August 26th, 2014
When Mark Dwight founded Rickshaw Bagworks in San Francisco, he wanted to sell customizable bags for people and companies. He also wanted to offer very low minimum order requirements with fast delivery. His strategy required design decisions that have since infused all aspects of his business. He kept everything as super simple as possible. As powerful of a strategy as this has been, Dwight affirms that while achieving simplicity is one thing, maintaining that simplicity might be something else entirely (Mark Dwight “Simple Designs for Complex Times” Inc., June 2014, p. 60):
“I’ve found that maintaining simplicity is deceptively difficult. . . . Organizations, especially big ones, . . . over time . . . create layers of complexity, and this creates opportunities for smaller, simpler, nimbler competitors. At Rickshaw, it’s OK to brainstorm wildly complex ideas. But at the end of the day, we say, ‘How can we simplify this and make it work under our set of constraints?’”
I agree with the idea of maintaining the proven simplicity. What I appreciate even more is that the company remains free to brainstorm and explore new methods, strategies, and approaches. This means that it never assumes things are perfect. It also means that once the company identifies a new idea, it also looks for ways to simplify it while still maintaining the kernel of the idea.
August 25th, 2014
When Mark Dwight founded Rickshaw Bagworks in San Francisco, he wanted to sell customizable bags for people and companies. He also wanted to offer very low minimum order requirements with fast delivery. His strategy required design decisions that have since infused all aspects of his business.
First, he simplified the customer experience by offering fewer customization options instead of more. Customers requested this simplification. Therefore, customers liked it (Mark Dwight “Simple Designs for Complex Times” Inc., June 2014, p. 60):
“We reduced the [color choice] options. This improved the customer experience, streamlined order fulfillment, and simplified our user interface.”
Second, he preached the mantra of “keep it super simple” into all aspects of his operations. Regardless of whether it is raw materials, policies, or sales, everything is kept super simple:
“We design with pencil and paper: simple tools for simple designs. We predominantly sell direct and build to order, avoiding finished-goods inventory, forecasting, and waste. We source most of our materials and components domestically, to keep our supply chain short and facilitate just-in-time material delivery and fast turnaround. We avoid rules and legalese. Our short, plain-language guarantee states ‘No reasonable request denied.’”
We can learn some lessons from Rickshaw Bagworks. Granted, some business situations certainly require much more complex design at all levels. If that is what is required to get the job done, then so be it. On the other hand, perhaps too many companies are making too many things too complicated for no real benefit. It all comes down to one key design word.
August 22nd, 2014
When the stock market fell 600 points in five minutes on May 6, 2010, that prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission that perhaps it needed a better view on stock trading. Seeking to create a massive new computer system to perform detailed tracking on stock trading, the plan is to create the Consolidated Audit Trail, or CAT for short. The CAT promises to be an especially thorough monitor of trading activity even to the point of providing data that in the past was not immediately available for SEC scrutiny. In addition to ferreting out illicit trading activities, the CAT will enable better and timelier postcrash analyses (Matthew Philips and Silla Brush, with Dave Michaels “An SEC Computer to Peer Into Dark Pools” Bloomberg Businessweek, 8/11/14–8/24/14, pp. 28–29):
“[CAT] will be one of the largest databases in the world, designed to funnel 50 billion daily records into an archive. The computer will track every stock quote, order, and trade, including when and where transactions occur, the brokers who handle them, and the customers they represent. The CAT will pull data from the 18 U.S. public stock and options exchanges and the private trading venues run by banks, known as dark pools, that don’t have to immediately report data to the SEC.” (p. 28)
Building the CAT is a big task. Who gets to handle this lucrative project remains to be seen. Among the bidders are the likes of Google, Sungard, HP, IBM, and Tata Group. Rumors are that the initial five-year contract could run as high as a billion dollars. Now there’s a CAT that is never going back in the bag!
August 21st, 2014
If you think it is tough doing business here, you can try moving to Argentina. Sometimes we can forget how difficult life is in other parts of the world. Some Argentines are not overly upset by the nation’s 40% inflation. That is because they can remember 1989 when inflation was a whopping 1,300%. Pharmacy owner, Eduardo Woznica, explains the typical business mindset in Argentina (Camila Russo “Argentines Gird For a Financial Storm” Bloomberg Businessweek, 8/11/14–8/24/14, pp. 16–17):
“‘In Argentina we’re all used to going to bed without knowing if things will be the same when we wake up. Now, that feeling is stronger.’” (p. 17)
All I can say is I am glad I am not a pharmacy owner in Argentina.
August 20th, 2014
No one can argue that the American workplace has not changed radically in the last 100 years. How about just the last 20 years? The nature of work and the kind of stresses we encounter are changing. Part of this is due to the speed of work, its occasionally ambiguous circumstances, its always-on presence, and its technology. All these factors have created new kinds of stress as Geoff Colvin observes (“The New Trend? Reducing Stress in the Workplace—by Order of Management” Fortune, August 11, 2014, p. 42):
“As work becomes increasingly cognitive, fast-changing, and uncertain, we’re wearing people out in new ways. These are unforeseen effects of the friction-free economy. . . . Friction made the economy less efficient, but it protected people; sometimes it was simply not possible for you to be reached or to get information or participate in a meeting. In today’s friction-free economy the old protections are gone, and employers and employees are struggling more than ever to figure out the new ones.”
Technology enhances before it harms. We enjoy the enhancements, but we must remain mindful of how the technology works so that we can prevent its harm. We are technology’s governor.
Increasing numbers of companies are recognizing these dynamics and are taking steps to address them. Wellness has increasingly become important. Today, technology means that wellness is even more important because the opportunities to undermine it are many. As a result, too many employees are succumbing to a degradation of their wellness because of the added avenues of stress. Colvin summarizes the situation well:
“We’ve been replacing the physical stressors of work with mental and emotional stressors for many years. What’s new is that we’re hitting a resistance point. Many people seem to be reaching a limit. In an increasingly friction-free economy, mental and emotional health is the new wellness.”
August 19th, 2014
Are you 40 or 40 or 40?
Before you accuse me of assuming your age, or of asking a ridiculous question, please hear me out on this. In considering age, more than one kind of 40 exists. Regardless of your age, more than one kind of that age exists. Here are a couple examples:
“Bob.” Bob’s chronological age is 40, but he looks like he is 55. Bob has chosen to ignore physical fitness. He has chosen to pick up numerous habits that are simply not good for him. He has a negative attitude about his life, his job, and his family. When you meet Bob, you wonder whether he will be willing and able to do the job you have for him.
“Bill.” Bill’s chronological age is 40, but he looks like he is 25. Bill has chosen to embrace physical fitness. He has chosen to avoid numerous habits that are simply not good for him. He has a positive attitude about his life, his job, and his family. When you meet Bill, you instantly have the impression that he is more than willing and able to do the job you have for him.
Life is not so much about what happens to you as much as it is about how you choose to respond. Life is not so much about what is out there as much as it is about what is in you. Life, to a very large extent, is what you make it.
As a professional, your approach to life will always shine through. You cannot hide it. The only question is are you 40 or 40 or 40? The choice is yours to make.
August 18th, 2014
How much you enjoy your work and how well you might do with it are all related to your perspective. The writing field is no different. James A. Michener once said (“On the (Opposing) Record” Writer’s Digest, October 2014, p. 15):
“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”
When you love your field so much, you genuinely enjoy the tangling in more ways than one. That is—at least I hope—why you are in your chosen profession.
On the other hand, even within our chosen professions, sometimes we have certain tasks we just have to muscle through because they need to be done. Consider Dorothy Parker, who has a slightly different take on writing than Michener does:
“I hate writing. I love having written.”