Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Prototyping

I had to give a lecture on Prototyping. This is a difficult task because prototyping is all about doing. But one hour was all we had and a lecture to be delivered. So, here is what I spoke about...

Define prototyping beyond the conventional definition
Staying away from cliched stories of prototyping
Examples of prototyping - offbeat examples
Takeaway - we are all creators, makers and tinkerers
Examples of not having to prototype
Wicked problems versus well defined problems
The perfect being the enemy of the good
Propensity to not ship (and how companies are working to overcome it)
Shortening lifecycles of companies and products
Real life examples
Methods like Lean start up, Design Thinking
How to prototype (methods)
And finally, a thought on leading our lives as a prototype!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Experience and Intuition

A few weeks ago I had to go to a doctor for a small orthopaedic condition.

I went to the doctor. A junior doctor heard me out, examined me - made me do a series of movements with my arm, asked me to take a <machine test>. Armed with the report, I went to the main doctor who in turn read the report (all normal) and the diagnosis for 30 seconds and sent me packing with some medication and said I might have to come back for some physiotherapy. For a week, nothing happened - the pain came back after the course and no discernible improvement for another week after that and then I decided to to take a second opinion.

The second doctor heard me out. He glanced through the report. And made me do a series of movements with the arm. He also gave me a couple of tests to do to check for secondary indicators. And thats it. He had identified my condition- gave it a name. He put me on a physiotherapy regimen for 6 weeks. He said there was no need for any further machine tests of any nature - unless I show no improvement in the next few weeks of physiotherapy.

What was the difference? If you notice, the sequence was pretty much the same. Not very different.

The second doctor was as experienced as the first doctor. Both these highly experienced doctors work in big reputed insitutions - so this story is not about the big Goliath being trounced by the small David.

The difference:

One was short term versus long term. The second doctor gave a name for the condition, a name for the physiotherapy regimen and no medication for the immediate pain (it was not a lot in the first place). He also gave me a set of tests to do to identify if this was a leading indicator for something and said if these show up as abnormal - you are into something serious. The first doctor game me an anti-inflamatory course and said you may have me to do some physio as an afterthought - which did not sound very convincing to him - and also to me.

The second doctor created a sense of urgency in me - and got me going instead of treating it as a short term condition - he got me going for the long term.

Also, in the second case, the basic diagnosis was done by the senior doctor - and it took him no more than 5 minutes. But armed with deeper experience he was able to cut to the chase better. And that is intuition - your ability to get to a deeper diagnosis/solution with the same set of data. The junior doctor needed a machine to let him know what was wrong - and the machine could not find out what was wrong - the second doctor told me that this condition cannot be diagnosed by that machine unless it is really bad.

This was the crucial difference in my view. The ability to intuit with the data comes with experience, not lack of it.

We often confuse intuition as a bolt from the blue in which someone wakes up and solves a nuclear physics problem. What we forget is that this intuition comes from deep knowledge and experience and still being able to listen to what the diagnosis is saying - especially when it is not black and white, but grey. Just having the machines, the certifications and the experience is not enough...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Adapting to digital

This is something that has always intrigued me. Newspaper websites, digital properties - almost always look the same - worldwide. TV sites and digital properties - ditto. Why?

The earlier method of printing news was limited by the newsprint and the ads. Now with space no longer an issue (atleast on websites) how is it that it is still organized by print needs? What can a newspaper website potentially look like in future? Today it looks somewhat like a newspaper that is mounted on a website.

What if news was organized in terms of current events, recent events and on events where a long form investigation is being done? Why not start with a map and people zoom into the location where they want news about? Why not a world map with users being to click at a country level to begin with? Why not share data and news separately (as in share long form data alongwith news as well). Why not allow users to scroll through a timeline? Or search about incidents - like terrorist incidents. Currently all these functionalities are quite primitive.

Why does TV still stick to the form of programming (half hour slots). Why cant it move to say, long form debates with proof? Not the form of crappy TV debates which we get to see - but long form debates where people get unlimited time to come up with arguments, rebut and tear them apart? Much short debates are pointless shouting matches. Why not run long form debates. Space is not a problem, time is not a problem. All it needs are good editors - and they can monetise the short content of their programs and the rest can be on the web.

Just two examples, but there are many others who are able to see this transition and work accordingly. The media industry is built around ads - and therefore are reluctant to try something else. Perhaps someone will come up with a different model. Websites like Inshorts come to min. Or the brilliant Brain Pickings. Both very different from traditional media - but my question is when will traditional media change their model?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Department of useless information

The way information is consumed has changed. When we were young, we sat in front of the TV and absorbed all it blared. Or read books.

Since I was more of the latter, I had a storehouse of information - which I labelled - Department of Useless Information. This information was not useless - it did enable me to win quizzes and suchlike till I met bigger hoarders of information who I could not defeat.

Today, the way information is consumed is over the internet and the Department of useless information gatherers have never had it so good. Except for the arrival of non-googleable quizzes.

That means that the internet is a great place to build curiosity - almost like the library of yore - provided of course one uses it for the right things.

So, the kid potters around on youtube - mostly on science sites like ASAP science and Ted-ed and suchlike.

Soon comes with a question after a round of retail therapy by the parent.
Are you happy with the purchase?
Well, ya, kind of.
It wont last very long. Research that happiness of a purchase doesnt last for more than 12.5 seconds.

And another day

Did you know cats can increase the happiness of a person by about 30%?

Yet another day

How many books do you read in a year?
Maybe 25 to 30?
Oh so you are average.
Yes, apparently people on an average read about 25-30 books a year.

What will this do to the future of content? Will movies become shorter - given that short form content is in vogue? Today the feature film running length is about 120 odd minutes give or take a few. Will it become shorter?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Apple, Amazon, Homepod and Alexa

I read this article today. And while the entire article is worth a read, read this snippet in the picture below.

This is the Apple. The same company that set the pace (by and large) for the digital revolution that we now take for granted.

Is this Apples xerox moment? Possibly not. But in this it was definitely blindsided by the IOT piece in this manner. And in the light of many people commenting that Apple is not the same post Steve Jobs - this is interesting.

For one, nobody is immune from change and transformation. Not Apple. Not even Amazon.

This is an interesting example for those who still quote Apple in their management stories :)

The second machine age

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson is a very thought provoking book. 

Written a few years ago with an acclaimed sequel out - it was a bit dated, but not for me. Much of what they said was thought provoking I felt. 

In this age of technology and AI - there is something we perhaps dont realise. 

In the book he mentions a concept called the second half the chessboard (referring to this story) which in turns relates the human understanding of the exponential function (and then I read about Al Bartlett and his lecture)

The second part which clicked was the fact that in general, technology does cause job losses - and it has happened from the chariot drivers times and will happen when self driving cars arrive. It has happened from the bulls in the time of tractors and will happen again in the age of mechanical agriculture. 

Yes, some people will be able to retrain and get another 'job' but the rates are employment are dropping with workforces being replaced by robots. 

Third, will there be jobs which will be untouched by technology tsunami? Well, there will be many such jobs, but the jobs scene wont be the same - exactly as it has never been the same for every advancing technology!

The book leaves one with the possibility of imagining how human-technology as a combination can be far unbeatable than just humans or just technology. 

And of course the pace of change...

On human behaviour

Something struck me as I was working with someone recently. And the person pointed out that the feedback he got is the same thing that we had discussed a few years ago. This despite the fact that the circumstances had changed, the nature of work was different, the culture was different, the role was better, the future was better - indeed every possible dimension of the situation was diametrically opposite to what it was when he first decided to work on the behaviour.

And today, few years later, all other things had changed, but the same behaviour was pointed out.

Coming close on the heels of the story of industrial transformation - this story of human behaviour struck me as a great example - of how difficult it is to make changes to ones own behaviour and how it is a studied process that takes quite a lot of determined conscious effort.

And as I thought about it I realized that I have encountered this many times in my career both for myself and hearing other talk/recount their own experiences.

What I also realized that often we let circumstances blindside us (circumstances are good, behaviour pattern has vanished - circumstances are bad, behaviour pattern is back) when it comes to really getting to the core of human behaviour.

Yes, change is not easy in general, changing ones own behaviour all the more so.