This Video Took Me Almost 50 Years to Make

Yes, I am very good at procrastinating. But that’s not the reason it took 50 years to make. Well, at least not completely.

Each generation marks moments of life with particular music, and by significant songs. Some of those songs aren’t memorable to others, but for many of us, certain songs bring back the emotions of a pivotal life moment. They become the soundtrack of our lives.

For me as a high school student in the 1970’s Edmonton, one of those artists was Elton John. Touched by the Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and sentiments of Your Song, Elton & Bernie’s music became emblematic of sensitive insight, and of celebrating life. Hearing his music even today reminds me of the nervousness, and excitement of those teenage years, full of potential and open to the possibilities that were ahead of us.

When I heard the song “The Greatest Discovery” from Elton John’s eponymous first album, its imagery played through my mind’s eye like a movie, and I imagined how I could actually produce that 4 minute film. I had by that time shot and edited two short films in Super 8mm. “City in Snow” was a series of sequences in and around Edmonton in winter, and technically challenging in learning how to create in-camera titles, and synchronize a cassette music track. “Doublecross,” done for a film course offered by the Edmonton Art Gallery, featured my friend Randy and his cousin David z”l in a short that involved a mocked-up newspaper headline and Hitchcock-like (so I hoped) suspense.

Both those films benefitted from my father’s advice and experience as a film editor and producer, but my vision for The Greatest Discovery was beyond what we could achieve at that time on 8mm film. Even beyond the technical challenge, was the problem of casting. It needed two small boys, one young enough to still wear pyjamas with feet, and be amazed by the arrival of a new brother, and of course, a new-born. And it would help if he had green eyes. I recall scouting friends of my parents to see if their children were a match and their house had the requisite frosty windows and stairs with a handrail.

It was kind of a half-hearted attempt, since the technical barriers presented by film technology at the time were beyond my budget to solve. Randy and I had recently taken a film course from Gene Topolnisky at Jasper Place High School and I was greatly influenced by the film “La Jetee” which in spite of being a motion picture consisted almost totally of still pictures. Another technique for film story-telling involved moving the camera during the filming of a still picture, an effect the documentary film-maker Ken Burns popularized in many of his historic retrospectives. To make a film like that that at the time required an animation stand, and painstaking process of moving the camera on the stand, taking 1 frame, then moving it again. In order to get the resolution I needed it would have taken a 16mm camera, and weeks of work, and if I told you about what it took to create black subtitles, let alone animated ones, we’d be here all day. Assembling this combination of equipment was appealing to me in principle, as it would recall my Dad’s early career with colleague artist Al Guest when they started a small animation house in Toronto, but buying that amount of film, having it developed, as well as the cost of renting the camera, animation stand and editor would have been far beyond my student budget. So the project languished.

I remember thinking to myself though: On the off-chance that I get married, and we have two boys, a few years apart, and maybe the elder has green eyes like his Grandmother Esther and Great Aunt Ruth, well that would be a pretty sure sign that I should make this film.

Funny how life works out.

Among many of her charms, I fell in love with Tilly’s blue-green eyes, and our son Sol’s arrival in 1990 changed our life. His brother’s addition in 1994 reminded me to take this project idea out of mothballs, and start it for real. Even in 1994 though the technology for making this film on a computer was just a glimmer of a possibility, with iMovie still 5 years away, but I nonetheless set the stage, and captured many of the stills that I imagined would make the story work, shooting by available light on my Canon AE-1 on 35mm Kodak Tri-X film.

Twenty-three years later, in preparation for Elia’s birthday, I scanned those old pictures, and sat down at our beautiful and powerful 5K iMac to finally pace and edit this video, leveraging several decades of technology development that made it simple enough to be able to bring this old vision into reality.

It only took 47 years.

So, in memory of Hans, Leni, Esther, and in honour of Dan, and most of all dedicated to Elia on his 23rd birthday, and to Sol, big brother and role model for all of us, here is “The Discovery,” inspired by the music of Elton John and the lyrics of Bernie Taupin.

How to Be a Billion Dollar Company

It takes a lot to build a company worth $1B, but according to Amos, doing anything less is irrelevant. A billion dollar market means that even with a reasonable market share, you can still have a sizeable company that can make an actual difference in the world.

Of course, a billion-dollar company needs a multi-billion dollar market, and those aren’t lying around like gold nuggets on the ground waiting to be claimed. Those markets are discovered, disrupted and replaced by new paradigms that usually sweep the unsuspecting incumbent market players by surprise.

What does it take to build a billion-dollar company compared to a multi-million dollar one? Both take a good team, hard work, economic decision-making and a corporate culture that attracts and retains good people. The differences are 1. imagination, and 2. to not listen to customers.

Yes, I said NOT listen to customers. Sounds crazy, no? Stay with me for a bit here.

Every viable company has to listen to its customers. Companies that lose touch with the customers and prospective customers fail.  The ones that succeed follow this mantra: Listen. Build. Sell. LBS is a sound strategy and many companies run profitably using it, often highlighting how importantly and attentively they listen to the voice of their customers and how much their customers appreciate getting the features they ask for. They are good companies, and provide goods and services to their satisfied customers, and inspire careers and create financial support for many employees.

But it’s not the way to build a billion dollar company. The mantra for these companies is the one Creo adopted: Imagine. Create. Believe. ICB is far more powerful a motivator that LBS, one that risks verging on arrogance and creating a cult-like corporate culture. Whenever you tie into the human belief system, you are playing with powerful forces.

Let’s unpack the mantra a bit.

Imagine: World-changing companies imagine what is possible, imagining a possibility that requires a technological breakthrough, and sometimes meets a historically un-meetable need. It’s not the imagination of the science fiction writer, it’s a grounded business logic with the added spice of imagining the creation of a thing that has not existed before. It takes a leap of faith.

A world-changing company knows that the vision of a market where this imagined device exists has to be achievable by sustainable economics.

For Creo, the economics of computer-to-plate digital laser imaging didn’t come from the customer. It came from observing the business of the customer, identifying where they spent (and wasted) money, and providing them a solution that saved them many times the cost of the equipment. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, it’s not our customers’ job to define what they want, they are busy trying to make money with their existing systems. Not listening to customers doesn’t mean ignoring them, it means going beyond listening to asking questions, observing what they really do (vs. what they say they do, or what managers think their staff does), to find the economic value that your product or service can save.

It’s up to us to have the technical imagination to know what is possible, and to understand our customers’ business so well that we can develop and deliver products with a return-on-investment that our customers never imagined were achievable.

Create. Because our imagination is audacious, and our customers may not recognize or understand the technology that we imagine, we have to demonstrate viability. In hardware or in software, that means prototyping, testing and verification. Forward thinking customers may fund these early prototypes, and secure their early production systems once they shown to be viable, as RR Donnelley did for Creo. Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter have popularized this reward for pre-production funding on a large scale.

Believe. Who is that needs belief? Certainly the development team does, the sales and marketing team does, and the investors and employees all do. Why then put belief at the end of this mantra instead of the beginning?

It’s because the one-day-billion-dollar company already believes they will be that company long before they get there. It’s part of their DNA. The company’s belief system and culture is stoked to change the world with their offering long before the first beta versions hit the streets. They know they have a great product, and that the challenge is now to convince the world.

That’s why Believe is at the end. To become a billion-dollar company takes the evangelical passion of hundreds of believers to imagine the solution, have the faith, conviction, talent, and skill to bring it to fruition in the real world, then the energy to make believers of enough of the world to make a difference.

metabadge reunion

We convened a metabadge reunion event, shared a toast to our recollections of one of the best teams we each had ever worked with – high expectations, an adaptive process (including estimating, and unit tests!) and an amazing outcome of a voice-based pda at least a decade ahead of its time.

metabadge team at Seasons in the Park. April 23, 2017

The Power of Story in Agile Development

Stories have been part of our human experience since the discovery of fire. We use stories to teach, entertain, convince, empathize and inspire. As engineers and software developers we can greatly improve our products and customer experience by incorporating stories – of our customers, and of ourselves – into our Agile software development process.

Here are the slides for the Agile/Product Management Meetup at Hootsuite  Thursday Jan 28.


Prinergy’s Legacy

On October 6 2012, Prinergy was awarded a first-ever “Must See ‘Em” Legacy award at GraphExpo in Chicago, the largest print and publishing trade show in North America, for being “the most widely integrated and automated product on the market … it’s a fixture in the industry.”

Over the 14 years since its introduction, Prinergy changed the way printers managed the prepress aspect of their workflow, from customer to the printed sheets coming off the printer.

Dave Introducing Prinergy at GraphExpo 1999

I’m immensely proud of being the first Product Manager for Prinergy, and seeing it through many of its transitions, technically as PDF evolved, and from a business sense of being through acquisitions and mergers with a product that complemented Creo’s game-changing computer-to-plate hardware, and made a name on its own.

The Demo Doctor

Interaction design is about creating experience for users of technology that enhance their lives. The best interaction design, like other design objectives, tend to disappear and get out of the way of the user trying to accomplish their goal. At its very best, it anticipates use cases the user hasn’t discovered or articulated yet, but when they try it, they feel supported and encouraged.

That’s what makes people love the products they use everyday. They’re designed for humans, by other humans, and the care comes through.

For over 20 years, working in areas as diverse as telephone switching systems, voicemail, satellite imaging, 3d computer graphics, and digital prepress, I’ve combined designing much-loved user experiences with a kind of wholistic approach to Agile product management. The result – exceptionally profitable products that users love to use (and their managers happy to pay a premium for!)

As the Demo Doctor I have successfully demo’d and sold millions of dollars of products, by working the features and story down to its wabi-sabi roots. The elevator pitch is so 90’s – now you have to demo your product in that narrow time window in a way that shows both your accomplishments so far, and the promise of upcoming capabilities. I can help you do that.