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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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    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.
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Labor Day: Technology, Trade and Labor

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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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The World Economic Forum’s ‘Top 10 Emerging Technologies’

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From the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Nanosensors!  Autonomous vehicles! [Yawn.]  We’ve seen these before.

Organs-on-chips? Optogenetics?!?  Now this is interesting.

The Davos-based World Economic forum released a list of 10 emerging technologies that made a tour of the press a few weeks ago.  There is no guidance for the list.  There is no set of recommendations or concerns.  Each technology’s one page write-up is in a different style.  Let’s look at the list in the same way we did past technology forecasts.

Questions to ask:

  1. How would we make this into a prediction with numbers and years?
  2. What scenarios could enable this future to happen?
  3. What challenges aren’t mentioned about this technology?

1. Nanosensors and the Internet of Things

Quantifying this prediction comes in the opening paragraph:

New IoT devices are announced almost daily, and analysts expected up to 30 billion of them to be online by 2020.

My challenge always with sensors has been; (1) what device or product will they be added to? (2) how will they get access to the Internet?  (3) how will they draw power, and I was concerned in the past with (4) how will the data be analyzed?  Any commercialization effort must address these constraints.  The technology and capability of sensors is significant.

Several scenarios could accelerate adoption:

  • Sensors for health.  Hospitals are already full of sensors and there is immediate benefit and a method for analysis.  Incorporation of more sensors on body, in hospital garments and beds could improve outcomes and alleviate pain and suffering for patients more quickly.  (5 years – 2022)
  • Smart vehicles.  Beyond autonomous vehicles, could a fleet of Google Maps cars tricked out with the right sensors reduce the cost of road maintenance?  Could integration of sensors reduce maintenance and downtime for aircraft?  GE’s use of sensors on engines is well known, could the same use allow for more advanced materials to be used in wings and elsewhere?  (15 years – 2032)
  • Infrastructure.  How would we sell ‘smart beams’ to contractors?  Could they be written in to state purchase contracts to avoid fiascoes like the Bay Bridge?  Would they be paid for over time with service and maintenance contracts?  (10 years – 2027)
  • With most products, the naive assumption is usually the right one – tomorrow’s sales will come from today’s markets.  Sensors are used in phones.  We’ve seen the Amazon echo achieve adoption in households.  Could the future live in our kitchens and pockets, but with a greater set of capabilities?  Many of the sensors in a phone are not now currently utilized.  What must change for them to see greater adoption?  (5 years – 2022)

2. Next Generation Batteries

Batteries are a source of personal interest and professional pain.  The promise is real, the development and commercialization process is long, complex and difficult to improve on.  A claim that a battery technology or use will become mainstream should achieve a benchmark of at least 1/3 of new installed capacity.

Batteries are hard to develop, require unique materials and novel manufacturing methods. For this technology to emerge, one of the following scenarios must occur:

  • Nylon moment.  A big company must pursue batteries with the same intent and dedication that DuPont’s Carothers used to pursue the development of Nylon.
  • Software and simulation.  Batteries require hours of tests, sometimes months, sometimes years.  They are a slow, controlled bomb.  To accelerate commercialization, there must be a way to short cut the testing and evaluation.  Predictive materials software would shorten the development cycle.
  • Pilot scale automation.  High performance batteries have depended on materials made with uniformity and scale that is tough to scale.  There are many battery technologies that made a splashy press release upon emerging from a lab, but never left a production site.  Using technologies with a clearer path to scale up will accelerate development.
  • Reverse compatible to supply chain.  For batteries to emerge, they must be easily integrated into whatever supply chain where they will be used.  The manufacturing must be easily done with existing processes.  The use must allow for easy and convenient charging.

3.  The Blockchain

I couldn’t understand what exactly was going to ’emerge’ from this discussion of practical application of bitcoin and etherium related cryptocurrency methods to areas like government and pharmaceutical development.

This portion could have been summed up with, ‘More honesty and transparency!’

4. Two-Dimensional Materials

The authors begin with graphene and list out all of the other “-phenes’; borophene, white graphene, germanene, phosphorene, silicene and stranene (from tin).  Perhaps we should re-label polymerous nanofibers as, “porous polymerenes.”

The list of applications is what is often seen for new materials – batteries, filtration, pollution control, structural composites and medical applications.  There are many scenarios for how these materials can be adopted, but they should all be measured at the end market level.

My forecast is that the -phenes won’t be used in more than 1/3 of the parts in a major consumer vehicle or passenger airplane within 20 years.  1/3 could be measured based on count or value.

A second forecast is that before this set of suffix-phenes achieve their goal, another set of materials will emerge with ‘wonderous’ properties.

5. Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are happening at a pace faster than anyone had expected.  Uber and Volvo are rolling out a fleet of for-hire vehicles in Pittsburgh.  Further, this timeframe beats my own past prediction that a fleet of self-driving vehicles would roll out by 2019.  (This is the first prediction like this I’ve been right on!)

Autonomous vehicles will happen.  Despite much discussion and warning, their impact will surprise many and disrupt major industries, economies and regions.

6. Organs-on-chips

The report contemplates the miniaturization and automation of pharmaceutical animal models such that they can be replicated in silica.

Scenarios where such devices become readily available and/or disruptive could include:

  • O-o-C use as sensors.
  • Challenges around toxicity where such sensors are important in health and safety.
  • Unfortunately, it is easy to see scenarios where use of such devices could enable new types of illegal drugs.  Such scenarios often accelerate adoption of new technologies.
  • Any device that aids in the reduction of obesity would show fast and immediate adoption.  If these devices enabled use of personalized medicines in a fast detection / production setting, they could enable such methods.
  • Lastly, any kind of pandemic or disease threat whose challenge was met with these devices would promote fast adoption.

7. Perovskite Solar Cells

This is a fancy name for solar cells made out of materials that are not silicon; not hard to make, not extensions of the semiconductor supply chain and hence not constrained by current systems and uses.

However, they are constrained by current systems.  It is a common forecasting and technology trap to believe that a ‘different’ or ‘better’ version of a current thing will totally change the use case.  The Perovskite solar cells will be subject to the same cost and use scenarios of current silicon based solar cells.  Further, that cost structure will raise the barrier on where the new cells will be used.  The performance:cost ratio will have to be much greater to achieve adoption.

Success would occur with annual production of 5% of the current silicon volumes.  The scenarios where these solar cells achieve adoption could include:

  • There must be a significant cost advantages throughout the supply chain for them to achieve adoption [1].  The first production plants must be very cheap [2].  The methods used must be very productive [3].  Conversion to end sites must be very easy [4].   If each of these methods is a factor of 10 or more better than current cells, then adoption could occur within 10 years of their first invention.
  • These cells could enable a country or entity to leapfrog existing technologies.
  • Lastly, any kind of unique advantage – use in orbit, use in the ocean, etc. could accelerate adoption.

8. Open AI Ecosystem

Russell and Norvig describe AI best – here the report discusses the value of an “Internet of AI”, where software systems are able to seamlessly interact with each other. The AI discussion starts to sound like the ways in which ‘Blockchain’ creates better honesty and transparency.  AI will make everything better.  In many ways AI is already here – in the guise of Excel, Minitab, and any other software that allows one persons work to scale and extend.

Could autonomous vehicles be our first mass adoption of independent AI?

An open AI ecosystem could be said to exist when; (1) 30% of the interactions are based on AI systems, (2) such that AI is clearly defined, and such that (3) those interactions happen in finance, personal management or food systems.

Scenarios where open AI will occur are in those arenas where they make a human operator better.  Any scenario where everyone can acknowledge that an individual operator could be overwhelmed is an area prime for this kind of AI disruption.  We find those in the areas where computers and the Internet were first developed – where there are (a) fast live operations, and (b) there are broad operations which can take a lot of time.

This includes:

  • Self driving vehicles.
  • Ocean going vessels.
  • Air traffic control.
  • Complex production operations.

This will prove true at any point if a single major site has adopted an ‘Open AI Ecosystem’ in daily operation.  That could be an industrial mine, a train station, some kind of crop harvesting – there are many examples.  The implementation of the first ‘ecosystem’ will be enough to count (just like AI with a single city installation).  In fact, the first ‘Open AI Ecosystem’ might be Uber’s Pittsburgh roll out.

9. Optogenetics

Optogenetics is the use of light based systems combined with modified cellular components to create fast-paced biological change and inputs.

This is similar to two-dimensional materials and organs-on-chips.  Cool ideas.  Lots of potential.  Measuring how such a concept makes it into routine use is difficult.  Adoption could be found by measuring;

  • The number of publications
  • The number of patent citations
  • The creation of a business focused in this area

10. Systems Metabolic Engineering

Our 10th and final concept looks at the evaluation of industrial supply chains in the same way we look at an ecosystem. The modern industrial supply chain is based on petrochemicals. Would a more sophisticated and nuanced approach allow greater use of recycled and engineered goods?

Could the use of specialty microbes at points in the supply chain improve yields?

Using materials across the supply chain other than petrochemicals enables the use of more diverse feedstock.  In many ways #10 is a combination of; (1) greater mapping of the industrial chemical supply chain and (2) more sophisticated use of bio-fuels and other feedstocks.

Measuring success in this area will be complex, but would happen when:

  • 1/3 of a top 20 material is made with this material.  (Top 20 as measured by volume, mass or $s.)
  • A new material enters the top 50 that is only possible with such an ecosystem.

This prediction is hard to see as *not* happening.  As businesses become more efficient, as data becomes easier to access, our ability to understand sourcing grows.  Why mine new material when it can be found in the recycling bin?

Conclusions

This is an interesting, diverse, difficult to systematically evaluate, list of technologies. Some were new to me. Some have already hit milestones that others on this list will never achieve.  Such lists help populate ideation sessions, but a great deal of work lies between a technology’s presence on this list and actual broad impact.

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Project Planning: Stay out of the (San Francisco) Mud

San Francisco’s $350 MM Millennium Tower is sinking into the mud beneath it.  Finished in 2009, some now believe that it could sink as much as 3 feet – greater than initial estimates of ‘possibly an inch in the event of an earthquake.’

The exact same problem led to serious concerns in 2004 for a nearby project of similar size.  That was early enough to account for, plan around and possibly mitigate the risk of what was being pursued.  This was not done.  The mud again is winning.

Similar to another California capital project, the ill-fated vendor selection on an update to the Bay Bridge, there is much to learn from this failure of project planning.

1. Align incentives.

The inspector who found the 2004 mud issue has no incentive to publish their worries.  Nor is their incentive on the part of the city to stop new projects.  Builders want to build.  Tenants want their trophy building.  Throughout this process, there was no clear alignment of incentives on who is responsible for saying, “Stop.”

This type of publicly managed project has so many constituents that it is difficult to collect things together as  group.  Risks can slip through the cracks.  These risks can cost millions.

2. Have a process.  Persist.

The builders had a responsibility to evaluate the risk around mud.  It appears that was a one time assessment, rather than a persistent understanding of the soil conditions.  Ideally, the architect and/or soil management firm would be consistently looking, surveying and anticipating changes to the soil.

3. Share post project reviews.

Just as persistence matters from the project initiator, here our builder and architect, it matters from the public’s standpoint in the publication of past project results.  If the public has an interest in approving projects, it can be assumed there is also a benefit in understanding how well the projects were completed.  In many ways, this is similar to the public’s vested interest in seeing the publication of publicly funded research.

4. Manage risk actively.

Soil is a known risk in construction.  Mud is further known as a risk in San Francisco.  Just like the building owner actively managed his tenant list and minimized the vacancy rate, we must expect the same of those who were responsible for managing the public’s interest in mud.

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5 Ways NBC Could Have Saved Olympic Coverage

peacock_by_deoroller-d3gpzkxCriticism of NBC’s coverage of the Rio Summer Olympics began early. Tear inducing back stories showing an Olympians inspiration and path to the games is a well known trope. The real tragedy that emerges from NBC’s blaming an entire generation of Americans for poor performance is that there was no attempt to modify the plan during the nearly two weeks of coverage.

We live in an era of endless media capabilities.  Everyone is a broadcaster.  Our ability to do video chats, follow stories, record and distribute has never been higher.

They saw there was trouble.  They had two weeks.  Two weeks!  They did nothing, despite this endless supply of flexible media.

  1. Be authentic. Focus on the sports and athletics – not the pageantry drama.  The US has a growing culture of participatory sport and fitness.  The swimmers and track and field were captivating.  Watching the way the swimmers pushed themselves down the pool, just like Usain Bolt around the track, was amazing.  These events garnered the most positive response because of the athletic performance, not because of the drama and pageantry.  These individuals at the peak of fitness demonstrated the best humanity can do.  What can really be added to that narrative?  Let the video and results stand for themselves.  If the negative feedback on Day 1 had been listened to, why could NBC not get out of their own way and reduce the amount of drama laden content they were showing?  The video editing of the home town athlete shots was sunk cost.  Just scrap it.  Show it online.  Instead, they rode this time-wasting, message killing content to the end.
  2. prewittrough300

    From Bill Preet’s, “The Spooky Tail of Prewit Peacock” – a wonderful kids’ book.

    More video out to YouTube.  The online app was awful.  Forced advertisements.  Poor search terms.  My daughter loves equestrian events.  These weren’t easy to find, forced us to watch a pre-roll and were hard to preview.  Put out daily highlights for each event!

  3. Use your local affiliates!  Our local affiliate out of Raleigh, NC did a montage on Sunday showing their crew down in Rio.  Why not hand more off to these groups early on when you see the scope of discontent in your plans?  If the states are the laboratory of democracy – why not trust your partners with some unique content avenues?
  4. Change the format of what you are showing!  Every chatboard shows the love of the BBC’s sport-centric coverage.  Just do that.  Stop with the constant cuts and jumps from sport to sport.  Take the teary-eyed Olympic biopics and put those out online.
  5. Change the distribution channel!  Everything was NBC owned and controlled, it was clear that the app did not get enough testing, and that the channels were constrained by the number already owned.  Why not put better content out on Facebook?  Put better sport content out on Facebook!  If you don’t put the sport content out clearly, then those other channels can only cover the sports-as-narrative conversation, because that is all they have access to.  This creates a negative feedback loop when someone goes on to FB, sees a silly story, but wants to watch the athletics, and then gets forced to watch a silly story, instead of the world’s best athletes.
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