Saturday, October 25, 2014

Influenced by the Future

Forecasting is a critically important skill for a businessperson or an investor. But almost all forecasts are wrong to some degree. Why is it so difficult?

George Soros, in his book The Alchemy of Finance, postulates a theory of reflexivity that sheds light on some of the reasons why predicting the future is almost impossible. Reflexivity observes that people make predictions based upon their expectations of the future. The actions people take based upon those predictions actually change the course of events to create a different future. Actions, influenced by future expectations, of millions of people interact in ways that are far too complex to model.

Reflexivity is easiest to observe in the stock market where it leads to the boom and bust cycles that we saw in the technology boom of the late 90s and the housing bubble that caused the great recession. Although the book was originally published in 1987, before either of these crashes, those events fit the theory precisely.

Reflexivity predicts that in the early build up of a boom/bust cycle, there is accelerated growth in a sector that accurately reflects the fundamental growth potential. The accelerated growth creates an expectation of future growth that pushes prices higher than the fundamentals support. After a period of growth, there is usually a price correction that stokes fear of a price crash. When the prices recover from the correction, investors are relieved and the growth cycle begins anew. The very fact that the correction didn't cause a crash makes investors less wary. Prices continue to increase, fueling expectations of more increases until the the difference between the price and the value becomes to great to ignore leading to a catastrophic crash.

If we consider the reflexivity model and 3D printing stocks, it would appear that the period from 2008 through 2013 represents the initial period of accelerated growth. The dramatic decline in prices during the first quarter of 2014 represents the correction. It follows that the stocks should now enter the second period of rapid growth.

What is your favorite growth investment?

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Printing with Human Cells

3D Bioprinter by Organovo
3D Bioprinter by Organovo
One of the most important applications for 3D printing is still in the very early stages and is projected to grow to a $6 billion dollar market by the next decade. Bioprinting uses 3D printing technology and bio-ink building blocks to create three dimensional tissue where the cell function and viability are preserved within the printed item.

Cross-section of multi-cellular bioprinted human liver tissue
Cross-section of multi-cellular bioprinted human liver tissue

Using research and patents developed by Dr. Gabor Forgacs at the University of Missouri, Organovo is on the verge of releasing a product that uses 3D bioprinting to create a Human Liver System that can detect toxicity in potential new drugs. By detecting toxicity earlier, the Human Liver System reduces the risks of introducing dangerous drugs and saves the expense of testing in live patients.

While the first applications for Organovo's bioprinting are drug testing, the company believes that "engineered tissues will someday be a routine source of therapy for patients with damages or diseased tissue.  Using bioprinted organ patches made from the patient's own cells could prevent transplant rejection and the need for immunosuppresant drugs.

Organovo's scientific founder, Gabor Forgacs, presents on bioprinting at TEDMED.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reverse Mentoring

In his latest book, Mastery, Robert Greene stresses the importance of finding a good mentor and learning all that you can from them. The mentoring relationship is powerful and impacts both the person being mentored and the one doing the mentoring.

I have had some outstanding mentors over the years and I am particularly grateful to Larry Anderson who saw a lot more potential in me than I did back in the early 1980s. When I moved into sales and marketing management, I tried to be a good mentor myself.

One point that is often overlooked in the mentoring discussion is how much can be learned by the person doing the mentoring. With maturity comes an accumulation of useful experience and hopefully a little wisdom, but there is always more to learn. Listening attentively is often more helpful and supportive than sharing those tidbits of wisdom.

Are you a teacher or a learner today?  Or both?

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

What to 3D Print at Home

3D Printed Shoes by Recreus at Thingiverse
3D Printed Shoes by Recreus at Thingiverse
I have been looking for an excuse to buy a 3D printer to play with at home. But I am struggling to figure out something useful to print with it. While some of the large industrial 3D printers can form beautiful metals and ceramics, the inexpensive home printers are limited to several varieties of plastics.

Here are some of the types of filaments that are currently available for a typical desktop fused filament fabrication 3D printer:

  • PLA - Polylactic acid is a biodegradable polyester derived from renewable sources, often cornstarch or sugarcane.  It is the most popular material for desktop 3D printing because it has a low melting temperature, can be used without a heated bed, and can produce finer feature detail than ABS.
  • ABS - Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a strong thermoplastic that requires a higher temperature on the printer and a heated bed. While it is less brittle than PLA, it is harder to work with and creates toxic fumes during the printing process.
  • PET - Polyethylene terephthalate is a transparent thermoplastic that can be used for food and beverage containers. Perhaps I could print some uniquely shaped Tupperware replacements.
  • Nylon - Nylon is a silky, flexible thermoplastic that requires much higher temperatures to print than PLA or ABS. Being strong and flexible makes it a good candidate for printing a personalized iPhone case.
  • Rubber - Not really rubber, but a rubber like thermoplastic elastomer that looks and feels like rubber. It also requires higher temperatures than PLA and ABS so not every desktop printer can use it. Perhaps my wife would like a unusually shaped pair of new shoes.
  • Wood - Actually a composite of polymers blended with 40% wood fiber. It has thermal characteristics similar to PLA, but it looks and feels like wood.
After learning more about these materials, I visited the Makerbot Thingiverse to browse through the downloadable digital designs. While there are many interesting pieces of art and fashion on the site, it is hard to get enthusiastic about printing plastic sculpture or jewelry.

My search for a real use for a home 3D printer continues.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Print the Legend Highlights the Drama of Entrepreneurship

Print the Legend
While many people admire and envy the entrepreneurs who start successful companies, few can envision the reality of building a company while under pressure from investors, customers and competitors. Print the Legend, a Netflix original documentary, highlights those challenges clearly as it tracks the creation of the 3D printing companies Makerbot and Formlabs.

Makerbot's Bre Pettis and Formlab's Max Lobovsky have dramatically different personalities, but they faced similar pressures as their companies grew and both had to make difficult decisions about people, policies and partners as they moved from the startup phase into full production mode. Print the Legend follows this progression and highlights both the drama and the impact of those decisions.

As I have written frequent in this blog, I believe that 3D printing is one of the most important technologies impacting manufacturing. That's what drew me to watch this movie on the day it was released. After seeing it, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship, regardless of their interest in 3D printing.

What is your favorite movie about entrepreneurship?

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Creatives of a Feather Flock Together

San Fransisco de Assisi Mission Church by George O'Keeffe
When we were visiting Taos, New Mexico last month, we delighted in the quantity, quality and diversity of art in the galleries and museums. From 1898 on, artists have been attracted to the Taos valley by the beautiful landscape and the intense desert light.

They were also attracted to Taos by each other. By 1915, six artists had formed the Taos Society of Artists and Mabel Dodge Luhan was soon attracting other writers and artists to her Taos salon meetings. Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings often featured scenes from the Taos area.

Thoughout history, creative people have gathered into communities to learn from each other and encourage each other.  Think of these examples:
  • Athens in the 5th century BC
  • Northern Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries
  • Vienna in the 18th century
  • Paris in the 19th century
  • Silicon Valley in the 20th and 21st centuries
These creative communities were based upon geography, but today we can easily share ideas worldwide using the Internet and social media.

How do you participate in your creative community?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apple NFC and Thin Film Electronics

Printed Memory from Thin Film Electronics
Printed Memory from Thin Film Electronics
The new Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the first Apple devices to include a near field communications antenna. Apple's initial focus with the NFC capability will be their innovative new payments system. Going forward, NFC in the iPhone may be a big boost to a small Norwegian company named Thin Film Electronics.

Thin Film Electronics ASA is the only public company focused solely on printed electronics. Using a proprietary roll-to-roll process, the company uses gravure and screen printing technologies to print electronic components, including thin film transistors for logic, onto an expensive PET plastic. In May, they demonstrated an NFC enabled smart label for monitoring the temperature history of a package.

NFC has been available in Android devices for a couple of years, but without Apple, consumer applications for the technology have been severely hampered. With both Apple and Google on board, soon almost everyone will be carrying an NFC enabled device. This opens the door to much greater use of smart packaging which Thin Film Electronics is uniquely positioned to supply.

Smart packaging can be used to prevent counterfeiting, track storage conditions, or provide more detailed product information than will fit on the package. This kind of information can greatly improve the safety of perishable foods and pharmaceuticals.

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