I’ve read Daniel Gross through the years on Slate.com. He’s now moved over to Yahoo Finance.
I enjoyed this paragraph in his final slate column, Farewell, Slate Readers! What I’ve learned in eight years of covering business for Slate.
When my first Moneybox column appeared on June 26, 2002, things were quite different. Many of my current Slate colleagues were making snarky comments in their high-school A.P. classes. There was no Twitter and no Facebook, and Google was a private company. I spoke to editors and sources on a device called “the telephone.” My joints didn’t ache.
It reminded me of Dylan:
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the Times they are a-changin’
1: the introduction of something new . 2: a new idea, method, or device: novelty.
Do you know the one indispensable business need of this era? Here it is: you’d best be really good at constant innovation, and a drive for constant, perpetual improvement. If you are not, you will be left behind – in the blink of an eye.
Here are two pieces worth reading to reinforce this one undeniable reality. The first is in the New York Times, about the constant improvement in dictation software. The other is about the advent of the Chevy Volt.
#1 – even with a virtual monopoly, you still need to constantly innovate. The customers demand it, expect it, and if you don’t someone else might come along and pass you by. That is the story of Nuance, the Dragon NaturallySpeaking company. In Reliable Dictation, Down to a ‘T’ by David Pogue, there are details about the way the company continues to refine its dictation software’s smarts. After a number of specifics, the article ends with this line:
Yes, Nuance has a near-monopoly in the speech-recognition game, but it’s nice to see it making steady improvements and price cuts as if it didn’t.
#2 – don’t panic about the pricetag of the Chevy Volt. Less expensive models will arrive in the blink of an eye.
In The Volt Jolt: Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty price (really, really hefty) for the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward. The first cars cost four times the average household income of the day, whereas the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.
The article gives a quick summary of the march of price-lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen; and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag. Gross is convinced that history and our commitment to innovation promise a similar plummeting of price for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here are key excerpts:
Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty (really, really hefty) of the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward. The first cars cost three to four times the average household income of the day, where as the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.
The article gives a quick summary of the march of price lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen, and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag, and promises a similar plummeting for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here’s a key paragraph:
Now, of course, Ford’s achievement with the Model T was one for the ages. His manufacturing advances were quantum leaps. But auto manufacturers have continued to innovate, develop efficiencies, and offer drivers more for less. The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. A few years ago, I went to buy a bicycle for the first time in a decade and was shocked to see how far my money could go. Compare the bicycle you can buy today for $300 with one you would have paid $300 for five or 10 years ago. By the same token, a $25,000 car today comes loaded with features that would have been unimaginable five or 10 years ago.
The key phrase in all of this: The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. In other words, innovation is constant, and making many things (every thing) better, and then better yet, again and again — for less money is the new normal.
Is this the pendulum going the other way? If so, it’s probably too early to tell what this means – but it may mean a lot. One thing it may mean – China is producing more of its goods for the people of…China.
While trade has rebounded from its lows, the volume is nowhere near its peak. In September, the combined total of U.S. imports and exports was 24 percent below the level of July 2008. Countries stung by the sudden drop-off in demand from foreign buyers have realized that they can no longer simply export their way to prosperity. China’s exports fell 23 percent between August 2008 and August 2009. Smart investors are channeling resources to companies that produce domestic goods for domestic markets.
And this “deglobalization” reminds us that though America may not be in decline, the rest of the world is rsing.
He ends his article this way:
In November, Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, one of the states hit hardest by globalization, showed up at a corporate campus in Milford, a suburb of Cincinnati, to celebrate the fact that Tata Consultancy Services, the Indian outsourcing giant, now employed 300 workers at its North America Domestic Delivery Center. The outsourcer has become an in-sourcer. Perhaps we’re not seeing deglobalization, but rather, reglobalization.
Normally, I spring from a business book in these posts. But here is an article by Daniel Gross from Slate.com that is worth a look.
We all know the recession is tough. And for many businesses, including the chain restaurants, the recession has been really, really tough. But one chain is thriving even in the midst of the recession. The chain is P. F. Chang’s. In The Secrets of Chang: The Recession is Killing Chain Restaurants, we learn some key reasons.
Here are some excerpts:
“Co-CEO Rick Federico says that in early 2008, when traffic first softened, management went through “all elements of our business that don’t touch our guests or our product” in a search for efficiencies.
P.F. Chang’s made it to $1 billion in sales by taking cues from successful Asian businesses. Now by focusing on process improvement rather than helter-skelter growth, it seems to be doing so again. Continuous improvement, the philosophy pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota in which managers and workers relentlessly seek out small modifications that add up to big profits, seems to be the recipe for success in 2009.”
Note the focus on continuous improvement. And note the untouchable portion — nothing would be changed that would lower the quality of the product or the experiences of the guest (the customer).
And so we ask: How can we do things tomorrow better than we are doing them today? And then, the day after tomorrow, what can we find next that we can improve? Or, how can we find further improvements even in areas we have already “improved?”
It is hard work to keep asking where/how can I be better? It is hard work to keep getting better. Most business books point us to these questions. And sometimes, we have to put aside the reading, at least for a while, and tackle making the actual changes.