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.

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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.