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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Back to the Frontier and Expansive Growth?

When I think of the frontier, I picture Westward-Ho wagon trains with settlers and supplies, or prospectors in the gold fields of California. However, the domestic frontier has been 'closed' for about a century.

The frontier offered an environment of unlimited opportunity, participants with a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, and plenty of raw materials or other assets for the taking. For those willing to take the risk the reward could be outstanding – exploiting the frontier led to robust markets between traders and merchants back in the civilized East. The frontier resulted in the dramatic expansion of the USA footprint and an explosive growth in commerce rich with a wide variety of goods

Is a new frontier era possible? Consider this:

David Miller, at the recent Democratization of Innovation program, listed the three elements of frontierism (citing Frederick Jackson Turner's book) as:
  • Abundance of assets – e.g., pelts, farmland, gold, wood, minerals
  • Diversity of people – people from all over Europe, Russia, and elsewhere
  • Lack of control – west of the Alleghenies, no one could tell you what to do.

Miller's contention is that the frontier has returned - the university is the modern-day frontier and hotbed of innovation. Here's why:

There is an abundance of assets available at universities in the form of materials, equipment, and a knowledge pool of the top minds in the technical and scientific fields.

There is a diversity of people with students and professors from a wide variety of countries, viewpoints, and cultures.

There is a great deal of freedom within the university environment - freedom of inquiry and laxity oversight.

What has contributed to this environment?

  • Communications and computing power has evolved to be more powerful and less costly, to accommodate changing needs
  • Global resources combined with the hacker's mentality of trust and collaboration for talent and materials
  • Project or work groups of 1-2-3 individuals is the source of innovation – an 'I don't accept that this can't be done' attitude – working without the larger organization constraints of assignment and reporting.

Google, which grew from the ideas by a couple of students at Stanford and Facebook, the brainchild of a several Harvard students, are successful examples of what can come from this frontier setting. In addition, a growing portion of universities are encouraging entrepreneurship through courses, incubators, and start-up competitions. Innovation is aided by a favorable environment, but come from the individual, as in the examples above.

Miller raised the question – with this activity in the university environment of rich assets, diversity of participants, and unbounded exploratory freedom – does this predict a new expansive period of innovation and economic growth?

Looking beyond the university setting, we see a Makers Economy evolving. This is also powered by inexpensive communications, global resources and markets, availability of powerful computing equipment and tools, and an additional element: hacker mentality.

The hacker mentality is a combination of the challenge of doing something new or improving something now existing, collaboration with others, sharing what's been learned, and trusting others not to hijack their work. Hackers use social media, blogs, and hackerspace message boards to research reputations and reliability to determine who is trustworthy. The final element of the hacker mentality is – nothing is impossible, it is limited only by the span of interest – keep pushing on while interest is glowing (set it aside when it wanes).

Cory Doctorow wrote Makers, a futuristic novel describing a similar environment, absent the university element, where individuals would come together to create a solution for an issue by repurposing parts and components readily available. A non-traditional market developed with sales directly to the end user, often from a table in an outdoor bazaar, or by word of mouth. While the story may have been fiction as written, this is a comprehensive blueprint for the growing DIY (do-it-yourself) movement and the Makers Economy.

Today individuals and small clusters of individuals are collaborating to develop innovative solutions for existing issues or improving functionality for open source software, or creating entirely new uses. Projects are imagined not assigned, and the market is primarily the Direct Economy with sales directly to the end user via the internet and other direct sources.

Apps for the iPhone and Android phone are examples of the Makers Economy, as is the Android operating system which is open source with a multitude of independent coders constantly improving and expanding its functionality.

This is a good example of a new frontier opening up – Angry Birds was not a project assignment by Apple, it was an idea by a developer for a new game and it went viral when released. Philippe Kahn was the innovator behind making a camera for the mobile phone – which changed how people record and share experiences and activities. Would either have made it through a traditional new product approval process?

The Makers Economy, like the old frontier, is rapidly opening new channels of commerce (e.g., 0.9B on Facebook and 7B smartphones, tablets, and other addressable devices), becoming a greater contributor to the economy and its place continues to evolve.

Thanks to the new frontierism, we may be watching an evolutionary growth engine getting under way.

What are the implications to traditional markets and the existing regulatory structure?

June 12 is the next Capital Technology Management Hub featuring Sales Lab's Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity - 300 seconds of pure profit. The featured speaker will be Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC, presenting User Experience: What it Means & Why a Technology Manager Should Care!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rainmakers 14 - The Myths of Full Capacity

Full Capacity is an estimate of possible revenue and a gauge for sales planning, by projecting output of resources, availability of materials, and logistical elements. Assumes optimal output with no disruptions or changes.

You can capitalize on an opportunity by busting the myths and leveraging their operations.

full capacity is the maximum output of the organization. No –more resources may increase production volume.

Myth: sampling throughput can project capacity. No – not each person works at their best pace for all hours on the job.

Myth: all resources are being used fully throughout the organization. No - starting up and winding down require different intensity and pace.

Myth: productivity is constant. No – productivity is increased by repetition.

How could you leverage ability and experience to help an organization at ‘full capacity’?

Definition: A Rainmaker creates a significant amount of new business for a company. The Sales Lab Rainmaker Series is one rainmaker technique for technologists during the first 300 seconds (five minutes) of the monthly Capital Technology Management Hub Meeting.

Here's the growing collection:

Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity
Rainmaker 13 - Making the Most of Opportunity?
Rainmaker 12 - The Future is NOW - Makers
Rainmaker 11 - What Have I Done For You Lately?
Rainmaker 10 - Tune Your Work for the Internet
Rainmaker 7 - Mark Your Territory
Rainmaker 6 - Networking IS Business
Rainmaker 5 - Start With an Offer
Rainmaker 2 - The Name Tag
Rainmaker 1 - Gifts
And The First Rainmakers (11/3/10)
Go to:

June 12 is the next Capital Technology Management Hub featuring Sales Lab's Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity - 300 seconds of pure profit. The main speaker will be Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC, presenting User Experience: What it Means & Why a Technology Manager Should Care!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lathe Or Dedicated Machine?

I was a master carpenter at a factory that made blasting caps. Part of my job was rigging, safely moving large, heavy things.

We had many single use tools in our factory - jigs, templates, reams, crimpers, burnishing tools, but the toolmakers, the top of our heap, had lathes, great big steel beds that would transform metal pieces into anything we needed.

An assembly worker could learn to use a single use dedicated tool in minutes. That’s why they were designed that way. But making the tools, from tiny wire punches to 10 foot wide rotating drums for mixing explosives, that was all done on lathes.

I ran the crew that relocated the toolmakers shop. We unbolted and moved a dozen multi-ton lathes. Then we had to install them in the new shop, dead level from all directions. The toolmakers were “helping” us, so I had to learn a lot about work.

A lathe operator is similar to a steamboat pilot. He has a different way of looking at the world, full of shifting sandbars, a different way of solving problems. His skill was imaging how to use a single mechanical turning motion to create whatever was needed.

I feel the same way when I watch a master programmer create a solution within the limits of a coding language, making something other experts said wasn’t possible.

I’m feeling the same way about computers. I do a lot of work on client site, so I favor a smaller laptop. I had one vice president order me a huge laptop, so I could “work on spreadsheets.” When I build spreadsheets, I give extra points for a single page with a portrait orientation. Easier for buyers to read. Easier to see if there is a big error hidden inside.

Recently, I got to watch an Android smartphone artist. Of course he didn’t need a watch, a pen, or a notebook. But he was also plugged into the internet as well as I can be. He was monitoring people communicating with him, answering questions, getting alerts, posting, seeing who he knew in the surrounding buildings, much more than I can do, when I take time out to withdraw to a quiet space with my laptop.

He reminded me of a toolmaker. Rethinking his assignments so he could complete them on a computer that he keeps in a pants pocket.

Me? I’ve got a “send and end” phone. It’s venerable. Works great! Maybe it’s time to change... 

June 12 is the next Capital Technology Management Hub featuring Sales Lab's Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity - 300 seconds of pure profit. The featured speaker will be Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC, presenting User Experience: What it Means & Why a Technology Manager Should Care!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Government As A Platform

Government is a lot like the weather. Everybody complains about it, nobody does anything about it.

I was once told, “The problem with government workers is they don’t have any customers.” That would create behavior. No customers means no meaningful feedback, no praise for doing right. That’s an ugly career.

Something has to change. Our current system is too expensive in money, exertion, citizen effort, and value created.

Tim O’Reilly has a three minute video on the next generation of government where he says we should consider government as a platform.

What’s A Platform?
When was the last time you got a message from Amazon that said go to the back of the line and spend two hours coming back to the counter, as the form we just gave you is out of date?

I’m a library addict. I know the staff, and we’ve been through some entertaining years adopting technology.

I now order more than half of my books from the library over the Internet. They send an email when the book is available. They send daily emails when a book is about to be overdue.

Yesterday was the first time they scanned, but didn’t stamp, card, or write a return date on the book. The Librarian said, “We’ll send you an email before they are due.”

A completed system, easier for the librarians, much easier for the customers. More books checked out per hour, better control of the assets, maybe even time to guide readers. Not a clerk, a librarian!

And that’s government as a platform.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Third Industrial Revolution Is Beginning

Edmund Pendleton, the Assistant Director of the Mtech VentureAccelerator at the University of Maryland, was a panelist at The Democratization of Innovation meeting.

He observed we are entering the third industrial revolution. The shift from local shops to locating multiple crafts and trades in a factory setting was the hallmark of the first industrial revolution. The second revolution was the creation of mass production of products. The emerging third industrial revolution is digital building.

Instead of working by hand, or through robotic assembly, digital building combines digital files and duplication equipment – 3D copiers – to create the product. This is an additive manufacturing process – start with nothing and end with a finished product without human or robotic assembly.

This star was created from code sent to a MakerBot Replicator – it is made of white plastic. This technique is being used to fabricate 32 panels for the new Boeing 787 aircraft – and these panels can not be made using traditional assembly  methods.

Before this technology was available, products were made primarily by custom assembly or subtractive manufacturing – taking away from the raw material to yield the finished part or product.

Beyond the technical novelty, this approach fits perfectly in the Maker Economy of 1-2-3 member organizations who collaborate with others and seek the most efficient materials and production for their goods.

The digital file – coded in one location – shipped by email to a manufacturing location anywhere there is capacity and price efficiencies – the user buy on-line – a shipper delivers it to the user directly or via a local retail outlet.

Sounds futuristic – but Amazon and Barnes and Noble are doing something similar today for books. How far away are we for receiving a replacement part for the dishwasher, ordered by the on-board computer chip in the dishwasher itself - with no human involvement until the replacement part is taken from the delivery truck?

What are your thoughts about a third industrial revolution?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Expert, Two Experts, Three...

With one expert you get your messiah. They named a street after that guy, One Way.

With two experts you get a discussion, also called an argument.

With three or more experts you get the beginnings of transparency.

With Mr. Google and his Internet, we have more knowledge than we need.

Education used to be about getting enough knowledge. Now education is about determining the useful knowledge out of all the knowledge available.

My role with my advisers is making sure they recommend what I really want, which takes more effort than I expect. I generally have good advisers. I am trying harder now to make sure they understand the things I understand about my problem before they create a solution.

How are you using your experts?

Friday, May 11, 2012

What's the Customer Think?

This past weekend I went to Product Camp DC – a 'un-conference' for product managers and others interested in the business to consumer segment; individuals interested in leading a session offer 120-second pitch and meeting participants vote on which topics are included in the program.

Take-aways for me from this meeting was the emerging trend of seeking customer input in a meaningful way.

PeterCorbett spoke about his experience launching Grandstand at SxSW (South by SouthWest Tech Event) in the new product competition. Grandstand is a stadium–venue advertizing-customer preference-social media concept to increase awareness of products combined with game theory for instant prizes for participants expressing their preference. Here's an example: Grandstand at a baseball game with several product ads; after the tally the beer brand won; participants received a code for a free bottle of that beer at any restaurant or bar within 3 blocks of the stadium for several hours after the game. The customer voting is useful information for the product sponsors, in addition to the visual exposure.

Shardul Mehta led a session about kicking off a new product project with a meeting of all the stakeholders with a goal of everyone having the same understanding of the product and start working relationships with others on the team. TO get alignment a representative from each is designated as a Judge, who provide feedback to the overall team about goals and approach. The Judges participate in each iteration of the planning, serving the same vetting role.

Steve Johnson spoke about using win-loss analysis to help deliver a successful product. The take-away from the session was 10 discussions are better then 1,000 survey forms to get useful and valid information from customers. Reverting to talking directly with customers instead of relying on surveying adds greater depth to the data collection.

The trend to include the customer in the development process can help greatly in avoiding the 'Edsel Syndrome' of a great product with no market. In addition, customer input can further guide the product team on features to include or exclude in the final product.

In my experience, the customer knows what they want and need when they are ready to buy. Why don't we actively included them in the development of new and revised products? The downside may be revisions which create a blockbuster product or service.

What's your thoughts about getting customer input?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Live Slow And Prosper

I just got back from a week of analyzing the ocean and innovating my golf game. I had no option for internet connectivity.

Took most of Monday to get through the 600 email messages that weren’t obviously non-actionable.

What I noticed was that most projects had continued to develop without my input. Requests for information early in the week turned out to be bogus or unnecessary later in the week. There was nothing that required action.

A second observation was that by getting away and then coming back fresh, I saw a number of better solutions that I hadn’t considered before leaving.

I started considering my 24 by 7 rapid response style of working. Jack told me about Napoleon’s practice “to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself and no longer required an answer.”

I still think responsiveness to clients and prospects is a huge asset.

So what is the solution?

During one remarkable stretch, I made the four largest sales in a forty year old multinational’s history. I was all over my customers.

The transactions generated a multitude of requests from internal staff functions for altering the standard agreement with the customers. These requests didn’t fulfill the three conditions that define value, so I ignored them. I guess they were handled within their departments.

So perhaps, the answer is (again) sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. The trick is developing the skill of knowing when to do each.

Live Slow And Prosper is a registered lifemark of noted Terrapin Bill “Slow” Van Dyke.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Drift and Clobber Management / Leadership

Inattentive or laissez faire oversight, followed by sudden, harsh enforcement of rules, followed by inattentive or laissez faire oversight.

Sound familiar?

Is the drift and clobber style ever effective?

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Myths of Full Capacity

The concept of full capacity is a tool to estimate revenue for budgeting and a gauge for sales planning. Using sampling, full capacity projects output based on maximum use of existing resources with optimal availability of materials and logistical elements. Think of it as the optimistic average of what existed in the near past projected for the entire forecast period. Assumes optimal output with no disruptions or changes.

A simple illustration: sampling of production volume is 10 widgets per hour; the organization runs two shifts weekdays; 20 workdays per month – full capacity per month is 3,200 widgets (10 units x 16 daily hours x 20 workdays). If actual output is 2,500 widgets, they are at 78% of full capacity and up to 700 more widgets could be made and sold - theoretically. This can be a handy tool when viewed as 'here's what we can do in addition' – it is not so handy if viewed ' we cannot do more than this'.

Business has changed and continues to evolve (government is making similar inroads) – automation eliminates roles needing a live person, flexible staffing reduces fixed overhead, products and services are made new & improved by removing features and chopping the price.

The point is that the past is becoming less and less relevant as a tool for the future, but we hold on to several myths when looking forward.

Myth: presupposing full capacity is the maximum output of the organization.

An organization can adjust to meet higher production volume, when needed – add a 3rd shift, for example.

Myth: sampling throughput gives a good estimate for projections of capacity.

Assuming each person works at their best pace for all hours on the job is unachievable in practice. Parkinson noted that work expands to the time available – and even NASCAR racers have pit stops.

Myth: all resources are being used fully throughout the organization.

It is unusual for all teams to be fully engaged at the same time. Starting up and winding down require different intensity and pace, than does the core activities of a project. Some functional roles are active at different time – like sales before the project and shipping at the end of it.

Myth: productivity is constant.

Experience boosts productivity – first time a person creates a website there's a learning curve to master; the second time it takes only about 60% of the original time.

Myth: history describes the future with gradual changes.

We are in a time of discontinuous growth – the era of 30-years and a gold watch is it's start-up + 4-years and sell. The New Normal is driven by agility, collaboration, and continual skill/knowledge development.

Sitting in the Big Chair, I can bring in collaborators to do what the staff can't because of lack of time or experience, when needed, or match up experienced with inexperienced Doers to develop future capacity.

In an environment where customers are reluctant to buy, or projects are awarded but not funded, full capacity is not as important as sufficient capacity and extensive external resources.

Business as usual is now unusual, and there's a premium on flexibility, innovation, and applying new equipment and devices to enhance the technology (how work gets done) within the organization.

The choice is stuck on full capacity, or adapt to the evolutionary changes afoot. How would you like to proceed?