The great entrepreneur, marker, artist, and businessman Sergio Scaglietti passed away on Sunday.
Via his intuition-driven design process, Scaglietti created some of the most visual stunning cars of all time, such as the Ferrari 250 GTO pictured above. In the humble opinion of this writer, he also brought to life the most gorgeous and lust-worthy designs ever marketed by Ferrari, which is really saying something. His creations took a Modenese vernacular sculptural aesthetic and made it the international standard for all things red, loud, curvy, and fast.
I really like these thoughts from Scott Cook, Intuit's founder.
His expression "the boss is no longer the Caesar" gives me some new ways to think about Innovation Principle 12, Instead of Managing, Start Cultivating.
My eighth principle for innovators is titled "Most new ideas aren't". To be honest, I've never been crazy about that title, because it focuses more on your ideas and less on what you're going to go with them. So what if you ideas aren't new? It simple doesn't do a good job of highlighting the major thrust of principle eight, which is to actively learn from the work of others. As I wrote in the original description, it's all about learning from others (which now more than ever is a completely free activity):
Accepting that someone else already had your idea is liberating, because it frees you up to learn. It moves the focus from what's going on in your head to what's going on in the world. Much of innovating is actually about stealing ideas from one context, connecting them to other ideas, and putting them to work in another. Where can you find analogous experiments or successes or failures that can inform your own work? Remember, before Facebook there was Friendster. And before the iPhone came the Newton. You can choose to live ignorance of what came before or what is happening in other parts of the world, or you can dive in and embrace all their hard-won lessons as your own.
Speaking of embracing someone else's hard-won lessons as your own, my friend and colleague Ryan Jacoby just pointed me to this fascinating interview with Tom Waits. Touching on many aspects of his career and creative process, it's fun ramble of a talk. To the point of this little essay of mine, Mr. Waits makes the following point about his own creativity:
Your head is a melting pot. You tell all the things you're listening to to get down and start melting. Trying to be original is kind of a futile thing.
I love this. Instead of making a bummer statement about new ideas not being new, it encourages you to embrace the creative wildness brewing back there in yer head. Crank up the heat. Use a pressure cooker. The more ideas you can access and learn from and combine -- either via your individual memory banks or those of Google or your social networks -- the better.
"Your head is a melting pot." How does that work as a new title for Principle Eight? If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment below.
Eight, by the way, rhymes with Waits.
"Don't get ready, get started"
A few of my colleagues at IDEO spent the summer collaborating with Rock Lobster to build our vision of what the utility bike of the future should be. This was done as part of the Oregon Manifest. What they created, in my humble opinion, is simply magical... and it goes by the name of Faraday:
Don't you just want to jump on it and ride away?
It's an electric bike. There's a motor mounted in the front hub, super high-tech batteries are mounted inside the top tubes, and it's all controlled via a small throttle control. How does it feel to ride? Beautiful. We engineered proprietary firmware and software which seamlessly integrates the push from the motor with the push you're getting from your feet.
If you're interested in voting for the best in show, you can do so here (and I wouldn't mind if you voted for Faraday!).
Here's what the judges had to say:
There is something profoundly elegant about this bike. I experienced it as a flawless design execution. While the idea of a front rack is not novel, the modular plug-in platform is brilliant. The prototyping and thought that went into deciding upon a frame geometry that would work well with front cargo appears to be accurate from my own experience. Having spent a bit of time working on improvements to existing electric assist integrations, I have great respect for the innovations and design execution for this facet to the bike. I have no doubt that the work that went into the design and fabrication of the electric side alone was easily equal to the rest of the bike. -- Ross Evans
Contrasting with the other entries, the Faraday is a bicycle with two wheels, and it may be the better for it. It is an attractive machine that strikes a good balance between striking looks and understated aesthetics. Off all three entrants, this one probably is the most useful to most riders, as it’s easy to ride, easy to park, and easy to store at home. -- Jan Heine
This bike struck a chord with me almost immediately, my first thoughts were that this is a very well thought out bike and it is definitely my favorite of the three. Visually I love the traditional lines and the striking integrated racking system actually added to the appeal. Again we have the right type of drivetrain and braking systems, and the very smart addition of electric assist! What got me most though is what’s missing… a big, ugly, heavy battery that seems to be on every other electric assisted bike I’ve seen. Other savvy well thought out features continued to impress upon closer inspection. I really felt the data collection sensors to help determine just how much help you get from the motor was a very cool touch. -- Jeff Menown
My top pick of the three—and not just because it’s the sexiest and most conceptually successful. For me, the most important criteria are that the bike be practical, versatile, elegant, thoughtful, well-engineered, and, most important, a dynamic, real-world performance vehicle. And the Faraday is all of these things, despite its being one of those newfangled e-bikes, which run counter to my Puritanical belief that a bicycle’s engine is by definition its human. Otherwise, it’s a motorcycle, right? Well, dammit, this isn’t a motorcycle. It’s a brilliant update of the French porteur with a little lightning up its butt, and I love it. And a long-distance high five to those Californians for the clever name and great logo. -- Jeremy Spencer
As I write this, I have to admit that my eyes are welling up a bit with tears, so proud am I of the amazing IDEO and Rock Lobster folks who cranked on this project. What you see here is the result of many late nights and long weekends; since I live near our office, over the past few months I popped by most weekends and looked in the window of our shop and they were always there. I have a bunch of innovation principles listed along the right side of this blog. But words are wind, and it just so damn affirming and inspiring to see people really live them and go beyond them.
Awesome work, guys. Go Faraday!
If you're like me (because I hope I'm a little dorky like my colleague Joe Brown), you're making your way through Neal Stephenson's new book Reamde. I'm loving it. Along with Kevin Kelly's stunning What Technology Wants, I think Reamde is one of a handful of must-read books from 2011. In fact, based on the fifth of the novel I've digested so far, I think they're essentially the same book, albeit entered from different points on the fiction to non-fiction spectrum. Buy 'em both, read 'em both, compare and contrast.
Anyway, a few nights ago I stumbled upon this brief interview with Neal Stephenson while snooping for some additional information about Reamde:
[For some reason this, video has been pulled from YouTube in the last day or so. To summarize, it's an interview with Neal Stephenson, and in it he says that he works for an hour or so each morning, and creates approximately a page of really good prose, and then he goes off and does something else for the day. When he was younger and less experienced as a writer, he used to crank and crank, resulting in lots of subpart work which he then had to expend a lot of energy to dig out from under. I'm leaving this blank video here as a reminder to reinsert it whenever the powers that pulled it decide to repost it. It's a great interview. Bummer.]
Sound familiar? Stephenson's views on productivity and quality are evocative of those of Roald Dahl, whose thoughts I explored at the start of the year. When it comes to works requiring intense concentration -- many of which seem to deal with the creation of works of language -- I am noticing that many of the best practitioners of the art not only know when to stop, but know when not to work. This goes for everyone from songwriters to poets to novelists to practitioners of agile software development. They stop while the going is good, and they refuse to work when they know their quality will be subpar. Of course, this also means that they've achieved a state of self-awareness where they know that the quality of their content will drop after a certain amount of effort is expended.
When it comes to the matter of reaching a state of personal creative confidence, amassing enough experience so that you can do more in less time, gaining the wisdom to recognize when you're not functioning at your best, and coupling those two with the confidence to call it quits until the next time you meet your canvas feels like a holy grail of sorts. This brings several questions to mind for me, some personal, some not so:
This is a long post because I clearly don't know what I'm talking about. I'm just writing to think. I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks!
This morning, emboldened by this insightful blog post written by my friend and colleague Paul Bennett, I slipped on a pair of Crocs and headed to work.
Now, my workplace is not a place where people generally sport Crocs. It's also a place where nobody really cares about what you wear (anything goes), but where they also really care about what you wear (everything matters). There's a tension there, and it makes life interesting. So, upon strolling in the door, here's what my own two feet encountered:
The photo above doesn't do them justice, but next to my injection-molded plastic foam thingies stand a proud pair of gorgeous, yellow suede bespoke wingtips, crafted with love by a British shoemaker who was undoubtedly trained a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away by the wizened creature who invented cobblery in the first place. In other words, it would be hard to put two products from the same category side by side and yet have such a gulf of experience, materials, approach, and point of view separating them. As Paul notes, my Crocs are the footwear equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle (the "New" one, methinks). In constrast, if those yellow shoes were a car, they'd be an Aston Martin DB5.
But as designed objects, they're both completely valid. One is bespoke. The other, just like the original Beetle, is happy just to "be". However, neither is better than the other; they are both high-integrity, authentic objects, not pretending or trying to be anything other than what they are. They each mean something. Both work because their designers and makers knew what was important.
Yet another example of the power of a strong point of view and why it is such an imperative to have one before you start designing anything. Points of view drive meaning.
Paul Budnitz Bicycle model No. 2
"Quixote reminds us
That if we trust only when
Trust is warranted, love only
When love is returned, learn
Only when learning is valuable,
We abandon an essential feature of our humanness."
What were your early influences?
The shapes and designs of Italian sports car like Lamborghini Miura and bugs.
Have you ever had another job?
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of a bike build?
I love to see the hazy idea of mine actually becomes materialized, that is the most favourite part of a bike build. Least favourite part is...polishing!
What are his hopes for himself and Chabott?
Keep creating whatever I like.
What are his regrets?
No regrets at all!!
Will he always be a bike builder or is there something else on the horizon?
I don't categorize myself as a bike builder but I will keep building bikes and creating whatever I have in my mind as long as I live.
This morning I attended a demonstration of a cool new service, and got to meet one of the women behind its creation. It turns out that this new business was launched as part of a Stanford d.school class last Spring, for which I was a judge. But I didn't know about this service until today. Why? Well, in part because at the big demo fair they held as part of this class, where each of the student teams demoed their ideas, I spent too much of my allocated judging time talking with one team, who were unfortunate in that they had a team member who couldn't get out of what I would call "heavy sales" mode. By that I mean, no matter what questions I asked about things like point of view, first-hand experience of the world, prototyping -- all the stuff you care about when engaging in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life -- he kept on patronizing me with the party line, the premeditated marketing messages they had whipped up beforehand. In other words, he was laying some heavy bullshit on me. Bummer.
And you know what? Bullshit is bullshit. Bullshitters don't ship, and they can't attract intrinsically motivated people to be on their teams in any sustainable, long-term way. Why? Because we all want to be around people with that gleam in their eyes which says "this is going to happen". Life is too short to waste your time working with people who are motivated by extrinsic factors, such as money, status, or grades. It's the intrinsically motivated folks who sweat the small stuff, grok the big picture, and -- dare I say it -- think different.
When I look at the interview transcript above, I see someone who would be hacking on bikes even if there was no money in it. Kimura's voice is that of a person who has pledged their life toward a specific passion. A person who comes up with solutions in his dreams. Who takes their inner desires seriously enough to try and make them reality, rather than repressing them in the name of what the outside world wants them to be. When I interview folks to be part of the team at my employer IDEO, I'm always looking for the sparks of passion which are the mark of someone powered from within. They are easy to see when they're there, and they are equally easy to smell when they is fake. In my experience, having that intrinsic motivation makes all the difference in the end result. Not only is it impossible to fake, but if you try to fake it, you will always sound like a bullshitter, which completely torpedoes the basis of everything you're trying to claim in the first place.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that intrinsic motivation is, in my opinion, a killer input. Meaning that it is one of several key factors which define a space within which talented people can collaborate with other similarly aligned people to make magic happen. I've said previously that trust is a killer app, but it's not an application, it's an input, just like intrinsic motivation. The output is wonderfulness.
And there are more; this is a subject worthy of more study.
photo credit: Chabott Engineering
As Björgvin Tómasson can tell you, what you get is a "gameleste". This combination makes it a hybrid, something new under the sun. It was built to be a part of Björk's intriguing Biophilia project, which looks to be a pretty stunning effort -- I certainly want to make it to one of her concerts!
I find this video very affirming. Here's what it says to me: when trying to bring something new to life, you will be faced with many challenges. Friends will question your vision, lawyers will come up with a million reasons why you shouldn't do what you want to do, and money people will demand the right to dig up your precious little seed of an idea each day to ensure that it's growing (they have to be sure to get their full money's worth, you know).
In response, just start. Plunge in. Create. Excessive talking and planning is a sign that you are stuck in an emotional-intellectual mire of your own making. That mire gets its power from our fear of the unknown. In order to break its grip, you need to start - anywhere. It's hard to break out of, for sure. But we can all do it. How did Björgvin Tómasson manage to figure out what a gameleste would be like when it did not exist? By starting, by making it. And now we all also know what a gameleste is all about, for the person who acts not only brings a new thing to life, but brings all of us along, too.
“You know the old adage that the customer’s always right? Well, I kind of think that the opposite is true. The customer is rarely right. And that is why you must seize the control of the circumstance and dominate every last detail: to guarantee that they’re going to have a far better time than they ever would have had if they tried to control it themselves.”
I'm a big fan of Porsche and of Jeff Zwart, individually and together. I admire Porsche because their cars are still racing machines at heart, so their story about being about performance experiences is based on a core of truthiness. I deeply respect Jeff Zwart because his passion as a race driver informs his craft as as the one of the most sought-after creators of stories about automobiles and movement. Both are purveyors of truth, and when they play together, things get really interesting.
For those not steeped in the world of modern motorsport, sometime in the early 60's came a point where race cars became so specialized that they ceased to be streetable machines, to be trailered henceforth to their places of competition mounted in the backs of lorries. So sad. Racing cars had shifted from something you'd park on the streets of Manhattan during the week and drive up to Lime Rock for a weekend race, to the mechanical equivalent of those ancient mandarin rulers who for the sake of status and fashion allowed their fingernails to grow so long that they were unable to feed themselves. Ever faster cars and longer nails are interesting and make for some dramatic tradeoffs, but do not necessarily yield a better overall experience (especially for the person assigned feed the mandarin), and are certainly not particularly truthy. So for a brand focused on communicating a story about race-bred performance usable on the road, what could ring more true than a story about a Porsche driven to the race course by its driver, who happens to be a consummate teller of stories? It's a bold shift from the old marketing myth of Win on Sunday, sell on Monday to a true, honest statement of Sell on Monday, win on Sunday, drive home on Monday.
As marketers we need to stop making myths and start finding ways to talk about the truth. We each need to take an oath to the effect that, should we ever find ourselves locked in a conference room trying to whip up a value proposition statement to justify why consumers will buy the crap we're so desperate to sell, we will each reach over and slap the person on our left in the face (gently) and then all exclaim in unison "let's stop mythologizing and go out in the world to hear the truth it wants to tell us". It's out there. Go find it. Porsche and Zwart have. Great marketing is a mouthpiece for the truth.
By the way, Jeff Zwart will race this red beauty up Pikes Peak tomorrow. You can see his amazing run from last year here:
I've spoken here many times about the power of experiential learning. For many activities, learning by doing is an extremely sticky way to become adept at a new skill. The difference between reading about surfing, watching a video about surfing, and actually taking a class where you get up on the board (and get really wet, too!) is profound. The former two provide you with lots of information about surfing, while the latter earns you true know-how about how to carve your wave through the water. Deep know how is the killer app for folks who want to make an impact in the ring, as opposed to being spectators or pundits watching from outside.
But, what about computer simulations? While they cannot model all aspects of an activity which takes place in the physical world, computers provide us with the opportunity for deep experiential learning, albeit with less fine-grained resolution than one would encounter in real life. However, as they are not in fact real life, simulations can liberate us from the fear one encounters when immersed in difficult real life situations, such as being the leader of a group of people for the first time, or engaging in a dangerous physical activity. Computer simulations can also provide us with access to learning scenarios which otherwise would be out of our reach due to limitations of time, physics, and money.
Joi Ito has spoken extensively about the power of the game World of Warcraft as a training environment for people interested in developing the skills needed to lead diverse groups of people in conditions of great uncertainty. John Seely Brown has also written some persuasive essays on this subject, and here is an excerpt from one of them:
When role-playing gamers team up to undertake a quest, they often need to attempt particularly difficult challenges repeatedly until they find a blend of skills, talents, and actions that allows them to succeed. This process brings about a profound shift in how they perceive and react to the world around them. They become more flexible in their thinking and more sensitive to social cues. The fact that they don't think of gameplay as training is crucial. Once the experience is explicitly educational, it becomes about developing compartmentalized skills and loses its power to permeate the player's behavior patterns and worldview.
In this way, the process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft guild master amounts to a total-immersion course in leadership. A guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. Guilds routinely splinter over petty squabbles and other basic failures of management; the master must resolve them without losing valuable members, who can easily quit and join a rival guild. Never mind the virtual surroundings; these conditions provide real-world training a manager can apply directly in the workplace.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ito and Brown, and am of the opinion that many aspiring real-world project leaders would do well to log some hours learning to lead multi-player quests and raids in Warcraft. Polyphony's Gran Turismo is another great computer simulation from a sticky learning perspective, as it allows one to get a sense of what it feels like to drive a variety of cars fast -- very fast -- around a multitude of road courses. For a few hundred bucks, it allows almost anyone to gain elements of experience which heretofore were only available to person blessed with thousands and thousands of dollars in discretionary income -- as well as the willingness to get really hurt if things were to go all pear-shaped.
Enter Lucas Ordoñez, Spanish MBA student and Gran Turiso aficionado. A few years ago, Ordoñez entered the GT Academy competition organized by Polyphone and Sony, which allowed him to pit his virtual driving skills against 25,000 other competitors, each one seeking to win a full scholarship for further real-world training in racing cars, culminating in the acquisition of a license granting entry into the world of professional racing. Ordoñez had gained experience racing go karts as a kid, but picked up his auto racing miles via Gran Turismo. For those of you who aren't familiar with Gran Turismo, here's a quick video of him "racing" around a famous track you'd find in Germany:
Long story short, Ordoñez beat the odds and topped the Academy, beating out 24,499 other aspiring Sennas. Here's a video showing what happened when he entered his first "real" race:
Pretty cool, eh?
But wait, it gets better: after more experiencing more racing success, Ordoñez was offered a ride in the vaunted 24 Hours of Le Mans race -- a truly spectacular opportunity for any racer, let alone one that's been doing it for less than three years. And guess what, he did really well. Not only did he and his team finish the entire 24 hours, an incredible achievement on its own, they took second place in class, earning the right to stand on the champion's podum. Really, really amazing, especially considering that Ordoñez brought much less "experience" to the team than any of the other traditionally-trained racers he competed against. This video gives a wonderful sense of the magnitude of this achievement:
My point here isn't to claim that video games change everything. They don't. Far from it. But I do think that we can all stand to learn more about the world we live in by selectively choosing to spend more time with the high-quality games that really do put us in new learning situations. Curiousity can be stoked and satisfied in myriad ways, so can't we all agree to move beyond the snobbery of the book and the university lecture and the formal training class to see the latent potential embedded in our silicon machines and the software that makes them sing? This is the message of the ballad of Lucas Ordoñez... I can't wait to see where life next takes him.
You may not like cars, or you may like them as much as I do, but I think we can all agree that the storytelling behind this Audi piece called Eliminating Luck is truly masterful.
I admire the way they've taken a complex subject, a subject associated with myriad statistics and difficult to relate to numbers (how fast does 300 km/hr feel, anyhow?), and turned it into something lyrical and quite beautiful. Effective storytelling is indeed an effective countermeasure when it comes to deconstructing complex situations and communicating their essence in an elegant way.
About 18 years ago I dropped out of graduate school at Stanford and took a job as an R&D engineer at Hewlett-Packard Company. Actually, "dropped out" is a bit too strong of a phrase; it was late June, I had just just won my Stanford undergraduate degrees a few weeks before, I was about to start my summer internship at NASA, it was hot out, and my new dorm room (Rains housing, for those of you in the know) was even hotter, and I was already sick of hearing cars downshifting for the stop sign just outside of my window. Classes for my masters program in mechanical engineering wouldn't start for a few more months, but the prospect of yet another math class didn't feel like a Big Idea to me. I forget the the exact chain of events, but I believe I first called Ford to ask (beg) for the job I had turned down a few months earlier, and then coincidentally someone from Hewlett-Packard called me to see if I would be interested in a position with them up in Vancouver, Washington, having passed their grueling phone interview screen a few months earlier.
I flew up to Portland, Oregon to interview with Hewlett-Packard, partly because I was desperate to get out of my room at Stanford and partly because I had never been to a CART race, and there was one happening the coming weekend, which was June 27 (what -- you think I've changed? This one-track mind has taken years to develop). The job interviews went well, and the race was pretty cool (the good folks at Hewlett-Packard allowed me to keep the rental car for the weekend), if I must say so:
The visit went well, I took the job, and in doing so became a very proud member of the Hewlett-Packard family, starting as a R&D Engineer working on ink-jet printing systems. I enjoyed what in retrospect was an amazing two years, though I probably didn't fully appreciate everything at the time because I was relatively impatient from a career standpoint. All things being equal, over my two years there, I was able to do foundational R&D work on what became HP's "off-axis" ink system (which you can stilll find in any large-format printer today), got to help take a new printer up the manufacturing ramp, was allowed to redesign a bunch of parts for another new printer, and was also asked to do some cool user research in the field, including one home visit in Wisconsin where I ended up helping some kids with their homework.
The best thing about working at Hewlett-Packard was its culture, which was very "adult" in the sense that it was built on a sense of deep trust and respect between individuals and groups within the company. One day I was using spray-mount glue in my cubicle (bad idea) and my manager stopped by, poked his head in, and said something to the effect of "You can pretty much do anything you want here unless you're endangering yourself or others, and right now you're endangering yourself or others," and then he walked away. Lesson learned. Working at Hewlett-Packard meant that I had the good fortune of working for some truly spectacular managers and mentors, such as Eric Ahlvin, Alan Shibata, David Gast, and Rick Berriman. Looking back on my time there, I realize now the degree to which I imprinted on these people and on Hewett-Packard's culture. In my approach to work and working with people, I think I've tried hard to live up to the examples they set for me, as well as the ethos that informed the culture of Hewlett-Packard.
The best summary of the culture I experienced at Hewlett-Packard is summed up in the 11 Simple Rules drawn up by David Packard himself. These are:
1. Think first of the other fellow. This is THE foundation — the first requisite — for getting along with others. And it is the one truly difficult accomplishment you must make. Gaining this, the rest will be "a breeze."
2. Build up the other person's sense of importance. When we make the other person seem less important, we frustrate one of his deepest urges. Allow him to feel equality or superiority, and we can easily get along with him.
3. Respect the other man's personality rights. Respect as something sacred the other fellow's right to be different from you. No two personalities are ever molded by precisely the same forces.
4. Give sincere appreciation. If we think someone has done a thing well, we should never hesitate to let him know it. WARNING: This does not mean promiscuous use of obvious flattery. Flattery with most intelligent people gets exactly the reaction it deserves — contempt for the egotistical "phony" who stoops to it.
5. Eliminate the negative. Criticism seldom does what its user intends, for it invariably causes resentment. The tiniest bit of disapproval can sometimes cause a resentment which will rankle — to your disadvantage — for years.
6. Avoid openly trying to reform people. Every man knows he is imperfect, but he doesn't want someone else trying to correct his faults. If you want to improve a person, help him to embrace a higher working goal — a standard, an ideal — and he will do his own "making over" far more effectively than you can do it for him.
7. Try to understand the other person. How would you react to similar circumstances? When you begin to see the "whys" of him you can't help but get along better with him.
8. Check first impressions. We are especially prone to dislike some people on first sight because of some vague resemblance (of which we are usually unaware) to someone else whom we have had reason to dislike. Follow Abraham Lincoln's famous self-instruction: "I do not like that man; therefore I shall get to know him better."
9. Take care with the little details. Watch your smile, your tone of voice, how you use your eyes, the way you greet people, the use of nicknames and remembering faces, names and dates. Little things add polish to your skill in dealing with people. Constantly, deliberately think of them until they become a natural part of your personality.
10. Develop genuine interest in people. You cannot successfully apply the foregoing suggestions unless you have a sincere desire to like, respect and be helpful to others. Conversely, you cannot build genuine interest in people until you have experienced the pleasure of working with them in an atmosphere characterized by mutual liking and respect.
11. Keep it up. That's all — just keep it up!
Wow. These 11 principles are simultaneously super inspirational and super humbling. Truth be told, on my bad days I fail to live up to all of these. But I try, and I keep trying to improve myself vis a vis this list, and I think that was the magic of Hewlett-Packard's culture, which allowed you -- even encouraged you -- to improve yourself just as you were always trying to improve the stuff sitting on your test bench. And it encouraged you to help the folks around you, too. What I find interesting about Packard's points is that, starting with No.1, they're all focused on the people around you, not on your inner dialog or whatever. If you're seeking to establish and maintain a collaborative, innovative culture, you could do a lot worse than to follow these 11 points.
I wrote this post this evening because earlier today I learned that David Kelley modeled much of IDEO's culture on that of Hewlett-Packard. I left Hewlett-Packard to join IDEO, and in many ways I regard IDEO as a logical extension of Packard's cultural vision. Trust and respect for your fellow colleagues are indeed the pillars of cultures which routinely create high-impact innovations.
Many thanks to my friend Bob Sutton for telling me about David Packard's Simple Rules.
"I’m convinced that for an existing company to innovate, they must first make the decision to get rid of something. Unless you get rid of it, it will always be more a more compelling argument to improve the old rather than commit to the new. That small decision over time adds up to a total deflection, and you are never as motivated to innovate as the unencumbered new entrant."
An inspirational commercial highlighting the new Shinkansen service to the Kyushu region of Japan. Pulled from the air out of deference to the earthquake, it has gone viral on the web because it so inspiring.
I love the way it makes you feel: optimistic, upbeat, we can do this.
My original working title for Innovation Principle 20 was "Don't settle". This principle was inspired by one of my colleagues at IDEO, who has showed me again and again the value created by not giving up on an idea until the quality of its expression matches the magnitude of its potential.
I evolved the messaging of Principle 20 to "Be remarkable" because I wanted it to feel more aspirational and open-ended, but it some ways I always go back to the phrasing "don't settle" in my head. To be honest, I've been struggling with the wording on this one. Is it about being remarkable? Or is about sticking to your guns, never letting anything go? While I'm a firm believer in embracing mediocrity in order to get the ball rolling, I'm also a stickler for doing amazing stuff. Are these two at all compatible?
When I read this article about chef Daniel Boulud a couple of years ago, I filed it away under the heading "don't settle". I just took another look at it, and noted this passage:
But during Round 8 of recipe tests, on Tuesday, he refuses to grade on the curve. He stoically appraises entrees and appetizers in what feels like a marathon episode of “Top Chef” — except that this judge has helped conceive the dishes and never seems very pleased by the results.
The lamb ribs confit with roasted lamb leg and spring beans? “Maybe a little more herbs in it,” he suggests. The Maryland lump crab cake with a curry sauce and pickled radish? “More crab, less garnish.” The passion fruit crepe with mango slices? “We’re still not there.”
We sit across from Mr. Boulud, shamelessly pillaging the leftovers and thinking: huh? Each dish seems head-spinningly yummy, but Mr. Boulud summons enthusiasm only when he tries a sausage called the Vermonter, and he cracks a smile only after a forkful of beer-battered haddock beignets.
“I think it’s good,” he says, like a man enjoying a guilty pleasure.
This excerpt hints at the relationship between "don't settle" and "be remarkable". When it comes to the lamb and the crab cake and the fruit crepe, he's saying "keep working on it -- not remarkable enough yet". Not settling. But when he tastes something over the bar, such as the beer-battered fish beignets, he celebrates the outcome. I think that's the key: if you don't have the honesty to recognize something remarkable when it happens, people around you will think nothing will ever make you happy, and from that point forward you'll always be operating in a climate of fear. And a working climate infused with fear never ever never ever takes us to a happy place:
This principle is about a stepwise journey toward a remarkable endpoint. It is fueled by trust, a trust that none of us will settle for anything less than being remarkable. But it also requires a shared trust that it is okay to deliver an interim step that is less than perfect. In other words, we need to be okay with each of us failing as individuals if we're ever going to reach somewhere remarkable together. I can't imagine that perfect fish-flavored beignets could ever happen right on the first shot, you know?
Stanford's alumni magazine, titled -- you guessed it! -- Stanford Magazine, ran a great story on the d.school a few weeks ago. The article speaks with my teacher/mentor/colleague/friend/hero David Kelley and others about not only the d.school, but on living your life well, and on the notion of achieving creative confidence (here's a secret: those last two items are deeply related).
It's definitely worth your time to read through the article. I really liked this quote from Stanford President John Hennessy:
Creativity represents an important characteristic that we would seek to inculcate in our students, and obviously one that's harder to put a firm framework around. It's unlike teaching some analytical method. Will a bridge stay up? Well, we know what to teach. You teach physics, you teach some mathematics and you can do the analysis.
It's much harder to teach creativity. [It involves] multiple routes, multiple approaches and, obviously, it's virtually impossible to test whether or not you've succeeded. The measure of success is likely to come long after, not unlike many of the other things we try to teach: To prepare students to be educated citizens, to prepare them for dealing with people from diverse and different walks of life. Those are things that play out over a long time, whether or not we've done a good job.
During my time as an undergraduate at Stanford, I was very fortunate to be able to pursue two degrees, obtaining both a bachelor of science in engineering and a bachelor of arts in a multidisciplinary program called Values, Technology, Science and Society [VTSS] (it is now called STS and is one of the biggest programs on campus, though when I was there it was quite small). I spent a lot of time in the library. Though VTSS sounds like something very technical in nature, it was actually an incredibly rich humanities experience, with a focus on topics which, if you've spent any time around this blog, you know that I love. For example, my honors thesis was on the origins and development of the Ferrari aesthetic, looking at how meaning was created in Maranello via the mechanisms of storytelling, racing, and panel beating. My VTSS teachers were an incredible group of people, really inspirational, and they helped me build up my creative confidence in myriad ways. VTSS also gave me a way to take all of the product design classes with David Kelley which I otherwise would not have been able to do had I just pursued my engineering degree alone.
I bring all of this up because I do feel that Professor Kelley helped, in Hennessy's words, to prepare me to be an educated citizen, to prepare me for dealing with people from diverse and different walk of life. If the d.school had been around while I was there, I wouldn't have had to get the two degrees (though I would have anyway, as I'm always "doing both"). For me, as someone who was part of the founding team at the d.school, and who remains extremely passionate and optimistic about its mission and potential in the world -- it is an experiment still in its very early days -- it's very gratifying to see that mission be couched in these terms. Ultimately, we are not teaching folks to be designers, we are helping them realize their potential as citizens and as happy, productive human beings. Awesome.
I'll leave you with this recent d.school video which has students telling it all in their own words:
Thanks to my friend R. Michael Hendrix for this awesome photo.
Get out there and hustle!
I learned something significant today from this wonderful 99% interview of Francis Ford Coppola at the 99%.
As you know, for the past year or so I've been playing around with the notion that an essential -- even critical -- element in any successful creative endeavor is the existence of a crisp point of view to guide decision making along the way. A point of view is statement of what something must be, and in that declaration lies an exhaustive list of everything which it cannot be. A point of view allows for consistent choices to be made, which lead to coherent, strong end results. When something is criticized for feeling like it was created by a committee, it's not so much the committee per se which is at fault, so much as the absence of any unifying principle to guide the actions of individuals in the name of creating a sum total which is truly remarkable. In terms of outcomes, having a strong point of view is the difference between the music of an ensemble led by Charlie Hunter and the stuff you'd hear in an elevator. There's nothing wrong with group creativity, but it needs to have a point of reference for goodness navigation.
Which brings me back to the Coppola interview. While I've never made a motion picture, I always watch the credits, and I'm always amazed at how even a film with a modest production budget can employ so many people. How can they all know what to do? What good looks like? How to make the myriad brilliant decisions that lead to something being truly remarkable? Here's what Coppola says, and it's totally about point of view:
When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.
The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.
"I suddenly understood with great clarity that nothing in life—except death itself—was ever going to kill me. No meeting could ever go that badly. No client would ever be that angry. No business error would ever bring me as close to the brink as I had already been."
- David E. Davis, Jr., on the liberating effects of the automobile accident which almost claimed his life
David E. Davis passed away today.
I began reading his writing in December 1979, and it's not hyperbole to say that his influence changed my life for the better. An amazing writer and raconteur, his magazines informed and inflamed my passion for automobiles, and provided me with a view into a fascinating world of colorful personalities, fantastic road trips, and his own singular point of view on what made for a quality life. Everything I learned from his writing and editorial direction has informed my professional work. As a consummate storyteller, he was truly a great American treasure.
I began corresponding with him via email a few years ago. We exchanged views on a variety of topics, including the marketing of Suburbans as Cadillacs and the proper shade of metallic blue required to bring out the personality of a Ferrari 550 Maranello. We tried to meet up at a running of the California Mille, but our schedules didn't overlap in the way we hoped, something I truly regret. I left a copy of his book Thus Spake David E. with a mutual friend, and David wrote me a wonderful, humorous inscription with an offer of dinner sometime. Though I took the time to thank him for his influence on me via email, I dearly wish I could have had that dinner and looked him in the eyes and told him so. In life you've got to seize the day and make the most of things, and I didn't in this case, with regret.
The quote above is from a graduation speech he gave a few years ago. Whenever I feel like life is kicking me in the teeth, I think about his points above. The ability to pick oneself up from adversity, in the end, may be as important -- or more important -- as the instinct to go forth boldly in the first place. For me, the lesson of David E. Davis is to live your life out loud, to keep on engaging with new adventures no matter what life hands you in return, and to do it all with as much vigor and chutzpah as you can muster.
What could you do with 200 terabytes of data?
As it turns out, astonishing things. Particularly if you've accumulated the data with a strong point of view behind your gathering endeavors, as Deb Roy has done over the past three years:
Wow! I hope you were able to watch through to the end -- those last few minutes are magic.
As is the case with the Salman Khan video I wrote about last week, Deb Roy's massive collection of video data is an example of a real option at work. By taking the time to develop, install, and maintain these data recording systems, Roy and his team of researchers opened themselves up to myriad opportunity streams, some predictable, some serendipitous. They certainly created value far beyond the costs associated with gathering up 200 terabytes of data! The result is breathtaking, remarkable, and takes our culture to a new place.
What if all of the big intitatives -- both public and private -- put into place over the past decade to computerize learning were trumped by a smart, funny, personable guy who, acting largely alone and on a shoestring budget, used a human-centered approach to creating a simple, cost-effective way to reach thousands and thousands of students over the web? And what if it all happened simply because he started teaching kids?
Let's look at some of the innovations brought to market by the Khan Academy. Among others:
What do all of these have in common? Well, aside from being truly amazing outcomes for students, teachers, and parents, none of them were captured in a business plan slide deck, nor were they necessarily premediated goals for his venture. In other words, Salman didn't start out with the goal to flip the learning paradigm. He worked his way up to that point by doing something he loved. To push that point even further, Sallman wasn't looking to start a venture at all, just to tutor his cousins more effectively. He designed for them, saw the value he created, and then went from there.
Embracing the primacy of doing, getting started, saying "what the hell, why don't I try this!" is a way to open yourself up to powerful forces of serendipity, luck, and good fortune. In technical terms, doing gives you access to a real option, which is defined as:
the right — but not the obligation — to undertake some business decision; typically the option to make, abandon, expand, or contract a capital investment.
Think about it: if you could create the right to give yourself an expanded range of opportunities in the future, wouldn't you give that gift to yourself? Of course you would. So what Salman teaches us is that we need to act -- we have to act -- because inside of that action is a gift of a better future, both for ourselves and for others. Accessing the gift requires some courage, so tell yourself you can do it, and help your friends and family to embrace their own potential to get out there and make it happen. For me, that's the ultimate lesson of the Khan Academy.
For those of us who make things for a living, we live a daily pardox in that most of our making actually involves subtracting. That gorgeous MacBook Air you covet? It was made subtractively: lots of perfectly good aluminum was machined away to achieve its seductive form. Unfortunately, many of the miraculous fixes surgeons create actually involve taking out living material, and either setting up a workaround using existing components, or placing in a replacement part -- like an artificial hip -- which was probably made subtractively, too. Even a quotidien net-shape process like thermoplastic injection molding requires the creation of complex metal molds, which are also usually made via subtractive processes, all of which are quite laborious and time consuming.
We're on the cusp of a significant shift in manufacturing techniques which has been several decades in the making. As a newly minted engineer back in the early 90's, I started using 3D CAD software to drive stereolithography machines which gave me rough samples of the parts I was designing for ink jet printers. Stereolithography was an early form of "additive" manufacturing, where you build up the thing you desire layer by layer, drip by drip, or atom by atom. Though the parts weren't very functional, they were a great alternative to asking someone to machine out your impossible shape (I was very good then at creating impossible shapes...). What's cool today is that variants of the same ink jet technology I was developing then can now be used to print out... kidneys. Or bikes. And urethras. Or even plastic injection molds. And going forward, potentially just about anything we can dream up. For me, I think this shift in manufacturing paradigm will be driven by three major developments in the art and science of making stuff:
1. Cost-effective production of complex composite forms and structures
Save for their motors and wheels, modern Formula 1 cars are made almost completely out of a variety of composite materials. As you can see from the crash sequence above (which the driver Mark Webber walked away from), composite materials combine light weight with very high strength. The composite tub which Webber sits in stayed intact throughout this accident. He is also wearing an advanced, lightweight helmet made out of composites. And his head is kept attached to his torso by a composite yoke sitting on his shoulders. However, the manufacturing techniques used to create all of these parts are slow and expensive. To date, the use of composite materials in mass consumer offerings has been limited to things like tennis raquets and golf clubs, where the forms and structures were fairly simple and the market was willing to pay a premium for performance. Boeing is about to ship the Dreamliner, whose fuselage and wings are made out of composites. Cost-effective, lightweight composites would be a boon to the automotive world, enabling us to create much more energy efficient cars which maintain or increase levels of active and passive safety over today's metallic structures. The good news here is that several organizations are pioneering manufacturing techniques which radically lower the price of composite structures. Gordon Murray's design firm has created the iStream manufacturing process, which combines steel structures with a fast composite manufacturing techniques to create a cheap, lightweight stucture for vehicles. And McLaren, ever an innovator, is just about to ship its amazing MP4-12C road car, which uses a cost-effective molded carbon fiber tub as its main structural element. Here is a technical analysis of that car, and here is an overview of the state of the art in structural composites by Gordon Murray himself. As more of these manufacturing techniques come into the mainstream, we'll see composites in more and more products. Significantly, these processes also have the potential to significantly reduce the physical footprint required to make things, and they can also skinny down the capital structure required to be a manufacturer. More on that in the next section.
2. Additive manufacturing of technical nutrients
By this title, I refer to the process of building up structures by depositing incremental bits of "man-made" materials until a whole is formed. This is in contrast to traditional manufacturing techniques, where material is slowly stripped away, Michelangelo-like, until the desired form is achieved. For more information on this, rather than attempt to duplicate a wonderful piece of journalism, I'd like to point you to 3D printing: The printed world, an article from The Economist. For both both noobie and expert alike, this article provides a great survey of techniques and applications being developed all over the world. If you're an engineer like me, the prospect of being able to additively manufacturing a titanium spar inside of a fully-formed carbon fiber wing is truly inspiring. On the other hand, if you are a business model hacker like me, you'll also find the following Economist observation pretty mind-blowing:
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of additive manufacturing is that it lowers the cost of entry into the business of making things. Instead of finding the money to set up a factory or asking a mass-producer at home (or in another country) to make something for you, 3D printers will offer a cheaper, less risky route to the market. An entrepreneur could run off one or two samples with a 3D printer to see if his idea works. He could make a few more to see if they sell, and take in design changes that buyers ask for. If things go really well, he could scale up—with conventional mass production or an enormous 3D print run.
This suggests that success in manufacturing will depend less on scale and more on the quality of ideas. Brilliance alone, though, will not be enough. Good ideas can be copied even more rapidly with 3D printing, so battles over intellectual property may become even more intense. It will be easier for imitators as well as innovators to get goods to market fast. Competitive advantages may thus be shorter-lived than ever before. As with past industrial revolutions, the greatest beneficiaries may not be companies but their customers. But whoever gains most, revolution may not be too strong a word.
If you could make world-class titanium parts in your backyard studio, would you? I might. If you are GM, and you can start replacing huge buildings built to house humongous steel panel stamping presses with robotic cells which build up parts additively, would you? I believe the capital efficiencies offered by these new technologies will be irresistable, and will transform the notion of "factory" to be something much smaller, more nimble, and more similar to the low mass organization we've seen develop to support many of the leading Web 2.0 brands. I saw an inkling of this eight years ago, when I visited the Pagani factory in Italy. At that point in time, they were not using additive manufacturing, but they were building all of their parts (save for the engine and some assorted metallic suspension pieces) inhouse using carbon composite manufacturing techniques. Here's what I wrote about that visit:
Located a short drive outside of Bologna, Pagani sits but a stone's throw from the headquarters of Ferrari and Lamborghini -- part of the high performance internal combustion industry cluster that's existed in Emilia-Romagna since the 1920's. The factory is very compact and sits, almost invisible, in a quiet suburban neighborhood. It is divided into three main areas, each sitting side-by-side: a carbon fiber fabrication area with several autoclaves, an assembly area (big enough to fit three cars on jack stands) and an entrance lobby/museum. The design offices sit above the museum, and the entire facility oozes quality and attention to detail, as do the fabulous cars that roll out the front door.
Three tiny buildings creating complete cars. A factory complex so small I drove by it at least five times, finally resorting to begging two mechanics in a garage fixing an old Fiat 500 to point me in the right direction. That's a big revolution in capital structure, and I believe it will signal the birth of many small, leightweight, easier-to-start-up entrepreneurial manufacturing firms. Our industrial landscape may return to looking much like that of over a century ago, with as many exciting mechanical startups flourishing as we now have software startups. By the way, the illustration above is also from -- you guessed it -- Gordon Murray.
3. Additive manufacturing of biological nutrients
Here I refer to the process of building up structures by depositing incremental bits of "natural" materials until a whole is formed. Or it may mean creating a scaffolding out of man-made or biomaterials, and then injecting that scaffolding with living cells so that it can grow to become a liver, or a urethra, or a bladder, or a kidney. Since showing is better than telling, please give yourself 17 minutes to watch the following TED video -- it will blow your mind and may change the way you approach your work:
If you can't spare the time for the entire video, at least forward to the 10 minute mark in the video, and check it out. Amazing. By the way, this type of manufacturing approach will also change the business structures of many of the organ replacement systems we have in place today. Contrast the complex supply chains we've created to harvest viable organs from donors, find a suitable recipient, and then transport and implant the donation. Aside from reducing the human misery and suffering accrued (which cannot be measured in dollars), imagine what happens when Stanford Hospital has an organ printing center in the basement.
This shift in our manufacturing paradigm will be enabled cheap, lightweight structures, built-up physical products, and custom-printed biologic offerings. In summary, this is just my attempt to synthesize for myself what may be happening across these trends. The technological possibilities are fabulous. The business implications are intriguing and even inspiring. The societal implications are simultaneously energizing and troubling. Let's see where things go, and I'd love to hear what you think.
I returned this morning from the TED conference in Long Beach. This year I found it exceptionally inspiring. And also draining: the content on stage, the people you meet, the people you don't meet,the locale, all of the activites -- it's a jam-packed five days that leaves you feeling simultaneously energized yet also a bit like a spent tube of toothpaste. Wow.
I logged on this evening to write a summary of the week, but in the course of seeing what my friends wrote about their experience there, I came across John's amazing story of his experience in Long Beach, and decided that all I'm going to do is quote him here. What he wrote is just beautiful, and it captures the essence of what happens there:
... Every time I go, there are at least a couple of experiences that I have that change the way that I look at the world, the way that I want to be when I go home. TED makes you want to be better, smarter, more present, more thoughtful, more impactful, more human. To be a better citizen and a better professional and a better dad and a better husband and a better friend. That type of inspiration doesn’t happen all that much, and it’s worth the price of admission every time.
And that’s why June Cohen and Tom Rielly, on the TED team are two of my true heroes. They both have chosen to spend their lives working on building up TED outside of just the week of the conference every year. Tom has built the TED Fellows program, which started out pretty damn great and at this point is starting to move into basically ass-kicking-terrifyingly-awesome territory. And June, who put TED Talks online for everyone to see, including subtitling into 80+ languages.
That, my friends, is how you change the world.
That’s how you take this beautiful, wonderful experience for a few people in California each year and turn it into something that anyone — anyone! — can use to make themselves, their community, their world better themselves.
Well said, John. I can't wait to post some of my favorite speaker videos. I had tears streaming down my face in just about every session of the conference.
TED is something different from what it was half a decade ago. If you can ever go in person to one of their events, or to a TEDx event, I heartily recommend you do so, but I do agree with John that the essence of the TED brand experience is by no means limited to those who hear it in person. If you can take the time to watch and absorb the videos which appeal to you -- and many of those which won't at first glance -- you can have the same kind of transformational experience. Perhaps even better.
Tears optional, but highly recommended.
Some amazing thinking and synthesis from Kevin Kelly.
It is so important to have a strong point of view. Let me repeat: it is so important to have a strong point of view. It needn't be as extreme as the one voiced in this ad, but you've got to stand for something.
If you don't have a point of view, you won't know what you don't stand for, and so you'll be tempted to try and do everything, because "no" won't be in your vocabulary. Trying to appeal to everyone by playing in the mushy middle not only will make you less appealing over the long haul (because being boring is not attractive), it also makes it very difficult to get started (because the enormity of the task makes everything too daunting to tackle), and makes it really tough to ship (because you have to do so much in order to meet the needs of so many people).
Having a point of view is incredibly liberating. It takes more energy and more time to get to an honest understanding of what you believe in, what you need to do, and what you won't do, but it is well and truly worth it.
For more on this subject, read Principle 19: Have a point of view
Check these out and see if they don't shift your feelings for Priuseses:
This series is brilliant. The Prius is the new protest car of the intelligentsia, haven taken over that mantle from the Volvo 240 station wagon. One sees more bumper stickers per square inch on the back of Priums than on any other brand of car, I'd wager. As such, having James Lipton play in public with the branding of the car will tickle the fancy of many existing Prius owners. For others, like me, it softens the character of the brand, making it fun in an Ivy League kind of way, a little more accessible.
The series works because it does not engage in spinning up a fake, sugary myth. Rather, it is amplifying meaning which already exists out in the world. The Prius is a car for people who think about cars in a different way, or more precisely, for people who don't think about cars as cars. But it is a car for thinkers who are likely to take delight in these twisted cultural references, and so we have thinkers here being thinkers. James Lipton is James Lipton. Shakespeare loves the letter W. And so forth.
It's also a great example of art imitating life imitating art. The choice of "MC Flossary" and Shakespeare for two of these videos is an inspired one, referencing a much deeper satire created several years ago by Sacha Baron Cohen, with Mr. Lipton as his unwitting victim and dance partner. The Flossary Prius clip works that much better because of this cultural backstory. The fun here starts at the 1:18 mark:
As Grant McCracken argues, we need more "chief culture officers" operating in our midst. Not "culture officers" in the sense of folks who look in and steward our internal organizational cultures, but folks who like to wallow around in all the cultural currents which exist out in the world. Who can parse meaning in a generative way. I have to believe that this Pria campaign was forged by a group which included at least one cultural officer. To be able to amplify meaning, you need first to be aware of it.
Do you remember Wonder Woman's Invisible Jetplane? If you don't, you can read about it over here, and it looked something like this (because it's invisble, there aren't that many images of it floating around):
It strikes me that her Invisible Jetplane is a good metaphor for a well-equipped journey through the world of the possible. As you embrace the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, you're going to have moments where you are going to have to stare into nothingness. Literally, there will be nothing there, and as a generative creator of future options, it is up to you to create something. If you're floating out above an abyss, it's good to be packing something to help ensure that you can get through the tough spots.
People who make it through the rough parts of a creative journey have an Invisble Jetplane of their own making, and it's called creative confidence. It's a set of tools you build for yourself, a personally tailored version of whatever design process you subscribe to, a way of working which you know will deliver results. It's certainly not about bravado or pumping yourself up. Not at all. Rather, it's about have the confidence to stop when the going is good, to celebrate when things break, to be able to listen and learn and test over and over in order to create a strong point of view about how things should be going forward -- at least for now. And, as with Wonder Woman's jet, creative confidence is invisible, but it'll get you places, and people around you will notice what it can do, too. You can't see it, but you certainly can feel it when someone has it.
So where do you go to get your jetplane? If it were as easy as getting a degree or reading a book, everyone could do it. You certainly can't buy it, and it is not about credentials. The good news -- at least for those of us who can't help but apply ourselves toward bringing cool stuff to life -- is that it builds in strength with practice. As my friend Jon Winsor says, you have to ride a thousand waves before you truly get what it means to surf. It's the same for creative confidence, too: it's about practice and cycles. To grok it, do it. It's about getting miles under your belt.
Have fun with your jet!
Ferrari just announced a new, four-seat, four wheel drive car called the FF. It sounds great and looks awesome:
The FF is the first design in a long time from Ferrari to break new aesthetic ground. The recent 458 Italia is a truly gorgeous and wondeful car, and I'd love to have one waiting for me in my garage, but it represents the evolution of an idea which began with the 1963 250 Le Mans. It is an almost perfect execution of an old idea. The FF, on the other hand, does not work from any proportional standards seen before from the folks in Maranello. And I love it. I love the roofline. I love the way it hunkers over its rear wheels. I love the way all of its visceral design elements combine to say... take me out for a drive. Those wheels, those exhaust pipes, those side vents? They're all whispering, "let's get out of here...":
And I love it because it dares to ignore classical standards of beauty. Some might say it is downright ugly, but I would say it is unique and memorable, and perhaps a little beautiful-ugly. Or jolie-laide, as my French friends would say.
As I once said about my favorite little puppy hearse, the BMW M Coupe -- to which the FF bears more than a passing resemblance -- why be beautiful when you could be interesting?
While it is important to keep in mind that most new ideas aren't likely to be new, sometimes something really is new. And thank goodness. Life would be a dull, grey affair if we couldn't bring truly new things into the world. Today marks the birth of just this sort of thing: according to metacool's research and development partner Telstar Logistics, today marks the 100th anniversary of naval aviation:
Naval aviation was invented one hundred years ago today, on January 18, 1911, when a 24 year-old barnstormer pilot named Eugene B. Ely completed the world's first successful landing on a ship. It happened in San Francisco Bay, aboard the crusier USS Pennsylvania, which had a temporary, 133-foot wooden landing strip built above her afterdeck and gun turret as part of the experiment.
I love the context of this historical event, for several reasons. First, it happened in San Francisco. It's cool to think that remarkable mashups were happening out here back when "web" meant something that came out of a spider. Second, that this innovation really is a mashup: it slams together several new technologies -- an airplane and a modern warship -- in a way which produced a genuine first. Perhaps the very nature of mashups makes them more likely to disprove the rule of nothing being new under the sun? Take two common things, put them together, and that interaction may be genuinely new and a great source of value creation. Finally, innovation doesn't just happen. Close your eyes and imagine the human drama of this day one hundred years ago, and the importance of measured risk taking becomes readily apparent.
Hats off to Eugen B. Ely, who had guts to get out and do it.
The pattern you see above is the result of a couple of creative minds -- colleagues of mine -- screwing around with their GPS-enabled wristwatch while out on a morning run. They "wrote" a message for the rest of us at the office, and then sent us to this webpage, where via a mashup we could see their graffito. It's a virtual crop circle, a public digital tattoo, a webified record of a few minutes of personal joy.
It's also the result of many layers of technology working together, from satellites generating the original photographic imagery to other satellites finding the wristwatch to the mind-boggling amount of digital hardware/software integration packaged so tightly into that wristwatch (and don't forget the rechargable batteries and the input/output protocols which allow this GPS data to be brought into Google Maps over the interwebs). Basically, a ton of stuff in the technology side of the equation had to go right to enable these two guys to create this virtual crop circle.
And it's a lot of technology to grok. Do you think any of the engineering teams behind each of the technological building blocks involved had any idea that a couple of Silicon Vallely dudes would use the sum total of their efforts toward this purely aesthetic expression of freedom, liberty, and joy? I doubt it. Very few "consumer" (I dislike that word, but I have to use it) value propositions involving multiple compex technologies can be created in a top down sense. Instead, whether like Twitter they spring up while a development team is busy working on something else, or as in the case of this virtual crop circle or mountain bikes or jazz or hot rods or any pursuit born out of the venacular they just "happen", complex value propositions enabled by technology need to grow organically, with serendipity as their fertilizer.
We can't gain wisdom about the uses of technology unless we allow ourselves time to screw around.
I had the pleasure over the holidays of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my daughter. It's a wonderful piece of literature, and a great reminder that movie adaptations of great works generally pale in comparison with the original text. Roald Dahl was nothing if not a creative genius.
A special bonus for me was the inclusion at the end of the book of this transcript of a converation with Roald Dahl. It's an exemplary interview, focusing on his process and way of working. In particular, I found the following passage remarkable:
...I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice. But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, “When you are going good, stop writing.” And that means that if everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter’s going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go. But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, the you are in trouble!
His insight flies in the face of common wisdom around this subject, which goes something like "when in flow, keep going". In other words, stay with the muse lest it float away. Having the confidence to "stop when you are going good", coupled with the ability to crank it up again the next day, feels like a more mature place to be in terms of one's personal creative process. I bet it takes practice. But, if it leads to more sleep, fewer late nights, and more perspective on what matters and what does not, I'd wager that all of us engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life would be in a better place.
I, for one, am going to start stopping!