Mid-August Meander

I’ve been playing hooky for the past four days, avoiding my usual responsibilities, primarily house/car/life maintenance (one of the advantages to being un/self-employed is that I have not income-producing responsibilities).  I’ve been bicycling in mid-state Vermont with my camping accoutrements, staying in state parks and in general enjoying the scenery and the weather.  I have had lots of time to think about what I’m good at (keeping busy with biking, traveling, learning) as opposed to what I’d like to convince others that I’m good at (applying business practices to global health problems).  The bottom line (that’s biz-speak for “I’m grasping for some conclusion”) is that I haven’t been able to convince anyone over the past three years to the extent she/he would pay me for my services.  Not a big deal, but I have to wonder, since I think that, if your product is valuable, someone should be willing to pay you for it.  What’s the problem?  Wrong contacts?  Poor marketing?  Wrong product mix?  Unrealistic view of the market?  Too much competition?  Insufficiently capitalized?  Lack of POC/V (proof of concept/value)?  Insufficient diligence (due to distraction by doing what I’m good at)?

This is my 45th blog posting, one almost every week since September 19, 2009, and while it’s been a great exercise and I’ve learned a lot about the players and issues of global health (very broadly defined), I haven’t seen any ROI (more biz-speak).  True, a handful of readers have said my postings have been helpful in providing perspective and new ideas and I appreciate that.  But, in general, my attempt to demonstrate useful knowledge, insight, and skills to potential providers of the R has come to naught.  I’ve been advised by someone with a strong interest in my success (my son) to make my postings more personal, more upbeat, easier-to-read, in short, more entertaining.  I’d rather my postings be readable, even occasionally humorous, but primarily informative and maybe thought-provoking (but why does one need to be provoked into having a thought?).  Each posting represents 3-4 hours of research and writing (hey, I can’t just make it up) and the question is:  instead should I be spending those hours cold-calling potential contractors or otherwise drumming up business?  I guess the jury is still out and at this point I can still believe I’m in start-up, “pre-cash flow positive” mode with a heavy reliance on word-of-mouth advertising.

More to the point, as if there is one, I had an interesting confluence of ideas on the last day of my bike trip while visiting the American Precision Museum, which everyone knows is in a National Historic Landmark building in Windsor, VT, and “celebrates the ingenuity and creatively of the designers of machine tools and the tools themselves” (APM).  Moreover, everyone knows that the real industrial revolution began here in New England in the 1840s when entrepreneurial engineers decided they would build machines that could reliably make identical parts precisely and quickly which could be assembled into useful products:  first guns (always a big seller), but then clocks, watches, sewing machines, type writers, bicycles, cars, etc.  This “American System of Manufacturing” quickly spread throughout industrialized countries, bringing useful, affordable products everywhere.  [An interesting note on the firm (Robbins, Kendall, and Lawrence Co.) that built the APM building and started the great technology leap forward:  they had no employees, machines, or factory when they bid on a Federal contract to supply 10,000 “Missouri” rifles, but since their bid was ten cents lower than their competitors ($10.90 per gun), they got the three-year contract (worth about $20,000,000 today), hired local skilled craftsmen, built the machines to make the guns, and delivered the goods in 18 months (National Historic Registry).]  [An interesting history note:  in Windsor in 1777 settlers of Vermont gathered to draft and ratify the first written constitution for an independent state in North America, primarily to resist the territorial claims of neighboring New York (Wikipedia article).]

The other stream of my confluence comes from Niall Ferguson’s Colossus, which I picked up to read on my trip since the library had a paperback copy and I am woefully ignorant of political science, economics, revisionist history, and the other stuff on the NYT nonfiction best seller list.  In addition to all the interesting points he makes about the US as a de facto imperial power, Niall notes that the US military budget is larger than that of the combined military budgets of the next 15 countries, about 40% of all the planet’s “defense” spending.  My thought is, if we, as a representative republic, can consciously make such a significant investment in military method of advancing our world vision (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) (although it is not a particularly effective method), why shouldn’t we make a similar decision to invest in creating a new American System for Affordable Manufacturing that would contribute to accomplishing these goals by bringing useful products (like all the stuff needed to diagnose and treat global diseases) to the world?  To date, market-driven capitalism has littered the world with fast food and popular culture.  Maybe some new thinking, engineering entrepreneurship, a bit of capitalistic greed, and government leadership (an oxymoron?) should be applied to making new products for global health.

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