Monday, May 20, 2019

From Hollywood to Silicon Valley, Nobody Knows Anything

When screenwriter William Goldman, whose successes included Butch Cassidy and All the President’s Men, surveyed nearly a century of film history, legions of talented executives and movie stars, and reams of audience research data, he concluded that “Nobody knows anything.  Producing a new movie, Goldman said, involved as much luck today as it had in 1910, and anyone who believed he could pick the next hit was delusional.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

By my second year of business school at Harvard, I was broke and decided to take a job with the Admissions Department.  My role was to meet with potential MBA candidates for an “informational interview” to help them understand the business school experience.

I was not supposed to give advice, except around process and due dates, which made me uniquely unable to answer the one question every potential candidate wanted to know: How do I get in?

The fact is, I didn’t have a clue.  I had stats about the age, education, and work experience of the incoming class.  Otherwise, I knew that I had been accepted through some administrative bungle, so couldn’t be counted on much to guide a stranger.

Every so often I would be asked to interview a student in high school, always accompanied by his parents.  Inevitably, the father wanted to know: What should his child be doing now to improve his chances of getting into HBS?

Really?  I knew not to roll my eyes, and I also knew to ask the student what he liked to do.  Inevitably, whatever he said—baseball, playing in a rock band, computers—would be exactly the right thing to do to get into Harvard.  It was my sole revenge on a father who would probably be drilling his high school sophomore over dinner that evening about the role of tariffs in the nineteenth-century global economy.

The smidgen of info that I did know was that HBS could build three complete, equally competitive and promising classes of 800 students from the applications it received each year.  In other words, even the blessed had a two-in-three chance of failing.

In other words, nobody knows anything.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Do Entrepreneurs Lie?


A Whitney lock, 1822
Scene 1: It’s 1798 and Eli Whitney is in big trouble.  His cotton gin business has ground to a halt as he fails repeatedly in court to stop copycat gins from spreading across the South.  His New Haven factory has been idled, his experienced workers threatening to leave.  He is deep in debt. 

But Whitney sees a chance.

The federal government, frantic that Napoleon might declare war on the US, is taking bids from private contractors to build muskets.  Skilled craftsmen up and down the Eastern seaboard are offering to produce 50, 100, and as many as 200 muskets for the government.

Whitney has never built a firearm, but no matter: he offers to deliver 10,000 muskets, one of the most difficult manufacturing processes in the world—stock and barrel being hard, but the lock being especially complex.  Not only that, but he says he’ll take a giant, disruptive leap forward, foregoing individually crafted firearms and relying instead on machined, interchangeable parts. 

If two muskets break in the field, identical parts can be swapped to make a single working musket.The Secretary of the Treasury is skeptical but agrees, committing Whitney to deliver 4,000 muskets the following September and 6,000 the next year.  He also provides Whitney $5,000, the first advance ever given an individual by the government.[1]  

After that, nothing goes right for the entrepreneur.  New Haven is hit with 12 snowstorms. Construction of Whitney’s factory and tooling falls behind.  Yellow fever in Philadelphia delays critical raw materials.  By the time the 4,000 muskets are due, Whitney has delivered 500 and is broke again.

In crisis, Whitney heads to Washington to save his business.  The setting is the War Department, located in the White House.  President-elect Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams attend, among others.

Whitney lays parts for a number of locks on the table before his distinguished audience.  Then he tells them to mix and match the lock parts in any combination to assemble complete, functioning locks.  The gathering is astounded.  Jefferson later writes that Whitney “has invented moulds and machines for making all the pieces of his locks so exactly equal, that take 100 locks to piece and mingle their parts and the hundred locks may be put together as well by taking the first pieces which come to hand. . . .”[2] 
Whitney departs Washington with another advance, this time for $10,000, and an extension of five years on his delivery dates.  Not only will he one day be known as the Father of the Cotton Gin, but he has now become the Father of Interchangeable Parts. He is triumphant.
Until December 1959.
That’s when MIT historian Robert S. Woodbury concludes in a research paper that Whitney is a fraud. His demonstration of interchangeable parts before Jefferson and Adams was a sham.  “A test of a number of known Whitney arms in at least one collection proved that they were not interchangeable in all their parts,” Woodbury writes.  “Some were not even approximately interchangeable.”  
Whitney eventually fulfilled his musket deliveries to the federal government.  He went on to build high-quality muskets for state militias, becoming wealthy in the process.  It's unlikely, though, that he ever delivered true interchangeability.  
So, did Whitney lie to Adams, Jefferson, and his country?  And, if so, was it ok?
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Scene 2: Steve Jobs insisted that product demos be done live, a risky practice but one that was sure to excite audiences.  His single most famous product demo was done at the Macworld trade show in San Francisco on January 9, 2007, when he presented the Apple iPhone, a product so revolutionary it was dubbed “the Jesus phone” and described by some analysts as the “most anticipated consumer product in the history of time.”    
Jobs opened by saying, “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.”  What followed, according to one observer, was “a mind-bendingly awesome display of cutting edge technology” that “probably made your eyes melt.”  
The truth that day in 2007 was different, however.  Jobs' iPhone demo was held together with bubble gum and baling wire, almost literally.  The prototype rarely worked.  “In truth,” reporter Fred Vogelstein wrote, “the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous.  A production line had yet to be set up.  Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality . . . And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs.”    
In fact, the iPhone team had jerry-rigged something called “the golden path,” a set of tasks which, only if performed in a specific order, made the iPhone appear to actually work.  The device was unable to play an entire song without crashing, quickly ran out of memory, and was preprogrammed by engineers to always show “five bars” of phone reception no matter how poor the actual signal. 
Six months later when the iPhone launched, it worked as advertised.  You know the rest of that story.
So, did Steve Jobs lie at that January demo?  What if the iPhone had later underperformed, or never performed as advertised?

++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Lying Isn't a Sin; It's a Business Plan"
In the same way that Eskimos have 50 words for snow, it’s possible that entrepreneurs have 50 words (or more) for lying, or fibbing, or forecasting, or anticipating—well, you get what I mean.
Entrepreneur Tom Kulzer believes that few entrepreneurs start with a plan; when forced to justify their activities, they “tell themselves and everyone around them they know exactly what they’re doing.  ‘We are right on track,’ ‘Everything is going as planned,’ and ‘We couldn’t be better,’ are common phrases heard in the startup world.  But it’s a lie.”
In his article, “Should Entrepreneurs Lie?”, Daniel Isenberg lays out a series of examples where entrepreneurs must embellish or obscure the truth in order to advance their business interests.  One of Isenberg’s business associates, an experienced venture capital fund manager, told him that “if a person does not know how to seriously twist the truth from time to time, he (she) cannot be an entrepreneur.” 
In one case, an entrepreneur seeking his first round of funding saw a critical strategic relationship blow up the day before closing; he decided not to tell his investors until after the funding was secure.  The venture went on to be successful.  Another company printed brochures indicating products were installed and field tested when they were still under development; customers in America understood but those in Japan were horrified.  One entrepreneur in Isenberg’s article admitted, “We had no idea: this was an entirely new market, so we just put down numbers that the investors wanted to see.”
Venture capitalist and economist William H.Janeway wrote, “Sooner or later, nonetheless, the venture capitalist learns the law of life: entrepreneurs lie.”  When the world is reluctant to accept the innovation being proposed, when the pace of delivery is stalled, when all of the technical bugs have yet to be addressed, “the accuracy of reported results is likely to suffer.” 
In his “Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs,” pundit Guy Kawasaki lists as #1 “Our projections are conservative.”  One modern investor has a solution for this kind of general deception: At the close of each pitch, he asks the entrepreneurs to go back through the slide deck “and point out every lie they have just told.  There are always plenty.”   
Google CEO Larry Page once told a roomful of marketing executives that “their profession was built on an ability to lie.”  A 2012 article discussing Presidential-candidate Mitt Romney’s willingness to embellish the truth concluded that his years in private equity convinced him that “Lying isn’t a sin.  It’s a business plan.”
There even developed in the late 1960s a kind of accepted (though never entirely acceptable) commercial deceit that came to be known as “vaporware,” when technology products were announced far in advance of their release.  In 1969, for example, IBM detailed upgrades to its System 360 three years in advance of their market release, reducing sales of Control Data Corporation’s latest computer.  Twenty-five years later Apple announced improvements to its operating system some two years from market release to blunt Microsoft’s latest system upgrades. 
FUD is still a common marketing ploy to delay the sale of competitive offerings.
In the infamous “browser war” of the mid-1990s that pitted Netscape’s Navigator against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Netscape’s founder Jim Clark was a key player.  Few technology entrepreneurs have been more successful than Clark, credited with three billion-dollar startups (back when a billion dollars was still real money).  When called to testify under oath in the Justice Department hearings, Clark’s colleague and the President and CEO of Netscape, Jim Barksdale, was asked this question about his boss by a Microsoft lawyer:  “Do you regard Jim Clark as a truthful man?”
Barksdale’s answer, quoted in Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing, was as clever as it was evasive: “I regard him as a salesman.”
Sorry, salespeople; no harm intended.  He really meant “entrepreneur,” but it was in the age before that term became ubiquitous.
Whether Eli Whitney was a fast-talking salesman or an epic hero, one historian surmised, is a test that “functions to distinguish historians of technology from ordinary people.”  
But there’s a third option, more in line with Steve Jobs’ iPhone experience and that of thousands of modern entrepreneurs:  Had Whitney delivered interchangeability six months or even six years after his dazzling Washington product demo—as he very well may have anticipated—his reputation would be largely intact.  In other words, selling the future is only lying if the goods are never delivered.
One sensible conclusion is to regard Eli Whitney not as a hero or a swindler, but as one of America’s first practicing entrepreneurs.



[1] Jeannette Mirsky and Allan Nevins, The World of Eli Whitney, New York: Macmillan, 1952, 146.
[2] Joseph Gies and Frances, Those Ingenious Yankees: The Men, Ideas, and Machines That Transformed a Nation, 1776–1876, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976, 78.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Novel Combinations: Making the Most of Too Much

Credit: the author went shopping
Charles Sanna died recently at 101 years old.  His family’s company, Sanna Dairy Engineers (sold to Beatrice Foods in 1967 and now a part of Conagra), delivered powered coffee creamer to the U.S. Army during the Korean War. 

Fearful of missing deliveries to the military, Sanna Dairy regularly overproduced, leaving the company with a perishable product destined for disposal.

Sanna took to the family kitchen in Wisconsin.  By combining water, cocoa, and the excess powdered creamer, he created what would become the Swiss Miss brand of instant hot cocoa.  It was a novel combination, a stroke of genius, and a windfall for Sanna’s company.

Constraint is often described as a key to innovation.  Not having enough of something can lead to all sorts of interesting ideas.  In the case of Charles Sanna, however, his motivation was excess.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

History Hacks for STEM Majors


(No STEM majors were harmed in the writing of this post.)

History is in a bad way. 

A poll conducted in 2018 revealed that only one in three Americans could pass a U.S. Citizenship Test.  A similar percentage believed Ben Franklin invented the lightbulb.  Twelve percent thought Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Simple Rules: In Praise of Steve Dodge

A tribute to Steve appeared in the WSJ here.
Let's say you open a small retail store, one where you get to know all of your customers by name.  Things go so well that you open another store, and another, and the stores grow, and pretty soon you not only don't know all your customers, you don't even know all of your employees.

That's what happened to Harry Gordon Selfridge (1857-1947), the founder of London's Selfridges department store.  Selfridge had so much success that he decided he needed a simple rule to serve the customers he could no longer meet each day and the employees he could no longer mentor.  His rule: The customer is always right.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

25 Rules for Writing a Book

1. Pick a topic that is bigger than you are capable of handling, something like the history of entrepreneurship in America.

2. Choose the wrong architecture for the book.  This is important because, while you think you're going to Mars, you'll actually be heading for Uranus.

3. Do lots of time-consuming primary research that you will throw away later.

4. Stop a year into the research process to write another book about, say, the history of modern air conditioning.

5. Realize that some of what you learned writing the other book could be used for the book you were already writing, but in the middle section.  So, research and write the middle section of your book.  And, as you put the cart before the horse, carefully maintain the wrong architecture.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why We Still Need Mister Rogers


First, a confession.  I never really got Mister Rogers, at least while he was performing in his children’s television show.  Maybe it’s because I was very young when PBS, in the guise of its predecessor (NET), was still a primordial ooze of Physics professors writing long equations on chalkboards, grainy British programming, and a cooking show where a quirky lady taught viewers how to turn a calf’s foot into aspic.

When Mister Rogers launched in 1966, it took a while to understand that he was something different and, once paired with Sesame Street in late 1969, something better for children to watch than Soupy Sales or Bozo.  By then I had outgrown my Mister Rogers moment, so only later did I come to appreciate who Fred Rogers (1928-2003) was and his impact on so many people.  Now, after reading Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (Abrams Press, 2018), I have come to understand that we need people like Fred Rogers more than ever.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Will Gettysburg Be Forgotten?

Here's a reflection on Gettysburg and historical memory from the August 2018 issue of Preservation and Progress. For the online issue, see here, pages 3 and 4.

Those of you who visited with us in Topsfield earlier this year will remember Dr. Matthew Moen.  He's pictured below, speaking at Trinity Church along with our friend from the Gettysburg National Military Park, Chris Gwynne.  Matt's note on civility is on pages 10 and 11.

There's lots going on at Gettysburg.  Enjoy the issue!



Thursday, August 23, 2018

Food Foolish #8: What About the Birds?

Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Creative

Whenever I present Food Foolish to a live audience, I always try to end on a hopeful note, saying that if we are smart and diligent, we can reduce food waste. And when we’re successful, the result will be good for everyone: less hunger, reduced carbon emissions, a stable agricultural footprint, more available fresh water, and greater food security for populations around the world.  Nobody loses. 

I usually see people nod in agreement until one evening at a local college, someone asked, “What about birds?” 

“Birds?” I asked. 

“What,” she explained, “would happen to birds that had come to depend on landfills if we stopped wasting food?”

It was a good question.  In the United States and other developed countries, much of the food we waste shows up in landfills.  Unfortunately, I had no answer at the time.  Recently, I decided to try to figure it out: How dependent are birds on human food waste, and what happens if we reduce it—as so many individuals, corporations, and governments are now committed to doing?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Theranos and O-rings: A Note on Disaster Avoidance


On a cold Florida morning in late January 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral.  Just over a minute into the flight the vehicle blew apart and disintegrated, killing all 7 astronauts.  The immediate cause of the failure was a breach in a joint of the solid rocket booster resulting from O-rings that had stiffened and shrunk in the cold.  The maker of the O-rings was Morton Thiokol.

The evening before, knowing that temperatures at launch time could be as low as 30F, NASA and Thiokol representatives conducted a lengthy conference call.  NASA had an ambitious flight schedule and wanted to launch.  Thiokol engineers knew that the O-rings might fail in the cold and came armed with data.  There was shouting, maybe some table pounding.  NASA pressed.  The Thiokol engineers dug in.  Management backed its engineers.  "We all knew if the seals failed the shuttle would blow up," one engineer remembered.

 
And then something happened.  Thiokol management caved, overruling its engineers.  The launch was approved.

I sometimes think of this reversal as a “Morton Thiokol Moment”—when you absolutely, positively know the right thing to do but let yourself get talked out of it anyway.  Maybe it's pressure.  Maybe exhaustion.  Maybe the other side is so adamant that it creates a bit of doubt.
 
The next day, the inevitable happened.  "When we were one minute into the launch,” a Thiokol engineer recalled, “a friend turned to me and said, 'Oh God. We made it. We made it!'  Then, a few seconds later, the shuttle blew up. And we all knew exactly what happened."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Food Foolish #7: A 2017 Report Card

When Food Foolish was published in mid-2015, John Mandyck (@JohnMandyck) and I argued that minimizing food loss and waste was the most effective way to reduce chronic hunger and mitigate climate change.  We painted the picture of a broken global food model, with humankind wasting one-third of everything produced--some 1.3 billion metric tons of food.  The energy used to grow this mountain of wasted food contributed 4.4 billion metrics tons of carbon equivalents to the atmosphere, diverted enough freshwater to meet the needs of the entire continent of Africa, and destroyed wealth equal to the GDP of France.  And those stunning figures were secondary to the fact that more than 800 million people, nearly the entire population of the European Union and United States combined, went hungry each day.

We demonstrated the magnitude of our broken food model by detailing the loss of some 50 percent of the banana crop in India, impoverishing nearly 35,000 smallholder farmers in that country.  We described the 1.7 million deaths that occur annually due to low consumption of fruits and vegetables--foods that suffer particular loss because of their perishability.  We interviewed professionals who had battled international hunger through the World Food Programme, and those fighting domestic food insecurity at the Houston Food Bank.  We described the impact of micronutrient deficiencies on some two billion people, many of them children faced with anemia, blindness, stunting, and wasting.  And we discussed the impact of a twenty-first century mega-trend, urbanization, which is rapidly creating a global middle class that is just as rapidly becoming removed and detached from its sources of food.

We find different ways to lose and waste food around the world, but we're
all consistent in destroying a third of everything intended for our stomachs.
Saddest of all, we did the underlying math on the global food model and found that not only do we produce enough food to feed all 7.4 billion of us today, but if we can reduce loss and waste, we can essentially feed all 9 or 10 billion of us likely to inhabit the planet by 2050.

More than two years after publishing Food Foolish, as we close out 2017, it's a good time to take stock.  How are we doing?  What progress have we made against climate change, hunger, and food waste?  And what's next?

Here's a brief report card, with two caveats:  All opinions are mine.  And, in Food Foolish University, there is no such thing as grade inflation.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Notes from the Digital Chasm

I have two friends.  I’ll call them Bert and Ernie.  

Bert is 72, a Baby Boomer, and lives on the East Coast.  He is mostly retired after a successful career in consumer marketing, including running his own successful business. Bert is technically savvy and aware, and usually has the latest i-Gizmo.

Ernie is in his early 40s, a Gen Xer, and lives on the West Coast.  He teaches at a private boys’ school.  He’s a runner, and a good one, not to mention being an enthusiastic and fearless early-adopter of technology.

In February, I wrote a post comparing tech giants of the twenty-first century to those of the nineteenth century (see here).  I wondered in the post if maybe historian Richard Hofstadter had been correct when he wrote, "Once great men created fortunes; today a great system creates fortunate men."

That’s when Ernie dropped me a note from Oakland.  It was clear I wasn’t seeing the modern digital landscape clearly.   Here’s what he wrote:


Monday, July 17, 2017

Happy 115th: 15 Pictures the Tell the Story of Modern Air Conditioning

It was 115 years ago today that Willis Haviland Carrier signed a set of mechanical drawings which, soon after, became the world's first modern air-conditioning system.  And it was 5 years ago that we published Weathermakers to the World, telling the story of Dr. Carrier and his namesake company.

Below, I've chosen 15 pictures that tell the story of modern air conditioning.

1. Most of us don't remember the world "before cool," and may only experience it occasionally on a dash between our air-conditioned car and our air-conditioned office.  One rule-of-thumb illustrates the heartiness of our great-grandparents, however: Only when the temperature plus 20 percent of the humidity equaled 100 did everyone give up and go home.  So, 80F plus 90% humidity = 98. . .keep working!

I especially like this ad, which was one in a series used by Carrier, because it shows young Willis (in the lower left-hand corner) hard at work on his new invention.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Technology's Triassic Period: A Look Back at 1999

From Wired 1999: Some believed Y2K was
 the end of technology's Triassic Period.  Others
knew better.
The Triassic Period was a time when archosaurs roamed the planet.  Some of these not-quite-dinosaurs were impressive nonetheless, walking on two legs, hunting in packs with their sharp teeth and claws, and flying.  Life was good until, after 50 million years—ka-boom—the Triassic Period ended.  Whether the result of volcanic eruption, asteroid strike, or climate change, three-quarters of life on Earth disappeared.

Scientists now know that after each of Earth’s mass extinctions, five in all, whatever life survives gets back to work with a vengeance.  Biodiversity after cataclysm flourishes.

And so, the Triassic and its archosaurs gave way to the Jurassic Period, when true dinosaurs dominated the land.  Tyrannosaurus.  The stuff of movies and nightmares.  The stuff of endless bedtime books for small children. 

Last month I sat down to read Wired magazine, all twelve issues (purchased on eBay) from the year 1999, back-to-back-to-back.  I wanted to try to place myself in the world of consumer and office technology just before the turn of the century, and to understand how, and how much, things had changed. 


Wired's January 1999 cover
As I read, I felt like I was visiting a place that I knew, but was just slightly off, like the way a week in the Triassic might have felt to a T-Rex.  In 1999, we were celebrating all kinds of colorful technological archosaurs, fascinating creatures with teeth and claws, touch screens and desktop-syncs.  But they weren’t yet dinosaurs, and we kind of knew that, too.  Biodiversity was flourishing, but many observers understood that we were still short one good extinction before technology’s Jurassic Period could get underway.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What Killed the Greatest Show on Earth?

This month, after 146 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is going out of business.  The greatest show on earth will cease to be.  

What killed the circus?

Some people believe that the death spiral began when elephants departed the Big Top last year after decades of public scolding and legal pressure.  But ticket sales to Ringling Bros. have been declining for the last decade.  In fact, there’s something particularly important about “the last decade.”

Kenneth Feld, chairman of Feld Entertainment, which bought the circus in 1967, said as much when he wrote, “There has been more change in the last decade than in the preceding 70 years.”[1]

That’s the real story.  It wasn’t the loss of elephants that killed the circus.  It was something far bigger, and--even as I write this--it’s killing more than the greatest show on earth.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Yuval Harari's "Sapiens": I Think I Finally Get It

At the start of 2017 I checked the actuarial tables and determined, at 12 books per year, I had about 168 books left to read.  Give or take.  That's not a lot.  So I decided then and there that I would read only books that had the potential to change my mind, or change my life.

Yuval Harari's Sapiens is one of them, not only because it's as absorbing as a novel, but I now believe it explains nearly everything that has confused me about life and my fellow human beings since November 2016.

Here's a little of what I learned:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What's a Picture Worth: Tech Giants, Now and Then

A few weeks ago, President-elect Trump met with the giants of American technology.  Thirteen of the nation's best and brightest were invited to the Trump Tower in New York and gathered around a shiny table to hear the President tell them, "I'm here to help you folks do well."

You can decide for yourself how that will all unfold over the next few months, but what struck me about the meeting was this picture:


Even at this distance, from this angle, you know many of the players.  There's the guy from Amazon.  The guy from Google.  There's the lady from Facebook.  The guy from Apple.  Oh, and there's Peter Thiel, seated at the left hand of the President.  Thiel, the Wall Street Journal reported, helped orchestrate the event, including nixing a number of "monster companies" that wanted to attend.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

More Heat to Start 2017

When John Mandyck and I wrote Food Foolish in 2015, we focused first on hunger and then on its relationship to food loss and climate change.  While our interests ranged from carbon emissions to fresh water to urbanization, we never lost sight of the fact that 800 million people around the world are chronically hungry, and that climate change, at its roots, is a question of social justice.
An article in the recent issue of the MIT Technology Review ("Hotter Days Will Drive Global Inequality") makes this all too evident.  “Extreme heat, it turns out, is very bad for the economy,” the article states.  “Crops fail.  People work less, and are less productive when they do work.  That’s why an increase in extremely hot days is one of the more worrisome prospect of climate change.”  Scientists at Stanford and the University of California have now hung some numbers on this threat, estimating that the average global income is predicted to be 23 percent less by the end of the century than it would be without climate change.
Warmer weather, and weather extremes, are going to destroy a quarter of all economic wealth created by human beings by 2100.

Reframing the Question

An excellent article in the recent HBR by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg  (“How Good Is Your Company At Problem Solving?”) surfaced a problem that faces some of the most aggressive,  get-it-done entrepreneurs: They don't spend enough time framing the question before they rush in to solve it.

Here' how it works:  You own an office building.  Your tenants are complaining that the elevator is too slow. 
How do you solve the problem?

One perfectly good way is to upgrade the elevator or install a new one, making the elevator faster.

Another—and this is genius—it to put mirrors up around the elevator, which causes people to stare at themselves, an infinitely interesting activity.  People stop complaining.  The elevator is no faster, but the problem has been reframed from “How do we speed up the elevator?” to “How do we make the wait more pleasant?”

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Some Say Icebergs, With Apologies to Robert Frost (A Bauble)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
Yet as for ocean ships that ply
On frigid seas where icebergs lie
If we insist they perish twice
I think we know enough of steam
To say that for destruction fire
Is also great
And plenty dire.