What is possible?

Every now and again we are forced to re-consider what is possible. Maybe it is due to some form of technology advancement. Maybe it is due to a new scientific discovery. And sometimes it is due to a single person pushing themselves to the limit, and in doing so pushing human possibilities to levels that had previously been considered impossible.

Kelly Slater is a person who has consistently been doing this for 20 years. In fact, I regard him as the greatest sports person of all sports of all time. Anyone who disagrees with this has simply failed to consider what he has done over this period. He has dominated, and reinvented the sport again and again. To the point where we has been world champion 11 times over 20 years and is still competing against and beating surfers who were not even born when he won his first world title. At the age of 40 he is still setting the bench mark. His dominance of the sport is almost embarrassing for other competitors.

He did something amazing this week in the Bells Beach Ripcurl Pro. In fact it is the best manouvre ever seen in competitive  surfing. A full 360 aerial rotation – no hands. You can see it below. Just 30 years ago surfing magazines were full of discussions as to whether a simple 360 turn on the wave face was physically possible. And while every year, we think our sport has reached its limit it manages to forge into uncharted territory.

We should use this as motivation and a reminder of what we ourselves can do. That we are never too old and that the only limits that matter are the ones that we set for ourselves.

Enjoy this visual orgy of surfing goodness.


Stop thinking about technology

We need to stop thinking about technology. Actually we need to stop using the word technology. A chair made from timber is a form of technology. Digital does not equal technology. There is no technology. Only evolution and an increasing rate of change. People just lives their lives with the things around them. If the things are good and useful (new or old) they will embrace them. Lots of these things happen to have micro chips in them. So what. Lots of things have timber and metal in them too.

What we need to be is anthropologists. If we truly want to understand we need to listen and observe without interrupting. If we interrupt, there’s a chance we’ll influence the flow of the previously reality – and change it. So we wont know the truth as it would have been before we arrived. The truth and flow of human life is technology agnostic and there is much much more to it than ‘things’ we use to live.


The art of iteration – coffee

Iterating in business is an art form. It’s how we grow and find a path to establish the features that matter. It’s not about more, it’s about finding what works, which means that as we morph and change, certain features must be sacrificed, left or or purposely cut off. Nature exemplifies this. Nature takes time to roll out new features, and is well prepared to sacrifice old ones which no longer pay their way. Nature takes years to develop the perfect mix, but is in a constant state of evolution.

The coffee market has been one of the most interesting category evolutions we’ve seen in the past decade or so. Especially given the drink has been around thousands of years. What’s most interesting is that it was a commodity market at brand and retail level for the largest part of the past 60 years. Granules in a tin which one mixes with boiling hot water. Large brands then competed on price with occasional soapie style advertising.

Enter coffee culture and in 15 short years everything has changed. Coffee isn’t coffee anymore. Coffee is latte, coffee is short machiato, coffee is espresso, coffee is arabica versus robusta. But it evolved slowly, and the latest trend in coffee drenched Melbourne is cold dripped coffee. The point for startups is simple: we can’t go from Nescafe blend 43 straight to cold drip coffee. We have to take people on a journey with us, chapter by chapter. Shown below is another photo essay of  a coffee haunt on little Collins Street Melbourne called Sensory Lab.

The question for entrepreneurs is what industry can we invent a journey to take people on?


Inside the minds of others

When our genes could not store all the information necessary for our survival, we slowly invented brains. But then the time came, maybe tens of thousands of years ago, that we needed to know more than could be conveniently stored in brains. So we learned to stockpile enormous amounts of information outside our bodies. We are the only species as far as we know to have developed a communal memory, and the warehouse of that memory is called the library.

Something extraordinary has been happening on the planet earth. Rich information from distant lands and peoples , has become routinely available. Computers can now store and process enormous amounts of information extremely rapidly. In our time a revolution has begun. A revolution perhaps as significant as the evolution of DNA and nervous systems and the invention of writing. Direct communication among billions of human beings is now made possible by computers and satellites.  The potential for a global intelligence is emerging, linking all the brains on earth into a planetary consciousness.

The above words were spoken 29 years ago by Carl Sagan (in Cosmos 1980). Well before the personal computer revolution, the graphical user interface, before the internet had left military installations and Universities. Carl was a prophet, with great insight. He’s just described our world so poignantly, well before it arrived.

It makes me excited to be able to share my thoughts so easily, like Carl said we would all this time ago. It makes me want to ensure my digital contribution is positive and leaves a valuable legacy. It makes me want to make sure we all know how important this gift of omnipresent communication is, at a time when our species needs to collaborate so strongly for our survival.

Now that we can so quickly enter the minds of others, we should all make sure our contributions are positive, that we add something of value to this collective consciousness.

When technology makes you obsolete

I once heard an interview with drummer Rob Hirst from the rock band Midnight Oil. It was in reference to one of their most critically acclaimed and best selling song, Power and the passion. Rob was asked about the infamous drum solo in the middle of the song, which not only doesn’t sound indulgent, but fits the rhythm and meaning of the song. What I find most interesting from an entrepreneurial perspective is how it all came about, this is what Rob had to say:

“It was 1982 and drum machines were entering the music scene and replacing drummers very quickly. They were cheaper and more reliable. It was a time when drummers were throwing themselves off cliff tops. Rather than fear the technological advancement, I thought it might be better to embrace it.  I wondered how I could use it to supplement what I was already doing to make it better. So for the Power and the Passion, I decided to have a drum machine playing in the background on the entire track. By doing this it freed up my arms and legs to add some color to the song, and ultimately allowed for the drum solo which is often sited as the catalyst that makes the song so great.”

The story above is one for all the Luddites out there. for the technology fear mongers, and those who worry about being replaced. The truth is, we should be happy when technology replaces labour for the simple reason that it opens the door to creativity. It opens the door to opportunity, for a better use of our time and resources.

You can watch / listen the drum solo at 2.35 minutes on the clip below. Be sure to listen for the drum machine track quietly providing the beat underneath.

PS – the smashing sound at the end of the solo is a florescent light tube Rob brought into the studio for  a dramatic industrial effect, not a pane of glass. Awesome.


Why scoreboards matter

Humans are compelled to count. We count everything. Days, weeks, months, years, birthdays, money in the bank, salary levels, years of experience. It’s part of the human condition, maybe it helped us evolve to a civilised existence .

As startup entrepreneurs we need to let our people count something. Whether it’s the savings they made or they friends they have, there needs to be a way for them to keep track. So our people know they have made progress. Commerce is an anthropological game of football. So we must keep score. But it must go beyond the corporate scoreboard of profit, share price, turnover, number of employees… it has to be an audience focused score. Like followers on twitter. It has to be about them, not us, it’s how humans roll.


The white collar underclass

Before the Industrial Revolution the average number of hours worked in the western world was less than 6 hours per day. Some say we worked less than two and a half days a week.

I won’t quote what the average number of hours are today, but it’s more for everyone I know personally. I’m certain many people reading this would work in excess of 12 hours on certain days.

So what happened?

We got stooged. The  industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, since this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to the factories and work times during a year has been significantly higher since then the important  innovation of piece labour. That is, the ability to earn income based on output. Think bolts in car doors.

Over time longer hours lead to greater amount of industrial accidents and workplace injuries. Unions formed and laws changed on the factory floor. But, the office was a different place altogether.

Office workers – salary based workers who where historically in management worked for salaries. A fixed wage for a fixed number of hours. My father constantly reminds me that in his day office workers only worked from 9am until 4.30pm. That tradesman and factory workers were the only people who did extra hours. And they did this to make up for the pay discrepancy which was favour of salary workers.

Clearly times have changed. If you are working in a large corporate, cubicle farm, in front of a screen or any place where you don’t get your hands dirty then chances are your are part of the ever growing white collar underclass. Here’s the some of stuff that defines members of the White Collar Underclass:

  1. A fixed salary with no overtime (factory workers, tradesman, retail staff all have overtime)
  2. Regularly working beyond the ‘official hours’ including weekends.
  3. It is expected that you arrive before and leave after your official hours.
  4. No representation in your industry to protect employment conditions.
  5. No tax benefits or uniform allowances, because your work clothing doesn’t have a logo on it. Even though it is in real terms a ‘uniform’ and costs you 10 times what hands on workers wear to work.
  6. Your annual performance review is based on the subjective assessments of your direct manager who may or may not like you.
  7. You work in a large building full of people who look and act like you do, and no one really knows what anyone else does.
  8. In an economic downturn, you panic, because you know what you do is essentially expendable.
  9. Large parts of your day are dealing with procedure, invented by other workers to justify their own existence.
  10. You look at a screen for large parts of your day, but have restrictions on what information you can bring onto the screen from the outside world.
  11. You feel as though your rarely use the skills acquired in the formal education you needed to get that job.
  12. You can work for days, weeks and months without any physical evidence of tangible outputs of what you have done. You don’t make or fix anything real.

If some of the above apply to you, chances are you are part of the white collar underclass. A group of people who have been victimized by efficiency. A group of people who don’t do anything real. Which is why there will be a significant value shift and higher pay going to people (like tradesman) who make stuff. Simple supply and demand. In the past 50 years companies have became so good at what they do, that very few people really do anything, including you. But you are giving so much of your time… you know it, and it eats at your soul.

Startup blog advice: Earn your living. Do something that adds value, not takes up space. Even if it must be done at nights and on weekends. Even if it provides no income. The human soul feeds on real activity, not simple economic existence. Feed your soul in 2010.