Tag Archives: Creativity

Let’s Talk Ketchup

1 Jun

ketchup

I was in a conversation yesterday about a forecasting tool we use to manage our sales pipeline in Application Development. I’m frustrated about some of the tool’s limitations, and I was ranting to one of my peers, Rob, that I wanted to throw it out and build something new.

Rob tilted his head to me and gave me a narrow gaze. “Or…”, he offered. “You could just find a way to make it better.”

And that’s something, I am embarrassed to say, that hadn’t occurred to me. As a self-proclaimed smart guy who sometimes wears the mantle of leader, I all too often feel like it’s my job to generate new ideas, to create new solutions, to invent my way out of any issue, dilemma or challenge. Because what’s more American than creating things, am I right?

Which makes me think about ketchup.

What’s more American than ketchup? We put it on our burgers, we put it on our fries, on our eggs, our hash browns, and in our macaroni and cheese. We serve it with our breakfast, our lunch, and our dinner. No less than 45 American companies manufacture and distribute their own variations of ketchup to every corner of the globe. The red on the American flag might as well be painted with it – it’s that American. When was the last time you went to a casual restaurant or “American Bistro” and they didn’t have a bottle at the ready, or pre-set at your table?

It’s as American as apple pie. More! As American as freedom! Ketchup is the liquid equivalent of a bald eagle clutching a McDonalds bag as he soars over the Rocky Mountains and into the setting sun. It’s that American! But where did this stuff come from, this American red gold?

Does it matter?

Let’s dig a bit and see. Ketchup came to the Western world in the late 17th century, given to European traders in their travels to the Far East. There are stories dating back to 1690 which describe a vinegary, pickled condiment found in the Fujian region of coastal China reportedly called “ke-chaip”, and similar stories from 1710 and ’11 describing an Indonesian “brined” sauce referred to sometimes as “kecap” and sometimes as “ketjap”.

Nobody knows what it was about this exotic condiment that westerners found so intoxicating, but we sure did love it. We were making catchup in Great Britain as early as 1727 – nearly 50 years before the American Revolution! The condiment was so important and pervasive that it had already found its way into a “new world” cookbook as early as 1801. In America, catsup (apparently it was Americanization that changed catchup to catsup) was made regionally and sold by farmers across much of the 1800’s.

In 1876, the H.J. Heinz company started mass-producing their own unique blend of catsup, and – in the hopes that it would make their product stand out from the farmer’s alternatives – they decided to call their sauce ketchup. Over the next 10 years, every other manufacturer followed Heinz’ lead, and as the manufactured food industry exploded in the new world so did ketchup.

Fast forward a hundred and twenty-five years, your local grocer probably stocks between ten and twenty brands of ketchup (some even spelling it catsup again) – all manufactured in the U.S. and distributed to every country in the world. There are 196 nations on the face of our planet, and the one thing they have in common – all hyperbole aside – is the presence of ketchup.

Weird, right?

Americans didn’t discover or invent ketchup. We weren’t the first to create it, the first to document it, the first to fine-tune it, the first to trade it, or the first to sell it. We just took something good and made it better. We looked at what we had, and – through trial and error, through experimentation and discovery – we turned it into something better.

Which brings me back to my conversation with Rob.

We’re often in the situation that we need to determine whether to make something or to take something that already exists and make it better. In Application Development, we’re probably in this situation more than most; but I think everyone can relate: Fix the deck or build a new one? Steam-clean the couch or buy a new one? Sand and re-stain the table or buy a new one? When we’re in those situations, it almost always seems like the “best” choice is to make something new instead of taking something that already exists and making it better.

The next time you’re in that situation – and the next time I’m in that situation – consider this:

EASIER DOES NOT EQUAL BETTER

Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s better. Just because you want to doesn’t mean you should. Just because you thought of it, that doesn’t make it the right choice. Maybe take a moment, the next time you find yourself facing a make it better moment, to dip your decisions in ketchup, that uniquely American condiment.

Americans didn’t make ketchup, We just made it better.

 

Andrew J. Powell Principal- Application Development

Andrew J. Powell
Principal- Application Development

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 

Bitcamp GR

30 May

Bitcamp

You know what sounds fun?  Getting pulled out of class the Friday before Memorial Day to make a webpage about whatever you want.

On Friday, May 23, twenty 6th-8th grade girls from Harrison Park School got to do just that as part of Bitcamp 2014.  They came over to the App Dev space at OST to learn basic HTML and CSS from some of our female developers.  Harrison Park is just a few blocks from OST’s Grand Rapids campus, so it was great to be able to partner with one of our neighbors.  These particular girls were Challenge Scholars, which means they’ve shown academic potential and will receive special learning opportunities and, upon successful graduation from high school, money to attend college.  The goal is to enable them to succeed at the university level when they may be the first ones in their families to do so.

I’m not a teacher, and there’s a reason for that.  Sitting behind a computer screen writing code comes much more naturally to me than interacting with junior highers.  My fellow Bitcamp teachers may have been slightly more qualified but obviously OST believes in me and wants to provide me with opportunities to grow and use my expertise in unexpected ways.  I was thrilled to be a part of this, since I truly believe coding (especially making your first web page, with customized colors and links that pop up right after you hit save and refresh!) is a blast, and wish that more girls were exposed to it at a young age.

It was a challenge to convey some of the abstract concepts inherent in programming in a way that pre-teens who had never heard of HTML could understand and relate to.  Most of them left understanding a lot and being confused about a lot (which is approximately how I feel after attending any tech lecture).  But by the end, we could tell many of them were having fun getting creative with custom colors, links to their favorite sites, and pictures (boy bands were a theme) embedded in their own unique web pages.  The goal wasn’t to teach them everything about web development, or to make them HTML and CSS experts.  My hope was that at least one of the students would leave thinking (1) that she is capable of doing this and (2) that she might enjoy doing something like this.  A little inspiration is all it takes, and I think that happened on Friday.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PHOTOS

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Andrea Houg joined the OST team as an Application Developer in March 2014. Andrea is a recent Hope College grad who majored in Computer Science and Chemistry, and minored in Spanish. Andrea graciously volunteered her expertise to assist with instructing the girls at Bitcamp GR 2014. 

On the Value of Quirks

9 Dec

For the sake of those OST employees reading this, I am not talking about you.  This post is clearly about your coworkers.

Quirky Hanging TwixThis morning I was wandering on the third floor at the OST office and came across this scene.  I heard that one of our staff came in today singing Jingle Bells at the top of his voice.  And, as everyone would probably attest to, Chief Quirkiness Officer (CQO) might be an appropriate title for me.

We could all make a list of the interesting and quirky behavior of the OST team.  Candy bars suspended from the ceiling as a birthday surprise is just one of the indicators.

Clearly, this is part of the fun atmosphere at OST.  We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We enjoy the March Madness party, the Spartan/U of M/Notre Dame/Packers/Lions/etc. rivalries.  The not-too-serious “welcome to OST emails”. The spider jokes with Tracy.

But does it have purpose?  We are after all, a business.  I was asked this question quite seriously by a visitor that was new to OST.  They acknowledged the cool factor and that it would make it a fun place to work, but is there a value in this quirky corporate culture? Continue reading