Warning: If you try to go to Walmart to pick up a half gallon of milk, you will soon realize your errand is not about the 2% milk.
Instead your journey is about the exploration of a wild, weird and wonderfully kitschy world where you will see things that will bend your conventional mind and make you whisper to yourself, “Gee, I could use that.” Followed by “and that too.” Or maybe, “Who thinks up these products?” Followed finally by “These prices can’t be beat.”
And you will soon realize that even though you walked into a Walmart that you have really entered the Hotel California.
That’s right. “You can check out any time you want (through self-service check out), but you can never leave.”
After spending nearly three years on the road, we look back on all that we put up with to save a dollar. Were all the long bus rides and sleeping at airports worth it to keep the expenses in check?
You’ll never hear me claim that there is a better way to travel than budget travel. Getting as close to the locals’ spending as possible is the best way to understand how their life is…and isn’t that why to travel? Not only the experiences, but also the differences between experiences in different places are enlightening. Exposing yourself to where the locals eat, stay and play will teach you more about a place than a tour ever would.
If I wanted something easy and comfortable I’d try to have that at home, not in some distant land. Why would I put my money towards temporary comfort instead of investing in permanent comfort? At home I want the most comfortable things possible, but on the road I want the most locally authentic experiences possible.
This does create some problems though. It’s caused us to end up in some places where I was deathly allergic to things. It’s led us to some pretty dirty places. It’s made us terribly sick. The romantic idea of living like a local is much better than it is in reality.
Here is one great example. We thought we had scored a great deal on a place to stay in Seoul, in a student building, on AirBnB. The listing made it clear that it could sleep two, evenings were quiet times, and there was free rice. They had me at the price, but I fell in love with the idea of free rice. See the photo above? That’s how we slept for three nights. On the fourth day I ran into the building manager, the same person who had checked us in, and he asked how we were sleeping. I responded that we were doing fine. Then he asked the key question, “would you like another mattress?” Why yes we would! How had he failed to mention this earlier, such as when the two of us checked in?
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Erica & Matt Chua: Budget Travel Gripes
One of my biggest pet peeves is setting strategy one tactic at a time. It drives me crazy to be surrounded by people and organizations that think if they just work hard enough and do more things that a strategic direction and destination will emerge. It seems that most of the world works this way. It is terribly inefficient. How many people and organizations do you know that pedal the bicycle like crazy but never seem to arrive anywhere. They just keep pedaling harder hoping that something will eventually stick. It is exhausting watching them. Why not determine a destination and work hard on those things that help you get there. It seems so simple. Setting a strategic direction provides a way to know which tactics are aligned and contribute to reaching the destination. The destination may change along the way requiring different tactics, and that is OK, but not having a destination at all is a ticket to nowhere.
When John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon” in 1961, Americans rallied around the destination. We believed it was possible and the goal of setting foot on the moon rallied a country to advance its global science and technology leadership. It was cool to study math and science and clear that innovation was the economic engine that would drive American prosperity. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon eight years later and said, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”, we celebrated his achievement as if it was our own and knew at that moment that anything was possible. We have been trying to get that feeling back ever since. Today, we have no clear destination, in space or on earth.
I am still trying to process President Obama’s plan to cancel NASA’s Constellation program for manned space flight back to the moon. OK, I thought, maybe he has a bolder more imaginative space destination in mind or a better way to get back to the moon. It turns out that the announced strategy identifies no new destination at all and has been called a “flexible path” focusing on enabling technologies. The destination will be determined later. Please say it isn’t so. It is impossible to be inspired with out a destination and it is terribly inefficient to develop enabling technologies with out an end in mind.
My second thought upon hearing the new NASA strategy was that maybe President Obama wants to turn our attention and resources toward earth and create an inspiring space mission like focus on fixing health care, education, or climate change. We have no clear destination for any of these huge system challenges. We continue to play around the margins hoping that incremental changes will launch us toward systemic solutions. It isn’t working. We need to transform each of these systems and it will take “moon landing” like clarity and commitment to make it happen. So maybe the president plans to shift attention and resources away from space exploration toward transformation here on earth. No such luck.
It isn’t as if the NASA budget was cut freeing up resources for other priorities. The proposed budget actually increases NASA’s budget by 2% allocating $6B over 5 years to create a commercial taxi to the space station. The budget comes nowhere close to the $3B a year that the recent expert advisory panel suggested was needed to create a robust manned space program. So we appear to be lost in space and on earth. We will continue to invest in space technologies without a clear destination and we will continue to work around the margins of the important system challenges we face here on earth.
It is enough to make you scream. All I can think of is Ralph Kramden in the Honeymooners getting angry and red in the face, proclaiming, “To the moon, Alice”!
How many capabilities are locked away, underleveraged in organizational or industry silos? Who hasn’t suffered a severe case of innovator’s envy, coveting access to information and capabilities that seem so tantalizingly close?
Most innovation doesn’t require inventing anything new. It is often just a matter of combining and recombining capabilities across disciplines, organizations, and sectors. The problem is that those capabilities are often impossible to access. The biggest opportunities in health care, education, security, and energy lie in the gray areas between silos. We need to think and act more horizontally.
In doing so, we’ll connect unusual suspects in purposeful ways. Take spies and environmentalists. Recent news of the CIA reviving its MEDEA (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) program and providing access to data from national intelligence assets for environmental research really got my attention. What a great example of the power and politics of collaborative innovation.
More Data Sharing
With no security risk, disruption of agency activities, or incremental cost, the CIA has opened up a treasure trove of valuable data to scientists from academia, government, and industry for environmental research. To replicate the capture of this information would be silly and cost-prohibitive, and I was encouraged that the data were being shared to make progress on an important social issue. But then naysayers and politics entered the conversation. Instead of garnering praise for the program, as I would have expected, the CIA was criticized for mission creep.
Admittedly, news of the collaborative program came right on the heels of the U.S. terror threat on Dec. 25. Talking heads across cable news accused the CIA of negligence, arguing that sharing data with environmental scientists was a distraction from its core mission of minding the American public. But the pundits have it wrong. The CIA and all Homeland Security organizations should be doing more, not less, cross-agency collaboration and data sharing. The protection of data, capabilities, and turf has gotten us into the current mess. Perhaps if the focus had been on networking capabilities and sharing data across silos, America would be a safer country today.
In 1986, the Federal Technology Transfer Act created the CRADA (Cooperative Research & Development Agreement) process to enable public-private partnerships around promising government technologies. CRADA may just as well stand for “Can’t Really Access Developed Assets.” Government rhetoric claims to support technology transfer, but the painful bureaucratic process in place makes it nearly impossible to leverage existing government capabilities. I get a headache just thinking about how hard it is to access all the valuable information and data that have been created by government agencies and paid for by taxpayer dollars. Many of these assets could be leveraged to unleash new value and to help make progress on our big social challenges.
Private-sector organizations are similar. We are so busy pedaling the bicycle of today’s business models that there is no capacity to explore new ones. The secret sauce of business model innovation is the ability to explore new ways to deliver customer value by combining and recombining capabilities, in and out of the organization, across silos.
One story that sticks with me is from my friend Alexander Tsiaris, founder ofAnatomical Travelogue, who has built a successful company creating human anatomy visualization tools to help us better understand health care. When Alexander was starting his digital media business he needed access to hospital MRI equipment. He was willing to pay for access to the equipment during down times to capture the scanned images he transforms into a beautiful art form and health-care education tool. The initial hospitals he asked all said the same thing: We are not in this business and can’t provide access. Alexander is persistent and ultimately found willing partners in New York City, but it wasn’t easy.
This pattern repeats itself over and over. It is not the technology that gets in the way of innovation. It is humans and the organizations we live in that are both stubbornly resistant to experimentation and change. If we want to make progress on the big issues of our time, we have to look up from our silos and become more comfortable recombining capabilities in new ways in order to connect with the unusual suspects.
I didn’t feel it was appropriate to text you this late, but there are a few things that need to be addressed. I just walked in my bathroom and my rug was soaking wet. I looked underneath the sink to assess the situation and I found everything soaked – including my entire storage of toilet paper. This has happened once before, but I figured it was just due to perpetual maintenance and I didn’t want to make a stir.
I have tried to be very patient with the process, considering it is extremely confusing, involves many people, crosses International waters being that the homeowner lives in Europe, and I get no communication from you other than text message as you do not answer the phone. I sent you an email a while back expressing my frustration with a few situations. You replied asking me to fix the screen door and gave no response or feedback regarding my questions that begged resolution.
I have asked, for more than a year, for the electric to be looked at and repaired. I said nothing when a storm came through. Although connected to a surge protector and powered off, my three-month old TV was destroyed. I said nothing because regardless of every protective measure, “acts of God” happen which absolve you from having to lift your pretty little finger. Had I not bought 3 brand new heaters that – without spiritual forces – also met their maker while plugged into the death traps that are my outlets, I would have likely deduced those “acts” and the destruction of my TV were solely caused by God. I don’t believe God would smite me by killing my heat and my access to Netflix. I’m sure He has better things to do. However, it begs question and further evaluation, as it is a well-known and proven theory that twice is a coincidence and three times is a conspiracy. Four times? Leave Him out of it. Fix the electric.
I took my own initiative to replace the TV without complaint or raising issue, as I have been guilty in the past of causing aggravation myself. There have been many “acts of God” that have forced me to reevaluate my scenarios and look internally for resolution…and I have learned to live very comfortably without Netflix and am humbled, daily, by how fortunate I am. Yet I would be remiss if during this reflection, I didn’t worry about you. It must have been extremely taxing to have someone besides yourself call me to ask that I take my trash to the dumpster and train my dog not to poo in someone else’s yard. And fix a screen door so people in your industry don’t cringe when they are attempting to making a profit by selling the unit beside me. How awful that eye sore must be, and how difficult that must have been to deal with. Again – my apologies.
Nevertheless, I have mentioned and asked repeatedly from the commencement of my lease (when I used the microwave while preheating my oven and the power went off in 3 rooms), and again repeatedly after I renewed for a second year, for the electric to not just be looked at, but be fixed. Instead, we have gone in circles and I have been told, repeatedly, that “someone will be sent to handle it and they will contact you for your schedule”. You must not cook. I’m sure that is another a task you find difficult, and compensate with passive aggressive work-arounds like boxing up a five-star meal and paying for it with the money you got from your divorce. I’m sure he didn’t marry you for your epicurean skills. Odds are towards the end, the oven wasn’t the only thing lacking heat. I’ll put my money on that winning hand for sure.
I have asked repeatedly for the shower door to be removed. Maybe you are starting to sense a pattern here. This is only after the situation escalated and it was installed without proper judgement – only because there was little to no communication on the subject of the flooring due to your assumed anthropophobia…look it up if it doesn’t automatically register. If that is the case, you are obviously in the wrong line of work. Predicated only by these assumptions and an utter lack of patience at this point, forgive me in advance for my candidness, but again – text messaging does not satisfy the ability to conduct a true assessment of the needs and priorities of the homeowner and myself – nor is it an excuse to regurgitate when I have asked to speak to you over the phone and you are showing a house.
“I hate shopping, except for the part where I am back in my apartment with new clothes.”
Does that sound like you? A prospective client once emailed that line to me. It made me laugh, but I get it. Shopping can be tiring, stressful and frustrating. Planning an effective shopping trip takes strategic thought. While it should be easy, often things get in the way. But, take it from me, shopping can be a smooth and seamless process. Below are 9 of my best tools and tricks for a well-executed shopping trip.
Here’s a dressing room snap from yesterday as I was getting things ready for a client.
1) Find a good salesperson. Some of my best relationships have resulted from following my intuition in a store and simply walking up to someone, introducing myself, and explaining what I was looking to accomplish. A good salesperson will make shopping hassle-free – without an overbearing salespitch (more on this in #6). They’ll also give you advance info on when the sales are and in many cases ‘pre-sell’ items to you – which means you get dibs on things before they go on sale to the general public.
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Julie Rath: Secrets from a Shopping Pro
My friend and Boston Globe innovation columnist, Scott Kirsner, has launched an interesting new on-line platform for corporate innovation executives. You will want to check out and subscribe to Innovation Leader where you will find lots of food for innovation thought and where this post originally appeared.
I used to think that if I just yakked long and loud enough, I could convince CEOs to embrace transformational innovation. It took me 25 years as a road warrior consultant, author, and accidental government bureaucrat to realize that proselytizing doesn’t work. If leaders don’t want to change, all the consulting jargon and fancy PowerPoints in the world won’t convince them to.
In those situations, no matter what lofty rhetoric the CEO uses in public or at company retreats about “creating an innovation culture” and encouraging everyone to think outside of the box, the best result you can hope for are incremental innovations to improve the performance of today’s business model. You never get transformational new business models — and you always get frustrated if you were hoping for bolder change. If you want transformational innovation, you have to find leaders who want transformational change and are receptive to organizing differently for tweaks than for transformation. After learning this lesson the hard way over many years, I no longer try to convince CEOs who don’t want to change, and instead try to find those CEO’s who do.
Here’s my list of 10 questions you can ask a CEO to tell if they are really serious about transformational innovation:
1) Do you agree transformational innovation goes beyond breakthrough products to include business model innovation — entirely new ways to create, deliver and capture value?
2) Will your employees tell me that failure is a career-limiting move, or that the company celebrates experimentation?
3) How much time do you spend strengthening and protecting the current business model, versus designing the next one?
4) Do you have clear and discrete objectives for both incremental and transformational innovation? Do you organize differently for each?
5) Does your organization invest in R&D for new business models as it does for new products, services, and technologies?
6) Are you prepared to have your organization disrupt itself? How do you see that playing out?
7) Do internal ideas and projects that threaten to cannibalize the current business model get squashed — or nurtured?
8) Do you have a process for allocating resources for transformational innovation projects that lies outside of the control of business units?
9) Do executives with responsibility for exploring transformational business models report to you, or to another line executive responsible for today’s business?
10) Are you willing to create a sandbox to explore transformational business models? Would you carve out a part of your current business/market to serve as an ongoing real-world innovation lab?
A few words of advice about using these questions in the real world… Tread lightly, since no CEO likes to be put on the spot and drilled with a laundry list of questions. Pick a few of the ten to put into your own words to help you discern whether the company you work for, or are thinking about working for (or with), has a leader who shares your appetite for transformational innovation. Better to know what kind of environment you’re going into in advance than to learn painful lessons later.
The Recovering Politician is proud to publish an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from an exciting and educational book written by Friend of RP Robert D. Hudson and his daughter Lauren Hudson, ”Our Best Tomorrow: Students Teaching Capitalism to America.” Enjoy!
Click here to review & purchase
“Well, I was thinking that maybe we could make our software faster and more efficient by re-engineering…” Oh! Finally, you’re here. My name is Jacob but people call me Jake. “Okay guys, staff meeting dismissed. Go back to your daily business of coming up with the best ideas in the world!’’ I’m delighted you could at last come and enjoy the wonders my company has created for computers, gaming systems and smart phones.
How much money do I make? Well now, that is a difficult question to answer. Considering I designed the first software for my company, Kinetic Software, I usually do make a bit more than my workers here, but mainly, it depends on how many copies of the software we sell. Some years we do well and some years we don’t. If we don’t do well, I might not make anything!
How did I create this groundbreaking software? Well, when I was growing up, I was always interested in the way things worked. One of my earliest memories was sitting on the kitchen floor with an old phone and attempting to take it apart while my mother cooked me lunch.
My father would come home from his work as a dentist and watch me bang the phone on the floor and study it carefully. Pretty soon I figured out how to take it apart and put it back together. I can remember how excited I had been. I ran around screaming about my accomplishment.
“I got it! I got it, Mommy! I got it, Daddy! I got it, Sissy!’’ I yelled. My father walked over to me from the other room, scooped me up in his arms and swung me around. He had the broadest smile on his face, as if I had just won Olympic gold.
As I got older, I became interested in science fiction and how the world would work someday. I imagined computers and cell phones and space travel to other planets. I recall my sister, Annabeth, who was about 13, watching TV one day, when I came in, turned the TV off, and told her my latest idea. She called me a twerp, but I didn’t care.
“Go bother something else! Don’t touch the TV anymore, Jake!’’ she said in exasperation. With my head hanging low, I walked into my dad’s study. He had one of Apple’s first computers. When I saw that computer sitting on the dark mahogany desk, I knew what my next project would be. Little did I know that the project of trying to learn how this computer worked would lead to the some of the biggest accomplishments of my life.
It was only a matter of time before I had moved on to developing software to do my part to help change the world! You see, I love what I do, and I live in a country which gives me the freedom to do it. Yes, I work hard, but can you believe I get to make money doing something I love? All you need is passion and freedom – mix a little talent and hard work in there and you’ll have something special!
Capitalism Pointer – America’s Jobs Come From Capitalism
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EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Lauren Hudson & Robert D. Hudson, “Our Best Tomorrow”
You probably haven’t heard of Richard LaMotta but I bet you have heard of and enjoyed his innovation, the Chipwich ice cream sandwich. I rank the Chipwich right up there on my list of all-time favorite innovations along with Guttenberg’s printing press and Apple’s iPhone. Like most great innovations the Chipwich didn’t require inventing anything new, just recombining existing elements in a new way to deliver value. What could deliver more value than sandwiching soft vanilla ice cream between two, large chocolate chip cookies? As if that isn’t innovative enough add in the piece de resistance, rolling the whole thing in chocolate chips! Now that’s innovation. LaMotta died last week and his classic entrepreneur story is worth remembering and celebrating.
LaMotta was ahead of his time in 1982 when he deployed unheard of guerilla marketing tactics to take the idea for Chipwich from a retail confectionary store called The Sweet Tooth in Englewood, New Jersey to selling 200,000 per day across the country at its peak. The name Chipwich came from an early crowd sourcing effort when LaMotta held a contest offering a year’s supply of the product to the winning contributor. A student from New Jersey came up with the winning name and was rewarded not only with a year’s supply of the tasty treat but also put through college by the company for her contribution.
LaMotta had a vision to take the Chipwich national but was told by marketing “experts” that it would take $50M in working capital that the company didn’t have. No worries, LaMotta took the campaign to the streets of Manhattan, literally, deploying street cart vendors complete with identifiable pith helmets and khaki pants. They created an innovative sales channel without the help of the experts establishing a new product category for premium handheld ice cream and an attractive new price point breaking the $1 barrier. Prior to Chipwich hand held ice cream products were low quality and low cost. Vendors consistently sold out of Chipwiches and the price point continued to move up. Fortune 100 food giants approached LaMotta to use the carts as a trial medium for their own products.
Chipwich went viral without the help of today’s social media platforms. Imagine the tweets. Chipwich received an estimated $50 million of earned advertising exposure receiving thousands of free endorsements. Mayor Koch even posed for a publicity photo, for no fee, as he took a big bite of a Chipwich. It was an attractive David vs Goliath story that the press ate up. LaMotta says he gained 30 pounds just doing free media interviews.
LaMotta learned the many hard lessons of entrepreneurship along the way, twice filing for and then emerging from bankruptcy, as the knockoffs came fast and furious. He also learned first hand what happens when an entrepreneur mixes it up with the world of large corporations. LaMotta laments what he called large corporate “analysis to paralysis” syndrome and cautioned aspiring entrepreneurs about the importance of non-disclosure agreements. In 2002 with a nationally recognized brand, more than a billion Chipwiches sold, and 3700 vendors in 36 markets, he sold the company to Coolbrands International, a Canadian distributor, who also owned the Eskimo Pies brand. Coolbrands then in turn sold both brands to Dreyer’s, a subsidiary of Nestle, who discontinued making the Chipwich because they already had another brand in the category. Like most entrepreneurs LaMotta struggled with losing control of his baby.
LaMatta was a classic entrepreneur who never quit. He said it best, “I got out there, I went for it, and persevered through the rough times.” He did indeed. Chipwich is a great innovation story. Rest in delicious peace, Richard LaMatta.
Kansas City has always been an entrepreneurial city.
Companies such as Hallmark, Sprint, DST, Cerner, H&R Block, Garmin and Russell Stover Candies all call Kansas City home. However, a true renaissance in entrepreneurship and a renewed sense of a vibrant startup community has skyrocketed of late. A recent paper from the Kauffman Foundation shows that Kansas City has the third highest increase overall among the largest metropolitan areas in high-tech startup density from 1990-2010 in the United States. Kansas City ranked first for the highest increase among the largest metropolitan areas in high-tech startup density from 1990-2010 in the United States when based only on information and communications technology. This might strike some as surprising since Kansas City is not in Silicon Valley or on the East Coast, however it’s less of a surprise to those familiar with the technology ecosystem there. Kansas City’s growing tech density and its burgeoning startup activity demonstrates that the city has viability as a technology destination. Now, national technology players are truly taking note of the city and its success.
This newfound interest can be seen in the heart of Downtown Kansas City, Missouri at Think Big Partners. Think Big Partners is an early-stage business incubator, startup accelerator and mentorship-based collaborative network that takes ideas, opportunities and entrepreneurs and helps to take them to the next level. Why is this so important? Here’s why…Think Big Partners just became the first of its kind in the entire world to partner with Microsoft Ventures. To put this in perspective, think something similar to Google Ventures. In the past Microsoft Ventures has opened up its own accelerators in locations such as Tel Aviv, Bangalore, Paris and Beijing. However, Think Big Partners in Kansas City is the first established accelerator to build a partnership with Microsoft Ventures.
“Think Big Partners represents the best of KC as well as startup reach nationally and globally. We’re pleased to be working with them to find and support great startups,” said Cliff Reeves of Microsoft Ventures. The focus of Think Big Partners will continue to be helping entrepreneurs, grow, build and start their companies, but with this impressive partnership with Microsoft Ventures they now will have access to more of the “right” mentors to continue building their brand in an effort to grow and attract companies outside of Kansas City and the Midwest. These types of partnerships also allow Kansas City to attract more capital into town and more access to what it brings. “The extensive resources and boots on the ground that Microsoft Ventures adds to our checklist-oriented process will help us get entrepreneurs from idea to first customer faster and even more efficiently,” said Blake Miller, Director of Think Big Partners Accelerator.
In addition to what Think Big Partners is doing with Microsoft Ventures, Sprint has also been a relevant player on the tech scene launching the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator in partnership with the well-known accelerator brand, Techstars. Leaders of early-stage mobile technology companies from across the United States will be coming to Kansas City to work on initiatives driving innovation in health care. Seems like the right focus with all the transformations going on in health care right now doesn’t it? “Wireless innovations are helping people around the world by improving health care, empowering people with disabilities and promoting wellness,” said Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint.
The Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator, powered by Techstars, will provide entrepreneurs in this field an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen their businesses with the guidance of leading technology experts from Sprint, top technology companies in the area and many from around the country. “To me, Kansas City is an obvious place that has an up-and-coming tech community to rival other top geographies,” said David Cohen, Founder and CEO of Techstars. “The presence of leaders in the mobile health care space makes this the perfect home for the accelerator.” Oh, I almost forgot…guess what? The new Sprint Accelerator is located about a block and a half away from Think Big Partners in one of Kansas City’s most desirable neighborhoods, the Crossroads. Kansas City is building true technology density and a real innovation zone in its urban core.
The major Think Big Partners and Sprint Accelerator news comes off the momentum of Kansas City becoming the first city in the United States to receive and implement 100 times faster than broadband Google Fiber services in many areas in the metropolitan area. Downtown Kansas City is getting wired for Google Fiber right now. This will only help Kansas City increase its high-tech density startup growth and help it build on its status as an emerging entrepreneurial technology center.
Kansas City will continue to be a catalyst for growth in the entrepreneurial sector in America and its technology innovation prowess is proving to be on the rise.
Going to Kansas City…Kansas City here I come.