Category Archives: Competition

How ‘Buy American’ Can Hurt U.S. Firms

How ‘Buy American’ Can Hurt U.S. Firms

Canadian communities angered by perceived American chauvinism have started a Buy Canadian campaign to exclude U.S. bidders from municipal contracts. “If that sticks, well, there goes 25% of my business,” said Mr. Pokorsky. “To me, Ontario may as well be Indiana.”

Halton Hills, a town of 50,000 people about 25 miles west of Toronto, is one of about a dozen Canadian communities forging ahead with plans to amend their procurement policies to freeze out American companies. “We won’t be taking any products from any country that is discriminating against us,” said Mayor Rick Bonnette.

Aquarius gets a lot of its parts from abroad, particularly from Canada. Such integration became even tighter after the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 joined the U.S., Canada and Mexico in a free flow of goods and services.

Trojan Technologies Inc. of Ontario, North America’s dominant maker of ultraviolet disinfection equipment for treating sewage, is a key supplier to Aquarius and other companies. Because of the Buy American provisions, Trojan has had to shift production to a plant in Valencia, Calif., a move that has resulted in delays and additional costs being passed on to customers, said Trojan executive Christian Williamson.

The challenges of trying to legislate market choices such as what products to buy are difficult. It is understandable to want to direct stimulus funds to improving the economy today in the USA. Creating legislation that can cope with interactions and unintended consequences inherent in such attempts is not easy.

Related: China and the Sugar Industry Tax ConsumersNew Look American ManufacturingRussell Ackoff Webcast on Systems ThinkingWhy Congress Won’t Investigate Wall Street

When Performance-related Pay Backfires

When Economic Incentives Backfire by Samuel Bowles, Sante Fe Institute

Dozens of recent experiments show that rewarding self-interest with Economic incentives can backfire when they undermine what Adam Smith called “the moral sentiments.”

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn, is a great book on this topic. The area of “motivating” employees is one it is often hard for managers to learn. Even managers that have been studying Deming, Ackoff, Ohno… for years still have trouble with the idea that trying to find the right incentive scheme to motivate the right behavior is the wrong approach. Read the The Human Side Of Enterprise by Douglas Mcgregor (in 1960) to re-enforce the understanding of human motivation provided by Toyota’s respect for people principles.

Managers need to eliminate de-motivation in the work systems not try and find bonus schemes to motivate behavior. Eliminating de-motivation is often much more work. You can’t just get some money from the bonus pool and start giving it away. You have to manage. But if you are a manager you shouldn’t be afraid to actually manage the system and make it better.

Related: “Pay for Performance” is a Bad IdeaReward and Incentive Programs are Ineffective — Even Harmful by Peter Scholtes – The Defect Black MarketWhat’s the Value of a Big Bonus?Problems with BonusesLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesStop Demotivating Employees

When performance-related pay backfires:
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Build Your Business Slowly and Without Huge Cash Requirements

Get Rich Slow by Josh Quittner

At no other time in recent history has it been easier or cheaper to start a new kind of company… These are Web-based businesses that cost almost nothing to get off the ground

The term ramen profitable was coined by Paul Graham, a Silicon Valley start-up investor, essayist and muse to LILO entrepreneurs. It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

“At this point, it would be hard for companies to get any cheaper,” Graham said. Since everyone already has an Internet-connected computer, “it’s gotten to the point that you can’t detect the cost of a company when added to a person’s living expenses. A company is no more expensive than a hobby these days.”

I see a great deal of truth to this and it provides interesting opportunities. Including being able to build a business slowly while still working full time. I have written about Y-combinator previously they have helped make this model popular. And the services these companies make seem to me to often be much more refreshing than ideas so watered down they lose much passion (so common from so many companies). Though some large companies provide great web sites.

Related: Some Good IT Business IdeasFind Joy and Success in BusinessOur Policy is to Stick Our Heads in the SandSmall Business Profit and Cash Flow

Easiest Countries for Doing Business 2008

Singapore is again ranked first for Ease of Doing Business by the World Bank. For some reason they call the report issued in any given year as the report for the next year (which makes no sense to me). The data shown below is for the year they released the report.

Country 2008 2007 2006 2005
Singapore 1 1 1 2
New Zealand 2 2 2 1
United States 3 3 3 3
Hong Kong 4 4 5 6
Denmark 5 5 7 7
United Kingdom 6 6 6 5
other countries of interest
Canada 8 7 4 4
Japan 12 12 11 12
Germany 25 20 21 21

The rankings include ranking of various aspects of running a business. Some rankings for 2008: Dealing with Construction Permits (Singapore and New Zealand 2nd, USA 26th, China 176th), Employing Workers (Singapore and the USA 1st, Germany 142nd), protecting investors (New Zealand 1st, Singapore 2nd, Hong Kong 3rd, Malaysia 4th, USA 5th), enforcing contracts (Singapore 1st, Hong Kong 2nd, USA 6th, China 18th), getting credit (Malaysia 1st; UK and Hong Kong 2nd; Singapore, New Zealand and USA 5th), paying taxes (Hong Kong 3rd, USA 46th, Japan 112th, China 132nd).

These rankings are not the final word on exactly where each country truly ranks but they do provide a interesting view. With this type of data there is plenty of room for judgment and issues with the data. Several of my posts, from my other blogs, that I recommend on this topic: The Future is Engineering, Science and Engineering in Global Economics and Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation.

Related: Easiest Countries from Which to Operate Businesses 2007Countries Which are Easiest for Doing Business 2006New Look American ManufacturingTop Manufacturing Countries (2007)Oil Consumption by CountryInternational Health Care System PerformanceEconomics, America and China

Individual Bonuses Are Bad Management

Gojko Adzic provides a nice post on Mary Poppendieck’s presentation at Agile 2008 on bonus, compensation and motivation: Paying programmers: are bonuses bad and what to do about it?

In software development, it is very hard to establish the effects of individual contributions and good teamwork is key to the project. Most individual compensation schemes, according to the presentation, absorb vast amounts of management time and resources and leave nobody happy, but team compensation strategies are not easy to implement. Mary presented results from HP’s experiments during the beginning of the nineties, when HP allowed 13 local organisations to experiment with team-incentive plans. All programs were discontinued by the 4th year, due to constant changes to the plans which were needed to distribute available money among the teams and a wide dissatisfaction with the plans by employees.

Use profit sharing schemes instead of bonuses to tie people to the organisation goals.
keep in mind the norm of reciprocity — if people feel that they are being treated generously, they will reciprocate it with increased discretionary effort.

As usually Mary Poppendieck provides good advice: Mary Poppendieck webcast on Leadership in Software Development. The idea that bonuses are bad management is one of the more difficult management improvement ideas for people to accept. See related posts for much more on the problems with them and what to do instead.

Related: Interview with Mary PoppendieckThe Defect Black MarketDeming on the problems with targets or goalsIncentive Programs are IneffectiveProblems with BonusesMeasuring and Managing Performance in Organizations

Pleasing Customers

Why is 37signals so arrogant? by Don Norman

The Brash Boys at 37signals Will Tell You: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Brash is an understatement. I was quoted in the article because of my article arguing that simplicity is highly overrated: the tasks that we do require tools that match the requirements, and these add complexity.

Yes, they are arrogant — and proud of it: “Arrogant is usually something you hurl at somebody as an insult,” Hansson said. “But when I actually looked it up — having an aggravated sense of one’s own importance or abilities’ — I thought, sure.” Park concludes his article by saying “Call it arrogance or idealism, but they would rather fail than adapt. ‘I’m not designing software for other people, ‘Hansson says. ‘I’m designing it for me.’ ” “I’m not designing … for other people.” I think that simple phrase speaks volumes. Thank goodness most companies recognize that this attitude is deadly.

I don’t agree. Not compromising leads to solutions that are unlikely to be all things to all people. But with an intelligent and knowledgeable leader will lead to excellent solutions for those that share desires. Now I don’t think this is the best strategy, especially for growth. But it can be an excellent strategy for startup, innovators and those seeking 1,000 fans.
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Samuel Adams Acts Like a Good Neighbor

Some people think business is only about making money. I agree with Dr. Deming that the purpose is much larger than that. Even if you take a view similar to mine though, it is not often companies intentionally help those that compete with them. But here is an example where Samuel Adams acts like a good neighbor:

For a couple of months now, we’ve all been facing the unprecedented hops shortage and it’s affected all craft brewers in various ways. The impact is even worse on the small craft brewers–openings delayed, recipes changed, astronomical hops prices being paid and brewers who couldn’t make beer.

So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year. We’re offering 20,000 pounds at our cost to brewers who need them.

We’re not looking to make money on this so we’re selling them at our cost of $5.72 a pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling

The purpose of doing this is to get some hops to the brewers who really need them. So if you don’t really need them, please don’t order them. And don’t order them just because we’re making them available at a price way below market. Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We’re not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide.

I can see a farmer helping out his neighbors in a similar way. But I don’t see companies acting this way often. I applaud Boston Beer’s action even as my cynical nature sees this as possibly more a marketing gimmick than just solely an effort to help. Still I applaud it. Too few organizations seem to have progressed beyond thinking that business is amoral. Actual good behavior is worthy of praise compared to what else goes on so often.

Related: Obscene CEO PayOpen Source Management TermsTricking Customers With Sneaky FeesMake the World Betterphoto of Samuel Adams’ gravestone