Problems love (to create) Problems…

In thinking about the concept of “problems” it came to me that by their nature they create “new” problems and just not one more, but many more!  If you will think back to a recent meeting where you are sitting there watching the swirls created by the creamer in your coffee as your boss is waxing on and on about some problem he has.  Then all of a sudden you look up from the comfort of the swirling coffee and his one “problem” has now metastasized itself into not just one other problem.  It has now “multiplied” itself as if you tossed a glass of water on to a fuzzy gremlin, your eyes grow wider while breathing quickens as you now realize that you along with several of your table mates in this meeting now your own a freshly minted “problem” as the “one” has now become many!

Minutes later as you walk out of the room with your new charge like a monkey with a strong grip around your neck if you will, your first reaction is you reach for your Black Berry and pen an invite for your staff, and the scenario repeats itself as you take your new “problem” and mint several more new ones!  Where does all of this madness stop?  What is the value proposition of this seeming infinite chain of “problems”?

In this scenario, one of the striking aspects which hit me as an epiphany was that “problems” are viral as they expand and this expansion because of the viral aspects means it can grow very rapidly.  With each step in the expansion, a cost is assessed; meaning the overall “cost” of the loop will grow in direct portion to the loop which can soon form a disruptive influence to the original proposition of the problem.

Ever play the “telephone game” in elementary school?  Where a chain of students are lined up and the first is whispered a message by the teacher, and then asked to share it via “whisper” again with the next person in line and so on down the chain?  What you will get at the end is nothing like what started out in the first place.  Keep in mind this “message” is being past down a straight line, however take a moment to think of the same game if at each next step the count “doubled” as in a hierarchal organization?

Well, this is the very thing which is happening everyday in the business world as “problems” flow from the top down, and end value is lost due to the organizational friction which these “problems” generate.  It’s also important to point out that opportunities are “not” problems, as “problems” do not have a positive side other then when solved, they return the situation (which spawned them) to a state of equilibrium.

To explore this, let’s build an example for discussion purposes and one of the most common I’ve heard in my career has been “unless X,Y and Z the customer will no longer buy from us”. So our starting position is that the customer “will” buy so this is our point of equilibrium, and now “X,Y and Z” is the acknowledged problem that once solved we have back what we started with.  In other words we gain back no more then we started with so the net cost of the problem was a pure impact to the bottom line.

Another famous example of this is “Houston we have a problem” as wasn’t the intent of Apollo 13 to return to the earth with its occupants safe and sound?  After the explosion created the “problem”, and then thankfully the “problem” was solved returning the situation to equilibrium, the astronauts did not gain per say from the ordeal they only got what was originally promised as in a safe return.

So how do we reduce the friction created by this “problem”?  First and foremost is identify the “source” of the “problem” as mentioned above is this being cascaded downward?  The answer will most likely be yes, therefore there will be distortion in the “problem statement” much like the telephone game which will lead to additional over head (i.e. friction).  In addition to the distortion, there is the likelihood of multiplicity in response because of the one to many nature as discussed above, most likely several groups are unknowingly working on the same problem adding even more friction (cost).

Most importantly, address the problem at the “root” or source as the majority of the time it is a perceptual issue and not a tangible one.  Also keep in mind that a “problem” say coming from the CEO is a minor problem, which is cascaded to a VP and now it’s a MAJOR problem as the VP will use this as a platform to build and promote his or her own self-worth rather than just solving the problem…

People just love (to create) a good Problem!

A few years back it became clear one morning that a change was needed and my current employer was never going to provide that opportunity so with that I set out to find a new job.  During this time I had been working crazy hours jetting around the world just busier then all get out if you know what I mean.

After a month or so of looking in the market, a new opportunity presented itself (actually a couple) which prompted me to tenure my notice and because of the current role gave one month and since the new job was not competitive with the old.  I was allowed to stay on-board and help wind things down from my current role with my soon to be former employer.  During this time I was no longer in the first row and had basically moved to be a member of the audience if you will. Where there once were 12 and 14 hour days, there were now six hour ones with a lot of coffee break’s as I was no longer “the guy”.  Than around two weeks into the month long transition, a realization struck me.

When I looked up no one was doing all the crazy things I had been doing, my replacement was far from up to speed as they had only selected an interim person (while they looked for a permanent one) at the time and while the customer was not overly happy with the situation (personal change always has an impact), the world per say wasn’t falling apart either, then it hit me.  It hit me like a ton of bricks landing square on my chest with enough force to take my breath away!

The epiphany which struck me that day is I loved a good problem, I loved the feeling of solving a good problem, I loved it so much I even created them and not only did I do this, so did most every other human being which I knew!

Sitting  there that day staring out of a frosty window watching the snow fall, it seem to me a “problem” was not much more than a personal value proposition.  Where the majority of the people benchmarked their “perceived value” by the problems they had to solve and if they didn’t have enough, the solution was to simply create more!  It was easy for me to do this as the opportunity to create them seemed to be limited by my own imagination. If this was true for me, was it true for others?  I started to think back as the snowflakes continued to fall outside to the problems which others had provided to me via the on-slot of daily e-mails, phone calls and seemingly endless array of meetings.  All of these required a solution and 9 out 10 were not aligned with the goals of either our company or the customers which they had set out.  These were instead personal value propositions which individuals set out to create in order to have something to add to some dashboard as saying “everything is ok” doesn’t seem to carry the same weight (read as frowned upon) as “look at all these issues I have to solve”!

Well the snow kept falling that day, my coffee cup now empty and the winter sun had set, with this it was now time to make my way home.  However first I pulled a cell phone from my pocket and dialed my wife to say the falling snow was going to be a “problem” and I would be late…

The Day the Music (Industry) Died…

It was a warm spring day around 1971 and I was somewhere near Bridge Street, walking home from school with my AM transistor radio (think it had 5 of them and I was proud of that fact) when it came on the radio.  It was Don Mclean’s “American Pie” singing “the day the music died”.  Well it’s been many years since I’ve slipped a monophonic ear piece into my ear however the song is still a favorite to this day and hearing it again, it started me thinking.

There was the day when you bought vinyl, then it was various forms of magnetic tapes (4 tracks, 8 Tracks, cassettes), then came the plastic disks [CDs] and now?  It’s simply electrons streamed over the Internet onto various devices as the data truly “wants to be set free”.  However what happens to the sociological effluence which a paradigm shift like this, as like the song says, is the music (industry) really dead?

Notice the caveat of industry and not music itself, as “music” itself will never die as it’s a primordial piece of the human psyche and so long a man can hold a rhythm, there will be the sound of music.  However the same may not be so true for those moguls which once prospered from the sweat of some musician brow.

However came the formation of Napster which was the liberation call for music to be free and did more than just allow the pirating of a custom crafted stream of electrons.  It showed that people would embrace the digital alternative to the disc, it was ok not to posses the audio art work as a physical package, but as an “intangible”.  However what did the music companies do? That’s right; they recoiled in fear rather than embrace a potentially huge opportunity.  They sued, kids and moms, brothers and sisters for hundreds of thousands of dollars for dipping in the forbid well.

What did they get for their efforts you ask, well it wasn’t more sales and in fact it was like when major league baseball players went on strike and killed the game.  As it’s hard to feel sorry for someone you perceive to have so much more then you complaining about wanting more.  So instead of taking the lemons they were handed and making lemonade, they just turned them into sour grapes and everyone walked away with a sour-puss over the thing if you will.

Today music is different; it’s more open as more people are producing good quality enjoyable music as its moved from the few to the many.  However this is eroding the effluence of the economic system?  Look at the supply chain that is now no more, no record store as that is now a thing of the found past (the video store is quickly following) along with all of the folks who supported the industry (factory workers, truck drivers, office workers, etc).  Where have they gone, their parents basement to avoid the light of day to prevent their vinyl albums from warping?

Then there is the question “where will the money be made”?  Mark my words we will see the age of the “venue” will arise, be it in a concert hall or your car.  Music will no longer be “stand alone” as in the terms of the past, it will be bundled with other “objects” with it’s costs built into venue.  In as cars will come bundled with music (audio entrainment in general), the same for public transportation, as the ticket will not only buy you ride, it will also buy you a connections.  The list goes on and on for the embed concept of art and entertainment within a “venue”.  What are some of your ideas?

Viral Aspects of Mirco makes seeing the light a Macro Topic…

LEDs (light emitting diode) have been taking the lighting world by storm appearing in taillights, traffic signals and the like.  However what is interesting is how the “micro” aspects of these individual LEDs grouped together form a “macro” object such as a taillight.

Why this is important, is if we just look back at prior taillight designs for example, we would find an incandescent bulb the stalwart of the industry for some 100 years which may have with its MTBF (mean time between failure) of a couple thousand hours.  Whereas an LED can reasonably range up to 1,000,000 hours and if this isn’t enough of a disruptive incentive, we have (in the taillight “package”) aggregated some 30 discreet units (LEDs) together to form one assembly (taillight).  Herein, we have averaged the affect of failure even further down in that even a DOA (dead on arrival) “element” (LED in this case) doesn’t impact the whole assembly.

What is the importance of this? The answer is a lot, as you think of entire value chain which supported the incandescent taillight at one time.  Whereas you had the mechanic who installed the unit, the auto-parts vendor who sold it, the wholesaler who stocked it and so on down the supply chain.  This one change  while appearing very simple is actually very disruptive sociologically as by function, it has removed “value” and therefore effluence from the “economic” system which will not be returned.

Also to consider in this loop is the LED is a “common” element in the design, whereas in the case of the incandescent bulb, it could change from model year or vehicle type.  This “consolidating” effect will create a second embedded balancing loop inside of the first major loop accelerating the intensity of the change.   What other application of Micro to Macro do know of, or can think up?

Viral Aspects of One Replaces Many (an iPad story)…

In former days, a nail was a nail and a hammer was a hammer, however in today’s world this has all changed. One of the prime examples is the iPad, as just what is it? Some say it’s a computer, others a book reader, some a TV, it even could be a radio (Pandora) and the list goes on and on. People have hung them in their homes as picture frames, inserted them in their dashboards as a mobile media system, they have even replaced DJ mix boxes at weddings with them and the list just keeps going.

What does this all mean? Simple, we don’t need all the junk we use to! Whoa, if that is the case, what are the people who make and sell us all that junk going to do to earn a living! If this isn’t a major disruptive force then what is? Let’s just take the ebook concept for a minute, as the logger cuts the tree, the truck driver hauls it to the mill, where numerous people work to turn the work to turn the raw tree into pulp. Then, the pulp goes to a paper plant (via truck) where many more people work to turn it into bright white paper, than via truck or train travels to the printing plant, where ink (assume the same manufacturing chain for ink production) is used to print the words and pictures and then the final product [book] is bound and packaged for shipment to the retail stores. Once there (again via truck) is offloaded by stock persons and clerks, stacked onto shelves and sold to the public.

Whoa! Notice none of those activities involved the creation of the soul (content) of the book which is now delivered instantly via a finger gesture on your iPad! Look at all the people this technology has just replaced in one simple and swift movement! What will they do for living in the iPad era? Will you retread a grizzled lumber veteran use to commanding a chain saw to write iPad apps? What about all the folks in the pulp and paper factories, even the truck drivers as society has conditioned workers into a culture of attendance verses performance, what will they do?

Beware that disruptive trends drive faster and quicker than society can adjust to, as America is still reeling from the loss of the steel mills and lucrative auto manufacturing jobs, however in the era of “one is many” we will see a rapidly expanding viral loop which push us far beyond these two rust era migrations had. (this was written and published on an iPad by the way)

Viral Power of the Transistor…

Cloud Computing as a viral agent will be driven by it’s “micro-cost” factor in comparison with the existing discreet architecture found in todays technological landscapes. What makes this different, is the cost “comodifcation” of technology into small united packages which will create a (market) disruptive influence by lowering the overall cost (think of in aggregate) of computing to “next to free“.

While a boast-full comment, taken in ratio it is very much a true statement as the density of transistors continue their march forward and upward. The deflationary affects have had and will continue to have a resounding impact within the market place. If we look back 40 years, we see the costs setting for one transistor was at $5.60 (USD) whereas in today’s market the cost can be registered in millionths of (nano) dollars!

Couple this vertical expansion (i.e. increasing number of transistors per chip) with the ability to “gang” chips together horizontally and the yield curve for productivity verses applied cost takes a notably viral turn. An Example of this is Google where it’s rumored they have a cloud installation of over 500,000 servers to provide the near instant response to a global search population.

While not free, the ability to provide the service Google does verses the fact it exists at all is in itself a “proof” of the opening possibilities we will see rise up in the coming decade. Think of it this way, pennies per say from “Ad Words” pay to keep the most powerful information search tool man has ever known in operation and in perpetual improvement. Twenty or thirty years ago, enough commercial monies didn’t exist for someone to conceive of this ability.  Yet today it exists and offered without charge (as a service) to the global public at large.

Outsourcing & Carbohydrates…

With cigarette smoking on the decline (in America) coupled with a moderate improvement in the responsibility of alcohol consumption the major growing threat in front of the American people (and coming to the world) is obesity. The main driver of this is the infamous “carbohydrate” which is for the sake of this discussion is a long chain saccharide or simply put complex sugar.

High quantities of these are found in baked goods and other processed foods, while they pack a wallop calorie wise, they bring with them no nutritional (or very little in reference to their caloric yield) and therefore are typically referred to as “empty calories”. Why is this important and what does all of this have to do with outsourcing?
Starting in the 1990’s with the rise of right shoring where we started to see clerical and technical jobs move from American shores to abroad. New jobs failed to form in similar fields during this same time, therefore forcing the re-tooling of the workforce to provide services who demands as well as delivery where locally based. With manufacturing having already made its exodus to the far east and the world of information technology following quickly, there remained very few options outside of basic staples such as food service which met these criteria.
The interconnect of food service also fits solidly in Maslow’s base of fulfilling physiological needs and therefore universal, however the challenge becomes that of economic yield as typically profits and therefore wages in this space tend to be low because of the broad level of competition and commoditization. However here is where the carbohydrates enter the scene as a disruptive influence.

For a moment, take for example the penultimate carbohydrate food, the donut. It costs almost nothing material wise to produce, as its main ingredients are water, flour and sugar. Yet it can be sold easily for 50 to 60 times its cost (note this number has been adjusted for spoilage and waste otherwise the raw figure would be much higher). This same axiom also applies to all carbohydrate based products such as pizza, breads, etc.

Thus, as more jobs leave the American shore, the greater the American waistline will grow as a primary reinforcing loop is created as more and more folks move into the food service [or related] sector to seek employment. Also as this primary loop forms, it will then spawn a second reinforcing loop as mentioned above since the wage scale is less [in the food service field] there is also less income available to purchase food meaning low cost high carbohydrate foods stuffs (as it is cheaper then protein centric food, such as beef, chicken and fish) will be forced center stage to the American dinner table further driving the weight gain cycle.

Editors Note: to further demonstrate the impact of caloric impact lets take a regular bagel (without butter, cream cheese, etc) which weighs in at 350 calories and lets say its consumed by the average American male whose weight (as sampled from 1999 to 2002) is 190 pounds. This person will require around 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight so this one bagel will be 18% of their total intake. For comparison let’s take an apple, which is only 60 calories and tips the percentage scale at only 3%! As you can see, the calories can add up very quickly as our friend the bagel (meant in a negative way) packs one heck of a caloric punch!

We Walk a line…

What many people fail to realize is that every day they unknowingly walk a line between binary opportunities such as employment or unemployment, being married or single, and even  their mortality is governed by this simple axiom.  Some days this line is ten miles wide, while moments later one will find it no thicker than a human hair drawn so taunt it nears its breaking point.   Every second of our existence is governed by the decisions we make which balance us precariously upon this line, even if we do not choose to choose, we still have made a choice.  As the lack of choice is choosing itself as fate has a way of providing us limitless forks in the road with every breath we take…

The Redmond Paradox…

As the open/crowd source movement gains steam one can’t help but play out a social paradox, a scenario where a young and brilliant McDonalds ™ employee in Redmond Washington (home of Microsoft ™) is actively engaged in the creation of a Linux driver as part of the “open source” movement. As the popularity of Linux grows (partly due to his contribution), fewer commercial customers purchase the “for profit proprietary” Microsoft ™ product.

As time goes on, to adjust to the reductions in purchases of their product (in this scenario), Microsoft ™ just as any other “for profit” company undertakes an effort to right size its work force. Therefore fewer people (from Microsoft ™) patronize the McDonalds ™ where the moonlighting Linux developer is a burger server by day, has now been told that due to [the poor] economic conditions he no longer has a job because the people he was serving are no longer coming in to purchase the “services” he is providing.

Now left without a job, the young man can no longer afford to continue his work on Linux as he must now use his free time to search for another job, and was forced to sell his computer on eBay ™ in order to pay his rent.
While this represents a shorten “causal” scenario without question, it is still a valid thought exercise as the open/crowd sourcing movement is eroding the basis for social effluence which allowed our computer savvy hamburger flipper the time and equipment in the first place required to take part in this collective. While some may also say, “he has created his own opportunity”, by self-educating himself in Linux. The fact is if this were the case (on average), he would not have been in the moonlighting business in the first place [Will write a future piece on this in more detail].

All of this provides for interesting study in the future of social economics especially as it relates to class effluence within our society as in the past, the world was driven by physical products where it was not practical for individuals even operating as a collective to be disruptive. However now that we have universal devices such as the iPad ™ which can be many things (TV, Radio, Computer, Book, etc) in one package. Content now becomes king as well as the disruptive influence to the class system as we now have a many to many social model.

Think of it this way, an average America watchs X number of hours of TV per week and embeded in that time are so many minutes of “commercial advertizing” which pay for the programming, the infrastructure to deliver it to your home and the means to consume. Now enter open/crowd sourced produced media which encroaches upon this time reducing the raw number of dollars per minute of advertizing , which produces a cascading effect throughout the system and the key becomes the “tipping point”.

Further this by the publishing industry and the rise of the eReader, whereas for each eReader sold represents and exponential reduction in [paper] pulp requirements. Exponential you ask? Yes, as for the sake of conversation consumers who are prone to be Early adopters of eReader’s will tend to be at the higher end of the avid reading guild and thus will consume more eTomes then printed ones leading to accelerated early decline in pulp demand (basically the 80/20 rule in action). Thus, a point will come sooner than later then where pulp production will reach the point where it loses its cost effectiveness and the rise in cost will catalyze a major paradigm shift. Basically, a small nudge in the right spot will create a large shove to the whole. So now, instead the fast food worker, crowd sourced tomes (because of their easy to create and deliver) have reached into the north woods and effected the lumber workers and timber industries.

In summary, open/crowd sourcing has reached from the suburban setting of Seattle to its deep woods and logging towns eroding the economic class fiber at every step. At this juncture it’s important to note one cannot stop technology or progress which is firmly exampled by history. However to survive the economic impacts this shift will bring, people need to understand it is coming and reason for sharing this mental piece of floss…