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Thinking in Systems December 14, 2009

Posted by Deval Delivala in Uncategorized.
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Not the most fun read compared to other books on the list. It gives a very basic explanation of how to think in systems. The first part of the book she explains the different components that make up a system and how to think of variables and feedback loops. The second part of the book explains why systems are not perfect and what are the external factors that need to be considered when thinking in systems like non linearity, non-existent boundaries, and layers of limits, ubiquitous delays and bounded rationality.  It definitely gets more philosophical towards the end. So even if it is seems like an engineering reactor where everything depends on the inputs and outputs it is very subjective. It depends on so many variables and how one defines the system, where one draws the boundary etc. It is definitely a good place to start reading about systems thinking but it does not provide with tools etc on how to go about modeling a system.

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Outliers December 14, 2009

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Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell has a very distinct way of writing which is consistent with his previous books – he uses data to come up with results and then challenges those results to prove otherwise. He tries to prove in this book is why people are successful. He strips away all the layers of intelligence, education, IQ level and smartness to evaluate what makes one person succeed. Using examples like Bill Gates, Beatles etc he proves that most of the times it’s all about being provided with the opportunity that no one else is because of the environment you are bought up in. Or it is doing the same thing over and over again which makes a person successful.  He claims that when we celebrate a person’s success in a particular field we tend to disregard the structure of the system that the person is a part of that has enabled this success. I sort of disagree with his viewpoint. Sure the media and common people rave about a particular Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs. But most of us do know why they are successful and do take into account the setting which led them to be successful. For instance the Bill Gates example- Malcolm says that at that time there was no one who had done that much coding in Silicon Valley and that Bill Gates was one of the rare people who had access to a computer very early in his childhood. So this in some ways set him up for success. Thus Malcolm removes any notion of Bill Gates just being a smart businessman.  To argue that point- if there was (I am pretty sure there was) a person who had access to the same things that Bill Gates had in terms of resources- would he have done equally well and gone ahead and build a Microsoft. There is a certain internal ability that differentiates people from each other and hence not everyone makes it big. Malcolm thinks otherwise and tries to prove that in the book.

As the Future Catches You December 11, 2009

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The text is well formatted with different font sizes for emphasis- almost like an eye examination. And it does just that, by the end of the book you end up viewing things differently. You start thinking about what will be the one technology that can revolutionize everything we do.

“The skin and pulp of the orange that sits on your desk… Is just packaging… What matters is the code contained in the seeds. Each seed has a long string of gene data that looks like”.

Seeing the world in the pre genome and post genome era when most of what we read in innovation and through cases is pre and post Microsoft and Apple. Though both have been great innovations have they changed the lives of people world over? He boldly states that the world’s mega mergers will be in genetics and code and the idea that we make money by primarily manipulating neurons. Though at times the book dives into the deeper discussions of science and genes, he ties it with what can be done, what should be done and more importantly what is not being done.

“People with knowledge and talent have a global passport and their citizenship is now a market”

The points about the divide between rich and the poor, the convergence of knowledge around certain zip codes, the emergence of countries like Singapore, South Korea are well mixed with discussions around building knowledge citizens. Using the history of countries to draw parallels between those that were great and where they are now is a very good way to drive home the point of knowledge citizens.

He states that Europe will not succeed as a nation as they do not allow genetically modified seeds and foods. Not that its wrong but it’s a one sided view and forgets the fact that GM seeds are not completely harm-free. Companies like Monsanto are producing seeds that can be used only once and usurping any profit that the farmer would make through higher yield. The effects of these seeds even if they are approved are not completely proven. Modifying foods/meat through the use of genetics can have some side effects which can only be studied in over a long period of time.

Will too much power lie with the country/company/group discovers the most effective way to use genetic technology for medicine, food etc? Will the country that masters this become the next super power?

Design Thinking by Tim Brown December 11, 2009

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I had participated in one Haas@Work program which follows the inspiration, ideation and implementation approach. We were in groups of 6-7 and each had to brainstorm and come up with ideas. Though this works well, I felt that a lot of the good ideas got rejected by the time we reached the ideation phase. In the article he says that it helps interdisciplinary teams to work together, I felt that for this particular project the ideas got rejected because some were understood better by the technical people and some were not. But overall the concept of the three I’s works very well. It really helped us reiterate our thoughts and think of it from different perspectives of the customer, end user and the partnering company.

In one of our classes we read the book “ten faces of innovation” by Tom Kelley of IDEO. In that book he focuses more on the inspire bit. He focuses on how one can wear different hats when thinking of a consumer and what places to observe human interaction. One example he cites in the book is that of the soft grip Oral- b tooth brush for kids. They developed and designed that by just observing kids brush their teeth.

I liked the example of Aravind Eye Care and how it was developed thinking about the user constraints.  For any new technology to have a global impact it has to be developed keeping in mind the constraints that the largest populations of the world i.e. India and China face.  I recently participated in a social business plan competition which brings voice-based information to farmers in India. The constraint is that the farmers are uneducated, cannot use computers but have cell phones and access to information is crucial for them.  The person working on this idea had reiterated the product a lot of times after conducting field research in rural India. A lot of the big companies like Philips and Nokia actually start with the user in rural parts of developing countries. They list the constraints and work from there. Some of the people who are designing low cost laptops give first time users laptops and observe them interact with it.

Deval Delivala on Sketching user Experiences September 26, 2009

Posted by Deval Delivala in Sketching User Experiences.
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He uses some good cases and examples to explain the importance of design in an organization. He states that design should be implemented in different phases of the product life cycle instead of separating it as a different function. I feel most companies get one part right and are too focused on either the design, product or marketing. Though I would have liked to see him write about what can be done to ensure that companies implement it. The author works for Microsoft and it doesn’t seem like Microsoft got all three stages right either.  Most design and innovation discussions always cite Apple and IDEO and so does he. I think these two companies are an exception to the rule. If the books on design thinking and the success of these two companies have been around for so long, what is taking companies so long to focus on design?

He makes some very strong claims in the book like “not everyone is a designer” and defends them well. He argues that though innovation in process may trump innovation in product, innovation in both can trump either. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that. I think even if you have a great product a poor process can fail you. Towards the end of the book he gives detailed explanations of how some people have built prototypes very easily in the past. I felt it was way to design focused for me even though he makes it sound simple. It will definitely help me understand others designs better but I don’t think I would be able to come up with the kind of prototypes he shows in the book.

Two great examples in the book

Experience Design vs. Interface design

He uses a very simple example of an orange juice maker to explain the difference between experience design and interface design. Even in two seemingly similar products there are minor modifications that can change the experience for the user. http://www.billbuxton.com/experienceDesign.pdf

The Wizard of Oz: I really liked the analogy.  He uses is it to explain how a good demo/prototype can accurately predict the users experience.

“Up to the point where Toto tipped over the screen and revealed the Wizard to be a fraud, all of Dorothy’s reactions were valid …To her the Wizard was real and therefore so were all her expectations”

Wizard of Oz and what it teaches us:

  • Fidelity of the experience is important
  • We can use anything we want to conjure up experience
  • The earlier we do it the more valuable it is
  • Fake it before you build it