Weirdnesses Approaching

As if the world wasn’t weird enough, it’s getting weirder. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Luckily, humans evolved to be adaptable, and that adaptability is being tested. The following is a Friday night random list of shifts, changes, and trends that are redefining normal. Watch as conventional wisdom shudders in the wake of modern change.


Driverless Vehicles – Auto Autos
Driverless cars, trucks, trains, planes, drones, and ships. About twenty years ago, driverless vehicles were either incredibly complex and expensive (airplane autopilots), or were expected to require significant infrastructure like highways lined with sensors. Now, artificial intelligence and sensor technology has progressed enough to enable vehicles to navigate and drive so well that truckers may lose their jobs. Driverless cars have accidents, but at far lower rates than human-driven cars. Even pizza delivery is being researched using sidewalk robots. Why use the road when all you need is something the size of a large pepperoni with cheese? The concept can seem trivial or experimental; but cities may prefer vehicles that can find their own parking spots, owners may prefer vehicles that come when you call them, and that can be loaned or rented while you’re at work. Take a person out of the vehicle and it gets smaller, cheaper, and simpler. For deliveries, there’s no need to design crumple zones, airbags, seat belts, or head and leg room. For commuters, just let the car follow all the other commuters until you get near work. Hacking will get interesting.

Renewable Energy – Solar and Wind and
Within the last five years, solar and wind power systems have matured into reliable systems, and are being built in large enough volumes that the price has become competitive with fossil fuels – even without subsidies. Add back in the subsidies and renewables actually look even better. While renewables have relied on subsidies to get started, so do coal, oil, and gas. Fossil fuel subsidies are actually larger than renewable subsidies, especially when the indirect costs of pollution and health care are included. Devices, households, airports, factories, and warehouses are going off the grid. If they aren’t going off the grid, they’re feeding power back into it. In both cases, the reliability of the electrical system is improving without having to build more plants or power lines. Decentralization means people can be less tied to cities. Add in internet access and the recent trend for urbanization may reverse.

Minimalism – Living With Less
Whether by choice or necessity, people are buying fewer things. IKEA has announced that we may have reached Peak Stuff, the point at which there’s less demand for new things. Because of the Great Recession (or the Second Great Depression), people are less likely to buy on credit. The things that they do buy are more likely to be practical. The trend is small enough that Wal-Mart isn’t threatened – yet. But, the Maker movement is emphasizing 3-D printing and repairing old things rather than buying new from the store.A tiny house Many won’t live in Tiny Houses, like those who find 124 square feet to be more than enough, but they are more likely to hunt for a smaller, rather than a larger, house when they buy; or are more likely to rent an apartment rather than own a house. Cars are large, except for the sudden interest in smartcars, e-vehicles, and a return to bicycles.

Modern Economics – Money Changes
The era of buy low, sell high, invest for the long term, rely on research, has been overtaken by high-frequency trading, artificial intelligence trading, investing for the week rather than the decade. Bonds as a backup are dealing with low single digit interest rates that barely recognize inflation. Outside the US, inflation concerns are being replaced with deflation worries; which is why Switzerland, Japan, and several other countries are loaning money at negative interest rates. Too much money is stagnating, which is stagnating economies, and worrying central bankers. While Bitcoin was considered the currency of choice for illegal activities, the fundamental technology has been recognized as financially efficient, which means the blockchain technology is also altering trading and currency transfers. The drop in oil and other commodity prices have upset countries that rely on those revenues, so places like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela are less stable than they were two years ago when oil was over $100/barrel. Power is shifting.

Graphene – Strength and Power
Graphene continues to amaze it researchers and developers. It is a simple material, just a flat matrix of carbon atoms arranged into an arbitrarily large molecule. Such a simple idea is incredibly powerful. Most things we build and break are built and broken by manipulating chemical bonds. Better living through chemistry has been the norm for all of human history until the Atomic Age when we went to the other extreme. Nuclear power plants and weapons demonstrate the breaking and building of atomic bonds. Between the seemingly strong but relatively weak chemical bonds, and the incredibly terrible and terrific atomic bonds are molecular bonds. Graphene is held together by molecular bonds. Take a sheet of graphene as thick as plastic wrap, and even an elephant stepping on a pencil point couldn’t punch through it. Finally, roofing material that won’t leak, that doesn’t weigh much. Apply a current, and use it to filter seawater. Move it through seawater, and pull out a current, or hydrogen for fuel. If we find a cheap way to make it in bulk, lots of building materials become quaint and obsolete. And that’s just the start as it wades into other industries.

Invisibility – More Than Meets the Eye
As one friend noted when the first stealth fighter was revealed, they effectively made something invisible in a very narrow part of the spectrum. It was inevitable that the effect would be expanded. Add in other technologies and that has become the case. There isn’t one technology that’s working for all wavelengths of light, but put them together and we’ve getting much better at cloaking devices. Aside from the military and wizarding applications, other technologies are now taking the insights into wave behaviour and finding ways to hide buildings from earthquakes and coastlines from tsunamis. Tailor a suite of solutions correctly and something can be seen by some, not seen by others, and able to interact within limits. If we can protect against human assailants and natural disasters, we might find new ways to subtly be secure.

 


Each of these trends and technologies will change our world. The overwhelming aspect is to realize that their interactions are even harder to predict. Imagine an invisible driverless car operating on renewable energy delivering graphene to someone in a tiny house working for cryptocurrencies. Silly. Probably never happen. But what other mix of these trends will become the norm, something that won’t fit with conventional wisdom, but that will require and benefit from adaptation? Interesting times, or at least weirdness, approaching.

Stay tuned.

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Sad MVIS Shareholders

Sad MVIS has continued to fall, and with it, the emotions of MVIS shareholders. Since MicroVision announced 164% increase in revenues, its stock, MVIS, has fallen 26%. Evidently, expectations were high, and the expressed reality is low. While investing is supposedly just about the numbers, individual investors are people and therefore emotional. Since the earnings report under-delivered, the discussion boards have been busy parsing the news, trying to understand the lack of news, and acting as an unofficial support group. The private communication channels are busier, too. To paraphrase one rhetorical question, have we all been proven to be fools?

Aside from some eternal optimists, the general sentiment is disappointment. There is even a thread of perceived betrayal, or at least considerations of insufficient competence. Emotions affect the demand for a stock. Depressed emotions depress stock price. Whether through investors selling or fewer investors buying, the price drops regardless of the value of the company. If it drops enough, the distinction turns from academic to financial. When a stock’s price drops too far, it is difficult for the company to borrow money, convince customers of viability, and remain listed on the stock markets. Today MVIS closed low enough that MicroVision’s market cap was less than $100M.

The financial implications are too familiar. If you want to learn more, browse back through my previous posts because MVIS has been here before, particularly when the company conducted a reverse split.

Sentiment, expectations, and perceived promises can be created by official statements; but with a company as news-shy as MicroVision, random comments from management, quick glimpses of powerpoint slides, and seemingly logical inferences can encourage investors to buy and hold a stock.

One phrase from last year’s stockholder’s meeting echoes this year. Some recall hearing one of the top officials assure the shareholders that (paraphrased) Every quarter the shareholders will have something to be pleased about. I can be convinced that I heard the same thing, but can’t find the quote in my notes, which suggests it was not part of the formal meeting nor part of the business presentation, but may have been a comment made while mingling.

The eternal optimists find something to be pleased about every day. In terms of quantifiable news, however, there’s been very little pleasure. The simplest way to meet that goal would be for increasing revenues, even if the increase was small. Quarterly revenues were down then up then down. Another simple way to meet the goal was to announce eventual product releases every quarter, but those news items have been in the control of the customers. The best source so far has been individual shareholders like Peter Jungmann visiting the company’s booth at events like CES. A simple recital by the company of the company’s booth was in their control, and yet lacking until after others had done so.

A 164% increase in revenue is worth celebrating, but it is treated as dismal news because it didn’t include new customers, new orders, significant increases in backlog, and guidance that was conventionally impressive but too low to dissuade notions of debt or dilution. By the end of the call, and after the shareholder community had analyzed the news, the realization was that this conference call was largely like many before. One investor on Investor Village described it succinctly, and agreed to let me share it here.

This quarterly/annual earnings conference call sounded like all 72 previous ones.  The names of the officers, products, and potential customers have changed, but the dialog is all the same.
“We didn’t achieve our hopes for last year that we previously alluded to, because of external factors we had no control over.”
“We have great hopes and dreams for next year because there are several companies out in the world that might use our technology.”
“Oh by the way we lost money again and diluted your shares again.”
“But things might, may, can be different next year because several unnamed companies might, may, could order something from us.” – hentied on InvestorVillage.com

Investing in stocks can be difficult. While it is easy to point to the numbers and say that it was difficult to lose money on a stock; the real pain can sometimes be an emotional response to a perceived betrayal. If hopes were too high, was it because management suggested the possibility, or because the investor let optimism take over? As another private conversation asked, Were we fools for believing, were we fooled into believing, or would we be foolish for leaving – and then finding that all we required was a bit more painful patience? Unfortunately, there’s no way to know.

I’ve only experienced this level of regret once before, which unfortunately happened at the worst possible time. Even now, I believe that Dendreon‘s cancer vaccine was an impressive success and a milestone in the War Against Cancer; and yet, DNDN went bankrupt (which continues to energize possibly valid conspiracy theories.) Even if eventually the technology, conspiracies, and health improvements prove to be correct, it won’t affect my portfolio. Sadly, being proved right is not the same as being proved profitable.

I feel sorry for and sorrow with MVIS shareholders, even the eternal optimists. We aren’t the ones doing the work. We didn’t start the company. We did, however, trust the system, the company, the management, and each other. As long as the stock is down, it will be easy to feel foolish or fooled. If the stock ever attains the valuations so many of us have calculated, we’ll laugh at how foolish it was to feel this way. If only we knew that we’d get to see that day.

In the meantime, as for feeling happy every quarter, well, I do still appreciate that value of twenty five cents. If you put eight of them plus a dime and a penny together you can buy one share of MVIS.

Photo on 2016-03-15 at 19.05

(Assuming no transaction fees. Brokerage fees may be much more expensive than one share of MVIS.

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Service Engine Soon

“Service Engine Soon”
Groan.
Seeing that vague and ambiguous warning light come on is unsettling and a source of anxieties. It wasn’t the big red warning light, just the little yellow warning light. Does that signify something critical or merely inconvenient? Until I could find out, I had no idea if it was going to be thousands of dollars or simply turning off a switch. The recent Fuel Pump Incident didn’t help.

Park, get to work to pay the bills, then drive to the mechanic’s shop on the way home.

Whew. The shop had the right reader and confirmed that it was the same error that preceded the fuel pump problem, a Secondary Air Injector. An issue with Air is better than an issue with combustibles like Fuel or Oil. Secondary sounds less important than Primary. I correctly suspected it was an emission control issue. Pollution is bad, more pollution is worse, but at least in rural Washington counties like mine such issues can be handled with discretion rather than required to pass emission tests. They didn’t know how long it would take to fix, I had a talk to give, and I’d been wanting to tune up the truck anyway. They agreed that the truck could run the few extra miles to get me to and from my talk (Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland)Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland, that tuning up the truck would probably be a better improvement, and that they could check the emission controls while doing the tuneup.

The talk went better than I expected. Happy to do more about Scotland, Social Media, and Self-Publishing, but that’s another story.

A few days later I drove back to the shop and dropped it off, wondering how big the bill would be.

Today I got the news.

The tuneup was simple. A lot was done when the fuel pump was replaced. Then, they took on the obvious replacements like spark plug wires. Along the way they also cleared out the rat droppings, which I am hoping were there from its days as a ranch truck, blew out a plenum or two, and basically did spring cleaning for the engine.

Drumroll, but what about the yellow warning light? A vacuum hose popped off. That was it. A tiny little hose wasn’t injecting extra air into the exhaust. Instead, there was a little hole that was either sucking in or blowing out a tiny little bit of air. That was enough to trigger the light.

Too many of the warnings and cautions directed at us have valid reasons but heightened priorities. Service Engine Soon. Is that a demand, a legal requirement, a really good idea, or just something to get around to – or maybe even ignored?

One of the ways to understand how things are designed is to understand the incentives and motivations of the people involved.

  • A well-informed driver wants as much information as possible, the knowledge of what it all means, and the discretion to make independent judgments about the actions to take.
  • A designer interested in function might want the same thing, but is limited by the size of the dashboard.
  • A designer interested in form might want to only have enough displayed to please the driver, which for some people would only be a speedometer and a gas gauge.
  • Accountants want it made as cheaply as possible.
  • Lawyers are aware that in America’s litigious environment, someone can readily sue if they can blame an accident on not getting enough information, and there is no way to know which information would be considered critical some time later, so at least give them a warning that something is happening.

Except for the driver, all of them are paid to emphasize something besides the way I want to drive. I am an individual. They have to outguess the needs and wants of millions of individuals. It’s easier to be more concerned with what their boss is going to evaluate them against: regulatory compliance, internal design guides, budget, scheduling, corporate policies, and whether they work well with others. I want something they can’t readily deliver, a dashboard that tells me the information for normal operations, and a proper identification and perspective on anything that is abnormal. If a cylinder is going bad, which one is it, and how long before it goes from optimal to sub-optimal to degraded to repairable to requiring replacement to jump out of the vehicle because the engine is going to blow up. A tiny little yellow light could be hiding anything, and the most immediate action it can induce is anxiety.

Since my finances were hit by a Triple Whammy, warning lights are frequently set aside to join the others in Dammed Plans. Yes, there are things that should be done. Yes, fixing them sooner is better than fixing them later – except for the fact that in the sooner there isn’t enough money, and hopefully the money will arrive before the later.

I’m not alone with delaying things. Too many things like infrastructure, education, health care, and the environment have every shade of yellow and red lights blinking and flashing. We set too many aside because we devote the (frequently borrowed) money to fighting real and perceived enemies. I’m glad my warning light was so readily resolved, and that it happened at a time when a few hundred extra dollars were available. The remaining list costs more than the remaining funds, but I’ll judge priorities as funds arrive. Hopefully, we as a society, will be able to do the same and match resources to needs before problems become critical. If not, well, that’s another source of anxiety (and partly the inspiration for my other blog; PretendingNotToPanic.com, news for people who are eager and anxious about the future.)

Stay tuned.

PretendingNotToPanic.com

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Sad MVIS

Being a responsible investor/speculator means doing simple, sad, yet necessary things. MicroVision announced earnings today, typically underwhelmed the investment community, and had its stock (MVIS) drop over 8% – even though revenues were up 160%. Surprise!

Every year, this is going to be the year; but evidently, 2015 wasn’t the year and the suspicion is that 2016 won’t be either. 160% growth is made easy when you start from an uncomfortably small number. MicroVision, a $122M company made it all the way up to $9M in revenues – far below expenses.

The good news:

“MicroVision achieved 164 percent revenue growth in 2015 with more than $9 million in total revenue for the year”

The bad news:

Well, there really wasn’t any ‘bad’ news, but there was a lack of the expected good news: additional customers, product launches, revenue streams, collaborations. Evidently, people expected more.

MicroVision’s pico-projector technology has the potential to disrupt the industry, and may yet. The competitors are making progress. It is hard to keep up with the new products using embedded projectors. Some are impressively innovative, few incorporate MicroVision components – or, at least if they are doing so neither company is mentioning it.

An extra order or two, a reveal of MicroVision Inside some of the announced products, a next generation variant of an existing product, all were reasonable expectations. None arrived. I’m surprised the stock didn’t slide further; especially because it traded at four times normal volume.

The company is succeeding. They had $9M in revenues and a backlog plus cash of $18.9M. I haven’t heard about any layoffs. This is all much better than two years ago.

If the company was providing guidance of another 160% for 2016, that would make news; though at this point, management’s credibility is apparently waning. Outsiders expect obfuscation. Measured from where they were, they’re in much better shape. Measured against the competition and the NASDAQ listing requirements, there are reasons to be concerned.

One measure of any business expense is Return On Investment (ROI). If you spend $10 do you get $11 back? Does the investment at least match the stock market average return? Revenues are up, but have yet to catch expenses, and management is not providing guidance that the company will be profitable soon enough to forestall delisting, reverse splits, or dilution.

One numbers game I haven’t played yet is to take one particular expense, management compensation, apply a nominal 5% or 7% against the career total compensation of each manager, and calculate how much revenues will have to grow to warrant the salaries and benefits of the managers. Sad to say, but that is a business reality that should be considered.

I am discouraged by the earnings report. Aside from the 164% number, there was not much news. There was data, which is appreciated, but little of it was new. If MicroVision is eventually going to be as disruptive as suggested, then eventually one of these earnings reports or press releases will pleasantly surprise investors. Until then, we are speculators, trusting to a dream, hoping for news, looking to outside sources rather than inside officials for positive announcements.

MicroVision announced 164% increase in revenues, but evidently the measure was something else. Maybe that something else would’ve simply been news of the lifting of a disclosure, in which case the revenues wouldn’t change and wouldn’t matter. Maybe that something would’ve been reaching cash flow positive or even profitability because the company’s and the technology’s potential is that great. What I do know is that it didn’t happen today, I’ll continue to happen it is tomorrow, and hope I’m not trapped on that treadmill of tomorrow never comes.

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What Will I Talk About

My trip across Scotland was a wonderful, and very un-Hollywood, bit of travel across a country and through self-awareness. The trip is over, but the effects continue to change, and change me.

A Walk Across Scotland

Preparing for a talk. That’s how I am spending my Friday evening; and that’s good. I enjoy public speaking. Telling stories is fun; but learning what other people want to share or hear about is better. Saturday, March 5th, 2016 I’ll give a talk at the Edmonds Library about Walking Thinking Drinking Across ScotlandWalking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. Travel changes people, and a good trip inspires changes for years. A talk I gave after getting off the airplane has little to do with a talk I’ll give years later. It is now years later. I wonder what I’ll talk about.

When I say “I wonder what I’ll talk about” I’m not being facetious. I honestly don’t know. Tonight I am preparing the talk, getting the photos onto the new-ish computer (a Chromebook), pulling together the various things I carried that are now props for talks, watching the slideshow go by again…

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MicroVision And Catalysts

MicroVision could use a catalyst. As a startup company that is now old enough to drive, it has been accumulating a positive potential for over a decade. A year ago, I created a chart to try illustrating the specifics of that potential. It was something I did for myself, just to organize my thoughts and expectations; but it has grown beyond that and has become something I update and share. It is the simple sort of thing that communities can create together. Some people avoid investing in individual stocks because they feel it is too much work. Individual investors don’t have to be individuals, they, we, create communities that produce tools and analyses that the financial institutions and companies decide to not make time for. Just like the companies have catalysts that encourage their growth, we can produce catalysts for each other.

Most people don’t care about stocks. The folks that read my blog break into a few camps, each of which may tune out after they’re read the first line in the first paragraph. The investors don’t necessarily care about small town or island life. Frugal folk frequently prefer to spend their time on practical applications of living simply and on less money. My neighbors are necessarily interested in our neighborhood, whether that neighborhood is the planet, America, The Salish Sea and Puget Sound, Whidbey Island, the postal address that is Clinton, or the collection of houses that is Sandy Hook. I am interested in all of those topics, and I’m not the only person who has lots of overlaps. Quick judgments miss opportunities.

A lot and little has happened since I started tracking MicroVision’s catalysts. The company, MicroVision, has generated substantial revenue, lots of interest, plenty of prototypes and concepts, and has fallen short of expectations. The stock, MVIS, has barely budged relative to my valuation of it. Of my various Backup Plans, my portfolio is looking stronger, but is far from enabling me to live my dream as it has done at least twice. I’m living in the only place that’s felt like home. Unfortunately, even my frugal lifestyle is not sustainable. Fortunately, a small improvement in my fortunes would make it sustainable; and MVIS has to potential to create a large improvement in my fortunes.

IMG_0417If you’ve read this far but don’t know about MicroVision, read the posts tagged with MVIS to learn more. The short version is, MicroVision is enabling projectors that are so small that they can be as ubiquitous as the tiny cameras that have pervaded our electronics – and then do much more. Such small projectors have the capability to disrupt the smartphone market, the way smartphones disrupted the laptop market, the way laptops disrupted the desktop computer, the way desktop computers disrupted mainframes. That’s a nice potential.

A year ago, there were three expected products, all portable projectors that were about the size of smartphones. Celluon and Sony began selling them, and MicroVision benefited. Portable projectors the size of smartphones made for good news stories, but not for runaway sales. There were a few other devices for sale, like Head Up Displays, but they had a smaller effect.

Now, I’ve lost track of the expected products, had to rely on the Investor Village MVIS community for improvements to the chart, and had to leave off many potential products that are fascinating but possibly only experiments. The items on and off the list include:

  • personal robots (Sharp’s RoBoHoN, that is either a large smartphone or a small robot; Sony’s Agent, that is a more engaging competitor to Amazon’s Echo; and even a robot that is big enough and smart enough to notice you practicing yoga and then demonstrate the correct pose),
  • portable projectors that incorporate more onboard processing power and memory so you don’t to carry along a smartphone just to watch a movie,
  • household displays that allow movies or just information to be displayed without having to hang a big chunk of electronics on the wall,
  • a refrigerator (?!) that follows you around while carrying your beers and displaying your movie,
  • and the big one for me are the various eyewear options that advance past Google Glass, and are either competing with or part of things like Microsoft’s Hololens.

MVIS_Catalysts_022916At least four of those products are expected to be announced before the stockholders meeting which usually happens around June. If successful, each of them could positively catalyze the industry, the company, the stock, and my financial situation.

Change happens. Investing has passed from the era when there was some hope of stability, when holding stocks for years was common, when mature companies could be expected to grow at predictable rates with predictable dividends. The world is changing, and the change is accelerating. Being aware of that change, and preparing and investing accordingly, seems to me to be reasonable, rational, and responsible. Unfortunately, I have little, recent, quantifiable proof that my position is correct.

As many know, as a consultant I help entrepreneurs, artists, innovators, and passionate people with their projects. As one impressive consultant (Chris Thorsen) pointed out, I catalyze people’s concepts. I’m amazed and impressed with how many people have marvelous messages and ideas that are temporarily stalled by blind spots, lack of resources, or sometimes simply a need for encouragement. I truly enjoy providing the nudge or the shift in perspective that enables progress – and the world definitely needs progress, sustainable progress.

I look at MicroVision (and MVIS) and see a similar situation, a potentially great innovation that improves people’s experiences while using fewer resources; but that has been stalled by circumstances. Those circumstances may prove to be temporary; or even past, but the news hasn’t reached the public, yet. I don’t know if the product that enables MicroVision’s and MVIS’ success is displayed on my unofficial illustration; but I know that the potential is great enough that most frustrations can fade rapidly with one bit of news, one bit of a catalyst that precipitates out a celebratory success.

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Fear Is Expensive

 Fear is expensive. So is distrust. Hatred costs even more. Assuming nothing will ever break or go wrong isn’t cheap either; but at least you can feel better until it does. I produce a blog called Pretending Not To Panic, which is “news for people who are eager and anxious about the future.” As some say, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Within the last few months though, I’ve heard too much of the fear, distrust, and even some hate. It is sad to witness so many resources being diverted to destruction instead of construction. This blog’s goal is to help people with dreaming, investing, and living. That’s a lot more fun than nightmares, hoarding, and only considering surviving – and can be cheaper, too.

Back in the midst of ancient times, or at least in the 80s and 90s when I worked at Boeing, I had a tendency to tell management what I thought. As one co-worker put it, I “managed upwards.” He walked by one of my annual performance reviews. Rather than hear what I should do differently, he overheard me suggesting things the supervisor could do that would improve our performance, or at least mine.

During one phase of process improvement exercises, we were taught and told to document every office process. The groans were audible. But hey, the sooner we got it done, the quicker we could get back to engineering. As I wrote up outlines and drew up flowcharts, I noticed some trends:

1) The silly exercise taught me why so many tasks take longer and cost more than the original estimates (there are always more steps than you imagine.)
2) The silly exercise was ridiculous and a waste of time, until invariably finding one task that could be dramatically improved that would pay for all of the other wasted efforts (but it required practice and persistence to get that far.)
3) The silliest thing about the exercise was noticing how many of the steps in a task were there because the people ‘above’ didn’t trust the people ‘below’ (or flip the phrasing to the people who weren’t doing the work didn’t trust the people who were doing the work.)

Every level of management was another level of No. Trying to get a new idea approved meant getting a string of Yes without a single No. One No, one person who didn’t trust the people who were trying to improve things, was enough to stop progress. Doing things ‘the way we’ve always done them’ simply meant reusing a process that had managed to slip through years before, possibly only by luck. In the meantime, distrust added levels of approvals, dammed plans, and many missed opportunities.

It is easy to say no, to be against this or that, to keep doing things the same old way and to keep things from changing. If the world didn’t change, that attitude can succeed. The world is changing. Trying to make things the way they were before is futile.

The opposite approach has its issues, too. Assuming everything will always succeed is like driving around without paying attention to the gas gauge, the battery charge, or the energy left in the driver. Grand, passionate initiatives sometimes do succeed; but too many people expect to have their ideas adopted as pervasively as Steve Jobs’, Bill Gates’, and Jeff Bezos’. For every one of those successes, there are too many failed attempts to count.

Of course, part of the inspiration for this post is the political discourse that is impossible to ignore. Politicians employ hyperbole, at least in public. Things are either devastating or marvelous. The threats are going to be catastrophic, but the solutions are going to be infallible. They aim to elevate emotions, even though executing the responsibilities of office are ideally logical, rational, and realistic.

Part of the inspiration for this post is also from people talking about their personal finances. The economy is going to fall apart, and there’s nothing to do about it except hide the cash. The economy is going to reinvent itself, and the thing to do is abandon every connection with convention.

Whatever happens with the election, it is most likely to be a chaotic mix and mess. Americans have a history of accidentally dividing up the power so one party may rule one branch while the other party rules the other branch – and hopefully the Supreme Court doesn’t get too politicized. (Oops. So much for convention and nothing changing.)

Whatever happens to the economy, it is rarely a case that everyone suffers. Sadly, in our economic system suffering is too common. I’ve experienced some of that. At the same time, some people have succeeded spectacularly. (Go check the guest blog from Alan Beckley.)

DSC_5840There are topics that require consideration, reflection, and preparation. Fear, distrust, and hate are signs that emotions have overwhelmed reason. Earthquakes happen, so make an earthquake kit (or a tornado kit, or whatever kit) and then get back to living. Euphoria, elation, and exuberance are fun, but they too can be signs that emotions have overwhelmed reason.

For me, one of the most appealing aspects of our society is a very old convention that I hope doesn’t change: innocent until proven guilty. A more recent one: trust and verify. They share a common concept: assume the positive but be prepared for the negative. The data show that most people are good, and that assuming the best is worth more than the few times when the worst happens. Flipped around and money and time are spent defending against threats that are usually smaller than expected, resources that could be used for construction rather then destruction. It is true for our society, a country, and even for how people manage their time and money.

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Guest Post: Invention Success – What Happened Six Months Later – In 3 Easy Steps – Part 3

The following is a guest post from the inventor I mentioned in my Friendly Good News post: Alan Beckley. We happened to hire into Boeing within six months of each other in 1980 and had almost identical jobs (as seen from the outside, at least). We both left Boeing eventually, though at different times and for different reasons. We, like so many other people, are redefining our work selves, which is why I am posting his story here. Regular readers have witnessed my story. Here’s part III of III of his. (For more of his story, check out his blog for inventors; Ideaworth.


Invention Success: What Happened Six Months Later

In my second post, How I struck it Rich as an Inventor of a Sell On TV Product I described how my strong conviction – that my product should be a successful sell on TV product – paid off.

During a four-year period, I contacted all of the biggest players in the DRTV (Direct Response TV) business not once, but several times.

No one seemed particularly interested and I received countless rejections. With each new no, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach: perhaps my conviction that this product was perfect for DRTV was wrong and all of my nay-sayers were right.

Finally, in what I considered my last attempt, I found a champion for my cause, Bob Greenstone. Bob did what it took to put together a deal with Allstar Products, a large DRTV company. Allstar got behind Wonder Wallet in a big way: with tons of TV commercials and a huge push into retail stores across the US and Canada. Wonder Wallet has been a phenomenal success for Allstar Products and for me.

 

Six Months Later

Now, I want to discuss what has happened since I began collecting large royalty checks; what I have done during the last six months, how my life has been transformed by this financial windfall.

Often such tales of “sudden” success end badly with wasted potential, poor choices, and terrible consequences. Fortunately, that has not been my experience.

I have had many long car trips over the last five years and lots of time to think about what I would do if I ever achieved meaningful success. A very clear vision emerged for me: I would pay off all my debts – personal and business. I would once again set aside money for investments for the future.

Last but not least, I would do what I had longed to do but never could seem to manage: I would devote a significant portion of every royalty check directly to charity. I wanted to do what I could do to help those less fortunate than me. I had always managed to do what had to be done for me and for my children over the years, but, at the end of every month, there never seemed to be anything “left over” to help the neediest in our society. The needy certainly deserve a lot more than what is left over.

So, let’s look at the bottom line: how have I done during the last 6 months on my three key goals:

  • Pay off all my debts: business and personal:
    • Personal debts were paid off in December, business debts will be paid off in April
  • Set aside money for investments for the future:
    • Investments will begin in April
  • Devote a significant amount of every royalty check directly to charity, those in need:
    • Last month, I gave more to charity than my gross income when I was a project manager in telecom, it feels good to help those most in need.

Six months later, my life is transformed.

I no longer work 7 days per week, 16 hours per day. Often, what I do during a day – working out, running errands, dreaming up new products – looks nothing like what most people define as work. I now have the independence to use my time as I choose.

I do now what I only dreamed about for the last 15 years: I use my time and my resources in pursuit of what really matters to me. Naturally I am working on new products to keep my business on track and moving forward.

But now my success directly translates every day into also helping those who are less fortunate than I. That just seems right to me; and, after all these years, it feels very good.

It feels that I am doing something that truly matters.

Life is good.

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HitRecord And Illustrating Wealth Inequality

Last night’s class ended with my common refrain; “The most powerful tool we have is each other.” The class was part of a series I am teaching about Social Media for Writers. Rather than stand up there and pretend that I am some exalted expert, I try to show folks that the best way to learn about social media is to be social. We can do much more together, including learning – but also, creating. This morning, a friend passed along a link for an organization built around that idea of crowd collaboration. I’ve decided to listen to my own advice and dive in. Welcome to Day 1 of my involvement with HitRecord.

We’re a new kind of online community working together as a production company” – HitRecord.org

The intro video that my friend shared on Facebook talked about something I’ve frequently experienced. Creative people can have great ideas that almost, but not quite succeed. So many ideas require more skills than one person can embody. Even Michelangelo and Leonardo had help. (I’m talking about the people from the Renaissance, not the Ninja Turtles – but they had each other, too. Those graphics are probably locked down by copyright, though.) The idea for the site is to collect ideas, talent, skills, energy, resources, and enthusiasm to create and complete projects that might not be possible within one person’s community. Reach out and mix, and watch what happens. No guarantees.

The frugal part of me appreciates the possibilities. An author can have a marvelous story and beautiful writing, but have no idea about how to design a book cover. A videographer may capture phenomenal footage, but is stymied by the sound track. How many ideas have you had that were one person shy of something wonderful? (Helping such people catalyze their creations is one of my joys as a consultant.)

About a month ago, several of us tried to find a way to illustrate the amazing wealth disparity revealed by Oxfamwealth inequality. Half of the world’s wealth resides with only 62 people. To some people, that’s an abstract statement best addressed by ideology. To me, it is a quantifiable warning sign of an unstable economic system. We tried for days and came across a revelation; “The very fact that this is beyond some of our technological limits is a message –“ Displaying the wealth inequality would require wealth. We came up with a idea for one print that would represent the imbalance between one of the ultra-rich and the millions of people that would be required to match that one person’s wealth. Printing the image would cost millions of dollars. Only the rich can demonstrate how rich they are.

Maybe there’s another way.

1) 17:20 Go to HitRecord.org
2) 17:20 Join
3) 17:21 Fill in username and password and read the shortest terms and conditions I’ve ever seen and prove I’m not a robot.
4) 17:23 Waiting for the confirmation email.
5) 17:23 Realizing I’ve set up yet another online account.
6) 17:24 I’m in! And they don’t like my browser, but I can go ahead anyway while experiencing a “degraded” experience. I’m betting that they’ll upgrade eventually. If not, I’ll do the rest on my Chromebook.
7) 17:25 Time to explore.
8) 17:27 Out of 16 interests, I’ve picked 6 to emphasize: Writing, Photography, Voice Acting (which I hope is like voice-overs), plus the 3 that they selected somehow: Video Q&As, Interviews, and Curation. I suspect I can change these later.
9) 17:29 Get Started! which is slightly delayed because I am documenting the process.
10) 17:30 The first thing they direct me to is the page of featured challenges, opportunities to collaborate.
11) 17:31 Some interesting possibilities that I can already contribute to; but first, follow them on Twitter: @hitRECord.
12) 17:33 Cool. Great. Nice stuff, but I want to create. How do I do that?
13) 17:34 Can’t figure out all the icons; so, when in doubt, fill out my profile.
14) 17:39 Enough frivolity. Back to work.
15) 17:39 Hit the big red circle and see what happens. Ta da! That’s where I can issue a challenge; i.e. suggest a project.
16) 17:40 Evidently, the button for creating a project makes me a producer. A new resume line?
17) 17:42
Displays of Extreme Wealth Inequality
Accurately displaying the world’s extreme weath inequality requires extremes only the rich can afford. Let’s show the world the reality. (Has to be under 140 characters, Twitter’s influence pervades.)
18) 17:46 Benefit from my previous blog post and copy&paste to create a description;
Wealth inequality is so staggering that the nearest analogy are astronomical numbers, and astronomical numbers are so hard to grasp that most folks don’t worry about them.  Oxfam released their annual wealth inequality report. As of the end of 2015, 62 people own as much wealth as half the population of the planet. The trend has (oops, typo) is a worry for people’s lives and the global economy. There are several representations of the previous years’ situations, but they are already out of date, and the extreme nature of the situation has become literally unimaginable. Our brains don’t deal well with vastly different numbers and tend to slip from reality into abstraction. Unfortunately, there are real world implications and they are manifesting faster than many of the other global issues.
The longer version of the discussion is over on my blog: https://trimbathcreative.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/extreme-displays-of-wealth-inequality/
19) 17:51 Issue a challenge.
20) 17:53 Or not. Evidently, I have to “Add at least 1 Challenge to take Live”; which sounds like an appropriate reciprocal effort – and may also create a significant delay.
21) 17:55 Or not. How do I add a challenge?
22) 17:56 Hello, Help.
23) 17:58 Help makes it sound like I did everything I was supposed to do. Evidently, not. Random poking around will commence.
24) 18:00 Okay, let’s try issuing a Challenge from scratch via a new window I found. Glad I copied and pasted.
25) 18:03 Add tags: infographic, infographics, meme, printable, print, graphic art
26) 18:05 No deadline, though within the next few months would be good because a year from now the numbers will have changed again.
27) 18:06 Not sure what else to add; so, Issue Challenge! & Challenge Created!
28) 18:07 I have no idea what to expect from here; so, I’ll leave the window up, take a short break, and then get back to finishing the blog post if nothing has happened.

It’s Friday evening, almost dinnertime. In less than an hour, I was able to take a stalled concept and move it onto a new playing board. Maybe it goes nowhere. Maybe this is the way to find a solution. I’ll post updates if there’s any progress. There’s an appropriateness to using crowdsourcing to illustrate wealth inequality. Can a crowd create a pervasive illustration that would cost millions otherwise? Do they even care? Am I using an awesome tool for the wrong purpose? It wouldn’t be the first time a screwdriver was used as a hammer.

Amongst the worrying nature of the world, I am encouraged by the reality that one of the growing trends is based on collaboration, cooperation, sharing, and equality. If this project was to somehow also make money, the participants have a chance of getting paid. So far, the site has paid out about $1.6M to individuals. That’s not the goal of my project or challenge; but as time allows, I hope to help others for the fun of it and possibly for some financial benefit. If a site like this produces the next hit indie movie, bestselling book, viral video, or something unimaginable yet profitable, then it was probably worth the effort.

Power and money are seen as synonymous. We may be in an era when that notion has been amplified and is being challenged. Can crowds successfully compete against conventional organizations? Some say yes. Some simply scoff. I suspect there will be a mix of the two because the old ways are looking unstable, but the new ways haven’t proved themselves to be sustainable. It may take years to prove if the instabilities were temporary or catastrophic. It will take years, and maybe generations, to prove if a new system is sustainable. The good news is that we can try now, find out for ourselves, and maybe challenge old ideas with new.

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Shifting Silly Plans

Ignore the calendar. Spring is here. My potatoes and garlic told me so. So did the skunk cabbage. I don’t know who or what to thank or blame, but in my pantry and outside potatoes and garlic are sending out shoots. On a run the other day I saw my first skunk cabbage of the year. Plans are necessary, but when opportunity shows up action is required. Otherwise, good things go to waste.

Do not come to me for great gardening advice. Anything I plant or am given to water gets an apology from me first. Others produce amazing produce with very little time and effort. I tried. The slugs, bunnies, and deer enjoyed my projects. And yet, some things grow despite my efforts. I won’t get in their way, and even give them a bit of encouragement – followed by yet another apology.

The frugal side of me wants to produce produce. Food grown at home has a lot of advantages: as organic as I can make it, readily available, supposedly sustainable, good emergency preparedness, and an excuse and reason to get away from the computer. After a few decades of trying, all I’ve managed to somewhat reliably produce are potatoes and surprises. I can’t even get zucchini to grow faster than the critters can eat it; but, somehow I’ve grown figs, apples, a few berries, tomatoes, peppers, ginger, and lots of herbs. Considering the price per pound for some of those, that’s a good deal.

DSC_6306It is February 16th, more than a month from the first day of Spring. I’ve been busy with my clients, my classes, and my talks. Carving out a bit more time to take on another project, an outdoor project, seemed silly. Then, I opened the pantry. The garlic was growing. The potato bin had a few spikes popping up. They wanted to grow, and weren’t waiting for me; but were seeking sunshine, water, and soil. In a bit of a frantic dash, I pulled them together, collected some paper tubes I’d saved as starter pots, and planted them before the sun went down. I have no idea if any of them will grow, but they’ll have a better chance outside with Nature tending them.

The idea didn’t seem so silly after I realized that the places I wanted to plant them already had volunteers breaking through.

Seattle has been warm and wet after being warm and cold. According to a tweet from the National Weather Service, “All-time wettest Dec-Feb for Seattle was 1998/99 with 22.77 inches. This winter so far 22.19 in.” Maybe El Nino made it happen. Something was different, and my plans of pruning during a cold snap, enriching the compost with egg shells, building up weed barriers, and establishing protective netting were superseded by Nature and reality.

I help people make plansDSC_6141. As a friend and fellow consultant put it, I catalyze their passions into actions. Step one: learn about the explicit goal. Step two: uncover the implicit goal. Step three: build a plan that gets from here to there, wherever there is. Step four: begin executing the plan. Step five: watch reality change everything. Step six: change, shift, adapt, and continue with a new plan. It is a process that can seem silly; but unless you find a reason and a method for taking that first step you’ll have a tough time making any progress. Without developing a plan and failing, it is difficult to succeed. That’s true in projects, investing, almost any human endeavour.

Ask most artists. They have a vision and an intent, but the characters in a story rewrite the story, the lighting or the subject’s attitude shifts a photograph, imperfections in raw materials redirect a sculpture, an audience redirects a performance.

When I started writing Just Keep PedalingJust Keep Pedaling, I intended to write a simple travelogue. After the World Trade Center tragedy, my book became a comparison of pre- and post-9/11 America. Now, I realize that a rewrite could focus on issues of personal body image or American self-esteem.

The world is in accelerating change. Election cycles, political responsibilities, climate change, inequalities, technological advancements, and financial upsets are all active and increasingly intertwined. Several governments are frantically trying to adapt to plunging oil prices, and therefore plunging revenues, which are causing backlashes against austerity, while renewable energy redefines industries and jobs, as coastal communities are having to evacuate their towns. The issues can’t stand still because their neighbors will jostle them as well.

I’ve considered holding a salon of sorts in my house; just a gathering of friends who are aware of more than three issues at a time. This year is already overwhelming and we’re barely a tenth of the way through it. From the time I planned it until now, a US Supreme Court Justice had died and a replacement must be selected, Japan’s central bank has joined European central banks in charging negative interest rates, we’ve detected gravity waves, a country’s electrical grid was hacked, and an armed insurrection arise and fell within the United States. (Those and more are collected on PretendingNotToPanic.com

#PNTP

#PNTP

.)

And yet, it is good to have a plan. Otherwise, it is too easy to stand still forever, letting uncertainty create inaction, and never making progress.

In less than an hour at dusk, I planted about a dozen potatoes, found a few more, set some garlic in the ground, and was surprised that mushrooms planted a year or so ago may be fruiting. I didn’t expect that, but if that’s what’s happening I have plans for steak and mushrooms, omelets, salads, soups, pizzas – unless something changes my plans.

An unexpected mushroom?

An unexpected mushroom?

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