Why Did I Not Think of That?

I am often amazed by ideas, points of view, new insights, writings and innovations that others come up with. I keep asking myself, “why did I not think of that”?

So I did a little thinking and came up with this preliminary list:

  • Do I see what most of the others miss?
  • If I do, do I observe it to learn more?
  • Do I reflect about my observations?
  • Do I form hypotheses based on my observations?
  • Do I look for evidence to prove or disprove my hypotheses?
  • Do I share it with others and get other points of view?
  • Do I write about my theories and see whether it evokes any interest?
  • Do I think about the future (not just mine) of everything I use everyday?

If I do, how often do I do it? What about you?

TiE Unconference in Chennai

You are an entrepreneur or trying to start a company. You have some ideas and even built a prototype. You want to talk to a few fellow entrepreneurs.

You are a professional working on some cool technology. You want to share some of your ideas on how to use/leverage this technology.

You have questions about some emerging trends. Is this space worth getting into? What are the risks? Are there any one out there doing this?

You want to know a bit about marketing. How do I go about finding a certain type of customer? How do I get my first customers?

You may be a successful startup but have questions about scaling your business. Find some meontors, coaches or just exchange notes with people who have done it before.

Many of us have these questions. We want to meet, discuss, comment, gather information and learn from others. We are willing to share what we know. Where do you go?

This is the goal of TiE Chennai Unconference.

We are trying a few experiments during this event. The success, of course, depends on you. If you are a professional or an entrepreneur, we would love to see you there.

1. We are putting together a panel of experts in scaling a business from a few people to a few hundred. You can bring your questions on finding, keeping, growing customers to this panel. It will be entirely audience driven.

2. Most of our sessions will be discussions. You can ask questions, share bits of knowledge and expertise and watch others do the same. Here is a place to find individuals you want to connect with and keep in touch even after the conference.

3. You have done an amazing job of telling us what you would like to talk about.  So as a group we know what we are going to discuss most. Here is the latest topic cloud in case you have not seen it before.


You are encouraged to come and  participate and tell a few friends who may benefit. We are really looking forward to this event. See you on 18th Sep.

Relentless Predator Upon the Obsolete

…a combination of relentless predator upon the obsolete and benevolent solver of the world’s problems. As ways of making money go, that’s pretty good. Startups are often ruthless competitors, but they’re competing in a game won by making what people want.

This is such a cool way to think about startups. I like the image of the relentless predator – some one on the hunt, looking to obsolete wasteful ways of doing things, saving people tons of money and making a few bucks in the process.

So how are startup ideas born?

1. If you are lucky, you will find a list like this to start with. It can fire your imagination and set you thinking to make your own list or flesh out the ideas a bit more.

2. You can watch out for problems and suddenly a better way solve some of them may pop-up in your head.

3. You can watch trends, think a bit ahead and build a few experimental proto-types and see what happens (You may be taking a bit of a risk with this approach and may end up building a solution looking for a problem).

4. Find the gap in an emerging technology space and fill a tiny bit of it with your solution.

5. Leverage a new technology to do something that has not been done before.

6. Pick some great idea that is successful and radically improve the implementation (make it simpler, easier, faster, more scalable).

7. The best, in my opinion, is to scratch your own itch and find something, for which you are the first user and see whether it has one of the above characteristics (an added bonus).

In our own startups , we have tried a few of these approaches. There may be many more. As Paul Graham says:

Consider this list to end with a giant ellipsis.

Dreaming up ideas can become a (nice) habit, so I keep an idealog. Not every idea is a good one or fit for a startup. But ideas trigger ideas and you never know where they may lead.

A HeroCamp?

I attended a BarCamp at Chennai last week. I forgot to turn off alerts to the barcamp pbwik and keep getting notifications of new barcamps  I got one on (Super)HeroCamp and it piqued my curiosity. It is one of the more innovative BarCamps I have seen in a while. Here is an excerpt titled “Smaller Ideas” from the page:

The smaller ideas
1. What would it look like if we brought the structure of BarCamp into schools? What about a social network for students, teachers and parents where parents could make sure they could keep up with their kids’ curriculum, teachers could understand a little more about a student’s home situation and students could communicate more on the level that they understand? HeroCampSchoolNet
2. What if we provide local communities with an easy (Ning?) way to create a cross-generational learning network. Schools could tap into locals with expertise, and locals could tap the youth and creativity of students. The retired biologist down the street could help students create and maintain a sustainable organic garden, and students could learn about globalization and teach local businesses how to survive. HeroCampCommunityNet

I am always amazed at the innovative ways tools are used. The concept of BarCamp itself is an innvoative idea. Hosting camp announcements on a public wiki is another. The way the concept of BarCamp is being used builds upon both these. Hats off to people who innovate at every level. This is definitely one of my sources of inspirtation.

LinkLog: What Kind of Software Would People Actually Pay For?

A great blog post and a discussion thread on reddit. Some snippets (read the blog for a very insightful discussion):

  • Software that re-defines a category (Google and Amazon come to mind)
  • Software that saves businesses (and individuals) money (figuring out the benefits to your customer)
  • Software that helps business earn more money (making it compelling)
  • Piggyback off where people are already spending tons of money (choosing your marketplace)
  • Become easier to choose and you become harder to leave (by building and managing excellence)
  • shrink a market or disrupt your competitors
  • Get bold initial customers who will take the risk and are willing to share their experiences.
  • You don’t have to be the guru of an industry; you can often make a huge difference by bringing a computational perspective to the domain (think how you can apply technology to solve real problems)
  • Find out what they have to do but hate doing and find a way to simplify or automate it.

This is the kind of blog post that I would book mark and read several times, think about it, find more similar ones. It will also be a nice exercise to keep this list some where and grow it based on actual experiences of successful products. Peter Christensen’s articulates so well some of the things I kind of know but never really reflected a lot about.

I think blogs are the best knowledge sharing network you can think of especially If you are lucky to discover ones like Peter’s.

LinkLog: Software

This blog is such a wonderful source of information. Here are just a few of the posts:

How a beautiful idea becomes a Frankenstein system is a must read for every software developer. Here is a small fragment of a much more comprehensive diagram in this post.

how-a-beautiful-software-becomes-frankenstein.jpg

I always thought that we built tools to take boring repetitive parts of the work and automate it. How Tools Frame Programmer’s Mindset makes you reflect a lot more about the tools. What qualities should effective programmer tools have? The author identifies three:

  • Usability – enhance flow of programmer’s ideas or at least don’t impede and interrupt this flow.
  • Representation – enable easy for understanding and modification representation of the structure, ideas and domain concepts in the code.
  • Agile development friendly

From Beginners to master programmers – First Language and More is a problem that faces every training organization. When I started working on Learning Point, this was one of my constant worries. I have seen several threads of discussions on the choice of first language for programming.

This blog post is a good starting point. Hopefully I will have more to contribute after my current experiment with 5 interns for the next six months.

  1. Train clear logical thinking.
  2. Understand modern software concepts and environments.
  3. Learn to effectively implement customer needs.

Why, How and Why Not?

As children, we are always questioning people. As we grow older, we question less and less and accept more.  Corinne Miller, suggests that this may be because of the perception that asking questions is a sign weakness and describes how we can change this.

“What’s your favorite question? Over the years we’ve found that the most popular answers to this question are ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why not’ in that order. A trend we’ve also observed is that those who ask ‘why’ are typically more holistic or whole-brained thinkers, those who ask ‘how’ are typically more box thinkers, and those who ask ‘why not’ are typically the challenging thinkers. All types, of course, are equally valuable and equally required for innovation!”

Questions stimulate the brain! Questions use verbs and words that activate key areas of the brain that, in turn, increase the volume and variety of questions. The more questions, the more creativity and innovation. We like to say that questions open the innovation pipeline.

This article questions why people do not question and suggest ways of changing this.

  • Why as you become older, we question less and less?
  • How do we build questioning into a part of  business culture?
  • Four steps in developing question banks – identifying, collecting, organizing and refining

One of the habits I am trying to develop among our interns and students is to keep a log of the following activities.

  1. A question log
  2. A learning log (things that they learn on a daily basis)
  3. An idea log

I personally use a personally wiki for this. After reading this article, we may want to extend the wiki to act as a question bank for each project.

Innovation Propagation

Democracy was probably one of the greatest innovations in the world. How did it propagate? For a visualization of this story visit March of Democracy. While you are there explore other maps too.

Where has democracy dominated and where has it retreated? This map gives us a visual ballet of democracy’s march across history as the most popular form of government. From the first ancient republics to the rise of self-governing nations, see the history of democracy: 4,000 years in 90 seconds…!

This is a great and a very powerful way to track how a certain event or movement propagates around the globe. This is also a great way to teach history. Moving from the video, to the meta problem it solves, we can think of a tool to track propagation of innovation and other events. Many examples come to mind:

  1. Historic events – spread of religions, spreading of culture, propagation of ideas. These and many others originate in one or two places and spread globally over a period of time.
  2. This may also be a great tool for teaching economics, history and diffusion of various other types of innovation.
  3. I would love to see a map of the way Mathematics or Science spread.

With the advent of internet, ideas spread through packets. Bloggers, definitely are catalysts for propagating information and ideas. Hopefully, we can trace the spread at a more granular level and understand why certain ideas spread and why others dont.