Tuesday, September 18, 2018


How Apple Plays the Price Game
The XS is the season's gotta-have gadget. Except that you really don't need it. The company is brilliant at adding features without much function and charging a premium for them. In other words, this is a sucker's game.

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

Christmas came early this year, which is not very good news for the toy makers, whose businesses and sales are still pretty much in the toilet across the board. And here's the thing: the toymakers can blame technology all they want and complain about all the kids with their noses glued to the screens. But they're pointing to the wrong part of the problem. It's not that the kids aren't excited about getting a pile of new presents; it's that their parents are much more concerned with buying the new and very expensive "tech toys" for themselves. Let the kids wait until December; the starting gun for their parents' shopping sprees is the annual Apple announcement of the latest and greatest new phones and watches. And this year's race is on. 

Once again, Apple is leading the charge toward the inevitable cliff's edge in a breathtaking game of "consumer chicken" that would scare even Evel Knievel if he were still around. Just how high can these prices go for no good reason? Apparently, at least for the moment, there's no end in sight. This reminds me of the early days of the Intel Pentium chips when new chips kept rolling out even though the alleged incremental benefits in speed and processing power weren't apparent to most humans--at least none that I knew. Of course, that didn't keep the geeks (and anyone not on a budget) from upgrading to the newest versions-- see it, need it -- or not. In fact, this dependable and consistent buyer response (a market-driven version of the Moore's law belief that things just keep getting better and more powerful) set the behavior curve for the tech industry and its customers for years thereafter. Honestly, things aren't that much different even today.

Mom and Dad don't care about cornering the market for Bobby or Betty on this year's Beanie Babies. They'd rather brag to their neighbors and their carpool cronies about their new giant iPhone XS MAX with a new Series 4 Apple Watch on the side. Apple can try all they want to call this monster the "X-S", but what leaps immediately into your head is "EXCESS" and that says it all. Big dollars, big size, wretched excess at its finest. However, knowing that this gotta-have behavior makes no economic sense and keeping yourself from falling once again into Cupertino's clutches are two radically different things.

In the old days, we used to complain about planned obsolescence in the auto industry; then we witnessed the same thing in the mobile phone world when our phones' performance suspiciously degraded right before new devices rolled out.  Apple has also mastered the art of foolish functionality. The Watch is already approaching a level of complexity (like any other over-engineered product) where most of the embedded functions are unknown to most mortals and basically unusable by the vast majority of the users. The additional 8 or 9 features that are displayed on the face of the new Watch are called "complications." A complication is a traditional watchmaker's term for an added feature, but in this case it's more like unintended irony. And the beat goes on. We're buying into the new stories against our better judgment and even when we know that the things are no great shakes and not really doing the jobs that we need done.    

And, the really sad thing - particularly about the Watch with all its new bells and whistles - is that the battery life still basically sucks. How about fixing what's not working every once in a while instead of adding more battery-sucking functions that no one asked for. What good is a tracking device of any kind (especially one that's increasingly positioned as a medical management tool) if you can't count on it to last the whole business day and when you have to take the thing off every night and recharge it? Makes it a little bit challenging to measure your sleeping behavior if your Watch is sleeping beside you on the bed stand. I wrote about this angst a while ago and things haven't changed a bit. If your tracker isn't tracking, what's the whole point?  

Bottom line: No matter how much steak sauce you put on a hot dog, it's still a wiener.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Technori Takes Equity Investment to Launch Technori Co-op

Technori Takes Equity Investment to Launch Technori Co-op, a Non-Traditional Startup Incubator Focused on Disrupting how Startups are Launched and Funded
DV Partners, led by SMS Assist Founder and Chairman Mike Rothman, today announced a seven figure investment in Chicago's largest and most active startup platform, Technori. The funds will be used to expand its successful podcast show and event series, and to launch Technori Co-op, an entirely new startup incubator and investment platform.

"Nothing is more important to the growth and health of a startup community than the people who work tirelessly to identify, connect and positively promote the key players,"
DV Partners, led by SMS Assist Founder and Chairman Mike Rothman, today announced a seven figure investment in Chicago's largest and most active startup platform, Technori. The funds will be used to expand its successful podcast show and event series, and to launch Technori Co-op, an entirely new startup incubator and investment platform.
Technori helps startups gain traction by engaging with thousands of would-be investors, customers, and commercial partners such as, MB Real Estate, Bank of America, and Salesforce, through highly curated events and media. The Startup Showcase is one of the largest quarterly tech events in the U.S, and the first ever to allow attendees to invest directly in the presenting startups, via an exclusive partnership with Title III equity crowdfunding platform, Republic. Technori is also the creator of Chicago's most popular tech podcast and live radio show, hosted by its CEO Scott Kitun on WGN Radio.
To date, Technori has helped hundreds of companies raise more than $1 billion in venture capital and connect with thousands of first employees and customers by featuring founders on-stage at Showcase events, and in-studio at WGN Radio.
"Nothing is more important to the growth and health of a startup community than the people who work tirelessly to identify, connect and positively promote the key players," former 1871 CEO and current Illinois Tech Kaplan Institute Executive Director Howard Tullman said. "Scott has been one of the most important, consistent and valuable contributors to the tech scene in more ways and for more years than he's willing to admit and it's a big part of Chicago's success."
Rothman's investment in Technori is about accelerating and supporting Technori's mission of building the largest and most diverse tech community in the world, but it's also about helping startups gain access to strategic capital and connections - something Rothman has plenty of experience with.
As former CEO of SMS Assist, Mike Rothman raised several hundred million dollars for the company - at over a billion dollar valuation - from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Chicago-based Pritzker Group, among others.
"Technori has done an incredible job of providing founders like myself with exposure. But, there's a huge opportunity to make an even bigger impact on the startup community," Rothman said. "That's why I've partnered with Scott to extend the Technori services model to introduce the most innovative early stage incubation tool, called Technori Co-op."
Technori Co-op is an investment model that provides early-stage companies access to capital, board support and strategic advisory while enabling the founders to own a stake in the portfolio.
"We work to democratize how startups are launched and funded by allowing founders to use our exposure to equity crowdfund," says Technori CEO Scott Kitun. "The Co-op takes the best of those founders and gives them access to some of the most successful entrepreneurs and investors our tech community has to offer."
Initial Co-op advisors include, Lightbank Managing Partner Vic Pascucci, Blue1647 founder Emile Cambry, and Fanatics VP of Engineering Nate Lyman, among other influential tech leaders.
"Scott and Mike are visionaries. How this democratizes the startup process is incredible and I'm excited to be a part of it," said Pascucci.
"DV Partners has already made significant investments in tech startups, such as DumbstruckResidential Homes Group (RHG), and Theron Technology Solutions(TTS). And I'm sure whether we invest through DVP or launch a Technori Fund; we plan to deploy a lot more capital into disruptive technology companies," said Rothman. "But, speaking as a founder, the most valuable commodity is information - and we plan to use that to grow the value of our Co-op companies immediately."
TTS builds enterprise technology solutions that identify and improve operational efficiencies; founded by former SMS Assist Chief Product Officer Alex Rothman, Theron will also be participating in the Technori Co-op to provide portfolio companies with tech support.
"I learned very early on at SMS, it's not how fast you can build something, but how accurately you align it with a Go-To-Market strategy," said Alex Rothman. "Theron is here to share our industry expertise and offer founders what they'll need to build at scale."
According to Kitun, "this investment not only enables us to enter new markets and introduce the Technori Co-op, but also significantly grow our team, and develop the technology necessary to better reach our growing target audience."
For more information about applying for Technori Co-op, visit Technori.com, or follow and message directly through Facebook.
Technori will now host its premier Startup Showcase events quarterly, with monthly lunch and learn workshops and founder's dinners - with an eye on expanding into new markets with pop-up events in 2019.

Clean tech hub takes shape on Chicago’s South Side

Clean tech hub takes shape on Chicago’s South Side

Construction is underway on a plan to turn Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood into a ‘smart-tech innovation district.’
Two years after an ambitious clean energy campaign was announced for a South Side Chicago neighborhood, construction is moving forward on a clustered microgrid, a solar energy project at an affordable housing complex and a university-led clean tech center.
In 2016, the nonprofit Community Development Partnership announced acampaign to turn the Bronzeville neighborhood into a sustainable destination hub. The aim is to boost tourism and develop local black-owned businesses by partnering  with ComEd, Illinois Institute of Technology, and other clean energy businesses.
ComEd’s microgrid, which faced criticism over costs from the Illinois attorney general, will help form the first utility-scale clustered microgrid in the country with help from the Illinois Institute of Technology. A sun-tracking “smartflower” at the Renaissance Collaborative, an affordable housing center in Bronzeville, is awaiting an installation permit.
Also, the Community Development Partnership is providing input on  redevelopment plans at the old lakefront site of Michael Reese Hospital, a decade-long project expected to create 24,000 jobs and generate more than $520 million in property taxes and $164 million in sales taxes. The site in Bronzeville is being repurposed as a transportation logistics center with potential commercial tech space.
For Paula Robinson, who leads the Community Development Partnership, the work of turning Bronzeville into a center of clean energy technology is all about building on the rich history of the neighborhood.
“At this point, we have all these components and pieces coming together,” Robinson said. “We have stepped out to show that Bronzeville will be Chicago’s smart-tech innovation district.”
She sees her work in clean energy as building on the legacy of the neighborhood.
“We are definitely on this journey together,” she said of the community. “We’ve been talking about the neighborhood as a black metropolis, a National Heritage Area.”
During much of the 20th Century, Bronzeville was a center of African American culture and business in Chicago during an era when redlining and other government policies kept black residents from accessing all neighborhoods.
At a recent event updating the community on the campaign, Howard Tullman, director of IIT’s new innovation institute, shared a vision for the Kaplan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, a facility that will be completed this fall and will be the site of classes, workshops, and collaborations between technology professionals, students, and faculty.
“We are the only tech-centric university in the city, and we are really in the heart of the city,” Tullman said. “Building this project here was really important because we are going to be training people for careers that don’t exist yet, using technology that we will invent here. It will address problems that we think we understand, but also problems that we don’t yet know.”
Microgrid moves forward
For ComEd, the Bronzeville project is partly about leveraging smart grid infrastructure that has been built throughout the region since 2012. ComEd president and chief operating officer Terence Donnelly wrote last month that Bronzeville has undergone “one of the most robust grid modernizations programs in the nation.”
He added ComEd is “intent on building upon the strength of the stronger, more flexible smart grid platform that has dramatically enhanced reliability and customer satisfaction.”
In late June, the utility broke ground and began laying conduit that will eventually connect the microgrid to the ComEd system. The Illinois Commerce Commission approved the $25 million project in February following criticism from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office that it was too costly for ratepayers.
ComEd and clean energy groups argued the microgrid is an important, real-world look into the benefits integrating two microgrids. The utility developed a custom software so its new microgrid will be able to communicate with the existing microgrid at IIT. The goal is to optimize the use of clean energy resources in Bronzeville, while improving efficiency and resiliency.
During emergencies and outages, clustering the microgrids will help to identify the critical load, according to Mohammad Shahidehpour, a chairman in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of IIT.
By clustering, we can island the microgrid on the campus,” he said. “By islanding it, we are in charge of our destiny. We can find out what is critical and can keep it on.” 

New INC Magazine Post: How Rahm Emanuel Made Chicago Thrive

How Rahm Emanuel Made Chicago Thrive
The best big-city mayor in the country shocked the Windy City by announcing that he won't run for a third term. The business community is losing a gamechanger.

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

Last week Chicago lost a great mayor as well as the most aggressive spokesman ever for the city's tech and entrepreneurial community when Rahm Emanuel-- the best big city mayor in the country, bar none--announced that he would not run for a third term. Good news for him and his family and really hard news for the city. Family first. Period. 

In his brief announcement, and in the comments and interviews that followed, he offered some important lessons for us, and especially for the pack of losers who had already lined up to run against him. If it wasn't so sad for Chicago, it would be comical watching these one-issue, nichy little nobodies gripe, posture and position themselves as hopefuls and aspirants to a position many miles beyond their abilities. Imagine seeing a group of 10thgrade Pony league pitchers trying to throw shade at one of the MLB pros. If you want to beat Babe Ruth, play him in golf, not baseball.

How painfully easy it is for the challengers to complain and criticize from the sidelines.  I call these people solution-less soreheads. And considering that most of them are presently gainfully unemployed, I'm reminded of the old crew expression that the only one in the boat who has the time to complain is the one who isn't rowing hard enough. I'd feel sorry for most of them because of how sadly deluded they are, but their rank arrogance in thinking that even for a moment any one of them is up to the task makes it hard to sympathize with their stupidity.

The media mavens and the other scriveners realized (grudgingly admitted, is a better way to put it) that a tremendous amount of important work got done in the last seven years and that most of it wouldn't have been accomplished without the pushing, prodding, pleading and insistence of the mayor. Substantial improvements in affordable housing, expanded access to public transportation, and the conversion of the Chicago river from a sewer to the spectacular Riverwalk are just a few of the initiatives that will serve the city well long after his departure.

Sometimes a song says it all and no one ever summed up this sad situation better than Joni Mitchell in "Big Yellow Taxi" with the line: Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone. People who are even a little bit in the know know exactly how devastating a blow Rahm's departure is to the progress of any number of ongoing projects and business opportunities. This announcement may be the end of any number of new prospective investments in the city unless someone with real credentials and serious skills steps quickly into the breach and offers some serious prospect of stability and continuity. No one likes uncertainty and change less than long-term investors and institutions.

But, one of the succession difficulties is likely to be that the most qualified new potential entrants have, at best, a complex relationship and a mixed history with Emanuel. His own entry into office was aided immeasurably by a warm handoff from the departing Mayor Richard M. Daley. Of course, that hearty handshake was accompanied by a bucket full of hot messes which Rahm spent years trying to straighten out, with substantial success. No other mayor ever endeavored--much less succeeded, in large measure-- in cleaning up Chicago's decades of mismanaged and underfunded pension plans for police, firefighters and teachers. No other mayor grew the city's tech sector by tens of thousands of jobs year after year and made Chicago the nation's leader-- five years running-- for corporate headquarters relocations. And no other mayor expanded the public-school day and school year so that by graduation, Chicago public school students will have spent more than two additional years in class than when Emanuel arrived on the scene.

No one expects a similar amount of support from the 5th floor of City Hall this time around for virtually any of the major undeclared candidates, at least at this point. Of course, politics makes for strange bed-fellows, so I guess we will just see what happens. But, apart from the politics and the befuddled state of the city at the moment, there's a very important lesson for prospective entrepreneurs as well in Rahm's parting comments.

Being the boss means doing it ALL. Every day. All day. You don't get to pick and choose the fun parts. You don't get to delegate the hard conversations or the ultimate responsibility. And you don't have to shoulder the disappointments when people let you down or the hurt you feel when you suffer alongside the families and the kids who you wish you could have only helped a little bit more.

Only a few special people are up to jobs like this - be it mayor or CEO. A lot of folks kid themselves into believing that this is what they want to do with their lives, but they have no idea of how all-consuming and enervating a task it is. And what it costs in terms of your personal life and health and the lives of your family.

My advice to every aspiring entrepreneur is to be very careful what you wish for and do your homework before you take the leap. Seven scars are just the beginning. The occasional highs are okay, but the inevitable and continual lows are brutal.

My advice to the clowns so far who are seeking to succeed Mayor Emanuel is to do yourself and our city a favor and keep whatever day job you may have.

Let Go & Lead

Tuesday, September 04, 2018


If You Are Not Giving Back, You're Not Moving Forward
In the race to scale our businesses, we can lose track of purpose. Yet employees today seek meaning in work--or they'll work elsewhere. What are you doing to provide it?

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

In the frenzied startup world where growth is the only real gospel, we're so taken with the idea of sheer size and the need to get "bigger quicker" that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that not everything that matters in life is about scale. The biggest crowd, the largest parade, the loudest voice, the most sales, etc. is only a small part of the story.

Sometimes, it's just as important to take the time to do something small and special, just because it's the right thing to do and needs to be done. No act of kindness or generosity --however small or modest-- is ever wasted. And it seems like we need a boatload of simple acts of kindness and charity these days just to try to help keep things in our country from running further aground.

These are harsh and difficult times. In my entire lifetime, I have never witnessed such disheartening and indiscriminate displays of political power and personal pettiness by our representatives on both sides of the aisle in Washington-- although today it feels more like a sewer.  And I'm afraid that sorry show shows no sign of abating any time soon.

But it's in these very kinds of hard times, when you can take a few moments to give someone else a helping hand (with no expectation of reward or recognition) that you somewhat restore your belief, hope and faith that things can get better. And you realize that you always get a lot more out of giving than you do from all the getting that occupies so much of the time and effort in our daily lives. Sometimes, in moments like these, the smallest things can take up the most room in your heart for a fleeting moment or two and remind you of the good that exists in most people and in most parts of the country.

And for those of you who might say that you don't have time for organized or even random acts of charity, or that you can't afford to take your eye off the ball even for a moment, I'd say that it's really important to whatever you're trying to accomplish that you find a little time to make a difference in a life other than your own. I like to remind young entrepreneurs that there's always more work, but you only have one family. Seeking the same equilibrium is just as essential in your business as well.  If you don't get the balance correct between "making a living" and "making a life" right from the start, I can guarantee you that you won't like what you ultimately grow into. Your business will suffer just as much as your personal life.

More to the point, establishing a company culture that cherishes purpose as much as profit has never been more essential or more critical to the success of new businesses than it is today. That culture starts from the CEO and is built through the day-to-day actions of the people in the business and from continued demonstrations of solid commitments to serious principles. This kind of culture is not built through spiffy slogans or endless conversations.

Show me, don't tell me. Or else I'll find a better place to be. The best and most talented employees today don't work for a company.  They work for a reason and a purpose.  And if your business can't demonstrate a purpose backed up by behaviors aligned with what they're looking for, they'll leave-- typically in less than a year. This isn't a situation where you eventually get around to doing it. Get started now before they get going out the door.

Today, because our time is so scarce and the demands on it are so great, we all kid ourselves into believing that there will be all the time we need later in life to do those good deeds and give back in meaningful ways.  Then one day, in the not too distant future, we wake up to find that the time and many of the most important opportunities have passed us by. That's why there's no better time than the present to take up the task and get started.

It's not that hard to help and to make a difference. And just remember when you wonder if even the simplest gesture matters that it's scale that doesn't matter; what matters is sincerity, real interest and simply stepping up.

The difference that your efforts can make in even a single life are incalculable and the impact can be immediate and life-changing. Start today.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

New Kaplan Institute Building Tour

Why Cleaning House Can Create a Bigger Mess

Why Cleaning House Can Create a Bigger Mess
Replacing the CEO of a struggling startup is relatively easy. But when the new boss then decides to obliterate existing top management, the troubles seem to multiply.

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

I have been concerned for a while now--even as the stock market continues to lurch upward and carry tech stocks to new heights-- that things are getting tougher in the trenches. Securing follow-on financing is more challenging these days and investors are both more realistic and more demanding as well as far less patient than they've been in the past. Not good news for newbies. 

I'm also seeing strategics take a step or two back and disappear at the last minute from deals that were "done" but for the ceremonial dinner. Except that they weren't all done and the businesses waiting to cash those checks blew up instead of celebrating. From the corporate's perspective, it's a lot better to have wasted a bunch of time examining a deal than to lose a lot of money investing in a bad one. In the first case, it's likely to lead to a slap on the hand while the other's gonna be a kick in the pants.

Maybe this is all an investor reaction to the reduced upside and liquidity (ease of exits) that the market is currently offering as compared with the risks, brain damage, and multi-year struggles that even the best of startups represent. When things are taking longer to blossom, and the far-off promise and remote horizon of actual profits continues to recede, the idea of making 50% to 100% returns on your money every 6 months with a couple of phone orders to buy stocks like Stitchfix or Netflix starts to look awfully attractive.

But there's a bigger issue for the entrepreneurs running businesses that are now caught (hopefully momentarily) in that nasty space between nothing and nirvana.  Boards and investors start to get antsy, too, and look for quick fixes, fire sale liquidations, or-- perish the thought-- changes in management. The typical tenure of a startup CEO isn't that long to begin with and when everyone is looking for "change" -- without any real idea of what that means for a particular business--it's easy for the person running the business to feel like there's a target painted on his or her back.

This is not a happy prospect, and I think we are gonna see a lot more coming. But I'm actually okay with replacing the CEO when the ship has stalled and there's no real salvation in sight.  The problem is with directors and investors who bring in a new leader who then shows the rest of the management team the door. In this ritual house cleaning the new CEO too often ends up throwing out the baby with the bath water.

If this kind of wholesale dumping of the incumbent C-level team is even arguably appropriate, then both the board and the prior CEO have been asleep at the switch for years. And I'm seeing this happen every week now in larger and smaller businesses, where the mantra of change (almost for change's sake) without any real guidance, direction or plan is the flavor of the week.  Instead, it's another way for investors and directors to buy time, ignore certain obvious realities about the business, and watch while the deck chairs are shuffled for the umpteenth time.

So, here are a few hints for both incoming CEOs and the boards that bring them in:

(1) The new CEO doesn't know where all the bodies are buried and what closets hold the most skeletons, but others on the team do know. So, even if they aren't the best bet for the business in the long run, tossing them out prematurely is a sure formula for failure. And, I might add, the board doesn't really know the new CEO that well either on Day One; giving the new leader unlimited license and adopting a laissez-faire approach makes very little sense. You don't have to look any further than the revolving doors at Hewlett Packard over the last ten years for clear evidence. Counting on your search firm to get the pick 100% right is equally foolish. Even the best headhunters suck at telling you the real story--they're just looking to close the sale.

(2) Adding a bunch of new people to any enterprise at the same time (even if they've previously worked with each other at different places and under different circumstances) exponentially increases the risks of making major mistakes in the early going. Changes, especially in company culture, don't come easily and they rarely begin until the new management starts taking actions rather than just talking about what's going to happen. But, if a half dozen people are running around and making random decisions (especially about people) before there's even a clear alignment on direction and strategy, the message to the rest of the business couldn't be any worse or less productive. Measure twice, cut once.

(3)  Your key employees (the ones you need to keep and re-recruit to the new mission) and your most important customers are also likely to be plenty nervous about the changes being made and looking for as much stability and continuity as possible. In every case I've seen, senior people who were quickly shoved out not only knew a great deal about the business, they also knew and had long-standing personal relationships with a lot of the key customers.
Here again, some of those relationships and even customers may not have been helpful (or even profitable), but you can't really determine that without spending some time looking under the covers.  That's why it helps to have a few knowledgeable people on board to assist and guide you in that process of discovering what's what.

Bottom line: wholesale house cleaning without taking the time to do it right can be very hazardous to the health of your business.

Are You Planning a Trip to Mars? Why It's Important to Dream Big

Are You Planning a Trip to Mars? Why It's Important to Dream Big
Elon Musk may be having some very down-to-earth problems at Tesla, but his SpaceX venture shows the value of reaching beyond the ordinary and the proven. To hell with small gains.

If you just want to get what you’ve always gotten, keep doing what you’ve always done. If you want to change the old rules and get better, you’ve got to start aiming higher and thinking bigger. There’s always a best seat in the house, the best row at the show, and something desperately worth shooting for which we all know that you may not always get. But shame on you if you don’t at least go for it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always “No.” 

And today, I think there’s no better example of reaching for the stars for companies and entrepreneurs of every size than SpaceX and its semi-combustible founder Elon Musk.
Notwithstanding Elon’s current angst at his automobile firm, Tesla -; which is about nuts-and-bolts production, not vision -; the SpaceX engine that he built (almost as an afterthought) continues to fire on all cylinders. SpaceX is making the impossible seem commonplace and raising the bar for big dreams being backed up by awesome deliverables. Dockless bikes, slick little scooters, and new offerings of gluten-free whatever all seem depressingly trivial compared with Elon’s grand ambitions.

Things in the space biz may take a little longer than expected, but some of the beneficial by-products may even turn out to be better than initially expected. The scale and the scope of what SpaceX has already achieved since it was founded in 2002 is unlike anything that has come before or after. Keep in mind that NASA was formed in 1958, more than 60 years ago, and these days it’s getting help from SpaceX in Hawthorne and taking Dream Chaser directions from the Sierra Nevada orbital vehicle builders in Louisville, Colorado. Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) has been in the “space” business since 2000 and he’s got bupkes to show for it. Richard Branson is another big talker with Virgin Galactic, which he founded in 2004, but it seems that he’s perpetually “just six months away” from being in space. Don’t hold your breath.

And, as you might expect, seeing in this case just makes believing that much easier. You can't visit the SpaceX factory without coming away with the overwhelming impression that there's a palpable sense of possibility and the belief that virtually anything is achievable with enough time, effort, and perseverance. This isn't some cheap Silicon Valley talk or “pie in the sky” (no pun intended) prediction. It's an outgrowth and extension of an attitude that is as compelling as it is contagious. And that attitude is backed in facts and in demonstrable results. These people are hard-core professionals -; engineers and scientists -; who spend their days head down making things happen. Elon does the dreaming, scheming and sweating, but these are the hundreds of people who get the job done every day.

They might technically be manufacturing machines and missiles, but what they really make here are “believers.” People who believe that the world is leaning in their direction and that success (albeit over time) is far more probable (not just possible) than any other outcome. I wish you could bottle this attitude because it's such a special combination of pride and practicality as well as concrete grounding and vast visioning that I think we should add it to the drinking water at every school and startup in the country.

So, what’s the main message from SpaceX for the rest of us? We need to look further and wider if we’re going to up the ante, make major changes, and leapfrog the competition.  Using the best available data and basing our plans, programs and designs on real metrics and milestones (rather than make-believe) is an essential methodology. But, if it’s the only view you have of the future, you’ll find that your focus is far narrower than it should be and that your energies end up being directed mainly to short, sure wins instead of big jumps and new horizons.

This conservative approach leads to designs and choices that tend to be marginal improvements and incremental gains rather than game-changing moves. Successive approximation and consistent iteration are great tools (“getting a little better every day”), but the key word is “little” and what we need more and more of are bigger leaps and longer look-aheads.

Simply trying to keep getting closer and closer to a known goal is not enough, because that approach and that perspective can often keep us from looking further down the road and really thinking about going for the gold.  

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