19 November 2006

The Cost of Focus

I just read this by Michael Bolton on testing, but I think it has more general application:

It occurs to me this evening that when test plans, test scripts, and testers look for particular problems with excessive focus, they do so at the expense of peripheral vision.

Contrast that with what Adam Richardson says about the importance of peripheral vision:

Bill Bradley is today known primarily as a politician in the US, but in his youth he was an outstanding basketball player. Among several notable abilities, he had a natural gift: his eyesight. Specifically, he had abnormally good peripheral vision. Whereas normal peripheral vision covers a horizontal field of 180 degrees, his covered 192 degrees - he could literally see behind himself. Vertically, most people can see 47 degrees upward while looking straight ahead. Bradley could see 72 degrees, meaning he could see the basket even when looking at the ground. These factors gave him an ability to see things on the court that others could not, and detect threats and opportunities earlier than others players. (For a nice essay about Bill Bradley, see this book by John McPhee.)

Peripheral vision is an interesting thing: it provides much less detail but much more sensitivity to movement than our central cone of vision (which is only about 7 degrees in diameter). Peripheral vision is essential when you’re in the jungle or on the savannah, spotting movement at the edges that indicate danger. But our medical tests for eyesight pretty much ignore peripheral vision, focusing instead on how much small detail you can resolve in your central cone.

Business analysis is often the same way. Movements at the edges that are ill-defined are ignored, and all tools and attention are focused on what we can see clearly with great detail that's right in front of us. But it’s the movements at the edges that can both be the most threatening, but also represent the new opportunities. This is where the disruptive innovations that Clayton Christensen talks about come from. By the time you can prove their existence in detail, it’s too late.

Wicked problems are very difficult to understand by staring straight into them and looking for clear detail, however. They need to be approached from the edges, sort of like doing a jigsaw puzzle where you find the edge pieces first. Having peripheral vision that is trained to be sensitive to the edges is a key capability (this applies both to product teams and to business units - wherever wicked problems occur).

So encourage staff and managers to pay attention to and nurture their peripheral vision - meeting with their “whacky” customers who push your products to the limit, talk to people who aren’t your customers any more and find out why, and pay close attention to disruptive innovators making cheap and “poor” products that your traditional customers wouldn’t touch. And if you think you're facing a wicked problem, don't expect hard numbers on it; by the time you've got solid data, it's probably too late.

Balance and timing once again seem to be the issue here. Focus, but not excessively otherwise you'll loose valuable peripheral vision which you'll need to find the next great ideas to focus on. It's often the free radical ideas that lead to the innovative idea. And if you are too focused, you'll miss them.

16 November 2006

Something Great

Consider this summary of the story of a horse named Snowman by Joseph B. Wirthlin:

Harry de Leyer was late to the auction on that snowy day in 1956, and all of the good horses had already been sold. The few that remained were old and spent and had been bought by a company that would salvage them.

Harry, the riding master at a girls' school in New York, was about to leave when one of these horses—an uncared-for, gray gelding with ugly-looking wounds on its legs—caught his eye. The animal still bore the marks that had been made by a heavy work harness, evidence to the hard life he had led. But something about him captured Harry's attention, so he offered $80 for him.

It was snowing when Harry's children saw the horse for the first time, and because of the coat of snow on the horse's back, the children named him "Snowman."

Harry took good care of the horse, which turned out to be a gentle and reliable friend—a horse the girls liked to ride because he was steady and didn't startle like some of the others. In fact, Snowman made such rapid improvement that a neighbor purchased him for twice what Harry had originally paid.

But Snowman kept disappearing from the neighbor's pasture—sometimes ending up in adjoining potato fields, other times back at Harry's. It appeared that the horse must have jumped over the fences between the properties, but that seemed impossible—Harry had never seen Snowman jump over anything much higher than a fallen log.

But eventually, the neighbor's patience came to an end, and he insisted Harry take back the horse.

For years, Harry's great dream had been to produce a champion jumping horse. He'd had moderate success in the past, but in order to compete at the highest levels, he knew he would have to buy a pedigreed horse that had been specifically bred to jump. And that kind of pedigree would cost far more than he could afford.

Snowman was already getting old—he was eight when Harry had purchased him—and he had been badly treated. But, apparently, Snowman wanted to jump, so Harry decided to see what the horse could do.

What Harry saw made him think that maybe his horse had a chance to compete.

In 1958, Harry entered Snowman in his first competition. Snowman stood among the beautifully bred, champion horses, looking very much out of place. Other horse breeders called Snowman a "flea-bitten gray."

But a wonderful, unbelievable thing happened that day.

Snowman won!

Harry continued to enter Snowman in other competitions, and Snowman continued to win.

Audiences cheered every time Snowman won an event. He became a symbol of how extraordinary an ordinary horse could be. He appeared on television. Stories and books were written about him.

As Snowman continued to win, one buyer offered $100,000 for the old plow horse, but Harry would not sell. In 1958 and 1959, Snowman was named "Horse of the Year." Eventually, the gray gelding—who had once been marked for sale to a low bidder—was inducted into the show jumping Hall of Fame.

For many, Snowman was much more than a horse. He became an example of the hidden, untapped potential that lies within each of us.

For me this story is both inspiring and challenging. Inspiring, because it makes me think I can do something really great. Challenging, because I don't know what that is exactly. Of course, everyone has their different ideas about what constitutes "something great", but more and more I'm starting get an idea. I've always loved this quote by Jenkins Lloyd Jones:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.

“[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride"

And then M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled:

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.

Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?

I suppose I'll finish this way: I've been feeling very thankful these last few days. Thankful for my job and the people I've been able to work with over the years. Thankful for the enormous challenges we get to tackle and the support I've been given from so many people, not the least of which has been my family. So many times, things could have really turned out bad, and they didn't. And then some times they did, and we worked through that too. So, maybe that is something great, sustained effort toward worthy goals. Either way, I sure am learning a lot.

15 November 2006

Coding Blogs

This is part 3 in my "Blogs I Read" series. I hope you find it useful.

ADC Headlines - Apple - Feed

I find it really useful to keep on top of the new documentation that is added to Apple's Developer Connection website. I'll often find something new I didn't know, but mostly just seeing a "how to" or bit of sample code is enough to jog my memory when I come up against a similar problem.

Big Nerd Ranch Weblog - Big Nerd Ranch Folk - Feed

The Big Nerd Ranch started as a week long immersive training experience in Atlanta, Georgia. You focus on code intensely and remotely. The one fee covers food, lodging, transportation to and from the airport. It looks like they now have a "ranch" setup in Rome, Italy. I subscribe mostly because, well, I'd like to attend there the Cocoa training some day. Also, I think it's a great idea for helping people focus. I've heard that out on The Ranch, there's no internet connection and poor cell phone reception. It's amazing what cutting out distractions can do for a learner's capacity to gain understanding. I've been to a lot of training, but nothing like this, so I guess it really appeals to me. To top it all off, Aaron Hillegass author of arguably two of the best Mac OS X programming books, is one of the Cocoa instructors there.

Cocoa Dev Central - Scott Stevenson - Feed

This is my favorite learn-about-Cocoa site. Scott Stevenson has a clean, clear style and knows how to remove the unnecessary details making his Cocoa tutorials content-dense and easy to read. The site is well designed and just looks great and I admit, for me, that counts. It is really a one stop shop for learning about Cocoa for the beginner and advanced developer alike.

Mac OS Forge - Apple - Feed

What can I say here? I'm interested to see if Apple can make their second try at open source community work. I hope they can figure it out.

Mac OS X Internals - Amit Singh - Feed

Amit has been publishing extremely interesting and low level details about Mac OS X since at least 2003. I've always enjoyed his writing and recently he published a book named Mac OS X Internals. He doesn't post very often, but when he does, it's always worth the read. One of the main reasons I value Amit's writing is the way he contrasts and compares the Mac OS with other operating systems. If OS level stuff interests you, you'll love this blog.

Martin Fowler - Martin Fowler - Feed

Martin Fowler has been around for a long time, so his seasoned opinion holds a lot of weight for me. Seems like I am continually discovering "new" ideas and programming or computer science concepts that were discovered 20 years ago! He talks about software architecture, object-oriented analysis and design, refactoring, Unified Modeling Language, software patterns, and agile software development methodologies.

TextMate Blog - Allan Odgaard - Feed

And speaking of old ideas revisited, Allan has taken ideas from the venerable emacs command line editor and put and UI on them and then added some great new ideas of his own. Just when it seemed like BBEdit had the whole text editor market tied up, along comes TextMate and really ups the innovation ante. I'm a fan because: 1) I'm learning about the editor and the blog often shows me how to do stuff I didn't understand before and 2) I love rooting for the underdog. :-) If you spend a lot of time editing text on a Mac, you've absolutely got to check out TextMate.

14 November 2006

World Usability Day

I just found out that today is World Usability Day, and I couldn't help from laughing at the poster. Yeah, usability really matters. Enjoy. :-)

11 November 2006

The Anatomy of Peace

I recently listened to a BYU Devotional in which LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley simply related from his life "Experiences Worth Remembering." One of the last experiences he shared was this:

I had a long remembered experience with Mr. Shimon Peres of Israel. He was a former Prime Minister. He had seen much of conflict and trouble in his days. I asked him if whether there was any solution to the great problems that constantly seem to divide the people of Israel and the Palestinians. He replied, "Of course there is!" As I recall he said, "When we were Adam and Eve we were all one. Is there any need for us now to be divided into segments with hatred for one another?"

He then told an very interesting story that he said he had heard from a Muslim. The Muslim told of a Jewish Rabbi who was conversing with two of his friends, the Rabbi asked one of the men, "How do you know when the night is over and a new day has begun?"

His friend replied, "When you look into the East and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun."

The second was asked the same question. He replied, "When you look into the distance and can distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree, then you know morning has come."

They then asked the Rabbi how he could tell when the night is over and the day begins. He thought for a time and then said, "When you look into the East and see the face of a woman and you can say, 'She is my sister.' and when you can look into the East and see the face of a man and can say, 'He is my brother.' then you know the light of a new day has come.

I'm currently reading a book named The Anatomy of Peace from which I chose the title for this post. One of the ideas presented is that when we treat people as objects, we are at war with them and bad things happen. When we start to see others as real people, not objects, the whole world changes before us.

Like so many things, it's simple, but very hard to do.

08 November 2006

Windows Vista releases to manufacturing

It's funny, here at Microsoft when we finish a project, we "release to manufacturing" which is implied to mean that we carry the "golden copy" of the product to the replication factory which they then use to manufacture millions of packaged copies for everyone. This manufacturing might start right away, but most people will not get their copy until next year. It's been a very long road for Vista, but it has finally RTM'd. Over the next few months Microsoft IT will be rolling it out to everyone here at work. Volume license business customers will get their copies by the end of this month, while regular PC users will get their copies on January 30, 2007.

From my perspective I'm glad it's finally shipped. I hope all my underwater stock options become wildly valuable! I'm also glad because since it's "done" there's a very good chance that Apple will finally fully disclose what ever secrets they were hiding from us at WWDC. MacWorld in January will be the perfect time for Apple to try to 1 up Vista, and I'm sure they know it.

I've been playing around with Vista and I've watched a few demos, but it's not on my main PC yet. Even with my limited knowledge of the features in Vista, there are two features I'd like Apple to copy right away: ASLR and Windows Meeting Space.


From Wikipedia:

Address space layout randomization (ASLR) is a computer security feature which involves arranging the positions of key data areas, usually including the base of the executable and position of libraries, heap, and stack, randomly in a process' address space.

Basically, this really has a chance at making Vista much more secure. I'm all for it. More info can be found here.

Windows Meeting Space

This is a very cool collaboration application included with Vista and referenced from Microsoft's Tips and Tricks document as follows:

Collaborate with a co-worker.

Want an easy way to share files and applications with a colleague or customer—even when you may not be part of the same network? Windows Meeting Space is a new experience in Windows Vista that enables you to start an impromptu collaboration session with other Windows Vista users. Simply open Windows Meeting Space and start a session. Windows Vista will automatically detect other Windows Vista users that are on the same sub-net infrastructure or close enough for you to create an ad hoc (direct PC-to-PC connection) wireless connection. Once you have invited them and they have accepted, you can share documents by simply dragging a document to the Handouts area on the bottom right which instantly replicates that file across the other meeting participants’ machines. Dragging the file to the presentation area on the left side starts application sharing, enabling the other participants to watch as you present that file. If someone has a good edit for your file, you can make that edit in real time, or pass control of the application directly to that participant for them to make that edit for you.

This tool works with any document or application and finds people near by just like Bonjour. It's a little less concurrent than SubEthaEdit, but for all your applications! Having something like this, system wide on the Mac would be very cool.

And yes, I think the MacBU is at least partially responsible for inspiring the cool new Vista box. :-)

06 November 2006

Impatience and Design by Counter Example

“Don’t worry about other people stealing your ideas. If you’re ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” - Howard Aiken, IBM Engineer

This is my favorite quote for the day. Innovation, with all the ideas and execution that it requires, fails to happen for so many reasons, but most common in my experience are these two:

1. Design by Counter Example

2. Impatience

Design by Counter Example

Suppose you come up with some fantastic idea, you are excited about it, so you begin to share it with your coworkers and friends. If your friends are smart, they'll begin to analyis your idea for weaknesses and flaws. They'll do this not because they don't like you or don't trust you, they'll do this because it's what they are trained to do. Find the problems and worse, find the 100% solution, the solution that works everywhere. You'll know these people because they'll often begin their comments to you with "No, but..." or "What about..."

The problem with the "No, but..." response is that it sets up conflict, and no forward progress in idea generation can be made until the conflict is resolved. Worse, conflict resolution wastes time and energy and discourages more idea sharing. The "What about..." response almost always follows with some scenario or example that counters your idea in some way. Your response will often be an attempt to resolve that counter example, which when solved will be rewarded with a new and different counter example. Corner case upon corner case, what was a clear, bold and brilliant idea, gets designed into a complex, multifaceted feature that is costly to explain, build and test. If you share your ideas with a team of smart people, this can happen in a disastrously quick manner.


Impatience is perhaps the subtlest of innovation killers. You will need patience as you develop the ideas because it will be hard to teach your idea to others, and then once the vision is clear, it will take yet longer to actually implement it. Remember it took Steve Jobs 18 months to convince the record labels to let him build the iTunes music store. If you back down at any point in this long journey, that is when innovation dies. This is why I believe, in so many ways, it's all about the execution.

Ideas are important too, and when you are generating ideas, being creative, all too often a well meaning individuals will ask you to rate the ideas and place them in priority order for potential business impact. This is a good idea, but done too soon, it's like asking a 3 year old what valuable contribution he or she will make to the world, and bereft of any intelligible response condemning the toddler to uselessness.

This impatience to see whether an idea is good or not kills innovation because the real innovation happens generally not in one brilliant flash of light, but at the interaction of ideas, and often ideas interacting with others in the periphery. I first heard Steve Jobs coin the phrase, "connect the dots backwards" and I think this applies here. You can't tell what will be important until after the fact, after the interaction. What you need is a safe place for lots of ideas to interact with out getting shot down. It looks like this:

Creating an environment where ideas can patiently interact and people can interact with the ideas before making the "do or die" business decision is key. What's even more important than the ideas, is that you don't kill the idea generators and integrators, that is, the people! Consider this story related by Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal in the February 2002 issue of the Harvard Business Review:

"In a major U.S. oil company, for example, we witnessed a committed and enthusiastic manager gradually become apathetic. An IT specialist, he was assigned to an inter-disciplinary strategy-development task force that was charged with creating a new business model for an up-stream division. The team came up with several radical proposals, but they were met with lukewarm responses from senior managers. After several months, the team's ideas were diluted to the point that not even the IT manger found them interesting. What had once been an exciting task became a farce, from his point of view. Believing that no one was interested in new ideas, he concluded that he was foolish to have been engaged as he was. "I distanced my self," he says, "I knew that none of our innovating ideas would ever make it to implementation. So I continued working out concepts and ideas-but with no skin in the game."

To be fair, even the best organizations occasionally create cynics out of enthusiasts. But some organizations seem to make a practice of it by constantly sabotaging any flickers of creativity or initiative."

When creativity flickers, don't let the cold winds of cost benefit analysis prevail. Provide the fuel of saying "Yes!" and patience to wait and see, even if you must suspend your disbelief. This will give people the space and time they need to make great things happen. Remember it took Michelangelo years to complete the Sistine chapel and Goethe spent almost 60 years writing his masterwork Faust. Good things take time.

So, if you want to be innovative here's my advice:

  • Focus on execution, on making ideas reality. For every thousand great ideas, only one reaches someone with the courage to actually do something with it.

  • Stop saying "No, but...", learn to say "Yes, and...", find a way to talk about ideas that adds more and moves them forward. Give folks what they want. Suspend your disbelief.

  • Be patient, great things take time. The really great ideas are going to be a collision of ideas. Let them grow so they can interact.

02 November 2006

Great Marketing

I recently discovered Dragster, and on their front page the have this 19 second movie that consists of these 6 slides:

This is simply great marketing:

1. As much as I don't enjoy Apple's front page QuickTime movies, this really does catch my attention.

2. In 19 seconds I know exactly what the value this tool provides.

3. I'm introduced to both the name at the beginning and the end.

4. I'm introduced to the dragster icon twice, once in the Dock and the other time as the full logo.

5. The icon looks cool. Something you'd like to have in your dock just to show off.

6. The name is just great! It mixes something very tangible with the Mac gesture of drag and drop.

Great stuff. Maybe there are indie Windows developers this cool, but I just don't see them.

01 November 2006

Business Blogs

This is part 2 in my "Blogs I Read" series. I hope you find it useful.

Unitus Microfinance Blog - Unitus Employees - Feed

Unitus is a very cool company that focuses on alleviating global poverty by increasing access to microfinance. What I like best about this company is that they are proving that "doing the right thing" (helping the poor) doesn't just make sense in a non-tangible-good-karma-kind-of-way, it actually makes ROI business sense! We need more companies like this.

Sviokla's Context - John Sviokla - Feed

This is one of my favorite blogs. From his web page: "Dr. John J. Sviokla is vice chairman of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc., and serves on the firm’s Board of Directors as Global Managing Director of Innovation and Research. For the past nineteen years, Dr. Sviokla has been pursuing one simple question: How can executives create value with technology? He is a frequent speaker at executive forums and guest professor at institutions including Harvard, MIT, the London Business School, and Oxford." Every post is interesting, well written and thought provoking. Simply put, if you're interested in business, you'll want to read as many of his archived posts as you can.

the legal thing... - Michael Dillon - Sun General Council - Feed

You can't have a really successful business without getting involved with the legal side of things. It's very much the context in which the game of business is played. For "legal reasons" it's rare to find an interesting lawyer blog, but to find a General Counsel blogging, well that's some thing very unusual. It's a new blog, but so far it's been worth the read.

Wall Street Breakfast - Seeking Alpha Staff - Feed

One page annotated Wall Street Journal summaries. What can I say, it's quick and informative. It helps me put businesses and industries in context.