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December 2005

Bizlove is the Killer App

I first discovered Tim Sanders, author of the book "Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends", through an article by Glen Ramsbrg on a talk Tim gave at a recent PCMA conference on "Digital Now: Association Leadership in a Digital Age".  The article highlighted the themes of knowledge, networking and compassion, and the title of Tim's book reminded me of one of my all time favorite books, "Love is Letting Go of Fear" by Jerry Jampolsky (and, in fact, there is much alignment between the two books). 

The Big Thought of the book is what Tim calls "the lovecat way": sharing your knowledge, your network and your compassion freely with all of your bizpartners.  Tim goes on to share his knowledge about how to be a lovecat, and includes many references to well-known people in his network as well of examples of how he and others have shared compassion in various bizcontexts.  What I liked best about the book was the way Tim motivated the lovecat approach, the general and specific techniques that he shared, and the examples of lovecats in action.  What I liked least about the book was an ambivalence I perceived with respect to whether love is a means or an end; to me, it is always an end (if it's a means, it's not really love), but given that Tim is [also] preaching to the uninitiated / unconverted, it may be that highlighting other benefits (ends) that can be realized through bizlove will help make the concept (and practice) more broadly appealing. 

[A final note before delving into the lovecat way: the book included numerous examples of what I would call bizwords ... a variation of buzzwords that I initially found rather distracting, but as I write this review, I do see that they are rather contagious ... and I think my recent discovery of the Biznik professional networking group ("an urban tribe for business, a supportive business network that encourages creativity, radical thinking, and community" ... whose co-founder, Dan McComb, was kind enough to post an interview with me) may be helping me warm up to the bizlingua.]

The book starts with the definition of love from Milton Mayeroff's book "On Caring" -- "Love is the selfless promotion of the growth of another" -- and then applies this definition to business -- "the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles [your knowledge, network and compassion] with your bizpartners".  The last organization I worked for had a nearly exclusive focus on tangibles (and an explicit core value of paranoia, a manifestation of bizfear, which I see as the opposite of bizlove); I admit to feeling somewhat vindicated by the high valuation of intangibles presented in the book, although I also recognize that evaluating intangibles in the context of a large business is challenging.  [Update, 2-Jan-2006: I picked up a copy of Business Week at O'Hare yesterday that had some very interesting, relevant and (in my mind) related articles on both big changes at Intel and The Struggle to Measure Performance.]

The first element in becoming a lovecat is acquiring knowledge, and Tim argues that the best way to do this is via reading [hardcover] books, and following a four-step process of aggregation (determining which books to read, and acquiring them), encoding (tagging via underlining or highlighting, "cliffing" or making notes about the Big Thoughts and Big Statements), processing (writing a review, and/or discussing the book with others) and application (identifying appropriate contexts and seizing opportunities to share the knowledge from the book).  I'm an irrepressible tagger and cliffer, and while I used to write one-page summaries research papers when I was in graduate school, I'd abandoned the practice.  I decided to resume this practice of written summarization ... and post it here on my weblog, in case it's of any value to anyone else.

Networking is the second essential attribute of the lovecat way.  Tim offers a three step strategy for effective networking, consisting of collecting the right people for your network (though he notes that "every person is potentially relevant to you and your network"), connecting those people in your network who have complementary needs and solutions to offer (and doing so fast and with active engagement), then disappearing as soon as the connection is fused so that the relationship can develop on its own (and forget about finder's fees or any notion of a balance sheet -- trust that rewards will happen: "People hold you in the highest esteem when they realize you have no expectations that you will receive anything in return for what you are willing to give", a perspective that is very much aligned with the law of karma and Guy Kawasaki's prescription to be a mensch).

Compassion, or caring as much for the success of your bizmates and bizcontacts as for your own success, is the third element of being a lovecat.  Tim reminds me of Don Miguel Ruiz' first of four agreements ("be impeccable with your word") in observing that "there is a tremendous opportunity for your compassion to make a difference in how people view you, and how they view themselves."  While I am all in favor of compassion -- in and out of business -- this was the section of the book I had the most difficulty with.  In several places, Tim professes a utilitarian perspective on compassion, suggesting that one use compassion as a tool to achieve business success, as a means rather than an end.  He refers to being compassionate so "people will like us back", because "it's good for business", to be "most worthy of promotion".  He later says "This bizlove gig is not an act ... never fake it", but this is because "It's bad for the bizlove brand."  So I come away being unsure about his motivations for being a lovecat (and for encouraging others to follow the lovecat way).

However, I always take what I like and leave the rest, and this section had some real gems about sensing and expressing compassion that apply very nicely to the kind of experiences Interrelativity is trying to facilitate via proactive displays (large displays that show elements of people's online profiles when they are nearby, offering opportunities for awareness and interaction with others in their midst):

  • "Someone approaches you and you perceive, through conversation or body language [or something that appears on a nearby proactive display], possibilities that might allow you to bond, or a spark that causes you to feel an immediate affinity for this person ... these moments ... are few and far between."
  • "Most business conversations are transactional.  But when people stray off-subject [say, because of something they see on a nearby proactive display], their force field temporarily comes down and doesn't go back up again until they return to the business at hand."
  • "Business offers us constant contact with other people, but how often do we have a chance to show some compassion during that contact?  Most of these encounters are fast - fleeting emails, quick phone calls, chance meetings in hallways.  But on those occasions when you have the opportunity to show compassion, do so.  It doesn't happen very often.  True long-term relationships often start with what look like small opportunities."

As I noted in my last post, I believe there is a huge social cost to missed opportunities for connection; after reviewing my tags and cliffs in "Love is the Killer App", I would now broaden this to include a huge business cost in missed opportunities, and hope that through lovecat strategies (and technologies), we can make some of these opportunities easier to identify and act upon.

Togetherness vs. Interaction: Enjoying Aloneness in a Crowd

Chris Pluger wrote "Two Hours of Joint Solitude", a very thoughtful and provocative essay about his insights and experiences in a coffeehouse, sitting alone in a crowd, and philosophizing about issues of aloneness, togetherness and transcendence. 

We haven't fallen for a cleverly invented Madison Avenue advertising campaign when we gravitate towards coffee shops, where we can sit alone with other people and enjoy an evening and a cup of java and two hours of joint solitude. I think the existence of coffee shops, and the natural affinity we have for sitting in them, comes from deep within, from an unfulfilled longing that points us to a need we never knew we had.

Just as the feeling of hunger is a strong clue that something like food might exist, just as the sensation of thirst tells us there must be water to quench it, and just as our continual human quest for transcendence gives us a hint that there is something like a God who is above and beyond this world, so also the desire we have to share experiences, to simply be together, seems to tell us that people are supposed to be with other people and enjoy time in each other's company. We weren't meant to sequester ourselves behind tinted glass and soundproof modular office dividers and the high brick walls of planned communities.

We were meant for more fulfilling contacts, more intimate interaction, and deeper understandings. Our desire to sit together in coffee shops, our longing for deep connections and meaningful relationships, points to the reality that such relationships are possible, that such connections can be made, and such togetherness is our shared destiny as humans together on Earth.

Despite these observations about our fundamentally social nature, and the value for deeper, more meaningful connections, he also observes some countervailing tendencies of his own (that, I believe, are widely shared):

How out am I at this coffee shop? I'm actually looking at the same computer screen that I see at work all day. Except for a little lighthearted interaction with the barista, I haven't spoken to or even made eye contact with anyone yet.

The essay brought to mind the social contract of the familiar stranger, wherein people regularly observe, recognize, but do not interact with, others in their midst (lest they establish a precedent whereby they may feel compelled to interact during future encounters) ... an inclination -- or perhaps disinclination, depending on how you look at it -- that I can understand, and yet have trouble accepting.  I believe that social isolation and disconnection are defense mechanisms rooted in fear and scarcity, and that the world would be a better place if more people were more willing to embrace openness, vulnerability and abundance, by lowering their barriers and sharing their shadows and gold with those around them.

Chris' observations indicate that while he did not interact with anyone at the coffeeshop, he was keenly aware of -- and even appreciative of -- their presence.  I wonder how many missed opportunities for offering or receiving something of value from his transient neighbors transpired during his two hour experience of joint solitude ... and what the cumulative social cost of such missed opportunities amount to over all the times and places where people are unwilling to risk establishing more meaningful connections with others.

Eclipse Aviation: Redefining the Value Proposition for Jet Travel

Vern Raburn, President and CEO of Eclipse Aviation (mantra: "fly in the face of convention"), gave a rousing presentation at Friday's NWEN Breakfast, describing how his company is redefining the value proposition for jet travel by making private jet travel -- via a new generation of very light jets (VLJs) employed as air taxis -- as affordable as full-fare coach travel on large commercial air passenger carriers.  I learned a lot about aviation, and, as at all NWEN events, a lot about entrepreneurship.

Eclipse is pioneering a new line of VLJs that incorporate three elements of disruptive technology:

  • modern turbine power: a new breed of aircraft engines that can be manufactured in 8 (rather than 65) hours, and are more quiet (ICAO Stage 4) and efficient than most existing engines
  • digital electronics: more sophisticated than the Boeing 777
  • new manufacturing processes: friction stir welding, machined parts, just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing

These elements combine to result in an efficient, low-maintenance aircraft that can be assembled within 10 days from the time an order is placed ... and 20 days before the payments are due for the components.

Vern relayed a number of differences between the aviation and high tech industries.  One aviation veteran, upon learning of Eclipse's plan, revealed the immense difference in scale between the two industries, remarking "you're only going to be a $5B company ... how are you going to survive?"  In technology, the non-existence of a product or service is seen as an opportunity; in aviation, the presumption is "it can't be done."   Up until a year ago, most in the aviation industry believed the market for VLJs would never exist; now it is widely seen to be the hottest market segment.

Among the entrepreneurial insights and experiences Vern conveveyed:

  • Real value change produces new demand (in technology, this reduces prices; in aviation, this has historically increased prices)
  • Market forecasts for disruptive products are always wrong
  • Price new products based on cost, not "what the market will bear"
  • Eclipse has attracted the world's largest amount of angel investment -- $475M, with no institutional investors
  • Everyone wants to combine their occupation with their avocation ... if you don't have passion for what you're doing, it's just a job.  Vern is clearly someone who has successfully merged his occupation and avocation, and his passion was contagious and inspiring.

Speaking of occupation, avocation and jobs, after Vern's presentation, Connie Bourassa-Shaw, the Executive DIrector of NWEN, announced that she would be resigning her position at the end of the year, and taking over as director for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Business School.  We will miss her at the helm of NWEN, but wish her all the best in her new position!

Public Relations, Branding, Integrity and Passion

Parker LePla offered insights and experiences on The Essentials of PR and Brand Management at an Northwest Enterpreneur Network workshop this morning.  They characterized a brand as a "sustainable differentiator" that represents the intersection of what you do well, what your customers value and what is sustainable over time, embodying the vision, mission and core values of an organization.  I was particularly drawn to their description of an integrated brand as the promise you keep as an organization ... bringing to mind the image -- and mantra -- of Horton the Elephant ("I meant what said, and I said what I meant; an elephant is faithful one hundred percent"). 

I went into the seminar with a moderate to high level of skepticism -- and even cynicism -- about branding, stemming in part to some earlier chafing I felt during the rather stringent brand guidelines introduced by the firm formerly-known-as Andersen Consulting during its renaming (and rebranding) to Accenture during my time there, and in part from an association I've constructed between branding and pretentiousness.  However, rather than pretentiousness, the idea of integrity kept surfacing throughout the presentation.  In fact, many of the exercises designed to excavate the nature of our respective ventures' brands could equally well be applied to discovering one's true self.

Another idea that kept surfacing was passion.  It was noted that people don't typically make rational decisions, they make emotional decisions and then rationalize them afterward.  One advantage to a company that can inspire passion and loyalty on the part of customers is that such passion may support 5% to 25% higher prices.  As so often happens, I was reminded of a blog post by Kathy Sierra, on "Passion is Blind", in which she offers the observation that "Having passionate users is almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card ... They'll forgive you when you screw up."

There were a number of other useful suggestions for how to manage a brand, "live" a brand, and develop and deliver an effective public relations campaign.  Rather than detail them all here, I'll post a link to the sldes, if/when they become available, [Update: the slides can be found here; I've included two exellent diagrams that helped me better understand branding below.]

Levels of Brand Relationship (from p. 8 of the Parker LePla slides):


Discovering Your Brand (from p. 13 of the slides):


and leave off noting I'll note two additional themes that are important for all branding and public relations activities: emotional intelligence and "simplify, simplify, simplify".

[Update: a friend asked about PR stuff, so I'll add a few more notes .]

Public relations was defined as enlisting a third party to assist in your marketing.  We were encouraged to give up the notion of "free PR", which does not exist, and instead focus on the notion of "earned media", i.e., if you want media attention, you have to earn it, by adopting the perspective of editors, publishers, and [other] journalists in creating content that they can use, and offering it when they can best use it: in short, how can you make their lives, and those of their customers, better?  [Yet another instance of a maxim that Dan Fine shared at EU 2005: everyone you interact with in a business context can be thought of as a customer or potential customer, whether it is vendors, employees, partners, media, investors or people who want to buy your product or service (the "traditional" notion of a "customer") ... in effect, you need to sell them all on some kind of value proposition.]

The key to a successful public relations strategy is message development (and, as always, keeping things as simple as possible):

  • determining your company's strategic role in your customers' lives,
  • distilling this down to a short (ideally, one-sentence) positioning statement,
  • creating a message platform focusing on the three most important messages
  • identifying three talking points that you want people to remember

A PR campaign is always focused on a specific audience (e.g., no "one size fits all" campaigns), and a company will benefit from having different campaigns for different key audiences (e.g., customers vs. investors).  Of course, within the larger context of an integrated brand, I imagine there will likely be significant similarities among diferent campaigns.  [Oh, this reminds me: there may also be different branding, and PR campaigns, for your company's brand and the brand of your company's products or services ... though, again, there will ideally be some linkages.]

The basic elements of a PR campaign are one or more of the following

  • press releases
  • contributed articles
  • press events
  • media kits and contents (electronic and/or print)
  • stories

There is often a snowball effect in the media: once one media outlet picks up your story, others are more likely to follow suit, so securing that first story is the most challenging task (similar to the domino effect for angel investors that Lon McGowan and Henry Lin talked about last Thursday ... and I suppose an editor or journalist might be viewed as "investing" in your story).

Moonjar, a local company "committed to creating products that encourage communication and that empower children with basic life skills", was mentioned as a company that is modeling the integrated branding and successful public relations campaign management that was discussed througout the workshop.  In looking around their web site, I have to agree that they are exemplary, and it is no small surprise that they are one of Parker LePla's clients.

Finally (no, really, I mean it this time), the Parker LePla team stressed the importance of leveraging a public relations campaign by creating a "press room" section of your company web site, reproducing (with permission, of course) articles, and creating a blog for disseminating news about your company. 

This last one is rather interesting ... I've started posting a few entries in this blog about some significant milestones I've achieved in my own venture, Interrelativity, but also been rather open about challenges I am facing (or have faced).  I keep hearing and reading -- and blogging -- about the importance of openness, vulnerability, integrity and honesty, and want to maintain my commitment to this approach to life and work through this blog. However, I also recognize that some of the PR and branding principles of simplicity and focus may not well represented here.  I'll have to give this some more thought...

Business Plans and Angel Investors

I attended two extremely helpful -- and mutually reinforcing -- entrepreneurial events last Thursday: a free (!) Business Plan Writing workshop offered through the Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) and a seminar on "An Entrepreneur's Perspective on Angel Investing: Plan, Present and Negotiate" offered through the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest.  The former provided some guidelines for how and why to write a business plan; the latter provided some first-hand experiences by successful entrepreneurs who have effectively used business plans (and other tools) to attract investment.

The Business Plan Writing workshop pn Thursday afternoon was led by Bill Keough, Director of Business Development for Hubspan, Inc., and Bryan Brewer, Founder & CEO of Business Plans Northwest.  They posited the goal of a business plan as "a tool to convince someone else that your venture is worth pursuing"; I like that, as it is broad enough to encompass all [prospective] stakeholders.  They also emphasized the value of empathy: being able to adopt the perspective of convincees (my term for potential investors and employees ... and existing spouses).  Throughout the workshop (and the MITEF seminar), empathy and other traits associated with emotional intelligence (e.g., self-awareness and optimism) were either implicitly or explicitly referenced repeatedly.

The slides from Bill & Bryan's presentation will be have been posted on the NWEN web site soon.  Among the pearls of wisdom I gleaned from the workshop:

  • The idea behind a venture is not nearly as important as the management team and their ability to execute (my notes read "99% execution").
  • The first paragraph of the business plan should include some financial projection that provides quantifiable evidence that you are aiming high.
  • Your board of advisors can help create an unfair advantage, by giving you access to some world-class expertise that your competition does not have access to.
  • Wherever there is a business opportunity, there will be competition ... and if it is an [as yet] largely undiscovered opportunity, there is always the competition from inertia.
  • It's not enough to simply identify the pain that your product or service will help overcome, you have to assemble evidence that enough people will be willing to pay enough money to use your product or service [aye, and there's the current rub for me].

The evening MITEF seminar on angel investing was presented by two entrepreneurs who have recently succeeded in securing angel investment for their companies: Lon McGowan, CEO of iClick, and Henry Lin, Co-Founder of Chelsey-Henry (MITEF does not post slides to their web site; so I posted a copy here if you are interested in a copy, contact them here). Lon and Henry echoed several of the themes presented at the business plan workshop, with some interesting augmentations and variations.

Among my gleanings from this seminar:

  • "Investors invest in you, your team and your products or services, in that order"; it is important to clearly convey your passion and knowledge.
  • Use graphics rather than text in your presentation wherever possible; analogies are very powerful (e.g., describing Chelsey-Henry as "Tumi for women").
  • Angels typically like to invest in companies with a market opportunity of approximately $2-3M; individual angel investors typically invest between $25-100K in a venture.
  • Venture capital groups often advertise; angels often prefer to maintain a low profile.
  • Seeking investment can be viewed simply as a variation on the traditional sales cycle: you are selling equity (many of the excellent suggestions for effect selling I heard at a recent sales seminar presented by John Browne of Workpump and Lori Richardson of Score More Sales, are clearly applicable in this context, e.g., identifying ideal customers, qualifying prospects, and following through).
  • There were lots of specifics about the legal aspects that I was unaware of, e.g., Preferred Placement Memoranda (PPMs), "blue sky" filings, and various rights. preferences and clauses that have to be worked out ... with legal fees in the range of $15-20K (!); Lon and Henry both emphasized the importance of having a good lawyer (I'm glad I'm all set on at least that count).

I am reminded of the Zen proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears".  This student is as ready as he'll ever be, and is very grateful for all the insights and experiences shared by these  generous teachers.  Time to do my homework!

Another Interrelativity Milestone: Helping People Relate at a Holiday Party

Washburn Communication invited Interrelativity to deploy a proactive display at their holiday party at the Civica Office Commons in Bellevue yesterday.  I live (and work) for these deployments -- it was great to have an opportunity to insert this social technology into a fabulous place like Civica and among so many interesting people!  About 25 of the 40 or so guests created a profile before the party, another 5 created profiles at the party, and from what I could see and from what I heard (and acknowledging my biased perspective), the technology helped facilitate a number of social interactions throughout the evening.

I heard [of] conversations about minks vs. weasels, salmon and scuba diving, all triggered by images appearing on the proactive display.  Two people, who had known each other for 30 years, had independently (i.e., unbeknownst to each other) uploaded photos to their respective profiles that showed each of them dressed up as Albert Einstein at different costume parties [update: I just found out that one of them had spied the other's profile image before creating his own profile].  Several people expressed positive impressions about the technology and its impact, and a few had interesting and helpful suggestions for how to improve it, and/or extend it into new types of contexts.

The main application ran without any problems all night.  Due to some local networking challenges, there was a problem in uploading images into profiles directly from the web, but we could save them locally to the laptop I was using as a profile registration kiosk and then upload them into profiles on the server from there.  There were also some issues that arose due to the fact that the kinds of plastic name badge sleeves into which we typically insert the RFID tags aren't a typical feature of a casual holiday party.  Fortunately, people were willing to stick the tags into their pockets, and women with no pockets were willing to insert the tags into their handbags (or simply carry then for a bit until the RFID reader first saw their tags).

It was pretty challenging to independently handle most of the logistics (pack up, transport, set up, assist with profile modifications during the event, tear down, pack up, transport ... sleep).  I was fortunate to have the assistance of a neighbor for loading and unloading here at the house, and of Mark Manca and his extremely helpful catering staff at Seastar Restaurant (who also provided excellent food, drink and service throughout the event) for moving equipment into and out of Civica.  I have an even greater appreciation for all the hard work that others who have worked with me at earlier events have contributed ... and it's time to start thinking about -- and doing something about -- involving others [again] (I met someone at the party who may be able to help).

Now that the technology is fairly stable, and I have enjoyed a successful deployment, I intend to turn my attention to business planning again (particularly with respect to the financial aspects -- the holiday party was a promotional opportunity, for which I am very grateful, but I want to get much clearer about the costs and pricing that will support the growth of Interrelativity).  I attended two very helpful -- and mutually reinforcing -- presentations on this topic (an NWEN Business Plan Writing workshop and an MIT Enterprise Forum seminar on An Entrepreneur's Perspective on Angel Investing) last Thursday, and am finally ready to break through my resistance to engage in this increasingly important aspect of the business.

Better Coffee Through Chemextry

Last week, I met Erik at the University Zoka (UZ) cafe (Zoka roasts -- and brews -- the best coffee in Seattle ... my favorite is their organic Tatoosh Blend).   I arrived early, and got to talking with Sam, who was getting ready to brew a new batch of coffee ... and was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to select one (it was a brand new Central American blend they were experimenting with -- I liked it, but not as much as Tatoosh).  Later on (after Erik had left), Sam stopped by my table and we got to talking  [more] about coffee connoisseurship.  We both prefer the French press method for retaining as much of the flavor, aromatics and natural oils as possible, but neither of likes to have to clean up the mess left behind.  He told me that the Chemex coffeemaker provides much of the benefits of French press, but uses a filter, making it easier to clean up.


I asked Sam what was so special about Chemex coffee: was it the carafe or the special filters?  In particular, I was curious about whether using the Chemex filter in a regular automatic drip coffeemaker would have a similar effect.  Sam wasn't sure, but offered me a filter to take home and try (which I accepted).  I also read up on the Chemex filters via their web page:

      Coffee beans and pre-ground coffee contain about 50 different elements. Only two are desirable: aromatic coffee oils and caffeine. The rest is a mixture of acids, fats, oils and bitter flavor elements which must be removed if the coffee is to have a rich taste. A really good cup of coffee is clear, full-bodied and aromatic, without bitterness or sediment.

      Chemex® filters are 20-30% heavier than competitive brands. They remove even the finest sediment particles as well as the undesirable oils and fats. The formulation of the filter permits the proper infusion time by regulating the filtration rate - not too slow, not too fast. Good infusion of the coffee grounds (as in brewing and steeping tea) gives coffee a richer flavor while at the same time making possible precise fractional extraction: filtering out the undesirable components which make coffee bitter by allowing only the desirable flavor elements of the coffee bean to pass through.

      The Chemex® filter is folded into a cone shape, exactly as in laboratory techniques. This assures uniform extraction since the water filters through all the grounds on its way to the apex of the cone. The Chemex® filter is guaranteed not to burst under the weight of the liquid during filtration, and not to break when lifting out the grounds.

      Fully-bodied, richer flavor, from less coffee, and as strong as you like without bitterness - that's what the Chemex® filter gives you.

This morning, I brewed a half-pot of Tatoosh this morning using the filter, and I have to say that it produces substantially better coffee (I actually cut a pre-folded circular filter in half ... so I can try replicating the experiment tomorrow).  I never would have guessed that the filter could have made such a difference ... and this reminded me of Kathy Sierra's EQ metaphor for breakthrough ideas (er, and my riff on that theme, the wahwah metaphor for breakthrough ideas), and I decided to take her up on her invitation to apply the metaphor to new product areas (in this case, coffeemaking) -- and I'll use her metaphor and the template she so kindly provided (I'm not so invested in my "wahwah" variation as to take the time to come up with a template for that).


I'm not sure I'm applying the metaphor the way Kathy intended, but what this represents (for me) is the "breakthrough" concept that the coffee filter itself is a significant "slider" in making great coffee.  I've been a coffee snob for a long time, being very particular about the quality and freshness of the coffee beans, and the quality of the water.  I pay a little less attention to the coffee grind granularity, and, aside from my preference for French press, rarely focus on the coffeemaker itself.  And, until this morning, I never gave much thought to filters (except for my aversion to bleach).

Next time I go to Zoka's, I will try a pot of coffee brewed with the Chemex filters in a Chemex coffeemaker, and see if adjusting the coffeemaker "slider" results in a substantially different coffee experience.

The Wahwah Model for Breakthrough Ideas

Kathy Sierra has returned to the blogosphere with yet another inspiring and provocative post, this time about what she and her colleagues call the EQ model for breakthrough ideas, based on a sound equalizer (EQ) metaphor with various sliders used to model features and potential features in a new product or service. 

EQ model

Kathy suggests that the four ways of innovating, within this model, and in increasing likelihood of achieving significant breakthroughs (and the attendant risks of failure), are to

  • adjust the sliders in minor ways
  • adjust the sliders in more dramatic ways
  • add new sliders for features that have been largely ignored or undervalued by competitors
  • add new sliders for features not even considered by competitors

Examples of adding new sliders include Nike's customization of athletic shoes, Apple's finer-grained music purchases (via iTunes), FlickR's tags, and an art gallery that sells skateboard shoes.  Kathy notes that the book Blue Ocean Strategy (by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne) has also explored this kind of innovation (though I imagine with different, and perhaps less vivid or graphic, metaphors) and one of the commenters on her post (Sean Tierney) references Clayton Christensen's book, The Innovator's Dilemma (and another commenter, Zach, provides a link to a talk Christensen gave on the topic).

Another blogger, Bruno Unna, sent a trackback to her post noting that the sliders on an equalizer are interrelated (spanning a spectrum of sound frequencies) ... this got me to thinking about devices that affect musical sound in more radical ways than adjusting the frequencies of an equalizer, and reminded me of my erstwhile electric guitar playing days when I had a wahwah pedal, distortion box and phase shifter to alter the sound of my 1968 Les Paul.  I still have the guitar, but no longer have any of the special effects devices ... but my friend Gordon does, and he was kind enough to snap and send me a photo of his Boss setup, which I include below.  In my biased perspective, this represents a slightly more apt metaphor for truly disruptive innovation.   [A more accurate label might be "the electric guitar effects pedals model for breakthrough thinking" ... but this seems like way too many syllables, and so I'll settle for "wahwah model".]


[Update: I've added a photo from the Boss web site of their GT-6 Guitar Effects Processor, which has more color contrast to highlight its different features.]


Finally, I just have to include a link to the "Featuritis Curve" that Kathy included in her post.  Prior to her blog sabbatical, she posted an invitation to her readers to post comments that would lift her spirits, and many people included some really funny jokes and links to [other] humorous stuff.  I saw this featuritis curve while checking my email -- and her blog -- during a brief visit to the Seattle Public Library, and laughed out loud when I saw it (I could so relate to it!) ... startling some of the other patrons.  I'm glad she is back, and sharing her wisdom and wit with us again.

Featuritis Curve