Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tie In

What are the beliefs of your market? Glenn Beck has done an excellent job of gathering conspiracy believers. He tied his message into their existing beliefs, and rallied them.  Keith Olberman built a myth about himself, his experience, and his motivations. He was quite successful until he got caught. Different markets, similar strategy.

In your business, you don't have to appeal to political extremes, because many other types of beliefs are floating along, waiting for someone to increase their velocity.

Let's say you sell sporting goods to people in a small town. Maybe your message can reaffirm a belief in the moral superiority of rural residents (the hardy yeoman of English fable who are the reservoir of positive values.) Do you sell country crafts on the internet? Then build a myth about their origin, based on a generational belief that handmade goods are better quality or that they connect us with our ancestors.

Belief systems take a long time to build. So don't invent a new belief, or your efforts will only benefit fur businesses.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Its a Small World After All

We know longer need to live in San Francisco to be creative.

We can develop knowledge networks. An entrepreneur in Tulsa, Oklahoma can share know-how with a community organization in Rio. Here are some points to consider:

 - Don't reinvent the wheel, but look for solutions others
   have created for the same problem by
 - formal networks, on the net, are better; informal ones
   rarely last
 - points should be given to those who contribute more
      - those with enough points would be given a higher rating

This issue will receive more air time in future postings.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


In 1972, psychologist Rollo May said:
     “Joy is the zest that you get out of using your talents, your 
      understanding, the totality of your being, for great aims…
      That’s the kind of feeling that goes with creativity. That’s 
      why I say the courage to create.

      Creation does not come out of simply what you’re born with. 
      That must be united with your courage, both of which cause 
      anxiety but also great joy.”

A lot has been said recently about creativity. Here are my two firm beliefs on the topic:

  1) Creativity is about creating something, usually a new solution, not just about making or saying something weird.
  2) Creating makes us healthier.

If you are depressed, create something. Find a barrier in your business or in your life, and find a new way around it. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Are you still stupid?

A belief that I am exceptionally impatient with is the idea that country folk are less intelligent than city folk.

I believe it is not only bigoted, but inaccurate. I believe that per capita, the opposite might be true. Sure, big cities have architects, artists, high-powered lawyers, and captains of industry. But they also have huge populations of people around whom you should never make sudden movements.

Small towns also have people who are struggling. But they have many smart people. I've seen them. 

Kicking the can down the road only makes the can bigger

In Argentina, the government fined nine economic research companies the peso equivalent of $122,000. Their crimes? They reported the actual inflation rate. The Argentine government annual wage hikes of 20 to 30 percent, but holds that the inflation rate is still in the nine percents.

Has this tactic slowed the actual inflation rate? We think not. The truth cannot be stopped, but it can be muffled for a while with tactics like these.

If you are starting or operating a business on Planet Earth, you should have a strategy for dealing with potential inflation. Buying futures, or stockpiling inventory, or locking in low interest rates, or some other plan would be prudent to at least consider.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The new media is the old media

In the old days, newspapers in America were partisan. If you were a Democrat, you read your city's Democrat-leaning paper, and Republicans read the other one. They were open about it.

Then the 1960s came along, and the media began advertising that they were fair and balanced. Almost without exception, media outlets were left leaning, but called themselves balanced. That is why people hate Fox News: they are not part of the system. They should be team players and lean left while calling themselves fair.

Perhaps Fox, as well as talk radio, are part of a larger trend. We may be going back to partisan news sources. Instead of pretending to be balanced, news sources will all pander to a particular audience, as Fox does, and as MSNB (the Fox of the Left) does. Media gatekeepers are coming out in the open about the agendas they are pushing.

Is this because we no longer believe in being balanced? Or is it because media gatekeepers are becoming less relevant, so they are becoming louder to be heard? We no longer need people to filter the news to tell us what they think we should hear. And those gatekeepers are nervous. "If you can't be good, be good at it," is their mantra. Meawhile, and Huffington Post and blogs are leaving NYT and CBS in the past century. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Best-case scenario

American Express almost put itself out of business, twice, by being unprepared for the response to new initiatives. Once, they sent direct mail to customers announcing the creation of a new charge card, a way that they could shop without cash. The response was so overwhelming they could not keep up with the demand. Customers were unhappy, and the brand was almost destroyed. Or so I was told when I worked for Amex in the early 1990s.

When planning bold businesses, we often make contingencies for potential downside risk. "Worst-case scenario, we'll only sell 12 million units. We are exuberant, so we describe a scenario far better than the real worst-case scenario.

But how often do we prepare for an outcome so grand it could instantly suck up all our resources and leave us unable to keep commitments?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where do you stand regarding Sturgeon's Law?

Theodore Sturgeon was a science fiction writer until his death in 1985. He is known for what we now call Sturgeon's Law, in effect, "90 percent of everything is crud."

True, 90 percent of science fiction writing is crud, but so are 90 percent of television shows,  electrician output, photocopy machine repairs, carpet colors, and--certainly--standup comedy.

The ten percent are special. They shine. We should all strive to be in the ten percent.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ode to the Country Life

A central premise if the Nauvoo Commuter is that starting a business in a rural area has several large disadvantages over starting a business in a creative urban center, and you need to be aware of those, but you should focus on the advantages, which do exist.

Occasionally we list ideas of ventures that might fit well into a rural situation. Here are three more:

 - sell local flora (Prairie Tumbleweeds ships tumbleweeds
   worldwide for decorations and movie sets, $25 plus shipping)
 - courier (because logistics infrastructure is not as strong in
   your area)
 - shuttle driver for elderly (or for Amish families)

Go for it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cut fat out of the whole political economy, or at least your community.

Western society has spent the past 50 years asking "why not?," which has brought some remarkable innovation. Perhaps it is time for a decade of asking "why?," so we could start questioning why we have the institutions and practices we do.

This would be sort of like zero-based budgeting for the whole work-flow of our society.
Implementing all the great ideas of the past 50 years has added a lot of economic and lifestyle friction to our lives.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sure, we have brain drain, but we keep growing more brains

Few entrepreneurs have influenced Web 2.0 as much Evan Williams. He started blogger, which was sold to Google. (He invented the word blogger.) His most recent move was to start Twitter. This guy doesn't just innovate, he changed the world. Twice.

Guess which creative urban center calls Evan Williams a native? The answer: Clarks, Nebraska (population 361, according to Wikipedia.) When he lived there, the community had one K-12 school. Williams moved irrigation pipes on the family farm before moving to the technology sector, spent some time back on the farm, then changed the world. (He did need to leave the farm, but he was smart before he left.)

So, latte-sippers who says Midwest farmers are backward have apparently never heard of Blogger or Twitter. And this is not an isolated story.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The meek will inherit your market share

You can find almost 2,600 titles on just on motivation. Books abound about how to be more assertive, more confident, more ambitious. It is time someone spoke up for humility. 

Japanese don't innovate. Instant ramen is the sole invention from Japan. And that's okay. They just admit they don't know everything and learn--religiously--from others.  Detroit, which has been creating most of the innovation, yet losing market share. They were not humble enough to learn from Asia, and they sometimes lacked humility toward customers. After living 14 years in Japan, I don't believe that Japanese products are necessarily higher quality. But being modest is certainly serving them well.

Amazon (an internet seller you may have heard of) is meek in the way they interact with customers. They don't assume they know the hearts of consumers better than the consumers themselves.  They talk to customers respectfully. They try different products and promotions, and let customers decide if they like those products. And Amazon doesn't need to control both the hardware and software. If Apple and Sony or anyone else wants to create a device to directly compete with Kindle, that is fine. No ultimatums about "no room in Dodge City for both of us," and no gunslinging in the street. "Here, have our reader app for free," they respond. "Feel welcome to read kindle books on your PC or smartphone."

Humility is the foundational virtue. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Art on the Prairie

If I lived in a rural area, and if I were an artist (music, painting, drawing, sculpture, pottery, etc.), I would keep the art as a hobby, and keep the day job. 

Someone wants to make a lot of money, and has the talent, so "why not be 50 Cent or Neil Diamond and make art full time?" The temptation for people is to think "if I make a million with my music, I won't have to work, and can spend time with my family." But that (1) turns the music into a "job." And (2) it forces people to take shortcuts. Also, (3) it makes people impatient. "I'm not making enough money yet!" 

If art is a hobby--a diligent, perform-every-week, consistent hobby--then it will grow like a mustard tree. You'll be surprised at the outcome.

The Bad Artist

Tonight I advised a friend of mine, a musician about launching his career.

I asked him to invite people to his home every month and perform for them. Create a show that positively evolves over time. But rain or shine, illness or busyness, keep performing. Don't stop for any reason. On the first Sunday of each month, perform for a group which, hopefully, rotates.

My advice is that the artist who does not perform is no different from the non-artist, the person with no talent. So we don't have bad artists, just those who do and those who don't.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What happened to the Nauvoo Commuter?

This blog used to post daily. It has now trickled to two or three times a week.


Read Steven Pressfield's Do the Work, and you'll know the answer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dear Mr. Schwan Man

The Schwan Man visited our house today. His real title is " Route Sales Representative," but he calls himself Schwan Man. In fact, "Schwan Man" is his greeting, sales pitch, and sales closing. When I opened the door, he only said those two words, and left them hanging in the air, allowing me to interpret his objective as he stared at the porch below his feet. Even a smile would have helped him. 

I wonder if Schwan trains their reps. This is the job description:

   "As a Route Sales Representative, you will drive the widely 
    recognized SCHWAN’S truck to sell and deliver more than 
    300 varieties of frozen foods to families around the area. Your 
    drive and ambition can go a long way toward your ability to 
    meet the needs of current customers, secure new customers, 
    and in defining what you earn through the real earning potential 
    of sales commissions."

I assumed he earns some sort of commission, but perhaps not. Covered are his medical, dental, and even tuition (are they hoping he'll start training to be an accountant because they can't believe he will stick to his "Route Sales Representative" job long term?) and some other goodies. The recruiting literature seems to indicate they try to recruit people who want safety.

If the company had trained and motivated him, perhaps our rep would have said, "I'm your Schwan Man, and I am here to fill your freezer with things that bring joy, such as this week's special..." But they didn't, so he didn't. 

We still ordered a few things, but we still have space in our freezer.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Original settlers of what became the United States envisioned the land being "a city set on a hill." The nation would be an example of religious liberty and righteousness. 

Is the country still fulfilling that mission? Or are we too concerned with avoiding exceptionalism? Or do we no longer believe in religious liberty?

Belief systems are far more diverse than in the past. And I don't know if they can all be reconciled into a single unifying system. 

But perhaps a new awakening is on the way. Let's stay tuned. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

In this forum, we are trying to develop the:

 - individual
 - community
 - region

Do these goals stand in opposition to each other? Do they complement each other? Certainly a strong individual in a weak region has an easier time being a genius (reference St. Ambrose, who was considered to be a super genius because he could read without moving his lips.) But an individual or community in a super-region has more opportunities for leveraging ideas, capital, encouragement, and role models. 

Living in a less-developed region is not a success killer. It is just different. 

Another item for your "To-Don't" list

If you are still putting together a to-don't list, as you should, one thing you should definitely add is:

"Listen to criticism from your neighbors, because you might learn
a lot about yourself"

Most of your neighbors, in fact, probably have no understanding of what you are trying to accomplish. Some might, and you will eventually be able to discern between those who "get it" and those who do not. Ignore the second group, even though they are the majority.