Thursday, September 27, 2007

POTW: Seth Godin on Finding the Long Tail

Quick and terse POTW from Seth Godin. He chimes in about Finding the Long Tail (in stocks). I think he confused Long Tail with Wisdom of the Crowds. The latter encapsulates the accuracy and efficacy of collaborative, not silo-based know-it-all, decisions; the former is a brilliant take on the efficiency and mass of "tail" markets. Love them both.

Seth's post reminded me of two recent experiences, one a lunch with A VC friend, the latter a networked angel-fund-in-creation. My VC amigo is analogous to the analysts portrayed in Seth's piece: They're almighty, they know it (or most of it) all, and they know it. The fund is the opposite: It relies on the collective wisdom and input of non experts to make decisions. I'll bank on many minds any day. Especially when I'm banking my own money and time.

Pooh on entrepreneurship

I just reminisced about my dad’s first book, The Waring Blender. Post post publishing, I rediscovered an excerpt that reminded me of our observations of a few weeks ago (e.g., if you throw something away and there is no away, where is away?). My page-turning discovery was similar to the feeling of slipping into a well-worn pair of flip-flops bleary-eyed in the dark. Here’s the chortle-packed and paradoxical-full prose:

LINES WRITTEN BY A BEAR OF VERY LITTLE BRAIN

On Monday when the sun is hot
I wonder to myself a lot:
Now is it true, or is it not,
That what is which and which is what?

On Tuesday, when it hails and snows,
The feeling on me grows and grows
That hardle anybody knows
If those are these or these are those.

On Wednesday, when the sky is blue,
And I have nothing else to do,
I sometimes wonder if it’s true
That who is what and what is who.

On Thursday, when it starts to freeze
And hoar-frost twinkles on the trees,
How very readily one sees
That these are whose – but whose are these?
The source? A.A. Milne’s Winne-The-Pooh, 1926. My dad continues (his prose, not Pooh):
One of the problems with scientists is that they always tell the truth. They answer questions with yes or no. They are ignorant of the value of the modifier called “adverb.” Their brains are tooled with concepts like cause and effect, hypothesis, statistical probability, absolute right and wrong, and other facets of what is generally known as “The Scientific Method.”
Reminds me that, nearly 100 blog posts deep, entrepreneurship is – for Pooh reasons and much else -- the art of business. Entrepreneurs question what is which and which is what, if those are these and these are those, if who is what and what is who, and if these are whose, but whose are these? Entrepreneurs are story (not truth) tellers, non-binary thinkers ambivalent of facts and probability and methods. Long live fairy tellers.

The Waring Blender

My dad wrote a book in 1995 (his first of two) entitled The Waring Blender. My role was as a character, give-em-hell enthusiast, copy-editor, and publisher (designed it using PageMaker 3.0 or so on a Mac IIci [what a warhorse!] and printed [all 50 copies] via a bitchin new Apple Laserwriter). The Waring Blender was “a short novel about science and entrepreneurship.” It’s a classic, a creative-fictional piece of genius. Too bad you can’t find it on Amazon.

The Waring Blender opens with a flurry of quotations, including a few memorable ones. The first from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where should I begin, please, your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”
The second memorable testament, this one from Jackson Brown’s song Rednecked Friend, circa my birth year or so:
I may not have an answer, but I believe I’ve got a plan.
Tonight I opened a new book, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. Not sure why I Amazoned it, but it reads like an interesting read, part Edward O. Wilson (Concilience: The Unity of Knowledge), part Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point). The preface opens with a likewise interesting quote from Douglas Adams, author of The Long Dark Tea – Time of the Soul:
“I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere that I needed to be.”
Which got me to thinking (which, paradoxically, is a scary thought): When you know where you’re going, stop. Change directions. The fun, the challenge, the uncertainty are gone. You know the end, you have both answers and a plan, and you’re going to end up where you plan to end up.

Efficient markets are, well, boring; they’re too predictable and commoditized, grey flurries of uncreativity. So too are efficient lives, the land of clones, head nodders and yeah, but thinkers. Inefficient markets are compelling, particularly when demand > supply. Inefficient lives are as well, presuming you can dip into efficient, balanced times to maintain your sanity and play the game.

Entrepreneurship is inefficiently unpredictable. It’s intoxicating because you rarely end up where you intend to go, but often end up somewhere you needed to be. It is invigorating because you begin with few answers (efficiencies or certainties or facts), but you do have a plan. And, to quote R.E.M. and Lewis Carroll, you begin the begin: You go on till you come to the end; the stop. Or, if you’re a true entrepreneur, you start over, reinventing and recreating.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cha-ching, cha-Ning

Marc Andreessen is backing up his personal Brinks van for yet another monster payoff. His latest company, Ning, has in cha-ching of two coins in your pocket become the clear and overwhelming leader in the business of enabling people to create new social networks. Nice work.

In the above-linked post, Andreessen lays out the logic of Ning and its resonance with users. It's a compelling take and I admire his clear, concise thinking. What does it mean to foster -- quickly -- and host 100,000 networks?

As you might expect, the 100,000 networks on Ning follow a power law curve for any metric you choose to apply: number of members, say, or number of page views.
Power law curve. Took a moment, but it clicked: Long Tail. Chris Anderson's elaboration:
Powerlaws come about when you have three conditions:
  1. Variety
  2. Inequality
  3. Network effects (word of mouth, for example) to amplify the differences between them.

In others words, powerlaw distributions occur where things are different, some are better than others, and network effects can work to promote the good and suppress the bad. This results in what Vilfredo Pareto called the predictable imbalance of markets, culture and society: success breeds success, rich get richer and so on. Needless to say, these forces describe a good fraction of the world around us.

Andreessen continues with a head-spinning look at the two-pronged viral virtue/growth of Ning:

On a typical social networking service, users join a single large social network designed and run by the service's owner. Users then invite other users to join that same single large network -- this is the viral adoption loop by which the network grows.

On Ning, users both join existing user-created networks -- one of the 100,000+ networks that already exist -- and/or create their own networks. This is a double viral loop. Loop one is users being invited to join a network created on Ning. Loop two is some percentage of those users creating their own new networks and then inviting other people to join those new networks.

On Ning, these two viral loops feed one another: the more networks on Ning, the more users who are getting invited to join -- and the more users who join, the more new networks that get created, leading to even more users being invited to join. And the loops repeat over and over again.

And as a result, the key driver of this whole dual viral adoption cycle is new networks being created -- on average, existing networks continuously bring in new users over time, and those new users create new networks, which add to the base of existing networks bringing in new users, ad infinitum.

Think of the Network Effect on steroids (or, powered by the power law curve). Personalized, easy-to-use, customizable, permission-based software-as-a-service. For free. Jaw dropping stuff, even for guys like me who belong to nary a social network.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Free

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor of Wired, is working on a new book, "FREE". Intriguing title ... here are a few subtitles Anderson is toying with:

1) FREE: The story of a radical price (zero)

2) FREE: How $0.00 changed the world

3) FREE: How companies get rich by charging nothing

4) FREE: The economics of abundance and the marketplace without money

5) FREE: The past and future of a radical price.

It's easy to give something away for free. It's more difficult to do so while delivering "gotta have" value. And -- here's the grand test for companies, particularly social and business networks and other Web 2.0 plays -- transitioning a community of value-receiving participants who pay nothing to a group that will pay something is the trick. Think of all the start-out-for-free online communities that, when shifting gears from free to paid, carcassed on the roadside.

One of my Venture Lab comrades works at LinkedIn. I'm a fan of the professional networking site -- though I've yet to scratch the surface of its utility -- and an even bigger proponent of my colleague. He's a star. When he started at LinkedIn a few years ago, I queried: What are you trying to accomplish? His answer: Figure out how to make money. (Quite contiguous, eh, with the purpose of a corporation.)

Theretofore, LinkedIn had no revenue (advertising, subscription, etc.); thereon, they've become profitable through premium services, which provide improved search and contact options for recruiters, investment professionals, entrepreneurs, analysts, market researchers, sales people and business development professionals. Simplified: Those who garner the most value are paying to participate (they can afford to and would be foolish not to), while the rest of us benefit through the virtues of the network.

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Post-script (1/5/08): Anderson delivered a healthy, 45-minute or so keynote at Nokia World 2007, Free: The Past and Future of a Radical Price. He's siring a terrific, eye-opening, pragmatic thesis, building on The Tail. Invest the time ... it's well worth it (and it is free!).

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Post-script (04 Feb 08): Seth Godin relays an insightful, contrarian-to-free piece authored by Kevin Kelly. It elaborates eight ways two make something worth charging for (read the post for the full monty): immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage and findability.

++++++++++
Post-script (25 Feb 08): Anderson enlivens the discussion with a lengthy, gotta-read post in his Wired blog, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. Here are the first two graphs:

At the age of 40, King Gillette was a frustrated inventor, a bitter anticapitalist, and a salesman of cork-lined bottle caps. It was 1895, and despite ideas, energy, and wealthy parents, he had little to show for his work. He blamed the evils of market competition. Indeed, the previous year he had published a book, The Human Drift, which argued that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public and that millions of Americans should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. His boss at the bottle cap company, meanwhile, had just one piece of advice: Invent something people use and throw away.

One day, while he was shaving with a straight razor that was so worn it could no longer be sharpened, the idea came to him. What if the blade could be made of a thin metal strip? Rather than spending time maintaining the blades, men could simply discard them when they became dull. A few years of metallurgy experimentation later, the disposable-blade safety razor was born. But it didn't take off immediately. In its first year, 1903, Gillette sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades. Over the next two decades, he tried every marketing gimmick he could think of. He put his own face on the package, making him both legendary and, some people believed, fictional. He sold millions of razors to the Army at a steep discount, hoping the habits soldiers developed at war would carry over to peacetime. He sold razors in bulk to banks so they could give them away with new deposits ("shave and save" campaigns). Razors were bundled with everything from Wrigley's gum to packets of coffee, tea, spices, and marshmallows. The freebies helped to sell those products, but the tactic helped Gillette even more. By giving away the razors, which were useless by themselves, he was creating demand for disposable blades. A few billion blades later, this business model is now the foundation of entire industries: Give away the cell phone, sell the monthly plan; make the videogame console cheap and sell expensive games; install fancy coffeemakers in offices at no charge so you can sell managers expensive coffee sachets.

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Post-script (17 Mar 08): A thought-provoking slice from Anderson's new book ...

There is, presumably, a limited supply of reputation and attention in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities — and the world of free exists mostly to acquire these valuable assets for the sake of a business model to be identified later. Free shifts the economy from a focus on only that which can be quantified in dollars and cents to a more realistic accounting of all the things we truly value today.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Eying Eyeore

I was doodling this week while parked in a meeting. Fellow chair sitters, in their absorption and assessment of a presentation, fell in to one of four camps:

Nay Say: Eyeore-esque naysayers living in a "yeah, but ..." world, cynically chirping, "we're never going to get there." Tough nuts (or donkeys) to crack.

Say Hey: The cheerleaders (or Tiggers) of the group, bouncing 'round the room like an unplugged helium balloon. They're on board, but the challenge is to corral and focus their enthusiasm.

Opaque: Placid, analytical (or bored?), I-have-no-clue-what-you're-thinking poker face postures. Could go either way. When they speak everyone listens. These are the sage owls of the group.

Say yeah!: Our champions who analytically and anecdotally help build our case, ward off Eyeores, covert Opaques, and focus Say Heys.

Our challenge coming in was to understand the audience and craft a story that resonated with the group. The challenge mid-stream/presentation was to interpret the group and adjust, to identify Eyeores and Opaque folks, to channel the energy of Say Heys, and to shut up when Say Yeahs speak. As a presenter, you're a puppeteer of your audience -- if you're effective, the puppets, with a little orchestration, will play their parts and help you accomplish your goal.

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Post-script (10/8/07): My friend and ex-roommate Will, who knows a heckuva lot more about the above than me and is ascending the ranks of Cisco's management, chimes in with a sage addition:

The eyeore piece was interesting I'm going to use it for my sales team, but as an emphasis for call, account and meeting planning. I think a big piece of the message is knowing the participants and knowing the position you need/want them to play. No different than any of the deals or teams you put together just on a smaller scale. Know what you need everyone to do, or not do and then which buttons to push to make them happen. Planning, planning, planning and knowing your audience. Of course, doing the work to understand what makes each of the people move is always the hard part.

POTW: Mark Cuban on taking your house public

For this week's POTW, Mark Cuban chimes in with a thought-provoking why not: Solution for the Real Estate Market? Take Your House Public? It's a tidy, top-of-mind brainstorm about the illogical, binary approach to home ownership ... reminds me a little of our question posed a few months ago (liquidity for private company investments/real estate partnerships), but The Great Cuban has given it much more thought. Here's an excerpt:

Why not create a market or exchange where homeowners can sell equity in their homes ?

The rules could be very simple:
1. The house is appraised by a company approved by the exchange that lists the houses.
2. "Shares" are set with a Par Value of 10pct of the appraised value. For a 100k dollar house, there are 10 shares potentially available. However at no point in time can more than 40pct of the "shares" in a home be sold. We dont want the opportunity for "hostile takeovers".
3. The price of the shares will of course be set by the market. In a hot market it will be set above par, in a tough market like today, it will sell below Par.
4. All Proceeds from the sale of shares MUST be used to pay down any debt on the home.

This is the key element of this approach. By selling equity in a home, the buyer gets an asset based security that will move up and down with the market. If this market is big enough, there should be enough liquidity to move in and out of positions.
I like it. And, in the spirit of our inaugural post, Yes, and ..., instead of home-by-home IPOs, how 'bout bundling homes into an offering, analogous to the burgeoning consumer-back micro credit facilities/loans? You can do quarterly or annual appraisals (reporting) through a reputable third party, though the market value/stock price would be based on -- rightly so -- what an investor's willing to pay. Residential home equities. Pretty cool, especially in light of the credit crunch/mortgage meltdown.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Play better

My life as a golfer -- spanning 30 or so years -- will be complete if I never play another hole or see another 392-dimple ball. I'm fried on the tail of 90 holes this past weekend in La Quinta. We -- a group of eight clowns, including my uncle Clif -- had a blast, but I'm glad it's over.

My uncle is a former professional baseball player who is nearing 60 with the golf game hovering in the high 70s. He knows how to score and loves to compete; I savor the competition. One of his favorite lines (delivered, of course, when his opponent is down): It's real simple. Play better. Drives me nuts, but I owe him royalties for stealing and echoing his words.

In the midst of consecutive cactus-bound shots and a desire to do anything to play better (and beat Clif), I contemplated whether I was insane, negligent, insanely negligent, or negligently insane. It was like a scene from Groundhog Day.

Somebody once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome (e.g., taking the same bad swing, but expecting the shot to soar optimally). Another unattributable definition: Negligence is doing the same thing over and over even though you know it is wrong (e.g., shitty irreparable swing after shitting irreparable swing with full knowledge that it's not going to work).

Analogies? Politics are easy; think Bush et al and their Iraq fiasco (or most anything their administration has endeavored to do). Entrepreneurship too. At one point or another, entrepreneurs of all walks are insane and/or negligent. Successful entrepreneurs have fewer insane or negligent moments. They're able to change course and shift strategy when they hit a wall, before it's too late, before the hole is too deep, before they become insanely negligent.

All of which means little if you simply play better.

The four A's

I was interviewed this morning by the regional Business Journal. They’re running a story about business incubators, sparked by a municipality’s proposal to launch a new chicken coop. Having grown up and spent much of my adult live in such confines, I was engaged to share my thoughts.

First question: Are there enough incubators? (My answer: Hell – check that: Heck – no.)

Second question: What’s needed (to further catalyze company formation and growth)? (My four-pronged answer: Entrepreneurs with ideas, organized seed capital sources, facilities/space/environments to culture the companies, and regional support [action, not anecdotes].)

As the interview progressed and my bravado bolstered, I lamented that regional folk need to get off their ass(es) and get things done, to abort their fear of failure. (For the record, I did not use the “A” word; I think I said “rear” or something equally delicate.) Which led me to an on-the-fly recitation of a get-off-your-you-know-what, Four A progression:

  1. Apathy: The sedentary act of doing nothing.
  2. Anecdote: Still sedentary and devoid of action, but propped up with anecdotal wind blowing and pom-pom shaking.
  3. Analysis: Out-of-the-chair commencement of doing something, moving beyond rah-rah anecdotes and into neuron-impulsed action.
  4. Action: Shelving hyperbole, taking risk, and getting shit done.
It reminded me of previous rants herein, particularly our Just do it post and assessment of the commitment theory, vis-à-vis start-ups, along with a terrific opine from Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Google gaggle

My best friend owns and manages two health club/physical therapy clinics. Great business, and he’s adding tread to his tires. After 36 holes and a few too many beverages this weekend in La Quinta, he lamented the lack of visibility and results of his marketing efforts. Here’s a fuzzy recap of our conversation:

I spend $700 to run an ad in the paper, and I have no idea who reads it or what happens.

Why do you do it?

I dunno.

What do you mean, I dunno?

I mean, we’re guilted. We’re a local business and we need to advertise in the paper.

Why? Does it work?

I have no friggin clue.
He’s doing business in the dark, blocking and tackling his way through archaic marketing 101. After a few sips and sighs, our chat resumed.
How many people do you reach with your ad?

I’m not sure. Maybe 5 or 10 thousand. What does it matter?

Do you know who you’re reaching?

Yeah, newspaper subscribers in Davis.

And you realize you’re paying to reach every reader, regardless of whether their a prospective customer or not?

Yeah, but we need to do it; other health clubs do.
Dead end, but not a lost cause (though I pondered the countless businesses that blindly do business … scary) -- Google to the rescue. We cracked another beer and shifted gears to the Great G’s AdWords program, the sensible and effective economics of paying for performance, of engaging in conversations with people who are interested (versus speaking at or to prospects through traditional mediums). Marketing migraine cured.

Fortunately, broadcast and print are next … Google is wrapping pilot programs for both mediums whereby ads will be fed based on a viewer or reader’s appetite. It’s close to a permission-based system for mass media, and I’m sure it’ll be backed by useful analytics.

Publishers and broadcasters can either run scared (’til they run out of money) or sprint to collaborate with Google. Either way, they’re going to need plenty of physical therapy and health club time, which is good news for my best friend.

Natural capitalism and eco-effectiveness

I’ve been Cradle to Cradle groovin for the past few weeks, contemporaneously enthralled with the business possibilities presented by the author’s thinking. As I relayed, it’s that good. Here’s a follow-on thought:

In situations where the away (when you discard something) is scarce or problematic, why not create and sell (in essence, lease) upcyclable and replaceable products?

Obvious suspects: Mid- to high-ticket items that, currently, are difficult or ecologically impractical to dispose of. Top-of-noggin examples include PCs, monitors, televisions, washers and driers, cars, lawn mowers, carpet and stereos.

The model: Instead of purchasing – outright – the product, consumers ink a two-to-three-times the life of the product lease (e.g., 10-to-15 years). Once its utility wanes, the product is returned to the manufacturer (who recycles and reuses the components) and replaced with a new version. It’s an annuity and perpetuated sale for the business, and a quasi feel good, rent-to-own purchase – with a guarantee to have the latest and greatest product every few years, sans disposal migraine and at a pre-determined price – for consumers, with a marginal additional cost.

Compelling suds for thought (from Cradle to Cradle):

… manufacturers could reconceive soap as a product of service, and design washing machines to recover detergent and use it again and again. A washing machine could be preloaded with two thousand loads’ worth of internally recycling detergent – not nearly as big a design challenge as it sounds, since only 5 percent of a standard measure of detergent is actually consumed in a typical laundry cycle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Legacy v. activities

The hamster treadmill of life is ridden with too much "what do you do?" navel gazing, versus "what have you accomplished" reminiscing. As you age, the former (or the "how") has less relevance, aside from leading to the latter (the "what"). In other words, the how you get from here to there means little; it's all about the there. Assuming, of course, there's a there there.

There was boundless there there in Thomas Jefferson's life, and there was plenty of how. The latter is obvious: Our first Secretary of State, second Vice President, and third President, preceded by governing Virginia. He achieved distinction as (thanks, Wiki) a horticulturist, statesman, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, author, and inventor, among others. Jefferson was an eclectic and curious bad ass.

His epitaph, written by him with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more" be inscribed, reads:

HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Think about it: A past-president's tombstone lacking reference to his presidency. Jefferson shelved his ego: his activities -- what he did -- carried little weight, and his accomplishments -- his legacy -- were perpetuated.

POTW: A Business Idea for Anyone Who Wants It

I am tardy is posting our post of the week, with no excuses sans my apathy; there are plenty of terrific musings to share. Before jumping into this week's POTW, two business ideas:

  1. Building on a previous GoingGreen recap, if you want to throw something away, where is away if there's no away? Challenge: Can you create a new away where demand for away is strong/unmet, and supply of away is scarce? Two GoingGreen examples: A company that hauls and recycles undesirable office stuff (i.e., when a company relocates or replenishes), and a company that has figured out how to micro-shred and resell tire treads (plastic). A half-century old model: auto recyclers (formerly wreckers, and most recently dismantlers). All are systemic approaches to age-old problems.
  2. If you want to heat something -- fast -- throw it in the microwave. If you want to chill something -- quickly -- what's the less-than-$50 counter-top solution?
POTW: Freakonomics (again, these guys are brilliant) checks in with a challenge to start a company that would provide cheating detection services to schools systems. Certainly a widespread problem in search of a solution. Certainly not a "have fun, make money" endeavor (it's kinda like a big brother/school nark hybrid). As testing becomes increasingly standardized, so too should cheater detection, eh?

Ants go marching …

Know the feeling when, after inhaling a book, you can’t wait to share your enjoyment with whomever will listen? I’m on a Cradle to Cradle rant; it’s that good. And though the book is not directly related to the subjects of this blog -- creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation -- it’s lessons are plentiful. And, you can make a case that all green-tech creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators should vault the book to the top of their must-read list.

A eco-musing therein about ants – pesty pests that biologist E.O. Wilson characterized as “the little things that run the world” -- reminded me of our metaphorical look at bees and beehives. Here’s the Cradle to Cradle take:

Consider a community of ants. As part of their daily activity, they:
  • safely and effectively handle their own material wastes and those of other species
  • grow and harvest their own food while nurturing the ecosystem of which they are a part
  • construct houses, farms, dumps, cemeteries, living quarters, and food-storage facilities from materials that can be truly recycled
  • create disinfectants and medicines that are healthy, safe, and biodegradable
  • maintain soil health for the entire planet.
Individually we are much larger than ants, but collectively their biomass exceeds ours. Just as there is almost no corner of the globe untouched by human presence, there is almost no land habitat, from harsh desert to inner city, untouched by some species of ant. They are a good example of a population whose density and productiveness are not a problem for the rest of the world, because everything they make and use returns to the cradle-to-cradle cycles of nature. All their materials, even their most deadly chemical weapons, are biodegradable, and when they return to the soil, they supply nutrients, restoring in the process some of those that were taken to support the colony.
In addition to learning from Dr. Seuss and bees, looks like we can gleam much from ants.

The Lorax

One of my favorite books is Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. As sophmoric as it sounds, adults and business leaders can learn a lot from Seuss, and I’d like to share an example.

Bill McDonough, as I relayed yesterday, delivered a compelling conference-opening keynote at GoingGreen. His talk was loaded with sage morsels, elucidating that doing less of bad (energy efficiency, environmental conversation, carbon-credit training, et al) is not the same as doing good. “If all we have is a strategy of tragedy, what are we offering our kids?” he asked. “I’d like to propose a strategy of hope.” The world, he contends, belongs to the living. There is no end game; it’s an infinite game. And (my words/recollection), if you throw something away, where does it go? Where is away if away has gone away? Mind-expanding and eye-popping stuff. Green techies and financiers salivated; the ovation was standing, the elation contagious.

Which brings me to Seuss and The Lorax. When I got home Monday night, I quietly – without waking my five-year-old – pulled my ruffled copy from the shelf. It’s a wonderfully special tome, given to me three-and-one-half decades ago by my long-lost, forever-living-in-Japan uncle Ron. Inside cover, scribed in (toxic?) lead:

TO CHRISTIAN WHO IS 4 FROM HIS FRIEND RON WHO IS SOMEWHAT MORE THAN 4.
I turned the pages, smiling and reminiscing and enjoying each Seussism, every illustration. The Once-ler commences, narrating through his Whisper-ma-Phone:
“Now I’ll tell you,” he says, with his teeth sounding gray, “how the Lorax got lifted and taken away …

It all started way back …
Such a long, long time back …

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space …
One morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Trufulla Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.
The illustrations are kaleidoscopic, a buffet of bright colors, and idyllic place.
And, under the trees, I saw Brown Bar-ba-loots
frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits
as they played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits.

From the rippulous pond
came the comfortable sound
of the Humming-Fish humming
while splashing around.
The rest is lore; the Once-ler builds a small shop and chops down (with one chop) the first of many Truffula Trees. The Lorax appears: I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I’m asking you, sire, at the top of my lungs, what’s that thing you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?

The Once-ler and his family progress, chopping Truffula Trees, knitting and selling Thneeds. Innovation sets in:
Then …
Oh! Baby! Oh!
How my business did grow!
Now, chopping one tree
at a time
was too slow.

So I quickly invented my Super-Axe-Hacker
which whacked off four Truffula Trees at one smacker.
We were making Thneeds
four times as fast as before!
And that Lorax? …
He didn’t show up any more.
The Lorax returns, venom in his voice:
NOW … thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground,
there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ‘round.
And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies
because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies!
Business is business, and what’s an entrepreneur to do? The Once-ler continues:
I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering … selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.
Alas, from the forest, they heard a loud whack. The last Truffula Tree fell with the smack of an axe. The skies turned grey, the workers left town. All that remained was a resource-depleted land.

The Once-ler wraps, engaging his one-person audience, a young lad with an incredulous grin:
“So …
Catch!” calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
“It’s a Trufulla Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Trufullas Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”
McDonough: The world belongs to the living. There is no end game; it’s an infinite game.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

GoingGreen

This is my first ever smell-of-the-grease-pan, roar-of-the-crowd blog post. I'm parked in the Mondavi Center at UCD enjoying GoingGreen, Tony Perkins' latest and greatest production. The conference is superb -- a collection of top-tier VCs and green-tech execs populate the auditorium and podium -- and a few interesting anecdotes abound:

1. I'm flanked by two "bloggers bullpens," lap-top amenable seats for blog pros; I'm a rook sitting in the peanut (albeit plush) seats. Much of their discussion is chronicled on the big screen, a running conversation of green techies. Cool.

2. My friend Redwood (to the right of Tony) helped open the conference last night. During his intro remarks, a blogger (Valerie) typed (flashed behind Ed on the 20x60' screen), Ed is hot. The next entry: Could be global warming. Hilarious, particularly since eco-Ed believes global warming's a hoax.

3. Solar is hot (and getting hotter). I shared a story about ubiquity a few months ago, highlighting air and its ubiquitous virtues. The sun shines brighter: A 97-square mile, solar-loaded site can pacify the country's electricity needs. The technology exists. Land too. And, there's plenty of money. Alas -- so claim the financiers and entrepreneurs -- the economics of solar compliment demand (consumer desire). Now policy-makers and regulators need to raise their shades and open their eyes.

4. Bill McDonough, who keynoted last night's opening session, continues to amaze. As I engaged last month, his talks are invigorating, dishing morsels of wisdom and metaphors about Thomas Jefferson, Einstein, bedouin tents and cherry trees. “If all we have is a strategy of tragedy, what are we offering our kids?” he asked. “I’d like to propose a strategy of hope.” Click here to enjoy his talk.

In sum: There are a lot of really smart people (and lots of really smart money) endeavoring to do good and make money, tackling big generational problems, and creeping from the cusp to a visible core. They are admirably involved in journeys with no foreseeable limits. Bravo.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Design thinking

In idle times I enjoy clicking through my favorite blogs' recommended sites. It's a terrific filter (or intuitive blog search) to piggyback those you admire. The guys at Freakonomics get it: Their site is rich with comrade blogs, though it is a challenge to find compelling creativity/entrepreneurship/innovation sites.

Freaking along tonight, I unearthed a post from Bruce Nussbaum: CEOs Must Be Designers, Not Just Hire Them.

Its premise: Old-school economics and management theory (efficiency, operational excellence, outsource 'til you're purple in the face, pump up the testosterone and replicate pennies) are antes. True differentiation and progress and profitability and sustainability -- resting in the lap of CEOs -- is attributable to design.

C'mon. Design? Nussbaum speaks:

CEOs and managers must know Design Thinking to do their jobs. CEOs must be designers and use their methodologies to actually run companies. Let me be even more precise. Design Thinking is the new Management Methodology.
Bravo. He opines we're transitioning from being leaders of thought to curators of conversations (reminds me of Cluetrain: Markets are conversations). Nussbaum continues:
Design is so popular today mostly because business sees design as connecting it to the consumer populace in a deep, fundamental and honest way. An honest way. If you are in the myth-making business, you don’t need design. You need a great ad agency. But if you are in the authenticity and integrity business then you have to think design. If you are in the co-creation business today—and you’d better be in this age of social networking—then you have to think of design. Indeed, your brand is increasingly shaped and defined by network communities, not your ad agency. Brand manager? Forget about it. Brand curator maybe.
Nussbaum expands, referencing two of my favorites thinkers (and authors): Peter Drucker and Bill McDonough. (BTW, can't wait to see, hear and perhaps meet the latter next week at GoingGreen.)

He heaps praise on McDonough's Cradle to Cradle (I feel guilty having just started it; it's a valuable read), and sets the table for his knock-out point with a Druckeronian reference:
Then there is Design as Peter Drucker or Design as Management Methodology. Design is popular today also because Design Thinking—the methodology of design taken out of the small industrial design context and applied to business and social process—is spreading fast. Hate me if you will, but I am a believer in Design Thinking. In the world of business, there is no value proposition left for most companies in controlling costs or even quality. All that outsourcing has leveled this playing field. Cost and quality are commoditized today, merely the price of entry to the competitive game. Design and design thinking—or innovation if you like--are the fresh, new variables that can bring advantage and fat profit margins to global corporations. In today’s global marketplace, being able to understand the consumer, prototype possible new products, services and experiences, quickly filter the good, the bad and the ugly and deliver them to people who want them—well, that is an attractive management methodology. Beats the heck out of squeezing yet one more penny out of your Chinese supply-chain, doesn’t it?
My inspiration for creating this site a few months ago was threefold: communicate (to whomever's listening), complain (about staid, brain-dead, it is what it is business practices), and connect (thoughts and theories and pundits and pros). All entrepreneurship is art; great entrepreneurship is a special form of art, one of the last (the last?) bastions where you can wave your creative wand and, if you succeed, make a few bucks. Yahoo.