Archive for the ‘Future’ Category

Failing Forward Faster!

January 8, 2009

Erik and I have been working on trying to get more study and benefit from failure and we have both been struck by how hard this has been to do.  Not failing, I’m very good that, but rather to foster a culture wherein there is an implicit understanding that failure is the essence of learning and forward progress. 

Over the holidays I was reminded in some Twitter traffic about this quote, most often attributed to Thomas J. Watson Sr. of IBM (thanks JohnH):

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

It’s simple, if you’re not failing regularly you aren’t pushing yourself, not learning, not advancing.  . It’s not that failure is the goal, just that failure is a function of trying new things and should be expected and learned from.  Yet it seems that for most people and most organizations, failure is something to be ashamed of, deny, hide from and cover up. 

One of the best things I think we could all do, individually and collectively is to get into a habit of doing “post mortem” reviews at the end of every project and not regard any project as complete until such review is done.  Imagine the benefits that would be accrued from a regular understanding why something didn’t work, how to do things better next time, how to avoid repeating mistakes, etc.  Imagine if you could start data mining these post reviews for the gold nuggets of wisdom within, patterns to avoid or to follow for greater success.

Several years ago, we had an internal motto at Autodesk of “Fail Forward Faster” that we used to foster this kind of culture.  As the start of a new calendar year often prompts us to reflect upon the year that just ended and plan for the year to come, perhaps this is an opportune time to do more of this synopsis of what we’ve learned from our “failures” over the past year and use these to help plan to make 2009 the best year yet. 

So here is to all of us Failing Forward Faster and making the amount of learning and progress in 2009 an all time high!


Exponential Change to the Same End

November 27, 2008

As I write, speak and think more about the Snowflake Effect and the use of mashups as an overarching conceptual model, the more I’m struck by how this is all a new acceleration along a very long standing continuum of human expression, communication, collaboration and learning.

What we now commonly refer to as mashups, which I’ll simply describe as taking small existing bits and pieces and putting them together to create a whole new whole, is a model we’ve been using for almost all time.  Consider for example how this can be a description of creating music, where everyone uses the same existing relatively small set of existing musical notes, chooses some number of these and assembles them in some new way to create a new song.  And how this could similarly describe the act of writing prose or poems by selecting words from a relatively small and finite set of words in the dictionary and assembling these to create new stories, poems and lyrics. 

It is worth noting that in all these cases the “magic”, the creativity, the brilliance is all in a combination of the selection of the pre-existing bits and pieces and the way in which these are assembled to create something new and different.  Maybe it is just me, but I find the simplicity of this to be profound and beautiful.  Best of all perhaps there is still no end in sigh as this model would appear to be  infinitely expandable, sustainable and scalable.

As I’ve been writing and speaking about more and more, the true power of mashups will be realized as we come to understand it as an overarching conceptual model which can be applied to almost anything and not “just” a technology or data application. For example the mashup model can and is being applied to as diverse a set of areas as maps, software, manufactured goods, music, video, people and organizations. 

I’ll be posting and exploring more details on mashups and their role in enabling the Snowflake Effect in future postings here and on Off Course – On Target.  In the interim I’d encourage you to consider how our pursuit of this continuum of human expression is now accelerating with the transition from a text dominated age to an age of rich media that includes visualization, audio, graphics, simulations, models and video. 

To help stimulate some of your thinking and creative juices I can strongly recommend that you read some of Kevin Kelly’s recent perspectives on all this such as his Nov. 21st article in the New York Times “Becoming Screen Literate” and his summary thoughts in his “book in progress” site called The Technium on “Screen Fluency”.  Kevin continues to be an unending source of inspirational and thought provoking ideas and perspectives for me and I think you will find his writing to be VERY much worth your while.

One gets MUCH Bigger!

November 21, 2008

I continue to find great fascination with the notion that “one is the biggest number” and with the thinking and writing of Kevin Kelly, and I believe that most of you share a similar interest in both as well.

Kevin has been writing and speaking for some time about his observations on the similarity between biology and technology and how as he puts it “technology is evolving to the point where it can be thought of as the 7th kingdom of life.”

When I was recently speaking with Kevin we discovered that we are both often use the “talk to think” model when giving presentations.  Thanks to TED Talks (Technology Entertainment Design) you can watch Kevin as he “thinks out loud” in this TED Talk from last year (Jan 2007) and see an excellent example of the power of inverted thinking, asking interesting questions and looking at things from different perspectives.  I particularly enjoyed how Kevin ponders the question “what does technology want?” and tried to look at it from technology’s view of the world.

These are very thoughtful ideas and Kevin is as prolific as every about them so I can heartily recommend that you spend some of your very valuable time watching this video and/or reading some of his writings on these and related topics such as this version on “The Seventh Kingdom” from his Technium writings.

You can also read Kevin’s views on how the combined networking of technology is creating a singular “computer” and covering the planet with its own “nervous system in his Technium article on “Evidence of a Global SuperOrganism” and his article from July 2008 Wired magazine “The Planetary Computer” where he comments:

“I suspect, but cannot prove, the seeds of progress lie not in increasing numbers of human minds, or artificial minds, or more powerful individual minds, but in the emergence of a more complex group mind, made of fewer humans, many more machines, and a new way of thinking.”

For me, this perspective on technology and our relationship with it are all part of the “perfect storm” that is emerging and enabling the Snowflake Effect to not only be possible but probable.  After you’ve spent some time considering these points of view please let me know your reactions and if you too see a future predominated by a snowstorm of mass personalization and design for uniqueness.

Snowflakemobile! LEGO Block Cars?

November 18, 2008

I’ve been following the story behind a new car being developed by Tata Motors in India called the Nano.  It is one of those stories that you follow with equal parts fascination and fear, and it is very much worth following whatever your reaction.  The short story is that this car is being developed as an alternative to the use of small motorcycles and mopeds for transporting multiple people.  If you’ve traveled to many other countries as I’ve been fortunate enough to, you may have witnessed the same scene that inspired the Nano when you’ve seen three to six people, often a whole family, riding on a single moped as they dart and weave their way through traffic on their way to work, school and home. 

I’ll leave you to read more about the car and the story behind it as a quick search will turn up plenty.  The July 2008 Wired magazine has an article for example called “The $3000, 33-Hoprsepower, Snap-Together ride to the Future” that will provide you with a good overview and insight.  Basic specs for the four door version include:

  • about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide.
  • 623cc two-cylinder 33 HP rear engine
  • capable of 65 miles an hour
  • projected cost new, 120,000 rupees, including road tax and delivery in India, = ~ $2500-3000

As interesting and scary as the whole concept of providing four wheels for the masses of the world is, what has caught my attention of late is the focus on cost  and other reductions which they are taking to a whole new level.  For example they are looking into reducing shipping volume and costs by shipping the cars in a snap together kit form which would be assembled at the destination.  Right now this is very UNsnowflake like in that these cars are in many ways the epitome of mass production and sameness.  However as they develop this LEGO block approach to car manufacturing and start to design for snap together modularity, it is easy to imagine how quickly this would morph into a mashup model that would enable each person to quite literally design their own car, have it shipped to them and and assemble their own snowflakemobile.

Want to try your hand at designing your own Nano?  Head over to this “design your own Nano” site to get an idea how this might work when the choices were much more in number and detail so you could truly create your own Snowflakemobile!

Snowflake Based New Economy?

November 7, 2008

Can’t help wondering (hoping?) if the current downturn in the overall global economy will provide the opportunity and perhaps the imperative to make some substantial changes in our approach to designing and producing products an services?  The one I’m thinking about the most of course is the Snowflake Effect permeating design such that the default design assumption is creating unique products and services which are just the right for each unique person and situation.

This transformation from a model of mass production to one of mass personalization will require a complete new rethinking of many of our fundamental assumptions, processes and infrastructure.  There are other examples in history of such transformations taking place such as the change to containers in the shipping industry, however in all these examples this degree of complete change required an almost “perfect storm” of conditions occurring at about the same time to create the imperative for such a wholesale change.  What can we learn from these previous examples?

Will the current collapse of the global economy combined with other global conditions and an  increased focus on uniqueness, be what it takes to create a new economy based on going after meeting the unique needs of billions of markets of one? 

What if the impossible isn’t?

November 1, 2008

More and more I see just how profound and accurate William Gibson’s famous quote is:

“The future is already here, it just isn’t very equally distributed.”

However it is also more and more troubling to me as I see one of the biggest barriers we have in going after things like the Snowflake Effect is our lack of awareness of the art of the possible. 

Going after any goal or vision has to be based on the belief that is it possible to achieve and based on my discussions with the many people I have the privilege to interact with around the world I think the lack of such belief is a fundamental reason why there is not more change and pursuit of what I am convinced is the very achievable vision of a world predominated by design for unique , mass personalization and the Snowflake Effect.  Possible in this context includes not only technically possible but also things like accessible, affordable, and most of all awareness of what is already possible.

It is understandable that this is a major challenge when we live in a world of exponential change, yet our ability to be aware and up to date has never been greater so this is a solvable problem I think.  I’ll be pondering this further and especially ways to raise the collective awareness of the art of the possible.  Or to Gibson’s quote, looking at ways to equal the distribution of the future. In the interim I have always found it to be extremely smart and successful to adopt the approach and attitude that pretty much anything is possible and always be asking

What if the impossible isn’t?


October 30, 2008

As per many of my previous comments here, articles on Off Course – On Target and many of my presentations, I see more and more examples of a meta trend where basic human functions are being transformed from distinctly separate roles into a mashup of combined roles.  I credit Alvin Toffler with spotting and naming one of the first of these when he coined the term Pro-sumer in his book The Third Wave to describe what he saw as a future society where rather than being either a producer or a consumer we would all take on both roles simultaneously.  Toffler wrote about this back in the 60’s and 70’s and I think we can now clearly see how prescient he was as we live in just such a society in many parts of the world today.

I’ve been speaking about these trends for many years and noting more and more examples of the same kind of integration and blending of fundamental human roles.  I’ll be addressing more of these in coming postings, podcasts and articles but for today I wanted to reference one that came up in my discussions with Kevin Kelly yesterday.  Kevin noted how this is a very new and special time when we simultaneously have dramatic increases in the power of individualization AND the power of the group.  If we were to use Toffler’s example of creating a new dual term word we could call this Indi-Groups. 

A few days ago I wrote about how the Snowflake Effect applies equally to both individuals and groups in the posting “Pluralization of Personalization” and yesterday Kevin went on to point out things like the need to distinguish between “the wisdom of the crowd and the stupidity of the mob”.  I pondered whether things like focus groups might now represent “the stupidity of the mob” or group think, which so typically end up concluding the opposite of what the larger group they are supposed to represent will actually prefer and choose (Erik has talked and blogged about this extensively in some of his previous postings)

To my perhaps biased perception these are all further examples of the growing influence and affect of the The Snowflake Effect and precisely why Erik and I are so passionately pursuing it.

Snowflake Your Next Car?

October 25, 2008

Over the years of speaking about mass customization and personalization I’ve often covered how this applies to manufacturing, and being a bit of a car nut I have often used the automotive industry for specific examples and scenarios.  However one form of manufacturing has been very challenging for achieving full mass personalization is parts which require molds to create thing like body panels, metal castings and fiberglass parts.  It was only a matter of time before these barriers fell and so it was with great delight that I recently read about some of the innovative thinking and work that the designers at BMW have been doing for automotive body panels.

Taking a refreshing new approach to design which they call GINA, Geometry and functions In n Adaptations, BMW Group recently unveiled the GINA Light Visionary prototype.  I’ll let Chris Bangle, Director of Design, BMW Group explain this new philosophy and show you the prototype in this video .

Personally I found the whole video to be mesmerizing to both my eyes and my mind as I watched the shapes of the car shift transform as the functionality of the body panels changed with such things as doors opening, seats emerging from beneath, aerodynamic shapes changing to match speed, and opening up a single slit to reveal the engine compartment or lights.

I hope the video and the thinking has a similar effect on you as you imagine these new vistas the Snowflake Effect is transporting us to.  As you are enjoying this mental joy ride, listen to the way Chris describes the bigger picture of what this change of perspective has lead to for his team and BMW.  I particularly liked his closing comments:

“Emotion is really the added value to this.  … achieve a higher emotional plane out of this”

“the level of humanistic content we can bring in …. GINA should be about the human in the loop, the human way of doing things.”

and my favorite of all:

“context over dogma, that’s it”

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  It is an inspiring example of the power of the Snowflake Effect and shows how the transformation from mass production to mass personalization is happening before our very eyes.

Personalized Learning: Snowstorm hits the UK

October 21, 2008

I’ve been working on an article on the Snowflake Effect and its affect on the future of mashups and learning for an upcoming edition of the Emerging Technologies for Learning published by BECTA in the UK.  I’ll post the link to the article when it is published next month (Nov. 2008) and in the interim I wanted to share some of the the examples from my reesearch and writing of the growing Snowflake Effect. 

Some of the more striking and valuable examples have been those of the application of The Snowflake Effect to learning, education and training (LET) in the UK.  If you have not already read these, I can recommend all of the following as worthwhile reading about why and how the UK Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has concluded that the future of their public education is personalised learning.


2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group

DfES report “Learning about personalisation: how can we put the learner at the heart of the education system?

DfES Report “The Shape of Things to Come: personalised learning through collaboration”

Conversation as a model of Uniqueness and The Snowflake Effect

October 15, 2008

For many years now I find myself coming back to the power of conversations and how they are one of the best example of uniqueness and the Snowflake Effect.  I find myself using conversation as a concept from which to learn and model uniqueness in other applications. 

For example don’t you just love how great conversations are such serendipitous experiences with the way you end up somewhere completely unexpected and yet so very valuable and relevant to all involved in the conversation?   Conversations are fascinating examples of how things can be snowflaked, be deeply personalized, for multiple people.  Being serendipitous snowflakes, great conversations are also challenging because you can’t force them to happen.  They are more like my favorite example of spontaneous combustion; you can’t strike a match to make this happen but you can create a set of conditions that raise the probability of spontaneous combustion happening.  So one of the many things I ponder is how we can get better at finding the conditions that we can created to cause more great things to happen serendipitously and spontaneously.  No surprise that this is also the study in part of how we can “snowflake” something.

All of these and many more have drawn both Erik and I to the power of conversation and specifically to experimenting with this “long slow chat” type of conversation and using it as the catalyst for our weekly conversations which we’ll be posting shortly.  Stay tuned and let’s see what we can all learn from conversations and how to effectively apply the Snowflake Effect.