Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for October, 2011

Challenge for TED: Going beyond inspiration

Almost a year ago, I had the joy and pleasure to talk about design at TEDxNHH in their standard 18 minute presentation format. As a firm believer that one learns best from doing, not only hearing and seeing, in the time allotted, I launched the TEDxNHH design challenge where I provided step-by-step instructions on redesigning for improvement. Through the instructions, I tried to spread the underlying principles and thinking modes behind design thinking.

Also, thinking that sharing and having a place to share would be a motivator, I created a Twitter hashtag and an e-mail address where people can submit their results.

Nothing happened, or at least nothing happened as much as I could see.

I know that getting people to act is incredibly difficult, but I hoped that at least few out of the three hundred people audience would participate (and I dreamed that many more will participate via the online video clip).

This doesn’t mean that some people didn’t try the design challenge or that my talk made absolutely no impact, but I would consider it a near catastrophic failure on my part…

Which isn’t a bad thing. I learned a lot from the experience: how it feels to listen to different talks with no common theme back-to-back, how such events were organized and executed (and the TEDxNHH hosts did brilliantly), or how we all have everyday lives to go back to after being inspired.

It also got me thinking a lot about the TED format.

I love TED. I’ve watched hundreds of talks, on trains, on planes, everywhere. The presentations are incredibly well crafted, the length is perfect for casual viewing, and the content is almost always interesting. TED has done an amazing job of spreading “Ideas worth spreading,” and even spreading itself through the TEDx platform.

But why do we want to spread ideas?

I would argue that it is ultimately to create change, change for the better. Many of the people presenting at TED are taking on the world’s greatest challenges and trying to improve the world with what they believe in. If that is the end goal, can we do better?

We have this ingrained belief that the spread of information will cause change, and while that’s still true today, the effect is thinning. Once upon a time, spreading information was expensive, usually requiring labor and resource intensive physical media production and distribution. Now we live in the age of information overload, and there is an overabundance of inspirations fighting for our limited attention.

While I agree that video is a great medium for spreading ideas, is it the best way of spreading change?

The TED prize is a step in the right direction. For those who haven’t come across it yet:

The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED community’s exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, “One Wish to Change the World.” After several months of preparation, s/he unveils his/her wish at an award ceremony held during the TED Conference. These wishes have led to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact.

But I think more could be done to support those who are trying to change the world for the better. I don’t know what a platform for change could look like, but I bet there is someone out there with the bright idea, and I hope he or she will get more than 18 minutes.

P.S. I originally titled this post “You can’t change the world in 18 minutes,” but then realized that I really don’t believe in that statement. The world definitely changes in 18 minutes, and one can at least start to change the world in 18 minutes.


Environments where things happen

Properties of environments where things happen:

  • People don’t need permission to do things.
  • There is a mechanism for people to find others with similar interest and interact.
  • There are resources available for people to find and fulfill what they are lacking.

Where can you find all three? Few places I can think of: Silicon Valley, University Campuses, the Internet. (I don’t know enough about Google but from what I hear, I think it comes close)

For those who are trying to design innovative companies, active design programs, of the Silicon Valley of ______ (insert country or geographic location here), are you lacking something?

For those that are trying to create an authoritarian government, make sure the above three things don’t come together.

Share for sale

Does anyone want to buy this for me?

And I wonder how much is.


Apple iPod Connector vs Sony Memory Stick

Also known as ecosystem vs proprietary.

Does anyone remember the Sony Memory Stick? It was a proprietary flash memory storage that was used on Sony consumer electronics devices, most notably their digital cameras and laptops. People hated it because almost always, the same amount of memory was more expensive on the Memory Stick compared to competing formats such as Compact Flash. It was a typical example of companies trying to lock in their customers with proprietary devices so that the cost of shifting to different devices would be more expensive.

On the surface, the Apple iPod (and now iPhone, iPad) connector is a similar example, a proprietary system that locks users in. However, there is a significant difference: Apple created a platform around their connector. While all other companies were running to the industry standard, USB, Apple created their own iPod connector proprietary format. If you wanted to connect your iPod to anything, you had to buy their (or Apple authorized) cables with the 30-pin connector. While this may seem like another way to nickel-and-dime the end customer, Apple’s intent was far more grand: Instead of being restricted by the existing USB standard, they created a protocol that would allow for much more interaction through the connector. As a result, they created an entire platform for iPod accessories developed by them and 3rd parties, who of course had to pay royalty to Apple. Think of all the different iPod docks, microphones, accessories sold out there now. None of those would have been possible if the iPod had a USB connector.

On the other hand, Sony gave up on their Memory Sticks long time ago is still making Memory Sticks and but now all their cameras support SD.

Users will not like it when things are forced upon them by companies, but they will also appreciate better products and more choices. Hey, movie industry, are you listening?

Note: I’m not arguing that Apple does not do the same as Sony. There is a long list of failed and ongoing Apple-pushed proprietary formats, most notably FireWire  and Mini-DisplayPort.


Birthday Analytics

Thank you everyone for all the amazing birthday wishes and to those who came to the surprise French Karaoke Birthday party. In trying to do something with the over one hundred birthday wishes I received, I thought it might be interesting to visualize the different mediums in which they were delivered.


  •  I took the first medium of delivery for each person. Many people who saw posted on my wall did wish me again in person when I saw them, but I didn’t include those.
  • Robots are those automated e-mailers from websites I’ve signed up for. I don’t know what I think about web services using birthdays as another way of spamming people.
  • Half of the e-mails were wishes embedded in work e-mails.
  • All the in-person wishes were colleagues. HR keeps a list of all the birthdays on the company server.
  • It’s interesting to note the mediums which were not used: Birthday cards and snail mail (Who thought Facebook would be disrupting Hallmark’s business?), other IM services besides Skype, LinkedIn, and traditional phone calls.
  • Without Facebook, there is no way I would have gotten more than hundred birthday wishes this year. I’m not necessarily saying that more is better, but this is another way how the diversification of communication modes is lowering the friction to communicating.





What are you loyal to?

Are you loyal to…

…money and material possessions?
…brands and symbols?
…people and relationships?
…companies and organizations?
…cities and geographic locations?
…governments and institutions?

or are you loyal to how the world should be?


The 75% vacation days

In almost every company, vacation days are (or supposed to be) 100% vacation days: complete disconnection from all work e-mail, phone calls, etc. This is perfect if you’re the kind of person who likes the complete disconnection, to not think about work when on holidays. However, not everyone is like that.

I am not the 100% disconnection kind of person. I don’t mind answering some e-mails between the afternoon shower and the dinner reservation, looking through slide decks during a 2 hour train ride, or reading some work-related documents on the beach. When I worked in academia and the IT was on my personal computer, I never completely disconnected. Now it’s a little bit harder since I can only check my company e-mail on my company laptop and I have no intent of carrying around another computer when I travel.

The concept of vacation days were developed before the age of the internet when for almost everyone, work could only be done at the workplace. However, with ubiquitous connectivity, many knowledge workers can now work even if they aren’t at the office or home.

The idea of 75% vacation days is simple. Let workers take holidays with some minimal expectation of staying connected and contributing to the work being done. This could be calling into some important meetings, fielding critical e-mails from customers, team members, or bosses, or staying on top of what’s happening in the company and the industry. I believe that this makes sense for companies as well since having someone completely disconnected is actually very disruptive to the continuity of the work. It also makes it easier for people to take vacation days as well.

Of course 75% is an arbitrarily chosen figure: two hours a day. It could very well be 80%: take a week off while using four vacation days.

Some people may be cringing at this idea (and I can think of few friends who would hate this) of working while on holidays and that’s fine. It’s not supposed to be for everyone. The traditional 100% vacation days should not go away. It also doesn’t apply to all kinds of workers. Assembly line workers still need to be at the factory to get things done, there’s little pilots can do while on holidays, nurses are pretty ineffective from the beach.

Technology is not only changing the ways we work but is also creating new ways we CAN work, and we need to keep redesigning our social institutions to fit the times.


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