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Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Entrepreneurs: Innovation in Slovakia

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

We all know that Silicon Valley people are open-minded, multi-cultural, multi-gendered, full of authenticity and not a shred of arrogance.

Just as we all know that pigs can fly.

Whereas entrepreneurs in Slovakia don’t think much of flying pigs, they saw no reason why cars couldn’t fly.

Video credit: Business Insider

Innovation in the US vs. China

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Local Roots

Food has become a major focus of innovation around the world.

Researchers, private, academic and public, are looking for better ways to feed a hungry planet.

Not just feed them, but feed them healthy food — sustainable, healthy food.

Local Roots is a startup that grows 65,000 pounds of lettuce a year in three small shipping containers inside their LA warehouse. Energy is the only large suck and the company is exploring green energy options, such as solar.

The startup uses vertical hydroponic farming, a method where plants grow year-round with LEDs rather than natural sunlight.  Instead of soil, the seeds lie on trays with nutrient-rich water, stacked from the floor to the ceilings inside the shipping containers. (…)  Each 320-square-foot shipping container produces the same amount of plants as four acres of traditional farmland — using 97% less water on average.

I’m a salad freak and that lettuce looks great.

In 1984 I spent 2 weeks traveling around China (yes, the Great Wall and Forbidden City are incredible, but the Terracotta Army was mind-boggling) and the food was out of this world — not at fancy restaurants, but at everyday places.

However, if I ever go back I think I’ll skip the salad.

Image credit: Local Roots
YouTube: Healthy Secret Worlds

Ducks in a Row: Agility and You

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbp_/2098427009/

I am not a lover of trendy terms, no matter how hilarious Dilbert makes them, and I’ve found they turn off a lot of people — from workers to bosses.

One of the newest to hit the trendy list is “agile” in all its various forms.

What became trendy agile was born 15 years ago.

The term originated in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001. It was a specific approach in a specific sector, but soon its core principles – moving quickly to build a minimum viable product, using iterative development to improve it on the go, with testing and feedback built in at every stage rather than just at the end.

Just how ubiquitous has agile become? It was used by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon last fall in a memo to employees to describe the future (and justify layoffs).

“Our customers are changing. Retail is changing and we must change,” McMillon wrote in the memo obtained by The Associated Press. “We need to become a more agile company that can easily adapt to shifting customer demand.”

Many companies talk about becoming agile and a large number of them think a quick and easy means to that end is to lay off the older and bring in the younger.

They couldn’t me more wrong. It’s not age that makes one agile, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff isn’t young, it’s MAP.

Your MAP is responsible for how you lead, as well as the values that underpin your company’s culture.

If your MAP isn’t agile, or willing to change to become so, there is little hope that your company (or department or team) will be agile.

Hat tip to Wally Bock for pointing me to this article.

Flickr image credit: Martin Pool

Self-driving Tech Not Ready for Primetime

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Tech loves to brag that it is “data driven.”

But contrary to tech lore, data isn’t black and white. It can be massaged and manipulated to support or contradict opposite sides of the same argument.

Take self-driving cars. Google claims the data proves them safer than human drivers.

But is that what the data really shows or is it being stage-managed?

I’m aware that my opinion doesn’t carry much (any) weight, so let’s consider instead the view of Etsy CTO John Allspaw.

“You can’t just extrapolate Google cars driving ~1.5 million miles under specific conditions (weather, topology, construction, traffic, accidents around it, etc.) to usurping the ~3 trillion miles/year under all conditions in the US. 1.09 fatalities per 100 million miles is the current non-self-driving numbers.

2014 had ~30k fatal crashes out of the 3 trillion miles traveled. We have to understand not how those crashes happened, but what makes the vast majority of them not happen. Luck is not a contributor, expertise is. Understanding human expertise is the key, not human frailty.”

Tech claims that security isn’t that big a problem and certainly not one that requires statutory approaches or regulation.

Two years ago Eddie Schwartz, vice president of global security solutions for Verizon’s enterprise subsidiary, said that self-driving cars will prove an irresistible target for hackers if they ever hit the roads.

Change if to when. Of course they’re irresistible; hacking and controlling a real car on a real road, with the potential of  doing real damage, would be catnip to a large number of naïve kids (to prove they can), not to mention angry adults (getting even) and terrorists (creating chaos).

Missy Cummings, director of Duke University’s robotics program, doesn’t believe self-driving cars are where near ready for prime-time.

The cars aren’t yet able to handle bad weather, including standing water, drizzling rain, sudden downpours and snow, let alone police instructions (…) “I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver’s seat.”

And now being added to the thrills and threats of hackable cars comes Otto — an affordable $30K (cheap when you consider the cost of a new rig) retrofit to make big rigs self driving.

Remember the 1971 movie Duel?

Update by substituting a hacker for the original driver.

But then, tech is famous for rushing in and then loudly disclaiming any responsibility for human misuse, let alone abuse.

UPDATE: August 18: Uber just bought Otto.

Credit: Otto on YouTube

Airbnb, Eric Holder and Discrimination

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Holder

Tech says they’re trying.

Experts love to call it “bias,” “diversity crisis” or some similar polite euphemism.

A simpler, more recognizable and much less politically correct term is bigotry — conscious or not.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky calls it discrimination, pure and simple, and wants to eradicate it from his platform.

“When we designed  the  platform, three white guys, there were a lot of things we didn’t think about,” Chesky said to an audience at the conference. “There are racists in the world and we need to have zero tolerance.”

There’s no question that people of color, especially African Americans, have more trouble booking on Airbnb.

There’s also no question that people of color are exercising greater and greater buying power.

As of 2014 Hispanic’s spent $1.3 trillion, people of African decent $1.1 trillion, Asians $770 billion and Native Americans $100 billion.

That’s a whole lot of buying power.

There’s also no question that Airbnb has been slow to recognize/admit to the problem — as has the rest of tech.

In a serious effort to change, Chesky has hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to “craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy.”

“This process isn’t close to being over, but we want to be as transparent as possible along the way because I know we’ve failed on that front previously. I want us to be smart and innovative and to create new tools to prevent discrimination and bias that can be shared across the industry.”

Which makes it likely Chesky is serious, since guys like Holder don’t come cheap — nor are they easy to shut up or buy off if the company isn’t serious.

Hopefully it will help.

But it will more likely be a cold day in hell before anyone or anything changes racist MAP.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Entrepreneurs: Problems of Privilege

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

14997011612_a1a5303fa5_zLast January I wrote about how trivial so-called innovation has become citing comments from Matt Rosoff, Peter Thiel and a study from Accenture.

More recently, RMT (Riva-Melissa Tez,CEO @ Permutation AI and an active investor) wrote a superb post on Medium noting that Silicon Valley has lost its perspective on the difference between a ‘problem’ and an ‘obstacle’

— any obstacle that restricts our standard of living — is now framed as a problem. (…)  Recognizing these obstacles or inconveniences and being able to avoid them are privileges — a special right enjoyed as a result of one’s socioeconomic position. They are perks

Or, as one commenter called them, “problems of privilege.“

It’s not that the multiple on demand services that eliminate these obstacles or the apps and games that entertain us are bad.

But they will only change the world of the relatively few who can afford them and pitching them as such is, simply put, a lie.

In another comment, Annie Feighery, founder of mWater, makes a good point.

Most of SV has made its success from vertical approaches to issues with little complexity. The few SV approaches to humanitarian causes are failing badly for repeating that simplicity.

Starting a company that is a solid, sustainable, revenue-producing business, even one that won’t change the world, but that rewards its investors, will always be funded.

So, if that is what your startup is, then say so.

Not just to your investors, but also to your team.

It’s called “honesty”

Flickr image credit: BK

Entrepreneurs: Chatbots

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/4543027041/

I’m not a fan of a lot of AI, especially chatbots.

Most have speech patterns similar to human speech, lousy diction and rapid speech, which leaves most people with poor hearing our in the cold

And I find them relatively dumb.

Most of us have had run-ins with unhelpful customer service chatbots; the ones that are unable to respond to any but the most mundane quarries — which is why I usually just start by saying ‘representative’ until I get to a human.

I have no understanding why it is better to talk to your TV, rather than use the remote.

The first thing many of my friends and family do on a new iPhone is turn off Siri,

I know that many people love them, which is fine with me; whatever floats your boat.

That said, I learned about one that has more on its mind than ordering pizza.

An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free, showing that chatbots can actually be useful.

That’s useful. And free.

Still more interesting is the fact that its creator is a 19 year old, with a history of using his skills creating tools for nonprofits, since he was 13.

I may be a digital dinosaur, but I’m not to old to learn and change.

Hopefully, this kind of usefulness is the future of bots.

And who knows. Perhaps by the time I need assistance the young developers will take into account the millions of hearing-challenged people who will be their biggest market, especially in healthcare and daily living.

Flickr image credit: Chris Yarzab

If the Shoe Fits: How VC Favoritism Can Cripple Your Startup

Friday, June 24th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s a know fact that the more you are “teacher’s pet” or a “favored player” the more you will be called on in class and the more playing time you’ll get.

Even in families, the most-favored-child typically succeeds more than their siblings.

So it should come as no great shock that when VCs invest in similar companies, which they often do, they will favor one above the other.

And that favoritism usually results in more money, more introductions, more involvement, in fact, more everything, which results in substantially more innovation.

The data showed that companies tied to a competitor by at least one VC firm in common were indeed less innovative than those unencumbered by such ties; in fact, they were 30 percent less likely to introduce a new product in any given year.

It gets worse.

The UNfavored startups were 55 percent less likely to introduce a product.

Proximity mattered, too; those farther away from a shared investor were 56 percent less likely to introduce a new product.

What if your VC is part of the “golden circle?”

Companies tied to VCs in the top 25 percent of reputation indexes were significantly less likely to introduce new products in any given year.

Oops.

And I’m willing to bet similar stats apply to super angels, regular angels, incubators and the rest of the funding world.

Rory McDonald’s research is just one more reason not to be blinded by the money and to make sure your due diligence is super-diligent when evaluating funding offers.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Pundit Poop from Graham and Kalanick

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacepleb/249761636/

Background:

  • Austin passed a law requiring fingerprint-based criminal checks;
  • Uber and Lyft spent $8 million on a referendum to repeal it; and
  • lost on May 8.
  • On May 15 Paul Graham tweeted

    I will go out on a limb and say Austin has zero chance of being a serious startup hub without Uber and Lyft. (I am an investor in neither.)

Essentially, Graham, a man devoted to innovation and startups, discounted any possible innovation in ride-sharing beyond the current scenario.

(Keep in mind that this is the same guy who claimed that London’s not a startup hub because some establishments still enforce a dress code.)

Little did Graham know just how weak that limb was.

Contrary to his expectations, Austin did not reel in shock, wallow in grief or stay home.

Arcade City Austin / Request a Ride is a Facebook group that has grown rapidly in the weeks following Uber’s and Lyft’s departures. The group, which requires approval to join, is currently populated by more than 33,000 members who use the group to find rides to and from their destinations.

Beyond that effort, there is Zipcar, getme, Fare, Fasten, Wingz, zTrip, RideAustin and InstaRyde riding into town (if not already there) and all willingly complying with the required fingerprint background check.

All this should bring a note of caution to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s stated plan to avoid going public as long as possible.

“So I say we are going to IPO as late as humanly possible. It’ll be one day before my employees and significant others come to my office with pitchforks and torches. We will IPO the day before that. Do you get it?”

Amazing arrogance.

  • Graham discounts the world, the people in it and innovation itself.
  • Kalanick plans Uber’s IPO with no consideration of the economy, competitors or the speed at which things change.

Graham’s words have already come back to bite him; Kalanick’s probably will, too.

Flickr image credit: Dave Gough

The Mind of a Creator

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

I find it forever fascinating to try and decipher the minds behind the creativity that stretches the boundaries and adds unique beauty to normal, real-world stuff. Here are two wonderful examples.

It takes a rare mindset to see a utilitarian object, with its own shape and use, and turn it into completely different object with a totally different form and use. The beauty is found in the operational innovation, since each of the final forms looks totally normal.

Or the artist’s mind that takes something that’s been around for centuries and keeps it’s utilitarian properties, while changing it in ways so far beyond the normal decorative and stylistic features that it is almost unimaginable — except to that one mind.

Wouldn’t you love to share a meal (or a bottle of wine) and just talk? No agenda, no purpose, except to bask in the creativity that flows from a truly original mind?

I certainly would.

Video credits: Sofa and Cabinet

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