A recent piece in BizzTalkz titled “Google has a graveyard of failed projects” caught my eye for a number of reasons, including the difference between what is understood by investment in Corporate America versus Investment used by politicians, which is nothing more than an euphemism for mendacity. My first thought was of a visit to Apple Computer while Pauline Alker, CEO & Founder of Counterpoint Computers was entertaining a sale of Counterpoint to Apple. As we were getting a tour of Apple’s operation, there was a noticeable empty area where something used to be. Preemptively, Apple’s director of logistics proudly told us that the empty area used to house a multi million dollar robotics-based inventory system that didn’t work. “At Apple we are never afraid to try new things, even if they don’t work out,” she said proudly. I recalled being ambivalent at her statement: Was it lack of planning? Poor management? Wasteful spending?
Prior to following Pauline to Counterpoint, my friend and mentor Jim Otts (RIP) convinced me to join start-up Convergent Technologies in San Jose, California, which experienced a successful IPO years later, when Convergent Technologies was named the fastest growing company in America (circa 1984,) Prior to the IPO I had a used desk and a card board box that functioned as a trash bin. After the IPO my office was fully equipped with the latest Herman Miller furniture – the fashion police at Human Resources wanted to cancel my beloved trash bin, but I stopped them ” because I wanted to show our new employees where we started” – they obliged.
Convergent had its own product failures, including a portable notebook with limited functionality called the Workslate. The Workslate was first launched in the American Express Christmas catalog, and was sold as a high-tech novelty product. But no one was interested in buying a limited spreadsheet machine for $895. Convergent Technology planned to sell 200,000 units within a year, but only 5,000 systems were sold in the U.S.A plus some hundreds in Europe. The product was discontinued in July 1984, and the company lost about $15 million. Right around this time, I took over the manufacturing of the distributed systems division to fix its supply chain and quality problems, which were officially fixed at the end of 2Q84: Investment recouped!
Then I thought about motivational speaker Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk where he introduces a framework for leaders to inspire action, which he calls the Golden Circle – I used the Onion for 15 years before Simon introduced the Golden Circle, but that is another story
In his talk, Sinek contrasts the motivation of the Wright Brothers to Samuel Pierpont Langley: Langley had assembled a large team and garnered large sums of United States Government funds to build the first airplane. One of his last attempts at being first, ended in the craft going nose first into the Potomac River on December 8. Langley failed, whereas as the self-funded, private duo of the Wright Brothers succeeded: The implication is that when the motive is purely financial, or as Bishop Robert Barron might say, a destructive path centered on wealth, power, pleasure and honor, the odds are not in your favor.
The City of Washougal’s financially-irresponsible, boneheaded decision to disturb a natural Habitat, family trail & children’s park in favor of a disk golf course is another example of government investment: Arbitrarily the City decided to proceed even when alerted that in addition to not having environmental approval, the City was exposing children not only to physical harm, but would be a pedophile honeycomb. After numerous Washougal resident’s complaints –Washougal Answers Disc Golf Course Questions – The Wrong Ones, Washougal City Council #Hartwood Park Disc Golf Course Discussion and our efforts to have local, county and state politicians to help with this issue, we concluded with a rhetorical question: How did we get to having a government that works for government and NOT the taxpayers?
Eventually the city decided to put the brakes and go back to the drawing board. We were told the City would employ an architectural firm familiar with developing disc golf courses. At the time, we told the City that the decision would only add to the cost and not solve the original problems: A disc golf course and a children’s park are mutually exclusive.
As of last month the park was almost restored to its original condition. So we asked City Mayor Rochelle Ramos for a status on the project and to comment for this piece. As expected, the City failed to respond. However, we have noticed that disc baskets have appeared once again, As Apple’s logistics manager might say “At Washougal we are never afraid to spend taxpayer’s money new things, even if they only work out for a minority of users and put children at risk.”
The aforementioned BizzTalkz article’s point is that “We often forget a crucial point in entrepreneurship, there is no guarantee of success. Regardless of funds, a top-notch team, and access to the market, even the most innovative company in the world can experience failure. Sinek’s story; however, should tell us something of the efficacy of government programs, not unlike the City of Washougal’s investment in a disc golf course – “Investing” in a project that will continue to drain the government’s coffers and expose children to undue threats. So, tell me again: How did we get to having a government that works for government and NOT the taxpayers?
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