Friday, June 25, 2010

Apple: inspiration for innovation!

Yet another article on Steve Jobs.


In the July August 2010 issue of Fast Company, There is an article about Apple! These days almost everyone is writing or thinking about apple. in another quest to discover what makes Apple such an innovative company, fast Company technology writer Farhad Manjoo has written a very good article. But I wonder, can these articles capture what really happens in Apple?


Perhaps we know what happens in apple, but no one has yet gathered enough courage to add those things together and apply them. I have read some things about Apple and Steve Jobs, and I believe Steve Jobs maniacal  focus on good design seems to be the key. But he did not loos his maniacal ideas even when he did not succeed, but we wouldn’t have counted him if he wouldn’t have made it. It could also be a nice lesson for someone who is not successful. Steve Jobs was out of the loop for almost 13 years, but he didn’t lose faith in himself and his ideas, and he kept improving those ideas.


Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere



How to Write the Right Stuff

I came across the following article about the process of writing the software by the shuttle software group.


December 31, 1996

As the 120-ton space shuttle sits surrounded by almost 4 million pounds of rocket fuel, exhaling noxious fumes, visibly impatient to defy gravity, its on-board computers take command.


The Interesting thing is that the article reminded me what we study in our software engineering class and forget after joining work in the name of this is not a textbook case.


According to the article, shuttle software group does not focus on individual errors, but on process. So if they find an error , they go after why that error occurred, and fix the cause.


Another thing that they do is really hard software testing. Testing team consists of software developers, but their focus is on finding bugs instead of writing software.


They also maintain detailed record of errors, why it happened, how it was found, how could it impact other part as well.


I really recommend reading this article.








Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thoughts on Communication

This morning I was contemplating about problems in communication. One interesting point that resurfaced, is that when we talk to others about some idea, we often state the conclusion, but often do not explain the thinking process behind it. This idea did not just came to my mind, it occurred because of multiple factors.


One of the factors is that around couple of years back, I happened to read a book “Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath”. In this book the authors mentioned an experiment in which the experimenters asked a group of participants to produce the beets for a song, and those participants were asked to guess how many people should be able to figure out the song. The participants suggested that around 50 percent should be able to figure out the song but the actual result was that only 2 percent were able to do so.


The authors suggest that we often underestimate the need to explain the context for a particular piece of information.


Another factor is also influenced by a book called Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers. In this book authors do not prescribe what should we do, rather they explored the nature of transformational change—how it arises, and the fresh possibilities it offers a world dangerously out of balance. The book is presented as a series of discussions among the authors.


So I wonder, what if when we talk to people, we take them along the original thinking that lead to conclusion that we want to present?




Friday, June 11, 2010

speculating about the evolution of our Brain

While reading about human evolution, a question often comes to mind: what could be the future direction of human mind's evolution?


Before we speculate about it, we must try to understand how human mind has evolved in the past. I am no expert in human evolution, but I have some understanding about its evolution. Our brain has evolved to help us survive in this world. It is not evident in modern society, but considering that our ancestors lived in the jungle for thousands of years, it should be clear that if we didn’t have effective survival strategies, we could not have existed or still be in jungles fighting for our lives daily.


Our Brain structure closely resembles evolution of various animals. Less sophisticated animals brains are similar to rudimentary parts of our brain. Let us take a look at our Brain structure. Our brain is divided in 3 parts. At the base of our brain is situated brain stem. This stem makes it possible for us and other moving animals to control basic body functions such as breathing, heart rate, other circulations. We can safely assume that it might have been evolved first, as without these functions life could not be sustained.


On top of Brain Stem is limbic system, which controls our emotions, senses, movement, sleep, thirst/hunger etc. So this adds some complexity to life. Life without limbic system might not be very interesting, as most of what makes life seems to be part of limbic system.


Then there is Cerebellum, which regulates and coordinates movement, posture, and balance. Cerebellum could have been required by those animals who do not have complex societies, but are active animals.


On top of the limbic and cerebellum is Cerebrum, which is involved in higher cognitive functions. Cerebrum is divided in many parts, one of them is neocortex. Neocortex has developed over many thousand years, and it is found in all mammals. Parts of Cerebrum that are not neocortext are responsible for symbolic reasoning and language. Cerebrum is responsible for our conscious thought, learning, thinking, memory and executive control (pre frontal cortex). So with evolution, brain is getting more complex. Let us now understand how human brain makes our society possible.


Have you ever wondered how are we influenced by moods of other people even without being consciously aware about it? It is done by our brain by observing other persons non verbal cues. We observe the facial expressions, eyes, voice tones, and other postures. Our brain has automatic way to understand these things without any training / thought. These features have helped us to be a social animal. If we could not understand what other might be up to, how would we be able to coexist with them? Daniel Goldman calls it social intelligence, and this intelligence is becoming important as our society grows.


But social intelligence has developed over thousands of years. In Early human history only those people might have survived who started living together. Other people who could not live with other people might have perished as they were weaker than most predators. When humans started living together, they might have required skills to figure out how to get along well. So if they were part of a group, it could have been a matter of life and death to be able to learn how to jell well together. So they learned how to get along with each other, and adapt to others behaviour. Although it could have been a complex learning to understand each other, but it was relatively easier than that required for a modern human. People might have lived in their tribes for their entire life. So they only needed to understand those people who were part of their group.


Things got a bit more complex when people started living in villages. And started farming. Farming would have required more complex skills, as farming means planning and village life might have been richer than the life in tribe. With time complexity increases and our brains evolve with it.


Then people moved to bigger societies such as small states or cities. As the societies might have got bigger, they might have become more complex. More complex means complex brain structures to support them were required or may be people who by chance got more complex brains might have started more sophisticated societies. In other words, It might have been a feedback loop. Complexity of society would have lead to complex social skills and complex social skills would have lead to more complex societies.


The process is still going on, and it is likely to be continued. We have started living in mega cities, we seldom know many people, so every time we meet them, we have to quickly figure out if we like them or don’t like them. Should we interact with someone or avoid them. And with movement of people across countries and cultures, it is becoming difficult for us to understand it. For example when some people nod their head up and down to say yes, yet other do this to say no. So we now have to understand not only what our culture does, but what other cultures rules are.


This exposure has now reached a new level, as we don’t need to travel to be exposed to a new culture, we do it over internet. And internet interaction also adds complexity. We have to figure out without non verbal cues what would someone mean. This complexity is going to increase as more and more people join digital world. With training and exposure we are going to be more sophisticated in our understanding of the world. Plus we also have a tool to speed up this evolution. And that is training. Training makes it possible that everyone doesn’t go through the trouble of figuring out something that is already figured out. So we get trained on something that someone has figured and we can then be trained on it and put our energy in figuring out other things.


So as a result of more and more demand on our brain for social skills, our brain might evolve further to give richer social life.


Note: What we know about our brain is continuously changing, and the current details about our brain presented in this blog are from following website.