Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Checking For Charity Corporation - Final Final Tally!

I know that I posted a Checking For Charity final tally last week, but apparently I spoke too soon. The inaugural tournament champions Team Hardenbergh played for the Ed Snyder Youth Hockey Foundation (ESYHF). By winning the tournament they took home the coveted Checking For Charity cup as well as an 18% share of the overall proceeds from the event. Their 18% came out to be $1,620.00. Earlier this week team captain Mitch Larnerd and Checking For Charity Vice Chairman Chris Mattie presented the foundation with their check. The ESYHF has graciously matched our donation two fold donating another $3,240.00 which brings our tournament total up over $12,450.00! Our organization’s stretch goal was $10k for this tournament so to be pleasantly surprised with this match donation is amazing. We have also been contacted by numerous organizations and charities looking to help with our next event. Our main focus for the next event is hitting the corporate push and marketing campaign hard and early. We were hindered by the IRS this year due to their speedy processing of our tax exempt status which is measured in months. However, next event the shell that is Checking For Charity Corporation will already be in place allowing us to focus entirely on the event ahead us instead or building a corporation. We also have developed a successful model that with be easy to replicate and expand upon. The future looks bright for Checking For Charity.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Super Mario Metal!! Bowser Castle Cover!

I found this viral video on the best metal site on the web, Metal Injection. Talk about a great way to get people to check out your band on MySpace. This is by no means a new concept (remember the OK Go video?), but it is relatively new to the metal genre. Not only is this awesome because it is metal but it is classic 80's Nintendo as well which makes it exponentially cooler. I checked the band Nylithia out after seeing the video and they are actually pretty damn good. Even if they sucked they would forever be badass in my book just because of the video. Enjoy this medley of metal, Nintendo, 80's, and creative marketing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Survival Of The Unfittest?

"Greed is good," is the phrase that most comes to mind when thinking of the infamous villain Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. I am not naive or crass enough to believe that greed is good, however Gekko did say another phrase that is much more relevant in today's world. He spoke about survival of the unfittest, and in recent history our nation's breakout of bailouts is creating a culture that is bringing to life Gekko's nightmare. Or at least that is the way an article within the Economist describes the culture, and not just in the US.

But the dramatic changes in the pecking order mask a lack of more profound change in the system of finance itself. Lehman aside, no big firms have been allowed to fail (as they would have done, unaided). Thanks to state aid, the law for big firms today is what Gordon Gekko, the red-blooded villain of the film “Wall Street”, dubbed “survival of the unfittest".

Don't jump to conclusions too quickly. The article is not a total advocation of complete free markets within the banking industry. The article makes some great points on why some government regulation is necessary, but warns of the dangers of setting a precedent of state guarantees.

Removing the explicit side of the state’s commitment is relatively simple. Some guarantees are still plainly needed now, but a firm deadline of, say, five years for the final expiry of the governments’ various crisis-induced pledges should be set globally. With the world economy in better shape, this looks more realistic than it did six months ago. But even then the implicit assumption will linger that banks will always be bailed out. This is the core problem. There are two possible responses to it: regulate banks to try to make them safer, and attempt to limit the implicit guarantee. Both approaches are now needed.

No one should pretend that banking is an industry where pure natural selection takes place. But as guarantees, both explicit and implicit, are withdrawn, the hope is that self-discipline will be imposed on banks, not just swathes of new regulation. There are signs that riskier banks are already paying more to finance themselves. This differentiation must be promoted, so the weak and reckless are gradually forced to shrink and live within their means—and not off taxpayers’ largesse.

I really like the article because it talks about some of the consequences of providing an 'implicit state guarantee' to the banks. The described guarantee is a fancy way of saying that we are starting down the slippery slope. I have blogged about the unforeseen consequences that can arise out of government deities deciding who lives and who dies, and this article illustrates some that are being to take shape. A good read from a good source of information.

How PBworks Used Lean Startup Techniques

I found this link on Twitter the other day and thought it has some good anecdotal points on startups. Thought I would share. I really have never heard the term lean startup before which I thought was weird since I have been involved in the lean world for the last few years. But I guess it makes sense since most startups are penniless to begin with anyways. Take what you can.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Boeing Internship: Thoughts and Lessons Learned

The posts have been a bit light for me the last week or so because I was in Mesa Arizona doing an internship at Boeing. Not only has it been difficult to carve out time to write, but the Internet connection at the hotel was $9.99 for a 24 hour period! Ouch. As part of my lean journey within the Air Force, I have been lucky enough to attend the University of Tennessee and now to do an education with industry program with Boeing. Besides the amazing weather in Arizona it was an incredible opportunity to embed myself within a major defense contractor and see how they are implementing and benefiting from lean within their organization. It proved even more valuable than I originally thought because learned a lot about how they run their business and what the other side of the fence in the acquisition world is like so to speak. Since I am behind the desk in the Air Force purchasing large weapon systems and systems support it was great to see how the company brings the government requirements to fruition. But beyond the lessons that just apply to lean or government acquisition are the lessons apply to more broad topics. Great experience that will be one I remember and use forever. Here are a few things I took away from my time spent in Mesa as well as some cool pictures.

1. Internships/Education Within Industry Is Extremely Valuable - I have written about benchmarking before here on BadskiBlog. Every time I partake in these pseudo field trips I am amazed at the nuggets of knowledge I pull from the experience. They teach us in kindergarten that getting outside your element is valuable, but as we grow older we seem to forget that lesson. The military as a whole is especially resistant to learning from outside organizations. Its a culture that believes that what we do is unique and so different that lessons cannot be gleaned from other industries. This outlook builds complacency and stymies creativity. At Boeing I have learned that we share very similar challenges and often come to similar solutions. With regard to implementing lean within the culture of the organization Boeing struggles from the same resistance from naysayers. Boeing struggles with bureaucracy. They struggle with bridging the communication gap between leadership and lower level workers. Some times it takes looking in someone elses kitchen to be able to see how your organization really is. When you see their issues and challenges you can look back to your organization and begin to see how they may affect you as well. Luckily you can do the same with successes. Nothing is ever directly transferable to your organization from another, but you can take winning ideas from one organization and morph them into a success within your organization.

a selfish standpoint the trip was a great experience as well. The trip shrunk the sea for me. When you are in your own little routine and day to day life you think that there is so much out there and that other organizations are so different. The trip helped me to realize that people are people everywhere. Whether in Boeing, the Air Force, or on a pro sports team the dynamics of social interactions are the same everywhere. The trip helped to take Corporate America off a pedestal for me. Its similar to the grass is always greener on the other side mentality. You see how messed up your own organization is some times and you get to thinking that other organizations are heads and tails above you. The truth is they probably aren't. My old coach used to always say "when you win you are never as good as you thought you were, and when you lose you are probably better than you thought you were." Its easy to get frustrated with your own struggles and begin to think that the other team, in this case Corporate America, is utopia. It's not. I think it was healthy for me to see that and it helps to ingrain within me that I can and will be successful in any organization if I put in the effort and passion. Bottom line: get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. There are always lessons to be learned.

2. You Can't Optimize A Part At The Expense Of The Whole - Basically this means that you can't try and improve one area of the business and expect it to boost results for the business as a whole. Our organizations are often broken up functionally, regionally, or a million other ways. Although it may help with chains of communication or with allocating resources it often creates a stovepipe mentality where people are only concerned with their narrow view of the overall business. We all fall into this trap. However, optimizing one area will not necessarily benefit the business as a whole, in fact it often harms other functions and the company's bottom line. If your doctor tells you that you need to start working out to lose weight and all you do is bicep curls would you necessarily say you are healthier? A systemic approach must be used to truly improve an organization.

3. What Gets Measured Gets Done - Leaders can use this to their advantage, but often the metrics within a company are not aligned with the strategy. People will work hard and in a way that exploits the metrics that are being used to measure them. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact when you look at providing for your livelihood and your family you would expect nothing less. With a lean strategy the customer should always be the focus. What are your customers expectations and how are you meeting them? Is there a gap in your satisfaction of customer requirements? If so, that is where your efforts should be focused. However, what often happens is the company or organization measures things that do not matter to the customer at all. In turn, employees work to those metrics instead of satisfying the customer.

An example at Boeing, and at manufacturing plants across the world I am sure, is the productivity measures of individual employees. There are time standards for parts and how fast they complete the parts as compared to those standards is how the craftsmen are measured. Does the customer care how fast Joe Metalworker finishes part X? You might find yourself saying well yeah kind of. From a lean perspective that is a tell tale sign the answer is no. The customer, who in this case is the Army, wants an affordable, capable, and available helicopter. They don't care how fast Joe makes part X of the helicopter. They want the entire copter when they need it, they want it to work, and they want it for a fair and reasonable price. You might be thinking that if the chopper doesn't have part X then it can't fly. That is true. But what if there are twenty part X's in the warehouse? What if the only reason you can't get a helicopter out faster and cheaper is due to the availability of part Y? Then you are pumping out extra part X's because Joe Metalworker is measured on his productivity rate, even if making more of those parts is costing the company thousands of dollars in inventory. Multiply examples like that across the company and you can see very quickly how much what you are measuring can negatively affect your overall business strategy.

4. Real Leaders Think Big - Real leaders don't think big in the sense that they can cure world hunger. They think big in that they see all the pieces of the puzzle and how they are interconnected and interrelated. Great leaders drive that large vision scope down to the lowest level and inculcate it into the culture and lifeblood of the organization. They constantly asking "does this benefit the company as a whole or more importantly the customer." As I have preached before the two are inextricably linked. Much of the value of my Boeing experience was shadowing the lowest shop floor workers and feeling their struggles and delving into their daily realities and how they affect the company culture, and then shadowing upper management and seeing their struggles to take a strategy and actually have it come to fruition throughout the lowest levels of the company. Great leaders bridge the gap between creating a vision in the boardroom and having the average worker actually live it.

5. Labor Is Cheap - Everyone focuses on labor. Every day in any newspaper across the country you can read about company X and how they are laying off X number of workers. Labor should be the last to go. Plain and simple. Those who get lean realize it is a growth strategy (see my post here). What happens when you grow and you are thin on bodies? You cannot meet or more importantly exceed customer demand; it is only a matter of time until you are dead. Boeing nailed this point home for me and I will never forget it. We were doing some time and motion studies at Boeing, which are pretty brutal. They basically time a worker on how long it takes to do a given process and how much motion in the form of walking, set up, etc. they are doing per job. Then you take the data you collected and you see how you can lean out some of the process, or reorganize the workplace to speed up the time it takes to do X process. Most of the sexy tools in lean are used to focus on processes that involve people (labor), because they are the most visible and you can interact with the people and get feedback. But that is not where your money is. At Boeing we found a way to speed up some part making processes through workplace reorganization. But does that savings necessarily translate into a monetary savings or better yet increased throughput of the product as a whole? No. Not necessarily. In this case a production manager who was performing roughly three job descriptions was forced to batch parts to be delivered over to the paint shop. He did so, because he didn't have time to deliver the parts as they were produced. He would always deliver them at the end of the day. So even if we cut time off the part making process the parts would sit until the end of the day to be delivered anyways. See number 2 above! Well what should Boeing do instead? Studies have shown that industry averages of costs are typically broken down as follows:

Overhead Costs - 34%-36%
Material Costs - 60%
Labor - 4%-6%

Material makes up the majority of the costs. This is especially true in a giant defense contractor like Boeing. So why would you waste your time trying to get Joe Metalworker to go faster when you can focus on inventory which is your largest cost. What is more enlightening is tying the concepts to actual numbers. Here are some of the rough numbers we ran at Boeing. We said that the burn rate for an employee on the shop floor is roughly $200/hr. That includes their salary, benefits, cost to operate the plant/employee, etc. There were 10 employees working 8 hrs/day. This means the company spends roughly $16K on this backshop's labor for a given day. Lets say we lean their process and get a 10% reduction in cost. We would be roughly saving $1,600 per day. We focused on one of the 271 parts that are made in the backshop and found numerous bottlenecks, broken processes, and lack of visibility as to how many parts were in the system. The cost to the company was roughly $4000 per piece. We found 20 pieces within their process (WIP), which equates to about $80K in inventory costs. If we leaned that process and made a 10% reduction in inventory on that one part along we would save $8,000. That is half a day's labor for every employee in the shop! Not to mention that Boeing sells the part to the government for $9,500 which brings the inventory cost up closer to $200K. You can see that this strategy applied to all the parts made in that back shop would dwarf any improvement effort geared towards labor, or more importantly and layoff strategy you could implement. Labor is cheap!

6. Just Because Something Is Simple Doesn't Mean Its Easy - Concepts are easy. Implementation is difficult. Creating/changing a culture is extremely difficult.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Checking For Charity Final Tally!!!!

Well folks the day has come to announce the final tally for the first annual Checking For Charity hockey event. It took a while for some of our corporate sponsors to pony up so to speak but we finally collected and counted all the money that we have raised for distribution to our 8 outstanding charities. The final take was an amazing $9,211.02! The $211.02 will be kept in the Checking For Charity account to account for ancillary costs and as a start for next season's costs. The $9,000.00 will be given to the charities via check presentation shortly. The breakdown is as follows as well as the charities that were represented:

5th place - 8th place - $900.00
4th place - $1080.00
3rd place - $1260.00
2nd place - $1440.00
1st place - $1620.00

The Hawks
Captain: Phil Corradino
Charity: Preeclampsia Foundation

The Seidens
Captain: Stu Seiden
Charity: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Team Hardenbergh
Captain: Mitch Larnerd
Charity: Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation

Team Bramando
Captain: Justin Britton
Charity: The Barry Ashbee Foundation

West Deptford Alumni
Captain: Doug DeHart
Charity: Jarrett Jackmuff Memorial Fund

Paulie's Barrel Scrapers
Captain: Paul Caruso
Charity: The Living Heart Foundation

Team Endeavor Fitness
Captain: Shamus Savage
Charity: American Heart Association

The URI Alumni Team
Captain: Denny Locantore
Charity: Family Support Line

I could not be more proud of all the individuals who were a part of such a special weekend. We exceeded all expectations both monetarily and otherwise. I wrote a letter to my "Team MVP's" which is basically my term for the people who rallied around this thing to make it happen. The letter was to express my extreme gratitude and humility surrounding the whole experience. I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that,"whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success." I wrote them that quote because it embodied what our organization's ethos is all about. 'Our Goal Is To Assist' is our motto and we lived it with passion and integrity in our first event. Checking For Charity is committed to changing the world through competitive hockey events and I am just so proud that we have changed the world even if it is in some small way. To do it alongside the caliber of people who were a part of the event made it all the more special. Thank you all participants, volunteers, captains, charitable organizations, and team mvp's. You have made me a happy man!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tweens, Emo Kids, And Why I Am Liking Twitter More & More

I must confess that I was one of the people who "got" Twitter right away. The social networking aspect of it's followers and following capability combined with the transparency to others just made sense to me when a friend introduced me to it. I have already written about why Twitter is great on BadskiBlog before:

I have been using Twitter for a few months and since I have started I have run into so many people who are talking about it and then they ask the same question. They always ask "what is the point of Twitter? I don't get it." Then I jump in like a huge computer nerd and try to explain what I think its all about, and from there its almost a perfect split. People either get it and think its brilliant or they still think its stupid. I don't think Twitter is about tweeting (140 character micro blog posts). I think Twitter capitalizes and makes visual our natural tendency as humans to group with other like-minded people. However, Twitter enhances this by allowing people who have never and would never have met to become linked. By allowing you to see who someone is following and all the people who are following them you can see how the cliched six degrees of separation begins to manifest itself online through this amazing social networking vehicle.

Honestly I don't really think I truly understood the power of twitter until I got a new phone. I recently bought the new Google phone available on T-Mobile. The G3 or MyTouch is a pretty badass phone. It is Google's equivalent of the iPhone, except it is "open source." Or at least that is what a phone nerd told me. Which basically means that the majority of the applications are free to download. Good for me I guess. The phone has more capability that I have ever had in a phone and I have pretty much been a pseudo-phone nerd for the past two weeks. I downloaded Twitter's application called Twidgit Lite which basically updates you of unread tweets and allows you to quickly tweet on the go. I thought maybe I would tweet something here and there and that would be the extent of my usage, but honestly it is way more than that. Here are the few key advantages I see to having, and being an active Twitterer, on your phone:

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 work 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.

If you haven't gotten on Twitter I recommend it. You might get some information out of the deal or worst case you become a tween emo kid.

The Black Dahlia Murder Album Streaming In Full

Wow. WOW. WOW!!! This album is the best album to date by Michigan death metallers The Black Dahlia Murder. From the first second of this streaming madness I knew it was going to be a sick album. The album is fast and brutally heavy, yet it still remains incredibly melodic. Most importantly in the increasingly saturated death metal genre, the album remains tangible. They are still songs, not just intense sometimes impressive wankery. The band has progressed on this release as well. The album sounds more cohesive now that they have settled in with Shannon on drums. The new guitarist Ryan formerly of Arsis has definitely brought some unique influences to the table. I don't know how much writing he did since most is done by riffmaster Brian, but to me the riffs sound more diverse and the solos blow anything away that was done in the past. It just seems like they are experimenting more with layering different riffs instead of just relying on harmonies of the same riff. Trevor vocals have expanded their range and tone as well. Honestly I can say within the first go round of this album that it is my favorite album of theirs and I am discovering new nuances with each listen. This is one of those albums that has earned a legitimate CD purchase from me, due to the quality of the intricately tasty ear candy it delivers. I might even purchase a hoodie or shirt for good measure. If these dudes keep churning out bludgeoning metal of this caliber I will do whatever it takes to keep them living the dream and writing jams. Do yourself a favor fellow metalhead shredders and check out this sure to be album of the year candidate by The Black Dahlia Murder!

Trevor says listen to our metal mastery HERE!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What You Can Learn From A Homeless Guy, A Crowded Italian Restaurant, And Some Red Wine

For those thinking that you are diving head first into the depths of a story detailing drunken debauchery involving a homeless transgendered prostitute named Colombia, I am sorry to disappoint. You are wrong. Even without shock value and Hollywood story lines there are plenty of day to day experiences we can learn from, and I am making an effort to do a better job of being aware of my surroundings and committed to learning from my experiences and others. Last night was my wife's birthday so we thought it fitting to head into the North End of Boston to indulge in some authentic Italian food, drink some wine, and celebrate.

On the way down we were stopped at a busy intersection of Mass Ave and 16. There was a homeless guy with a sign trying to collect change from the windows of the cars. In Portland, Oregon these homeless guys typically sit on the corner with signs awaiting to be flagged over. In Philly these guys walk up and down the different lanes providing a guilt inducing death stare in hopes of some change. I guess it has something to do with the social demeanor of the state or city at large. People in Portland are generally less confrontational and edgy than people in Philly. This homeless guy was more on the Philly end of the spectrum and was weaving in and out of traffic as cars edged their way through the busy intersection. But this guy was different than most homeless guys I have seen. He held a sign like most other homeless guys but it told a different story, it had a different angle to it. Most homeless guys go for the standard "Will work for food" or the "Need change to feed my children" lines. Or if you are lucky you might run into the token brutally honest homeless guy who writes something along the lines of "Need money for beer. Hey at least I'm honest." Good for a laugh but not terribly inspiring. Mass Ave homeless guy had a sign that simply read "If you have no change, JUST SMILE!" Wow. That's awesome. If I was homeless that would definitely be one of those 'why didn't I think of that' moments. And it wasn't just the sign, this dude lived it. He was smiling wide as can be and dancing with his sign as a badge of honor over his chest. One of my friends rolled down the window and yelled to the guy to come over for some change. As he approached he continued grinning and asked us to turn up the tunes. As my other buddy stumbled through country radio stations and random talk shows to eventually land on Jack Johnson (not exactly the most danceable music I can think of) the guy just kept on laughing and dancing for the rest of the traffic/audience. It was pretty hilarious. As we drove off and rolled up the window my buddy said his breath smelled like "10 gallons of stale beer," or something to that effect.

We drove into the North End and jumped to the front of the line at the restaurant called Giacomo's. My friend's wife was waiting for us there and had been there for a little while. Yes, there is a line outside. And yes we waited to get in. Yes it was a Wednesday night at 6 pm in a neighborhood with probably a hundred other authentic Italian restaurants. Why? Well because our friends said that is what you do when it comes to Giacomo's. For those of you who don’t know what Giacomo’s is all about (like me until yesterday), it is basically a restaurant in the North End of Boston that is about the size of your kitchen. It has a reputation as being one of the better Italian restaurants in the area, which is saying a lot given the concentration of Italian restaurants. And there is consistently a line waiting to get in that often wraps around the corner onto the next block. We got in and got seated, and one of the first things I noticed was how easily my chair slid across the olive oil soaked wood floors. We sat down and honestly I must say it was some of the best service I had ever had. Everything was full speed ahead but it was personable and friendly at the same time. We had bread in seconds, the guy came back and mixed up some fresh ground Parmesan and garlic in the back for our oil. The plate of calamari was there in what seemed like minutes, steaming hot. It was great. What was surprising from a place that has such a solid reputation and a constant line to get in, was that it was very reasonably priced. The majority of the generous sized entrees range from 12 to 16 bucks and the bottles of wine are about $15. Most restaurants, especially those deemed as nice trendy ones, charge almost that much for a glass of wine. I had the shrimp and scallop linguine in a giacomo sauce which was a lobster red sauce. It was delicious and my water and wine glass never stayed empty for long. As soon as a plate was done it was gone. When all the plates were gone the bill was on the table. It was fast. They were churning and burning people through that place. But you didn’t feel rushed. Our waiter told us to take our time finishing our wine and we did. It was a beauty place.

Why I am recounting these stories on BadskiBlog? Well truthfully I want to immortalize my experiences in cyberspace so my grandkids can know what I did when I was drunk at 27….just kidding. I am setting the scene to describe what I learned from theses events.

1. Differentiation is a powerful thing – In order to be successful you must be different. I mean I guess you can be successful by your own standards and live a fairly uneventful content life, but I don't live my life that way. The Mass Ave homeless guy was different than other homeless guys. He told a story that made you want to give him money. He could have been like everyone else or even pulled the honest homeless guy approach judging by the smell of his breath, but he didn't. And I would venture to say he benefits greatly from being different. My friends remembered him and talked about him like he was more of a landmark than a mark on the neighborhood, and I am talking about him on my blog so he is obviously doing something right. Giacomo's follows a similar path. It would be quite easy to be just one of the many good Italian restaurants in the neighborhood. All those good Italian restaurants probably make a pretty good living just by being a good Italian restaurant in that neighborhood. But Giacomo's is different. They are a great restaurant in that neighborhood and they have established a demand for what they have to offer that consistently has people lined up down the street every day of the week. Whether you are starting a business or applying for a job it pays to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

2. If you believe in your strategy stick to it no matter what conventional wisdom says – This kind of goes hand in hand with differentiation but its a little different. I may be way off on this, but I imagine Mass Ave homeless guy chatting with some of his buddies and describing his new sign. I imagine them making fun of his approach and telling him how it won't work and that the best way get change is "strategy X". Judging by how this guy put on a show in the middle of a busy Boston street, he believed in his message. Like I said I could be way off and none of that was remotely close to ever taking place but you get the idea. Where this concept really manifests itself is with Giacomo's. Conventional wisdom would say that if you have a restaurant that has built a reputation for having great food and people are waiting outside you should either expand to allow supply to meet demand or you should raise your prices to maximize profits with the existing amount of people you can serve. However, Giacomo's didn't and doesn't do that. In fact by most standards their food is actually cheap. They have not expanded, and it seems like the line out front is almost part of the experience. What Giacomo's has done is create scarcity. They let their reputation for great food and great prices spread their message. Then they go for an increased throughput approach combined with great service. Their place of business seems like a collection of contradictions, but they believe in it and they have created an experience worth talking about which in turn has differentiated them from the masses. If they listened to conventional wisdom who knows where they would be right now. With the competitive nature of the restaurant business quite possibly out of business.

3. Create an ethos around your business and love what you are doing- Tell your story and live it. Both the homeless guy and Giacomo's created a living concept that embodies what they are all about. Those who come into contact with both entities know instantly that this isn't just an average corporate mission statement. They believed in it. Mission statements are boring. Living out an ethos is more exciting. Mission statements feel bureaucratic and structured. An ethos feels alive and carries an aura of what you or your company is all about. You can't fake an ethos, because if you fake it then it really isn't an ethos, its just a marketing strategy that you are doing a horseshit job of selling. Customers, employers, co workers, friends, people, etc. all instantly sense insincerity and inevitably will gravitate towards another entity that lives it.

I am sure I could probably dig for a few more lessons from the night, but I am trying to become naturally observant of the lessons surrounding me. If you have any other lessons based on my tales or life education lessons of your own please post them up!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Innovation In Action - Tata Group

It's not that there had been no innovation inside Tata Group, the 117-year-old Indian powerhouse responsible for that nation's first steel mill, power plant, and airline, among other achievements. But when India's long protected economy was opened in 1991, Chairman Ratan Tata decided that for his companies to survive and thrive in a global economy he had to make innovation a priority—and build it into the DNA of the Tata group so that every employee at every company might think and act like an innovator.

Today those 15 companies have produced such innovative products as the $2,000 Tata Nano car, and includes firms such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the Mumbai-based IT services and outsourcing power, which earned almost $6 billion in revenues in 2008.

People often talk about being innovative and going against the status quo but it is another thing entirely to actually carry it out. It is even more impressive to establish a corporate culture that inspires innovation amongst the masses. It seems that is exactly what Tata Group has done. The article on the Tata Group in BusinessWeek found here, illustrates how the company has made innovation a part of the way they do business. I would love to work for a company that truly embraces ideas over the ability to walk the line. While reading this article there were a few things that really jumped out at me that we all can learn from.

The first thing that caught my attention was a lesson I have consistently been reminded of through my work with lean and continuous process improvement. As a change agent within an organization the different tools/methodologies of lean, six sigma, theory of constraints, or whatever continuous improvement theory you are utilizing are the easy part. Most people can see the tools working or at least acknowledge that the reasoning behind them are sound. The most difficult part is changing the culture. And most often it is the lack of leadership commitment that gets in the way. I believe that change can come from the bottom, but it is a hell of a lot easier and quicker when the top lives it. I put this lesson simply as, "what the leader wants done, gets done." Tata not only says that innovation is important, but the leaders promote those who have experience as innovators. It is important to leadership that the next wave of leaders be experienced in creating change. I don't know how many programs there are in the Air Force that leaders say are important, however after the "important speech" is made the leader never checks up on it again. People aren't stupid. You can say something is important, but the workers will always know what the few real priorities are.

TCS has also incorporated innovation into its formal annual review process, making it one of the nine categories on which employees are evaluated. If an employee wins the company's Young Innovator Award, he or she will see more than a salary bump. "It certainly accelerates your career track," says Krishnan. "I might pluck you up and put you in one of our innovation labs."

In addition to formal systems, TCS takes steps to stimulate innovative thinking. "We train people to think about improvement all of the time, to have what I call a culture of creative dissatisfaction with the status quo," says Krishnan. TCS has made innovation a component of training programs, from its leadership institute, to which 50 senior managers are sent every year, to its four-day "Technovator" workshop, at which its programmers are taught to think creatively.

I also thought it was pretty impressive that the company allows employees to use a certain amount of paid work time to work on personal projects. This 'skunkworks' or intrapreneuring style reminded me of 3M, a mainstay firm in the innovation arena. Talk about putting your money where you mouth is. They say that they value innovation at Tata, so they pay you to innovate and they empower you to thrive in a incubator unhampered by bureaucracy. Pretty cool stuff.

Five hours of an employee's 45-hour week can be used for personal projects, such as learning a skill or developing an idea.

The most impressive thing I read was with regard to a topic I have blogged about a lot since reading the book where Seth Godin coined the term; the topic of tribes. The company followed Seth's recipe for creating a powerful tribe to the letter by creating a vision and empowering tribe members to communicate and carry out that vision.

To better capture nascent ideas, the company launched IdeaMax, a Digg-like social network that lets any employee submit, comment, and vote on ideas. Since it was launched last year, IdeaMax has collected 12,000 ideas, several hundred of which have become projects. "Every quarter, I review the top 10 most popular ideas," says Krishnan. "The wisdom of crowds works for us."

The concept is very similar to the post I did recently on innovation in the music industry. The company is leveraging the expertise of the knowledge workers at process level to decide the best ideas are. There are no egos, only transparency and empowerment. From a corporate standpoint I can't really imagine too many cheaper ways to innovate either. All in all I think this company gets it, and I would love to do some more research on the happiness and retention of their employees. Even if the company is being aggrandized in the article the lessons can help you become a better leader, build a better business, or be a better person.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Good Day For Metal Videos

I stumbled across a few beauty videos at Metal Injection and thought them Badskblog worthy. The first video is the Massachusetts metalers Shadows Fall debuting a new song from their forthcoming release entitled Retribution. These guys aren't the heaviest band in the world, but it is still pretty badass that they are getting some national play. The new song Still I Rise actually sounds a bit heavier than their last few albums. The singing is a bit cleaner and more melodic, but it sounds pretty heavy to me. See what the dudes at Metal Injection had to say below as well as upcoming metal performances on Jimmy Fallon.

I stayed up to watch SHADOWS FALL on Late Night w/Jimmy Fallon last night, and for an old man like me, that's sort of a big deal. Anytime any metal band gets some good old national exposure on TV, I always get excited and feel the need to support. The Massholes came out and completely rocked the house at 30 Rock last night. As much as I don't really favor Fallon's comedic stylings, I think it's really cool that he is having metal bands on his show. Fuck, MEGADETH was just announced as performing there on Thursday, September 17th (technically Friday morning). Anyway, if you missed the performance, we uploaded it here. The band's new CD, Retribution is in stores September 15th.

The next clip, also found on Metal Injection, is the new video from one of my favorite bands of all time; The Black Dahlia Murder. Not only is the song ridiculously awesome and brutal, the video is one of the funniest I have seen since....well their last video. Nothing says metal like bowling shirts. The band recently added a former Arsis guitar shredder who, judging by this tune, will only make their next album all the better. I really don't think their is anyone doing death metal better than The Black Dahlia Murder right now. They have the best riffs, are extremely technical, yet they remain melodic, interesting and most importantly tangible. I cannot wait for the band's new CD, Deflorate, to be released. It is in stores September 15th so go buy it....or if you download it then buy some of their merch because we need to keep these guys pumping out tunes for as long as humanly possible.

Sorry for the duel play videos. I haven't figured out how to get rid of the auto play.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dressing Well, Peer Pressure, and Self Actualization

I came across this post on PersonalBrandingBlog by Dan Schawbel. A guest poster writes on the importance of dressing appropriately for different scenarios, and how that contributes to your personal brand. If you want you can read the entire post here. I have included a few excerpts below as well.

But this weekend, when flipping through the New York Post, an op-ed piece entitled “Schlub Nation” caught my eye. The writer Faran Krentcil lamented about the prevalence of mourners at Ted Kennedy’s wake dressed in flip-flops, undershirts and dirty tees.

Dress to impress or dress to include?

Krentcil argues that putting the effort into dressing well for important events—like weddings, wakes, job interviews—shows as much respect for the other person as it does for yourself. “Aren’t you better than a ripped t-shirt with a mustard stain on the collar?” he asks.

We’ve all heard the saying, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but should we?

I admit that since moving to Florida from New York City, my everyday dress is much more casual. I have driven to Whole Foods wearing flip-flops, for example, where I’d never worn flip-flops before except for maybe the locker room at the gym. But I still dress up for speaking engagements, business meetings, television appearances. When I’m in the spotlight, wearing good quality, nice fitting clothes makes me feel more authoritative. I’m happy to have all eyes looking at me, and looking pulled together reinforces my personal brand.

Great lesson and thoughts on personal branding, however I immediately thought of how peer pressure factors into dress within different scenarios. There are many people who down play the influence of peer pressure and social norms on our lives. I think that this discussion of appropriate dress exemplifies how we are affected by others expectations and how those expectations are often dictated pragmatically through the different social situations we find ourselves in.

I read something on Ben Casnocha's blog a while back about peer pressure and his point was something along the lines of "walk across the street 10 feet away from a crosswalk with people at it on a green light and tell me that peer pressure doesn't affect you or your life."

We all like to feel like we are different, unique, above the influence of others; our own person if you will. However, the fact is that we are social creatures by nature. We have a strong internal desire to belong, to relate, to be a part of something. In order to fulfill those desires we must be cognisant of other people's expectations. I admit that I like to push the envelope in certain situations. However I am also quite aware that these tend to be social situations that I am comfortable or familiar in, or I have some established credibility. For instance the way I interact with a bunch of my buddies in a hockey locker room is going to be quite different than the way I interact at a networking gathering. The expectations are different, and I have established some emotional credibility with one group while the other group has no idea who I am or what I am about.

Peer pressure and social norms are interesting and very abstract concepts to talk about and wrap your head around, but I think they are valuable to work your way through. You can only be more self aware and self actualized throughout the plentiful social situations you will make your way into as you get older.