March Vinyl Acquisitions

I actually made it a month without buying any records!  Of course, I was recovering from illness and working through the 2,000 records I bought in January, plus it was the shortest month of the year, and I had a couple business trips (photos from one coming soon!), but the fact remains I didn’t buy any vinyl in February.  I had worked down the January acquisitions to less than 100 records to process, which included clearing one of my two shelves of about 150 records that were “in queue” to be listened to as well.  So overall, a good month for working through my acquisitions, and I felt like I had reclaimed much of my available space in the man cave.

I made up for it in the last 8 days, buying about 825 records, of which about 75 are “junk”. Of the 750 I like, about 475 are mostly Motown and soul, and the other 275 are classic rock.  They’re currently sitting in 9 crates and boxes, so all of that available space I created in February is about gone.

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9 boxes of vinyl remaining after sorting out the “junk”…

The group of classic rock is fairly spectacular in my opinion.    It came after the Motown collection, and Mrs. Outspoken’s response after I received the call about the collection was “Really?   You have all these albums yet to clean and listen to, and you’re buying more?!?!”

Yep.  I gotta buy when the opportunity arises.  I went 7 weeks or so with nothing, so buying 2 collections in a little over a week might seem a little over the top, but both were great deals at under $1 per album.

So what makes the collection of rock so great?  How about 4 Zeppelin, 4 Pink Floyd, 4 David Bowie, 4 Allman Brothers, 3 Beatles, and 20 Bob Dylan for starters?    Other artists with multiple albums include Van Morrison, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Steeley Dan, Springsteen, Foreigner, Rush, Yes, Kansas, CCR, ELP, Grand Funk, Heart, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, the Cars, and Aerosmith.  It’s basically a compendium of 70’s and 80’s radio rock music, including some of the softer folk-ish tunes, with none of the pop-disco stuff.

Then there’s some oddball stuff too – stuff I just don’t see. The Butterfield Blues Band, Steve Hackett, Kate Bush, Patti Smith,  Nektar, and some Christian praise stuff by 2nd Book of Acts and Phil Keaggy.  Honestly, I could probably enjoy listening to about 80% of this collection, and if it comprised my entire collection, it would represent probably 60% of what I’d want to have.  Basically, the guy who assembled this collection and I had similar tastes.  🙂

One of my favorite finds so far has been an album from The Monroes.  It’s an EP, only 5 songs, and it was their only album.  I really enjoy it.  Definitely and 80’s sound, but 80’s guitar, not the electronic stuff.

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It was missing a lot of Beatles (but hey, it has Abbey Road), Hendrix, and some of the psychedelic stuff I like, but overall, it’s a great collection in my opinion.   I’m sure I’ll find enough titles to cover my costs, but I think I’ll be keeping a much higher percentage of this collection than normal.

Both of these collections came through my previous contacts; the albums are finding me at times!  It’s also part of why i got the deal I did on them.  I’ve treated the sellers fairly, and they’re active collectors, so I was in a way helping each of them move a large quantity of records quickly.    I also agree to buy them all, and don’t get into cherry picking the collection  or nit-picking on the condition of certain albums.

The way you treat people is important in life and business.  Over the course of my career, I’ve always been focused on process improvement; how to find ways to do “it” better.  It hasn’t really mattered what “it” is, as the basic problem solving methodology of Lean works anywhere (at least I’ve yet to find an application where it doesn’t).  While some people call me an efficiency expert, I look at it more as improving the overall performance of the teams and systems of an organization.    We change the system to change the result, and coach the people through the systemic changes.  But it’s about more than results; for the changes to stick, it’s also about behaviors.

As we change the behaviors and systems to produce different results, we start changing beliefs within the organization.  What happens when the shared beliefs of an organization change?  One, we change the future of that organization.  Two, we have created a culture change.

How’s all this tie into me buying arguably too much vinyl?  Honestly, I wasn’t sure at first.  But for one, I buy with no fear of spending too much, because I have a several year track record of all my hobbies actually producing money.  I have the tax returns to prove it.  🙂 Plus, I’m spending cash that has come from the hobbies.

Therefore, I believe, as does Mrs. Outspoken – even if not as completely as me – that I’m not being irresponsible or delaying our objectives, because in the end I actually contribute towards those shared  objectives from my hobbies.   And I believe I’ve done so buy dealing appropriately with others, and the evidence of that is the number of opportunities that tend to find me.

Second, since there was so much David Bowie in the one collection, would be this album:

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A line from the song Changes is perhaps the foundation of the best inspiration I can think to provide today:

“These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

No matter what it is you’re trying to do or achieve, there are often people who will try to hold you back, make you feel like it’s too hard, not worth it, or even impossible.  Don’t listen to them.  Act responsibly and with intention, treat people with dignity and respect,  but be courageous at the same time.   You can’t do what everyone else thinks you should do and still achieve the greatness that is within you.

Great things aren’t done by being average.

 

 

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Another load of vinyl

After making it through December buying “only” about 140 albums, I’ve once again picked up a large collection to enjoy searching through to find some hidden gems.

Here’s what the car looked like when I pulled into the driveway:

All together it was 31 postal crates of 12″ singles and LP’s from primarily the 1980’s and 1990’s, all loaded into one large American sedan.  In this situation, and old “boat” of a car still has some practical value.

What’s really cool to me is that this collection is from when the popularity of  vinyl started to fade, so there could be some real gems in here.  Once I got it into the house, it looked a little more manageable:

Once i get it sorted, I fully intend to return the US Postal crates.  I expect I will find several additions to my personal collection, a lot of good value for resale, and still  be able to sell the remains for more than what I paid for the original 31 crates.

It was billed as 2000 records, but my initial samples average about 80 per crate, so it might be closer to 2500 records.  My random samples at the sellers location indicated the records are in very good condition, most showing no visible wear on the vinyl, while the covers have some wear and some labels, as it was part of a club DJ’s collection who worked int he 80’s and 90’s.

So while a lot of it isn’t going to be what I typically buy, for the price I couldn’t pass it up.  I got everything for $150.   I was very quickly able to find that much of value in things I could resell in just a few crates, so it was worth it.  Essentially I expect to get everything I want to sell and keep for free, and flip the rest for a couple hundred dollars.

I started looking through the first crate, plus a few that were stacked on top of it.  Totally random, it was just the one sitting next to me at my laptop.  In the first 50 albums, I found 10 that combined are worth $150.   Here’s the first 10 that should pay for the entire lot:

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Not exactly my cup of tea, but they should sell relatively quickly.  At that pace of finding ‘winners’, assuming 2,000 albums, I have potentially $6,000 worth of vinyl (before taxes, shipping, fees, etc), and that’s just the first pass at the things I can define value.  I think a lot of this dance music and singles have a market, I just need to find it.

So there’s perhaps $3600 profit to be had from 20% of the collection.  Not a bad return on $150.  And that doesn’t count selling the other 80% for what I paid for it originally, or probably a little more.  As i finished the first crate, I’m at about $220 of value, time 31 is  close to $7k, so I’m excited about this buy.  Even if I’m half wrong, it’s a great return on $150, and it’s great entertainment.  I’m excited to play some of the singles of songs from my youth.

The seller had many people contact him, but I was the only one to commit to purchasing under the condition that the collection was what he described it as being.  I was confident that a large lot of 1980’s and 90’s pop and rock vinyl would have some real gems, and i probably couldn’t go wrong.  When you know what your objective, be confident and take a few risks.

This sort of makes up for the lot in December which was largely in poor condition, but also had a ton of 45’s as part of the deal.  I’ll still make some money on that deal, but not every buy is going to be as good as this one.  And it may not pan out as great as the initial sample, but that’s OK.

Keep your eyes open, work hard, and you can create some luck.

 

You Need More Smoke Detectors: Countering Firefighting with Leader Standard Work

This is primarily what I do for a living:  find better, safer ways to do any particular job.  I’ve been in a few industries, and honestly so far I enjoy healthcare more than any of them. It probably has more to do with the team and the organization, but making an impact directly on people’s lives is part of the equation as well.  Here’s my latest article on LEI’s Lean Post:

Excessive firefighting is a major threat to lean transformations – it may seem easier to time-strapped managers, but it does nothing to foster a culture of problem-solving thinkers. Aaron Hunt of Washington Health System knows this all too well, and now shares his organization’s favorite firefighting deterrent.

Source: You Need More Smoke Detectors: Countering Firefighting with Leader Standard Work

Are you Solving the Wrong Problems?

There are many ways to solve a problem - photo from Tokyo, Japan, 2011
There are many ways to solve a problem – Tokyo, Japan, 2011

I took the above photo after arriving by boat to this location in Tokyo.  Without counting the car or subway, I can see four modes of transportation to choose from in addition to the one was I was already using.  A rickshaw (which I now wish I would have taken), the bus, a bicycle, or good old walking.  Most likely, I could catch a cab  or find a subway station nearby, too.  So I have 6 fairly obvious options, most of which are likely to work, maybe at different speeds and different costs, but all will get the job done.

Sometimes this is where companies struggle to take the next step.  They have the way they currently do something, and they have 4 or 6 ideas on how they might make a change and move forward.  But they get stuck on trying to find the perfect solution and don’t do anything as a result.   In our above example, maybe they worry walking will make them too tired; that the rickshaw is too expensive; the bus is too dirty.  Maybe they wonder if they can find a subway station or cab in this part of town.

All might be valid concerns, but one thing is clear – we can’t stay on the boat that brought us to here if we want to get where we’re going!  Why?  Because it travels on the river and the temple we want to go to is almost a mile inland.   We need to do something – we need to make a decision – if we’re going to leave our current position.

Other companies struggle because of what they can’t do as an improvement.  Staying with our Tokyo transportation issue, maybe they wanted to take one of those Segway machines; maybe they hoped for a sightseeing bus.  Perhaps air travel by helicopter or hot air balloon was the dream so they could really see the landscape of the city.  But none of those are options.  Some companies will again do nothing because what they hoped could be done isn’t possible.

These are the scenarios that cause me great frustration and pain in business.  An organization has an idea for a change, does most of the work, and then doesn’t implement it, or even try it!  Often, as I’m asked to help find ways to improve, the old idea is brought up.  After 20 years, I am always surprised when it happens.  Often, I’m at a loss for words and I always need to vent to a confidant afterwards.

Perhaps it’s fear of failure.  Maybe it’s fear of missing out on a better idea.  It could be just pure lack of confidence or leadership that doesn’t want to do their job by addressing change management.  Whatever it is, it can kill a company.  Doing all the work for no payoff costs the company real money but it also erodes employee morale, and it’s this loss of equity in Human Capital that causes me the pain.

When it comes down to it, do I really care if the solution works or not?  Once it’s fully developed and ready for implementation?  Well, yeah, I do; but it’s more important for the team to try their solution.  If it doesn’t work, we get back on our old boat and go back where we came from and try again.  But almost always, it will be better.   Maybe not perfect, but better than before.

Which reminds me of an old proverb:

Don’t let perfect stand in the way of good.

I understand that originally Voltaire wrote that “perfect is the enemy of good”.  In the effort to make improvements, perfect can be the enemy for a couple reasons.  The first is the scenario above of creating inaction.  But that is compounded when the inaction is in a critical area of the business.  Best case, it leads to spending finite resources solving a problem that has already been solved. When that becomes clear, it’s frustrating to all involved – but hopefully easier to move forward quickly.

Worst case, it leads to market erosion, loss of profits, and eventual loss of the business – all things which will try to be solved (usually from a financial perspective with unfavorable consequences) when they are really just the effects of inaction.   So once again the company is solving the wrong problem.

Don’t solve the wrong problems in your business or your life.  If you have an idea for improvement try it!     Even better, empower your employees to try their ideas!  Crazy, I know.  Don’t make it too complex.  Use PDCA, understand the effects of the change, and add to your  and the organization’s knowledge.  Make continual, incremental improvements.  Be happy with small, quick wins, and eventually you will start seeing the big wins that lead to true transformational change.

Keeping the Wind in my Sails

Off the coast of Riomaggiore
Off the coast of Riomaggiore, Italy – shot on Svema 64

Over the past couple weeks my Early Retirement Plan hasn’t met too many obstacles.  Well, other than I don’t know how to sail, we don’t have a sailboat, and there’s no way we could do it with our current family situation and mortgage.  But the point is we see it as a real possibility, even if my wife is tentative.  And she has good reason – I have a lot of interests and pursue knowledge in all of them until they either become uninteresting or they get rolled into the fabric of who I am.  They sometimes run their course and I move on, but usually because something else is more important.  Everyone changes; my interests are just the visible result of my personal growth.  So the real question becomes:  What are we going to do about it?

Well, first I’m working on turning one of my other hobbies into a business that we think would provide the income to support “retirement”.  It’s not location dependent, so it wouldn’t really matter where we are to keep it running and to do the work.  The litmus test on it will be whether I can generate the revenue from the business to buy a boat.  Initial results are promising, since I started right after I made my post last week.  I also have a second hobby that could provide supplemental income, so eventually I’ll test that theory as well.

I’ve looked into sailing classes and membership at a local sailing club.  I’ll join and start those probably in the spring.  I thought about trying it out this fall, and I still may if I can get into their last class or two and schedules permit.  Once I attend their classes and pass their US Sailing Certification, I can use their fleet of small sailboats to get time on the water.  So that might be most of my sailing time next year.

We’re considering attending the US Sailboat Show in Annapolis, thanks to some info provided by Mik Hetu, who lives on a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay.  He read my post, and offered some encouragement. It’s the week before our anniversary, so it might be our anniversary weekend getaway.  We won’t know if our schedules will permit us going for a few weeks, but if we go, we’d like to attend a couples cruising seminar while we’re there.

My wife also wants to start looking at sailboats and wants to buy one for next summer.  She wants us to get a taste of spending significant time on a boat.  It looks like we’ll need to clear 40′ to keep the mast up in Pittsburgh, so we could go as large as some of the 27′ boats if we want.  IF the business generates the income and IF we find a boat we like, we’ll see if we can find marina space and maybe we’ll do it.  Of course we’ll be motoring most of the time, but it would be nice to get a few opportunities to try sailing on the three rivers.  🙂

 

As a result of the other decisions, we’ve also decided to shut down a side business that is not location independent and takes a lot of my time.  All the proceeds went to charity, but the margins were low, so the reward for effort wasn’t great.  We will be able to give more with the new business while still saving for the boat.  So while it was a tough decision, we spent last weekend in Lexington, KY (there’s a roll of photos coming to a blog post soon) with a lot of relaxation time and it made it clear it was time to wrap up that venture.

This dream is alive. It’s probably more like a 5-year plan now, but that would have me “retired” by 47, which is 8 years earlier than I had ever dreamed.  And speaking of dreams – almost every night there’s some aspect of this vision in my dreams.  For me, that’s usually a good sign, and I take it as this is something I need to do.  God willing, I’ll see you on the water soon!

The Early Retirement Plan

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Maybe all of us dream of early retirement.  For me, the idea probably started when I had my first job in manufacturing.  The idea of working 30 years and retiring to really enjoy life was appealing.  Twenty years and 4 employers later, if I’m going to retire “early” it probably needs to be different than those of the previous generation that retired at 55.  I can’t easily access my 401k until I’m 59 1/2, there’s no pension provision, and I think Social Security is up to age 72 for me.

As my wife will tell you, I’ve had all kinds of crazy ideas over the years. Writing is probably one of them.  My first book made money, not much – but at least it didn’t cost us more than it made, and we donated all the proceeds to the church.  This blog originated out of the writing of my second book – which is currently undergoing a mental transformation to get it back where I wanted it to be length-wise.   Film photography – there’s another one, and this blog so far has been mostly about my plunge back into film.

Some of my ideas are fleeting while others grip me and consume my free time.  They invade my dreams, and much of what I see and do each day starts being measured against the current “crazy idea.”  Every once in a while, one of them develops and it sort of changes our life.  From Mrs. Outspoken’s perspective, she says “I know you’ll analyze the hell out of it before making a big decision, so I generally trust your decisions.”

That’s where I sit with my current crazy idea – in heavy analysis mode.  And so far in 3-4 days of borderline obsessive thinking and digging through info on the web the idea only gets more viable; more worthy of giving it a shot.  The last two nights my dreams have been about us living this crazy idea.  So it’s worth writing about – because writing and spreadsheets are how I clarify my ideas and gather my information for future review.  And this is about retirement – I have 13 years until 55 – but I’m finding this could happen much sooner.

So what’s the idea?  The picture above was taken July 19th, 2014 as I headed up the “531” trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola in Italy’s Cinque Terre region.  It was a moderate effort climb – not the easy “Via dell’amore” coastal path most tourists would normally take, because that path is still closed from landslides in 2011.  I was soaked through head to toe after completing the hour hike over the mountain.  The hike started from the little protected cove, and went a good bit higher than where I took this photo.  Somewhere around this time I was falling in love with the Ligurian coastline, and my love of the water was calling me hard.

As I was resting, trying to cool off and catch my breath, I kept thinking how nice it would be to sail this coastline.  And then I thought about sailing near Genova.  And Napoli.  And Ischia.  And Sardinia.

That’s when it hit me – our retirement home in Italy won’t be a specific town.  We can buy a sailboat and live on it – exploring Italy’s coastline!  Crazy, right?

Maybe we can blame the sailboat in this picture.  As I sat in the cove at Riomaggiore, my eyes kept being drawn to that boat.  As I was atop the previous hill above Riomaggiore, I kept looking at that boat.  I know I snapped a few pictures, but of the rolls I’ve processed so far, this is the only one I’ve found.  But somewhere around that moment, the seed was planted.  We could live on a sailboat.

We have talked about retiring in Italy, or at least having a place to go in Italy when we retire.  We have for many years.  Now that I’ve been there several times the last couple years, it seems more like a possible reality.  Then this sailboat idea hits.  I start thinking about renting a boat for Sunday – not much I can find, and the one’s I do find are pretty expensive.  Hmmmm…sounds like a need that could be filled.   English speaking crew that could cater to the thousands of tourists that come to Cinque Terre each summer.  We’d probably only need a few week-long rentals per year to supplement our bank account.

We’ve also always been interested in boats.  We considering buying a boat as our first home.  Even considering being able to move it if jobs took us elsewhere.  Then when we moved to Buffalo, the desire for a boat was reignited, and every summer since our return to Pittsburgh it is a topic of conversation.  So I don’t know why I was surprised when Mrs. Outspoken was receptive to the idea.

Over the last few days, I’ve been looking for holes in the idea.  No major problems thus far, so I’m already in preliminary planning stages.  If we ever get to Italy with our sailboat, it will be in phases.  For example, Phase 1 is “buy a weekend sailboat”.  Something we can spend weekends or even a week on, to get us on the water, and learning to sail.  Phase 2 might be “Do the Great American Loop”, hopefully on that same weekender boat, but maybe something a little larger.  The final full-on retirement phase would be “buy a bluewater sailing vessel”.  Something for full-time live-aboard status that could cross the Atlantic and offer a private area for guests.

Which all sounds crazy to me in some way.  It seems like a dream life.  But if Phase 2 is “Doing the Loop” (no jokes about me being Loopie, thanks), my initial investigation says we could do that for $1500 per month.  We could do that now!  Sure, we’d have to sell the house, the cars, and quit our jobs, but if the boat was paid for we could do The Loop now.  And with the change in the workings of the economy, I could probably make $1500 a month from almost anywhere.  In reality, it might be our current life that’s preventing us from retiring now.  On the flip side, we wouldn’t be able to contemplate this without our past and present putting us where we are today. We have options, and options are good.

So over the coming weeks, I’ll be trying to understand availability at marinas, how much bridge clearance I need for a sailboat in Pittsburgh, what boats offer the right features, what would be our operating budget and tax implications, etc.  with the objective of possibly being on the water next year, taking the first big step towards a potential early retirement into what seems like a dream lifestyle.

For now, I’ll let the images of sailing to various Caribbean, Italian, and North American destinations be the wind in the sails of this dream, and with a little luck, maybe we’ll reach the point of the trip where dreams come true.  One thing I’ve learned: dreams do come true – it just requires hard work and a little luck.  Thankfully, luck favors hard work too, so working hard on your dreams is the key.

And really, what’s the point of life if we don’t chase our dreams?

 

Business idea – Office Cubicle Personalization

I often have ideas for businesses that I think have merit, but there's no way I have time to pursue them all. Why not share the ideas and see if anyone else wants to pursue them? This idea comes from the convergence of my work in an office building and my interest in cars. It's becoming very common to use vinyl to wrap portions of cars or even the entire car to change colors. The same techniques are used to wrap cars for advertising. So those Geico or Red Bull cars you might see, they're most likely vinyl wrapped.

My idea is to take this same practice and apply it to the office cubicle. Below is a fairly common cubicle color scheme:

 

At least this one has some space and a window! But it's dominated by black panels and a little bit of gray! I'm not sure who thinks this is the best way to create a productive, creative workspace, but I can say that every place like this that I've worked at has executive offices with much nicer decorations, including artwork.

Now, using vinyl wrapping, we could transform all of the black metal panels into a nicer color or even a scene. Imagine being greeted by a tropical beach scene instead of a black wall! The vinyl is removable so it can be changed or taken off when needed without damaging the cube farm. A possible side business could be the design and installation of cube makeovers in more urban markets. It would even be possible to put new removable fabric coverings over the cube walls themselves!

Anyway, I think this is a great idea that could make some good income with relatively limited capital investment. With all the sales of vinyl stickers for car windows and lettering for walls, I think this use of vinyl is a good complement. So let me know how it works out if you give this a go.