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Archive for March, 2017

Design paul-heckel_MrxnnvfkW

 

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A Simple How To For Innovation

 

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Extracted from an interesting short piece by Christian Madsbjerg is the author of SENSEMAKING: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm:

Silicon Valley needs to get schooled

Silicon Valley is getting antsy. It’s been awhile since we were collectively wowed by the next big thing. The iPhone is ten years old. Uber is eight. The problem isn’t a lack of ideas. As engineers keep breaking new ground, it seems like anything will be possible soon. Why aren’t more of these technologies breaking through to our everyday lives?

What Silicon Valley is missing is an understanding of people—what is meaningful to them, the way they live their day to day lives, what would make a difference for them on an ordinary Tuesday in Phoenix or Shanghai. There is a dearth of deep, nuanced cultural knowledge

From my experience working with major corporations, I would say that technological advancements are only half of the picture. Knowing how to build things is great, but if you have no idea for whom you’re building them—how these inventions will connect with people’s aspirations and challenges—you will fail, no matter how many coding geniuses and data scientists you employ.

If you, like me, are a reader of great novels, you know that almost visceral sensation when you come to understand the world of someone else – the suffering of an Afghan woman, enduring abuse and horrendous conditions to spear her loved ones, or the drab misery of life as an IRS clerk in middle America, someone who had always imagined his life would turn out differently. Literatures—like in-depth journalism, plays, music, art, and even activities like cooking—can put you in the shoes of people unlike you in profound, empathetic way. But the importance of these activities is under attack from the big data-mindset that has invaded both Silicon Valley and many of the world’s biggest corporations.

Spend a few days immersed in a great novel by Tolstoy or with the work of Greek scientist and poet Ptolemy and one is forced to acknowledge that nothing is ever entirely disrupted nor is anything ever completely new. Learning does not function independently of what has come before, but rather in dialogue with it. If executives at Google had taken some time to contemplate this fact, they might have avoided the disastrous rollout to their Google Glass product in 2014. The technology itself functioned just fine. In a narrow Silicon Valley perspective, Google Glass might be considered a successful technology. But when does a piece of technology ever exist independent of a world, a societal structure and culture? Yes, the glasses “worked” but did they belong? Google Glass wearers were dubbed “Glassholes” and people shunned Google Glass wearers at social events. Silicon Valley may have new technology, but in this instance it failed at the much larger challenge of understanding how people relate to one another.

When we use a skill set based in the humanities to understand the world, we gain insight into these deeper issues. And these are the factors that actually drive business forward. Let’s return to China: one by one, the world’s biggest and most cutting edge Silicon Valley companies—Yahoo, eBay, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, and, finally Google—have attempted to develop a meaningful market there. They have come armed with all of the best technical knowledge along with plenty of cash and intellectual property. And yet, today, Internet market leaders in China are still local: Alibaba, Baidu and TenCent.

Technical superiority is a very small part of this story. Limited by their “Silicon Valley” state of mind, American companies simply had no feel for the nuances that made the Chinese marketplace different. With a deeper immersion into the lives of Chinese consumers as well as into their literature, history and religion, technologists might have grasped the more subtle differences between professional and personal network building in Chinese society

When we stop valuing culture, we become blind to the very opportunities that drive “world changing” technology to mass adoption. The greatest challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century are cultural, not algorithmic. And the greatest tools for the study and understanding of culture exist within the wealth of theories and methodologies that make up the humanities.

To those of you with a liberal arts degree, I say this: your skills are essential in today’s world, and more companies need to recognize that. To those of you with a STEM degree (or who never bothered with college in the first place), I would say: pick up a book or two every month. Go to plays. Travel and immerse yourself in a culture unlike your own.

Without a deep, empathetic understanding of other people, turning that good idea into the next big thing may prove elusive.

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The original article may be read here.

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How a rest stop on the side of the road inspired a web page design

Introducing the YesAQars ago I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin. On the Illinois side there are a couple of rest stops over the tollway. It’s a great place to get some gas, grab some caffeine, and stretch your legs a little before the final 50 miles home.

The rest stop usually has a booth where you can buy a iPass so you don’t need to stop and pay tolls all the time. During the day there’s a person in the booth to help answer any questions you have.

It appears that a lot of the same questions are asked over and over. Enough, in fact, that the person who answers them is sick of giving the same answer. That answer is “Yes”.

So they jumped on a computer somewhere and put together what I can only describe as one of the smartest formats for an FAQ I’ve ever seen. A single answer on top, and all the questions below. The answer is always YES!! YES, YES. YES!! Then they taped it to the outside of the booth. You can’t miss it.

Yes Page

I thought this was brilliant. I just love it. Yeah, it’s full of passive aggression and spelling errors and formatting problems, but the idea in itself is so refreshing. It’s folk information art.

Inspired by this, we whipped up our own version of a YES! page for Basecamp 3. It was a fun exercise in messaging and design. We call it the YesAQ.

Yes Page 2

Check it out.

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Source: From here.

 

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I was camping in a fairly large house, well maintained, surrounded by a number of flowering trees and plants, home to countless birds that treated us to a melodious cacophony announcing their morning foray and home coming in the evening. It was time for the trees to renew themselves – service staff came in the morning and again in the afternoon to sweep off the leaves copiously shed by the tress on the front-yard.  The flowering plants however were still abloom. At times on my touch, a bee would startle me flying out from deep inside the flower.

For one who has lived all his life in Mumbai flats (apartments) where one cannot take ten steps without hitting a wall, one’s auditory nerves constantly assaulted by caw’s of those sullen crows and bark of stray (and house) dogs, this was an overwhelming experience. The spacious front-yard was where I took my mandatory morning and evening walks, my senses enjoying the sights and sounds around.

Get the picture?

The only blot on the scene was the rubble piled up near the neem tree at one corner of the house in the front.  The house owner had not cleared it intending to reuse it in future possibly for patching up parts of the yard.

Yesterday morning, walking near the neem tree I saw a splash of red dried up on the debris. I had not seen it before. Clearly, someone, possibly one of those tradesmen called in for some repair work, had used it as a spittoon after chewing a paan (betel leaf + lime + arca nut shavings + whatever). Unfortunate, but true, in this country one may freely spit in public or even common spaces, but never so within a house. But the perpetrator saw it differently – if the corner was good (?) to pile up the rubble, no one minding, it was ok for him to spit over there.

The ‘Broken Window’ syndrome playing out!

Broken_windows,_Northampton_State_Hospital

From wiki: ‘Under the broken windows theory, an ordered and clean environment, one that is maintained, sends the signal that the area is monitored and that criminal behavior is not tolerated. Conversely, a disordered environment, one that is not maintained (broken windows, graffiti, excessive litter), sends the signal that the area is not monitored and that criminal behavior has little risk of detection.’

A few broken windows, at times even one, left unfixed for some time is a trigger or invitation for many more, if not all, to be broken.

Much is written on this syndrome as a subject of study under criminology and urban sociology.

Outside of crime, the phenomenon may be observed in many other contexts: projects, product development, organizations, communities and even in personal life.

When a project manager leaves unfixed the first infractions on time deadline, quality issues or team indiscipline…, the first window is broken. His team reads it differently. It’s very likely he would, to his grief, witness many more ‘broken windows’ before long on his way down and out.

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Source: wikipedia

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Innovation Stahl.jpg

Thus concludes Greg Satell in his efforts to find out what is common to successful companies known for their innovation. He finds in his study so many opposites in their approaches that he cautions ‘Here’s Why You Should Think Twice Before Listening To Business Gurus‘.

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Finally a product no one would sniff at:

image004 (1)

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