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Thomas Meloche

Thomas Meloche is a serial entrepreneur motivated by the big vision – using technology to improve the world. He is currently President of Procuit (pronounced Pro-Q-It) Inc. StudyTag.com is Procuit's first product, and it represents such a vision, seeking to provide everyone, everywhere on the planet, a free K-12 education.

Thomas is a native Detroiter who grew up in Bloomfield Township and was graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Computer Engineering. He has been an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember, beginning by selling greeting cards door to door while still in elementary school. He has co-founded, managed, and sold nine different start-ups in Michigan
over 20 years, including the professional service firm, Menlo Innovations LLC. Prior to founding Menlo, he was employee number seven at AppNet, where he served as Director of Engineering. AppNet grew over three years to 300 million in revenue, executed a successful IPO, and was subsequently privately acquired.

Thomas loves to teach. Over the years he has taught thousands of professionals in Michigan and around the world secrets for building successful software engineering teams. More recently, he can be found lecturing on Internet marketing techniques and education, specifically, how to redesign computer-based training systems to achieve measurably better results – think 10-fold better.


Thomas is married to professional writer Renee Taft Meloche, and has one daughter, Bethany. They live in Ann Arbor Michigan and can typically be spotted feeding a large mob of squirrels that congregate daily on their deck. Sometimes they even feed birds. (Do you know what you get when you feed a squirrel? More squirrels.) A favorite local destination is The Henry Ford, which Thomas still calls Greenfield Village.

Thomas will be writing about untapped Michigan potential, more specifically, how to tap it!


-Photograph by Dave Krieger


THIS BLOG FIRST APPEARED IN METROMODE

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Thomas Meloche - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 5

The Simplest Things

Sometimes the simplest things are, in fact, the most profound. And the smallest changes can have the greatest impact. I believe it is possible to dramatically improve our approach to training and education with just a few simple changes. Changes simple enough that teachers can begin applying them the day they learn them.

To understand the solution, we must first recognize the problem.

The problem is that we leak.
That's right, leak. We leak information.

We very rapidly forget new facts to which we are exposed. If you want to revolutionize training and education, you must fully understand this inherent human weakness. We need to be exposed to information again and again, perhaps even hundreds of times, before we can successfully retain and recall it.

This is reality folks. Don't ignore it. Deal with it.

So how do we deal with this without genetically altering humans? Here are the simple steps:

  • Clearly identify the facts you want a student to learn.
  • Provide a method to reinforce those facts over time (over multiple sleep cycles).

Folks, that is it. It is so amazingly simple that it boggles the mind. Have you seen how we actually teach and train our students? We do not do these two things well at all!

Clearly Identify the Facts

Most classes do not clearly identify the specific set of facts to learn. Instead, they take the “guess what I think is important” approach. In this approach, a professor or lecturer stands at the front of the room and drones on and on for hours and hours, over days and days. Eventually, a test is presented to the students. The students are not told exactly what is going to be on the test. Instead, the students get to guess what the instructor thinks is important.

If you guessed right, you get an A.

If you guessed wrong, you fail.

In either case, it is highly unlikely that you will remember more than one or two of the facts within thirty days of the exam.

This failure is clearly demonstrated in the game show Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader. We don't remember what we learned in elementary school. Why? Because we leak!

It is really simple folks, if the facts are not systematically reinforced, they are most assuredly forgotten.

To fix the problem, clearly identify every fact the student should remember for the long-term. Next, give the students all of these facts in advance. Yes, all of them. If they should know 1000 things give them all 1000. Help them master all 1000. Test them on all 1000.

I know, this is extra work for the educators. They actually need to clearly identify what the students should master. We don't do this today because we think it would take too much time and energy for students to remember all of these facts. The truth is, with the proper reinforcement system in place, it will take less than five minutes a day.

Reinforce the Facts


To retain and successfully recall facts, they need to be reinforced over multiple sleep cycles. Some facts are learned quickly. They may only need to be reinforced a few times. Other facts, for whatever reason, are learned slowly.

They may need to be reinforced several hundred times.

The problem is, these facts are never the same for two different people. Everyone needs to be reinforcing different facts on entirely different schedules. Admittedly, this is almost impossible to do in a lecture. However, for a computerized tutor, it is remarkably simple.

A computer can be used to build a mind map for each individual student, learning exactly what facts the student knows and doesn't know. The computer can remember every time a student was exposed to a fact, on what date and at what time. The computer can remember each individual student's success in recalling and retaining each and every fact. Finally, the computer can provide a customized reinforcement plan individualized for every single student.


As a result, the computer can ensure every single student masters every single fact, and it does this so quickly that to most students, it does not even feel like studying.

This is not a theory folks, it is a fact. For the last two years at Procuit we have been doing applied research on precisely this method of training. Others have been doing it even longer. It really works. However, don't take our word for it, test it on yourself. Pick something you would like to learn and implement a system of spaced repetition and reinforcement over extended periods of time.

You learn more. Faster. With less effort.

Sometimes the simplest things are, in fact, the most profound. Identify the facts you want your students to learn, all of them, and provide a customized method to reinforce them. You'll be amazed at how smart they become.

Let the knowledge revolution begin.


Tip of the Day: My research system is available to use free of charge at StudyTag.com. Try learning all of the U.S. States and Capitals, or author your own course, you can learn almost anything in five minutes a day.

My company is Procuit Inc. Visit us, if you are interested in learning more.

Post No. 4

Training Budgets Waste or Total Waste?

If Michigan is interested in learning how to truly compete on a global scale, then we have to get dramatically smarter, about getting smarter.

Why is it that whenever the auto industry has a down-turn the first budget slashed is training? One week we want everyone to attend all of these important training seminars and the next week almost ALL of it is canceled. Why?

I have my own theory as to why training budgets are cut in this way. I propose this theory in the manner of a confession. You see, for most of the past 20 years I've been involved in some form of professional training. I have seen first hand what companies intuitively know, which is that a great deal of the money, time, and energy spent in professional training total is a TOTAL WASTE.

There, I said it, I feel better already.

Unfortunately, this also applies to most on-line training courses. The big difference between on-line training and live training in terms of results is simply that you waste less money with on-line training because you spend less for the course. Not a big win.

Here is a simple test to see how effective your training has been.

List, from memory, five facts you learned at your last all-day training course.

Thirty days after you take that on-line computer training lesson, do you remember even two things you learned?

I doubt it.

Research dating back to Ebbinghaus in 1885 shows us why. The reality is, we are great at forgetting. Perhaps it is time we start applying this research? Or, here's an idea, perhaps we can apply some of the additional research done in human cognition and memory that has been performed since 1885. We do have an additional 122 years of research we could be using. Have you ever read any of it? When I look at most professional training it is certainly clear that your trainers haven't!

Remarkably, whether teaching in schools or training in business, for the the most part, we ignore 122 years of research. We use old and wasteful training methods.

Hey Detroit! Interested in learning how to slash your training budgets while achieving dramatically better training results? Want to ensure your employees actually gain and retain the skills and knowledge required to compete in the 21st century?

Here is a hint:


STOP PUTTING YOUR STUPID POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS ON-LINE INTO STUPID COMPUTER BASED TRAINING SYSTEMS.


Please stop doing that, it just makes me sick. In case you didn't notice, most people are BORED TO DEATH by PowerPoint presentations. Why do you think putting them on the Internet will suddenly make them more interesting?

There is a dramatically better way to provide training and education. Information worth learning should be properly reinforced so that it is retained and recalled long-term. Here is a thought, if you do training right, you should ACTUALLY REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED.

Oh, and an additional benefit of doing training right - if you change your tools and approach, most training sessions should not cost more than $10. Think Charles Shaw training: if you are paying more than $10 a bottle of training, you are paying too much. If your vendors are charging you more than that, get new vendors, or demand that they implement a better system, a system based on 122 years of research.

If Michigan is going to be competitive in the 21st Century we are going to have to have some of the most effective training and education programs on the planet. We can do this. First we have to be willing to admit that what we are currently doing is not good enough. Next, we have to change. The tools are ready. The time is right. The secrets are ready to be revealed.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you the secrets to dramatically reforming our education and training systems, including exactly what needs to change, how to change it, and where you can begin.

Post No. 3

I Wish We Were So Stupid

From time to time I hears folks criticizing one of our wonderful Michigan businesses. I know, this is hard to believe, but it is true. To be specific, people sometimes call our businesses and their great leaders stupid. "Ford was stupid doing this," "GM was stupid for doing that," and "all of them are stupid for ignoring W. Edwards Deming," and on and on. (O.K., I admit, I'm usually the one making the Deming comment.)

Usually the criticism is followed with, "And you will not believe what the morons running my company just did."

In the past, whenever I heard people complaining about how stupid Michigan companies were, I would tell them, "If you want to really experience stupid, you have work for a California company."

Over the years, while still living in Michigan, I've somehow managed to end up working for California companies. I am not exaggerating when I say that these are the absolutely most amazingly stupid companies I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

In fact, in the case of Commerce One, they turned stupidity into a mind numbingly glorious singularity – burning in stupid brightness, losing literally hundreds of millions of investment dollars, shutting down profitable businesses, and driving themselves to financial ruin.

If you really want to meet stupid people, I am convinced that there is no better place than Silicon Valley.

At one point I mistakenly took solace in the idea that the Michigan companies I knew were significantly smarter than the California ones. Yes, the California companies were continually doing bold, innovative, and dramatic moves, but most these moves were also colossally unforgiving and, to me anyway, quite frequently stupid. Silicon Valley companies seem to enjoy betting their entire future on some crazy innovation, a single roll of the dice. Imagine how stupid the California VCs and Angels must be to invest in these companies.

To add insult to injury. Californians seem to celebrate their stupidity. They wear it as a badge of honor to have tried a startup and failed. Their VCs actually give money to inventors and managers who failed the last time they tried a startup: they let them try again! They even fund teenagers and college students ten to fifty thousand dollars for a stupid startup idea, with no real business plan, not even a single financial projection. Some even expect them to launch a new business in only 10 weeks. Oh the insanity, the insanity, and yes, I'm talking about you, Y Combinator.

In Michigan we have a better way – slow, deliberate, cautious, ..., smart. By golly, I remember the response I received when I presented an idea for an Internet company to a Michigan VC firm in 1996. The Michigan VC said, "The Internet, well, I don't really know if that Internet is going to go anywhere." After all, we wouldn't want to invest if we didn't really KNOW the result ahead of time, like a Treasury Bill. That's the smart way to invest.

I was happy with my opinion on how smart we all are in Michigan. Even my experience with our local VC community didn't really change that opinion, although it did begin to shake the ground a little. It wasn't until I read, On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin, that I fundamentally began to question my faith in Michigan's approach to intelligent investing. That Darwin, always challenging our faith. I couldn't help but apply his theory to business, and I was surprised at the perspective it gave.

The beauty of the theory of natural selection is that doesn't require intelligent design. That is why it is so offensive to so many people. The key concept that so intrigues me is this:

Natural selection doesn't require intelligent design.

It is not intelligent selection, it is natural selection. It is not survival of the smartest, but survival of the fittest. And sometimes, being the fittest, is simply a function of luck. When I think of Darwin in the realm of innovative startup businesses, I am inclined to believe that intelligence is overrated.

What is required for natural selection to perform its wonders for startup businesses?

A large population, selection, and time.

Here is where we may be in trouble in Michigan. We are just too darn smart. We are trying to do intelligent design on a process better suited to natural selection. Intelligent design simply isn't as good as natural selection in creating strong, new, innovative businesses and jobs.

The world is changing so fast, and technology is moving fast, if you want to ride the edge of innovation you cannot wait to make intelligent investments, for by the time it is clear what investments will survive and thrive, the opportunity has passed you by, and someone else will have the thriving new business life created by the process.

Say, for a purely hypothetical example, a new piece of technology appears called XMLhttprequest. Let's call the technology, and how it is applied, Web 2.0. California, being stupid, blindly starts up and finances hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Web 2.0 companies, all in less than three years. Mostly stupid companies, with stupid ideas, and no hint as to how they will ever even make any money.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Michigan, however, is much more clever. We only startup a few, and we don't provide them with any capital. Certainly no Michigan VC gives them any money, and for goodness sake, don't even approach the Angel Groups or the MGCS with this sort of lame idea. Include these types of businesses in the 21st Century Jobs Fund? That would be stupid.

Michigan is smart. California, clearly stupid.

End of the story? Unfortunately, no. The galling thing is that, in the end, California wins. How? The power of natural selection over a large population outperforms intelligent design.

Out of these thousands of new startup companies created in California many will, through the process of natural selection, survive, adapt, and even grow. Most die. Some absolutely thrive, creating whole new industries and thousands of new jobs. At the end of a few years, California successfully employs thousands and thousands of engineers and managers in the thriving companies. Thousands more work in those that are merely surviving. These companies being to develop synergy, create new ideas (mostly stupid), and launch yet still more new businesses creating new jobs.

Michigan. Michigan in the same time frame likely creates ten to twenty Web 2.0 companies. Most get no funding and die on the drawing board. Others move to California. And the few remaining ones who are successful, well, if they have an exit strategy it likely involves selling the company and moving it to California. After all, the only people stupid enough to buy it, are in California.

Final score: California, tens of thousands of new jobs in new industries, without a single tax credit to create them. Michigan, 0.

I wish we were so stupid.

There was a time when Michigan was a lot dumber. Henry Ford stupidly wanted to sell affordable cars to everyone. The smart money kept telling him to focus on selling cars only to the rich. "Silly Henry, don't you know the farmers can't afford cars, and we don't even have any roads for people to drive on."

I can hear the capital speaking even now. Oh, if only we had a few thousand people as stupid as Henry around, and a few others stupid enough to back them.


The next time you hear somebody say how stupid a Michigan company is, tell them what I say, "Yeah, and not nearly stupid enough."

I mean, we wouldn't want to have created a good alternative fuel car when gas was only $1.00 a gallon – that would've been stupid.


Tip of the Day: A slightly different take on my thesis can be found in the most excellent book, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Would you like to better understand Web 2.0? Read Tim O'Reilly's original article. It is a bit technical, and a bit old, but still quite good. My personal Web 2.0 project? StudyTag. Check it out, and maybe even learn something about the Great Lakes. Best of all, StudyTag is free. I know, I know, it is stupid to give stuff away for free.

Post No. 1

Enough Hoopla Around Google? Not Nearly Enough!

On more than one occasion I've heard someone poo poo (poo poo is that the formal term for it?) the announcement that Google opened a large office in Michigan. Typically, their statements go something like this "We've lost 19,000 manufacturing jobs last year. Sure it is great that Google opened an office here, but what is Google going to be, a thousand jobs? What difference will that make?"

It is a good question. What difference will it make? What difference could having one of the most innovative and interesting search, advertising, and marketings companies on the planet open a large office in Michigan make? Here is an answer for you...

It could save Michigan.

Let me repeat the answer, just to make it clear.

It could save Michigan.

Google has the potential to be that important to the long-term future of Michigan. Not because of revenue generated from the thousand jobs, the pay at those jobs is not nearly high enough. Nor will Google setting up shop in Michigan convince many other companies to follow. It may convince a few, but with our shallow VC and Angel market we are certainly not positioned to be the next Silicon Valley.

No. The benefit of having one of the world's most innovative search, advertising, and marketing companies setup shop in Michigan is that finally Michigan businesses may finally begin to realize just how important Google's tools are to growing business worldwide. Michigan businesses may begin to recognize that it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that they start using Google products and services to grow their business! Michigan businesses must dramatically improve their game in Internet marketing and selling, their future, and ours, depends on it.

I attended an event in Ann Arbor this year where a Google guest speaker was flown in from California to demonstrate Google Analytics. It was well attended. The room where it was held was packed. The only problem is if everyone in Michigan who needed to learn the information had attended it would have required Ford Field to hold the audience. Google Analytics and Google Adwords are that important! Don't you know this yet? Where were you? Every single business in Michigan can benefit greatly from a well executed Adwords strategy. These tools may be the single most important way you can grow your company, improve sales, reach new customers, and have a global impact. It is time you learned more about it.

Google is training up to 1,000 Google employees in Michigan on Google Adwords. Even better, it is the job of these people to pass that knowledge on to you! The Google office in Michigan is specifically designed to help you do a better job using Adwords.

If I was Governor I would do everything in my power to ensure that every Michigan business understands how to create and execute an Adwords campaign, and how to build a landing page for that campaign that actually converts to sales. These are the skills that will allow new businesses to grow. These are the skills that allow Michigan businesses to sell and test market anywhere in the world at very low cost, and I mean anywhere, including your own backyard. Do you want to give Michigan businesses a head start? Teach Michigan workers how to use Adwords.

In case you're wondering, no, I do not work for Google and I do not own their stock (my bad). I have, however, used their tools for years. I KNOW that they work. I know that they can turn a business around. I know that they can make the process of marketing, lead generation, and sales actually fun again. My knowledge is real and personal, and I continue to use these tools every day. Google's tools are not the end of the journey, they are just the beginning, and there are other excellent Internet tools you should be using to grow your business. However, Google is probably one of the best places to start. I suggest you start today.

Yes. Losing 19,000 manufacturing jobs hurts, a lot.

But there is also hope. Google opened a large office in Michigan. Google, the company that has been changing how businesses advertise, market, and sell for years. It is still rare to find a Michigan company that is using these tools well. If Google having an office here in Michigan can begin to change that, then yes, it is really, really important.

It could just save Michigan.


Tip of the Day: Where would I start learning this stuff if I were you? Get the Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords by Perry Marshall and Bryan Todd.

Currently selling for less than $20 on Amazon. Don't just buy it, actually read it! Then, actually do it. The best $20 you will spend this year, and don't be fooled, the book isn't really about Adwords, it is about how to implement a comprehensive Internet marketing and sales strategy.

Post No. 2

Chrysler, Want To Make an Extra 50 Billion?
(Or Why Detroit Needs Open Source)


Did you know that there is an IT breakthrough hidden inside of Chrysler that in the right hands could be worth 50 billion dollars or more? I’m not talking research, I’m talking developed, deployed, and operational software. The funny thing is, Chrysler almost assuredly doesn’t even know what it has! In fact, it is likely they have already turned off and abandoned this bit of amazing IT innovation.

Don’t get me wrong. At least two Chrysler employees knew exactly what they had, but they were just lowly software engineers in an auto company. They didn't have the temperament to spin-off, raise capital, and start a new industry.

Here is what happened. An internal software initiative had already failed two or three times, and yet another team had taken seven person-years to try to do it right. Unfortunately, the resulting system was slow, buggy, and behind schedule.

The project involved data collection for manufacturing plants. Not just a little data, but a great pile of data for nearly every part for almost every machine (several hundred to several thousand machines per facility.)

To make it more interesting, the data being collected would be different for different machines and the data may change over time. Chrysler needed to know how many machine cycles a particular piece of tooling has made on one machine, and on another machine, how long the cycle time was, and on and on. And this was just the data collection. Once the system had the data, they needed to provide alerts on certain conditions, warnings on others, and reports and real-time views on it all. And these needed to be able to be changed in real-time.

To make a long story short, a miracle occurred, and a completely new version of the system was written by one individual in two months – put another way, 84 months worth of work was reduced to 2 months, and the results were error free. This is what an employee told me later:

"A little less than two months later, this guy tossed me the product release, I had to laugh, he emailed me the release! How could something that will fit in my email possibly accomplish even a fraction of the requirements! I chuckled under my breath, and performed the install.

Then it hit me! This was working, just like he said it would.

And, I didn’t have to code the changes for each machine; it would create what was needed from the machine specifications!

I am always the skeptic, so I presented my first challenge: O.K., smart guy, each minute on this line costs $1000.00, sure you are collecting the down time, but I want to split the cost between every “Downed” machine on the line, on a per minute basis, and at the end of the day, I want to know which machine cost me the most dollars in productivity.

The next morning, I opened my E-Mail to find a configuration file.

I had him now….he forgot to send me the new release! A quick trip by his desk left me shaking my head, I didn’t need a new release, all I needed to do was apply my new business rules to the existing system!

My friend, this is agile.

This is what development was supposed to do for us.

I threw seven man-years of code in the trash that day, and launch a great system at a fraction of the cost. Using traditional methods, I could have spent years trying to design a system just to tell me the high cost machine on my lines, I got it from this system in a single day."

Basically, Chrysler was shown by a lone consultant on a small project a totally new way to develop industrial software, a way that dramatically reduced cost and improved quality. This approach was so innovative that it could have been spun-out into an entire new software industry. Of course, that would require time, energy, and capital, and automotive companies are not software companies.

So what happened? The innovation was never developed further. All of our big automotive companies treat IT as proprietary and confidential. And, near as I can tell, all of them are continually redoing the same projects over and over and over again.

The result of this secrecy policy? Well, I am sure even Sue Unger never knew this particular innovation existed. You see innovation is a delicate thing that needs to be carefully tended, most of the time it isn't even recognized as innovation by experts in the field. Make every line of software internal and highly confidential, and even you will not know about your own innovations when they happens.

Innovation born. Innovation dies.

Sadly, I know of many of these stories in Michigan. Michigan has incredible talent in software engineering. We have tremendous innovation. However, because all of the software is treated as an internal secret, it dies internally and is a secret EVEN TO THE COMPANY THAT CREATED, FINANCED, AND USES IT.

The solution? In my opinion, Detroit automotive companies should seek to open source almost all of their software initiatives. Everyone needs to control a factory floor, everyone needs to meet payroll, everyone needs to manage suppliers, and frankly none of you are that good at developing software.

So, when you do spend a fortune developing and deploying it, don't hide it, open source it! Let others unabashedly benefit from your investment and nurture your innovation.

Had this innovation at Chrysler been properly nurtured in an open source community, the IT costs at all of our Michigan automotive companies would have been slashed, and it would still be dropping! Not by moving to cheap offshore labor, but by eliminating most of the labor entirely. Think about it, 80 months of labor reduced to 2 months of labor. I won't even calculate the percent savings because it is too embarrassing to the industry!

Detroit, do you want to dramatically reduce your software costs? Then open source your software projects! It is probably the only way you will actually be able to benefit and leverage the innovation that is incurring inside your walls. It you are clever, or perhaps I should say if you are stupid, you might even get a piece of the 50 billion dollar non-competing industry that arises from the innovation.

We'll talk more about being that stupid tomorrow.



Tip of the Day: Two open source packages I use continually are are Open Office and Firefox. Check them out.
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