Saturday, May 11, 2013


Outgrown this shell, please visit

where you will find all the old posts, plus lots of new stuff and much better organization.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

People, not Ideas

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out. John Wooden

I attended a social gathering of the Innovation Working Group of the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. Such happenings are reason in themselves for working at a university research park, always being invited to something out of the ordinary.

I had no idea what was going on and grabbed the first person I could find to explain it to me. Fortunately, the first person I stumbled upon was with the State Department and was able to give me the 50,000 foot view. The larger Commission was looking to rebuild relationships between US and Russia by addressing dozens of different topics through Working Groups.

Then I tried to get a little deeper into understanding just what an Innovation Working Group might be up to. I probably missed a few things, but the one item that was often repeated made me scratch my head. In fairness, I'm representing their idea based on a few five minute conversations, but the jest of the idea is so commonly wrong in policy circles that it merits discussion here.

The idea was to help pave the way for intellectual property discovered in Russian laboratories to land in the US where it could attract financing and IP protection. In other words, do the science in Russia, start the business in the US. Or, more generically, do the science at a university and create a physical space for a company to locate somewhere else (like those research parks I actually love).

Simple, well intentioned, and missing the only important element...people

People who know how to take an idea, analyze it in a business context, modify the idea, perform some proof of concept and marketing, modify the idea and target market some more, raise some money, design a prototype, modify the idea and target market again, raise more money and eventually launch a product.

People who know it could BE different are in short supply, not ideas.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Everyone's Entrepreneur

I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I've said. Alan Greenspan

Most could, and many do:

organize, manage, and assume the risks of a business or enterprise  1

employ productive labor 2

supply risk capital as a risk taker and control the business activities...owns the majority of shares in an incorporated venture. 3 

rather than work as an employee, run a small business and assume all the risk and reward of a given business venture 4

organize, operate, and assume the risk for a business venture. 5


But few choose:

to search for change, respond to it and exploit opportunities. Drucker

be energetic and a moderate risk taker. McClelland

use a process of shattering the status quo. Schumpeter

start a new business where there was none before. Gartner

 pursue opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. Stevenson

it could BE different


Monday, April 15, 2013

The Dantzig Fallacy

Some like to understand what they believe in. Others like to believe in what they understand. Stanislaw Lec

"George Dantzig arrived late for a statistics class. He copied down the two problems on the blackboard and turned them in a few days later. Apologizing for the delay, as he had found them much harder than usual,  Professor Neyman threw it on a disheveled desk. Six weeks later, the professor banged on Dantzig’s door. The problems that Dantzig had assumed were homework were actually unproved statistical theorems and Dantzig had proved both of them."

There are hundreds of variations on this story. The names change, the places change, the nature of the problems change and there is a version that would became the movie Good Will Hunting. Regardless of the large variations in the details, the parable of each variation is the same:

It is amazing what you can do when you don't know it is hard.

As a parable - it is nice, warm, fuzzy and wrong.

It appears that the version I presented above is the most accurate and there are plenty of Dantzig and Neyman quotes confirming this. So let's take a closer look at Dantzig.

Dantzig's father held a PhD in math and challenged him with thousands of geometry problems in high school. Dantzig would go on to become the 'father of linear programming'. Essentially creating the field of programming used to optimize production and logistics. It was the 'google' algorithm of his time.

A famously decorated mathematician, Dantzig was more than likely to attempt a problem because no one else had solved it. Arguably, he would have proven the theorems that Neyman presented, even if he had known the circumstances.

The implication of the parable is that you are better off with less knowledge and taking blind leaps of faith. The facts just don't match up with that. If you want to create change, if you know it could BE different, then knowledge is your friend.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A World Without Jobs

Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need. Voltaire

Imagine a world that has the resources to provide for everyone's needs and most of their desires BUT has a 75% unemployment rate.

More important than imagining it - prepare for it.

In some industrial sectors, it is already determined: Agricultural output will continue to increase while global ag jobs decrease. Manufacturing output will continue to increase while global manufacturing jobs decrease.

Don't believe manufacturing decreased jobs? look at the Chinese employment below (btw, China, the EU and the USA all manufacture about the same value of stuff - it's just in the developed world we think we don't because it takes so few people to do so).

Other changes are almost upon us.

How long will the 4.2 million transportation jobs last with the Google Car now having logged more than 500,000 miles without an accident?

How are the 14.4 million retail trade jobs going to grow with constant growth of online sales? sales that will eventually be filled by robotic warehouses and robotic trucks.

Education job growth with a booming internet learning environment? Military job growth with robotics and a world that has become one large market? 

Go down the list and figure out where the jobs aren't going to decrease.

Sector          Employment
State and local government  19.5
Professional and business services  16.7
Health care and social assistance  16.4
Retail trade  14.4
Leisure and hospitality  13.0
Manufacturing  11.5
Nonagriculture self-employed 8.9
Financial activities  7.6
Other services  6.0
Construction  5.5
Wholesale trade  5.5
Transportation and warehousing  4.2
Educational services  3.1
Federal government  3.0
Information  2.7
Agriculture wage and salary  1.3
Agriculture self-employed 0.9
Mining  0.7
Utilities  0.6
(Bureau of Labor Statistics - 2010 US Employment)

Health care is the only obvious growth area for the next decade. But it is clear that technology will address that as well.

Bring back the jobs? could BE different.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I didn't go to the moon, I went much further--for time is the longest distance between two places. Tennessee Williams

Let's put change into context, specifically the timescale of change. After all, we've heard it thousands of times: "small business adapt to change better than large, universities are slow to change, information technology changes rapidly...."

By way of demonstration, let's take a popular topic of change - climate.

Global Warming: This looks pretty bad. A close look at the temperature scale makes it a little less terrifying. But the more interesting information is in the time scale. Even compared to the rate of change at universities, a time scale of almost 200 years seems meaningfully large to a human. source

No Global Warming: But then on a timescale of a few hundred thousand years, it seems that global temperatures just cycle. And notice the temperature scale which is 10X the prior chart. source

Global Cooling: and on a timescale of a few million years, our world is cooling down. We better light a few more fires! source

I'm not going to make any sweeping generalizations from global climate change to other types of change. But I am going to challenge you to consider the timescale you are looking at the next time you consider if it could BE different.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Experience Required

When I finished school, i took my entire life savings, $5,000, and invested it in a business. I was young. I was inexperienced. But I was an entrepreneur and proud. And in six weeks I was broke. Mark Warner

When I meet young people, especially college students, who are enthusiastic to become entrepreneurs, I'm reminded of a parable of unkown origin:

A manufacturing plant has been experiencing trouble for weeks. Production is slow and off specification and none of the employees can figure out how to fix the problem. So the plant manager brings in a consultant that had worked in the industry for decades.

The consultant walks around the plant, asks a few questions, turns a valve then picks up a hammer and hits the valve. The plant roars back to life, making in specification product again.

The following week the plant manager receives a bill from the consultant for $10,000. After the shock wears off, the manager calls the consultant and asks him to justify the bill. The consultant offers to send an itemized billing as explanation.

A few days later, the bill arrives. Item 1: Hitting stuck valve with hammer $10. Item 2: Forty years of experience to know what to hit $9,990.

So young folks who believe it could BE different, go make it happen, you're young and it's a great thing to try! You might get lucky with the next Facebook, but most of you will not get very far without the depth of experience that comes from working in an industry for a decade or two. If you can't wait that long, then at least add someone to your team who has.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

He Went All the Way

When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Howard Cosell would have been 95 today.

Most memorable as the voice of Monday Night Football and professional boxing with "He could go all the way." and "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!".

He should be better recognized for transforming the profession of sports broadcasting and, in turn, changing sports. Prior to Cosell, the standard broadcaster showed unabashed flattery of the players, coaches and sport. Using the "tell it like it is" approach, he created controversy, which meant more people were talking about the sport and in turn watching it.

But it is Cosell's actions during and after the Holmes-Cobb fight for which he should be most celebrated. By the sixth round, it was clear that Cobb was no match for Holmes. If you have a strong stomach read Cosell's call below in italics - if not, imagine the Rocky movie with Apollo Creed never being hit and skip the italics.

Round 6: Tex Cobb’s left eye is half-closed. His head must have been carved out of Mount Rushmore and he certainly has a granite chin, but is this a palatable match?
Round 7: Imagine the number of combinations against this man’s head; the punishment he’s been taking.
Round 8: Cobb is heavy-legged, ponderous with a bravery about him. However, we are not in the age of the Roman Coliseum and the lions. You can see Cobb’s face all bruised and swollen.
Round 9: This is a strong decent man, Randy Tex Cobb, and I hate to see anybody take this kind of punishment. This is brutalization. The referee should think about stopping this fight fast. This is not right. You can’t measure the aftermath of a fight like this, with this kind of punishment. He won’t do down; the courage of a lion; but why?
Round 10: Why don’t they stop it? The punishment inflicted is simply enormous. This is just terrible.
Round 11: Look at that head snap back from the Holmes left, again and again. Lord knows, maybe this man can stand up and take this for fifteen round. What does that prove? Who knows what the aftereffects will be?
Round 12: This kind of savagery doesn’t deserve commentation. I’ll tell you something; this is as brutal a mismatch as I think I’ve ever seen.
Round 13: This fellow, the referee Steve Crosson. I don’t understand his judgment or thinking. What is achieved by letting this man take this kind of beating? From the point of view of boxing, which is under fire and deservedly so, this fight could not have come at a worse time
Round 14: Obviously this referee has no intention of stopping this fight. The blood is all over Cobb’s face now. I wonder if that referee understands that he’s constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that he’s a part of
Round 15: Look at how swollen the poor man’s face is. I can’t believe this referee. It’s outrageous.

Cosell was so disgusted he vowed during the fight to never call another boxing match if the referee didn't stop the fight. It went fifteen rounds and Cosell never called another pro fight.

Here's his explanation "Boxing once had appeal to me. It was the romantic appeal of a way out of the ghetto, and I’ve always had great unwavering respect for men who fight for a living....But, professional boxing is no longer worthy of civilized society. It’s run by self-serving crooks, who are called promoters. They are buttressed with the look of nicety about them by the television networks, which are in fact corrupt and unprincipled in putting up the front money that continues boxing in its present form. Quite frankly, I now find the whole subject of professional boxing disgusting. Except for the fighters, you’re  talking about human scum, nothing more. Professional boxing is immoral. It’s not capable of reformation. I now favor the abolition of professional boxing. You’ll never clean it up. Mud can never be clean."

Happy Birthday to the sportscaster who knew it could BE different.

source link

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Data is not Optional

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery. James Joyce

I just listened to a a Radiolab interview with Henry Heimlich.

It was quaint to hear Heimlich describe the invention of the Heimlich maneuver, testing it on an anesthetized dog using a chunk of meat tied to a string, jammed down the dogs throat. And his earlier invention, the Heimlich valve, developed for the battlefield to stop chest injuries from collapsing lungs.

Less quaint was Heimlich's advocacy of using his maneuver to treat asthma, cardiac arrest and drownings. And horrifying was his theory that infecting AIDS patients with malaria could cure them of AIDS. OK, the theory wasn't so horrifying, but his repeated human trials in Mexico and Africa certainly were.

Most interesting, however, is the lack of structure, science and regulation on any of these Heimlich 'discoveries/inventions'.

The Red Cross science advisory panel still debates the efficacy of slapping someone on the back (their primary recommended action) over the Heimlich maneuver. Their debate goes unresolved because there are no studies supporting either method.

With a little research, one discovers that the Heimlich valve (then called a flutter valve) was around in the Civil War. It seems Heimlich, in 1963, managed to find a flutter valve at a hardware store that didn't clog as easily. Employing an off the shelf solution with no data to back it up.

As for the Heimlich treatment for asthma, cardiac arrest and drownings - no FDA clearance on that!

And the human trials of malaria therapy for AIDS (and advocacy of it for cancer)? well, he left the US for that.

I celebrate the creativity of people like Heimlich, defend their right to be wrong and encourage their pursuit of atrocious ideas. But we still need to put rigor into our analysis, so that it could BE different.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. Isaac Asimov

The recent passing of C. Everett Koop is an appropriate time to reflect on the impacts of public health policy on the welfare of the people. However, before getting into the thicket of his political life, his transformational impact as a pediatric surgery must be acknowledged. Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching their child undergo surgery owes, ultimately, a debt of gratitude to this trail blazer in surgical techniques.

It was outside of the operating room where Koop would rise to global fame. He took strong positions on AIDS, turning panic of a plague like outbreak with demands for mandatory testing and quarantine, into thoughtful discourse on behavior modifications and long term care. He infuriated both extremes of the debate on abortion by demonstrating that abortion was not a public health concern while at the same time calling it morally abominable. He challenged our basic prejudices and misunderstandings on the rights of infants with birth defects, providing the scientific basis for the Baby Doe legislation.

Koop was also an aggressive critic of the tobacco industry. Perhaps in this role he is often over credited with driving change, as by the early 1980's when he became Surgeon General, there was already a clear downward trend. That trend was started by then Surgeon General Luther Terry in 1964 who first declared definitive causality of lung cancer and the probable causality of heart disease from smoking.

Trends in Current Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students and Adults, United States, 1965–2011
CDC graph

Koop understood that through a balance of scientific thought and moral conscience, it could BE different.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Home Alone

The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. Dwayne Andreas

Thanks to my friend Erik Pages, I'm going to be lazy this week and send you to his post.

The key quote is "....when it comes to innovation, US firms are 'home alone.'  If they develop a new innovation, it’s solely up to them to scale it up and bring it to market.  In contrast, foreign manufacturers can tap into a diverse network of resources...."

We can keep to a failed philosophy, or we can recognize that with a bit of pragmatic policy that it could BE different for US Manufacturing.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Good is Not Good Enough

There is no country in the world where it's as easy to find venture capital in the stock market as the United States. Ron Chernow

You don't have to read many of my posts to know I am not a fan of the metaphor. (Copyball, Don't Skin the Turkey, Moldy Cheese, and Don't Spend Billions on a Metaphor). So it is with much hypocrisy that I publish this post about the investor and the entrepreneur.

"An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing.

A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, 'Can I also sit like you and do nothing?'

The eagle answered: 'Sure, why not.'

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. Suddenly, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

The moral: If you are going to sit and do nothing, it is best to do so very high up." author unknown

As an entrepreneur, don't forget that the investor is perfectly fine doing nothing. Showing an investor a deal that is good is not good enough. Even showing an investor a great deal isn't good enough, if someone else has a greater deal.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake I see from people (and me) looking for money. They have good deals, but they don't have great deals. And for an investor, who already has a big pocket full of cash, why would they risk moving for anything other than a deal which clearly screams it could BE different.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What the Customer Always Wants

They didn't want it good, they wanted it Wednesday. Robert Heinlein

The following is a rather popular cartoon.

On first read, I think anyone whose been involved in the development of a new product would chuckle with a sense of familiarity.

But the last frame is wrong.

The reality is that customers want a product which will make them money (or have a lot of fun, or eat a great meal, or whatever)......for free (or better yet, get money)......It's not enough to ask customers what they want, because that will always be what they want.

To develop and sell a new product, ask how you will make money in a way that engineering can design, that manufacturing can make, that marketing can distribute, that meets regulatory requirements AND that provides the customer improved value. And expect a few hundred iterations until you get it right.

It's not easy, but it is the only way it could BE different.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vision and a Plan

Everyone has a plan, 'til they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. day and it seemed rather appropriate to blog on a man whose name is synonymous with change. This post is late because it took me some time to find what I was looking for.

It's relatively easy to find his speeches. They are, after all, amazing oratory that are both visionary and inspirational, but also superficial. Now I've heard thousands of visionary, inspirational speakers in my life. Most of whom failed to actually create change. In the end, they had no plan and no reasoning, just imagery and emotion.

I knew that King had to have a deeper understanding of the issues and a real sense of how to implement change - as I believe the speeches and leadership would have failed without it.

I found rather quickly that this was the opinion of many of the King scholars; however, I didn't want to read what others thought of King, but wanted it in his own words.

I found what I was looking for in a  Letter from a Birmingham Jail. A thought filled, logical, persuasive work that explained his tactics and reasons to his fellow clergymen who were critical of King's methods. While not exactly a tome of wisdom at about six pages in length, it was concise and pragmatic.

So take a few seconds to read his 'I have a Dream Speech,' but then read the Letter. And consider whether it could BE different without the depth of thought contained in the latter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dreams and Teeth

You take unacceptable risk, you have to be prepared to face the consequence. Carly Fiorina

The next time you jump on a plane, remember that there is more new technology in your toothbrush.

Patents issued for the toothbrush:      1,937
Patents issued for the airplane:          1,505
(since 1976)

Before you start wondering why there are so many toothbrush patents, let me cite some other patent counts:  laser 63k, computer 125k, automobile 12k, television 15k, boat 7k - since 1976.

So the big question is not why are there so many toothbrush patents? (although, honestly, it would still be an interesting question) but rather, why are there so FEW airplane patents?

Look no further than today's New York Times headlines Deepening Crisis for the Dreamliner.

In Boeing's words "The Boeing 787 program has consciously designed in new, state-of-the-art features and performance that reduce cost and increase airplane availability. These features will lead to additional savings and greater revenue for Boeing customers. The 787 reflects a new life-cycle design philosophy that has dictated some significant changes in the way the airplane will be built. These changes include extensive use of composites in the airframe and primary structure, an electric systems architecture, a reliable and maintainable design, and an improved maintenance program. Taken together, these changes will offer customers a guaranteed reduction in maintenance costs."

Consider the billions of dollars that Boeing invested in the design, development and retooling of manufacturing facilities. And after all that investment, they were three years late in their first deliveries. Then, on top of all that, the DOUBT over the new technologies has resulted in the planes being grounded.

On top of that, there are still huge long term risks that Boeing has taken on. For example, the airplane wasn't made with aluminum, but with composites. No one really knows how those materials will perform in real flight operations over twenty years.

So when you consider if it could BE different, keep in mind that in some markets the cost of change is astronomical and the risk of failure is huge.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Early Charm Ventures

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

I'm pleased to announce the creation of Early Charm Ventures, LLC. (

Actually, it's a renaming of an old company, MBM Technology, LLC - but there is a lot more to it than a name change. Our new name, Early Charm for short, has its roots in our home, Baltimore, "The Charm City".

But to understand why we like the name so much, it would help to understand a bit about how The Charm City got its name.

In mid-70's Baltimore (before Harborplace, Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium, and the prominence of Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland Medicine) was perhaps best described by native son Mark Kram who wrote in Sports Illustrated at the time, "is an anonymous city even to those who live there, a city that draws a laugh even from Philadelphia, a sneer from Washington, with a hundred tag lines that draw neither smile nor sneer from the city: Nickel Town, Washington's Brooklyn. A Loser's Town."

So the mayor, in 1975, asked Baltimore's leading advertising executives to re-brand the city. One of those execs, Bill Evans, wrote 'Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities out in the spotlight.'

Soon the ad execs began calling Baltimore "Charm City." Indeed, a charm bracelet was displayed at the bottom of each ad; there were only about five of them. But "Charm City" had been born, and set into Baltimore legend. The ads ran in The Sun, and featured the charm of Charm City: White steps, steamed crabs, beer, Mount Vernon, the Preakness, Mencken, museums, quiet neighborhood streets, Babe Ruth, row houses and raw bars.

Local disk jockeys created music to promote the slogan. They gave it their best. But it was an idea whose time had not come. The city did not have the money [or, yet the attractions] to sustain the program and it died. abbreviated from a Baltimore Sun article.

Well, it really didn't die. It just took a lot longer for the name to match the reality than the Mayor wanted. Today, that vision of a few and commitment from the many has transformed Baltimore into the Charm City.

And, so, at Early Charm, we celebrate those who know that creating change is hard, but want to do it anyway. We support those who see the opportunity and are willing to carry it through the grime. And most importantly, we share their spirit that it could BE different.