Monthly Archives: November 2017

Has the NF Fell?

By Lloyd Graff

Does the National Football League bore you like it does me?

I used to love the games. Thanksgiving was the day I would gorge myself on football and turkey. But last Thursday I watched a little of the Lions (who did they play?) and ignored the games that followed.

The NFL has a lot of problems. The players die young or damage their brains. It still attracts the gladiators, but a lot of parents are pushing their boys toward other sports because of the apparent dangers.

There are few good teams in the NFL these days. It’s the Patriots, the Eagles, maybe Minnesota and New Orleans. And who cares? Green Bay used to be fun to watch because of Aaron Rogers, but then he busted his clavicle and they are now just another awful team to watch with a pathetic quarterback who is afraid to throw the ball more than 10 yards.

The coaches of most teams play a boring, risk averse, strategic game of field goals, with most games decided by turnovers rather than brilliant offense.

There are virtually no great running backs in the game. Name one after Ezekiel Elliot of Dallas, who is suspended for six games now. Teams do not even draft running backs much because they are rarely good for more than two years after being chewed up by injury.

I watch football mainly to see the quarterbacks do their magic. Without Aaron Rogers playing, you have the great Tom Brady at 40, the magician, Russell Wilson, in Seattle, and a few interesting young guys like Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Andrew Luck used to be the equal of Brady and Rogers, but injuries have really diminished him. He hasn’t played a down this season and is consulting everybody west of Tibet for a hopeful answer on his damaged throwing shoulder.

It is a crazy sport that devours its stars like they were s’mores.

TV ratings are down for the NFL, and the League cannot fill the stadiums. Even teams like Pittsburgh are having trouble because they are so predictable and cannot seem to find a successor for Ben Roethlisberger who is looking more like a statue each year.

The Colin Kaepernick kneeling act is not really the League’s big problem. It was a diversion from the boredom of the game as the season began, yet it did reflect the alienation of many African American players who see themselves as powerless pawns of the owners.

One of the advantages of Major League Baseball and the NBA over the NFL is that the players see themselves as partners of the owners to some degree, while the players have virtually no power in the NFL under Roger Goodell, who is paid a $50 million salary with use of a private jet for life.

Also, baseball and basketball are developing an international following with international players on every team. Football is strictly a U.S. game, and the experiment of playing one game a week in London has been a failure. Players hate it. Fans don’t show.

A good Super Bowl can still be a fun occasion, but week-to-week pro football has lost its pizzazz and lost me as a regular viewer.

Question 1: Have you lost interest in the NFL?

Question 2: Who is your favorite running back ever?

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Call if it Hurts

By Lloyd Graff

Today I have doctoring on my mind. I’ve spent the last 10 days in the throes of worry, tests, doctor visits and more tests. I came out the other side with a good diagnosis, but exhausted by the process. And I think of how much worse it would have been without my wife Risa accompanying me for every visit and comforting me throughout the experience.

I also have had capable and caring doctors who explained everything in depth at the University of Chicago hospital.

Still it was an ordeal.

It started with seeing blood in my urine. Not a little, but enough to mess up a bathroom. I figured I burst a blood vessel and it would self heal that day.

Unfortunately, it did not stop and I contemplated a trip to the emergency room or worse. I think I am like most guys, I’m a health denier, often believing everything works out okay and the body heals itself and all is well with the world — except when it doesn’t. As Risa all too frequently points out to me, I almost denied my way into the death penalty in the run-up to my heart attack in 2008.

In this case the bleeding persisted and I emailed my primary care physician to ask what I should do. My doctor is an extremely thoughtful and caring physician and he called me back within an hour of the email on a Saturday.

We discussed the symptoms. I told him I thought it was a ruptured blood vessel and he told me the odds of that were remote. He mentioned infection and bladder cancer as the likely possibilities.

He quickly arranged a CAT scan, cystoscope and a visit with a top urologist at the hospital.

The bleeding did stop after 38 hours. In my next conversation with my doctor he told me that the urologist had told him that with my history of radiation therapy for prostate cancer eight years ago the cure for the cancer may have weakened the walls of some blood vessels which could quite possibly have resulted in the bleeding.

Ultimately, the CAT scan and the scope validated the urologist’s theory.

I discussed the process of fear, reporting, theorizing and diagnosis with my primary doctor on Tuesday. I told him candidly that I felt he dismissed what I told him about what I believed was going on and worried me unnecessarily. I brought up another situation which I thought was trivial, but he and my wife did not. I ended up wearing a heart monitor looking for an irregular heartbeat for two weeks, which I thought was ridiculous, and I was proved correct in that case, too.

My doctor was not annoyed by my questioning comment. He told me that the last four cases he had seen with blood in the urine were all confirmed as bladder cancer.

I shuddered.

Then he explained to me the burden that doctors carry. They know too much. Their job is to err on the side of caution. And they also know that patients get scared and the emotional trauma is significant. They also know there are times when they should not bring up the worst case.

He says he has made it a rule not to tell his family what could be wrong with them because it terrifies them. It’s quite a burden, if one is a caring doctor.

In the midst of this latest medical scare, Risa and I talked to her brother, John, who is an oncologist in Charlotte. I could tell he was parsing his words as we discussed my symptoms, not wanting me to worry more than I already was. He was encouraging about the notion of a blood vessel rupture caused by the 8-year-old radiation therapy.

Being a doctor is a tough life. I empathize with their dilemma about what to tell a patient, yet I also know that the patient sometimes knows more than they do about their own body.

Question: How do you feel about your medical care?

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Son Rises

By Lloyd Graff

I get to do this blog today partly because my son Noah is traveling and will not get a chance to edit my writing like he generally does.

I have the very fortunate opportunity to work with my adult son, Noah, in both the machine tool business and Today’s Machining World. I know “family business” may be passé to many people, an artifact of a simpler time when trades were passed on and farms stayed in the family because people felt tied to the land. But for a lucky few, father and child not only get along well enough to coexist in a business, the combination works to make the enterprise better.

Noah came into business reluctantly, with modest expectations. He saw himself as a self-taught filmmaker after college and living in Italy. I offered him an opportunity to work as a poorly paid member of a struggling print magazine that started out as Screw Machine World and morphed into Today’s Machining World. This connected with his artistic leanings and avoided conflict with my brother Jim who seemed to resent Noah’s mere presence in the vicinity of Graff-Pinkert.

This is the sticky and stinky part of most family businesses. Sometimes, one family member will just never accept the child of another family member. Noah made overtures to Jim, but nothing worked, even though Noah spent most of his time on the magazine side.

The longer Noah was around the machinery business, the more it started to make sense to him and even become fun, and the more the mutual resentment between him and Jim grew into hostility.

After my heart attack in 2008, Jim and his wife felt I was not going to be able to pull my weight in the machinery business and they would run it, but when I was fully able to participate it became apparent that our partnership would eventually end.

Meanwhile, Noah became more and more productive on the machine tool side and as my partner in TMW. I saw Noah maturing into a creative business person who was becoming a dealer who really got the nuttiness of the used machine tool treasure hunt every day, and was actually beginning to love it like I did.

The Obama years were pretty tough on American manufacturing and our business, but Noah made it fun most days and he was humble enough to learn some of the technical details that Rex Magagnotti was always willing to teach him.

Noah has begun to do almost all of the foreign travel, which has become crucial to becoming a global player in the business. This has been a great boon for him and the business, because my various physical maladies restrict my business travel and he absolutely loves the excitement of traveling to virtually every continent to extend our reach and our brand.

For me, watching his growth over the last dozen years has been an incredible gift. With all the surgeries and physical challenges I have had over this period, and the breakup with Jim, I highly doubt the company would still be in business or if I would even be doing this blog without him.

For me, Noah is probably the most interesting and fun person around, and definitely one of the most caring.

And now I get to the stage in my career that I have the chance to learn from him. He has a new idea to try out on me almost every day.

It is certainly a gift and I do not take it for granted.

Question: What has been your experience with family in business?

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10 Stupid Ideas

By Noah Graff

Generating new ideas is one of the most important things in my life. I need to create to grow as a person and hopefully have a significant impact on the world. But the creative process is often really hard. It’s essential to get new ideas on paper, but it’s difficult to force the ideas out of my head onto the page.

I read a blog some time ago by Seth Godin called “Talker’s Block.” The point of the blog is that unlike writer’s block which tortures almost everyone, few people get “talker’s block.” If we have something to say on a subject we can usually get it out of our mouths in a coherent way; we don’t get stuck like we do in front of a computer or holding a pen to paper. Most people are great at talking because they do it constantly, as opposed to writing, which they practice less often.

One of these Today’s Machining World blogs unfortunately often takes me three to four hours to write. I know it’s possible to improve my writing speed, and I know there are tons of interesting ideas my brain could spit out. I just need to practice.

Noah’s Idea Notebook

For the last month every weekday morning before leaving for work I have been devoting 15 minutes to creative writing. Doing it in the morning is crucial. Studies show that the first few hours of the day the brain is at its most powerful and creative. I’m not necessarily writing a screenplay or a blog in these sessions. I’m writing down miscellaneous ideas. I turn on my iPhone’s timer with a firm limit of 15 minutes. The time limit is a positive because too much time to think can make me second guess my ideas—they will disintegrate before they reach the page. Also, come on—it’s 15 minutes. We waste so much time during the day on stupid stuff, there is no excuse for not giving up 15 minutes for what could be the most interesting and important activity you do that day.

I try to write down 10 ideas in a session. Maybe they are new ideas or maybe they are ideas fleshing out previous ideas I have already come up with. My ideas can be about anything—inventions, new types of businesses, movie ideas, scientific experiments. Sometimes I think of ideas on how to improve Graff-Pinkert or Today’s Machining World.

One powerful exercise I use to inspire ideas when I am having trouble is to try to think of 10 STUPID ideas. Sometimes the stupid ideas turn out to be the best because they are the most original and interesting. Sometimes by trying to think of a stupid idea my brain’s resistance reflex causes it to come up with “not-stupid” ideas. Also, if you can actually think of 10 stupid ideas, likely a few of them will be funny. That has value.

If still nothing is coming to me, I just allow whatever is on my mind to trickle out onto the paper, and I get a nice stream of consciousness diary entry.

I’ve listed a few of my favorite morning ideas below. Some may be stupid, and some I’m convinced are brilliant. But at least they are down on paper for the world to see.

1. A Website to help average people understand the laws of the U.S. government in a straightforward way.

2. A podcast in which Lloyd and I interview machining company owners or managers.

3. An experiment to see if my political views would change by reading only Breitbart News for an entire week (no other types of fake news).

4. One of my favorites: A baseball managing strategy for substituting bullpen pitchers. It consists of the following. A pitcher throws to a batter and gets two strikes, but then in the middle of the at-bat the manager brings in a new pitcher with a totally different throwing style from the previous one. Perhaps he substitutes a righty for a lefty or subs for a flame thrower with a guy who tops out at 80. It would totally knock the batter off balance! I’ve only seen a mid at-bat substitution because of an injury or if the pitcher is in trouble. Managers need to think outside of the old baseball code. I think this idea could change the world.

Question 1: What is your stupid or brilliant idea today?

Question 2: What is the stupidest or most brilliant invention you’ve ever seen?

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$100 Grand to Start

By Lloyd Graff

I have been into the topic of entrepreneurship lately. I see it as the creative driver of the American economy, but I’ve been struck by the lack of comments from readers on previous blogs on the subject.

Maybe entrepreneurs are too busy with their young or potential businesses to be reading Swarfblog, or perhaps the machining community, which is the bulk of our audience, is too beaten down by what they have seen in recent years to want to tackle a startup.

I did meet two business starters at Weekend With the Pros, a conference for machinery dealers held last weekend in Detroit. One fellow was on his third business and had used Kickstarter to launch a leather goods startup. The other guy had started his own CNC repair firm. I think we are now in a particularly fertile period to begin a manufacturing business.

I’m surprised to have discovered several facilities and groups where potential startup people can learn machining and find access to mentoring and potential investors in the Chicago area such as Workshop 88 and Make-It-Here. I’ve also found an active community in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. I have to believe there is activity like this all over the country. Companies like Tormach and Pocket NC make good inexpensive CNC machines that startups can afford for prototyping and experimentation. There are also many good affordable machines for additive manufacturing.

Esben Østergaard, Universal Robots Founder at IMTS.

The equipment is available, and knowledge is being volunteered in many locations. I believe demand is always there for people who can solve a problem in the marketplace. Perhaps the classic current example is Universal Robots, whose founders in Denmark saw the problem and opportunity clearly. Companies desperately needed an inexpensive, easily programmable robotic arm in their factories. After literally living on crackers in a borrowed workplace, the founders built a viable prototype that won them seed money to produce a salable product. Within a few years they sold the company for $285 million to Teradyne, an American tech firm.

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, a long piece discussed the importance of Facebook in propelling fledgling businesses to stardom. The focus was on Hubble, a three-year-old startup out of New York City, that markets lower cost contact lenses. Facebook’s uncanny ability to target potential Hubble buyers using its vast data network has enabled Hubble’s founders to build a business valued at $210 million. The 20-something guys who started it show us that fortunes still can be made if you solve a problem and get to market quickly. In Chicago, childhood friends Peter Rahal and Jarad Smith are selling their protein bar company RXBAR to Kellogg for $600 million. They started the company in 2013, rolling oatmeal nuts and sweet goo in Rahal’s parents’ basement at night and selling the bars in local gyms during the day.

Kellogg is willing to pay $600 million for the still small company because they desperately want to crack the healthy natural protein bar market that caters to young health-conscious buyers.

Many entrepreneurs fail or languish, but the ambitious, tenacious, persistent person who can provide a product that solves a problem still can find success.

Question: If someone offered you $100,000 to start a business what would you do?

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Love the Tank

By Lloyd Graff

Over the last few weeks I have become addicted to the TV show Shark Tank. What is it that fascinates me so thoroughly that I will switch out of even a thrilling World Series game to tune into one of the mini dramas?

I love the energy of the fresh entrepreneurs. Often, they are working out of their homes, perfecting a recipe or constructing what they think is the best back scratcher ever designed.

Usually the products are made for consumers. Rarely do I see an industrial product or a sophisticated service. The show is for the masses so most of the products are relatable to by an unsophisticated audience. The products are often unique but to me the fascinating parts of the show are the backstories of the applicants seeking financial backing and the questions by the Sharks. The brilliance of the show to me is the thoughtful interrogation of the new business owners, and ultimately the competition of the Sharks to get in on a deal.

I always learn something by watching the show. I’m not starting a new business at the moment, but the rigor of the Sharks forces me to consider my current business practices. I always subconsciously ask myself whether my businesses would merit investment by one of the Sharks or Sharkettes.

They always ask about trends. “Is business up and down or are you growing, quarter after quarter, year after year,” they want to know. Kevin O’Leary, Mr. Wonderful, the tough guy you love to hate, grills the contestants in an arrogant way pushing them to come clean about their business history. “You don’t have a business, you have a hobby,” he often says derisively to folks who haven’t made significant progress over the course of their enterprise. He is harsh, but he is usually accurate. He’ll then often say, “you’re wasting our time,” dismissively.

The women, usually Lori Greiner and Barbara Corcoron are much kinder but are no soft touch. Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks NBA team, tends to make his mind up very quickly. If he decides a business cannot “scale” meaning grow quickly into a big business he’s “out” immediately.

Cuban often asks very early on about the cost of production and selling price. I always find these questions instructive. If the selling price is not at least four times the cost of making the product he has no interest. This is a far cry from the machining world and industrial distribution models I normally see, but the production world has minimal advertising and marketing expense generally. Neverless, I have learned from the Sharks to build my business in the high margin world the Sharks would fund. Banks tend to think like the Sharks. There is no glory in working thin. Google and Facebook live in the 90% profit margin world. Every business person should try to move their business into that territory.

A commodity business will never be bankable in the Shark Tank.

I attended a business get together of machinery dealers over the past weekend. I queried many of the attendees with the Shark Tank in mind. It was a group of sharp guys (virtually no women) but only one of those I talked to would have had a prayer with the Sharks. No plan, wildly fluctuating profit margins.

You want to know the one guy the Sharks would have backed? Sorry, he doesn’t need the money anyway.

Question: Do you or your children want to start a business?

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