How business can change the world

images-33Once in a while, you see or read something that makes you think “Holy cow, this is REALLY going to change the world!”  I don’t mean the everyday stuff, like a new fart app (no matter how much fun it might be), but the BIG stuff.  You know, like if someone discovered sentient life on another planetanti-gravity, or edible paper.

For me, Gogoro is one of those ideas that, while not getting nearly as much press as extraterrestrial life would, could change the world.

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Be as witty as The Terminator…

Well Stocked Mind QuoteI recently ran across an interesting term called “Prosthetic Knowledge’.  We all know what prosthetics are–limbs, for example–but this is the first time I had thought about it combined with knowledge.  In a way, it has nearly always been true.  Humans have, for a long time, been able to access more knowledge than what they could simply carry around in their heads.  With the advent of the personal computer, then the internet, and now smart phones, the accessibility of this prosthetic knowledge has gone up tremendously.  For me, this brings up 2 questions–where is it going next, and are we getting any smarter, or are we just as stupid but quicker about it than before?

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Your customers are the “job creators”

After almost 35 years in the business world, I have never understood the current idea floating around that tax breaks to businesses and wealthy individuals will somehow create jobs.  This idea comes from Ronald Reagan, I believe, and the phrase he coined “Trickle Down Economics“.  (Well, actually, the original phrase comes from Will Rogers, but everyone I know associates it with “Reaganomics”.)  In every business I’ve been involved with, the only thing that results in more investment & hiring is the idea of more customers.  The owner of the company is not the original creator of jobs any more than the hiring manager who writes the job description.  The customers are the job creators.  The effect of this on a larger scale is explained beautifully in this TED talk by Nick Hanauer:

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Think sideways to move forward

images-23In an earlier post I wrote about the “stack fallacy“, which in short is the thinking that since I’m already doing the “hard” part, I can and should move up the stack to do more of the complete product, typically in order to capture more revenue. I want to talk a little about the flip side of this coin. By that, I mean the inherent under-appreciation of what we do well.  It is a strange combination of thinking that what I am doing is the hard part yet at the same time is not enough in & of itself to make a business of.  I wrote about this a bit in my post called Strengths & Weaknesses.  To break out of it, and get to the business version of “Be Yourself”, try thinking sideways…

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Build a business, not a product.

images-20I read a very good TechCrunch article today called “3 pitfalls that can sink any crowdfunded hardware startup“.  This article is focused on Kickstarter campaigns but it is great advice for all new product development ventures.  It focuses on 3 key points:  your supply chain (how you’re going to make your product), your Kickstarter campaign (how you’re going to fund your product), and your product itself.  I especially like the 3rd and final piece of advice, “Build a business, not a product”.  In a way, this sums up the core of my product development strategy, and I often say that business development and product development go hand-in-hand (don’t worry, I never say this at parties).

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I know what I want! …But what do they want??

Forget about softnessHaving been in the tech world my entire career, I’m constantly around “idea” people.  These are very smart engineers and scientists who have spent their lives creating amazing things with technology.  As you might imagine, they value ideas extremely highly.  My main work with them is two-fold:  sifting, and execution.  Sifting through their numerous and seemingly equally-valuable ideas and working with them to determine which to pursue, and then helping them understand the value (and difficulty) of execution, and how it is often vastly more difficult than they original idea was to get.  Kicking this process off always starts with the same general double question:  Who are you making this for, and why do they need it?

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What’s your problem? Don’t answer so fast…

wrong-questionI want to give an example about the type of detail you need to strive for when starting a new project.  It might be more helpful than an analogy, which I’ve written about before.  I’ll try to keep the technical background to a minimum, and apologize in advance if you feel I’ve failed to do that!  So read on, at your own peril…

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Begin with the NEXT end in mind

images-16Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” This habit gives me more trouble, but has saved my ass more times, than any of the others. With a clear understanding of what this does & does not mean, it is absolutely critical in business.

Every leader I’ve worked with has a vision of what they want to accomplish. When I dig down into it, this vision is painted with a big brush. By that, I mean it is a grand, broad vision that lacks detail. This vision is not only important to have, but it is important to regularly keep at the forefront of the team’s mind. It is not, however, an “end” in and of itself. It is a (hoped for) consequence of, but not a direct result of, action the business or team plans to take.  American football, as always, provides a great analogy for this.

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Look out, it’s a trap!

images-15Every company I’ve ever worked with has believed that their product or service was the hardest part to accomplish in the ecosystem into which they were selling. All the time, you will hear hardware companies say “the rest is JUST software”, and the exact opposite can regularly be heard by software companies. And in every case, whether they were correct or not, this hubris caused one or more underestimations that ended up costing them a lot of time & money, if not failing outright.  Why do so many smart people keep falling for the same trap?

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Mission Impossible? Not so fast…

Mission ImpossibleI once headed a team of engineers who was making a small demo of a new technology for a consumer electronics product. Given the success of Apple (and how everyone followed their lead), I knew that thin was sexy. At the end of the project kickoff meeting I challenged the team to make the demo a specific thickness which was very thin. I was immediately met with a chorus of vehement exclamations that my request was impossible. After letting everyone go a little crazy on me, I said that I understood it was a challenge but thought it was both doable & important, and laid out why on both counts (I had thought through the number I gave them so it would be defensible when it was questioned). I then ended with this: “Let’s set this thickness as the target, and as soon as any group hits a problem with maintaining this, let me know right away before any design decisions are finalized. I don’t want to force the impossible, but I want to know specifically *why* it is impossible before we stop trying. Fair enough?” Everyone agreed it was a fair approach and the kickoff meeting ended.

So what was the result?

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