I am a Bass Player

Bass ViolinWhen I was a 4th grader, my mom asked if I would like to play an instrument.

I don’t know exactly how I arrived at the bass violin, but that’s the one I ended up with, like the one in the picture.

It could be because I was always tall for my age, reaching six feet at about age 14 or 15.

(After that, I was fairly average height for boys in my high school.)

Playing the big bass, as I refer to it, was fine.

But, by the time I got to 6th grade, I had a six-string guitar and wanted to get a bass guitar, as well.

My first bass guitar was a knock-off Fender Precision bass, similar to the one in the photo.

Fender PrecisionI remember the “action” (i.e., the height of the strings from the neck) was relatively low, which made it easy to play.

But, the lower frets buzzed when played and I could never get rid of it, even when raising the action.

It was a decent bass but I wanted something newer and, frankly, cooler.

Gibson GrabberThen, Gibson introduced a line of rock bass guitars, with the primary models being the Ripper and the Grabber.

The names alone were cool! But, while the Ripper sounded more dangerous (and what skinny, pimply, math nerd isn’t desperate to be perceived as just a little dangerous?!), the Grabber was the cooler looking bass.

Why? Because while the Ripper has a conventional two pickup set-up, the Grabber has this crazy, single sliding pickup that you can move forward (toward the neck) for a bassier sound or backward (toward the bridge) for a treblier sound. Very innovative!

I loved that bass and kept it for quite awhile until I got the pièce de résistance – my Ibanez double neck bass and electric guitar.

Talk about a unique showpiece. The thing was massive and weighed a ton. But, no one else had or played anything like it.

Ibanez DoubleneckAnd, instrumentally, it put me on the same plane as my bass hero, Geddy Lee of Rush.

I ultimately traded that axe in for a brand new, tobacco sunburst Gibson SG guitar. I had always wanted an SG and was going through a serious AC/DC phase at the time. But, it’s a decision I regret to this day!

I only have one photo of me with that guitar – a grainy black-and-white that you can find on my Shadow the Rock Band page.

Fender MustangAnyhow, my best friend Jeff, took pity on me and more-or-less gave me a natural finish Fender Mustang bass, after I had gone for a period of time bass-less.

Jeff and I played many, many a gig together in high school and junior college.

Over the years, we traded guitars, records, new rock music discoveries, and brotherly insults.

In the future, I’ll cover guitars I’ve owned.

Invent. Innovate. Improve. Do Any Three.

lightbulb-Gluehlampe_01_KMJInnovation is at a peak of interest.

In fact, I’m speaking about it in 6 weeks, when I chair the luncheon panel for the CIO Summit at the annual Innotech conference in Austin.

This surge in innovation’s stock seems to occur every 15-20 years, like the price of gold. And that’s fine, because I’m a big fan of innovation.

However, a pet peeve I have is when people begin speaking about it in a muddy way.

Often, when I hear someone describe their innovation goals, they are really speaking about improvement, not innovation. This is especially true for larger companies.

Or, on the other hand, occasionally someone will be speaking about invention.

These 3 terms are related, but different. In short, here are their definitions:

  • Invent – to create or produce (something useful) for the first time.
  • Innovate – to change something that is established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.
  • Improve – to make or become better.

To innovate does not mean you are inventing. In fact, some would argue that my inserting the “(something useful)” qualifier for inventing is inappropriate, because there have been plenty of useless inventions throughout history. [I tend to think of those as interesting, but failed, experiments.]

The reason I get modestly peeved about this topic, is because the unspoken outcome of an innovation initiative is that it gets all of the attention.

In fact, all 3 topics are worthy of attention, create value, and are necessary for long-term organizational success, if one wants to be best-of-class.

But, because they are different, they require:

  • different processes for assimilation into the organization,
  • different metrics for determining progress, and
  • different skills & experience from the staff & management involved in advancing them.

Six_sigma-2.svg-2000pxYou can outsource invention, by using a 3rd party like XPrize or Innocentive. You can’t outsource improvement, like a Six Sigma program.

Innovation tends to get the greatest attention, because it seems more in reach, returning greater rewards to those that can “crack the code” on a successful innovation initiative.

But, my advice is to find a way to fund all 3; never lose sight of the rewards of invention and improvement.

Entrepreneurship Haiku

bbv-haiku-copyright-say-hello-yellowI’ve been having some evening fun with poetry lately, using a very basic form of the Japanese Haiku. The basic form I’ve used is a series of words totaling 5 syllables, then 7, then 5, with each set of words on a different line.

It’s the kind of thing you may remember doing in grade or middle school, as a way for your English teacher to get you interested in trying your hand at poetry. For the subject matter, I’ve been using “startups” and “entrepreneurship,” rather than nature or everyday objects.

I like it, because it forces you – in the same way twitter’s 140 characters limit forces you – to reduce a thought or idea down to its essence. Here are three examples, which by the way, all fit as tweets!

“The unbeatable quality of persistence”

Grinding it out now.
Grinding it out yesterday.
Tomorrow? More please!

“How do you recognize a real MVP?”

Your valuation
matters not; nor does your app.
Only: Will they buy?

“Hiring versus contracting”
When do you outsource?
When cheaper, faster, non-core.
If not, forget it!
I hope to read some examples of your entrepreneurship or startup Haiku in the future!

Might As Well Face It…

BAILEYS FINAL DECK 0201.pptxI’ve just completed my eleventh book, Naturally Caffeinated: Addicted to Entrepreneurship. You can download it by clicking on this link.

It’s the eighth book that I’ve authored in whole or part. For the other three, I served as the producer and/or editor.

This book is different than the earlier ones in my career in two ways:

  1. It’s the first one made available as an Ebook first, with a print edition planned second (more on that later…), and
  2. It’s only the second book I’ve self-published.

The last time I self-published was five years ago, when I produced a book on Strategic Community Investment. Now, as then, I went with a small-format book for the express purpose of getting a core kernel of thought in distribution, to be later followed by an expanded, enhanced version.

NCtheCommunityIn fact, the plan this time was to do something a bit more collaborative.

So, I worked with an Austin-based publishing platform called Weeva to produce The Community Edition of the book.

For the next 60 days, until mid-August, we plan to solicit lessons learned, advice, and personal reflections to be contributed to The Community Edition from experienced entrepreneurs, as well as first-time founders, from Austin and around the world.

Then, in mid-September, Weeva will produce a beautiful, print version of the book, available for purchase…not unlike the one in the picture above.

What is the book about, with a title like Naturally Caffeinated: Addicted to Entrepreneurship, you may ask? For the answer to that question, I invite you to read “More About the Ebook” on its website.

In the meantime, suffice it to say, the title reflects a sentiment akin to that of Robert Palmer’s infamous GQ-rock hit, with alteration: “Might As Well Face It, I’m Addicted to Entrepreneurship.”


Pick a Title for My Entrepreneurship Ebook

coffe-stain-typographyI’m working on the draft of a new Ebook.

It’s a quick, easy read of lessons learned from my years as an entrepreneur…the reading length will likely be less than 100 pages.

Most people that know me a bit, know I enjoy coffee.

So, with that as a personal thematic backdrop, I’m narrowing in on titles that link back to coffee. Here are the top three candidates for the Ebook’s title:

  1. “Naturally Caffeinated: When You’re Addicted to Entrepreneurship”
  2. “I Like My Startup Like My Coffee: in the Black”
  3. “5 AM Clarity: Reflections from the Day’s 1st Cup of Coffee”

Consider this request to be a lot like the SXSW panelpicker, if you’ve ever participated in that polling.

Your choice will comprise about 1/3 of the decision making process, with another 1/3 being close advisors/sponsors, and a final 1/3 being my own judgment call. So, your vote definitely matters!

Just drop it into the comments below, tweet it to me, or email me using the Contact page form. Clever themes and variations, as well as wholly new suggestions, are welcome.

Thanks! And, I’ll let you know when it’s available…should be sometime in June.

Designing Incentives

There are those who believe that people’s attitudes “are-what-they-are” and can’t be changed.

Then, there are those, like me, that believe attitudes can be changed. I’m not claiming it’s easy.

But, I’m a big believer in the proposition that we are products of the combined influences of nature and nurture. And, with the proper tweaking of both, a person’s previously-held attitudes may be revised.

freak - attitudesA simple model that undergirds the way I think about these influences in action is the one in the figure.

Attitudes are most often formed and reinforced by behaviors.

Call them habits, daily routines, spiritual or work practices…whatever.

Behaviors, in turn, are formed and reinforced by structures. Call these the incentives, group norms, and other environmental factors, e.g., geographic location, architecture, apparel, and the like. If you want to change attitudes, change the structures.

This model was reinforced by a quick read of a book that’s been out for a bit called Think Like a Freak, by the authors of the similarly titled Freakonomics, Levitt & Dubner.

Much of the book addresses the discipline of designing the right incentive scheme to change behavior (and ergo, attitudes). Incentives, to my thinking, are powerful environmental “tools” that can be manipulated.

motivation carrotSome of the pearls of wisdom that Levitt & Dubner offer about incentives include:

  • Figure out what people really care about, not what they say they care about
  • Incentivize them on the dimensions that are valuable to them but cheap for you to provide
  • Pay attention to how people respond; if their response surprises or frustrates you, learn from it and try something different
  • Whenever possible, create incentives that switch the frame from adversarial to cooperative
  • Never, ever think that people will do something just because it is the “right” thing to do

One pearl that particularly spoke to my personal experience had to do with “gaming the system.” This was a constant problem for Appconomy, a venture-backed startup largely based in China in which I’m a founding shareholder.

Levitt & Dubner’s advice is to know that some people will do everything they can to game the system, finding ways to win that you could never have imagined. Thus, if only to keep yourself sane, try to applaud their ingenuity rather than curse their greed. To which I say “Amen!”

freak - bookThink Like a Freak closes with an instructive, albeit clear-eyed, section on the subject of “How to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded.” In a nutshell, here are the six most important points they say to keep in mind:

  1. First, understand how hard persuasion is.
  2. Make clear, it’s not about me; it’s about you.
  3. Don’t pretend your argument is perfect.
  4. Acknowledge the strengths of your opponent’s argument
  5. Keep the insults to yourself
  6. Tell stories, they capture our attention, making them great for teaching

I like the story-telling advice. It’s an emotional buddy to the logical tool of incentive design…the nature “yin” to the nurture “yang.”

So, the next time you are thinking deeply about how to incentivize some sort of change – whether it’s with your teenager or a customer call-to-action – make sure to spend at least an equal amount of time on the storytelling part as the incentive design part. Good luck!

MoMA’s Curator Talks About the Future

I’ve been so busy, I’ve not yet had time to share any reflections on the 2015 SXSW Interactive sessions.

Among my favorites was Paolo Antonelli, curator of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Her keynote, entitled “Curious Bridges: How Designers Grow the Future” was, in my opinion, this year’s example of why I always plan to return to SXSW the next year.

If you wish, you can watch the entire, delightful and borderline provocative keynote, courtesy of the good people at Southby.

Much of her presentation revolved on the notion of “designing for the ‘in between’.” While I may be slightly off in my interpretation of her intent, this phrase seemed to be Paola’s way of referencing the essential role designers play connecting the imagined to the real.

Among the examples that she shared (and there were many) during her remarks, I was especially drawn to the ones that had bio- and nanotech references. This is largely due to one of the Powershift Group projects I’ve been supervising for the past six months, called Nano Global Corp.

Nano Global is focused on nanotechnology-based products into direct everyday consumer uses. These include skin protection, surface cleaning, safe food preparation, water and air purification, and many other practical applications.

Nanotech-based consumer products have the potential to improve the lives of tens of millions around the world. This is an especially urgent need, in the post-antibiotic age we’ve entered, where superbugs and fast-mutating germs are resistant to conventional treatments.

design - 1Back to Antonelli’s Southby keynote, there were several designer-inspired ideas that I found fascinating.

One was the pointy, polygon-shaped structure in the picture that almost looks like a building-sized virus itself.

But, far from being a virus, the structure is coated with nanoparticles that were meant to neutralize pollutants in the air.

In other words, it’s a giant air filter, sucking bad stuff out of the air.

Paola spent a significant portion of her time describing ways that science, design and architecture can work together. Artists want to share their art with the world; scientists want to make their science more useful.

Architecture provides a fascinating third way for these other two to come together in a way that is both pragmatic and beautiful.

design - 3Another more playful example that Antonelli mentioned was Moyasimon’s Tales of Agriculture.

This is a manga story about a boy who passionate about agriculture. In the story, the boy can see and talk to bacteria.

It’s a lovely way to represent what designers are actually thinking about, in terms of harnessing bacteria as worker bees that enable us to build a better future.

design - 2Taking it beyond bacteria, Antonelli closed with examples of the design of living beings.

One example she showed was Autodesk’s design of its own virus, in-vitro.

Another example she showed was MoMA’s latest acquisitions from the Wyss Institute, called organs-on-chip.

design - 4Organs-on-chip are designed to simulate how certain organs work, down to and including the interaction of nanoparticles and the body’s chemistry.

The point of these designs is very real: it is to create new, validated means of speeding new pharmaceuticals through their trials, to get life-saving and other beneficial drugs to market rapidly.

All-in-all, I found it a riveting SXSW keynote that will have me thinking about the possibilities of design, at least until SXSW 2016!

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