Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Category: Strategy Posts (page 2 of 3)

5 Things I’ve Learned Consulting For Your Company

You may work for a corporation, medium sized business, or even a start-up. Since I’ve consulted for companies of all shapes and sizes, I may have worked at your company or a company very similar to it as a consultant. Perhaps I was helping you develop a mobile strategy, or performing work in the Business Intelligence space, or perhaps I’ve helped you manage a project or even brought a product to market.

As a consultant, the thing I love most about my job is helping a company see itself through a new set of eyes and help solve problems that prove the value of why I’m there at each step, in a unique way that is a value add both for the client and the company they work for. Despite all the bad buzz on consulting (primarily focused around management or strategy consulting), there is a lot of good consultants do for companies but there are also a lot of bad eggs out there, taking advantage of desperate situations and locking clients into contracts over steak dinners that they may very well look back on and regret.

Regardless of the purpose or your view on consulting, I’ve noticed a number of things that you and companies like yours have in common, regardless of the size. Some of these things you may very well already know, or perhaps suspected but could never confirm.

1. Politics and/or ego will be the thing that holds up progress on a project more than anything else

With all the MBA-trained consultants in the world, some projects are doomed to fail not because of a lack of resources but because there are decision makers in your company that are playing politics, which is causing blocking issues. Sometimes even, it’s more advantageous to let a project fail and point the finger at someone else then raise your hand when you see the project going off a cliff and bring the issues to everyone’s attention.

In cases like this (especially with so many projects going over budget, and beyond their deadline), the necessary skills won’t be having more do-ers or managers in the mix, but rather people that have the ability to see the situation for what it is and use communication, motivation, and internal salesmanship to remove bottlenecks and get a project back on track. When you see this happening, know you’re not alone, but also know that more than likely heads will be thrown at the project, hired to a certain tangible spec, when intangible people skills are really necessary.

Sadly, sometimes the project is out of your control, but even if it is, consider the skills you can bring to the table to not play politics but be proactive in helping calm nerves, relate to where project members are coming from, and work to simply defuse the emotion and drama in a given project.

This can often create resolution, and put you in a leadership role through gaining trust and influence which you can in turn use to get to the root of what’s causing the project delays (miscommunication, dislike between team members, lack of organization, etc) and work through resolving the emotion wrapped around those issues that keep people from thinking logically and instead continue to pull on emotions that only push the project further off course. Stress, panic, and fear are strong enemies but a calm approach over a 5 minute coffee break can go a long way helping someone to see what they need to do to contribute positively to a project, and help undo the issues bubbling up around the personalities or situations blocking progress.

In cases of ego or politics, it’ll become obvious to everyone once the hysteria has died down who is really getting in the way, which makes it much easier for a project sponsor to identify what on the project needs to change vs the project plan looking like a war zone, confusing the real problem.

2. An employee is only as powerful and influential as they choose to be

Often consultants are seen as super heroes in the corporate world, where people have come up and asked me how they can become a consultant because it’ll give them a significant boost in their career. If you’re having a hard time getting traction in your current job though, it’ll only magnify the difficulty as a consultant because you’re coming into new groups as an outside party with no authority, where it’s 100x harder to gain trust and work with a team than an employee who’s worked there for a period of time. “Tribal Leadership” can be far more influential, and help you succeed internally at your company much quicker, than if you came into that company as an external party.

What happens though is people use the “Well, I’m not a consultant” as an excuse for not driving change, and building bridges up to their executive leadership, leaning against something other than themselves to help make their point. The truth is that an employee is only as powerful as they choose to be, regardless of the role, and an executive would love to hear about an employee making a difference in their team or business unit. It’s not as common for employees to go above and beyond to the point someone two or more levels above them would hear about it, so consider what thinking outside the box, and making a difference beyond the job you have in front of you might do to get you the reputation and influence you need to really make a difference.

It won’t be a certificate, MBA, time machine, or new job that’ll help you be successful – it’ll be that still small voice inside you saying “This should work better, and I’ll work to make the difference” that’ll drive changes in your career far beyond anything else. It’s good to have help, but be sure never to use that help or lack thereof as a crutch. You’re far too powerful as a human being and employee to let an opportunity go, and your fellow employees need you out there making a difference for the good of the company.

3. Your company has problems, but so does every other company

Often I’m asked about what companies are better or worse than the company I’m at, by employees. Perhaps it’s because they’ve worked at that company their whole life, or often wondered what it would be like working for a different vertical or live in a different part of the world. As many companies as I’ve worked for, each has their own set of problems, and often the employees that I encounter that are unhappy feel like it’s just their company that has the issues, so they want to pursue a new job somewhere else in hopes it’ll be a greener pasture.

Each company certainly has different things going for it, but no company is perfect, regardless of the size or local. Instead of leaving your job because of the issues you have in your role or your team, consider what you can do to change your company for the better and take a proactive approach in making things work smoother. It’ll not only help you on a resume or interview, should you decide down the road to leave, but will help you rise above your peers as someone with initiative, that could get the attention of your management team and in turn find yourself with an entirely new opportunity within the company you work for.

4. Positive change in your company begins with you, regardless of your position, and will never become easier with a promotion, but may in fact become harder

I’ve spoken to many employees in the past that feel like their management is standing in the way of a new idea, initiative, or project they’re looking to get out the door and if they were a manager it’d be different. The truth is that management has a boss too, all the way up to the CEO, and more is on the line the higher you climb. For any manager, they have to balance what is good for their team and each of their employees along with hitting the numbers their boss has given them.

The higher you go, the more you’re responsible for, which causes you to measure risk in entirely new ways. What may appear like a lack of initiative, could be caution based on information you don’t have. Instead of blaming your manager for not making a difference, ask them what things are in their way that you can help them move out of the way so a pro-active change would be possible. There will be things they can’t share, but you’d be surprised how far empathy and a willingness to help goes because believe it or not, your manager wants to make a proactive change just like you do. A good company for you, is also a good company for them.

5. You aren’t a prisoner in your job, unless you let your fear or worry imprison you

The sad reality of most people that are unhappy with their role, is they feel like they have an obligation to stay in that role. It’s perhaps due to a family situation, financial means, “golden handcuffs” or any other number of reasons. The reality is that you aren’t a prisoner to your circumstances, and there’s always a way to make positive progress into a different role or career. Perhaps it’s small steps, such as working on your LinkedIn profile off hours, or a big one like going back to school. It’s often never easy to make changes, and it’s far easier to just stay where you’re at. But not being happy in what you do is a far worse fate sometimes than most of the things you’re afraid of, so consider what you’re gaining by being unhappy in the thing you spend most of your day on. It will always begin with a step, though the elevation may change, but have the courage and will power to keep taking a step each day and see where you’re at 30-60-90 days from now.

There are many other things I could share about what I’ve learned doing consulting, but these are the most common things I’ve personally seen working with companies. I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of great people at a number of companies, and have gotten some great experiences helping to make a positive change within a variety of different companies. There are other consultants like me though, that you may work with, and I encourage you to buy them coffee and ask what they’ve learned working at your company. You’d be surprised what they have to say, that can not only help you in your career but also help the teams and groups around you. It may not always be positive, but it’ll be productive, and not only help you understand them but also help them better understand your company which can have a positive impact on the work they’re doing.

Why You Should Care About Celebrity Photo Leaks

Maybe it’s because I worked for a number of years getting devices like the iPhone certified to operate inside a military and commercial aviation company, but I’m not at all surprised to see celeb photo leaks occurring.

Consumer electronics of any kind live in a constant pendulum of accessibility vs security. The more secure something is, the less accessible it inherently becomes, and visa versa. Any company that’s building an internet connected device today is going to take a number of considerations in mind when thinking about the right level of security to place on a device, including cost, supportability, and even export control (you can’t leave the US with a device that exceeds a certain level of encryption for example, per federal regulations).

For corporations, there are tools called mobile device management platforms such as Good Technology (www.good.com/) and Airwatch (www.air-watch.com/) that are designed to “harden” a consumer device so they’re safe for corporate data. With the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), this has become a booming industry for companies that want to offer state of the art mobile technology but at the same time want to make sure it meets the same standards as the corporate laptops that have had years of security and encryption work done on them, from anti-virus to whole disk encryption.

With these tools though, the mobile devices become harder to use. Either because of the data being silo’ed on the device or having to use a very complex password every time you want to login.

The celebrities that had their private content leaked online had their phones hacked via an iCloud security breach – basically, the content was accessible via a consumer-grade cloud hosted solution designed for storage and sharing of content. There’s a good chance these celebrities didn’t realize that content was being “auto-saved” or even accessible via iCloud, but therein lies the problem. How much content do you share on your device, without realizing it? I can guarantee you that hackers are pretty aware of common vulnerabilities, and typically aren’t the types to openly share new ones (assuming they’re not the good kind of hacker, or “white hat”).

It is a horrible act when someone’s privacy is violated, and no doubt when it’s a celebrity the effect is 1000 times worse than an average person given how quickly it spreads. As long as people put sensitive content on devices meant to be sold to the broadest possible audience though, out of the box security will only go so far to solve these issues. This is especially true for company secrets, when text messages are just as sensitive sometimes as e-mails.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to go back to desk phones and typewriters though, because it’s a happy medium where convenience and being up to date meets up with adequate levels of protection. When I worked with corporate clients around mobile device security, I used this metaphor that’s useful when discussing how to manage your internal mobile security.

Think of a bank having three layers

Layer One – The Lobby, it’s open to the world for most of the day and is generally accessible. There’s a lock on the door, and a security guard, but people can get in and out pretty freely.

Layer Two – Behind the counter, people aren’t allowed back there but employees can get in and out fairly easily and have some layers of security between them and the average customer. Sensitive material is back there, along with certain amount of currency so security is in place but it’s also accessible to any employee.

Layer Three – The safe. This is the most expensive and secure piece of real estate in the bank, and is designed for security and not accessibility. The most sensitive material is kept here, as well as storing the majority of the money and very sensitive items. Few people get or need access, and no one from the public is allowed in.

If you are building a bank, the whole thing isn’t a safe – it would not only be super expensive, it’d be inaccessible to the general public which would defeat the purpose. At the same time, you need a safe because of the threat of theft, robbery, etc.

When you think about mobile security – what in your company belongs in the “safe”?. Consider if that content should ever even be on a mobile device. What belongs in the backroom? e-mails, corporate documents, attachments, etc. This is where Mobile device management comes into play, and where you should consider what falls in that employee only area. As for the lobby? Marketing content, sales material, website stuff, anything open to the public doesn’t need to be secure. This could be what lands on a consumer mobile app, mobile website, or general access content.

Things like these leaks will continue to happen, as more people put more of their personal lives on internet connected devices built around sharing and accessibility. Security will get better, but not so good that the devices become too difficult or cumbersome to use. Within that area, consider what should be on a mobile device (for sensitive photos, I recommend a device that’s not connected to a cloud hosted service), what should be secured on your device, and what is generally open to the world. These “three layers” will help you avoid any confusion or surprise when it comes to sharing content via a mobile device, and will help any unnecessary data leaks when it comes to your sensitive corporate documents.

Why Everyone Should be a Data Miner

In thinking about the topic of data mining, a lot of different types of roles pop up in people’s minds. From data scientists typing away in giant data centers, to DBAs sitting in cubicles processing large amounts of corporate data, to an analyst building a spreadsheet for an annual report contribution.

Maybe it’s something far more physical, bringing up images of pick axes and hard hats and a big block of data (however that’s visualized, probably with 1’s and 0’s – all matrix like). Regardless of the image that comes to mind, it’s probably hard to fathom every business professional in some form or another becoming adept at data mining, and considering it a critical competency to keep in their professional toolbox in the years to come. Yet, when we explore the topic, we can easily see how data mining could become one of the preeminent skills that set folks apart in an era where it’s harder and harder to stand out from an increasingly noisy and competitive work climate. Lets start by looking at the six attributes that make up data mining (as defined by Wikipedia)

  • Anomaly detection (Outlier/change/deviation detection) – The identification of unusual data records, that might be interesting or data errors that require further investigation.
  • Association rule learning (Dependency modeling) – Searches for relationships between variables. This is sometimes referred to as market basket analysis.
  • Clustering – is the task of discovering groups and structures in the data that are in some way or another “similar”, without using known structures in the data.
  • Classification – is the task of generalizing known structure to apply to new data. For example, an e-mail program might attempt to classify an e-mail as “legitimate” or as “spam”.
  • Regression – attempts to find a function which models the data with the least error.
  • Summarization – providing a more compact representation of the data set, including visualization and report generation.

Though the definitions seem somewhat dense, think about how you’d be able to take any job – from being able to use regression analysis to construct a real estate data model to improve pricing predictions, to using summarization to build a better financial report for your senior leaders to interpret how great of a quarter you had.

Though some methods of data mining are harder than others, and you can quickly get in way over your skis without proper learning, knowing how to sift through data, and pull out the useful stuff, will give you a greater sense of the world you work in by understanding the data that matters and it’s so easy these days to learn data mining techniques online!

Just typing in “data mining classes online” produces hundreds of leads, from Coursera to MIT open courseware. Though some options go into areas like Data Science, which is much deeper level analysis, it all starts with understanding data and how best to derive meaning from it – regardless of how deep into the weeds you want to go.

This in turn gives you a big foot up against your competitors, who are largely relying on other services / people to hand them processed data and conclusions to do something with. Going from a commodity to a distinct competitive advantage means going in a direction others aren’t, and just having a nicely worded dictionary isn’t enough these days – you need to be able to turn that dictionary into a novel, and tell a story with the data that will reveal things about your business or your industry that’ll drive better decisions through unique insights.

Does Your Company Have a Chief Data Evangelist?

A lot of companies are talking about Chief Data Officers, but what about having a chief data evangelist instead?

Recently I was talking to a good friend of mine that works in the Business Intelligence space about the concept of a Chief Data Officer being brought up in the halls of different companies around the US (mainly of course, IT departments dealing with the onset of new data solutions to handle all their data.)

What he shared was that companies should focus less on centralizing data to get to a single version of the truth. Instead, they should focus on recruiting a chief data evangelist to get groups within a company on board with a set of standards that they can build data models around for use within their team, then grow grassroots communities within their company. This could be akin to a data “co-op” of sorts which could, in turn, enable teams to take their own data models and share data at a bottom up approach vs simply being drug along by a chief data officer from a top down approach, marching to the beat of centralized data control.

This extreme decentralization has worked in other facets, including executive leadership as characterized in the book “The Outsiders” by William Thorndike so why couldn’t it work with data?

As I began to think about it, it does make sense to have people in your organization advocating for best practices, and getting different groups on board with a set of standards but leaving the usefulness of the data to the teams using it, as no two groups of course ever have the same need for a specific data set in a specific format.

Though larger efforts like data warehousing will remain centralized activities, imagine what companies could achieve through extreme decentralization focused on evangelism of standards and organization level adoption & modeling efforts that in turn drive community activities within a company vs dragging along the enterprise one team at a time to conform to centralized data models that may or may not work for them.

Seems like a much better solution to me. In thinking about what a Chief Data Evangelist might do at your company, consider the following job description

Task #1) Strong understanding of best practices around data governance, data management, and data modeling for the purpose of leveraging corporate data for use by a specific team

Task #2) Desire to get teams within a company on board with leveraging standards for data governance and modeling, for the purpose of collaborating with other teams and sharing data within organizations / company

Task #3) Make a killer salsa

If that sounds like a great job description, perhaps the job is for you. Regardless of who has the role, be it official or unofficial, having strong advocates for standards along with proponents for data / BI communities in your company can go a long way in helping drive greater adoption of data solutions within your company and help grow data-driven solutions in the process.

Digital Irrelevance

When thinking about how much stuff there is online, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t better systems out there to not only gain your own megaphone to the world but also filter and sift out what other megaphones to listen to. Even the thought of having to spend time sifting through all the noise to get the handful of signals you care about can be daunting.

More and more, you see networks that will show you what your friends are reading, but how often do you chose friends on the basis of how similar your interests are online? I’m curious then if you don’t find interests based on your friends, but rather seek to find friends based on your interests.

I find most social networks rely on you meeting the person first before making the connection, but with life being what it is and everything being tied to what it is you’re doing these days, that you can throw your interests out to the web and it could suggest “here’s people you could have a virtual cup of coffee with each week”.

I can imagine high school being so much better if someone could have pulled me aside and said “based on the things you’re interested in, and care about, we recommend hanging out with these following students” and not having to awkwardly stumble through having to both figure it out on my own, and prove I belonged all at the same time. I think closed off networks of selective groups, and the privacy settings that come with paranoid online activity has to give way to make room for people making more meaningful connections online in order to boost their level of activity.

At the same time, there are people that have an interest with nothing to contribute, or people that have alot of questions with little to say in return. Everyone wants to be with the cool kids, but only a handful fit the bill – I suppose that’s what makes them cool. With every exciting innovation or idea that comes out, you’ll have people that want to be a part of it and others building giant walls to create an invite only sign around it. Such is life though, and the difficulty of people in any kind of social or intellectual setting. Despite modern advances in technology, and society – there will always be greed, insecurity, and the need to belong.

Not everyone deserves to be lifted up and shared with the world, and the curators of online influence no doubt each have their own qualifiers for even acknowledging the person online through a like or bump, let along discuss that individual to others in their carefully built and maintained communities.

Though the age old hubris of exclusivity won’t be solved in a simple blog, I do think it’s worth noting that as a simple means of survival – individuals will need to find new ways to make friends, and gather the relevant information and data they need to maintain and grow their corner of the world. In the absence of any path, those with the tools to build roads and maps from roughly forged digital trails will drive the masses along whatever path they see fit, I only hope it’s sooner than later that those with the power to build pathways band together to help the hopelessly lost find their way online, and learn the rules of the road before they slip beneath the ever growing amount of content online, of which more and more of our lives are focused on.

Peter Drucker & Systems Thinking

Peter Drucker was a management consultant, an educator, and an author who contributed a great deal to the modern business corporation. Throughout his life, he invented a number of concepts and wrote several books that are considered foundational in management theory and practice. Yet, when told he was a guru he once replied, “I have been saying for many years that we are using the word ‘guru’ because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline”. His insights were often applied with lessons from history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, culture and religion. He focused on relationships between people and did not bother as much with the math. He wrote much about interpersonal relationships in organizations rather than focusing too much on the metrics-driven side of the business. He had a passion for learning, writing, and teaching which led to accomplishments such as winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, and 7 McKinsey awards, along with receiving several honorary doctorates in various countries.

Peter Drucker was a smart man, but more importantly he worked to make unique contributions in his field and did the hard work to develop concepts and theories that others could use. He put his intelligence to good work and changed the world of management theory as a result. There are a lot of intelligent people that taught at schools during the same period of time that did not have nearly the affect. His greatness was not just in that he was intelligent, but that he had the insight to build a system and set of theories around what he was spending his time researching. There are many people that would have enjoyed sitting down and spending time talking with him about management theory. There were a number of ways he could have spent his time rather than writing books and papers on his research, however you do not get a medal from the President of the United States for having great conversations or taking up a number of hobbies. Good ideas need a place to go. Developing systems thinking means you are building models for thoughts and creating frameworks for all those great ideas to fit into so they can be replicated and shared with others. This can also turn into a concept and series of innovations as they continue to develop. Every good idea needs a place to go.

When you find yourself not able to bridge from common sense in the field you are in to ground breaking stuff, studying unrelated fields to gain additional context, as well as working with those that are not as deep in the weeds, can often help add insight as well as getting a knack for building systems which can lead to concepts. This in turn leads to innovative ideas and more pronounced impacts. Do the research, test the theory and build the concept, but make sure it lands in a form that others can receive value from and do something with it. In Peter Drucker’s case, the product was his insight and theories. Whether it is written down, built, or delivered in the form of a service – innovation can look many different ways, but should always provide greater benefit to the people around you and will be noted as such if it proves useful.

10 Steps to Turning your Idea into a Business

“Your billion dollar company starts with a million dollar product, and your million dollar product starts with a hundred dollar prototype.” – Spark.io Team (http://bit.ly/1e1xkuk)

I think there’s alot of great ideas out there in the world that never get off the drawing board because X gets in the way of Y. Whether it’s finances getting in the way of the prototype, or work commitments getting in the way of reading that book you need to research the topic you want to improve, there’s a world of things getting in the way.

I encourage you to take these 4 steps in mind, and accept that in the time it takes you to read this note, you have the time to take your idea and get it to the next step which you can then justify putting some time and effort behind. For what you’re already paying for (a computer, internet connection, chair) you have all the tools you need to create something great.

Step 1. Open up a word document and describe in 3-500 words write down the problem you think needs to get fixed, and potentially your idea to fixing it.

Step 2. Post that idea online, on a social network, and get people’s feedback on what they think of the idea.

Step 3. Accept your idea in it’s present form isn’t A) the last idea you’ll come up with and B) not the final form it needs to be in.

Step 4. Take that feedback, noodle on it, refine it, and write 500-1000 words on the idea

Step 5. Do research online to see what exists out there already to solve this problem, and how your product might be different

Step 6. Figure out what it takes to bring this product / service to market for as little money as possible. You’d be surprised how much is already out there for little to no money to help bring your product to market.

Step 7. Build a support team that’ll encourage and keep you accountable to bringing this to life. Keep in mind it’ll change 100 times, and ideas are plentiful so don’t worry if you feel like you need a new one.

Step 8. Take the first step in your research plan, fail, learn from that failure, try and try again.

Step 9. Get encouragement, get feedback, get more encouragement

Step 10. Never, never, never give up and keep trying to solve the problem without holding the solution too closely. That solution can look 100’s of different ways, but you only need one solution for the problem.

The risk you’ll face is falling too much in love with a single solution, and spend too much money trying to make it work. If it’ll solve the problem, the product / service will sell to people that need help, so it’s about awareness and feedback to keep making it better – both can be cheap, but will take time so get encouragement to keep working on the right combination of solutions and awareness.

You need money to scale, and help grow exposure, but prototypes and trials are cheap and t-shirts are a nice to have, not a need to have so don’t worry about the thickness of your business cards when you haven’t yet sold your answer to the problem.

An important note on Patents – They are great in theory, but once that idea goes public then it’s an easy step for a larger company to change the idea just slightly and avoid infringement, so make sure you can quickly get funding for the legal support you’ll need to enforce that patent, or keep it un-patented until you’re getting enough exposure and success that you know you’re on the right track with the idea as is. It can take 7+ years to get the patent filed, so focus first on getting the concept to market so you can prove the interest, get the investment, and grow the company while getting advice on when to pull the patent trigger.

A note on Advisors – it’s important to find 3-5 people that have been where you’ve been at before, can help you get to where you want to go, or help steer your idea in the right direction. Start by meeting with professors or community college teachers, that are teaching classes on the subject you’re researching. You can reach out to professionals as well, such as lawyers or financial advisors, and get some simple advise for free but consider bringing them on as advisors in exchange for a small piece of ownership if they’re on board for that. Don’t get too many advisors though, and don’t give away too much of your company or you’ll run into real problems when you have investors getting involved.


The Ugly Side of Subscriptions

I was recently re-subscribed to a newspaper, which I didn’t notice until checking my credit card statement and seeing a sizable renewal fee (not the cheapest newspaper to sign up for yearly access to). The thing was that they tried to get a hold of me at an e-mail address I no longer have access to, to confirm I wanted to resubscribe. I of course didn’t get the e-mail, so they assumed that was a yes, and now I’m going back and forth saying it was something my old company paid for, for a specific reason that’s no longer relevant.

They essentially informed me that they couldn’t cancel my subscription, and I’d have to wait to next year to cancel. Having experience being trapped at a gym in a simliar set of circumstances, I contacted the credit card company and am now working through the situation with them around mitigating this auto-renewal train wreck. What it’s highlighted for me though, is that there are companies in the world that still think it’s ok to trap their customers into contracts. Though they did offer to reduce it by 10%, it was not about the price (I’d gladly pay for it if I used it) but that they took advantage of a check box I didn’t uncheck last year, and an e-mail I didn’t get, to say I gave my indirect approval to get charged for another year.

Though I’m not a customer today, there’s a chance I would be in the future or that I’d come in contact with other people using the service, and this just sours me on ever wanting to deal with them again. I know though, this newspaper isn’t something individuals subscribe to and that it’s something that companies subscribe to for their executives & financial analysts. Regardless, when is it ok to trap someone in an agreement they had unintentionally consented to? Is it ever ok to cause someone to feel trapped into an agreement, you didn’t readily create an opportunity to opt out of? Yea, they might get my fee for the year, but I’m not all that inclined to recommend them to folks in the future, and is it really worth one subscription fee for a year to get that?

It’s the ugly side of subscriptions, and I get why they make it hard to quit, but this model comes to a head at some point where consumers have other options and decide to either use free resources or go month to month with no strings attached.

Building businesses in no tech enviornments

I was recently driving down the road on the way to work, and was struck by just how few “high tech” businesses I crossed driving from Kirkland, WA to Redmond, WA (home of Microsoft). You’d think, given the amount of tech savy people in the area, that the streets would be lined with tech offices, all buzzing with new and innovative ways to leverage groundbreaking technology.

Yet, despite what most of what I read about the age of start-ups and the power they have over mankind, all I saw were dry cleaners and mom & pop’s restaurants with the occasional gas station.

It dawned on me then, that despite all the buzz that occurs in technology circles about entrepreneurship and the future of technology, most people are doing just fine without it. The latest apple product isn’t replacing my need to get a dry cleaner, and the newest Samsung tablet isn’t helping me get gas in my car. For most of the day, even though I work on a laptop, I must rely on fairly non-technical solutions to make it through the day. Whether it’s the $30 coffee maker I rely on to get me going in the morning, the relatively low-tech shoes I wear to walk from my car to the office, or the basic plastic water bottle I drink out of it once the coffee is gone, there’s little I do that’s “technical” outside of what I use my laptop and occasionally my phone for.

This led me to suspect that perhaps, just maybe, there’s innovative ways to change peoples lives and start businesses that perhaps don’t deal with gadgets or software. Perhaps the next hot thing is something much neglected, yet is something people need.

Often I go to start-up seminars and it’s full of solutions either using the web, a device, or a power source to function. Yet, if I could create a better solution that’s completely non-tech, how much competition would I run into? Depending on what it was I was trying to improve on, perhaps quite a bit – but as much effort as it would take to make a better shoe, how much more effort would it take to build a better smart phone.

It seems that most start-up minded people these days are bent on leveraging technology to push the ball forward, and make their mark on society. Perhaps though, society has room for more non-tech solutions than one thinks.

What’s New is Old

There’s a phrase that history repeats itself, dating back thousands of years to the phrase “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” and the phrase is pretty spot on when you consider events like trying to attack Russia in the winter (Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hitler) or fighting a foreign army in their own country for control of the government, with an ocean in between you and them (American Revolutionary War, Vietnam, Afghanistan both times).

Often times in technology, it seems that people talk about the next great thing and how technology has changed mankind forever. If that were the case though, things should be getting better as the technology improves, because technology is a tool and people have more tools at their disposal. People though, take a lot longer to change, and when left up to their own devices – People can do some pretty rotten things. Much like Porn is often the great early adopter of new technologies (Phonograph, VHS, DVD, Internet, etc), criminals are often the most hard working when it comes to bending new technologies to their will, and often have the means to stay one step ahead of ruling bodies, because there’s people on both sides and people love money & power, regardless of what side they’re fighting for.

At any point in history, when we look at new technology, people used it at some point shortly after it was created to get their way – whether it’s medieval kings conquering nations with military advancements, or governments using drones to monitor & assassinate foreign terrorist leaders. However, there are times in history when real leaders stand up and stand for something which galvanized the will of man to do good – even if it was only one group, and only for a short period of time.

Even with technological superiority, evil can’t always trump that human will – because people in that time rediscover their own humanity, and help push the needle back the other way. Repression turns to rebellion, plutocracy turns into protest, and the corrupt forces that work to turn mankind towards a self-seeking purpose fall by the wayside because no one likes being forced to work for someone else. This is the great failsafe often build into technology, it’s only as good as the system is maintained, and a system can only be maintained as long as there are people willing to keep it running.

With the threat of big brother government stepping in, those that feel the world is being forcibly controlled by the rich don’t realize how frail our systems are, and how futile money is if ever people decided not to buy things from the people selling. The rich stay rich, because people don’t think it’s a big enough priority to change what they’re doing to dismantle the 1%. All the 99% would have to do is open small businesses, pay the taxes they have to pay, and only buy from locally owned & operated companies long enough for shareholder-controlled enterprises to completely panic and change the way they do business, not to mention the politicians that wouldn’t get elected because they listened to lobbyists instead of their own electorate.

I’m all for government, and I’m not for any kind of forcible conflict or change through warfare/rioting – This can be done 100% legally and peacefully – What I am for, is people taking responsibility for the situation we’ve found ourselves in. Children are overweight because they’re eating the wrong food, people are not making money because they’re doing the wrong kind of work, and America is is debt because it keeps borrowing money. The sad thing is, things aren’t bad enough yet that people are willing to make the changes necessary to reverse the course, because we’re being fed enough bread and watching enough circuses that Rome can burn around us and we’re cool with that. The thing about history repeating itself though, is that a new way of doing things will arise from the ashes of Rome, and we’ll be another chapter in the history books of great nations that fell asleep at the wheel because we were the frog slowly cooking in the pot, because those in power are awfully good at keeping the followers just alive enough to not put up a fight.

People tell me they don’t like either candidate running for office, but it turns out it’s not too late for a third candidate to run for office and get elected – there’s no winner by default in the US Presidential election, so if people really care about change then just don’t vote for either candidate , because good enough isn’t good enough – don’t settle for someone applies to presidents like it does for spouses. You’re wanting change, a country that does good, and a nation that repairs roads and fixes obesity then elect people that honestly are going to do that – Where there’s smoke there is fire, and I keep hearing from people that the scent is overwhelming this year.

You want change – Vote for a candidate you really believe will make a difference, or write in “Someone else” in your presidential ballot this year, and tell other people to do the same – You have more technology to spread the word at your fingertips than any other generation in history and can make a difference more powerful than Ghandi, Alexander the Great, or Aristotle. All you have to do is decide, like they did, to do something different and decide to bring others along with you.

Change happens the same way it always does, people decided they want a change then they get others rallied up to do the same, and change happens. If you don’t see change, be the change you want to see happen and don’t let another election go by without standing up for the life you’re telling everyone you wish you had. History only goes one way – backwards – and we have alot to draw on, regarding people that didn’t care enough to change before change was forced on them. Let’s be a milestone & not a caution for generations to come, because it’s not too late – It just takes a vote.

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