28 May 2010

Simon Sinek on "Why"

Do you watch TED Talks? If not, you're really missing out. So much good stuff there, all in short doses (from 3 to 18 minutes, depending).

I recently came across an 18-min talk by a dude named Simon Sinek. Great stuff there, looking at what made MLK, Apple Computer and the Wright Bro's different from their competitors & peers. Check him out.

27 May 2010

Pomplamoose Music

I can't get over this video by Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn, aka Pomplamoose. I dig indie music in the first place, and these two film their videos in a smallish apartment. It's a very stripped-down, simple approach, and the resulting product is pretty amazing. Nataly has a great voice and watching Jack play the drums is a thing of beauty. I'm not sure if it's the elbows or the grin that gets me more.

Why mention this here? Just to point out that the relatively simple, inexpensive approach to producing things applies beyond the world of technology. It works for music, just like it works for tech. Enjoy the video.

26 May 2010


I just finished reading Muhammad Yunus' amazing book Banker To The Poor. It describes his efforts to set up a microcredit bank called Grameen, and it's a heck of a story. It almost makes me want to become a banker.

He started in 1976 with a $27 loan to a few of the poorest people in Bangladesh. A few decades later he's lent billions and helped millions of people lift themselves out of poverty.

One of the things I love about his story and his approach is the emphasis on speed & simplicity. He is totally focused on delivering credit to the poor and has no time for the complexities, formalities and delays inherent in traditional banking structures. The results (including a Nobel Prize) speak for themselves.

25 May 2010

"I'm getting better..."

Here's a headline I didn't expect to see anytime soon: "GAO report finds Pentagon acquisition becoming more efficient."

Wow. How did that happen? Apparently "the Pentagon has "made major revisions" in its weapons-buying practices to put more emphasis on learning more about requirements, technology and weapons design before starting weapons programs," according to an article by William Matthews, which quoted the GAO's Michael Sullivan. Huh. Who knew it was important to understand requirements, technology & designs BEFORE we start? Oh, that's right... JUST ABOUT EVERYBODY! It's been a nearly constant theme of GAO reports in particular over the past several years. Still, it's nice to see some of these changes actually being implemented.

Sadly, Matthews' article goes on to say "The bad news is that they probably aren't improving fast enough to avoid a fiscal crunch caused by the federal budget deficit, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rising medical expenses and personnel costs."

So we've still got some work to do... but hey, it's a start.

24 May 2010

Brownies, military-style

A buddy recently forwarded me the 26-page recipe for military brownies. Yikes!

To be fair, these are MRE-style brownies, so they need to be able to sit on a shelf for a thousand years and still be moist and delicious. And many of the pages refer to the packaging. But still, it does seem excessive, doesn't it?

Now, I'm no brownie expert. It's entirely possible the 26-page spec is exactly the simplest, shortest and most concise recipe possible, given the rigorous operational demands we place on these combat brownies. We certainly don't want a situation where a dude in combat opens his MRE brownie and discovers it's inedible, moldy, etc. Eating MRE's sucks enough in the first place, and no doubt brownies are the highlight of the meal.

But when the AF built the F-16 Falcon, the Request For Proposal was 25 pages long. Proposals were limited to 50 pages. Should the explanation of how to make and package a brownie really be longer than a statement of need (and more than half as long as the proposals) for an advanced fighter jet?

I bet we could do better than that.

18 May 2010

The Scientist's Garden

Just came across another case of The Simplicity Cycle being used in someone's book. How excited am I?!?

On page 175 of Dr. Richard Stirzakar's book Out of The Scientist's Garden, he's got a great little diagram that's derived from my Simplicity Cycle diagram (the acknowledgement shows up on page 193). Amazon says the book won't be released until June, but somehow I was able to read a good chunk of it on Google.

It looks like a pretty fascinating book - I'll have to preorder a copy.

17 May 2010

How To Win...

I recently came across a brilliantly simple PowerPoint presentation, titled How To Win the War In Al Anbar. It's by Army Captain Travis Patriquin, who was sadly killed by an IED.

The presentation was actually done in 2006, but it's still worth looking at today, both for its message / strategy and its format.

If you haven't seen it already, check it out.

14 May 2010

Stuff I like

I've been thinking a lot about what I want to be when I grow up. Specifically, I'm thinking about what I want to do when I retire from the AF, which will probably be in about 4 years. As someone recently pointed out to me, four years away is "too soon to start worrying about it, but not too soon to start thinking about it."

So I made a little list of things I like to do. The list said I like to write, teach, speak, design and help. I like to do stuff that matters. I like to collaborate with interesting people. I like delivering early, starting new things... and the list goes on.

A few days later I returned to the list and realized I'd left off something significant: I forgot to write that I like leading small groups... even though that's a pretty central, persistent like.

The thing is, between the 18 months I spent in school and the 12 months I've been in DC, I haven't led a small project group for quite a while. I've not only gotten out of practice, I sorta forgot about it.

It's now at the top of the list: leading small teams of talented people... That's the sort of thing I love to do, and it's something I hope to get back to doing again... preferably sooner rather than later.

13 May 2010

Bad Design - Bathroom Layout

I don't make a habit of taking photos in bathrooms - honest! But here we are for two days in a row... don't worry, this is the last one, I promise.

This shot is part of the continuing "Bad Design" theme. Anyone want to take a guess what's wrong with the design of the comfort station pictured to the left? Here's a hint - it has something to do with shoulders.

For those who haven't figured it out yet, holy cow those urinals are close to each other! I don't have remarkably large shoulders, but it is downright uncomfortable to make use of these facilities when the other one is occupied. It's not easy to avoid brushing shoulders with the dude next door.

Even an inch or two between facilities would have been much better. There's not a ton of space on the wall, but enough to have done it better. I'm sure there's a lesson here for any design students out there...

12 May 2010

Don't Do This

As a general rule, I'm not a big fan of rules. And this set of "Restroom Guidelines" posted on the stall door of the men's room at my office is pretty much a perfect example of how not do do it.

First of all, these aren't guidelines. They're rules. And don't give me this about my assistance being requested and appreciated. This sign is asking for compliance. The attempt to put some humanity into this rule set falls quite flat.

Can anyone tell me why the men's room needs a "Guideline" to not dispose of feminine products? And what about pinecones? The Guidelines doesn't say I can't discard pinecones, which is just about as likely as discarding my "clothing undergarments."

I just have to wonder about the mindset of the person who conceived, wrote and posted these rules. What did they think they accomplished? Maybe one of these things happened once, and now there's a big rule set outlawing things that never happened and never would have, rules or no rules. It's just one more example of universal solutions to isolated problems.

I only mention this because organizations do the exact same thing in all sorts of other contexts. My request? Please don't...

11 May 2010

The Discipline of Affordability

On a similar note to yesterday's post, Dr. Ashton Carter (Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) recently said the Pentagon needs to "relearn the discipline of affordability" and "relentlessly pursue affordability."

It sounds to me like he and the SECDEF are both saying it's important and good for programs to be inexpensive. That's the I in FIST, the Inexpensive value. It's a nice change of pace from previous years, when large price tags were seen as both a sign of sophistication and an inevitable attribute of military technology systems.

That's some pretty clear direction from the top leaders. I just hope the DoD's rank and file will read and heed.

10 May 2010

Keep going, Mr Secretary!

I've admired Secretary of Defense Gates for quite a while. He's got guts and vision, and I like the way he leads. In recent days, he's been quite blunt about the need for fiscal constraint, a move I heartily applaud. Based on his statements, it looks like the DoD is going to do some belt-tightening in the relatively near future, on everything from weapon system development to organizational structures. That sounds good to me.

In fact, way back in Nov 2004, I said the DoD "has too much money," and that being overfunded is limiting our ability to innovate. But enough about me - let's see what Mr. Gates has been saying:

From NY Times article:
“Military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny. The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time." And this: "“How many of our headquarters and secretariats are primarily in the business of reporting to or supervising other headquarters and secretariats, as opposed to overseeing activity related to real-world needs and missions?” Mr. Gates asked."

An excerpt from the Wall Street Journal article:
We have to accept some hard fiscal realities," Mr. Gates told an audience of naval officers and defense contractors in National Harbor, Md. "We have to ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 billion to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines and $11 billion carriers."

No doubt he's going to get some heat for this, but I for one am completely behind him. It's about time for a little restraint.

05 May 2010

Policy for Policy's Sake?

I'm taking an online class from Defense Acquisition University, and came across this line:

“As a Business Advisor you should take the lead to ensure that the final requirement documents implement as many government policies as possible.”

Um, I don't think that's quite right. I think I understand what the writer was trying to say, but let me gently suggest that the point isn't to implement as many policies as possible. Maybe something more along the lines of implementing the appropriate policies, or maintaining compliance with all relevant policies...

But as many as possible? I sure hope not.

04 May 2010

We don't...

I kinda dig these ads that have popped up in several metro stops around DC. They say things like "We don't build UAV's" or "We don't build ships." It's for a company that provides translation services for the military, and I really appreciate the simplicity and focus of their ads, both in terms of the message and the structure.

Very simple - big letters, white background, and a brief description of what they actually do. The big negative statements ("We don't do X") got my attention and made me curious to find out what they DO do...

Sure, I don't need any translation services myself, but if I did, this ad would definitely get my attention.

03 May 2010

Thrift Supervision?

Walking through downtown DC the other day, I came across the Office of Thrift Supervision. I thought this office sounded like a pretty good idea, and I'd like to get one for the DoD.

The DoD office of Thrift Supervision could focus on making sure people exercise some restraint when it comes to spending. It could encourage and reward underruns on development programs. It could provide education on why a tight budget is good for programs, why it's good to not spend all your money by the end of the year, and help program managers understand that constraints foster creativity. Naturally, this new office would work closely with the Office of Speed Supervision, which would encourage programs to establish short timelines. And we could probably use an Office of Simplicity Supervision... heck, let's just put them all together into the Office of FIST Supervision.

Speaking of speed, did you know that in 1943, the XP-80 development team was given 150 days to deliver their aircraft? They did it in 143 days... one week early! Did you know we could do that today if we wanted to? Or we can keep on making 10-year plans that turn into 20-year projects...

Hey, a guy can dream, right?