this week leaves me slack jawed and thunderstruck with admiration.

I'd never thought of a SustainableWork Hall of Fame, but I've decided to invent one just for Tim Kehoe. I'm making Tim the first endowed chair of kitchen sink innovation. Emeritus Professor.

I bring you an enterprise story that I hope will be long told and widely celebrated.

The December '05 issue of Popular Science has a wonderful, compelling story that is important for all of us.

"Tim Kehoe has stained the whites of his eyes deep blue. He's also stained his face, his car, several bathtubs and a few dozen children. He's had to evacuate his family because he filled the house with noxious fumes. He's ruined every kitchen he's ever had. Kehoe, a 35-year-old toy inventor from St. Paul, Minnesota, has done all this in an effort to make real an idea he had more than 10 years ago, one he's been told repeatedly cannot be realized: a colored bubble."

Well, Tim did it. The first cool result is that you'll soon be able to blow brightly colored bubbles. The more important lesson from the story is that persistence, hard work, and a respect for capturing details is critical. The you-better-get-this part of the story is that we all should celebrate and support great science and engineering.

First the upside stuff. Popular Science senior associate editor Mike Haney writes, "According to one industry estimate, retailers sell around 200 million bottles annually—perhaps more than any other toy."

"If an inventor could somehow add color, though, suddenly adults might have reason to start blowing again. Picture bubbles in NFL team colors, or bubbles that match charity ribbons. The potential market would grow to include every man, woman and child. So why don't they exist?"

This is a big commercial deal. Schools, fundraising, unlimited commercial PR potential. Close your eyes and imagine bubbles to match the wedding colors. Need I say more? 200 million units of anything is a monster number. Tim and friends have the potential to lay siege to that entire number and probably sell more than that by themselves, directly and through licensing.

Meet Mr. Tim Kehoe from St. Paul, Minnesota. 10 years ago Tim conjured up colored bubbles out of thin air. Magic idea, if only you could make it work.

Tim Kehoe, wife and family have lived the life of citizen innovators ever since. Cool stuff. Scary stuff. Tedious stuff. Their stuff.

Experiments went on for years. Great stories of innovation all-nighters. Hope led to painful rejections. Products rolled out before their time rolled straight into disaster. Job life, family life, and enterprise life all swirled about like Toto in the Kansas wind for over a decade.

Tim Kehoe chased his idea in and out of self employment for over a decade. If you think there's a direct line to enterprise success like you see on TV, meet Mr. Kehoe, the real deal. His story is a truthful representation of what much of innovation and enterprise success looks like. It's a story that should be richly celebrated by all of us.

Tim's enterprise funding has gone from home-made to angel-based, and it's making his dream work. Earlier outside funding might have helped, but it also could have screwed up the end result. I think the most important part about outside funding is not about how you get the money, but when. Tim's timing here looks dead on.

Another critical part of outside funding is what the entrepreneur brings to the money. Tim brought years of struggle and determination to the table. He brought his fire which couldn't be quenched by the repeated cold showers of start up roadblocks. Importantly, Tim brought years of knowledge of what didn't work. Those failures weren't defeats. Tim used them as refinements to a great story. He kept putting one foot in front of another, always improving the idea. Whatever it took.

Passion is a biz buzz word now. Unfortunately, passion typically gets translated as smiling people talking loudly.

But Tim's case is the real thing. Passion for the idea. Passion for the story.

With that in mind, Tim brought in money and brains.

Fortunately, not just any brains. Tim connected with the wonderfully determined brain of Mr. Ram Sabnis.

Great timing for all involved. Mr. Sabnis is a PhD dye chemist with dozens of patents.

His scientific specialty, among the most specialized in the world, led him to develop an entirely new dye chemistry. Something from nothing stuff, bless him. "Nobody has made this chemistry before," Sabnis says. "All these molecules - we will make 200 or 300 to cover the spectrum — they don't exist. We have synthesized a whole new class of dyes", says Mr. Sabnis.

Ram Sabnis’ story of 60 to 100 experiments per weeks for many months is well told in this article. Great science with a wonderfully colorful, magical ending.

Will Tim and Ram ride this story straight into sure-fire success? God I hope so.

What you need to remember friend, is that it started at a kitchen sink. It's taken longer than anyone involved expected, I'd bet. I'd also bet that, looking back, they wouldn't trade any of it.

Neither would you.

In the future, whenever you see a colored bubble float by (and you WILL see a lot of them float by) remember the story of Ram Sabnis and Kitchen Sink Emeritus Professor Tim Kehoe, our first SustainableWork Hall of Fame inductee.

A really wonderful enterprise story.

Now, friend, go find your own kitchen sink.

Popular Science article by Mike Haney

Photo for this post borrowed from Popular Science Magazine article.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Bait and Switch
with optimism

Bait and Switch is a very popular book by NY Times best selling author Barbara Ehrenreich.

It's a story of middle America out of work and the fact that desparate people are preyed upon.

It really can be an awful job mess out there. Many of us navigate it every day successfully, but you need to know there's an industry full of scurrilous frauds out there masquerading as help. A lot of people are cruelly victimized. When I drive through major cities I hear ads on the radio, "Become a coach. No experience necessary." What?!

The Bait and Switch title is good, but Ms. Ehrenreich's book got subtitled in a grossly offensive way, I think: The (futile) pursuit of the American Dream

There is nothing futile about the search for any dream. Don't damn the pursuit of dreams, damn the predators who steal those dreams.

I would agree that it is futile to take thousands of dollars and give it to job coaches. I would agree that it's futile to go to "network events" with idiots. I would agree it's futile to think someone else is in charge of your life. That's what got these folks into job trouble in the first place.

Planning alternative, sustainable economic strategies for yourself seems like a prudent alternative.

Here's a review I liked from the Miami Herald writer Ariel Gonzalez.

"Almost every page is devoted to the dispiriting process of landing an upwardly mobile job in today's market. As Ehrenreich's title suggests, people are lured into believing a generic business career is the path to early retirement. What they get instead is a callous, high-handed manner from employers who overwork them until they go elsewhere or are downsized. Corpse-like obedience is the key to advancement. You are expected to enthusiastically tow the company line. Individuality is frowned upon; after all, there is no ''I'' in ''team'' (it's missing from ''soulless drone'' too.) And if you display a healthy sense of irony, you will be labeled a critic or malcontent.

These are a few of the unsurprising tips Ehrenreich picks up as she wades through the ''transition industry,'' the core of which consists of uncredentialed ''career coaches'' who, for thousands of dollars, offer dubious advice on customizing your resume. The rank narcissism of these Tony Robbins-type characters would be funny if they weren't preying on human desperation. Borderline scam artists, they rely on personality tests with ''zero predictive value'' and spew platitudes about the importance of networking and maintaining a positive attitude."

Yes, there are people preying on us. Take some steps to strike out on your own, to make a contribution, to counteract this BS. Take the first steps. You can do it. It's the honorable thing to do for you and your family. Self defense stuff.

For her next challenge, I'd urge Ms. Ehrenreich to go after those that prey on small biz owners, and those that would be innovators and inventors. The latter are commercially assassinating many in our society's talent pool.

I've written this post for folks in danger of losing their jobs, or may be stuck in idiotic, mind deadening jobs. Starting your own enterprise in advance can help. Even baby steps help. Anything to give you a bit of control and a rational reason to hope. You can do it. Do not wait to become the prey. Search for opportunity yourself. You do not have to succumb to the awful "transition industry" tactics that may seem unavoidable when trouble is upon you. Do it yourself. You're fully capable. Plan and execute well, but get going for goodness sake.

Is it a tough world out there? If you don't know, I can't help.

Is the world full of, as the great singer songwriter Stan Rogers sang, "smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go?" Sorry to report, but there's an ocean of them. Just say no.

Can you do something helpful for yourself in spite of all that? Yep, and there's more opportunity than ever.

Sustainable work is not find your bliss stuff. It's control your own life, control your own enterprise stuff. You can apply it to for profit work, social entrepreneur work, non profit work, or whatever.

No matter the format, work is the key word. Smart, sustainable work.

Or, you can hire a career coach.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s home page featuring Bait and Switch

Miami Herald review by Ariel Gonzalez

Stan Rogers link to Fogarty's Cove Music. I dearly love Stan Rogers' work.

Encouraging innovation, or
how I broke
the Patent Office

Everybody searches for some kind of recognition.

We'd gotten our first patents a couple of years into our new enterprise. I found that I was going to be working around Washington DC and thought I'd stop by the patent office to feel like a big shot for a while. I imagined that there might be a separate door for inventors with patents. A celebrity runway for geeks.

That didn't happen, but I was able to find the US Patent and Trademark museum in Alexandria. Lots of very interesting stuff behind their glass cases. I was still hoping for some recognition, what with the new patents and all, but other than a nod from the security guard, the hushed, quietly lit displays kept everyone's attention.

That's when I walked over and set my notebook on the glass cover of a large diarama style display set up in the middle of the room. Except there wasn't a glass cover. My notebook fell with a crash right into the noisiest place it could.

Finally. Recognition from my peers.

Sunday's New York Times (11/13/05) business section featured a page one story about invention and innovation. The author, Timothy L. O'Brien, does a nice job of making the case for increased spending on research and development at all levels. The piece especially makes the case for Big Commerce/Big Academia research funding problems. However, at the meta level, that crowd can make things sound pretty bleak.

A recent National Academy of Sciences report on the subject says that, without a host of upgrades in science and math education and a package of federal spending on basic research and tax incentives, "For the first time in generations, the nation's children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did."

Even a top guy from M.I.T., Emeritus Professor Merton C. Flemings, who runs the wonderful Lemelson Foundation's innovation program there, puts his fears right up front, "The future is very bleak, I'm afraid."

And yet, and yet, and yet... Professor Flemings later goes on to describe something we don't talk about much. Places like Singapore which have high national test scores but still do not generate the innovation culture so apparent in the US. Singapore sends its education researchers here to study how creativity, an unmeasurable, is developed.

It is not just increased spending for math and science education, both of which absolutely should be done to increase our inventiveness. It's also recognition and support for creativity and a nurturing environment for innovation and innovators.

In fact the Times' piece quotes an M.I.T.- Lemelson Study issued in 2004: "In addition to openness, tolerance is essential in an inventive, modern society. Creative people, whether artists or inventive engineers, are often nonconformists and rebels. Indeed, invention itself can be percieved as an act of rebellion against the status quo."

The headlines for the NY Times article was, "Not Invented Here. Are U.S. Innovators Losing Their Competitive Edge?"

If I was selling this idea, I would have taken those lovely words from the M.I.T.-Lemelson study and headlined the Times piece something like, "People everywhere! Hurry! Rebel against the status quo! Storm the Gates! Over the ramparts, mates! The rebellion lives! Charge!!!"

What's hard about THAT sell?

I love to make that pitch, especially to young people. They get it. But I digress.

The Times' piece follows this hopeful direction nicely with the introduction of the work currently being done by Nathan Myhrvold, an inventor rebel himself from the early Microsoft years, subsequently the head of Microsoft's research arm. Mr. Myhrvold has set up a fund specifically to fund independent inventors, and they seem to be growing a nice enterprise from this platform.

I really like Mr. Myhrvold's focus on support and nurturing for the innovators, while also sharing ownership with jointly developed projects. "We all love the goose that lays the golden eggs but somehow we've forgotten about the goose," Mr. Myhrvold said. "This decade, I'm hoping will be the decade of the invention."

Yes, we want to increase innovation. Yes, it typically takes progressive institutional spending to make changes at the meta level.

Do big science, big spending and big institutions matter? Of course.

But there's always the goose to remember. There's always the revolutionary at the gates that needs to be encouraged.

Tom Peters makes this point brilliantly in his 11/11/05 blog. The Times did a major piece on this subject. Tom, as usual, cuts to the core questions, usually within a phrase. A full sentence, max. This time, Tom serves is up as really great bar bet: "Q: #1 R&D spending in the last 25 years? A: GM"

Big academic science research programs are critical to world progress. Big corporate research budgets are also critical. However, both can be used for good or ill.

Measuring the real inventiveness of cultures needs to also include the willingness of all of us to actively participate in the work.

Affirm innovation everywhere you find it. When you see a screwed up legacy piece of status quo getting in the way, attack it. Search out the innovators working in your communities locally or on line and support them.

We're all responsible for the future. Work on it every way you can.

New York Times article link

Lemelson Foundation program at M.I.T.

Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myhrvold's program for supporting individual inventors.

Dr. Myhrvold's bio. Yes an important person in the field, but his Times picture makes him look more important to me as a guy I'd like to drink a couple beers with.

Tom Peters. Always walking a mile ahead.

National Inventors Hall of Fame

Photo for this post is the Catoctin Furnace, just south of Gettysburgh, PA.

Someday I will post a link to my upcoming invention, "Clear cover for diarama at the US Patent Museum"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The killer app.

KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid.

Old saying. Needs updating. How about Keep It Simple Smartie?

Simple is for smart people.

I was helping a new customer start up a recycler this week. The company was located in a beautiful area of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Nice plant. Owned by a Fortune 100 firm and working hard to do things right. It was my first visit and the engineer I'd been dealing with on the phone and eMail gave me the full plant tour. She carefully led me through a very modern facility packed with complicated production systems.

I want every recycler to run perfectly, of course, and this was no exception. We gathered a group of machine operators and maintenance folks around our system for the equipment start up and training. What spooked me was the unexpected arrival of the Maintenance Director, looking skeptical as hell.

Now, a Maintenance Director is not the janitor. A Maintenance Director in my world is typically responsible for keeping many millions of dollars of unbelievably complicated equipment operating. Electrical systems, hydraulic systems, fluid systems, mechanical systems, and often hardest of all, human systems. All the time. Under severe conditions. Often with bunch of people working for them. Typically with no support from idiot vendors. Often less than that from the people who write their budgets.

Stuff can go wrong in a million directions every day for Maintenance Directors. It’s their job to claw through complexity and keep things running. Much like most of our lives.

We fired up the recycler. After you test the fluid flow, the next step is to hit these systems with oil. In the recycling world, this is where rubber meets the road.

In spite of the many scenarios I’d conjured up that predicted gravity would fail to operate in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on that specific day, my fears proved unfounded. I was wrong. Gravity works in the UP all the time. I have proof.

What was really interesting was the response of the Maintenance Director.

He had circled the recycler a couple of times while I walked him through the details. The most complicated thing I could find was the single air line that ran our system, so I talked about that trying to sound smart. They'd paid good money for this thing and I wanted him to like it.

In the background, fork trucks flew past, while a dizzying array of production equipment churned, much of it run by control panels as big as your front door.

He looked at me without expression and said, "This is really simple."

I couldn't tell what he was thinking. Did he think he overpaid? The recycler was ripping oil out of their production fluids. He had to see that. What was the problem?

Then he said it again. No expression, "This is really simple."

Now, if you remember that I’m the guy who thinks gravity might fail under certain circumstances, you can imagine how I fill up these pregnant, oh-my-god-where's-this-going pauses.

Then he smiled widely, reached out and shook my hand. "Thank you", he said. "Simple is exactly what I need".


In fact, simple is exactly what most people need.

There is a nice cover piece in the Nov. 2005 Fast Company titled the beauty of simplicity. Good story, by Linda Tischler.

The hook is, "Simplicity. Google’s secret weapon." The article focuses on Marissa Mayer, Google’s guru of look and feel. It open with this proposition: “Making it simple is the next Big Thing.”

Just like my Maintenance Director, just like Marissa and Google, most of us are bombarded by complications from every direction. New stuff is good, but we’ve got to be able to fit it in easily or it’s doomed to failure.

Think of what’s swirling around you now. The Fast Company article says, “By one estimate, the world produced five exabytes (one quintillion bytes) of content in 2002 – the same amount churned out between 25,000 B.C. and A.D 2000”.

It often feels like 4 of those exabytes are in my eMail folder.

You don’t have much spare space in your life. Potential customers and partners of your emerging enterprise don’t have that space or time either.

When you do a Google search, you’re executing an equation with 500 million variables, ranking 8 billion web pages for you. Before you can snap your fingers.

Marissa Mayer at Google approaches the issue in this way: “Google has the functionality of a really complicated Swiss Army knife, but the home page is our way of approaching it closed. It’s simple, it’s elegant, you can slip it into your pocket, but it’s got the great doodad when you need it. A lot of our competitors are like a Swiss Army knife open – and that can be intimidating and occasionally harmful.”

Our small band of co-workers won the small business New Product of the Year for the whole country this year, awarded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). That’s the highest professional certification engineers can achieve in the US. Why did we win? Basically because we made something complicated simpler. I’d love to sound smarter, but that’s about it. Design simplicity leads to successful results.

When you look to create or grow your product or service, always look to make the interface simpler. You need to do the complicated execution and back office stuff better than anyone else, but the interface must be simple or your enterprise will tank.

Reverse the design of your products and services. Reverse the design of your enterprise. For the specific problem at hand, start with your answer.

“Yes. We fix that. It’s simple”.

Want sustainable work? Think simple.

You're in the middle of the next killer app.

Fast Company article not yet posted. Will link as soon as it’s on line

Worse is better Wikipedia entry about the New Jersey style of software design with wonderful implications for ALL design: Simplicity, Correctness, Consistency, and Completeness.

Occam's Razor Given two equally predictive theories, choose the simpler. Wikipedia

National Society of Professional Engineers

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Get out there
and get lazy

Cranberries. Once a year maybe. Marginal, peripheral stuff in the macro economic world.

Cranberries. So what?

Wrong question. You say you want to find sustainable work? Look to the margins. The right question is how do you find a cranberry market for yourself?

Stuff that barely makes your radar is a big economic deal to the people working in those seemingly marginal fields. And that's just what gets to the edge of your radar. Most of the economy doesn't even show up. The rest of it is economic dark matter to you and me. And like dark matter, it makes up most of what goes on around us.

Good news, friend. Exponentially increasing opportunities are flowering in niches most people wouldn't think could support a church mouse.

There is economic sustenance for those that create innovations. There is opportunity in overlooked places right in front of all of us. It usually takes form as a better approach to an old problem.

Take Dan Brockman, for instance. A former hard working paper mill guy who came back to the family farm and got lazy.

My home state of Wisconsin produces more than half of the aprox. 575 million pounds of cranberries produced in the US each year. Big stuff for them but most of us in cheesehead hats have never seen a cranberry bog. It’s marginal to most of our day jobs even here in the middle of the Holstein bell curve.

In the fall, cranberry bogs are flooded and the berries harvested. The current device used to harvest cranberries is a complicated mess of old tech ag engineering. It's basically a big paddlewheel mechanism that's slowly maneuvered by several people through the bog. The machine beats hell out of the bushes in the water, whacking the daylights out of the berries with a big rotating beater as they float off for harvest.

Enter Mr. Brockman. A self-described lazy guy. He wanted it to be easier to harvest his cranberries. "I always approach just about everything with the idea that there's a better way to do it. You just need to find it," Brockman said. "I started cutting and welding and building. The first three machines didn't work at all."

It's taken 5 years to bring this story to life. Persistence wins out. Brockman’s cranberry harvester, the Ruby Slipper, now just flies through our Wisconsin bogs. Farms that use it are amazed at its simplicity and speed. Only one person is needed to operate it. Tests indicate it actually improves the cranberry yields in succeeding years.

Existing machines now used to harvest cranberries can cost $40 grand. Brockman’s device costs $7-$9 grand. Teryl Roper, a University of Wisconsin professor specializing in this field, says the Ruby Slipper is on track to "revolutionize cranberry harvesting".

Here’s what I really love about this story. The Ruby Slipper has no moving parts. Mr. Brockman, you're my kind of guy. Perfect.

Professor Roper said, "I don't know why no one thought of it before. It is elegantly simple."

His dad's response was the best. Mr. Brockman’s father, who started the farm 60 years ago and has been harvesting cranberries ever since, just laughs at his lazy kid. “I can’t believe that this thing works. It’s way too easy,” says Dad.

Is it a limited market? Of course. There are only 1,200 cranberry farms in North America. Not a very big array of potential customers. Economic dark matter. But Brockman and friends see the light.

Here’s the deal. They're estimating they can sell 500 to 1,000 of his Ruby Slipper harvesters in the next five years. Units will sell at $7K to $9K. Low end that's $3,500,000. High end, that's $9,000,000 in newly created revenue over 5 years. Who knows what will grow out of this effort beyond that? If you work their numbers backwards to get net dollars it sure looks to be a lovely, sustainable enterprise for Mr. Brockman and friends.

Will this make the waves with venture capitalists? Unlikely. Most money players wouldn't even notice.

Will this make a bunch of hard working folks living in a beautiful part of my state a good living for the foreseeable future? Looks probable. Will their kids be proud of them and see that the world can be made into a better place? Seems likely.

Mr. Brockman and the Ruby Slipper folks, if smart, know that this is not a zillion dollar lottery ticket. It's hard work. But it'll be their hard work, and their contributions and their rewards from a life hopefully well lived.

Here's my point... there is a better way to do most everything in this life. The fastest way, and the surest way, I know to get yourself into sustainable work occurs by fixing problems. Finding, simpler, better solutions. Then executing the details.

You can open up your enterprise in market segments that look like cranberries and economic dark matter to the rest of us. This is where your opportunities are.

This effort isn’t about head lines, it’s about capturing a sustainable piece of the economy for your enterprise. Brockman won't win a Nobel Prize. Neither will you most likely. But Brockman is making a difference, and you can, too. He makes things simpler and easier. You can, too. That's sustainable work, friends.

Fix something hard in your world. Look for the cranberry bogs of your life swirling around out there at the edges of your radar. That’s where to steer your enterprise.

It’s an unimaginably large global economy out there from the perspective of a start up or emerging enterprise. You can get a sustainable piece of it by making something easier and better in seemingly very small markets. Then execute the details.

Now get out there and get lazy.

Touring Wisconsin's cranberry harvest Great links from the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association

Central WI visitors info for our cranberry harvest

Bikes and berries. Warrens, WI area bike trips throughout the marshes and local links

WI bathing suit beauty queen harvesting cranberries. One would hope for a warm autumn for her sake.

Yahoo News. Original AP story about Mr. Brockman

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Sales training in 3 words.
No subtitles.

Our current enterprise was the creation of two friends. Start ups and emerging enterprises are usually staffed about this well. Ain't no job you ain't doing.

When we hired our first outsider the culture of the whole deal was moderately at stake. We needed someone to act as our Inside Sales Manager, someone to back up all the helter skelter street level peddling. The detail work behind the scenes to support successful sales and marketing is critical. It's not rocket science, but do it wrong and you're out of business. Doing this right requires a passion for capturing important details accurately.

We needed this person long before we ever thought about looking for them, of course, but I'm jumping ahead of myself.

Dave and I were going to meet the very first person we'd ever interviewed. Dave had seen a guy who stood out from his workplace because of his relentless ability to want to contribute in a friendly, cooperative way. He was operating like this in an environment wildly cultured up to do things exactly the opposite.

We were going to meet this person for breakfast at the Hardscrabble in downtown Streator. I made Dave agree in advance that we wouldn't make any promises. We'd just hear him out. Then we'd carefully look at other folks and make our choice. Slow, Dave. Go slow.

We were still looking at the breakfast menu, just one or two coffees into it, when I offered Dan the job. Dave just shook his head.

In a very polite way Dan asked just what the sales job description entailed. Dan had not worked in sales previously. He thought it sounded great but, well, what's the deal? What do you need to do for a sales job?

Since I clearly hadn't scripted this whole process very well I didn't have a ready answer. Sure I had the talking points of a printed job description at hand. But I wanted Dan to see the job was something I hoped would be cooler than just a listing of the parts.

As we ordered I also thought about giving him my rant about a passion for capturing details accurately, but it was a little early in the day for that.

The mission critical goal for Dan was keeping our collective asses out of trouble. The right answer to his question was obvious.

If your enterprise is to be sustainable you can't build it on lies. You can never shortchange your product or service. You need to be the best at something but never over-promise your way into defeat. You can't under-deliver. You can't execute poorly and survive. Every single thing in your operation needs full transparency, repeatability and grand slam data control. Above all you need honesty in your data and honesty in your life. Sustainable work.

Are there nefarious enterprises bilking people and running economically amok? Duh.

Are there zillions of enterprises set up to scam the system short term? Double duh.

However, that isn't you. That isn't what this is about. This is about sustainable work. First and foremost that means work that keeps growing. Next, it’s work that keeps you growing.

Starting honorable, well executed, properly documented, new enterprises looks hard. The reality is that it's far easier than wading into the world of cheating and lies. That stuff always takes far more time, work and effort than doing things right. Plus, you end up with the bonus of living a miserable personal life. Sign me up.

Breakfast ordering done, I told Dan his sales training came in a package of three words. Tell the truth.

He said “I can do that” and we shook on the deal.

Dan and I live and work in different states. Dan works in our sales office in Illinois. I work from Wisconsin. Since Dan joined us, weeks can pass between times we actually see each other. He doesn't need any direct oversight. He wants to do a great job and does. If we have stuff to work on together we find each other by phone, eMail, and all the usual suspects.

That frees me up to stay out there creating all the seeming chaos my kind of peddlers generate. We’ve since been joined by my sales partner, Bill. Being my kind of peddler he also has to meet his monthly quota of seeming chaos and he typically exceeds that goal, bless him.

Dan has to back all this up. I’ve done Dan's job in other places. It can be a miserable, inefficient mess if you’re not prepared.

Did I worry turning over this chaotic step? For his sake and mine? Of course. If this job is done wrong, you’re out of the pool, my friend.

Are there downsides to growing and expanding your enterprise so that you can do your evangelizing? Of course.

Enterprise is full of risk. Minimize it. But if you want to participate, you’re going to have to prepare, then learn to live with it.

Was there risk in hiring Dan? Sure.

Was there reward in hiring Dan? Immediately.

Why? Because Dan succeeds for all of us by minimizing the risk.

How does he do that?

Telling the truth.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ten customers in 25 years

I'm such a chronic optimist, my family and friends usually just shake their heads and wonder.

I'm the inverse of that old saying "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get me".

Mine goes something like this... "Just because I'm optimistic beyond what can be rationally supported, doesn't mean the world isn't getting better all the time."

So, when thoughtful, generally careful folks that I read start getting nervous out loud, I have to agree that caution is a good thing.

Natural and medical disasters continue to savage our world. H5N1, bird flu is on everyone's horizon.

I don't want to trade on fear. I want to give you something to think about. Perhaps even something to be optimistic about in your work life.

I've crafted up over 30 years of virtual enterprise employment.

To me virtual enterprise does not mean hiding behind a computer screen living off PayPal. To me virtual enterprise has meant planning ways to limit the scheduled and random human contacts in your enterprise life. For a million reasons that have worked in the past, and for all the new reasons on the horizon, you should at least consider this path.

I've organized relatively virtual enterprises around small family based operations, small groups of friends spread around the country, and now also with a cool, fast, high profile company with multiple co-workers and customers all around the world.

If you want to live fully on line, go try. That's the strict vegan version of virtual enterprise. I don't know how to do that. I don't want to do that. Some people are obviously doing it, but it's not a model I can vouch for or think I'd enjoy.

All the biz models I know involve human contact, and risks from interacting with life.

That said, you can vastly limit risks you live with, at least in your enterprise life. It's possible to build a biz model around yourself that gives you increased possibilities for choosing your risks.

Elsewhere on this site is some info about Banner Graphics, the first start up that led to all this.

I now have this interesting recycling work going on, but I used the Banner Graphics section to first talk about what I thought I meant by sustainable work.

I didn't expect that I'd be coming back to that description under these circumstances. I was talking about hanging out with my kids, not pandemics.

From the Banner Graphics site...

"I was privileged to start a wonderful small business called Banner Graphics in the 1970s. My wife, friend, and business partner, Mary and I ran it for 25 years while raising our family and serving customers on 5 continents."

"We worked from our apartment, our house, from business incubators and from really great shops. We were able to keep our kids with us and control our time. Less than 10 customers ever showed up at our door in 25 years. That’s sustainable."

Read on though, friend. I want you to have MORE human contact, not less. I want you to risk MORE, not less.

Just not in retail or large group settings.

Many people will make perfectly wonderful lives in retail. Many more will thrive in office herds. Forever. I just wouldn't recommend it going forward. There are other ways. Safer, nicer ways you can craft up for yourself and maybe some coworkers. Nothing tricky. It works. You can do it. You just need to be smart in the planning and execution.

You're going to need to control a lot of data, and you're going to need to control your presence on the internet. Don't tell me you don't get computers or don't get the internet. Illiterate young people in fourth world countries get computers and the internet. People with tragic disabilities get computers and the internet. Of course you can do it. You have to. I’ll keep on this subject. Start by fixing your interface with these worlds if it's too complicated the way you're doing it now. More on that in future posts.

The internet is your information grid. The shipping grid is your slow motion internet. You can plug yourself into both systems for damn near free, except the use fees.

H5N1 will roll out in ways none of us can predict. Calamitous natural disasters will continue to assault the vulnerable.

Few, if any of us has control over the meta stuff. Learn to adapt the best you can. It’s all I know to suggest. Get yourself some independence and control wherever you can. My pitch is that you can get yourself some physical / economic / spiritual security by rigging up your own start up and emerging enterprises to get as commercially virtual as is possible.

Then I want you to eat lunch with your vendors. Picnic with your neighbors. Fly to a customer 20 states away that you should really know better. Ride a bike until you get lost and end up in the company of great strangers. Make friends unexpectedly.

More contact. More risk. Just do it on your terms. It makes living this life a lot more peaceful. You'll work harder, but you'll be driving, not hanging on in the passenger seat.

Cool, cheap, easy tools are out there. Markets that want to interact with smart, emerging enterprises are out there.

My friend, tough, dangerous times are inevitably ahead of us. But tough, dangerous times have been ahead of every generation since the beginning, much of the worst of which actually happened. And yet, we grind it out, getting smarter and better at life all the time.

Who would have thought that 10 customers through the door in 25 years looked like success?

Choose your interactions. Then get out there!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

My wonderful neighbors
at Harley-Davidson

I love great trade magazines. Gear Technology magazine qualifies. It's as global as it gets. Big league world class manufacturing issues reported in detail monthly.

My day job often involves gear manufacturing. Back in the last century, Gear Technology published an article I wrote that really went against industry assumptions at the time. Pretty cool of them.

The Publisher's Page column of Gear Technology is written by Michael Goldstein who is also their Editor-in-Chief. The September/October 2005 contribution from Mr. Goldstein again goes against prevailing assumptions. Mr. Goldstein’s piece is titled: Making It in America. U.S. Manufacturing is Alive, Well and Prospering

Citing the NY Times source article, we're reminded that, contrary to what's easy to believe, the truth is sometimes less obvious. Despite all the headlines and hand wringing, the United States still accounts for about a quarter of the world’s value added manufacturing output. This is virtually the same as it was in 1982.

Who do they look to as a representative alpha dog for our tenacious grip on doing things right? My friends and neighbors at Harley-Davidson. The domestic content of their motorcycles is higher today than it was 15 years ago. They’re setting up to export to China.

The reasons include creative, cooperative labor agreements, but also in large part to increased productivity through better technology.

That may sound optimistically warm and fuzzy to you, but it's not. I get to report to you directly from the front lines of uniquely tough manufacturing battles Harley-Davidson has fought and won. More importantly, battles they continue to win. Sure better technology can mean high science stuff, but it can also mean common sense and individuals taking ownership. Sustainable work.

Harley-Davidson was the first major corporation to take a chance on our work. They had identified the nasty back room stuff we work on as an opportunity to fix problems plant-wide.

They didn't have to fix it. Everybody else was living with the problems. Why couldn't they? Harley-Davidson decided they couldn't live with it precisely because they weren't everybody else. They wanted to get ahead and stay ahead. They still do.

They didn't want to see thick smoke from their heat treat furnaces spilling into the plant and out their smokestacks. They didn't want to see powertrain components leaving the furnaces contaminated, but "good enough".

Harley-Davidson took a risk on us when few other companies would do so.

How’d we all do? Every heat treated component of Harley-Davidson motorcycles built in the last 8 years has gone through systems supported by our equipment. Without a single service call.

When I was working a trade show in Pittsburgh a couple weeks back, I had what seemed to be half of Harley-Davidson in my booth calling out to passersby to come in and buy our stuff. Amazing.

Sure, the biz stuff is great, but the productivity contributions we were able to deliver to our friends at Harley-Davidson make it sustainable. Fixing problems.

You can see the results every time you drive past their motorcycle plants in Milwaukee. Where there used to be thick smoke coming out the smokestacks, there are now clouds, birds, and not a trace of hydrocarbon. I'm so proud of that image I use it on my credentials page elsewhere on this site to help indicate who I think I am.

Taking those contaminants out of the mix at Harley-Davidson not only helped their air quality, but it also removed the contaminants clinging to their gears and powertrain components leaving the furnaces. Defects were cut. Scrap was cut. Remanufacturing was cut. Fluid waste streams were cut. Chemical costs were cut. Transportation costs were cut.

All this happened at that time when most everyone else in heavy industry accepted lower productivity and lower quality generated by these problems. These issues were typically just swept out the smokestacks and ignored.

Just as death can come from a thousand small cuts, success can come from a thousand small contributions. Increasing productivity from one messy back room problem gave Harley-Davidson a leg up that continues to strengthen their enterprise almost a decade later.

Of course, 8 years ago, they didn’t have to fix this problem. They wanted to. Please, let that guide you.

Smart enterprises don't run from problems. They attack them. Harley-Davidson is not afraid of China. In fact, they are going after Chinese markets with products made in the neighborhood. Good on you, friends.

Why is that possible? Because as, Mr. Goldstein points out in his Gear Technology piece, "The key to being successful at manufacturing in America is increasing your productivity."

Yes, direct employment jobs in manufacturing and many others industries are being eliminated as productivity increases. If this comes as a surprise to you, I can’t help, except to suggest you get productive at something pretty damn fast.

However, many of the “lost” jobs are reappearing, redeployed as independent, stand alone enterprises, popping up and making contributions all around you. Like my day job, for instance.

Productivity contributions are pouring into the world economy in ways never possible under the old corporate models. Emerging models (yours better be included!), passionately search for productivity contributions every day.

You are only going to help by fixing problems. You're not going to help by selling people stuff they don't need. The world doesn't work like that any more, at least in the biz-to-biz markets. Fix problems, contribute to productivity. Then do it better. Every day. Every year.

You don't need high science. You do need common sense. You do need long term, sustainable relationships with your enterprise partners.

The next time you walk through a trade show and see a crowd of Harley-Davidson folks inside a booth, pulling people in like industrial carnival barkers, come on over. I'll be the guy at the back of the booth peddling as fast as I can.

Thanks, Mr. Goldstein and Gear Technology Magazine for going against the grain again.

And thank you Harley-Davidson. It's great to have such wonderful neighbors.

Gear Technology Magazine
Current Harley-Davidson smokestacks image
New York Times source article. If You Can Make It Here by Louis Uchitelle, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005. Free from your Library or $3.95 from NYT.

John McPhee in the garage

I've used the work of the great writer John McPhee to illustrate a previous point about the shipping grid.

When John McPhee writes about something, you don't need any advance knowledge of that subject. You don't have to have any prior interest in it. But rest assured, you'll come away from his writing not just informed but graced, embraced and made better by Mr. McPhee's immense talent

I've just read an amazingly informative interview/conversation John McPhee had with The New Yorker Online.

McPhee is a Pulitzer prize winner, author of 29 books, with awards and accolades from a zillion directions. He also continues to teach writing at Princeton, well into his 70s.

I was amazed at the open source descriptions John uses to describe his most extraordinary day job. He blocks out his bricks and mortar dance with creativity. It's putting one foot in front of the other. Planning. Executing. Step by step. Day in and day out. Sort of boring from the outside looking in.

However, just imagine being John McPhee looking out. Ooooohhhhh.

This is a person making valuable contributions omnidirectionally. And apparently having a grand life, in a hard working sort of way. He’s changing the world for the better, one 3 X 5 card at a time, one step at a time, one contribution at a time.

Making your own gig doesn't have to involve making widgets. It involves making contributions.

You can do it with your own unique talents and skills. You don't need Pulitzer prizes and neither does Mr. McPhee. You need a day job that brings you a little more control, a little more security, and a lot more peace of mind.

As the Q&A ended, Mr. McPhee was talking about all the pitches he'd made to The New Yorker over the course of 10 years, trying to break in. He'd wanted to write for them since he was a teenager. First ignored, then rejected. He kept pitching. That turned into rejections with notes attached. That's when he started closing in. He offered deals, like working on spec.

When the New Yorker finally started weakening, John McPhee didn't get cautious. McPhee broke the rules. He pitched an idea they specifically told him they did not want. McPhee not only pitched it but buried them in pitch. A 5,000 word letter telling his lifelong target customer why they were wrong and why his never-published-in-their-magazine ideas should prevail.

It finishes like this...

"So the executive editor said they would like to read this article. He said, No guarantees, of course. I wrote the thing, sent it to him, and it changed my existence—I ceased to be a commuter, forever; I went to work in my own garage. And I’m still doing it."

Friend, you're looking into the work of a great peddler. My highest compliment. Not an atom of negative in the term. I'm a peddler.

Whatever your enterprise, whatever you endeavor, whatever your contribution, there will be tough, difficult times. Planning and executing minimizes that stuff, but nothing substitutes for persistence and risk taking with honor.

Are you planning to start your or grow your enterprise? Do one of those athlete training exercises and picture your success in advance. Then build a plan to get there. Then execute. One foot in front of the other.

You'll have your own images of course. Yours will be better for you than anything I can suggest. I wish you the best getting there. You can do it.

But just to get you started, give a thought to John McPhee in his garage.

The New Yorker Online interview with John McPhee

John McPhee’s home page

Boomers. Yeah you.

Boomers, gather round. Button up your cardigans. Put your ears on the radio. Ready?


If you've thought about starting your own gig, now is the time. Not later. Now. We need you and your skills out here. Get out there and fix something. I don't want to meet you for the first time on the obituary page. I want to first learn about you as you're out kicking ass in some creative and helpful way.

There has never been a moment in human history where innovation and design improvements have been needed more. There have never been this many tools available to execute great solutions.

Life is not a rehearsal. Put some wheels on it, friend.

The world needs your help. You've got the skills. You've got the understanding. Fix something. Fast! Faster!!

Start your own enterprise. Start a non-profit. Start a for-profit. Become a social entrepreneur. Become a risk taker and a change agent. Start it up on the side. Start it up with a friend. Start it up with partners in town or partners oceans away. There is no perfect way. There is no single ideal organization model. Put together something that works for you.

Is it easy? Of course not. But you're got all that boomer imagination sitting around mostly unemployed. You need to plan well, execute even better, then get out there and change the world.

C'mon. There is a lot of work to be done. Your ability to execute your own solutions and create your own brands has never, ever been better. You've got a ton of life skills to build from. Put them to work.

You want more security? Make your own. You want a more fulfilling life? Don't wait. Do it yourself.

Boomers! Get busy, damn it. Don't make me use more superlatives.

Fire up you impact on the world before your chance to change the world passes.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Leave a wake.

Inc. Magazine Oct. 2005

Inc. just ran an interesting cover story. 75 Reasons to Be Glad You're an American Entrepreneur Right Now, written by Michael S. Hopkins.

It's a good perspective for anyone considering an entrerprise life. Some points won't fit you of course, but like all biz writing, if you come away with one or two things that work for you, it's worth it.

My take away piece closes the story... (pieces separated for emphasis)

"Because, in the end, being an entrepreneur is more than ever the way you can choose your path and find the deep satisfaction of walking it.

You can earn your days without being beholden.

You can make something, affect the world, leave something behind where once nothing stood.

You can turn work into meaning for yourself and for others.

You can be proud.

You can leave a wake.

Come good or ill, you can assume responsibility for yourself, and be whole and be who you were meant to be."

Well said. You can do this friend. Don't wait. Fire it up.

Plan, organize, execute.

Leave a wake.

Inc. Magazine article by Michael S. Hopkins

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Intellectual property.
Do you know Nolo Press?

Intellectual property can be a very productive way to build value into your enterprise. Even the smallest of start ups and emerging enterprises can take advantage of trademarks and patents.

This has nothing to do with those idiotic rip-off advertisements for help getting a patent. Do NOT do that. Repeat. Do NOT do that. Rather, I'm talking about using your own time and effort to use publicly available resources to build and grow the assets of your enterprise while helping protect its future.

As your organization grows in complexity, you will need to lawyer up. However as a start up or an emerging enterprise, you can create your own intellectual property. I've done it, and I have trouble programming my cell phone.

What's my secret? Some inside track on invention and innovation? Nope. My secret is Nolo Press. I really wish Nolo wasn't so secret, so this post is my little pitch for what they do. Nolo publishes books about applying for trademarks and patents that are clear and easily accessible. The content is presented simply and in logical order. Many small but critical action steps, including timetables, are fully covered with brevity, accuracy and grace.

While writing our first patent using the Nolo book, everyone told me that I might have a shot at the patent language, but that I should never attempt to do the patent drawings myself. No matter what, most insisted, I needed to hire out the drawings to a professional.

Of course, I checked the Nolo book on patent drawings out of the library. It was so good I bought a copy. Then I did the drawings, based only on what was in the Nolo book.

I buttoned up the entire package and mailed it to the US Patent and Trademark Office, following the excellent directions provided by David Pressman, author of the Nolo book Patent It Yourself. I put the Nolo books on the shelf and went back to work. About 18 months later (the PTO is faster now) I got the news. All our claims had been accepted on the first application (not typical) and all of the drawings had been accepted with no changes required.

Since then, as the organization has grown, we've lawyered up this end of our biz. Our wonderful patent attorney Jaen guided us through some really interesting issues and helped us receive five more patents. The idea is to do what's appropriate at each stage of your project.

You don’t need patents. You probably do need trademarks. You absolutely need to be familiar with the subject. I believe it’s very important for start ups and emerging enterprises to have a working understanding of the legal rights and obligations attached to the work they create.

The point of this post is that, in the emerging stages of your enterprise, you can get a lot of intellectual property basics in place by yourself, inexpensively and accurately with Nolo's help.

I've never met anyone from Nolo, but they strike me as a damn helpful bunch. You owe it to yourself to look into their work.

Nolo Press. Patent, Copyright and Trademark: An Intellectual Property Desk Reference

Nolo Press. Patent It Yourself 11th Edition

Nolo Press. Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name

Nolo Press home page

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Edison in overalls

Anyone who tells you it's easy to start and run your own enterprise is lying. If they say anything about fast money, run.

The reality is not like that. Start ups are hard. Birthing a new organization takes harder work and longer hours than you'd imagine. Sustainable cash flow is slow to build. The ability to capture and bank the profit can be even tougher.

For you and I, that's good. For the people who won't make the effort, that's bad.

My purpose in writing and talking about start ups and emerging enterprises is to give up my little piece of the story. Starting and growing sustainable enterprises has never been easier, but the tools and the rules need careful attention.

I've found small, smart, fast organizations to be a wonderful way to keep a bit of my heart and soul intact while making a living.

Sustainable work doesn't mean easy work. It means smart work. It means staying ahead of as many opportunities and problems as you can.

Thomas Edison earned almost 1,100 patents. He said that to invent you needed a good imagination and a pile of junk. I am genetically coded to this school of thought (anyone remember Kohler’s in Lombard, IL back in the day?)

However, what I think Edison really brought to the table was his determination and work ethic. He just kept showing up. He just kept making the campground better. Most of his patents were not original work. They were generally improvements in pre-existing stuff. Thomas Edison just kept making everything around himself better, easier to manufacture and easier to use.

Where did that get him and us? Thomas Edison was the co founder of a little outfit called General Electric, now among the most powerful and - if the PR is accurate - emergingly progressive organizations the world has ever seen.

Edison looked everywhere for opportunity and he found it almost every place he looked.

When asked about this subject, Edison is quoted as saying, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work".

So it goes with your own sustainable work, friend. It's dressed in overalls. It's work, trouble and effort.

However, with planning and good execution, you can change how that work fits into your life and what it contributes to you personally.

A job is something you’ve got to do.

Your own sustainable work is something you get to do.

Run toward the opportunity, not away from it, and remember to wear your overalls.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Your analog blog

Headline in the October 05 issue of MIT's Technology Review: Robert Noyce dreamed up the microchip in a 1959 notebook entry.

You don't need me to tell you the microchip and Robert Noyce have changed humanity forever.

I just wanted to point out the notebook thing. Mission critical to your own process of development, friend. Note the notebook portion of that headline.

You need to learn to use notebooks if your enterprise is to flourish. There is no memory bank good enough for what you're going to face.

Much of what you include in your notebook won't ever be necessary again. Some of it will save your ass someday. Some might even lead to a microchip moment for you.

I think of my notebooks as analog blogs with me as the only reader. I can go back years (OK I admit it, decades) to see what I was working on at that moment. What questions I had, how I dealt with the problems involved, etc. No matter, I've got them.

Of course you should put Mr. Noyce's legacy to work and digitize the daylights out of your data, then back it up 16 ways to Sunday. There are 9 zillion new communications and storage devices emerging, a lot of which looks pretty helpful... Blackberry types, heavily tricked out cell phones and all the rest. That stuff will make its contribution where appropriate. But they also break. They can be expensive to maintain and repair, and their ability to operate is subject to forces outside your control.

It's hard to break a notebook. Your notebooks will serve as your free, always at your side, real time brain dump and hard copy backup. Put it all down. Capture the data, the ideas, the possibilities, the contacts, the phone numbers, the eMail addresses, and most importantly, the questions. All the stuff that may serve you later. Your notebooks give you and your own electrical synapses the chance to dance with, and connect the dots in ways microchips will never be inspired enough to accomplish.

That's your edge. You. And all the solutions, suggestions and whimsy you bring to the party. Capture the drive-by data that appears daily. Notebooks need not be anything fancy. The idea is to keep your efforts written down, noted and reviewable. Transfer some to digital as needed, but the rest can be easily stored, and forever available.

I have friends who are inventors, artists, entrepreneurs and enterprise stars. If you ask in a nice way, you'd find all the best ones keep a notebook nearby. Virtually all of them save them and keep them dear.

This is not a suggestion. I believe notebooks are a requirement. Learn to continuously post the daily details that need capturing. If you don't, those details will most likely not be there to serve you and the rest of us when needed.

This is not Luddite stuff. I want you in full control of your story on the internet yesterday. That's non negotiable.

However, do you need the hottest coolest biz widgets? Do you need the hippest stuff from out there at the bleeding edge? Not likely for most start ups and early stage enterprises.

I do know that the microchip changed the world. It has become a previously unimagined and powerful building block of human society.

I also know the microchip started it's life as a little analog post in a notebook.

Leslie Berlin's book The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley

MIT's Technology Review

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The thrill
of just beginning.

Below is a snippet from a letter sent by Robert Goddard to H.G. Wells. Goddard led an amazing life. He persevered through a lot of rough public handling to lead the world into space.

Goddard credits the ignition of his inspiration to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which he'd first read at age 16. He designed and launched the world's first liquid filled rocket in 1926. Got all of 41 feet and changed humanity.

A few years earlier, in 1919, he was an ascending young science star. A Ph.D, working on rocketry research partially backed by the Smithsonian.

He was an intuitive, brilliant, careful scientist, and he'd worked out the engineering and the physics of early rocketry. It was apparent to him that you could do a lot more with rocketry than all but a few folks like H.G. Wells had considered.

He got an OK to publish his scientific paper on the potential for space travel using rocketry. As the publication date approached he surely must have privately felt some anticipation and pride.

His bio as one of the Time 100 continues... "Goddard meant his moon musings to be innocent enough, but when the Times saw them, it pounced. As anyone knew, the paper explained with an editorial eye roll, space travel was impossible, since without atmosphere to push against, a rocket could not move so much as an inch. Professor Goddard, it was clear, lacked "the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."

Goddard seethed. It wasn't just that the editors got the science all wrong. It wasn't just that they didn't care for his work. It was that they had made him out a fool. Say what you will about a scientist's research, but take care when you defame the scientist. On that day, Goddard — who would ultimately be hailed as the father of modern rocketry — sank into a quarter-century sulk from which he never fully emerged. And from that sulk came some of the most incandescent achievements of his age."

Tough, wonderful stuff. Lots of lessons.

I was poking around the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian a while back and got stopped cold by a Goddard quote they'd posted. It was from a letter he'd written to H.G. Wells, dated April 20, 1932. I wrote it on a paper scrap that's been posted over my desk ever since.

"There can be no thought of finishing, for aiming at the stars, both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes there is always the thrill of just beginning".

I really love that... The thrill of just beginning.

Goddard didn't know where his work would go. Early on, it clearly didn't go the way he'd hoped, even though he was doing great work. He just persevered. He changed the world, one day at a time, a little bit, all the time.

So, for you, my friend. As you start or grow your enterprise, it will surely not be what you expect. I expect some of it will not be as fun as you think. This isn't a script.

Remember Goddard. Remember that after years of struggle and effort, the thing that he measured his life by was not the rough personal trials and not the global awards. It was the thrill of just beginning.

Don't wait. Your new enterprise is out there to start and grow. What's in it for you? Maybe nothing. Maybe something.

However, I guarantee this. Put it in the bank. Forever, you will always have the thrill of just beginning.

Time 100 article

Wikpedia link to Robert Goddard

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Friday, September 09, 2005

The forest, the trees,
you and the internet

When planning your startup or growing your enterprise, you've got to first decide who your customers are and what value you can bring to them. Where are those potential customers hiding? What are your best market opportunities?

When you look at the overall economy, it looks pretty daunting. In fact it looks downright chaotic. You can look at a million details so hard and so long that the forest disappears. You can be left with nothing but a pile of details and nothing to act on.

Good. That kind of confusion keeps out the under motivated.

Where the rest of us can draw motivational breath is in the numbers. The large numbers that produce the apparent chaos are also your opportunity, seen in the right light.

The September 2005 issue of MITs Technology Review includes a book review by Mark Williams of two new books about internet search theory and practice. The first is, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle. The other is The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine. My summary will be too short, but the basic idea behind the concept of long tails is that carefully searched and sorted, patterns can be pulled from the chaos. Your opportunity is in there, hiding behind the big stuff.

What does this mean for you friend? Here's how Mark Williams describes it in his review: "In the context of e-commerce, long tails have three implications. First, via the Internet, products with little demand can, collectively, create a market exceeding that of the few best sellers. Second, in the same way, that it enables a proliferation of markets, the Internet enables a proliferation of vendors. Finally, thanks to search, a shift from mass to niche markets is likely."

Or to quote directly from Chris Anderson's blog directly, "The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare."

Yes, yes, yes. You can create and grow your own enterprises despite the headlines, despite the apparent odds, and despite the naysayers. No generation in the history of the world has had this kind of access to knowledge, tools, markets and opportunities.

Tip your approach upside down. The forest is there. The trees are there. Your path through this opportunity awaits.

MITs Technology Review

Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog

John Battelle's blog

Friday, September 02, 2005

Our prayers for the Gulf coast

God bless everyone along the Gulf coast. The rest of us will stand with you. Whatever it takes. Forever.

Red Cross on line donation site

United Way on line donation site

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Building solutions

I really like guys that build race cars. I don't get to spend enough time with them.

What I like about them, in addition to all the damn laughter, is the biz model they often represent.

If you don't like cars and racing, close your eyes and picture yourself in this model doing something YOU enjoy. That's what I'm trying to get you to do anyway.

These folks start by living a life infused with their passion. They continue to want to get better at it. They do this by building their capacity to execute solutions they need. Soon they learn they can execute custom solutions quickly. One machine tool becomes several, then maybe a handful, then maybe a roomful, then who knows where this can lead.

With an emerging production capacity, they begin to use their knowledge and skills to build an outside market for their work. The best of them look for problems they can fix. They take in production work, paying for the machines, while running their own work as needed.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time hanging out in a great machine shop in Freeport, IL recently, Rogers Precision Machining. It's run by Jim and Larry Rogers. No BS, do-it-right guys. Couldn't be funnier or nicer. Their genetic roots are in racing, but they have developed a great regional business in production machining. They are among an honored subset of people I refer to as artists with machine tools.

What I think is most cool, and informative for everyone reading, is the next step Jim and Larry have taken, along Jim's brother Jon who runs his own forging operation nearby.

More machine tools? Cooler racing stuff?

Nope. Intellectual property. Patent applications. Good on you guys!

After emerging from their love of racing into a production maching enterprise, they saw, as happens in every enterprise and every industry and every market, the limits of mud wrestling with poor competitors on a job by job basis.

Don't get me wrong. They'll probably still do it when needed. I still do it, and you probably will too in your enterprise. However, mud wrestling with mopes, especially working on commodity type products, only gets you dirty and tired.

Rogers Machining looked at that route and decided to build their own solutions. They designed their own product. One that solved a key need in their own racing lives and those of their friends and customers. Suddenly, they controlled their jobs, at least these parts of it. They get to work with something they're passionate about. If they have problems, they are of their own making. They are not problems rooted up by mud wrestlers.

Jim, his brother Jon, and dad Larry Rogers have figured that out, as have many smart enterprises. Faced with a biz challenge, look to change the challenge to your advantage. Design your way out of it. You can do it. Almost nothing works the first time so don't get discouraged.

The Rogers' didn't. The result, a killer product for racers and a cool new market for their excellent machining shop.

Not just that, but the new product now has its own "Patent Pending" protection. Very cool. Very smart. Building your own intellectual property protection for your ideas is not hard. Don't know the route they took, but regular people do it themselves all the time. I'll post soon about do-it-yourself IP.

The Rogers would probably make some kind of humor out of their success, but it really needs to be respected. I think they represent a terrific model for where many of us can take our lives.

Starting your own enterprise or infusing your emerging enterprise with the right goals can help you build your job and build your life. It's time you got started.

Build on what you love. Build on all the opportunity everywhere around you. But always remember this my friend, your main job in this world of enterprise is to continuously build solutions.

Out-Pace Racing Products. Great job everyone! Jim, Larry, Jon and of course, mom Dorothy Rogers.