iphone

Where Winners Spend their 2%

I don’t know if you remember but for close to a decade, starting around the mid-2000s, people couldn’t shut up about Steve Jobs. This seemed to coincide with the release of the iPhone, YouTube, and social media, which makes sense.

All of the content seemed to herald Jobs as Tech-Jesus. The iPod was the second coming of the WalkMan, but better, and iTunes seemed to have solved the music industry crisis brought on by Napster and P2P sharing sites. Truly, Steve was a god among men. I was unmoved by all of it.

Maybe it was because of where my head was at the time but it all seemed a little fan-boyish to get so wrapped up in a dude that owned one outfit. And they were making a cell phone? Without a keyboard? Way to waste a billion dollars, my dude.

Except it was everything. But I never appreciated why before I saw this video.

My biggest takeaway was Steve discussing how they looked at Information Technology and how companies were obtaining it. All of them spent around 2% on IT, but they differed in where the bulk of those purchases went. Not-so-successful companies spent it on management productivity. Successful companies spent on operational productivity.

What does that mean?

It means that regular joes were focused largely on incremental improvements to how they already did things. A better email client, server, PCs, etc… Successful companies were focused on applications that could do repeatable and automatable things for them. The second requires more effort than buying something off the shelf. Applications had to be made and coded at a time when that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Steve focused on applications when the vast majority of people had never heard of the term.

The iPhone dominated with the advent of apps. Your phone could do things now. Your phone could execute tasks that tangibly made your life better. For at least three years, you couldn’t go a month without someone telling you about the next killer app you needed to download. What could the Blackberry do? Bang out long-winded emails with ease? That was about it.

This especially resonated with me as that’s where our focus is; automate and create custom functions that add continuous value. In our business, competitive advantage looks like high renewal rates and lower operating costs, and the best way to get there is with great systems.

RIP, Steve. At least one of your movies was really good.

Fu-Go, The Japanese’s best kept secret weapon of WWII

One of my absolute favorite things of late is listening to awesome podcasts like Radiolab and This American Life. I love stories, and these guys consistently tell some of the coolest ones around.

On this recent Radiolab podcast I heard the story about the Japanese secret weapon, the Fu-Go. I’m a big WWII buff and I’d never heard the story and was captivated by the sheer creativity involved.

Flummoxed by the Doolittle Raid on their homeland, the Japanese created and floated some estimated 9,000 paper balloons equipped with fire bombs towards the U.S., taking advantage of the eastwardly flowing jet stream.  The vast majority didn’t make the voyage and most of the remaining came down in sparsely inhabited areas and didn’t explode.

A map of Fu-Go landings and known explosions.

A map of Fu-Go landings and known explosions.

These things landed all over the Pacific Northwest and a few even made it to British Columbia and even to outside Detroit. Thankfully, they had virtually no real impact for the volume that were sent and only lead to a few deaths – which are really tragic to hear about.

The military kept the whole thing secret to avoid panic and the media at the time willfully complied as patriotic supporters of the war effort.

Model of the complex mechanisms used to allow the Fu-Go to travel over 5,000 miles - 10x what a typical balloon of that size could travel.

Model of the complex mechanisms used to allow the Fu-Go to travel over 5,000 miles – 10x what a typical balloon of that size could travel.

As the balloon needed to travel at 30,000 feet to take advantage of the fast moving jet stream, the biggest obstacle was the gas condensing during the nighttime. In order to keep it aloft, an altimeter would ignite a fuse, dislodging a sandbag hung from the bottom of the balloon which would shoot it back into the jet stream. The Fu-Go contained 30 of these sandbags to help it bob up and down all the way from Japan to the mainland of the United States.

The creativity involved to solve an insurmountable problem with the minimum of expense or effort would be just awe-inspiring, were the pursuit not so heinous in nature.

If you’ve got an iphone, go to the podcast icon on your phone and search for Radiolab – it’s completely free and new episodes come out weekly. Plus, there’s an absolute trove of back episodes you can download and listen to anywhere.