Harmonizing Music History with Worker Productivity

19188345Technology improvements are generally associated with getting the same amount of productivity with fewer workers. But something called the “quartet effect” – with links back to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead – instead emphasizes enhancing what people do with their time. Governing reports:

In the foreword to David Dodd’s The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, Robert Hunter, the band’s “lyricist in residence,” wrote that the song “Uncle John’s Band” represented “the first lyric I wrote with the aid of that newfangled gadget, the cassette tape recorder. I taped the band playing the arrangement and was able to score lyrics at leisure rather than scratch away hurriedly at rehearsals, waiting for particular sections to come around again.”

What Hunter was describing, of course, was an improvement in productivity resulting from the application of new technology. Productivity is usually measured in terms of the labor cost per unit of production, and in most cases improvement is achieved by using new technology to reduce head count. For instance, a steel mill that once employed 10,000 workers produces the same tonnage with only a thousand employees, bank tellers are replaced by ATMs and elevator operators become a thing of the past. But in Hunter’s application of new technology, no one’s position was eliminated. It’s an example of what has been called “the quartet effect” at work.

When you reduce the head count of a musical quartet, you have not improved its productivity. If what you wanted was the music of a quartet, you have destroyed the product. The technology Hunter employed is the kind that, rather than eliminating jobs, allows existing staff to make better use of their time and gives them the opportunity to create higher-quality products.

How is this relevant to government? For most local governments, public safety constitutes the largest single category of expenditures, typically accounting for about 60 percent of total costs. For states and for some local governments, education is the dominant cost category. But it’s important to remember that within these areas, personnel costs — the salaries and benefits of police officers, firefighters and school teachers — are the real cost drivers. Personnel costs typically represent 80 percent or more of the total cost of a police department, for example. Few would argue that taking cops off the streets or teachers out of classrooms improves productivity.

AAR, Vincennes Univ. Programs Help Students Get Aviation Careers Airborne

vu 4AAR, an aviation services and products company with 60 global locations — including Indianapolis — and Vincennes University have a partnership that is producing well-trained airline services technicians, mechanics and more.

These organizations held a “Tug and Tour” event at the Vincennes University Aviation Technology Center (ATC) at the Indianapolis International Airport Wednesday. We were able to attend, joined by educators, economic development officials, military veterans and others. The event featured a tour of an aircraft hangar, as well as lunch on a Boeing 737. As Samuel L. Jackson can attest, lunch on a plane is far superior to snakes on a plane (my apologies; I’ll show myself out).

The Programs

The ATC features advanced aviation labs, testing equipment and elaborate maintenance hangars — and class sizes are limited to 25 students.

It was enlightening to learn about the partnership and how well-prepared these students are as they jump from the classroom and hands-on training into well-paying careers. Additionally, AAR offers paid internships to many Vincennes students in the program. VU instructor Ed Briggeman explained the industry is thriving, and that students who complete VU’s Aviation Maintenance program have many opportunities through the school’s myriad partners and connections. Furthermore, the program prepares students for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification and entry-level employment. A certified mechanic can make $50,000 – $55,000 per year, and the program yielded 16 mechanics in July — and by August 15 of them were placed into positions.

Students can also pursue training in aviation flight, which paves the (run)way for careers as pilots and instructors. Unlike most training facilities that can charge $100 per hour, VU doesn’t charge its students to use its flight simulators. And VU’s Indianapolis program features a fleet of well-maintained aircraft (including Cessna 172 and 172RG, as well as multi engine training in a Piper Seminole).

In Indiana, we are blessed to have public and private colleges and universities that rival or exceed those in any other region of the country — and VU is a testament to that. For more on this program or to inquire about viewing the facility, contact Corinna Vonderwell at cvonderwell@vinu.edu.

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Commerce Apps Revolutionizing Shopping

A couple of nights ago, as I was idly passing time on my phone, I opened up the App Store and proceeded to download four or five new apps. Three of these were shopping-related. When asked if I wanted to receive notifications, I granted the applications permission. I quickly realized the danger of my decision. Less than 24 hours later, I was beginning to receive alerts, tempting me to view discounted items that would still inevitably accumulate to a steep amount if I made purchases every time I was notified of a sale.

This type of interactive commerce may very well be the future of shopping. An article on ReadWriteShop recently outlined three e-commerce tools that are setting the trend.

  • eBay’s digital shopping windows: large digital screens allowing users to view and purchase products on display
  • Zero Effort Commerce: an app that learns users’ shopping habits and can be programmed for different conveniences, such as making purchases before running out of a certain product or offering customized item suggestion
  • eBay Valet app pilot: an app designed for selling products that transfers much of the work to eBay, such as estimating a price, taking professional photos of the item and sending a shipping box and label

Apps such as these will make shopping and selling more accessible than ever. It will be interesting to see how advances in e-commerce shape purchasing trends—particularly apps that monitor spending habits and offer tailored recommendations. For a shopping-lover such as myself, a new level of self-control will certainly have to be developed, but I believe the benefits will outweigh the setbacks.

Neil Young Hopes to Revolutionize Listening Experience with New Technology

American Songwriter tells the story of Pono — a new technology championed by rock/songwriting legend Neil Young — to give music listeners an experience that more resembles an authentic, live performance. Young’s hope is to “revive the magic that has been squeezed out of digital music.”

Pono applies what Young calls an “underwater listening experience.”

On Tuesday, Neil Young launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Pono, his long-awaited digital music service and player. Young hopes his new invention will put and end to the inferior sound quality of the common CD and MP3. Fans and investors ponied up $800,000 to aid Young’s cause in a mere ten hours.

A video on his Kickstarter page of famous musicians waxing poetic about the new format undoubtedly helped the cause, and may turn you into an early believer.

Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Sting, Gillian Welch, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Eddie Vedder are among the converts who appear to tout the power of Pono.

And here’s more on Pono’s mission:

Pono’s mission is to provide the best possible listening experience of your favorite music. We want to be very clear that PonoMusic is not a new audio file format or standard. PonoMusic is an end-to-end ecosystem for music lovers to get access to and enjoy their favorite music exactly as the artist created it, at the recording resolution they chose in the studio. We offer PonoMusic customers the highest resolution digital music available. PonoMusic is more than just a high-resolution music store and player; it is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings.

Throwback Thursday: Spinning the Wheel of Fun!

At the Chamber, we've recently undergone a renovation of sorts, which has featured a good deal of fall cleaning.

Today, we feature an item pulled out of some nook — an old-school carousel slide tray (an Apollo 3280, to be exact). So back in the day — long before Powerpoint — if you wanted to display images, graphs, etc. during a presentation, you utlitized one of these bad boys to wow your audience. Granted, it was just a still image, so the dancing hamster was not yet available, but still…

Here are some fun facts from Wikipedia (so you know they're legit) about the slide tray:

  • A carousel slide projector is a common form of slide projector, used to project slide photographs and to create slideshows. The first carousel slide projector was invented by Louis Misuraca, who immigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy when he was a child. Louis was paid a one-time fee for his invention by the Eastman Kodak Company and did not earn royalties. He used the money to take his family on a trip to Italy.
  • The carousel slide projector was highlighted in the popular TV-series "Mad Men" (Season One, Episode 13, titled "The Wheel") as a product for advertiser Don Draper to pitch. There, it was named the "Carousel," instead of "The Wheel", because it was nostalgic and let its viewers travel through their memories as a child would, "around and around and back home again to a place where they were loved."
  • A common series of carousel projectors with a horizontally mounted tray was introduced in the spring of 1962 by Kodak (Kodak Carousel/Ektagraphic). The earliest Carousel models (mostly known as the 500-series) are compatible only with the 80-slide trays.
  • During the 1970s, Kodak also produced a Pocket Carousel projector for use with miniature 110 format Kodachrome slides.
  • The Kodak Carousel projector was discontinued in October 2004.

Hat tip to Chamber staffer Katie Coffin for bringing this gem to our attention.

Plight of Blockbuster Proves You Must Innovate or Die

In Indiana, we're blessed to have a culture of business innovation and entrepreneurial drive. This article from Hootsuite explains why businesses must never lose that passion for innovation.

When some companies stop innovating, it can literally kill them.

Remember Blockbuster?

Just 10 years ago, with 8,000 stores and $3 billion in annual revenue, Blockbuster was easily the planet’s biggest video chain. Today, after bankruptcy and massive closures, it’s limping along with 500 stores. And their days seem numbered.

What happened? Netflix happened. Redbox happened. Streaming video happened. The world and the technology surrounding how people like to watch stuff changed. Blockbuster didn’t.

And there are many other examples out there, of big brands who faced the same fate. The latest story making waves is that of RIM, formerly known as Blackberry, who—after years of struggling to stay afloat in the highly competitive smartphone market—announced this week they are looking at the possibility of selling off the company…

So to avoid this, I’ve embraced a few innovation strategies from some of the best business minds out there:

1. Let them chase rainbows

Give employees in-office time to explore their craziest ideas and passion projects. This concept is actually decades-old, but it’s still around because it’s effective. Major US corporation 3M’s unwritten “15-percent time” rule, for instance, has been around since 1948. It encourages its scientists and engineers to spend up to 15 percent of their working hours pursuing their own projects, even if they have nothing to do with their actual jobs. The program has resulted in the development of many of 3M’s top-selling products, including Scotch tape and the Post-it note.

2. Start a skunkworks

Have a secret innovation lab somewhere in your business. “Skunkworks,” is a small group within an organization that is given a high level of independence to research and develop secret projects, often in the spirit of radical innovation. Google’s skunkworks is their top-secret Google X Lab, which gave birth to Google Glass. Current Google projects that have emerged from the lab are a driverless car and Project Loon, “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space,” that will give internet access to people in rural and remote areas.

Amazon has a similar group, called Lab 126, from which the Kindle was born. It’s reportedly now developing a 3D Kindle. And last year, LinkedIn launched its own unique skunkworks-type initiative called [in]cubator. Under the program, any employee at LinkedIn can, up to 4 times a year, pitch an idea to a panel of their bosses (which includes CEO Jeff Weiner). If approved, the person is granted up to three months of work time to turn it into a reality with a designated team.

3. Have Hackathons

Set aside days for employees to run wild with their best new ideas. Working in the technology industry for over a decade, I’ve seen firsthand that great ideas emerge when people feel free. They don’t tend to surface in high-pressure situations, like in boardrooms with bosses standing overhead. So the hackathon, or hack day, is a great way to facilitate creative brainstorming. This is a fairly casual, in-office event that can last anywhere from a day to a week. Employees come together to share great new ideas and ultimately pick the best ones to pursue further.

While Hackathons originally were events for developing new software technologies, many industries have embraced the hackathon for all-around brainstorming and innovation. One of the most interesting examples is Brainhack, a three-day hackathon aimed at fostering innovation in the field of brain science.

My company also holds Hoot-Hackathons, two-day events which allow employees to freely pitch ideas, work with new people, and build new things. These events foster a culture of innovation and gets people enthusiastic about new ideas. Plus, it doesn’t cost a lot.

Outdated? No, No, Americans Still Use These Technologies!

NBC News recently published an interesting article about how Americans are still using "obsolete" technologies. A couple of the best gems are below. Now, if you'll excuse me, my pager is blowing up and I have to go help Cliff Huxtable deliver a baby.

Pagers
In the early 1990s, there was no greater status symbol than a pager. If you carried a beeper, that meant that, like a trauma surgeon or a Fortune 500 CEO, you were important enough to be reachable at all times. Within a few short years, cellphones replaced pagers because they let you send and receive calls and text messagesdirectly, a huge improvement over running to the nearest phone to return a page.

Despite the huge popularity of mobile phones, there’s still an active market for pagers. According to the CEA, in 2012 Americans bought approximately $7 million worth of new pagers, somewhere under 10,000 units. If you want to be reachable, but not too reachable, pagers provide a built-in excuse for avoiding phone conversations.

You might imagine drug dealers, who are paranoid about wire taps, using pagers for illegal activities. However, many doctors and hospitals find pager networks more reliable, particularly in emergencies where cellular systems tend to go down

VHS and cassette tapes
These days you can download music or stream it from an online service. Or you could act like it’s 1985 and wait for your favorite songs to come on the radio so you can tape them. You can record TV for later viewing on a DVR, play it via on-demand cable or stream it from a service like Hulu. But, if you think DVRs are for wimps, you can still rough it with a VCR.

The CEA says that, in 2012, around 13 million blank cassettes and VHS tapes were sold in America. Though the association no longer tracks sales of new VCRs, you can still buy a DVD / VHS combo recorder such as the $149 Toshiba DVR620 and the $198 Magnavox DV225MG9. CEA doesn’t track cassette recorders anymore, but it reports that 15,000 cassette-based car stereos were sold in 2012, so the old-fashioned mix tape is alive and well.

Hat tip to Chamber staffer Jennifer George for the link.

Miss Manners Says, ‘Put Your Device Away at Work!’

Emily Post, the famed 20th Century etiquette guru once said, “Good manners reflect something from inside – an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.”

While Post might not have seen cellphones, tablets or laptops coming, these handy-dandy technologies can pose etiquette problems in the workplace (and at lunch with friends and at home with your families – but we’re just going to focus on the workplace for now).

A survey from Robert Half Technology of over 2,300 chief information officers (CIOs) around the country found that 64% of CIOs said the increased use of mobile devices has led to more workplace rudeness over the last three years. That percentage has grown from 51% in 2010.

These technologies can help with productivity, but also serve as major distractions in meetings and face-to-face conversations.

Robert Half Technology offers four suggestions to avoid breaching etiquette at work:

  • Don’t surf while talking. It’s just rude to check your email or be on the Internet while in the midst of a conversation with someone.
  • Keep voicemails concise. Get to the point, already.
  • Make smart communication choices. Use the available technology to your advantage: Need a quick answer on something? Try an email, text or instant message. Just make sure to pick up the phone or walk down the hallway if you’ve got a long request or need to have a difficult conversation.
  • Avoid intense multitasking. Be present wherever you are. Tablets and laptops can make meetings more effective and efficient, but surfing the web or Tweeting during meetings is just a distraction for you and everyone else involved.

One more thing: the Emily Post Institute has a whole section on business etiquette, as well as a guide, “Manners in a Digital World, Living Well Online.” Check them out when you’ve got some free time at www.emilypost.com.

Mobile Madness!

Digiday explains why smartphones and mobile devices are no longer wants, but necessities, in today's world. Here are 15 stats that all brands should know about mobile:

  • The U.S. is at 101% penetration. (CTIA)
  • 1 billion smartphones will be shipped globally this year. (Gartner)
  • Apple beats all other phone manufacturers in customer satisfaction for smartphones. (J.D. Power and Associates)
  • 59% of mobile users are as comfortable with mobile advertising as they are with TV and online ads. (InMobi)
  • 85%  of mobile users prefer mobile apps over the mobile Web. (Compuware)
  • 75% of Americans bring their phones to the bathroom. (11 Mark)
  • 15% have answered their mobile phone while having sex. (Wilson Electronics)
  • Mobile advertising revenue is expected to reach over $11 billion worldwide this year, up from over $9 billion last year. (Gartner)
  • Mobile drives 23%  of paid-search clicks. (The Search Agency)
  • Americans spend an average of 158 minutes every day on their smartphones and tablets. (Flurry)
  • 15% of mobile users prefer to check financial accounts on smartphones and tablets. (Quicken)
  • 42% of consumers using a mobile device while in-store spend more than $1,000. (Interactive Advertising Bureau)
  • Mobile now accounts for 12% of Americans’ media consumption time, triple its share in 2009. (eMarketer)
  • 39% of mobile users access social networks from their phones. (Business Insider)
  • Mobile commerce will account for 15% of total e-commerce sales this year. (eMarketer)

Hat tip to Chamber staffer Glenn Harkness for the story.

Want to be ‘Smart?’ Ditch Your Smartphone for a While

Every so often, you observe an encounter so poignant that it must be shared.

Here is the scene I observed this morning on a crowded elevator: A young man enters, absorbed with his smartphone. In steps an older man, who pushes the button to another floor. Looking around, he spots the first gentleman staring at the phone.

“You know there’s life happening all around you, right?” the older man says with a smile.

The first man takes a beat and chuckles awkwardly, not sure how to respond and not sure if he should take it as a slight or just a social commentary. I’m sure I spotted a red blush creeping up around his neck and face. I should have gone up a few extra floors to see how it played out.

I told a co-worker about the encounter and she added how she’d seen a news story about a woman that had walked into an open manhole because she was distracted on her phone. A little Google search confirms her story. It also turns up a 2012 study by BMJ (British Medical Journal), in which pedestrians were observed at 20 high-risk intersections and their behaviors recorded. Those who were texting took an extra 1.87 seconds to cross and were almost four times as likely to display at least one unsafe crossing behavior (not looking both ways, ignoring traffic lights, etc.).

Not only are we missing out on life, but technology addiction can lead to accident and injury!

I’m just as guilty as the next person; I play on my phone and listen to music on the way to the parking garage after work. Also, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop taking my phone into the bathroom with me. The bathroom! (Don’t even pretend I’m the only one.)

Another danger: This is breeding a new generation of workaholics. While technology allows convenience by being able to work wherever and whenever, employees who are constantly “on” aren’t getting time to relax and recover for the next work day.

Some companies have caught on to how this negatively impacts their workers. In 2011, Volkswagen created a new policy that its servers would stop routing company emails 30 minutes after the workday ended and would not resume until 30 minutes before the workday began (the rule doesn’t apply to senior management). Other companies are tackling the issue as well, realizing that blurring the line of work and personal life is bad for employee well-being and business.

What’s that famous proverb? Oh yes, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” seems appropriate at this moment.

Do yourself a favor: Put your smartphone away today. Encourage your employees to rest and relax on their off hours. Remember the wise words spoken in my elevator and stop missing the “life happening all around you.”