Potential For Greatness

September 23, 2014

In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):

This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.

Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.

The review ends with:

Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.

The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.

By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:

I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.

There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.

So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?

More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.

 


The Perfect Mix: Age And Creativity

September 12, 2014

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Interesting article by Ben McNeil in Ars Technica on creativity, age profiles and funding systems including:

Although unconventional and risky research can be pursued at any age, it seems to come much easier to younger scientists. That may be because they have more time to allocate to one idea and are less susceptible to the “curse of knowledge”—the cognitive bias that tends to make experience stifle one’s ability to come up with or accept new, unconventional, or creative ideas.

The 30- to 40-year-old period has often been described as “the golden years” for creative discovery, a perfect mix of time, enthusiasm, naivety, and just enough experience to produce optimal creativity.

Whether the age correlation is widely true or not, I like the list of ingredients, especially the inclusion of the word ‘naivety’. It’s probably true that after a certain age, cynicism and a ‘been there/seen it’ attitude all too easily creep in and innocence and naivety make a rapid exit.

However, as mentioned in the quote above, the continual ability to learn and change is also an important factor – not to mention luck of course!

On a related theme, there’s a discussion of ‘lean periods’ in research here.

Picture credit here.


The Rosie Project

September 2, 2014

I’m a member of a local book club and due to this I come across books I probably wouldn’t read or even hear about otherwise. One such that I liked a lot was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s written in a simple style but contains lots of humour and insights especially on the sometimes perplexing and conflicting roles of logic and emotions.

The author was formerly an IT specialist (data modeling) and founder of a business and IT consultancy, so quite a career change, although he seems a bit of a natural polymath anyway.

From a review in The Guardian:

As first sentences go, “I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem” has possibilities as an instant classic. But is this a dark murder story or a self-help relationship tome? Well, neither: it’s an endearing romantic comedy, and the narrator, professor of genetics Don Tillman (39, tall, intelligent and employed: “Logically I should be attractive to a wide range of women”), is an undiagnosed Asperger’s type who Simsion uses to explore how a grown autistic man might approach a romantic relationship…

Warm-hearted and perfectly pitched, with profound themes that are worn lightly, this very enjoyable read promises to put Don Tillman on the comic literary map somewhere between Mr Pooter and Adrian Mole. Through his battles to understand and empathise with other humans, Don teaches us to see the funny side of our own often incomprehensible behaviour – and to embrace the differently abled.

By coincidence, it’s also one of Bill Gates’ recommended summer reads:

Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.

For completeness, there’s some additional counterviews here, which emphasise that the real world situation is a lot more complicated.

Anyway, well worth a read.


Sunny Side Up

July 3, 2014

Nadine May - Solar EnergyThe red squares represent the area that would be enough for solar power plants to produce a quantity of electricity consumed by the world today, in Europe (EU-25) and Germany (De).

Amazing fact/quote: ‘in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.’

From Wikipedia (which gives the history of the associated project plus it’s pros and cons as well as the remarkable graphic above):

“The DESERTEC concept was originated with Dr Gerhard Knies, a German particle physicist and founder of the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) network of researchers. In 1986, in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he was searching for a potential alternative source of clean energy and arrived at the following remarkable conclusion: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.

The DESERTEC concept was developed further by Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) – an international network of scientists, experts and politicians from the field of renewable energies – founded in 2003 by the Club of Rome and the National Energy Research Center Jordan. One of the most famous members was Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. In 2009, TREC emerged to the non-profit DESERTEC Foundation.”

Official site, for additional info: DESERTEC Foundation.


Stealing Ideas

June 18, 2014

‘One can steal ideas, but no one can steal execution or passion.’ – Tim Ferriss

I’m not sure some people get this. Telling someone your idea is not the same as giving the game away, if it is then the idea must be very small indeed.

 


Ideas Are Like Rabbits

May 29, 2014

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Picture credit: Lisa Congdon


The Apple Approach

May 19, 2014

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This infographic from Lifehack caught my eye.

Apple wasn’t just Steve Jobs of course and in all likelihood reality was far more complex than that illustrated above but it’s nevertheless stimulating food for thought. In particular the emphasis on secrecy which is quite at odds with ‘sharing’ company cultures.

An example is provided by the iPhone development project (see here):

Secrecy on the project was so rigid that the few employees who were directly involved (Christie described his team as “shockingly small” but wouldn’t elaborate on an exact figure) could only work on it at home if they did so in a secluded part of their homes, cut off from other family members. All images of the device were to be encrypted.

 


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