Archive for November, 2011

Question: What is wrong with today’s cell phones?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

This is a predicament I have found myself  in previously on various occasions. A product that you have been using for quite some time – learned it, used it, become quite fond of it, gotten attached to it – has reached it’s end-of-life; and you have the darnedest time trying to select a replacement. What might be so challenging? Part of the problem might be shifting feature sets, but there’s also the issue of build quality (eg, workmanship) and greater complexity (eg, feature-overflow). There are a couple of examples worth mentioning here:

1. Cable Television. When cable television first became available, it was quite straightforward to understand and a good value (compared to getting free over-the-air signals). Things got better as television sets got built-in cable tuners and larger and flatter screens. Next, value began to decline with higher subscription rates and the addition of undesired channels (polluted packages). The polluted packages also led to a decline in user experience and overall user-friendliness. The downswing has recently reached a new low with the switch from analog to digital service. Suddenly, the disadvantages of satellite television were thrown in with cable, and value plunged.  User experience was also impacted. But despite this horrible odyssey, a bright clearing has revealed itself – nothing terribly new, but it feels so pure and innocent. Digital Over-The-Air (OTA) signals! The old rooftop antennas miraculously have become of state-of-the-art utility again, and televisions with built-in tuners are no longer handicapped. With a little support from internet television, we find ourselves freed from polluted packages. Sanity has also returned with channels within the two-digit realm and quite straightforward to remember – and it’s generally QUALITY programming. Oh, and it’s subscription fee-free! Simplicity returns!

2. Clothing. What is the matter with the clothing industry? Low cost generally equates with low quality (workmanship and durability) and sometimes, high cost is unjustified by low quality. There are a few high cost-high quality options out there (Timberland comes to mind) but not enough. Lands’ End used to be the model for low cost-high quality but they have lost their edge and are hindered by limited choices. Tailor-made is available but quite set apart from mainstream. Why do low cost clothes have to be ill-fitting?

Not all products have gone through this plunge back to earth. I think digital cameras have been hugely positive (but the addition of HD video makes me wince, and I am saddened by the disappearing art of film developing) and automobile choices are generally on the right track (except the Hummer).

So back to the impetus for this entry…cell phones. There have been several tremendous advancements…most notably miniaturization, but also lower SAR readings. Competing digital technologies such as GSM vs CDMA has also been interesting with neither presently looking to be pushed out (ie, Betamax’d). Sure, GSM is more popular in general around the world, but phone to tower connections are relatively poor (and therefore require more unsightly cell phone towers). And cell phone plans (in the US) also have gone the way of cable television rates with poor value and lack of simple and affordable options. Hardware has also suffered with divergence to low-cost, poor quality units or high-cost, feature-excessive models. If we think about the quadrants model, there certainly is a lack of low-cost pro, and premium consumer models (ie, ones that work well but are not overly complicated).

So, for YCISL this may be a good way to introduce and discuss the use of the quadrants model to identify opportunities. For the hands-on part, we might be able to have students bring their cell phones and we would try different approaches to categorizing to quadrants. Then we could discuss how a model in a presently populated quadrant might be modified to fit into an empty quadrant, and see if that makes market sense.

Exercise: Prototyping with Lego

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I am thinking it may be possible (and fun) to reproduce the iPod prototype unveiling experience described in Chapter 30 of “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. Fadell had designed 3 prototype models whose purpose was for Steve Jobs to inspect (for look and feel, as well as features). Fadell put what he considered the top candidate under a bowl (hidden from view). The presentation started with a layout of the components and then assembling them to show the various ways they could or would go together.

At this point, the book does mention Lego blocks which is something that has previously been used in the YCISL workshop.

The story continues with the unveiling of the #2 and #3 prototype models. Since the actual models were carved from styrofoam, there wasn’t any operational functionality (ie, no “click and feel”) but the creative concept could be considered. In fact, it was probably critical to the iPod’s success that engineering was not considered at this stage. There was a little bit of brainstorming with what-if? thinking as they considered modifications to the models. When the #1 prototype model was un-hidden [important so that it would not attract too much early attention], it seemed that it addressed the creative energy that they had experienced just moments before, and there was instantaneous agreement about the direction to take.

We could do this as a YCISL exercise. Students could build a series of optional base models [selected from the sandboxing phase] and build models using Lego pieces. The exercise would then involve prototyping for look and feel, and the packaged feature set. We would then need one group of students to present their prototypes and another group to be the audience. We would do the what-if? so presenters and presentees have their views in the open. Then the members of the audience would select the best candidate. We could then have a discussion about the presentation, the chosen prototype and whether they felt they could move forward or had to trace back.


Exercise: Your Personal Vocabulary List

Friday, November 11th, 2011

This is a straightforward exercise to initiate a short and accessible list of words that one can use in writing. In writing proposals, essays, college essays, etc., one needs to show depth in wording to produce a positive impression (so this most important when making a first impression). The basic idea is that some words more accurately define an action or emotion, and that the reader needs this clarity to empathize with the meaning.

At one end, when “bland” words are chosen, the reader may become disinterested…

Instead of “said”, one could use (where appropriate) “argued”, “pleaded” , “denied” or “explained.” Attaching an adjective would also greatly expand the impact of carefully chosen words. For example, “pleaded vehemently” which creates a scene/action readily imagined.

The words that we hope to include are those that engage/stimulate interest and emotion (eg, hope, sympathy, happiness, beneficial), even empathy. They can also affect the feeling of time and place. We would aim to influence, persuade and take control.

Unfortunately, at the other extreme is the frequent use of words not in the average person’s vocabulary (this harms momentum and perhaps interest).

Now for the exercise – some  starting prompts:

1. Imagine your favorite pastime – how would you describe it?
2. What word best describes your hero?
3. What word best describes the most exciting/engaging part of your favorite movie?
4. How does your favorite television commercial make you feel?
5. What kind of books do you like to read?
6. Imagine that you are dancing. How would you describe it?
7. What word would you use to describe a pile of work in front you?
8. What word would you use to describe something very important?

Some of my favorite words:

1. efficacious – can be used to describe people, ideas, work and many other things.
2. dichotomy – can be used to describe relationship of ideas; especially useful when debating two sides of an issue.
3. convergence – denotes movement of both tangible (technologies) and intangible (ideas) objects.
4. motivate – can be used to demonstrate an effort to change or a change agent which lends to revealing something new (always exciting to discover something new!)
5. inspiration – can be used to introduce a high-level factor and build a connection to/association with something already highly regarded or promising.
Other candidates: versatile, commendable, amicable, compelling

1. ferocious –  example of word that conjures thankful feeling of not being in the same situation; describes a personal state (eg, fever) or a stressor (hurricane).
2.  fallacy – expresses a strong opinion and position; sets expectation of forthcoming proof/evidence/support.
3. unrelenting – denotes length of time of a stressor in which a subject can go through one or more significant phases/changes such as in mood.
4. tension – if used properly, the reader will start to feel tense in a physical reaction/manner; builds empathy.
5. perfunctory – can be used to influence the reader that something is not worth thinking of in detail; comes across as robotic/programmed or void of emotion.
Other candidates: inconsequential, dimunitive, impediment

Michelle Kaufmann Studio

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

I looked up Michelle Kaufmann because she and her work was mentioned in a Seth Godin TEDTalk. Actually, it was the photo of a home designed by her (or her firm) in Godin’s slide set that caught my eye and moved me to Google her. The Michelle Kaufmann Studio home page opens with the (vision) statement “Sustainability isn’t just about the way we build. It is a state of mind. Good design embodies, inspires and nurtures that way of thinking and living.”

Especially useful to the sustainability theme of the YCISL are the “Eco Principles” at which include:

EcoPrinciple One: Thoughtful Design
EcoPrinciple Two: Efficient Materials
EcoPrinciple Three: Energy Conservation
EcoPrinciple Four: Water Efficiency
EcoPrinciple Five: Healthy Spaces
EcoPrinciple Six: Systems Built

Seth Godin: Standing Out (TED2003)

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

In this TED Talk, Seth Godin ponders “idea diffusion” – the way that ideas spread and become successful products. He described how the TV advertisement-driven idea complex (mass marketing, “average products for average people”) has faded and is being taken over by creating “remarkable” products (from remarkable ideas, of course) and to “market” to the segment of the market containing innovators and early adopters. In this talk, Godin provides numerous humorous examples that get his point across – most notably including the purple cow, the Water Salad from Japan, and the town-center 55-foot high lava lamp in Soap Lake, WA.

His points about “idea diffusion” and “being remarkable” are extendable to youth creativity (although his examples are drawn from marketing and tend to be adult-oriented where success is measured by profits). In a culture where idea flow is usually from adult-to-student or parent-to-child, it is useful to promote the strategic concepts of “idea diffusion” and “being remarkable” to enable reverse flow and to be heard. It is also likely that these concepts already exist in the youth context (ie, from youth-to-youth), albeit in low volume, and it could be applied youth-to-adult as well. Raising the volume in the youth-to-youth (shall we call this Y2Y?) context would be consistent with the YCISL lessons, and we could look for opportunities and appropriate ways to accomplish this.

The video:
Seth Godin web site:

There’s another Seth Godin video, this time from TED2009, at titled “The Tribes We Lead.” In the latter part of this talk, Godin says “You don’t need permission from people to lead them” and “They’re waiting, we’re waiting for you to show us where to go next.” He also says that “Being a leader gives you charisma.” These are powerful and persuasive notions, and are worth exploring in the YCIS context.