tinker on

dreaming up a web that works.

Tag: innovation

Don’t Miss the Trivial

by Santosh

Imagine you’ve been given the objective of designing a spacecraft that will need to take passengers to other star systems starting out from our own. A challenge of this nature starts with how do you sustain life through a journey that will potentially take millions of years. You can’t store energy without losing some to the environment. In the cold depth of interstellar space with the nearest star far far away, how is it possible to constantly recreate or source the energy needed for life? Really, how much energy does life need? This is the premise behind Rendezvous with Rama, a science fiction classic by Arthur C. Clarke.

If you’ve not read the book you could probably get around this paragraph and I’d avoid spoiling it for you. Many book reviewers found it strange that Rendezvous… does not have any alien life-forms in it. I’d say that the book is teeming with ideas, ideas about a different version of life. Life that flourishes in ways we understand but would find too obvious and will discard in the bat of an eyelid. Clarke’s fictional solution to interstellar space travel is to transport consciousness in a literally recyclable world where the life-forms are manufactured. Such life need only exist when an abundant energy source such as our sun is at hand. Now that we’ve got a grip on this central idea, you can ask why not? All we need to do now is to figure out how to sustain this consciousness in a low-energy state through the quiet between star systems.

Nine years ago on this day of 2004, Google first advertised a limited beta release of Gmail. It resonated with initial subscribers on the legs of another absurd idea – a 10GB inbox. Perhaps you’d thought, who’d need so much space? Or, how is it possible to give away so much space? At the time a GB cost a $1 on a hard drive** and most providers would only give away 10’s of MB’s to their millions of free users. I know I thought both those thoughts. I was a graduate student working at RIT’s Lab of Applied Computing. I recall dissecting how it would work with my colleagues at the lab. Obviously we needn’t allocate all that space right away. If we disassociated the inbox with the actual physical storage of an email, we could allocate just a few MB and simply grow the physical storage ahead of usage. This made the ’10GB inbox’ plausible.

Turns out, this idea was enough to spark millions of conversations within the first few weeks and drew several millions of users away from other email providers within it’s first year. Some enthusiastic users even tested the elasticity of their inboxes by growing them successfully all the way to the 10GB limit. It was fascinating to watch it all come together and yet I had more questions. Why were so many making this possible? I probably asked because I still didn’t think I needed that much space.

A few years later at a consulting gig, I’d been given an inbox on a client’s MS Exchange server. Every time I’d get a series of files weighing in at several 100KB’s, my inbox would cross a preset limit and I’d have to reach out to the admin for more space. While I waited, I’d delete older emails off the server or incoming emails would bounce back to senders. It was at this time that I wished dearly for Gmail’s magical expanding inbox and asked is this what drew the early adopters to it?

Many ideas are like that and I think they deserve a closer look. They’re really awaiting a marriage of the right mindsets before they can bloom. Perhaps someone who can see past first impressions to quickly spot the frustration of no solution and the genius beneath the unassuming? Someone who’s willing to put in the time to follow the idea through.

** Cost of Hard Drive Storage Space.

Ideas to Tinker with this Week

by Santosh

“People do judge a book by it’s cover” – To impute. Projecting a Brand image of self worth and values. From the Apple Marketing Philosophy.

The challenges and myths behind Brand and Marketing across the online and offline worlds for eCommerce companies in India – “Online retailers like Zovi, Myntra offer simulating ‘Touch & Feel’ comfort to consumers“, Economic Times India.

Social Commerce.

Napster, Udacity and the Academy. How MOOCs will unbundle the lecture from the educational process thanks to Baumol’s cost disease.

A Honeypot for Recruiters for solving a startup recruiting problem.

Compelling ideas

by Santosh

What makes an idea compelling? Why are ideas a dime-a-dozen? If good ideas are so common, how do you come up with good ideas reliably on-tap? Are there environmental patterns that encourage creativity and idea-generation?

I recently picked up Steven Johnson’s book “Where good ideas come from“. It has turned out be a fantastic read for any entrepreneur or inventor. Steven profiles the history of innovation and presents a clear perspective into how you can identify what the “edge” of innovation really is in your age. The first few chapters have many surprises, even for the veteran entrepreneur.

One of  my favorite quips on good, nay great ideas is this interview with Steve Jobs on his visit to Xerox. That visit turned out to be a turning point for Apple, we all know that Jobs was inspired by Xerox’s GUI. What you probably don’t know is that Jobs saw not one, but three ideas on that day. Keep in mind that the PC revolution had not happened yet.

If you wish to pick up the book:

Amazon link.

Flipkart link.

Where good ideas come from

by Santosh

Steven Johnson tells us about the natural history of good ideas and the ‘spaces’ from which good ideas emerge. His research reveals the role that connectivity plays in evolving good ideas. I highly recommend watching his presentation on TED.

If you were a BookEazy customer, you will remember that the service had an added edge over the regular pay as you go movie tickets service. BookEazy did not require you to pay when you book your movie ticket. Instead, you could pay for them at the theatre before the show. This opened up the service to last minute movie ticket purchases on the mobile.

We had to go through several bad ideas before we came up with one that worked. With every idea we tested against our own instincts and those of our friends, we got closer and closer to something that worked for us. This phase lasted about 6 to 8 months.

Unplug the Time Bomb

by Anjali Gupta

Recently, I met several folks who quit pursuing their dream because a time bomb exploded in their minds. The time bomb had started ticking the very moment they announced, “In six months, if I haven’t reached some visible and socially acceptable milestone, I will quit my dream”. My personal experiences as well as those of my immediate circle show that such time bombs almost always explode. After reflecting on why they explode, I realized that they were setup to explode from the word go. They are plugged into a goal or a metric that was unrealistic and sometimes just incorrect for the chosen dream. So the clock always wins before you make it.

Far too many times I have measured progress on a scale that was bound to give a zero reading in the short-term. For example, if you are on a path of innovation, for creating an idea or a business mode that does not exist – how can you measure yourself by metrics used by a traditional business? You need to start with a well-proven business model to match  business metrics. When you’re in a Laboratory mode you’re not a business in those early years; you’re simply validating if a business is possible when the product succeeds. Therefore it makes  sense to measure your progress by the metrics used in a Lab. For example, how many experiments did you run, what did you learn from the ones that failed, how can you simplify the problem, etc. You need to talk to people who fund experiments and believe in iterative product evolution.  If you choose the wrong scale, you chase the wrong milestones, and invariably set a time-bomb that’s bound to explode before you’re ready. You never gave yourself a fair chance.

If you want to be a successful writer, you cannot worry about publishing your first book the day you start writing. You will need to throw away many stories until you find the one that sticks. As Malcomn Gladwell’s book Outliers emphasizes that people need to put in 10,000 hours to become good at anything. Who is going to pay for those 10,000 hours of unstructured work? One cannot escape investing time. Unfortunately most of us find interesting stuff to do only later in life. The only problem with a late start is that it creates a pressure to apply past-income metrics i.e. the infamous opportunity cost to any time we spend on it, even before we have acquired the necessary learning to succeed.

In college, when the family was paying for learning, when a college was churning out a report card every six months for others to see, and when a degree was being promised four years later, we did not apply the time bomb principle. We let it take four years as there was no perception of opportunity cost. We allowed the luxury of four years of learning time to a degree that simply brings us at par with millions of others; and now we’re unable to give the same luxury to a goal that has the potential to make us stand out in that crowd!

Eyes cannot see progress, they only see results. So what do you show them when you have no visible results? Go get someone who can see the invisible, who can see the small progress you’ve made and can nudge you forward – a mentor, a patron, a companion, or a real angel. That person will take you through that period of invisible progress.

Our society creates a pattern of setting time bombs to everything we do – buying a house,  a new car, or even irreversible events like getting married and having children are all attached to a fixed time-line. We should all learn to reserve time bombs for things that are less important, like doing laundry before the weekend is over or learning to play a song before the year is over. When it comes to stuff that matters to feeling alive; stuff you never want to see explode, like your childhood dream, or a compelling vision, or a meaningful relationship. Let it have all the time it needs. Just find a way to keep it ticking. Even if it’s behind time, it’s alive!

~ Anjali