Is The American Dream Dead?

In describing why business models must change, Kay Plantes pointed out a study that indicates 78% of respondents believed the American Dream has died.

This has bothered me all weekend.

I believe that most positive change comes from optimists building what they believe is possible. (Have you ever worked with a pessimist trying to build what they believe is impossible? It makes for a long day.)

Could it really be that the the U.S. is depending on 22% of the population for that optimism? Maybe that is enough in Ayn Rand’s world , but I like the odds when more folks are on board.

So this evening, rather than thinking about how much I enjoyed watching Mr. Burns drink a Coke during the Superbowl, I’m thinking about what is the American Dream. The study by Context-Based Group softens the blow a bit by indicating respondents felt the meaning of the American Dream might have been hijacked by materialism of the past few decades – so maybe it is not dead, maybe it is changing.

What is the American Dream?

For me, the answer is personal but I think rings true:

The opportunity to better myself as I choose and establish a launching pad so my children will have even better opportunities than I.

There is no question that the recent financial upheaval has shot a few bullets at people’s ideas of betterment.

  • The idea that Wall Street can make everyone rich.
  • The idea that we all can borrow ourselves to riches.
  • The idea real estate always goes up.

Good bubbles to pop in my opinion, but when did the American Dream become only about wealth.

Maybe the American Dream has been lost because we fear for our children.

  • The threat of Global Warming.
  • The threat of pollution driven illness.
  • The loss of good jobs.
  • The burdon of debt on our government and us.

And yet we live in amazing times.

The tools of betterment and more are available more widely, across more socioeconomic groups than ever before. It seems that anyone can change the world.

So if the American Dream was to consume till we drop — Good riddance.

If the American Dream involved success without hard work — I’m glad we’re waking up.

If the American Dream is the chance to do something extraordinary no matter where we are in life — Then sign me up.

I think the American Dream can be as alive for my children as it was for me.

But only if we believe. (Shall we clap? Will Tinkerbell live?)

What does the American Dream mean to you? (And is it Alive or Dead?)

It’s In The Details

I’m not usually one to point out spelling mistakes (glass houses and all) but this sign was pointed out to me by my lovely wife during a quick stop in Peoria the other day to see my son perform in the All-State Honors Band and I figured I would share.

Even in today’s wonderful world of spell check, misspelled or misused words are all around us. I usually gloss over it. Poorly executed marketing is a depressing thing to see.

But here we have the former offices of a Private Detective Agency. The sign had been there a very long time. Covered most of their window.

And the question that comes to mind is what the heck are they going to be able to find if they never noticed the missing ‘E’ and ‘L’ on their own sign.

Poor marketing execution often indicates other details are being missed as well.

Open Innovation – Filing a non-patent

The top 25 companies by US patent value was released by Business Week and it is worth a look. IBM generated the largest number of patents while Microsoft generated patents of the highest value (according to the BW study).

The number of patents involved at IBM is a simply mind-boggling 4,914. That’s over 13 patentable inventions a day. Not a bad brain trust.

But what caught my eye was a paragraph at the bottom of the story:

As a defensive measure, the company also published details on almost 4,000 inventions in a publicly available company journal last year.

By publishing I believe they ensure that no one can patent the ideas. Since many companies are racing towards the same goal the prospect of inventors stepping on each other’s toes is not far fetched. The value of publishing trade secrets outweighed the negative impact of letting folks in on what they were doing. I’m sure the published advances had less strategic or economic value than those that were patented, but it still does seem to go a bit against the grain of corporate secrecy one has come to expect.

The shelf life of a corporate secret has been greatly diminished over the past decade.

Patents have real economic value but bringing an element of open innovation to the table can also have its own significant value. In this case preventing the patent process from slowing down development of other initiatives by both IBM and their competitors.

Filtering Ideas – Yodeling Pickle

How many ideas have you rejected this week? It’s tough to keep track given the velocity they come at us. (Heck, we get bombarded with 34 gigabytes of information including 100,000 words a day, not to mention what we think up for ourselves.)

As children most of us were thoroughly trained to censor our thoughts before letting go with the ridicule inducing comment. (The Cubs are going to win the pennant! – ah, some of us never learn.) This sometimes serves us well. In the world of ideas it can be deadly.

Ideas are fragile things in business. Any number of stray comments, poor politics, and concerted efforts at logic can drive a good idea (and it’s conceiver) into the mud. Problem is, most of the tools we use early on to sift through ideas are little more than personal opinion. But decisions must be made and so politics end up playing a very large part in determining what ideas receive funding and what don’t.

Ideas that at first seem terrible, yet stick, came to mind following a tweet from Nate Towne (@fancy_lad), a favorite follow from Milwaukee.

Yes, a yodeling pickle seems very much the definition of a terrible idea. Logic indicates that pickles do not yodel. At best they crunch.

Enter Archie McPhee novelty maker. And the Yodelling Pickle is born. Doing reasonably well I assume. Ranked #1 Amazon noisemaker #3780 Amazon toy.

Rather respectable for a Pickle.

The Yodelling Pickle is deceptively attractive for a novelty company. Unexpected. Maybe viral. It reminds me of my own family’s favorite dinnertime device – A pepper grinder in the shape of a chef who yells “You’re Breaking My Back” every time pepper is ground. (Encourages extreme pepper use on the plate next to you. You’ve been warned.)

Obviously the Yodelling Pickle would be a terrible idea for GM. For Archie McPhee it is so delightfully terrible it has raced around the strategic track right back to brilliant.

Filtering through ideas has a lot to do with context.

It’s been my experience that companies with strong product development pipelines have three basic things in common. They know what they are, they know what they want to be, and they make clear decisions about what to pursue with their resources. Less waffling. More impact.

This is true about individuals as well. The more talented you are the more decisions you have to make about what you are not going to be. No decisions, no focus.

In the forward to Kevin Maney’s Trade-Off, Jim Collins describes a key conclusion Maney made “about the best people he’d covered:

“They have the courage to make rigorous choices. They don’t delude themselves into thinking they can do everything, so they focus on only what they can do with great distinction.”

To me that is a powerful paragraph. I think it plays as well for an organization as it does for an individual.

Are you focused on ideas that will maximize your impact or are you waiting for something else to make those decisions?

Do you hear the call of the Yodelling Pickle?

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Flying With A Good Idea

Who here hasn’t at least once dreamt while speeding down an interstate in whatever jalopy the fates put in your hands that you were, just for a moment, flying? Ok, maybe it’s just us guys. Or am I the only one who kept track of exactly where that special bump in the country road would provide a moment of lift?

A key component of creativity is recognizing when an idea that is working in one place might have application in another. (Like when Wilber twisted the tube box)

This came to mind while watching Leo Laporte interview Ford CEO Alan Mulally at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Mulally came to Ford from Boeing where he helped design the first digital cockpit on the 767 and a number of aircraft after that. At the time some wondered what an ‘avionics guy’ would be able to do for the ‘car guys.’

Laporte: “So how much of your background at Boing informed this? Because you have a digital cockpit right here.”

Mulally: “…A very important thing is that the pilot has complete situational awareness. All the data has been simplified so they know exactly the most important things so they are not sorting through the data they are now managing the driving experience. Yet they have to have access to all the communications, the navigation, to guidance, the control, the entertainment…. This is exactly what we are now doing with Ford.”

At the CES Keynote he unveiled recent advances with My Ford Touch (Which includes Ford Sync) – Ford’s entertainment/information system which competes with GM’s ONSTAR. An interesting difference in focus is Mulally’s desire for My Ford Touch to be an interface that gives access to evolving technology while keeping driver focus on the road.  A willingness to open up the platform as well as utilize the owners cell and entertainment devices seems like a broader more powerful vision than what ONSTAR now promises.

The differences add up when you look at published reports between this year’s Ford keynote and last years GM CEO Wagner keynote. This year Mulally spoke Ford products coming out this year while much of what Wagner spoke about appears to be years off. GM’s response to My Touch Ford is also interesting: GM’s product is considered better because you might loose your cell phone in an accident. GM appears to see ONStar as little more than a safety feature, while Ford sees their alternative as an overall cabin experience. I like the way Ford seems to be moving. (Disclosure: My mother-in-law spent many years working in a Ford plant. If she doesn’t hold that against them, neither will I.)

So the bike shop was instrumental in getting us off the ground in the first place and now the cockpit returns the favor by providing lessons that improve safety, focus and entertainment for the driver. Cool.