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Efficiency is free

Philip Crosby wrote a seminal book (Quality is Free) in which he argued that it's cheaper to build things right the first time than it is to fix them later. Obvious now, but heresy in Detroit 1980. Quality quickly became not just a better way to manufacture, it became a marketing benefit as well. Not only was quality cheaper to make, it was cheaper to sell.

I'm struck that we need a new book, call it Efficiency is Free.

It's cheaper to build carpets that don't create poison gas than it is to do the easy thing and let people suffer later. It's cheaper to build an 8 passenger car that gets 30 miles per gallon than it is to suffer the consequences of the 12 mile per gallon Suburban. It's cheaper to design smaller, lighter and recyclable shipping containers once than it is to buy and hassle with billions of foam peanuts in the long run.

So why doesn't everyone do this? For the same reason the quality revolution took a full generation to take hold–it costs more right now. It takes planning right now. It requires change right now.

Right now will always be difficult. But efficiency is still free.


Avoiding counterfeits, building permission

Smsproof Catherine Casey shared this picture (click to enlarge) of a medicine sold in Nigeria, where counterfeit drugs are a huge issue. Each packet comes with a scratch-off number. Use your cell phone and SMS the number to the company, and the company will text back whether the packet is legit. I'm sure clever counterfeiters will try to game the system, but it's not that hard to make it work.

It's easy to imagine ways that this could be used to increase after-sale connection (offers, insight, instructions, coupons) for all sorts of items, particularly in parts of the world where SMS is cheap and ubiquitous.

Two problems with whining

The first is that it doesn't work. You can whine about the government or your friends or your job or your family, but nothing will happen except that you'll waste time.

Worse… far worse… is that whining is a reverse placebo. When you get good at whining, you start noticing evidence that makes your whining more true. So you amplify that and immerse yourself in it, thus creating more evidence, more stuff worth complaining about.

If you spent the same time prattling on about how optimistic you are, you'd have to work hard to make that true…

The sales you don’t make

Do a search on great jazz singer "Emily Barlow" in Amazon and you'll find… nothing. That's because her first name is spelled Emilie and Amazon gives up.

Do a search on Lord of the Flies and you'll find tons of matches, but none of the top ones are for the book–they're all for expensive annotated or educator's editions. Broken search = no sale.

It's extremely difficult to figure out why people walk out of your store, throw out your brochure, leave your site… but in fact, this is fertile territory for dramatically increasing sales. You won't find what's broken if you don't look.

The shipit journal is back in stock…

For those following along, I've been discovering that creating and shipping a physical product can be lumpy.

I printed more copies than I thought would sell, but they sold out in 2 days. I then printed another batch the same size, which also sold out in two days. So this time, I printed 20,000 more workbooks and they're in the warehouse, ready to ship. (Currently there are sets of workbooks at two different prices, but they're the same, so grab the cheap ones while they last).

If this batch sells out, you'll be able to place an order and we can reprint and ship them as soon as they're ready. And I'll stop bothering you. Sorry.

I'm told that selling out is a good problem to have, but I'd rather have the right amount. Thanks for your patience. I think we're getting less lumpy now.

Deliberately uninformed, relentlessly so [a rant]

Many people in the United States purchase one or fewer books every year.

Many of those people have seen every single episode of American Idol. There is clearly a correlation here.

Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it’s possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week. Share the buying with six friends and it costs far less than coffee.

Or you can watch TV.

The thing is, watching TV has its benefits. It excuses you from the responsibility of having an informed opinion about things that matter. It gives you shallow opinions or false ‘facts’ that you can easily parrot to others that watch what you watch. It rarely unsettles our carefully self-induced calm and isolation from the world.

I got a note from someone the other day, in which she made it clear that she doesn’t read non-fiction books or blogs related to her industry. And she seemed proud of this.

I was roped into an argument with someone who was sure that ear candling was a useful treatment. Had he read any medical articles on the topic? No. But he knew. Or said he did.

You see a lot of ostensibly smart people in airports, and it always surprises me how few of them use this downtime to actually become more informed. It’s clearly a deliberate act–in our infoculture, it takes work not to expose yourself to interesting ideas, facts, news and points of view. Hal Varian at Google reports that the average person online spends seventy seconds a day reading online news. Ouch.

Not all books are correct or useful. Not all accepted science is correct. The conventional wisdom might just be wrong. But ignoring all of it because the truth is now fashionably situational and in the eye of the beholder is a lame alternative.

I know this rant is nothing new. In fact, people have been complaining about widespread willful ignorance since Brutus or Caesar or whoever invented the salad… the difference now is this: more people than ever are creators. More people than ever go to work to use their minds, not just their hands. And more people than ever have a platform to share their point of view. I think that raises the bar for our understanding of how the world works.

Let’s assert for the moment that you get paid to create, manipulate or spread ideas. That you don’t get paid to lift bricks or hammer steel. If you’re in the idea business, what’s going to improve your career, get you a better job, more respect or a happier day? Forgive me for suggesting (to those not curious enough to read this blog and others) that it might be reading blogs, books or even watching TED talks.

As for the deliberately uninformed, we can ignore them or we can reach out to them and hopefully start a pattern of people thinking for themselves…

Killer apps now shipping (early days)

You may have read about my proposed apps:

One made it easier to run and manage meetings, and the other made it easier to present a powerpoint-style slideshow on the iPad (but better).

I'm delighted to report that early versions of both have been built by loyal readers who read the posts and chose to take action.

Meeting Mngr Pro lets you manage timing, share images and connect among many iPads.

Nonlinear lets you import a PDF or PPT file and then jump around. It's not for building slides, it's for navigating them, and even includes a way to drive an external monitor in a clever way.

For ver. 1.0 products, they're both cheap and pretty cool. I have no doubt that with feedback and loyal users, they'll each develop into very cool tools.

Four roads

You might be stuck because you pick the wrong fork on a looping road. You keep getting better at the route you cover, but it doesn't go anywhere, you just keep doing it over and over. Nine years of experience is very different from one year of experience, nine times.

You might be impatient or unable to stick to your decision to take this particular road, and thus you're always starting on a new road. Since the new road is always strange to you, you rarely get any better at getting where you're going.

You might be on the wrong road. Sure, you get better at navigating your way, you can walk faster, you feel more comfortable–but this road is never going to lead much of anywhere.

And, if you're lucky, you might be on the right road, and getting better as you go.

You’re famous

What makes a celebrity special? She was just an ordinary person a month or a year ago, but now, suddenly, your heart goes flitter-flutter when you meet her, or you want an autograph.

One way to consider fame is that it increases the options for the person at the same time the number of demands go up. In other words, celebrity makes the celebrity's attention more valuable.

It's exciting to shake hands or get an autograph from a famous person, then, because the celebrity has something others want, you're getting a slice of attention from someone who has other options. But she didn't exercise those options–she chose you.

By this definition, you're famous. Compared to just a few years ago, more people know you, you have more options and your attention is far more precious than it ever was.

Not just you, of course. Your customers too. They're famous now.

Time to start treating them that way.

Hacking education

"You teach kids how to succeed when they successfully foil the educational system."

Arlo Guthrie