Thursday, July 02, 2015

LunchTalk: "Tesla" | Talks at Google

Bernard Carlson is the Joseph L. Vaughan Professor of Humanities and Chair of the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia, where he also holds a joint appointment with the History Department. As an historian of technology, Dr. Carlson has written widely on invention and entrepreneurship as well as on the role of technology in the rise and fall of civilizations. His publications include "Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900" and "Technology in World History", 7 volumes. In 2008, the latter was awarded the Sally Hacker Prize from the Society for the History of Technology as the best book aimed at a broad audience.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Social Media vs TV: kill or be killed

Advertisement dominates business models deployed by social media companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yelp, and a host of others. Although we think of them as technology growth companies, historically advertising revenues have been flat relative to the GDP *.

Web-based ads — most famously Google AdWords — grew rapidly not because they somehow generated new economic growth in the country, but because they helped TV kill newspapers, being the early hero.

Now that newspapers are effectively dead, the only way for the ad-supported internet business to grow is to kill TV-based ads. While the TV industry fights it off with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, we should expect more video ads on our mobile screens. In the meantime, the likes of HBO and Netflix have to put a strong bet on content quality. Such a bet would be independent of the distribution media and would have a good chance for translating video streams and downloads into real growth.

* also see 
tags: internet, video, data, packaged payload, distribution, content, media,

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lunch Talk: Steve Fodor of Affymetix gives a talk at Stanford eCorner

Dr. Fodor and colleagues were the first to develop and describe microarray technologies and combinatorial chemistry synthesis.

In 1993, Dr. Fodor co-founded Affymetrix where the chip technology has been used to synthesize many varieties of high density oligonucleotide arrays containing hundreds of thousands of DNA probes.

The Market or The Technology

The Scientist vs The Entrepreneur

Monday, June 29, 2015

Google's anti-trust problem: users

Many news agencies reported on a new study about Google search results, painting it in anti-trust tones, e.g.,
(BloombergBusiness, June 29, 2015) The new study, which was presented at the Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Oxford, U.K., over the weekend, says the content Google displays at the top of many search results pages is inferior to material on competing websites. For this reason, the paper asserts, the practice has the effect of harming consumers.
In reality, Google's biggest anti-trust problem is its users who believe that Google search engine can provide them with best results. The belief still holds true for the web because Google has the ability to access, index, and rank web pages. As information and (more importantly!) user interactions shift toward the social world and proprietary mobile applications, Google gradually loses its ability to access the data and make best judgements. In Scalable Innovation (Chapter 22: Google vs Facebook) we identify at least three major consequences of this shift: no full access to social feedback, e.g. "likes"; the reactive nature of the web search itself; Google's lack of access to app-specific data. As a result, people who use search to ask questions like “What’s the best pediatrician in San Francisco?” are not going to get the best answer because Google simply doesn't have it.

On the surface, it looks as if a big monopoly is trying to hurt consumers. That's not the case. The study presented in Oxford assumes that Google is omnipotent and omnipresent. That is, the authors seem not to realize that the information world has changed and our information habits have to change accordingly. Today, consumers hurt themselves by thinking that googling will give them the right answers. Although this powerful illusion works on the web, it begins to fall apart as we enmesh ourself in social networks and mobile apps.

tags: innovation, search, google, facebook, science, technology, 3x3, world

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Principles of Invention and Innovation (BUS 74). Session 1, Quiz 2

Research shows* that college students who use their laptops and mobile phones in class get easily distracted and miss important information. They also distract their professors and other students.

Question: How would IDEAL education and personal communications systems would change the situation?

* Michael J. Berry , Aubrey Westfall. Dial D for Distraction: The Making and Breaking of Cell Phone Policies in the College Classroom . College Teaching. Vol. 63, Iss. 2, 2015. DOI:10.1080/87567555.2015.1005040

Friday, June 26, 2015

Principles of Invention and Innovation (BUS 74). Session 1, Quiz 1.

According to the LA Times,

More than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV – including about 156,300 who don’t realize it, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means 13% of those who are infected with the virus that causes AIDS aren’t in a position to protect their health, or the health of others.

Question: In your opinion, how would an IDEAL healthcare system would change the situation? Briefly describe at least one hypothetical solution that would lead to a breakthrough.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scalable Innovation and the future of American jobs

Manju Puri and Rebecca Zarutskie, economics researchers from Duke University and Federal Reserve Board, used data over 25 years to understand the difference between VC- and non-VC-financed US firms.* They discovered that VC-financed firms had a disproportionately large positive impact on job creation in the country. For example, in the period between 2001 and 2005 VC-financed firms represented just 0.16% of all firms in existence. At the same time, they employed %7.3 of all workers, which is about 50 times greater than "normal." Also, VC- and non-VC-financed firms differed dramatically in sales (see the chart below).

On the Life Cycle Dynamics of Venture-Capital- and Non-Venture-Capital-Financed Firms. THE JOURNAL OF FINANCE VOL. LXVII, NO. 6 DECEMBER 2012 
Another important finding from the paper:
...the key firm characteristic on which VC focuses is scale or potential for scale, rather than short-term profitability.

Although the common wisdom in Silicon Valley is that VCs select for the best team, the data tells us that potential scale of the startup matters the most. This finding strengthens the argument we put forward in Scalable Innovation: scalability of the target innovation space is the fundamental differentiator between successful and unsuccessful innovation attempts.

* Source: Puri, Manju and Zarutskie, Rebecca, On the Lifecycle Dynamics of Venture-Capital- and Non-Venture-Capital-Financed Firms (June 13, 2010). EFA 2007 Ljubljana Meetings Paper; US Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies Paper No. CES-WP-08-13. Available at SSRN: or

Sunday, May 31, 2015

NY Times picking your friends' noses

"You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friends' noses," so an old saying goes. This notion has become largely obsolete in the age of social networking. For example, when you sign up with your Facebook account on a popular website they typically get not only your public profile, but also your friend list.

Imagine now doing real business, e.g. making a purchase or contacting customer service, using your social networking profile as a login. For the price of the transaction the other party gets access to your entire social graph, which (with a little bit of triangulation through other customer logins) provides an incredible wealth of marketing information. As a result, you give up a large chunk of your privacy for free, without even being aware of it.

We used to think about privacy as a trade-off: you get access to free content by giving up your right to stay anonymous, i.e. providing the content distributor with the information about what kind of content you like to read. If the current trend continues, people will be giving away for free not only their own privacy, but also their friends' privacy too.

tags: trade-off, trend, social, networking, composite actor, privacy, internet

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lunch Talk: Chemistry of Dyes

In most of human history people couldn't afford clothes of bright colors. Moreover, certain colors were reserved for the highest authority. For example, during the times of Roman Emperor Diocletian (245–311) purple silk was to be used only at the direction of the Emperor under penalty of death.

The chemistry revolution of the 19th century changed all of that. Back then, synthetic dyes were the equivalent of silicon-based electronics in the second half of the 20th century and mobile apps of the early 21st century. If you wanted to do a technology startup, you would think "chemistry."

tags: invention, innovation, startup, science, technology, lunchtalk

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lunchtalk: Invention of the automobile

This short episode introduces Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, two independent creators of the automobile. It also talks about the industrial revolution sparked by Henry Ford.

tags: lunchtalk, transportation, invention, innovation

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lunch Talk: 1952 Flight to California

No Universal Studios, no Disneyland, no Silicon Valley, yet.

tags: lunchtalk, innovation, transportation, packaged payload

Finally, I have my magic formula for analyzing problems and inventing new stuff!

Actor(s) {A}
in Context(s) {E},
using Stuff {S} and incurring Cost(s) {C},
perform Action(s) {P}
produce Result(s) {R},
which counts as Outcome(s) {O}

Several immediate thoughts:
- Dilemma resolution techniques apply to Actor(s) and/or Context(s).
- 10X analysis applies to Cost(s) and/or Result(s).
- The Three Magicians, esp. the second one, move us between Results and Outcomes and provide different levels of Contexts.
- Elements quantize!

There's a lot more but I have to think about how to describe this 6-dimensional innovation space in detail.

Also, we live in a world abundant with high-tech startups, while Christinsen's "Innovator's Dilemma" was formulated for a world with sparse startups. Today's successful high-tech companies — Google, FB, Apple, etc — feast on this abundance.

tags: invention, innovation, system, model, dilemma, 10x

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Invention of the Day: Piano

In the end of the 17th century, Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco (May 4, 1655 – January 27, 1731), a maker of musical instruments working for the Medici family in Florence, invented the piano.

A Cristofori piano at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
From a modern inventor perspective, the Cristofori's solution deserves our attention because its success can be directly attributed to breaking a trade-off. In the case of the piano, the trade-off was between the sound volume and the expressive control that a musical instrument afforded the player. Before the piano, musicians had to use two instruments: clavichord and harpsichord,
While the clavichord allowed expressive control of volume and sustain, it was too quiet for large performances. The harpsichord produced a sufficiently loud sound, but offered little expressive control over each note. The piano offered the best of both, combining loudness with dynamic control.
Although we are taught throughout engineering, design, economics, and business courses that good solutions create trade-offs, the invention of the piano shows us that great solutions break trade-offs.

We discuss the topic in greater detail in the Prologue of Scalable Innovation. Some of the invention techniques for breaking trade-offs and dilemmas can also be found in my blog.

tags: trade-off, invention, innovation, art

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Invention of the Day: Power Plug

Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: How many can you afford?

The screw-in electric socket invented by Edison in the late 19th century has become the gold standard for ease of use. You don't need to take a Design Thinking class to appreciate the technical beauty of the solution.

In Scalable Innovation (Chapter 4) we use the Edison's invention as an example of interface "stickiness". That is, light bulb technologies keep changing, but the socket is likely to stay with us for another hundred years.

Nevertheless, there's even a better 100-year-old electric interface invention that is still in use today. We can appreciate its value by just looking at the picture of an early 20th century GE toaster (below):

Notice that to connect the toaster to a power outlet you have to use Edison's screw-in plug. It works great for light bulbs that need to be changed once a year, but for everyday electric appliances screwing-in and screwing-out the plug multiple times a day could be a problem.

Enter Harvy Hubbell, a prolific American inventor and entrepreneur. In 1903, he invents the modern power plug. You can see below a picture from his patent that shows two major parts of his solution: an Edison-compatible screw-in body (1) and a two-prong plug (2) that goes into it (US Patent 774,250). With this invention, attaching electric appliances becomes even easier than changing a light bulb.

Originally, Hubbell wanted to use round prongs, but after several months of experimenting with the idea, he decided on the now familiar flat prongs (US Patent 774,251).

The Hubbell's interface solution turned out to be so good that eventually people got rid of the vast majority of Edison's screw-in sockets in favor of plug-in power outlets.

tags: 10x, invention, innovation, scalability, STM-operator

Monday, February 02, 2015

Lunch Talk: Growing a Creative Company (@stanford)

Visionary architect and MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang discusses how the process of co-creation with clients and diverse teams leads to uniquely designed works that achieve aesthetic beauty and, at the same time, make bold statements. Founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects, Gang describes growing her firm without diluting creativity or camaraderie.

tags:lunchtalk, creativity

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Scalable Innovation - Quiz (Session 3-3)

According to the PC Magazine (January 22, 2015),

BMW and Volkswagen on Thursday announced they are teaming up to create nearly 100 electric vehicle charging stations along heavily traveled roads on the East and West Coasts.
The companies are working with ChargePoint, the largest electric vehicle charging network, on the effort. The publicly available stations will be added to ChargePoint's existing network of more than 20,000 charging spots in North America, and can be accessed by anyone with a ChargePoint or ChargeNow Card, or with the ChargePoint mobile app.

Each station is expected to include up to two 50 kW direct current Fast chargers, or 24 kW direct current Combo Fast chargers compatible with BMW and Volkswagen electric vehicles, as well as many other models. When charging at a 50 kW station, the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf can charge up to 80 percent in 20 minutes; at a 25 kW station it'll take 30 minutes.

Question 1: Does the data presented in the article imply the beginning of exponential growth of electric vehicle deployment in the US within the next 2-3 years? Why?

Question 2: Does the addition of 100 charging stations remove a key constraint to growth?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scalable Innovation (BUS 134) - Quiz, Session 3-2

Gordon Moore, of the Moore's Law fame, writes about his experience of creating a breakthrough technology at Intel, the time the first microprocessors were shipped, the total annual market for computers in the world was something like 10,000 units. The microprocessor would have been a commercial disaster if all we did was to replace those 10,000 units with cheaper processors.

I remember going to a conference and speaking before a group that was more involved in applications than devices and explaining to them that we had to ask big questions, like, ‘ How are we going to develop markets that can use 100,000 of these a month?’ (While one hundred thousand a month doesn’t seem like many now when compared to the tens of millions shipped currently, it sure did then.) Ted’s insight and the Fairchild experience with ICs helped us understand that this product had countless uses, but we also understood our efforts alone would build volume markets.

Question 1: Did Moore's questions imply linear, exponential, or logarithmic growth?
Question 2 (bonus): Name one or two Silicon Valley companies that use the Moore's approach to innovation.

tags: innovation, course, stanford

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Want to understand your own personality? Ask Facebook!

Stanford researchers have found that computers can judge personality traits more accurately than one's friends and colleagues.

The computer predictions were based on which articles, videos, artists and other items the person had liked on Facebook. The idea was to see how closely a computer prediction could match the subject's own scores on the five most basic personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The researchers noted, "This is an emphatic demonstration of the ability of a person's psychological traits to be discovered by an analysis of data, not requiring any person-to-person interaction.

The original idea of using Thumbs UP and Thumbs DOWN buttons in the digital world belongs to TiVo. Facebook took this idea — knowingly or unknowingly — and scaled it across the entire range of digital content, making every piece of communication "likeable."

In System Model terms, Like helps solve Detection and Control problems. We discuss it briefly in Scalable Innovation, Chapter 22, Seeing the Invisible. "Like" represents the Aboutness of an element. Once the Aboutness detected, the Control sub-system uses it to compose and channel content streams according to its policies.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The myopia epidemic among children, continued

Several years ago, I blogged about the myopia epidemic among children. The problem was caused by an increase in the time kids spent staring at their computer screens instead of playing outdoors. The change impacted their peripheral vision and, eventually, resulted in myopia.

I wonder whether the mobile revolution has increased myopia rates further. There several factors that point to it. First, compared with computer screens, smartphones and tablets are even smaller; therefore, they require less peripheral vision. Second, children carry their phones everywhere, increasing the overall screen time. Third, the new touchscreen interface, mobile apps and games make it easier for younger children to use phones and tablets. As a result, they start using technology at an earlier age, which should have a greater impact on their vision over time.

Based on the latest technology developments, we can easily predict that 3D virtual reality devices will also increase our collective screen time. Although it's a speculation on my part, I believe we should start looking for ways to solve the problem before it gets completely out of hand.

tags: health, trend, mobile, innovation, trade-off

Invention of the Day: anti-caries chewing gum and toothpaste

When we don't brush our teeth a plaque forms on the surface and, when untreated, causes tooth decay.

Last July, the United States Army got a US Patent 8,778,889 (Inventor Kai P. Leung) that covers a chewing gum or toothpaste that can prevent formation of the plaque and save the US military — and the rest of the world! — tons of pain and money. The patented technology uses KSL-W, a "member of a decapeptide family with demonstrated effectiveness to prevent biofilm formation on teeth, inhibit the growth of oral microorganisms, and reduce the development of plaque or dental caries."

Go Army!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solving Detection problems with the System Model

Since the publication of Scalable Innovation, I've had many discussions about the System Model with readers and students. Intuitively, they think that the left-to-right dimension corresponds to Space-Time. That is, the Packaged Payload moves from the Source to the Tool via the Distribution.
Although this intuition is correct, it's not the only one we can use in the system model. Importantly, we can think about the second Time axis — the vertical one — that applies to a particular system element. In this case, the element becomes dynamic, e.g. changes over the time or moves in space.

In other words, the system model covers processes that involve repeated transactions and/or evolution of a particular physical element over time. For example, the Sources in the picture above represent the same physical Source at different points of time. This approach works really well for solving Detection problems because it allows us to identify an element based on its behavior. That is, we can extract Aboutness by controlling and/or interacting with the element.

Since this is not intuitively clear, I probably need to develop examples that explain this use of the System Model.

tags: model, system, detection, book