Posts on Innovation

June 10, 2015

Product Style

In the Beginning, I was an Engineer

I engineered solutions to problems. I built things. By training, by aptitude, by inclination. I did the maths. I ensured bridges built did not fall in the river. Style was an alien word to me. I did not do colours. I engineered.

My First Client

I delivered a product to my first client. A tele-robotics upgrade. A robot and a fancy joystick. Great tele-presence robotics. For cutting up radioactive boxes. High end gear. Superb function and utility.

But the operators did not like it.

  1. "I have to think about it"
  2. "It is distracting"
  3. "Gets in the way"
  4. "Makes me nervous"
  5. "Too much funny business"

My first product ended in my bin. Client was annoyed. "It is about my operators and their job, not about your product".

Great engineering failed my users

Always Develop with Style

That moment, I became a stylist. A product Stylist. Styling my products for ease of use. Where the operator retains his train of thought, his flow, his focus, his concentration, his attention. My product designs must be invisible to the user, while he works.

Always style for your user, and the user's task.

Elements of Style - circa 1900

My first style lesson was - please write clearly

  • Write to and for your audience
  • Do not say more than is necessary;
    confine yourself to what the user needs, to understand what is happening
  • Omit Needless Words
    Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should have no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unncecessary sentences. Every word must tell.

To improve styling skills, practice, practice, practice

Develop a Personal Style

My favorite style is minimalism. I favour brevity. I keep things simple. I am simplicity driven. In writing, taking pictures, coding, building websites, apps or even fashion. Minimalism is a most effective style.

Nevertheless, always style with a purpose. Style for your User and his tasks

Product Style Pyramid

First rule of product style - please be useful

  1. First comes content and utility, of course,
  2. Style for readability and usability even when developing
  3. Remember the product's identity, narrative and iconography
  4. Finally, focus on the aesthetics to shape a personality, an affect, an emotion Donít open a shop unless you like to smile - Chinese Proverb

Style basics have not changed in 100 years. The human eye and the hand are a constant. Style has evolved though, check Kathy Sierra's Cognitive Seduction.

September 18, 2007 in the Top 250 Most Authoritative Sites on Technorati

Quite an achievement for a web service that has avoided writing a blog. Who says engineers cannot communicate? The team had a bit of a chuckle over this.

I guess it is not what they say, it is what they do.

Technorati Tags: , ,

November 1, 2006

How to Fight Accelerated Depreciation of Internet Assets

Like the incredible shrinking man, intangible assets like a layout design, a good logo, a strong brand, or web applications suffer from accelerated depreciation in the internet sector. All growth industries where the market evolves and changes quickly have rapidly depreciating assets.

Whereas the design of an electrical transformer station depreciates to zero in ten to twenty years. Software, specially internet software has a much shorter life span, sometimes measured in months.

Knowing how much your assets depreciate is important. A typical NASDAQ company reinvests 5 to 20 times its asset depreciation to stay competitive. If you are reinvesting less than your depreciation, you are in trouble.

Formally, accounting standards depreciate software in three years. In reality, competitive forces in the internet sector can wipe our your software, your brand, your programming, your intangible asset, in as little as three months.

kiko traffic

The Kiko example is a great a case in point. Its life cycle from conception to closure and asset sale, in a little over a year. Kiko was a web calendar application. Very popular as a complement to Google's Popular until Google launched its own Calendar application already integrated with Gmail. The graph shows the downward turn in summer 2006, and the spike corresponds to its delightful sale on eBay.

Today, the Pluck RSS reader, a very popular add on for Internet Explorer is shutting down ; it has been wiped out by Microsoft's new browser, IE7, which has an RSS reader built in.

Accounting Standards

Accelerated depreciation is a self evident truth to all who work in the internet sector, but try and explain accelerated rates of depreciation to your company accountant. The other day I tried to get my accountant to introduce one year depreciation on all intangible assets in proximity to Google's interest. Needless to say GAAP accounting standards were quickly brought to bear on such outrageous ramblings. So, we now have two balance sheets; one that keeps our accountants happy, the other a reflection of life in the fast lane. Guess which one we use to set company investment budgets ?

Covering the Incredibly Shrinking Value of your Intangible Assets: Capital and Ideas

You need two things to fight accelerated depreciation, capital and ideas. A rare combination, in my opinion. Many Venture Capitals have much of the first, and little of the second. Startups have much of the second and little of the first.

In my opinion, ideas are much harder than capital. The value of capital is decreasing rapidly. When it comes to your capital expenditure, good ideas create more value than a sterile pot of money. When shoring up the depreciating value of your intellectual property look to a creative class team, rather than your MBA graduate.

The classical Venture Capital administrator, adept at forming teams and putting together good startup administration is finding life harder and harder. Know-how and innovation talent is the new king in growth industries; if you have no ideas, better give the capital back to your shareholders or limited partners. Pity there is no Master's accreditation for Creative Talent - Master in Business Creation (MBC). MBC is the new MBA.

[Via Pluck RSS Reader Shuts Down: Consumer RSS Readers a Dead Market Now]

Technorati Tags: , ,

October 7, 2006

Google Changes Innovation Approach: "More Features, Less Products"
Category: Innovation

google's sergey brin

Maturity is slowly creeping up on Google as it reaches its eighth birthday and its stock market valuation exceeds $100 billion. Disruptive innovation is giving way to incremental improvement; "more features and less products".

Circumstances have forced Sergey Brin, the master mind behind Google's 70-20-10 innovation strategy, to move to a 90-10 approach. Ninety percent standard incremental development, and 10 percent disruptive original products. The problem being that the continuous stream of new products have been badly integrated and are confusing to users. Moreover, Sergey Brin states

"It's worse than that, it's that I was getting lost in the sheer volume of the products that we were releasing.", [Via Los Angeles Times]

As any innovation professional knows, there comes a time when spells of green-hat lateral thinking have to be balanced out with black hat rational ordering. Fertile creative class lists of provocative disruptive ideas, projects and possibilities have to be balanced with a black hat rational execution of ideas. At the end of the day, as corporate management consultants like to point out, it is in the execution, realization and monetization of ideas that companies reach the market.

Even with over 8000 development staff, Google is coming up with more ideas than they can develop and successfully launch. Hacker has to give way to structured software development teams. Like all modern factory production techniques, the structured approach is more productive when it comes to delivering specific projects. Even Linux Open Source development often has a core of hierarchically ordered developers to maintain basic order and quality.

According to Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO,

"The result occurred precisely because we told these incredible engineering teams to run as fast as possible to solve new problems. But then that created this other problem."

Sounds like Boston Consultancy Group matrices are to make an appearance at Google, and introduce heavy rationality in their project selection. What next ? Suit and tie instead of T-shirts ?

Technorati Tags: , ,

September 1, 2006

Blog or Die !
Category: Innovation

Jason Calacanis, the head of Weblogs blog network (acquired by Netscape), sets out his vision of the corporate blog's role and importance to a business. In his inimitable style:

If you are in the Internet industry and you don't have time to blog about your product then you should quit. Go home, give up, and find another career. Your competitors are blogging about their products and talking to the market, and there is no way to compete if you don't engage the discussion. So, by not blogging you basically are giving up and telling the market that you don't care. That's the honest truth.

Blog or die!

You can't compete in the web-development space without a blog any more. Period, end of story.

[Blog or die. - The Jason Calacanis Weblog]

Not much room for subtlety in Mr. Calacanis' view. A more conservative company policy, which will probably reach mainstream companies in the next few years, is to use blogging as a part of a companies Public Relationships tool kit.

On a most basic level, with more press release agencies going online, a blog is a substitute for the News & Events section of a corporate blog. Two popular online press release agencies are:

Second, is the importance of giving the company a human face. Specially, if you have a strong corporate brand name, having an emotive fuzzy image can go a long way to generating a positive response. More and more important is also a companies interaction with its community of clients.

Unfortunately, a blog is not the be all and end all. May be necessary but not sufficient. A blog by itself will not generate a strong brand; you have to do that by other means. More and more brands are created through exceptional products and services.

Technorati Tags:

July 10, 2006

Huge turnout at Chris Anderson's Long Tail Talk
Category: Innovation

Over 80 people turned up to hear Chris Anderson talk on his "Long Tail" theme. A testament to how many people earn a living from the "Long Tail" - which includes several of our investment portfolio companies; i.e. product feeds to promote your long tail and dynamic page indexer for your product catalogue long tail.

Thanks to Ian Forrester for organizing the event.

Technorati Tags: ,

June 22, 2006

Jack Welch: "Anyone Can Squeeze a Company"

The debate between long-term and short-term concerns never stops in a company, specially in growth industries. Google is already having "The Debate", in its "we are a technology company rant".

It takes place between the operations and the strategy teams. Between the Chief Operations officer and the Visionary founders. For a successful company, they are the two faces of the same coin. Long term can't survive without short term. The daily grind can't succeed without the long term investment. It is a bad sign when the debate stops.

Corporate managers, with the rational black-hat, excel sheet approach rarely push the creative, disruptive agenda. So it is refreshing to get Jack Welch weighing in on the creative class side: he states that "anyone can squeeze a company".

"Look, anyone can manage for the short term just keep squeezing the lemon. And anyone can manage for the long just keep dreaming. You were made leader because someone believed you could squeeze and dream at the same time. They saw in you a person with enough insight, experience, and rigor to balance the conflicting demands of short- and long-term results. Performing balancing acts every day is leadership

from Jack Welch on leadership, in his new book "Winning".

Corporate class warriors are no longer solely central to corporations. A healthy company needs creative and disruptive skills, not just an admin and management team. The mix is not easy though; corporate culture has difficulty with uncertainty, risk, irrational decisions, volatility, disruption, and continuous change. Takes strong corporate management to be continuously challenged in this way.

Watch a video Jack speaking at an MIT lecture

Technorati Tags: ,

June 17, 2006

Is Google a media or technology company ?

When asked recently, Eric Schmidt's answer to the question was

It's better to think of Google as a technology company. Google is run by three computer scientists, and Google is an innovator in technology in our space. We're in the advertising business, 99% of our revenue is advertising-related. But that doesn't make us a media company. We don't do our own content. We get you to someone else's content faster.

The question is central to many web service companies. What is our core competency ? What is a must for our future ? Are we technical, are we media, or are we marketing & sales deal makers ?

Choosing advertising and selling is extremely tempting. Operationally and day-to-day these skills and departments have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

But time again technology disrupts the market. Your core competency must be in whatever disrupts your market most. One constant, in words of innovation guru Seth Godin, is that safe is risky; you innovate or you die.

For web service companies, it is technology that is disrupting the market. You miss the boat in technology, even when your revenue is from advertising, and you are sunk.

from LA Times inteview of Eric Schmidt.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

May 29, 2006

How Google Runs its Innovation
Category: Innovation

After several attempts at structuring their development process, Google has arrived at the 70-20-10 rule. Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO, alleges the rule was arrived at through some clever maths from Sergey Brin. An unlikely story, since getting an innovation process right is, like cooking, more an art form than a hard Science.

Initially, Google attempted a classical structured engineering process. The structured BCG matrix approach is excellent for incremental innovation. Maintaining a product in a competitive position, by measuring function or feature points of products in the market. Google abandoned this engineering management approach concluding that while productivity was high creativity and innovation were poor. The process is poor at discrete innovation, at launching new products.

Eric Schmid outlines their current process as follows:

1. 70-20-10 Principle: By the most recent analysis, Google is not as high as 70% in the core of search/ads, so now they're reshifting the focus again to adjust (in other words, we're doing more search again...).

The 20% represents Google's bargain with technical people, allowing them to roam free to encourage creativity---where all the most interesting products emerge.

The 10% is for wacky ideas that might not work out but feel worth pursuing.

2. An "exhaustive drama of arguments and reviews" in "ceaseless GPS [Google Product Strategy] reviews---so much that it's produced a recent internal traffic jam on the servers with so many such teams."

3. A monthly formal revenue force and reordering around product investment.

"The goal is to systematize anything...The only way to deal with the growth in scale, is a systematic approach to each and everything we do...Google's making significant storage/computing capacity investments, reusing and combing data from one application to another...."

An interesting glimpse on how you maintain creativity and disruptive innovation once your company and staff mature. The continual GPS (Google Product Strategy) Reviews are akin to Microsoft's continual paranoia of potential threats to their dominance. This is likely to be a core objective for Larry and Sergey, as the future of the company hinges on a continual flow of creative disruption from its development staff.

Google's innovation process certainly intrigues many people Google's secret sauce recipe.

Related Entries:
Is Google Hiring Hackers or Software Engineers?

Technorati Tags: ,

April 22, 2006

Colorado Technology Institute Closes
Category: Innovation

The Colorado Institute of Technology is quietly closing its doors, six years after it was created amid hopes of someday rivaling Caltech and MIT as an educational powerhouse churning out digital-age engineers. Tech facility closing

In my experience regional authorities get the best results in "creating technology clusters" by recruiting market forces into the process. Essentially, private equity investors and venture capitalists will inadvertently create more sustained regional economic growth than a government committee.

Quoting Brad Feld a Colorado venture capitalist, on the closure of the Colorado Institute of Technology.

Education is at the core of creating a great, long term, entrepreneurial environment. While a few people in Colorado, such as Jared Polis, are doing great things, our state government and business leaders should look at the failure of CIT as a major wake up call that we are simply not doing enough, or the right things, or managing them effectively, I wasnt involved in CIT, so its hard to be specifically critical, as Ive spent most of my Colorado-based entrepreneurial - education activity working with CU Boulder Deming Center for Entrepreneurship and the CU Denver Bard Center for Entrepreneurship, but Id hypothesize that if the companies that invested energy and money into CIT had channeled the same energy and money into these two institutions, there would have been a better outcome.

The most successful technology parks I have visited have a resident marketing & sales support department, and the worst performing parks focus on technology support. St John's Technology Park in Cambridge (UK) has a great commercial support team and a great tenancy record.

[Disclosure: I am a serial entrepreneur, my views may be biased]

About Eucap


In Cluetrain manifesto spirit, funky businesses challenge the corporate status-quo in the pursuit of stronger growth and strategic advantage. Innovation being the keyword to funky businesses.

Some rights reserved
Creative Commons - Some rights Reserved

Save the Net