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