Nice Pants: Tactical Office Wear

Comfort is difficult to quantify.  We tend to use air perm as our primary metric when working with water barrier materials.  There are many high-end pants now on the market from non-traditional vendors with unique angles on comfort.

1a& 1b: Under Armour’s Match Play Vented Pants ($85)

These are amazing pants.  Very light weight, almost like wearing shorts on a hot humid day.  They’ve got a tightly patterned series of holes in the fabric that further aids in breath-ability.

2: Icebreaker Compass Pant ($120 – Discontinued)

This pant had an interesting canvas feel that incorporated Icebreaker’s best known ingredient – merino wool.  These are nice pants with interesting material, but they are heavy to the point of being nearly the opposite of the UA Match Play.  Icebreaker doesn’t have similar pants for sale on their website anymore.  These pants were a little short given the size I ordered – the orange flare in the cuff is from where the tailor stretched out every last inch of material when I had them adjusted.

3: Banana Republic’s Slim Dark Rinse Japanese Traveler Jean ($120)

Blue Jeans aren’t regular office wear, but this pair from Banana Republic makes use of some interesting fabric.  The denim has an elastic feel and is made of a cotton, polyester, urethane blend.  They are surprisingly breathable while maintaining the tough outer feel of classic blue jeans.  These have been great for flights and long distance travel, and even come in large and tall sizes.

4: LuluLemon’s ABC Pant ($130) and Commission Pant (now Qwick Chino $130)

This was the first pair of ‘tactical’ office pants that I’d purchased.  They are very comfortable and more classy than the UA golf pants, as they’ve got a panel assembly with a piece of stitching right behind the calf.  The Commission Pant, now sold as the Qwick Chino, was an improvement on the ABC design, with classic lines and some interesting counter color accent work on the pockets.  These are another favorite for long flights and work travel, but the pricing puts them at a clear disadvantage to what Under Armour is able to provide.

Posted in Industry, Innovation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Under Bidding a Bridge to Nowhere

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Bridge between North Korea and Dandong, China in disrepair following the Korean war. [Source: Huseyin’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.]

If a customer isn’t 100% certain about the value of a product, then they’ll want to minimize their committed costs.  From an ROI standpoint, their R (the return) is uncertain and has risk.  To maximize their ROI, they will want to reduce their I (the investment) as much as possible.  This is a reasonable way to approach risk.

whole-product-planning-crossing-the-chasm

Each step in product development reduces customer adoption risk and increases the speed and ease of customer adoption.

When customers are behaving in such a way, and when competitors are able to enter the market at slight discounts to current pricing, then there is a gap between the value customers get from a product or process and what they need. The vendor is leaving risk for the customer to deal with, rather than fixing the product.  Rather than buying a fully formed project, they are having to buy a product that is not fully developed.  Using Crossing the Chasm terms, the ‘Whole Product’ is not yet fully developed.


Underbid: (in an auction or when seeking a contract) make a lower bid than (someone).

Bridge to nowhere: a bridge where one or both ends are broken or incomplete and does not lead anywhere.

Under-bridge: A lower bid made deliberately knowing that the resulting effort will be a bridge to nowhere.

The term is similar to:

Race to the bottom: Originally coined by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, and defined more recently by  “The “race to the bottom” implies that the states compete with each other as each tries to underbid the others in lowering taxes, spending, regulation…so as to make itself more attractive to outside financial interests or unattractive to unwanted outsiders.”

Winner’s curse: The winner will tend to overpay.  Here in our example, the winner is the low bidder, who has mispriced their bid to the low side.  As opposed to a winner’s curse with an over-confident bidder and the sale going to the high bidder, here we have a sale that goes to the low bidder.  The low bidder will tend to have bad information about the true costs of the activity, similar to a high bidder having insufficient information about the value of the asset they are buying.


A losing scenario

These terms come together to compound customer and competitor behavior in new markets with high startup costs, high uncertainty and high risk.  The results are even more harmful in scenarios where the outcomes are binary – a project is either successful or a failure, with no gradient in between.

A knowledgeable vendor (“KV”) bids the work out at USD 100.  A new competitor can go in and state to a prospect, “this is to much to high.  We can do this work for $50, and further, it will do much more than what KV says.  The KV technology does not work as well as ours.”

This creates a dilemma at the prospect.  They may have worked with KV and understand the capabilities and realities of the technology.  KV may have an order of magnitude more experience than their new competitor.  But how as a vendor can you be certain?  The cost to evaluate is high.  This diligence cost required of the prospect to know is very high.  KV must not only be able to demonstrate that what they do works, but also be able to show why the new competitor’s concept won’t work.

This trap is tough for the customer to avoid.  They don’t want to share with KV the value they see in the new technology.  They don’t want to tip their hat to the market.  They want to pursue their effort in secrecy to create a sustainable barrier to new competition and reap the rewards of their investment in this space.

Consequences & Innovation Death Spiral

The customer goes with the new vendor, thinking they will not only save $50, but also get access to a bigger market.  Two years later they find that they’ve spent $50 and have nothing to show.

How does that organization respond?

What do they do next?

Do they admit they were wrong and go back to KV?  Do they declare that, “we’ve spent 1/2 our budget, thank goodness we didn’t spend all of it!”  Given the binary nature of the project, they didn’t really learn anything.  There is no benefit of going to KV with the work as it stands, as there is nothing to build from.

What happens then is an innovation death spiral.  KV is the right answer, but with a slew of competitors constantly under-bidding them, and doing so on projects with a ‘bridge to nowhere’ there is no ability for the prospect to learn and move ahead.

The onus here lies mostly on KV.  KV must have a better answer for why they should be the vendor of choice.  The arguments must be so compelling that no competitor can enter the market behind them.  While the losses and pain may accrue at the prospect and the societal level, the source of the pain is with KV.

Posted in Disruption, Industry, Innovation, Invention, Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Scaling in Europe: An easy (8 year) plan

Disclaimer:  We sell industrial equipment, not software.  Also, we were spun out of a Czech university, so it wasn’t a ‘start-from-nothing’ type startup.

We scaled a startup out of Europe, specifically – out of the Czech Republic.  Our market is large, but it was not clear what market we were in when I was first recruited to the business in 2008.  Mr. Steemers’ post on, Why European Startups Fail to Scale, is certainly applicable in regards to the difficulties of approaching new markets, but there were a few big changes we would make if we could go back in time.

We would do the following, but do them sooner and do them more aggressively if scaling beyond your home territory is required.

1. Go where your customers and markets are.

In my last business we had commercialized a technology that was a spin out of the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina (MCNC, now NC Idea).  As we saw the semiconductor supply chain leaving the US (and realizing that it had already left the Carolinas) we opened our second wafer fab in Hsinchu Taiwan right near TSMC.  Amkor eventually bought us because our proximity had allowed us to iterate faster and gain key customers.

Our current business sells into the high end membrane and industrial rolled good market. This market is a bit of a trap – rolled goods, textiles and membranes can be made anywhere in the world.  (For anyone reading this, the odds are that a plant is within 100 km of you that you’ve never noticed.)  Since textiles and fiber businesses are everywhere, surely the business can get all the market feedback it needs and iterate while being located in Bohemia, right?

Unfortunately, no.  Thought leadership and product management for the types of customers we wanted to work with was in three locations, each of them very broad in their own right:

  1. Germany
  2. The US East Coast (from Atlanta to Boston)
  3. Parts of Asia (Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea)

A startup should only cross borders if it is essential to growth.  ROIs and plans should be carefully studied – there is never easy money when new geographies are pursued.  This business crossed borders because it had to.  The technology was too young, the market to spread out (and at the same time too consolidated), so in order to get access to the supply chain we had to look beyond our geography at the time.

Even if we are going to sell to customers all over the world, we owe it to them to be at the cutting edge of their industry.  We’ve got to have some visibility into the major market drivers – this visibility becomes more important in longer sales cycle, slower to move industries.  The penalty for failure is higher.

[Questions for Mr. Steemers – are these businesses moving around within Europe because their home markets aren’t big enough for what they do?  Are they moving into a new geography (ie from Belgium to Spain) once they have product market fit in their home territory?]

We also went in to these markets because despite our simple website and market message at the time, these customers came and found us.  We satisfied an urge they knew that they had, and even though we’ve come a long way, we were able to provide them with a product that met their needs despite our own challenges at the time.

The benefit from us having an office near a hotbed of membrane and technical fabric innovation is clear – a now deceased startup competitor was out of Texas that was unable to achieve scale, and it was our impression that our proximity to customers was a major advantage.

2. Do what the books say.

crossing-the-chasm-41czngtciql-_sx334_bo1204203200_Read Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.  Read Ries’s The Lean Startup.  Do what they say.

Almost every initial hypothesis the founders of the business had about the market was wrong.  There was insufficient understanding of the way our core technology worked and how customers would work with us.  It was not clear how to sell them the technology that we had, and it wasn’t clear how much work these customers would want to do on their own and how much they would require us to do for them.

As a team, we re-read parts of The Lean Startup and Crossing the Chasm as part of our bi-monthly management meetings.

It is painful every time.  “It is like we tried to do everything wrong.”

lean-startup-51vn15ycjyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Neither of those books is available in Czech.  When I stared with the business, the Czech Republic was one of <10 countries where Google was not the top search engine.  Not only were we trying to help our team develop an understanding of the market, we didn’t have access to the right materials to help them get up to speed.

3. Find a partner and trust them.

I was the second person asked to lead our first international office (which was based in Raleigh, NC, USA) and the first non-Czech asked to take on a leadership role for global team members, and eventually our first non-Czech CEO.

That first US office lead had been a mentor of mine and had exited several companies.  He was thrown such hate, suspicion and anger that he finally walked away.  My plan had been to follow him, as the emotional environment was still very challenging.  However, he did a great job of helping the team understand what it was like on the receiving end of a poorly-framed partnership.

Our first US sale was closed before we had opened the office.  The Czech team, many of whom are our best global sales people, had done a great job.  However, when we had hired personnel who were both; (i) remote, and (ii) non-Czech, we had struggled with trust issues.  If you have a partner, treat them like a partner.

We’ve used this same philosophy to grow our presence through our partners all over the world, and especially in China.  Take that partner and vet them for their ability to put you in front of the right accounts, and then follow their feedback the same way you did when you were first looking for product market fit.

Need a different type of manual?  Do it.

Different expectations on training?  Warranty?  Service?  Do it.

Find a credible, knowledgeable partner and then treat them as such.  It helps customers work with you and it accelerates all the work you do across your business.

4. Know that everywhere (even within Europe) is different.

It has been many years since we’ve participated in a pure ‘startup’ type event, but it was clear at an early industrial technology VC event in Berlin that this was a very different world than what would be encountered in San Francisco or Sand Hill Road.  Mr. Steemers nails some of these differences.

The European nations are so different from each other that they had to create the EU, a super-Federal entity to force alignment down from above.  This indicates the very paradox of commercial activities between EU member states:

  1. Businesses in Europe know and expect a different type of market and customer when they go to another European country. [This is such an issue, that creation of entities to oversee this integration was core to the EU.]
  2. However, when European businesses go to a country outside of Europe, they are surprised at the differences, because there is no overhead EU governing body to state what can and must be done.

For our first pieces of machinery sold into Germany, our mechanical design and assembly teams would protest every change order saying, “No one in the Czech Republic has ever asked for that!”

Then when we started to sell into the US, China and Brazil, “No one in Europe has ever asked for that!”

Conclusions

Mr. Steemers nails it that some businesses fail to understand the changes when entering a new territory and/or market.  But that is a broad statement, almost as vague as, “They failed to scale because they did not sell enough.”

We are by no means an example of a smashing success.  We’re a small player who controls a niche market.  Hopefully the four lessons we’ve listed here will help others as they encounter similar problems and encourage more dialog about how to achieve product-market-fit and grow.

Posted in Business, Disruption, History | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Growth by Document

The current business has experienced pleasant success despite a challenging market.  We grew our ASP from $40,000 by nearly 20x, increased our industrial installation base by similar numbers and have figured out how to grow in a long sales cycle market.  There are many factors that have driven these achievements, but one that has helped given our international and manufacturing driven culture has been consistent use of good documents.

Documents are any piece of material that you put together as a team.  As a manager and leader, the following have been very helpful.

The amazing fact is that America is founded on a document. It’s a work in progress. It can be tested by each generation. Christopher Hitchens

Sales

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Everything is a hypothesis waiting to be tested until you have data.

Pitch deck – it all starts with the customer and what you are selling.  This is the start of the chain of contracts a business enters into, it is the start of the series of promises and commitments that take a product from idea and out into the world.  Ideally those first sales decks / presentations / slides will have a clearly defined customer value proposition (“CVP”) and unique selling proposition (“USP”) for your business or product.  Often times that is not possible.  It is better to go out with a slide deck that states, “this is what we think” such that early customers / sales calls can correct you, than it is to go out with nothing.

Website – it is never too early to have a website.  Even if it is a simple page with a ‘coming soon’ it is crucial to have it as a sign that you are serious.  Make sure your team all has access to good email addresses as well!

FAQ – In the early days an FAQ helps train up your sales and technical team about the kinds of customer questions you are getting.  Forcing the team to agree on and write down the right answers is a great alignment activity.  Noticing that you get the same questions over and over again will help steer product development.  Lastly, as your FAQ extends in depth (especially if it is not publicly available), it allows you to answer customer questions with inside sales or other lower cost personnel.

Account plans – whatever your selling strategy might be, writing down an account plan is an easy way to get feedback across an organization and make sure there are no clear holes in your objectives.  If you’ve got a broad reach, then this documentation can be used to make sure the same plans and methods are used globally.

Quotes and product scoping – customers must have a way to buy from you.  If it is an older industry, electronic invoicing and other methods may be slim.  Be ready to quote and invoice before you have your first sales lead.  Know how to collect before you pursue an order, so you can be sure your expectations are in line with the account.

Contracts – if you are selling high value items, your customer may have a contract that they like to use.  Having your own contract is crucial, even if you know it won’t be used.  By preparing the ground and taking power of authorship, you can help frame what components will be important to you in your customer interactions.  (It was great to hear similar sentiment on a recent A16Z podcast, Pricing, Pricing, Pricing.)

Technology: Recipe & Design

Process Notes – it is crucial that you have good notes and methods from your technical team.  Design changes must be documented.  Chemistry and recipe work must be documented, any item that leaves your hands and goes to a customer must have a summary (and retains must be kept).  Good process notes and methods are absolutely essential.  In the early days it will always feel as if big answers are around the corner, and that a short cut might be okay… Short cuts are never okay.  Document the work correctly.  Put in place the right methods so that you’ve built a robust system and method with sound data that allows you to continuously learn from what you are doing.

Project Charters – these simple, programmatic documents go a long way in forcing a disciplined process before you begin pursuit of a new activity.  Our projects tend to be either focused on reference products or on platform level technology changes.  By following the same template every time, we’ve gotten better at laying out what needs to be considered.  As this process extends in an organization, it becomes important to define what rises to the level of a ‘Project’ and what does not.

Roadmap – different customers have different methods of doing roadmaps.  Our Director of Recipe team did a great long term technology roadmap, and on it outlined the major themes he thought we would need to pursue over the next ten years.  As our Recipe team continued to work more closely with the Design (hard asset and equipment) team and the Operations team – we put together a reference product roadmap that clearly laid out what our end goals were and identified the major projects we would need to complete.  Anything that has a ‘Project Charter’ gets a spot on the GANTT chart and this enables our team to visualize how the different initiatives work together.  By putting this visual document in front of everyone, we’re able to manage risk and look for ways get work done more quickly.

Finance & Admin

Cost model – the only thing you can say with certainty about an early cost model is that it is wrong.  However, like many of your selling components, it is important to be transparent with what you know in order to get the right customer feedback.  As is preached in Ries’s The Lean Startup, in the early days we are testing hypotheses about what does and does not work.  We think we know how our customers look at cost and ROI, but by putting our vision out in the market we get feedback faster and from a user with more experience.

Reporting – every business needs a financial report that states clearly what has happened in the past in order to know what they want to do in the future.  Project and personnel costs must be allocated correctly.

Forecasting – forecasting has to be done on a regular basis and in a consistent fashion.  Just like the cost model, it will be wrong.  It is crucial that management and sales be able to go back in time and evaluate how and why past sales efforts were wrong.  If when you look back at past forecasts you see names that you now know, “these guys were never going to buy” – then challenge yourself if the current pipeline will lead you to the same results.  Forecasts also help you go through thought exercises about what is necessary for growth and how you can achieve your corporate goals.

Budgets – budgets tie together your forecasts, your roadmap plans and all of the other activities.  If you won’t have a product concept done for a year, then don’t forecast a sale in six months!  Budgets are driven by input from the technology team and overseen by finance to make sure that your business is on track and investing properly.

Operations and Assembly

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Critical path methods are a special case of the critical chain approach to project management.

GANTT charts – these rule the roost for project planning in any kind of environment.  We’ve always used critical chain project management (CCPM) based on theory of constraints (TOC) which has its own language and methodology.  Creating these documents aligns resources, personnel and risk management methods.  (If the academic nature of the CCPM text is overkill, then Hanging Fire is more like Goldratt’s The Goal, in which the concept is illustrated with fiction.)

Product documentation – How do customers use your product?  It doesn’t matter if it is hardware or software, how do they learn how to use it?  How do you do training? Our methods here tend to overlap between Service, Operations, Recipe and Design.  For industrial assets, these operating manuals can be quite sizable and supported with Youtube videos and other ways to help customers familiarize themselves with what is needed for them to make money off of what they’ve bought from us.

Strategy

The Strategy House – this simple method of laying out corporate goals, charters and methods initially seemed to basic to provide value.  However, it has had a broad and lasting impact.  By following the layout of corporate ethics we were able to transfer some very clear concepts about employee and customer safety that hadn’t previously been fully understood.

Monthly Reports – a team should not spend more time reporting than it does doing. However, there is great value in starting at the department level and rolling reports upwards.  Even if the reports are only used internally, it creates alignment, and just as with the sales forecast, it allows you to go back in time and check on the reasons that decisions were made as you get further and further into the future.  Simple monthly reports with a slide on strategy and a one page summary of each department are sufficient.

Regular meeting notes – given our cultural split and global reach, we’ve settled on a method of note taking that is a bit different.  The senior team member takes the notes.  Notes are sent out *immediately* after a meeting.  This allows everyone to read (at their own pace given different experience with English) what happened and what the next steps are.  Further, we hold global management meetings every 8 weeks (six times a year) as that has been the right cadence for major customer and internal projects.

crossing-the-chasm-41czngtciql-_sx334_bo1204203200_

Moore’s Chasm model explain market growth and customer behavior with new products.

Market analysis – this is a strategic, rather than a sales decision.  Your sales team is providing fast feedback, integrating customer needs to the roadmap, but choosing how to align your technology capabilities with market feedback is fundamentally a question of strategy.  If your sales team is making ad hoc decisions about what markets to pursue, then you have not yet done enough market validation and market testing.  Market analysis should start with high level macroeconomic analysis of where you are selling (does it grow faster or slower than GDP), look at where this activity is done globally, then map that work to your sales outlook.  Customer feedback should constantly be mapped against your market analysis to make sure that the market’s words match to your businesses underlying fundamentals.

In our current business, we map the volume of the benchmark materials against which we measure our reference products.  We then look at aggregate CapEx (which we can find from public company records) and look at what share of that we currently capture and what share we want to capture in the future.  This allows us to do a sanity test on the volume of heavy assets we can plan to sell based on the market’s absorption rate of end materials.  Just like the sales pitch, this work is never right – but over time you can get better at it and it is always a valuable test of your revenue forecasting.

Posted in Industry, Marketing, Methods, Theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recruiting and HR: Facets of a Job

We’ve had good success in recruiting and building a talented team.  As part of that our job descriptions became much clearer in some ways, and less clear in others.  We’ve also observed that our best candidates and most successful hires have had a clear understanding of what they want and do not want.  Some o

conan_wheel

Conan’s Wheel of Pain: That was a false job description.  

f our best hires came in for one position, knew that what was available the time did not work, and we were able to get them back when we had something that met their needs.

We tend to see recruits as having interests in one of the following categories:

1. The Business

Our business is relatively new.  We’re immersed in a heavy industrial technology.  It has significant impact on society through the impact on pollution and issues like clean water and batteries.  These are easy things for potential new hires to grasp, and help in recruiting.

2. The Market

The businesses first market was selling in to academia.  While this is interesting, we don’t get many recruits who *love* this space.  However, they can’t hate it.  That market and those customers still have a big impact on what we do.  Where we get excited is when we find new hires coming to us out of the big industries where we focus most of our time; air filtration, apparel, and liquid filtration.

Along with these specific industries, due to the nature of what we sell, potential hires have to be comfortable with a long sales cycle.  Our first customers were academic and could spend $50,000 – $200,000 easily for the right piece of equipment.  Over time we’ve grown the ASP of our biggest products by 40x, and in so doing changed the types of groups with which we engage.  Personnel who are looking for a quick fix are not a good fit.

Customers work with us over a long period of time pushing the edge of their manufacturing capabilities.  Attention to detail is a must.  Intellectual curiosity about what the customers and markets need is essential.

3. Culture

Any modern business has diverse cultural and regional needs.  We value quantitative decision making based on market-driven evidence.  “My gut feeling,” is a well cited inside joke brought up when someone knows they don’t have real data.

Ethics is a crucial part of culture.  Edge cases of behavior cannot be accepted.

Our customers work with us over years to deploy a new product and expect that the production assets we sell them will enable decades of novel materials with high margins.  We are trusted to work with them closely, and we must never provide an opportunity for our ethics to slide.

4. Role

Components of a new employees role can include:

  • Leadership: Where in the organization are there?
  • Visibility (Internal [market facing] / external)
  • Size of possible impact:  A new employee where this is a first job may not think they are going to make an impact on the whole company, but we expect them to make an impact on what they are doing.  As a small firm (60 or so people) this is crucial to selecting team members who have the potential to grow with our business.
  • Time to achieve their goals: We tend to provide new team members with clear assignments and expectations.  We will err on the side of too much responsibility, as this has historically been more useful than extended training.

5. Position Logistics

These details often begin a job description.  They can include:

  • Travel (What % of time?  To where?)
  • Where are the external resources / contacts / customers?  (How far away?  Are they international?  What languages are spoken?  How culturally similar are they?)  This line of questioning alone has been most predictive in successful hires.
  • What is the balance of Responsibility and Authority?
  • What career qualifications are needed?  Degrees?  Time in the field?  As a young company we can’t always attract the kind of experience we’d like to have – however, we also can’t pretend that our customers can be in the market using products that don’t meet global standards.
  • Compensation.  I look at; salary / bonus / commission / equity.
  • Information technology / needs / requirements / budget, etc.  If a position doesn’t have the right IT budget, what will a new team member really be able to accomplish?
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Believe the Team that is Doing It

Better batteries will definitely impact the automotive market, but there are a wide range of opinions as to how.  The US Department of Energy estimated that nearly 1.2 million such vehicles were part of the American automotive fleet as of 2015.  If we wanted to understand the impact of better batteries, I’d start with whatever company had made the most vehicles out of those 1.2 million, and then work down the list.  (We’d also want to know why the most experienced market participant, Toyota, is moving so fast to fuel cells.)

The team that is doing the work will know more about the market that anyone else.

Outsiders will have opinions.  Think tanks will have twenty year projections.  Politicians will feel for public opinion and move accordingly.  The people that really know the market will be the ones with their hands dirty, their heads down and with a customer on the other side of the equation.

Too often we are quick to believe a report, a piece of analysis or some opinion derived by an outsider, rather than someone with a vested interest.  Examples are everywhere:

  • ok-seal_3_lg

    The state seal of my home state declares, “Labor Omnia Vincit” = labor conquers all. The one who does the work also knows the most. (“Labor scit maxime”?)

    Season 5 of the Baltimore-based HBO show, The Wire, was widely discredited as ‘unbelievable’ given its focus on newspaper reporting.  The series writer, David Simon, had worked as a police reporter.

  • While working in Private Equity, we would often be told how things, ‘should work’.  We’d invested over USD 2 billion in the space.  Abstract conversations about finance aside, we knew what did and did not work.
  • Still now in membrane development, we see new market entrants all the time declare, “This is how we will work with multi-billion dollar turnover global players.”  It is nice to imagine clever business practices, but the reality is very different.
  • Often times in lists of new technology and potentially disruptive developments, we find interesting discussion from outsiders.  Sometimes those outsiders are close to being insiders – maybe they are academic experts with good industry contacts.  Even that is a long way away from being the team on the ground doing the work.

If we were updating Latin mottoes, one of the following extends from “Labor omnia vincit.”

  1. Labor knows the most: Labor scit maxime.
  2. Labor will learn the most: Labor discere maxime.
  3. Labor learns fastest: Labor discit ieiunas.
  4. From labor, knowledge: Laboris, desierit.
Posted in Methods, Policy, Theory, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Labor Day: Technology, Trade and Labor

image

Thanks to the BackStory podcast for showcasing this WPA artwork.

Yet the campaign had completely failed to do what a political campaign is supposed to do – bring the nation to full awareness and earnest discussion of its most crucial issues and lead to a verdict that would put those issues on the way toward settlement.  There had been nothing even resembling an attempt by reasonable men to analyze a baffling problem and see what could be done about it.

The Coming Fury, Bruce Catton (1961)

Catton’s words about the run up to Lincoln’s election in 1860 are similar to the current political climate 156 years later.  There is not intelligent debate about labor in America.  Major questions exist:

  • Should the US have labor goals?
  • What should those goals be?
  • How should we pursue them?
  • Who is responsible?
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Six million jobs lost – more than the population of all but 12 states.

Working in international industrial technology presents many unique viewpoints on this issue.  Beth Macy’s much lauded book, Factory Man, details how the furniture industry developed and has shifted its employment base to Asia in the past thirty years driven by low wages and globalization. Her story focuses on the state of Virginia, home to many of the nearly 700,000 furniture jobs that were lost.

Employment is driven by industry.  Low wages drive industry.  Wage rates are driven by many factors, including currency policies and subsidies.  The factors that drive a city or state’s ability to impact employment are driven by policy outside their control.  Seven million manufacturing jobs have left the US since 1995.  Those jobs represent more than the population of all but the largest dozen states.

The US had a crisis of perception as the frontier closed.  Our American perception about the value of a hard work ethic and the rewards for labor is going through a similar shift.  The data is there.  These jobs don’t come back.  Personnel don’t simply retrain.  Any drive across country encounters the empty production sites and hollowed out towns.

This is a complex problem that the country’s best and brightest are not discussing.  Noted economist Dani Rodrik describes the impact of globalization of graphically in his ‘Trilemma.’  The triangle lays out; (1) hyper-globalization, (2) democratic politics and (3) national sovereignty – Rodrik outlines that a nation can, “Pick two.”  Right now as a nation we are not picking – we are blindly following history, rather than having the discourse we are capable of.

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Made by Dani Rodrik

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