Romeo Cruz ProfileSilver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce Director Romeo Cruz will provide a weekly column to the Beat, featuring items and announcements of interest to the community.

When is a poison not a poison?

In the 1920s, Wisconsin researchers raced to find the source of an epidemic affecting cattle. Cattle were bleeding to death after minor injuries incurred in routine procedures, such as castration. Researchers discovered a link between a certain type of moldy hay and the strange deaths, and eventually extracted a compound they called dicoumarol, which caused a dangerous and potentially lethal thinning of the blood in cows that consumed it.

Further researched led to a commercial application. In 1948, Warfarin, named after the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, came onto the market as a rat poison. The poison was very effective on rodents. The pleasant scent attracted them, and because it wasn't immediately lethal, they weren't afraid to eat enough to kill them.

But the very property that made Warfarin such an effective means to kill rodents meant that it had potential for other applications, such as treating hypertension in human beings. When a man tried to commit suicide by ingesting Warfarin, doctors were able to successfully save his life by giving him an infusion of vitamin K. It was a remarkable breakthrough, demonstrating that the negative effects of the poison could be reversed. It meant that doctors could use the poison to save lives. One of the first human recipients of the new drug, renamed Coumadin, was President Dwight David Eisenhower, who was treated with the drug after suffering a heart attack.

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The Real Art of Business

The Chamber Column is devoted to exploring the intriguing world of business and commerce, a subject with more permutations than a twelve-sided Rubik's Cube. As I was feverishly pondering what rabbit hole to dive into, it occurred to me that the division between "business" and "life" is tenuous and somewhat arbitrary. It's natural for humans to organize the world in neat little boxes, and business isn't spared from our need to classify, and so we define it as having a trade, or making a living through commerce. But we also love our metaphors, and there is no shortage of metaphors available for people to associate with business.

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Boosting your Creativity

Sometimes, even the most agile and fertile minds can come up empty. Just about everyone who has ever been tasked with a creative process has experienced the feeling of a long, desolate slog through the desert, hot sun beating down upon the featureless plain of the mind, bare sands stretching to the horizon. As unpleasant as this feeling is, it isn’t permanent. There are numerous strategies for re-energizing the mind and allowing the warm rains of creativity to nurture the thirsty sand once again.

Creativity is not innate, and it isn’t an external force that swoops out of the ether. It’s a learned skill, one that combines imagination, curiosity, and passion with knowledge. With this is mind, let’s look at a few strategies for reenergizing your creativity.

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The Concorde Problem

In 1956, manufacturers in France and Britain dreamed of a transatlantic flight that lasted only a few hours. The Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee met to discuss turning this dream into a reality. The result was the Concorde, a marvel of engineering that catapulted passengers across the skies at speeds faster than sound. The trip that took the Pilgrims six weeks took the Concorde less than three hours to complete.

The Concorde was unquestionably a triumph of engineering, but as a business, the jet was a colossal failure. Designing a supersonic passenger jet was a monumental task, eating up investments through cost overruns. But rather than put an end to a program that was hemorrhaging money, the executives in charge decided to continue. With so much money already invested, they thought, it would be a terrible waste if they didn't see it through.

The Concorde is a classic example of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. It occurs when a person or organization makes a decision based on previously invested resources, regardless of whether or not there is a reasonable chance of future gain.

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Tom Sawyer the Marketing Guru

A few days ago, I decided to take my own advice and read a novel. The one I chose was Mark Twain’s immortal love-letter to childhood-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I’ve only had time to read a couple of chapters, but I’ve already discovered why the book is considered a classic. The writing is laced with Twain’s irrepressible humor as he leads the reader into the world of a clever, adventurous boy growing up in a town by the Mississippi River in the 1840s. I was even more surprised to find that in the second chapter, Tom gives his readers a lesson in marketing.

As a punishment for Tom’s numerous offenses, which include fighting, stealing jam, and sneaking out of the house, his Aunt Polly assigns him a job that will require an entire Saturday to complete. Twain describes Tom’s predicament:

“Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him, and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit.”

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Lessons From the Heroes Of the Bataan Death March

Eighty years ago, the Japanese Army occupied the Philippine Islands. General Douglas MacArthur had fled, leaving thousands of American soldiers, and their Filipino allies at the mercy of Japan. The Japanese gathered them all together, nearly 78,000 men, and marched them 65 miles through interminable heat, with little water and food, to a centralized prison camp. Torture and summary execution were commonplace, and those who managed to survive the hunger, exhaustion and thirst could be bayonetted on the side of the road without warning.

On April 9, we remember this particular horror of war as the Bataan Death March. Rather than focus on the abject cruelty that comes with the clash of cultures with the machinery of modern warfare, I would rather focus on the tremendous heroism, tenacity, and bottomless well of strength that enabled so many men to survive. It is here, rather than in the exploration of human depravity, that we might find some positive light in such a dark moment in history.

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Reading is Good Business

In Ray Bradbury's darkly prophetic novel Fahrenheit 451, the author reveals a world where reading books is criminal, with punishment carried out by flamethrower toting firemen, who would not only burn any books they found, but the houses in which they were hidden. Bradbury's point was that a society that stopped reading books would be a dreary, joyless place to live. While we haven't gotten to the point where enforcing the law involves torching houses, reading is certainly not as popular a pursuit as it once was.

It's not enough to scroll through Twitter or peruse your Facebook feed. In fact, the kind of cursory reading required to follow Facebook or Twitter might actually reduce attention spans and make deep thinking more difficult. Reading, for the purposes of this discussion, requires the longer texts found in nonfiction books and novels.

The number of adults who read books declined to a mere 57 percent in 2002, and the number has likely fallen since then. Movies, television, social media, and video games are competing with books for attention, and books are losing the war. The result is fewer people reading and more people relying on visual media for information.

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Solving a Problem Using the Design Thinking Process

Business, at its heart, is the ability to solve problems. Need a meal? There's a business for that. Engine making a knocking noise? A business has that covered too. Many problems handled by businesses are fairly straightforward, but there are some that don't present an obvious solution. For this, a process exists that takes the guesswork out of finding a solution. That process is called the design thinking process, and it can be used for anything from a promotional flier to the next killer phone app. The design thinking process consists of five steps. Although they are presented here in order, the process doesn't necessarily follow a linear path. It's useful, however, to look at each step in the process to understand how they work together.

In this hypothetical example, Dougie Martinez works for the famous Mariposa Mousetrap Company, and he has been charged with the design of a new mousetrap. However, this new mousetrap must be unlike any other mousetrap that has ever been produced. How does Dougie go about producing a new twist on an age-old problem? He could sit in his R and D lab and wrack his brain, hoping that something will come to him. Or he could employ the design thinking process.

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