If we ran anything, we would put a system in place for creativity like Pixar has done

I came across Planning for the sequel:How Pixar’s leaders want to make their creative powerhouse outlast them, an article in the June 19, 2010 Economist a few weeks back when I Was catching up on my back issues.  It was perfect timing since I’m taking a class on transformation right now.  I thought it was an excellent article about a system being in place to last a long time.

We all know that Pixar is still a pretty killer company, even though Disney owns it now.  But the people in Pixar are getting older so the worry is always what’s going to happen to the creativity.  However, the company has planned for this well.  The article points out two specifics.  1) people are before projects so creative people are brought in and kept there.  This is opposed to the usual Hollywood method of building a team around a project.  And second, there is a system of everyone working together from the earliest, unfinished pieces of work.  This is a system that was inspired by Toyota and their method of “lean production.” Feedback is constantly being taken to avoid flaws.  Further efforts that are done is the post mortems once films are complete where each film has 5 things done right and 5 done wrong.

The article acknowledges the challenges of staying creative and the effects that succuess has.  But it shows great admiration for the way Pixar does things – and especially looking to a car company for inspiration

If we ran Volvo, we would add a big luxury model like its chairman wants

In an article last week in the Financial Times, Volvo’s new Chinese Chairman wanted to take on Mercedes, BMW, etc on their top of the line cars like the 7-series, S-class etc.  This is highly profitable in the industrly and also very popular in China.  It was not done before under Ford because they did not want to go against their other brands Jaguar (also sold to India’s Tata Moters).  The got the right guy for the job, Stefan Jacboy is the new Chief Executive and he was the former US head of Volkswagen which made Audi China’s largest luxury grand.  This strategy will be discussed by the board on September 14th.  Volvo’s S80 has been successful in China (it is a mid-size executive car) expecting to sell 15,000 cars this year.

If we ran Nokia we would change around quite a few things

Updated 8/16/10 via comments from kopte3 (see below, comment #1) and Snoopdarr (James Darr) on Facebook , originally published 8/11/10.

Nokia’s been on my mind non-stop for the past few days.  A bunch of things have happened at once in my world revolving around Nokia and I just had to write this post.

First a quick background on me and Nokia – I’ve been a Nokia user since my very first cell phone – the Nokia 6185 for Sprint. I got this I think in 1999 or 2000 when I was a Circuit City employee.  I remember there was some serious excitement for it.  Since then I’ve done the 8860 (chrome phone), 8890 (brushed aluminum), 6170 (2005-2007), N79 (2007-2009), and finally, my latest, the N95 8gb.  Nokia’s held a special place in my heart and I’ve always viewed their phones as the best phones out there that less and less people around me were aware of.

Now, about those events I mentioned earlier which have led to Nokia being on my mind non-stop.  It started with my wife’s N82 dying for the past so many months and her wanting an iPhone. I want to stay w/ T-mobile (a whole different topic) so when a) the latest jailbreak came out and b) the used iphone 3gs market was good due to the iPhone 4’s release , I decided now was the time to replace her N82 for her.  Finaly, on 8/9/10, the iPhone purchase went down, and her N82 is now sitting on my dresser.  I am figuring out my next move with it (it’s camera doesn’t work properly because of flash/low battery issues -from what I’ve read this a known N82 problem-, small crack in the upper front – not on screen though, some slight dust on the screen, under the cover, and the battery barely lasts although I did order a new one via ebay that arrived a few days ago).

So that’s 1 event.  Second, I saw this tweet by @janole (the developer behind the Symbian twitter app “Gravity”) and read through the link in it: Can Nokia compete in high-end smartphone market?.  It was an article that just made Nokia’s present and future seem blah.

Third, I have always loved going to the Nokia store during my trips to Chicago and I was sure it was going to be closed after hearing about the Nokia Storeclosings. But sure enough, it was open.

I went in, played with some of the phones, and spoke with the guy there.  I’ve never spoke with someone so disheartened about where they work in my life and I’m in the government.  I told him I thought the stores were closing and he was saying yeah.. and that he was hoping it would happen quick – his wife or gf was in texas waiting for him.  We talked about how tough it’s been there. I told him my wife was actually about to stop using her 2 year+ N82 and start using an iPhone 3gs (which I bought later that day) instead and he said “Good for you.” He said everyone there had iPhone 4.  He said it wasn’t just like this here, it was like this everywhere, Nokia definitely had slipped.

That was the third event.  The final event, due to some data plan confusion (will insert link on explanation of this), I’m basically in a position where I should really upgrade my N95 8gb to something else that uses T-mobile’s 3g.  And in searching for a replacement phone, for the first time in… 6 years? it’s seeming like I won’t be going with a Nokia phone.

Here’s a list of things Nokia has to do.  I’ve left off “make an iPhone killer” because that’s an obvious end goal.  Here are the things along the way.  The phone that Nokia fans are excited about right now is the N8.  But there’s as much buzz on this as there is for Airbender 2.  Make a killer phone is an obvious need which has a lot of factors which include luck so I’m leaving that off and making this post on everything that CAN be done.   This is in no order and I’m too lazy to figure out a good order.

  1. Stop focusing on dumb phones
    This is a shrinking market slowly on its way to be non-existent.  As data becomes more prevalent, people will want better phones.  And rather than cheaping out on a dumb phone, they’ll cheap out on smart phones handed down to them.

    Update: Regarding this point, Kopte3 posts in the comments  “That isn’t true, yet,” however, I disagree.  @Snoopdarr on twitter is on my side, adding the following on Facebook regarding this: “b) NO company that makes dumbphones does smartphones well (not even motorola, sorry droid doesn’t).”

  2. Reduce your phone selection
    So many phones were at the Chicago Flagship Nokia store. I had no idea what the hell they all were, how they were different.  Apple has one phone a year in different hard drive sizes.  Nobody needs this much of a selection, you’re confusing yourself, confusing us, and when you confuse us, we go with an iPhone

    Update: On this point, Kopte3 posts in the comments that Nokia is already doing this.  But when I was in the Nokia Store in Chicago, there were a ton of options so I’m guessing this move is recent?

  3. Increase Focus on America
    Once upon a time, it was the rest of the world that set the trend and then America came later.  Those days are over, you have to focus on us first and the rest of the world will follow.

    Update: I’ve changed the title of this point from “Focus on America” to “Increase Focus on America” after reading Kopte’s point below on this.  If it’s being said the focus is increasing, then I say increase it some more because I don’t think anyone else who’s not in the “Nokia-know” really has had a greater impact in their life from Nokia

  4. Subsidize your phones
    One of the stupidest things that the people in this country do is get subsidized phones.  It’s ridiculous and we pay more in the long run.  Somehow, we have also allowed 2 year contracts to be acceptable.  This is stupid.    This is why we have ridiculous recessions, it is our nature.  But it is reality and you have to work with it.  I respect what you were trying to do but it doesn’t work.

    Update: Snoopdarr adds that this is “100% critical in america and they’ve never figured out (carriers control retail, and you have to play nice to get shelf space, and you need an exclusive with someone!).” Kopte agrees but adds that our carriers screw up their phones so don’t do let them do that Nokia.

  5. T-mobile is your friend
    AT&T’s with apple so make t-mobile your friend.  I know there’s something going on w/  Android and T-mobile but doesn’t seem that strong.
  6. Advertise! And do it properly
    Ask anyone in America what the iPhone does and they can tell you.  Forget what they’ve learned from word of mouth, they’ve got a great grasp of what the iPhone is capable of from the commercials.  I’m not exactly sure what Nokia is doing around the world but here in America, I can only recall seeing an ad for an E71 or E72 in the economist.  And that’s a British publication so that shouldn’t even count. Get your name out there more and you will have to do it in creative ways.  Don’t target business people in business publications, they don’t control this arena anymore. (Update: Kopte3 agrees)
  7. Get Apps in people’s hands
    The Ovi store is a joke.  The best apps for Nokia are everywhere else so focus more on just keeping a directory of what’s out there – not what’s uploaded to your server – so that we can find the apps we want through you.  Worry about monetizing off of this second because if you focus first on how can you make money of the apps you have uploaded etc, you’re going to lose out  on the customers that see nothing on the ovi store and move on to the next phone/platform.
  8. Appreciate your developers and fans
    Apple likes their developers.  They showed a nice big check to them at the last conference.  Do you care about your developers? Doesn’t seem like you do which is a shame because the only people I hear saying good things about you are those people on obscure threads and forums that know what your products are capable of.  If these people are willing to stand-up for you, appreciate them and channel their energy.  let them make commercials or something – remember that iPod Touch commercial that was made by a fan? I think actually there have been more than one instances of this.

    Update: Kopte3 says you guys are trying but he thinks you have the wrong approach.  I’m not sure what he means on that, let’s let him elaborate on the comments.

  9. Get into something else also
    Apple makes computers, Google software.  You are only phones.  figure out something else to get into – maybe go after Garmin or something.  Or, if you really want to impress me, go after car GPS/sound systems.  I hate that all GPS systems out there are their own and have their own plusses and minuses.  Forget video games, forget tablets… get into something you can be a leader in.

    Update: Kopte3 mentions some of what you’re into including Navigation.  I’m more interested in car navigations, so we can have the abilities to have more control on features on there.  But whatever else, that’s fine too.

  10. Find the next thing and lead it.. or, invent it yourself
    Blackberries took off by leading the wave on e-mailing on the go.  No one else was tackling (focusing on?) it like they were.  But, E-mails are extremely inefficient.  Way too many people live out of their inbox and it’s a terrible way to do things.  The future is something else.  Figure it out and be the leader in it.  Who cares if it seems ridiculous, figure out something good and be the leader in it – nothing is more ridiculous sounding right now than 140 limit messages on what you’re doing.  The world’s crazy so you need to be crazy too.

    Update: Kopte3 mentions your huge R&D and it’s not so much product innovation I am pointing out here, I’m talking about something people are doing.

  11. Put a face on your company
    I know who founded and runs apple.  I know who founded and runs Google.  I know who founded Microsoft and who runs Microsoft.  I have no idea who’s behind Nokia.  I have no idea who founded Nokia.  I don’t know Nokia’s story – I know every other company’s story.  I know Facebook’s story.  For some reason, we as a people need a celebrity leader for this business.  I don’t know why but we do so get someone charismatic to run things and be the face of Nokia. (How about me? I do stand-up and I’m weeks away from my MBA (from Maryland’s Smith school).  (Kopte3 completely agrees – about needing the proper spokesperson – not me for it.. well he hasn’t said no to me, he just didn’t comment on that part)
  12. Be a mini computer properly
    Be computer oriented.  I hate the fact that I can’t sync properly with my Mac and that I have random BS software that I have to use to sync w/ a windows comp.  Use what’s already on the computer – or have minimum add ons- and sync properly.  There is still a problematic sync for me to use my N95 8gb w/ my Mac regarding calendar, moviing pictures ( they aren’t deleted properly), etc (Kopte3 says you’re trying but you have to try harder because there is still a disconnect between my mobile world and my computer world)

If we ran a business, we wouldn’t give off signs we’re in trouble

I was riding w/ my Bro-in-law Zargham today around Rolling Meadows, IL and we went inside of a gas station briefly to grab some food/snacks.  Zargham’s in the gas station business and has been very successful in it so far in the still relatively few years he’s been in there.  He pointed out to me that this gas station was still for sale but he had no interest in buying it because it wasn’t a good station and overpriced.  He said a huge factor was the property taxes – here in Rockford, he pays half of that.

After our purchases, as we were leaving, he pointed out that they were in trouble.  I asked how he knew and he said that was the owner who just rang us up (he was pretty nice to us which alone would lead me to think this.  I asked how he knew – did he know him personally? And he said he didn’t but he could tell because the back office door was open which meant he was in there doing paperwork and serving customers and if that was occurring on a Saturday, then he was cutting back on payroll.  I thought that was pretty clever and made a note in my head not to be aware of what signs I give off as trouble.

If we ran America, we would read the article: “Goodbye, American Dream: The crisis of middle-class America”

The crisis of middle-class America

By Edward Luce

Published: July 30 2010 17:04 | Last updated: July 30 2010 17:04

This was an excellent article in this past Friday’s Financial Times.  Below is a list of my takeaways:

  • $70,000 is a third more than the median household’s annual income
  • “The slow economic strangulation” …. “middle-class Americans started long before the Great Recession, which merely exacerbated the “personal recession” that ordinary Americans had been suffering for years. Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973..”
  • “Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300”
  • “The trend has only been getting stronger. Most economists see the Great Stagnation as a structural problem – meaning it is immune to the business cycle. In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start.”
  • What is worse is that there is “declining income mobility” meaning you “have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy”
  • Also, there is a “steeply rising inequality.”  So in addition to “grinding income stagnation,” there is also “diminishing likelihood of escaping it”
  • “During the three postwar decades, which many now look back on as the golden era of the ­American middle class” … “Incomes grew in real terms by almost 2 per cent a year – almost doubling each generation. And though mass higher education drove it, “you did not need to have graduated from high school to make ends meet.”
  • “most economists” … “diverge on the causes. Many on the left blame the Great ­Stagnation on globalisation”
  • “Another group singles out the explosion of new technology”
  • “Then there are those, such as Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winner, who blame it on politics, notably the conservative backlash which began when Ronald Reagan came to power in 1980, and which sped up the decline of unions and reversed the most progressive features of the US tax system.Fewer than a tenth of American private sector workers now belong to a union. People in Europe and Canada are subjected to the same forces of globalisation and technology. But they belong to unions in larger numbers and their healthcare is publicly funded. More than half of household bankruptcies in the US are caused by a serious ­illness or accident.”
  • Much as they disagree on what has caused the Great Stagnation, economists also differ on the remedies. Most agree that better education improves people’s earnings potential, even if it does not solve the underlying problem. Others point out that not everybody can be a bond trader, a software entrepreneur or a Harvard professor.Many of the jobs of the future will be in “inter-personal” roles that cannot be easily replaced by computers or ­foreigners – janitors, beauty technicians, home carers and landscape gardeners, for whom college is often superfluous. Furthermore, a large chunk of Americans who have been hit by ­stagnation over the past decade are college graduates. Even they are not immune. But more education, at the very least, will improve one’s chances. Paying for it is another matter.
  • “the cost of education is soaring”
  • “For years, the problem was cushioned and partially hidden by the availability of cheap debt.”…. “That cushion is now gone. Easy money has turned into heavy debt”
  • “To be pessimistic about the future is so new for Americans and so strikingly un-American,”

If we ran IT that served the public, we would run it like Mayor Fenty and Vivek Kundra

I wrote this letter to the Washington Post (letters@washpost.com) after reading their Endorsement for Mayor Fenty in the upcoming election:

In your recent endorsement for Mayor Fenty ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/30/AR2010073003145.html ), something I did not see mentioned was what Mayor Fenty did with Information Technology.  I am a part-time MBA student of the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business and in a previous semester, I did a paper on the DC Government’s Office of the CTO (OCTO as they call themselves) for a class project.  The current Federal CIO Vivek Kundra was the DC CTO prior to his role and it was what Mr. Kundra did with IT in DC that led him to his promotion.  When Mr. Kundra left the DC Government, Chris Willey became the interim CTO.  And since he was a Smith Alum, It was through him that I had the chance to do my paper on this subject and find out what exactly Mayor Fenty and Vivek Kundra did together.

The objective was to foster better relations with the public by promoting transparency and access of data to the public.  The start of this initiative was in 2007 after Mayor Fenty became mayor.  In his experience as a councilman, he felt there was not enough accessible data for the government and public.  He wanted uncompromised, raw data for the public.  A short time later he brought Vivek Kundra aboard and they got started on Mr. Fenty’s initiatives.  First CAPSTAT (modeled after Baltimore’s Citistat) was formed.  These were one-hour sessions that were videocast online that occurred at least once a week where Mayor Fenty and executives were brought in to discuss performance and ways to improve.

Next they took the data from the city’s data warehouse (CityDW) (an IT initiative started during Mayor Williams’s term) and made it public using feeds.  This was a worry because of the data not being clean and easily leading to misinterpretation.  However, Mr. Fenty insisted on this still being carried out.

In late 2008, after realizing that ways to use the data feeds were limited, the Apps for Democracy contest was held to come up with a solution.  This $50,000 contest is estimated to have saved $2.6 million in internal development costs.  Another contest was held in 2009.  Now there is a DC App store.

The Harvard University’s Ash Institute recognized as the winner of the 2009 Innovations in American Government Award in Urban Policy.  The award is very appropriate because it was started in 1985 as a result of concern about trust of government.

Mr. Willey informed me of next steps to create a web-based marketplace where the buyer would be the DC Government and the seller would be the public.  Through this, the DC Government can put needs in a public sphere (for example, Mr. Willey specifically mentions a data catalogue need he has) and consider solutions from more sources.  Some solutions could even be free, allowing the government to take advantage of developers who have a degree of citizenship and e-volunteerism.

One last thing worth mentioning is that Mayor Fenty also pushed OCTO’s role by making them manage the School System’s IT.  This helped him marry his two initiatives: Transparency and education reform.

Shahryar Rizvi
IT Specialist, U.S. Census Bureau
University of Maryland, Smith School of Business c/o 2010