Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bridging the Manufacturing Skills Gap

I was very interested to see a recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) written by Brad Smith who is an Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Microsoft. The piece ran on Friday October 19, 2012 and was entitled “How to Reduce America’s Talent Deficit”.

The article caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Those of you who follow me through social media and my blog know that I am very passionate about career technical education as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education within the K-12 system. I have recently been appointed by Governor Brown to the California Workforce Investment Board (CWIB) and I am eager to help make a positive impact on the development of the workforce in my state of California. My attention was piqued at first due to the article being written by someone from Microsoft. Why? Because as a manufacturer of linear motion products located in the East Bay I am constantly competing for talent against the Silicon Valley. I was really shocked to read that many of my challenges in finding skilled employees are the same as those experienced by Microsoft.

Like Microsoft, we have had positions remain open for months and months. My assumption was that I was losing out on talent to the Silicon Valley, but now I see that the problem is far worse than I originally thought — it is a systemic failure of our current educational system.

How have we created such a disconnect between our educational institutions and the needs of business? I find it troubling that we are not graduating students with the skill sets that actually make them employable.  As Mr. Smith writes in his article, “Thus the economy faces a paradox. Too many Americans can’t find jobs, yet too many companies can’t fill open positions.”

Mr. Smith calls for a national “Race to the Future” that would provide funding and incentives for states to:

  • Strengthen STEM in grade schools by recruiting and training teachers to the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.
  • Broaden access to computer science in high schools. For manufacturing jobs this has to also include opportunities for hands on learning that reinforces a STEM education. Programs such as FIRST robotics need to be available in every school.
  • Help colleges and universities raise their graduation rates. I think this does not address the fact that an alarming percentage of students never even make it to a four year college. In the state of California we now experience close to a 30% drop out rate from our high schools. We need to focus on graduating students from high school before we worry about college. There also needs to be strong financial support for our community colleges and acknowledge them for their role in training our workforce with technology specific skills. Career technical education is becoming more and more advanced each day in parallel with the increase in technology and automation that is occurring in today’s manufacturing facilities.
  • Expand the capacity of our colleges to produce more STEM focused degrees.

I couldn't agree more! But one big issue that Mr. Smith is not addressing in the last bullet point is that you can only offer STEM related degrees when there are enough people interested in those programs. When being an engineer is not highly valued in our country and it is a struggle to get students to enroll in a class with the word "manufacturing" in it (see my blog from October 29, 2012), no wonder we can’t produce enough degreed and skilled workers to satisfy our industry needs.

I would love to get your feedback on this subject. I feel this is a true crisis facing our country and the state of California. As I fulfill my duties on the CWIB and as chair of the California Manufacturer’s and Technology Association (CMTA) I want to make sure I'm championing for efforts with the most direct impact on the needs of industry that will get the most people employed.

Monday, October 29, 2012

When Did Manufacturing Become a Dirty Word?

I was recently asked to join a regional panel at the RFI (Request For Information) Workshop on Building the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation at the Beckman Center at UC Irvine. Don Norman, member if the National Academy of Engineering, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, and author of “The Design of Everyday Things” gave one of the welcoming talks at the start of the workshop. One of the stories he shared with the group was particularly troubling and it deeply saddened me.

Norman told us that Northwestern University had a graduate program titled, “Master of Management and Manufacturing”.  If you were to search for this program now you would only find it listed as MMM. In fact, finding the word manufacturing on their website is difficult. At MIT they took similar action, changing a joint program with the Sloan Business School now known as LGO (Leaders for Global Operations). In both scenarios the enrollment for these programs INCREASED after the word manufacturing was dropped from the program name. The word manufacturing has such negative connotations that it is avoided in marketing educational programs.

Infographic: When Did Manufacturing Become a Dirty Word?
[ click image for larger view ]
Infographic, 5 Myths Debunked
What has happened in our country to make our next generation so turned off by the word manufacturing?
  1. Its Dirty. Too many kids and their parents still see manufacturing as a “dirty” job.  This is far from true, especially in the state of California. Environmental, health and safety laws have created clean and safe work environments. Our facilities lead the world.  The rise of lean and continuous improvement cultures have made many manufacturing facilities almost clean enough to eat off the floor (I say this with the five-second rule in mind).
  2. It’s Dumb. Wrong! Manufacturing drives the majority of innovation and R&D investment in our country. Manufactures are leading the way in new technologies and the design and development of products that improve our daily lives and the welfare of people around the world. If you want to be on the cutting edge, then you want a job in manufacturing.
  3. It’s Boring. Images of the Henry Ford assembly line still exist in many minds. We have come a long way, baby! In fact, manufacturers like myself now have trouble finding the skilled workforce needed to run the type of state-of-the-art technology machines we now have on our production floors. Making chips fly takes brains and skill.
  4. It’s Cheap. Wrong again! Manufacturing jobs on average pay 20K higher than service sector jobs. Manufacturing jobs are the back bone of a strong middle class.
  5. It’s Dead. Excuse me? When is the world going to stop consuming? Why do we think manufacturing is a thing of the past when we as a nation are the largest consumer of goods in the world? The face of manufacturing may be changing in the US but it is far from dead. Just look at the DYI craze and the rise of the Maker Faire phenomena. Just thinking about the impact that additive manufacturing will have over the next decade is mind blowing.
I am happy to see that both presidential candidates are at least uttering the “M” word. But in my book, neither has really given manufacturing the credit it deserves for the role it plays in a strong US economy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Impact of Uncertainty

League of Women Voters
I dread presidential elections. It’s not just the endless chatter of political talking heads making news out of nothing that drives me crazy, it’s the impact it has on my business at Bishop-Wisecarver.

Every four years about this time, I start to hear the same story over and over from my sales team: Customers hesitate to place orders because of “uncertainty” in the market.

I get the fact that businesses don't like uncertainty, but I struggle to really reconcile why not knowing who the president will be prevents people from conducting business.

I often wonder if we tend to create our own reality around this concept. Are there so many messages in the media about uncertainty and fear that people overreact?

Do you see this type of “uncertainty” affecting your company? If you're a job seeker, has this been used as a reason to not hire at this time? How “uncertain” is the current state of affairs in your industry? Will getting past the November elections make a difference for your business? Tell me what you think in the comment box.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Does Your Wallet Reflect Your Mouth?

Credit:  Images of Money
At the start of the Olympics there was quite a brouhaha about the fact that the uniforms worn by the American team for the Olympics were not made in America. It appeared everyone was more than eager to jump on this band wagon and, to top it off, throw in an extra dash of China-bashing.

When was the last time you requested an American-made product? Do you check the country of origin before you buy? If an item is made in America are you willing to pay more for it to allow for the living wage and workplace and environmental regulations that produced that item?

I hear an awful lot of chatter lambasting companies that move production offshore but then I see the actual purchasing behavior of the masses voting for the cheaper non-American made product on a regular basis.

I have started trying to buy only clothes made in the USA. That has turned out to be pretty limiting. I have since opened it up to buying only from those countries that provide living wages and safe and healthy work environments; still not an easy task.

In our current economy, I can understand people choosing the cheapest option. But is that choice working against all of us in the long run? Then again, in the evolution of a “world” economy does it really matter where a product is produced?

How do you vote with your money? Do you go for the best bargain? Do you strive to support American industry? Does any of it really matter? You tell me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chutes and Ladders – A Primer for Entrepreneurism?

Credit: Rodney Miller, Wood Innovations
I have been a student of Dan Sullivan and his Strategic Coach program for more than seven years now. I always look forward to my quarterly sessions because I always get at least one fabulous “Ah Ha” moment every time my group meets.

At my last class my coach was setting up the days agenda and related the story of playing with Chutes and Ladders with his grandson. He was reflecting on the happiness he got from watching his grandson gain so much joy from playing the game. The teachable moment for him, was the way his grandson reacted to landing on a chute that took him almost all the way back down to the start of the board.

It was a lesson on looking at the event as an opportunity versus failure. When he inquired as to why that act made him so excited, his grandson replied, “Because then I am only four places away from the ladder that will take me almost all the way to the top!”

Wow! Isn’t that a great perspective? Where in our childhood experiences do we lose that viewpoint? As a manufacturer, I see the fear of failure stifle our innovation on a regular basis. Our VP of Engineering, Ali Jabbari has a piece of paper taped up in his office window stating:

Try again
Fail again
Fail better!
Fail faster

The problem is getting the team to truly believe that it is OK to fail, and that it's actually an important part of the innovation process. Solving this challenge takes more than just posting this quote for all to see.

One thing I think all entrepreneurs have in common is that they don’t get discouraged by slipping down that chute. Like my coaches’ grandson they don’t perceive it as failure. They see it as a teachable moment and that they have the opportunity of being only four spaces away from success. They also don’t see failure as a zero sum game. Like in the game of Chutes and Ladders, even if you go down a chute, you are never taken back to the start of the game; even with failure you have still made progress.

What “chute” has actually gotten you closer to your “ladder” of success? I’d love to hear your stories. I truly believe the more we see these chutes as strategic byproducts that end up getting us to our ultimate success, we will reach company growth and innovation much faster.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tell Me What You Want

I am honored to be serving my state and the manufacturing community with two recent appointments — CMTA Chairman and Workforce Investment Board Member. In an effort to identify the needs of industry, create career pathways that provide businesses with the skilled workforce they need, and to assist in putting unemployed and underemployed Californians back to work, Governor Brown has rebuilt and reinvigorated the state's long-neglected Workforce Investment Board (WIB). I am excited to serve on the WIB.

Those who know me or follow me through social media know how passionate I am about technical education opportunities for California's students and workforce.

The stripping of classes in our K-12 educational system that expose students to potential technical career opportunities is an embarrassment. The focus on our states’ four year colleges disenfranchises so many of our state's youths. I feel it has had a direct correlation on our dropout rate from high school. Our current dropout rate is at 23.7 percent, according to a report released in June 2012 from the California Department of Education. This reality then puts a huge burden on our community colleges that then serve the needs of these many students later trying to educate themselves in order to enter the workforce.

In June, I was elected to serve as chairman of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA). I am so proud to be associated with this association. The staff is truly world-class and works tirelessly to defend and support manufacturing in our state. As a small manufacturer I feel that CMTA gives me a platform for my concerns to be heard. Being part of this association allows me to make an impact on the state of manufacturing in California. My desire is to see many more small manufacturers join me at the CMTA. Your membership in the CMTA does make a difference.

Our collective voice matters. The only way for us to affect a change is for us to speak up and be heard by our state politicians. So many of our politicians have never run a company and too many of them still believe that manufacturing is a dirty and unhealthy work environment for workers. They need to be educated that manufacturers provide some of the best jobs to be had in our state, and often, cutting edge environments using industry inspired innovations.

As I settle into these positions, tell me how I can help. What do you want me to champion? What do you want me to share with you through social media? I want to be confident that I am speaking for all of you who work within the manufacturing sector in California.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Focus on the Process and the Results Will Come

I am a huge fan of the Olympics. I am in awe of all the athletes and the dedication and training they put in to achieve the status of becoming an Olympian. As it turns out, this Olympics coincides with my vacation. This means I have the time to watch even MORE of the Olympics than usual.
Credit: CBS

Yesterday I was enjoying my morning coffee and watching the Olympics when on comes an interview with Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnston, the two women who have broken the US diving drought in the Olympics and earned themselves silver medals in the women’s 3-meter synchronized springboard.

The interviewer asked them incessant questions, implying that their focus was on winning a medal. After about the fourth question on this subject, Kelci responded to him by saying something to the effect that they never focused on winning the medal. She continued by saying that what they did do is focus on the process of diving well. She then said that if they worked the process hard enough the results would come.  BRAVA! I said to myself. That is one very smart young lady.

I look to my own business and I can say the very same thing. Bishop-Wisecarver helps manufacturers and automation solution providers engineer linear and rotary motion products. Our 60-plus years of engineering expertise and best practices with more than 20,000 customers enables us to understand our customers’ design and application requirements, ensuring unique solutions that ship within two to three weeks. Our customers achieve 50 percent faster time to market, up to 100 percent lower maintenance and installed costs, product differentiation and longer product life.

What is the underlying backbone to being able to deliver this level of service to our customers? Our relentless focus on process. From lean/continuous improvement to engineering, sales and technology processes, we never stop improving our internal processes.

Scott Klososky likes to say the he who has the most data wins. I would revise that to say he who has the most data and best processes wins. Because, if you don’t have great processes, then you’ll never be able to truly exploit the data to its fullest potential.

So while setting the goal is important, it’s even more important to work on your processes because that constant refinement will result in achieving the goal.

What process has generated the biggest payoff to you? I’d love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It’s a Great Time to be a Female Entrepreneur!

BWC President Pamela Kan
As most of you know I am a second generation family member running Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation. My father, Bud Wisecarver, started the business decades ago. I began work here on April 1, 1991. That’s no joke — I thought it would be a temporary job but the business got into my blood and I stayed on. I became the president in May of 2000 and then I became the majority owner at the end of 2009.

Becoming a majority owner set me on my quest of becoming
a WBENC certified woman owned business. This was more of an endeavor than I realized. Having more than 60 years of company history made the application process quite daunting. At times I was honestly pretty frustrated. But in the end, the process means you receive a certification that is vetted and respected.

Unfortunately I received certification just after the annual WBENC meeting last year. So I was very excited to be able to attend this year’s conference. It was held just a few weeks ago in Orlando, Florida. Anytime you put thousands of women in the same ballroom it is bound to be a good time — and it was!

Thank goodness for the first-timers orientation programs. I went to them all and I started to really see the potential and opportunities that certification provides. Selling into the supplier diversity channel is a whole other world — language, protocols and paperwork. But it is worth learning, because the opportunities to tap into the supply chain for these major corporations and government entities are extremely exciting.

The business fair was really a great experience. I got really good at pitching my company. My hat off to sales people. That is hard to do all day long! Working this channel as a manufacturer was really rewarding. There just are not a lot of us, and even fewer who are certified. I was very popular with the corporate partners in attendance. I strongly recommend that women in the manufacturing and technology sectors look at the benefits of becoming WBENC certified.

From my point of view, there is nothing but up-side potential just waiting to be tapped.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Go Out and Exercise ... Your Right to Vote

Today is the primary vote in the state of California. Since I have turned 18, no matter where I have lived, I have never missed a single vote. I am extremely passionate about people exercising their right to vote partly because of a trip to Europe I took with my mother in 1976.

Growing up, I was extremely lucky to have the experience of having students and young adults from around the world live with my family — Brazil, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Costa Rica and Iran. It was a great to hear how other people lived and thought about their countries and the USA.

In 1976, my mother and I did a tour of Europe and visited several of these visitors. In Germany we were taken to the border of East and West Germany. It was a profound and terrifying experience. 

Here is what I remember: I looked across a field that led into the forest. In the field I was told there were land mines. To my left and my right were guard towers. Each guard tower had two guards carrying rifles with scopes. Several times while standing on the West German side the guards would point their guns at us and watch us through their scopes. In front of me was a tall barbed wire fence, electrified, and every 25 to 30 feet along the top of that were motion sensitive guns. After that fence was the “free zone” of about 10 to 15 feet. Finally, closest to me, was a short chain link fence for the boarder of West Germany.

It was a life changing experience for me — to see a country literally fence its citizens in under force. I could not even image living under such conditions. I realized then that I lived in a very special country. I am not saying that the USA doesn’t make mistakes; it has and will continue to do so I am sure. But I still feel strongly that it is the greatest land of freedom and opportunity in the world.

Seeing that fence also makes me against the building of a wall/fence between the US and Mexico. Who's to say how that border gets used in the future? That is one risk I am not willing to take. There are so many other ways to deal with immigration besides building a physical barrier — but I digress.

The common excuse I hear is I don’t want to be an uninformed vote. I really don’t buy this as an excuse. There are so many resources to use now with the internet to get educated on both sides of an issue I just can’t buy that. Spend 20 minutes less on Facebook, YouTube or Pinterest and get the facts.

I am so disappointed in how few people vote in this country. A right that was so hard fought for by our founding fathers and many civil leaders in this country. A right that still today many people both male and especially female do not have in other places around the world. A right you can see people literally dying for on the evening news, yet most Americans can’t be bothered with taking a few minutes out of the lives once or twice a year to do. 

I think so much of this has to do with that fact that even though Forbes reports record holdings of passports by US citizens — now at one-third, which has doubled from 2000 — most US citizens have never really seen for themselves how much of the rest of the world lives. They do not really get what a good thing we have going here in American. They don’t understand how precious their right to vote really is in the scope of world dynamics.

As we get closer to our national elections there will be endless stories with poling numbers. I always have a hard time getting excited about anything the talking heads are predicting because how many of those people are actually going to vote? Even in the 2008 elections we only achieved a 63 percent voter rate, meaning that almost 40 percent of those who could vote did not. Shameful. 

I also hold to one rule, if you don’t vote you can’t complain around me. You have zero, zilch, zip no credibility in complaining if you did not even take the time to go and vote.

For those of you who are Californians, go vote today. If your primary is coming up, take the time to educate yourself and vote. Come November, it would be a wonderful thing for our country if we all cast our votes for those candidates and causes we believe will make our country an even better place to live.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Supporting FIRST

Here are my top reasons for supporting FIRST® — my company has been an official program sponsor since 2007, and I recently attended the 2012 championship in St. Louis, MO with part of the BWC team.

1. Kids learn how to work productively in groups
2. Creating a functional robot from a bunch of parts is pretty darn exciting
3. Kids learn why they want to stay in school
4. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) matters
5. Girls get a chance to get actively involved in STEM
6. Yes, girls can grow up to own and run engineering/manufacturing companies
7. Raising money for something you believe in is a great skill
8. How you play the game can be as important as winning the game — gracious professionalism
9. Being smart, creative, nerdy or geeky is cool
10. Dean Kamen is my kind of rock star!

Psst — Get the infographic my creative team made about this year's program... we've got a PDF download on our website. Check is out and let me know what you think!

[ infographic ]

Monday, April 2, 2012

We’re Fools For Being Number One

Just in time for April Fools, on April 1, the United States became the country with the highest corporate tax rate in the world. This was triggered by Japan reducing their rate. As cited by The Daily Caller, “Our top corporate tax rate has hovered at 35 percent for years. Meanwhile, other countries have gotten the message that lowering corporate taxes encourages growth. Canada has engaged in a series of cuts, ultimately reducing its corporate rate to 15 percent. Great Britain recently announced it will drop its corporate tax to 24 percent next month and then 22 percent by 2014.”

I know some of you are going to say, well what about all those big companies that pay no taxes? Well you are right. The effective tax rate for the large companies drops us to about sixth highest in the world, according to some economic pundits. The problem is that most companies are not operating like those big guys and it is the small and medium size businesses that are really the economic engine of our country. When you figure that most small business are filing as S corps, then I have heard that the effective tax rate could be as high as 50 percent.

In my state it is even worse since California is broke. There is no plan in sight to create any sort of economic development. Instead we pass the most stringent environmental laws IN THE WORLD that cost billions to California based businesses. Now we have two proposals to increase income taxes, once again, a direct hit to all those small businesses that file as S corps.

For those of you who complain about U.S. jobs moving off-shore, this tax burden is a huge part of that equation, along with the fact that US companies carry about a 20 percent regulatory cost burden above any other country in the world.

Personally, I would love to see the tax loop holes closed up and a movement toward a flatter tax rate. There is definitely a problem when I am in a meeting to discuss tax issues for small business and the two IRS representatives can’t even agree on what the tax law is or how it should be applied.

I know this is a hot topic right now, so share your creative ideas on how you would solve our country’s tax code problems and once again make us competitive with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Someone help! Is there a machinist in the house?

I fly often, and often enough, that I have actually been on several flights where the call for a medical expert had been requested. The good news has always been that the call was answered in each of these instances.

As many of you know I get pretty passionate about the state of manufacturing in the United States, sided with a deep care for STEM education opportunities we are providing for our kids. The fact that as a nation we tend to no longer value skilled labor is a crime. It has severely affected our ability to remain the largest manufacturing economy in the world, but more disturbing, is that we have limited the opportunities for our children to exploit their talents and entrepreneurial spirit.

I was recently listening to some talking heads on television that said manufacturing was dead because we are now about the use of technology. What an ignorant statement! But unfortunately that is the belief still held by too many Americans. They still think of manufacturing like it existed in the days of Henry Ford — dirty, low wages, oppressive environments, relying on massive amounts of unskilled labor. We have come so far from that!

Almost every machine on my production and machining floor is run by a computer. Guess what, computers don't program themselves. Someone has to write the program that can create the final part needed, and if that’s for a multi spindle or axis machine, that starts to get fairly complicated.

Making chips fly and producing something out of raw materials is an art form as well as a technical skill and we are losing both at an alarming rate in this country.

The impact of this really hit home during my last quarterly sales meeting with my regional sales managers. As each one reported on their top priorities, they talked about the key issues with each customer and what was needed for the project to go to production. Over and over I heard them report that customers can't find the skilled labor they require to make their product. Granted, this is more than just machinists; their request for help includes needed support from mechanical engineers, CAD specialists, technical sales people, protection workers, programmers etc.

How sad that with the rate of unemployment we have in this country, we still don't have the skill sets we need to capitalize on the manufacturing opportunities we have available. How scary it is that when we call out for skilled and technical employees, the response is mostly silence.

Shame on us.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Have You Thanked Your Mentors Lately?

In the spirit of National Mentoring Month in January I spent time looking back, thinking about the people that helped shape me into who I am today. This is by no means a complete list but I found this exercise really interesting. It would be great if I could somehow thank all of these people for their help along the way.

Bud Wisecarver – My dad. He taught me several great lessons. First off – do what you love. If you really love what you are doing it isn’t really work. To this day my Dad, at 84, is still working four days a week. I saw firsthand the value of being a hard worker and being dedicated to your craft. He was always telling me, “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” He also told me all the time that, “The machine is only as good as the operator.” I could write a whole other blog on that one!

Mrs. Black – My kindergarten and fifth grade teacher. This woman just got me, and she understood how to support me but challenge me at the same time. I was so lucky to have such an amazing teacher twice. She made me feel normal and OK with who I was at the time. Not an easy task. She was really the first person to tell me it was OK for a girl to be smart and express her opinions. Boy, did she open the floodgates!

Mr. Costello – My high school teacher. He was known campus-wide as the toughest teacher the school had on staff (an ex-military guy with really strict rules of conduct in his classroom).  No one escaped their homework duties in his class. He taught me the value of doing your homework, being prepared, and that I did not always need to express that I know the answer. That was tough to learn and I think I still struggle with not always sharing the answer or expressing my opinions.  It was the start of learning how to read your audience and adjust your style.

Coco Chanel – Designer. Obviously I never met her, but Coco's story has always been one that I admired. She really did liberate women in so many ways and was comfortable in just being true to herself and her craft. I am thankful every day for her, and the fact that women wear knits and that's it's okay to be comfortable in your clothes. She was also a masterful marketer and her brand is just as strong now as when she was alive. Coco was the brand but she created a business that was able to live beyond her, just as strong and true to her original ideas. She was truly an early adopter of ideas and technology and she used that to her advantage.

Madame Curie – Scientist. Another person I never met but admire. When I learned about her, it changed how I thought about science. I fell in love with chemistry, and she made me feel okay that I loved my science classes. The realities of college level math took that career off the table for me but I still find the sciences fascinating.

Jane Goodall – Anthropologist. I haven't met her in person but have heard her speak many times, and after my dreams in chemistry died, I turned to anthropology. My focus was cultural and linguistic but I was inspired by all that Jane did with her work. Like my father, Jane really lives through her work, and her research was game changing for the science of anthropology.

In my time with Bishop-Wisecarver, I have been really blessed to have several fabulous mentors. I currently have an advisory board that helps to mentor me every quarter and challenge me to grow in ways that better refine my skills. We all have so many people in our lives, that when we take the time to look back, we realize who helped shape us and change the course of our lives for the better.

I feel lucky to now have the resources to help do that for the next generation through the company’s support of local science and tech fairs. I am proud of our on-going support of FIRST robotics and other STEM based programs.  If I can help keep one student engaged in school, I have served a purpose. If I have helped one student feel it is a true and valuable skill to be able to work with your hands and make things, I have served a purpose. I hope more people take the time to focus on the upcoming generations by passing on their skills and knowledge because it is the most important asset we all can share.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Is Your Baby Ugly?

I recently sat in on a session led by Tim Ash of Site Tuners, who opened up the session by stating, “The baby is ugly.” Well, that got everyone’s attention. Tim went on to say that so many of us are so emotionally tied to our websites that we can’t objectively admit when they aren't working anymore.

We had just launched an update to our own website, and as Tim went through his seven deadly sins I had to confess to myself that we violated several of his concepts.  I realized that he is right in so many cases about the real functionality of most sites. Too many sites are built by designers to look pretty, but are terrible when it comes to the usability of the customer. 

It made me wonder if many of the same truths apply to social media. You always hear that "content is king.” I agree that rich, relevant content is crucial, but as I scan my Tweetdeck channels I see so many that post things only relevant to them. Is that really what followers want to read over and over? I think not. I also struggle with how to post the right content for all the different types of followers I have on Twitter. I think, like with websites, that some people have to admit their 140 characters just look ugly — no call to action, bad or broken links, strange shortening and poor content.

So, for 2012 I am taking off my rose colored glasses and making an effort to really look at our online marketing from our customer’s point of view. I hope we can consistently birth beautiful babies!