Tag Archives: big picture

Behind the Scenes, Entrepreneurship and Thought

Behind the Scenes: Sometimes the government does it right.  A couple of stories from the past several weeks have shown that our government does not necessarily have a tin ear when it comes to public opinion.  First the story about President Obama writing a note to excuse a student, who was attending a Presidential speech, from class.  Some of the people that I have talked to think that President Obama was being a smartass, but I believe that he took the time to talk one-on-one with a student in a very real and meaningful way.  Another story was the US Navy allowing a group of top bloggers, including Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki to spend 24 hours on the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier.  These bloggers were able to tell a story of the servicemen and servicewomen who work on our behalf and provide a very interesting group of reports including photos, podcasts and videos.

Entrepreneurship: Inc. Magazine wrote a nice piece on Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator.  When I grow up, I want to be like Paul.

Thought for the Day:

My life is not adrift.  There is no road map, but there is a horizon that I am moving towards. That horizon is broad, but it is informed by what I believe… The keel to your boat needs to be to your values, your principles, your beliefs and some sense of purpose, but that needs to be aimed at a horizon, not a point of latitude and longitude, because that point may turn out to be irrevelant.

– Randy Komisar

Behind the Scenes, Economics and Big Picture

Behind the Scenes: The cloud in cloud computing requires extensive data centers.  Most of us don’t think about the infrastructure of  how Google can get search results to your desktop in 0.15 seconds multiplied by millions of users every minute.

Economics: Alex discusses idiot taxes and the price of HDMI cables.  I have been surprised by the same phenomenon with regard to Apple iPod chargers and headphones.  Deals can be found online sometimes, but almost never in retail stores.  Why is that?

Big Picture: Innovation is a hot topic in business circles for a while now. Jeff Jarvis writes thoughtfully about how the innovations of the last few years have acted differently from innovations in prior years.  Previously, business innovations created increases in GDP, things like the Personal Computer and the ShamWow that consumers bought and companies derived income from.  Lately, some of the most important innovations, Craigslist and Google included, reduced corporate income (macro), but increased personal wealth (micro).  This is critical because reporting on our economic progress have been focused on macro trends for many years.  We need to develop alternative measures to accurately report on our progress.

The ones left behind

We are definitely living in difficult economic times.  According to the the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January 2009 through May 2009, we have lost a total of 3.4 million jobs; a staggering average of over 680,000 per month.  Why that is like the entire population of Memphis, Tennessee losing their jobs… for 6 months straight. And appropriately we focus on the people behind the job losses.  The personal stress, the family concerns, health insurance, retirements, downsizing, mortgages, college funding.  All important concepts.

I am not an economic prognosticator, but I don’t believe that we have seen the end of job losses.  Heck, GM, Chrysler and the Boston Globe haven’t figured out if they are going to be in business a month from now.

But one area that we really haven’t focused a lot of attention on are those people who are still working.  Now what our large corporations have done is cut jobs – that is clear from the BLS statistics.  My guess is that they did what they always do and cut way deep.  Now, I learned the lesson from a mentor back in my corporate days, that you want to cut deep and cut once to keep morale of the remaining staff as positive as possible.  You don’t want your staff to be continually wondering when the other shoe is going to drop and the next round of layoffs is announced. I am not sure that our current corporate leaders learned from the great John McCarron.

Generally speaking, the team that has remained is stressed because they don’t know if their job is next.  They feel resentful because they now have to do their work plus that of workers that have left.  They feel ashamed to be feeling resentful because they have a job and a paycheck and health insurance.  All of this mental stress is not helping our corporations get what they need, which is to start selling, delivering, servicing, writing, producing again.

I have stated it before – someone in Big Corporate America needs to stand up and say that we won’t lay anyone off this year.  In fact, we are going to start a limited hiring campaign to ensure that we can still deliver the best products to the marketplace.  Now is the time for some American Executive to make his mark.  Will it be someone you know?

Entrepreneurs as superheroes

Entrepreneurs in our world are venerated for their risk-taking and innovation skills.  It is always a great story to tell when an entrepreneur is successful.  But we must be careful to ensure that we recognize and applaud the skills that got the entrepreneur to the success and understand that most entrepreneurs cannot do it on their own.

Let’s take a few examples.  Steve Jobs is rightly considered an entrepreneur.  When he and Steve Wozniak developed the Apple I computer, they came up with a radical new approach to delivering personal computers.  Steve Wozniak developed the hardware and software and Steve Jobs sold the vision.  Over time, Steve Jobs became the design guru and leads Apple in the development of unique products.  But this grand picture wouldn’t have happened without a man named Mike Markkula. Mike was the initial angel investor in Apple and served as the first president.  It was his leadership that gave both Steves the ability to do their best and allowed Apple to grow.

Another famous entrepreneur is Oprah Winfrey.  She is famous for her TV show, movies, magazine, XM Radio channel, Oprah.com and her tremendous philanthropy work.  She is the master of her domain, keeping on top of all of the vehicles that bear her name.  But if it wasn’t for Jeff Jacobs, an entertainment lawyer, CEO and 10% owner of  Harpo, Inc. (Oprah’s master organization) who runs the businesses, she would not be able to “be Oprah”.

Bill Gates is another entrepreneur who was fantastic at some details, but didn’t have a particularly strong business background.  Bill was able to understand the state of technology and envision a world where every desk would have a computer running Microsoft products on them.  True innovation, absolutely.  But it required Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s  first business manager to bring the company to the heights to which it ultimately reached.

Too many entrepreneurs have watched Oprah Winfrey (or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates) and thought that they needed to do everything themselves.  Some people chicken out because they know they don’t have all the skills and discount the ones they do have.  Others continue through this phase expecting somehow to become Superman (or Superwoman) and manage all aspects of running a business by themselves.  Neither of these solutions is optimum.

Entrepreneurs need to be open to get a helping hand in developing their business.  Sometimes they can get free advice to help them along.  But more often, they need to understand that they will need to pay to get the highest level of support.  Sometimes it is cash and other times equity. In all cases, it is better to have 50% of a million dollar idea than 100% of a failure.

The real test of the entrepreneur is how much they are willing to sacrifice to see their idea become a success.  Find those folks who have skills where you are lacking.  Sell them on your vision and get them to help you deliver.  You will be the richer for it.

Economics, Big Picture and Fun

Economics: Wonder how the local governments are going to handle the reduction in tax income?  Some places have it figured out…  If you haven’t gotten the ticket yet, it seems you will.

Big Picture: I am reading a very interesting book, The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life, by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot.  The idea is that we need to have some sense of numbers before we can make rational decisions.  The book is broken up into chapters like Count, Size and Average. In each, the authors try to show how a little thinking can help us understand what we read and how people can use numbers to confuse.  On a related point, the Freakonomics blog today talks about why it may be better for us to move to an SUV rather than a Prius.  How could this be?  Well, it has to do with our understanding (or lack thereof) of the most common statistic related to fuel economy, miles per gallon.

Fun: There is this group called Improv Everywhere.  They stage fun, surprising scenes.  For the past 8 years, they have staged the No Pants Subway Ride, where their teams (in 22 cities this year, with over 1200 participants in New York alone) get on the subway wearing only their undies.  No harm, no fuss, just bringing fun to the world.  Their latest escapade was to provide a wedding reception to a couple who had just been married by a judge in New York City. What a great gift. The world needs more Improv.

Baseball and Business

As you know, I love baseball.  Baseball is a sport that is managed by the numbers.  The cool thing is that the numbers are available to everyone.  For example, if you tried, you could find out that in a game on April 30, 1977, Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox batted 3 for 4 with a double and a stolen base (he stole home!), scored 3 runs and the Red Sox (Luis Tiant) beat the Oakland A’s (Mike Norris) 8-4 in an afternoon game on a 72 degree day.

Some baseball players, like Alfonso Soriano go for the fences every time they go to the plate.  Sometimes they are successful, other times, not so much, but overall they are recognized for the ability to go long ball. Not the first guy you would pick to move a guy from first to second in a close game. Good to have on the team for power, an expert in a certain discipline.

Other players, like Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez go outside the rules of the game to get the extra oomph to make their careers. Their numbers are great, but they will always have that thorny asterisk besides their name signifying that their accomplishments might not be on a level playing field. Think of the bankers who changed the rules of the game to make more money.

Then there are the less remembered players, like the shortstop for the Red Sox in that game, Rick Burleson.  Rick played 13 years in the majors, hit .273, fielded .972, got into a couple of All Star games, was honored with a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award.  The unusual fact about Rick was that he once hit an inside the park home run. He was methodical and steady. Not a Hall of Fame candidate, but a good solid player that you would want on your team.

We know these facts because they are measured.  The great advantage is that everyone has access to the numbers.  When the managers of the teams build a plan for a game, they use these statistics to choose strategies to win. Does it always work?  No, of course not.  That is the fun of the game.   But it can tip the balance in your favor.

What if your whole business life, every decision, every program, every customer interaction was available to everyone for viewing?  How would that change the way that you operate?

Big Picture, Behavior and Behind the Scenes

Big Picture: There is no more pressing issue in our financial lives than Health Care.  If we continue on the current path, we will be spending more than 40% of our GDP on health care issues with no better outcomes than the average country. An indepth article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande talks about the medical services provided in a high cost county and a low cost county.  The differences may surprise you.

Behavior: Micah muses about the greatest time of your life.  It is interesting to think that you might live your life one way if you think that you have already had your greatest time of your life and another entirely if you are waiting for it.

Behind the Scenes: Here is a story of the New York Times Economics reporter who is on track for foreclosure on his house and the story of how he got there.  An eye-opening view of the loan practices (and unwise spending habits) of our times.

Big Picture, Innovation and Ideas

Big Picture: It is always interesting to me to see how founders think about their companies. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, writes this annual report. And while we are on the subject of Google, Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com, wrote a scathing indictment of Google and their role in the demise of the publishing business.  A much more fun read is the response by Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand in a point-counterpoint post.

Innovation: Scott Adams of Dilbert fame talks about information flow using a time based methodology.  He envisions a world where our calendars will become much more intelligent, personal and useful.  I like this vision of the future.

Ideas: If you have never seen Seth Godin speak, you now have the opportunity to view this talk on Tribes from the 2009 TED Conference. And for a little historical Seth, here is his riff on Purple Cows from 2003.

Big Picture x2, Entrepreneurship and Chicago

Big Picture: As I get older, I find that the “rules” that I once were taught are not hard and fast anymore. In fact, some of the ideas about demographics have changed significantly even since the beginning of this century. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has an engaging study of world demographics that puts some of those old rules to the test.

Big Picture: Sometimes it is hard to comprehend the meanings of million, billion and trillion.  Terence Tao has taken the US Federal Budget and rescaled it to the approximate scale of the average family in the US.  This helps to understand how much money is being spent on which items.

Entrepreneurship: Jim Stoynoff has written a good blog post on the ways that small businesses can work better with bankers.  A lot of it is common sense, but communication ranks high on this list.

Chicago: Woo Hoo! Fast Company has named Chicago its U.S. City of the Year.

Big Picture, New Inventions and Behavior

Big Picture: Malcolm Gladwell writes in The New Yorker about how David can beat Goliath. In many cases, it is thinking outside the box and not falling to conventional wisdom.

New Inventions: From the pages of Harry Potter, along comes an invention that we can all see merit in (or not) – the cloak of invisibility.

Behavior: Have you ever wanted to understand how a con-man was able to work his magic?  Read a lesson in How to Cheat from The Economist.