Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Don't worry friend

We were starting up a new recycler last week for my day job.

It was at a family run business where I really liked the owners and I really wanted our recycler to hit a home run for them.

They had rented a demo recycler for a few weeks prior but I hadn't seen it run except for an intro visit of an hour or so right after installation.

The people at the heart of this company are very widely known and respected in metalworking circles regionally. They're earning work back from China, for goodness sake. Smart, friendly and ultimately, great people. I really wanted our system to work right out of the box.

We ran short on fluids to start up the recycler so a bunch of us - OK, I went along - thought it would be a great idea to get those old barrels of spent metalworking coolant, saved up since who knows when. What came out was coolant the color of Hershey's chocolate. The only visible color was the color of oil. Mind you, the original coolant is day glow pink.

I watched this happen through the lens of my camera. I was trying to take some PR pix and was standing on a ladder shooting down. Instantly the perfect photo op turned into tragedy. The whole recycler seemed to go into spasm, and oil erupted everywhere.

I needed this to work for these people and it was going to hell. I walked out the truck doors to gather up, when I saw the owner walking toward me. He looked pretty concerned and I was feeling worse.

When he got close, he stopped and smiled. He put his arm on my shoulder and said, "Don't worry, friend. We do this to your equipment all the time." A group of workers nearby all agreed, smiling, hoping to console me. One of these guys chimed in "You should see what we do to your equipment when you're not here!"

A day later all the oil had been captured and they were moving bright pink coolant back into production. From a waste problem, back into production.

The real lesson is to deliver solutions that kill the problem, not just mitigate it.

Then, whenever the crunch hits, just remember, "don't worry friend".

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Why I like start ups and new products

I've been thinking about why I'm so drawn to start ups and new products.

I've decided it's probably the same reasoning that attracts me to bridges. I'm afraid of heights.

Starting up new companies and starting up new products is a very uncertain business. You typically don't have much of anything for reference. Everything around you is new. Something from nothing stuff.

But there is a reason to be drawn toward uncertainty.

That's where the problems live. That's where the chasms are.

If you can learn to live with some level of uncertainty, you can find your contribution. Uncertainty teaches you to create new ways to get over old problems.

Yeah it's a little scary, but that's also why humans invented bridges.

Go scare yourself a little

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cool award news

My partner Dave wears a welding mask most of the day and is never without pliers in his back pocket. He usually comes up only to smoke or talk shop rat with you.

Dave also has more patents than anyone who's ever lived in his city, Streator, Illinois.

Working with Dave to reduce really ugly problems into really simple, elegant solutions is an industrial experience filled with art.

On June 1, '05 we got word that one of our new products, based on our middle two patents has just been awarded the National Small Business New Product of the Year for 2005 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. PEs represent the highest professional certification engineers can receive in the US. This is what they said in their award..."Winning products were chosen for their exceptional engineering research, design, and overall impact on our national economy."

As we say up here in Wisconsin, Holy cow! Many, many thanks to NSPE for the recognition! Award ceremony is in Chicago early July.

It's a great gig. You can do it, too. Continuous innovation and great new products as your day job. I really, really love this stuff. Every step implies another. Every solution shows the way to a better one.

Banner Graphics was also a 25 year progression of cool new products based around reshuffling the deck of core competencies and adding new innovations when the need appeared. It's possible in every type of enterprise out there, from the smallest to the largest. Honest.

Thanks, National Society of Professional Engineers!

When Dave comes up from under his welding cap we'll tell him about the award.