Until a Thing Becomes Tangible…

Tangibility gets on the same page.

Until a thing becomes tangible, multiple people can have radically divergent interpretations of the same conversation, ideas, and experiences. Tangibility brings people from all disciplines and backgrounds together around the same object, drawing, animation, or whatnot, and highlights where your visions converge and diverge.

That  is why wireframes, prototypes, simulations help. So before you want to discuss an idea, or concept, start with a few sketches and keep refining them till you have enough to communicate your core idea.

Idealog: Look Into It – A Browser Extension

It is really a simple idea and must be easy to do. It may even exist. Otherwise, I would like to get it built during one of the product sprints.

Why?

I was reading a bunch of articles on Technology Review and started noticing terms, I  have not heard before. Terms  like ‘flow cyclometry’, ‘bio base’, ‘biomaterials’, ‘life sensors’. It may be because, I don’t know much about Bioinformatics, Computational Bio-Science and other related fields. Anyway, I was wondering whether there is a way to mark these terms and have a bot research them and create a summary/research page to read.

What is it?

Let us give it a name – Look Into It. It is a browser extension that does the following:

  1. You click on a keyword or phrase and choose to research it
  2. These terms are stored in a database (somewhere in the cloud, preferably)
  3. A bot looks at this list, does some magic (which I can explain later in another blog post), gathers information and creates a page. It can add a link to this page in my reading list.
  4. I can read the info (and this may trigger more terms to research) and if I like to keep it, just save it (into my personal knowledge base).

Random Thoughts

  • Besides curious cats like me, students and other types of learners may be able to use it as well
  • Over a period of time, you build yourself a nice reading list and knowledge base. You may choose to publish all of it or selective bundles of topics.

Like many other ideas, this goes into a queue and a cooling period. If someone expresses interest, I can bring it back to life and discuss some implementation details. It did help me  to get a couple of cool domain names!

Innovation Log: A Trend Driving Another Trend

A trend in one area causes innovations, which in turn drives other trends. Here is a classic example where technology developed in one area ‘consumer devices’ helps in an entirely different area – microscopy.

 a growing trend in microscopy is to make smaller and smaller devices, which are useful for everything from new areas of research to detecting tuberculosis in developing countries. These diminutive new devices are made possible in large part by the rapidly falling cost and size of electronics components—a trend that has in turn been driven by the demand for consumer devices.

There are other examples, Tablets use for increasing patient interaction, An ECG for the iPhone are just a few.

So how do you find these trends? How do you leverage them to create new trends that benefit your business?

Can Software Service Companies Benefit from Product Initiatives?

As a part of Nasscom Mentor program, we get to meet several companies. Most of the companies are in the software service business. One of the regular advice I give them is to have a small product initiative.

Why?

  1. A service company comes across several customer problems and provides solutions. This gives them knowledge and insights into specific customer needs that are not filled. These are great starting points for product ideas.
  2. Having a product portfolio, however small, increases your credibility in the eyes of the customers. They know that to create a product, you need to have ideas, done some research, implementation and a lot of testing.
  3. Free tools and products related to your service act as good marketing tools. For example, Hubspot offers several grader products free. Their website grader has been used by more than 3 million.
  4. Product initiatives help build an innovation culture inside your company. Your team will be encouraged to think in terms of identifying adjacent problems, observing patterns of issues in your market or industry.
  5. Products augment services and helps you differentiate yourself.
  6. Product building activity, allows your team to sharpen their skills, especially when they are between projects. They can explore emerging technologies like Cloud or Mobile computing.
  7. Over a period of time products can generate a revenue stream of their own. Even if they don’t they will reduce your cost of marketing and lead generation.

How Do You Bootstrap a Product Initiative?

If you are convinced of this approach of augmenting services with useful and relevant products, you can try the following:

  1. Start really small. A one or two person team working few hours a week.
  2. Conduct Innovation Workshops inside your organization. List problems, brainstorm ideas and identify a few useful products.
  3. Conduct product sprints. These are short bursts of activities to create products in a weekend or a few weekends.
  4. Distribute these products free and observe who and how people use them.
  5. Iterate based on what you learn. Show case these products on your website, mention them in conversations with customers. Create a community around these products and have conversations.

Do you need help or have questions? Please leave a comment here or contact me through Twitter.

Product Sprints

I am thinking of conducting product sprints. It is a kind of hackathon but with a much tighter focus. Here are some thoughts.

What?

  1. We will have a few of sponsors who need small products built. They will provide a high level spec and provide funding.
  2. On the first day, each sponsor will pitch their products
  3. Developers pick a product and go through discussions to clarify scope.
  4. The product teams (developers+sponsors) decide on a set of milestones and deliverable for each milestone
  5. The teams get to work. They go back to their offices/homes and work on the product and start exchanging deliverables.
  6. The iterations can run from a few days to few weeks.
  7. Periodically, all the teams meet and review progress

Why?

I think there is an opportunity to build a lot of small, useful products. Startup weekends and hackathons are useful to kick start these efforts but product sprints go beyond the initial prototyping phase.

Some Examples

There are several variations of this theme. Here are a few, I can think of:

  1. A company with a product wants several reference applications. They want others to build them so that they can test their documentation and APIs. They are not big enough to attract a community of ISVs(independent software vendors)
  2. A company wants to build a set of internal products using cross functional teams. Here both the sponsors and developers are from the same company. Each microproduct is to test some hypothesis on improving a core product.
  3. A company wants to build an ISV community by providing funding for training and exploration
  4. Developers want to try to learn new languages, frameworks and build something new. But they don’t have enough ideas for useful applications.
  5. Developers want to explore emerging technologies like Cloud computing, Mobile Apps, Casual Games etc.

Let me know what you think. If you are a developer or sponsor who is interested in participating, send me an email or DM if you are connected with me on Twitter.

From Amazon: Best Selling Economics Books

If you are not depressed enough about American economy, Europe, terrorist attacks in India, indications of over borrowing by local governments in China you can probably get some help from this list.

After America: Get Ready for Armageddon
by Mark Steyn

Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown
by David Wiedemer

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Michael Lewis

Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon
by Gretchen Morgenson

This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
by Kenneth S. Rogoff

Best selling! Is that what people are reading!

The only glimmer of optimism was in this title:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
by Chip Heath

I recall reading once that if all the sentiment is so negative, that is the time for things to change a bit for the better. I am not so sure. What do you think?

LinkLog: Innovation Sprints

An article about 90 Day Innovation Sprint.

We start with a careful but quick assessment of the industry trends, and develop three to four scenarios which help illuminate the possible future outcomes over a five to seven year period. Based on these scenarios we investigate new customer needs or emerging markets or threats to discover unmet needs using basic ethnography and observational research.

This insight is quickly folded into short, focused idea generation sessions followed immediately by rapid prototyping of the best ideas. In this iterative process the team moves quickly to identify the best concepts that meet the scenarios and customer needs and fleshes out the best prototypes to prepare for presentation.

Even though, this article focuses on BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), I think the concept of Innovation Sprints has broader applicability.