News + Views

Reach Out and Touch Someone


Is there a week that goes by without a mention of how technology is changing the world? What would life, especially work, be like without the Internet? Yet, most don’t know what the Internet is; that amorphous, mysterious “everything” that is always within reach, and which makes all other things also within easy reach. Does it really matter that we can’t describe it or that we don’t know how it works? Clearly not!

Those of us with products and services for sale-most of us-have learned well how to prepare our products for market; that elusive and often fickle group of people we call consumers. The business-to-business (B2B) world communicates among businesses in need of things from other businesses. The rest of us may get our “stuff” from businesses, often neighborhood shops, but the things we need are more likely to be found in the “economic breadbasket” of basic necessities than in a catalog. When in this role we’re called “consumers,” and suppliers to this group operate in the business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace.

Largely the result of technology that brings us into focus on a supplier’s lens, we increasingly are people communicating with other people. Technology has innocently delivered everything for sale right into your lap; that is, if you’re using a laptop, as I am now. We are no longer having conversations with impersonal companies, but with the people in those companies who are often managing your problems-even chat rooms have people at the other end to help us-and who likely are making the decisions that will inform your buying habits. In the end, we are businesses talking to people-B2P. (more…)

July 16, 2013 |

Lessons from the Past


I’m pleased to devote this week’s space to a guest columnist who shares his insightful observations about the limited life cycle of landmark products.-FJR

By Gord Hotchkiss
The first designs for the typewriter started showing up in the 1870s. After some rather imaginative designs, including one that looked like a pincushion, the Sholes and Glidden (S&G) Type Writer (1873) was the first writer to introduce the QWERTY keyboard (which we’re still using today). The QWERTY design was introduced to overcome the physical limitations of the machine, which tended to become jammed if frequently used keys were located next to each other. The reason we still use it? Well, suffice to say, habits are a tough thing to break.

The S&G design, and all the other variations that followed for the next two decades, tried various approaches, but all had one thing in common: They were all “understroke” or “blind” writers. The keys hit the paper on the bottom of the platen so users couldn’t see what they were typing.
In the mid-1890s, John T. Underwood was trying to figure what to do with his company, a fairly significant provider of ribbons and carbon paper to then-dominant typewriter manufacturer Remington.

The company had spun off its typewriter division from the sewing machine division, which in turn had evolved from its main business of making guns. But Underwood had heard Remington had plans to start making its own consumables. He countered by declaring, “All right, then, we’ll just build our own typewriter.” Fate upped the ante by bringing together Underwood and German-American inventor Franz X. Wagner. (more…)

July 9, 2013 |

Found Money


By Frank J. Rich

Among the greatest pleasures of the curious mind is to discover yet another gem hidden in plain sight. Convenience has its way with people, especially when we turn into consumers. It determines where we find our goods and services, how we relate to local communities, and where we put down roots. It is seldom that we travel 10-miles for great bread, wishing it were closer to take fuller advantage of its unique qualities. The Hungry Ghost in North Hampton, Mass., is such a place.

Its dedication to rustic breads, the kind you leave face down on a wooden board for as long as you wish until ready for another piece, is truly the bread of life. I stopped there whenever visiting my daughter, who attended college in town. I have never found its equal, though I’ve not been there since her graduation. But I never stop wishing it were closer.

Our penchant for convenience drives most decisions, not least where we shop. But the motivation can have hidden consequences. You may recall an American Express TV commercial from the ’70s and ’80s wherein Karl Malden, who starred with Michael Douglas in TV series “The Streets of San Francisco,” was pitchman. It’s fair to say that Malden was the Walter Cronkite of the Screen Actors Guild at the time, an organization he also led as president for five years. (more…)

June 25, 2013 |

Will the Means


By Frank J. Rich

Most catchphrases gain value when used to further a goal, even as simple a goal as enjoying what we’re doing in the moment. Take the phrase: “The end justifies the means.” You’ve heard it; and hopefully its meaning to you creates a reaction. At least then, you’ll know you’re breathing – a good thing. It’s what warms the stomach that ignites our passions, that which moves us to do the things that bring us closer to the goal in mind. It is this, the things we do – the means; to accomplish the goal – the ends that most affect the achievement of our goals. We not only set expected outcomes, but we also set the means in place. In other words, will the means as well as willing the ends.

Goals are the drivers of most activity. When clear, realistic, and measurable, they can be sustenance for organizations of all kinds – for profit and not-for-profit alike. They have been so honored that god-like, goals have come to define most initiatives for their ability to succeed. If stated and supported they position potential higher. But however well thought out and aggressive or high-minded they are nothing is gained without the “means” to achieve them. It is this lesser god that makes all else possible. (more…)

June 18, 2013 |

Don’t Just Sit There, Keep Movin’


By Frank J. Rich

Some time ago I stopped at a store while driving through New England. The sign on the front read Rucki’s General Store. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I just stopped to stretch my legs and look around. Outside the store were a number of signs announcing the goods inside – Home Raised Quality Beef, Fresh Corn, Blue Seal Grains (and pet food), and fresh milk. I wondered about this last one; what in the world was “fresh” milk, I thought. Isn’t all milk fresh?

I stopped for a moment to inquire about the milk. Mr. Rucki, as I recall, was tall, spindly, and bespectacled. He had an expectant look on his face as though worn down by the many passersby who lived the experience I was having. “What’s fresh milk?” I asked, adding, “Isn’t all milk fresh?”

“Yup,” he said, answering the last question first. “Some fresher than others,” he added. At that moment I was reminded of one of Will Rogers’ quips – “Nothing you can’t spell will ever work.” I decided to keep it simple and not ask him to describe the processes of homogenization, pasteurization, and airborne bacteria. (more…)

June 11, 2013 |

Awareness, Use, and Innovation


By Frank J. Rich

Cycles are a persistent part of most things. Even the weather, though seemingly capricious in nature at times, delivers the seasons with cyclical preciseness. In efforts to simplify the world we live in, no less a complicated marketplace, cycle analysis helps. Cycle time reduction is one of the methods applied to organizational change that squeezes efficiency from random growth. And efficiency reveals the advantage of speed.


As the “Point Zero Five to Five Rule” suggests, only .5% to 5% of the time, in most products and services, is there value being added. The conclusion: only cost and not value is being added. Consequently, most cycle time analysis models not only simplify but enable processes with more efficiency, flexibility, less cost, and improved quality.


How might enterprises employ a simple cycle analysis that sees through the complicated math-based cycle models to drive growth? Let’s give it a try. (more…)

June 4, 2013 |

Failing Smart


By Frank J. Rich

Enterprise models often emphasize quick results. Why? The market moves more quickly today than ever, technology forces disruptive change, and innovations are increasingly more destructive (in the short term) than productive. Even the hint of technology advancement (for its effect on the use model) is often enough to stall sales of it. Yet, to affect a market with a new product idea or advancement takes an average of two years. It’s much the same to establish a new business of most any kind. How, then, do we manage the uncertain task of delivering new products to market and new enterprises of promise?

Many of us build our toys two to three times, an errant determinism that shuns a careful review of the directions. We’re just built that way, especially men. We are experimenters, not unlike Thomas Edison, who preferred to view the 10,000 attempts at an incandescent light bulb as experiments and not failures. Perhaps, his optimism or sheer determination, a rose by another name, was sufficient to chase defeat or at least the blahs, propelling him to achieve his goal of lighting the communities of America inexpensively. And in the process, proving “planned failure” as a model of achievement. Most of the experiments worked, however briefly, and then one remained lit, its filament burning for 15 hours into the darkness. (more…)

May 29, 2013 |
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