Archive for September, 2009

The Agile Business

September 14th, 2009

Coming from a software background, I often make comparisons between the process of creating software and the process of creating new business ideas. One of the original visions of software creation was a waterfall pattern, where activities like planning, designing, developing, etc are done in sequential order with the expectation of a completed final product at the end. Time has shown that in most cases this model is flawed and more agile techniques have emerged that focus on quick iterations and assume a degree of change from the original vision. There certainly seems to be a similar shift occurring in business today. While many businesses continue with traditional product development cycles, more companies are adopting an agile model that allows them to quickly release product versions and then evaluate and tweak as needed. There are obvious examples in the software world such as Twitter or even Google which release frequent (occasionally unstable) updates to their software.

3D Printing allows custom manufacturing or rapid prototyping

3D Printing allows custom manufacturing or rapid prototyping

But there seems to be an agile trend in businesses outside the software world. Lulu lets users create one-off books or cater to niche areas without a huge investment. Ponoko and other similar services use techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing to bypass the cost of acquiring factory space and equipment or sending manufacturing offshore. Zazzle among others make creating custom clothing extremely simple.

There may be some aspects of business that might run contrary to agile principles: human resource management comes to mind. Nevertheless, I think an agile strategy is essential in our current business environment. In the future I’d like to discuss and document ideas that can help make all aspects of starting and running a business become more agile – enabling products and services that are more closely matched to the needs of consumers and benefiting both sides.

Under new ownership

September 9th, 2009

This past weekend, a little girl asked me why we have Labor Day. She pronounced that “it doesn’t feel like a holiday” as if to justify her inquiry. Unable to quickly explain the details or history of Labor Day in a way that would have meaning to a 5 year old, I simply said it is a day I don’t have to go to work and we don’t get mail on that day. (Here’s the real reason for Labor Day in case you’re wondering.)

This little conversation made me reflect on the whole “labor vs. management” mentality that seems to pervade the business world. With or without union representation there almost always seems to be some sort of “us and them”. (Caution: air quotes will be used continuously.)  Two groups of people at odds with each other yet forced to work together. What a miserable existence.  No wonder precious few look forward to work on Monday morning.  

I’m going to take this moment to share a few paradigms that have led me to seek for an alternative type of model. It is how I hope to run all business ventures. I’ll start with a quick reference to Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad Cashflow Quadrants.

The Rich Dad, Poor Dad series, for those not familiar with it, is an anecdotal tale of financial life lessons. The successful best practices of the author’s friend’s Rich Dad are contrasted with the counsel of his own Poor Dad. Among the ideas presented in his books is the Cashflow Quadrants. The Cashflow Quadrants is a visual mechanism that is used to demonstrate different ways of approaching the “how” of making money.

 The standard formula for success has been getting a good job as an employee of a major company; working your way through the labor ranks to become management. This was Poor Dad’s approach. The Rich Dad pointed out that though you could be successful in a variety of ways (all 4 quadrants); the “rich” had found ways to use favorable tax laws and multiple sources or methods to maximize their return on their efforts. I believe that as people learn to use these other behaviors or activities they will have greater success at acquiring money.

Now let me jump to another paradigm that is more Judeo-Christian in nature. Money is a tool, a thing to be used and not loved or valued more than a human life. I believe all that I am given is from a Supreme Being for the purpose of taking care of my needs and just wants and also helping others to take care of their needs and just wants.

Those two paradigms combined are a powerful way to change the world. One way to do this is to help people move from one quadrant to another; thereby making them self sufficient and able to do the same for others or at least freeing you up to help someone else.

This leads me to my original thought of an alternative business structure/model in which there are no employees—just owners. I’m not talking just handing out stock as part of their compensation, rather splitting the company and profits evenly—a worker cooperative of sorts. It lifts someone out of an employee role or quadrant into that of a business owner role.

Now this creates some other interesting dynamics as well. You’re hiring standard just got a lot higher and your employment liability just went way down. It will probably increase the number of jobs that you contract out (creating jobs for others) and it will also lend itself to self-development as you’ll need to make sure everyone involved has a basic understanding of the entire business.

There are many challenges with this approach in terms of capital financing, growth potential, and decision making. However, I believe the gains you would receive in productivity and that elusive employee engagement would make it worth it. Obviously, the devil is in the details so please feel free to help me work them out—that is, after all, what BrainHuddle is all about.

If you haven’t got your health…

September 4th, 2009

Healthcare reform discussions that have saturated the headlines for the past little while highlight some great opportunities because there is obvious pain. The pain the government and media has chosen to talk about is the fiscal pain to our wallets instead of the individual’s pain or a healthier country.

Real change requires that you address more than one part of the system. 

I believe your health is a personal matter. The role of the government is, as coined by the preamble of the Constitution, “ to promote the general Welfare”. This can mean different things to different people, but overall I believe the role of government is to create a structure or system (environment) that supports individual independence and compassion. In healthcare, the government’s role should be about preserving choice and providing tools for you to take care of yourself and ideally those around you.

Now a few things determine a person’s health:

  1. DNA-An individual’s default system set-up which may or may not be altered
  2. Inputs-what is consumed (food, vitamins, minerals, smells/air, light, pollutants, toxins, etc.)
  3. Activities-what is experienced (exercise, daily care, emergency care, how you spend your time)
  4. Environment- affects the availability of the inputs and facilitates or impedes the activities

What I find interesting is that the debate is currently focused on emergency care and it’s cost, coupled with the cost of drugs or medications. Focusing on the availability of inputs or other factors in care for one’s health is not even being considered as part of the discussion.

There is a whole different healthcare market/industry not even being considered that is based on what has become known as alternative or holistic medicine. Basically anything not taught in medical school (completely different topic for another time.) It is largely a young and underserved market, though gaining momentum as current healthcare practices aren’t always meeting people’s needs. As was recently said, “If you trust Google more than you trust your doctor, maybe it is time to get a new doctor.”

 For those not familiar with what alternative medicine is, I’ve paraphrased a Wikipedia excerpt that provides this nice, general summary.

 The forms of alternative medical systems covered include:

  • Whole medical systems such as homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and ayurveda.
  • Mind-body medicine such as meditation, prayer, mental healing, EFT, art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy.
  • Biologically based practices such as dietary supplements, herbal supplements..
  • Manipulative and Body-Based Practices such as spinal manipulation (both chiropractic and osteopathic), applied kinesiology and massage.
  • Energy therapies such as qi gong, reiki, therapeutic touch, RET, electromagnetic therapy, energy medicine and energy psychology.

 These are only general categories and not an inclusive list. Alternative medicine can cost consumers a lot because most insurance companies don’t recognize this kind of medicine; it can also require lifestyle changes. However, an increasing number of people will pay a premium for services, guides and tools to help them find the health they are seeking.

 So, if you’re looking for new business ideas or innovations, you must look at what job consumers are paying for. What do they really want? What problem are you solving?  Do people want a magic pill for temporary relief or real change for a healthier, better life?

 You may be able to bring alternative medicine into the mainstream, or find a way to connect the traditional and alternative into a widely accepted and profitable integrative approach. Let us know if you have any ideas on how to actually create change for people while we wait for the dust to settle on Capitol Hill?

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