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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

I asked this question to my network –

How to bring simplicity in to the design of products – take complexity out and not the capabilities?

Here are a couple of interesting answers I got –

David Marshall wrote back –

It should all be driven by a proper elicitation process to define system requirements. This should result in an immediate protoyping session with the users without ever telling them what is technically possible. Find out what they need to be able to do their work effectively. Then build that and only that. Too often, designers build what they want to work on and with. The latest technological gizmos are cool. It is boring to keep reusing the tried and tested code. Except that users want only what makes their work easy. Anything that slows down the system’s performance or clutters up the GUI with redundant options is annoying and demotivating. It is hard enough to manage the transition to a new system. Giving the users the chance to take ownership of the design gives managers the best chance of a smooth transition. Thus, taking the designers out of the design is the best way to achieve simplicity.

Shantanu Sengupta says –

1st step – Forget you’re designing!!! Think you’re solving a problem!
2nd step – Once a solution is found, don’t stop… look for more solutions – at least 5 more!
3rd step – Apply logic and reason to see if these solutions are different and addresses the problem fully
4th step – If yes, see if they’re simple enough for applying in reality

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Buddha

 Here is a simple sketch of Buddha as I “see” it. Just looking at this sketch brings so many different emotions and thoughts. Sketching Buddha was very peaceful.

This is the fourth sketch in my series of simple “starter” sketches. The other three were Baby Hanuman, Flower Vase and A View from Up Here.

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I read Randy Komisar’s “The Monk and the Riddle“. I just could not stop when I started reading it. By the time I finished reading it, the clock struck 4 AM. I think it was a night well spent.

Randy Komisar is a Venture Capitalist with Kleiner Perkins. This book tells Randy’s evolution (thus the word Monkey in this post’s title) and search for his passion. Autobiographies are generally boring but Randy does a great job by weaving his life nuggets with a great story of an entrepreneur, Lenny.

“We will put the Fun back in FUNerals”, says Lenny. He is trying to sell an internet business called funerals.com to Randy. This story is set in year 2000, when the whole world was going online – from pets and groceries to well funerals and caskets. I could relate to this story since a number of my friends were pitching get-rich-quick-internet-business-plans those days (and with Web 2.0 they are doing it all over again).

Lenny is a vulnerable soul like many of us who go through life in two phases. In the first phase we do what we HAVE to do so that in the second phase we can do what we LOVE to do. Randy’s point is to start doing what we LOVE to do NOW. He asks us to not live a life plan which is always deferred till we pay our dues. How practical is it?

Randy does a good job explaining the importance of following our passion, but he lacks concrete steps and examples to find out what that passion is. That search for passion is a very individual matter and requires a lot of personal effort. Bill George’s “True North” does a great job providing a framework to search for that passion. “True North” picks up where “The Monk and the Riddle” ends.

This book is a must read for anybody who thinks business is all about the bottom-line and chasing money. It will convince you to look at business and your professional life through a new lens.

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Gates and Jobs shared a stage and it was quite a show (better than a Bollywood thriller).

One thing that is quickly evident from this – Jobs comes across as a person who still has a lot to prove while Gates looks deeply satisfied like a Sadhu. While Gates looks like entering Sanyas , Jobs is still in the prime of his Grahastha Ashram. Again, there are a number of personal reasons (I won’t go there – Read iCon) that one could highlight why Jobs is still so thirsty. 

Jobs’ thirst is doing a lot of good for customers. Jobs has this beautiful left-brain-right-brain conflict going on that creates these stellar products. Go Jobs Go!

Another thing that came out from this was something that Jobs joked about: both of them being dinosaurs in this new Googly age. These guys will not be extinct anytime soon but their era is not what will define the next 20 years. iPhone is great but is that all? Surface Computing might not be the next killer device. This “Post-PC devices” era might not be dominated by Google either. Where is that next Google, Microsoft and Apple?

I think this picture says it all –

Gates & Jobs

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Here is the third post in my series of sketches. The first one was the view from my patio and the second one was Baby Hanuman. This one is a flower vase that I sketched just before it was broken by accident. It was good that I captured it in some form before we lost it.

I really like this quote about giving – “Smell remains on the hands of someone who gives a rose”. It is in line with what Karma Kitchen is doing in Berkeley. I will write a separate detailed post about Karma Kitchen. I went there with my family last Saturday. It was an amazing experience and a great feast. The check total at the end of a tasty meal was $0.00. Amazing, isn’t it?

Flowers

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Here is the next sketch that I tried. This is the second one in my series of posted sketches – first one was a view from my patio. This one is a Baby Hauman sketch based on Indian animation film Hanuman. Pardon some of the shade which is because of scanner issues. More sketches to follow.

Baby Hanuman Sketch

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I recently started sketching again (after 18 years). It had been a great experience.

Here is one of the first sketches that I came up with. It is a view from the patio of my townhouse in the University Village. I know it is far from perfect. It is a beginning (restart actually). I will post more of these sketches to show my evolution as a sketcher. I will appreciate any feedback from pros on blogosphere.

The View From Up Here

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HAPPINESS – It is the single most important goal of human life. All our actions could be traced to “seeking happiness”. While happiness is so important and sought after, it is not properly understood. There is a huge element of subjectivity involved and that makes it hard to define, measure, monitor and fix.

 Frontal LobeUncertain Future: Our brains have a number of issues that make it hard for us to predict “what would make us happy”. The most significant shortcoming is the lack of details in our imagination. When we think about a future event we tend to just imagine a few important aspects of it. Our brain misses on a number of details.

What differentiates human beings from other animals – our ability to imagine and “plan” for future. This long-term thinking is also responsible for our misery. Our super ancestors’ brains did not have a faculty to “worry” about future. Just like cows, cats and dogs they just had sufficient brain power to handle the immediate future. Our frontal-lobe in the brain is responsible for future long-term thinking and it was developed in the middle of our evolution cycle. This lobe is a part of brain which is non-essential for the basic functions of human body. We would still live if we don’t have this worrisome frontal lobe with our brain.

Unclear Past: Second shortcoming for our brain is related to our past memories. Contrary to common belief our brain is actually not a good storage device. The way it stores past events is by leaving out a lot of details and compressing what it stores. The problem that it manifests itself in is the fact that we are not able to do a good job of “looking back” and deciding what makes us happy. E.g. the only thing our brain might remember about our family reunion is the great panaromic view from the hotel balcony. It does not remember the details of pickerings with our cousins. Because of this we make irrational decision of going to our reunion every year.

What To Do?

Two things one could do to work around these limitations –

  1. Consciously try to “Be Happy NOW”, instead of putting it off for a future event, sale or possession – enjoy the moment.
  2. Talk to somebody who “IS” in that situation before making these decisions. That is the best proxy for finding our future happiness. This way we do not rely completely on our own faulty imagination. E.g. if you are thinking of moving to Raleigh from San Francisco for your next job – talk to somebody who has done it and is currently in North Carolina.

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We make so many decisions everyday, ranging from as simple as which brand of coffee to drink to as significant decisions as whether to use nuclear weapons against Japan.

How do we make these decisions? What is our personal compass that we use to navigate through this web of decisions? And, Is that compass directing us to our best estimate of “happiness” in future?

Harmony

Happiness is so subjective and all of us have so different definitions. This subjectivity and variety in how we interpret our own compass of happiness results in this magnificent variety of life experiences that we go through. It results in so many different life stories.

What is important in all these journeys is the “seeking” part of happiness. We strive to be happy and thus we do all those things that we “think” will make us happy.

Three important decisions that one makes in one’s life are –

  1. Place where we live our lives
  2. People we choose to spend our lives with
  3. Work that we choose to do

In the last couple of decades the possibilities in these choices have exploded exponentially. In this global world the way we decide where and how to live our lives is very different than how it used to be. A number of us end up being nomads or “global citizens” as we call ourselves. The happiness comes from the eclectic experiences that one gets by moving to different locations, meeting different people and doing different things.

The HARMONY that we can build around our three choices is important. The dissonance that arises is responsible for unhappiness.

Just follow the high-level personal compass instead of going into the detailed analysis and planning for future. There are so many variables anyway on your way – focus on the most important ones.

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I met and listened to Vinod Khosla, a renowned Venture Capitalist, at a US-India Venture Capital Association meeting. His speech gave a glimpse inside his mind. It was a very personal speech unlike his previous speeches. Khosla talked about some of the decisions he made in life and why he made those decisions.

Vinod Khosla

Move to India – Remember 1993 – Technology world was eclipsed by Microsoft, the King. There were others like Nortel but mostly big things were happening in Redmond. Khosla lived in Northern California at that time with his family. At that time he observed a lot of action happening in Asia. To go to where the action is – he moved with his family to India.

Disillusionment – When in India he tried to find out about the non-profits that he could help and work with to make a difference. He could not find any good organizations. He was shuttling between India and the US – spending six weeks in India and six weeks in the US, alternatively. He was trying hard to help solve some of India’s biggest problems like poverty and rural development. He gave up – thinking that these are big issues and he is not even able to make a dent in these huge problems.

Khosla Version 2.0 – After spending three years in India he came back to the US again. The current run is his second attempt at solving world’s problems. This time he is more successful.

Positive Future – His prediction for future is that entrepreneurship and innovation will thrive with great opportunities ahead. He also predicts that with the growing complexity of the world, people would move to the more relevant (for happiness) things like relationships, family and enjoyment.

Responsible Capitalism – One of his core beliefs is that capitalist solutions work best for the global problems. According to him a sustainable solution is to have someone make money while solving these problems. Subsidies would take you only so far. His rule of thumb – For a long-lasting solution you need the venture to be in black within five years.

Open Source – He believes in the power of open source. One of his pet projects (where his wife is working full time now) is the open source text-books project. The goal of this project is to make textbooks freely available to all the kids. According to him California alone spends more than half a Billion dollars on text-books every year. That money would be rather well spent on the teacher’s salaries for example. Is open source (and free text-books) not contradictory to the capitalistic principles?

Gut Feeling – He mentioned that we never looks at the extensive spreadsheets and financials calculating ROI and all the good stuff for making investment decisions. He evaluates opportunities solely relying on his gut feeling.

In this meeting I saw in him an ordinary person like you and me who goes through contradicting battles in his own mind. One who is trying his best to make a dent in these massive world problems utilizing all his resources to the best he can. Good luck Mr Khosla in your pursuit of happYness (with a Y instead of i).

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I started my first business at the age of 9 (1984). It was a comic books rental service. I did that during my summer vacations. My first partner was my childhood friend Amit. I got all his comics, combined them with my collection and we had our starting inventory of books. We had books including Chacha Chaudhary, Vetal, Mandrake, Archies, Pinky, Ankur, Chandan, Champak, Lotpot, Motu Patlu, et al. This needed minimal investment and I started being cash flow positive on day one since most of my cost was sunk cost as we already owned all these books.

Chacha

I used the concrete space (front yard) in front of my home to setup my first shop. This whole shop was setup every day in the morning and removed in the evening.

Pricing was not that tough – we just had to be lower than our competitors (professional comic book rentals). It was 25 paisa a book per day. I also relaxed the late fee rules (just like what Blockbuster had to do after Netflix). No-late-fee was a very novel idea those days. This was critical to get our initial customer base.

We created buzz using the current viral marketing techniques. We gave one day one comic book rental free if you refer one friend as our new customer.

Customer Database was a simple notebook with columns capturing information about customers on one page and their rentals on a new page for each customer.

I used to reinvest 50% of my earnings back into the business by buying new comic book sets. One of these nights before sleeping I pledged to myself that I will invest 50% of my earnings always (even when I grow up) on books. I realize now how difficult promise that was. I still try to buy quite a lot of books but certainly not 50% of my earnings. I never understood at that time why these grown-ups always wanted to so many things in life. According to me all that you needed to survive was comics.

As an extension (a big one), I also tried to create my own comic characters. I thought about partnering with my cousin brother Avadhesh (who according to me was the best businessman I knew) for creating a new comic series. It never happened!

As I look back we used all the concepts that I eventually formally studied in my Berkeley MBA program. The basics of business remain same. The most important thing to keep in mind is to do what you are passionate about. My little comics rental business was successful because I was absolutely passionate about it. Follow your heart!

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Popular Belief: Discipline hinders creativity.
Reverse: Discipline fosters creativity.

The most prevalent way to depict creativity is Einstein’s photo with his shabby hairstyle and chaotic looks. Creativity does not always come packaged as this confused picture. The other well-behaved gentleman shown above is C.V. Raman – another physics Nobel Prize winner. It is a different face of creativity than what is popular. Raman was a disciplined scientist who performed ground breaking research while still receiving a gold-medal in college [Einstein got into repeated trouble at school].

Quantity of ideas is very important for creativity. Discipline provides a platform to create an “idea factory”. Discipline helps create a fine-tuned operational process to generate a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas are always better than the few ideas that shabby zealots find themselves boxed in because of their inflexible mindset.

Being chaotic has suddenly become hip. It is the current fad in the enterprise. We have gone too far when it comes to creating an “informal” culture. Being informal does not mean being dirty and messy.

A number of chaotic-creative-people never get to implement their creative ideas because they are not focused. They do not have a goal in mind when they start with their creative process. Disciplined thinking requires you to clearly state your goal in mind before you start any creative endeavor. With structured thinking you start on a stated goal, identify a compelling motive and follow a disciplined approach to finding creatively disciplined ideas.

Another related popular notion is that a shabby work environment is a sign of creativity. A clean environment is much more helpful when it comes to creating good ideas. A dirty environment breeds dirty ideas. A messy environment creates stress and stress in turn kills creative juices. A clean environment on the other hand lets you focus on the creative task at hand.

In conclusion, do not get rid of the basic discipline which is required in the creative process. Do not create unnecessary chaos just hoping that creativity is directly linked to dirty desks and lunatic looks. Discipline is a virtue – embrace it when you embark on your next creative endeavor. And, please get a decent haircut.

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“In sume, if the past few decades were heralded as the revenge of the nerds, the next few will be the revenge of the liberal arts graduates.”

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Yesterday I attended a class on “Creativity and Innovation”. Our guest speaker Pat Christen (President: HopeLab) described some fascinating insights into how they are working on ReMission, a video game for teens and young adults suffering from cancer.

Creativity is sometimes applying the old concepts. She described how she applied the same old concepts she learnt with SF AIDS Foundation and applied them to get ReMission tested within one year.

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An Eastern saying … (food for thought)

“The teacher and the taught together create the teaching”.

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  1. All achievement, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea.
  2. He had nothing to start with, except the capacity to know what he wanted, and the determination to stand by that desire until he realized it.
  3. Seek expert cousel before giving up. “Three feet from Gold” story.
  4. The greatest success comes just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken. Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.
  5. What of the man who has neither the time, not the inclination to study failure in search of knowledge that may lead to success? Where and how is he to learn the art of converting defeat into stepping stonres to opportunity?
  6. When riches begin to come they come so quickly, in such great abundance, that one wonders where they have been hiding during all those lean years.

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Consider this -You wake up in the morning suffused with an ineffable feeling of joy, a deep sense of well being. You go to work, to a job you love so much that you would pay for the privilege of doing it. You labor intently but are so focused that time flies by unnoticed. At the end of the day you are invigorated, brimming with more energy than when you started. You have a penetrating awareness of the course you are charting, a clear knowledge of your place in the scheme of the universe. Your work feeds this, is congruent with it and brings great contentment and peace.

You face obstacles, big ones and small ones, perhaps more than your fair share of them. You understand very clearly that their purpose is to test your mettle, to bring out the best in you even as the abrasive whetting stone serves to finely hone the knife. So you plow on indomitably, sure of what you want to achieve and yet unconcerned about results. At times it seems as if you are riding on the crest of a powerful tidal wave, as if the universe itself is helping you, working with you and through you. Locked doors open mysteriously. Incredibly fortuitous coincidences occur. You accomplish prodigious feats, feats you would never have imagined yourself capable of. Yet it would have been perfectly okay if you had not accomplished them. You accept accolades gracefully but are not swayed by them because you march to the beat of your own drummer.

Your personal life is intensely fulfilling. You are active in a variety of civic, charitable and political causes and successful in all of them. Your spouse is perfectly compatible with you, a true helpmate in every sense of the word. You beget progeny and your offspring bring great satisfaction. You have a sense of trusteeship towards them and intuit what Gibran articulated:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you, not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but strive not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that the arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves the bow that is stable.

So it goes on year after year, each day more perfect than the one before. Your gratitude is so intense that at times it is like a physical ache. Your heart bursts as you thank the universe. What have you done to deserve such good fortune? And when the time comes for you to depart, you do so joyfully and in peace, achieving identification with the Cosmic Principle, that incredible merging which has been called many things by many peoples but is ultimately indescribable, far beyond the feeble capabilities of language.

Source: Creativity and Personal Mastery (Dr. Srikumar Rao)

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