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This article was prepared for the December 22, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Future Planning: Math, Not Magic
If you have read the Harry Potter books, you are familiar with Professor Trewalney. Draped in scarves and sporting giant glasses, she teaches her students how to predict the future, while constantly predicting doom and death for Harry. Susan Fowler also knows about predicting the future, but she promises that her methods have little to do with crystal balls. Fowler gives a free talk, “How to Predict the Future,” on Tuesday, January 4, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Call 609-924-9529.
There are three basic methods experts use to predict future trends and events in everything from new products for business to political events to who will win the Academy Awards, says Fowler, who with her husband, Victor Stanwick, is co-owner of FAST Consulting, a web applications company located on Staten Island. The three methods are Delphi Polls, Future Exchanges, and Lead-User Techniques. While the three methods have certain similarities to polling, such as that used in the recent Presidential elections, these techniques can be used in other ways.
In addition to her work with FAST Consulting, Fowler also teaches technical communication to engineering students at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She has done application design for major Wall Street, pharmaceutical, reinsurance, and telecommunications firms, and has led a multicultural team designing diagram and mapping software for Telcordia Technologies in Piscataway.
She and her husband have also published three software design books, “The GUI style guide,” “The GUI design handbook,” and the “Web Application Design Handbook.”
Web applications may not seem to be related to polling and market predictions, but it was her work in developing user-friendly computer interfaces that triggered Fowler’s interest in the various techniques. “In my job I often sit down in a roomful of people to hash out problems with software. ‘What should it look like?’ ‘What do people need?’ But it often seemed to me that we were asking the wrong questions,” Fowler says. “No one had asked, ‘Is this what we should be looking at?’ Companies build on products they already have, but they need to be several steps ahead. The need to know what problems will be out there two years from now.” Her curiosity led her into research on the various prediction techniques.
A Delphi Poll is a method that elicits opinions from about a dozen experts in an effort to try to gain a consensus on a particular topic, Fowler says. The poll taker contacts the experts, usually anonymously, several times with a series of questions on the topic. After each series of questions, the polltaker refines the questions to develop more precise answers. “After two to three rounds of questions you start to see a consensus,” Fowler says. The method was used by “Next” magazine in the 1980s, she says, with interesting results.
“At a time when the Cold War was still going on and everyone thought of the United States and Russia as the hot spots, ‘Next’ used a Delphi Poll to predict where nuclear wars were most likely to be fought. They predicted it would be between the Arabs and Israel and Pakistan and India.” Those predictions now seem right on target.
Futures Exchanges use a different technique to predict more short-term events, such as presidential elections and, on the lighter side, Academy Award winners. “Futures Exchanges use “an aggregate of opinions from average people,” says Fowler, “a lot of people vote on a particular outcome, and they are often more accurate than the experts.”
Futures exchanges have flourished on the Internet, where it is easy for large numbers of people to register their opinions. The exchanges work essentially like the stock market, Fowler says, with participants “buying shares” in a particular outcome. While some markets use “real money,” others do not.
Two popular exchanges on the Internet are the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which can be found at www.hollywoodstockexchange.com, and the Iowa Electronic Markets, www.biz.uiowa.edu/iem/. Known as the IEM, it is run by the University of Iowa College of Business.
At the Hollywood Stock Exchange people can “buy futures” in movie stars and movies. Stocks adjust in price based on popularity. For example, a stock in a recently released movie will move up or down in price depending on the weekend box office gross. The exchange also “buys shares” in Academy Award nominees, and uses the results to predict the winners. “In 2001 the exchange predicted six out of eight major category winners, and in 2002 it predicted 35 out of 40 of the nominees,” says Fowler.
The Iowa Electronic Markets takes a more serious approach to predicting the future. It includes a variety of political elections, both national and international, as well as polls on economic issues. The results are used for classroom research as a method to give students hands-on experience, Fowler says.
Lead-User Techniques are a third method often used by businesses to predict trends and develop new products, says Fowler. The technique was developed in the 1980s by Eric Von Hippel, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. The Lead-User method looks for innovators in a particular field. The technique has been successfully used by corporations such as 3M, Bell Atlantic, Pitney Bowes, and Nestle.
At 3M, the process has been credited with creating new products that were substantially more profitable than products developed through other methods, says Fowler. The process works so well because instead of making small improvements to existing products, new ideas are developed by innovators who are actually working in the field. The “lead users” include people or companies who are “ahead of the market” in developing new ideas or who have needs that are not being met by current products. They are the inventors, who come up with their own solutions or tools to meet their needs.
A well-known use of Lead-User Techniques was the development of innovative surgical drapes by 3M, says Fowler. The thin plastic films are used to protect an incision during surgery. The product had declined in sales, says Fowler, so 3M assembled a team, which included a wide variety of people, including both traditional surgical team workers, veterinarians, and make-up artists. The team came up with several new and innovative approaches to the problem, which both increased sales and brought a better, more affordable product to the market.
Some of the techniques are more controversial than others. The Futures Exchanges have been criticized for using sample populations that are too small or that have a vested interest in the outcomes. However, the success of the techniques in both business and political forecasting makes it certain that they will continue to be used in the future. And while some may still consider the techniques only slightly better than that crystal ball, Fowler is a believer. She declares, “It’s not magic, it’s math.”
— Karen Hodges Miller
As our memories of the World Trade Center bombing on 9/11 fade into the background, most of us would like to forget about the need for anti-terrorism measures. Airport security measures are a nuisance; security checks and occasional news of bomb scares are an annoyance. The color-coded security alert system is most often seen as a joke for television comedians. But for Sidney J. Caspersen, counter-terrorism is something to be thought about every day. Caspersen is director of New Jersey’s Office of Counter-Terrorism. The office, which was created by former governor James McGreevey in early 2002, has one objective: to ensure the security and welfare of the citizens of the state of New Jersey.
Caspersen will speak on terrorism, and what his office is doing to prevent it in New Jersey at the next general membership luncheon of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. The meeting takes place at 11:30 a.m., on Thursday, January 6 at the Forrestal Conference Center. Cost: $40. Call 609-924-1776.
New Jersey has special reason to continue its vigilance towards terrorism and terrorists, says Caspersen. Of the 19 terrorists involved in 9/11, 16 came through New Jersey. Participants in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were also based in New Jersey. That makes it especially serious that federal funding for anti-terrorism measures in New Jersey have recently been cut.
The cuts included a drop of 60 percent for the Jersey City area, and 20 percent for Newark, Caspersen says. At the same time, funding has been increased 344 percent for New York City and 166 percent for Washington, D.C. That is particularly shortsighted, says Caspersen, not only in light of past events, but because New Jersey’s infrastructure is so critical to New York City.
“Transportation into and out of New York City runs through New Jersey,” he says. If the transportation system is disrupted, hundreds of thousands of people cannot commute back and forth to work between the two areas. In addition, disrupting the transportation system could interfere with the food supply into New York City. An incident at a New Jersey chemical plant could also have implications for New York. Says Caspersen: “We are not only protecting New Jersey, we are protecting New York City, also.”
He says that plans for protecting New Jersey include increased training for fire departments, police, and emergency medical services, as well as other initiatives. The budgets cuts will make those plans more difficult to carry out.
Caspersen began his career in law enforcement in Alabama in 1969 and later joined the FBI, where he spent 25 years, most recently as program manager, supervisory agent, in the bureau’s New York City office. He was also a supervisory special agent, Russian counter-intelligence, directing a highly sensitive national and international investigation to identify, arrest, and prosecute a KGB mole in the FBI. He also designed and implemented a covert recruit operation, trained personnel from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and officers from foreign police forces in surveillance techniques.
The Office of Counter-Terrorism has developed “a broad array” of counter-terror strategies, Caspersen says, including a network of state and local law enforcement to monitor and track terrorist activity in New Jersey and to work on a variety of projects to further strengthen domestic preparedness.
But protecting against terrorist activities cannot be done solely by law enforcement officials. The average citizen needs to help. Here’s how:
Check out your surroundings. Be aware of people and things that are out of place, says Caspersen. Notice if someone is suddenly interested in the security system where you work or asks about how to gain access to a building. Make note of new cars in the parking garage or lot. Be suspicious if someone is making drawings or photographs of “critical infrastructure.”
Make a phone call. If something or someone seem suspicious or out of place, report it to the proper authorities. This may mean security personnel where you work, or local police where you live. Suspicious activity tips or information that could relate to terrorism can also be reported to the Office of Counter-Terrorism’s toll free tip line, at 866-4-SAFE-NJ (866-472-3365).
Report lost IDs. The theft or loss of work identification or documentation or even uniforms should also be taken seriously, Caspersen says, since these things could be used by someone attempting to gain access to a building. Service vehicles, such as those used by telephone or electric and gas company workers, are also targets of theft by terrorists, since servicemen routinely have access to areas that the general public does not.
Keep a tight rein on deliveries. Businesses also need to keep track of when deliveries are made, and by whom. “Deliveries should always be scheduled in advance,” says Caspersen. Take advantage of the technology that makes easier for manufacturing plants, warehouses, and rail yards to keep a closer eye on equipment. “Sensors and web cams can make it easier to identify someone before they reach their target,” he adds.
There has not been another major terrorist attack in the United States itself since the World Trade Center bombing, that does not mean that the threat is not just as great, says Caspersen. “If you pay attention to the news you are aware that there have been terrorist bombing and incidents throughout the world in recent weeks,” he says. The Philippines and Indonesia are two countries that have experienced recent incidents. “These are al Qaeda-related,” he says. The members of the terrorist organization are “always thinking, always planning, and they learn from their mistakes,” he says.
While many people in this country are focused on al Qaeda as an Arab organization, it is also important to realize al Qaeda is actually much more broad. “There are Indonesians, and the European Muslim community is also multiplying,” says Caspersen. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain have all had problems with terrorists with ties to al Qaeda. Scotland Yard and MI5 in Great Britain recently made arrests which “prevented serious attacks in London,” he says.
Caspersen points to Jose Padilla, Richard Reid, and John Walker Lindh as examples we should remember. “While everyone is focused on the Arab profile, none of these people are of Arab descent. Jose Padilla, of Hispanic descent, was arrested and charged as an enemy combatant after training with al Qaeda. Reid, the infamous “shoe bomber,” is British, while Lindh, an American from California, was arrested in Afghanistan as a supporter of the Taliban.
Knowledge and awareness, says Caspersen, are the best defenses against terrorism. In small towns around the country it is neigh unto impossible to keep the purchase of a new flat screen TV, let alone a flirtation with the the choir director, secret for more than five minutes. Everyone knows everything about everyone. This tends not to be true in suburban neighborhoods, with their attached garages and overworked denizens. Nevertheless, Caspersen is calling on all New Jersey residents to add a little Mayberry to their lives. Learn to notice what your neighbors — and any strangers in your development or workplace — are up to, and don’t hesitate to report suspicious activity.
— Karen Hodges Miller
If Ann Eisman hadn’t broken her hip, a burgeoning business called Well Healed would not have been born.
If three good friends, including Eisman’s daughter, all professional women from the Delaware Valley, hadn’t been pondering the miserable state of convalescence for Ann, an unusual company featuring upscale, boutique items for the physically challenged would not be in business today.
But unfortunately Eisman had indeed suffered that injury, and the rest is business history. The “Eureka!” moment came not in a formal board room but on a bench at the King of Prussia Mall when Helaine Rosenfeld, a clinical psychologist, Judith Replansky Englund, a former producer for a TV public affairs show, and Eisman’s daughter, Marian Forman, an educator, were discussing a get-well gift for the ailing woman.
“What do you send besides flowers or a book?” Englund, a resident of Moorestown, remembers of that conversation two-and-a-half years ago. The more they talked, the more these friends, who had actually been searching for a viable business idea, knew they’d hit on something.
“We saw the gap in the marketplace in beautiful, upscale, useful products for people with permanent or temporary physical challenges,” says Englund.
The three busy women joined forces in the painstaking process of researching the marketplace to learn all they could about what might appeal to those needing such products — or those seeking unusual, helpful gifts for the physically challenged.
They scoured medical supply catalogues, spoke to occupational therapists and physical therapists, and plunged into the new world of manufacturing, all the while maintaining their humor and their friendship.
Each woman brought different skills and experience to the project. Englund, who had 16 years of TV experience and also a background as a social worker and onetime small business owner, became something of an anchor for the trio, with a knack for organizing and research.
Forman became the creative force/idea person who also kept the partners motivated. Psychologist Rosenfeld turned out to excel in making aesthetic decisions about fabrics and design. “In remarkable ways, we all complemented one another,” says Englund. “And we didn’t argue…much!”
Their new company, aptly-named “Well Healed,” wasn’t launched overnight. Their Tuesday morning meetings became legendary not just for the work accomplished, but also for the good-humored brainstorming and debating.
Steadily the three entrepreneurs focused on creating pretty and practical products that would ease life for those with mobility issues. The goal from the start was to keep their company’s products fashionable. The mantra: the loss of mobility need not mean a loss of good taste or an appreciation for attractive accessories.
The trio now work almost full-time on their venture, although Rosenfeld still maintains a psychology practice. Break-even is still more than a year away, but ideas for new markets could speed profitability.
As producing and marketing began, the business partners expanded their vision. “We saw that mothers, teachers, and beach-goers could also use some of our products, which are designed to be extremely practical, but also very attractive,” says Englund. “In this holiday season, it’s important to remember that people with and without challenges always need lovely things.”
The Shopper, a fabric tote ($55), features special fasteners and linings that allow an easy view of the contents inside. Its unique feature: it will fit walkers, wheelchairs, and baby strollers. “It’s the kind of tote that works for everyone,” says Englund, a grandmother herself who recognized the need for just such a bag to handle the predictable barrage of baby equipment.
The Take Me Along compartmentalized bag ($45) is shaped and designed specifically to be suspended from a walker, and comes in a variety of beautiful, rich and sturdy fabrics, ranging from handsome florals to perky denims.
Well Healed has also created a Bed Butler ($44), designed to be tucked under the mattress and then suspended from the side of the bed. It is meant to hold essentials like glasses, the TV remote, and whatever other items the bed’s occupant might need or want.
Finally, a sling ($30-$32) created in fashionable fabrics offers a chic way to disguise an arm cast. There is even a “tuxedo” model executed in formal black moire. All the slings but the Tuxedo model are completely reversible.
The company has created a website (www.wellhealedconnection.com) using its working motto — “At last function meets fashion.” And those sacrosanct Tuesday morning meetings keep the partners brainstorming every aspect of their new business, from advertising to E-commerce. Some key issues early on include:
Getting the products into the marketplace. The search for a manufacturer was daunting and lengthy. The decision to go with quality and stay with an American company ultimately led them to Great American Manufacturing in Philadelphia, where the quality was what they sought. They think they found it — but at a cost.
Divying up the work. Partnership harmony works best when each partner took on a specific area of expertise, as Englund and her partners did. There were frustrations, but the commitment to the company survived.
Inside investing means more control. The decision to keep financing inside the company was made so that control would be from within.
PR equals cost-effective marketing. The cost of advertising was an unpelasant surprise, so the young company has sought exposure through PR — and quite successfully.
Keep it light. The one indispensable in launching a new small business: a sense of humor
Incredibly, Ann Eisman, whose broken hip started it all, has kept hers, despite a run of truly rotten luck. On the night before a grandson’s recent wedding, the Philadelphia woman slipped and broke an arm. Eisman proudly sported the Tuxedo sling of her daughter-the-entrepreneur’s company at the wedding the next day.
“My bad break was a lucky break for my daughter,” says the feisty Eisman. “Everyone just raved about my Well Healed Tuxedo Sling at the wedding.”
— Sally Friedman
Rotary is a name that seems to have been around forever. Perhaps your father or grandfather was a Rotary member. But what about Rotary today? Is it still viable? What exactly does Rotary do?
Rotary International celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2005. The international service organization has grown and changed in the last 100 years, but according to its many local members, the organization still remains focused on its main goal: service to the community — locally, nationally and internationally. The most obvious change in the organization is the addition of women, who were allowed in as members in the mid-1980s in the United States. While most chapters worldwide do allow female members, in some countries, “where the customs dictate” women cannot join the organization,” explains longtime Princeton member Ed Kornstein.
In the Princeton area, women can join and also lead. Linda Kibrick is president of the Princeton Corridor Rotary chapter. A member of the chapter since 1996, she sees Rotary as a great way to get involved in the community.
Kibrick first learned about the organization through her husband, Bill Rhoads, who has been a Rotarian “since the mid-1970s,” she says. Kibrick and her husband work together as owners of Crossroads Health and Wellness, a counseling and psychotherapy practice in the Princeton area. They also belong to the Hightstown/South Brunswick Rotary chapter.
The number of chapters is one of the advantages of belonging to Rotary, says Kibrick. Most of the communities in the area do have chapters, making it easy for anyone who is interested to join a local group. There are about 40 chapters in the central New Jersey region, which includes Mercer County and parts of Hunterdon, Morris, Middlesex, and Somerset counties. Other nearby chapters include Lawrenceville, Hamilton, and a downtown Princeton group.
The lunchtime meetings usually feature guests, who speak on a variety of topics. “They run the gamut from topics about business to things of community interest,” says Kibrick.
Rotary clubs meet weekly and encourage members to attend as often as they can. “We know 100 percent attendance isn’t always possible, but we do set a goal of 60 percent attendance at club events,” says Kibrick. These events include weekly meetings and a variety of fundraising and service events. The Princeton Corridor chapter meets at 12:15 p.m. each Friday at the Hyatt at U.S. 1 and Alexander Road. For more information on the meetings, call Kibrick at 609-448-7333. Information on other Rotary chapters can be found through the Rotary International website at www.Rotary.org.
What makes Rotary different from other business organizations? Its emphasis is on service, not just on “meeting people and networking,” says Kibrick. Although, she adds, it is also a wonderful way to meet other business people in the community. “We have a wide diversity of people in different professions,” she says. “There are lawyers, public relations specialists, businesspeople of various types. Each chapter seems to have its own personality, which varies from area to area. Members must be invited by a member to join a chapter, although the group is very welcoming to anyone who is interested in actively participating in club activities and service.”
Rotarians will also find that they are part of a greater, international community, says Kornstein. “I’ve traveled all over the world and so many times I’ve run into other members of Rotary. I always wear a Rotary pin on my jacket. I was stopped in an elevator in Japan one time and invited to a meeting. If you are in Rotary you can always find another Rotarian, anywhere you are in the world.”
The group also attracts people of all ages. Kornstein has been a member of the Princeton Corridor chapter since 1990 and although he is now retired, still attends the weekly meetings regularly. An incident that occurred about the time he joined the club “turned him on” to Rotary, he says.
“About that time Glasnost had occurred in the Soviet Union,” he recounts. “There had been Rotary chapters in Russia prior to 1918, but the Communists had banned them. When the Soviet Union fell, the chapters reorganized.” A Rotary chapter in Moscow contacted the New Jersey organization with a request. Hospitals in Russia were suffering from severe shortages of a variety of medical supplies.
“New Jersey, as we all know, is the center of the pharmaceutical industry,” he recounts, “so when Rotary asked for donations, they ended up with a tractor-trailer load of supplies. Bohrens Moving and Storage donated an 18-wheeler to pick up the supplies, and then Rotary contacted Maguire Air Force Base and a member there arranged for the Air National Guard to deliver the supplies to Russia as a training mission.”
What impressed Kornstein most about the event was not only the amount of supplies that were donated and the great participation from so many people; it was the length of time it took to accomplish the project. “From start to finish it took only two weeks. If the government had tried to do it, it would have taken months. But with Rotary it got accomplished. I decided that this was an organization I wanted to be a part of,” he says.
Major projects include the Gift of Life, a program of heart surgery for patients around the world who could otherwise not receive the necessary treatment; Adopt-a-Child program, which aids children in Third World countries; Rotoplast, a program that offers cleft palate surgery to children throughout the world; and a polio eradication program, which has nearly wiped out this disease worldwide.
The Princeton Corridor chapter sponsors an Interact service club at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School as well as offering college and vocational school scholarships each year to seniors from the school. Along with the Montgomery-Rocky Hill Rotary, the Princeton Corridor chapter helps with the clean-up of a “forgotten” cemetery in Montgomery Township, and also goes to Connecticut each spring and fall to open and close a camp for children.
The club has also sponsored a course called “My Own Business.” The 10-session, five-week class is aimed at people who are interested in opening their own businesses. It is particularly valuable, says Kornstein, because it is presented by a variety of members from different professions who have experience in owning and running businesses.
Each May the group sponsors a Classic Auto Show in Princeton, while in the fall it holds “tailgating” fundraisers during the Princeton football games. The activities, says Kibrick, not only raise money for the group, but bring enjoyment to the community and to the Rotarians who participate.
Becoming a member of Rotary is not for everyone, says Kibrick. “People who join should understand the purpose is not just to further a business career, but to be active in helping others in your community and around the world.”
— Karen Hodges Miller
Private industry is being asked to help the state reform its child welfare system. Corporations may contribute to the Safe Child Consortium and Safe Child Fund of New Jersey, managed by the Princeton Area Community Foundation (609-219-1800 or visit www.pacf.org).
More than 20 representatives from corporations, foundations, and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce are already involved in planning for this initiative. Donations totaling $700,000 have been made by the Prudential Foundation, New Jersey Resources, Comcast, Conectiv, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, MWW Group, New Jersey Business and Industry Association, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, the State AFL-CIO, PSE&G, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Sun Bancorp, and others.
Donations can be made to the Safe Child Fund/PACF and mailed to the Princeton Area Community Foundation, 15 Princess Road, Lawrenceville 08648. Other ways that companies can help:
Contribute to agencies that conduct prevention programs
Include information on corporate web sites and in newsletters about reform efforts, about the new central hotline for allegations of child abuse, 800-NJABUSE, and the hotline number 877-NJ-FOSTER for people interested in becoming resource families in mailings or billings.
Volunteer time with programs that address abuse and neglect
Offer individual or company in-kind professional and support services
Provide employee benefits to foster parents as well as adoptive parents commensurate to those provided to parents of newborn biological children
Encourage employees and customers who are foster parents to share their success stories
Help establish Community Collaboratives in customer areas throughout the state
Provide space for meetings or events
“These civic-minded corporations should be praised for their contributions to making children safe,” says Acting Governor Richard J. Codey. “This system has been broken for a long time and we need all of the help we can get to fix it so that it better protects our children and families.”
“Other reform efforts in New Jersey have failed, but the thing that distinguishes this one is that everyone has a chance to increase resources for our children instead of relying only on government,” says James M. Davy, commissioner of the Department of Human Services. “Individuals, providers, and businesses can buy-in by promoting neighborhood collaboratives aimed at linking and enhancing prevention services.”
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