Friday, December 04, 2015

A creativity technique from science fiction

I'm reading Rainbows End, by Vernon Vinge. The novel takes place in a future where security spooks play mind games with social, neurobiological and genetic threats. As usual, I pay attention to nuggets of creative wisdom. Here's one of them:

For Robert Gu, real creativity most often came after a good night's sleep, just as he roused himself to wakefulness. That moment was such a reliable source of inspiration that when he was having problems with writing he would often go the pedestrian route in the evening, stock up his mind with the intransigencies of the moment ... and then the next morning, drowsing, review what he knew. There in the labile freshness of new consciousness, answers would drift into view.

I use a similar technique to get an insight into most difficult problems. During the evening, or several evenings in a row, I do a lot of background work on analyzing the problem, exploring its system aspects, trade-offs, dilemmas, etc. often, when I wake up in the morning, I go over my analysis again and discover a new idea that was not there before.

This experience is consistent with the earlier Lunch Talk video in my blog where neuroscience professor Vincent Walsh recommends to become obsessed with a problem in order to come up with a creative solution. I would add that system analysis techniques really help with getting obsessed in a right way, especially when you have to do it for an inter-disciplinary group of creative people.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Lunch Talk: TEDx, Neuroscience and Creativity

Professor Vincent Walsh is a cognitive neuroscientist who has worked extensively with artists and public engagement projects and has taken a special interest in music since 2001 when he organised a McDonnell Pew Music and Brain Symposium in Oxford.

As a scientist he has worked broadly on perception and awareness and has published 225 scientific papers on vision, awareness, time perception, music, synaesthesia and technical aspects of brain stimulation.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Predicting smartphone addiction in kids

A study of South Korean elementary school kids has found that stress and lack of self-control are the strongest predictors of the "smartphone" addiction. Although the device to deliver the addiction is the smartphone, the real hooks for the addiction are Social Networking (SNS) and entertainment services (via BBC news).

Since the mobile has become a dominant platform for delivering entertainment services, in a period of two generations we can expect a migration of television advertisement money into online services. The TV and the web are going to go into oblivion like the newsprint. We can also expect that Twitter will not catch up with Facebook or other major SNS'.

Also, it appears that the humanity is running a large-scale Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, dividing kids into those who can exert self–control and those who cannot. 

The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that "preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent."
A second follow-up study, in 1990, showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SATscores.[5]

From an innovation theory perspective, the smartphone represents the Dominant Design, while online services - the Dominant Use.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Learning computer science - a new priority and a new problem

According to a new Gallup-Google poll,

Nine in 10 parents say offering opportunities to learn computer science is a good use of resources at their child's school, and about as many (91%) want their child to learn more computer science in the future.
Most parents say computer science learning is at least as important to a student's future success as required courses such as math, science, history and English.

The figure above shows an "implementation gap" between parents and school superintendents. Somehow, superintendents need to fit a new subject into an existing school curriculum, hire teachers, and provide accreditation. Since school budgets are practically fixed, computer science would have to replace another important subject - a typical trade-off situation, which will not lead to a breakthrough. Unfortunately, Gallup didn't ask parents which subject they want their children to stop learning.

An alternative solution would be to introduce an entirely new curriculum based on the online education model. The 21% of the parents is a good initial market. In the future, we should see an emergence of private high schools with emphasis on online STEM + CS.

tags: education, computer, science, trade-off, problem

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Facebook is taking over Google in sourcing the flow of news

Fortune runs an article showing Facebook's influence growing in the news segment:’s clear that search has hit a kind of plateau and isn’t really growing any more as a referral source for media. Meanwhile, Facebook’s influence has “shown it’s on a continued growth trajectory."

Source: (click images to enlarge)

The competition for advertisers' money between Facebook and Google is heating up. We should expect that Facebook will make further inroads into information segments other than news. Although it's too early to pronounce Search dead, its dominance on the web no longer translates directly into the mobile space, especially, when users spend more and more time on social. (Based on system analysis, we anticipated this trend in Scalable Innovation, Chapters 20-22).

It is also somewhat surprising that Twitter is such a non-factor in the race. Despite the "freshness" of their links, they don't have enough users to play the game. Furthermore, unlike the Facebook's, Twitter connections don't have the strength of social relations.
tags: mobile, information, control, google, facebook, twitter, system

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lunch Talk: Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to get unstuck) | Alison Ledgerwood

Alison Ledgerwood joined the Department of Psychology at UC Davis in 2008 after completing her PhD in social psychology at New York University. She is interested in understanding how people think, and how they can think better. Her research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, investigates how certain ways of thinking about an issue tend to stick in people's heads. Her classes on social psychology focus on understanding the way people think and behave in social situations, and how to harness that knowledge to potentially improve the social world in which we all live.

tags: lunchtalk, psychology, problem

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lunch Talk: Why Information and Diversity Grows (Cesar Hidalgo at TED)

MIT professor Cesar Hidalgo considers how to deal with diversity and complexity.

tags: lunchtalk, control, system, science, math, economics

Thursday, August 13, 2015

True Detective S2 vs S1 - an inventor perspective

True Detective, Season 2 turned out to be a bit of a disappointment and I wanted to understand why. Reading TV critics and blogs didn't give me much insight beyond the typical "oh, the story was not good" or "oh, the director was not good" or "oh, the pace of the action was too slow", etc. Therefore, I decided to put my inventor hat on and compare the two Seasons as Systems. I applied to both TV series the same system analysis techniques I always use in my invention workshops.

I started the analysis by laying out each story as a system of perspectives. That is, each layer of narration in the series represents a Source of information for the viewers (Scalable Innovation, Section 1). Each Source covers the reality of events on the ground. Paradoxically, it turned out that despite Season 2 has more main characters than Season 1, it also has fewer unique Sources of representation.
In Season 1 we had four key perspectives (2 "real" and 2 "virtual"):
1. Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey);
2. Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson);
3. The Official Investigation - a narrative presented by the official police investigation;
4. The Narrator - a director narrative presented by the chronology of events described in an "objective" manner by the video camera and background characters.

The nature of perspectives was also different. All of them were extremely smart but with different flavors. Rust Cohle could be characterized as "weird smart". Marty Hart - "down-to-earth smart". The Investigation - "bureaucracy smart". The Narrator - "visual and story smart". Furthermore, we had variations of each perspective shifted in time and space. In addition to the mystery of the crime, we, as viewers, had to reconcile and process the mysteries of all these Sources that gave us complimentary and conflicting information. The structure of the system provided us with a intricate, intriguing pattern.

Importantly, the system of different perspectives felt natural due to the fact that detectives Cohle and Hart managed to solve their case _because_ they had different perspectives. They also had conflicts _because_ they had different perspectives. Since they broke multiple official rules — and The Narrator shows us how and why — the official investigation perspective provided us with an explanation why a standard bureaucratic police approach to detective work would not solve the mystery. As a result, we had a system of contrasting and explaining Sources that formed a complex but consistent, natural whole.

Finally, the perspectives were not just narrated from a character's point of view. They were SHOWN from that point of view. In short, Season 1 did an excellent job executing the rule "Show, don't tell".

Season 2 had more main characters, but fewer perspectives. Essentially, there was just one perspective - the Narrator, who guided us and the camera through the story. Basically, we had one Source which kept switching microphones and cameras for every character to tell his or her line.
Although the story itself was, arguably, more complicated and somewhat more mysterious, the system of perspectives was no different than in a regular criminal TV piece. As a system, Season 1 turned out to be flat.

Overall, the actors in both Seasons played great, stories were interesting, suspension was adequate for a crime drama, and camera work excellent, especially, the LA aerial shots in Season 2. Unfortunately for Season 2, the script didn't provide a system structure that could support a real thriller of the Season 1 caliber.

tags: system, source, control, entertainment, method

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Lunch Talk: Conducting Effective Negotiations (Stanford GSB)

Negotiation is an inevitable aspect of starting a business. Joel Peterson talks about how to conduct a successful negotiation.

lunchtalk, business

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lunch Talk: Dorie Clark: "Stand Out" | Talks at Google

Dorie Clark visited Google's office in Cambridge, MA to discuss her book "Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It".

In the book, she explains how to identify the ideas that set you apart and promote them successfully. The key is to recognize your own value, cultivate your expertise, and put yourself out there.

Featuring vivid examples and drawing on interviews with thought leaders, Clark aims to teach readers how to develop a big idea, leverage existing affiliations, and build a community of followers.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker, and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, TIME, Entrepreneur, and the World Economic Forum blog. She is a corporate consultant and an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a Visiting Professor for IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.

tags: lunchtalk, market, advertisment

Profits and Patents at Tesla Motors

According to news reports (Reuters via VentureBeat):
The Silicon Valley automaker [Tesla Motors] is losing more than $4,000 on every Model S electric sedan it sells, using its reckoning of operating losses, and it burned $359 million in cash last quarter in a bull market for luxury vehicles. The company on Wednesday cut its production targets for this year and next.

Model S is widely considered to be the best electric car on the market. Moreover, Tesla Motors produces the car on one of the most efficient car factories in the world. And they still can't make money on it. This sends a strong signal to the competition that the electric vehicle market is not worth entering yet. Since competition doesn't attack Tesla's market position, the company's electric car patent portfolio is worse than worthless, its real value is negative. That is, the patents are not needed to protect profits against the competition and the portfolio requires significant maintenance resources. No wonder, Elon Musk decided last year not to assert Tesla Motor's EV patents.

Compare this situation to Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPod and, especially, the iPhone few years ago. Both products became extremely successful and, more importantly, _profitable_ in the market. As the result, competition immediately started copying Apple's design and technology solutions. To defend its margins, Apple used its patent portfolio to fend off the copycats. Unlike the Tesla's, Apple's patent portfolio had huge value for the company and Steve Jobs was not going to give it away.

My earlier hypothesis that Musk's big promise last year not “initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology” was of no real consequence, except for some publicity value for the company.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Is Apple in long-term trouble?

A survey of software developers shows a sharp drop in Objective-C popularity, Objective-C being the main programming language for Apple's iOS.

Fewer developers means fewer apps for consumers and businesses. One could argue that with hundreds of thousands of apps already available in the AppStore Apple should not worry about the trend. Furthermore, Apple's move into its own services, including media streaming, may also decrease the need for independent developers. In general, the mobile apps space has matured well beyond its heydays.

Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine a popular software development platform that is of limited interest to developers. We might be seeing the beginning of the end of Apple's rapid expansion.

tags: technology, apple, software, services, dominant design

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Facebook gets a patent for tracking user daily routines

This week the US PTO awarded Facebook US 9,094,795, titled "Routine estimation". The patent covers a technology for clustering user locations, e.g. using mobile device data, and deriving daily routine patterns related to the locations.

The technology also enables Facebook and third parties to connect location and social graph data with user activities, "likes", music played, and other personal or group information.

One can easily imagine a real-time map that shows swarms of users chugging along their daily routines and, once in a while, reminding them to do something different. Shop, for example...

In system model terms, Facebook solves a Detection problem, which is typically a precursor to solutions for Control problems, e.g. directing user activities based on detected patterns.

tags: facebook, patent, invention, distribution, control, detection

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Trade-off of the Day: Smartness vs Ease of Use

Steve Jobs shows how Apple broke the trade-off with the iPhone.

tags: trade-off, dilemma, interface, mobile, software, apple

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lunch Talk: Ron Johnson at Stanford GSB

Everyone thinks they innovate, but most of the time it's just improvement, shared former Apple Senior Vice President of Retail Operations Ron Johnson at his View From the Top talk at Stanford GSB. "To win in business, you have to let the imagination run." During his conversation with Stanford GSB student Amanda Facelle (MBA '14), Johnson also shared the biggest life lesson he learned from Steve Jobs: "You have to be willing to start again."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How marketing affects the brain

I'm taking Dr. Hunt's History of Wine course at Stanford University CSP - a great learning experience. Wine fascinates me not only because (in moderate amounts) it stimulates creative thinking. From an inventor perspective, wine is interesting because it defies the common wisdom "Necessity is the mother of invention." We, humans, invented and perfected an incredible variety of wines and spirits just to make our lives more enjoyable. Arguably, the invention of wine turned enjoyment into a necessity in the modern society. Since enjoyment is a highly subjective matter, wine can serve as our entry point into the world of studying how attitudes affect human perceptions and thinking.

In 2007, a group of scientists from CalTech used wine tasting to study the impact of marketing on people's brains.

It's been widely reported that when subjects know the price of wine they consistently give high ratings to expensive wines. It's also known that in blind trials subjects don't find much difference between expensive and cheap wines. The important questions are, "How does the price information skew our brainwork? Does expensive wine taste better because we anticipate a better tasting experience from an implicit marketing message that a higher price means a higher product quality?" Here's an excerpt from the published paper:
Because perceptions of quality are known to be positively correlated with price (9), the individual is likely to believe that a more expensive wine will probably taste better. Our hypothesis goes beyond this by stipulating that higher taste expectations would lead to higher activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC), an area of the brain that is widely thought to encode for actual experienced pleasantness (6, 10–16). The results described below are consistent with this hypothesis. We found that the reported price of wines markedly affected reported EP and, more importantly, also modulated the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in mOFC.

In short, a $90 price tag activated the brain's pleasure center more than a $10 one - an almost 10X impact! Since in both cases researchers used the same wine, areas of the brain responsible for the more basic perceptions, including smell and taste, did not make any difference. The findings of the study was consistent with the placebo effect. External marketing information dominates internal perceptions.

As an exercise in creative thinking, we can try to use these results beyond the realm of wine tasting. For example, how does a perceived value of a startup or its founders affect the valuation in the early stages of financing when no objective data can be found yet? Are hype cycles are endemic in the high-tech industry because there's an inevitable time gap between the real and imaginary results of proposed innovations? Is the Mathew Effect hardwired into human brains?

tags: effect, brain, entrepreneurship, biology, research, science, perception, hype

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lunch Talk: Daniel Kahneman on The Machinery of the Mind

Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, on The Machinery of the Mind. Kahneman is Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics.

tags: psychology, creativity, system, lunchtalk, science

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lunch Talk: Sequoia Capital's Doug Leone on Luck & Taking Risks

Sequoia Capital Managing Partner Doug Leone addresses risk taking in his Stanford GSB View From The Top talk on November 4. He also discussed the venture capital industry, what his team looks for in entrepreneurs, and more.

tags: entrepreneurship, vc, risk, management, investment

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Invention of the Day: Brain Cleanup

New Scientist reports that NeuroPhage Pharmaceuticals (Cambridge, MA) has found a way to cleanup rogue proteins that form in the brain, causing debilitating mental disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases:

The drug is the first that seems to target and destroy the multiple types of plaque implicated in human brain disease. Plaques are clumps of misfolded proteins that gradually accumulate into sticky, brain-clogging gunk that kills neurons and robs people of their memories and other mental faculties. Different kinds of misfolded proteins are implicated in different brain diseases, and some can be seen within the same condition.

The hope is that the novel drug will destroy the plaques but leave healthy brain cells alive.

NeuroPhage's US patent applications can be found here.

tags: medicine, brain, control, tool, entrepreneurship, biology

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lunch Talk: Robert Shiller on Innovation in Financial Markets

Recognized as one of the most far-seeing political economists of our time, Robert Shiller is known the world over for his brilliant forecasts of financial bubbles and his penetrating insight into market dynamics and how human psychology drives the economy. For his empirical analysis of asset prices, Robert was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics.

tags: innovation, finance, lunchtalk, networking, money

Friday, July 17, 2015

LunchTalk: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

At the 37th annual ENCORE Award event on September 23, 2014, Stanford Graduate School of Business honored Netflix, and Netflix Founder and CEO Reed Hastings, MS '88. Reed Hastings speaks on the history of the company, the challenges they faced, and how Netflix became the innovative leader it is today.

tags: internet, media, video, streamternet, source, content

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Smartphone: the greatest personal device ever?

According to Gallup, more and more people can't imagine their life without their smartphone:

The device has become our ultimate interface into the world of social interactions and productivity. It's hard to find in the history of technology a device that is more personal than that. Adding more devices to one's personal network is likely to increase our dependance on the smartphone.

tags: invention, innovation, mobile, interface, social, biology, networking, psychology

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lunch Talk: an interview with Eric Ries of Lean Startup

The interview is a part of the This Week In Startup series (episode 199).

Jason interviewed Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup. Eric gave advice for all levels and phases of startups, from idea inception and shortening incubation times to managing the inevitable pivots. Later in the episode, Jason and Eric team up to deliver an 'Old Time Revival,' where audience members bring their business woes to the stage to have them healed by these two experts.

startup, entrepreneurship, lunchtalk

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lunch Talk: How to Tell Stories with Data

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and editor of the New York Times’ data journalism website The Upshot, David Leonhardt, shares the tricks of the master storyteller’s trade. In conversation with Google News Lab data editor Simon Rogers, he shows how data is changing the world; and your part in the revolution.

tags: media, lunchtalk, information, trend, data, story,

Friday, July 10, 2015

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

During Session 2, several teams came up with a typical real estate trade-off: the nicer the neighborhood, the pricier it is going to be to buy or rent there.

Assignment 1. Using divergent thinking, list as many constraints behind the trade-off as you can (no criticism; both pragmatic and wild ideas are welcome). Optional: to help expand the scope of your search, apply either the Three Magicians or the STM operator (Scalable Innovation, Part II, Chapters 6, 9-10).

Assignment 2. In his book "Triumph of the City", Edward Glaeser, professor of economics at Harvard University, writes,
One of the bedrock principles of economics is that free lunches are rare and markets require trade-offs. [...] suburbanites can get a bigger lot at the cost of a longer commute. In comparing metropolitan areas, there is a three-way trade-off among wages, prices, and quality of life.
Question: Can you come up with an example of an existing or future solution that breaks at least one of these trade-offs?

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Wires are dead?

Gizmodo reviews the new line of IKEA's wireless chargers:
IKEA’s wireless charging technology is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a feature being built into a small number of furniture items—namely, lamps and nightstands—but also sold independently as charging pads that you can set on top of a surface or install in any piece of furniture. Once the charging pad is plugged in, you just set your phone on top of a rubber “+” sign. And it charges!

100 years from now you will have your electronic brain implants recharged with a wireless electric pillow while you are sleeping! :)

Speaking of the brain, a group of computer scientists from UCSD and Politechnico di Torino published a paper that describes an implementation of a memory cell-based computing architecture. From the abstract:
Memcomputing is a novel non-Turing paradigm of computation that uses interacting memory cells (memprocessors for short) to store and process information on the same physical platform. It was recently proven mathematically that memcomputing machines have the same computational power of nondeterministic Turing machines. Therefore, they can solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time and, using the appropriate architecture, with resources that only grow polynomially with the input size. The reason for this computational power stems from properties inspired by the brain and shared by any universal memcomputing machine, in particular intrinsic parallelism and information overhead, namely, the capability of compressing information in the collective state of the memprocessor network. We show an experimental demonstration of an actual memcomputing architecture that solves the NP-complete version of the subset sum problem in only one step and is composed of a number of memprocessors that scales linearly with the size of the problem. We have fabricated this architecture using standard microelectronic technology so that it can be easily realized in any laboratory setting.

It's too early to call, but an alternative to the Universal Turing Machine can lead to the creation of novel brain-like applications.

Lunchtalk: Wearable Health Records

Daniel Kivatinos, cofounder and COO of drchrono talks about Wearable Medical Records at the Wearable Tech Conference

Friday, July 03, 2015

Facebook patents video messaging (again!) US 9,071,725

Facebook continues to mine successfully the AOL patent portfolio the company acquired from Microsoft. On June 30, 2015 the United States Patent Office issued US 9,071,725 titled "Methods and user interfaces for video messaging."

The patent dates back to U.S. provisional application No. 60/220,648, filed Jul. 25, 2000. (15 years in prosecution!). The application has already resulted in two good patents – US 8,087,678 and US 7,984,098. The new Facebook claims cover a concurrent video and text interactions between two computing devices, including mobiles (See claim 7).

This is a broad, strong patent that possibly reads on many existing video systems, including Skype, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, etc.

tags: patent, facebook, mobile, video, social, networking

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

A 2008 Harvard Business Review article by Noam Wasserman describes a difficult choice that a start-up founder faces when his company begins to grow rapidly:

As start-ups grow, entrepreneurs face a dilemma — one that many aren’t aware of, initially. On the one hand, they have to raise resources in order to capitalize on the opportunities before them. If they choose the right investors, their financial gains will soar. My research shows that a founder who gives up more equity to attract cofounders, non-founding hires, and investors builds a more valuable company than one who parts with less equity. The founder ends up with a more valuable slice, too. On the other hand, in order to attract investors and executives, entrepreneurs have to give up control over most decision making.

This fundamental tension yields “rich” versus “king” trade-offs. The “rich” options enable the company to become more valuable but sideline the founder by taking away the CEO position and control over major decisions. The “king” choices allow the founder to retain control of decision making by staying CEO and maintaining control over the board—but often only by building a less valuable company.

Since the publication of the artcile, a number of successful technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Uber, managed to break, rather than make the trade-off. That is, the founders have retained a large degree of control while building highly valuable companies.

Question 1: What's common between these companies with regard to the relationship between control and funding? Describe the existing or propose a new breakthrough solution to the founder's trade-off.

Question 2: Provide at least one example where the investors' decision to fire the founder(s)
a) destroyed value of the company;
b) greatly increased value of the company.

tags: innovation, entrepreneurship, vc, trade-off, dilemma, bus74

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Scalable Innovation - a quiz (Session 2-2). Social Networking.

1. What trends can be identified in this Venture Beat article about Mark Zuckerberg's predictions?

2. Name major technology innovations that power the trends you've identified.

Examples of trend categories:

- Business
- Technology
- Science
- Finance
- Demographics
- Social
- Market
- Regulatory

Linking users and concepts - a Facebook patent

Facebook continues building up a strong patent portfolio for graph-based technologies. On January 6, 2015 the USPTO awarded the company US 8,930,378 patent on a social-like network between users and concepts. The patent is titled "Labeling samples in a similarity graph", inventors Pierre Moreels and Andrei Alexandrescu.

On the figure above, circles with Us in them mean users and circles with city names mean concepts. The dotted lines show a calculated confidence level that a particular concept is "linked" to a user who is not connected to it directly.
Since the concept can describe anything in the real as well as abstract world, Facebook patented a technology that figures out the user's connection to objects, places, and other stuff based on the user's social connections.

For completeness, here's Claim 1 (click to enlarge):
The claim looks very clever, but it's hard to believe that the idea has not been covered in the prior art. Detecting infringement of the patent would also be quite difficult because an accused piece of software would be embedded deep down in the guts of a server-based implementation.

tags: patent, facebook, graph, social, networking, internet, portfolio

Gut feeling no more - a new device to treat obesity

The WSJ reports on a new medical device approved by the FDA
The device, made by EnteroMedics Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., is the first of its kind to treat obesity by targeting nerves that link the stomach and the brain. The Maestro Rechargeable System would block electrical signals in the abdominal vagus nerve by dispatching high-frequency electrical pulses.

The device is one of a series of products called neuro-modulators that target nerves for a variety of conditions ranging from pain to Parkinson’s disease.

157 patients with the working device lost 8.5% more of their excess body weight than did the control group.

The technology to detect and manipulate the nervous system is getting better. Today, we can get computers to orchestrate bodily functions that we no longer can control, e.g. due to obesity, injury, or brain problems. As the interfaces between biological and computer signals improve, we will see more bio-apps that take advantage of the exponentially growing cloud capabilities.

tags: innovation, control, cloud, interfaces

Lunch Talk: Tools for Entrepreneurs - Making Something People Love

Renowned entrepreneur and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, will inspire you to think of unique ways to connect with your customers, and to build a community of users who want your business to succeed. In this class you'll learn some key branding, marketing, and user experience principles, plus speciļ¬c tactics and strategies that you can use to create a company people love.

Note emotional vs cognitive appeal of a new product/service in a new market.

tags: lunchtalk, innovation, entrepreneurship, internet, web, creativity, emotion

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lunch Talk: (@Stanford) Drew Houston (Founder Dropbox) Finding Your Way as an Entrepreneur

Drew Houston is CEO and co-founder of Dropbox, and has led Dropbox's growth from a simple idea to a service relied upon by millions around the world. Drew leads all of Dropbox's activities, and is actively involved in its business and product decisions.

Before founding Dropbox, Drew attended MIT's Course 6 (Computer Science). He took a quick leave from school to form Accolade, an online SAT prep startup, and also worked as a software engineer for Bit9.

After graduating from MIT, Drew recognized that people needed a way to bring their files with them without sending email attachments or carrying USB drives. He began writing a solution to this problem in early 2007 before demo-ing an early version to Arash Ferdowsi in Boston. The two of them then began working on the project that would eventually become Dropbox.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Scalable Innovation (BUS 134) - a quiz (Session 2-1). Digital Media.

1. What trends can be identified in this NYT article: Amazon Signs Woody Allen to Write and Direct TV Series?

2. Name major technology innovations that power the trends you've identified.

Examples of trend categories:

- Business
- Technology
- Science
- Finance
- Demographics
- Social
- Market
- Regulatory