In Response to R&D Productivity Metrics

It’s been 2-years since I thought about and responded to the question posed in this blog entry about R&D productivity metrics. The fundamental problem I had with the metrics is that they measured research and development productivity in terms of money in a forward looking manner.  I still maintain this is an easy way for decision makers to fool themselves into making silly decisions and leads to all sorts of  trouble when these prognostications get folded into the financial outlook a company feeds to Wall Street.

But what if we look at R&D in a way that’s more predictable for the nature of R&D, then maybe we can get a more straight forward answer about what R&D to invest in. I think research and development that has the potential to lead to more R&D and more products is the best kind of R&D.  In a way it’s an indirect way to look at money. Put another way, it would be better to do R&D that will lead to more R&D and that can be leveraged into a greater number of products than doing R&D that dead ends when the effort is completed.

Let’s go back for a little bit to think about why a company or a person might do research and development.

1.  A problem needs solving to enable a product

2.  A company wants to enter an existing market

3.  A company wants to create a new market

Problem solving on the fly is basically incidental R&D — a problem comes up, the problem gets solved and life goes on.

The next two reasons for doing R&D require some forethought.  Entering an existing market is difficult because in order to be successful you have to offer a product that is better than the existing products and you have to be able to see into the future to predict whether this market has life left in it.  For instance, I pity the companies that invested heavily in variable printing only to see things get suddenly flipped over by the Internet, e-readers, electronic displays, and the Sustainability Movement.  As for creating a new market, that’s even trickier.  In that case it’s R&D by dumb luck or your company employs some visionaries who can create a vision of the future that appeals to customers.  Dumb luck and visionaries who actually predict correctly are hard to come by.  I think, though, the thing that binds these two reason to do R&D is the need for excellent vintage charts.  And I don’t mean vintage charts with products that have more features as time go by.  What I mean are vintage charts that take technology development and connect them with the trajectory of the markets they are entering.  This of course means linking it to future customer needs and not necessarily some made up vision of the market in terms of dollars.  A good example of some good products that probably came from a good vintage charting are Apple’s iPod to iPod Touch to iPhone and Magic Mouse and eventually to iPad.  These all took the idea of “touch” and expanded it into a technology development that built upon itself to create a string of products with excellent sales.

In thinking about vintage charting, you have start with a vision of the ultimate product or products and then move backward to unlock what technology developments have to happen.  In that process, you can move forward and to the sides to see product adjacencies.  I think if you happen upon a base technology development effort that spawns a grand tree of potential products and other R&D efforts, then you’ve got yourself something to pursue.  Your initial R&D effort will be rewarded with a future filled with products and growth.

I think, though, such activities should be done with scientists, engineers, and marketing.  Too often vintage charts are left only to marketing or engineering managers alone in cones of isolation.  You need the scientists and engineers to isolate the fundamental technology development components and you need the marketing folks to provide insight about customers.  Most importantly, though, an organization needs to have people who can look at matters across engineering and marketing and also have a compelling vision of the future.  And no, I don’t mean a vision of 10% growth year over year until we’re huge.  That’s not a vision of the future.  Those are goals for Wall Street and such goals can only be met by money and financial math manipulation.  What I mean is a technology and product vision and perhaps a 20 – 40-year outlook on society (For example, in 20-years we will create a mechanical suit that will result in a super soldier, or in 10 years all forms of entertainment will be on-demand).  This is difficult in times when companies choose put themselves at the mercy of Wall Street.  However, at some point if a company truly wants to be successful, then they have to concentrate on making something real rather than running a scam to create money from nothing.  Also, in the end, strong sales and excitement about new products always pleases Wall Street…So…well…’nuff said, right? Now get out there and invent!

Some Thoughts on the Change in Publishing

Publishing is changing and the folks in media are screaming bloody murder (not that I blame them for doing so).  Spurred on by the success of Amazon’s Kindle and the iPad, things are moving a lot faster than they ever dreamed I suppose.  Just last month it was reported that Kindle Books sales over took the sales of hardcover books.  It sounds amazing at first glance until you think about how bulky and brick-like hard cover books are compared to the sleekness of the Kindle or the iPad, both in form and bookshelf space (or lack there of…).  Other than the changing form in which we consume printed media, something else is afoot.  There is a challenge to the foundation of traditional publishing itself.  I think we’ve all seen it, but for the most part denied it.  As self publishing becomes easier, the lack of authority rises.  I’ve talked about this before, but I think now I see two stark mirroring realities that can be best summed up as, “Anyone can publish almost anything they want.”  At first I thought “wow” and then this quickly turned into “oh no…”

I guess I’ll focus my thoughts on a subject I’m familiar with: manga.  Leaving aside the current legal controversies of scanlation, I’d rather think about the issues of “authority.”  The truth of the matter is anybody can do scanlation with the right software (or in some cases without).  When I speak of authority in scanlation, I mainly think about the project choices a group makes and whether the translation offered is any good. Continue reading Some Thoughts on the Change in Publishing

It’s Been a While Since I’ve Rambled

It’s been a while since I’ve written an entry in this blog.  I think this says a lot about the state of things.  In general, there’s not much to say, and, in general, there’s not much nice for me to say.

About a month ago while driving home from a night out at the movies, my husband asked me if I wanted to go to Best Buy or Fry’s and wander the aisles.  My response was, “For what?”  That’s when we came to the sad realization that, beyond the iPad, there is nothing for gadget freaks and computer nerds to be excited about right now.  3D TV repulses me and there’s no reason to buy a new TV just because it has yellow pixels.  There are no new speed leaps in PC hardware and I already have a multitude of iPods and PC’s in various form factors.  Ironically, the next day, while listening to Marketplace on my local Public Radio station, one of the news stories was about how sales at Best Buy had fallen.  I guess my husband and my sentiments are widespread.  There’s nothing new and wonderful to aspire to purchase (except for an iPad) and we are only buying on necessity for the purpose of replacing  broken items.  Sadly enough, our non-functioning XBOX360 doesn’t rise to the level of necessity.  We are now watching Netflix VOD on the laptop that’s connected to our TV.

This realization brought about further thoughts about the current state of things.  There’s a push/pull conundrum with the jobs situation.  People are holding back on spending because they feel insecure about their jobs and finances and companies aren’t hiring because there’s not enough demand for produces and services.  I think though, that job and financial insecurity are only a  part of the demand problem.  I think a big part of the demand problem is that there’s nothing exciting and new for consumers to consume.  Why do I say this?  Well, because of Apple, of course.  Despite the downturn, they continue to churn out great products and they don’t seem to be having any problem selling them to cash strapped consumers.  And believe me, my unemployed-behind is saving my husband’s money for a Christmas iPad.

I’m tired of hearing companies whine that they won’t hire because there’s no demand for their offerings.  My response to that line of complaints is “what are you offering?”  If it’s not something new and exciting, regardless of state of the economy, demand will slump.  In good times and bad companies have create demand by innovating and coming up with great new products to drive consumption.  So, in other words, big companies are going to have to spend some of the money they are sitting on, hire some people, and offer some great new products and services in order to kick start demand and spark the economy.  At the same time, there has to be investment in innovative small companies to get new ideas out.

My Dad likes to say that the economy won’t  revive until some sort of phenomenal shift happens — something on scale of the Internet or the steam engine.  I’m not sure if I agree.  It seems to me that there are a lot of “little” things that can get done, too.  Interestingly enough to me, it seems like clean energy isn’t fueling people’s imaginations.   I thought the clean energy revolution would be a phenomenal shift, but it isn’t.  Why?  I think it’s because oil is very much ingrain in our worldwide psyche.  I’m not sure I understand this emotional attachment to oil, but despite the damage being done to the Gulf, I hear the tears in people’s voice as they talk about the spilled oil ruining the environment, while at the same time, ruining job prospects and a way of life in which oil and fishing are intertwined.  The same is true for families in the coal mining industry — it’s like coal mining is part of the family.  It’s weird to me — why love something that kills you and hurts everyone on the planet?    Also, I think oil and coal are tangible whereas solar, wind, nuclear, and the biological and chemical methods of energy generation seem abstract to most people.   I imagine “blue collar” workers don’t see how they fit into a world that they associate with hard science and engineering — though, it seems entirely ridiculous to me, but understandable since BP saw it fit to fire the very engineers and scientists that could have prevented or more reasonably responded to the Gulf oil spill.  (By the way “technicians,”  “engineers,” and “scientists”  are not interchangeable!)  Anyhow…it seems to me that our reliance on fossil fuels is emotional and until that emotional tie is cut, other forms of energy generation cannot rise in its place.  The “everyday worker” has to see how they fit into a new energy future before they will buy into it.    Making alternative energy seem more accessible is a good problem for marketers to solve…

On the other fronts…well,  inventing new ways to print money never got us anywhere.  Yet, “Wall Street innovation” will continue, driven by finding new ways to scam people without technically breaking the law…personally, I don’t need it…but I imagine the new legislation that just passed will fuel a whole new round of “Wall Street Innovation…”

On a personal front, I’m watching and participating in the electronic manga revolution.  I want to be more active in it.  I think, though,  this is one of those things in which the large companies have to reach out to the smaller companies and hobbyist groups to get things moving in the right direction for consumers.  I just hope lawyers and greed don’t blind folks such that we end up losing the current opportunity.

Printing from Mobile — uh, Why?

I’ve had the misfortune, lately, of watching TV with commercials.  In general I put commercials out of my mind, but the commercials from mobile service providers and a prominent printer company showing people panicking because they lost or forgot their paper presentations and then rejoicing as they remember they can, in some shiny near future, print their presentation are annoying me.  My problem — when was the last time a professional or a student presented anything to a group of people huddled around a spiral bound notebook?  If your presentation is accessible by mobile, you’re golden.  Download it and project it like you have been doing for the past 10-years.

It’s actually rather sad to me to watch the lack of imagination and the stagnation of thought in these commercials.   Did the marketing people who came up with these commercials present the concept for the commercials in a spiral bound notebook?  I shudder to think of the brains behind “print from mobile” and it appalls me to think that any company would actually spend precious R&D dollars on something so pointless.

Mobile Manga

Google Analytics has now added separate segmentation for mobile users.  I’ve been looking at mine lately and I don’t have many mobile users visiting my blog.   But, then again, my anime and manga blog is not mobile friendly because the widgets and the large images make it slow to load over mobile.  Also, since I deliver my manga in zip files that are usually 5MB or larger, mobile viewers can’t view my work.  I’ve found on my iPhone that I can’t download the zip files, so there really is no reason to view my blog unless the reader wishes to actually read my prose.   I wonder, though, since most mobile screens are so small,  are they relevant manga viewers?   But then I consider the future.  The tablets are coming and, so, perhaps, I should be prepared?

Many of the manga aggregation sites I visit are in the early phases of experimenting with delivering manga images via mobile devices.  I’ve attempted to read manga on my iPhone and it’s no fun because my iPhone’s screen is too small.  I’ve also read manga using my mini-note.  The problem with the mini-note, though, isn’t the size, so much as the image needs to be rotated 90-degrees to see a full manga page at a reasonable size.  (By the way, I’m still waiting for that little application on my mini-note that rotates the screen and remaps the mouse pad and the arrow keys so I can use it as an e-reader…)  My guess, though, is that the manga aggregation sites are welcoming the tablet PC with open arms and making preparations for explosive growth.  I wonder how this effort compares to that of the actual the actual manga license holders and legitimate distributors?

So far, the mobile manga efforts appear to be rudimentary.  The sites are using simple “liquid layouts” and have stripped out most of the content. leaving the page image and basic navigation.  The images, too, are smaller and more compressed.   Here’s an example of the difference between the default site and the mobile site from the One Manga website:

Default Site

Mobile Site

One Manga gives the viewer 3 size options, but there’s nothing fancy like Google maps’s ability to zoom in on an illegible section.  Regardless, it’s a good start and they are thinking ahead to the coming technology.

I think it’s very interesting that the folks who are taking the first steps toward mobile manga delivery are not the big publishers.   Again, we have a situation where resistance to evolving technology or the inability to adapt quickly is leaving big businesses open to somebody else meeting the unfulfilled wants and needs for their products.  With respect to sites like One Manga, the product is being given out for free by fans who are doing the manga translations as labors of love.  But as a consequence, the expectation that manga is free online is being reinforced further.  This may also prevent mobile manga delivery from being one of the value adds that could have been monetized directly by the legitimate distributor.  Regardless, I applaud One Manga and sites like it for their foresight and a willingness to innovate.

There’s a lingering question, though.  If One Manga and sites like it aren’t doing this for money (perhaps they get enough money from advertising to cover the cost of servers), then why are they constantly moving forward and innovating?   I wonder has it ever occurred to big business that money isn’t the only thing to compete over?   But more on that at another time…

The Trouble with Checking out Potential Employees on the Internet

I made the mistake again of Googling my true name.  AUGH…the Internet presence of my name clones is growing and most of them are up to no good in terms of job seeking.  I’m VERY frustrated because how is an employer to know which person I am and are potential employers stupid enough to believe that names are unique.  I’ve written about this topic before, but now that it could affect my ability to keep my roof above my head, I feel a certain sense of urgency on the matter.  I do love the Internet, but how some people use it is questionable.

Giving what I’ve seen from Googling myself, I see that the Internet is, indeed, a sewage filled wasteland.  There’s are some people who are up to things that may be objectionable to employers all sharing my name and all very active on the Internet.  What’s a dull engineer like me to do to reclaim my identity and assert my dull, non-controversial self as a safe hire?  Do I put on my resume that I’m the “dull engineer” with patents and not these other folks?  How many job opportunities have passed me by because a potential employer Googled my name and found other people with the same name and then decided that I was unemployable based on prejudice and bias towards my name clones?

It is my belief that the Internet is not a reliable source of information about the personality or activities of a person.  Googling a name is pointless because there are many people on this Earth with the same name.  If a person explicitly gives you Internet URLs to check out, then I think it’s safe to say that is their Internet presence, or at least the Internet presence they want to feature as a potential employee.  I know I could shout this to the wind and get laws passed outlawing Google as a tool for hiring and, regardless, people are still going to be curious and do an Internet search.  However, keep in mind, that you REALLY have no idea what you’ve found and that you may be missing an opportunity to hire a great employee by “interviewing” the Internet, rather than the actual person who applied.

Check out My Movie Reviews

I’ve been using the social networking features on the Fandango website to log my movie reviews.  It’s convenient because they provide reminders to write a review the day after I’ve seen the movie.  I also like the way the editor is presented because it encourages me to keep in short and to the point.  For readers, it’s nice because the full power of Fandango is behind this log, so readers can get more information about the movie, read other viewers opinions, and purchase movie tickets.  Here’s a link to my movie review log and I have also put a link in the sidebar of this blog.

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