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Patented Buggy Whips

smiling-horse

“Press Release,” circa, 1899: 

 Consolidated Buggy Whip Announces New Patented Manufacturing Process

It’s a big day at Consolidated Buggy Whip.  With our new, patented manufacturing process, the company will have a competitive advantage over all other buggy whip manufacturers.  Anthony Johnson, President of Consolidated Buggy Whip, stated, “Our patented manufacturing process cuts our production costs by more than half.  This is exactly the advantage we need in order to capture new market share, and effectively corner the market for buggy whips.”

We are also pleased to announce that our two leading competitors have proposed a merger with Consolidated.  This is a sure sign that Consolidated’s patented manufacturing process will ensure its position as the undisputed leader in the buggy whip market for years to come.

* * *

If you are even a casual student of history, you know what was happening around the turn of the century.  Automobiles were being invented and would soon replace the horse and buggy.  Our fictitious company, Consolidated Buggy Whip, was about to face its biggest threat.  They were facing down a disruptive innovation and either didn’t realize it, or chose to ignore it.

Recent history is riddled with companies, and even entire industries, that have been displaced by the introduction of disruptive innovations.  Tower Records, Borders Books, Kodak, Nokia, Circuit City, and Newsweek are just a few that come to mind.  Ironically, some of these companies were originally disruptors.  Unfortunately, they allowed themselves to be displaced by newer disruptors.

Vigilance, curiosity, and creativity are required for an organization to avoid, or even create, disruptive innovations.  Complacency and ignorance are sure ways to invite new disruption.

The competitive landscape you think you understand isn’t the only one that matters when it comes to disruptive innovation.

Why?

One of the most powerful words in our vocabulary is:  Why?

In the hands of a toddler, it can become one of the most challenging.  I remember a number of conversations with my daughters when they were in that 2-5 year-old range.  They demanded the most thorough explanations of just about everything imaginable.  I know that my wife and I heard the word “Why” at least a hundred times a day.    

Why is it so powerful?  Why do toddlers use it so much?  Simple.  It opens our minds to new information.  It drives learning.  It fuels the fire of curiosity that burns within each of us.    

Are you using “Why?” as much today as you did when you were younger?  Is the fire of curiosity still burning for you? 

Why not?

Moonshots

 

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”  –John F. Kennedy, in his speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

When President Kennedy gave this speech to Congress, he was challenging an entire nation to aim for the moon, literally.  Many of us have seen or heard the first sentence in the quote above, but it’s the rest of the quote that has my attention today.

In 1961, the technology to get to the moon didn’t exist.  Kennedy acknowledges this fact by mentioning just some of the new technologies that will need to be developed (alternative liquid and solid fuel boosters much larger than any now being developed, appropriate lunar space craft).  He also makes it clear that not one man will be going to the moon, but an entire nation.

To meet the ambitious goal of getting safely to the moon and back before 1970, NASA engineers and planners compiled detailed lists and timetables for inventing new technology, new methods, and new systems to make the moonshot possible.  They didn’t know exactly how the inventions would come about, but they had the audacity and foresight to plan for them, and to put them on a schedule.  Thousands of people visualized a new future and went about making it a reality.

As they say, the rest is history.  On June 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, and he and his two Apollo 11 crewmates returned safely to Earth four days later.

Moonshots are big.  They aren’t incremental goals like losing 20 pounds by next Christmas, completing the next project your boss thinks is important, or aiming for your business to perform a little better than last year.

Moonshots are impossible to fathom without imagination, a willingness to challenge the status quo, and a keen awareness that fear is there only to sharpen your senses.  Moonshots create new definitions of what’s possible.  They can turn a good company into a great one.

Here’s one more thing to remember about moonshots.  If you aim for the moon and don’t quite get there, guess where you are.  You’re in a pretty high orbit, and a long way from where you started.

Find your moonshot and enjoy the ride.

Treading Water

Which is harder, treading water for ten minutes, or swimming in a direction of your choice for ten minutes?

Have you ever tried to tread water for ten minutes?  How about five minutes?  It’s definitely easier to swim in a direction of your choice…and you get the added benefit of going somewhere.

I’ve had an opportunity to meet and work with a lot of people during my career.  Many have had twenty, even thirty-plus, years of experience in their fields.  Unfortunately, some of them have spent that time treading water in the status quo.  Turns out they don’t have twenty (or thirty) years of experience.  They really have twenty (or thirty) one-year experiences.  Their experiences haven’t taken them, or their organization anywhere.  It takes huge effort to tread water, and yet that is exactly what some choose to do in their misguided quest for job security, a feeling of control, or an overwhelming desire to avoid risk.

Leaders are usually the ones who choose to swim.  They’re the ones who know there are risks, and  understand they can’t control everything.  They realize that real career security (which is much more valuable than job security) comes from constantly building on past experience and moving themselves and their organization in new directions.

Take a look at your relationships, your career, your hobbies, and pretty much anything you deem important.  If you’re treading water, maybe it’s time to start swimming.

Perception is Reality

The scene:  A late afternoon hike as the sun begins to set.

View 1–through the eyes of someone mourning the loss of a loved one

Lengthening shadows descend upon the forest floor.  The never ending dance of day and night continues without interruption.  Glorious palettes of color and texture give way to an infinite collection of shadows and silhouettes.  Plaintive moans emanate from the forest as trees sway against the wind’s relentless onslaught.  Each is alone in the crowded forest to persevere as they must.

The air is thick with the smell of decay.  Death wins another battle in its perpetual war with the living.  The breeze carries hints of a familiar perfume from years past.  A reminder of a life of joy, a life of sorrow, a life of love.  In the darkness, there is only one sound.  The beats of a broken heart.  A companion to the mournful wail of a distant coyote, howling at a moon not yet risen.  He cries for an answer that will never come.  A far off dream in a long cold night has just begun.

View 2–through the eyes of someone who has just met the love of his life

Afternoon sun caresses the forest floor through pin holes in a daylight curtain.  Daffodils and honeysuckles dance in its warming light.  The fresh smell of pine fills the spirit.  The trail ahead is clear, as the forest welcomes its newest guest.

The air is filled with the sounds of bird song.  A cool breeze rustles through the trees.  It carries a salty hint of a distant shoreline and a barefoot walk, holding hands.  The horizon is a view into infinite possibilities.

Which description is accurate?  Both, depending on the perspective of the traveler.

Reality is shaped by the perspective and attitudes of those experiencing it.  Taken another way, perception is reality…

A Spoon’s Perspective

You never know what you’ll find in my blog.  The first time I wrote for the fun of it (which is really what it’s all about), I looked up a website filled with writing prompts.  Just my luck, I randomly picked the prompt below:

Prompt:  Write a short story from the point of view of a spoon in a dishwasher

Here I stand, as always, in this dark place.  Sometimes I get to see the light, but I always seem to find my way back here.  It’s a bit crowded…what is it with this fork and knife?  Why must they always lean on me?

It wasn’t always like this.  I remember quite some time ago, long before arriving here, I used to lay under the lights.  I didn’t get to do much, but it was nice to be appreciated by so many people as they walked by.  Sometimes they would lift me up and turn me from side to side.  I can’t explain their compulsion to lift me from my comfort, but after a little bit of time, I’d always find myself back on the table just as I had been.

Then came the day when everything changed.  I was wrapped up in tissue paper and placed in a box with a whole bunch of other spoons, forks, and knives.  We were in there for quite some time.  I admit that I lost track of time in there.

Just when I had given up hope of ever seeing light again, the box opened and light shined in.  It was incredibly bright and it took me a few minutes to adjust.  A happy couple with a stack of other boxes sat, admiring all of us on their kitchen table.  They didn’t seem to have much furniture.  I remember seeing two lawn chairs in their living room.

And thus, my new life began…work in the morning, lay in the sink throughout the day, and then into this dark place for the night.

The water is coming in now!  I can feel the steam rising from below.  The jets will turn on soon and I won’t be able to think.  The hot water will crash into me with incredible force.  This infernal fork and knife leaning on me is sure getting old.  It is amazing that so much water can be unleashed on us all at once.  Here it comes!

Ahh…finally the first cycle is over.  The water is draining out.  There is always one more cycle.  I don’t understand why, but I feel so clean after the second cycle.  More water!  Hang on!

Another cycle complete, and this is my favorite part.  The orange glow is getting brighter.  The heat is rising.  Any soreness I have is melted away with the heat.  It is very dry.  My nose burns with each breath.  Gosh, it’s hot!  When will this end?  I remember watching a plastic bowl melt in this heat.  He was never the same after that fateful day.  In fact, I never saw him on the bottom rack after that.  I occasionally catch a glimpse of him in the upper rack.  So sad to see him disfigured that way.

I can feel the heat subsiding.  The orange is fading to black.  That should do it.  All I can do is wait until morning and re-emerge for another day.  I wonder if I’ll ever get to lay under the lights again…at least I can dream.

Advice for a New 21 Year Old

Janet and I have the pleasure of knowing some great young people.  More than a few of them have either turned 21 within the last year or so, or they are going to be turning 21 this year.  One of them, Katie, is turning 21 today.  Our daughter, Jennifer, will turn 21 in September.  With this in mind, here’s some advice for these new 21 year olds:

First, some tips regarding alcohol consumption:

If you choose to drink alcohol…

  • Do NOT mix your colors…unless you have ONE Long Island Iced Tea (and never two in one night).
  • Skip Tequila, and don’t be fooled by the expensive stuff.  It will give you a headache just as much as the cheap stuff.
  • Avoid shots of Tequila, Jagermeister, Goldshlager, Peppermint Schnapps, Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, etc., unless you are snow skiing, in which case an occasional sip of Peppermint Schnapps at the top of the mountain can be a good thing.
  • I highly recommend rum, and not the clear stuff they put in daiquiris.  Dark rum is the best, and Appleton Estate is the best of the dark rums.  Mix it with lots of ice and Sprite.  If spiced rum is your thing, make it Captain Morgan’s, and mix it with Dr. Pepper.
  • For each cocktail or beer you drink, chase it with 16 ounces of water…and then have at least 16 more ounces just before you go to bed.  You will thank yourself the next day.
  • The most important piece of advice in this section:  never drink to get drunk.  If that’s your goal, you shouldn’t be anywhere near it.  2-3 cocktails, or 3-4 beers should be the maximum consumption in any particular day (remember 16 ounces of water after each one).  You control what you consume, never forget it.

Some tips on gambling:

If you choose to gamble…

  • Determine what you can afford to lose before you enter the casino, and only take that much cash with you.
  • If you win, use the House’s money (what you won), and put away your own money.
  • The “free” drinks are nice, but remember the tips about alcohol consumption above.
  • If you play roulette, I recommend placing some chips on 32 Red.
  • If you play blackjack, don’t hit on anything over 11, if the dealer is showing a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.  Let them bust.
  • For the tip above to be most effective, you need to be sitting in the “third-base” seat, which is the last one before the dealer gets his/her cards.  That way, some “amateur” won’t mess things up by ignoring this rule.
  • If you lose three hands in a row at blackjack, switch tables.
  • Always double-down on an 11 (you gotta live a little!).
  • In craps, never play Big 6 or Big 8…better to place the 6 and 8, instead.  While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to place the 5 and 9.
  • Ask the dealers about the proper odds on your “place” bets.  This will maximize your winnings in craps.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw out a “Yo” bet every now and then…sure, it’s a sucker bet, but it pays 15-to-1 odds, and 11 comes up more often than you think in craps.
  • The older I get, the more I appreciate the awesome shows in Vegas, instead of gambling.  Check them out, you may find the same thing.

Some tips on high finance:

  • Go to a trade school, or get a bachelor’s degree.  Hopefully, by age 21, you’re already halfway through this one.  Stick with it!
  • A corollary of the tip above…work in your area of study before you graduate.  This will help you learn more about your chosen field, make valuable connections, and give you a competitive advantage in the job market after graduation.  Do this, even if you have to work for free (you are investing in your future).
  • Find mentors.  Why is this a finance tip?  Because good mentors will help you realize your full potential, which should help you maximize your income.
  • Make time to stay connected to people you’ve worked with.  Build a strong personal network.  Be there for others, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
  • If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Don’t be fooled by any “deal” that has a gigantic upside, with little or no investment required from you.  It is most likely a scam.  Always be skeptical, and don’t be rushed into anything that involves investing your money.
  • If you don’t understand what you are investing in, don’t do it.  Do your research…again, never be rushed.
  • When it comes to spending your money, YOU are the customer!  Remember the “finance” version of the Golden Rule…he/she who has the gold gets to make the rules.  Be the one with the proverbial gold.
  • Save at least 10% of your income, every month.  Don’t be afraid to up that percentage.
  • Find a financial advisor you can trust…preferably one that is referred to you by someone you trust who has worked successfully with this advisor for many years.
  • Maximize your 401k and IRA savings accounts…start early.  Embrace the genius of compound interest…Einstein referred to it as the greatest invention of mankind.

Tips for good living:

  • Never fall into the trap of comparative happiness.  Your happiness is never dictated by how happy or successful someone else is.  There is almost always going to be someone who appears to be richer, taller, more beautiful, faster, stronger, more popular, smarter, or more successful than you.  Whether they are or not shouldn’t matter to you.
  • Your tombstone won’t say much about where you worked during your life.  Keep your priorities straight throughout your life.
  • If you are lucky enough to find the love of your life and marry this person, think about how you can serve your spouse, every day…and do it!
  • Life is a journey, not a destination.  Bring your family and friends along for the ride.  Enjoy it while it lasts!

Four Life Lessons from Drag Racing

Recently, I attended the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) drag racing season opener in Pomona, California.  It was my first time going to all four days, and I had the fortune of bringing a different group of guests with me each day.

There is nothing like the energy wave that hits you at the starting line when two top fuel dragsters or funny cars takeoff.  The cars run on nitro methane, and each have 10,000 horsepower, so that’s 20,000 horsepower hitting the throttle at the same time.  Not much of a life lesson in this particular fact, but it is an awesome display of horsepower.  I saw many of life’s lessons on display at the event.  Here’s four of them:

1.  Flawless execution is all about preparation.  Teams worked for months before this season opener to prepare their cars, select their driver, select the right crew members, secure sponsorship, coordinate travel, and address countless other logistical challenges.  A typical top fuel run takes just under four seconds.  When everything goes right for both cars, the winning margin at the finish line is often measured in the thousandths of a second.  Countless hours of preparation come down to a four-second race.  Everything is on the line (the starting and finishing line, that is), in every race.  Flawless execution is a requirement, and can only be achieved through rigorous and disciplined preparation long before it’s time to race.

2.  There’s no “I” in TEAM (but, there is an “I” in WIN).  This apparent contradiction can be confusing.  In drag racing, the driver gets the glory of the win.  The same can be said of many other pursuits…the quarterback, the doctor, the manager, the captain of a ship.  None of these individuals can be successful without a dedicated and skillful team.  It can also be said that the team would have a tough time being successful without the person at “the tip of the spear.”  It’s almost a cliché that we win as a team and lose as a team.  Each team member can have the “I win” moment, even if they aren’t steering the car.  It can only happen if everyone on the team does his or her part.  Trouble starts when team members forget this, or lose respect, trust and gratitude for their fellow team members.

3.  Statistics and past performance don’t guarantee anything.  John Force is a legend in drag racing.  He has won the top fuel funny car season championship 14 times.  His team is extremely talented and well funded.  Statistically, he should win every race he enters, especially against a new team.  But, here’s the thing:  statistics don’t race.  Statistics don’t decide the outcome of any competition.  The bigger, better-funded, more experienced team isn’t guaranteed to win…the same way that the bigger, better-funded, more experienced company isn’t guaranteed to win.  The best teams (and companies) never forget this.

4.  Managing risks is critical to survival, but not a guarantee.  In top fuel drag racing, the risks are plain to see.  During opening weekend, I saw funny cars hit the wall, cross the center line, and one blew up, launching its carbon fiber body high in the air.  I saw a few dragsters blow their engines only 2-3 seconds into their runs.  On final elimination day (Sunday), I saw Antron Brown’s dragster cross the finish line as the winner, only to have his engine and both back tires explode in a fireball.  This sent his car careening out of control at over 300 miles per hour into the wall, and then skidded upside-down until it finally came to rest at least 500 yards away from the finish line.

Managing and preparing for the risks is the key to survival when things go wrong.  Antron Brown walked away from his crash.  Why?  Because his team focused on safety systems as much as they focused on tuning their car for speed and performance.  Safety and risk management weren’t afterthoughts.

While Antron walked away from his crash, the unfortunate truth is that managing risks doesn’t guarantee avoiding all risks.  Drivers sometimes receive debilitating injuries, or are killed, when things go wrong.  Drivers and their teams acknowledge these risks and devote tremendous effort to mitigating them.

They don’t allow the dangers to stop them from their pursuit of higher performance, and winning.  If they did, there’d be nobody to compete in the race.  There are risks in just about every human endeavor.  Acknowledge them and plan for them as best you can…but don’t let them stop your pursuit of higher performance.

You can learn a lot at a drag race…if you are paying attention.

My Favorite Destination

If you sign up for the Air France frequent flier program, you’ll get a list of security questions to answer in case you forget your password.  The first question presented:  My favorite destination is…

What could that be?  Yosemite with its beautiful trails and waterfalls?  Milford Sound in New Zealand, with its other-worldly (Middle Earth) landscape?  How about the Three Sisters in Australia?  England, where you learn quickly the meaning of “mind the gap.”  Islamorada, in the Florida Keys?  The clear tropical waters of Tahiti?  How about the top of Mauna Kea at sunset?  The top of Mount Whitney?  Mike’s Sky Ranch?  Aruba?  The Panama Canal?  The South Rim of the Grand Canyon?  Mammoth Cave in Kentucky?  Napa Valley?

This favorite destination thing can be challenging.  How about the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon?  Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee?  The top of the Empire State Building?  The Acropolis in Greece?  Wrigley Field?  Floating lazily on Lake Mead?  The top of St. Peter’s Basilica?   The Grand Bizarre in Istanbul?  The Lincoln Memorial?  Cape Canaveral?  How about the Taj Mahal?  The Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach definitely makes the list.  Sunrise in just about any desert?  Glacier Bay in Alaska, playing basketball with your kids on the top deck of a cruise ship?

I’ve had the fortune of visiting these and many other destinations, but none rise to the level of favorite.

At the risk of breaching security protocols, here’s my answer:  home

I used to think…

I used to think rain was a bad thing.  It meant my carefree childhood would be interrupted by the realities of rent and the cost of groceries.  I’d have to worry about why my mom and dad were upset…sometimes with each other.  Rain brought a feeling of hopelessness into our house that wouldn’t leave until it stopped.

Rain meant that my dad didn’t work.  Oh, sure, he’d get up early in the morning just like a normal work day.  He would even make the call to his company to ask if they had anything going.  He always sounded so comfortable with what he was hearing from the other end of the phone.  I knew different.  They rarely had anything going on a rainy day.  If they did have something, that work went to someone with higher seniority.  I learned at an early age what it meant to be low in seniority.

I didn’t have the same fun other kids had splashing in puddles.  I remember one kid used to run as fast as he could and slide in the wet grass, just to see how far he could go.  Every slide was a world record in his mind.  Somehow I always had my parents in mind.  I knew they were worried about how long the rain would fall.  When would things dry out enough for dad to go back to work?  Would this be a long winter?  Would we make it to Spring?

Jeff Williams always wore his Mammoth Mountain sweatshirt in the winter.  He used to go snow skiing on the weekends.  Sometimes, his parents let him skip a day to go during the week.  He was one of the kids with the cool owl eyes.  The ones that come from having your sunglasses on while snow skiing.  He knew that rain meant snow, and snow meant good ski conditions.  I never skied as a child.  That wasn’t an option.  Rain meant no money, whatever the ski conditions.

Rain taught me early, too early, about the realities of economics.  As each year passed, with the same cycle of foreboding, I decided I would never let rain threaten my economic life.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the list of choices I’d rattle off were always jobs that didn’t stop because of rain.  It didn’t matter what the job was…only that the weather couldn’t touch it.

For my entire adult life, I’ve lived by the promise I made to myself as a child…always choosing jobs that the rain can’t touch.  Today, I can enjoy rain.  In fact, I’m listening to a passing shower as I write.  I love the sound it makes, cascading off the roof.  Rain has a unique purity.  Nothing compares to the clear, brisk air after the rain has passed.

Yet, even as I appreciate the magnificent beauty of rain, I can’t help but feel a slight twinge of anxiety…an echo from my childhood.