Thursday, May 24, 2012

An Elite Group of Stratospheric Thinkers

Peace. Love. War. Sex. Money. Life. Death. These are some of the most important issues we all deal with in more reflective and philosophical moments.

Oh yeah, and a good shave. Let me explain: I know the answer to this one now.

This is going to be a bit of a departure from my normal posts. It's a little more personal, related to concerns of daily life, and my recent experience with what I think is going to be a great product. But before I get there, let me tell you a little of the background about why I'm writing this.

For years I've pursued a good shave. My combination of medium beard (while it doesn't grow exceptionally fast, it's evenly distributed with follicles of moderate thickness) and skin sensitivity have made this routine the source of quite a bit of frustration since puberty. As the initiated know, the best shave comes from a barber using a straight razor. But who can afford doing that every day or so? And for the DIY-inclinced, have you seen the price of good straight razors? Even DIYers have to admit that the price of a good straight razor just isn't justifiable. So, I've tried electric razors of all kinds. Double blades. triple blades. The latest high tech Gillette 10-blades. You name it. In fact, one time I tried to use a depilatory cream instead of shaving altogether. What I got was a chemical burn on my neck that is still observable 20 years later. I've also tried every kind of shaving cream and aftershave balms you can imagine. All I want is a good shave at an affordable price that doesn't leave my face irritated. (You may be wondering why I don't just go with a beard. I've done that, too, but in addition to being especially abrasive to my wife and always worrying about whether I have food lodged in it, I look a bit like a leprechaun due to my Scot Irish heritage.)

This is where I've settled. I shave in a hot shower using the Schick Xtreme3 with the aloe strip, and I use Dial soap as a shave cream. I'm serious. Dial soap! I wipe the bar of Dial over my face, lather it up with my hands, and chop away. And it works pretty well. Whatever the chemical reaction is of the aloe strip and the glycerin (possibly?) in the Dial soap, it produces the absolute slickest surfactant I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the experience isn't altogether consistent in quality because sometimes the blades come a little dull or the aloe strip isn't imbued with the right amount of aloe.

Then a friend sent me a link a few weeks ago to the newly launched Dollar Shave Club. Their snarky video was enough to make me watch it three or four times. But I was intrigued because here they were claiming "Our Blades Are F***ing Great," and I did not have a particularly good shave that morning. I was in the mood to change - I admit it. After doing a little cost tradeoff analysis, I decided to try The 4X for $6 per month (and no S&H!). I signed up, and began anticipating blades that were f***ing great.

And then depression set in. A week later, I received an email informing me that "the internet arrived" at DSC and they were swamped with so many new orders that they had simply run out of inventory. My shipment would be delayed until May 15, about a month later.

So I waited. And I watched the snarky video again. Well, actually I watched it several more times, as I imagined what it was going to be like using blades that were f***ing great.

The blades finally arrived in the mail on May 21st. The package of four four-bladed razors (with an aloe strip) came with a weighty handle made of metallocene plastic. Enclosed was a little card informing me that I was now a "member of an elite group of stratospheric thinkers" and that I was entitled to a free drink at any bar in the US where I presented the card. (More snarkiness in the follow up - with the appropriate disclaimer, of course.  You will still be in the elite group of stratospheric thinkers.) On the morning of May 22nd, I used a DSC razor according to my routine manner for the first time.

The shave was f***ing great.
(I'm saying that in a hushed whisper now, as I observe a moment of reverent silence.)

The blades were smooth and sharp. The blade head was wide and hugged my face securely as the pivot worked exactly as designed. The aloe strip didn't quite deliver the same surfactant quality as the Schick, but it was good.

I’m also going to save $24/year. Admittedly, that’s not a lot, but I can apply it to my Starbucks addiction. Every little bit counts.

But OMG! The shave was the smoothest I've ever had. Two mornings later, the same blade cartridge delivered the same quality of shave as it did on the first day.

Do I sound like a giddy school girl after her first kiss? I won't shy away from that description, but it may go beyond even that because not two hours after my first shave with a DSC razor, I was thinking, as I drove to a client meeting, I'd like to go back and have another shave. All I wanted was just one more shave. Just one. I could turn around, go back home, and claim that Atlanta traffic was doing its normal thing to excuse my tardiness.

Now, I do have some critical recommendations for DSC (DSC, are you listening?). First, get that supply chain fixed, if you haven't already. You can't let another surprise catch you off guard like it did on your opening day or let customers feel that letdown again of being told that the most amazing razor in the world will be late. Second, figure out what Schick is putting in their aloe strip. I don't care how you find out, who you have to bribe, how you reverse engineer it, or what levels of corporate espionage you have to engage in, get that strip! Your razors will go from being f***ing great to holy mother of cheese and crackers f***ing great.

So, on a scale of 1 to 5, I'm giving DSC a 4. I think eventually they will reach a 5, but the initial delay really was a letdown. I had to discount them –1 to maintain my sense of fairness and objectivity.

If after reading this you are inclined to join an elite group of stratospheric thinkers, click this link and go from there. Honestly, with each signup that occurs through this link, I get a free shipment of blades. But I'm not asking you to be completely altruistic. If you sign up, you can get free blades, too, through your own referral link. See, we all win.

And you will love the shave.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

What You Really Need To Succeed…or To Succeed

"Intelligence Is Overrated: What You Really Need To Succeed"
That was the headline from a Forbes editorial. But do you really agree with it?

The problem for me is that the article doesn't define success comprehensively and from whose perspective, except to say, "...executive competence and corporate success. Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success (emphasis added)." In other words, the amount of money you make in life is the criteria it deals with, although the title might leave the discussion open for a broader perspective about success. Even if monetary success is the goal, the desired level of monetary income and accrual might vary greatly from one person to another.  When I read about success, I really want a more rounded consideration.

How should we think about success: success as society views success, as an individual views success, or some hybrid?  Do the criteria in the Forbes article apply across the board for all types of success or just executive competence and corporate success?

Consider this.  Was Steve Jobs successful? What about Paul ErdősColonel John Boyd?

The qualities required to satisfy "success" from one perspective may be different from those of another perspective.  I'm not so sure the four criteria (IQ, EQ, MQ, BQ) in the Forbes article are equally relevant as predictors across the different perspectives of success.

In their given fields of endeavor, I would say Jobs, Erdős, and Boyd were all successful, but none of them mastered all four criteria described in the article. Jobs, Erdős, and Boyd were frequently described as lacking emotional intelligence. Some might argue that Jobs lacked both emotional and moral intelligence. Erdős was notorious for his (ab)use of amphetamines and caffeine and limited sleep, showing little regard for his BQ. But they each sought a different kind of success premised in the Forbes article. Personally, I think the characteristics consistent with them were high IQ and dogged, relentless, obsessive pursuit of their goal. I especially don't think the article addressed the latter.

Furthermore, the article didn't really address the idea that there are different levels of success and different strategies to get there related to risk preference and the means of managing it. I think the article most likely addresses the kind of success associated with managing the probability of success/failure to achieve desirably moderate returns versus pursuing higher potential value with a low probability of success.

Of course I'm speculating, but I'd wager that people who master all four criteria in the article usually achieve moderate levels of personal and financial success, and the failure rate among them is low. These are people who finish high school, get a college degree (or more), and become day-to-day leaders and executives.  But they aren't the kind of people who typically change the world in far reaching ways. They do keep the world running, and that's important.  It is one measure of success.

On the other hand, people who pursue the potential value side of the equation tend to be extreme risk takers. Unfortunately, they may frequently fail to understand when they are wrong, so the rate of failure among them is high. They make up for their lack of mastering the latter three criteria with unrelenting obsession, though. So while many of these people might often head down a dead end pathway, when they do get it right, you see world changing kinds of success. They may profit from it with money and fame, or they may not. In some cases, they may not even know about the extent of their contribution (think Nikola Tesla).  The success with this crowd is self-selecting, as you rarely hear about the people who pursue the same strategy and fail to achieve their goals.

As Jobs being the most prominent example, significant commercial areas were affected by his success. Even if you don't use an Apple product, you benefit from the design esthetic he developed, or the advancements he led in other commercial areas, or the resultant competition his success drove. Maybe you wouldn't want his success for yourself, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Jobs, on the other, wanted it at the expense of the ideals you might hold dear. The same could be said for Erdos and Boyd. My thinking here, on a late Sunday night, is that success first needs to be clearly defined for yourself, and the tradeoffs required to get there need to be thoughtfully considered over and over.  But success by our standards shouldn't necessarily preclude our recognition of success by other standards.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Do Risk Analysts Dream of Electron Microscopes?

From as early as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a scientist. Indeed, while most kids my age were doing normal, healthy kid things on summer afternoons, like engaging in war games or playing with anatomically disproportionate Barbie dolls, I was usually in my secret lab (which was actually a sewing table my father converted to a “lab bench”) looking through my Bendai microscope or mixing chemicals with my Science Fair Chemcraft chemistry set. I distinctly remember on the playground one day, after being bowled over in a dodge ball game, one of my grade school classmates asking me, “You don’t really like sports, do you?” I responded through bloodied lips, “I like to think of science as my sport.” Of course, that admission advanced my standing in the picking order for the next game, as the best were always saved for last.