Thursday, December 31, 2009

9 Things I Learned in ’09 Part II

In the spirit of the first holidays for BadskiBlog I thought I would keep with one of the major themes of the blog and write about some things I learned during my first year of blogging.

5. People Are Inherently Good – My experience with the formation of Checking For Charity, shared experiences with fellow Air Force people going through adversity, and playing/being around hockey people have reaffirmed my belief that mankind is inherently good. There are always some bad apples that take up a disproportionate amount of the headlines out there but in general there are people everywhere lining up to contribute positively to this earth. I think as long as I surround myself with good people, do in my heart what I know is right, and try to improve I will be alright no matter where life leads me.

6. Too Many Opportunities Can Be Paralyzing – Many of my biggest worries and struggles in the past year have been the paralyzing effects of too many opportunities. I am healthy, educated, pretty motivated and excited for what the future brings but there is a problem….I don’t know what I want to do! There are plenty of things I could see myself doing but I just don’t know where to start. I discussed this in my blog post entitled desire spiral earlier in the year. My antidote for such feelings is focusing on achieving happiness NOW! It is important to look forward to making your next day better than the last but who knows whether we will even see tomorrow. Keep that future state in your minds eye but ensure that you are happy today. Content but never satisfied.

7. The Road To Wealth For Many Should Be Boring – People who strike it rich overnight are the exception. For the majority of people wealth should start with the Badskiblog definition of rich and continue down a long, boring, steady road to wealth. Keep more than you spend, develop good habits, think long term, and maintain life balance! In our world of short attention spans it is important to remember there are no shortcuts or it would simply be the way. Take the long term boring approach. It is much more reliable and much less stressful than the alternatives.

8. Happiness Is The Ultimate Goal – I have talked about the quest for happiness in almost every one of these nine musings and it is a constant theme amongst all BadskiBlog posts. Ayn Rand said in her masterpiece Atlas Shrugged "Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values." Rand believed, as I do, that the pursuit of happiness is the highest virtue man. If you are always looking ahead to attain happiness you are wrong. Happiness starts now and should be a constant stream of your memories past, a focus of your present, and a goal of your future. If it is not then you know it is time for some form of change in your life.

9. Family Friends and Familiarization – Going with the theme of happiness as the ultimate goal, I have reaffirmed what I believed well before 2009. The best ways for me to achieve happiness are family, friends and familiarization. The first two are fairly straightforward and have been a mainstay in my happiness fix for quite some time. The last reference refers to self awareness and development. Through experiences, learning, growing we gradually come to know the person we spend the most time with….ourselves.

Hopefully my posts weren't too cheese ball and cliched in the reflection of the last year. Although it is difficult to try and encapsulate all you have learned in the past year within a few bullets, I think it is a valuable form of reflection that I will likely carry on in future years of BadskiBlog. What did you learn this year?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

9 Things I Learned in ’09 Part I

In the spirit of the holidays I thought I would keep with one of the major themes of BadskiBlog and write about some things I learned in 2009, my first year of blogging.

1. The Importance Of Balance - As I get older I find I struggle more and more with balance and that balance has a greater impact on my overall happiness. I think as a kid you go with the flow and you obviously have much fewer responsibilities competing for your time and effort. You mostly just do what you enjoy doing and let your parents take care of the rest. In an effort to continue to do what I enjoy doing along with all the other things that come with growing up I often find myself either trying to cram too many things into my life or focusing too intently on some things while neglecting others. Not only do these strategies not work, they can be extremely stressful and unproductive. I have and will continue to focus on maintaining balance in my life while ensuring that no one thing overshadows the big picture which is to love the life I lead.

2. Consistency Is Hard – Desire to succeed is not enough. I have learned that it takes consistent behaviors to achieve one's goals. As I become more self aware I have noticed that it is typically not large decisions that negatively impact my life but a series of small instances where I have strayed from the pursuit of excellence and next thing you know I am in a rut. When I was in school at the Air Force Academy we went through survival training out in the woods. We had to do night navigations with only a compass. Our group got extremely lost in the woods. It wasn't that we took a wrong heading or were walking in circles for hours. We we just walking in the direction of our heading and not picking short points of reference to walk to before reconfiguring ourselves on the proper heading. Those slight errors over time led us way off course. I think of that hopeless feeling I had stuck in the middle of the woods wondering how I got so lost and relate it to how we as individuals often get off track in our lives. Beware of the slow erosion of what you are all about and strive for consistent excellence.

3. Adversity Often Provides Clarity – I have gone through a lot of change in the last year. New jobs, new places to live, new ventures, etc all that have brought new challenges. No one particularly enjoys going through tough times and I am no exception. However, as the saying goes you wouldn’t be able to tell the good days without the bad. Perhaps the greatest adversity I am going to face will take place in 2010 in the form of a six month deployment. It is a very scary and challenging thing to think that you will be disconnected from the familiar and comfortable life you have built for six months. I have struggled with the realization that my turn is coming for much of this year. However even though I am dreading being away from family and friends for that long I am confident and maybe even looking forward to the life clarity that my deployment will surely bring.

4. The More I Learn The Less I Really Know – One of the main reasons I took up blogging was the forcing mechanism it provides to justify and think through what you truly believe. You can’t just throw out the first thing you think of because when you do it is staring right back at you and anyone else who wishes to read it. There is something very enlightening about looking at your own words. There are many times where I will read something I wrote and begin to think of exceptions or scenarios to the point I was trying to make. As I have progressed through this my first year blogging I have tackled a lot of different topics and have learned a lot. I have read a lot of books in the past year and have made a conscious effort to be more aware of world happenings. My increased effort to learn has taught me one of the oldest clichés in the book, "the more you learn the less you know." It’s a cliché for a reason! Because it is so true. Its like climbing a flight of stairs. At the bottom you can only see the few stairs ahead of you. However, with each step another step is revealed to you, things you wouldn't have known had you not taking that previous step. I feel the same with my own quest for knowledge and growth. There is just so much out there. When I try to make huge strides in knowledge and growth I get frustrated. As long as I keep in perspective that I am better than I was before, I can handle the reality that no matter how much I learn there is so much more out there that I don't know.

To be continued…..

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'd Vote For 'Em

You know, I guess what we need is an independent leader. Maybe you and I should run together on a unity ticket, Joe?

I think we could do that. [ Laughs ]

The unity ticket of Scarborough and Bill Maher. I'll be happy to be the vice president because you have experience in Congress and I don't really want to get up before noon.

Although I say it half jokingly, I think the concept of comedian and HBO late night political talking head Bill Maher and MSNBC political analyst and host of "Morning Joe" Joe Scarborough running together on an independent ticket really says something about the state of the union. In an interesting quasi-mutual interview on Newsweek, Bill and Joe undertake an entertaining dialogue that brought a few things to mind for me. Check out the entire script here, it is a must read if for entrainment value only.

1. The Talking Heads Can Actually Have Meaningful Discussion - It is sad when two self proclaimed polar opposites on the political spectrum can have more meaningful dialogue than our elected leaders. Bitter partisan jockeying is paralyzing Washington and although I haven't followed politics closely for too long, by all historical accounts it now seems worse than ever. I understand Joe and Bill don't have to worry about securing future votes and satisfying constituents and that definitely helps cut through the political talking points and BS associated with many of our nation's most important issues, but should it really make that much of a difference?

2. Republican Does Not Equal Conservative; Democrat Does Not Equal Liberal - I actually just finished Joe Scarborough's book on audio book where he talks about this issue a bit. It was one of the main principles that I took away from the book and it is definitely a root cause of the stagnate political environment described above. Congress is more concerned with voting based on party than they are with voting based on principle. Don't believe me? Need a few examples? Well look at the Bush era where a Republican president, who was elected based on his supposed conservative principles, and a majority republican congress took over a budget surplus and turned it into the greatest deficit the nation has ever seen. A more recent example is the surge in Afghanistan. I heard an interesting question posed the other day along the lines of, "if President Obama was still Senator Obama how do you think he would have voted for sending more troops to Afghanistan?" I will let you answer that one but regardless more troops are heading over there in a Democratic majority congress that largely opposed the surge into Iraq where the conflict strategy was much more clearly defined that the Afghanistan conflict. It is examples like these and the talking point laced interviews on major media outlets that have led me to this political truth.

3. Independents Are Taking Over The World - Although the title of this post is somewhat satirical in nature, I can't help but feeling a sense of camaraderie with my a younger generation who shares this sentiment. Although there is certainly no shortage of people out there who disagree with my political views or anybody else's for that matter, I think the growing majority of the younger generations are becoming disenfranchised with the way things are going politically in this country. Here is what Joe and Bill had to say:

Is it time for an independent?

An independent? Well, that's possible. Isn't the independent registration now bigger than either political party?

It's up in the 40s. It's the highest it's ever been, according to Gallup.
That's twice as many as Republicans, and I think it's more than Democrats too. You know, I guess what we need is an independent leader. Maybe you and I should run together on a unity ticket, Joe?

The statistics are there to support my inkling and although the percentage of actual voters generally increases with age it is only a matter of time until the younger generations begin voting in greater numbers. And with the undoubted increase in political awareness largely stemmed by the recent election and technological advances in social media, etc. this time may come sooner than later. I think that there are more and more people who, like myself, are finding themselves agreeing more with the combination of progressive Bill Maher and Conservative Joe Scarborough than they are with the political parties they see on the TV screen. Perhaps this change is the natural adjustment to combat the political bickering described above. Let's only hope.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Are Business Plan Competitions Good For Society?

Once held by just a few M.B.A. programs, business plan competitions are now a routine offering of universities, nonprofit groups and government offices throughout North America, Europe and lately India. They award millions of dollars in prizes and generate lots of free publicity. But some entrepreneurs have a serious question about competitions: Are they good for start-ups?

That is the question being asked in the article found on the New York Times Small Business Blog "You're The Boss." There are plenty of examples of businesses that have sprouted from college business plan competitions into successful companies; a few of which have even been featured on BadskiBlog before (i.e. Mint). However, what the article bemoans is the lack of actual data to determine scientifically if these competitions are actual good for start ups as a whole. As of now there are no comprehensive, multi-competition studies to see if business competitions help start-ups, entrepreneurs or the economy.

Many in the article express the common feeling that the competitions are more focused on teaching entrepreneurs how to seek funding. They cite that giving a staged presentation to supportive academics is much different than say, pitching to investors, executives, and skeptical investors. With that being said they do acknowledge that there is value in receiving frank feedback from peers, coaches and judges that can prepare entrepreneurs for real business situations "where they must listen graciously to potential or existing investors, consultants or customers and then decide whose advice to follow, whose to politely ignore and when to address criticism."

The real worry is that business plan competitions that are fueled by large prizes and hype encourage the new blood entrepreneurs to think that writing the plan or creating an intriguing story is the best way to bring a company into operational existence.

“You write a plan to raise money, not to figure out if you have a valid business idea,” Mr. Sommer said. “In actuality, successful entrepreneurs start by talking to customers and suppliers and test-driving their idea.”

This is where I digress from the tone of the article. Although I think their questioning whether the plans actually produce long term value adding businesses is a valid one, I think that they are focusing on two different stages of entrepreneurship. I have read some great books on entrepreneurship recently and what they all have in common is a belief that entrepreneurship has distinct stages that must be approached differently as to exploit the entrepreneurial spirit effectively throughout the life cycle of the company.

In the book Ready, Fire, Aim author Michael Masterson defines the journey from start up to mature corporations as a four stage maturing that differs immensely on the main problem, challenge, and opportunity at each stage. A stage I entrepreneur is similar to the entrepreneur at these business plan competitions. At this stage you don't really know what you are doing. Your biggest challenge is making that first profitable sale. These innovators are focused on creating an value that a customer is willing to pay for. The main opportunity at this stage is achieving a minimum critical mass of customers, or in other words proving that their idea will be appreciated and desired by the masses.

Now compare those problems, challenges and opportunities with that of the stage II entrepreneur, which is what I believe the article is focusing on when asking if the business plan competition is good for start-ups, entrepreneurs or the economy. A stage II entrepreneur is focused on fast growth. They are likely only breaking even or even losing money. Their main challenge is creating many additional profitable products quickly to ensure the growth of their business. Their main opportunity is increasing cash flow and becoming profitable!

In Peter Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship he describes the difference between start up entrepreneurship and established business entrepreneurship as an entirely different concept known as Entrepreneurial Management. Drucker feels that the belief that large businesses don’t innovate is a misunderstanding. It is not size that is the impediment but the existing operation itself. He says that it takes special effort for the existing business to become entrepreneurial or in this case to remain entrepreneurial. The temptation is to always feed yesterday and starve tomorrow. Entrepreneurship is not natural and not creative; it is work and therefor a company must always ask how can we make the organization receptive to innovation, want innovation, reach for it, work for it? Innovation must be part and parcel of the ordinary, the norm, if not routine. Innovation must be foundation of individual managers success and job security and the need for innovation must be defined and spelled out, and an innovation plan with specific objectives laid out. Can you begin to see how his concept of entrepreneurial management is much different than the focus of an innovator at a business plan competition?

That is why I think the article's line of reasoning a bit off. The business plan competition is focused on the stage I entrepreneur's skill set, yet the author is measuring the success of business plan competitions against the criteria of a stage II entrepreneur. The metrics and studies that they lack would likely focus more on Drucker's entrepreneurial management than that of the traceability to a business plan competition and its impact on the success of their maturing business. Regardless I would make the claim that these competitions are successful in supporting start ups, entrepreneurs, and society as a whole because they undoubtedly provide the opportunity for some of these companies to take a run that may have never had the opportunity without the organized format of the biz plan competition. What are your thoughts? Anyone who has participated in one have any feedback?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs

In partnership with American Express, Fortune searched the U.S. for outstanding female business builders. Fortune honored these game-changers at its recent Most Powerful Women Summit. From Lauren Bush to environmental innovators, here are the winners.

I love these entrepreneur lists. Fortune has compiled one for powerful women entrepreneurs and some of the stories of their successes are pretty impressive. In a recent book I read by Peter Drucker called Innovation and Entrepreneurship one of the things that really resonated with me was a statement regarding the greatest praise an entrepreneur can receive. The book said something along the lines of the greatest praise an innovator can receive is “This is obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?” It resonated with me because that is how I know a good idea when I hear about it. That feeling is so consistent when i come across great ideas, so it was great to have Drucker package it into such a digestible concept for innovation judgement. The two ideas from the list that struck that chord within me were the Sheex idea and the solar panel idea. I have included an excerpt of each below. Check out all the stories, they are definitely worth the time.


When they were coaching women's basketball at the University of South Carolina, Walvius and Marciniak came up with the idea to apply performance-fabric technology -- the technology that wicks moisture in Nike athletic apparel -- to bedsheets.

Crazy? Not so. Walvius and Marciniak got R&D help from the university's business school and raised $1 million for their "performance bedding" start-up. In May of last year, they quit their coaching jobs. They lined up manufacturing in California soon after, and launched this past April. This month, they cut a deal to sell in the NBA's flagship store in Manhattan.

Their marketing strategy is grassroots and viral, with Twitter and Facebook promos by pro athletes like the New York Giants' Steve Smith and the LPGA's Christina Kim.

Being hard-charging athletes themselves, Walvius and Marciniak are naturally inclined to race for a win. But the best advice they got? "Crawl, walk and then run," says Walvius. In business, as in coaching, she adds, "You're either getting better or you're getting worse with each day. There's no such thing as staying the same." --P.S.

SunRun Inc:

Many environmentally-minded folks like the idea of installing solar panels on their home, but find it's just too expensive.

Enter SunRun, a start-up that pays for the panels and installation; homeowners then buy solar power from SunRun at an average savings of 10% to 15% versus their current energy bill.

Jurich and her business partner started SunRun in 1997 while attending Stanford Business School. But Jurich didn't get a lot of encouragement from her classmates. "That's one of the problems of business school, is that people love to shoot down ideas, they love to say 'that's not going to work,' " she explains. But even with a job in venture capital finance waiting for her at graduation, Jurich took the entrepreneurial route.

SunRun has since raised $30 million from Accel Partners and Foundation Capital, and this week secured $90 million in tax-equity financing from U.S. Bancorp, following an earlier commitment of $105 million in project financing.

Jurich's idea also earned her a ticket to the White House: In early December, she attended a roundtable with President Obama to discuss renewable energy and ways to expand solar adoption in 2010. Her hope is that the U.S. replaces half of the $150 billion annual residential electricity market with solar power over the next two years. --J.S.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

All Graduates Are Not Created Equal

I am in the military. The post I am about to write will probably make half of the military officer corp want to punch me in the neck. But I came across this post in The Atlantic by Megan McArdle and had to comment. I like this post not only because it applies to my specific life situation but because it clearly illustrates how it is often not the players who are to blame, but the rules of the game itself.

I taught some online graduate courses, aimed mostly at overseas military officers, at Troy when I was teaching full time at their main campus. Trying to treat it as if it were a legitimate graduate class was a constant source of frustration. Students simply didn't have the time to do the reading and research -- they were, after all, on active duty in a military with a high operations tempo. But they'd been led to believe that the courses would be easy -- there wouldn't be much work and they could do it at their leisure. The school got a lot of money, paid its faculty quite generously, and the students got the credentials they wanted. Those of us who resisted the degree mill model were messing up that model. (I'm reliably informed that the rigor has picked up, although not to the level one would expect in a traditional on campus graduate program even at Troy.)

But the military is as much at fault here as the degree mills. They quite literally treat college education as a check in a box. A master's degree from Harvard or one from Walden both get officers over the "must have master's degree" hurdle for promotion to lieutenant colonel. And, since few officers are given the time to attend classes at a real school, the incentive to get a dubious degree in the little spare time available is powerful. The same is true, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the federal civil service and for teachers in many school systems across the country: It's the degree that matters, not the learning

This post is why I don’t have my masters yet. I signed up for a Kaplan GMAT prep class last week to get my scores as high as I possibly can in an effort open doors to a full time program or perhaps an executive program a few years down the road. As of now I have resisted the "checking the box" mentality described in Mrs. McArdle's post above, but not without a few awkward conversations with some of my senior leaders. If you know an officer in the armed forces ask them about this cultural mentality and I am quite confident they will assure you it is real. For some career fields like pilots this mentality makes sense. The pilots need for promotion coupled with a commitment that makes them all but career officers provide a very strong incentive to finish a masters program regardless of its credibility or educational benefit. As a pilot you have a ten year active duty service commitment after your initial pilot training which can take as long a couple years for some. With perpetual retirement benefits after twenty years of service it is easy for most to put in the extra 8 or 10 years and achieve those benefits. Assuming that the pilot is proficient the only things that really stand in their way of promotion throughout that time frame is professional military education and a masters degree. As described above the current operations tempo of two wars has made many programs unattainable for officers, so many understandably take the path of least resistance.

I have also seen the ugly side of the article that the author vents about on the civil service side of the government. At my last base there was a civilian employee who had a masters and made more money than a few very competent fellow employees because of that masters. She was run out of that place in less than a year which, for those who have seen firings in the government sector, is very fast. She could literally barely read. Her interpersonal skills were atrocious. And her ability to learn was nonexistent. Not trying to be mean; just the facts. I often found myself wondering how this person got a high school education let alone a masters degree. But someone awarded her a masters, and based on that masters she was awarded a position with higher pay than many of her coworkers with similar experience and undoubtedly more talent. It was that experience when I first became aware of our nation's obsession with credentialing vice true capability.

Those experiences and my own self awareness have led me to resist getting a 'box checking' online degree. This is not to say all online degrees are poor, as I have some friends who are getting a hell of an education with a prestigious degree to go with it online. I am just saying that for me, I need to be in a community classroom session. Although one of the constant themes on BadskiBlog is the quest for knowledge and self education, I know and respect the value of the classroom experience. Discussion, which is all but absent while reading a book, is an essential part of my learning experience. More importantly I look forward to the interaction and connections with like minded motivated people that is most naturally curated through classroom interaction and the sharing of a common bond. I am fully aware that it may hurt my post military employment opportunities applying to positions at competitive companies sans masters. With that being said, in order for me to be true to myself, to respect my desire to actually learn and grow, and to meet other motivated and quality people within a classroom setting I will choose holding out for a prestigious and proven school instead of a “check the box” degree mill program.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Air Force Is Tweeting?!?

Normally I think it is pretty lame when organizations think they need a Twitter account or a Facebook page just because it is the latest and greatest trend. In fact, it is this very mentality that has basically created a new market of internet nerds dedicated to helping companies "optimize their marketing on the web" and "communicating their brand through social networks." I would venture to guess that many Generation Y'ers would likely be broke if it wasn't for this large organization bandwagon mentality. I had heard that the Air Force was trying to integrate into the social networking world and honestly I thought the result would be comedic at best. However, after reading this article I think that the Air Force has actually actually selected a great platform to stream constant job updates and new services offerings to a potentially large audience.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr. The Web is fueling society's digital hunger for real-time information and dialogue, and officials at the Air Force Personnel Center and the Air Force Services Agency are serving up the first course.

Two Twitter accounts currently are being managed by the public affairs office staff here: AFCareers and USAF_Services.

Twitter is a free micro blogging site where users post messages, called tweets, in 140 characters or less, from a computer or mobile device.

In my previous BadskiBlog post entitled "Tweens, Emo Kids, And Why I Am Liking Twitter More & More" I laid out some of the reasons why I think Twitter is an incredibly useful tool. My main points were:

1. Information Pull - You receive tweets only on people you follow. If you don't think they add value to your daily dose of information consumption you don't follow them. You are no longer being bombarded with unwanted or worse unwarranted information. I only pull what information I want. For the newbie to Twitter who only view this as a 140 character status update for tweens and emo kids I am sorry to say that you are mistaken. Most bloggers, news outlets, etc. post active links to their content or other people's content they deem important and/or relevant. So instead of browsing five articles or blog posts in an hour I can now 'pull' hundreds of micro blogs or tweets to me with links to the full paged content.

2. Information Filtering - Of the information that I pull, I am obviously not going to read it all. If I read everything I wouldn't be able to do anything else, like some phone zombie (my wife probably argues that this is the case at times). More information is available today than ever before in the history of the world. Tomorrow will likely be the same given the absence of a massive catastrophe. As time goes on and technology continues to shrink the world by expanding our interconnectivity as a species, information overload will become an increasing problem. Your ability to navigate what information is valuable to you will become more and more important. Twitter allows me to do that. Just because I follow someone on Twitter doesn't mean that I am going to like all the content they distribute. I am sure if you are reading this there are probably plenty of BadskiBlog posts that aren't your cup of tea (insert any metal post here!). Twitter allows me to quickly scan a short description of the full length content and decide in a split second whether or not it is worth my time. If you do this on your phone you can literally fill your down time throughout the day with some information mastication. Your tweet inventory is likely to always have some information you deem important for you. Great for those trying to live the Pareto principle (book review to come on 80/20 Principle).

3. Information Sourcing - Well won't I just get stuck in a tiny microcosm of the world reading the same people's opinions over and over? Short answer is no. The transparency of Twitter allows you to see others who are following the people you are following. If you want you can follow them and navigate through some of their content. Or for the lazy people out there you can merely sit back and wait for the people you are following to acknowledge someone in a tweet. By replying to someone's tweet you will start your tweet with @randoguysnamehere which will allow others to know who you are citing as well messaging the person you cited. Kind of confusing but when you see it in action you will know what I am talking about. This allows you to see who people you are following deem important enough or relevant enough to interact with. Pretty interesting stuff going on and an opportunity to weave your way through peoples soft connections and into some new information or content.

Somebody on the Air Force staff gets it. And they obviously get it enough to know that tweeting job postings and new services is an incredibly effective and appropriate way to make use of the three principles above. I think I am actually going to follow them…

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Twitter Creator's Newest Venture: Credit Card Payments By Cell Phone

Twitter creator Jack Dorsey Wednesday gave the first public demonstration of his hotly-anticipated latest venture -- a device to allow credit card payments by cell phone -- and revealed it would be given away for free.

Although the details are fairly vague it seems like a pretty cool invention. You can read the full article here. I have been waiting for something like this to hit the broad market. In fact I have been waiting since college when in an innovations class a guy and I tried to develop a credit card phone prototype. It seems pretty naive now to think that even if we developed a prototype we would have had the power and influence to bring it to market, but at the time we were pretty into it. We found a computer science guy who specialized in hardware stuff and asked him to start building a magnetic strip reader into a phone. Our innovations teacher told us to hook up with a comp sci teacher who had experience bringing a company to market within the handheld device arena. Our excitement was short lived as we found out that the comp sci instructor at the USAF Academy actually held the patent for magnetic reading devices within a handheld device. He had sold that patent along with his company to a larger company who he said probably didn’t even realize they had that patent.

Details of "Square" -- a card reader which plugs into the headphone socket of most mobile devices -- have been circulating on the Internet since it was announced earlier this month, but little has been known about how it works or who it was aimed at.

However, Dorsey -- whose microblogging Web site has proved hugely popular but not hugely profitable since launching in March 2006 -- gave no explanation on how he would make money from his new creation, beyond revealing there would be a per-transaction charity donation.

Square, a tiny cube about an inch in length, contains a magnetic strip reader that allows users to swipe and read credit cards, then deduct payment on or offline through a downloaded application that communicates with card issuers in the same way as retailer devices.

Customers then use their finger on the phone's touch-recognition screen to sign their name to the transaction.

It sounds like the Twitter creator's venture bypasses the conventional thinking of putting the reader in the phone all together by making the reader a separate attachment that works through the headphone jack. Regardless, this is something that needs to happen. I hate using cash and rarely carry it, but there are still obvious needs for cash. An invention like this one would likely eliminate many of those needs to carry cash in my opinion.

"The financial world is amazing right now because there's a clean slate. A lot of these industries are looking for something very small and innovative," he said during the gremlin-hit demonstration of his device at LeWeb, a major Internet forum in Paris.

"My co-founder is a glass artist. He sells things that people don't need -- $2,000 glass faucets. They're beautiful. If he could not take credit cards, he wouldn't make the sale because no one carries around $2,000 in the cash.

"So we looked at it. Ninety percent of the U.S. has moved to credit cards, but it's still very difficult to accept them."

"We're trying with a bunch of different profiles of folks in New York, San Francisco, LA and St. Louis, Missouri. There are piano teachers, flight instructors, and coffee shops. It can be used in a retail store like Apple, all the way down to Craigslist or paying me back for that dinner you owe me."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finding Balance In Your Finances

“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” - Euripides (Greek playwright, c. 480-406 BC)

Balance is something that I struggle with daily. As a man of passion it is easy to get swept from one extreme to another, and finances are no exception. I came across a great post on Get Rich Slowly the other day that offers some great insight into the topic of balance in your personal finances called "Financial Balance Lets You Enjoy Today AND Tomorrow." Below are some of the main points of the post but do yourself a favor and read the entire post as I am sure you will find some of yourself within it.

Finding balance
In order to find balance, you’ve got to do some soul-searching. I think of it as a three-step process:

Find what makes you happy. Look inside yourself and ask, “What is it that brings meaning, pleasure, and joy to my life?” Be honest. How can you create a life that features more of the good stuff and less of the mundane?

Focus on your goals. Set personal goals based on the things that make you happy. If you like music, maybe one of your goals could be to learn to play the guitar. If you want to change careers, maybe one goal would be to go back to school. Make meaningful goals a priority, and let the other stuff be secondary.

Seek balance. Strive for moderation in all things. Pursue your goals, but don’t forget frugality. Be frugal, but don’t forget your goals. Work hard to build your financial fortress — but let yourself have a little fun, too.

The balanced money formula
One tool that I’ve embraced for the past year is the balanced money formula introduced by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi in their excellent book, All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan.

Here’s what it looks like:

As you can see, when your financial life is in balance, you’re allocating enough for savings and needs, but you’re also setting some aside for the things you want. This idea is simple, but it was a revelation to me. No more spending too much on wants, but no more pinching pennies, either.

I really like this outlook. On the one hand the majority of people can relate to the struggle my fellow Oregonian went through with compulsive spending. But on the other hand I am sure many can also relate to becoming obsessive regarding saving and investing to the detriment of your daily happiness. I know that sometimes I go the opposite way and get stressed out if I am not saving enough or investing “enough.” Sometimes the percentages can be deceiving. “I am only saving 10%, I am not saving enough, I will never get to X,Y, or Z,” your brain might be saying. That is why I really enjoyed the visual representation of what it takes him to be balanced. It helps to focus and provide structure to your spending habits without becoming obsessed and disrupting that mental balance that is necessary for your happiness.

When I start to get stressed about how much I am saving and investing I think back to one of the main lessons from the ever-insightful classic The Richest Man In Babylon by George S Clason. The book states that saving a mere 10% over a lifetime is a surefire way to reach your financial goals. If you haven’t read that book, read it now. It’s about 100 pages set to a backdrop of what I would describe as Aladdin meets personal finance. Pretty interesting, very simple, and timeless.

If you are getting stressed that you are only saving X percent, keep in mind that you are probably doing better than most in the sense that you are actually keeping more than you spend. As I have stated before on BadskiBlog, if you are keeping more than you spend then it is only a matter of time until you reach your financial goals. If you don’t like how long that timeline is you can either spend less or make/keep more. It is an iterative process that is definitely more challenging mentally than tactically. Maybe I am a product of my generation and our culture in that patience is not one of my strongest virtues, however I have to remind myself that my wife and I are saving more than a quarter of our income and we are still living the life we want to live as far as experiences go. Which brings us to the most important lesson from the Get Rich Slowly post.

The quest to achieve financial balance is about more than money. It’s also about meaning. Money is important, yes, but it’s not the only thing. Money is a means, not an end.

Money is a means, not an end. I love that. Remember your goal is happiness and living the life you envision yourself wanting to live. That can start today….as in NOW. You can work on your personal finances by slowly course correcting over time, but you need to enjoy life now. That is why the concept of balance is so important and like most things it must be worked on over time.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Story Of Mint - How Mint Went From Garage To $170 Million

Going from garage to being sold for $170 million dollars in only a few short years is in itself an amazing story. However this post isn't meant to dazzle you with tales of huge company buyouts. This post is about providing insight into the formation and progression of a start up. The video features Mint CEO Aaron Patzer who is a self proclaimed recovering nerd. The video is kind of geared towards a tech audience but there are many lessons that transcend the type of business you are creating that I am sure will be valuable to BadskiBlog readers. At first I really enjoyed the video because it had great insight into start up challenges and the different stages of the formation of a company. Patzer focuses on cash flow and funding which are the lifeblood of a business and he offers up lessons learned and real life Mint examples. The part that got me going about this presentation was the personal side of the entrepreneur. Patzer opens up and gives a glimpse into his own personal journey through Mint's creation.

"It has been something that has been transformative for me" - CEO Aaron Patzer

Patzer goes on to say that it (the creation of a company) does for you beyond money is very gratifying. Something that really resonated with me was when he said to create something from nothing is the essence of human progress. I think people like myself who are drawn intuitively to business and entrepreneurship are really drawn to create. If I was even remotely handy I could see myself never entering a classroom again and doing some form of construction and loving it. However, I think my own personal journey will have me create more with my mind than my hands. To me that is where the video was really valuable. It was just an awesome look into the journey of the person and the struggle through the self doubts etc.

I am a user of Mint and I recommend it to everyone when we get on the topic of personal finance. I highly recommend you use it as well. As far as free goes on the internet this site may be the best there is. I have been using it for a few years now and I have seen the features grow and expand and I think it is a must have in your internet favorites for anyone who is looking for transparency in where your money actually goes, how your investments are actually doing, and what your net worth actually is. Enjoy the video and start using the site.

Mint CEO Aaron Patzer on Startups from Techcrunch on Vimeo.

Personal MBA Update - Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Personal MBA Update - Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker: I want to meet Peter Drucker’s book researcher. And if he did the research himself then he is even more impressive than just possessing the ability to write an incredibly insightful and practical book on a topic that is ethereal to many. Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker is a must read for those interested in the subject topics. Drucker, known largely for his grandiose contributions to the study of management, has written a book that lays out a practical roadmap for those who wish to advance in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship. The reason I commented on the book researcher is that the book reads in a manner that is based entirely upon example and story. You won’t find a “step one, step two, do this, do that” book from Drucker. Every principle and axiom is centered on an example from history. He cites examples on everything from the French revolution to the Toyota production revolution. By doing so he has produced not only an entertaining book, but a guide with real practical content that allows readers to improve their ability to innovate in their existing careers or in new ventures and markets. And that is the premise of this great book. That innovation and entrepreneurship can be learned and honed like any other skill. It is not a spark of genius that manifests itself in your head outside of your own personal control. You can prepare yourself for success in innovation and entrepreneurship. Here are my notes from this classic:

Introduction: The Entrepreneurial Economy:
- Talks about how a Kondratieff or stagnating deindustrialization of the American economy is seemingly at odds with an entrepreneurial high tech America
- Says America is the only true entrepreneurial economy
- Sights that many of these entrepreneurial companies are in fact manufacturing
- The “new technology” is entrepreneurial management

The Practice of Innovation:
- Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for different business/service
- It is capable of being presented as a discipline, of being learned, or practiced

Systematic Entrepreneurship:
- Opening another restaurant is not entrepreneurship. McDonalds was entrepreneurship not in its end products but in its management concepts and techniques. They created a new market and a new customer
- Entrepreneurs create something new, something different; they change or transmute values
- Do something different rather than do better what is already being done
- The entrepreneur upsets or disorganizes or as Schumpeter would say “his task is creative destruction.”
- The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity
- Entrepreneurship is viewed as risky. But why? They shift resources from areas of low productivity and yield into areas of higher productivity and yield. There is the risk that they may not succeed but if moderately successful the returns should be more than adequate to offset the risk
- Its risky because so few so called entrepreneurs know what they are doing. Purposeful innovation is a systematic methodology

Purposeful Innovation and the Seven Sources for Innovative Opportunity:
- Some of the best innovation is not technical but social in nature
- Innovation used to be a flash of genius but eventually became research, a systematic purposeful activity
- Entrepreneurs have to learn to practice systematic innovation
- The entrepreneurs who start out with the big idea that they’ll make it big in a hurry can guarantee failure
- Italic section page 35
- The overwhelming majority of successful innovations “exploit change”
- 7 Sources of innovative opportunity:
Within the enterprise:
1. The unexpected – unexpected success, failure, or outside event
2. The incongruity – between reality as it is and the way it ought to be
3. Innovation based on process need
4. Changes in the industry structure or market structure that catch everyone unaware
Outside the enterprise:
5. Demographics (population changes)
6. Changes in perception, mood, and meaning
7. New knowledge both scientific and non scientific
- The lines between can be blurred and overlap, none more important or productive than the other

Source: The Unexpected:
- No area offers richer opportunities with less arduous and risky work. Yet it is often neglected or worse rejected
- Macy’s story pg 37
- It is not enough to depend on accidents, the search must be organized
- It must be seen
1. What would it mean to us if we exploited it? 2. Where could it lead us? 3. What would we have to do to convert it into an opportunity? 4. How do we go about it?
- Rarely seen as symptoms of opportunity
- You don’t necessarily know why change is occurring just exploit it like the Ford Thunderbird
- All you need to know is something happened and that is enough to convert the unexpected success or failure into an opportunity for effective purposeful innovation
Outside Event:
- The unexpected outside event may thus be above all opportunity to apply already existing expertise to a new application, but to an application that does not change the nature of the business we are in.
- It may be an extension rather than a diversification
- The opportunity is there. It requires more than mere luck or intuition. Opportunities demand that the enterprise search for innovation, be organized for it, and be managed as to exploit it

Source: Incongruities:
- An incongruity is a discrepancy, a dissonance between what is and what ought to be, or between what is and what everyone assumes it to be
- Several kinds: 1. Incongruity between economic realities 2. Incongruity between the reality of an industry and the assumptions about it 3. Incongruity between the efforts of an industry and the values and expectations of its customers 4. Within the rhythm and logic of a process
Economic realities:
- Of all incongruities that between perceived and actual reality may be the most common

Source: Process Need:
- Opportunity is the source of innovation but necessity is the mother of invention
- With process needs everyone knows the need exists but no one does anything about it
- Innovations based on process needs require 5 basic criteria:
1. A self contained process
2. One weak or missing link
3. A clear definition of the objective
4. Specifications for the solution are clearly defined
5. Widespread realization that “there ought to be a better way” that is highly receptive

Source: Industry and Market Structures:
- Market and industry structures are quite brittle
- A change in industry structure offers exceptional highly visible and quite predictable to outsiders. Insiders perceive these same changes as threats. The outsider who can innovate can become a major factor fast with relatively low risk
- 4 nearly certain indicators of impending change in industry structure:
1. Rapid growth is the most reliable and easily spotted
2. After growth the way one perceives and services the market is likely dated
3. A convergence of technologies previously seen as separate
4. The way in which they do business is changing

Source: Demographics:
- External
- Changes in population, size, age, composition, employment, education, income
- What makes demographics such a rewarding opportunities for entrepreneurs is the neglect of others: the assumption demographics do not change

Source: Changes in Perception:
- When a change in perception takes place the facts do not change, their meaning does
- A critical problem in perception based innovation is timing

Source: New Knowledge:
- Knowledge based innovation is the superstar of entrepreneurship
- It has the longest lead time of all innovation
- They are almost never based on one factor but the convergence of many
- Requirements:
1. Careful analysis of all necessary factors
2. Clear focus and strategic position
3. Occupy a strategic position and practice entrepreneurial management
- Even with meticulous analysis clear focus and management knowledge based innovation suffers from unique risks and innate unpredictability
1. For science and tech based innovators time is working against you 2. Because the “window” is much more crowded any one knowledge based innovator has far less chance of survival
- The “shakeout” sets in as soon as the window closes and the majority of ventures do not survive
- The innovation is not enough, must focus on receptivity to it

The Bright Idea:
- Bright ideas probably out number all other categories put together yet they are the riskiest and least successful
- Bright ideas are vague and elusive

Principles of Innovation”
- Miracle cures exist but that doesn’t mean we put that in textbooks to be taught to Drs. Similarly there are innovations that don’t come from sources in previous chapters but such innovations cannot be replicated
- The do’s:
1. Purposeful systematic innovation begins with the analysis of opportunities
2. Innovation is both conceptual and perceptual; ask look and listen
3. An innovator to be effective has to be simple and focused. The greatest praise an innovator can receive is “This is obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?”
4. Effective innovations start small they try to do one specific thing
5. Successful innovation aims at leadership within a given environment
- The don’ts:
1. Try not to be clever. Innovations must be handled by ordinary humans and there are a lot of morons out there
2. Don’t diversify, splinter, or do too many things at once
3. Don’t try to innovate for the future. Innovate for the present
- The three conditions:
1. Innovation is work
2. To succeed innovators must build on their strengths
3. Innovation is an effect in economy and society
- Successful innovators are conservative. They have to be. They are not risk focused they are opportunity focused

The Practice of Entrepreneurship:
- The entrepreneurial requires different management but it still requires systematic organized purposeful management. Entrepreneurs must face up to their own rules and commitments

Entrepreneurial Management:
- Established business, public service, and startups

The Entrepreneurial Business:
- The belief that large businesses don’t innovate is a misunderstanding
- It is not size that is the impediment but the existing operation itself
- It takes special effort for the existing business to become entrepreneurial. The temptation is to always feed yesterday and starve tomorrow
- Entrepreneurship is not natural and not creative; it is work!
- How can we make the organization receptive to innovation, want innovation, reach for it, work for it?
- Innovation must be part and parcel of the ordinary, the norm, if not routine
- Innovation must be foundation of individual managers success and job security and the need for innovation must be defined and spelled out, and an innovation plan with specific objectives laid out
- Entrepreneurial Practices:
1. Focus managerial vision on opportunity
2. Generate an entrepreneurial spirit throughout the entire management group
3. Have a formal session with junior people and LISTEN for opportunities
- Measuring innovative performance is the only way entrepreneurship will become action
1. Feedback from results to expectations
2. Develop a systematic review of innovative efforts
3. Judging innovative performance against innovative objectives against performance and standing in the market and performance as a business all together
- Structures:
1. The entrepreneurial and new must be organized separately from the old and existing
2. The new must receive special focus within the organization
3. Keep the venture from burdens of normal products like ROI requirements etc.
4. Returns on innovation will be different
5. A person or component group should be held clearly accountable
- The don’ts:
1. Don’t mix managerial units and entrepreneurial ones
2. Do not innovate outside your existing field
3. Acquiring outside entrepreneurial ventures rarely works

Entrepreneurship in the Service Industry:
- Public service institutions need to be entrepreneurial and innovative as much as any business maybe more
- But it is more difficult because in the absence of profit there’s only growth in and of itself
- Most innovations are imposed by outsiders or a catastrophe
- The forces that impede entrepreneurship and innovation in a public service institution are inherent in it, integral to it, inseparable from it
- 3 reasons it is more difficult in public service:
1. Based on budget not results 2. Dependant on a multitude of constituents 3. Most important is that they “do good” and see the mission as a moral absolute vs. an economic cost/benefit analysis
- Needed policies:
1. Needs a clear definition of its mission 2. Realistic statement of goals 3. Failure to achieve means objective is wrong or defined wrongly. It then should be economic vs. moral 4. Build into policy and procedure a constant search for innovation
- Innovation for public service has become so important because public service institutions have become too big and important in developed countries

The New Venture:
- Entrepreneurial management in the new venture have 4 components:
1. Focus on the market
2. Financial foresight for cash flow and capital needs ahead
3. Top management team long before it needs one
4. A decision by the founding entrepreneur on their role
- Often focus on profits but it should be cash flow capital and controls
- A new venture outgrows its capital base with every 40-50% increase in sales

Entrepreneurial Strategies:
- Also requires practices and policies outside in marketplace

Fustest with the Mostest:
- 4 Entrepreneurial strategies:
1. Being fustest with the moistest
2. Hitting them where they aint
3. Finding and occupying a specialized ecological niche
4. Changing the economic characteristics of the product, market, industry
- Fustest requires ambition and seeks to create new industry or market. If it doesn’t work right away it is a total failure
- Hit em is creative imitation that understands the innovation better than those who created it. It is market focused and driven aimed at market dominance
- 5 reasons entrepreneurial judo works: 1. Not invented here mentality 2. Cream of market by getting the high profit part 3. Recognizing what the customer deems quality not the producer 4. Premium price is an invitation 5. Maximize instead of optimize. Try to satisfy every user through the same product or service, so there are a ton of features that satisfy no one
- Entrepreneurial judo is successful when: established leaders refuse to act on the unexpected, a new technology emerges and grows fast, or when a market or industry changes fast

Ecological Niches:
- The ecological niche aims at control, at obtaining a practical monopoly in a small area
- 3 niche strategies:
1. Toll gate strategy – makes people need your product at any price
2. Specialty skill strategy – self explanatory built around a product
3. Specialty market strategy – built around specialized knowledge of a market

Changing Values and Characteristics:
- All strategies in this chapter create a customer that is the ultimate goal or purpose of a business and economic activity
- 4 ways:
1. Creating utility 2. By pricing 3. By adaptation to the customers social and economic reality 4. By delivering what represents true value to the customer
- Great examples
- Anyone who asks “what does the customer really buy” will win the race
- Customers do not buy a product, they buy what it does for them

Conclusion: The Entrepreneurial Society:
- “Every generation needs a revolution.” – Thomas Jefferson
- Alexis de Tocqueville “Revolutions do not demolish the prisons of the old regime they enlarge them.”
- Innovation and entrepreneurship are needed in society as much as business . They achieve what Jefferson hoped to achieve without bloodshed, civil war, or concentration camps, without economic catastrophe, but with a purpose, with direction, and under control.
- We need a society in which innovation and entrepreneurship are normal steady and continuous
- 2 areas in which an entrepreneurial society requires substantial innovation:
1. Take care of redundant workers like auto industry. New businesses create new jobs.
2. The other is more radical and difficult: to organize the systematic abandonment of outworn social policies and obsolete public service institutions. Policy is human not divine and will therefore become obsolete fast, but government policy is view as being forever
- A challenge as an individual in an entrepreneurial society is the need for continuous learning and relearning.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guitar String Manufacturer Gets Lean

When I think of D'Addario I think of the strings I use to create bludgeoning melodic death metal riffs. I think of face melting solos, headbanging, and on stage theatrics. The last thing I really think about is lean manufacturing. But after watching this video from CNN's small business blog I can tell that CEO Jim D'Addario gets it. Although the video is fairly light on real lean manufacturing content there was a passage that keyed me into the fact that D'Addario is practicing and succeeding using real lean. The part I am speaking of is when he talks about not laying people off. The moment you lay someone off because of the success of lean your lean journey has ended; in fact it has died a horrific death. No one is going to improve a process that works them out of a job. As I have discussed on BadskiBlog before, labor is cheap. It is your materials and inventory that make up the majority of your costs. By reducing inventory and waste while simultaneously increasing throughput and capacity you have effectively paid for all your labor. I think that the fact D'Addario is producing a product that is basically a commodity in one of the highest taxed states in the United States really says something. These strings certainly could be made in China, however D'Addario is using lean which is a growth strategy instead of resorting to a cost cutting outsourcing strategy. Good story that shows that manufacturing in the US is not and does not have to be dead!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Strategy, Afghanistan and Obama's Speech

I am going to list a few words and I want you to read them as fast as you can and tell me what they have in common. Afghanistan, Obama, Speech, Pakistan, Bush, War, 30,000 Troops, Timeline. Besides dominating the headlines alongside Tiger Woods, these words represent key elements of one of our country's great challenges; The Afghanistan Conflict. Not only is the situation complicated, it is extremely polarizing. A fact that the media and political pundits exploit and exaggerate at all costs, much to the detriment of our nation's unity and any political progress on the topic at large. That is why I love reading Andrew Sullivan. He has his views but tries to express them based purely on the facts as he sees them. There is minimal exaggeration and a common recognition of the opposing view, even if he strongly disagrees. If I had to boil it down I would say he is grounded in reality, not theatrics. Here is the post he wrote regarding President Obama's speech on our nation's way forward in Afghanistan as well as some excerpts and comments below.

I think this strategy is doomed. But then I think any strategy that does not pledge to colonize Afghanistan, pour trillions of dollars into it and stay for a century is doomed. So why do I end up this morning feeling rather similar to my colleague, Jim Fallows, who simply sighs: 'Well, I hope he's right"?

Here's why. The sanest option - leave now - would leave allies high and dry, prompt domestic cries of surrender, demoralize the military, break a clear campaign pledge, and signal to Pakistan that the Taliban is their problem now. Everything but the latter are worth avoiding.

This war is already eight years' old and will soon have lasted longer than Vietnam. Its rationale today is very different than what it was in 2001 - 2002. Al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The US, thanks to Bush and the recession, is bankrupt and facing a long and brutal period of high unemployment and soon huge cuts in entitlements or big tax hikes.

Our enemy already knows that the US cannot sustain neo-imperial control of a vast inhospitable country on the other side of the planet for more than a decade. And if the US were to do so, it would be becoming the imperial power the neocons and the Islamists truly want. What Obama was saying last night is that he is determined to return America to normal, to unplug this vast attempt at global control in Muslim countries that Bush and Cheney unleashed. He is trying to unwind the empire, not expand it.

How best to unwind the empire? By giving McChrystal what he wants and giving him a couple of years to deliver tangible results. If McChrystal delivers, fantastic. I will do a ritual self-flagellation and bow down to the man with no body-fat and a close relationship with 33 Kagans of various generations and genders. If McChrystal does his best and we still get nowhere, Obama will have demonstrated - not argued, demonstrated - that withdrawal is the least worst option.

I possess many of the same feelings as Andrew Sullivan. One area where I digress from his view is with regards to strategy. I have read/heard many comments whether or not people agree with sending more troops. But one thing I have not heard addressed is that lack of detail regarding a new, or as I have said numerous times, the creation of a strategy to end our involvement in this war on a grand scale. I did like increased emphasis on Pakistan's involvement and responsibility as well as the actual mobilization of troops to combat the Taliban. Both are good signs in my view. However the lack of a legitimate and capable government coupled with a fuzzy strategy at best have me worried. One thing I will say is that the military leaders and members did not choose to go to Afghanistan. It is not their place to question the decisions of our elected officials when they are lawful orders. So our military leaders are requesting the troops and resources they feel are necessary to do the job they are told to do. In general I feel that we should listen to leaders on the ground, I would just feel a lot more comfortable if the strategy was so clearly defined that the average person on the street could give a brief overview of what it is. I worry because there are many military members who could not provide a brief overview of our strategy let alone the average American.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lightning Bolt Inspiration vs. Persistent Practice & Preparation

Does innovation have to be a lightning bolt of inspiration or can it, like any other skill, be fashioned from practice, preparation, and a consistent process? Arguments can be found leaning both ways. You can read about the belief that there are those with a born "entrepreneurial spirit" or study those who claim you can condition your "ability to innovate" almost like a muscle. CNN in the Executive Education section of their website recently posted an article on this very argument. You can read the full transcript here. The article claims that researchers have discovered "the five secrets of innovation."

Coming up with brilliant, game-changing ideas is what makes the likes of Apple's Steve Jobs so successful, and now researchers say they have identified the five secrets to being a great innovator.

Professors from Harvard Business School, Insead and Brigham Young University have just completed a six-year study of more than 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs, that included interviews with high-profile entrepreneurs including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Michael Dell, founder of Dell computers.

In an article published in December's Harvard Business Review the researchers identified five skills that separate the blue-sky innovators from the rest -- skills they labeled associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and discovering.

Researchers say they have identified five skills that drive innovation:

Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.

Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask "why?", "why not?" and "what if?"

Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.

Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.

Obviously these researchers side more towards the ability to innovate being a learned trait. I would have to agree that the ability to innovate like any other skill can be learned through hard work, practice, and dedication. However, I also acknowledge the fact some people hit the genetic lottery while others are well....not so fortunate. I think that like most things even an absent disposition can be overcome if the desire is there. I think more and more business minds are starting to lean in the direction of this line of thinking. I am currently reading Innovation and Entrepreneurship by business hall of famer Peter Drucker in which the entire premise of the book is calculated implementation of innovation and entrepreneurship. I will go into more detail of my thoughts on the book after its completion, but the one thing that really stands out is Drucker's ability to use actual stories and examples to illustrate his views and principles. Badskiblog readers are also familiar with another book I read recently by Twyla Tharp called the Creative Habit, which held a very similar view on creativity although presented in a very different manner than Drucker.

One of the men behind the study, Insead's Hal Gregersen, told CNN, "What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before."

The researchers describe this ability to connect ideas as "associating," and say it's key to innovators' ability to think outside the box. But they add that the secret to how the great innovators think is the way they act.

"The way they act is to observe actively, like an anthropologist, and they talk to incredibly diverse people with different world views, who can challenge their assumptions," Gregersen told CNN.

Because the ability to think differently comes from acting differently, Gregersen says anyone can become a better innovator, just by acting like one.

"Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired," he told CNN. "We found that it's like exercising your muscles -- if you engage in the actions you build the skills."

I love the way they describe what true innovators do...they recognize unique patterns that others don't see. I like that describe them as anthropologist-esque. Entrepreneurs seek to satisfy wants or create wants that consumers didn't know they had. Innovators ability to satisfy wants typically rests firmly upon their ability to recognize patterns amongst the most complex study known to man; the study of man. It is a very insightful and great way to look at what entrepreneurs actually do. What are you doing to hone your innovation acumen?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

War Tax, Our National Debt, And The Illusive Terrorist

This is one of the few times I actually want more taxes! Read the full article on a proposed war tax here. The average American doesn’t recognize the immense cost of maintaining an expeditionary force overseas. I would rather have to fork out the extra money in taxes than continue to grow our astronomical national debt, the majority of which lies in the hands of the Chinese.

"There ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan," House Appropriations Chairman David Obey told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it."

Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin, made it clear that he is absolutely opposed to sending any more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and says if Obama decides to do that, he'll demand a new tax -- what he calls a "war surtax" -- to pay for it.

"On the merits, I think it is a mistake to deepen our involvement," Obey said. "But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy."

There was another article on MSN regarding the immense costs of borrowing that we as Americans are dealing with. Not only is it an immense cost now but it may get much worse in the near future.

“The government is on teaser rates,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that advocates lower deficits. “We’re taking out a huge mortgage right now, but we won’t feel the pain until later.”

The United States government is financing its more than trillion-dollar-a-year borrowing with i.o.u.’s on terms that seem too good to be true.

But that happy situation, aided by ultralow interest rates, may not last much longer.

Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

I am always amazed at the propensity for government officials and political pundits to try and defy the laws of finance based on the premise that government spending is different than personal finance. I disagree. There are some obvious differences, however basic principles like the cost of capital, the power of compounding interest, and spending more than you make aren’t moot just because a sovereign government is doing the spending. That is why I think developing a clear “end state” or perhaps more accurately an “exit state” for Afghanistan is so important. Right now we are likely going to bolster troops in a war that to my knowledge has no clear goal other than to prevent the harboring of terrorists. That argument might be enough if the majority of the terrorists in the 9-11 attacks hadn’t masterminded in Europe. A more recent example is the Ft Hood tragedy. It is a new world out there with bolstering interconnectivity of those worldwide. And if we continue to treat these terrorists as if they are actors of a nation state we will continue to be behind the eight ball when it comes to combating them. Terrorist activity, as has been proven time and again, can arise from anywhere. It can cross any border into any nation and is more of a mental disposition than a national association. If we are going to continue financing a war without an end state in mind we may as well do it from our own pockets vice the interest bearing dollars of other nations.