Learning the Wright Way

Inc has a review of a book “The Wright Way” by Mark Eppler on “the problem-solving principles the Wrights used to invent and demonstrate their flying machine” and which are still relevant today:

Forging: The principle of constructive conflict. This conflict can be used to uncover and validate new ideas and strategies to find a practical solution.

Tackle the tyrant: The principle of worst things first. When “tyrant” problems are put first, costs for the whole are limited to this subset should a solution prove to be unachievable.

Fiddling: The principle of inveterate tinkering. New approaches can be created by tinkering with portions of a problem in an effort to understand it.

Mind-warping: The principle of rigid flexibility. Flexing the mind allows it to consider possibilities outside the plane of thought limited by policy, tradition and experience.

Relentless preparation: The principle of forever learning. Learning as a lifelong passion is essential to generating the information needed to solve problems.

Measure twice: The principle of methodical meticulousness. The fastest and most efficient way to solve a problem is by being meticulous and methodical in your approach.

Force multiplication: The principle of equitable teamwork. The force of a group with a common purpose is multiplied by interdependence powered by trust, effort, profits, power and honor.

Death of a Whisteblower

[via Brij Singh and Atanu Dey] Here is the story of Satyendranath Dubey who was murdered because he dared blow the whistle on corruption in the mega highway project. He wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and requested anonymity. The PMO disregarded that and on Nov 27th, he was murdered. The conjecture is that the murder was a result of hi s whistleblowing.

Please sign the petition to bring the murderers of Satyendranath to justice. [Mine was the 7215th signature.]

As Brij wrote: “This country (especially the Hindi belt states) need more upright and honest engineers like Dubey to root out corruption from the public life. The importance of highway project and honesty in public life are critical part of the
India-2030 dream.”

Zoomable User Interfaces

The Feature discusses the problem of limited screen space on cellphones and proposes a solution: ZUIs.

Imagine being able to view all of the files on your phone by simply zooming out to see an overview of all data, and then zooming in to pick the item you want. That’s a much more attractive proposition than scrolling through a hundred-item list.

ZUIs aren’t new, but thanks to the generous size of most PC monitors, the average user hasn’t had much call for them-until now. With mobile phones increasing in functionality while their screens continue to shrink, there’s an urgent need to find a better way to see the contents of your phone.

VoIP Applications

TIME writes about the growth is voice-over-IP:

Welcome to a world in which the phone becomes a computer, and the computer a phone. VOIP technology allows the transport of voice, data and video over the same network. And as the various kinds of communications become intertwined, the sum is greater than the parts. Eight years after its introduction, VOIP is having its moment. Indeed, 2004 is sure to be the year in which the technology hits prime time.

We’re now entering the second phase of IP telephony, one in which companies can not only save money by consolidating voice and data traffic on one network but also reap productivity gains that would have been impossible in the past. Industries with heavier information needs financial services, health care, retail have been quicker to adopt the technology, but industry observers say the benefits are just too great for any holdouts to remain that way for long.

The Holy Grail of IP telephony is a new breed of application that will improve information flow within an organization and with its customers and suppliers. When calls come in to customer-service reps at Harley-Davidson, for example, custom IP telephony software from Cisco automatically brings up on the reps’ screens information relevant to the callers such as recent purchasing or repair activity. That has improved the reps’ efficiency as well as the quality of customer interaction.

Another plus: cost savings. Reid Engstrom, director of information services for the motorcycle maker, which is based in Milwaukee, Wis., predicts savings of $550,000 a year in staffing costs from that increased productivity and savings of $1.3 million annually from improvements like reducing warranty costs through earlier resolution of problems.

IP telephony also aims to collapse the proliferation of communications gadgets clogging the pockets and purses of our mobile work force into a single seamless stream of information.

Unified messaging software, for example, allows mobile workers to access all their voice-mail, e-mail and fax messages through one channel by phone, through an e-mail account or on the Web.

Another new breed of software called presence-aware applications understands where and how to contact employees at all times.

Companies are also excited about the prospects for improved “collaboration,” particularly on conference calls. Several browser-based interfaces engendered by VOIP have turned these enduring hassles of corporate life into mere point-and-click exercises. It’s now possible to initiate a conference call merely by clicking on contact names in a browser all over local or wide-area networks.

On a related note, News.com has an interview with Niklas Zennstrom, Skype’s CEO, on its VoIP ambitions.

Continue reading

Online Stores Growth

NYTimes writes about how a combination of factors is helping small businesses selling online:

much of the growth is being driven by search engines like Google and other sites like Amazon and the online marketplace eBay, which are sending shoppers to tens of thousands of online stores, many of them small, independent operations.

Shoppers understand that they cannot feel the softness of a cashmere sweater on a Web site, but the Internet offers speed, low prices, detailed product information and a way to avoid the holiday crush at the malls.

Improved search quality, pioneered by Google, has made search engines an easy and efficient way for people to find things online and for advertisers to find customers. At the same time, eBay, a haven for small businesses, has become the fastest-growing major shopping site, and much of Amazon’s growth has come from serving as a middleman for independent retailers.

7 Hot Projects

Technology Review lists 7 projects that are coming out of corporate R&D labs:

– Automatic speech translator (IBM)
– Spinal-cord trauma treatment (Biogen)
– Blocking spam (Microsoft)
– Miniature ultrasound device (GE)
– Chip-to-chip communications (Sun)
– Streaming media (HP)
– Piezo fuel injection (Siemens)

Software: Made in India

WSJ writes about Indian companies looking beyond outsourcing:

Their rise is because of a convergence of factors: With the U.S. cutting back on issuing and extending work visas for Indian professionals, many have returned to India equipped with the expertise to develop their own software. Meanwhile, a protectionist backlash against outsourcing is gaining momentum in the U.S. and Europe, and competition remains fierce in the offshore IT-services market. Indian concerns have cornered 60% of that market, valued at $16 billion a year. But with rivals slashing costs and margins in services shrinking, companies are realizing that the high-margin-products business, where Indian enterprises have tapped only 0.2% of a $180 billion global market, is the way to go.

I hope in a year’s time Netcore will also be considered in the same league as the companies mentioned in the article: iCode, i-flex, Subex and Talisma.

TECH TALK: My Mental Model: Open-Source Ideas

Much of my writing and thinking is influenced by another dimension: the feedback mechanism caused by business actions. What I am writing about here is exactly what I seek to implement in my entrepreneurial venture, Netcore Solutions. This thread connects the vision and ideas to the marketplace, putting in place a self-correcting mechanism. It is also why I believe that every entrepreneur should have a weblog. Let me explain.

The concept is what I call open-source company. A willingness to honestly and transparently share ones ideas in the open with a larger, interested set of people can help in creating non-linear external response and influence on the ideas and actions. By sharing ones ideas and actions in the public domain, entrepreneurs lend themselves to feedback which is otherwise a significant, missing component in their actions. It is what can cause people to be blind-sided. There are many smart people out in the world who have different perspectives. By willing to discuss openly ones ideas, the entrepreneur can engage the brains of the very best minds, thus reducing the risk inherent in the venture in very much the same way that the world of open-source software is considered to be more secure because there are so many eyes looking at the code and even if there are bugs, they are caught and fixed very rapidly.

What the weblog does for an entrepreneur is give the platform for sharing ideas and building a community a kind of brains trust around the ideas. In a marketplace where part of the battle is for mindshare, the weblog can provide a very powerful tool for entrepreneurs to get exposure to and feedback from people whom they would not normally have encountered in their regular lives. That is why I call it non-linear. There are so many people we interact with in our personal and professional lives these are normally friends of friends, or business associates. What the weblog does is create weak ties readers who spend a few minutes every so often thinking about what one has written. There is no other association or engagement the readers can as easily go away and stop, as they can be drawn into what the writer says. What the entrepreneur needs to do is leverage the strength of these weak ties they open up worlds across industries, across geographies in ways which are otherwise nearly impossible to do.

All of this has a strong influence of what the entrepreneur thinks and does. As we will see, a lot of our actions and ideas need to combine and build on the best business models and practices of others. Having people point out some of these to us compensates for the limited learning that we have had in our academic careers, where the focus has been more on vertical specialisation rather than broader perspectives.

What I have found is that some of the best ideas and refinements to ones core thinking comes from unintended interactions: meetings with near strangers, comments on an unrelated topic which sparks off a connection, reading something very different. Diversity is very important as one seeks to put in place these few key governing concepts and principles which make action easy and obvious. This happens over a period of time. And, even though it can never guarantee success, it surely can reduce the risk of failure by orders of magnitude.

Tomorrow: The Outline

Continue reading