Friday, January 29, 2016

Living in a Glass House...

If you never lie, you’ll never need to remember what you said.
                                     ~Mark Twain

At the beginning of each hand of Texas Holdem poker, each player is dealt two down cards that only they alone pokercan see and which can only be used by that player. 

Later in the game, five additional cards are dealt face up that are displayed for everyone to see and are considered "community" cards that all players can collectively use to improve their own hands.

The key to winning in Texas Holdem, is to try to gather as much information about the other players’ hand without divulging anything about your own hand. 

Ascertaining information about an opponent’s hand can come from employing certain betting strategies, observing what actions a player makes with their own betting, and/or looking for subtle clues in your opponents mannerisms that might give an indication as to whether they are playing a strong hand or bluffing to steal a pot.

In poker, quality information regarding your opponents’ hands is the single-most important factor in winning and losing over the long haul (short-term it’s still the luck of the draw).

The well-known adage "keep your cards close to your vest" stems from the idea of collecting information while divulging none.

This same mind-set was the prevailing sentiment for most business transactions prior to the advent of the Internet. 

Those who had better information, in terms of quantity and quality, were often in a superior position when any negotiation was taking place. 

Information 20 years ago was expensive and time consuming to acquire, but worth every penny when it came time to close the deal.

That was then and this is now...

Today, information is cheap and plentiful. It is aggregated, cataloged, and freely dispersed through places like Google, Wikipedia, and Yahoo. 

No longer does the entity with strictly the best information automatically get the best deal.

In today’s environment, deals are completed not because one party has more information than the other, but rather by determining the actual needs of each entity involved through a collaborative effort.

The business world is no longer driven by information, but by the value delivered to the buyers and sellers.

The buyer doesn’t help themselves by creating a situation where the product and/or service provider has to guess what their needs actually are. It is far better for the buyer to provide sellers a window into their businesses allowing the providers the opportunity to craft better solutions than originally thought possible by the buyer.

Allow me to give you an example of how sharing information, instead of limiting it, allowed one of our customers to create a much better solution to a problem that they didn’t even know that they had.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a contract manufacturer (CM) in Texas who was building a wire harness assembly for a large telecommunications company in California.

This CM was currently buying fuse holders from OptiFuse through a local distributor but was not buying the fuses to go into the fuse holders, so I wanted to see if I could convince them to buy the fuses and the fuse holders as a package.

Within the first few minutes with the buyer, I was told that the only factor that could cause them to switch fuse vendors was a significant reduction in price from their current source, which would be hard to do since the fuses only had a cost of a few pennies to begin with.

I explained to the buyer that we would do our best to lower their price, but that they were already paying a low cost with their current supplier so the likelihood of a "significant reduction" was improbable but that perhaps we could save them some money in other areas.

I suggested to her, that if I could perhaps see how the product was installed, I might be able to find some additional ways to help lower their costs.

Twenty years ago, the willingness of a buyer to allow a sales person direct access to the company’s manufacturing process was highly controlled and regulated... but in today’s world, not only is access provided, but it is encouraged.

After seeing the cable assembly, it only took a matter of seconds to see that the CM was splicing a long wire, measuring almost 1 meter, onto the end of the fuse holder wire. I asked the buyer if she might consider purchasing a customized fuse holder with the one meter of wire already installed, saving them the cost of the additional wire, the splice connector, and the labor to install it. 

Additionally, I suggested that the fuse be pre-installed into the fuse holder also saving them time and labor (costing more than the fuse itself).

Lastly, I noticed that a special connector was being added to both ends of the wire where I suggested that the connectors could also be added at the time of manufacture.

Whereas, the buyer was looking to grind off a few pennies off of the cost of the fuse, I was able to save them several dollars (about 40% of their current cost) per assembly.

This saving only occurred by the customer’s willingness to provide transparency into their manufacturing process and cost structure.

Transparency is not only effective in an external buyer / seller environment but it also can be a useful method to increase productivity among the company’s workforce.

By sharing financial data with employees, along with providing financial literacy and training, employees can now see where their individual efforts contribute to the growth and the company’s bottom line.

This can be highly motivating to the company’s workforce, especially if a portion of those bottom line dollars is shared with the employees. 

By sharing profit and loss, balance sheet and cash-flow information meetingwith employees, the company has implicitly created a partnership between their management and their employees.

Transparency in any organization builds trust and awareness between the constituents. Trust, in turn, gives people opportunity to freely contribute without fear of retribution.

It helps to build a collaborative effort where people readily share information and ideas rather than horde it.

Transparency can also provide a vehicle for feedback, helping to demonstrate a cause and effect. It helps to motivate people at the company by giving them a common goal or common enemy.

An organization employing open book management will ultimately find that their employees will work harder, smarter, and help to develop solutions that will propel the organization forward amid increasing competition.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe in benefits of cooperation and collaboration as a way to better serve those who support us. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

No Place To Hide...

"You can’t predict what is going to happen for one simple reason:  People"

              ~Sara Sheridan, in Brighton Belle

Not too long ago I was having a conversation with a neighborhood friend regarding the social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

She went on to explain that she carefully screens each and every friend and/or contact that she adds to her network chartas not to dilute the "specialness" of each person.

She expounded, "If I just add everyone, then I worry about who might look at my information and cause potential harm to me and/or my family. There are very dangerous people lurking in the shadows of the Internet and I really don’t want to freely expose myself to them".

I can’t really fault her logic... there are indeed quasi-evil people out there who do nothing but gather up data regarding people who use social media... and by quasi-evil people I mean of course those who work at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram... as well as Amazon, Apple, Google, (just to name a few).

This is the era of "Big Data".

Each and every time we search for a term, book, person, or place that information is collected and cataloged by large online companies who are able to store this information in large digital repositories.

From this massive data, these companies are able to create profiles about what we like, how we buy, and who we know. Our profiles then allow marketers to preemptively predict what might entice us to buy a particular product or service.

My friend erroneously believes that if she limits her connections to other people on social media, this might prevent her data from being collected.

Unfortunately the data is being collected regardless of how many friends, contacts or followers she may have.

If you actually log onto a website... practically any site... you are creating data points that are helping marketers hone a specific message just for you.

So you might say, "I never go onto websites that force me to register... so I’m safe..."

Well... unfortunately that doesn’t work either...

You see... if you carry a mobile phone, paid with a credit card, or used a membership card... then you are actually being tracked like a homing device is attached to your ankle.

Maybe you went to Starbuck's before going to the office... out to lunch at the Olive Garden... stopped by Staples to get some envelopes... and then went to a class at Corepower Yoga after work.

Big Data aggregators big dataare now able to track people’s entire day, noting where they went... how long they stayed... what they bought... and where they went next.

So you finally manage to get yourself home... you make dinner... do some laundry... watch some TV... and play Candy Crush on your iPad before heading off to bed...

While you may think that you’re safe from more data collection while in your own home... you’re wrong (or will be soon).

A new technology called Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly infiltrating homes under the guise of remote monitoring and sensing through wireless internet connections. 

The future is not only here... but it is widely available and affordable to most people.

Imagine a washing machine that is registered with Amazon. You purchase a 64 ounce bottle of laundry soap which is delivered to you via Amazon’s new drone delivery service. Knowing that you use 2 ounces of laundry soap per load as well as keeping track of how many loads you’ve washed via a wireless connection to the internet, Amazon now knows that after about 28 loads or so, it needs to automatically deliver a new bottle of laundry soap to you.

They know that you’ll need more soap before you do...

This past week I was traveling to visit with some key customers.

At one hotel I stayed at, the minibar in the room had sensors on all the shelves so if a bottle or can was removed a signal was sent to the hotels computers to indicate that you had made a purchase. I know this because I mistakenly removed a bottle in the mini fridge to chill a bottle of my own water and was almost charge $4.00 for the soda can that I later replaced.

Cable providers know exactly what channels we are watching or when we use the internet to stream Ted Talks videos.

Soon they will use this information to create custom pricing... charging us for the specific services we use and the channels we watch (think pay-per-view instead of a month subscription)

Our homes are protected via a closed-circuit camera system that allows us to monitor all of the doors and windows of the house via our cell phones.

All of this is being done in the name of marketing... that is, businesses trying to understand the individual needs, wants, and behaviors of consumers.

No longer are companies trying to force feed buyers what they sell. Rather they are looking at what people do and how they think and provide them with goods and services that allow people customized solutions to their individual needs, wants and behaviors.

It’s not that people haven’t always wanted tailored solutions and total customization. The problem with this approach is that it requires too much decision making by the consumer.

No one really wants to design their stuff... they just want to use what’s available to them... mastering the tools instead of creating new tools... instead of making endless decisions...

For at least the last 10 years, components of Microsoft Office, such as Word and Excel have allowed users to create their own customized menus and tool bars to better serve the user.

In that time, I know of no one (perhaps with me being the lone exception) who has actually created customized tool bars (and by customized, I don’t mean just adding a customized signature or changing the default font).  They are happy to use the pre-made menus that Microsoft provided. 

Much of the time, an option to customize our experiences are already within our grasp... where the true paradigm shift is occurring is that other entities, such as marketers, are now making the customization decisions for us based on our own individual actions.

This is both scary and exciting.

Are human beings really that predicable as to allow machines (computers) to make decisions for us? truth, we’ve always abdicated much of our decision making to others...

We live in a democratically elected republic were we hire professionals (politicians) to enact and enforce our laws...

We go to our houses of worship where we expect our spiritual leaders to interpret our Holy Scriptures and tenets for us...

We work at jobs where executives and managers are trusted to create the rules and make decisions that affect our financial well-being...

There is no way we can participate in all of the decision making that affect each and every part of our lives... nor do we attempt to...

Our collective fates are now being placed into trust that there is someone out there who is looking out for our best shared interests...

We can only hope and pray that this shared self-interest will cause a better society... because at this point in the progression of our civilization there is no way of turning back...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we still believe that the best data collection comes from a two-way dialogue with our customers. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Relative Happiness...

"A flower does not think about competing with the flower next to it... it just blooms"
                                                 ~ Zen Shin

In growing up, I was the eldest of five children all born within seven years of each other.  

My second brother, Joe, was born almost exactly one year later than me and my brother, Jeff, was born 14 months after that. 

To say that there was sibling rivalry between the three boys would have been an understatement. Fighting We sometimes fought like junkyard dogs over the most inane situations.

"You’re sitting in my seat... you didn’t call it saved... yes I did... no you didn’t..." and then the first punch was thrown and a wild melee ensued...

The competition was so fierce among us that we often demanded the lion’s share, when in fact, the portion that we had was more than adequate.

But in reality, it wasn’t ever about having what would satisfy ourselves, it was having more than the other person.

Our mom soon learned to purchase things in triplicate... with the exact same item going to each boy.

This meant if one boy received a new sweater... then the other two boys would receive the exact same sweater... all the way down to the same color...

When it was impossible to have the exact same thing, then our parents would have us play games of chance to see who got the first opportunity to choose, such as rolling dice or cutting cards.

Can you even imagine young boys rolling dice to see who gets to choose the so-called best pork chop on the platter?... well that was our family dynamic at the time.

Sometimes it wasn’t even about getting the opportunity to choose the "best item"... many times we made our selection based on the other person’s desire to select the same item... with the thought being... if they wanted it, it must be better than my selection... so I’ll choose it before they do.

Now, after reading my account of coming of age in the Kalb house 40 years ago, many of you can be divided into two distinct camps at the moment...

The first group might be thinking to themselves, "Wow... this describes my own family or circle of friends exactly"... your recital conjures up so many memories...

While the second group is probably thinking, "What a bunch of bratty, petty and selfish kids. If I was their mom, I would have put a stop to that nonsense right away"...

The world is a much different place today than it was in 1975... or is it?

I recently watched a video of people rushing
2 into stores on Black Friday to secure bargains. In the video, you’ll see people pushing and fighting each other to try and secure items for purchase... regardless if they wanted or needed the item in the first place...

In a lot of instances, it wasn’t about getting an item that they wanted for themselves or to give as a gift... they just wanted to get something before the next person got it...

Much of our culture is built upon the principles of capitalism where more is better than less. 

We are in a constant competition with our neighbors, family and friends... our co-workers... our fellow students.

If we have more... a bigger house... a more expensive car... more stuff... than our neighbors, then we believe that we are doing better than them.

Our teachers are forced by the administration to grade using a bell-shaped curve causing students to compete with their fellow students for grades rather than cooperate to create a better team learning environment.

There is a company in Seattle called Gravity Payments, that develops software to help companies process credit card payments. In 2015, the CEO declared that the minimum salary at the company would now be $70,000 per year.

This means that the lowest level worker; the administrative assistant, the receptionist, and the marketing researcher would now be receiving a minimum of $70,000 per year.

Instead of being happy for the entire team, several of the more skilled (and highly paid) workers were upset at this new company edict.

In fact, so distraught that they decided to quit a job that they liked and that paid them handsomely over having someone, perhaps less productive than them, earning more money.

It wasn’t as though they could earn more money themselves going to a new company... but the thought of a receptionist at their present company earning more money (but still less than them) was so distasteful that they felt that they couldn’t remain at the present job.

Their happiness is determined solely on what they are getting relative to what other people get.

A good friend of mine lives in Yuma, a small agricultural town on the border of California and Arizona, where the daily heat will easily reach 110 degrees during the summer months.

Coming from a more temperate climate of San Diego, I asked my friend how he could stand to live in such an extreme environment.

He responded that he liked the small-town feel of Yuma where people actually knew their neighbors rather than the septic big city... ...but then he went on to say, "At least Yuma wasn’t as bad as El Centro (another agricultural town 50 miles away)... that place really sucks".

Always measuring our happiness against what someone else has or doesn’t have...

Why is it so hard to just be happy and grateful for what we have?
Lucky One
Maybe we need the competition to drive ourselves to improve ourselves... giving us the knowledge that something is possible rather than impossible. 

Competition can be a strong motivating factor in propelling us forward and making us better people.

There are other times, however, where we seemingly want the competition to fail. Instead of using them as a motivation to get better, we resent their success and hope for their demise, perhaps because they make us look bad for our own complacency.

This was the case between my brothers and me... sometimes we used each other to motivate us to get better at something... and other times it was us trying to undermine each other’s success...

Today... my brothers and I no longer compete with one another... instead we work in cooperation, sharing resources, to help each other grow and succeed whenever possible...

Together we celebrate the wins and are truly happy for one another when our hard work pays off with success...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we strive to work in cooperation rather than competition... (and a special thanks to Andrew Matthews for allowing me to use his brilliant cartoon above). 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Before You Start Doing...

There never seems to be enough time to do it right... but there always seems to be enough time to do it over...
                                ~Robin Stark

Several years ago, I decided to redo the entryway of our house replacing the worn carpet with slate flooring. I had spent some time in college working with a tile-setter and the space wasn’t very large so I decide that this was a perfect weekend project for me.

The area near our front doorway is somewhat oddly shaped with Tilea step-down flight of stairs before entering the living room. The carpet had been laid on a cement slab so there wouldn’t be any need to prep the foundation once the carpet had been removed.

I quickly made some measurements and then went off with my wife to the outlet where stone flooring is sold.

The clerk showed us several samples of varying types of material, tile sizes, and colors, after which time, we finally came to a decision to purchase the one we liked.

The tiles were then loaded in our car along with bags of thin-set cement and a rented masonry saw in order to cut the tiles to fit the odd shape of the room.

Once home, I immediately began the project setting the slate tiles into place using the thin-set cement.

I started at one wall and worked myself to the other end of the room... only when I got to the other wall... there was now a two inch gap between the last tile and the wall. 

In addition, I found that the builders of our home were not too accurate when it came to building a square room. Therefore the gap on one end of the wall was two inches while the gap on the other end of the wall was close to three inches.

I thought about several possible ways to remedy the situation... but all of the immediate solutions were not very aesthetically pleasing and would cause the job to look amateurish at best. 

This project wasn’t a guest bathroom upstairs where no one would notice... this was the entryway to our home.

After much deliberation and soul-searching, I knew what had to be done.

The stone tiles that I had already set needed to be pulled up and the concrete foundation needed to be scraped and re-prepped.

Needless to say, several tiles were broken during the removal process so another trip to the flooring store was in order.

On my second attempt at this project, I decided that it would be prudent to take some time planning instead of just starting the work.  

After taking some detailed measurements of the room (something that I didn’t do the first time around), it became apparent that my original layout idea would not work. Several hours were spent working out a new diamond pattern that ended up looking great when the project was finally completed.

What I had originally hoped would be a quick weekend project ended up taking more than a month to finally complete. It took a complete failure the first time to force me to do some better planning before starting the project and do it right.

This was the classic example of fire, ready, aim...

It seems in today’s world, there is a growing tendency to rush to be the first to market... to ship before the product is ready... and doing something is always better than doing nothing...

While there is indeed some truth in "doing" rather than just "thinking about doing"... planning is still a very important step in any worthwhile project.

Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player or the smartphone. Apple just made those instruments better than anything else available in the market. They took the time to refine every detail of the product before releasing it. 

They made sure that the software was stable and that the iTunes interface was running properly.

You can love them or hate them for their business practices... but you certainly can’t say that Apple manufactures poorly made products.
A small amount of time on the front end of any project to properly plan can save countless hours of time, money, and resources in the end by not having to go back and fix errors that could have been eliminated or minimized.

While planning is good... there is still the problem of never actually starting.  This is sometimes known as "paralysis by analysis".

There are countless examples of individuals and companies never actually starting an important project because they are so afraid of it failing that they never actually start working on it... instead the project is always on the drawing board being improved.

In addition to actually starting a project... there needs to be a concrete conclusion to any project.

David, a very good friend of mine since college, has been writing the same book now for over ten years.

He completed the first draft only two years after beginning the project... but then he started revising it... adding and subtracting chapters... modifying dialogue... editing the characters...

He asked me to read through his book several years ago, which I did. I offered him several constructive comments but told him that the book was pretty good for a first effort. 

I saw David last summer after a about a three-year period. After some small talk, I asked him if he ever published his book... he replied that he was still changing a few things but that he was hoping to submit it to publishers sometime this year...

There are four steps in completing any project:
  1. Idea - Any worthwhile project starts with a simple "idea".  In many ways, developing good ideas are indeed the hardest part of any project.
  2. Plan - A plan needs to be formulated to both evaluate the worthiness of an idea as well as outlining the actual steps needed to implement the idea.

    Many times, it is during the actual planning stage when the original idea scope is changed or abandoned altogether.
  3. Execution - After the plan is complete and found viable, then the next step is to begin.

    There may be some slight adjustments to the plan, if necessary... but this stage is about "doing" not about thinking, talking, or getting ready...
  4. Conclusion - The project needs to come to a conclusion... the website needs to go live... the book needs to be published... the new product needs to be released...
Each step along the way is important to the overall success of the project.  If the steps are out of order or eliminated, then the entire project is put at risk and there is a good chance that it will need to be re-done.

January is always a good time to begin new projects, but it is essential that plenty of thought is put into good ideas and proper planning before setting out. 

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we plan to give our customers the best service ever... and are working hard to execute our plan...  

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Gift of Giving...


On Christmas morning we slept in a bit finally getting up around 8:30.

With Christmas carols playing in the background and sipping on warm beverages, we each took our turn opening our gifts to and from each other.

In the end, each of our family members received some very kind and giftsthoughtful gifts from one another.

We sat around for some time after all the gifts were opened, telling stories of remembrance, and piling up the used wrapping paper, ribbons and bows.

As our tradition, most of the opened presents were carefully replaced under our tree as a display for all to see.

It was a good year for us, so most, if not all, of the items on our Christmas lists were now found under our tree.

I was the recipient of some really thoughtful gifts from those I love.

As I reflected on the scene before me, I also realized that some of the gifts I received weren’t under our tree... and in fact weren’t given to me by friends and/or family members...

They were instead gifts that I had given to myself over the course of time... gifts that I am eternally grateful to have received at one time or another...

The gift of Good Health

Like most items on this extended list, the gift of good health can’t be given to you by anyone other than yourself.

We were born with only one body so it needs to be constantly maintained. Our body must support us with strength, stamina, energy, power, and vitality allowing us to go where we want... when we want.

This gift to ourselves requires sacrifice, discipline, and hard work. It’s doing things that take only effort and will power.

Maintaining good health consists mainly of three components:

Eating well, exercise and hygiene.

Application of all these three elements of good health must be regular and consistent, it can’t be on one day and off another. They need to be habitually practiced day in and day out.

The importance of a living a healthy lifestyle cannot be emphasized enough...

Good health is the starting point of everything that we do... and we should never take it for granted.

The gift of Continuous Learning

Second only to maintaining our bodies is maintaining our minds.

In the same way that our bodies need daily exercise, our brains have a similar need to be strengthened, stretched, and toned.

Our minds need to be worked hard each and every day through complex problem solving, puzzles and creative thinking. Only in this way will they remain active and alive.

Many studies have shown that even people with a genetic disposition toward mental disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s can fend off the debilitating effects through a program of mental training and exercise.

No one but yourself is capable of gifting you a keen mind.

The mind and the body are a team that must be nourished, strengthened and stretched.

The gift of Humor

Laughter reduces stress, lowers you blood pressure, releases "feel-good" chemicals, like endorphins and dopamine in your brain and increases the oxygen levels in your blood which helps to provide the body with higher energy levels.

Laughter starts with the ability to laugh at yourself and the absurd situations that we often find ourselves in.

Anger is the enemy of laughter and rarely do the two coexist together.

When we laugh... we have a hard time concentrating on our problems and our fears.

While others can help to make us laugh... we need to be willing to allow ourselves latitude to feel joy that only the laughter can bring.

The gift of Attitude

Much has been written and discussed regarding the power of a positive mental attitude.
Believing that we can do something is the first step of actually doing it.

Fear and self-doubt will try to prevent us from starting something great.

Other people, sometimes even our friends and family, will criticize our dreams instead of offering us encouragement. They will often mask their criticism by telling us that they don’t want to see us get hurt or that they are just trying to offer us "objective advice" or "constructive criticism".

The best gift we can give ourselves is a positive attitude that will carry us forward despite those people or situations that try to hold us back.

We need to shut out the nay-sayers and the fear-mongers out of our lives surrounding ourselves with people who will offer us support and encouragement as we take the steps to move forward toward our dreams.

The gift of Gratitude

Although we’d all like to think of ourselves as self-made men and women, for the great majority of us, much of our success is the direct result of other people assisting us along the way.

This cast of helpers includes (but is not limited to) our parents, friends, teachers, mentors, coaches, service providers, employers, customers, and Good Samaritan strangers.

Many of us were fortunate enough to be born into a relatively safe community, with clean drinking water, abundant food, and free from many deadly diseases.

We are often afforded the opportunities to go to school, to learn new skills and find meaningful work.

Our communities are led by a government and a system of laws. While our democratically elected system is not perfect, is also not outwardly corrupt as to force its citizens to pay bribes to its officials for protection and basic services.

We are all extremely fortunate to be afforded liberties, rights, and equalities under the laws of the land by means of a protected and enforced constitution.

Again although not perfect, we arguably have the best healthcare system in the world that provides basic medical care to everyone.

Most importantly, we have unlimited opportunities to follow our dreams and aspirations. We were not born into a caste system that prevents us from achieving upward mobility regardless of how much someone learns and works.

The pursuit of happiness is available to all of us regardless of how we define our own version of "happiness".

For all of these things and more, we should give ourselves the gift of gratitude and appreciation.

Although there may be plenty of gifts under our trees, the gifts of health, learning, humor, attitude and gratitude can only be given to ourselves by ourselves.

These are the gifts that allow us to live an enriching and fulfilling life... the gifts that allow us to give back... the gifts that keep giving...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we are forever grateful for the gifts that our friends, vendors and customers bestow upon us...