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Do you remember the “Let’s Build a Filter” scene from Apollo 13? It remains – at least in my mind – one of the most heroic engineering scenes in the movies. The one minute segment with the meat of the scene follows:
Several times over the past week the BP Gulf Crisis has come up in conversation. The conversations have started in different places (politics, environment, leadership) but in each case quickly cycled toward the concept that the people involved need to try something different. Now, there might be plenty of orthogonal thinking going on in lots of places around the crisis, but I kept thinking about the scene from Apollo 13 whenever we got to this point.
I’ve always felt that MIT undergraduates represent the smartest and most creative independent thinkers on the planet. My friends at Caltech and Stanford will immediately come to defense of their colleagues and I’ll acknowledge that they are also extremely smart, but I’ve always thought the combination of MIT raw material with the four year undergraduate curriculum creates a unique type of thought process.
It’s summertime and classes are out. It would take a day to identify the top two juniors and seniors from each department. Why not immediately constitute a team of 25 amazing students, give them access to 100% of the data surrounding the crisis, show them the above movie clip, and tell them to come up with a solution to the problem. Pay them each $25k for the rest of the summer – this is tiny compared to the amount of money being spent daily on the outside consultants working on solving the problem.
Then, open source all of their thinking. Have them put their ideas on the web as they evolve. Get anyone involved who wants to try to help solve the problem. MIT has long been a leader in using the web for education – most recently with MIT Open Courseware. MIT and BP already have a longstanding relationship – let’s take it up a level.
If nothing else, this will rally a bunch of smart people to engage in understanding and trying to help with the problem. In the upside case, there is a small chance that it can come up with a solution to the problem. And it will have the added benefit of inspiring a new generation of engineers to go after doing heroic things.
I’m having more and more Atlas Shrugged moments these days. Today’s was courtesy of an add on LinkedIn.
My first response to the ad was “I’m not sure I want to see my concerns addresses by the White House.” The White House – after all, is a building.
It turns out that this is an event that is titled “The Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Business.”
At least the White House is spending money on social media.
Thomas Friedman has a phenomenal Op-Ed in today’s New York Times. Time to Reboot America. Whether you like or dislike Friedman, he’s nailed this one. Repeat after me: Ctrl-alt-del.
I made a mistake this morning. I allowed myself to get ramped up during my morning information routine. As I read through my online news and feeds, I kept seeing various permutations of discussions around "the bailout." Which bailout you ask? So did I. Before I knew it I was way down a rat hole of reading about all the various requests around "the bailout", tricks for getting "your share of the bailout", absurd requests from very large established companies regarding "the bailout", some surprising and particularly offensive (at least to me) requests from other companies around "the bailout", and lots of justification for action couched in terms like "economic disaster", "crisis", and "collapse."
You don’t have to go very far to see where I started getting ramped up – just read the front page of the New York Times business section online this morning. Note to self – you are an idiot – you should have gone running instead.
I hate the word bailout. None of the companies I invest in are getting a "bailout." When they make bad decisions, don’t execute, or run out of capital, they fail – which sucks, but it’s part of the economic cycle. I tried calling 1-800-BAIL-OUT to see if I was missing something. They wouldn’t help me, but they let me rant about what I think about bailouts (smart entrepreneurs!)
Everytime I hear the word "bailout" it makes me think of Atlas Shrugged. There’s a good idea – before you are allowed to mention the word "bailout" you have to read Atlas Shrugged – that’ll slow people down a little and make them think.
I’m not against government involvement and financial support in the broad business ecosystem. That’s not what got me ramped up. What got me ramped up is the pervasive and omnipresent requests for a piece of "the bailout" along with endless hyperbole justifying the naked requests for money from the government without clear consequences. This, combined with the endless language of fear and panic from our "leadership", rather than a rational discussion of cause, effect, and proposed solutions makes me nuts.
Fundamentally, I feel like the ethos of "lack of responsibility" is finding its way into every nook and cranny of the discussion. The connotation of "bailout" is "it’s not my fault – please bail me out." By definition, if you are asking for a bailout, you need to take responsibility for your actions and how you got there.
Before I end, I’ll leave you with two things to clean your palate. The first is from my friend Shawn Broderick titled UAW Rip and cuts to the core of the notion of taking responsibility for your actions, understanding cause and effect, and coming up with solutions based on a real understanding of the underlying facts. The second is from another friend – Karyn German (who is one of the execs at NewsGator) titled What I Have Learned About Leadership. Just reading it made me feel better.
All of the hedge fund (and some of the VC fund) statements I’ve been receiving the past few weeks have long essays in them. I categorize most of them as either (a) marketing, e.g. "look how smart we are – we know what’s going on" or (b) rationalization, e.g. "our numbers totally suck, but here’s why you should be optimistic about our future performance." However, at least one of them was really interesting, well thought out, and gave me plenty to think about.
It appears Fred Wilson received at least one that he put in the same category. He did us all a favor by summarizing it in his post Hedge Funds: The Third Quarter Report and giving his thoughts about what he had read. He also makes the strong statement that every investor needs to consider all the time – are you a buyer or a seller at this price. As Fred eloquently and succinctly states, "If you don’t want to buy more, that tells you something."
If you are inclined to read Fred’s post, do yourself a favor and wander over to the WSJ and read Art Laffer’s op-ed The Age of Prosperity Is Over.