Friday, July 26, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic?...

For many years, OptiFuse participated in certain local and national trade shows several times each year. The fundamental key to a successful trade show is your ability to have potential customers stop and look at the products that you are exhibiting.
Sounds simple enough...

However, as easy as that objective might seem, most trade show attendees typically walk at a brisk pace up and down the aisles, quickly scanning each booth, rarely stopping their forward momentum.

Every once in a while, some trinket catches their eyes and they are drawn to a display case to ask a question or two of the exhibitor.
If a crowd has formed at a particular booth, for whatever reason, the attendee all of a sudden might become curious as to what the commotion is all about and will take a moment to investigate.
Therefore the successful trade show exhibitor will attempt to try and draw a crowd to their booth.
This can be done by employing sexy girls to greet potential customers, displaying races cars, hiring celebrities to sign autographs, offering free refreshments or promotional giveaways, holding raffles and/or contests to win prizes.
One of the best methods of creating crowds at a trade show booth is employ a magician to perform for an audience.
Most people are drawn to magic like mosquitoes are drawn to a light and a large crowd is typically amassed at the exhibitors’ booth.
Magic, performed well, causes our minds to start working as we stretch the limits of our imagination and task our brains to discover the secret to the "trick" being performed.
Magic typically is devised of two elements: Misdirection (distraction) and Illusion.
Misdirection occurs when the audience’s attention is focused on one thing in order to distract attention from another thing occurring away from the action simultaneously. It is the primary job of the magician to manage the audience’s attention, directing it to one action while another is taking place.
There are two distinct ways a magician accomplishes misdirection...
The first method is to momentarily cause the eyes of the audience to look away for a  moment while he performs some other action.
In the classic cups and balls trick, all eyes are focused on what is under each cup as the magician quickly turns the cup over to reveal the contents. No one is watching the magician’s other hand as he secretly loads the other cups with additional balls both big and small.
Master magicians Penn and Teller do a fantastic job showing us the mechanics of the cup and balls trick.
The second method of misdirection occurs when extraneous information is added to the trick that has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the actual trick.
This is the approach that many of my engineering, math and physics professors took when devising their diabolical exams.
Their exam problems might include several pieces of additional information... information that had no bearing whatsoever on the problems soluton.
As a simple example... in physics... momentum is described simply as:
Momentum = Mass x Velocity
Therefore, in order to determine the momentum of an object, one is required to know only two things... the mass of the object and the velocity that the object is traveling at... that’s it!
However on a physics exam, the teacher may give the student the following information: the acceleration of gravity, the friction coefficient of the surfaces, the ambient temperature, the physical size and/or shape of the object... (as well of course as the mass and velocity)...
This additional information only causes confusion and misdirection for the student who believes that the additional information, provided by the teacher, somehow is paramount to creating a solution to the problem.
We even refer to these types of problems as "trick" questions.
Misdirection is only one element of magic.
The second element is illusion.
Illusion is the act of making the audience believe that they see something (or don’t see something) that is or isn’t there.
Illusionist magical tricks are categorized as the following:
Production - causing something to appear from nothing - a rabbit out of a hat for instance
Vanish - making something disappear - such as a stage assistant or a coin
Transformation - turns one thing into another - a rabbit into a bird
Restoration - destroys an object only to restore it back to its original form - sawing a person in half and then putting them back together
Teleportation - moving an object from one place to another
Escape - escaping from some kind of restraints - such as handcuffs or straightjackets
Levitation - defying the laws of gravity - such as a floating body
Penetration - making solid objects pass through another solid object - such as the magic rings trick
Prediction - predicting a future choice of a spectator - such as a choice of a certain card
Unlike misdirection, each of these feats of magic is performed with the aid of specially made props and devices rather than by causing distraction or adding extraneous information.
As in all magic, the secrets of each trick are guarded closely by the magicians performing them.
The key to understanding magic is having the knowledge that it is indeed an illusion or a slight of hand.  Magic is a trick that is in no way reality. Its only purpose is to deceive the audience into believing that the magician has some great power or skill.
And once you understand how the trick is done... it is no longer "magical".
I often find that certain individuals and/or companies have the innate ability to perform what would be considered as magic.
They can be truly experts in both types of magic... that is misdirection and illusion.
How often have we found ourselves in a debate about some topic only to have the topic misdirected to another unrelated subject completely?
We are in a discussion with our boss about a certain problem in customer service... but we suddenly find the topic hijacked to those "morons in the shipping department".  We leave the discussion with nothing resolved or accomplished.   
Our attentions were misdirected while something else was happening away from the action.
The second type of person we’ll encounter is the illusionist...
This is the type of person where important documents suddenly disappear only later to reappear at another time when it’s convenient for them...
The type of person who makes you believe you see something when in fact nothing is there...
It’s nothing more than a trick... an illusion...
The interesting point is that once we know the secrets to the trick, it’s no longer magical but rather just entertaining to watch the magician ply his craft...
Maybe I’m just being cynical this week as I’ve been conducting new hire interviews all week... one of the greatest magical props ever invented is the resume... misdirection and illusion abound...
Once you know the secret of the tricks... the fun is in watching the magician at work.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we don’t need smoke and mirrors to provide our customers with outstanding products and service...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Can You Spare Some Change?...

"A body at rest will stay at rest unless a external force acts upon it"
First Law of Motion ~ Sir Isaac Newton
Although it’s the middle of summer, many times when I arrive at my office in the early morning I find that it’s almost a bit chilly due to the overnight cooling that has taken effect the night before.
Therefore, I rarely find a reason to switch on the air conditioning first thing.

As the morning continues, the overcast skies begin to give way to sunshine and my office begins to warm up with the ambient temperatures outside.
Now, the thermostat that controls the HVAC in my office is on the other side of the room. So this means that I need to get up from what I’m doing at my desk and make the trek across the room to switch on the air conditioning.
As I begin to think about getting up from my desk, the phone rings and I take a call.
After a few minutes on the phone, I hang up... thinking only about the new task that the caller asked to complete... forgetting completely about how warm my office has become.
After a short time, I begin to feel a bit warm again and I think that I’ll now go and turn on the cool air... as soon as I’m finished with the e-mail that I’m working on...
This process continues until one of my coworkers opens the door to my office and exclaims how hot it is and how can I possibly work under such conditions.
I tell her that I am indeed uncomfortable but I wanted to finish this task first as not to get sidetracked. She gives me a wry look... takes three steps toward the wall... and switches on the air.
"Was that so hard?", she asked, "sometimes I can’t believe how lazy you can be".
She was right... it wouldn’t have taken more than 15 seconds to walk over to the thermostat and get back to my desk... but I just couldn’t compel myself to act... even if it was to change an uncomfortable situation.
The Change Formula
Why is it that we have this great inertia toward change?
Several years ago, two professors, Richard Beckhard and Rueben Harris, while at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, developed a mathematical formula to predict change both in individuals as well as in organizations.
Their findings created a very simple algebraic equation that describes how change works:
C = D x V x A > R
Simply put...
Change will occur when the product of Dissatisfaction multiplied by Vision multiplied by Action is greater than the Resistance.
Change =
Dissatisfaction x Vision x Action > Resistance
In order for change to occur... there needs to be a certain level of dissatisfaction with the way things currently are...

When I first walked into my office, I was not necessarily dissatisfied with the temperature of the room. Therefore I had no reason to change the current status quo.
Later as the room warmed up... I became dissatisfied with my comfort... but I still didn’t act to create change in my environment.
Vision is imagining how things will be after the change occurs...
As I sat at my desk feeling uncomfortable, I could imagine what it would be like with a cool office.
Action is about having a clear path and taking a first step.  It is overcoming the inertia of doing nothing.
I already knew the process of relieving my discomfort and creating my vision of a cool office. I could get up... walk over a few paces... and turn on the air conditioner.
I had the resources... (there was a working air conditioner waiting for me to turn it on)...
I had the knowledge... (I knew what to do)...
I had the ability... (I am able to get up from my desk and walk freely to the HVAC controls)...
I needed to take action...
Although I had all of the change elements present, I still didn’t make the change because the product of those three variables were not greater than my resistance (or in my case... laziness).
Since Dissatisfaction, Vision, and Action are a product of one another... if any one of those variables is zero (or a very small fraction)... the entire product becomes zero (or approaches zero) and the resistance to change will never be overcome.
Change will only happen when all of the factors are great enough to overcome the resistance (or when one or two of the factors become extremely large as to cancel out the other factors).
Now if you’ve read this far... you’re probably saying to yourself... yeah but the overly simple example of changing the temperature in one’s office is rather silly and inane... no one really consciously goes through this decision formula to figure out whether they will turn on the air conditioner in the morning.
Okay... so let’s look at some larger decisions that we might end up making in our lives...
How about some bigger life decisions... such as the decision to go to college and selecting a career path... to get married... to have a child... to change careers... to buy a house... to place your parents into an assisted living residence... to terminating a life support device for a loved one...
These are big decisions that have life altering ramifications...
In these cases the resistance to change could be great... to overcome this resistance... there has to be a certain level of dissatisfaction with the status quo... there needs to be a vision of what the future will look like... and there needs to be a plan of action...

Changes are occurring around us every minute of every day...
We can choose to embrace the change by lowering our resistance or eventually our dissatisfaction, vision, and actions will help us to overcome the resistance... and allow us to make the changes we need to make.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we hope that you decide to make the right changes in order to live a better life.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Shake, Rattle and Roll...

Be the change that you wish to see in the world
 ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Due to the nature of what I do for a living, I am often forced to travel to visit customers and suppliers who are scattered across the globe.
Now I don’t consider myself much different from the millions of other business travelers.
As a group, we all want to get to our final destination, safely and on-time.  We want a clean, comfortable, and quiet room to sleep in.
We want to experience the very minimum of inconveniences such as long lines, cramped middle seats, bad weather, and/or traffic delays.
We would like to interact with friendly people, who wear smiles on their faces (they are in a chosen profession called "hospitality" after all).
We ask for this minimal level of service at an affordable price, which is not unreasonable.
I recently traveled to Chicago to visit with some key customers and a supplier who was visiting from Asia.
I drove my car to the airport, parked in long-term parking, took a shuttle to the terminal, stood in line to check-in my bag and another to clear security.
The terminal was packed with summer travelers, who helped to create more long lines... but that’s the price I pay to travel in high-season.
The plane left and arrived on time. My bag also arrived.
I took a shuttle to the car rental terminal where my reserved car was waiting for me. After a long wait, I finally was at the counter where I gave the agent my confirmation number. As he reviewed the car rental contract with me, I noticed that the rental rate was much higher than my confirmation stated.
When I questioned him about this, he explained that my confirmed rate was just for the car and did not include the governmental fees and taxes. As I compared the two rates, it became painfully clear to me that my new rate was now nearly TRIPLE that of my originally confirmed rate... my $32 /day rate was now $88 /day when all of the taxes and fees were added to the contract.
There were fees for using the airport, the new rental car terminal, the local fairgrounds, and the new football stadium. There were also state and local sales taxes on the entire charge including the imposed fees (sales taxes on fees).
With no recourse, I begrudgingly drove off in my car to my hotel.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was told that there would be a "resort fee" added to my bill to cover the maintenance of the pool, exercise room, and internet. In addition, there was now a 14% transient occupancy tax added to each room night to cover the city’s cost of promoting itself to out-of-town guests, plus state and local taxes. My confirmed room rate of $85 / night was now going to cost me $131 / night.
After thinking about it... it made perfect sense for the politicians to impose taxes in this way... travelers can’t vote local politicians out of office... and once the traveler has arrived, what can they do, except to pay the taxes and fees or get on a plane and go home.
Now I happened to be in Chicago... but this happens in every large city across the United States including my home town of San Diego. It’s simply a way for the government to take more money away from the public... and add it to their coffers...
After a week on the road, it was time to go home...
I arrived safely back in San Diego... took the shuttle to the long term parking lot... got in my now filthy car (of course it was sitting outside all week)... and pay the $25 / day parking fee... feeling a lot poorer than when I started...
(Aside:  One time I did the math... at $25 / day for a 150 sq. ft. parking space... this comes to $750 / month... the median price for a 900 sq. ft. apartment in Manhattan is $3,200... or $1,300 less than that of a small piece of asphalt with no roof, electricity or plumbing at the San Diego Airport.)
Enter a few really smart entrepreneurs...
I was recently reading the business section of our local newspaper when I happened across an article about a new service in San Francisco and now in Boston called FlightCar.
FlightCar rents out people’s cars when they are traveling and gives them a share of the rental proceeds. Instead of paying the airport to rent you a high cost park spot, you essentially rent out your car when you’re out of town and FlightCar pays you for lending them your car.
When you return from your travels, they pick you up at the terminal in a town car, take you to your freshly washed car, and give you a check.
Your car is fully insured for mechanical damage, dents or dings caused by the renter. FlightCar also carries a $1 million liability policy in case a renter damages property while driving your car.
Of course, the City of San Francisco has filed a lawsuit against FlightCar. The City doesn’t make any parking money in this arrangement. And since FlightCar doesn’t technically operate at the airport (but rather about 10 miles away), their customers don’t need to pay the $20 per rental plus 10% airport rental tax to the city. 
The large car rental companies are looking to the City to shut down this service as to squelch the competition.
FlightCar has shaken up the way the rental car business operates.
The City of San Francisco is also home to ride-sharing companies Lyft and Sidecar, two companies that operate a ride sharing service where passengers find available drivers to take them somewhere using a peer-to-peer smart phone app.
Drivers make themselves available via the  phone app and are contacted directly by the customer looking for a ride. There are strict rules that prohibit fee-for-service. The drivers essentially work for tips.
The City of San Francisco has determined that this service is really just a taxi service and needs to be governmentally regulated (and of course taxed). Taxi companies, needless to say, are behind the City’s efforts.
San Francisco’s overpriced and highly taxed taxi fleet is undoubtedly rattled.
Not to be outdone, the hotel industry is up-in-arms about another sharing service based in San Francisco called Airbnb. Airbnb’s web service matches travelers looking for a room with local residents with an extra room to rent. Airbnb now operates in 140 cities worldwide and has over 250,000 room listings.
Once again, the City of San Francisco has filed suit against the company claiming that they are operating illegal hotels without paying the transient occupancy taxes.
The hotel industry is thankful that they have the City of San Francisco to help them fight this battle to protect their turf.
Unfortunately for the City of San Francisco (and the car rental companies, the taxi companies, and the hotel industry), the travel genie is now out of the bottle.
Forward thinking entrepreneurs have rolled up their collective sleeves and have discovered a market where its population is sick and tired of the status quo and wanted a change.
In the end, these entrepreneurs have found a better way to deliver what people want.
These entrepreneurial success stories remind me of the old tale about the company that manufactured and sold high-quality industrial drill bits... the company truly believed that they were in the drill bit business... they were wrong... they were in the hole making business and as soon as someone figured out how to make holes a better way... it signaled the beginning of the end for the drill bit company.
This story begs the question, are you looking for ways to bring new innovations to your customers or are you happy with the status quo?...
...or maybe when innovation does happen in your industry you can get the City of San Francisco to file a lawsuit on your industry’s behalf...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we wish you safe travels to your destinations this summer... 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Playing with Legos...

One Saturday morning, a long time ago, my mom and I were heading home in the family car when we saw a sign for a garage sale and decided to stop in.

There were a lot of items typically found at garage sales... dishes... clothing... tools... books...

Off in the corner of the garage there was a large trunk. When I opened the trunk I found thousands upon thousands of Lego pieces... in all assorted shapes, sizes and colors. I asked the garage sale proprietor what she was asking for the entire trunk and she told me she was asking $20 for the entire chest.

I pleaded with my mom to purchase the Legos for me... but she turned a deaf ear to my entreaties.

I then asked the seller if she was willing to let me work in her yard to earn the money to pay for the Legos over the next few weeks. She agreed.

As it so happened, I enlisted the help of my brother to help me with the yard work with the promise that I’d split the loot with him. We ended up spending an entire weekend over her house doing yard work (and since there was two of us... she let us off the hook after only one weekend of weed pulling, raking, and lawn mowing).

My brother and I took our "earnings" back to our house and split the proceeds between us.

Over the course of the next several years, we designed and created hundreds of structures, planes, cars, and cities from our vast array of building blocks. Over time, we purchased (or received as gifts) additional pieces and our collection grew and grew.

With more building blocks that we could ever practically use, the only real extents of our designs solely laid in the limits of our imagination.

If we could imagine it... we had the capacity to build it.

As my brother and I grew older, our interests moved to other things (such as cars and girls), so our collection found its way to the garage and then later to the attic where it sat for years.
About 15 years ago, I rediscovered the collection when I was helping my father move. After consulting with my brother, we decided to pass the collection to my son (who was 5 years old at the time)... and then subsequently to my 6-year old nephew this past year.

So it is in this context that I describe my recent introduction to 3-D printing.

I was driving to Los Angeles, listening to the radio, a few days ago when the host described how a man was able to manufacture a gun made of plastic resin using a process called 3-D printing.

Although I find myself surrounded by manufacturing nearly every day, I really didn’t know exactly how 3-D printing works.

At first, I thought that 3-D printing was a method to make 3 dimensional shapes via flat printed surfaces something like the pop-ups in a children’s book or like a flat gift box that I folded to make a cube-like solid.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that 3-D printing wasn’t really the construction of a 3-D objects using 2-D surfaces at all, but rather the process of adding very small 3-D building blocks together to create a larger 3-D structure. This process was originally patented in 1984 by 3D Systems Corp but in essence it’s been around since the ancient days of the pyramids and adobe bricks.

3-D printing is nothing more than creating a 3-dimensional computer model (using any one of several commercially available programs... such as Solid Works, Pro-E, or AutoCAD) and then having a robot (3-D printer) assemble VERY small Legos type blocks, called grains, made of various materials, to create a larger image.

The smaller the "Legos"... the better resolution of the final product...

The base material can be plastic, metal, ceramic, or even human tissue (on a cellular level).

A 3-D printer is used to deposit a single level of "Legos" (grains) on a surface, the "Legos" are then permanently bonded together using heat from highly focused lasers or electron beams.

Subsequent layers are then sequentially laid upon the previous layer. This process is repeated again and again until an entire 3-D structure is built from the ground up.

Prior to the idea of 3-D printing, solid modeling was achieved by a machining method, whereas a block of material, such as metal or plastic was carefully carved using precise three dimensional lathes commonly called C&C machines, programmed by computers.

In reality, this is the same way that great sculptors, such as Michelangelo and Donatello, created their great masterpieces throughout the ages... starting from a large block of stone, such as marble, and taking away small bits until the statue beneath the surface is revealed.

In summary, one method of creating a new design is to start with something and take away everything that doesn’t fit (sculpting / machining)... while the other method starts with nothing and continues to add parts until it is complete (3-D printing).

I often find that the latter method tends to represent the way that most of us tend to live their lives.

We start in this world really with nothing... but yet each moment we’re alive, we continually add to that nothing to become the whole complete person we are today.

The additive effect in life also typically occurs in small granules... rather than in big chunks (although it seems I’ve had some great big chunks of life lessons from time to time as well).

In addition, every once in a while the "machinery" adding small elements into our lives appears to move a little faster... so much so... that we wonder if the machine is putting all of the parts in the right place... but every part has a reason for being there... good and bad...

Life is additive... not subtractive... and every piece has its proper place...

The only constraint of the final design is that of our own imagination as to what the finished product might look like...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we sincerely hope that you never run out of "Legos" before your project is finished...