Knowledge Creep

February 3, 2016

“As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself.” – Arthur Schopenhauer


Theories Of Everything, Mapped

February 3, 2016

Theories of EverythingClick here

I started my career as a theoretical physicist working on the problem of quark confinement and related matters. I still try to keep my general interest up and nowadays there are a number of excellent semi-popular resources for this.

Quanta is one of them. Here’s a really impressive pictorial overview of the current ideas and theories in our fundamental understanding of the universe – a very slick web site!

The map provides concise descriptions of highly complex theories; learn more by exploring the links to dozens of articles and videos, and vote for the ideas you find most elegant or promising. Finally, the map is extensive, but hardly exhaustive; proposed additions are welcome below.


Pitching Tips

January 20, 2016

Interesting post on Linkedin by Creel Price on common pitching flaws. It starts (after having heard a series of pitches):

But unfortunately there were a few too many over engineered slide-decks and pitches that left me confused and with little understanding of what the business actually did long after waving them goodbye on the sidewalk. The reality is, there were countless flaws in the majority of pitches I listened to, which shouldn’t be surprising given how little support and training currently exists in the market for entrepreneurs.

The article is directed at angel investors and similar but the basic principles are widely applicable and apply in many situations.

The key points he highlights are:

FLAW #1: Not Being Succinct: try summarising everything into just one sentence. That’s often very hard, although that in itself may indicate that there’s an underlying problem or maybe you’re just not thinking about it in the best way (for others to understand).

FLAW #2: Not Speaking With Confidence: he suggests a conversational approach rather than canned powerpoint. Interestingly “Sure rehearse but then rehearse it so it doesn’t sound rehearsed.”. Everyone carefully practises presentations but maybe we should do the same for important conversations as well?

There has to be room for spontaneity and movement of course but it’s probably true that lots of the likely questions can be imagined beforehand. The interesting part of conversations are when something new occurs and changes you, not the formalities.

FLAW #3: Not Speaking Frankly: use simple clear language and avoid (often meaningless) jargon. The aim is communication in a short space of time rather than a superficial form of trying to impress someone.

FLAW #4: Not Being Authentic: this is actually a tricky one. Someone is buying into you (authentic, passionate, likeable) rather than an idea, business model or whatever. You can relatively easily change/modify the latter but not so easily yourself or your style. On the other hand, if things don’t work out then it may be more a case of incompatible chemistries rather than anything else.

FLAW #5: Not Having An Ask: in a wider context, this is also an interesting one. Lots of colleagues tell me what they’re doing, their trials and tribulations but very few ask me to do something specific for them. Why not? This links strongly to the previous points.

I’m reviewing a startup business plan at the moment and I’m going to rethink the situation using the points above, it should be a useful test.


A Smarter Search

January 16, 2016

When I worked for a large organisation, several extensive information repositories were available to track down useful articles, reports, people etc. This could also be combined with looking externally via Google or similar. A common complaint was that it was time consuming tracking down exactly what was needed i.e. too many irrelevant search terms cropped up. I remember a colleague mentioning at the time that most people didn’t know the full power of ‘search’ and if they did their life would become a lot easier.

A recent article in the Guardian jolted my memory on this and it gives a handy list of ten such methods for Google (see the article for details).

Instead of an ‘immediate’ search, think a bit and then try using:

1. Exact Phrase (use quote marks) eg “Joe Bloggs”
2. Exclude terms eg “Joe Bloggs” -jeans
3. Either OR eg alex hern OR hernandez
4. Synonym search eg plumbing ~university
5. Search within a site eg site:theguardian.com selfie stick
6. The power of the asterisk eg where there’s a * there’s a way
7. Searching between two values eg british prime minsiter 1920.. 1950
8. Search for a word in the body, title or URL of a page eg intitle:review
9. Search for related sites eg related:theguardian.com
10. Combine them eg site:theguardian.com smartphone review ~budget

I’ve just tried this on a topic I’m interested in and it’s given a couple of useful new results. You can also make use of Google Advanced Search, which gives additional options. The latter is probably not used as much as it could be.

The article comments:

As Google and other search engines improve their understanding of the way people naturally type or say search queries, these power tools will likely become less and less useful – at least that’s the goal that search engines are working towards – but that’s certainly not the case at the moment.


Explorers, Alchemists, Wrestlers And Detectives

December 10, 2015

An interesting article from the mathematician David Mumford:

“I think one can make a case for dividing mathematicians into several tribes depending on what most strongly drives them into their esoteric world. I like to call these tribes explorers, alchemists, wrestlers and detectives. Of course, many mathematicians move between tribes and some results are not cleanly part the property of one tribe:

  • Explorers are people who ask — are there objects with such and such properties and if so, how many?
  • Alchemists, on the other hand, are those whose greatest excitement comes from finding connections between two areas of math that no one had previously seen as having anything to do with each other.
  • Wrestlers are those who are focussed on relative sizes and strengths of this or that object.
  • Finally Detectives are those who doggedly pursue the most difficult, deep questions, seeking clues here and there, sure there is a trail somewhere, often searching for years or decades.”

It makes you think about how you and others go about their work, particularly in a research setting. Just what are the aspects that most fascinate you and why and can you think of a catchy word to summarise your approach.

The detective connection, in a more general setting, is also mentioned here.


Procrastinating Day By Day

December 10, 2015

From Lifehacker:

It’s easy to procrastinate doing something when you know you have a whole year to get it done, but a recent study suggests that telling yourself you have only 365 days instead, can get you into gear. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science and led by Neil A. Lewis Jr. and Daphna Oyserman, suggests that people feel like events and deadlines are closer when they think of them in smaller units. For example, when participants were asked when they would start saving for their retirement—30 years out or 10,950 days out—participants with the days scenario planned to start saving four times sooner than the those told to think in terms of years.

Relevant to my planned resolutions for 2016!


Cooking Up Failure

December 7, 2015

I’ve been developing my cookery skills over the last few months and (fortunately for all concerned) it’s starting to pay off. As part of this I’ve been reading lots of books and articles for tips and insights.

As an interesting link to R&D (which I’ve spent most of my professional life doing), here’s an illuminating quote from the well-known chef Jamie Oliver:

Some people think I am a businessman or massively strategic,” he said, speaking with PR chief Richard Edelman at the Cannes Lions festival. “[But] I worked out the other day, I took a little review of my 17 years – we’ve done all right, I’ve sold a few books and we’ve made a few quid – I realised that I think I wasted and fucked up about 40%.”

Oliver, who the Sunday Times Rich List estimates is worth £180m, said while the failures have been “painful” he has come to consider the learning curve as research and development.

“I don’t know if that is acceptable or not acceptable,” he said. “That 40% is quite painful. But then I sit back and look at it: Would I change anything? Did the mistakes not teach me powerful lessons? I’m trying to turn those mistakes into what maybe you guys call R&D. What is the percentage of turnover that is right for innovation? What is healthy? Is it 10%, 20%? Is 40% reckless?

It’s a really interesting question. Of course, fixing the budget to a set number is not the point, it’s more it’s use as a rough indicator and to motivate people to think and talk about ‘sustainable innovation’ (even if that goes against vested interests).


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