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December 31, 2008

A Moveable Feast

Filed under: Book Reviews — Robert John Ed @ 8:06 pm

I am back in Minneapolis and I can’t say how incredibly happy that makes me.  Alexandria is OK, but it’s not home anymore.  Additionally, occupying anything but your own space for an extended amount of time is precarious and stressful.  My car still isn’t fixed, it won’t hold idle, so it will be in line for another fix up after NYE.

One favorable aspect of being away was the amount of reading time.  I finished a couple of books, one is a financial investment book which I’ll detail at another time.  The other was Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which was written as a set of memoirs from his time living in Paris.  Something there is in Hemingway’s prose, he is stripped down and easy to read.  Very seldom will he deviate from his seemingly ordinary writing style; it is something a reader gradually comes to understand and love.  Even these, a convoluded first person account of Parisian cafes, extraordinary acquaintences and unfamiliars reads much like his other stories.  I’m beginning to think that his work is more about him than the work itself, which in most instances would be a bad thing, but not here.  Yet it’s too early to tell that, and probably to early to ponder.

This is a good read for this simple ability to understand Hem’s world, if only for a short period in a far away land.  The 1920’s were truly something to behold in France as an incredible amount of talent was along.  A vast array of now legendary authors are discussed analyzed from Hem’s keen eye.  James Joyce, Ezra Pound (ironic seeing as his Wikipedia picture is a criminal photo and he is painted as the kindest of characters in the memoirs), F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein are prime examples amongst others.  Hearing a young Hemingway discussing his relationships with these people and his opinions thereof is an enjoyable exercise albeit tainted.

The reason being that some have argued about Hemingway portraying himself as a hero of sorts.  He often writes about not having money or food and seems to view the world through a looking glass of judgment.  Honestly, I believe everyone looks at the world in this way.  It’s merely the fact that he wrote it down for others to see.  Human nature is not necessarily that of a mother.  The book was also published posthumously after his suicide in 1961 (on a side note, there is now a festival every September in Idaho celebrating his life and achievements, I’d like to go sometime) and edited by his then widow.  This edit has been prosecuted by some critics as altering the meaning of the work.

Despite all these concerns, it was well worth the read.  A very short 200 pages full of insight and reverie for a world long lost.  As Hem wrote and is recognized at the beginning of the book:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

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December 30, 2008

Theory of Constraints as Applied to Organizations

Filed under: Ideas — Robert John Ed @ 10:23 pm

Chances are that I’m not the first to think of this, but the biggest and most valuable idea to come out of our Operations class is the Theory of Constraints.  I’m wondering if the theory can be actively applied to organizations in order to increase their overall efficiency.  The theory states that an operations sect of an organization can only move as quickly as the slowest aspect of it’s operations.  That means that a factory can only move as fast as the slowest link in the chain.

This is detailed very well in The Goal, a book about turning around an operational initiative and marital strife.

Let’s empty the feline from the satchel:  the only way to improve operations is to elevate the constraint (also known as a bottleneck), which means adding capacity (more machines, increase efficiency of said machines, etc.) or improve processes to optimize the use of the bottlenecks (cut down on waste, QC before bottleneck).  The increase in the bottleneck increases the overall ability of the operational initiative.

After learning about this, it only stands to reason that an organization is seriously constrained by the individual aspects of the company.  So if a modern corporation is made of parts such as R&D, Operations, Sales, Logistics, Marketing, General Management and incalculable variances of those many practices, can organizations be viewed as operational initiatives in their own right?  I’m not so sure.  The idea here is that an company is constrained by one aspect (the worst) of all the needed pieces to run the company.  So if they constraint is R&D, the company will likely lag behind the market and play catch up.  Or if the constraint is general management, the company may lack efficiency in all aspects of their core operations.  If it’s strategic management, the company probably couldn’t last over the long haul.

What to learn here?  Well, I’m not sold that this idea is correct in the sense that individual pieces of an organization can be elevated at all times.  Yet the idea that one aspect of a company lags behind others seems valid.  I thought about a good Seth Godin piece that seemed relatively similar.  The main idea: organizations of all kinds excel at certain aspects of company performance due to the people that run the companies.  Not necessarily the people who originated the companies.  Managers who view the organization as independent pieces of a puzzle can attempt to systematically improve aspects of the company and build stronger companies in the long term.  The trick is not upsetting other pieces in that process.  If I were a general manager, I’d set up a timeline process for all the company and what it offers, then try to isolate the individual performers and benchmark them against the competition or against a perfect world if competition isn’t readily available, then think about ways to improve it.  This is potentially ideological and immature pedagogy, take it with a grain of pepper.

UPDATE:  Looks like this is hardly groundbreaking.  After another read through the Wikipedia article, there are somewhat vague inferences to applying TOC to sales and marketing.  Chances are I’m late to the boat, as usual.

December 27, 2008

Attention Mall Shoppers

Filed under: Ideas, Random — Robert John Ed @ 9:18 pm

It used to be that malls ruled.  A company would build a mall (small business incubator), businesses would rent the space and reap the benefits of high traffic for a multitude of stores in one area.  I just walked through the Viking Plaza Mall (did you know that Alexandria is the birth place of the nation? :-) and must have saw eight vacancies.  This is a mall that has maybe twenty or twenty five shop spaces.

So whatdunnit?  The current economy?  A long term slow down in mall traffic due to some unforeseen circumstance?

I don’t know, but I want to.

Food for thought.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Filed under: Random — Robert John Ed @ 6:58 pm

Saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button yesterday and it was a good film.  It’s an adaptation of a Fitzgerald short story from the Jazz Age.  I’ve not yet read it, but am behest not to after viewing the movie, which I assume was a libertied interpretation.  I’ll revisit this.

What struck me most about the film is that it’s a great script.  It’s the story of a boy born an old man, who grows younger as he ages.  The story itself is too good for a book.  This is not to say that books are not great stories, they are.  It’s to say that film is told in a different language and even during the film I had a feeling that F. Scott wouldn’t have written this as such.  It’s too perfect, too scripted.  Despite the morose parallels to This Side of Paradise, it just didn’t feel right as a book.

As a movie, it is something good, but not quite great.  The cast performs exceptionally with an exception.  Brad Pitt is further proving to me an average actor with impeccable looks.  Which is a shame.  Give me an incredible actor and average looks in his stead.  He is clearly not the star of his generation, he’s merely the best looking.  Take this with a grain of salt, because he is a decent actor.  He is not a poor actor, not an average actor.  He is capable to an extent, but seems unable to express emotion nearly so well as his contemporaries.  I can’t help but feel this film could have been a triumph with the correct leading man, and maybe the part could have added depth with a less handsome but more endearing role.  This bothers me because I hate to see unrealized potential; and I should know as it haunts my mirrors daily.  The tendency of our generation to prop up average artistry due to good looks instead of real talent is frightening; the ongoing corrosion may some day be imperceptible to new youth.  Maybe it already is.

The flipside of the coin is Cate Blanchett, whom I adore to no end since her work in I’m Not There.  She convincingly stole that show with an uncanny semblance of an England bound Dylan and is enchanting here as Daisy,  a New York bound dancer with realized ambitions of stardom.  With little left than fifteen minutes left to the showing, I realized that this movie was about the women more so than Benjamin himself.  The important people surrounding Benjamin, but especially the women who raise and keep him.  Cate is something special and a great reason to watch this.  Once again, the cast was very good.  I don’t want to completely denigrate Pitt because he is not a bad actor but a decent one; in my esteem a benefactor of aesthetic adulation.

The story is pure.  Although Fitzgerald wrote it, it reminds of Frost and his ironically enduring poem:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

See it.

benjamin-button

Stuck In Alexandria with the Writing Blues Again

Filed under: Blog Explanations, Random — Robert John Ed @ 6:12 pm

I had wanted to take a quick three day break down to somewhere warm and get a little color.  Although I’m not sure I would have actually gone, the mere idea was erased from candidacy.  My car was running poorly after getting home to Alexandria and ended up in the ditch.  It’s now in the car repair shop and little old me is stuck here until New Year’s Eve.

Towns don’t change much.  The people don’t much either.  There’s a good reason; they don’t want to.

Nowadays, this town doesn’t feel much like home anymore.  The people still do, but the town isn’t where I belong, not like I used to.  And I must belong somewhere.  Everyone does, despite how we feel otherwise.

I’ll be back soon enough.

Things are changing.  The time off is telling me that nothing is really what it seems.   And I’m searching for meaning again.  This kind of thing will probably be taken care of in my new area for writing.  If I can find the words and time.

December 22, 2008

Heading Home for A Few Days

Filed under: Blog Explanations — Robert John Ed @ 6:30 pm

Posts will be light. What else is new? Majestic Lake Ida and her crappie and walleye holdings are calling.

Happy holidays everyone!

December 21, 2008

G1 After iPhone

Filed under: Gadgets — Robert John Ed @ 12:16 am

The other night I got to see and use a G1 for the first time, it seemed pretty nice.  I was actually very much liking the full QWERTY.  Right now, I don’t blog as much as I want to and plan on doing so much more frequently when I get out of school again.  Having that keyboard ability would be nice for writing.

Here’s a page that compares the G1 to the iPhone and some others.  One glaring issue is the 1g of space.  I have a 16g iPhone at almost full capacity.  The reason is music.  I use the iPhone primarily as a music player and secondarily as a phone.  In fact here’s a quick list of my most used applications:

1.  iPod
2.  Phone
3.  New York Times
4.  Google Maps
5.  Safari (web browsing)
6.  Weather

So music falls first and the G1 doesn’t have anywhere near the capacity for what I use now.  I wonder if the next iterations of the phone will start addressing hard drive space?  I hope so, because that keyboard was nice. Buying a new phone isn’t high on my priority list, but it would be nice.  We’ll see what HTC offers in the future.

December 19, 2008

Presentations Are Not Plays

Filed under: Personal Branding, School — Robert John Ed @ 11:45 pm

Good news, I’m officially done with the most difficult aspect of the MBA experience.  The core is over.  I also began my new internship today, which is shaping up as an amazing experience in non profit marketing work.  Adding new skills and knowledge is always a good idea and there is a ridiculous amount to be procured here.

We also finished a case competition on CH Robinson the other day; they were a great participant at the Carlson school and we’re all thankful.  It was quite an experience.  

The whole presentation thing got me thinking.  Presentations are far too often approached incorrectly.  People will often treat presentations as though they are acts in a play, with each aspect to be recited in similitude to one of  Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Big mistake.  Presentations are not meant to be acts in a play.  They are simply explanations regarding something needing it.  Though there is certainly room for a bit of theatre, it should be secondary to actually getting the information across to the audience.  There is an important distinction here, some people are extremely talented in offering ideas in a “performance” of sorts.  Yet often people will think that they must memorize a presentation and deliver it like a play, with any deviation being a mistake.

Au contraire.  Great presentations are very much meant to deviate from the given spectrum.  And although I’m not an actor, I’d say that great performers of all kinds (musicians, actors, dancers, etc.) can deviate from a normal performance and actually add to it as such.  People run into issues then, in treating presentations as static recitals, when they forget a piece.  So while they realize they’ve forgotten, it becomes obvious to the audience that this is a recital, and as such not nearly as impacting as a presentation that is as it should be, a story told directly to the audience.  A presenter does much better to focus on what he or she is saying to the audience. What is the real message?  Why are you saying it?  Those things are usually quite obvious (and if they are not, the presentation is doomed anyway).  After figuring these things out, the presentation becomes less important and the issue of transmitting the information becomes paramount.  That is a good presentation.  One that effectively communicates the ideas at hand.

December 17, 2008

Two Stock Investing Theories

Filed under: Finance — Robert John Ed @ 3:58 am

I’m beginning a new book on personal finance recommended to me by my finance instructor.  He’s pretty darn good at that stuff, so I asked him for advice on where to get started on personal finance.  I’m only a few chapters in, but it’s well written (not stuffy like you might imagine financial writing to be) and  I figured that I’ll write some things down about it.

The book is mostly oriented around stocks.  The first thing it gets to describing are the two basic stock investment theories.

The first theory is called “firm foundations” and is pretty basic.  The idea is that in order to make money on stock investments, one should analyze the current market conditions and surrounding situations pertaining to a stock to derive a value.  That value is then judged against it’s actual market price.  The investor should then sell stocks that have risen above their actual value and buy stocks that have dipped below their actual value, wait for their impending rise and sell.  “Buy low, sell high.”  Pretty basic model, but the way it was explained made it a little more intriguing.

The second theory is called “castle in the sky.”  This one is a bit more interesting as it views that firm foundation actions are too difficult and too much work to actually work well.  Instead, it relies on a knowledge of what the market will do.  The investor of such a theory would spend time studying current conditions in the market and attempt to predict how it would buy before it actually bought. By effectively predicting and preempting the buys of certain stocks, these investors seek to own the stock expected to rise and gain from the large price hike that a demand will cause.

Here is a page with both theories, and a few others.  Personal finance has never really excited me and I’m not sure why.  This book is pretty good though, it’s getting me thinking about investments of all kinds and how I can be proactive in the process.  Being that personal finance is so important, that’s probably a good thing.  I’ll keep updating on this book as I learn more.

December 16, 2008

Social ME-dia and Where It’s Going

Filed under: Information Supernova, Marketing Tactics, Media Origination — Robert John Ed @ 1:24 am

I don’t write as much about new technologies and the whole “Web 2.0” thing like I used to.  There are a few good reasons.  The first is that the terminology seems to have shifted from Web 2.0 to social media.  Terminology does mean something, but as of now the pulse of social media seems to be slowing.  There was a lot more excitement about the space some years ago.  Everyone was jazzed about utilizing these new technologies into their businesses.

So what happened?  What was missing?

Results.

I’m yet to see the kind of results that the hype dictated.  My guess is that the people who control budgets for larger companies have been waiting as well.  It’s funny, this is a game of dominoes and until one big player makes a splurge and gets results, the others will wait.   I know people who work in social media and I read about it all the time, even today.  But I don’t think it’s creating the groundswell in larger corporations yet; it will be some time before it does.  The problem is that social media is still self centered.  Companies are trying to be social…about themselves!  It won’t work.

One serious issue we are seeing now is that social media may not necessarily be a conducive way to promote your business.  Crazy, I know.  There are some very good examples of business models that have thrived, but primarily E-tail distributors.  The truth is that we don’t know yet how this will all play out.  My personal thoughts on the matter are that social media will continue to proliferate but businesses aren’t going to make money as they’d expect by applying old ideas.  It will transform into something else altogether before it’s easy enough for any company to take advantage of it.  Some big things can happen for the first movers, but I believe as it stands, those companies that happen to make use of social media correctly and gain substantially are the exception and will be until the model alters significantly and the spoils are half gone.

What’s really worth thinking about?  Disruption. The tools to produce truly disruptive services and products utilizing the technology are already in our grasps today.   We are all still thinking in analog terms.  We advertise with banners on websites that key demographics visit.  We scrape email addresses from anyone and send them a message because it’s free.  We are applying the old ideas to the technologies, and blanching when grandma doesn’t look good in a miniskirt.

So here’s my advice to marketers:  stop thinking advertising via new technologies and start thinking of how to harness those same technologies to improve your products, services and business with your current customers.

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