Decentralized Social Networking

Diaspora is a free personal web server that implements a distributed social networking service, providing a decentralized alternative to social network services like Facebook.
The project is currently under development by Dan Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer, and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, students at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
They gave themselves 39 days to raise $10,000 and within 12 they met their target.
The group received donations in excess of $200,000 via Kickstarter. A consumer alpha version was released on November 23, 2010.


by Elly Blue
9 May 2011 11:09 AM

Economics of bicycling.

as bike commute trips continue to rise nationwide, many employers are catching on to the benefits they can gain by actually encouraging employees to bike to work. Some are even shelling out cold, hard cash in an effort to boost their ranks of bike commuters.

A Dutch study last year found that cycle commuters provide their employers with an economic advantage by requiring fewer sick days each year and enjoying better overall health.
Other research has shown that bike commuters are happier and less stressed than those who drive or take transit. At rush hour, your bicycling employees may get to work faster and with fewer unexpected delays.

Perhaps most quantifiably, bike commuting employees don’t require nearly the same amount of investment in parking—even when employers invest in deluxe, secure bike parking facilities.

OHSU, a teaching hospital in a hilly section of Portland hemmed in by narrow roads and expensive real estate, is acutely attuned to all the benefits of a bicycling workforce. They’ve seen bike trips “skyrocket” since they began handing out a $50 cash incentive for every 30 days of bike commuting an employee logs.

Indoor, secure bike parking with lockers, showers, and changing rooms are the traditional hallmark of a bike-friendly workplace. These amenities can be essential for employees in suburban offices who must look professional after commuting long distances in extreme weather. Several companies go a step further, responding to employee demand by providing dry cleaning pickup and dropoff services so that bicycling employees can skip the once-a-week car commute to restock their supply of fresh suits.

Let’s take another look at Netflix. The company has a much-lauded policy of allowing employees to work whatever hours they like and take as many days off as they need, so long as they continue to excel at their job.

Such policies, and the company cultures they create, can be invaluable to workers who want to skip rush hour, take their bikes on less crowded trains, head off on focus-enhancing lunchtime rides, or simply commute fewer days per week.

We’re fortunate that more and more companies are starting to see past the old prejudices against bicycling and notice the bottom line benefits of encouraging employees—all of them—to ride.


Human Error & Culture

10 min.
When pilots in the cockpit do not communicate openly and honestly and freely; you have problems.
In cultures where it is difficult for a subordinate to speak openly to a superior, you will have more plane crashes.
In hierarchical cultures (countries such as Asian nations, Korea being the example used here) this has been the case and they have had to come to terms with it to change this in the airline industry.

Why Canada's housing market is destined to slump


Mon, Apr 11, 2011 Page B8

(Original Article here:)

George Athanassakos is a professor of finance and holds the Ben Graham Chair in Value Investing at the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario

The resilience of the Canadian housing market has confounded experts. While other property markets around the world have plunged, real estate prices in this country continue to reach new heights.

If the Canadian housing market does falter, the impact on the economy will be profound. Consumer spending and housing investment will feel the pain, and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., which provides mortgage loan insurance, will face substantial losses.

Some believe that low interest rates, solid banks, a growing economy, abundant natural resources and a relatively conservative mortgage market (at least compared to the United States) will all continue to support Canadian housing prices. Optimists argue that the run up in Canadian home prices has been based on strong demand from homeowners, while construction in the U.S. ran well ahead of actual demand and was fueled by speculators.

But there's another side to this debate. I believe that Canada's high house prices in relation to incomes, combined with record household debt levels and over investment in residential construction, will spur a severe correction in the real estate market.

Home prices are simply way out of line, especially when viewed in relation to household income. The ratio of house prices to income has historically averaged about 3.5 in Canada. It now stands at about 5.5. It is difficult to see how income growth in the future can bring this ratio close to the historical average within any reasonable period - so it follows that house prices will have to decline.

Signs of stress are already evident, especially when you look at household debt levels. In recent years, the gap between house prices and income has been bridged through borrowing. The average Canadian family debt hit $100,000 in 2010. About 17,400 households are behind in their mortgage payments, an increase of nearly 50 per cent since the start of the last recession.

The current consensus is that Canada's real estate market has achieved a "soft" landing and that prices will flat line but not decline substantially over the next several years. I disagree. The housing market is already in bubble territory. Average house prices have doubled in the last 10 years, while rents have risen by only about 30 per cent. The ratio of house prices to rent is higher in Canada than in any other developed country.

An even more powerful indicator also points to a severe housing correction in Canada. Residential housing investment as a percentage of GDP was 6.48 per cent in 2009, down slightly from 6.76 per cent in 2008, after peaking at 7.13 per cent in 2007. The previous peaks were at 7.26 per cent in 1976 and 7.18 per cent in 1989 - and we know what happened to Canada's housing market in the early 1980s and early 1990s. After residential housing investment as a percentage of GDP peaked in the previous two cycles, the housing market crashed within a few years.

I believe we are running out of time. By way of a comparison, this ratio peaked at about 6.1 per cent in the U.S. in the mid-2000s at the height of its housing bubble, and toward the end of the 1980s in Japan, when that country was nearing the end of its own property boom. Both countries experienced sharp declines in housing prices soon afterward. (The ratio stands at 6.0 per cent in China at the end of 2010 - no wonder there is talk of a housing bubble there.)

Canada is past the point of no return. What has propped up the housing market in Canada and delayed the correction is artificial demand from Asian investors. It is not clear when this demand will dry up, but it eventually will. Once it does, watch out.

The ratio of residential investment to GDP has provided a powerful leading indicator of housing corrections around the world and in Canada in the past. The question is, why would it not work this time around? I'm willing to listen.

More articles by George here:

Consumers take control of brands on social media with ‘mutant ads’

Sites such as YouTube host videos that often reveal public perception — good or bad

Vancouver Sun May 12, 2011

A commercial shows a young woman extolling the rich flavour of Starbucks’ Frappuccino. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love a frappuccino on a hot summer day,” she gushes. Then a frown. A frappuccino just costs so darn much. How much? Well, enough to feed a child in a Sudanese refugee camp for a week, she says.

Hit pause.

Why would Starbucks make a commercial emphasizing the view that their costly beverage is an overindulgence?

Short answer: They didn’t. The commercial is a fake, part of a growing trend of “mutant ads,” or mock ads created by consumers and posted on social media channels, according to a recent Simon Fraser University study.

An international group of researchers, including Leyland Pitt and Michael Parent of SFU’s Beedie School of Business, examined four examples of mutant ads posted on YouTube to determine how consumers are transforming brands — whether companies like it or not.

“The consequences, I think, are quite profound,” said Pitt. “Brand managers have lost control of the brand in this environment.”

The study, published in the spring issue of Journal of Advertising, suggests that brand managers will have to pay attention to this new digital wave of advertising and figure out how to respond appropriately.

Negative mock ads like the frappuccino commercial can be potentially very damaging for brands, Pitt said.

“In a way, she’s making fun of us as consumers who are willing to pay these prices, but on the other hand she’s taking a serious dig at Starbucks.”

Researchers examined not only the ads themselves, but the conversations that arose in the comments section on YouTube.

Pitt noted there was a large group of viewers who defended Starbucks, in addition to those who agreed with the video’s message.

Not all mock ads are negative. The study identified three basic motivations that consumers have for creating and broadcasting ads: intrinsic enjoyment, self-promotion and perception change. A slick ad for the Apple iPhone created by a group of directors called “the Consultants” has caught the attention of more than 100,000 viewers since it was uploaded to YouTube in 2007.

The video shows people in New York praising the phone’s features in different languages.

The trend of mock ads is only one part of the growing social media shift, whereby more control is placed in the hands of consumers to shape a brand’s image, Pitt said.

“The best thing companies can do is try to abdicate control of the brand and allow the conversation to happen.”

One common mistake is that brands use social media the same way they would have used traditional advertising, Pitt said.

“You can’t just rush in and say, ‘What we were going to tell you on television we’re going to tell you on Facebook ...’

“You’ve almost got to be invited to be a part of the conversation.”
sample videos here also

Unlimited Vacation

This year, for the first time ever, 1 percent of companies report that they offer unlimited paid leave.
Studies have long shown that — believe it or not — such flexibility actually makes workers more productive and engaged.

The movie subscription service Netflix has had unlimited leave for a decade.
... traditional vacation, in fact the whole 9-to-5 workday, is a "relic of the industrial age." Swasey says Netflix values workers who can manage their own time.


Interview preceding AME International Lean Conference, Baltimore, 2010

Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation

George Koenigsaecker is a principal investor in several Lean enterprises. He is a Board Member of the Shingo Prize, The Association of Manufacturing Excellence, The Thedacare Center for Healthcare Value, Ariens Outdoor Power Equipment, Baird Capital Partners, Simpler Consulting and Watlow Electric Corporation. From 1992-1999, he led the Lean conversion of the HON Company, a $1.5 billion office furniture manufacturer, his efforts led a tripling of volume and culminated in HON Industries being named by IndustryWeek magazine as one of the "World's Best Managed Companies". 

Prior to this, George was with the Danaher Corporation, where he was President of the Jacob's Vehicle Equipment Company (whose Lean conversion is featured in the book, Lean Thinking by Jim Womack and Dan Jones) and Group President of the Tool Group, then the largest business unit of Danaher. He also developed and implemented the "Danaher Business System", a comprehensive Lean enterprise model. He has held senior management positions in Finance, Marketing and Operations with Rockwell International and Deere & Company. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School.

Interview preceding AME International Lean Conference, Baltimore, 2010

Q You’ve lead lean companies through a lean transformation. You’re currently advising companies. What was one of the most successful lean transformations you’re proud of?

A We established the original form of the Danaher business system, which is modelled on the Toyota business system. I think the encouraging thing is that if you look at public, stock that you could have purchased from 1987 on, when we started the original transformation at Jake Brake, it has been the highest performing public market stock per, articles in the USA Today and so on. So it has been able to take lean lessons and apply them and get financial performance from them. It’s also the expert in the transformation journey. They’ve grown from a few hundred million dollar business to 12-billion dollars and continuing to grow today. And they do it by acquiring companies and transforming them to lean.

Q What is one element at Danaher that you think was present at the beginning and continues to drive the business?

A One is that Danaher and others that have been successful at the lean journey recognize that you have to change senior leadership behaviour. To do that you’ve got to get your CEO and direct reports to think differently about how they do their work. And companies that are very successful at this, pretty much have a required executive immersion program of some sort.

Q What would you say to some of the many middle management folks who are quite committed to lean and looking to engage their leadership on the question of lean and back up the work that they’re doing to spread it throughout a company? When do leaders start to really realize the benefits of this model?

A Well, there’s probably three things to think about as a middle manager that’s trying to get this moving.
One of those is to make sure that whatever work you’re doing with lean drives results on a fairly quite basis. Toyota talks about the True North metrics, which are really four things in hierarchy of importance that you should be measuring on whatever work you’re doing. So maybe you’re in charge of a subsection of a value stream and you can start to work there. The four True North areas would be to look for double-digit, which is 10 to 30 percent sort of number, annual improvement in these four metrics. 

One is human development, which might be measured as safety or number of problems solved per person — those kinds of things. The second one is quality, which is both internal quality and external quality. The third one is flow time or lead-time, which is principally looking at all of your customer- or client-facing processes and seeing how responsive they are, as well as, then to make that become responsive, you’ve got to change your internal flows. And then the fourth one is cost or productivity. 

And those are in a hierarchy, but there is an expectation that you should improve each of them at 10 to 30 percent per year — forever is the basic vision. So you pick a spot and you’ve got some area under your responsibility, think about those kinds of metrics for your area, think about improvement events to begin to generate that kind of performance and realize that the tools, properly applied, should always generate, worst case, 120-day payback. This isn’t something that you should look back a year later and say, well, we invested this but it isn’t there yet. You should be able to look at it after a quarter and see that you’re on-path to generating enough improvement through the productivity gains and that sort of thing to pay for the process in total itself. So, have the discipline to generate results. We used to use a phrase — We would buy our freedom — and by that we meant we would generate enough results to get the freedom to continue the process.

Another aspect to think about is that groups of people, and let’s talk about if you’re a middle manager, your leadership team, they will form sort of a normal distribution curve in terms of attitude towards change. And you’re going to have one person that will probably be very willing to try it, you’ll have another person that probably never will try it in your lifetime, and then you’ll have a group of people that sort of run a range in between that. 

So as a middle manager try to identify the individual on the senior management team that is at that sort of far right of the curve. In this case, is most likely to look at something like this and see the good in it, and try to just work with them to get them involved, to get them to get some learning, get them to give you some support. And then if you get to the point where you feel like things are going fairly well there, then try to figure out, if there’s ten people in the top management group, who’s the second most change-oriented person and try to use that first person to help change the second one.

Q What’s at the heart of True North metrics that makes it successful in terms of measuring and then becoming a catalyst for change?

A One of the fundamental aspects of the power of True North metrics is that what they really measure when you take all four of them is all of the dimensions of improvement that you can measure. If you improve your people’s problem-solving capability, the human development metric. If you improve everything you do, both your work processes and your outcomes. If you improve by shortening the flow times of all of the work you do and improve your responsiveness and improve your productivity and cost, you’ll find that actually any kind of improvement you can think of is going to fall into one of those four categories. 

If you improve in all the dimensions that you can improve, every line item on your income statement and your balance sheet, everything you can measure financially or operationally will move in a good direction. If you have higher quality, you do it with shorter lead-times, you do it with lower costs, you do it with a more involved workforce. In a sense, you keep that moving, no one will ever be able to capture you. And if you go through an income statement, you’ll have higher revenue because you’ll have higher quality and shorter lead-time and faster product development. You’ll have lower cost at production because of productivity gains. So higher revenue, lower costs works good on an income statement. 

You get to the balance sheet and if you’re a manufacturing company, you’ll have lower inventory levels because of flow. You’ll have lower capital equipment because of better utilization through things like TPM and SMIT, and eventually redesigning capital equipment to fit with a lean environment. So on your balance sheet side, you’ll have less of the working capital, you’ll have less of the fixed capital, and often, as you generate more money, you’ll end up with less debt, so you may have less debt on your balance sheet.

Q What do you think is the future for companies as the challenges in the global marketplace increase? Do we have a choice but to follow True North or lean or the fundamental philosophies that underlie these new management processes?

A Basically, my experience is the first company in an industry that adopts these successfully, which is a small group because most people are unsuccessful, but the first organization that successfully adopted improves fast enough that no one can catch them and eventually becomes the dominant player in their industry.
And so I think if you take a long perspective that’s the likely evolution — that you’ll have to do it because the pressure from someone else that does it, in terms of their competitiveness, will eventually push you to do it. Having said that, there are relatively few organizations that have been focused enough at the senior leadership level to really get it built into the culture so that they keep it moving.

Q It has become certainly easier to make the case for lean. One of my recent interviewees said it’s not a question anymore. What’s next for lean thinking as we look to sustain companies for years on the lean journey and in the face of changing economic circumstances?
A I think the "what’s next?" is always kind of interesting because when I first started this, it was thought to be something that came out of automotive and probably only worked in automotive.
And then we applied it to a much lower unit volume company at Jake Brake, and people thought it wouldn’t work there because the unit volumes were so much less. And then it got applied to things like Pratt & Whitney, which was in the neighbourhood of Jake Brake, applying it to very low unit volume stuff.
Then we started applying it to administrative work and were able to show that, Gee, it works the same on administrative processes as it does on production processes. And then we began to branch out from applying it to manufacturing organizations to applying it to non-manufacturing organizations, for instance healthcare. What we have been able to demonstrate over the last 30 years is that lean is something that works on any kind of work. And it doesn’t matter what your work is, whether it’s education or healthcare or manufacturing or operating an aircraft carrier, lean will work there. You may have to struggle if you’re the first one to ever apply it, to figure out how you actually take these tools and principles and apply them to your work, but it will, in fact, work there. 

So I think at one level, we’ve demonstrated the universal applicability of lean tools and principles to improving any kind of work. So that may be the accomplishment in the last 30 years.
The failure has been that its actual spread at a deep level has been very limited and that we still have to get much more serious, in my view, about senior leadership education and then building cultures that sustain it through generations. 

So, I think the big picture for the future is getting much more definitive about what does it take to build a successful lean culture that can live through, for instance, multiple CEO transitions and continue on the journey. And to get back to the beginning, that is the part that I feel good about. I don’t feel like we had a perfect model of doing this but of the 12 companies and the two manufacturing companies on whose boards I’ve been on, all 14 of those organizations continue on the journey, some as long as 23 years ago. But in the future of lean that is the key — figuring out how to build sustainable cultures so that the improvement pace continues through generations.

Q Do you think that lean in healthcare, lean in manufacturing, lean elsewhere is going to start to be the dividing line between those who survive and those who don’t?

A Ultimately, I think it absolutely will. I think we’re still in the phase where leaders that think they want to go on the path haven’t really been given a very good description of what are the key things that have to be done to be successful on the path. 

So, too often it has been treated like a program and hasn’t led to ultimate success. It is a system that takes a lot of hard work because you have to restudy every process, let’s say five times over a ten-year period as you begin to use that as a way to generate results and build the culture. It’s something that requires senior leaders to have the humility to admit they don’t already know everything about this subject and go back and do some personal learning. 

It’s a system that doesn’t allow them to hire someone and delegate it to them because in the end they still won’t know what they’re doing and whether they’re doing the right thing. If you’re going to do something that is fundamentally a significant culture change, that’s going to have to be led by the chief executive officer or it isn’t going to happen. It can’t be led by someone lower level that you delegate it to. So there’s a lot of ground to cover yet, in terms of making this a broad base success.

Q Are you looking forward to coming to the AME conference?

A Yes, I always do. It’s always been a place that brings together a lot of people who are thinking about and working hard on improvements. And it’s always the case that you need to separate the wheat from the chaff as they say in agricultural areas. But you always find that there are individuals and organizations that have done very good things and that you can take away true nuggets of improvement ideas. 

And a rule of thumb, you can go to a conference and come away with a couple of things that you can actually apply and make improvements, than you’ve done well at the conference. If it’s more than a couple, then it’s really impressive. The key question is, Are you going to go back and have the discipline to think about, I’ve got this and how am I really going to apply it and make something happen with it? How am I going to change the results of our organization for the better with what I learned at the conference? But the conference always brings enough lean leaders together that there’s plenty to learn and more than enough that you can take home and can apply it between one year and the next.