Thursday, April 30, 2009

The origins of the swine flue pandemic

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The 39-year-old woman who was the first to die in Mexico's swine flu epidemic spent the last eight days of her life going from clinic to clinic to find out what was wrong with her but doctors were baffled.

The woman, from the southern state of Oaxaca, died shortly after being admitted to hospital as an emergency case. Experts only identified the virus that killed her 10 days later.

People learned to install anti-virus software on computers, but still cannot figure out an inexpensive way to treat fellow human beings. Our collective immune system needs help in building better diagnostics (detection) tools. Unlike the mind-reading devices of the "Minority Report", DNA tests for viruses are much easier to make and deploy. Especially, for high-risk individuals like this poor woman, who was a poll-taker, i.e. somebody who necessarily had to interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
WSJ reports that Apple wants a tighter control over its trade secrets:

People familiar with Apple's thinking say executives have expressed concern that some information shared with outside vendors could find its way into chips sold to Apple competitors. A Samsung spokeswoman declined comment.

People familiar with the situation say Mr. Jobs told P.A. Semi engineers last April that he wanted to develop chips internally and didn't want knowledge about the technology to leave Apple.

Apple is trying to fight the dark side of Open Innovation. When the everybody has the same access to new ideas and copycat costs are low, inventors' market advantage shrinks dramatically.


The reality of Long Tail media

One of the lessons from a failed startup:

I would advise any entrepreneur or investor considering content to think twice, as Howard Lindzon from Wallstrip warned us. Content is an order of magnitude harder than technology with an order less upside; no YouTube producer will earn within a hundredth of $1.65 billion. This will only become more true as DVRs and media-sharing reduce revenues and pay-for-performance ads eliminate inefficient ad spend, of which there is a lot. The main and perhaps only reason to do content should be the love of creating it.

TV and movie distributors ("studios") will continue benefiting the most from the emergence of the Long Tail media. As the basic insurance principle goes, the more authors and works, the less risk for an efficient distributor.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An interesting psychological theory that might explain certain aspects of one's "creative vision", or the lack of thereof:
Research has shown that different dimensions of psychological distance (time,
space, social distance, and hypotheticality) affect mental construal and that these construals, in turn, guide prediction, evaluation, and behavior.
CLT[Construal Level Theory]’s basic premise is that the more psychologically distant an event is, the more it will be represented at higher levels of abstraction.

[in one experiment] participants choose between one of two identifications: an identification option related to the “why,” abstract aspect of the activity, and one related to the “how,” concrete aspect of the activity. As expected, participants
thinking about events in the distant future were more likely to choose the “why” identification than those thinking of near future events.

Well, if we are able to choose between "why" and "how" contexts, then there should be some kind of a "switch" in the brain that evaluates the distance, and adapts our psychological approach to the situation or a problem under consideration. Clearly, it is also possible for the switch to get stuck. For example, during brainstorming sessions people often rathole into a specific "how" solution instead of focusing on the long-term "why" aspect of the problem. In an opposite example, an engineering idea, which is great in abstract (The Babbage Computer), can fail miserably, due to lots of "how" problems. Therefore, to be successful, inventors and innovators have to make sure that their CLT "switches" stay unstuck.

This is where mind-flexing exercises, like the Three Magicians, 9-screen view, 10X diagram, 6 Hats, STC operators, and others, can be particularly helpful.

Trope, Y., et all (2007). Construal Levels and Psychological Distance: Effects on Representation, Prediction, Evaluation, and Behavior. JOURNAL OF CONSUMER PSYCHOLOGY, 17(2), 83–95

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Scientist on a new way to get rid of greenhouse gases:

CONVERTING a greenhouse gas into a clean-burning fuel offers two benefits for the price of one. That's the thinking behind a novel process for converting carbon dioxide into methanol at room temperature, developed by a team at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore (Angewandte Chemie International Edition, DOI: 10.1002/anie.200806058).

The catalyst used by Ying's team is a type of chemical called an N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC). The mechanism by which the NHC speeds up the conversion is uncertain, but it appears to change the shape of the CO2 molecule, "activating" it in a way that makes it easier for hydrogen to bond with its carbon atom, says team member Yugen Zhang.

Is this discovery a game changer? How do we know? And if yes, how long will it take to implement the solution and diffuse it into the marketplace? Will it be competitive with other "green" tech, e.g. solar, wind, and etc.?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Trade-off of the Day: focus vs creativity

From an article in The New Yorker on neuroenhancers:

Farah [Martha Farah, a psychologist at Penn and the director of its Center for Cognitive Neuroscience] told me, “Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity. And there is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative.”

This is probably why it is so important to combine analytical and imagination stretching methods in invention/innovation workshops and other activities.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Despite its misleading headline, this NewScientist article gives a good description of a new type of user interface devices:

In the coming months, cheap headsets that let you control technology with the electrical signals generated by your firing neurons will go on sale to the general public.

Australian outfit Emotiv will release a headset whose 16 sensors make it possible to direct 12 different movements in a computer game. Emotiv says the helmet can also detect emotions.

Californian company NeuroSky has also built a device that can detect emotions: the firm says it can tell whether you are focused, relaxed, afraid or anxious, for example.

Assuming these devices do become successful, how can we come up with a good estimate on when it is going to happen?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The age of emotional machines

NEC Corp developed technologies to evaluate an author's feelings based on text data, carry out voice synthesis and read out the text in a voice that expresses the emotion of the author, as well as to automatically decorate characters.

Soon, synthetic actors will be reading bedtime stories to children around the world. Human TV anchors will become totally obsolete. Only the President will have the honorable duty to read his speeches of a teleprompter all by himself.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Space-Time Machine

One of my inventions got published last year under an almost incomprehensible name: Systems And Methods For Connecting Life Experiences And Shopping Experiences.
In plain words, what I wanted to create was a media space-time machine:
In an exemplary embodiment, the user is presented with shopping scenarios based on a space-time continuum(e.g., "what movies were popular in my hometown, when I was a child?"). ...Or for example, "what would life on Mars after 2050 look like according to current and past movies, TVs, and books on the subject?"

In this particular drawing, my students should immediately recognize key elements of the 10X Diagram.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Innovating for Innovation reports on a financial innovation in the VC business:, a site that lets entrepreneurs rate venture capitalists, has released documentation for a new class of common stock called “Class F,” which it says entrepreneurs can use to give them more control versus the venture capitalists who invest in them.

Working closely with an attorney Yokum Taku at Wilson Sonsini, a top Silicon Valley law firm, TheFunded has issued the documents for entrepreneurs to use as templates for agreements when they form their company and take venture capital. The stock class has also been dubbed “common stock to protect founders.”

The control system in the Venture Capital business model is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Now, the times when an entrepreneur like Johan Gutenberg could be bankrupted by his investors look very distant indeed.

Dilemma of the Day: risk vs uncertainty

According to Richard A. Posner, innovation is like love marriage love:

When one has to choose between on the one hand marrying one's present girlfriend or boyfriend and on the other hand continuing to search for a "better" marriage partner, one cannot base the choice on a quantitative estimate of the probability that one choice will have better results than the other. A businessman who has to decide whether to invest in a project that will not yield revenues for several years is likewise making a decision under uncertainty because he cannot estimate the probabilities of many of the contingencies that, if they materialize, will make the project profitable or unprofitable.

From this perspective, the majority of an entrepreneur's decisions are economically "irrational". In other words, a different type of rationality has to be applied to innovation decisions.
A snippet from a CNET article about the 2009 Interactive Displays Conference:

..touch displays, for years relegated to kiosks and industrial uses, are quickly becoming mainstream. Hewlett-Packard and Dell already have touch-capable machines, while Microsoft is set to make gesture input standard with Windows 7.

Attempts to apply new technologies in old [commodity] markets most often lead nowhere. I would bet that new touch-based applications will come from new types of devices, rather than spiced-up mainstream PCs. Another possibility would be that most popular iPhone applications migrate to Windows 7 machines.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Marketwatch on the surprising earning announcement from Apple:

Apple Inc. reported a surprise gain in net income for its second fiscal quarter as sales of the company's iPod and iPhone products came in ahead of expectations for the period.

iPhone has become a must-have device worldwide. It would be interesting to see the numbers next year when iPhone clones hit full force.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In his Nobel Prize Lecture economist Gary S. Becker remarks:

Different constraints are decisive for different situations, but the most fundamental constraint is limited time. Economic and medical
progress have greatly increased length of life, but not the physical flow of time itself, which always restricts everyone to twenty-four hours per day. So while goods and services have expanded enormously in rich countries, the total time available to consume has not.

The more stuff we consume, the less time we've got to enjoy it.
According to IDG News Service

China Mobile hopes to launch an application service like the iPhone's App Store by the end of this year as it unrolls a next-generation mobile network, a company spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The Mobile Market was a sticking point in China Mobile's negotiations with Apple to offer the iPhone in China, according to analysts. Apple opposed competition for its App Store and China Mobile wanted to be able to offer iPhone apps in its Mobile Market, analysts say.

This is a remarkable evolution: from a free piece of software for organizing ripped songs (Apple iTunes) to a dominant business model in the world of mobile content distribution.

== The greater the scale of the system, the more valuable the Control element is. ==

Monday, April 20, 2009

iPod and Twitter as strategic weapons

Newsweek reports:

To help soldiers make sense of data from drones, satellites and ground sensors, the U.S. military now issues the iPod Touch. ... With their intuitive interfaces, Apple devices—the iPod Touch and, to a lesser extent, the iPhone—are becoming the handhelds of choice. ...Since sharing data is particularly important in counterinsurgency operations, the Pentagon is funding technology that makes it easier for the soldier on the ground to acquire information and quickly add it to databases.

Military, Police, and Firefighters are the early business adopters of the new communications technology.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Energy news links

- April 17 (Bloomberg) -- House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said he won’t compromise on his proposed 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases over the next decade...
- The $3.375 billion Energy Department grant program will give out grants ranging from $500,000 to $20 million for smart-grid technology deployments. It will also give out grants of $100,000 to $5 million for the deployment of grid monitoring devices.
The $615 million for demonstration projects will specifically fund exhibitions that verify technology viability and examine new business models, give energy storage demonstrations, or exhibitions that demonstrate grid monitoring devices that allow system operators to manipulate electric flows in real time.

- CoaLogix a unique company that specializes in filtering out harmful agents from coal-fired plant emissions, has secured $11.5 million to deploy its technology for more electric utilities. Offering a combination of chemical processes and equipment, the Acorn Energy subsidiary says it can substantially reduce environmental footprints for plants that might otherwise continue to pump harmful fumes into the atmosphere.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another reason why new technologies rarely, if ever, succeed in established, rather than emerging, markets.

"And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, then to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them." The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli. Chapter VI.

h/t Carly Fiorina @Stanford.

1. Niccollo Machiavelli.  The Prince. 1532.
2. Greg A Stevens; James Burley. Piloting the rocket of radical innovation. Research Technology Management; Mar/Apr 2003.
3. Clayton Christenen. The Innovator's Dilemma. 1997. (Chapter 6?).
4. Reid Hoffman. Choosing the Entrepreneurial Path. 2007. (a Stanford talk).
5. Eugene Shteyn. How to Invent. 2009(?). (chapter 2).

Public investment into VC firms: good or bad?

According to VentureBeat, it's been really good for some VCs:

Cleverly, Oak, along with some other venture firms such as VantagePoint and New Enterprise Associates, realized becoming a massive venture capital firm would help them raise money. Their size allowed them to absorb large checks the large pension funds wanted to give them. Yet, they retained the “VC” status, and thus were appealing to LPs (Limited Partners), who at the same time were avoiding private equity and hedge funds because of the crowded nature of those industries. (Indeed, NEA and Oak alone accounted for 20 percent of all VC raised in 2006.) Finally, with legal mandates to invest in the VC sector, the LPS were forced to invest in some weak VC firms. There simply wasn’t enough room in the great VC firms — Sequoia, Kleiner, Benchmark and their ilk — to absorb all the LP money. The vast majority of VC firms actually lose money, and yet many of them have been supported year after year because of the crazy excess of money flowing to the sector.

This looks very similar to patterns described by G.A.Akerlof, et al in:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don Reisinger, a CNet tech columnist, compares future "awesome" Zune HD with today's iPod Touch.

It's remarkable how over the last 5 years user value moved from the device you pay for to the service that comes "for free". In Don's words:

But the major issue with the Zune since its release has little to do with the device itself. The Zune Marketplace is, in many respects, a joke. I've used it on numerous occasions and each time I end up missing the iTunes store.

This would make an excellent example for a Technology Battle exercise. We are no longer comparing devices (Tool-level), rather, whole end-to-end experience systems compete for user attention. Here, the service, i.e. Control-level component, makes all the difference.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dilemma of the Day.

From an inventor-innovator perspective, emergence of storage in the system is a sign of great opportunities to come. Especially so, if it relates to information about a vast number of people.

Science Magazine reports that over the last 40 years hospitals accumulated millions of blood samples taken from newborns. Before, the samples were used in mandatory screening for certain rare diseases. Now, with the advent of DNA testing, these samples can be used, for example, for retrospective analysis of links between genes and certain health problems for populations of entire countries. [The situation is very similar to breast cancer testing I blogged about earlier.]

The new DNA testing capabilities create ethical and legal problems because in the past parents of the babies did not give their consent to tests that became possible in the future.
Thus, a dilemma: if the new studies are done anonymously, people will never find out about potential threats to their health; on the other hand, if the identities of the affected people are made known, they will lose their privacy and, due to limitations of early research, will be treated for possible, rather than probable, diseases.

NEWBORN BLOOD COLLECTIONS: Science Gold Mine, Ethical Minefield
Jennifer Couzin-Frankel (10 April 2009)
Science 324 (5924), 166. [DOI: 10.1126/science.324.5924.166]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Opportunity recognition

Scott Kriens, Chairman of the Board of Juniper Networks, talks briefly about the importance of finding the right problem to work on:

"If you have a totally different problem to solve, ... and you are the first one who tries solving it, you have an opportunity to be equally smart, but start working on it [the problem] first."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Silicon Valley is a process, not a place

Today, 4/13/09, the most popular article in WSJ is about taxes. The topic should be of no surprise, given that taxes for many Americans are due in 48 hours. What is surprising for me, though, is the distribution of the tax load:

A very small number of taxpayers -- the 10% of the country that makes more than $92,400 a year -- pay 72.4% of the nation's income taxes.
...those who made less than $44,300 in 2001 -- 60% of the country -- paid a paltry 3.3% of all income taxes. By 2005, almost all of them were excused from paying any income tax. They paid less than 1% of the income tax burden. Their share shrank even when taking into account the payroll tax. In 2001, the bottom 60% paid 16.3% of all taxes; by 2005 their share was down to 14.3%. All the while, this large group of voters made 25.8% of the nation's income.

There's a general expectation out there that the Obama administration will shift the tax burden further in the direction of the top brackets. Since change always creates new problems, we should expect higher demand for solutions that enable high-worth individuals escape this emerging tax problem. How can they do it, besides finding loopholes in the legal code?

Well, if we believe what VCs are telling us, the trend is toward globalization of venture capital. G.S. Burill mentioned it, Janice Roberts of Mayfield Fund talked about it, David Rothkopf described it in detail. So, if we put two and two together, i.e. the increasing tax burden in the US and the shift of VC funds overseas, we can predict that high-risk money will increasingly flow from the US to India and China. Add demographic trends on top of it, and you get two largest emerging markets for technology capital and technology goods/services ever.
Even Warren Buffet, who was always reluctant to invest into high-tech in the US, has decided to acquire a large chunk of a Chinese technology company.

Am I right? And if yes, what does this mean for innovation in the US?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gerald M. Edelman:
If our scientific description of the world is concerned with nature, our creativity reflects the ability of our brain to give rise to a second nature.(p.100) information is provided on that which is to be recognized. So if instruction is precluded and yet recognition of a wide variety of states is required, the price paid is a certain loss of specificity. That loss, for example, as ambiguity or indeterminacy in language, is the price that must be paid if the range of signals to be responded to is large. We know, in fact, that the econiche in which animals must survive has an enormous number of signals to which an individual must adapt. For individuals and species to survive, a trade-off must be made between specificity and range (p. 101-2).

Source: G.M.Edelman. Second nature: brain science and human knowledge. Yale University Press. 2006.
Half way through the Stanford University Entrepreneurial Thought series, here's my three must-see or must-listen-to lectures:

1. G.Steven Burill. An excellent example of a Silicon Valley entrepreneurship services "machine" that keeps producing successful startups.
- the valley's behind-the-scenes VC and services infrastructure.

2. Reid Hoffman, founder of PayPal, LinkedIn, and other startups. A personal narrative of a successful entrepreneur.
- choosing a problem to solve and risks to take.

3. Tien Tzuo, Chief Strategy Officer at A series of insights on how a startup took advantage of a tectonic shift in the Enterprise Software industry.
- Jefrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" paradigm has become obsolete.

Each of these talks deserves a separate blog post, so I will get back to them after I complete listening to the whole series.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Clock-less synchronization

A couple of artistic illustrations of synchronization without a clock:

Everything's amazing, nobody's happy

Comedian Louis CK talks about amazing technologies that we take for granted.
He is really funny and absolutely right. We don't get excited about electric lights or horseless carriages any more. Which is great news for inventors and innovators because new ideas cannot live among people who are still hyped up about past technologies.

On a somewhat related note, I am thinking about teaching a new 5-session class at Stanford CSP: The Greatest Inventions of All Times. Its purpose would be a) show how certain old, even ancient, technologies shaped our civilization; b) explore possible future directions for their evolution.

Here's my Top 5 topics so far:
1. Money and Markets.
2. Math and Computing.
3. Art and Information.
4. Home and Architecture.
5. Fire and Energy.

update: is Time an invention?

Friday, April 10, 2009

CNET: Twittering on a two thousand year old event:
In observance of Good Friday, a New York church has been Twittering the story of the Passion--the biblical tale of the hours leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. This means that subscribers will receive 140-character updates coming from a set of Twitter accounts run by people playing characters in the story.

Now, I can think of a personalized twitter-based teleprompter for any event: a religious ritual, a medical surgery, a timed SAT practice test, ...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Taboo trade-offs

I am reading a paper by A. Peter McGraw and Philip E. Tetlock about "taboo trade-offs", i.e. trade-offs that, according to the authors' definition, violate deeply held intuitions about relationships and sacred values. Examples would be buying and selling votes in political elections, buying and selling sex with one's girlfriend, etc.
The key insight from the article is that market-pricing(MP) approach that underlies modern monetary transactions is bound to trigger emotional resistance when used in a variety of social contexts.
The lesson for inventor and/or innovator is to appreciate social implications of the changes he/she proposes, and ensure that his/her business model either does not carry inherent contradictions, or, even better, helps promote a healthy combination of social and economic values.
For example, LinkedIn social network works well with a for-profit job ads market. The company makes money by facilitating access to employment, which benefits both, potential employees and employers. On the other hand, Facebook's attempts to monetize personal product/service prefrences of one's friends by selling targeted ads is often perceived negatively by the community, and is treated more like a nuisance, rather than a benefit.
As A.P.McGraw and P.E.Tetlock note, "It is socially awkward to do business in a profit-maximizing fashion across [social] relational boundaries."

Remarkably, the modern US health care system probably encourages growth of medical costs because it breaks a direct financial link between doctors and patients. Today, most of the payments are handled by hospitals and insurance companies that had been created specifically for profit-maximizing purposes. Huge government bureaucracies like Medicare and Medicaid are not perceived as a next-door neighbor either.

Also, a good quote to underline the difference between mundane (homo economicus) and inventive approach to trade-offs, "The capacity to make trade-offs efficiently is a defining attribute of homo economicus."

McGraw, A. P., P. E. Tetlock. 2005. Taboo trade-offs, relational framing and the acceptability of exchanges. J. Consumer Psych. 15 2–15.
Kristina Shampanier, et all. 2007. Zero as a Special Price: The True Value of Free Products. Marketing Science. Vol. 26, No. 6, November–December 2007, pp. 742–757.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

William J. Bernstein in The Birth of Plenty:

Markets work best when all of the buyers and sellers of a particular item are confined to the same place at the same time. In such a situation, the pricing of that item becomes very "efficient", that is to say, everyone buys and sells at nearly the same price. (p. 43)

This is quite similar to the original brainstorming technique developed by Alex F.Osborn. He envisioned that during a brainstorming session people wouldn't go into analysis or problem solving right away. Rather, they would try to come up with as many ideas as possible in a judgment-free environment. Only later, when a good number of potential solutions is collected [or the time runs out], the same or a completely different group of people would do an evaluation session. As the result of the whole exercise, brainstormers would create a market for ideas and solutions.

Over time, the original brainstorming evolved into problem-solving meetings, and the free-wheeling idea market approach got lost along the way. Too many ideas, too little time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dilemma of the Day

The complexity of systems models is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it enables such models to recognize the multiple complex levels of intelligence. It is a curse because the models become more difficult to test.

Source: Robert J. Sternberg. Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. UK. (page 39).

Selling with a smile

A curious outcome of a behavioral economics experiment:
a fleeting exposure to a smiling face makes people more likely to make risky investment decisions.
Volunteers who were shown a happy face were much more likely to choose the risky stocks. It made no difference whether the face was displayed long enough for the volunteers to register it consciously, or flashed up fleetingly so it was only perceived subliminally.

I wonder whether online smileys have the same effect. If the answer is yes, then it might mean that we somehow perceive the general mood of the situation, rather than a specific facial expression. :))))

Monday, April 06, 2009

A new drug-free therapy wipes away fearful memories in rats and humans. The simple treatment might eventually help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, say researchers.

Unfortunately, this is not a therapy yet, and researchers don't claim to have the ability to wipe out one's memories. Rather, they think they've found a way to prevent certain memories from reconsolidating.

Despite proof of principle experiments in rats and humans, Monfils says researchers should proceed with caution in applying the new findings to treating PTSD or other anxiety disorders. Some people's reconsolidation windows may be longer than others, and people respond differently to stressful situations.
"I'm a simple rat researcher. I'm in no way going to suggest that I'm going to step in and tell clinicians how they should treat their patients," she says.
Journal reference: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1167975)

It would be a good after-air-travel pill: you take it, and forget about security lines at the airport, airline food, sitting for hours in an uncomfortable coach-class chair, waiting for lost baggage...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

K.Eisenhardt summarizes the difference between theory-building and hypothesis-testing research:
As Pettigrew (1988) noted, given the limited number of cases which can usually be studied, it makes sense to choose cases such as extreme situations and polar types in which the process of interest is "transparently observable." Thus, the goal of theoretical sampling is to choose cases which are likely to replicate or extend the emergent theory. In contrast, traditional, within-experiment hypothesis-testing studies rely on statistical sampling, in which researchers randomly select the sample from the population. In this type of study, the goal of the sampling process is to obtain accurate statistical evidence on the distributions of variables within the population.
 We can draw a similar contrast between the processes of invention and implementation. First, to make a problem "transparently observable" inventor has to "go wide", i.e. stretch out the parameters of the situation(s) in which the problem occurs. Second, s/he has to create a theory of operation or a model (this is especially important for complex problems). E.g., s/he can identify a key dilemma, draw up a 5-element or a 10X diagram, etc.  Then, when the problem is clearly identified, explored, and relatively abstract solutions are found, the inventor needs to develop "hypothesis-testing" implementation strategy and eliminate the noise.
Unfortunately, the education system traditionaly emphasizes the last stage of the process, as being more "scientific". Though, it doesn't have to be that way. For example, brainstorming as a method was proactively taught with good results in many schools in the 1960s and 1970s.


  • Title: Building Theories from Case Study Research

  • Author(s): Kathleen M. Eisenhardt

  • Source: The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 532-550

  • Publisher(s): Academy of Management

  • Stable URL:

  • Kathy Eisenhardt, co-director of Stanford Technology Ventures Program and professor in Management Science and Engineering, talks about research in understanding entrepreneurship. She describes several key strategy aspects that can help a startup to be very successful, including team composition, market selection, fundraising approaches, working with the media, execution, balance between structure and ambiguity, and etc.
    She specifically mentions that to get the media interested in your company you have to have a good story. The story doesn't have to be true, though. Whatever creates positive attention is good for the business.

    Creativity, personal brilliance, deep dives, brainstorms, epihpanies make exellent stories. Great entrepreneurs and inventors, like Edison, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and others, had been really good at exploiting this media bias. Probably, that is why the general public's view of innovation work is so distorted ( e.g. see Fundamental Attribution Error). Inventing a good technology helps. Putting a good story around it rules. We should be able to use the Three Magicians technique to help inventors with story development tasks.

    Friday, April 03, 2009

    David Brooks in NYT about the communications aspect of the current economic crisis:
    To me, the most interesting factor is the way instant communications lead to unconscious conformity. You’d think that with thousandsof ideas flowing at light speed around the world, you’d get a diversity of viewpoints and expectations that would balance one another out. Instead, global communications seem to have led people in the financial subculture to adopt homogenous viewpoints. They made the same one-way bets at the same time.
    From a system perspective, communications work to synchronize various elements of the system. Under general information overload, people tend to synchronize on what attracts immediate attention, which nowadays is infotainment rather than information. Therefore, the latest financial bubble can be considered as one of the consequences of rapid media/internet growth. I would argue that in a similar pattern another major economic downturn, the Great Depression, followed a major communications breakthrough, radio, and the emergence of mass media.
    New Scientist reports on a good problem:
    Although touch screens are growing in popularity with designers, tapping at images of buttons on a small, slippery surface does not provide a good user experience. Figuring out better ways to input text on touch screens is important for more than just phones too, as they become common in other places like desktop computers, gaming devices and coffee tables.
    The solutions offered are very disappointing, because they don't address the core of the problem.

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    This sounds like a very good solution to a very important problem. The world's coal reserves are huge, the demand for energy is growing, and it will be a while before renewables make a sizable impact.
    If your mission is to make coal less polluting, China is a good place to start.
    GreatPoint Energy, a start-up with technology to convert coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, expects to open a demonstration plant in China in three years.
    The plant would cost between $100 million and $200 million and be located at a coal-fired power plant operated by Datang Huanyin Electric Power. Most of the financing for the plant will come from Datang, one of the biggest single polluters on the planet, according to GreatPoint Energy CEO Andrew Perlman.

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    I found a good quote on the importance of problems for personal growth in Ichak Adizes' book "Managing Corporate Lifecycles":
    Each of us is as "big" as the problems we handle and struggle with. "Small" people deal with small problems: the kind of car they own and the quality of their neighbor's kitchen wallpaper. "Big" people struggle with such problems as the quality of their children's education, the environment they will leave behind, and the quality of life in their communities... Addressing and being able to solve bigger and bigger problems means that our strengths and capacities are improving. We need to emancipate ourselves from small problems to free the energy to deal with bigger problems. (p.6).
    It's tempting to compare the size of each other's problems :) Size does matter, especially, from somebody else's, i.e. external, point of view. Nevertheless, for pesonal growth marginal size of the problem matters the most. In other words, a positive difference between a new challenge you are willing to take on now and the most difficult problem you solved to-date is be a sign of growth. Living with this difference tends to create Flow, a mental state of full involvement and maximum personal effort.
    Acemoglu, D. et all. (MIT). Experimentation, Patents, and Innovation.  2008.
    ...a simple patent system, where a copying fi…rm has to make a prespeci…fied payment to the innovator, can implement the optimal allocation. When the optimal allocation involves simultaneous experimentation, the patent system makes free-riding prohibitively costly and implements the optimal allocation as the unique equilibrium. When the optimal allocation involves staggered experimentation, the patent system plays a more subtle role. It permits ex post transmission of knowledge but still increases experimentation incentives to avoid delays.

    The patent system can achieve this because it generates "conditional" transfers. An innovator receives a patent payment only when copied by other …firms. Consequently, patents encourage one fi…rm to experiment earlier than others, thus achieving rapid experimentation without sacri…ficing useful transfer of knowledge. Moreover, we show that patents can achieve this outcome in all equilibria. The fact that patents are particularly well designed to play this role is also highlighted by our result that while an appropriately-designed patent implements the optimal allocation in all equilibria, subsidies to experimentation, research, or innovation cannot achieve the same objective.
    Is Open Source approach consistent with the proposed model? For example, when free-riding is not a problem, do we need to impose a "transfer" fee?