Monday, November 2, 2009

The power of language...

When we call something "pragmatic eliminative induction" we probably lose 99 % of the listeners from the first... well... three words...

Why don't we then call it "a time tried and tested way to find your missing links"?

Indeed... let's look around us... surrounded by light bulbs, AC (albeit NOT DC as Edison envisaged!) current plugs in walls, or mass produced vehicles and everything else...

We can help replicate anew that massive change (induced by a James Watt, a Henry Ford or a Thomas A. Edison or so many others) in today's "new" world, by simply helping people with asking the "approximately right" questions, and enough of them.

We can then help some more by sitting down and crunching some (right) numbers (in the right ways), exercise that would give us new direction...

What are your unresolved questions? (We didn't say problems!) Needing help asking them all?

Help is usually inside! It's often simply a matter of knowing how/where to look...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Knowledge transfer... in the XXI-st Century takes how long?

An Initiative
to Establish the “European Park Service” (EPS)
and to
place the full weight of EU institutions and legislation
behind attempting to harness all the potential benefits
of a stronger European Policy in protecting natural parks and protected historic sites

In the US, President Woodrow Wilson has established the National Park Service in 1916. It came as a natural continuation of pioneer work by President Theodore Roosevelt having set aside over 150 million acres of public land for conservation purposes.

Today, National Parks in the US are not solely Yellowstone WY and Grand Canyon AZ--the two most well known by people worldwide--but almost 400 different parks receiving a total of about 275 million visitors/year (

The range of types of parks is amazing. They are natural and historic. They protect, preserve, conserve and educate. From a small steel "mill" of late 1700s at Hopewell Furnace to history rich Valley Forge (both 60 km W of Philadelphia), from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Gettysburg in PA or San Antonio Missions in TX, or from Big Bend, Padre Island or Palo Alto Battlefield in TX to Cape Cod in Massachusetts or Mount Denali in Alaska.

When you visit any park you get a familiar feel, friendly rangers welcome you smiling with useful info, you can watch nice documentaries, or take part in very informative activities for children or adults, to say nothing about the well crafted educational Junior Ranger programs, my daughter's favorite.

The NPS has a budget of $2.92 billion with 20,579 employees for FY 2009. An 85 $ annual pass gives you free access to all Parks where an entrance fee is collected.

Could we try to replicate this in Europe (all its 27 EU members, or all 40+ countries)?

In Europe, countries have established and keep adding on their own National Parks. A few resources integrate information about all the parks, among which a great one is the Europarc Federation, at:, or another great resource at: The EU has a number of funding opportunities for preservation and conservation efforts by national/local authorities or NGOs (LIFE+, projects budget for 2009: 249.9 million Euro; Natura 2000 Network).

Yet, there is no integrated body at European level to provide a common ground, strategic vision, enforcement when needed, and sharing of best practices, as well as a common feel to visitors and why not an effective marketing campaign to beneficiaries, children and their families.

Would an integrated effort make sense?

Can it lead to avoiding things like this:

while organizations like the Int'l Committee for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) claim 15 years of success stories:

If so, how can it be achieved best? What would it take to bring such small initiative to the ears of European powerful and influential policy makers? Which doors do we need to knock at?


NOTE: Modestly asked by Dr. Adrian S. Petrescu, father of Mica, a ten years old Romanian-American child having visited and benefited from some forty (out of 391 total) US National (Natural and/or Historic) Parks. As she herself puts it, “I have another 350 to get a Junior Ranger badge from”… Dedicated in deep respectful memory of five men of leadership, US Presidents Abraham Lincoln (IL), Theodore Roosevelt (NY), Dr. Woodrow Wilson (NJ), and Lyndon B. Johnson (TX), and Everett Townsend, a Texan frontier-man and pioneer like few other. It comes in pious remembrance of their contributions to understanding impact on policies by/for children (Lincoln), and to the establishment of US/State (and global) National Parks (Roosevelt, Wilson), or for their love for (Johnson), and relentless initiative to “father” (Townsend) the (TX) Big Bend National Park, respectively.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Who "teaches" who? When in doubt, ask... a child...

Lead Change: A Children's Museum in Every Town?

Five years ago a 5 y.o. girl thought of a Children's (Science & Technology Hands On) Museum for every child in the world.

If big people nurture children's innovativeness and their desire to learn from very early on in life, some global issues improve naturally in time.

Starting with knowing why not to let the water run when we brush our teeth, and making it "uncool" to waste the water. All because we saw the cycle of water in nature (at the Toledo COSI Science Center) and we realize that letting the water run kills the "fishies" in the lake...

Or who knows... Children like to play and they are often blind to differences adults see. A child you can play with at the museum or playground is a playmate to a child. To an adult often they have race or color or ethnicity or social status or safety or risks concerns which adults then convey to children. If only it was the other way, if the children would teach the adults instead...

If we would fuel the passion for knowledge with hands on experiences that the children (not the educators!) find well... "cool"... then we could learn from "Mom, did you get my text message? No? Wait, I'll teach you how to open it!"

Let's! What do you think?

We can make this a reality.

It is a small idea my daughter had back in Chicago five years ago (as she just turned five y.o.) and that we want to convince the world it would be a good one. To have a Children's Museum in Every Town, a Hands On broad science experience accessible to children from anywhere and everywhere in the entire wide World...

Spread the Word!

(BTW, if one thinks, this is what Benjamin Franklin used to do back in his days, except it was by regular printing on regular paper. Thank You, Web 2.0 if we have to call it that, for a great medium.)

Thank you,
Daddy/Adrian and Daughter

PS Doing this requires not (just, or necessarily) money, but rather support and a much different vision. Vision support. It could need "face time" with top decision makers. A viral idea self-distribution, much beyond the unfortunately all too old by now "write your representative".

Most models transferring North/West Money to the South were tried and failed. A "solution" made in New York (UN) or Washington DC (World Bank) will not work in Rwanda, but one based on passion and possibility built in Rwanda will...

Even in the US children in SE Michigan could not go in this past decade to the Children's Museum (three are available within 30-50 miles) with their school because _there [was] no money_.

The money is spend on punishing crime which happens in part because we didn't spend _much less_ money on schools/children's museums 15 years ago or less... In case you missed it, read "Freakonomics", by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, here:

Did we go to a Hands On museum as a child? What if we take our children twice a month, take pictures, and we all tell stories about it in school.

Somewhere in farmland Pennsylvania there may be children not having access to one as it is too far can be built by folks donating their used toaster and their time in the old unused firehouse (Ann Arbor MI Hands On Museum was built this way in the 1980s--and it is great and very inspiring)

Talk with other parents and school administrators about it? Write the story by the child to the senator? priceless...

In time it will make it to the UN, the World Bank, and even Bill & Melinda Gates (with Warren Buffett) Foundation,

but mainly to children...they are powerful:

“A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states, and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities, and corporations... the fate of humanity is in his hands.” (Abraham Lincoln)

That is the idea... Can we think of ways to pass it on? Some day some child somewhere where there was not previously a Children's Museum will smile at science or technology... That smile will be a Thank You to all of us! Can we make it happen? Let's!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It took a Belgian: knowledge transfer, bureaucracies, creative thinking... and... well... Junior Ranger programs...

It took a Belgian...

We have been living in the US for some thirteen years. I have visited the US extensively for fifteen years at the time.

It has been an incredible dream-come-true that I didn't even dare to have as a child, since I was four years old. I first learned about some of this tremendous beauty by looking at pictures, post cards and visitors booklets about Niagara Falls or the Adirondack Region in Northern New York from a big box my parents had (in Romania) from when they were in the US in 1968. I would often sneak in the closet and "steal" the box and I could look at pictures and ask questions about them for hours, until my parents were bored with answering them all...

Many years later, in the US, whenever we had friends visiting from abroad, we'll take them to some nice places to visit, from Washington DC and Philadelphia to Niagara Falls. My parents did it for us, and we did it in our turn with our friends.

One day of July a couple of years ago we were on vacation in Austin TX and somebody suggested to go camp in the Big Bend National Park in the Rio Grande Valley in South Central Texas. The Belgian lady across the table whom I barely knew from the day before was going there. I asked "what's there to see?" "It is pretty, it is a desert mostly, but the canyon the river goes through are impressive, and they are said in the guide to almost resemble Grand Canyon somewhat". The tent and camping equipment was in the car anyway, as we were just coming back from a camping trip through New England. It only took some 10 minutes before my daughter and I decided to take a five day trip... In the next hour (it was about 3 p.m.) we decided to leave that very night, and drive the ten hours on I-10 West by night, to gain one extra full day for the visit.

We, my daughter and I, are avid Children's Museums goers. We have been for years. She must have visited some forty-fifty Science and Technology Museums in a minimum of fifteen US States or more. We lost count long time ago. We search for them and find and visit more of them all the time. Systematically, and with purpose... And we want to facilitate the creation of more, everywhere... as she is the Founder of "A Children's Museum in Every Town" Global Foundation, since she was five years old...

But this time... in the Big Bend National Park, it took a Belgian lady...

We got there in the morning, had coffee, and after stopping on the way to take a few pictures we parked at the Visitor Center, and went in to get a map and information about the park. This is when it happened...

The Belgian lady said "Look, it says here there is a Junior Ranger program you can do." "What is a Junior Ranger program?" came the question. I got all ears. This sounded interesting, and appealing, so I took to read the little brochure myself... Then we shared it with my daughter. "Well, that sounds interesting. You want to do it?" "Yes!" "Then, go ask the lady about it." "Daddy, you go ask!" "Oh, come on, I don't want to be a Junior Ranger. I think they wouldn't let me even if I wanted. I guess the first thing a Ranger does is to be courageous and ask something themselves if they need to know. Are you going to ask?" My daughter got the message and went to ask the National Park Service Ranger and got the brochure...

She was just about to enter third grade at the time... I was teaching public policy and management in graduate school, and have lived in the US some thirteen years, and have visited a few National Parks. I have proposed to my daughter's school teachers and administrators to take the children to Children's Museums.

Yet, I didn't see it. In spite of our always looking for interesting things for my daughter to do, that time it took a Belgian to show us the Junior Ranger program...

...the value of reading brochures and manuals... priceless...

The questions I propose however is why doesn't the NPS have a broad marketing campaign in schools, on TV, in alternative social media, from youtube to twitter... It seems like a decent solution to letting more people know about a great idea and its benefits we could harness in verys simple ways during vacations or weekends... It is already there, it is our tax dollars at work, why not making it widely known and utilizied?

The numbers look very good. About 230 million visits to US National Parks per year in 2008... with the US population at 302 million it could mean that about 75 % of Americans benefit from the richness of the parks... yet, of course that is not the case... more likely about 10 % or less benefit from visiting on average 7 times/parks a year or more... Can we improve that number? Would it be worth it? If so, how? Maybe we need a few more Belgians?;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One million two hundred thousand... portions of Belgian fries?

The other day I had the absolute pleasure and honor to walk to Place Flagey in Brussels Belgium, and have a portion of true Belgian fries.

[The oddity of these being usually called French fries, or even "Liberty" fries, while the proper process of making them has been "invented"--or at least perfected--in Belgium, and of course all that on grounds of the potato being imported from the Americas after Columbus's 1492 discovery, is not the issue here. We shall address these oddities at some later time]

To get the "famous" Place Flagey fries, one has to stay in line about 1 1/2 hours.

[I say famous because they are truly famous. Any Brussels sawy person knows them. I was very fortunate to be first introduced to the Place Flagey fries in 1992, by a friend who at the time was Yugoslav Canadian (while being Macedonian--FYROM--born truly, yet in 1992 that was hard/useless to tell to any border crossing official anywhere). Fifteen years later when I was sharing Brussels stories with a friend, and she mentioned Place Flagey, the fries from 1992 came to mind, and thus I knew where the place was based on my memories of the fries I had there a decade and a half before...]

As we stood in line, a passer by said something to the effect of "you must really like/want your fries to stay in this line..." Indeed, you must. But suffice it to say, they are well worth the wait. However, this is when one looks in perspective. While you wait though, a line is a line.

[Being born where I was and having lived "there" a quarter of a century, lines make me anxious. How else would you feel if for years you had to stay in a 48-72 hours (or more) line to be able to buy three pieces of 350 grams of steak meat?]

Trying to assess the speed of the line, I asked the obvious question: "How long does it take to make and serve a portion of fries?", or of course, the implicit corollary question "How many portions of fries does the gentleman make per hour?".

Experimentally we determined it is three minutes per portion. It is, and it has been the same probably, for twenty years. When we asked the question of the gentleman himself, we learned he didn't know, and nor did he care to know the answer. He said that he cares about other numbers, from the price of potatoes to how many annoying customers he has in an hour. But he has been making his fries, one portion at a time, for twenty years. Never asking himself how many portions of fries he has served, or he is serving his customers...

We did the calculation while we were enjoying our fries, looking at the swans on the pond next to Place Flagey (whether the gentleman owning the small business selling fries there liked it or not--respecting his choice, we did not tell him the result).

[Of course I had to entertain the ubiquitous joke about my "Romanian style" swan eating habits that could have been useful to complement our meal. As I often get the mention, by now not only I am used to smile at it, but I often chose to even introduce myself as the "bastard swan eating Romanian"--just to avoid any confusion right from the start...;)]

One million two hundred thousand portions of fries served over the past twenty years in the business...

This is by far not McDonalds. This is a one man show. One person with his business... alone with his fries, paper cone and sauces, and the sausages or sodas or beer that are sometimes side ordered with the fries. With a great lake view of the swans and the other many birds on the Flagey pond from his "office".

One million tho hundred thousand... one portion at a time... day in and day out...

[And we have just passed the mark of twenty days of "busy-ing" out from our writing our daily story here...--a whole "long" vacation, by US standards of holiday]

You stay in line, you order, you pay the price, you get your fries... but is this truly the whole story?

You like your fries, and you like them so much that you go there again, and stay in line anew...

What is the gentleman really trading in? Processed potato fries? We suggest this may not be it... by far it isn't it...

One has to see the face of the gentleman making and serving his fries, caring for the image of the filled cone, eliminating the small or over-fried fries, almost caressing the cone and almost saying good bye to it while he places it in the cone holder for the customer to pick up.

Whether he (likes to) know(s) it or not, maybe the gentleman rather trades in something else... very very different...

We offer here that he may actually trade in customer smiles...

One million two hundred thousand smiles offered in a person's professional life...

When is the last time we gave away a smile? When is the last time we counted to one million two hundred thousand of a good thing we did? And what is the value of that giving? Not to the receiver, but to the giver herself?

...Hold those thoughts a little while...

In a loosely related story:

A friend whom I first met over a smile or two, once asked me to write in words about the connection between Ayn Rand’s Howard Rourke’s speech at his trial (here: ), and the principles of KindExcellence (here: ). I have been busy and it’s been a long while since. I fulfilled then my promise by sending her something else I wrote before which was slightly connected and in the same spirit. But I tried the task anew a few days ago.

First of all, I need to say that it is hard if not impossible altogether to comment on Howard Rourke’s speech. Period.

This means that any effort on my part to write anything would most probably be futile. And listening (again and again if need be) to Gary Cooper delivering his fabulous performance of the speech can not be replaced by any comments I (or anybody else) could ever write.

Having said that, I can try a few words. I believe the power of the message is in the listener. Just as the power of KindExcellence principles is in the adopter. This is a strange power, rarely seen. The adopter does not have to know he is using KindExcellence. He doesn’t have to know the principles even exist, or what they are and how they are spelled out and applied in day to day life, from one’s personal life to their professional life and business. She just has to use them. Doing it unknowingly and subconsciously works just as well. If not even better.

Thomas Payne once (“long time” ago) wrote

“my country is the world and my religion is to do good”

The absolute classic book he wrote it in was called “Common Sense”.

Indeed, some things are simply common sense.

“Such is the nature of creation.” says Ayn Rand through the words of Howard Rourke…

There is no satisfying others in elementary creation. James Watt did not improve on the ancient Heron steam engine to have his name written on every electricity bill any one of us receives today. Or to have (or rather not have and thus be forgotten) recognition in a class of twenty first century learners in education in/for science somewhere in Texas as one of the greatest five people having influenced the world at all times. He did what he did simply to satisfy his own inner curiosity. He had a problem and he trusted himself he could solve it in better ways than those used right in front of his eyes. He created the steam engine to pump water faster and easier. That’s it! Did he do it to save more lives of the miners who would otherwise die in the flooded mines? Did he get more satisfaction for himself knowing he was improving a public good—the lives of others—both in the immediate and in the near, medium or far ahead future? We do not know that. Andrew Carnegie who has studied James Watt extensively may have some sense about it. The answer may transpire from the biographical book Carnegie wrote on Watt (here: ).

Yet, in the words of Democritus of Abdera spoken more than two millenniums ago

“There are only atoms and empty spaces between them. Everything else is opinion.”

If Carnegie says Watt had a sense of doing good for humanity, it would be Carnegie’s opinion. We missed the chance to ask Watt himself. And we can never be certain, other than by most probably committing the fallacy of “presentism”, so common all too often among our science and technology history efforts. But does it truly matter?

There is only one way one can tell, suggests Ayn Rand. To try it ourselves, and see why we are doing it.

Indeed, Picasso does not paint to please anybody. If he wanted to please, the roses would be red, not blue!, so to speak.

In fact, like in all the examples Rourke gives, pleasing others is the last thing Picasso accomplishes. At least in his lifetime. Pleasing himself is what he cares for. Like with Watt, the inner satisfaction to know that he achieved his own potential, no matter what others say, is fulfilling in itself.

At first sight then, KindExcellence is 180 degrees opposite to Rand and/or Rourke’s precepts about creation as driven by egoistic individualism and satisfaction deriving from them. Hence, how can one ever attempt to wrap her mind around the two—Rand’s objectivism and KindExcellence—together at the same time? How can one then fit this square peg of objectivism in the round hole of KindExcellence (or vice-versa) other than by force?

We beg to differ however. Looking at things at first sight would most probably leave us tricked. Or simply ignoring the facts.

One smiles to his colleagues in the elevator in the morning exactly why? To expect a smile back? To please them? To show friendliness, which in turn could someday translate in a promotion (or even a few consecutive ones ahead of the pack), or even much needed social recognition? An interested economic agent, driven by self-gain as an ultimate motivator in every single small action?

Or, to ask another way, is Payne the ultimate altruist? What would Rand think of Payne? Or, what did Rand think of Payne? Today, we can ask Leonard Peikoff that question and hope to get an objective enough assessment that keeps Peikoff’s own subjective opinions at bay. Yet, the even more interesting question could be what would Payne think of Ayn Rand’s precepts… This however, we cannot even try to find out, since there is no living connection with Payne as Peikoff is in the case of Rand. Or can’t we?

We do not really have any answers, or not even any comments on the relationship between Ayn Rand and her work on one hand, and KindExcellence on the other. All we can modestly suggest is an approach from Socrates, over 2400 years old, and still yet to be fully comprehended and applied. Something that a Benjamin Franklin would suggest, as he rightly does so in his autobiography, available here:

We can only learn to ask the right questions ourselves. We are certain Payne, Rand, Franklin and so many others, as well as all of their careful followers of today, why not including KindExcellence promoters and practitioners--including the Place Flagey smiles maker selling his carefully made Belgian fries--, could all agree… The answer(s) seem(s) to be in ourselves. So, I guess, let us go find it/them… We can only wish all of us best of success…

...And the questions for today:

Is making someone else smile "innovative"? Or simply doing something, anything, with self-pride and self-satisfaction is the "innovation" here? Do we need some new measure/mode of valuation that we haven't considered yet either necessary, or possible? One which would teach us how to truly count to...

one million two hundred thousand... smiles

all given away along with the actual "traded" exchanged product or service?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Connecting facts... a dying out skill? The valuation of curiosity...

A few times we have asked university students in a few classes, but particularly in theory of knowledge classes for would be educators in science, to think of and give five names of people in all humankind who have influenced the world _most_ over time.

Not little was our surprise to hear names like Oprah Winfrey or even Paris Hilton listed. It has taken pulling teeth to get to a name like James Watt. Ultimately, based in part on reminding students about the unit for measuring energy listed on everybody's electric bill, (kilo-)Watt-Hours, the class was little by little learning the story of who James Watt was and why was he important. Indeed, maybe not as important as others worth mentioning on the top-five list... But, who knows?

The other day we were with a few friends and all of our children at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. Among the all too many interesting things to see, learn about, and experience there, from the pilgrims' landing to the birth days of the US Coast Guard as a rescue organization for those stranded at sea in bad weather, there are also the remains (rather ruins) of the Guglielmo Marconi antenna system at the Marconi Cape Cod radio station. The station allowed the first ever trans-Atlantic wireless radio transmission between US President Theodore Roosevelt and His Majesty King Edward VII of the British Empire on January 18, 1903. More details are here:

The story of the evolution of radio transmission to reach its current ubiquity is however not our point here. We were watching our children and ourselves, their parents, as we were all watching the short National Park Service documentary movie about the first trans-Atlantic wireless transmission. It dawned on us that the adults were more interested in the documentary than the children were.

Indeed, they are children after all and they play and they have a shorter attention span, wanting to enjoy each others' company as much as they can, even through little tricks they play on each other or by chatting about who knows what while the movie was on. Our ability to discipline them or their own ability to self-control in a public setting where others were also watching the documentary is again not the point here.

Rather, our point is about the difference in interest expressed by the adults and the children. Our children are around ten years old. Our students in the classes mentioned above are university going (legally) adults, around twenty years old or older. The same difference, a relative lack of curiosity in children or younger adults compared to the older adults, can be traced in middle school students as in university students.

New generations of university students evolve year after year. Or do they really evolve? They want things always clearer, easier to do, their hands held to the library or other resources, with half to three quarters of the homework or learning to be done by the instructor. They often resent creative exercises or assignments as too complicated or not sufficiently well defined. Faced with the challenge of an understanding of an ever changing world, in which instructors today do not have ready made solutions for problems the learners of today will face soon which we do not know about today, they often simply shut-off, like I do all too often when faced with cooking;)

Can we wonder why? Is connecting facts independently a dying out skill set? Are we teaching it? If we do, are we doing it against the wind of complacency affecting even our children, or students seeking advanced degrees? What is happening? And if anything is happening, how do we fix it?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The old and the new... words-less

Fitted to time today!

We strongly suggest the book, The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, or the movie in its entirety. Watch the Howard Rourke speech here:

Monday, September 28, 2009

About asking questions...

My daughter asked me the other day "am I still asking questions like I used to when I was little?"... At first it seemed out of context... then it figured. A few days earlier I was telling a story about her when she was younger and was always asking "why?", and then more "why?" and even more "why?", and connecting with her almost brother who was doing the same as well when he was three-five years of age.

My daughter must have figured out that this could be a good thing...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is all "innovation" always good? Unintended consequences? Requirements for renewed innovation?

We once asked a question on a forum on LinkedIn. We shall repeat one answer here, with a set of renewed questions... prompted by a very interesting and insightful answer by a now good friend, Rodica Petrescu (absolutely no connection other than that her husband has the same name as I). Thank you.


Where are you from? "I am from allover the world... " What does this tell us/you?

A few years ago, my then 5 y.o. is asked and asks a boy on the playground in a little university town in Central Pennsylvania "Where are you from?" The little boy answers partly puzzled "I am from here". My little girl answers "I am from allover the world..." To the boy's puzzlement she then answers again with a list of all the places she was feeling connecting to, from Texas to Michigan to Pennsylvania all the way to Europe, particularly Romania.

Hasn't the time already come some time ago imposing thinking this way? Meaning that we relate globally, inclusive with a needed built in lifestyle flexibility? Jobs are dying out in Detroit, we shall be able to seek them out in Europe, Latin America, or China or India or Korea, or even Kazakhstan? (I mean much beyond the obvious culprit in Iraq these days).

How does this trend and potential paradigm shift in lifestyles affect us? Are we ready for it? Have we global-proofed our careers, skill sets, life visions, family adaptability?

How ready is the work environment you work in? Company leadership? Is there a realization of workforce empowerment by way of global mobility? Or does it cut solely the other way (through fear inducing management "techniques" such as 'as much as I like you, Joe, if you're not more careful there, your job ships to China next!')?

I'd love your input, critiques, comments, suggestions. Thank you so much in advance.

_Rodica's Answer_

"From Rose - your friend from 100 years ago

Dear Adrian,

How are you? Is life good to you? I think often of my old village…

Remember 100 years ago, my small grocery shop facing our tiny street and my house at the back and above? And doctor's house (his office in front of the house) across the street, the pharmacist’s, the tailor’s few houses away and yours at the end of the street across from the priest's, close to school, where you were taught all of our kids. I remember those summer days and kids playing together in the street, their laughter and chasing around, while we worked. Sometimes our daughters stormed in my shop to help neighbors with groceries - they always got candies for that. They worked even better and faster than me, while I cooked the soup and stew for lunch. Your daughter loved my stew! I remember how they played in little doll houses, "cooked" in little pots, even made a little "doll grocery shop", telling me how they'll have one bigger than mine when they grow up. After all day’s chores, I was so tired that I'd just simply crawl in bed and fall asleep in seconds. Life was hard and you'd never get a break, work - family – house, all in the same time, but at least we knew each other and never locked front doors.

After 50 years I got this huge career opportunity in the big city. My job was 60 km away from home, so I put my kid in daycare, to be looked after by people that I did not know personally, but with excellent credentials. Heartbreaking to leave her crying in there, but it was better to be educated by professionals instead of aunt Matilda, although to her credit aunt Matilda loved her dearly. She first cried after your daughter but forgot her after a while, as kids always do. She watched TV, played video games - it was fun. Life was better and easier in the big and beautiful house with industrial range kitchen, pizza delivery, on-line groceries and banking. But no time to cook, plus the kitchen cost a fortune and didn't want garlic smell lingering around anyway! My daughter never came to my office but she thought it must be terrible, since everyday I returned home tired and stressed and took work home, as I had such tight deadlines. I thought she was fine, since she declared she will never grow up, just be a child forever, with no worries for mortgage, job security, outsourcing and all those un-imaginable things. I worried for my work-life balance, so and I balanced my life in the evenings. It was rather boring, since my daughter didn't know my colleagues and my work and I didn't know her friends, so we ran out of topics rather soon. Unfortunately I lost touch with old friends, because you always have to prioritize and after you do that, you need to go to sleep. I guess other people are better than me at that.

After other 50 years got my next huge career chance in a multi-national company, offering solutions and counseling for both work-life and work-sleep balance. As you know, work-sleep balance became key because half of people work on the other side of the world. I am very successful and always praised for my positive attitude, hard-work and willingness to stretch beyond limits. Sometimes I wonder if I am indeed happier than I was in my grocery shop, but these moments don't last long. I compare things I missed with my great accomplishments and I am not sorry. Everyone has to sacrifice something to build a successful career. I own a mansion, all for myself now since my daughter is at Yale. The house has everything one dreams of, including a state-of-the-art alarm system - as you cannot be careful enough these days. My daughter is home during vacation; truly brilliant kid and keeps to her studying even when home. We don't spend much time together, but overall life is great!

These are my news. I have to end here, as it is almost 3 am and I have a conference call. Hope is all well with you.

All the best
Yours, Rose"

I am from "all over the world" too... Cheers

[Rodica Petrescu lives and works in Toronto, Ontario Canada]

In innovation one always useful yet not as often used technique is subtraction. Essentially simplifying to essence, as opposed to adding features. The Toyota Prius (and not only) door opening is innovated by a process of subtraction, taking away the need to open/lock the door with a key or by pushing a FOB.

[The subtraction is of a phase from the human open/close door process. Yet, of course in design/production terms it can be seen as an addition of a RFID keyless entry system nonetheless]

If one uses subtraction to innovate about our current mode of life, can one see/find value?

Besides, are all the additions ultra-valuable all in all? What does Rodica's "letter from Rose" tell us?

We used to have in old villages school teachers. Respected members of the community, they served many functions besides teaching school. Trusted advisers to decision-makers, usually elder. Offering counseling to families about raising their children, to children as they grew up about their problems and concerns and why not education and career goals if they had them or if they could be induced/inspired in them. These are now services one can purchase from licensed professionals, for fees paid. I learned over time that students still come often to teachers with their problems, by simply the trust built and authority figure they represent. Whether in middle school or college or graduate school, we all have done it. Many are however too shy to do it. We have available social services when the churches do not do this function or not enough of it.

What do we need to subtract to maybe make these self-help and related available processes more effective and equitably accessible irrespective of one's means or shyness? Certainly, counseling at hundreds $/hour is great when you are a Hollywood star, but when you are not, how does the changes in the "letter from Rose" affect our daily life for people who may not afford help when they need it? Have we inadvertently "subtracted" characteristics of our communities, maybe even subtracted the teachers' roles? Or have we rather added features which in turn subtracted others?

Indeed, the category above is "when to innovate and when not?" Can we trace some answers?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Systemic thinking and… resumes… markets… processes… and innovation…

When one thinks of say Benjamin Franklin, what are we thinking about? What comes to mind? A few possible answers, in no particular order:

+ the person on the hundred dollars bill
+ a printer from Philadelphia before and during the US independence war years
+ the editor of the famed “Poor Richard’s Almanac”
+ the person with the interesting kite electricity experiment, inducted into the UK Royal Academy of Sciences without having asked to be
+ an inventor of a stove he never patented, since he was against diminishing access of the potential beneficiaries of the stove to its benefits (heating, i.e. improvements in quality of life)
+ the person who facilitated (‘recruited’ really may be a better word) the arrival of Baron Friedrich von Steuben at Valley Forge under George Washington’s command of the early and yet very much untrained Union Army (von Steuben helped train it, which contributed much to the “forging” of a true army, and thus to the later emergence of the new Union victorious against the much better trained initially British professional army)
+ the early winner of a first in kind US government contract to print exclusively early “federal money” (as little power said money had compared to the much more valued and circulated British pound)
+ a lover and follower of Socrates, and promoter of his precepts and methods
+ the “inventor” of voluntary fire-fighting companies
+ the “inventor” of the free public library in the US
+ the person who established University of Pennsylvania
+ reputed founding father of the US, and signatory of the Declaration of Independence
+ the name of many avenues, bridges and places in Philadelphia
+ the name of the Philadelphia “Benjamin Franklin Institute, a great Science and Technology hands on museum

There would probably be many more answers… but who was truly Benjamin Franklin during his time?

I would propose as food for thought an even more interesting question: what about in our times? If Benjamin Franklin needed a job today, and was applying for one, what would his resume say? What would his chances to get a job be? And what kind of a job?

One can picture the interview process, if he ever got to one…

What is your area of expertise?

You seem a bit lost… let us try a few helping questions…

Education… you seem to have none. We may have some serious trouble here. Maybe you should be seeing a career counselor. They can help you with looking at what degrees may be good for you to grow your career. There are so many programs today available to you, adapted for non-traditional students to get them back to and through college. Ah, wait a second, you haven’t completed highschool. There are those programs too…

… you say you can compensate lack of education with experience. I don’t know about that… But you seem determined… let’s see then…

Sales… Do you have any sales experience? Any major company you have worked for in sales? What was your rate of meeting quotas?

Marketing. What is your marketing experience? Did you work for any major firms? What ratios/percentages of improved market penetration did you achieve? Who can we get references from to confirm these figures?

Branding? What major players in branding have you worked for? Are you “branding specialist” certified?

Printer? Who prints these days anymore? All the newspapers are dying. But, have you had any experience with major newspapers? The NY Times, the Boston Globe? Maybe we could try and fit you in with a small postcards and stationary print shop, but you will need to get certified…

And it could go on like this…

What would the first line on the resume say? Would it be maybe something like this:

Benjamin Franklin
Good to everything and not good to anything

Let us not forget some of the answers we didn’t yet include above.

Benjamin Franklin was also:

+ the “inventor” of mass marketing (in print—fitted to time)
+ a pioneer in applying systemic thinking to small business problem solving (avoiding mud on streets by hiring a street sweeper and improving the rain water collection system would have a major beneficial effect on maintaining customers flow on the street during rainy days, whereas without these process improvements there was little if any business on the street during and/or after bad weather), much before there was/were (a) fancy name(s) for it
+ a pioneer in small business coaching
+ a pioneer in ethics in business practice, and thus in customer empowerment vis-à-vis businesses
+ a potential “early adopter” of a book written many years later, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

Would this help him in his (mental experiment) “interview” process today? Transferable skills? We wonder…

While we ponder on that question, another few forgotten “definitions” are:

+ a reach resource of know how in today’s world
+ someone who is by far not sufficiently well studied and/or understood in schools and universities or training programs today. Less than 10 % of specialty/majors university students in 2008 in a university in the Greater Philadelphia area have read by/about Benjamin Franklin in either highschool/college. Out of those 10 %, less than 20 % could give any more than three definitions about who Franklin was/is out of those listed above. This represents under 2 % from total—but this is from a self-filtered pool/sample. What would the figure look like if calculated from a representative random sample of actual total population?

What are these facts telling us about the labor market today? About what systemic critical thinking would teach us if we looked thoroughly enough at analyzing systematic talent scouting, promotion and development in the environment we live in? What does this do to our ability to optimally utilize resources, primarily intellectual capital? What does it say about (forget renewed, just maintained) innovation capacity of humankind? And what can we do about all the (sources of) bottlenecks we would identify once we look at things seriously?

[Source for most of the proposed answers above is in part Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, freely available here:

Maybe this could be a must read before one goes on to buy say Stephen Covey’s “Seven (then eight) Habits”, and so many other modern well praised books]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What would you rather be? Director of Apple Support or of PC Support? Who would you rather hire?

Another classic story I found much troubling that most of my students never heard yet. I wonder how applicable the lack of knowledge about this story is elsewhere/everywhere.

Well, it isn't really a story, but only a set of questions. Indeed, who would you rather be, Support Director for all the PCs computer labs or for all the Mac computer labs?

[Microsoft and Apple should not sue me. Their company names are used here solely in relationship with an existing stereotype that PCs seem to be less reliable and break more often than Apple computers, thus needing more support. We do not make here thorough cost of ownership assessments, nor do we try to pass judgment on one technology or the other. This is just an anecdote about organizations and their talent promotion practices.]

Rarely do those whom I ask this question have trouble to find answers within minutes.

Those who would prefer less headaches would rather be Director of Apple Support. Those who would prefer "enjoying a challenge" and like to put out fires all too often would take the Director of PC Support option.

Advancing the questioning reveals new things though.

Since there would likely be more work for the team of the manager in charge with keeping the PCs running, he would hire more staff, and would justify higher budgets. The Apple manager would have less incidents, and thus less work, and he would thus have less justification to add more staff than the PC manager. Over time this will translate into the manager of PC support making a valid argument for his promotion, better than the Apple manager, since the PCs Director has managed more and more people and ever growing budgets. Everything else being equal he would stand a chance to make VP for Technology or Chief Information Officer some day, and that much more probable than his Apple colleague.

Yet, how often do we see what truly has just happened here?

What if the Apple manager would make it to be CIO instead?

As it turns out, when prompted to ask some more questions, we all can figure out that the Apple manager would rather be conservative in his approved expenditures, he would be more inclined to economize resources, both financial and personnel, to invest in better, more reliable and lasting, less resources consuming in the ownership cycle, technological solutions. He could even be more inclined to trace down good yet less reputed smaller but innovative vendors with "futuristic" (an all-in-all relative term) yet full-of-promise new solutions, fact which could over time make his company stay ahead of its less so inclined competitors.

We then present the obvious question "who would we rather hire?" Are the processes and criteria we use for talent scouting and promoting consistent with our operational goals? What can we do to make them more adapted to what actually needs to happen?

Or to put it another way, how do we trace down and use to their fullest potential the (early) George Kennan-s of the world? But that is a whole other story, for another time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Innovation (Coaching/Training/Consulting) as a profession?

At some point in the history of humankind there was the profession of horse carriage driver. We can still see the modern ones offering rides (at some 60 $/hour or more) in a horse driven historic carriage in Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York and many other places with many tourists.

There must have been norms and rules and standards for joining the profession, and there certainly still are (probably many more) regulations for the modern ones also offering tourist guiding services.

The profession in itself got extinct though and rather shifted to being that of limousine driver with the technological changes making the automobile king. It survives as such, but our point is about something else. The act of driving a vehicle has little by little massively shifted from a profession to a habit. After all almost all of us carry a driver's license and drive on a more or less regular basis our own automobile, that is we drive ourselves without a driver, irrespective of who actually owns the vehicle.

Are therefore innovation coaches, trainers or consultants members of a profession? They certainly are, but what type of profession is it? We hold that maybe innovation should be like driving a vehicle. The goal seems to be that all of us should be "carrying" our 'innovative processes certified person' license in our wallet.

Does it not seem that the truly good innovation coaches, trainers and consultants are nothing else but the (self-propelled vehicle) driving school instructors in a world still living in a horse driven carriages time? Is this not a profession that shall strive hardest to fight to extinct itself as no longer necessary by its very nature and scope? After all, the minute everyone learns innovation well from an early age in elementary school, doesn't it become a second nature? Isn't then the future a point in which we do not need coaches and trainers, and we have learned to master innovation from Mom and Dad like we learned to ride a bicycle?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tracking, chasing, and eliminating deep rooted barriers to innovation...

Another story, another few questions about it...

In our previous story we mentioned a child and his family planting the seed about a novel use of a used tire, transparent plastic foil, and water to concentrate solar radiation for making coffee, while camping...

The way said story developed led to a passion for solar/renewable energy by the child in the story, a passion which he then used to research and develop a few new things and win a few research competitions, and maintain a decades long passion for new technologies and fighting to help getting those to becoming mainstream.

We will not answer here the questions we asked before. We leave those open.

However, we will add another related story in the mix...

In part as a result of the last story about collecting solar rays with a tire made large lens, the same (yet older) child was in high-school when he researched, optimized and built a series of conic solar concentrators, and used them consecutively for further experimentation and design into:

- first a better optimized coffee maker,
- then a solar powered running water heater, with a fitted copper spiral, and
- further a solar powered steam engine coupled to a small electricity generator.

As a member of the physics research group in the high-school, he secured the support of the physics teacher in charge of the student physics research group to talk the school's administration into backing and expanding these research efforts. It all boiled down to a simple lock on a door for a would be storage space, otherwise previously unused...

But please let me explain...

The proposal the high-school student came up with was the signing of an agreement between the high-school and the main technical university in the town to have the university:

- sponsor the research group,
- provide on site visits and guided participation by passionate in physics high-school students to the research facilities in the University,
- provide equipment and guidance to the students research group,
- provide a college/university student recruitment ground based on learning by the high-school students of what the university was doing and a matching with the high-school students' interests and inclinations thus nurtured by the partnership.

The to be donated equipment was there, the plan was written and on the table, the responsible faculty's commitment was there, and even the spot for storing the equipment was found in a small 4 cubic meters (about 320 cubic feet) space with a door located under some stairs, which was not otherwise used at all.

When presented with the offer and the MoU, the school administration's response was one concerned with the potential stealing of the equipment from the storage space. No lock was deemed strong enough to resist a potential break in. The storage space was indeed accessible from the school's inner (fenced) yard. The administration didn't want to take the responsibility of having the equipment in its inventory and then eventually be liable for it if it gets stolen... But furthermore, the lock alone aside, there were really no processes in place designed to allow for this partnership to be developed and established towards its fruition. We wonder today about the (absent) vision to see the value of such partnership and to make it possible irrespective of the small organizational hurdles involved.

... hold that thought for a second... "inertial high-school administrators"

The same child from above, many years later in a different country a world away and decades more into the present, now a parent in the meantime, tries to talk his child's school into taking all the children to one or a few Childrens' Museums on a school field trip. Quite a few options of Science and Technology Centers and Hands On Museums were available in the area, within just some twenty or more miles driving distance.

There was much support from the teacher for the idea, a teacher who has promoted field trips herself, yet who had an explanation for the school administration's impossibility to support and organize such field trips. It was not a lock or equipment security considerations this time, but rather equity... It turns out a half hour go and half hour come with some four-five hours wait bus trip would cost some 6 $/child to offset Diesel fuel and the bus costs, not budgeted for in the school's budget. Some parents were of limited financial means and could thus not afford the 6 $. Trying to avoid creating a socio-economic means discriminatory environment, the school could not propose such trips to parents and organize them.

There was probably little know-how as to grant writing and securing extra funds which would provide sponsorship of the trip for the needy families, or too cumbersome administrative processes (and resources intensive thus costly, dedicating resources away from managing daily operations and from focusing on ensuring a good learning environment overall) involved for securing the extra funds needed to address the equity issue and make a new much needed initiative available to all children.

[For the record, for those such inclined as to research which school we are talking about, in the meantime the "problem" was actually fixed over the following few years from the events described here. One more "fight" won after all. We wholeheartedly thank for this organizational learning and evolution.]

... now please bring back the story stored in memory, about the inertial high-school administrators in the other country a world away, a few decades in the past, and a political system a universe different than the United States.

What are the similarities between these two stories, thousands of miles away and decades apart?

What do the negative outcomes in these stories do to innovation readiness of the young learners many years later?

What are the lessons we need to learn? And once we learn them, what do we do to truly eliminate consciously and systematically the deep rooted barriers to innovation, day in and day out?

Monday, September 21, 2009

And what if the seed was never planted?

Consistent with our "tradition" which we are trying to build and abide by, we have to tell a story and ask a few provocative questions about it.

One day, visiting a Science and Technology Museum somewhere, we ran across and viewed a great IMAX presentation, explained better here:

The story is that two biology lady teachers are also passionate cave-trekkers. One of them, Nancy, has gotten an approved release from her classroom duties on condition that her class back home can "travel" with her through the caves she is exploring via all the tools available via the Internet. The two teachers are systematically exploring unexplored caves and other places where life exists against all odds. They search for would be future medicine, to be based on adapting in the health provisioning field the natural adaptation of the micro-organisms they find in said very improbably life supporting environments. The courage, passion, dedication and determination of the two ladies are much beyond inspiring. We find the teaching/learning model fabulously rich.

... hold that thought for a second...

One day many years back, a child back in another country far remote (and not so much known, unfortunately) from where we write from now--Philadelphia USA--, lived through an interesting happening... they ran out of cooking gas while camping at the sea-side...

No biggie, one can say... except in said place and time there was no Walmart to go to and buy a new gas canister and get on with camping cooking...

What happened instead is certainly related to the family's "addiction" to coffee, but by far not only to that.

It turns out the gas ran out right when the mother was boiling water for making coffee, after lunch.

Learning about the gas running out, the father thought for a few seconds, looked around a little, and asked "son, can you help?" The son showed interest to help and was waiting for instructions...

Long story short, within just a few minutes two camping chairs were about 1 1/2 foot from each other, a used tire standing on top of the elbow supports of both, transparent plastic foil wrapped neatly in place and water added on top of the foil to make a convex lens. The contraption was placed in the sun and a yogurt glass with water and coffee grounds in it was placed in the focal point of the impromptu lens, thus gathering concentrated solar rays.

Within less than fifteen minutes, the parents were enjoying their solar-made coffee while the son was still astound at the new application of something he has read before in Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island", where the water based lens was "built" with the two glass covers of two pocket watches and absent matches was used to start a fire with sun concentrated rays...

... can we now remember the story above, about the biology teachers/researchers exploring caves?...

Some three decades later the story about using sun light to make coffee gets told (and acted--chairs and used tire and foil and water and all) to the same child who was watching the IMAX movie about the inspiring story above with the teachers and exploring the caves in search of would be future medicine...

What if for some reason the first family never ran out of cooking gas camping? Or, more to the present, what if the second family never got to visit the Science and Technology Museum showing the IMAX movie about Nancy the teacher, her colleague and their exploring the caves?

What if the seed was never planted?

How can we make sure that more such seeds are planted every day, by every parent and school teacher everywhere?

If the apple falls from the tree and nobody asks "why?"... where does the difference in approach come from?

Take a four years old to a playground, and watch and observe...

... hold that thought for a second...

If you are in the back of your house in the garden, in the small apples orchard, just relaxing with a good book, in September...

Apples fall from the tree.... what are you thinking?

* ah, I have to clean these darn apples again
* it's too late now to sell/eat these since they already began to rot. Next time I'll be more attentive and organized with my time
* what have my workers been doing? I told them countless times to collect all the apples
* I need to collect all these, and we'll make a good apple cider, or maybe even some apple-plum brandy

There are many things common to all these reactions.

Are you thinking "why?"?

Today, we do not have to, since we know the answer.

But at some point in humankind's development, someone was sitting watching apples fall and simply asked "why do they fall?"

His name was Isaac Newton and today we learn the results of the end of the story in elementary school.

...back to observing the four years old on the playground...

What are we observing? What are we noticing? Do we ask "why?"? Does the four years old ask "why?"? Then, on the playground, or at any other time? You bet.

... hold that thought for a second... "child-playground-observing..."

Ever happened to you that someone told you "we can't do that!"? At work, in life in general, at a customer service counter of a business or government agency?

Were you ever tempted to ask "why not?"? But most probably you simply stopped for the fear of not looking silly, unprofessional, challenging your boss, risking your position, or simply sounding like starting up a scandal.

... hold this new thought for a second... "not asking questions out of fear"

Let us look at this classic anecdote, with the researcher and his experiment with the monkeys... explaining what "corporate know-how" could mean...

A researcher has four monkeys in a cage. Drops four bananas from the cage's ceiling, monkeys jump to get bananas, and researcher then sprays icy cold water on all of them. He repeats several times, until the monkeys are conditioned to stop jumping at the bananas, predicting the icy cold water spray outcome if they jump (this is just a mental experiment, no animals are mistreated during its conduct).

Next, the researcher replaces one monkey with a new monkey. The new monkey will jump at the sight of the bananas, as it is not yet conditioned not to do so. The other three will pull it down, knowing already the icy cold outcome on the entire group if the new monkey reaches the banana(s). This would condition the new monkey too, even though an icy cold shower may not be applied at all.

As the researcher replaces one by one all old monkeys with new monkeys, he ends up with four new monkeys in the cage. As he drops the bananas, no (all new) monkey would jump to get them.

The question is "why the _new_ monkeys do not jump?" The common answer is "because we have always done it that way!" while no monkey actually knows why that is... nor do they have any knowledge of a time when (or hope for a possibility that) things could be done in a different way...

We call that above jokingly "corporate culture".

... back to our two thoughts stored... "child-playground-observation", and "not asking out of fear"...

Again, if the apple falls from the tree and nobody is there to ask "why?", what happens? It seems like an opportunity lost, doesn't it?

It may seem that if you repeat the 'taking child to playground and observe' experiment with a ten years old, the number of "why?"-s drops significantly... Are we watching this here? _Why?_ Indeed, why is the number of "why?"-s dropping?

What is different between the four years old and the ten years old?

If we acknowledge and then understand that difference, can we respond to it? How would we?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is happiness inspiring innovation?

The other day President Sarkozy of France proposed a fresh new look at and focus on happiness as a potential mechanism to get France (and the world?) out of the current crisis.

When someone asked about our opinion on the matter, we chose to tell this story in the answer below:

"I would say finally somebody with the power and leverage to do something about it gets it... In a way, we should've predicted it... it had to come from France like so many other good things (from the US success in the Independence War relying on French loans and muskets, through the past/current US industrial/research/military might relying in much part on Du Pont, all to good French wine or champagne).

Let me share a short story in case you haven't heard it yet...

Somewhere on the Pacific coast of Mexico, a Mexican fisherman pulls his boat to the shore around 11 am. A gentleman in a suit and tie standing at the pier asks him after saying hello "coming back ashore so early?" "Yes, I got all my fish I need for the day already. I can go home now with it." "So what are you going to do now?" "I'll just go home, cook this fish, have lunch with my family, and then I'll go see some friends and family in the village" "Well, look, I don't think this is very smart. I am a ... MBA, I can help you do things much much better" "OK, how would that be?" "Well, you could work more, say from 7 am to 9 pm each day." "And?" "You would get much more fish." "And" "You would sell it, and make a pretty profit" "And?" "You would grow your business, buy several other boats, hire many people to work for you..." "And?" "You would grow your business more and more, until you will open a worldwide headquarters in NY City and will have a global successful business, trading on NYSE." "And?" "And then you'll be so rich that you can retire early" "And?" "Then since you would be retired, you can buy a house on the beach somewhere and enjoy life with your friends and family..." "And how long you think all that would take?" "About twenty years if you're determined"... Then comes the fisherman's answer "Thank you for your great expert advise... I will think about it..." And after some 30 seconds of pondering, the fisherman goes on...
"Well, I can do that right now...."

Having said that, we most probably _do_ need (and it could be long overdue) newly framed valuation.

A good classic read could be "How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), available in either text or audio format here:

The idea is not at all new. In Buthan they seem to have accomplished some/much (opinion based relative assessment) in that spirit. In Brazil also there is a plethora of eco-villages providing a simple in/connected to nature life. Other examples abound. Only our re-descovering it may be newer. We could hope we learn something new practical/applied in real life and adjusting ourselves and society's ways this time around."

[the complete discussion on LinkedIn with many more much more inspiring answers is here:

We understand that it is hard to connect this with InnovationTrek. Yet, a friend was puzzled by the answer above and challenged us to explain our stance on happiness. In his view happiness could be driven from or even driving a dolce farniente which would be innovation shattering, and maybe even killing any drive or desire for innnovation.

We respect said view. This could happen very easily indeed, unfortunately.

However, we wanted to point out a few things in clarification... hence the answer below, as adapted.

How should we put it? In part the drive we have towards happiness even through a simple life comes from our personal life and from perspective thinking, just like in the fisherman story above. Perspective thinking made me finally buy (after 30 years of wanting one) a decent photo camera and I have been learning again an old childhood passion and hobby, denied to me for many years. The creativity of picture taking in challenging situations when you have to outsmart the limitations of the (even the best--not that I own one) camera compared to the human eye. Yet, that is not enough. Searching, and knowing you found when you see it, takes effort but also pleasure, hence happiness. Yet.. About the camera and happiness and how it can be inspiring... Understanding how it works and what makes a Nikon slightly different (yet still much limited compared to the human eye--some pictures can simply not exist as pictures no matter what camera you shoot with) than other cameras led me to the ideas expressed below in the Nikon MMS story. Did this come in part from the happiness of owning it and playing with it?

We think the fisherman is producing and can thus be innovative too. His lifestyle makes sense in his cultural context. In fact the MBA envies the lifestyle after all. The MBA teaches him a lesson which is not his own. He learned it from others as applied in other contexts and blindly applies it to the fisherman without adaptation or verifying applicability to the case on hand. We are not certain that it isn't actually the MBA who couldn't learn something innovative in his field from the fisherman instead.

When I side with Sarkozy's view and others it is in no way in a "let's wait for the banana to fall" way. Understanding gives us happiness. Do we have to share said understanding for it to have intrinsic value to ourselves? We are not certain, but we'd rather have to say not necessarily. So many inventors and innovators or pioneer scientists have not been recognized by their own time yet have ploughed ahead nonetheless undisturbed.... Their happiness was embedded in their satisfaction with their ability to have fulfilled their own potential, whether the environment surounding them was in resonance (yet) or not.


There are many kinds of happiness. Plus indeed we often cater to what is being measured, so if happiness is measured next, we'll pretend to be happy. We pretend that already.

Yet, if we taxonomize happiness as engaged and disengaged, we are speaking of the engaged one. The disengaged dolce farniente one we are not that much interested in, as it is indeed survival based only and could be low level in Maslow's framework of needs.

We think that innovation makes one happy, and vice-versa, happiness facilitates innovation. From day one of cooking one's food on a fire...

Our problem was with a current lack of alternative valuation.

Knowledge alone (like happiness) even when applied is not properly valued (value for value--see Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged") in our current socio-economic settings. Economists have struggled for quite some time (around the "Big Residual", to use an Abramovic Moses and others' quote) to realize that factors of production are not solely capital and labor, but also knowledge, and that in a larger proportion than either of the other two previously "classic" factors... We think the same can be true anew with _engaged_ happiness, and it is the way we read President Sarkozy.

On the other hand, can we set a value on a significant other's smile at a reunion after a long time being apart from each other? Could said value be replace with the monetary value of the lost work for X employer had the reunion not take place due to more work? As the two talk and visit places (and take pictures) the MMS idea from the blog comes to mind... What is then the relationship between happiness and innovation?

We think President Sarkozy is happy and hence innovative...

Can we trace one good quote which would be well fitted here in justifying why a happy Sarkozy is a better President than an unhappy one?

[I deeply thank my friends who facilitated these questions for their perspective enhancing contributions.]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Nikon matrix metering system and sources of innovation

In 1983, Nikon Corporation introduced its now famed matrix metering system, then called Automatic Multi-Pattern (AMP). More about it here:

The Nikon Matrix metering system (MMS) still stays on top, as developed since, yet not yet even matched (let alone outperformed) by any competitor, as much as they may have tried and as hard as they may have worked on it.

This story is however not about photography, or about how it has evolved in both technology and markets since. That would be about the past... Our mantra is "We got here. What's next?" for a reason. We like to rather tell stories about the future based on what we learn from the past.

This story is about the potential ubiquitous application of the philosophy behind the Nikon MMS example.

If we could only imagine and thus write the story into the future... or better yet, write _all_ the possibly related stories.

Let us take for example the judicial process. Can we see how the MMS could help so much in reducing judicial costs (and our taxes) as well as in enhancing quality of justice served? To say nothing about serious potential reductions in litigators' costs and thus an implicit reduction in prices to customers for anything from coffee to health care, or from an education to a vehicle.

Taking governance in general next. Can we see how the MMS philosophy as adapted, developed and applied in this new domain could render much higher optimality in our decision making processes?

Market new niches development in new products, services or process improvement? Can the MMS philosophy help there? Self-evident it can. Can we say Apple and iPod/iPhone? Did the MMS contribute at least a bit? The "MMS" must have been embedded in Steve Jobs's brain, just as the famous quote from the reputed photographer Ansel Adams states with much perspective clarification "the most important part of a camera is the 12 inches just behind it." What are our lessons?

1983 is over a quarter century ago...

What are we doing yet? How should we go about doing more about it? Artificial intelligence is the broader category of which the new-applied-MMS-would-be-future-stories are a case. Enhancing our potential for accelerated innovation to its fullest is the objective.

InnovationTrek is here to help provide a Nikon MMS "for pretend" for now, until we can push to see the stories above and many more become actual reality.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"I will not let school interfere in my education" (Mark Twain)

Have you ever wondered how would the world look like had Thomas A. Edison's mother insisted that he went to school?

How would it look like if Henry Ford had quit after two attempts at starting up his company? or if he was in any way related with a colleague of his into discovery, Ernst Rutherford?

It turns out Rutherford did not like attorneys at all, and he openly declared many a time that if somebody would try to rob him of his pocket watch he'll fight back with his teeth and empty hands to keep his watch... Yet, "if someone comes and says 'give me your watch or I sue you'", Rutherford explained further, "I'll let them have it immediately, and I'll know for certain I stay ahead."

Well, if Henry Ford was (like) Ernst Rutherford, maybe he would've quit faced with the law suit against him by George B. Selden. And automobiles and their market today could look very different... or would they?

We don't want to be misinterepted. The questions asked here are in no way intended to support the idea of less schooling for our children. Rather of much much _different_ schooling...

If we take for example Stephen Covey's "Seven (then eight) Habits", we find them valuable indeed, yet...

... we have our own reservations about some inherent limitations/shortcomings in Covey, particularly having to do with:

(1) a much more acute need to apply/nurture the habits much earlier in one's life than when already reaching adulthood (in fact we shall find early versions of the habits say in Benjamin Franklin, with him borrowing/learning extensively from none other than Socrates), and

(2) a resulting implicit need for adapting the habits to and nurturing their adoption by young learners through a vertically integrated entrepreneurial--broad meaning--, and self-worth spirit (involved parents centered) inducing education system.

[I know, the asking questions part above was much nicer...;)]