We first visited the Weymouth Treatment Plant, an impressive 150-acre site built in 1940, just before WW2 (thus its noted Mission Revival-style architecture).
The plant has a treatment capacity of 520,000,000 gallons per day: blending water delivered a combined 700 miles via the Colorado River Aqueduct and the California Aqueduct. It is also home to one of the world’s largest machine shops, housing some awesome toys.
We next visited the adjacent Water Quality Lab, which performs more than 320,000 water quality tests annually on samples gathered throughout the vast distribution systems, for the detection of bacteria, viruses, protozoan parasites, chemical contaminants, and toxins – thereby safeguarding the drinking water delivered to more than 19 Million Southern California residents every day.
An hour or so away, we entered the Advanced Purification Center: a high-security half-million gallon per day test facility, built as a proof of concept for near-future construction of a full-scale recycled water plant.
A unique application of membrane bioreactors significantly increases water recycling efficiency. If approved, this innovative system will have global applications, and greatly reduce dependence on imported water. The full scale initial planned construction can produce up to 150 million gallons of drinkable water daily, enough to serve 500,000 homes.
Stage 1 of purification – Membrane Bioreactors: Microorganisms remove ammonia and other nitrogen compounds, while membranes filter tiny particles, smaller than 1/100 of a grain of sand.
Stage 2 of purification – Reverse Osmosis: Pressurized membranes further remove microscopic materials, such as bacteria, pharmaceuticals and salts, eliminating more than 99% of all impurities.
Stage 3 of purification – Ultraviolet/Advanced Oxidation Process: Ultraviolet light and a powerful oxidant destroy any remaining viruses and trace chemical compounds.
I was surprised that the MWD staff knew nothing about the Gates Foundation Omniprocessor initiative, given the inherent opportunities for cross-collaboration and mutual benefit. Then again, I was equally surprised how little attention has been paid by MWD to the opportunities for IP development and protection. Public utilities tend not to think of their own inventions and innovations as opportunities for IP and licensing growth. It is important, however, for publicly funded entities engaging in pioneering R&D to explore channels for revenue generation beyond taxpayer funding, which is subject to legislative redirection at any given time. The State of California has a history of developing globally impactful innovations, be it in water management, earthquake detection, or fire protection. Some of these innovations merit protection and consideration as foundations, upon which future R&D might be funded.
The inspection team on this infrastructure trip comprised some of the brightest and best of California leadership. Admittedly, some of the more complex engineering parlance flew over my head, but I learned an enormous amount, most notably that – once again – the State of #California is leading the way in finding and building new ways to distribute, treat, conserve, and maximize one of our planet’s most valuable resources.
Now is an ideal moment to take stock of our performance, and reorient ourselves in the direction of peace, renewal, introspection, and togetherness.
However challenging this past year may have been for you or your business, we hope that the net effect has been a positive one, not only to your bottom line, but to your and your colleagues’ personal sense of wellbeing. We work to live, and may we all live to make our world a little better – whether through art, commerce, social service, or whatever pursuit gets you out of bed at the beginning of your day!
As always, our firm’s marker for success is how much we were able to learn and grow, in any given year. 2019 was no exception, though it had some unforeseen moments!
Our recent engagements have taken us into a variety of new markets and fields, for which I am grateful. Whether working with the UN Foundation on their “Girl Up” initiative, restructuring a nationally syndicated radio talk show for the podcast era, or celebrating the opening of a new local business venture. Our company’s focus remains on people, sustainability (environmental and fiscal), and innovation.
Personal commitments prevented me from spending my usual couple of months with our London and Lisbon teams, but more time in the Los Angeles area allowed for greater participation in some local initiatives.
We continue to enjoy supporting the great work done by the film and TV industry’s Green Production Guide team, and I enjoyed spending a day at the Produced By Conference in early June, roaming the Warner Bros lot, challenging the thousands of industry professionals in attendance to rethink and upgrade their approach to sustainable production. Personal engagement remains the foundation stone upon which fruitful change is built.
Our firm continues to work with and advise a variety of political and educational initiatives and organizations, including the City of Burbank, where we are based. We are passionate about improving the transportation infrastructures and community health of this beautiful city – no small undertaking in an area so slavishly devoted to the automobile! We were thrilled to participate this year in some milestone events and initiatives, including the groundbreaking ceremonies for a bikeway we’ve been working on for a number of years, the continued development of a regional rapid transit system (BRT), and ongoing improvements to the intersections between our regional and local traffic infrastructures (more access for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transportation!). There has been a lot of success in 2019, but, as with all such projects, the movement is glacial and there remains much to be done!
This was a great year for improving the city’s fiscal and functional health, and it’s been a pleasure to welcome new City Manager Justin Hess, while thanking outgoing City Manager Ron Davis for his service. Each person, though cut from different cloth, brings a standard of excellence and service worthy of appreciation. The inimitable Emily Gabel-Luddy, nearing the close of her term, will shortly be succeeded as the City’s Mayor by our other admirable friend Sharon Springer, and I look forward to a period wherein her infectious enthusiasm, love of community, and intelligence will continue to inspire and uplift not only City Staff, residents, and businesses, but the municipalities around us, as California continues to lead the way in facing the challenges and opportunities of our myriad communities.
A summer opportunity to travel back to Seattle, Washington allowed me to catch up with a previous client, OneRedmond, and the numerous technology and entertainment companies with whom we collaborated during our most recent project in the area. Some very interesting progress has been made, including the establishment of a very promising Public/Private partnership serving the Greater Seattle Economic Development area. This region includes not only Seattle itself, but also the wonderful cities of Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue. We were also able to spend a good amount of time with another cherished client, one of the Northwest’s top event and hospitality firms with whom we are developing a growth strategy, as they expand into more strategic and global ventures relating to their already impressive core capabilities.
The Northwest region remains a favorite one, and I’m excited to see its continued growth as a hub of innovation and workforce development. The area’s renowned commitment to sustainability and community makes it an excellent breeding ground for the next generation of purpose-driven enterprises.
Bungie Offices in Bellevue, WA
Harebrained Schemes HQ
Big Fish Games in Seattle, WA
Back in Los Angeles, I was recently invited to participate in a long-overdue Mobile World Congress workshop session entitled “Women4Tech”. It was inspiring to see and talk with such a diversity of women leaders in the fields of tech, marketing, engineering, government, and creative production. Some of next year’s most compelling innovations from around the world will be coming from women-led enterprises, and we can only benefit from their contributions, guidance, and insights.
At the end of last year, I was invited by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader, helping to inform and inspire communities to become more actively engaged in combating the undeniable climate crisis we all face. In addition to giving presentations to schools, local governments, corporations, and community organizations, it was an honor to be asked to establish and chair one of the newest Chapters of the global Climate Reality Project. This proved a mighty and worthwhile challenge! During the course of this past year, we recruited more than 40 passionate advocates for responsible stewardship, and together we have made a marked impact on local, state, regional, and national policy and action. We look forward to helping the organization further consolidate and maximize the energy, knowledge, and commitment of these leaders.
Climate Reality Leadership Training in Los Angeles
Climate Leader Workshop
Meeting Climate Reality Leaders from all over the globe
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a favorite organization, ever since I was a student at Duke University, helping to set up a chapter of the Center’s then-new “Teaching Tolerance” initiative. I’ve long enjoyed supporting the great work done by this laudable organization, and this year we were offered a marvelous opportunity to spend some time with co-founder Joe Levin, as we reviewed the extraordinary efforts undertaken by the SPLC, on behalf of the disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed members of our nation’s family. I remain in awe of their passionate zeal and commitment.
While 2019 provided a diversity of opportunities and discoveries, it also unhappily took away important treasures. I was greatly saddened this year to participate in memorial and funeral services for some great people, including my friend, Blake Byrne; an important mentor, David Picker; a previous boss, Michael Lynne; and former colleague and icon, Cokie Roberts. It would be pitiful to attempt here any sort of In Memoriam for such admirable people, so we will instead commit ourselves anew to conducting our professional business in a manner reflecting their integrity, passion, and service. We are sure that each of our friends, colleagues, and clients has experienced the pain of loss this year, in their own unique but equally important way, and we offer each our sympathy. Life is indeed a fleeting gift, the value of which we seem to fail to take full measure, until we find ourselves being ushered toward the exit. To borrow the latest aphorism: KonMari the year ahead, and share the joy you keep!
With Burbank neighbor, Adam Schiff
With SAG-AFTRA President, Gabrielle Carteris
Some friends from the PoC Network
My old friend, the hard-working Antoine de Cazotte
The future must always be seen with optimism. We are looking forward to continuing our work with our newest client: an exciting tech & creative startup venture focused on increasing access for the visually impaired to content otherwise out of reach. We’re eager to see what other opportunities and innovations present themselves next year, in markets and industries that will assuredly teach us new lessons and show us new wonders!
My thanks go not only to my colleagues, but to clients and friends alike who have welcomed us this year into their offices and labs, as well as onto the many studio lots and sets! The opportunity to learn from and watch you invent inspires me on a regular basis!
Driving onto the Disney Lot
Wandering around Disney Studios
Driving on to the Sony Lot
Walking onto the Warner Bros Studio Lot
Wishing you the peace, renewal, and togetherness to which I alluded at the beginning of my post, I close, grateful for a year where the positives outweighed the negatives, and in the hope that this trend continues robustly in the year to come.
Today’s the last day of LA’s Mobile World Congress, at the labyrinthineLos Angeles Convention Center. I had the opportunity to spend some time there earlier this week, and it was time well spent because I targeted specific gatherings. Of course, the exhibitions and keynotes featured lots of interesting discussions and demos (NVIDIA has an AI shopping experience that purports to matchAlibaba Group, Amazon, and the few other players in this space. Will our retail shopping experience be disrupted and automated sooner or later?).
I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a networking and coaching event hosted by the GSMA’s Women4Tech program, an initiative to drive more female representation in the technology industry. I met some impressive future leaders in engineering, programming, marketing, and government, and I gained invaluable insight into the aspirations of (and challenges faced by) female innovators and business execs. Sadly, this track was somewhat hidden from the main conference, which I feel was a lost opportunity for all. The big questions that invariably dominated the exhibition halls and panel stages included “how and when will 5G networks fully deploy, which standards (beyond the preliminary 5G NR) will prevail, and whose DCN will rule the roost?”. All good questions, but I would have preferred that the organizers had helped attendees expand their horizons a little more.
I do admit that the most fun for me was meeting some compelling startups in the 4YFN (4 Years from Now) space. Many clever innovators focusing on solutions to improve health, connectivity, & community, though some of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed founders need help with strategic planning if they seek viability beyond the first couple of years! Perhaps all they want to do is sell their idea and move on, like so many “serial entrepreneurs”, but that’s not entrepreneurism, in my opinion. It’s banking.
I agree with the issues raised in this video from a couple of years ago, but the way Mr. Harris addresses it is naive, to say the least, and maybe even hypocritical, perhaps (did nobody else note the clickbait title of the video?).
First, who’s to say whether the content a user is paying attention to is something they *want* to be focused on, as opposed to content on to which they were “scheduled” by their newsfeed, app, or influencer? How do you differentiate and calculate that segmentation? Who decides the nature of the relationship which that content is having with you? Did you *want* to read this post, or did your subscription schedule it? At the time you clicked on it, it was the latter, which would suggest you were manipulated to watch something you might otherwise not have chosen to watch. Yet, once you finish reading this and watching the accompanying video, you may come to the conclusion that you found the 6 minutes well spent, and the presentation helped you to think about an issue of import, so it became the former scenario, i.e.: you wanted to watch it. Chicken, meet egg.
Furthermore, while it’s a lovely idea in some sense, why should a company that is only profitable if users spend time on its site invest time and money encouraging people to *leave* its site? It’s as if you expect a gas station to greet you, as you drive in to refill, with a big sign saying “please leave now, and go ride your bike”. Those of you who know me are well aware of my hope that people will walk and bike more, but that does not mean I expect gas stations and car companies to invest in that movement, to their own detriment.
I find these sorts of speakers spend so much time telling us how we are all unwitting victims of some nefarious illuminati, instead of reminding us that we are each responsible for our own choices and world views, and we need to increase our active participation in how our days are filled. Stop waiting for Netflix and Facebook to program your content, and program it yourself! Take agency.
Mr. Harris does close with a worthy observation, in that human beings have certain boundaries that ought to be acknowledged and honored (“sleep” is the one he mentions, but there is also eating – and especially healthy food choices, learning more positive information about cultures other than our own, understanding the benefits of more thoughtful and well-informed choices, etc, etc…).
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For more than a decade I have been railing against Unicorns, while concurrently coining the notion of Workhorse or Zebra startup mentalities. My passion for reimagining the approach that innovators and inventors take to building their business propositions is matched by my zeal for an equally aggressive repositioning at the other end of the enterprise scale.
Too many large enterprises (I’ve worked at a few) operate much as an aircraft carrier [if you’ve heard me speak on the topic, you know this analogy of mine all too well!]. They are slow to respond, costly to maintain, and require astonishing lead-times in order to effect any sort of course correction. I have long held that modern businesses need to model their operational efficiency on a “Jetski” principle: nimble, reactive, fast, and able to jump over any unexpected wave running counter to its objective. While one of the most telling characteristics of the lumbering giant enterprise is its slow response time, these sorts of megacompanies have mitigated that weakness by establishing, as best they could, de facto monopolies or regional agreements with competitors, so as to ensure themselves the lead-time necessary to implement unavoidable changes. That worked while technology and society moved at something close to the same pace as these brands. One of the most important aspects of jetski companies (as I have called them, for a while), is that – while they may not have the resources to individually manage the same volume of customers or clients as the aircraft carriers, they are able to adapt much more efficiently and effectively to sea changes.
Residential ISPs have been operating under a massively flawed business model for years now, and seem to have no interest in changing said model. AT&T, Spectrum (formerly Charter and Time-Warner), and others believe that customer churn is an acceptable cost of doing business.
So long as they can successfully seduce an equal or greater volume of new customers each month, to offset loss of customers due to their shady price hikes (or keep a sufficient volume of customers who are too lazy or ignorant to contest the price hikes), these near monopolies are happy.
Any intelligent market analyst will note, though, that inevitably accelerating changes in technology always disrupt long-established yet unchanging business models. These large behemoths are lumbering along as if their revenue streams are secure.
As 5G continues its maturation and deployment, and initiatives such as Loon point the way to yet more compelling alternatives, customers repeatedly abused by current ISP giants will be eager to explore emerging options.
In the face of these disruptions, no amount of retroactive price cuts will restore customer faith in the big brands that for so long exploited their market dominance.
No matter how faithful these brands may have been to their shareholders, if customer volume drops, so will the share price.
The painfully obvious lesson here being that in an age of accelerating technological and social disruption, the relationship a product or service brand has with its customers is the most important relationship to establish, manage, and honor.
This doesn’t mean brands should become enslaved by the vicissitudes of mercurial and sometimes manipulative shoppers: “two wrongs don’t make a right”, as our parents often said!
It does mean that transactional relationships need to be more equitable, manageable, and transparent. ISPs and other businesses incapable of upgrading their methodologies and practices will be disconnected, beached…insert analogy or metaphor of choice.
Finally got to test “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire”, launched last year by The Void, a location-specific “whole-body, fully immersive VR experience”.
While this experience is certainly superior to their other immersive walkthru, Ghostbusters, I continue to question whether these platforms for VR tech will ultimately be able to settle on a sustainable price point? #VR is still trying to find its place in Entertainment, IMHO (ed.: I admit I’ve not had the opportunity to try their third, older walkthru, “Nicodemus”)
While experiencing this product, I returned to my now decade-old claim that AR would likely prevail in M&E long before VR. Is it fair to label an immersive walkthru, with physical cues and feedback, haptic feedback, and multisensory components (smells, physical environmental audio, etc) as #VR, strictly speaking? The parameters seem much more akin to #AR, in a sort of inverted fashion.
VR is showing itself to be enormously compelling in construction, healthcare, research, and real estate, among other market sectors. Not Entertainment.
AR is a marvelous and *still* undervalued opportunity for the Entertainment industry, and I remain eager to see how brands, both creative and technological leverage that potential.
Fort Collins, Colorado is installing its own “civic broadband” service, after the politicized FCC instituted a net neutrality repeal.
Chattanooga was the first with a municipal ISP program, and more will follow.
Perhaps this is how we beat corrupt government: think global, act local!
Of additional interest will be the implications for the larger telcos, cablecos, and other “Last Mile” pipeline owners such as AT&T, Verizon, Spectrum, et al: If municipalities become ISPs, the democratization of Internet access will be accelerated dramatically, and represent a big threat to private corporations’ strategic throttling of content distribution.
Betamax was better than VHS (smaller tapes, better color reproduction, APS, 250 lines vs. 240 lines of resolution, superior sound, a more stable image, and better HW (recorders) construction).
HD DVD was better than Blu-ray, from a production scaling perspective: a fact that would have proved even more profitable given the lack of wholescale Blu-ray adoption for which Sony et al were hoping. While Blu-ray picture quality is superior to HD DVD, the cost for upgrade (to studios, manufacturers, and consumers alike) will have proven too great, once we look back and see how non-existent the transition from DVD to Blu-ray was.
History is littered with the corpses of superior or more reasonably positioned systems, all killed by the same disease: poor strategic marketing. Herewith, another one bites the dust:
The Windows Phone OS family (WinPhone 7 – Windows 10 Mobile) was a fluid, elegant, sophisticated OS group, murdered by marketing failures galore (as well as by the marketing successes of the opposition). For more than 6 years, I have been writing about Microsoft’s failure to effectively position or market their mobile platform and operating systems. A lot of good that did!
What are the lessons learned, and has Microsoft burned their mobile user base enough times now, that their Windows Core OS offering will fail to elicit enthusiasm from mobile consumers who carry too many scars?
13 years ago, I gave a small talk at the Cannes Film Festival, evangelizing for more measured creative and business growth. I had been working with several startups and noticed a trend toward accelerated scaling that I found worrisome. I encouraged my audience (mostly independent filmmakers) to give themselves time to develop their properties, instead of desperately rushing to sell their idea, fearful that it would be illicitly co-opted by some unknown competitor.
In 2005, I joined a large multinational corporation and noticed that this trend was reflected in the sense of urgency with which budgets and projects were managed throughout business units, and even at the corporate level (usually in response to shareholder demands for the semblance of repetitive short term gains).
Instead of engaging in careful long-term strategic planning and consistent scaling at a manageable pace, enterprises large and small were increasingly (and often retroactively) chasing mythical goals. Business ventures want to convince investors, shareholders, and others that their offering is worth obscene valuation, yet they don’t want to “waste” time actually doing the work of conceptualizing, developing, testing, productizing, marketing, selling, and supporting any tangible offering. It takes less time to make a PowerPoint, it would seem, than it does to make a product. The collateral damage from this mentality continues to be ignored today, by too many people who ought to know better.
Permit me to jump to another topic, for reasons which will become apparent, I hope:
The C-130 Hercules remains the longest continuously produced military aircraft in history. The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on this day (23 August) 1954 from the Lockheed plant in Burbank, California. Burbank’s relationship with Lockheed was long and proud, but the city demonstrated a painful lack of strategic planning that left it in dire straits in the early 1990s, when Lockheed left town. The job losses and economic downturn were dramatic, to say the least. Burbank had relied too heavily on one industry, even though the signs of change in that industry had been evident for years. Today, the local economy in this charming SoCal city is once again relying heavily on an admirable and powerful industry. That industry is also showing signs of dramatic change, and Burbank must work proactively – in partnership with its resident businesses from the Media & Entertainment industries – to adapt and evolve, in order to stay aloft in turbulent times, economic, technological, and social.
Cities are growing, as populations increasingly urbanize. Too many of these cities rely on a very few large sources of tax inflow, instead of diversifying their portfolio of revenues. Given that 99.7% of businesses in the US are small businesses, and 48% of US employees are small-business employees, I continue to advocate (with increasing volume!) for municipalities to support sustainable small business incubation: providing for scalable workforce growth, complementary innovations within pre-existing business ecosystems, and more agile infrastructures, capable of adapting to the increasingly explosive nature of 21st century markets, without becoming unduly subject to that same volatility.
The window of opportunity narrows, the closer one comes to a point of inflection. Will Burbank adapt in time, so it is able to manage, rather than be subject to, dynamic market changes? Will the Media & Entertainment industries pull back (even just a little) from the precipice of quarterly performance, in deference to more long-term strategic measurements? Will business ventures invest more thoughtfully in smaller initiatives (subsidiary or autonomous), more capable of adapting to the creative, technological, and economic forces that wait around the corner?
In the words of my close personal friend, Dame Shirley:
“They say the next big thing is here,
That the revolution’s near,
But to me it seems quite clear
That’s it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”
I am a big admirer of Satya Nadella. However, when Mr. Nadella stated in a recent interview, “It always bothered me that we confused an enduring mission with a temporal goal”, he seems to be confusing and conflating the concepts of a VISION and a MISSION with the notion of VALUES. Perhaps this is an effort to distance himself and his administration from the legacy presence of the brand’s co-founder, but I fear that would be misguided strategy. Perhaps he was misquoted (it happens). Perhaps he didn’t say what he meant to say, or in quite the way he intended. Media interviews are fraught with the peril of partial clarity.
It bears reviewing that a vision statement should, if pursued properly, have an expiration date. At that point, the sitting leadership should reinvigorate the brand strategy with a new vision statement. Similarly, a mission is not well defined if it is not clearly achievable, and thus temporary. The values of a company may also change, but they can also endure.
Bill Gates’ vision of hardware ubiquity, expressed in his mission of “putting a PC in every home”, was well stated at the time, and largely accomplished, as Mr. Nadella concedes in this interview. Quite correctly, Nadella also points out the geographic and cultural limitations of that mission: a perfect opportunity to refresh the Microsoft brand, with a new more expansive Mission Statement, a new Vision Statement, and – if he and his leadership team so choose – a new Statement of Core Values (which is what I believe he is attempting to do here).
If a company accomplishes its previously stated mission, this is cause for celebration, not criticism and distancing. I hope Mr. Nadella will recognize and underscore this, going forward, and give his company the credit it justly deserves. I believe Microsoft has an exciting path ahead of itself, and how its leadership frames the past will do much to develop market and shareholder confidence in its future.