Archive for the ‘general’ Category

Who cares about your thoughts?

April 2nd, 2017

This post originally started a whole lot different. I was writing about the how and why writing has been so hard for me over the last four years (long story short, I was too busy with other stuff), but after a few lines I was asking myself: Who cares about your thoughts? I mean, really? Who is taking the time to follow someone else along their trail of thoughts? In the post-industrial western society, we’re so busy to find answers to all our questions, as we believe these questions to be the relevant ones, because there’s always a problem (or a chain thereof) to be solved, right? Time feels always short and getting even shorter. Which requires the person being asked to stay focused, on topic, to not get carried away, which is likely to happen if the question has or implies a higher level of complexity than “tea or coffee?” (and that’s already risky depending on your opposite). And please spare the questioner from telling them stuff they already think they know.

Now…what? Not sure yet. It was just a thought.

ProGlove / Intel Make It Wearable rant

November 4th, 2014

So there was a German team who came in third at Intel’s Make It Wearable contest. Their ProGlove is an RFID-based assisting system for assembly lines. But: German company sarissa has the same system being distributed for about 4 years now, only it’s based on ultrasonics, and technically more advanced, allowing for the integration of machine-driven data for QA. Go figure. Some had better done their homework.

Business, ideas & cash

June 6th, 2010

Why do businesses fail, really? Or to paraphrase it: What does a business owner need to do to succeed? Spending the last days thinking about this issue, I came to the conclusion that businesses fail because building a business is not easy, and this fact is what a business owner needs to know. Let me explain why.

From a commercial point of view, a successful business boils down to 3 numbers: Revenue minus Costs equals Profit. So the commercial questions are: How much do we make? How much do we spend? Are we spending less than we make? So far so good. Though this does not answer the very first question.

The very first question coming ahead of trio above is this: Why are you in  business? My friend Gavin said to me the other day “Obviously most people go into business because they don’t want to work for someone  else”, which rang a bell. I had read this quite a while ago in Michael E. Gerber’s “The E-Myth”, a book in which he explains in a very clear way why most businesses fail, namely exact for this reason: Starting up a business just because you don’t want to work for someone else is not a sustainable model. But I’m not sure that I agree with what he suggests to do in any case.

What Gerber says is that you need to have systems that make processes so easy that even the least qualified person can do them. Then comes Seth Godin and announces that businesses that rely on simplifying processes and cutting costs so they can sell their products with higher margin (or cheaper to keep or increase their market share) are racing to the bottom and this will cause their demise.

On the other hand, there is Jim Collins exemplifying visionary companies that sometimes were founded even without an idea of what they should be doing, ending up in being super-companies like Johnson & Johnson, HP, IBM or Merck. What you tend to forget though, because Collins never ever mentions that, is that these companies also have (or used to have) factories. And to be frank, I do not believe that in these factories the only people employed are those who are totally committed to the company’s vision. Because, and this is what we must never forget, as valuable as they are as humans, they are rarely considered more than people who are needed to operate the machines. And when the products these machines have been churning out every second are obsolete, the machines operators are out of their job. Unless they can be retrained and there’s no place in this world where it’s not cheaper to build a new factory and have people work in totally different conditions. So yes, they’re out of their job.

But let’s go back one step from this, because the chances of someone building a factory from scratch in a post-industrial environment like Europe are rather small. Let’s say someone wants to open a book store, a typical small business with an obvious purpose: They’re selling books. And it’s an interesting business from a commercial point of view, because it’s hard to find a commercial reason for doing that at all. We’ve got Amazon, right?

So it’s not the idea that is the foundation for a business. One month ago, Robin Dickinson started a micro-movement by writing his outstanding sharewords post. Until now it has had thousands of views, hundreds of comments and a great community helping each other has been built there. It worked because it was a good idea, because it was free, and there was a development, because every day there were (and still are) more people joining in. A week ago, someone had the idea of turning this into a real life book, saying he was really passionate the whole thing BUT his publishing company needed some sort of proof of profitability to commit to this venture — so there we are again: What’s the business model? Who’s buying what for which reason? What’s the margin? How long can we make money from it? It turns out that once again, converting a web freebie into a commercial product is not that easy. Different medium, different audience, reduced interaction (and that’s where the value is!) — what’s the point?

That’s how you do business. It’s never about the idea. It’s always about bottom line. On the other hand, change is all about the idea. Because the only question change is asking is “What if..?”. So once again, why open a bookstore? Because (as of now) it is still a sustainable business model as long as you’re standing out, not fitting in. And if you’re passionate about books and making someone happy by selling them a good one, this is the only way for you to go. Barnes & Noble or Borders don’t do that. They’re just big stores selling print products and stationery.

Whatever your business is about, make sure it’s not depending on one idea alone. Ideas come and go like fashion. I do not believe that a company “making iPhone apps” will survive for long. Neither will it be bought by another company. On the other hand, a company creating software solutions for a specific audience is a totally different deal, as long as this is really the core of the business and not just an inflated term to say you’re making iPhone apps.

The off-site trap

May 16th, 2010

Whenever off-sites deliver results that are a lot better than those produced any other day and employees who are a lot happier than any other day, you don’t need to have more off-sites. You need to fix what’s broken in the regular workplace. The larger the chasm, the more there is to be fixed.

The Cloud and the Cracks

March 20th, 2010

When speaking of change, people tend to have a notion that they will see it coming, like a large dusty cloud on the horizon when the storm is coming. When they see it, they assume, there’ll be enough time to take measures and prepare. While they’re so busy looking at the distance, they do not realize the cracks in the ground underneath their feet.

My personal highlight today

March 16th, 2010

This is so great, it almost made me cry. I’ve been thinking on this issue for quite some time now, and Seth wrote a stunning post about it today.
(Spoiler alert: He too does not have an answer that solves it once and for all. — readable by highlighting… but you’re taking the fun out of it.)

It’s a video, not a viral

March 16th, 2010

CommonCraft, a company run by Lee and Sachi LeFever, are creating brilliant explanatory videos. And because their style is unique and their videos are short and free to watch on their site, you might assume they’re part of a viral marketing campaign. But Lee posted an interesting statement today — another lesson on assumptions. Read it here.

Two kinds of bait for one fish

March 15th, 2010

Yesterday we went to the movies to watch this famous 3D movie. I ordered tickets online (which doesn’t seem to work if you’re not willing to give your credit card data to a third party), where it was also mentioned that you could buy 3D specs for € 1,-. When we arrived at the desk, the guy behind it told us specs were € 2,- but he would give us a voucher so the second pair came free…

Both stories work. But not at the same time.

The Manual

March 12th, 2010

Opinions differ a lot on this topic, whether to have one or not, if it’s more harm than use, accelerator or brake pad.

Here’s my take: In all the jobs I’ve been working so far, the number of the ones where a manual existed totals up to zero. This is because in Germany having a manual for a job is not common practice. Why? Um, maybe because the downside of a manual is that people respect paper more than people, so if your boss wants you to do something different than “your job” you could always retreat to “sorry, that’s not in my manual”, so a failure wouldn’t be your fault. Without the manual, there’s no shield for you to hide behind. Maybe. Also, making a manual requires analysis and breaking down what your company is doing step by step, and you might end up figuring that the thing is going horribly wrong and you need to do something. But it’s been working so far, and as they say, never touch a running system.

But whenever I commence a new job, there needs to be someone removed from their job to give me the rules and “this is how we do it here”. And of course, the co-workers are also very engaged to correct, update and footnote as we go along. Hint: It’s no use. Can’t keep it all in mind at once. So I’ve always sat down and taken my time to write down procedures. This can be a carthatic process, because it tells you more about where you’ve ended up than you might want to know.

The real advantage of a manual unfolds when it’s not regarded as cast in stone, but as a wiki, work-in-progress or milestone tracking tool. To say “This is how we do it at the moment, subject to change, if you feel like contributing and help us to improve our procedures, please do so. Remember, the specs mentioned in it are the lowest possible standard here, we want to do better — and we want you to do better, since we hired you because we believe you will do better”. Wouldn’t that be great?

Word-perfect

March 10th, 2010

A thought I had a rough idea of some time ago, but the usual suspect pinpointed it better than I could have done it. That’s why he’s a master and I’m a novice. Thanks Seth!