Worth Reading – Post American World

January 27, 2012

I found The Post American World” by Fareed Zakaria to be a very good read. It’s a good place to start learning about issues with India, China, and North America. The tone is very much of the “chill out” it’s not as bad as you think variety. This was nice to hear, but also probably what I wanted to hear. I’m totally out of my depth to decide if his ideas are good or bad, but I really resonated with the “back story”; his experience of moving to America to study and eventually live there. This discussion was what made the book for me.

Note that the wikipedia page for this book has a very good synopsis. Much better than I could do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Post-American_World

I listened the audio version and it is well read.

This is part of my “Getting up to speed on China” reading project. Last year I decided I should read Kissinger‘s On China, Niall Ferguson‘s Civilization: The West and the Rest, and Fareed Zakaria‘s The Post American World after seeing them advertised in the Munk Debates – China. I’m slowly making my way through Niall Ferguson’s Civilization.

Comparing Steve Jobs with Lean Startup & Customer Development

January 25, 2012

I’m still fascinated with the Steve Jobs book. Here’s some thoughts on new product development and comparisons with today’s popular models: Customer Development and Lean Startup.

I can’t let go of Steve Jobs ability to “stop the presses” when he felt that a product (or feature ) was not ready to ship. This is so different than the more common plan — “let’s stick with our plan, ship it, and fix it later.”

This “stopping & resetting” skill is essential in today’s popular new product introduction models, like Steve Blank‘s Customer Development or Eric RiesLean Startup. It’s the key point that I have trouble getting across in my classes ’cause it seems so obvious in hindsight, but it’s not in real-time. Each of these models have a “stop, review, and go back to the beginning” section, but most people seem to think that this doesn’t apply to their idea :-( That this “reset” is not a commonly used part of the model. But in reality this “reset” is the new thing about these models. It’s their killer feature.

In the past two years I have taken to showing that the customer development model really means re-starting at least 2 times. ( This is consistent with the findings at Startup Genome. ) As one can see in the Jobs book he did a lot of resetting. On Page 418 there is a discussion of his love for a recording of the Beatles revising “Strawberry Fields” over and over .. ’til they get it.

Today’s new product introduction models are very Jobs-like, they are not espousing “lets ship it and fix it later”. These models are — let’s test our ideas out in the market to see if they work. Let’s collect information before and after the experiment. Let the data make the decision. Thus if the product doesn’t exactly match the idea, then you’ve blown the experiment. If you really watch, and are aware, then you can “stop” with conviction. You know what to change. Each new model then advances the art with features that stick and features that don’t.

I think this is why the Steve Jobs “This is Shit” discussion style was so useful for him. Most people will not go back to the beginning, or significantly revise their idea, unless hit on the head with a sledge hammer. But this is exactly what has to be done, as Steve Blank says, “No new business plan survives first contact with a customer“. There is no nice way to say, “This is Shit”, but there has to be somebody to do it. And often.

Sometimes you can get lucky and have a “This is Shit” review as part of your process. At one start-up we had a rule where the key developer had to lead the customer beta test of his work. At first it seemed an unduly harsh rule, but at the end the developers loved it. They really heard if it worked our not, what mattered and what didn’t. It was great first hand “unsanitized” information.
(The long term effect of this rule was that the development teams had a way to develop Blank’s “Day In the Life of the Customer”. )

ASIDE: I think this is where Jobs buddhist training may have come in handy. There is a lot of teaching around developing boundaries, and saying “no” compassionately. Maybe Jobs missed out on the “compassionate” part, but then again, nobody likes to hear that they’ve got to re-start. “This is Shit” is probably the least offensive thing one can say in these situations.
(Here’s a link to an indepth article investigating Jobs Buddhism What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?
By Steve Silberman

This leaves me with some good news and bad news about these new models that I’ve been a “fan boy” of. The good news is that the Apple/Jobs new product introduction style seems consistent with the Customer Development course that I’ve been teaching for the past few years. The bad news is that the Jobs book highlights how important “This is Shit” detection really is. I’m not sure how many people can really do that.

Concussions & Injuries Drive “No Hitting in House” Rule Change in Vancouver BC :-)

January 23, 2012

Last night the PCAHA ( the ruling body for minor hockey in Vancouver BC ) eliminated hitting from all ages of “house” hockey with a vote of 123 for and 39 against. Here is Vancouver Sun article. It doesn’t include discussion on hitting PeeWee Rep that I cover below.

There may be a removal of hitting from PeeWee A ( Rep ). But the voting was not conclusive. It’s hoped that this issue will be decided at BC Hockey AGM this summer. What happened was that PCAHA representatives voted to support “No hitting at PeeWee Rep” at BC Hockey AGM this summer. The margin was narrow ( 92 For to 75 Against ). The PCAHA also decided that it would not have separate PeeWee A “hitting” rules from BC Hockey. ( 54 For and 111 Against )

On a downer note for hockey. This ruling will make hockey safer, but probably not enough. For example, girls hockey has no hitting and it has it’s own concussion epidemic :-(

This story on concussions in football makes a pretty strong statement towards the question, “How much contact sport will our grand children be playing?” Answer. Not much. The Fragile Teenage Brain — An in-depth look at concussions in high school football
By Jonah Lehrer

More Jobs Book Fascination, Apple Contractors Employ 700,000 in China – NYTimes

January 23, 2012

The NY Times rehashes the Jobs book section on Apples Manufacturing activity in China this past weekend –Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class, How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work “NY Times”

It’s a very worthwhile read, but extremely disheartening from a manufacturing in North America perspective.

From the Jobs book perspective it is interesting what the NY Times added and omitted.

The omissions. The context that Jobs/Apple have US manufacturing experience. In the Jobs book there is a lot on Jobs fascination with manufacturing plants. He built state of the art plants in USA for 1st Mac and at NeXT. These experiences supported his move with “everybody else” to China. It’s not like he (Apple) didn’t try in the USA. They certainly weren’t the first to manufacture in China. It’s more like they were the last ones there. There is also the omission of the things that Obama told Jobs that couldn’t be done politically. This is not a knock on Obama, but more a knock on what is politically feasible and how Jobs/Apple operate.

The “additions”. A lot of “silly speak” on what USA could do to reclaim the business. No substance here. It just gets the anger going. Guess that’s what sells papers. Anger and not solutions :(

Best to read the Jobs book on this topic.

Tip to Christos ( @c_makiyama ) for tweeting this link :-)

Persevering With Steve Jobs … Wow!

January 21, 2012


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson was a very powerful experience on so many levels. It is hard to figure out where to start. I’m just going to splat out some thoughts here.

* Pages 567 – 570 Isaacson finishes with Steve’s thoughts on his legacy. Every technology person should read these four pages. It’s very inspiring to hear Steve talk about why prioritizing products over profits works.

* I particularly liked the sections discussing his years at Next and Pixar. It was interesting to see how low those endeavours went before they rebounded into successes.

* Page 546 “Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said”

* All thru the book
… the attention to detail … the attention to detail … the attention to detail…
prioritize ( ie kill products) … prioritize ( ie kill products) … prioritize ( ie kill products)
( This kind of process takes super human strength … WOW!!! )

Wow! Poetry for your Car Stereo — Billy Collins Live

January 15, 2012

Just take my word for it — this is a great listen in your car :-)

Billy Collins Live is an audible books essential selection that seems to be on many recommended lists. I’d click on it and the think “But really … a guy reading his poetry … forget it”. Then one day I bought it and added it to my iPod.

The book starts with a blast of energy intro by Bill Murray. It slows down a bit when Collin’s starts out. But as I got used to Billy Collin’s delivery the performance really hit stride. By the end I was laughing out loud.

Highly recommended non-work related reading.

Proust Was A Neuroscientist — Riffing on the Intersection of Art and Neuroscience

January 13, 2012

Johah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist is a lot of fun to read. The gist of the book is that many of today’s big neuroscience discoveries were described very well by artists years before. The quote from the end of the book describes it well.

When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art. (page 197)

My favorite chapter is “5. Paul Cézanne The Process of Sight” where Lehrer talks about how our eyes are not cameras. In a nutshell our mind fills in a lot of gaps. Most of what we see is “mind filler”. Very cool. Lehrer also talks about Cezanne’s minimalist nonfinito paintings which have just enough information for our mind to figure out the image. Which can be translated to — “this is the amount of information that our mind really gets via the eyes”. The rest is made up by our brain/mind. Fascinating.

For us cooks the chapter on Auguste Escoffier “The Essence of Taste” is a great ride through the discovery of umami and the development of french cooking. There is lots of discussion on the development of “stock”. Reminded me of my sous chef days. Lotsa time required to make “real” stock. It’s so “worth it”, boy does it ever taste amazing.

The other chapters are in a similar vein. Lehrer discusses the art of Walt Whitman and relates it to current Neuroscience on “feeling”. George Elliot on Freedom. Proust on Memory. Stravinsky on Music. Stein on Language. Woolf on The Self.

For a science head this is a great way to learn about, and appreciate, the work of a handful of great artists.


If you haven’t read Lehrer before I suggest starting with How We Decide. It’s his second book and his maturity as a writer helps us readers.


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