U.S. Manufacturing Is Not Dead, But It Definitely Needs To Start Working Out, Says Andy Grove of Intel

Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel, on why the U.S. needs to get back on the stick in regards to manufacturing. First of all, we are still the largest manufacturer in the world, by the way. And we manufacture a lot of stuff that the rest of the world wants and can’t make themselves. But we have a self-defeating internal story about our decline, its inevitability, and that manufacturing is not interesting anyway – all wrong!

Andy Grove – Technology Review

The received wisdom is that “everybody knows manufacturing in the U.S. is dead.” If you believe those things and act on them, they’re going to be true. I think venture investments are influenced by the “everybody knows” factor before the first spreadsheet is run. And if you don’t get the money to scale manufacturing here, you won’t do it. And if you don’t do it, your suppliers won’t move to the United States either.

My favorite part of any city is the low-rent tilt-up building section, where amongst the muffler repair and window tinting and upholstery and martial arts supply shops, there people are making actual stuff in little businesses that are critical to our nation’s economy.

Link: Andy Grove – Technology Review

Education Is Broken In U.S. But Testing More Is NOT The Answer

Just discovered this blog by Roger Schank – he’s a former professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and a few other schools, now retired. I suggest taking a quick look if you want to get mad fast about the state of education in America, especially if you have doubts about “testing our way to quality.” (Anyone in software should know that’s never going to work – you can’t “test quality in.”)

His big hobby horse right now is reforming education in the U.S. because he thinks it’s pretty stupid right now, especially with all this testing. He points out that the current high school curriculum is basically from 1892, developed by the then-president of Harvard to suit the needs of a university dedicated to turning out scholars. Schank notes that scholars are typically not doers, and doers is more of what we need in our economy at this point. In fact, we have a surfeit of scholars – a lot more qualified people apply for professorships in academe than there are professorships to fill. And he also points out that the curriculum is full of stuff that is not very useful to us – a lot of stuff that gets memorized by rote in order to pass a test in high school, and a lot of stuff that’s of no use to your future when you’re in college.

I hire American workers. I particularly like to hire American Ph.D.’s (in Russian Literature, History of Medicine and Archeology to name three recent hires of mine.) I like to hire people like that because they are very smart individuals who have bought the stuff that colleges sell and wound up unemployable because of it. I like how smart they are. I have no use for what they learned in their PhD programs however.

So he’s proposing a radical new curriculum, based on teaching people to do things that are useful and productive in society, and letting students – to some degree at any rate – choose what they learn. This will help address in particular one of the biggest issues in schools today. What’s the number one word that students in high school and elementary school use to describe what they are studying? “Boring.” Why are we teaching kids, who are fascinated by so much useful and interesting and mind-bending stuff, to be bored in school? Schank doesn’t think it’s a good idea, and I tend to agree with him.

Back in February Obama gave a speech about education and asked CEOs to recommend changes in education. As the CEO of his own education foundation, Schank responded, and I wanted to feature some of his answer – you can read the rest on his blog.

I support the American economy by building learning by doing project-based courses and degree programs that teach people how to do things rather than listen and memorize things. Oh wait. That was the Spanish economy since I built those courses for Spain (and for Peru and soon for some other developing countries.) Why don’t I build them for the U.S.? I did initially, but our universities think that what matters most is the brand name of their degree and not the quality of the education entailed in that degree. The best universities in the U.S. are controlled by very conservative faculty who have no incentive to change the system in any way.

What do you think? Is this the kind of change the education needs in this country? My take is that if we changed education along the lines that Schank is suggesting, the U.S. could regain our economic lead in the world despite our aging population. And if we *don’t* do this, some other country or countries are going to figure it out and leapfrog us. That will not be a good era for the U.S., in my opinion.

Material Genome Project – Can It Help Save America’s Butt?

Carbon Nanotubes

Getting new material and process innovations to market takes too long, according to the U.S. government, and observers everywhere. The new Federal Materials Genome Initiative aims to reduce the time it takes for advanced materials to go from concept to market by a factor of two. Encompassing a variety of mechanisms, including:

  • More extensive use of computer modeling
  • More open sharing of innovation research and development results (“The materials community must embrace open innovation,” states the founding report, Renaissance of American Manufacturing)
  • Improved use of today’s best engineering tools – that alone could reduce the current process from an average of seven years down to two or three, according to the report

President Obama has proposed $100 million for this project so far – let’s hope it’s enough:

With China rapidly closing the funding gap for science research and development–Chinese government support for R&D rose to $3 billion in 2011, seven times the level in 1998–the U.S. will need more than its reputation to stay on top.

What new material innovations are you looking forward to seeing in the market in the next ten years? Leave me a comment!

The Material Genome Initiative Puts High-Tech Development On The Fast Track | Fast Company

Awesome Gamification Podcasts – McGonigal and Schell

As I mentioned the other day, I spent part of January, February, and early March getting addicted to World of Warcraft. I was turned onto World of Warcraft as a model for improving applications in general by several podcasts and online talks I listened to over the past year, in particular those by Jane McGonigal of the Institute For The Future. As long time readers know – and you’d have to be a long time reader to have ready any of this before, since it came out more than a year ago – I am an addicted podcast listener. I get to hear around 45 minutes to 1 hour of audio programming every day on my commutes to and from work, and it’s my favorite time. The amount of fascinating, education, and inspiring stuff that goes into my head in a week is astonishing.

I heard another great talk by McGonigal, from the 2008 Ideas Festival in Louisville Kentucky last week, so I thought I’d post a couple of great talks that I’ve heard recently, including McGonigal’s on gaming, and another great talk by another great game theorist, Jesse Schell.

(I mentioned these podcasts as well in the previous post, but I thought I’d list them again.)

I love to share my recent podcast finds. I hope people find them as useful and edifying (and often entertaining) as I do. I’d love to hear what podcasts you are listening to and recommend.

Books You Should Read

A lot of the books I’ve read recently are not quite business books, but they are hugely applicable to issues that business face in creating innovative products, getting them to market, and selling them successfully. For example, [amazon-product text=”Made to Stick” type=”text”]1400064287[/amazon-product] by Chip and Dan Heath will not only help you understand how ideas or products become sticky, but give you tools for making your ideas sticky. Likewise, their book [amazon-product text=”Switch” type=”text”]0385528752[/amazon-product] provides guidance on helping organizations and individuals achieve change, even in situations where previous change efforts might have failed.

On the other hand, if you want to understand why things seem so strange lately in our world, where people seem to act against their own interest, the CEOs of the recently bailed out financial companies feel they deserve raises, and Donald Trump believes he should be president, you can’t go wrong with reading [amazon-product text=”The Invisible Gorilla” type=”text”]0307459659[/amazon-product], by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The authors debunk five persistent beliefs that people have about ourselves, including that we pay attention well, that our memories are accurate, that confidence implies competence, and that we know as much as we think we do. The insights are incredibly useful in day to day decision-making, since they help us understand how our perceptions can lead us so easily to making the wrong decisions, and how to mitigate the bad influence of our perceptions to make better decisions.

References:

  • [amazon-product text=”Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” type=”text”]1400064287[/amazon-product]
  • [amazon-product text=”Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard” type=”text”]0385528752[/amazon-product]
  • [amazon-product text=”The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us” type=”text”]0307459659[/amazon-product]

Hat tip to Bob Sutton of Stanford University, and the author of [amazon-product text=”The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isnt” type=”text”]0446698202[/amazon-product], [amazon-product text=”Weird Ideas That Work: How To Build A Creative Company” type=”text”]0743227883[/amazon-product], and other classics, for recommending these books on his excellent blog, Work Matters.

What To Do If You Get Addicted To World of Warcraft

Starting in late January, I spent some time getting addicted to World of Warcraft. I finally had to quit – and completely delete the game from my computer – in March, since it was taking up a lot of time I wanted to spend doing other things, like working and sleeping. (I always managed to eat.)

But this wasn’t an idle idyll – there was a bit of a method behind my madness of installing WoW in the first place. For the past year I’ve been researching, as a kind of sideline, the opportunities to improve my product by bringing in concepts from gaming to make it more engaging, compelling, and valuable. Given the hegemony – and addictiveness – of WoW, I thought I might be able to learn something I could apply.

The outcome of that research will comprise a lot of other posts, but for the time being, I can say that the results were mixed. In particular, I was looking for some guidance on the mechanics (not necessarily game mechanics) of collaboration, and it turns out that WoW, on a day-to-day basis, doesn’t have much collaboration. There are certain activities – dungeons – that can only be tackled by teams of five, ten, or 25 players, depending on the dungeon, but these are, like most of WoW, about killing a lot of stuff, and not about creating anything. And the creating areas – the so-called professions – are all solo all the time.

I’ll explore all this more in future posts, but for now, the proximate cause of this post is that I was turned onto World of Warcraft by several podcasts and online talks I listened to over the past year, in particular those by Jane McGonigal of the Institute For The Future. As long time readers know – and you’d have to be a long time reader to have ready any of this before, since it came out more than a year ago – I am an addicted podcast listener. I get to hear around 45 minutes to 1 hour of audio programming every day on my commutes to and from work, and it’s my favorite time. The amount of fascinating, education, and inspiring stuff that goes into my head in a week is astonishing.

Since this last week I heard another really good talk by McGonigal, from the 2008 Ideas Festival in Louisville Kentucky, I thought I’d post a couple of great talks that I’ve heard recently, including McGonigal’s on gaming, and another great talk by another great game theorist, Jesse Schell.

I love to share my recent podcast finds. I hope people find them as useful and edifying (and often entertaining) as I do. I’d love to hear what podcasts you are listening to and recommend.

What I Make – Pens, Glass, Sawdust

Today’s prompt in the Reverb10 project is:

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

A wooden pen

Pen made of Amboyna Burl by Nils

The last thing I made was a wooden pen, I have a picture of it to the right. Making pens is my main “making” activity nowadays. I’ve probably made about 35 of them so far, mostly to give away as gifts, but I also have some for sale on my Etsy shop, TurningCat. I have always considered myself a “maker” – but until pens came along, I didn’t make all that much – the occasional woodworking project, and a stint of sewing about 15 years ago. I have a small woodshop that I do additional work in besides making the pens, but it’s quite low-end and can’t support, for example, cabinetmaking.

My ultimate goal as a maker is to have a hot glass shop and make blown glass pieces – it’s something I got a taste of while in high school and haven’t been able to let go since. I’ve only done a tiny bit of glassblowing, including one class as an adult, but every time I’ve loved it – it’s hot and noisy and heavy and sweaty, and you can end up with beautiful delicate iridescent objects of wonder, like the amazing Jack-In-The-Pulpit vase from Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Favrile studio at the turn of the century (I’ll never be able to make one of these!).

A Jack-In-The-Pulpit vase from Tiffany's Favrile studio (picture by Maia C, CC licensed)

1 Reverb10 Day Five – Let Go

Dropping

Dropping (Image by Ken Miu, CC licensed)

I’m participating in the Reverb10 project this year – an annual event and online initiative to reflect on my year and manifest what’s next. “Use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what’s happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead. With Reverb 10 – and the 31 prompts our authors have created for you – you’ll have support on your journey.”

The prompt for today, December 5, is

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

As I look over the last year, I don’t think of it as letting go of things precisely, more as grasping on to some specific things, and therefore as a result letting other things dropped away. And in fact, now that I think about it, some of this dropping away items were conscious, and other were just an acceptance of my limits.

For example, I had wanted to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year – write a 50k word first draft of a novel during November. I’ve been writing a lot on 750Words.com (over 200k words this year, about 1,000 words per day on average) and I thought NaNoWriMo would be a really good way to put more structure around that, since it seemed I have at least the manual dexterity to do the writing.

But so many things came up, both for work and home, in November, that I realized that not only would I not be able to make it, but I also would be in a terrible mood, and kind of going backwards from where I wanted to be.

I intend to get back to NaNoWriMo, hopefully as soon as next year, and I’ve let go of some other things temporarily as well – with the idea that I will come back to them in the middle future. These include playing guitar, glassblowing, and a lot of woodworking (I’m still making pens, though! But with no pressure on how many I make or if I sell them).

I’m also trying to let go of things I never actually had. I’m not good with time – “next week” means about the same thing to me as “next month.” Until recently I’d always considered that a character flaw, something I needed to hold on to and fix. But now I recognize this “time illiteracy” as one of my characteristics, no longer a condition to be fixed, and so I use tools and strategies to mitigate the lack, and I don’t blame myself for not being able to do it better.

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