Brian Eno and Noticing Things

September 29, 2010

Tip from Brian Eno:

Pay attention to what you’re noticing. That’s to say, when you find yourself noticing something, look at it again. If something takes your interest, even if you can’t understand why it’s important, and even if no one else thinks it is, don’t dismiss it. Trust yourself as an antenna.

The context for this insight is even more interesting, Eno writes:

This idea came into sharp focus for me when reading a book about Chicago detectives. One of the particularly successful ones was asked how he’d developed such an accurate nose for trouble. He said: “If you find yourself doing a double take, do a triple take.” So don’t say ” Ah … it’s probably nothing important” and rationalise yourself out of looking at it. Say instead “If I noticed it, it must be important. Now in which way is it?”

Isn’t this what all the best science comes from – someone deciding to take seriously something that millions of other people could also have noticed but didn’t?

I’ve often thought that a lot of my consultancy work has often really been detective work so this quote is particularly insightful!

On this general theme, there’s even a site ‘noticings‘ devoted to ‘the game of noticing the world around you’.

Quote credit: Seize The Day

Picture credit: here


R&D At Intel

September 27, 2010

Although primarily a CPU design and manufacturing company, it’s illuminating to see the sorts of R&D topics Intel are interested in outside of this area. Here’s a list from a recent article in Trusted Reviews taken from the Intel Developer Forum (held this month):

  • Mobile Augmented Reality
  • Cloud-based Ray-Tracing For Games
  • Intel Multiapp TV Framework
  • Context Aware Car
  • Fast and Low-Power Mobile Face Recognition
  • OASIS: Smart Computing Islands on Everyday Surfaces

A complete listing of research areas and projects for Intel can be found on their site, here.


September 24, 2010

Tip from Pru Leith:

“Starting things is easy – a business; a novel; a war; a baby. Keeping them going is a lot harder. I have a feeling doggedness is quite as important as imagination.”

Often in business there is a focus on the sexy topics of creativity, imagination, knowledge, innovation, strategy and so on but sometimes the key to success can lie in persistence and determination. I’ve not seen any courses on the latter but there are loads on the former!!

The Payoff Of Writing Things Down

September 22, 2010

I’m interested in the different ways people carry out research; academic, applied as well as for personal interests. Part of this is capturing the ideas and thoughts as they come to you, anywhere and at anytime, and ‘writing them down’ is obviously a fairly key step, although often neglected.

Here’s an example story involving Richard Branson, as part of his Five Secrets to Business Success:

A good leader does not get stuck behind a desk. I’ve never worked in an office – I’ve always worked from home – but I get out and about, meeting people. It seems I am traveling all the time but I always have a notebook in my back pocket to jot down questions, concerns or good ideas.

If I’m on a Virgin Atlantic plane, I make certain to get out and meet all the staff and many of the passengers. If you meet a group of Virgin Atlantic crew members, you are going to have at least 10 suggestions or ideas. If I don’t write them down, I may remember only one the next day. By writing them down, I remember all 10. Get out and shake hands with all the passengers on the plane, and again, there are going to be people who had a problem or have a suggestion. Write it down, make sure that you get their names, get their e-mail addresses, and make sure the next day that you respond to them.

The best site I’ve come across on the many different aspects of good note-taking is Notes About Notes – there’s a lot more to ‘notes’ than you might imagine!

Telling Science Stories

September 17, 2010

Storytelling in business has become an established means of improving communications, learning and facilitating change. However telling stories in science and technology is not so common, at least in my experience, although there seem to be some notable exceptions eg here. This is interesting as one of the fathers of knowledge management, John Polanyi, was of the view that

Scientia is knowledge. It is only in the popular mind that it is equated with facts. That is of course flattering, since facts are incontrovertible. But it is also demeaning, since facts are meaningless. They contain no narrative.

Science, by contrast, is story-telling. This is evident in the way we use our primary scientific instrument, the eye. The eye searches for shapes. It searches for a beginning, a middle, and an end.

So it was interesting to read this view from  Inés Cifuentes of the American Geophysical Union

Scientists are using websites, writing blogs, taking photos, shooting video, talking via podcasts—all to bring the ocean (and the tons of data collected) to students, teachers, fishermen, ocean enthusiasts. We are learning that when we talk as we do with our colleagues, we bore people.

We must become storytellers. What does that mean? Instead of relying on giving out information, we have to use emotions, humor, visuals, anything and all to draw people in, hold their attention, and make them learn. Scientists often miss the cool bits that will hook people—a creature no one has seen before, a glider operated by someone thousands of miles away in a spot humans can’t go, drilling through a thousand meters of Antarctic ice to get your instrument where you want it.

See also here.

It may be that developing this area will allow some progress to be made in overcoming ‘the curse of knowledge‘, a problem that is endemic in many science and technology organisations.

Nudges, Networks And Large-Scale Change

September 13, 2010

Following on from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, a group has been set up in the UK Cabinet Office to see how ‘nudge’ ideas can be used to better deliver government policy:

The team will include civil servants and external advisers including Paul Dolan and Richard Thaler, authors of the influential book Nudge, and will be led by  David Halpern, director of research at the Institute for Government.

It is being supported by a cross-government steering group, which includes David Cameron’s director of strategy Steve Hilton, and is chaired by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell.

More info on Nudge here and here.

In a recent counter view, Paul Omerod argues that it’s far more important to take into account networks:

Using modern network modelling, the essay:

  • Identifies particular structures of networks that determine how fast and broad behaviour change spreads. This includes ‘scale-free’ networks where changing the behaviour of thousands requires identifying key ‘hubs’ of influence.
  • Shows how many policy evaluations – because they ignore networks – often deliver misleading results. This can result in public investment in the wrong interventions or to policies being abandoned before contagion effects take place.
  • Network effects dwarf nudge policies. However, they make policymaking much more complex and unpredictable but with huge potential gains.

The latter essay is published under the RSA:

For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.

More on these approaches later.

Explanation of picture here, which incidentally provides an example of nudging and networking going hand in hand!

To Infinity And Beyond

September 11, 2010

I’m quite keen on GTD and it’s associated software – see here.

One (mac) program I liked a lot was The Hit List. This started out really well but has since gone into an apparently ‘nothing much going on here’ state for (unfortunately) quite a while (it’s still in near finished beta).

As we all know, producing compelling software is hard, particularly when it takes a different and individualistic route eg here.

Anyway, all this prompted the harsh but funny comment on Macupdate:

“Future generations of humans will ponder infinity by studying The Hit List Beta Expiration Extensions.”

Picture credit here.