Monday, September 28, 2009

Serenity Now.

Recently I have come under attack for my iPhone addiction. "He never puts his phone down; it's become an extension of his hand."

Interestingly enough, until I purchased the iPhone, I never even carried a cell phone. I hated the distraction and resented its intrusion into my private life. But the iPhone isn't a cell phone, it is a lifeline. It doesn't bind me, it frees me. So here goes:

My name is Jim, and I am an iPhone addict. I have been addicted for nearly a year.

Phew, I feel better just saying that. For me, it is all about the connection and utility. I am constantly in touch with the people I care about – by voice, text and photo/video. And I am constantly engaged in educational and/or entertainment utilities – news apps, game apps, reference apps, learning apps, music apps, lifestyle apps, business apps, e-commerce apps, social networking apps and silly toy apps.

And the best part? Almost all the apps I use and love are free. The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC News, The Weather Channel, The Sporting News, ESPN Sports Center... they are all free. Instant Messaging, Twitter, Safari, Google, Skype... all free. Maps, Stocks, Contacts, Notes, Google Earth, Clock, Calendar, Calculator, Thesaurus, LogYourRun... free. YouTube, iTunes, iPod, Pandora, iHeartRadio, AOL Radio, NPR, Shazam... free. Word Warp, Word Ace, Hangman, TicTacFree, Pac-Man, Solitaire, DoodleBuddy... no charge. Text, Phone, E-Mail, Camera, Voice Memos, TV Guide... standard. And there is more.

Talk about disruptive innovation, this baby is the poster child.

Of course, one can pay as much as $1000 for an app. But to date, I have not spent a dime. Apparently I am in the early stages of my addiction... or I am simply cheap.

One thing that is certain: I am a shameless and unrepentant shill for the iPhone. It's not perfect – reception could be better (thank you AT&T), the screen gets smudged too easily (and I am OC about that) and it has turned haters against me (mostly jealous people) – but until something better comes along, this is as good as it gets.

Serenity now. Insanity later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Please Excuse This Commercial Disruption.

Clayton Christensen coined the term "Disruptive Innovation" more than a decade ago to describe the process whereby a new product or service takes root and displaces its established competitors (cell phones disrupting fixed line phones for example). Get it? It's an innovation that disrupts.

However, the process of disruptive innovation has been around for as long as the planet itself. It is a kind of intelligent or human evolution (think speciation). Except with disruptive innovation, we are talking about products or services created by humans.

It is, to say the least, an interesting concept. After all, who doesn't want to create a new product or service that displaces an already popular product or service. Consider the profit potential. There's just one hitch, you can plan disruptive innovation, but you have no way of knowing if it will work. There are just too many random variables that can impact on your plan. On the flip side, the U.S. Patent Office is filled with innovations designed to disrupt and displace, but that never made it beyond the planning stages.

Disruptive innovation references a natural progressive evolution. Take the Internet for example, which has succeeded in disrupting and displacing dozens of products and technologies and changing the world in the process. When Al Gore created the Internet back in the late 1960s, it connected only a handful of computers. At the time, no one envisioned or predicted its eventual impact... anymore than they could have foreseen the popularity of Pet Rocks in the mid-70s or of Beanie Babies in the early 90s.

These are things that happen and that people recognize after the fact.

The idea of building a better mouse trap and having the world beat a path to your door is nearly a century old (See Ralph Waldo Emerson) and alludes to two critical disruptive innovation points:

1. If your mouse trap is better (innovative)...
2. Then there must already be a mouse trap that you are planning to displace (disruptive).

And the assumption is "because your mouse trap is better, the world will embrace it."

Yeah. Tell that to Howard Hughes and his Spruce Goose. Or to Dean Kamen and his Segway. Or to Steven Jobs and his NeXT Computer. Or Bill Gates and his Windows ME software. Despite being among the greatest innovators of the 20th century, they often got it wrong.

So, here it is: Innovation – in and of itself – is a laudable goal and endeavor. And if the innovation happens to disrupt the marketplace, then all the better, as it is obviously something the marketplace has been waiting for.

But if you are expending energy hoping to predict or event create the next disruptive idea (in the words of Pinky and the Brain: to take over the world), you might be better served dropping quarters into a slot machine at the Mirage. The odds of winning are better and the drinks are free.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The American Dream vs. The American Scheme.

In "An American Tail", Papa Mousekewitz shares with his wife the wonders and promise of America:

Papa Mousekewitz: In America, there are mouse holes in every wall.
Mama Mousekewitz: Who says?
Papa Mousekewitz: Everyone. In America, there are bread crumbs on every floor.
Mama Mousekewitz: You're talking nonsense!
Papa Mousekewitz: In America, you can say anything you want, but most important - and this I know for a fact - in America, there are no cats.

But as we all know, there are cats in America, and the streets are not paved with cheese. However, the freedom and opportunity to pursue one's dreams – whatever they are – remain the cornerstone of our great nation.

Unfortunately there are some in America (and always have been) who could fairly be accused of pursuing their dreams via schemes.

USA Today reported this morning that the Goldman Sachs pursuit of the American dream is raising eyebrows:

Goldman's profits stand in sharp contrast to what the rest of the country is facing, hobbled with hundreds of thousands of job losses each month and hundreds of businesses shuttering on Main Street. Goldman also set aside $11.4 billion in the first half of this year for compensation and benefits for its employees, a 33% increase from last year. At a time when there has been intense focus on bankers' compensation, including congressional hearings, Goldman's decision has been hard to swallow on Main Street.

On the one hand, this seems mighty glutenous. On the other hand – and in complete fairness to Goldman – it was one of the first investment firms to reimburse the government in full, paying back the $10 billion it had borrowed, plus interest.

So, what's really at play here? Clearly, Goldman Sachs - at least under the reign of CEO Lloyd Blankfein - is no Bailey Building & Loan Association. But neither is Blankfein Mr. Henry F. Potter. In point of fact, one might suggest that he is a poster child of the American dream; the son of a postal worker who attended public school, made good and grabbed hold of the brass ring.

Perhaps the real problem is that we are no longer living in Frank Capra's America, whose films tout the basic goodness of human nature and show the value of unselfishness and hard work. According to one source, "His wholesome, feel-good themes have led some to call his Capra-corn, but those who hold his vision in high regard prefer the term Capraesque."

Regardless, it is clear we're not living in Bedford Falls any longer, and we are painfully aware the streets of America are not paved with cheese... or gold. But isn't it possible for this story to still have a happy ending?

If Tony Mousekewitz and George Bailey can figure it out, perhaps the rest of us can too. In the words of Clarence Oddbody (Angel Second Class), "Each man's life touches so many other lives." Perhaps for just one day we can all set aside our goals for world domination and lend a helping hand to someone in need.

What's the worst that could happen?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Healthcare Plan.

According to a new survey from Mintel, most Americans think they are healthier than they actually are. Or looked at from a different point-of-view, most Americans are not as healthy as they think they are.

For example, the CDC says more than two-thirds (67%) of Americans suffer from or have been diagnosed as obese or overweight (a primary cause of many health issues). Yet only 25% of the survey respondents say they fall into either of these categories. Mintel calculated the body mass index (BMI) of survey respondents for a separate report on obesity and confirmed the CDC's findings that 65 percent of people are overweight or obese.

There are a couple of possible explanations:

1. A lot of overweight or obese Americans are in denial.

2. Overweight or obese Americans have much higher self-esteem than might be expected.

3. There is some disagreement about what constitutes "overweight or obese."

Of course, obesity is not our only problem. The leading causes of death in America - heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, diabetes, alzheimers and the flu - are brought about by faulty genes, bad driving, drug overdoses, tobacco inhalation, overdrinking alcohol, slipping in the bathtub, leading a sedentary lifestyle and hundreds of other actions.

And unfortunately a huge number of Americans with these medical conditions (causes of death) are not properly (if ever) treated because they either don't have insurance or their insurance is inadequate to cover medical care costs. Depending upon who you believe, the numbers are anywhere between 20 and 100 million uninsured Americans at any given time.

I would like to suggest - avoiding the insurance issue for the moment - that what America really needs is a National Well & Fitness Plan that actually treats the cause and not the symptoms of our crisis by helping us to get educated, exercise more, eat smarter and live healthier. At the foundation of my NWF Plan is a FREE membership in government-approved fitness centers. Of course there are strings attached to this voluntary program:

• Mandatory initial and annual health screening and stress test conducted by a physician (documenting statistics and health issues) as a precursor to using the membership.
• Mandatory nutritional education by a licensed dietician, requiring participants to commit themselves to healthier shopping, cooking and eating. Also a precursor to using the membership.
• Mandatory, monthly health and fitness programming by a certified physical trainer as an ongoing requirement of using the membership.

Now, I know what your thinking: "If all Americans simply inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce..."

Frankly, I don't care. Consider for just a moment that if just 5% of Americans took advantage of this government-sponsored program and they all got healthier, we would have more than 16 million people who would be less reliant on health care and, therefore, insurance.

And just in case you think I am eating too many Cheetos, remember that more is spent on health care in the United States on a per capita basis than in any other nation in the world. So if the cost for health care per person is more than $7,500 (and it is) and each one of my 16 million healthier Americans now requires a thousand dollars less in health care services, then my new NWF Plan saved quite a few dollars, didn't it?