Category Archives: curiosity

Keith Schacht, Financial Models and more.

I’m taking a class taught by Brad Nemer called Economics of Product Development. Brad’s an all around excellent guy, currently at Motorola and founder of JobPod and one of the reasons why I’m at the Institute of Design. He had a guest speaker in yesterday that some of you may know. Keith Schacht, a successful entrepreneur, co-founder of Inventables and current CEO of 42 Friends came to speak with us briefly on the economics of web companies. It was an interesting presentation where he walked us through some simple models on how he evaluates company cash flow. It was great to see someone that’s clearly passionate about what he does, succeed multiple times at starting companies. That’s definitely how I felt when I helped launch Infominder and Watch360 5 years ago and I know that I’ll start another one in the future.

The class was also interesting because we are trying to learn financial modeling to forecast the cash flow and expenses and NPV of different ventures. Our teacher Brad, who I consider both a good friend and adviser was particularly enthusiastic about a vending machine model and decided that it would just the kind of project that we could try out. So he divided up the class into groups, assigned various responsibilities to each of us to get a vending machine, source candy and get the operation rolling. I love stuff like this where teachers go beyond lecturing on topics and lets us takes a hands on approach.

The project has morphed into something more but I’m sure I’ll learn regardless of the final outcome.

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Cross cultural vs culturally specific

I saw this headline this morning and first scratched my head.

Spice Phone

MWC 2008: Spice Movie Phone has a built-in optical disc drive

The question that everyone seemed to ask was why UMD? My guess, probably cause it was cheaper and easier than to license Sony’s proprietary UMD format, not to mention that UMD’s (and therefore this phone’s) future would be held hostage to Sony’s whim. What was more interesting than the question of why UMD was the question that none of the commentary picked up on.

It’s really unlikely that this Movie Phone from the Indian cellphone maker Spice would make it anywhere besides India, but it’s an amazing phone because of what it’s got on the back: an optical drive

I’m currently in the cultural human factors class taught by Judith Gregory at the Institute of design. This class provides tools and frameworks to allow designers to develop culturally aware products. A comment like the one above shrieks of cultural bias and technological adoration, assuming that since the west has moved on to SD, microSD and nanoSD (just kidding), that somehow a phone such as this would never work.

Rather than worry about the UMD aspect of this phone, my question would be how well this phone would sell in markets that might share similar characteristics to India (a large domestic film industry, manufacturing infrastructure. a large upcoming middle class and deep mobile penetration).

Curiosity and innovation

As I listened to Hod Lipson, Vilayanur Ramachandran and Matthieu Ricard presentations at Ted Talk present on the topics of robotics, neurology and brain plasticity, I realized there was a common theme that all of them mentioned. Each of them referred to a concept where repeated action reinforced the brain and led to specific consequences. In the case of Hod, it was a behavior learned by his robots on how to move through emergent actions, trying to learn about themselves through repeated actions and refining their internal state before emerging with specific behaviors – movement towards a reward in the robot’s case. Vilayanur discussed his theory of learned paralysis and postulated that perhaps, there are methods that can help us unlearn paralysis, thereby allowing us to function normally. Matthieu Ricard in his elegant speech gave an example of how the brain changes after 10,000 hours of violin practice and how we can use this to alter our mind state.

How does this tie back to innovation? Well, when we talk about innovation, we often talk about the result of the process, the object, the service etc. More and more at schools like Institute of Design, we are now talking about the recipe of successful innovation, the methods and frameworks. However, we rarely talk about the ingredients, the aspects of the individual that help them become successful innovators. Larry Keeley in a recent lecture constantly stressed the importance of creativity in the innovation process and after listening to Hod, Matthieu and Vilaynur’s speech, I believe that we need to train our brain in curiosity. It is not enough that we on occasion find interest in random topics. We must treat curiosity as we would an athletic ability, constantly exercising it and helping reinforce our abilities to find and identify opportunities, ideas and theories across multiple disciplines, helping us become better innovators.