Catching Up

Sunday afternoon, late, dusk. Time for a bit of catch-up on the past week's goings on, (during which I did more living than blogging). I'll do it summary style this time:

Next phase of career coming into focus. Most likely trajectory will find me rejoining old friends on a new mission, to help lead the transformation of a grand old company into a compelling new one. On final approach; ETA two or three weeks.

Visit through NYC terrific…

Began with crafty cab driver whose very purpose for living was to gain a car's length advantage over adversaries at every possible opening, real or imagined. Drivers of vehicles many times our size were left cowering.

Continued as we checked into favorite UES haunt, to hearty greetings, personal touches and postcardCentral Park 11 09 1   views.

Warmed further by smiles of mutual recognition exchanged with a piano man of long acquaintance.Chrisgillespie

Have a listen…

01 I've Got A Crush On You

Further still by the visit of fellow with whom I shared a very noisy foxhole during the SBL campaign, and by the sage advice he shared.

Further yet as we retired to a magical place to wine, dine and be entertained by a showman more people should know.Steve Tyrell

After good byes, a nightcap with accompaniment by the evening's third entertainer.

Loston Harris

Pause for sleep.

Morning brought coffee, fresh berries and the NYT, all blessedly late.

Haircut and shave (indulgence, served over the good natured banter of 40 year veteran barbers of Italian descent), then productive conference call.

Upside of being "in transition": you can find yourself DONE at 11:45. I was.

Walked uptown, bought a couple of books. Downtown, some tea, a couple of tea sets (for east coast digs).

After channeling The Thin Man for a bit, decided to take my camera for a walk in the Park. Results were satisfying.

Central Park 11 09 6

Piano man again. Gave him one of two books I purchased (the one about Pops). He gave it back, asking for dedication. I complied.

Dinner at another "local". Al Roker and guest just off to my left. (Saw Matt Lauer earlier.) Season's first truffles (over scrambled eggs).

Secured rented transportation on Thanksgiving morn, and headed east, bulging with luggage.

Met at former family estate by young man who, in my estimation, is the best son a father could have.

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TDay Dinner with all the fixings at a golf club that gets it right every year, (and where I may actually get to play a round next year!)

Son's TDay+ party provisioned by mom. Off he went by sea and land, into enemy territory (MA).

Saturday: up early, bio-reading, tea. A bit of seaside photojournalism.Short Beach 4   Meeting with a small, talented team looking to turn adversity (being laid off) into opportunity (a promising start-up idea). I may have helped, a little.

Woke early again today. Rose quietly, tip-toeing so as not to wake Ellie.  Descending stairs, noticed I must have left lights on last night. No. Ellie was sipping coffee, watching old movie.

More tea.

Browsed online instantiations of old media (there really IS a way forward; don't they see it?). Came across article on HDR photography. Bought HDR software (impulse indulgence). As it downloaded, received Google Wave invite. What to do? One tab for each, I multi-tasked for an hour or so.

Still early, I asked Ellie if she would like a road trip. Nods later, off we went. Sag Harbor. The American Hotel. Bloody Mary, Paté, Lobster BLT, HDR experiments….. double espresso, home.

That's pretty much it. Later.

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Short Beach Morning

This morning arrived cold and gray, with a gusting wind from the north. I woke early, well before first light and, unable to summon back sleep, made my way downstairs, fixed a pot of tea, lit a fire and sat down to read (the biographies of Emerson and James I'm now working through).

A bit later, it appeared that the weather and angle of the sun might create conditions favorable for capturing a few images. I had an hour or so before a mid-morning meeting with some folks I had offered to help with planning a start-up, so I headed directly north, to a local beach operated by the town of Smithtown, New York.

Short Beach 9  I arrived and found that the visitor population was now exactly one. (Although fresh looking tracks in the sand led me to surmise that someone had walked their dog on the beach sometime earlier, and a biker trio rumbled through mid-way during my time there.)

The wind was gusting 30 – 40, cold and dry. Shafts of sunlight appeared now and then through otherwise brooding skies. The waters, in both Nissequogue estuary and LI Sound, were in a fine boil. I captured a few images. I hope that you enjoy them in the album at right.


Black Friday arrived gray and rainy on Long Island this morning.

The plop, plop sounds on the skylights provide percussive accompanyment to the crackling fire and quiet new age flute music I have playing softly in the background as I sit in a large, comfortable leather chair and read (Richardson's biography of William James).

Green tea, served from a freshly acquired pot of Japanese design, completes this morning's comforts.

Soon the family will be fully up and abuzz, but now is my time.

Great Companies, Great Products

Great companies make great products.

They also must do many other things well in order to succeed in the long term, but at the core of it, they make great products (be they hardware, software or service).

So what are the hallmarks of great products, those that reach beyond utility to some higher plane? And how do some companies regularly produce them and prosper, and others issue forth a steady stream of mediocre (or worse) products and business results.

A few thoughts follow…

I believe that it starts with a deep belief in the basic truth asserted above. Your culture has to feature your products in starring roles.

Overview_hero1_20091020 I bought my first Apple product shortly after watching a video documentary made from "In Search of Excellence." I listened to Steve Jobs for the first time, heard him declare their goal of making nothing short of "insanely great" products, and they've consumed an embarrassingly large percentage of my disposal income ever since. Driven by Jobs, Apple is built from its foundation on the deep belief in, and commitment to, great products.

Symbol too. Jerry Swartz drove us to it, from a million angles (usually all at once). Ray Martino often said that great products were ALL that mattered. Fred Heiman had about the best product sense of anyone I know. Our engineers and product management teams presented their proposals and finished works with pride more typically reserved for offspring.

OK, so it starts with focus, belief and commitment. Then what?

Great products have to be designed from the outside in, the inside out and with coherence and integrity.

In turn:

Great products create great user experiences. They don't achieve excellence in some abstract framework, but as judged by the impressions of their human owners. This in turn is accomplished by thinking deeply about the total user experience from the earliest stages of design through to its finishing details of fit, finish, line and even grace. It's not just about what the product is, but how its design creates the desired impressions. They don't just meet a need, they create excitement and a sense of possibility.That's outside in design.

Inside out is equally important. Great products are built around solid cores that ensure quality, cost effectiveness, scalability.

Apple Macs are what they are in large measure because OSX is a great operating system.

Symbol bar code scanners still lead the industry all these years later because the theoretical foundation of M2000 their design was built solid and deep. Small example from the early years: a math model Jerry and collaborators developed proved that much less expensive components and simpler alignment methods could be used, as compared to competitive designs, and would yield a scanner that would actually work better than one built with conventional approaches. More for less wins.

Inside out design is about investing to understand the theoretical underpinnings of product design better that your competition, and then using that knowledge to get your core foundations right.

Finally, great product designs are coherent expressions of the strategies and values of the companies that make them. You should be able to pick up a product and read a story in it. It's company's story. What it stands for. Where it's going. What it means to enter a relationship with that company by becoming a user of its products.

That only happens if there's integrity in the design of individual products, and continuity across families of products, aligned deeply with the essence of the company that designed them.

Porsche911turbo26210245kq Drive a Porsche, walk into a dealer, read an ad, see their products on a track… and the impressions form an entirely coherent whole that says, "Performance."

Want to be a great company? Commit to, invest in, and deliver great products, and you'll be on your way.

Know Which Game To Play

Checkers and chess. Both are games of skill. Both have winners and losers.

While they share the same playing surface, if you sit down with a friend to play, it’s entirely clear which set of rules you should be using, based on the pieces on the board.

In business, it’s not that simple.

It’s Monday morning and you sit down at your desk.

Checkers Should this week’s focus be on steps toward securing the partnership that could be the key to opening up that new market segment that’s so promising (“chess”), or on how to fill the open slot on the development team who’s work is slipping (“checkers”)?

In some idealized textbook world, both happen in parallel: You as leader focus on the “big picture” strategic issues, your team on the executional tactics.

Not in the real world.

Here, what you focus on matters. It sets the priority. Your team notices, and that’s where they focus. (That's even before you get to the issue of your incremental experience and ability to contribute to the best outcome.)

If you meet with the hiring manager and her HR partner to discuss the open slot, their efforts to fill itChess  take on a different level of urgency. If you meet with the candidates, you’re more likely to land the top prospect.

Conversely, if you leave the job of laying out the critical strategic partnership framework with your Director of Business Development, the deal is less likely to come together than if you are a hands-on participant in the process.

Substitute any set of “checkers” and “chess” issues, and the challenge as to where to focus is the same:

  • The design review, or the new product strategy meeting?
  • The customer visit, or the next generation go-to-market innovation council presentation?
  • The current parts shortage or the long term cost reduction initiative?
  • The compensation plan or alternatives for opening up South America?

Just as in the case of whether to view a glass as half empty or full, and of through which end of the telescope to look, there is no one right answer.

As a team, you need to win at both strategy and tactics, chess and checkers. Which means that as a leader, of a team large or small, you have to lead in both.

My purpose here is to get you to think about that. To think how you’re balancing your time. To realize that you don’t win big in the long term without a well conceived strategy — but that you never even get to the long term without excellence in execution.

Chances are, you’re naturally drawn to one game more than the other. Me, I’m a bit more of a chess guy. I know plenty of more natural (and skilled) checkers players. That’s why, a couple of years ago, one early morning in a Starbucks, before my first cup of coffee, I bought a small, brass-covered magnetic travel game of checkers. It’s sitting on my desk to this day, to remind me to make sure to think about playing checkers each and every day, with at least as much effort as playing chess.

Think about it.

Oh, and yes, also know when it's time to stop playing, and time to sit down with your wife for a glass of wine… which it is here, and now.

Why I Do This

So why, exactly, have I chosen to take to the task of recording words here, now on some regular basis? Related: what guides my choice of subject?

A few words on these questions follow.

While having had some experience in a like mode some years earlier, I only started this column in August of this year. It was a time of transition, and I guess that instinctively I felt that thinking some things through out loud, in public, would help me toward choosing my own path forward. I wrote about this in “Looking Back to Look Forward,” one of my earlier posts. I’ve found that it’s served me well in this respect.

I also, it turns out, like to write — I forgot just how much until taking up this project. Don’t get me wrong, this is work, sometimes painful. Writing, like any other skill, improves with practice. That of course directly implies that you have to subject yourself (and, alas your readers) with earlier inferior works, on the way toward those improved ones that your later self will hopefully one day produce.

In addition, I believe, humbly but with no false modesty, that I have some insights (mostly about the world of business) to share. I’ve lived and experienced quite a bit. I've been part of something great, and made plenty of mistakes. I have been very pleased to hear back in comments, a few public and quite a few more private, that at least some of your are finding at least some of my notes useful. I will strive to continue to earn your attention with offered value.

Finally, as one dear friend surmised in a private comment, I’ve found writing about some of the more difficult moments in my career to be genuinely cathartic. The process seems to bring that overused pop psychology word: closure.

Now, what about my choice of subject?

I didn’t really have a plan when I started this. A serial reading of posts from August should make this plain.

I’ve written about business, travel, politics, people, science and sports. (I’ve likely forgotten a topic or two.)

I’ve tried to be as honest and true to my feelings as my capacities allow. Where I’ve found myself editing out potentially relevant details, it’s been where I feared that they might bring unease or disadvantage to others.

I’ve not shied away from opinion, but of the gentle variety and have avoided turning this into a platform for polemics. (Way too much of that in the world today, and it’s not my nature anyway.)

I’ve written quite a bit about my past, but always with the intent that it illuminate the future, starting with the present moment. (I came across the Emerson quote in the banner above just this morning. I liked it enough, with exactly this thought in mind, to put it in place of the earlier one from Twain1.)

Now, three months into this project, it seemed appropriate to step back and ask myself if a different, more focused plan for guiding choice of content in the future is in order.

I’ve decided not, at least for the next lap or two. If this column is not an effective reflection of me, all of me, then why put it out in the first place? I’m a guy with pretty wide, varied and eclectic tastes, interests and (happily) life experiences, past and (hopefully) future. This column will continue to reflect that, for better or worse. I hope that you continue to enjoy it. Thank you for your kind readership,

Richard Bravman

1. That earlier quote read, "A man's private thought can never be a lie; what he thinks, is to him the truth, always."

Love Your Channel, But Don’t Let Them Crowd You Out Of Customer Dialogue

Love your channel. Feed your channel. Help them get rich. But don’t let them block you from having a regular and robust dialogue with your end use customers.

A very significant percentage of B2B commerce is conducted through third party channels: Distributors, VARs, SIs and OEMs. A well developed channel ecosystem, properly supported and managed should, over time, become a major asset and differentiator for its manufacturer principal. Often the company with the strongest channel wins.

Strong partners also wield considerable clout however. They, almost by definition, have naturally closer relationships with end users than do their principals. They will often seek to build on and then leverage this control over the customer to their advantage. Up to a point, you should be OK with this: you want your channel to have great relationships with your shared customers.

But you make a serious mistake if you allow your channel to be your only connection to your customers. If this happens, whether by lack of focus on your part or by allowing your partners to elbow you aside, you lose.

  • You lose the ability to deliver your story, your positioning and other key messages, clearly, accurately and with maximum impact.
  • You lose the ability to establish credibility and authority with your customers as a thought leader capable of articulating a vision for how the forward trajectory of your business can help theirs.
  • You lose the ability to engage your customers in your innovation process. (I wrote about this here.)
  • You lose the opportunity to hear, directly and unfiltered, the “voice of the customer” — what they think about you, what’s working, and what needs improvement.
  • You lose the ability to establish human relationships with the very people will determine your future success or failure.

All together too much to lose.

Thoughts of this came to mind recently in a discussion with another tech CEO. He was explaining the current problems he and his team were tackling. They sounded like they were related to the sort of “losses” I listed above.

I asked, “How often do you, personally, meet with your top end user customers?” His hesitation alone told the story, but he went on to answer, “hardly ever… our (SI) channel is very powerful, they pretty much keep us out. Further, we’re only a relatively small part of the solution that our customers’ actually buy.”

I pointed out the perspective shared above, and suggested that, even in cases such as his where your products comprise only a fraction of the total solution, it is possible to create and sustain a meaningful dialogue with your end customers.

I suggested a few specific ideas:

  • Develop a narrative that is centered on exactly how the distinctive characteristics of your products have impact on his business, expressed in his terms.
  • Expand that narrative by developing and articulating a vision as to how your future products will enable your customer to create strategic advantage in coming years.
  • Aim high: find out what your customer’s CEO cares about and is working on. (A visit to their web site, and some time on Google should make this pretty straightforward.) Make sure your narratives link to these C-level issues.
  • Then, as CEO of your company, reach out the theirs, and suggest the benefits of a one hour meeting to share ideas about his goals can be furthered by what you’re enabling today, and tomorrow. If you’re small and the customer’s large, you may get pushed down a level or two. That’s OK. With the CEO’s blessing, a meeting with middle management can be very effective. But try to secure participation by the most senior business owners possible.
  • Suggest that such meetings should be held no less frequently than annually, given your pace of innovation and other dynamics in the business.
  • Finally, involve your channel partner in the meetings, so that they don’t feel cut out, and you present a coherent and aligned message.

I know from personal experience over many years that these approaches work. Try them, you'll see.

Now and Then


I’m teaching myself ActionScript, a programming language used with Adobe Flash. Unless I flunk myself, the reason will appear in a post not too far into the future.

ActionScript is an object-oriented language.

OK, I know that I just ran the risk of losing 90% of you. Trust me, there’s a funny story to follow…

The term “Object Oriented” today refers to a concept in computer science where a programming language is structured so that building block “routines” written in it have very well defined and tall “walls.” For example, if you write a part of your program to, say, draw a rectangle on the screen, all the other parts of the program interact with the Rectangle Routine in very well specified ways. They don’t get to muck around with Rectangle Routine’s internal bits. They can only tell it where on the screen to draw it, it’s dimensions, color, and that’s it. Each routine is like a little castle; what goes on inside is its business.

Well, while Object Oriented Programming was around when I was working toward my computer science degree from SUNY Stony Brook. We learned about it as a theory, but I never used it. It’s application in common practice lay a dozen or so years into the future. (It took hold in the 90’s.)

But, at the significant further risk of terminally dating myself, allow me to explain that there were objects that were very much involved in my programming, back in the day.

Punchcards.018 They were called punch cards. One’s pictured right over there on the left. Real time access to a computer was a platinum-precious resource in those days. The way you typically interacted with one was to write out a program’s set of instructions, sit down at a console like the one over there on the right (that’s not me), and type out a punch4506VV4002  card for each and every line of code in your program (the more complex the program, the more cards), and then take your “stack” of cards to someone who would feed them into a machine that would present them to the computer for processing. A few hour later, you’d get a printout (on “Green Bar” paper). If something didn’t work, you’d have to figure out what was wrong, fix your program, go back and type out the new cards, insert them in the right places in your deck (their order was as important and their individual contents), and hand it over to run again. Another three hours later, you’d find out if you’d fixed the problem.

Well, as you might imagine, this was pretty tedious stuff. Especially with very large, complex programs.

I labored through much of the fall and into winter of 1977 on one such large program, a Senior Project, with success in it a requirement for graduation. The program grew large, there were many, many retries to get it just right, and my stack grew larger and larger.

By the time I finally got it all right, on a particularly cold December afternoon, my stack of cards measured somewhere around eight inches tall.

When I looked down at the Green Bar printout, and all, excepting some minor formatting issue, was as it should be, I did some 70’s version of a Tiger fist pump, and rushed out of the building to drive home.

Mazfest04_mazdarx3 Finding my Mazda RX-3 in the parking lot, I tried to open the door. No luck — dead frozen. Fortunately, this was a known problem, and I had a can of spray de-icer at hand. I put the card deck and printout on the roof, and set about gaining entry to my car.

It took awhile, maybe 10 minutes. I was freezing and it was getting toward dusk. When my key finally turned turned in the lock, I jumped into the driver’s seat, flipped the ignition and cranked up the heat.

A few minutes later, I had warmed up enough to drive. I reversed out of the parking spot, turned toward the exit, and gunned it…

…only to see each and every one of my stack of cards fluttering behind, like their accompanying snow flakes, in the rear view mirror.

Never slowed down, even a little. When you screw up, you gotta move on.

The next day, I sat for God-knows-how-many hours, retyping each and every one of those objects. I passed the course.