On Charlottesville, VA

I am not an American, but my father and my siblings were born and lived in the USA. I have visited the country a number of times. I have spent time in Virginia, notably Lexington, which is about 70 miles away from Charlottesville, the town that has been tragically in the news this past week. While I don’t have the level of connection to the place that a United States citizen has, I do watch with interest and feel that I have at least some level of understanding of the American psyche.

From my perspective, what I saw in Charlottesville was a collection of white men who have been radicalised to the point of fanaticism and enabled by political leadership to intimidate and strike fear in others to their own ends. In a modern country it should never be reasonable for civilians to put on body armour and walk the streets with automatic machine guns. Carrying Nazi flags, performing Nazi salutes, and walking with burning torches1 echoes many sad and inglorious historical moments, from Hitler and WW2 to the KKK and acceptance of slavery (and the power imbalance in favour of white people that that confers).

I can only imagine what would have happened if non-white people had walked the streets similarly armed and garbed. I think there would have been an even more extreme response; which in itself highlights a level of underlying, unspoken racism that permeates the culture. I can’t help but think that if roles were reversed, and it were black people carrying machine guns in the street, that it would be seen as an uprising. Based on recent US police behaviour it might also have been possible the police would have been willing to shoot to kill.

Next we have the horrible situation of a young man driving a car at speed into a laneway filled with people. Such behaviour cannot be condoned and the fact that some are attempting to mount excuses and justifications is frightening in itself, particularly if they believe their own professions. That was an act of terrorism, fuelled by hate, which i assume was itself fuelled by the fear of losing power and relevance in society. As far as I can tell, that man, and his equivalents, are fearful that their position in the world is being disrupted and their reactionary response is to imbibe hate and act with extreme prejudice.

As for the President, I am of the view that he has incited and encouraged this vein of hate, then turned a blind eye to the subsequent despicable actions of his acolytes. It took him three days to speak out against the actions (via a prepared speech), and then a day later he couldn’t live with that being his official position so he backtracked, showing his true colours. That he should be President of the USA is an entirely strange and sad situation.

A key reason (but not the root cause) for this uprising is said to be in honour and respect of General Lee, a man of regard for Southerners. Yet times change, and who we should and do venerate must also change. The problem is, enacting that change means rebalancing the power relationship amongst the citizens of the United States, and particularly the South. As a result those threatened most by such change2 and who are most at risk of ‘losing’ as a result of any rebalancing are lashing out with extreme aggression in a sad and sorry attempt to maintain the status quo.

Change will happen. The clock cannot be turned back. Time and culture moves ever forward, even though this Charlottesville incident represents a step back. In the end I believe the tide of change will win out. I genuinely hope that tide brings equivalency to all citizens of the United States, irrespective of the colour of their skin, and that peace wins out.

  1. Albeit tiki torches that look like they were bought at Lowe’s and probably made in China. 
  2. That is, white men. 

Subscription Pricing for Apps

The corner of the internet that I inhabit has been up in arms about yet another app, Ulysses, switching to a subscription-based pricing model. From the perspective of the developers trying to build a successful business this probably makes a lot of sense. The business analyst in me applauds them for finding an approach that will smooth revenue flows and help fund future development.

But changes like this can have unintended, or at least unforeseen, consequences. To my mind, the key question is how many users will switch over to this model? The developers may discover the addressable market shrinks considerably as their app will suddenly have a lot less appeal to hobbyists who are not earning revenue through their use of the app. They will probably sell subscriptions to authors and professional bloggers, but will that offset the losses? Did the developers truly understand the size of the market who would be willing to play for on-going use of the software?

User Centricity

I fear that developers are not taking a user-centric view to the subscription conundrum. Subscription revenue no doubt looks great in spreadsheet models with its recurring revenue. However, let’s apply the ‘job to be done’ approach to this issue, from the perspective of the end-user. I suggest that the job to be done is to provide a mechanism that will let me take notes that are ubiquitously available, and write occasional blog posts to be published to WordPress. Boiled down further, the job to be done is text editing and organising.

So my choice is not to subscribe to Ulysses or not. My choices range from open source text editors, to Apple Notes, to a word processor, or an alternative subscription-based product. If I didn’t want to blog, I could get by with a paper notebook and a pen.

It also creates a further issue in that it will reduce the likelihood that I will bounce between a number of apps. Up until now, I had decided to use Ulysses for blogging, Bear for notes, Scrivener for work reports, and DEVONThink for research and storage. I’ve paid for all of these apps.

With subscriptions becoming more prevalent, I will have to reduce my app consumption because I don’t want to be on the hook every month for apps that I may not use. I don’t want to reduce my personal free cash flow by paying a swathe of subscriptions, particularly for apps that are essentially supporting a hobby that generates no income. I will become more selective in my software choice. My overall long-term expenditure on software may decline. If many users have the same opinion, then the overall market activity is going to decline. The outcome becomes worse for all developers.

As I said earlier, unintended consequences.

My Choice

This whole subscription brouhaha has led me to review my note-taking writing structure, and I’ve decided to rely on another subscription app I pay for, Bear. Those developers charge less for a very similar product, and they were up-front about the software being subscription-based from the outset. In my opinion, Bear has a nicer look and better reflects Markdown styles. The only thing I lose is direct-to-blog publishing. However, I can pretty easily copy or export text in Markdown or HTML, both of which can be directly pasted into the WordPress CMS.

By choosing another subscription-based product, I demonstrate that I’m not entirely against recurring costs. But if I can have one recurring cost rather than two, then I’m all for that.

My situation is a real-world example of user-side app rationalisation that I think is likely to occur at scale, with the onset of subscription pricing.

The Business Speedometer

Trying to run a business without useful and accurate performance information is like trying to drive a car without a speedometer. Sure, you will be able to guesstimate how fast you are going, and sometimes you’ll even get it right. You might even get away with a bit of speeding! Most of the time though, you will be driving at the wrong speed. You will either not be taking full advantage of the car’s performance or you’ll get a speeding ticket.

In a business sense, running a company without timely and accurate performance reporting may deliver occasional success, but it’s not a recipe for long-term sustainability. A lack of insightful reports detailing costs, sales, productivity and profitability generated through effective data capture at the source is likely to result in a lack of insight about what is critical to the company’s success.

Costs and Pricing

Production costs and pricing can be deceptive. Clearly, a firm must ensure ensure that the price they charge the customer accounts for the costs of the people and equipment directly involved in the production process. That price, however, also needs to have a sufficient margin attached to it such that it encompasses a share of all other cost overhead of the business, from rent and electricity, to paying for accounting and staff training. Furthermore, it has to incorporate a profit margin that will enable the business to retain some earnings for future investment and deliver a dividend to the investors/owners. Suddenly, the per unit price being charged needs to be much higher than may have initially been thought.

Without accurate information it can be easy to lose track of how effective this balance between price and cost is. Cross-subsidisation of profits across activities and products is another challenge. Soon enough, it can be almost impossible to understand what profit is being generated from each element of work. This can result in a situation occurring where both people and machinery are busy but the company loses money anyway. To avoid this frustrating eventuality, a business needs to ensure it is capturing and collating business information that will generate alerts at the time such a situation arises. Otherwise the problem will remain hidden and by the time it is discovered it will be too late to react with impact. Now the business is chasing its tail with the next piece of work not only having to cover all the standard costs but also make up for the losses incurred by the earlier work.

Identify Issues at the Source

If problems are only identified when complete revenue and expenditure figures are entered and aggregated within end of month financial reports, it is too late. Management needs to stay ahead of the game. A good manager needs to ensure that the business is capturing information throughout the production process, and that this information is able to deliver insights about the productivity, performance and profitability of its activities at any point in time.

Just as the job of a car’s speedometer is to provide real-time feedback, a business also needs to be able to read and react to its own (as close to) real-time performance. Without this structure the business is not being put in the best position to succeed, irrespective of any other activities underway.

Entropy in Business

Entropy is the loss of energy in a system to the point that it is no longer available for doing mechanical work. It is the reversion to mean; nature’s effort to return everything to stasis.

Entropy is occurring everywhere, all around us. It is a fact of our life. Companies are fighting entropy as well. Without concerted effort and capital being invested, and ensuring there is talent deployed throughout all levels of the business, the expectation is they will wither and die. People working within companies are also fighting their own entropic decline. Over time, people get bored, burnt out or generally lose interest in their job, which can lead to a decline in performance.

To fight entropy in business you need new inputs of energy. This can come from bringing new employees into the firm, who have new ideas and ways of thinking that can jolt the business and offer new opportunities. The business can find new products and markets and establish challenging goals to feed motivation and drive performance. Another option is investing in business improvement and better systems to automate work, thereby transferring the risk of entropy to machines and information technology, and away from individuals.

The laws of nature define that entropy cannot be defeated, but we as humans have become very adept at fighting it. Within companies, the fight against entropy also rages, and its the job of the board and management to set a direction and focus effort towards initiatives that will motivate the organisation to continue to battle to keep it at bay. The problem is that entropy is incessant. Companies need to continually guard against its debilitating effects, or suffer the inevitable consequence of decline.

Comments are Enabled

So as an experiment, I have enabled comments for the site. I’m not totally convinced that it’s a good idea, and fear that managing spam may outweigh any possible benefits. Nevertheless, in true scientific fashion, let’s run the experiment.

As for the real readers, play nice, okay?