Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ideas of a feather flock together

The original quote goes Birds of a feather, flock together, but when you think it is true for a ideas as well. Take any thought process and you will find a remarkable similarity across ideas in a particular generation.

This struck me as particularly obvious as part of our ongoing googling on car designs, something struck me as quite amazing. When you see car designs over a period, say the 50's, 60's or any other period - the majority of cars look similar. When I say similar, I mean that their overall structure, proportions, shape and lines are similar. There are variations in engine, accessories, interior layout and so on, but by and large they do appear same. In the sense, if you picked out a particular car it is easy even an untrained eye to observe the, quite obvious, similarity.

This was something I knew intuitively as a "car watcher", but the fact that this has repeated consistently over many eras was quite something.

There is an explanation for why this is so, in what is a very famous statement by none other than Steve Jobs.

You know how you see a show car, and it’s really cool, and then four years later you see the production car, and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! …What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers, and the engineers go, ‘Nah, we can’t do that. That’s impossible.’ And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people, and they go, ‘We can’t build that!’ And it gets a lot worse.” [The whole piece from Time, in case you want to read it]

It is not that people are not creative, but when people get together to review someones design, collective decision making takes over. Then, there is this urge for everyone to contribute something and in that bargain, partly make it "less risky", partly put their stamp, partly want to conform to some vague established norms and ultimately make the conceptually brilliant idea into a wonderfully diluted caricature of the original.

Something fantastic to read, if you have never read it before "What colour is the bikeshed"

And the winner, almost everytime is the breakthrough idea.

When you think that is the normal procedure for any creative idea to become a reality, you suddenly have more respect for those ideators - one for coming up the idea and second for relentlessly pushing it through the system till it becomes a reality. Think of any standout design idea and the first thing that you think is "Respect". We stick to cars on Indian roads - say the Santro, fhe Swift, the Ace, the Nano and to a certain extent the Scorpio and the XUV5OO, but other than that, every car looks like every other car.

It is not necessary that breakthrough ideas are always successful, but mostly successful ideas are breakthrough ideas.

Now think about the designer who would have designed a "standout" car and then watches as his concept is whittled down. What happens to his confidence? It goes down.

But the actual process of whittling down creative confidence starts much earlier - at home and then at school. For more on this, watch this awesome video on a TED talk by David Kelley.

More later...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Google auto suggest

Google boy at work: Think of a car brand. Type it into the Google box -which I suspect is his worm hole for reaching out into other dimensions. Wait for auto-suggest to kick in. Wonder what are each of those suggestions, click them one by one and expand knowledge. Said modus operandi has worked very well.

One day, Googleboy was typing Morgan (yes, it is a car company) into the Google box - And google helpfully suggested, "Freeman". With the result, that from staring at cars one moment, Googleboy found himself staring at the pictures of an oldish man in a French beard. Much peevishness resulted from the incredulity that Google could not figure out that Morgan was a car manufacturer and when combined with Freeman, it was a person not a car.

And for us, that caused much hilarity...while for Google, that might be some feedback!


Imagine -how creativity works is the title of a book by Jonah Lehrer. There are numerous books on creativity and yet creativity is one of those topics that is quite tough to be captured inside a book. And yet, Imagine does this quite well.

What Imagine does is it looks at examples of people across disciplines - music, sports, literature, technology among others and also explores the science behind these and tries to connect the two. That makes for very engrossing reading.

One part that had me enthralled was the part about how population density and people interactions in cities can give rise to ideas. Another section was on the way the Pixar workplace is designed so as to increase interaction and give rise to higher levels of creativity. Both these are great reading for someone who wants creativity in their workplace and are all worth thinking about.

As we think about this for the next generation, education is definitely an area that can be looked at in a different perspective, but thats my ongoing thought.

All in all, a great read - especially when you are about to take that flight and are searching for a book that will surely spark some thoughts!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I am a superhero. Googleman. Without google, I am the ordinary human being. But with Google at my disposal, I become the superhero. 

I also strongly suspect that between the age range of 3 and 8, children believe their parents are superheroes. Post this age, the power of the internet is available to kids and they discover googlesearches themselves.

Parents the world over should be thankful to google for increasing their question answering by an exponential factor. Earlier there were a zillion questions that could go unanswered. But not any more. The internet gives parents the power to answer the most obscure of questions. I am not sure if this is good or bad, but it does seem like the fact that answers are available means that more questions can be asked.

Sample this:
Why do buses have bigger steering wheels?
Why does Audi name their cars one way and BMW another way?
Who invented soap (and this screaming from the bathroom)?
Who invented shampoo?
Who invented bathing?
What is a turbocharger?
How does a petrol engine work?
Why does one need a spoiler on a car?
What is an air-dam?

(As you can see, atleast one persons life revolves around cars at this point.)

With the power of the internet, almost every question can be answered. And that feels pretty cool for the kid, until at some point they discover things themselves.

Now, our modus operandi is not to answer questions directly, but ponder over it a bit and then get our own local, personal Eureka moment by googling and zeroing in on the answer. Whoever thought Google search skills would be so rewarding.