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.