Sunday, September 27, 2015

There be Wizards

I live in a magical place. This month the visited Edison’s Laboratory and Bell Labs here in New Jersey. I felt like Indiana Jones exploring temples.

Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Without these men, there would be no Google, no Microsoft. There would be no computers, no cellphones, no Internet. From these two men our world - our entire planet - was changed. In far less than 200 years, EVERYTHING has been engineered, rebuilt, reborn due to their technology - due to their lives.

The community went to the old Bell Labs complex two weeks ago, to watch drones fly (indoors) via the two million square foot complex (former home of Bell Labs). Last week, we had a luncheon at Edison’s Laboratory, which is now a National Park. Then members were once again back at the old Bell Labs complex, this time to see autonomous self-driving cars.

The Bell Labs facility was built in the 1960’s through the vision of Eero Saarinen, architect. I will not waste words here in this blog on the history of Edison’s Lab, or Bell Labs. There are links below that are certainly worth a read if you are so inclined.

What I WOULD like to say in today’s blog is this: get out. Get away from your desk, get away from your computer, and get into your car. Get out of your office (or co-working space, or coffee shop) and visit Edison’s Lab. Visit Bell Labs.

In less than 200 years, all of “this” happened. Both men were born in 1847. One hundred and sixty eight years since their birth, so I figure 140 years (plus/minus ten years) for their genius to take hold.

Google: “How many days since March 3rd, 1847 or since February 11, 1847” That number will stun you. In the blink of an eye, our entire planet was changed.

If you spend some time in the buildings where history was made, you will be inspired. You will be moved. Your brain’s chemistry will be altered. I firmly believe that one cannot enter these buildings, and not be motivated, energized, consumed. New Jersey is known as “The Garden State”. Truly, I had no idea what our garden grew.

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922)
Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931)

Bell Labs - Holmdel, New Jersey

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Less Filling! Tastes Great!

Point: I was born in 1960 so this blog makes sense to me. Millennials, please try to keep up.

Miller Lite's long-running "Great Taste...Less Filling!" advertising campaign was ranked by Advertising Age magazine as the eighth best advertising campaign in history. The campaign was developed by the advertising agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide. In the prime of the campaign, television commercials typically portrayed a Miller Lite drinker noting its great taste followed by another who observed that it was less filling. This usually led to a parody of Wild West saloon fights in which every patron got involved in the dispute for no real reason, though in this case it was always a shouting match, and blows were never thrown. The commercials were closed with a voice-over from actor Eddie Barth, who read the slogan, "Lite Beer from Miller: Everything you've always wanted in a beer. And less."

To attract 'Joe Six-pack' to a light beer, these commercials started to feature both elite ex-athletes such as Ray Nitschke, Ben Davidson, and Bubba Smith but also oddball cultural figures such as Mickey Spillane (accompanied by a blonde, Lee Meredith, who is better known for her role as Ulla, the secretary in The Producers), and comedian Rodney Dangerfield. As the series of commercials went on, it began featuring athletes and celebrities of all sorts. Some commercials from this era include:
  • Former Major League catcher and Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker being rousted from his good seat at a ballgame, and escorted away by an usher. Uecker comments, "I must be in the front rowwwwwww," but ends up in the last row of the nosebleed seats.
  • In 1978 Joe Frazier, famous heavyweight boxing champion but on-screen caption says "Joe Frazier, Famous Heavyweight Singer", as part of a barbershop quartet walk into a full bar and sing to "do like Smokin' Joe" and go on to sing about its advantages. There is then a moment's silence which follows with a roar of applause.
  • Marv Throneberry, who was one of most famously hapless members of the 1962 New York Mets, wondering over and over, "I don't know why I was asked to do this commercial."
  • Former Baltimore Orioles first baseman Boog Powell and former umpire Jim Honochick doing a spot together, with Honochick totally unaware whom he is standing next to, until he puts his glasses on at the end, and exclaims, "Hey - you're Boog Powell!"
  • Pro footballer/actor Bubba Smith proclaims at the end of a spot, "I also like the easy-opening can," then proceeds to tear off the entire top third of an aluminum Miller Lite can. In a later ad, pro bowling legend Don Carter laments that bowlers are athletes too, and attempts to prove it by repeating Smith's feat. But he struggles to do so.
  • And perhaps most famously, when Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner were in the middle of their legendary 1970s era feuds, they did an ad with Martin saying, "Tastes great, George", and Steinbrenner replying, "Less filling, Billy!", back and forth until Steinbrenner finally says, "You're fired!" (changed to "You're hired!" when Martin was re-hired by Steinbrenner in real life). Martin replies, "Not Again!"

As the popularity of the ads and the number of athletes and celebrities that appeared in them grew, Miller produced occasional "alumni" ads featuring all of the stars, generally in some sort of competition between the 'Less Fillings' and the 'Taste Greats'. The ads usually ended with Rodney Dangerfield somehow being the goat of the losing team. In one of the last spots to feature Dangerfield, the Miller Lite alumni are competing in a bowling match. It is the last frame of a tie game, and Ben Davidson grumbles to Dangerfield, "We only need one pin, Rodney." Dangerfield rolls the ball down the lane, only to have it bounce horizontally off the head pin and into the gutter, knocking down zero pin.

Where are you going with this, Tom?

Well, how is this even a debate? If the beer tastes terrible, no one will care HOW less filling it is, right? Yeah, it’s less filling all right - because no one will drink it! The fact that it is less filling - AND that you WANT to drink it, that is the key. You need both.  No one is going to buy a crappy tasting beer just because you can drink more of it due to its less filling properties!
Works Great! Easy to Use!
In the world of technology, if you have an app or software or “anything” that WORKS GREAT but is difficult to use, you have a dud. If it is super easy to use, but it does not improve the results, if it does not make life better, if it does not change the game - it is a dud.  A pencil is super easy to use, but today most people prefer something a little more technically powerful.

The Miller Lite commercials made it sound like there were really people out there ready to get into a fist fight over their passionate position: LESS FILLING!
Really? That’s your position in the debate? You think this beer sells like crazy because you can drink more of it without feeling bloated?  
TASTES GREAT! (Yeah, I can get behind that)
LESS FILLING! (Oh boy! Let’s drink more of this crappy tasting beer, just because we can!)
I don’t care how easy some piece of technology is to use: if it does not make my life better, if it does not change my life, my business, my world FOR THE BETTER, the fact that it is EASY TO USE does not sweeten the deal.
First question: will this make my life / my business better? Second question: do I need a PhD in computer science to use this thing?
EASY TO USE! (Second)
Both are important, but one is certainly more important than the other. If something is not great, nobody cares how easy it is to use. Both are very important (ala Apple) but clearly one position must come first.
Be great, then make sure the greatness is easy to use. No one needs something to be easy for the sake of being easy.