Friday, April 14, 2006

Wrong side of the tracks?

I just finished Crossing the Road to Entrepreneurship, the autobiography of Bart Wolstein who passed away just before it was published.

Wolstein made millions in real estate developlment - starting on the then undeveloped suburb of Twinsburg. He developed many similar outlying suburbs, got into big box stores likes Kmart and eventually shopping malls, hotels and country clubs.

Two things really jump out at me from the book. First is how relative “humble beginnings” can be. He was raised in the 1940’s on Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights. Even today, that is not exactly the inner city or a depressed area. In the ‘40’s, living in Cleveland Heights would certainly not be considered a hardship by most. Yet in the book he constantly talks about (and the title refers to) crossing Taylor Road. Eventually he did – ending up in Beachwood and Pepper Pike – but Cleveland Heights was certainly not the 3rd World in the ‘40s.

The second thing is how this multi-millionaire with all his connections and acclaim (he owned the Cleveland Force soccer team) always felt like an outsider and/or that he was being betrayed. He cites disloyalty and dishonesty from his closest partners and workers, in many of his business deals and just about everyone he ever dealt with except his wife Iris.

He felt he never was accepted in Cleveland’s inner circle and uses his rejected plans for a downtown arena, buying the Indians, a convention center, the Rock Hall and many more as evidence. In particular he was stung by his treatment by the board of Cleveland’s Jewish Federation. He tells of being silenced at a meeting when he didn’t want to increase his contribution and says “I kept quiet with tears in my eyes. It still hurts when I think about that moment.” He speaks of being ostracized by part of the community after that and the thread running throughout the book is that he never felt accepted or that he fit in.

On the surface you would have thought this guy had it made - tons of money, sports team ownership and so on. But you never really know what's inside someone's head I guess.

Monday, April 10, 2006

XP on a Mac?

In Tracy Kidder’s book called The Soul of the New Machine you can read how IBM, in its heyday, didn’t recognize what the market wanted. They owned the Big Iron world and pretty much ignored the minicomputer. This allowed DEC and Data General and others to change computing.

But IBM learned from this lesson. When they introduced their PC in 1981 they went with an industry standard architecture. This allowed for clone makers such as Compaq to spring up and for component manufacturers to get a piece of the pie. But this move also greatly expanded the pie so that everyone benefited. By using standard components and software, a consumer could shop around and find a variety of add-ons all at competing prices.

Apple didn’t get this. They claimed to produce the “computer for the rest of us” but by rigidly controlling not only the hardware but also the software, they doomed themselves to the 3% or so of the market they now hold.

Plus, “The rest of us” could not always afford Apple’s products because there were not alternatives and/or third party vendors producing goods for their stuff and hence the prices were always way above IBM clone prices.

Now after 30 years they might be catching on. With an Intel CPU inside and the ability to natively boot Windows XP, the Mac will finally be able to run the plethora of Windows software that is out there. Years ago there were always a few good apps – usually graphics apps – that only ran on a Mac. But in recent years, anything you can find on the Mac you can find many more choices (and usually less expensive choices!) in the Windows or open source world.

Is it too little too late? So far the voters in the Great Lakes Geek survey don’t really care that the Mac will be able to boot to XP. What do you think?

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I hate reading articles like in the April 2006 CIO magazine. (Only available in print for a month). This one’s called “Wi-Fight” and it’s about the struggles that cities that want to provide a public wi-fi network face from the telcom and cable providers.

What I really hate is that Cleveland, with our huge early progress in turning on dark fiber, is not even mentioned in the article. I hate it even more that both Dayton and Akron are mentioned and shown on the Wi-Fi America map that accompanies the article.

Now do you think if Akron were to get some great wi-fi technology and they decided to share it with surrounding cities, including Cleveland, do you think they would leave “Akron” out of the name and call it something generic like “Community?”

No way.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Aretha and Feelings

No, don't worry. Aretha Franklin isn't going to sing Feelings.

I attended an interesting presentation Thursday evening at the JCU Dolan Center. The Harvard Business School Club of Cleveland and the John Carroll University Entrepreneur Association brought in Dr. Richard E. Boyatzis for a keynote address. Though based at Weatherhead at case, Boyatzis was described as being better known in Barcelona and London than her in Cleveland - another hidden gem of the city.

The keynote was titled Resonant Leadership: Inspiring the Best in Us. Boyatzis launched into an MP3 of Aretha singing Respect. Then he started clapping and encouraged the audience to stand up and clap. He even jumped up on a front table and clapped along. I love the Queen of Soul but I started looking for the nearest escape route. I’m not into those touchy-feely interactive sessions.

But he soon got down to business. This guy really knows the brain. He said that when we stimulate the limbic system of the brain (like with music or smell) we retain better. Without a limbic stimulus, we have only 40% retention after 3 days. So hum along while you read this.

He spoke about leaders and what makes a great leader (they are not born). He got into the sacrifice of being a leader - the stress it causes - and what that does to our bodies.

One big eye opener for me was the role of feelings. He said that people get convinced of something by emotional arguments and only then does it get reinforced by rational arguments. It takes 8ms for the neurons to travel from the feeling center as compared to 40ms from the rational part of the brain. So feelings don’t just color our thoughts, they determine them.

History is full of examples of evil people using this to gain followers. Of course, good leaders use it too.