Tag Archives: innovation

Airline Innovation

I wrote this post in response to a wired article about black boxes.

After having watched numerous Air Emergency shows, I feel that what’s really missing in the cockpit are simple cameras that look out over the airplane, highlighting sections like the wing, engines, tail section etc.

What struck me the most was that pilots were only relying on instruments and the external view to the front of the plane to guide their behavior. In addition, what they should have had is a “gods view” of their plane – so that they could see exactly what was happening. There were so many episodes where passengers were seeing flames shooting out of the engines, but the pilot had no view of them and ended up making bad decisions because of the lack of visual information.

I’ve started my post-grad career

Last week, I started working full time as an associate strategist at gravitytank, a Chicago based innovation consultancy firm. Some sharp-eyed readers might remember that I’ve mentioned this company before. GT (wonder why the short form is capitalized?) is closely tied to school as more than half the employees are graduates and many of them choose to teach at ID. At one point or another, I’ve been taught by, on teams with or had colleagues who were from GT which makes switching from school to work a lot easier and lot more fun.

School continues, as class requirements need to be met but will be taken over the year, rather than finishing up by May. I’m glad in some ways to maintain some contact with ID. The transition is much less abrupt and I actually get to enjoy the classes more, enjoying their theoretical discussions as a sharp contrast with the practical and interesting challenges at work.

The purpose of this blog I hope, will start to include perspectives that show the combinations of the practical and academic world. If you have any questions about my experiences, please leave them in the comments.

Are the management style of Indian CEO’s stifling innovation?

At least, that’s the premise of this article published in the Harvard Business School press.


While I agree that management culture can certainly stifle the growth of innovation from the bottom up, i disagree with his conclusion about the solution being the use of technology, namely social networking tools.

Forrester (disclaimer – I used to work at AMR Research, a competitor) is primarily a technology advisory company and as such, the recommendations are from a technology biased perspective.  That’s why Navi’s recommendation to

To facilitate innovation in this new fluid and dynamic organizational context, Indian CEOs must invest in Web 2.0-enabled employee motivation technologies like prediction marketplaces, idea management apps, and employee blogs.

falls a bit flat and sounds more like an attempt to drum up business for their advisory service. Any serious talk about innovation cannot happen through the perspective of technology alone. During my internship at Target’s Innovation Group, I was lucky to see their efforts at bringing the idea of innovation throughout the organization. They used none of the technology Navi is talking about, but they were extremely focused on making sure that their employees recognized that innovation was not just the responsibility of the single group, but rather that the group would act as facilitators in making sure all ideas were heard.

The idea is not to lead with technology when change can happen with people instead. If employees don’t feel the desire to innovate, no amount of Web 2.0 apps could help.

Wrap up from the Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference


I have some time this morning to write a quick summary of the Institute of Design’s Strategy conference which happened last week at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. This was one of the best conferences I’ve attended. Most of the speakers were excellent, the crowds were packed and there was definitely a sense of optimism in the air, quite unlike the prevailing sentiments you can find gracing any of our newspapers today.

Having an amazing seat at the third row didn’t hurt either – changes it from watching to engaging.

Some quick summaries of the presentations I thought were most interesting with my key takeaways.

Bill Buxton – Bill is a principle researcher at Microsoft. One of his points was that the success of design rests on where it’s situated within a company. When design is hidden under layers of management, it rarely has a chance to shine. As a case in point, Bill highlighted the timeline of Apple’s success, noting that Jonathan Ive was employed by Apple several years before it’s first big product hit, the iMac. It took Steve Jobs taking over the company to bring design up to a level where it could affect change. Oh, one more point which Bill made – never call the people who buy your products a consumer. When companies look at people through the lens of “consumption”, they will rarely be able to partner with them to create the kind of innovations which drive company growth, even during recessions.

Scott Cook – Interesting story on the founding and continued success of Intuit. I liked his quote ” Seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else thought”. I had a chance to speak with Scott at the reception and there were a lot of details missing from the story, it was nevertheless interesting to speak to him. There was a point made by Scott that I never quite got an answer for – he mentioned that executives in companies are layers away from what customers are saying and thus can rarely spot the breakthrough innovations. He gave an anecdotal story that even at HP, Dave Packard turned away many of the ideas that later came to be successful. Not sure how to validate a comment like that but it that’s true, what can executives do to be closer to the needs of their customers. Does the modern day executive need to pull a Henry Vth, disguising themselves to be closer to their guest.

Matt Mason – Co-Founder of Wedia and author of the The Pirate’s Dilemma, gave one of the conference’s best presentations about youth culture, piracy and what companies can do to combat it. He had many points to make but the ones that I thought were particularly interesting were companies use openness to combat obscurity such as Nike selling tricked out versions of Air Force One after Bathing Ape released pirated copies of Air Force One with their own crazy artwork. The next point he made was to sell what can’t be be pirated, either convenience or experience. As an example, he cited the popularity of iTunes which has sold billions of dollars of music when the music is available for free on the net, albeit for a lot more work.

These were just some of the highlights from the conference and speakers who I thought were particularly interesting. On a side note, I ended up taking these notes on my trusty but aging Blackberry Pearl and emailing them to myself and buying more than 3 books while listening to the speakers (damn you Amazon 1-click purchasing).

A friend and I are working on a next-gen product for the wireless presentation space and I found this behavior striking whereby interactions with the audience happen not just through verbal feedback but through the blogging of speeches, visits to the speaker’s websites and purchases of books etc, all while still listening to them speak. We’ll need to see how we can incorporate some of these capabilities within our product.

Permanence of objects

I was faced with a small challenge today. I had just walked back from the gym, listening on the way to a Ted Talk by Vilayanur Ramachandran on my Ipod. I got back to my apartment and realized I needed to jump into the shower. I was faced with two options – one, I could finish the talk and jump in or I could stop it, jump into the shower and continue the talk later but I was absolutely loving his presentation and didn’t like either of those options. So i tried to figure out how I could have my cake and eat it too.

There had to be a way for me to listen to my favorite podcasts in the shower.

I initially thought of a waterproof dock and spent 3-5 minutes looking it up on amazon but besides the fact that I had to wait three days to get them delivered, they were way too expensive. Then I hit upon a different idea. I decided to use a zip lock bag and rubber bands to create a waterproof casing for my Ipod. It worked wonderfully and I was able to listen to the brilliant presenters at Ted while in the shower.

Waterproof Ipod case

After I got out, I realized that there was something even more important that had happened. Instead of buying an expensive dock that would have a single function and purpose, I had come up with a product that was not permanent. As soon as the function of the ziplock bag and rubber band as a waterproof Ipod case was no longer needed, I could take it apart and reuse the components for other purposes.

The implications of this idea in a larger scale go beyond the idea of reuse and recyclability of products. Instead, it makes us ask the question about how we as innovators can use this principle to develop products that can be broken down and reassembled for various other purposes.

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.


The title says it all

Writing this inaugural post, I feel a little like the uninvited guy at the party who shows up 2 hours late wearing the wrong clothes. No really. Before I could summon up the courage to fill out the ridiculously short form on WordPress, I had to convince myself that I actually had something worthwhile to say. Well, I didn’t convince myself. My father who has blogged for the last 2 years explained to me that my experience and interests were unique enough to warrant starting a blog. Lets hope he’s right.

Once I had decided that i was going to blog, I then agonized about what i wanted to blog about. As a graduate student at the Institute of Design, the topic of design or innovation was obvious but I wasn’t sure what I would say that was unique. There an amazing variety of excellent blogs covering these topic including those of my friends Jon Campbell and Ash Bhoopathy who are excellent bloggers of their own right. So that was out, well not entirely.

One pearl of wisdom from my father was that unless I blogged about something I was interested in, I would never keep it up. With this is mind, I tried to come up with a list of some of my interests. I was sure that blogging about eating or partying would not be very productive but my other interests of military history and cooking seemed to hold some promise. After more ruminating and a conversation with my parents, I realized I actually had a common theme that ran through my interests in design, strategy games and cooking. They all had an element of strategy and innovation. Before you begin to yawn or think that I’m crazy, hear me out.

The reason why I’m fascinated with strategy games, design and cooking is that in each of these, you are given base ingredients (things that shoot, design methods and spices) and it is up to you, using your creativity and experience to accomplish a task. There are the right ways to go about and the wrong ways to go about it and at the end, you see your results and start it all over again, trying to improve yourself. That’s fascinating to me.

So what I hope to write about are these interests of mine, in some seemingly sensible fashion and to hopefully learn something in the process.

There was also another pearl of wisdom that my father gave me that I conveniently ignored in writing this post – to keep it short. Sorry. I’ll try better next time.