Monthly Archives: October 2011

Business Ideas – Dilbert

I’d like to see a business that is a combination golf driving range and car wash. Just park the car, hit a bucket of balls, and your car is clean when you’re done. It’s the ideal combo, and each service would be optional and separate. A driving range and a car wash take about the same amount of time, they both require good weather, they can both be weekly or bi-weekly activities, and the combination turns two generic services into one special one. (Yes, I did steal this idea from the Laundromat/bar concept.)

I’d also like to see a better evite system that allows people to move from conditional plans into something concrete. For example, I might want to go to dinner and a movie with friends IF I like the movie, and IF the timing is right, and IF they pick a good restaurant. My guess is that many people don’t bother making plans with friends because it’s too hard to negotiate all the preferences. No one enjoys putting out invitations and getting no takers. It’s hard to be the organizer.

I’d like the future evite system to start by figuring out who is around and who is up for what sorts of activities. Over time, the system would figure out the sorts of things you like and make suggestions to your circle of friends. Or perhaps you would keep a running profile of the new movies you’d like to see, the concerts you’d enjoy, and the restaurants you want to experience. The evite system would combine everyone’s general preferences into one or more specific plans for which you can opt in or out. And all along the process that might develop over the course of a week, each participant can “nudge” the plan in the direction he or she wants. The system might even negotiate potluck menus and help pick a home for get-togethers.

I’d also like someone to invent a better calendar interface. The current ones are way too much fussy clicking. I get annoyed every time I enter something on Google calendar or Outlook. I feel like a data entry clerk. Can’t that be easier?

Yeah, I know, Siri has a voice solution. I haven’t tried it, but my experience with Google voice search on my phone tells me that in the real world there is no such thing as a quiet enough environment. And if it is quiet, there’s a reason, such as the fact someone is working in the cubicle nearby or trying to read at the airport. As things stand, Siri is more of a douche bag identification system than a scheduling tool.

Google has a nice option for letting you do a quick entry just by typing the details in any way you like and letting the system figure out what you meant. That’s about halfway to where I’d like the interface to be.

I also think my to-do list and my calendar need to be better married. If you’re like me, you want to keep your “thinking” tasks separate from your “doing” tasks. In other words, you might want to do all of your writing and designing in one block of time, and then your phone calls and scheduling during another. So maybe your to-list needs to make that distinction, plus others, such as how long a task takes and when it needs to be completed. And all of that needs to happen without a fussy calendar interface.

I just needed to get those ideas out of my head to make room for more. (That’s literally true. I need to clean my mental attic every now and then.) If you’d like to do the same, let’s hear your business ideas in the comments.


Clay Christensen on Steve Jobs – the trouble with venture capital

Reposted from GIGAOM, October 10, 2011.

Steve Jobs and the company he co-founded just might be one of the few companies to look the innovator’s dilemma right in the eye and stare it into submission. Jobs’ Apple decided that it was better to cannibalize itself rather than have others do it. And so, the briskly selling iPod was replaced by the iPhone, and the iPad became the new low-end computer. When I asked Professor Christensen what made Jobs special, he said, “Jobs never said he understood the customer, but instead he tried to learn what they are trying to do, and that was his genius.”

Why? Because that helps focus on what matters the most: helping your customers get the job done. The professor pointed out that most people tend to focus on the wrong things, especially in the fast changing world of technology. Christensen argued that when companies make products that help make everyday stuff easier and get the job of life (or work) done, in the end customers don’t need any persuasion. That is precisely why a company like Apple can find buyers for its products so much more easily. Christensen pointed out the fundamental insight Steve Jobs had was that he focused on the “job.”

“Jobs are very stable in a sense and don’t change very much,” he said. For example, Julius Caesar used a chariot to get messages across from one city to another. Fed-Ex uses planes and trucks, he said. The job of delivering the packages hasn’t changed; just how it is done has changed.

Companies that realize this are fine, and will always find a way into the future. Apple understood that people would buy music, just not from a record store. Amazon is another company that has figured out that people love buying books, though it might not be from a bookstore, or even in a paper form. That is one of the reasons it introduced Kindle.

Innovation troubles

I asked the famous academic what he thought of the increasing rhetoric around a decreasing emphasis on fundamental innovation and long term thinking in our society. He said that the problem isn’t with a lack of teaching or learning; instead it is a problem with finance.

Financial institutions and educators have propagated a way of thinking that is poison for innovation, Christensen said. And that thinking is around internal rate of return or IRR. As a result, investors are looking to put money to work fast and take it out as quickly as possible. This behavior is not only prevalent inside companies but also inside the venture business, he said. Christensen said that typically it takes about seven years or so to get a company to the finish line and get a good return on investment. Now compare that with an incremental product (or improvement) that you can flip quickly – that gives a big boost to the IRR.

As a result, venture capitalists are focused on short-term innovations and that is just nuts, he added. “I keep saying, don’t be distracted by the siren song of synthetic message of IRR,” he said. “It is dollars and not IRR percentage that matters.”

Professor Christenen was critical of the migratory capital that sloshes from one sector to another or one country to another – moving in and out after locking in short-term gains. He thought the government should consider a new kind of tax structure that encourages longterm investments and stability. For instance, no capital gains taxes for investments that last as long as eight years. “Then you will find people like Steve Jobs and the vibrancy of innovation will return.”



Bjarke Ingels: 3 warp-speed architecture tales

Bjarke Ingels: 3 warp-speed architecture tales. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels rockets through photo/video-mingled stories of his eco-flashy designs. His buildings not only look like nature — they act like nature: blocking the wind, collecting solar energy — and creating stunning views.

Cars vs. Beans

The former General Motors vice chairman dished out some great commentary. Lutz was promoting his new book Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business, and talk quickly turned to his role as it related to product development and high-level decision making at GM. While on the topic of brand management, Lutz revealed a few rather interesting tidbits about his former employer:

  • All Chevrolet vehicles were required to have five-spoke aluminum wheels and a chrome band up front, as part of the Bowtie brand’s overall image.
  • Pontiac was required to utilize “see-through” headrests, despite the fact that they cost more to produce while offering no consumer value.
  • All Buicks required a sweep spear in the exterior design language.
  • Cadillac considered building a 550-horsepower supercharged Escalade.
  • Saturn was working on a seven-passenger Vue.
  • Many of the non-car person GM board members preferred to drive imports.
  • Proportion and shape didn’t matter as long as all the brand-image boxes were checked.

Lutz provides an interesting look at the type of decision making that forced GM into a position of bankruptcy. The automaker was being run solely by folks focused on techniques and ideals that don’t work in the industry. He takes a few shots about MBA culture:

  • More beancounters in product planning than in GM finance – and they unintentionally subverted the car process because of too much abstract analysis – instead of common sense analysis
  • Stupid corp metrics – 40% of products had to be ‘innovative’ — which led to stupid, ridiculous design
  • Financial reporting metrics (esp regional) led to sub-optimal behavior – that were just wooden nickels
  • Lack of thought about real customer value — too busy being driven by things like per unit car cost vs incentive cost – instead of what the real cost was for the customer and for GM