The Four Letter Word That May Just Change Your Life!

December 22, 2007

Tis the season for good cheer so says Rudolf the red nose reindeer and his motley crew. Only I wish that were really so. As we prepare to close this year, it’s always good to take stock of the things that really went wrong? To learn from of course, if nothing else. Remember Shin Corp? What about the Golden Age? Where is it? Aha and where may I ask is our great experiment, the great Bio tech push heading? Was it a wise decision to raise the pay of ministers?

You remember the Segway don’t you? The machine that it’s creator, Dean Kamen said “will change the world.” Only one problem; the world decided to change without it.

The Segway is a classic case study of how a really good idea can go wrong big time.Why did the Segway die? What really went wrong with the business plan?

Before we dive in let me just share that I don’t usually read up on successful case studies – there’s a very good reason why; winners don’t really interest me as much as losers – for starters, I don’t believe they add very much to the learning experience.

People who draw out lessons from studying successful people, businesses and countries are very much like the rah-rah brigade who attend cult churches where – they all suffer from a few thinking flaws; “they only hear what they want to hear.” – “see what they want to see.” and “think only what they are allowed to think.” What else can possibly account for building a shopping mall in the name of sweet Jesus?  Result; everyone imitates everyone, that’s well and fine, if you’re jumping out of a plane with a whole lot of folks, but if you are a businessman whose trying to carve out a niche or find a sweet spot in the competitive quadrant, it does absolutely squat.

That’s the real problem with confining the learning experience to just ‘winners.’ At the end of the day it’s just a self-selecting exercise and if you follow it – the odds are probably every Ah Kow, Muthu and Ahmad is probably reading the same book. It’s no good! Just wasting time!

Fortunately, I realized this very early on in life, when I interned as an air crash investigator for the NSTB during my Master’s Program – there’s alot to be learnt from ‘losers’ and people who regularly pilot million planes into a mountain. If I was pressed for one reason why, it’s because when a plane is all splayed out across 3 square miles in the full glory of twisted metal, spaghetti wiring and broken shards – you can’t get more honest than that. Any more honest and you would be coming down from Mount Sinai carrying the ten commandments. So there’s a life tip; if you really want to get ahead, look out for the ‘fall guy,’ he’s a treasure trove of valuable life lessons.

One of the my main gripes about trying to glean anything from winners is half the time, the people who made it big are usually also big on lies. Am I calling them liars, yeap pretty much so, because success is bound to change people and that’s usually the cue for the myth making or PR machine to roll out. Winners would definitely come across as more believable, if only some of them didn’t regularly behave, talk and premise their decisions like Forrest Gump (“Momma used to tell me life is like a box of Chocolates” – That’s because Mr Gump, you have never tried Prima Deli bfr!) – so take my advice, next time some idiot in the net tells you this or that firm or person made it big because of this or that, it’s time for a reality check.

Don’t believe me, just consider how many young and so called entrepreneurs have been feted through the years only for them to do a swan dive latter on, proving time and again, one flash-in-the-pan don’t maketh a winner.

But please remember, don’t take the tip too far. I am not asking you to brush up on the 7 habits of highly consistent losers, as much as. I am trying very hard to impress upon you why very little can be gleaned from studying the 7 habits of highly successful folk.

OK now that I have qualified myself why I like to learn from the losers and not the winners [pls don’t say that’s not important, because that’s a lesson in it’self, that’s why I spent so much time preparing the ground], let’s dive in.

Now there are many reasons why the Segway went the way of the Dodo bird, bad marketing, getting caught up in bureaucratic quagmire etc, but you could just as well boil it down to one main reason; the Segway was a victim of ‘push ‘technology – ‘push’ technology as the word implies, means it requires people to buy into a new idea of doing something really old.

Usually ‘push’ technology is OK, if the increments are real small. The problem kicks in when the ‘push’ factor features so prominently, it even sabotages whatever benefits great engineering can offer.

So at the onset of any business plan, it’s critical to get away from the myth that good engineering = a better mousetrap =success. Nothing can be further from the truth. I have seen plenty of good inventions fail, because the people who drive it just don’t spend enough time auditing the cost of “pushing” a product. Usually, when I bring it up the topic during working sessions everyone gives me that “why can’t he play ball for once” look, that’s usually the cue for me to say, “do what you want!” and the results are usually not so different from trying to sell off the charge of the light brigade as a sound military enterprise – the whole plan just takes a swan dive and dies magnificently crashing and burning all the way. 

This brings into sharp focus, the need to continually ask; how big a ‘load’ do we really need to first ‘push’ when appraising the merits of any enterprise. The main problem with the Segway was the ‘push’ factor was too great i.e it’s not always possible to change human behavior. Now this is where the zinger kicks in, because I am going add another layer of complexity here and say that sometimes if the load is too heavy i.e change is too radical, you are not going to get very far, even if it’s the best idea in the world or you’re the rightest person – that’s because it’s like trying to shift one of those bollards, might as well go and move a mountain.

‘Push’ logic is something that never ever gets taught, not even in places like Harvard Business School, because. Firstly, it doesn’t really make sense, but that’s exactly my point, it doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense. I mean you could just as well use ‘push’ logic to explain why the gay rights movement didn’t fair very well with the establishment on 377A issue. Sure you can say, you are morally right till you are blue in the face, but it alters absolutely nothing on the score card, the ‘push’ factor was simply too steep.

In the same way one of the compelling reasons Kamen forwarded for why it’s easier for the Segway to succeed rather than fail was because according to him, “it didn’t make any sense for someone to drive a 1.5 metric ton SUV and use up 2 liters of gas per kilometer when you could just as well cover the same distance with less than a dime and save the planet a whole lot of grief.”

You would imagine, it’s pretty difficult to argue with that sort super duper logic.

Guess what he was dead wrong – what Kamen didn’t reckon on was the extent to which humans are generally tied down to cars, trains and aeroplanes – I would even go so far as to say, using ‘push’ logic, he didn’t even stand a chance of succeeding! It was uphill all the way.

The fatal flaw in the Segway was simply this; it made too much sense and leverage wholly on the belief people will buy a better mousetrap. And to be honest, you cannot get a better mousetrap than the Segway, it required only 2 minutes of training, had a zero carbon footprint and even came with a green tag. Despite all it’s brownie points, the Segway still failed and the lesson is really this: people will ONLY buy a better mousetrap, IF it doesn’t require them to change their behavior and values too radically. I mean this isn’t too hard to understand, just a few days ago, I had a profound conversation with someone who regularly drinks his own urine to cure everything from high blood pressure to stopping nose bleeds (could this be the ‘golden era’ everyone is talking about? You tell me!). Hey, does that mean I am going do the same? No fear lah, I’ve stick to Ribena, thank you very much.

My point is simply this: the Segway case study illustrates very clearly how sometimes having a good idea is just not good enough. Similary when we consider whether Singapore’s bio-tech push is going to be a viable business, we really need to take a closer look at the ‘push’ factor – is it a bridge too far? What kind of load are we talking here? How good is the ‘push’ technology?

I am not just talking about stuff like how many scientist we can fit on a pin-head or how many patents are registered, that’s really a dead end if you ask me. A patent is just a right to an ‘original’ idea – you could even patent a really dumb invention like how to cook your grand ma using solar power – doesn’t mean it’s worth millions, it just means you’ve been awarded a piece of paper that has roughly the same utility as the variety you usually wipe your ass with. Let me give you some sobering statistics to put a sense of scale to it all. For every patent that makes it i.e manufacturing run exceeding 1 million / there about 709,996 losers – see why I mean – possibilities don’t make for probabilities.

So if this year your resolution is to wing it as a businessman and lose that salary man tag, always remember the ‘push’ factor, may not be a page turner, but I guarantee you, it will certainly be a life changer – happy hunting!

Darkness 2007 

6 Responses to “The Four Letter Word That May Just Change Your Life!”

  1. Darkness said

    Hi All,

    I have been getting a lot of e-mail nearly 50 a day on why I don’t believe in registration or logging in, in the internet. There’s a short answer to that and I believe the best way to try to put it across is by sharing with you what typically happens everyday in this site owned by Dotty. Usually, we get about 40 comments which are just hell bent on doing something which I really don’t have time to even think through. So what our MIS man regularly does (KOHO) is he uses a spam catcher, the one we use is a commercial type but hey you could just as well download one for free from the net. Now how this program works is really very simple, it recognizes key words, IP or whatever you wish to enter and default into the box and off it goes. So let’s say we get one of those cracked brained comments, it’s automatically processed and straight it goes into the acid bath, where it just gets eaten up. Doesn’t even get read by a human, the whole process is 100% automated. The disadvantage is that every time you post then a “awaiting moderation” sign pops up bc the software needs to vet through 10 million whatever to make sure you’re kosher (take my advise stick to the free version) that may mean there’s a slight delay in the approval, but big deal la that doesn’t seem to bother our readers, havent even received a single complain. So I hope this answers your questions why just as I don’t believe it’s a smart proposition to control the rat population with lets say nuclear weapons, it doesn’t make one molecule of sense to try to regulate the net by resorting to registration and ID logging in’s – that sort of approach should only used if there are no existing means available to do the job. But as I have shared with all of you here, there’s no shortage of off-the-shelve solutions already out there, so you really have to really ask yourself, how smart it is to spend millions inventing a space pen that can write in zero gravity when you could just as well use a pencil to do the same job? Besides, if those astronauts get stressed out, it even chews – to me, its a non-issue that’s just incredibly unimaginative and so dumb.

    I hope not to receive any more mail on this issue, many thanks.

    Darkness 2007

  2. Darkness said

    Dear All,

    Always remember this from DAY 1 when we stepped into blogosphere there have been ppl who despised us.

    Neither did they hide this. They made their position very clear. They took a position.

    What did they really expect?

    I mean its fucking simple to me and some of you are still writing me letters to ask why? You must all be stupid!

    Let me put it this way, if you disrespect a man in the virtual is it so different from doing the same to a man in real life?

    Think very carefully abt that question. Would you do the things to this man in real life that you are prepared to do to him in the virtual? Think long and hard abt it.

    I say be very careful when you fuck around with any man. I have seen many strange things in the virtual. I have walked through narrow valleys seeing only a single man and still I ask for permission humbly to pass and within minutes, this one man is transformed into an army of thousands who emerge from every rock and crevice. What would the outcome have been, if I had simply pass without asking permission? You go figure that out.

    So there you go, things are never what it seems and so you must ask, if things can be so altered in the virtual. What of the real world? Do you really believe it is so different from the virtual? Understand this! People will only allow you to see what they will allow you to see! Do not be so dumb as to think one is one and can only remain one, just because you do not have the imagination to make out the thousands in the shadows.

    Can you not entertain the possibility people will always find ways and means to fellowship under their own terms, if they share the same beliefs and values? Can it really be so odd, if I said to you, they may even share the same hobbies like cycling or just gather to eat a chicken and drink a few bottles of beer? Think!

    So doesn’t matter whether it is a big, small or medium man, just be very careful, because if you cross someone here and he decides to take it personally, it will be the same here as it is over there. An enemy is an enemy, real or imagined, you can be certain, he is not a friend and you have no one to blame but yourself – bc you never accorded him the respect he deserved – the supreme discourtesy to any man is to ignore him – because when he stands before you and shouts and you do not even bother to see him, it doesn’t mean you are dignified or above him, it only means you have successfully put yourself and him in the furthest place between two points in the universe – and that can only mean, there is no possibility for common ground – you do that at great peril to yourself – you are not smart, you are just too stupid to realize it – even I do not dare to play that shitty game.

    Always remember this, that is why, I try never ever marginalise, ignore or even cross another group unless, I am pushed to one corner and really do not have any choice – even then it gives me little pleasure to do so. Doesnt matter whether it is the govt, mickey mouse grp or even the blog read by the power of one. I respect all the same, no more or less.

    This is simply a statement of fact. Now you know and as you can see it is never that simple or easy. I have spent a long time explaining this to all of you, so pls try to stop writing to me on this issue again. You see even I cannot afford to ignore you ppl, bc I do not know what will happen if I decide to do so! What more of others who want to find fault with me?

  3. longtimer said

    Hello HAL nice to see you again!

  4. Montburan said

    Hello Hal,

    We’ve been expecting you. Tell me where is Dotty? I don’t like this very much. It being X’mas and all, I expect her to be dressing up the place in typical fashion. Suddenly, you show up. I smell a rat!

  5. […] the Reason of my Heart: The Cotai Strip – A Reprise of Singapore’s IR Strategy – Just Stuff: The Four Letter Word That May Just Change Your Life! – The Singapore Diaries: Christmas in […]

  6. Tim said

    The Segway is doing fine and sales are great. Where did you ever get the notion that it died? Did you just make that up without research? Considering your whole rant is in comparison to the “flop” that the Segway is, it seems to me that none of this diatribe is even worth reading. Hell, I couldn’t even make it past the third paragraph before I had to research it myself. I was searching the web for something else and I just happened upon this piece, but come on, find out what you’re talking about first, then open your pie hole.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: