Unanticipated Collisions

How we create the new from Dancing About Architecture.

We create the new not generally through some mad moment of inspiration in fictionalised accounts of ancient Greeks in baths (though the conditions for this can be forced into existence), but by putting things together that do not normally go together; from taking disciplines (or curriculum areas) and seeing what happens when they are forced into unanticipated collision.

Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas suggests that to create a new idea of value you merely take two disciplines that do not appear to belong together and force them through a blender, because ‘an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements’,10 and that a person with a propensity to produce ideas will be someone who sees the relationship between things; relationships that are not necessarily obvious on first sight.

The mind, at its best, is a pattern-making machine, engaged in a perpetual attempt to impose order on to chaos; making links between disparate entities or ideas in order to better understand either or both. It is the ability to spot the potential in the product of connecting things that don’t ordinarily go together that marks out the person (or teacher) who is truly creative.


QuoteLog: Find a Subject You Care About

Some good advice on writing starts with this:

  1. Find a Subject You Care About

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.


From How to Write with Style via @brainpicker

A Few of My Favorite Startup Tips

Just finished reading the little book on Startup Tips. There are 100 tips. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Tip #11 – Get excited about the little things
  • Tip #14 – Get comfortable asking for advice and help
  • Tip #15 – Present your startup or biz development idea to anyone who will listen
  • Tip #16 – Get really, really good at concisely stating your business idea
  • Tip #30 – Sales are number one, two and three on the priority list
  • Tip #31 – To sell many, sell one
  • Tip #44 – Break your business down to a few key metrics
  • Tip #52 – Put people in positions where they can be successful
  • Tip #58 – Model the behavior you require
  • Tip #69 – Explore every possible sales channel
  • Tip #76 – If your customers have to change their behavior (for using your product/service) be prepared for a struggle

Please get the book Startup 100 Tips. It is a great read.




Adaptive Ignorance

From this amazing post by Maria The 13 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2013 quoting from On Looking

This adaptive ignorance, she argues, is there for a reason — we celebrate it as “concentration” and welcome its way of easing our cognitive overload by allowing us to conserve our precious mental resources only for the stimuli of immediate and vital importance, and to dismiss or entirely miss all else.


Are we missing life by too much of this “Adaptive Ignorance”? What does it mean to live a little – more aware of people, places, events and feelings all around us?


Maria’s reviews are so compelling sometimes, I keep buying these books. I am already enjoying it.

Once in a while, we let ourselves drift  – aided by an old song or a fond memory. There is some comfort in this drift, if you allow yourself the luxury.  Maria’s writing does that to me a lot.

On Mathematics

From the book What is Mathematics? A few interesting snippets from the Foreword and Introduction:

The teaching of mathematics has sometimes degenerated into empty drill in problem solving, which may develop formal ability but does not lead to real understanding or to greater intellectual independence.

Formal mathematics is like spelling and grammar—a matter of the correct application of local rules. Meaningful mathematics is like journalism—it tells an interesting story. Unlike some journalism, the story has to be true. The best mathematics is like literature—it brings a story to life before your eyes and involves you in it, intellectually and emotionally.

when I was about to be married, my father challenged my wife-to-be to read What Is Mathematics. She did not get far, but she was accepted into the family nonetheless.

Mathematics links the abstract world of mental concepts to the real world of physical things without being located completely in either.

So what do you need to get a great deal of pleasure and insight from the book? According to Ian Stuart:

You do need a modest attention span, an interest in mathematics for its own sake, and enough background not to feel out of your depth. High-school algebra, basic calculus, and trigonometric functions are enough, although a bit of Euclidean geometry helps.


Yesterday, I read a news item and tweeted it:

“American students lag behind most other nations in math skills: Only children from Italy and Spain performed worse” http://bit.ly/1ax7tht 
You keep hearing this often, not only about American students  but about other countries too. In India, when I talk to engineering students and ask how many of them are interested in Math, very few hands go up. What is going on? When I studied math over 50 years ago, it was not that hard. It was one of my favorite subjects. I had, of course, excellent Math teachers.
So what has changed? Are we teaching them poorly? Is the subject expanded to cover too much? Do we not provide them a context in which to learn?
I knew I had purchased a few books on Mathematics. I went searching my Kindle archives and found a couple of books . I decided to read a chapter every day, just to brush up. It was a subject I used to love but completely lost touch after graduating.
That is how this post is born. There will be more, as I progress through the book.

Startups – The Earliest Phase Is The Most Productive

From Jessica Livingston. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days

Apparently sprinters reach their highest speed right out of the blocks, and spend the rest of the race slowing down. The winners slow down the least. It’s that way with most startups too. The earliest phase is usually the most productive. That’s when they have the really big ideas. Imagine what Apple was like when 100% of its employees were either Steve jobs or Steve Wozniak.

The striking thing about this phase is that it’s completely different from most people’s idea of what business is like. If you looked in people’s heads (or stock photo collections) for images representing “business,” you’d get images of people dressed up in suits, groups sitting around conference tables looking serious, Powerpoint presentations, people producing thick reports for one another to read. Early stage startups are the exact opposite of this. And yet they’re probably the most productive part of the whole economy. Why the disconnect? I think there’s a general principle at work here: the less energy people expend on performance, the more they expend on appearances to compensate. More often than not the energy they expend on seeming impressive makes their actual performance worse.

It is one of those books that you can keep reading and re-reading.

The More We Share…

A dose of inspiration from an author who writes, gives away his book and tells us why he writes:

A lot of what was on my mind and still is on my mind is how “information wants to be free.” I believe that economies that share outperform economies that don’t. I believe that information multiplies in value as it spreads. This the other selfish reason that I write: The more I share, the richer we all become. We discussed this idea on the JavaScript Jabber podcast earlier this year.

I am very committed to this idea of sharing. I campaigned, hard, for a job on the Firefox OS team at Mozilla. I really wanted to work on developer tools for Forefox OS. I believe that bringing another 10,000,000 or 100,000,000 or even 1,000,000,000 online with smart devices is going to be a tremendous opportunity for the world becoming a better place.

And not just in terms of “Oh look, 1,000,000,000 more people to join our social gossip-sharing gamified site,” but also in terms of there being another 100,000, 1,000,000 or even 10,000,000 new programmers writing programs to solve problems that we can’t even imagine as we sip our tasty espresso. How do we help them program? I’m super-stoked by where Mozilla is going with this, and likewise I’m so excited I can barely sit still when I look at what people are doing with things like Squeak orLight Table.

and so

You can talk about making the world a better place, and you can roll up your sleeves. So, I rolled up my sleeves and wrote JavaScript Allongé.

Need I say more?


Be Nice. Always, Always, Always be Nice

Be nice. Always, always, always be nice.

It is a strange advice to see in a book that teaches you to sell, but not as strange as it appears.  Most of the best sales people I know are extremely nice people.

It’s not your words that sell. It’s your preparation, your questions, your comprehension of the prospect’s problems, and your actions to solve them. Yes, you need to talk about the product and talk about their business, but you have to do it in a comfortable way.
Most of our sales successes have been due to the comprehension of the prospect’s problems and some knowledge of how others solved them. Somewhere in that process, our product might have been involved. One of the advantages you have, as a sales person listening to lots of questions and problems from potential customers is that you become a kind of Information Hub. That puts you in a consultative role.  That is always a good starting point and a way to build a rapport with customers.
unless they have a problem equivalent to their house on fire and you are the fire department, insurance company, and grief counselor combined, you both know that you won’t be doing business together, because that’s how things work.
When customers have urgent pressing problems and they think that you may have a possible solution, they will give you a lot of their time. They will somehow find you.
I absolutely, positively recommend choosing 2-3 media platforms and becoming active. Personally, I use our company blog, a personal blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The blogs enable me to share perspectives and industry expertise in detail, while Twitter and LinkedIn allow for sharing these posts and for daily interactions with customers.
I think this is a great idea and can relate to it.  Several of my fellow entrepreneurs do that as well.
You need to give them a reason to take your calls, return your calls, or spend five minutes with you when they do answer the  phone.
This will be very difficult initially. But if you provide value in every interaction with the customer, it gets easier.
As you are calling each of your prospects and inbound leads, white papers are effective because they show that you are serious about the industry and that you are participating with thoughtful contributions.
We did not do this well at all. But I have seen how some companies like Hubspot do such a good job.
Know your industry-specific news sites. These industry news sites give you plenty of reasons to call a lead or a prospect to ask them how a particular  happening affects their business.
A bit of shameless plug. If you want to know how to discover news and send them to your customers or use them as conversation starters, we can certainly help.
The process of  migrating a ‘user’ to a ‘customer’ will reveal the answers to several vital questions about your business and its viability.
If you are a startup in the early customer development phase, this is invaluable. Even as you grow, this process can keep you well rooted.
Startup Selling: How to sell if you really, really have to and don’t know how  by Sambucci, Scott is really a book worth reading. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I think I will go back and reread parts of it later. Thanks to Sid for suggesting it.

Building Abstractions – A Book Link

From Structure and Interpretations of Computer Programs – A Classic (now in Javascript)

The acts of the mind, wherein it exerts its power over simple ideas, are chiefly these three: 1. Combining several simple ideas into one compound one, and thus all complex ideas are made. 2. The second is bringing two ideas, whether simple or complex, together, and setting them by one another so as to take a view of them at once, without uniting them into one, by which it gets all its ideas of relations. 3. The third is separating them from all other ideas that accompany them in their real existence: this is called abstraction, and thus all its general ideas are made.
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding  (1690)
A fascinating description of  programs – abstract beings directed by a pattern of rules, manipulating other abstract things called data:
We are about to study the idea of a computational process. Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers. As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data. The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program. People create programs to direct processes. In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.
A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory. The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esotericprogramming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.
A computational process, in a correctly working computer, executes programs precisely and accurately. Thus, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, novice programmers must learn to understand and to anticipate the consequences of their conjuring. Even small errors (usually called bugs or glitches) in programs can have complex and unanticipated consequences.
I watched the original lectures (from MIT) a while ago and it was an amazing experience. Here is a Python version of this book.

Design for How People Learn – Book Log

From (foreward of) Design For How People Learn

The challenges of creating highly effective learning experiences are numerous. We’re fortunate that humans are, in many ways, learning creatures. We are generally eager to learn. We intuitively know that knowledge is power. Skills turn knowledge into actionable advantages. We want skills and enjoy having them. But even with all these advantages, it isn’t easy to transmit knowledge and build skills. …

This is a fascinating book (just started reading it). You can learn more about the  book and the author.