Accidents are the mother of invention

Here’s a nice piece on the invention of the Slurpee (via Marginal Revolution). An excerpt:

Knedlik’s [Dairy Queen] franchise didn’t have a soda fountain, so he began placing shipments of bottled soda in his freezer to keep them cool. On one occasion, he left the sodas in a little too long, and had to apologetically serve them to his customers half-frozen; they were immensely popular.

When people began to show up demanding the beverages, Knedlik realized he had to find a way to scale, and formulated plans to build a machine that could help him do so.

You never know what customers are going to like. Here’s a secret, kids,– they do not teach you how to figure that out in business school. There’s not a formula or process to follow to do it, other than trial-and-error.

I think executives who are trying to find ways to grow their company should consider using more low-cost, trial-and-error discovery .

Better than charity

I agree (2nd to last paragraph), somewhat, with Google founder Larry Page: Give money to capitalists instead of charity (via Carpe Diem).

Where I disagree is that you don’t need to give them money. Rather, invest in them. Invest in entrepreneurship. Maybe get kids diddling less time away chasing college scholarships to play sports heavily subsidized by taxpayers and more time creating stuff of value.

Here’s more from me and Richard Branson on the subject.

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Why does socialism fail?

In the same radio discussion that I mentioned in my previous post, I heard the radio talk show host say that socialism — and variants of it — has been responsible for millions of deaths and has proven over and over to be a failure. He encouraged the self-described socialist to read some history.

I hear this point made on occasion. I find it frustrating because rarely is it mentioned why socialism fails.

Why does it?

I believe it’s for a couple main reasons.

There’s the knowledge problem. A free market of prices communicates vastly more and better information to allocate resources better than any small group of people can.

I also believe it stifles risky experimentation, which is the source of most innovations, large and small. Without risky experimentation, society rots. I’m not sure, but I think this may actually be a subset of the knowledge problem.

 

Netflix for eBooks?

Over three years ago, I wondered when the Netflix business model would be applied to ebooks. 

I thought it was a huge step forward when I could checkout ebooks to my Kindle apps from my library. That is, until I read the five books that I wanted to read in the limited checkout library.

Then I thought Amazon Prime might be the answer, until I became a Prime member and realized I would need to buy a Kindle device to check out the books. I almost did, until I started trying to find books I could check out. I haven’t found one.

Maybe Oyster Books will do it. But, judging from my first glance at the library, it has even fewer books available for electronic checkout than my local library.

My understanding is that the limited available titles for electronic borrowing is caused by publishers weary of losing revenue. Could be. Too bad someone hasn’t figured a way around that yet.

Innovation Clinic

In a recent issue, Forbes held a valuable camp on innovation.

First, I agree with what Leonard Schleifer, CEO of Regeneron (a drug research company), had to say about innovation in his Entreprenuer Clinic in Forbes.

I believe that companies rot, and they rot from the top down. Too often the keys to the kingdom are given to commercial folks who don’t value long-term research. When you don’t value something, you don’t get good results from it, and the bottom line is that then, all of a sudden, the long term becomes the short term, and you don’t have anything.

“Focus” is a dirty word for us, okay? It’s a big mistake to think that you can pick the very best thing that you should focus on and then ignore all the other things. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pick only the things that work in our business? Amgen’s new CEO, I heard, said they only were going to work on the things that work. Good luck to him. We are just not that smart.

Second, the short description of the article, The Secret to Unleashing Genius, says a lot:

Companies suffer when the boss comes up with all the new ideas. Shrewd leaders build organizations that think for themselves.

I’ve seen my share of executive teams where the long-term turned into the short-term and they didn’t have anything and where they were never willing to admit that they are just not that smart.

I think realizing that, is the key that the “shrewd leaders” understand and why they build organizations that think for themselves.

However, in depressing news, Forbes had this article where Google appears to be headed the other direction in what Larry Page described as “more wood behind fewer arrows”.

Google previously had a rule that you could spend up to 20% of your time on side projects. Now they are pulling that rule back a bit. The author of the piece asks a good question:

Now that Google has put some rules  around “20% time,” the one day a week an employee spends on side projects, people are having a field day forecasting the end of innovation at the company that claims to “use their powers for good, not evil.” To those people, I ask one question: Can a company in today’s highly competitive environment survive if they allow 1/5th of their employees’ time to be devoted to work that has no clear alignment with the company’s strategy?

Her answer: “of course not.”  I think there’s a better answer: Google’s stock price. Apparently it has been working for them, so far. In the words of Leonard Schleifer, ‘good luck to him.’

Update: Brian Carney and Isaac Getz agree with my take on Google’s rule change in the Wall Street Journal.

“Great!”

I recently saw a new “Samsung Experience at Best Buy” TV ad. It features a young, recent grad who needs to update her computer equipment after for a free-lance job.

One part of the commercial I find particularly not compelling is when she asks the Samsung Experience person “How’s the battery life on this one?” The SE person answers, “Great!”

I realize the commercial has to squeeze a lot into a short amount of time, but I thought  they missed a good opportunity to demonstrate expertise by giving a short, but useful answer, possibly with information about battery life that most people don’t think about. While that’s typical of the answers I get when I go to just about any retailer and ask questions, I expect more.

A better answer could be something like, “this model offers a good balance of battery life and weight. It has 5 hours, which is best you’ll find in this category, and you can buy a 4-hour extender if you want more than that.”

New Coffee Product

I recently discovered this Folgers coffee filter packs at my grocery store. Nice job Folgers. That is exactly what I was talking about in this post back in 2011.

At $3.98 for 60 cups, that’s about 7 cents per cup, which compares very favorably to the single use filter packs and seems to be worth the additional cost over regular coffee because it can be easy to transport for travel and takes the guess-work out measuring, while keeping the brewing machine clean.

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Good luck. I hope it works out for you.

I did happen to think about taking a photo this time. I had two cameras on me (in my iPhone).

What’s a bubble?

The recent Forbes Investment Guide included this article about how big money is buying foreclosed homes, fixing them up and renting them out. I think it’s a great example of a capitalism at work fixing a mess (junked out homes) created by bureaucrats trying to get votes by helping everyone ‘realize the dream of home ownership‘.

It also raises good questions about whether this is creating another bubble as the big money buying of residential property is pushing up prices and the investors are once or twice removed from the transaction.

Could be. We’ll see. Most markets have transient phases before settling into steady state. Attractive profits attract investors. That pushes up demand and prices to the point where a few marginal players drop out, and prices and demand drop some.

I’m not sure I’d call that a bubble. That’s business a usual.

I’d be more concerned about a bubble if the third (or fourth) party investors were investing in properties not because of the economics of the individual deals, but rather, on the hope that someone else would bail them out if they make bad decisions.

I think politicians will be less likely to want to bail out these investors, who were chasing profits rather than the ‘dream of home ownership’.