Monday, November 05, 2007

We've moved: Join us at

As of October 11, 2007, The Swamp Fox Insights blog has become integrated into the website. You can find highlighted blog entries in the Feature Articles on the Swamp Fox Community website. Come join our community.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Zipit featured on Wall Street Journal Online

Check out the Wall Street Journal's Gadget Gallery

Fashion will go wired as technologies and tastes converge to revolutionize the textile industry.

Each year since 1985, the editors of THE FUTURIST have selected the most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts appearing in the magazine. Over the years, Outlook has spotlighted the emergence of such epochal developments as the Internet, virtual reality, and the end of the Cold War.

Here's the list.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Creation of Conscious Culture through Educational Innovation

Michael Strong has a vision of schools which will promote authentic learning for our youth. In this expansive manifesto, he calls for a diverse educational market in terms that any business person will appreciate.
Slide 5: The tragedy of modern times is that the most powerful system for developing and disseminating products and services, the free market, has not yet been applied to education.
He had me hooked right there.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A fate we'd like the new Swamp Fox to avoid

In developing the new Swamp Fox website, we've studied lots of other social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Digg.

Doing something new is always exciting, but it's important to stay in touch with the brutal facts of reality. Here's an article we routed around the Swamp Fox team recently: The Three Potential Causes of Facebook's Death

It's a fate we'd really like to avoid.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A thought provoking discussion about educating children in poverty

Brian Lamb of C-span interviewed Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach for America, about educating children in povery. It was a very interesting and thought provoking discussion.

LAMB: You’ve watched this up close for 18 years. What’s wrong with our education system?

KOPP: You know, I guess the way I’d come at that – I mean, the most salient lesson for me in 18 years is not so much what’s wrong, but what is possible. We see evidence every day in diverse communities at different grade levels all across the country, that when kids are given the chances they deserve, they excel academically.

Now, that, in and of itself, goes against, I think, the common perceptions out there that this is in some way an intractable problem, that because of all the challenges of poverty, because maybe students aren’t motivated or maybe parents don’t care, that we can only do so much.

And yet, we see real evidence that, when kids are given the chances they deserve, they are motivated. And, in fact, most parents care in every community. And certainly, we’ve seen that the parents in our communities want the best possible education for their kids.

So, I guess I leave this with a sense of hopefulness. And what I leave most focused on is just the need for greater local capacity of local leadership.

So, I look at a D.C. – you were asking about Michelle Rhee earlier, and I just – and we could talk about D.C., we could talk about New Orleans and Oakland and Chicago, and communities across the country where Teach For America has been placing folks for a decade or more now. We’ve been placing 50 people a year in Washington, D.C. – not terribly many.

But today, our alums run 10 percent of the schools in Washington, D.C., including the highest performing among them. One of the two newly-elected board members overlooking the school system there is a Teach For America alum. One of the right hands for the mayor for education policy is a Teach For America alum.

The only national teacher of the year in the history of Washington, D.C., is a Teach For America alum, who was in his eighth year of teaching two years ago when he won that recognition. And now we have a schools chancellor, a deputy schools chancellor and a team of folks in the district, inside the district, working for real change.

And I look at an example like that and think, gosh. And every alum I just mentioned came through Teach For America when we were bringing in 500 people a year. So, the fact that we brought in 3,000 folks this year and will soon bring in many more than that, the fact that we’ll soon bring in 200 people a year to the D.C. area, I think just gives me tremendous optimism that we can be one significant part of the effort to channel a new level of talent and energy into really making change happen.

LAMB: But, as you know, a lot of politicians will stand up day after day and say, our school system is a mess, our schools are a mess.

What is wrong? And you must have been motivated originally to change something. What’s wrong out there?

KOPP: You know what? You come out of this thinking – I think so many alums of Teach For America who have been working at this problem in many different ways would say the same thing.

You come out of it realizing that there’s nothing elusive about either what the problem is or really what the solutions are. And there’s no magic to it.

It’s about all the hard work that it takes to run successful organizations in any sector. There’s nothing other than that. It’s all about leadership and talent at every level of the system that can build very strong cultures and implement good systems for accountability and continuous improvement. It is all the basics.

But if you look at the capacity that exists in most of our public school systems versus that that exists in, say, our most successful corporations – like compare a GE, a General Electric to all the – you know, look at the tech systems and the people development systems that they have in a GE versus those that exist in our school systems, and the disparity is almost inconceivable. And yet, the work of educating our kids is at least as challenging as the work that General Electric is undertaking.

So, I just think we’ve hugely underinvested – using that word in the broadest sense of it – in building the capacity within our systems that it will take to really ensure that all of our kids are truly fulfilling their true potential.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gov. Jeb Bush wants $75-million for start-ups

Here's someone serious about stimulating entrepreneurship and other knowlege based activities in his state.

Being first to market isn't the only thing, and maybe not even the most important thing

A week or so ago someone said to me, "We have to be first to market, because others are already working on this idea." That was a flashback to the late 1990s, during the hay day of the technology bubble, when you couldn't have a conversation without someone breathlessly saying they would make a gazillion dollars because they had a first mover advantage.

NetBank in Atlanta was one of the first online banking companies. They were first to market. Recently they were closed after intervention from the US Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Being first to market is important. But it's not the only thing. And it may not be the most important thing.

I had a client at KPMG back in the 1980s, TelMan, that was one of the first companies to begin selling long distance services after AT&T was deregulated. (That's where Leighton Cubbage cut his teeth, for those of you who know Leighton.) But TelMan leadership knew that their first mover advantage wasn't a sustainable advantage, so they designed the company from the beginning to sell. They started in 1984, went public in 1986, and sold to SouthernNet in 1986 for a couple of hundred million dollars. There you go.

To have a sustainable advantage, like a Swamp Fox you need to be creating an entirely new value chain targeted at customers not well served by the market leaders. The are several signs to look for that you are hiking on the right trail.

The target customers probably are on the low end of an existing market, so it looks too small and unprofitable for the market leader to bother with. Think about how Bentonville looked from the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago in the late 1960s, when Sears was focused on affluent, suburban markets where the end of growth couldn't be seen. Do it right like Sam Walton did, and when you finally hit the radar screen of the market leader you have a lean, mean channel developed serving what now everyone understands is a large market. The market leader goes from looking potent and agile to slow and lumbering. Happens all the time. Ask Sears and Lord Cornwallis.

Another sign that you are creating distinctive value is that your competition is an indirect alternative. We've discussed here before about how Henry Ford competed with faster horses, not other manufacturers of expensive luxury cars, and Southwest Airlines competed with people driving their cars, not other airlines with expensive hub systems.

The final sign that you're creating a sustainable advantage is that you are empowering people in your value chain to generate revenue that weren't before. Angioplasty wasn't commercialized by heart surgeons. They saw it as an inferior clinical (and oh by the way less profitable) alternative to open heart surgery. Cardiologists enthusiastically commercialized angioplasty because it was an entirely new revenue stream to them (and of course in their professional opinion it was a superior solution in most cases to heart surgery.)

NetBank was a first mover in the world of online banking a decade ago. They didn't create distinctive value that market leaders couldn't ultimately co-opt. And they didn't have the insight to sell out when they were hot and could.

So now they have the ignominious fate of TechCrunch formally announcing them part of their Deadpool.

If you repeat a myth often enough, it is still a myth

Recently the 2006 National Assessment of Education Progress was released, and the public education establishment has been promoting that in the fourth and eighth grades South Carolina is a little below average, not last, in the country.

But they also insist on propagating the myth that, as was reported in the Greenville News, "NAEP scores are often considered a far more accurate representation of student achievement than the SAT. State-by-state comparisons on the SAT are unfair because of the large disparity in the number of students who take the test in each state."

That SC's SAT scores are low because a large number of students take the test is the myth that just won't go away because the public education establishment doesn't want it to go away. The reality is, the better educated the typical SC student’s parents are, the further his SAT scores trail his peers nationally.

That myths like this take on a life of their own and impact public perceptions regardless of what the facts actually are is the reason I reacted so strongly last week to the perception that the Riley Institute study reported, "South Carolinians across the state largely agree about how to improve our schools." The last election for Superintendent of Education was decided by a few hundred votes between opponents who had radically different views for fixing education. That there is a strong consensus about what to do to fix public education just isn't so.

We need recognize that some progress has been made in public education in recent years. We also need to recognize that there are deep and fundamental problems that incremental changes won't fix.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The perks of being in the "media": I wonder if there will be a tasting

Media Access to Regional Moonshine Investigation Training

On Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007, the media will be granted access to a unique moonshine investigations training. The seemingly lost and historical crime of making and distributing untaxed liquor continues to exist in the southeast region of the United States. Although law enforcement priorities have shifted throughout the years, "bootleggers" typically profit by operating outside of this regulated industry, posing significant health risks to those who consume their product. As a result, a new generation of law enforcement officials must be trained on the techniques of identifying, seizing and destroying the tools of the moonshine trade.

WHO: Georgia Department of Revenue (Alcohol and Tobacco Division), the Rabun County Sheriff's Office are co-sponsors of the training, with instructors from ATF and the U.S. Department of Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

WHAT: Media will have access to instructors, agency representatives and the on-site moonshine training venue (to include a tour and demonstration of an operating, backwoods "still," tactical raid training and the live destruction of a working still by use of explosives).

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007 at 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: The Rabun County Detention Center, 175 Boen Creek Road, Tiger, GA 30576. There will be a staging area for the media at the detention center, where they will be escorted to the training site.

URGENT: You must confirm attendance today, Sept. 26, and also confirm directions to ensure timely arrival. Please be advised that cell phone coverage at venue may not be available for all service providers.

CONTACT: Marc Jackson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, +1-404-886-8096.

/PRNewswire-USNewswire -- Sept. 26/

First Call Analyst:
FCMN Contact:

Source: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Web Site:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What does "accountable to the public" mean?

In recent weeks, Secretary Jim Rex has toured the state promoting innovation in public education, but he specifically opposes schools that are not "accountable to the public, which is a cornerstone of the public school system.”

"Accountable to the public" doesn't mean accountable to parents and students, or even employers who ultimately employ the public schools' product, but it means being accountable to arbitrary standards imposed by the Legislature and the SC Department of Education. That will ensure "innovative" schools will have to look pretty much like public schools today.

That's what happens anytime the market leader can define what "innovation" looks like. If I had asked Bi Lo if I could build an Earth Fare store across the street, Bi Lo would have assured me that they had an organic isle to serve those customers, the market couldn't support an organic store, and an organic store would only take resources away from improving the existing grocery store in the area. Because being "accountable to the public" meant being accountable to customers, we built the stores anyway and most were very successful. Go figure. How could Bi Lo have been so wrong?

The wagons are being circled around the status quo. The Riley Institute's recent survey is being touted by the SC Department of Education as finding a "broad base support for improving South Carolina’s public education system." At least in one case, a public school superintendent told the Riley Institute that we need to "implode the current system at its core and start over." Secretary Rex didn't hear voices like those “in concluding, "These results are reassuring. They confirm what we’ve been saying all along. There is consensus in South Carolina for improving public education and moving our schools forward"

They real problem with true innovation in education is that schools outside the existing system will take resources away from improving the existing public schools. I hope Jim Rex and his team are successful, but to get the quantum leap in improvement in education we need they need to think less like Bi Lo and more like Earth Fare.

Riley Institute reports a consensus: Was I part of the same study?

The Riley Institute promoted the results of a recent study of public education:

Researchers were surprised not only at the high degree of agreement on what should be done but also at the passion for education reform expressed by the superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, students, parents and business leaders who participated.
Here's how I reported at the time on my experience in a group session of the Riley Institute project.

Saturday I was in a seminar organized by Furman's Richard Riley Institute, and a superintendent of a school district in South Carolina said we need to "implode the current system at its core and start over." This wasn't some radical Republican politician running for office who knows nothing about education. This was a public school district superintendent in the trenches every day trying to educate students. In the room were six other public school teachers and one superintendent, and they all agreed. There is tremendous, pent up entrepreneurial energy in principals and teachers in South Carolina who understand what the problems are and desperately want to take ownership of and accountability for creative solutions.
I ws stunned to read that the Riley Institute reported there was a strong consensus. Maybe I participated in a different study than they reported on.

Mustard N’ Relish: Tart, and Definitely Chunky

You have to appreciate a firm with a Swamp Foxy name like Mustard N’ Relish Marketing Communications.

One of the principals describes himself as "tart, and definitely chunky." I resemble that remark :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Google giving away $10 million for plug-in hybrids

RechargeIT is a initiative that aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology.

I know, some of you don't believe in the long tail of knowledge...

but for the rest of us, this is pretty cool.

Wikipedia had its 2 millionth English language article written.

Hydrogen, smydrogen

Try saltwater

Courtesy of ET@OC

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dilbert Does Web 2.0

Go here to see full size comic.

Today's Dilbert Comic
OK, maybe only my friends at Orange Coat even came close to thinking this is funny.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Oh my! Motorcycles?

If you have not been to the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, you need to go. It is a blast. They recently announced that in addition to cars, they now have a BMW Motorcycle Rider Training program.

I had to smile when I read that the program has "exercises including braking technique." The last time I was there, the instructor told me to accelerate an M Series BMW in the straight away and then put the brake to the floor and trust the vehicle. Well of course I didn't. Where else can you put a $120,000 vehicle in the tall grass, then get out and hand them the keys and go home!

But motorcycles? Whew. It costs $650 per day for participants renting a BMW motorcycle. But that's not the cost I'm worried about. How long is it going to take the heal? I'm not as young as I used to be :-)

There need to be more programs like this supporting innovation in education

Innovation in education is our only really hope for the quantum leap in improvement that we need. There needs to be more programs like this that promote the best in innovative thinking in education.

Here's the ING Unsung Heroes(R) Awards Program Grand Prize Winner:
The technology used in “Write On!” is designed to give the children leverage to express their creativity. Each student will learn that they are bigger than their circumstances and that their ideas have the power to create wealth.
Now that's powerful.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

For all you who laughed, keep laughing

Unless you live another planet, by now you have to have seen Miss Teen South Carolina choke. If you haven't, check out one of the many versions of her performance on You Tube that over 10 million people have already seen.

10 million viewers. Unbelievable. No one knew who she was last Thursday hardly.

Be honest. You either thought it was hilarious, or you felt sorry for her (or felt sorry for South Carolina), but you couldn't stop giggling.

Now check this out. Since the girl is a famous and a good sport, she'll now make a gazillion dollars from her new found celebrity.

Keep laughing.

And oh by the way, how many of the seven geography questions that she asked did you get right?

Why I do this

Some people play golf. I do this.

Joe Milam and I sat on the sidewalk in downtown Greenville one morning as he passionately described an new business he's going to launch to create and serve an entirely new market of customers. It's hard not to feed off of Joe's enthusiasm. Life is good.

Google's 9 Steps to Innovation

Chris Harris's blog identifies an interesting list of Google's 9 Steps to Innovation.

  • Innovation, not instant perfection.
  • Share everything you can.
  • You’re brilliant, we’re hiring.
  • Allow employees to pursue their dreams.
  • Ideas come from everywhere.
  • Don’t politic – use data.
  • Creativity loves restraint.
  • Get users and usage – the money will follow.
  • Don’t kill projects, morph them.

(He provides lots more editorial if your interested.)

It struck me how counter most of these are to the closed, execution oriented culture most organizations around here have.

The Gift Of ADHD

Sam Grossman grew up thinking he was stupid, lazy and irresponsible—"a screw-up," as he puts it. Struggling with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he constantly disappointed his parents and teachers alike.
Our current, typical K-12 education, public or private, is not designed for people like Sam. In fact, it we tried to create an environment to frustrate Sam we couldn't do much better job that a k-12 class room. For Sam, those classrooms can be torture chambers. Thus the reason he seems stupid, lazy and irresponsible—"a screw-up,"
Distractibility, poor impulse control and emotional sensitivity have flip sides that are actually strengths—namely creativity, energy and intuition... A mind that flits easily from one thought to the next may not be good at mastering the material for a biology test, but the authors contend that a nonlinear mind can excel at combining ideas in new ways.
How people think and learn comes in a wide spectrum. We design classrooms for the middle if the bell curve, and neither end is well served. Most educators were themselves successful in the existing system, and thus don't get why Sam finds the system frustrating. When you bring this up to them, most ignore what you're saying and some get defensive. Very few empathize.

The reason that the Sam's of the world sometimes succeed as entrepreneurs is that they finally get to create an environment that matches their strengths, in particular their nonlinear thinking that excels at combining ideas in new ways. It's also why you often see them matching up with a strong operating partner to compensate for their weaknesses. Most K-12 education doesn't help Sam develop his full potential. As Sir Ken Robinson has clearly articulated, we spent 12 years systematically beating creativity, energy and intuition out of Sam.

Having a wide variety of educational alternatives that meet the needs of a wide spectrum of students isn't going to come from the top down. Variety never does. It's going to come, if it comes at all, from educational entrepreneurs who seek to create novel ways of delivering education to students not well served today. To empower that system, the money in education needs to follow the student.

If you are suspecting that I have lived this struggle both as a student and a parent, you are right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Where's the tipping point in public education?

South Carolina's SAT Scores Fall

And it's not just because a high percentage of SC student's take the test. A higher percentage of students in sixteen other states take the test, and we trail all but one of them.

Plus the problem is not just at the bottom in South Carolina.
The better educated a SC student’s parents, the further he trails peers nationally. Actually, student at the bottom score on par with their peers across the country, though we do have more students in poverty. But the gap in test scores is greater with SC students at the top compared to their peers across the country.

This comes on the heels of reports that over half the high schools students in South Carolina do not graduate on time.

I wonder where the tipping point is for a large segment of folks decide that what we doing now is broken and we need to reinvent public education as we know it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Henry Ford: If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

My earlier post about Southwest Airlines reminded that Henry Ford famously said,
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
While true, Ford almost certainly had conversations with prospective customers who were clear about the frustrations of their daily experiences getting to and from where they wanted to go.

Henry Ford didn’t invent automobiles. In 1902, at least 50 US firms manufactured and sold cars mostly to wealthy customers as high end luxuries, which were generally expensive to purchase and difficult to maintain. That year, the Detroit Automobile Co. went bankrupt after selling fewer than half a dozen cars in two years, and Chief Engineer Henry Ford was fired. The Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, but it was 1908 before the Model T was introduced.

Prior to the Model T, Ford had been up and down in the nascent automotive industry for a long time, from which he had developed a deep base of informed intuition. He had a clear insight into the needs of an emerging market of low end customers for simpler, cheaper, more reliable transportation. Ford understood that many people wanted faster horses to do practical jobs like getting to and from town quicker so more work could be done on the farm. He identified a job the car could perform for non-consumers which was fundamentally different than the job for which most early cars were being built. Rather than competing with the market leaders in automobiles, Ford was led by customers to develop a simpler, cheaper, more reliable productivity tool.

With that insight, Ford looked around for how to create a product that completely satisfied his customers’ needs using existing components and processes where possible. Ford intuitively understood that his focus needed to be on what was difficult in delivering what the customer wanted, which was assembling car components as efficiently and reliably as possible. The famous innovation for which Ford is given credit, the assembly line, had actually been around for a century since Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. The relatively recent broad scale commercialization of electricity made small electric motors possible, which significantly enhanced the potential scale of the assembly line process.

Ford surrounded himself with talented people who were as passionate about the business as he was. It was William Klann, not Ford, who brought the assembly line into Ford Motor Company after viewing the "disassembly line" of a Chicago slaughterhouse where animals were butchered as they moved along a conveyor. Ford was disciplined in meeting his customer’s demand with a laser like focus, but remained open to diverse ideas from other industries about how to best develop a solution for his customers.

What was most innovative about Henry Ford was not a new technology or even a new process, but a new insight into the needs of an emerging market of customers for which he created a powerful, new business model.

Ford is also famous for saying,
They can have it in any color, as long as it is black.
Early in a new market, what is usually not good enough is efficiently reconfiguring mostly existing components into a simple, reliable solution that completely satisfies the customers.

Once that is mastered, markets inevitably begin to climb up the S-curve of innovation. What Ford failed to grasp, at least as the market initially began to mature, is that discontinuous innovations create new markets, and then sustaining innovations create great companies. That the car market was ready to branch into segments contiguous to the early mainstream market beachhead that had been established was the insight grasped by Albert Sloan, the legendary CEO of General Motors.