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

congdon - rabbits_cover

Picture credit: Lisa Congdon


The Apple Approach

May 19, 2014

6213990415_1ce6904d8a_b

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.

 


Benefitting From Random Ideas

April 4, 2014

I keep notes on most things I do, from work to personal interests. These range from speculative, random ideas to well-defined project tasks. Regarding the random ideas, now and again I go through them and am often surprised at how many I’ve completely forgotten about. Also, as time progresses, the original idea will often have quite a different connotation and occasionally be in a better position to be acted on. However I don’t really do this trawl in a very systematic way, say via a regular review, so progress comes through luck and mood rather than method.

I recently read about Steven Johnson‘s approach to this general problem, he uses the idea of a ‘spark file’:

This is why for the past eight years or so I’ve been maintaining a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books. I now keep it as a Google document so I can update it from wherever I happen to be. There’s no organizing principle to it, no taxonomy–just a chronological list of semi-random ideas that I’ve managed to capture before I forgot them. I call it the spark file.

The key aspect is the regular use of a review:

Now, the spark file itself is not all that unusual: that’s why Moleskins or Evernote are so useful to so many people. But the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file. And it’s not an inconsequential document: it’s almost fifty pages of hunches at this point, the length of several book chapters. But what happens when I re-read the document that I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around: the idea I had in 2008 that made almost no sense in 2008, but that turns out to be incredibly useful in 2012, because something has changed in the external world, or because some other idea has supplied the missing piece that turns the hunch into something actionable.

I might try this myself although I’ve also started using some innovative software called TheBrain (from TheBrain Technologies) to do something similar.

Whatever approach you use, the importance of the regular review remains of course, so I’ve now got the next three scheduled in my calendar. I’ll also make brief notes on the reviews and include them in the list as well as that’ll be an interesting way to see how my thoughts grow.

Aside: TheBrain has been described as a knowledge visualisation tool but to get a feel it’s best just to watch one of their many explanatory videos. The free version of TheBrain is very good in it’s own right so you might want to give it a trial (it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux). For an independent assessment, see also the illuminating posts on Steve Zeoli’s site.

 


Cultivating Innovation And Deciding What To Fund

March 6, 2014

nesta-spending-2012-13

Chart of Nesta spend from their Annual Report 2012-13

I spent over 15 years of my career involved with bids, ranging from the small to the very large. They were all in the hi-tech area and focused on innovative solutions to a wide variety of business problems. Sometimes they involved bids for internal funding, to develop a new product idea, but more usually for external project funding (and usually in alliance with other parties).

Over this period I had experience from both sides of the fence: reviewing bids and giving feedback and submitting bids and receiving feedback. It’s a tricky area to get right: not to waste time on putting together a bid that will not get anywhere (for a host of reasons, which are often only clear afterwards, if at all) to the opposite, of being clear as why you’ve (really) won over other competing bids.

In the light of this I was interested to read about the approaches the charity Nesta are taking in cultivating innovative approaches in the areas that they focus on, including social innovation.

Nesta is a very interesting organisation and more info on them and their projects can be found from their site. In summary (here):

Nesta (formerly NESTA, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is an independent charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK.

The organisation acts through a combination of practical programmes, investment, policy and research, and the formation of partnerships to promote innovation across a broad range of sectors.

Nesta was originally funded by a £250 million endowment from the UK National Lottery. The endowment is now kept in trust, and Nesta uses the interest from the trust to meet its charitable objects and to fund and support its projects.

The key points so far are (with some extracts, see here for details):

1. Ideas matter, teams matter more

We’ve tried different approaches. Pitching sessions are useful, but you need to allocate enough time to get beyond the pitch and have a conversation; and one conversation is never really enough.

2. Information has a cost

One technique that seems to work is conference calls where we answer questions and clarify our goals before we ask teams to tell us their proposals.

3. Every contact should aim to add value

Often that’s about designing the selection process in a way that increases the knowledge or skills of the teams applying. We’ve held workshops on how to prototype and test ideas, connected people with coaches and experts, and supported teams to develop their theory of change.

4. Reach out for different perspectives

We haven’t found a simplistic formula that we can apply to our selection processes (if you know of one, please get in touch). What we do know is that we get much better decisions when we seek out different perspectives.

5. Expect iteration, know when to walk away

Sometimes the right thing to do is walk away; never easy after you’ve invested not only money, but your time and reputation into an innovation.


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